Character's Folly

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Chapter Seven

Brad sat back and watched the photo shoot. The cameraman was clicking every other second and Jessica was loving it. No one would ever be able to tell that she was doing a car commercial. Ernie was the video technician and he was controlling the scene sets and all of the takes, and Pete, the cameraman, was in the background taking it all in. It was an awesome combination as Jessica was playing for the camera and it caused her to have some great footage on video.

“Next, next, over here.” Ernie smoothly orchestrated his clips. He had Jessica heading towards the shiny red BMW with a high fashion show and pace. She had needed the heels after all. The car was in the parking lot with the ocean as a back drop. It was close to dusk and the setting was magical. What wisps of loose hair that Jessica had framed her face and teased in the breeze. Her scarf added another dimension of the ‘care free’ and ‘natural’ ambiance.

Jessica made several poses that complimented the car, but even more so complimented her own sense of fashion and style. It was a high class shoot and she had nothing to be worried about.

“It’s a wrap.” Ernie called out as he started to pack up his equipment. He would be long into the night doing the sound mix that would accompany the video. He had voice-overs to add and music to incorporate. He was going to be busy, but he had what he needed and he was pleased. Jessica didn’t seem to even notice that the shoot was over as she continued on with Pete. Once Ernie had ended his session Pete had continued to snap shots of Jessica and started being the voice for the ‘production’.

“Over here. Smile. Now sulky. Take off your shoes. Let’s get near the water.” They were like magic together. Jessica obeyed his every prompt and Pete kept on shooting. He was getting some amazing footage and wasn’t ready to quit. Jessica had never had a cameraman that was so ‘in tune’ with her every nuance and motion and she loved it. She unloosed her hair and tossed her head back and forth; all the while heading towards the ocean. She removed her scarf and gave it a wave as she began to twirl and run and went down on her knees. She came back up and raised her arms to the heavens and released the scarf. All to the praises of Pete as he encouraged her to ‘just enjoy herself.’

“You’ve got quite a girl there,” Ernie said as he joined Brad on the sideline to watch the ‘show’. It was true, and Brad knew it. Jessica was a natural. And just to think; she was fully clothed! He could envision the setting with her taking things just a little bit farther. He kept his surmising to himself.

“Yeah, she’s a hottie, all right. Can you believe that she comes from Kansas, or somewhere back there? Must be that she’s been corn-fed.”

“I guess to say. She is definitely attractive. She’s got a good eye for the camera too. I could see it in my footage, and I know that Pete would have packed up his camera by now. It’s not like him to be running down the beach! I must say; I’m amused. I’m pretty impressed too.”

“I knew you’d like her. You write us up something sweet and I’ll be certain that she signs.”

“Let me get back to the office. I’ve got a few things on the back burner. I was thinking about going with a different chick, but after seeing Jessica, I’m not so sure any more. She may just be perfect.”

“Yeah, I’d say. Pretty damn close.” Brad meant it. Pete wasn’t the only man at the beach enamored with Jessica. She had a magnetism that was undeniable.

Jessica came bouncing up to the two men; totally unaware that she was such a hot topic. She was just having fun. She was used to cameramen taking multiple shots and so thought nothing of Pete continuing on with his photos even after the commercial was done. She had her shoes in her hand and had tied her scarf to a belt loop on her jeans as a sort of a dangling belt.

“Man, that was wonderful!” Jessica smiled. “I had a great time. I like Pete.”

“Well, I don’t know what’s not to like about you too,” Pete came up behind her. Jessica blushed. She had thought that he was a bit farther away than that.

Brad and Ernie both just looked at Jessica and then at each other. They couldn’t figure out for themselves what was not to like about her… She had it all. She had great looks and a lively spirit. On top of that she was totally approachable. She had their attention; all three of them.

“She’s with me.” Brad quipped. Jessica just looked at him kind of funny. Of course she was with him. How else was she supposed to get home?

“Great shoot.” Ernie offered, completely ignoring Brad’s comment. It wasn’t necessary to even have been said. It was obvious that Jessica wasn’t like so many of the other women that they were used to exploiting. This girl had a fresh innocence about her; and she had class. “I was telling ‘your agent’ here, that I might have some more work for you. I have to go back to the office and get this shoot ready for production; and then after that, who knows? The camera loves you girl.”

