Cultivating Trust

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House Party

Chelsea

Last night Brandt showed me the quaint little town north of where he lived. Cielo del Oceano rested along the ocean side and had a small-town atmosphere reminding me in a way like Wisconsin. To my relief, not all towns were the Hollywood-like cities I had envisioned when moving out here. We even went to a California winery and bought several bottles of wine. He talked about putting a wine cellar in the basement someday since learning we had a common interest.

Brandt had been trying to get me acclimated to the area, and therefore spent most of his free time with me, although it made me feel guilty. What did he do before I came into his life? Did he spend all his free time writing songs or doing PR work? Did he go out with his bandmates or other friends I hadn’t met yet? I knew he needed other interests away from his music, but I felt as though I took up too much of his time. If we lived in different houses, then he could have some of his own alone time, but right now he only had band time and Chelsea time.

Joining him in the studio today, I watched as he laid down tracks as part of the new record. He seemed excited to have me there to watch the process and I wanted to understand Brandt’s world and try to fit in it as much as possible.

Once in the studio, he introduced me to all the people in the sound booth. There were sound guys, producers, and a multitude of other people I wasn’t exactly sure what they did to work on the album, but I tried to keep it all straight. Brandt and the rest of the band members went behind the glass partition and I made myself comfortable. Relegated to one corner of the studio to stay out of the way, I found myself in awe of the process. They couldn’t hear us, but we could hear them talking about how to sing the next chorus, or maybe changing the bass on a song, and it was great to see their creative juices flowing.

Brandt really enjoyed what he was doing, and he was so good at it. Each change they decided on was mutual, and only small arguments took place, usually between Brandt and JJ. They tended to lock horns but always worked it out. He looked for me before he started singing and I smiled at him. To my surprise, he rehearsed the song he wrote in Wisconsin, the song about me.

Ron walked into the sound booth and looked around. When he spotted me, a scowl appeared on his face. I nervously looked towards Brandt not even wanting to acknowledge Ron’s presence. We didn’t leave things on a positive note back in Wisconsin and my voyage to California was sure to be a thorn in his side. If Ron only knew we felt the same way about Brandt’s career maybe he wouldn’t be so callous towards me. I didn’t want the media to find out about me any more than he did.

Ron walked up to the microphone and hit the button to talk to the band, interrupting their practice of the song before recording. “Why are you practicing that song? I told you the album doesn’t need two ballads. We already have one that will make all the little girlies cream in their panties.” I cringed at his words, and he seemed amused by it.

Brandt’s look turned challenging as he said, “The band likes it and wants it to stay. The album can withstand two slow songs. Other bands have done it.”

Ron tried to remain calm but didn’t like the defiance. “Other bands do it on their third or fourth record. Not the one that could make or break them. Cut the song, Brandt.”

Brandt didn’t back down, “No. You said we had more artistic liberty with this record. We want it to stay.”

JJ finally piped up, “Ron the song is good. The chicks are sure to open their legs for their boyfriends after hearing it and make them buy more of our shit, so you will make out in the end anyway.” Ron didn’t like it but listened to JJ. JJ didn’t always seem to be the voice of reason, but at least the song would stay. Did he not like the song, or did he know Brandt wrote it with me in mind?

“Fine, but you better have at least three hits off this album, or you are back to cheap booze and even cheaper whores.” When he turned back to look at me, he didn’t even try to hide the look of disdain on his face. Gratefully, Brandt didn’t notice. As much as I disliked Ron, I did not want to make waves between them.

Ron left, and tension decreased notably not only to me but with the rest of the people in the room. I thought he left the building, but about an hour later he reemerged and made a point to come over to where I sat. Anxiously, I shifted, uncomfortable with his presence.

“How do you like your little trip to the studio? Learning how an album is made?” He had a smile on his face, but it didn’t seem sincere in the least. He didn’t care how about me at all, and he made me uneasy with his attention focused on me.

“I... I just came for the day.” We were out of earshot of the others, and luckily Brandt didn’t notice our exchange.

“I bet. I bet you are sitting in his house all day wondering how to spend his money. Well, it’s his own dumb fucking luck.” He had no right to talk to me like that, and my fists clenched by my side. He wasn’t even worried about Brandt, just the fact he might lose his cash cow.

