Authors: Elise Daniels
©2013 by Elise Daniels
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, or by electronic, mechanical or other means, without permission in writing from the author.
I have always felt like an imposter in Pacific Palisades. I celebrated my tenth birthday in a trailer park in Minnesota. Now I’m a month shy of my twenty-first birthday and I’m wearing an Alexander McQueen gown to my boorish father’s launch party at our gaudy estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Thank God, Kat got out of work so she can keep things interesting at this gathering of ancient money. We’re the only ones under thirty at the stodgy affair and we’re definitely the only ones who ate shrooms in the gatehouse ten minutes ago.
My father hates that Kat is my best friend and that’s good enough for me. Her father is a security guard at UCLA. Kat works at Best Buy. I love it. Real people. My father wants me to cozy up to the debutante set and go land myself a prince.
He wants us to forget where we came from as fast as we can.
Not me. I’m a wild child. I lost my virginity to a skater boy when I was fourteen. They called him Dez, but that wasn’t his actual name. I never even learned his real name. He had long blonde hair and he called me dude more than he called me Erin. It was the passion of a weekend. Seemed like a good idea at the time kind of thing.
I’m getting now that the mushrooms were a really bad idea. These cronies of my father already looked like wrinkled lizards. The shrooms are making it so much worse. Kat and I are both trying to get over breakups. Hers is more recent, but I went along with the shrooms anyway. What are friends for? Right?
We’re going to a real party later. The men’s volleyball team is putting it on and they’re out of season. That’s dangerous. We’re really fucked up and it’s still daylight. The infinity pool is freaking me out. I’m pretty sure I just did the non-responsive vegetable thing with one of my stepmother’s important friends. I didn’t know she was there or talking to me until she walked away with a scowly growl on her face.
We did some shots too. How could I forget that? Now I’m getting worried things will get a little slutty later at the tease-me-with-your-tan party. Maybe my breakup was too recent after all. I want to lose control.
“Your body is a chemistry lab,” he says.
I turn to find Doctor Hendricks, my stepmother’s plastic surgeon. Shit. Busted. Doctors know things. “Hey Doc, your face looks so cool.” What the hell am I saying? I should not be talking to sober people.
“Thanks, Erin, but call me Reed,” he says.
Reed is hot for an older guy. I’ve noticed it before; it’s not just the hallucinogenic fungi talking. Chiseled from head to toe, but in a way that doesn’t seem real. He probably drinks wheat grass for breakfast and then does yoga in a white robe overlooking the sea while a midget from Bali plays wind chimes behind him. He’s entirely too unreal to even consider as an object of fantasy unless maybe you’re my stepmom. Yuck.
“You sound like whiskey and honey,” I say. I swear I am not approving these messages. Fungi talking.
“You should not mix any more alcohol with whatever you’ve taken,” Reed says. Yep, he sees me. He knows my address. He’s so hot now. Reed. I want to pet his face like a little pony.
“Thanks for the tip,” I say as I tap his firm pectorals with a pointed finger. “You should have a TV show,” I tell him and then continue my walk through the party looking for Kat.
I see her. She sits down on a gray-haired man’s lap by the pool. His wife watches from the chair next to them horrified.
I know it’s time to go.
* * *
RODRIGO DRIVES US UP through the canyon. He reminds me of those guys in England who wear those uniforms and stand guard at that one palace and can’t be distracted by tourists.
“Fuckingham Palace,” I say and Kat laughs in a deep groovy way. My comic genius is lost on Rodrigo. He doesn’t budge. He’s so cool. He’s been driving for my Dad since we arrived here from Minnesota ten years ago. My father likes to say that Rodrigo has never missed a day of work in ten years.
Daddy has evolved into a total elitist snob. The best part of him is the old part, the Minnesota part that values character and loyalty and hard work. My father is a self-made man, a blue-collar gem. I should say that he was that. Now he’s become such a pretender. I see him using his money to buy respect from the rich and pretentious. Sad.