Jessica was flattered. She was familiar with being one of the faces in a crowd when it came to her modeling, but this was entirely different, and she loved it. She felt a whole new sense of importance and power. She could get used to this, real fast.

“Hey, we’re having a party this Saturday. You two want to crash it?” Ernie was pleased with how this working arrangement had worked out. He could see some great potential in Jessica. And who knew? Maybe he’d do some scoring on his casting couch… Pretty girls with big dreams would be willing to do some pretty crazy things.

Jessica’s eyes lit up. She had gone to Penelopy’s coming out party, and that had been so much fun. Surely hob-nobbing with the big boys in the business would be even more fun. She was game. “I’d love to.” She offered without any consideration, other than the idea that it would be a new adventure.

“Sure.” Brad wasn’t about to be left out. “It’d be fun. I’m in. Shoot me an email with the details. That means it’s a date, Jesse?”

“Uh, well, sure.” She stated. Not so sure at all. She kind of thought that Pete was cute. “Will you be going too?” Jessica asked Pete. Maybe she shouldn’t have; but she did anyway.

“Wouldn’t miss it.” Pete smiled. The lady liked him.

“Looks like you got yourself some competition there,” Ernie smartly stated to Brad, who wasn’t amused. Brad had no way to know that Ernie was feeling a bit of the ‘rejection’ of Jessica himself. It looked like it was going to be a hot party, and Jessica was on the menu.

The joke and the jab went right over her head. She hadn’t really considered any of them as being the least bit interested in her.

***

“Hey, Penny. You busy? I miss you.” Jessica had picked up the phone and called Penelopy right after Brad had dropped her off at her apartment after doing the car commercial. He had seemed a bit cold on the way home, and Jessica didn’t get it. As far as she knew she hadn’t done anything wrong. Even still, before he left he said that he’d see her on Saturday.

“Hi, girl. No I’m not busy. Been missing you too. What you been up to?” Penelopy enjoyed talking to Jessica. They really were great friends. She had so much to share too.

“I just had a chance to be in a commercial. It was so much fun! And the photographer – he was really cute.” Jessica shared. She was excited to tell of her adventure.

“I didn’t know that you did commercials, Jesse. How’d that come about?”

“Oh, it was just someone that Brad knows. And he was nice too. He shot the video.”

“So, you had someone filming you and someone taking photos of you? Both at the same time?” Penelopy could imagine how much Jessica enjoyed all of that attention.

“Yeah, it was great. I followed the guy with the video camera’s instructions while I smiled for the camera guy. It was so much fun!”

“Sounds like. You pretty much got to be a rock star, huh? I can see you eating that up!”

Penelopy was happy for Jessica. It sounded like things were really taking off for her and her new career.

“It was incredible. And then Ernie, the Producer/Director invited me to a party that he’s throwing on Saturday! Lord knows who I’ll get a chance to meet there! I’m really excited!”

“Wow, that’s wonderful. You calling to let me know that you want to drag me along?” Penelopy was open to the idea.

“Well, I’m not exactly. Brad spoke right up that he’d be taking me. Called it a date? That was a little strange. I didn’t care, except for it kind of obligated me to go with him. I didn’t get a chance to really think it through. I did think enough to ask the camera guy if he was going.”

“Right there in front of Brad?” Penelopy was amused. Jessica sure was of a simple mind sometimes.

“Sure. Right in front of him, and in front of Ernie. The photographer’s name is Pete. He said that he’d be going.”

“Okay, so let me get this straight. You get asked by Ernie to go to a party. Then Brad pops up with the date idea, and then you add Pete into the mix? That’s just too funny. Here you are with your Agent, being propositioned by a Producer, and flirting with a Photographer. Did I get that all straight? Boy, girl! What a day you’ve had.” Penelopy was thoroughly amused.

“It wasn’t really like that. I didn’t –”

“Oh, yeah you did, whether you meant to or not. It should be quite a party, what with three men vying for your attention.”

“Not really.” Jessica wasn’t sure that she liked the sound of all that.”

