Jessica woke up mid-afternoon to a beam of sunlight burning her pale cheek through a gap in the blinds of the basement window above the futon. She rubbed her eyes, reluctant to open them and face what was left of the day. Expected at the security desk of a high-rise Washington DC apartment building at 11:00 pm, Jess had several hours of no purpose in life. When she stretched her arms above her head, her knuckles hit the wall. The futon barely fit into the walk-in closet bedroom, but she was always welcome in Grandma’s basement? Not bothering to make the bed, Jess threw the comforter off of her and swung her bare feet a few inches down onto the cold linoleum floor. She stood and stretched, her rarely-exercised muscles and joints creaking far too much for her 25 years.
A student loan-bought iMac was in sleep-mode on the roll top desk next to the futon, awaiting her attention. Jess pulled the wooden captain’s chair out from the desk and the legs hit the frame of the futon with a soft, metallic “thock”. The feet of the chair scraped the linoleum as she scooched the chair up to the desk, feeling the natural chemical rush of sinking into her fantasy world. Jess cracked her knuckles, stretched her fingers several times like a classical pianist about to perform Beethoven’s 9th. Clicking the mouse thrice, she awakened the sleeping machine to do her bidding.
The top drawer of the desk contained a multitude of junk, a small cardboard box stuffed with dryer sheets and the minuscule amount of pot she could afford. Cramming a smidge of schwag into the end of her cigarette-shaped one-hitter, Jess lit the end of it with a small pink Bic and inhaled. Eyes closed, cheeks flushed, her other hand searched for the dryer sheet-stuffed toilet paper tube to cover the smell. Smoke billowed from the end of the tube, her green eyes went red. The smell of cheap pot and dryer sheets filled the tiny room.
The browser opened with a double click. Jess pulled her unwashed, dyed-black hair back into a ponytail, an inch of brassy roots showing around her hairline. She scratched at the blemishes on her forehead, absent-minded as she checked social media, getting a nice dopamine hit before immersing herself into her favorite fanfiction forum. People were so much easier to read on a screen. So easy to block when things didn’t go her way.
Her eyes darted over the recent comments on the latest updates to her story, a smile growing on her pretty, yet un-cared-for face. Nobody needed to see her face. The veil of online anonymity shielded her self-neglect and allowed her the freedom to compose using the intellectual property of others as fodder. Shame prevented her from typing “Jessica Bundy” in the “author” field of the forum, instead she used the alias “Fangirl25”.
Opening a tab behind the forum, Jess clicked a bookmarked European streaming site containing every episode of her favorite animated sitcom, “American Family”. Audio played in the background as words flowed from her fingertips. Every episode etched on her heart, Jess streamed the entire series in a loop every night since high school. She loved the blue humor and wacky musical numbers which incited the show’s wild popularity, but Henry O’Connor’s voice was her true obsession. Creator and star of “American Family”, Henry voiced a myriad of characters who had become real people to Jess. The warm, lulling familiarity of his voice soothed the deepest parts of her subconscious.
Henry O’Connor leaned against the clam-shaped sink in the opulent Las Vegas casino bathroom, which out-scaled his first LA studio apartment by a long shot. His arms were crossed in a defiant sulk, rounding his broad shoulders forward, his expensive physique slumped inside the royal blue suit which looked so dashing when it was filled with confidence.
“No way in hell, buddy.” Henry said, tapping the toe of his shiny handmade Italian leather shoe on each gray tile in the pattern on the floor around him, counting. Ben, his red-bearded best friend and co-star, was combing his ginger curls so they would lie flat. They didn’t.
“Come on, Henry! Don’t do this to me tonight! Ya gotta come with, they won’t let me past the door without you!” Ben pleaded. Henry cracked his knuckles nervously. He wanted to go straight from the Michael Bublé show back to his hotel so he could bask in cavernous isolation and tickle the ivories until he fell asleep on the keys. Vast ambivalence settled over him when he watched such a talented performer at work. Awed, tingly with glee, he appreciated the skill and artistry. Profound loathing jealousy pooled in his guts as he watched the enamored faces of the all the women (and more of the men than any of them want to admit) sighing at the heart throb pianist’s serenade.