I don’t see Rodrigo as my father’s driver. I see him as what my father could have been. An absolute granite rock for his family. I feel safe here in this car because of him, even if Kat and I writhe around the back seat giggling, petting each other’s face and spewing out random profanity.
We pull up to the ornate gates of the estate of Buford T. Johnson who produces music, mostly tired hip-hop acts that were big before any of us were born in the early nineties. The money he made then is still here though. His house is lavish, a perfect place to get our drink on and try to level off our psychedelic shroom adventure.
Of course, Buford and his wife are out of town and his son, Kip, the six-foot-five hot bod senior on the UCLA volleyball team is ruling the roost tonight. There’s definitely going to be eye candy and debauchery. This is just the place for two girls trying to forget past boyfriends.
I am not much of a drinker, but tonight I’ll pretend to be one of those girls who have a favorite drink and won’t shut up about it. I start asking everyone I pass, “Where’s the Amaretto?”
They all point in the same general direction over by the pool. I keep moving even though I’ve already lost Kat. It doesn’t matter. We came here to get lost and so far, mission accomplished.
“Yo, what’s up, Cassidy?” The dude yells from the other side of the pool. I recognize him from a first semester class. Genetics. This was the guy who liked to call me by my last name. I’d call him by his now if only I remembered it.
“Hey, you,” I say wanting to pass him quickly.
He grabs my arm. “Erin Cassidy, wow, what’s going on?”
I can’t even respond. Dude, really, if you grab a girl in a crowd at a party, at least have some game. I say the only thing that’s on my mind, “Where’s the Amaretto?”
“Right,” he says a little hurt. “Cool, yeah. It’s probably right back there. They have a bar going.”
I grab his arm now. “Thanks, you’re a doll,” I say and spin away, leaving him behind forever. Girls have to be bitches sometimes. Guys are so relentless.
The crowd begins to move in close to me as I walk. I see skin everywhere, tan pectorals and barely-there bikini tops. Everyone has a drink but me. I start experiencing time slippage. The shrooms are playing tricks with my mind. I see Kat at the bar. She’s rubbing some guy’s muscular chest. He laughs at her with his buddies. They know she’s wasted on something more than alcohol.
Suddenly, it goes dark. I am nauseous and I cannot place myself. I feel the air on my skin. I see my dress hanging over a chair in the pool house. I’m in the pool house. How did I get here? I must have blacked out. Lips land suddenly on my nipple and I freak out. I push away from the guy with the lips. It’s that dude from first-semester genetics.
“What the fuck?” I yell as I stand up. The tiniest flash of relief runs through me when I realize my panties are still on.
“No, Erin, it’s all cool,” he stammers. “You wanted this.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“You had climbed onto the house and were going to jump from three stories up into the pool. I talked you down. You would have never reached the pool. You could have been killed. You said I was your hero.”
“I climbed onto the roof?”
“Yeah, you did it in your heels,” he says.
I grab the dress and press it against my breasts. I must have blacked out. “Really?” I say without any recollection of the events. “And so you take immediate advantage of me?”
“I didn’t want to,” he says, “you kept insisting you were sober and I was your hero for bringing you down from the tower.”
I laugh at the absurdity of it all. He relaxes and I don’t want him to.
“I insisted I was sober, huh? Does a sober girl try to jump off a roof into a swimming pool in heels and a dress?”
He bends his face at me.
“What?” I implore.
“There was no dress. You threw it down first.”
I am never doing shrooms again. At least I cannot remember the horrible embarrassment of it all. “And what about that,” I say, “seems like a sober girl to you?”
I march out of the pool house and find the pool area dark. The party’s over. A few couples make-out in loungers. I don’t see Kat anywhere. I check out the pool, half expecting to see her floating lifelessly there. She’s not.
The weight of my bad decisions starts to cause pressure on my brain. What the hell was I thinking? What is wrong with me?
I step up onto the diving board and walk to the edge. I close my eyes and hold my arms out to the side to feel the night breeze that funnels up through the canyon. I stop and exhale. I take one more step into the great unknown and glide suddenly down into the darkness.