“Really.” Penelopy asserted. After all, it wasn’t her first encounter with the social savvy. “Just keep them all at arm’s length and you should be all right.”

“That’s comforting.” Jessica wasn’t amused. What had she gotten herself into? “Anyway, I’ll worry about all that tomorrow. It’s too much to think about right now. What have you been up to?”

“Girlfriend! Let me tell you. You think you’ve been busy. Well, guess who’s coming to New York? Daniel and the baby!” Penelopy was happy to share.

“Wow, really? Here? When?” Jessica was surprised, to say the least.

“Yeah, he’s coming here. In two weeks. He’s flying in on the 15th.”

“Seriously? Wow, Penelopy, that’s huge.”

“Oh? Huge? How so?”

“I don’t remember him ever even leaving the county, girl. He’s pretty much married to that farm. And now that his dad is gone, well, I just would have never thought that he’d go off like that; that’s all. He must really be serious.”

“Serious?” Penelopy was truly perplexed.

“Yeah, serious. Like in you. You know he’s not coming here to visit me!”

“You think so?”

“I’m certain of it. What’s your Uncle Ray say?” Jessica was beyond curious.

“Well, he was kind of talking like you, a little bit. But I didn’t think that it was all that. I just thought that my uncle was being a bit over-protective.”

“Is he okay that Daniel is coming? He didn’t object did he?”

“No, he told me that they are welcome here. He also told me that I needed to be doing some pretty serious thinking about my future and what I want.” She couldn’t believe the direction their conversation was going. She had honestly no clue that Daniel could possibly be serious about her…

“He’s a great guy, but are you ready for all that? I mean, that’s a huge commitment.”

“Listen girl. He didn’t ask me to marry him. He just said he’s coming to visit.”

“He’s not the kind to be stringing you along. If he’s coming it’s because he’s sold and he’s coming to seal the deal.” Jessica was positive. She knew Daniel well.

“Oh, gosh. I don’t know what to think.” Penelopy was truly at a loss.

“Well, at least you have two weeks. You need to give it all some pretty serious thought. And hey, remember, it’s not the end of the world!” Jessica wanted Penelopy to be happy, and she didn’t want her friend to fear a possible future with Daniel McClure. There were after all, many other much worse fates than that.

“We need a girls night out. Before Saturday.” Penelopy suggested. “We really need to just sit down and to talk.”

“I think you’re right. Are you free tomorrow?” Jessica was game.

“Sure. You make the coffee and I’ll bring some pastries. We can be bad together.” Penelopy said.

“Sounds delicious. Breakfast or brunch?” Jessica asked.

“Let’s do brunch.” Penelopy didn’t have a hard time deciding. She loved a late morning date with a friend.”

“Tomorrow it is.” Jessica stated. “I’ll see you at about 11:30?”

“I’ll be there. And Jesse.”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.”

“For what?” Jessica asked a bit confused.

“Just for being there, and for being you.”

“Ah, go on, girl. Love you too. See you tomorrow.” Jessica hung up the phone and went to get ready for bed. It had been quite the day.

Daniel couldn’t believe that he was actually going to New York. He had never dreamed that he would ever make such a pilgrimage. For one, he never had the desire to, and secondly, he never had any ambitions to leave his home in Oklahoma either. There was a pretty strong draw to Penelopy that pulled Daniel to her.

The problem was that the closer that it came to the time for him to actually get on that airplane, the more he doubted his decision to go in the first place. He didn’t doubt his feelings for Penelopy, but he doubted her feelings for him. How well did they even know each other? How ready was she to make any kind of a commitment; let alone one a lifetime relationship? His doubts plagued him day in and day out.

To make matters worse, he felt that he had to hide his inner turmoil from Penelopy. He didn’t want to plant his seeds of doubt into her mind and then have both of them reaping a harvest of uncertainty about their whole situation. He couldn’t afford to do that. He had to somehow overcome his own insecurities and doubts; while at the same time nurture the

idea of a sustaining relationship into her heart and spirit. He didn’t want to play any kind of mind games; but he did need to earn her trust, and hopefully place a desire in her heart to be with him. He understood that she was only eighteen-years-old; but Penelopy was very mature and he was certain that she would be a loving wife to him and a kind and caring mother to his precious little Brittany.