“What I share with Brandt is none of your concern.”

He looked at me with a stone-cold expression on his face, “It will be my concern if you fuck it up for me.”

“Well, don’t worry. Brandt and I are careful, and your ‘golden boy’ will be safe.” I used the term Brandt coined a while back and hated it.

Ron didn’t seem to share my commitment. “He better be, or I will crush you,” he said, and with that, he got up and walked away.

A shiver ran down my back, and I let out the breath I held in as soon as he left. Ron didn’t care about Brandt or anyone in the band. He was such an asshole but, as Brandt said, he owed him his big break. I would never understand him but would work harder to avoid him in the future.

The day drew long, and although I was happy to be there for Brandt, I soon realized a whole day of watching the ‘process’ didn’t keep my interest. After the band completed their session in the studio, they congregated in the parking lot before leaving for the day. Brandt placed his arm around my shoulder as he talked with Ryder about some party another band was throwing. Ryder, Brandt’s friend, and the drummer said, “You better be there tonight. Johnny goes on tour tomorrow and wants this to be a bad bash.”

Brandt nodded his head, “Yeah, I’ll be there. I wouldn’t miss one of Johnny’s parties.” Satisfied, Ryder got into his car and drove away.

We got to his red convertible as I asked, “What party?”

“The band Taking Numbers. They leave tomorrow for their tour and are throwing a going-away party for themselves. Everyone is going. You don’t mind, do you? Paparazzi are rarely at house parties, and we won’t have to worry.” A house party? Besides Brandt’s bandmates, I hadn’t met any of his other friends so the party could be good.

The conversation turned to what we would eat for dinner, but I couldn’t help thinking I would get a bigger picture of Brandt’s social life if we went to the party. I smiled remembering the hotel party after the concert back in Wisconsin and how rowdy things could get.

We ate outside on the deck since the heat of the sun had dissipated. The ocean cast a beautiful glow around us with the ebb and flow of the water crashing along the shore. He mentioned he really liked the house when he saw it but the view sold him, and I believed it. The long expanse of the beach had been kept private by the two rocky points surrounding each side of the house and prevented the ocean tide at night from coming too far inland. The high rocky cliffs on both sides dissuaded any neighbors from building too close and therefore was the reason for most of his privacy. Even the long, curving driveway was kept hidden due to the location of the house. Brandt said with his life being thrown into the spotlight, this was the perfect hiding place to escape.

“So, we just got signed to our label when we notice this guy at all our local gigs. He comes up to us one night and buys us drinks. He was young. Younger than the rest of us and rich. He had several sports cars and really expensive clothes. And he had a thing for our band too. I mean, really liked our band, and came to every show. Anyway, we let him hang out with us, mainly to sponge off him since we couldn’t afford much between the lot of us. I mean, he was rich and bought us drinks, so we wouldn’t start complaining about him tagging along. One day he pulled me to the side and said he couldn’t come anymore. Something about needing to move suddenly. When I asked him where, he gave me a place I never heard of, somewhere in Europe. Turns out, he moved here with his dad who was some ambassador for a shitty little place across the pond and liked it here, so he didn’t move back with him. Long story short, I told him I had money from our new record deal, and I wanted to buy a house, and he had me come here and look at this one. I mean the guy was younger than me, and he has this big fucking house all to himself.”

Brandt seemed so animated talking about it. His eyes lit up, and he talked with his hands when he ate showing his excitement. “I fell in love with it. I mean who wouldn’t?”

He took the time to look at the house and back to the view of the ocean before going on, “It seems he might have been into some shady shit and needed to liquidate his assets fast. I get a hell of a deal because the guy liked our band and I gave him the cash to escape back to Europe.”

“Did you ever find out what type of shady stuff caused him to leave?”

He shook his head, “No, and I didn’t ask. I realized this was a chance of a lifetime, so I didn’t mind forking over the cash.”

“So, you bought this whole house with cash?” Even though he got a deal, it still had to be expensive for him.

“No, I still needed a mortgage. But I got it down to a comfortable level and still able to buy the things I want. The money from the recent tour helped too.” Hence the sports cars, not to mention the classic muscle car, and motorcycle. I wondered how long it had been since he couldn’t just buy whatever he wanted.