The water receives and covers me with its cool assurance. I feel myself alive with the rapidly changing temperature of my skin. My feet land softly on the bottom of the pool. I love the way the world is quiet and distant now. Finally, in these depths, I am comfortably numb.
I decide not to open my eyes. I decide to stay that way forever.
I am not dead. I am awake. Naked and awake in an all white room, my legs entwined in white sheets and a fluffy white comforter. I turn over to find a wall that’s not a wall at all. It’s all glass and outside there are only blue skies and white clouds.
Maybe I am dead. If heaven had a five-star hotel this would be its penthouse. I don’t know where I am. That’s not a good thing for a naked girl. It’s also not good that I see no signs of my clothes or anyone else’s clothes in this pristine room of unblemished white.
There is a single decoration in the room, a painting of a naked woman entwined in white sheets. It sends a shudder down my spine.
Instinctively I cover my breasts as I sit up fearing I don’t know what, hidden cameras maybe. My hair is a wild mess according to the distorted image of myself I see in the silver, reflective headboard.
I wrap the sheet around me as I stand. The glass wall seems to have glass doors. I walk to it and am a bit shocked as the walls slide away. I step out onto a white balcony, move to the white railing to find the pool below.
A couple is having sex in a lounger. I am both relieved and shocked to see that it is Kat with Kip. She’s on top. Reverse cowgirl. I decide not to yell down to them.
I watch a bit longer than I should and then step back into the room. There’s a clock by the bed. It’s six-forty-five in the morning.
A wall panel gives way as I search for the bathroom. My dress is hanging there still damp. My panties are there, folded and dry. No sign of my shoes, my favorite Sergio Rossi pumps.
Whatever. Wet dress and no shoes. I’m so out of here. I’m sick of myself, almost twenty-one and still so pointless. I ridicule my father and my stepmother, but at least they have had a journey in life and, by their own standards, they have triumphed. I am just a cynic and a fool who likes to disappear from reality whenever life happens.
Walking down Mulholland Drive, a sharp rock cuts into my bare foot. The intense, shooting pain triggers a memory of me running down our gravel driveway in rural Minnesota as a girl. I could see the postal truck entering the long, uneven driveway from the picture window. I was out on the gravel before he could get back to our farmhouse.
I held my foot in agony until Cleve Lewis stepped out of his postal vehicle carrying a small package. He wiped the blood from my toes with a blue handkerchief, then handed me the package.
“All the way from Saint Louis,” he said, even though it was not from Saint Louis at all. It was just something he liked to say and it always seemed to make my Mom smile.
I ran up to my room and opened the box. My heart burst against my chest as I reached in and pulled out Sasha, making me the first girl I knew to have all four of the Bratz fashion dolls.
All these years later and my toes are once again covered with blood. Where are old Cleve Lewis and his blue hankie when you need them? I wonder if Cleve is still alive. He was already old then.
The only thing I have on me I can use to wipe the blood from my foot are my pink silk panties. There’s a time and place for everything. Silk is not the best blood wiping fabric, but I manage to make my dirty, bloody toes less grotesque.
I realize that my defiant departure from Kip’s house was as dumb as the rest of my decisions the last twenty-four hours and it’s time to hobble my way back and have Kip call someone for me or at least find my cell phone.
I hold my panties up to see if I can salvage them. No chance. Should I ball them up and throw them away properly back at the Johnson estate or throw them into the nearby brush where they would no doubt become a grisly discovery for some road worker one day?
A vintage Jaguar races down the winding road slowing suddenly as the driver spots me and my bloody pink panties. He passes by slowly and does a quick u-turn.
He stops his car just feet from me on the shoulder of the road. Great, I recognize this guy. Fucking Wade Donovan. His window slides down.
“Are those yours or the dead girl’s?” he says.
The bloody panties. Right. This would be a good time for some space debris to hurtle down toward the earth and split me in two. I open my hand and consider the balled-up panties.
“I cut my toe,” I say shaking my head. “This is all I had.”