He didn’t want to rush things. He just wanted her to know that he was serious. Every time he was downtown he would window shop at Marshall’s Jewelers. He debated time and again if he should buy a ring. Something inside of him told him repeatedly that it was too soon. The last thing that Daniel wanted to do was to scare Penelopy off. After much contemplation and deliberation he came to the conclusion that he could buy her a ring; just not an engagement ring. If she needed a bit of time until she was ready for any kind of a forever commitment then he wanted to allow it. He could buy her a promise ring. He would present it to her when he went to New York and tell her that it was his promise to wait for her; however long it took, until she was ready to consider a more lasting relationship. He could even tell her that she could return the ring at any time with no hard feelings as a sign that she wanted to move on in a different direction. The thought was painful, but it was also liberating. He didn’t want her to feel like she had to decide on their relationship right on the spot.

Once he settled in his mind his game plan he started to feel better about the whole situation. A promise ring would be perfect. He didn’t have much time left before his trip and so he set himself heading for downtown and the promise ring of a new beginning.

“So, what kind of a ring is it that you are looking for?” The salesgirl behind the counter was young, and she was pretty. Her embossed sterling silver name badge said simply, ‘Katie.’

“Well, I thought that some kind of a small solitaire diamond would do.” Daniel felt a little awkward. It was the same little shop that he and Mitzi had gone to when they picked out their wedding rings. Daniel glanced down instinctively at the ring on the third finger of his left hand, and then looked back up at Katie.

It was Katie’s job to pick up on social nuances, such as the man looking at his wedding band. That meant that he was married and either buying a ring for his wife, or on some occasions, for the ‘other’ woman in his life. Katie weighed it and decided she’d guess the gift was intended for a spouse. “A present for your wife?” She asked, as more of a statement than a question.

“Uh, no.” Daniel felt really awkward then. “Um, well, I’m not married. Oh, I was, but–”

“Oh, it’s okay. You don’t have to explain. Do you know what size you want?”

“No. I don’t know the size. And I can explain.”

“No need to, sir. It’s really none of my business.” Katie was getting uncomfortable herself. Couldn’t he just let it go?

“My wife died.” There. He needed to explain. He didn’t want that young girl to think anything falsely about him, or about his ‘missing’ wife. Anyway, how could he not explain? She had been his bride. He had loved Mitzi deeply.

“I’m sorry sir. I didn’t mean to pry.” Katie was extremely uncomfortable with the whole conversation. She didn’t really care if he had a wife or not. She was just trying to do her job.

“No. You weren’t prying. Anyway. Do you have some small solitaire diamonds we could look at?” Daniel didn’t want to continue with any kind of a conversation either. He knew that the clerk hadn’t been trying to do anything wrong, but neither was he. They just needed to move on.

“Over here.” Katie escorted Daniel over to a display case that was teeming with small solitaire diamond rings. He had a huge assortment to choose from.

There would be no more discussion between the two about anything of a personal nature. He didn’t want to talk about Mitzi or about anyone for that matter, any more; and Katie was happy to be able to mind her own business. She had no interest as to who the diamond ring might be for. She just didn’t care.

“I think I like this one.” Daniel had selected a small yellow gold band that had a pretty heart shape that encased a lovely diamond. It was petite, but also very elegant. On each side of the heart there was a tiny, deep red ruby. It just added that extra special uniqueness to the ring. “Now if I was to have to guess the size, should I go a little larger in case it doesn’t fit, or should I go a little bit smaller?”

“I’d definitely go on the smaller side if I were you. Try to guess a fit, but if you can’t it’s always easier to have a jeweler stretch a ring a little bit, rather than having to cut some of the gold out to make it smaller.”

That made perfect sense to Daniel. “Here, let’s try it on you, if you don’t mind. You’re built a lot like her…” Daniel hushed himself; not willing to complete the thought.

Katie slipped the ring onto her third finger of her right hand. “This appears to be a size 4 ½. Let me see if I have one just a little bit bigger. The ring had almost fit the young girl. She started searching the display case. Daniel was searching also.

“This seems to be the only one that we have.” Katie stated.