“Shortly after moving in, I put in the studio for practice. The workout room was some sort of ballet room, so I kept the mirrors and added the weight equipment. There isn’t anything I need to change right now. I’ll eventually finish the basement with a bar, and game room, and some type of movie room or something.”

I couldn’t help but remark about the decor of the house. “The furniture doesn’t look like the type of stuff you’d get.”

Brandt shook his head. “He threw the furniture in with the house since he wanted to liquidate fast. I was glad he left the house as-is. I am not exactly an interior designer, but if you want to work on that for me...”

It made me smile, although it would be hard for me to change anything in his house. I thought it should be his style since he bought it, and I was just living here. Then I thought of his bedroom, “What about changing the bed?”

“You don’t like the bed?”

“I think I would feel better changing it. Isn’t that where you slept with...” I looked down, a little embarrassed.

I couldn’t finish the sentence, but he understood my apprehension. ”Cami?” I nodded sheepishly. It shouldn’t have bothered me, but it did. I braced myself for a lecture on how it didn’t matter and how I should be secure with what we have, but it didn’t happen. He looked at me, “Well, it is too late tonight to look but how about you buy a new bedroom set tomorrow?”

“Don’t you want to come?” I asked.

“No, I trust your judgment. Besides, the way the recording is going I never know when I will come home. Take my credit card.”

With this, my eyes lowered wishing I could at least contribute to the mortgage, but still uneasy at using his credit card. Brandt didn’t like my expression. “Chelsea, I was thinking of getting your name put on it anyway. Think about it. If you are getting groceries and filling up the gas tank, you will need to use it, won’t you?”

He was right about needing money. My meager savings wouldn’t last long with the inflated prices out here. But I didn’t like using his money. I needed my own. “Well, it shouldn’t matter if I got a job out here. I want to buy my own things.”

He looked crushed. “Chelsea, you don’t need money. You can use mine.”

“That is your money. What if I want to buy you a present? Do I use your money?” Thinking back to what Ron said about me sitting here all day long, finding ways to spend his money, I got mad. I didn’t want people assuming our relationship was anything other than a mutual bond.

“Yes, I have enough for the both of us. I don’t care if you use it. Besides what type of job can you get that will give us this much time together with my crazy schedule? And you would need to quit once we go back on tour.”

Tour? I hadn’t thought of that. He wanted me on tour with him? It honestly didn’t sound appealing. Riding on a tour bus from one town to the next, avoiding the paparazzi at each and every stop. I would feel like a prisoner. He saw my hesitation, “You don’t want to go on tour with me, do you?”

“Brandt, we would be together, but I would be kept out of sight on a bus for weeks on end. I don’t think I would like that.” Especially if I had to deal with Ron.

His face turned red, “So you don’t want my money; you’d prefer to get a shitty little job that takes time away from us, and you don’t want to go on tour with me?” Yes, it sounded bad that way, but I wished he would think of me. I couldn’t be holed up on a bus all the time, and I needed my own money. He was right about the shitty little job though. I never went to college, and much of my past experiences won’t get me a job worth much at all. My body slumped forward and I let out a sigh.

Once he saw my disappointment, he calmed down. “Not that I don’t want you to have your own money or feel like a prisoner on the bus Chelsea, I just want to be with you.” My mouth twitched up, but I still felt a little disheartened. It should make me feel good to know he wanted to be with me, and I felt a little ridiculous getting mad. “Any job you get will interfere with our time together.”

“I just want to look for one. I promise to find one that doesn’t interfere too much. Brandt, I can’t sit here all day with nothing to do.”

“There is plenty to do. I still need a maid.” I looked up at him sharply. “I meant you will need to interview and hire them. You don’t need to clean up after me,” he clarified. The misinterpretation made me laugh. Living with a guy was not what I expected. He never seemed to hit the toilet, and he had horrible habits; I constantly picked up after him, but I still liked taking care of him, and nice he didn’t expect it of me.

“I need someone to help me with my bills too. With you on my account, I won’t worry about issues with the electric company or making the house payment.” I couldn’t help but feel this was his way of weaseling me into using his money. He smiled at me expectantly and waited for me to respond.