“Well, lose the panties and I’ll give you a ride,” he says with a surprisingly understanding nod.
We consider each other a long time. He gets that I am having a bad morning and waits for me to launch my panties out into the brush. I hurry to the passenger side and climb into his car.
He tries not to grin as he pulls away and accelerates.
“Just lose the panties and I’ll give you a ride,” I repeat his words. “I bet you say that to all the girls.”
I give him a chance to grin at my ridiculous circumstance.
“You’re the first one who said yes,” he says.
I remember Wade better now. He’s quick with his words and slow with his wicked grin. I’ve always tried to look at him like a brother. He’s dating the daughter of Tom Wexler, my father’s business partner.
His daughter is a fucking nightmare, Tori Wexler. They tried to force us to be friends for years before everyone gave up on the idea. Oil and water I heard my stepmother say about us. It was more like kerosene and fire. The very tone of her voice made me fight homicidal urges.
“You just had to wait for a girl desperate enough,” I say losing interest in the banter. “Mind if I open the window?” He slides my window down the second the words leave my mouth.
“Just chill a moment. Don’t worry about me. I’m cool,” he says.
Wade is cool, way too cool for that epic snob Tori. I never understood how that relationship began, happened, survived. I still don’t understand the ways of the children of the nauseatingly wealthy even if I have been one for a while now.
“Take me down to UCLA,” I tell him when I realize he was driving me back to my parents. “Please.”
Wade makes another u-turn. I have to admit, he makes u-turns like a rock star. “Westwood bound,” he says.
“Last night,” I say.
“Not my business,” Wade says.
“Shrooms were involved,” I explain. “Drugs are bad.”
He considers me with his devilish grin. This is the first time I have ever been jealous of Tori. “Yeah, I’ve seen all the commercials,” he says with delectable detachment.
His Jaguar flies down the hills to Sunset Boulevard. The cool morning air chills my nose as he turns sharply onto the strip. We do not talk. It feels comfortable to be silent with Wade. We enter Beverly Hills and make our way through the sleepy city to Westwood.
“I live at the Ashton on Wilshire,” I tell him.
“Ah, an Ashton girl,” he says.
“That’s supposed to mean something?”
“Nope. It’s all good,” he says as he turns onto Wilshire and we quickly approach my apartment.
I decide not to prod him because I already know what he means. Ashton girls have silver spoons up their ass, but who’s Wade to talk? Tori has a whole drawer-full of silver cutlery up hers.
The car pulls to a stop at the lobby doors. The ride was so fast on an early Saturday morning. Too fast. He studies me with confident intensity as he waits for me to leave his car.
“Wade Donovan saves the day,” I say trying to muster up a sly Wade Donovan smile.
“Don’t worry, Emily,” he says. “Your secrets are safe with me.”
Perfect. He doesn’t even know my name. I’m so done with just about everything right now. I nod, give him an awkward wink and then saunter away barefoot refusing to give Wade or this bullshit world one more word.
I curl up on the sofa in my favorite flannel pajamas waiting for my hair to dry before I can sleep. I apply ointment to my cut toe from the first-aid kit my father checks on every time he visits. Once I secure the band-aid I carefully slide on thick cotton socks, the organic ones Kat gave me for Christmas.
There’s a half-watched movie I start on the DVR. A funny zombie movie. Eat zombies, eat. Make me forget this stupid loneliness that plagues me. I am forever uprooted. I am forever sickened by this game we play of vanity and power.
I want to fly a red kite as I run through the long grasses of my grandparents’ farm. I want to get drunk off homemade appleberry wine in the sweaty moonlight. I want to be found hiding in a cornfield by the shy boy who has waited years to deliver his nervous kiss.
Somewhere in the heart of that alternate life, that dream of another world, my mother would be alive and laughing. Her laughter was like manna from heaven. Not even her cancer could stop her from laughing until one day it made it stop forever.
Eat zombies, eat. Eat my brain and all my thoughts too. I want to sleep the whole day as if it were the blackest night.