“Well, I’m sure that it won’t be too big, at least. How much is it?”

Katie never verbalized prices. It was standard procedure to produce a box with the price displayed on the box. She had been taught that a dollar amount sounds higher than a price tag looks, albeit the exact same amount. It was a selling technique that she had been instructed to employ. She worked on a commission and had gotten really good at her sales presentations and closes.

She reached under the counter and presented Daniel with a box. “Here you go.” She said, not bringing any attention to the fact that she had not quoted a price to him.

“This is a bit pricy. Why so much money?” Daniel asked.

“It’s the quality of the diamond, and don’t forget about the two rubies. They look small, but in all actuality, they are pretty nice stones. Gold has gone up astronomically, also.” She kept it light and uncomplicated.

Daniel took out his wallet. He handed Katie four fresh one hundred dollar bills. “I’d like it gift-wrapped, so if there is a charge just take it out of that.”

“No charge, sir. Any special request on the paper or style?”

“Sure. How about something gold and shiny. Women like shiny things. We’ll go with that.”

***

Brad was going to be there any time, and Jessica couldn’t figure out what she wanted to wear. She thought about a pair of skinny jeans and decided against it. She had on skinny jeans at the beach. She wanted to go with something completely different. She was hoping to impress Pete. She sorted through her closet and came across a really cute multi-colored long skirt. She decided to pair it together with a snug little white sporty t-shirt and a short cropped blue jean jacket. She added a pair of bejeweled sandals, and she was just about ready to go.

She dumped her purse out on the bed and selected just a few bare necessities to put into a small over the shoulder purse that she wouldn’t have to worry about keeping track of. She put it on and headed to the bathroom to do her hair. She would wear it down with some light curls. It would be perfect for dancing or an evening stroll. Except, what was she going to do about Brad? She should have just planned on taking herself to the party; but that would be awkward.

Brad showed up and just honked. It annoyed Jessica. The other day had been different. They were in a hurry: But to just pull up and honk? She wasn’t impressed. She went to her front door and called out, “I’ll be right there.” There. Bad manners bred bad manners. She waited a couple of minutes before going on outside, although she had been ready when Brad arrived. She was trying to lose some of the animosity that she was feeling. She knew that she had to shake it off, and well, it just took a few minutes.

“Hey, there. You look great.” Brad greeted Jessica as she let herself into the passenger side of his little sports car.

“You always just honk?” Jessica wasn’t going to say anything, but she just hadn’t had enough time to shake off the annoyance.

“Sure. Why not?” Brad was totally unconcerned with Jessica’s negative response to his lack of chivalry.

She didn’t reply to him. He didn’t seem to notice or to care either one. “You like this kind of music?” He asked, as he put on some hip-hop, fast beat music about three octaves too loud.

Jessica didn’t answer. Brad just tapped his fingers on the steering wheel to the rhythm of the beat. He was in his own little world.

“You could maybe turn that down just a little bit.” She had to raise her voice to be heard over the noise that was filling the tiny space of the car.

“Oh, yeah. Sure.” Brad spoke back; equally loud. “That better?” He said a bit too loud since the stereo was no longer competing.

“Perfect.” Jessica replied. She couldn’t wait to get to the party. She was going to have to make it clear to Brad that theirs was a business partnership, period. The guy had nothing that she was looking for in any kind of a relationship that was for sure!

When they arrived at Ernie’s house Jessica was pretty shocked. His house was huge! And they had to go through a large entry gate and up a long, wide driveway to reach the house. There was an expansive front porch that had large white pillars on each side of the huge, double doors. She was impressed. Penelopy lived in a very upscale New York Condo, but this place was massive! That guy must make buckets of money, was all that Jessica could think. She had driven by places as grand, but had never actually gone somewhere even remotely like it. She was definitely in the right business!

She waited for Brad to have a chance to get around the car to help her out the door. He went around the car all right, but then he just stood on the sidewalk and waited for her to get out. She didn’t bother to wait for him to see that she wanted him to open the car door and went ahead and got out. She forced a smile as she said, “This place is huge.”