“Fine, but I will still look for a job. I promise I will find one that will work, and we will discuss the tour when you have it set in stone.” We needed a compromise and I waited to see if he would meet me halfway.

“Okay. But we will discuss any job you find first, right?” I nodded and smiled at him. “And you will take my credit card to find a bed tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

“Good, now let’s go to Johnny’s. Just to let you know, it can get pretty wild there.” If it was coming from Brandt, I guessed I should be a little concerned.

We took his red convertible and parked further down the road so it would be easier to leave rather than taking the chance of being blocked in by another car while parked in the driveway. Even though it was nighttime, the house lit up like a carnival. We entered a private, gated driveway, and noticed the large amount of cars strewn across the lawn, covering almost every inch of space. As we walked up, I could hear music blaring at me from all angles. The enormous residence had a scattering of people on the front lawn, but the party appeared to be in the back of the house and backyard. Brandt had his hand on my lower back as he guided me past the front door and inside the house. Oh, how I loved his hand on my lower back. It seemed protective somehow.

Once inside, I understood why Brandt warned me. It seemed so much worse than the hotel party we both experienced back in Wisconsin. Scantily dressed women sauntered around, with men chasing after them. Everyone had a drink in their hand and some people obviously shouldn’t have been drinking anymore, even though it wasn’t that late. People piled on the couch in the corner kissing heavily, and the music hurt my ears with its volume.

Ryder came up to us the minute he saw us enter the door. Giving Brandt a smile, he said, “About time you showed up. Hey Chelsea, you are looking good.” He waggled his eyebrows at me and Brandt gave him a humored, angered look while I let out a small chuckle. Ryder enjoyed flirting. The fact that Brandt didn’t even bat an eye at it only proved he was harmless.

Ryder shoved a beer into my hand and nodded at Brandt. “The whiskey is outside by the pool, and I am long overdue to mingle in the kitchen.” Brandt nodded as if the kitchen held some mystical powers. Ryder moved past us as we made our way to the back of the house. Brandt and I followed the trail of people to the bar outside. All the while walking through the house and back patio, I couldn’t help but stare. Where did all these people come from? I walked on a carpet soaked in some type of liquid thinking the cleanup tomorrow would be costly.

Outside, I noticed the huge pool. Topless women bounced in the shallow end and a couple in the deep end looked as though they were having sex on the other side of the pool. I quickly looked away, grabbing Brandt’s hand and not letting go.

Brandt looked back and smiled, understanding what had me unnerved. Instead of looking at the pool, I focused on a makeshift dance floor in the grassy area off to the right where a DJ kept the music flowing so the people could dance. Those that weren’t in the pool, of course.

We found our way to a Tiki bar area where a guy handed Brandt a cup. Digging into an ice bucket, he grabbed a whiskey bottle and poured the amber liquid into his glass. I watched him take a large gulp, drinking it straight. It made me wonder how we were getting home, and I decided tonight may not be the night to partake, especially since the whiskey looked not only expensive but potent. It seemed a little harsh to be drinking it straight. I could handle my beer, but I could never handle whiskey without a mixer.

Leaving the area, several people stopped to talk to Brandt. He introduced me, but no one really talked to me focusing on the more import rockstar in front of them. Not being a part of the conversation afforded me time to people watch, which made my uneasy feeling worse. I had never seen anything like it. Drunk people lounged around, some smoking something that didn’t smell like cigarettes. I saw legs sticking out of a bush and wondered if someone had passed out or if they were dead. The one leg moved slightly, and a feeling of relief washed over me. Women in bikini bottoms sans tops passed in between Brandt and the guys momentarily rendering them speechless until the women left giggling and wiggling their fingers. Their talk did not resume until they left and I couldn’t help but feel strange as I started observing a world foreign to me. Searching around now, I paid less attention to the chaos and yearned more for the possibility of a kindred spirit. Was there one sane, sober person here besides me?

