Me? I was distracted at my own retirement party.
Some f**king retirement.
I didn't choose to leave the EOD. The explosive ordnance disposal unit, that was my job. It's what I had done for the last five years. That wasn't a long time to most people, but to me it was a lifetime. I'd joined the Navy at seventeen. EOD was everything to me. It was all I knew, and I didn't want to leave it. When the guys said I was having a retirement party, they weren't talking about the whole do-twenty-years, get-a-gold-watch bullshit. They were talking about getting medically retired. That was another thing entirely.
That wasn't a goddamned retirement. Not after five years. Not in my books anyway.
That was getting euthanized, put down like a f**king dog just because I lost my leg.
"Man, have a drink and lighten the hell up." Adam handed me a beer. "I know you're going to f**king miss me and everything, but you're being a f**king pu**y. We've got booze, girls, and a suite in Vegas. Ain’t got all that back in West Bend.”
"Miss you, hah. Fuck you, man." But I took the beer anyway. It wasn’t his fault I was being an ass**le. I wasn’t a drinker, didn't like being out of control. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a beer. It had been years. But this seemed like that kind of an occasion. The end of an era.
That sounded goddamned melodramatic. And I wasn’t an over-emotional kind of guy.
But hell, I was an EOD guy. Always had been, always would be. I didn’t know what to do outside of the Navy. It's all I'd known since I was seventeen. My mother was all too happy to sign that paperwork letting me go to boot camp early.
And all I wanted was to get the hell away from West Bend and the shit that I grew up with.
To get the hell away from the ass**le. My father.
Now, here I was, headed right back to that shit. Back to the shithole piece of land where I was raised. Back to being a f**king pariah because of my brother.
But not back to my father. He died last week.
I hadn't told a single goddamned person that he's dead.
And I hadn't shed one f**king tear for him.
“Here,” Chase said, handing me a red plastic cup, even though I was already holding a beer. “Got the good f**king whiskey, too. We’re high rollers tonight, shithead. Drink up. Once we’re done looking at tits, we’re going to go down to the casino.”
I took a sip from the cup, feeling the burn of the alcohol as it slid down my throat. What the hell? You only live once, right?
I was flying, hurtling down the highway in the twilight of the early evening. I could see the Vegas lights up ahead. I didn’t know where the hell I was going when I left Hollywood, but somehow I'd ended up here. I had been driving in a daze. I was still in a daze, my head clouded and foggy.
I should feel something, I thought. More than just blank.
Viper- yeah, that was definitely not not his real name; his real name was David- was my everything. Was.
It was so hard to tell after a while, where he ended and I began. There were so many other people involved: his agent, my agent, our managers, our families.
I had no idea what I was doing right now. The one thing I knew was that I had to leave.
When I pulled up to the hotel, my hair was hidden, tucked up underneath my baseball cap. I didn’t take off my sunglasses, even though I knew it made me look ridiculously pretentious. I always hated that kind of thing, the stars who would wear their sunglasses inside just because they were too cool for school.
I showed the clerk the fake ID, gave him my fake credit card, the stuff I used when I couldn’t risk being found by the paparazzi. I was using them now for that reason. Hotel staff were notorious for letting photographers know where you were - at least that had been my extensive experience.
By extensive, I meant since I was discovered.
It wasn’t always mansions and hot cars and partying with the “it” girls and boys. Before all that, I was about as white trash as it got, living in a trailer with my mom and sister, barely getting by on food stamps. Well, to be more precise, it was my mom, my sister, and my mom’s string of shitty boyfriends she paraded through the trailer, the ones that beat up on her, beat up on us.
A few of them did more than just beat up on us.
Not that she was any better. If anything, she was worse than any of them, at least to me. I was the scapegoat.
And she was still part of my life, out in Malibu, living in a place I paid for.
Fate is sometimes cruel, but not to the people it should be cruel toward.
Everything changed when I was discovered, sitting on a curb in my tattered sundress, with my skinned knees and bruised arms, my limbs browned from a mixture of sun and dirt. I was barefoot not because it was summer, but because someone had stolen my shoes at school and we couldn’t afford another pair. My sister and I had been looking for loose change on the sidewalk, scrounging around to see if we could get together enough for a soda after school, but really just buying time away from the trailer because mom was inside with one of her boyfriends and it wasn’t safe to go home.
~ ~ ~
He pulled up near the curb, in a shiny black car that looked like it belonged to a millionaire. He stepped out, and when he paused as he walked by me, looking down at me over the edge of his sunglasses, I thought I was looking at a prince or a king or something. This man was someone important, someone special.