Henry’s skill was comparable to Michael’s, but he had to go and make a wildly popular animated sitcom before he could hit it big as a musician. That kind of thing lingers longer than the smell of the shrimp cocktail buffet next to the bathroom. After ten seasons, he felt like he was almost done. He could retire from producing “American Family” and put out more albums, get some more work out in the world that isn’t so heavily associated with fart jokes.
“Seriously, dude?! This is gonna be some Illuminati shit! Coke and strippers as far as the eye can see! Beautiful women, begging to suck your salty Irish banger! We can’t miss a party like this!” Ben said, jostling Henry’s shoulder.
“Which is exactly why I’m calling it a night. The last thing I need is a big fat reminder why I got sober!” Henry said, shrugging him off. Ben feigned betrayal and he did it well. Best friends since they were playing piano bars and hustling pool in college, Ben had always been a good actor and exceptional at talking Henry into doing stupid things.
“Still? Ah, horseshit! This is Vegas, baby! It’s illegal to go to bed before 2 am!”
“Just tell ‘em you’re me! Half the people who know my name don’t have a clue what I look like anyway.” Henry thought this would get him out of going. He ran his fingers through his dark, woolly hair, anxiously eyeing his hairline in the gold-framed baroque mirror.
“But they always want the voices, man! I can’t do the voices! Ya have ta go!” Ben pleaded.
“You mean to tell me you’ve been sitting next to me in a recording studio all these years and you still can’t do Jack’s laugh?” Henry laughed like Jack the Dog on his show, which sounded like his grandfather’s raspy chuckle. Everything else about Jack’s voice was the same as his natural speaking voice. Ben attempted an impersonation, sounding more like if Santa ate Scooby Doo.
“Sounds great. Goodnight.” Henry said as he headed for the gold-plated door.
“Patrice will be there!” Ben shouted as a last-ditch effort. Henry stopped in his tracks.
The elevator ascended to the 22nd floor. Ben bounced on the balls of his feet, grinning as Henry stared angrily at his reflection in the mirrored walls of the elevator.
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.” Henry grumbled through a tense jaw.
“Coke and strippers as far as the eye can see… Coke and strippers as far as the eye can see!” Ben sang to himself in excitement. Henry felt like punching him.
“She just got married last week. Eric will definitely be there, all perfect and handsome…”
“Which one of them did you have a crush on again?” Ben cajoled.
“That guy’s gonna crush me if he finds out what I texted Patrice the night before the wedding.”
“Henry, you know why she turned you down.” Ben was momentarily serious as he met Henry’s glare in the reflection. He was the only one who knew. “Now stop being a sad sack of shit and bring that charming motherfucker A game! We got some fancy Vegas strippers to bang!” Ben resumed bouncing. Henry rolled his eyes. The elevator stopped and the doors opened directly to an extravagant suite the size of a cathedral.
Everything was gold and white marble, the mile-high windows displayed a view of the entire twinkling Vegas strip and the darkness of the desert beyond. Tuxedos and evening gowns swirled around servants carrying silver trays of delicate hors d’oeuvres and tinkling champagne glasses. A white grand piano was surrounded by tipsy onlookers watching Michael Bublé entertain for bonus adoration. Henry’s night was getting worse. Ben was disappointed that it was a little too gaudy for the “coke and strippers orgy” he had been trained to expect by movies.