We left the area and went over to a group of people sitting on lawn chairs and clamored around another guy. When we got over to him, he stood up, smiling, “Brandt! Hey man, glad to see you.” This man appeared supper skinny and must have been at least six foot four. He had tattoos up and down his arm depicting demons and sorcerers. His shorts hung low exposing a crop of black hair almost to the point of indecency, and his unbuttoned shirt draped across his torso like stage curtains displaying a noticeable set of ribs covered in more tattoos. Black hair swept the top of his shoulders, longer than Brandt’s, and he had dark eyes with a goatee covering the lower part of his face.

Brandt shook his hand, “Johnny man, great party, as usual. Excited to get back out on the road?”

“Yeah, it is time. Hey, who is with you?” His eyes looked up and down me making me squeeze Brandt’s hand a little tighter.

“This is Chelsea. I found her in Wisconsin and had to bring her to see the California sights. She is still trying to get her feet wet. I thought your party would help.” He laughed this loud, long laugh as if it were a private joke. I laughed along with him but still looked the part of a country hick. I knew Brandt didn’t mean it like that but got the feeling people in California thought Wisconsin people were just simple country folk. Looking around at all the debauchery, maybe it wasn’t a bad thing.

“Well, don’t be shy at my place. Anything goes.”

“I see that.” My quip provoked another round of laughter and I blushed at the attention.

They talked shop for a while, as I left for another beer. Not that I necessarily needed another one but mine had gone warm sipping on it and I felt I wanted something to do to occupy my time. Moving purposefully, people stared in my direction as if I was somehow the oddball here.

When I got to the bar area and grabbed another cold beer out of the ice bucket I couldn’t find an opener. Since I figured I wouldn’t be drinking much of it anyway, I was about to walk away when someone handed me an opener from behind me.

“Hey, babe.” I looked up to find a guy with sandy blond hair and a serious five o’clock shadow. He had piercing blue eyes, not unlike Brandt’s, and he dressed in a colorful Hawaiian-style shirt. Although he had the same hair and eye color as Brandt, he stood shorter and heavier, but not in any way fat. He was handsome, and the longer hair made me think he was probably part of the rock scene and not a CEO type.

“Thank you. I wondered where it walked off to.”

“I was just waiting for the right person to need it.” His obvious flirting made me roll my eyes. I had heard worse, but usually I stopped it before it even started.

“Well, I don’t need it that bad.”

I started to walk away, and he grabbed my beer bottle from me and opened the cap. “Then I will just open it for you and let you be on your way.”

Maybe I misread him? “Ah... well, then, thank you.” I looked over my shoulder and saw the same bikinied women coming back through. “You may want to see if those girls are thirsty. They look more your speed.”

He laughed, and it surprised me how genuine it sounded. “You aren’t from around here, are you?”

“No. How could you tell? The fact that I have my clothes on?”

He laughed again. “No, those girls you pointed out are the resident lezzers. They aren’t too interested in us folks with a non-vibrating joystick.” My eyes widened, and I blushed. He seemed amused and chuckled at my response. Still standing there with a look of shock on my face, his expression softened, “Hey, look, I am sorry for hitting on you. I just see someone new at these parties, and with their clothes on, and I figure they might be interesting. You know. it is hard to just start a conversation with a pretty woman.”

I finally found my words, “Well saying ‘hi’ I have found works better than ‘hey babe.’” He laughed again, and I found myself sitting down on the barstool next to him. He seemed like someone I could talk to as long as I kept it light.

“You aren’t from around here, are you?” he said again.

“Why do you keep saying that?”

“The accent, for one.”

“Accent? I don’t have an accent.”

“Oh, it is there. I can’t exactly put my finger on what it is, though as it isn’t that pronounced. My guess is the Midwest somewhere.”

Well, that was close. I still didn’t think I had an accent. “Wisconsin,” I told him.

“Ah, yes. Wisconsin. See.”

“That proves nothing.” Did my accent prevent me from fitting in? And then I thought I really didn’t want to fit in. My experience lately of California didn’t pan out like I thought it would.

With the ice broken, we settled back and talked for a while. Hawaiian shirt guy sang in another band, the name of which was called Diversion, and when he told me some song names, I thought I recognized them. He seemed amused by this.

“You don’t know if you have heard the songs? Have you been living under a rock?”

“Close, Wisconsin.”

He snickered, and asked, “So how did you get here?”

“I followed a guy out here against my better judgment. I can’t say I hate it, though.”