“You think it looks big from outside. Just wait until we’re inside.” Brad’s mood was light and carefree. He had no idea how very annoyed Jessica was at him. He was oblivious to it. “I’ll bet he could comfortably entertain a thousand people without any problem at all. There’ll be hundreds here tonight, guaranteed.” Jessica just stood there and watched as a valet went up to Brad, and Brad handed him the keys. “Careful on the clutch, bud.” He said, as the smartly dressed, tall, young, sandy-haired man opened the door and made the little Mazda his own for a minute. He headed into another part of the driveway, back around the house.

Jessica stepped into the doorway and made her way to the side of the room. She stood there, out of the way, and just watched in awe. She had been to Penelopy’s coming out party, but that was sponsored by Penelopy’s uncle and it had been held in a nice hotel’s ball-room. This was not a nice hotel, but the room that she was standing in was grand. The floors were a shiny marble, and those alone made her feel rich.

There were couples mingling all around, and there were a few people flying solo, but not many. “Can I get you a drink?” Brad had finally found some manners.

“Sure.” Jessica said, not wanting to let him know that she was not used to this kind of environment. She wasn’t a drinker either, not at all. “Make it something light. Surprise me.” She was faking it as good as she could. She had no idea of what kind of drink to request. She felt too special to ask for a beer or wine. She could tell by what all the various people had in their hands that there was a full bar somewhere. She was curious what Brad would come back with. She kind of hoped for something exotic with a piece of fruit resting prettily on the top of the glass.

While she waited on Brad she checked out her surroundings better. She was in awe of the massiveness of the place. She felt like she was in a mansion, and in actuality, she really was. There was a sprawling staircase that was off to the right of the room. Good Feng Shui, she thought to herself. At least it looked good to her. She knew that a staircase that was immediately at the entranceway was not good Feng Shui. All of the wealth would go right out the door; or so she had heard. That was her limited knowledge on the Eastern culture, and the end of her thoughts on the matter.

The banister to the staircase was some kind of sleek and shiny wood. It had a light grain and looked almost as elegant as the floors for the way that it stood out as pristine. It was thick and curved up with the staircase and at the end, (and she assumed at the top) was a large and perfectly round knob. She walked over to the banister and looked at it closer. It appeared to be cut from the same piece of wood! And it was pretty long, for as far as she could tell. The stairs were carpeted. She thought that was pretty smart; except for that they were white! Who puts in white carpet? Not her, that’s for sure!

There was very little furniture in what appeared to be entryway. But entryway? Seriously! It was bigger than her entire apartment, multiplied by about five times! The walls made up for what was lacking in furniture. They were adorned with all kinds of modern art. She feasted on the splashes of bright colors in one painting. It appeared to be an oil, as far as she could tell. Then there was one painting that was obviously a water color. She was feeling like quite the art connoisseur. If she had a big, beautiful home she would have art too. It was quite a nice touch! It looked expensive. She had no idea how expensive it really was.

Brad returned. “Here you go. It’s a Long Island Iced Tea. Hope you like it.”

Jessica was pleased. It had a pretty lemon on top, dressed with a cherry. “How pretty.” She said as she took her first sip. “Umm, this is really good. What’s in it?”

Brad didn’t want to tell her that the drink that he had just handed her was somewhat akin to a bomb when it came to hidden alcohol content. “Oh, I’m not sure,” he lied. “Do you like it?”

“It’s yummy.” Jessica said, as she took another sip. “What are you drinking?”

“A Whisky Sour. It’s just a cocktail.” Brad shared. He liked to drink pretty light himself.

“I like the fruit on yours too.” His had an orange that was also adorned with a cherry. She could get used to this. Jessica smiled as she continued to sip from her tall, light brown colored beverage; her glass of delight. She was quite enamored with the taste. She couldn’t even tell that it had alcohol in it. Now, that was her kind of drinking! Little did she know what a powerful punch that drink had! If she kept on drinking it like she was she was going to know it!

“Hey,” Brad teased. “Don’t drink it all at once. Enjoy the moment.” Or you’ll be on your a**, he thought, but did not say.

“I was thirsty.” Jessica almost pouted. She didn’t like to be told what to do.

“Maybe we should get you some water.” Brad hadn’t intended to get her wasted. He just wanted to loosen her up a bit.