Barely repressing a pout, Ben headed straight for the bar and ordered King Louis XIII cognac, which w/as around $500 an ounce. Henry prayed to the flying spaghetti monster that it was an open bar and he wouldn’t have to pick up the tab like he always did. Ben knocked back a shot of Louie like it was iced tea. Henry ordered a Jameson and sipped it twice before Ben was done with another half-a-grand of cognac. He could almost hear every woman in the room ovulating as Michael finished a silky rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Except for one. Animator’s eyes trained to focus on any out-of-place detail, Henry noticed the one face turned away from the crowd, staring directly at him. A gorgeous blonde in a kelly green vintage off-the-shoulder cocktail dress cut to hug her curves… only had eyes for him. Henry looked around, confused as to why no one else seemed to be looking at this radiant creature, wondering if she was staring at someone behind him. Ben didn’t seem to notice as his eyes went glassy from drinking too much expensive booze too fast. Henry met gaze of the mysterious knockout across the room, the noise of the room around him seemed to fade.
He was caught in the force of her gravity. Bright green irises shot laser beams into his dark, lonesome eyes. Platinum blonde locks fell in soft waves around her porcelain-doll face. Lust radiated from the perky apples of her cheeks. The dress accentuated her hourglass figure, cinching tight around her waist, he could tell she was wearing something steel-boned underneath to lift her luscious breasts so they threatened to spill over an unapologetic neckline. Henry’s mouth began to water.
“Hi Henry!” said a familiar voice. Patrice Azkallam stood next to him, gym-toned arms crossed, quietly fuming over the lack of attention being paid to her. Henry gave her a glance, unable to look away from the green-clad blonde bombshell staring love daggers at him from across the room. Patrice was a knock-out, a petite, curvy, multi-ethnic, doe-eyed, real-life Disney princess. Her creamy cocoa skin was complemented by her dark, lustrous hair swooped over in a shiny solid wave. A black sleeveless satin evening gown accentuated the roundness of her ass and was most likely taped to the enticing shelf of her voluminous artificial tits. Henry had spent so many years pining over those infamous fake knockers, her warm honey-colored almond eyes and enviable elitist fashion sense, he was almost shocked at his lack of interest at the moment.
“Hey Patty, how’s the new hubby?” Henry called her the name she went by many years before she was an Oscar nominee. Patty was an ambitious sitcom day player, plucked from obscurity to voice Hannah, the vituperative teenage lesbian daughter of “American Family”. Henry always hoped Patty would share his romantic interest, but he would have helped her regardless. She was an essential part of the show, Hannah had a rabid fan base and talks of a spin-off had been in the works for years. The show launched her movie career, which was moving towards award-baiting period dramas. Her wedding was announced the day before the ceremony. Ben was invited.
“He’s good…” Patty said like there was more she wanted to say.
“Fascinating.” Henry still wasn’t looking at her. The blonde from across the room was now dancing with a tuxedo-ed party guest, voracious as she stared over his shoulder at Henry, undulating to the music. The mysterious woman never broke eye contact even as the party guest swooped her into a low dip.
“Henry! How’s it hanging, bro?” Said Eric Barron, from above Henry’s head. The unreasonably tall billionaire bent down to wrap his arm around Patty’s petite shoulders. Eric’s sandy blonde hair was a disheveled reminiscence of a 90’s teenage heartthrob, somehow accenting the unnatural symmetry of his 55-year-old face. His icy blue eyes were dazed and bloodshot, gleefully enjoying Henry’s discomfort.
“Never better, Eric! Ya taking care of our girl here?” Henry plastered on his best charming motherfucker smile. He watched the blonde politely accept a hand-kiss from her dance partner when the song ended and start to make her way across the room towards him.
“Oh yeah, buddy. You better believe it!” Eric overcompensated. Patty gave a reluctant nod.
“Well, hello Patrice! And Eric! My man!” Ben chimed in, offering a fist-bump to Eric, who awkwardly stared at him like he’d never made a friend before. Ben “blew up” his own fist and acted like he saw someone he knew across the room as an excuse to leave.
“That was weird.” Patty said, watching Henry not watching her.
“Yeah, I uh…” Henry stammered, he had lost the blonde in the crowd.
“Sweetie, I’m gonna go find more of those shrimp puffs, would you get me another Grey Goose and redbull, thanks babe!” Eric wandered away without an answer.