“Ah, I see. Hopelessly in love then.”

“Yep, it is still new, though. And looking around, I can honestly say our worlds are colliding.”

“So, who is the lucky man? Do I know him?” Scanning the outdoor area, I looked around trying to find him, but there were too many people blocking our way.

“Brandt Roberts. Do you know the band Social Offender?”

His smile turned a little grim. “Yeah, I know him. He might not like it if you are talking to me though.”

“Why is that?” I could sense a change in him. More guarded.

“He thinks I took his girlfriend.”

"Cami?”

He nodded his head. “He must have told you.”

“Just that he had a girlfriend. He said she left him for a more popular musician and...” I didn’t finish my sentence as I realized just then I had been talking to the same guy.

“It wasn’t like that, you know. I wouldn’t go after another guy’s girl. Cami broke up with him, looking for something else. We hooked up for a couple of nights, but we never dated. Brandt doesn’t see it that way though.”

Talking to him made me a little nervous. Was he telling me the truth or telling me what he thought would make him look better? Why would he want to impress me though? It was clear he wasn’t going to get anywhere with me.

“Well, I guess it hurt him either way.”

We weren’t talking long when another couple came up to us. “Austin, we were looking for you. Who’s the babe?” the man said.

I shook my head, but Hawaiin shirt guy already spoke up for me, “Whoa guys, this is Brandt’s new girl. Ah... I don’t even know your name.”

“Chelsea.”

He turned, “Well, Chelsea. This is my drummer Dex and his wife, Hailey. Oh, and I am Austin Bryer.” Excited to see a wife in the crowd, I couldn’t wait to talk to her about her life with a rockstar. She was amazingly beautiful and I couldn’t help thinking I had seen her before. Her husband, Dex, was tall, like Johnny, and had shorter, spiky hair that went with his grunge, bad boy look. He had black hair and his body was covered in tattoos, down both arms, his chest, and even had some on his neck. He wore tattered jeans but had no shirt on.

Brandt found me at this point, coming up to our small circle. His eyes made him look jovial enough, but his jaw clenched as he looked right at Austin. “I see you met my girlfriend.” I got up from the barstool and walked over to him while he put his arm protectively around me feeling the tenseness of his body through the embrace.

Austin just nodded at him, “Brandt.”

Hailey spoke up next, “Brandt, how was your tour?”

Austin tried to offer insight, “Heard you guys are headlining next tour. It’s about time.”

“Yes, we have gotten quite popular. We just need to finish this album first.” Dex started talking about what bands they would have opening for them and I watched as Austin left for another conversation. I got the idea that Brandt didn’t like me talking to Austin, but seriously, I was not Cami, and the guy seemed nice enough.

Hailey pulled me aside and said that they would be talking for a while, so she wanted me to go inside with her. “It is always better to go to the bathroom in groups at these house parties. Oh, and try to use the bathrooms on the first floor. The second-floor bathrooms are usually full of couples this time of night.” I took in a heavy sigh, and she laughed at me. Was she serious or pulling my leg? I did stick out like a sore thumb here.

We went in, and I manned the door while she went to the bathroom and I went after her. We walked into more rooms, and she introduced me to people. Finally, we got to a room where the music wasn’t so loud, and I asked her about her relationship with Dex. She explained they had a ‘whirlwind romance’ and were married after three weeks of knowing each other. They had been married for nine months now, and he was pressuring her to start a family. “I can’t have a kid now. My career is just taking off.”

The light went on. She starred in a TV show. Some drama I couldn’t remember but I felt privileged to be rubbing elbows with a TV star. The thought made me laugh. I guess I never thought I would be living with a rockstar either but it didn’t seem like something I could get used to.

I couldn’t help but ask, “How do you do it? Married to a rock star. I mean with all the media?”

She laughed, “The media? Well, they can help you or be a total pain in your ass. If you aren’t on the cover of a magazine people forget about you. If you screw up and make it to the cover, like because of a drug addiction or something, well then, people chastise you. Strangely enough, you could kill someone and still come out smelling like a rose if the media likes you. So, you kind of need them.” I thought about what JJ said after the bar fight in Wisconsin, ‘any PR is good PR.’ But any ideas I could get from Hailey, as far as the paparazzi were concerned, wouldn’t work for Brandt and me. Hailey wanted the attention, where I didn’t.