“No. I don’t want water. I’ll just drink this, but I’ll be sure to make it last.”

Brad just shrugged his shoulders. He tried to warn her, kind of…

The host finally made his way over to the two newcomers. “Oh, so you finally made it! What are you doing over here? Come on in and join the party!” Ernie wasn’t feeling any pain, but he wasn’t intoxicated either. Ernie drank so much that he was in a constant state of sobriety, no matter what state he was actually in.

“Come on over here with me. I’d like to introduce you to a couple of my friends.” And with that Ernie took a nice hold onto Jessica’s arm and gently led her into a completely different world: A world full of ‘beautiful people’. She felt incredibly under-dressed for the occasion. Ernie picked up on her discomfort by the stiffness in which she was carrying herself. When she was at the commercial shoot just the other day she was animated. He wanted that Jessica back.

“Oh, look. Isn’t that your friends, Bill and Louise?” Brad looked in the direction that Ernie was pointing. Sure enough, it was a couple of his most valued investors. They funded more events than he could number. He knew that Ernie was just trying to shake him so that he could have Jessica to himself; but he also knew that he was obligated to go and greet his ‘friends’.

“Don’t go far.” Brad told Jessica, as he sent a plastic smile Brad’s way. His displeasure was pretty apparent, but Ernie didn’t care. He smiled back. “We promise not to wander.”

“What’s wrong, doll?” Ernie asked Jessica as he finally had her alone; at least as alone as they could be surrounded by a room full of people.

“Nothing. I just didn’t realize that I should have dressed a bit more for the occasion. I feel like a bit of a frump.”

“You are far from frumpy.” Ernie meant it. She looked great.

“I just didn’t know –” Jessica began.

“Tell you what,” Ernie interrupted. “You want to sneak off and do a ‘wardrobe change’? I’ve got a whole room of designer clothes upstairs. Sometimes I need to have them on hand for a shoot. You could go on upstairs and pick yourself out an outfit. Then you could just get it back to me and I’ll have it sent to the cleaners and it’ll be good as new.”

“Really?” Jessica was impressed. “I couldn’t.”

“Oh, sure. Why not? I don’t care in the least, and I know that you’d be more comfortable.”

“I look under-dressed.” Jessica sulked, and took a long draw on her tea.

“You look great. But I know that it’s not translating into ‘feel great’ and I’m just trying to help.”

“But I wouldn’t even know what to choose.” Jessica was overwhelmed at the thought of a whole room of designer clothes at her disposal.

“Ah, come on. I can help you pick something out. It’ll only take a minute.”

“What about Brad? He’ll wonder where I went.” Jessica objected.

“Let him wonder. It’s good to keep a guy guessing.” Ernie smartly offered.

“That’s funny.” Jessica let out a little giggle. She felt a little funny. “Ohh,” she said. Oops.”

“Oops, what?” Ernie knew. She was getting a pretty good buzz going on.

“I’ve almost finished my tea.”

“There’s plenty more where that came from. Come on, let’s go get you something that you can show that cute little figure off in.”

Jessica looked at Ernie. Was he being fresh? She ignored the obvious. Surely he was just being nice…

***

“I’d like a Rum and Coke, and another Tea for the lady.” Ernie had convinced Jessica that they needed fresh drinks before they went upstairs. She wasn’t all that convinced, but wanted to be a good guest. She was feeling a little odd.

Jessica had every opportunity to see all of the alcohol that was going into her drink, but she was too busy looking at all of the different high fashion statements that were walking around the room in the guise of other women. What in the world had she been thinking? She knew that she’d never show up at one of these kinds of parties’ again without dressing the part. She felt like a young school girl in her pretty, but quaint outfit. And she wasn’t making it up either. She could see how the other women in their designer gowns or tight fitting pantsuits were looking at her. She felt like a country-bumpkin.

“Here you go,” Ernie handed Jessica a fresh drink. She smiled brightly as she plucked the cherry off of the lemon.

“Let’s go.” Jessica said. She really did want to get out of there and to be able to dress more the part of the fashion model that she was. “People are looking at me.”