“Where the hell is that guy from? I can’t place the accent.” Henry said, confused as he watched Eric bump into several people as he pursued a waiter carrying a tray of shrimp.
“He’s from Chicago. He just talks like that.” Patty said, shaking her head at her new husband.
“Now that’s weird.” Henry half-smiled at Patty, who seemed relieved he was looking at her.
“Look, I’m sorry I didn’t…” Patty started. A throat cleared behind Henry, he turned to get a face full of the radiant blonde, standing uncomfortably close. His eyes plummeted like dark stones to her cleavage, tantalizingly close to his face. Patty scoffed. Michael started playing “Witchcraft”.
“Henry O’Connor…” The stranger said, not raising her voice yet commanding the attention of everyone within earshot. Several onlookers turned hoping to see an altercation. Henry held his breath. Recognition didn’t always pan out well for him. “You have a beautiful voice…” the stranger purred. Henry paused, laughed in relief.
“Why, thank you! You have a beautiful… Everything.” He said, looking her up and down, sitting on a barstool so he didn’t pass out.
“Does that phrase just make your dick hard or what?” the stranger quipped, the onlookers giggled at Henry’s expense. The stranger smiled. Patty cleared her throat. Henry didn’t look at her as he took the stranger’s hand.
“I’ll see ya later, Patty.” Henry said as he led the blonde to the dance floor. Patrice rolled her eyes and stomped off to find her husband. The stranger radiated abject adoration from her whole being. Henry took her left hand and placed his right hand at the small of her back, drawing her in close. Her green eyes sparkled, brimming with excitement. They swayed to the music, Henry was a very precise dancer and a good lead. She followed his cadence in perfect synch.
“What’s your name?” Henry asked, leaning close to her ear so she could hear him over the music and the chatter of the crowd.
“Lucy.” She whispered in his ear, giving him tingles through his whole body. She leaned in closer so her voluptuous tits were pressed against his chest. “I want to fuck your goddamn brains out.” She breathed softly, brushing her pillowy lips against his ear. Henry leaned back, confusion knitting his thick black eyebrows, sure she must be joking. Lucy’s face held nothing but sweet, sultry lust.
“Really?” Henry said. His fame and status never brought such offers without strings attached. He looked around the room full of wealthy, beautiful party goers. “Why? You could have anyone here. The men and the women!” Lucy’s smile deepened as she shook her head at Henry.
“I only want you, Henry. I’m your number one fan.” She cooed at him, her hypnotic gaze convincing him this wasn’t a ruse. Henry was speechless. The song ended and what felt like a bunch of under-ripe bananas landed on Henry’s shoulder, roughly turning him away from the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
“Hey Henry!” Eric said, sputtering through a mouthful of shrimp puffs, holding a hijacked tray in his banana-hand. “I just wanted to tell you I read the text you sent Patrice the night before the wedding and there’s no hard feelings, brother. I send filthy messages to women all the time!” Eric laughed at his own non-joke, wafting the smell of shrimp in Henry’s face. Henry turned and Lucy was gone. Smiling through gritted teeth, Henry turned back to Eric.
“Yeah, we all do dumb things sometimes.” Henry grumbled. Ben showed up by Henry’s side, red-faced and sweating.
“Dude, we gotta go. I’m sick.” Ben made a gagging noise that said he was about to puke expensive liquor all over Henry’s favorite suit. Henry glanced around for Lucy again, disappointed. He sighed and shuffled his friend away from the billionaire still snacking on shrimp.
On the 11th floor, Henry dragged Ben back to his room and tucked him in with a glass of water on the nightstand and a trashcan next to the bed.
“If I die, please for the love of gahd, clear my search history before my mom sees it!” Ben muttered, face-planted in the pillow.
“Don’t be so dramatic. You’re not gonna die.” Henry rolled Ben over on his side and wrestled off his shoes.
“Fuck King Louie and his horse.”
“Not tonight, buddy. Get some sleep.” Henry made sure Ben was peacefully snoring before he left to take the elevator up to the 19th floor.