Following Hailey’s gaze, I noticed her staring at a woman over in the corner. Nodding in her direction she stated, “That is Ana. She is a prostitute.” The woman stood taller than me and had long, straight, black hair and stunning eyes from what I could see. She dressed in a manner of what I considered unusual for a prostitute, instead of revealing clothing her outfit was almost businesslike, expensive, and one that hugged her body, a body sure to be appealing to men and even carried herself in a business-like manner. She had a face that would be suited to high-powered executive meetings but seemed like she could also work the crowd.

Realizing I was staring, I quickly looked away when Ana noticed us watching her and smiled at us as if her being stared at was a regular occurrence. I whispered, “How do you know she is a prostitute?” She wasn’t looking away yet when I chanced another quick glance at her.

“She doesn’t call herself a prostitute. More like a high-priced escort. She must be here with that guy. She rarely comes to things like this unless she has a ‘john.’” Ana smiled at Hailey but there was obvious tension between them, It made me wonder but wasn’t my place to ask, so I let it go.

Instead, I suggested going back outside. We found Dex first, talking to a group of guys, and I excused myself to look for Brandt. I hoped to talk him into leaving. The crowd only got worse, making me more uncomfortable now than ever. The couple I saw when we both walked in was now making out with other people, and I shook my head feeling so out of place.

Unable to find Brandt right away, I got nervous walking around by myself. I thought I might go back and find Hailey when I spotted him in the kitchen. He didn’t see me right away, but all his attention was on Johnny as they smoked a joint between them. It must have been pot, not only from the smell but Brandt would never smoke a cigarette knowing how he hated it when he saw me smoke in the past.

When he looked up and saw me, I didn’t know what to do, so I smiled slightly. He watched my reaction and then made a gesture with the joint, offering me some. I kept the smile on my face and just shook my head, making my own gesture of looking for the bathroom, and I left. Although I didn’t need the bathroom, I wanted time to think about what just happened.

He used drugs? Not drugs per se, but marijuana. How did I feel about that? I was around it in high school. My ex-boyfriend, Dan, did it. I knew he did, but he didn’t do it around me knowing that I didn’t like him while blitzed out of his mind. Occasionally, my friend Amilyn had smoked some, but I didn’t think I ever would. If he did pot did he also do harder drugs? I made my way back outside and waited for him to finish in the kitchen. My only hope was maybe with him high, he would be more likely to leave.

When I got to the backyard, an argument erupted between Dex and Hailey. I couldn’t hear what they said but their fighting, albeit loud, didn’t stop the people around them from their party. She yelled one last time and started walking my way when she noticed me standing near. Grabbing my arm she dragged me with her as she walked towards the door. “I am leaving. He is an arrogant prick, and I am not taking it again. Tell him I am driving the car home, and he needs to find his own way back.”

"Hailey, are you okay to drive?” I didn’t talk to her long enough to know if she had been drinking.

She just laughed at me, “Are you for real? I had nothing more than seltzer water. I can’t afford the calories.” And with that, she left.

I made my way over to Dex. He talked to Johnny seemingly unfazed by the recent argument.

"Hailey said she is taking the car. If you need a ride home, maybe Brandt and I could--” He didn’t let me finish and waved me off.

“I got a ride already.” Well, it seemed he didn’t bother with having manners now that Hailey was gone.

I felt stuck. No Hailey to talk to. Brandt had left me to fend for myself, choosing to get high with the guys. The only other person I’d met here was a sworn enemy of Brandt’s. Great. I couldn’t go inside and wouldn’t think of going upstairs and staying outside and watching the fiasco got on my nerves.

Grabbing another beer, I tossed it away just as fast. Brandt had been drinking straight whiskey and smoking dope. There was no way I would let him drive and didn’t want to stay here a minute longer than necessary.

Brandt finally made his way out of the house and found me. “Hey, Angel. Are you having fun?” His bloodshot eyes sneered at me.

“No, Brandt. I would like to leave.”

He just looked around, “The party just got going. You don’t want to leave this soon, do you?”