“You’re fine. Cheers.” Ernie lifted his glass in a toast. Jessica clinked glasses with Ernie and then took a nice drink. “This sure is yummy.” She said, and didn’t even notice that she had a bit of a slur to her words.

“I’m glad you like it.” Ernie smiled; and his smile was genuine. He had a beautiful young girl on his arm and she was about to go upstairs with him.

Ernie led Jessica back through the crowded room and into the formal foyer, which was also busy and full of people. As they reached the bottom of the stairs their pilgrimage was interrupted by a more than a little annoyed, Brad.

“Oh, there you two are. I’ve been looking for you.” Brad shot a look at Ernie and his eyes rested on the sight of Jessica’s not quite full drink, but fuller than the one that she had been drinking. “Going somewhere?” He said, as it was obvious that the two of them were about to mount the stairs.

“Just to my wardrobe room. Jessica wanted to check out maybe putting on a different outfit.”

You can’t be serious, was the look that Brad gave to Ernie, but said, “Why? What’s wrong with what you have on, Jesse? You look great.”

“But I don’t feel great.” Jessica stated in a bit of a whine. Brad was sorry for the drink choice that he had given to her. He was being a bit of a stinker, but he had never expected anyone to come along and try and take an unfair advantage of her.

“All right, but I’ll go with. You don’t mind, do you Ernie?” Brad was about ready to murder the man. He had better not mind.

“No, of course not. It’ll be fun.” Ernie was beyond annoyed with Brad. See if he was going to be invited to any more of his parties!

So, up the stairs Jessica went; with her host, and with her chaperone. She held onto Ernie’s arm, as that was whose arm she had already clutched a hold of, and off the three of them went on up the stairs. She almost toppled backwards and it caused Brad to assist her with her drink, which she had managed to drink a good portion of. He didn’t want her to spill it all over the place. He knew for a fact that he should have insisted on that water. With her new found freedom Jessica took a hold of the rail and used it to give her a little balance, along with holding onto Ernie’s arm. Brad was definitely the third wheel as he brought up the rear.

As Jessica looked over the racks upon racks of beautiful clothes she talked to herself all the while. “Oh, pretty. No, not my color. Wow, I wonder if I could find this in a size 5… On and on she went, without a bit of concern that she was keeping herself company. “I’m going to go and try this on.” Jessica stated to the men, but they weren’t really paying her any attention. Jessica didn’t care. “I think it’ll look nice.” Neither man that was with her had any interest in the clothes at all. Both were much too busy being aware of the other’s presence to think of much of anything else. Jessica scooted off into a separate dressing room that was in the far corner of the room with a little red dress in one hand, and a pair of heels in the other. “I’ll need a matching purse.” She told the air as she shut the door.

Brad spoke quietly. “What are you thinking, man?”

Ernie was calm and in control. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“Like, bull.” Brad said. He was angry, and wouldn’t have minded picking a fight.

“Take it easy there. Nothing happened.” Ernie didn’t bother with being defensive. He was being factual. Nothing did happen. He was just helping a friend out.

“I don’t appreciate you trying to swoop on my date.” Brad stated his displeasure.

“I didn’t see her objecting.” Ernie stated calmly.

“She wouldn’t. You’re feeding her with that Long Island Iced Tea.” Brad countered.

“Just a minute there. That was not my idea of a drink for her. I just got her a refill.” Ernie wasn’t going to take any kind of responsibility for what the lady was drinking. He had thought that it was a bit of a strange choice, as he know how potent the drink was.

Brad didn’t take ownership of Jessica’s drink choice.

Jessica reappeared, but with the little red dress on, and the three inch stilettos. And it was a good thing that they weren’t higher heels. She had to really work hard to keep her balance.

“You better take those heels off.” Brad was only trying to help. He didn’t want her to hurt herself.

“Like Hell.” Jessica said, and then smiled. “So, what do you think?” She asked a more amiable Ernie.

“You look delicious.” Ernie dared Brad to say anything.

“Delicious?” Jessica questioned. “I’m not food.”

Both men looked at each other and called a bit of a truce. Neither of them were going to have any kind of a sample of what she might have to offer. Both had to agree that she certainly looked the part of a tasty morsel. The little red dress was definitely a good choice.

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