I contemplated leaving him here and going home on my own, but I didn’t think I could navigate my way back without him. Besides, it would worry me, leaving him here. “Brandt, please. I really feel uncomfortable here.”

He laughed, “You need to loosen up a little. You are not in Kansas anymore Dorothy.” When he laughed some more at my expense, I gave him a look that stopped him.

“C’mon Chelsea I was just kidding. If you want to leave, we can leave.” I let out a sigh of relief. He sighed but for an entirely different reason. He wanted to stay, and I wanted to run away. I really hoped these house parties were not an everyday occurrence.

We started to walk around the house to get to the front yard and down the driveway when I saw the tall bushes to our left rustle and heard people in them. I tried not to look, but I couldn’t help myself. As I grabbed Brandt’s hand, trying to get him to walk faster with me, I noticed Dex with a woman. Glancing briefly, I caught them kissing and hurried past as quickly as possible. The whole night was surreal, and that took the cake. My induction in the California lifestyle turned dismal and I only wished for sleep at this point.

Once we got to the car, I asked for the keys. “I can drive,” he said.

“Oh no you don’t. That is the one thing I will not let you do. I am sober, and you are, well, impaired. Hand them over.” He could hear the seriousness in my voice and gave them up. We got in, and I started down the road. Other than occasional directions the trip remained quiet. At this time of night, few cars cluttered the road making me grateful for their absence.

The tension I noticed while driving his car made my muscles ache by the time we got into his garage. When we entered the house to my amazement, he pounced on me trying to kiss me. Grabbing for me, it reminded me of teenage, mindless groping. The only drunken groping I had done in the past was with Dan, and the flashbacks it caused proved just as unpleasant. I felt guilty for comparing the two, but I hated this just as much.

Brandt squeezed my breasts, and I pushed him off, not in the mood. “Brandt, don’t.”

“Why not? C’mon, don’t tell me you don’t want it.” Nice. Now I had to fight him off me. Pushing his hands down, I gave him a look that said I’d had enough. Defeated, he turned and followed me out of the kitchen.

We made our way upstairs, and I changed into a shirt and shorts while he took off all his clothes scattering him on the floor, but I was too tired to care. I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth and peed one last time. By the time I got back into the bedroom, he was sleeping. Or, so I thought.

As soon as I climbed under the covers and shut off the lights, he lunged on top of me, kissing my neck and squeezing my breasts painfully again. I pushed him off me, “Brandt don’t.”

“Why not? I am horny.” What a good argument for assaulting me. His breath, a mixture of pot and whiskey, made my stomach queasy.

“Well, I am not. It has been a long day, and I am tired.” His rough hands touched my body forcibly, almost as if he didn’t know his strength anymore.

“I didn’t think you would ever deny me. C’mon, I bet you are already wet.”

Brandt went to touch me and find out for himself, and the thought appalled me. He was not normally like this, and his intrusive manner made me mad. He had no right to grope me. “Brandt, stop! I told you I didn’t want to, and I mean it. What are you going to do? Force yourself on me?”

My words made him falter, and in the dim light of the room, I saw his eyes drop. I hadn’t meant to hurt his feelings, but I wanted him to know I was serious. “I never needed to force myself on any woman.”

He rolled over in a huff, and although thankful for the respite in groping, I felt sorry for the way I acted. I would never expect him to force himself on me, and I shouldn’t have implied it, but when I said no, I wanted him to respect that. It hurt that he brought up all his other conquests. I didn’t need to be reminded he had women lined up to be with him should we not work out.

At this point, fatigue won out and I let myself drift to sleep. My introduction to California had been quite a shitty one. Everything I thought California would be had turned out to be worse. Much worse. Brandt and I seemed to be on two different planes and didn’t know how to bridge the gap.

As I slipped into a restless slumber, I couldn’t help but think of Dex in the bushes with that woman. What an ass. I liked Hailey too. Should I call her and tell her what I saw? And then I thought about Brandt. Was this inevitable for us too? He wasn’t too happy when I fought him off before. If I denied him sex, would he just find it somewhere else?

Sleep took over thankfully, and I didn’t waste any more time with the ugly thoughts running through my brain leaving tomorrow to be another worry.

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