Trashed / Page 20

Page 20


I ask myself the same questions, and find about as many answers as the journalists are getting…i.e., none.

I keep smiling until my face hurts, and I shake dozens of hands. Either Adam’s arm is around my waist or he’s holding my hand. I meet so many people I’m dizzy and have no hope of remembering anyone’s name except those whom I already recognized. I manage to make a single glass of champagne last over an hour, and even then I feel disconnected in my head, but that may be as much from the surreal experience as the alcohol.

At last, people begin to filter into the dining room, each couple greeted by the maître d’ and passed off to a server who leads them to a table. The Grand Hotel dining room is almost as famous as the porch, so I’ve seen pictures of it, but I’ve never been here for a meal. I know, though, that it’s been transformed for this event. Usually, there are small, rectangular two-top tables in three rows on either side of the main aisle, with big round tables for larger parties interspersed throughout the room. Now, however, the usual setup has been replaced by twenty or so of the large round tables, all centered around a raised dais placed against the wall of windows overlooking the famous porch. There’s a podium and a microphone, and a long rectangular table on either side of the podium, each one set with six places.

Adam and I are directed to the dais, sitting in the middle two places at the table to the left of the dais. Rose sits beside me, and a ridiculously hot guy sits in turn beside her, closest to the stage. I recognize the guy with Rose, but it takes me a few minutes of thinking to place him. He’s tall and lean with messy brown hair and sharp features. Dylan Vale, that’s his name. He’s a newer actor, from an edgy new cable show about a feud between two rival clans of shape-shifters. I haven’t seen the show, but Ruthie likes it, and she’s always raving about how hot Dylan Vale is. Now that I see him in real life, I can see that Ruthie has, if anything, understated how absurdly beautiful Dylan is.

He’s not Adam, though, and he’s clearly enamored with Rose, leaning in and nuzzling her neck, saying something that has her laughing and blushing.

On the other side of Adam are Gareth and a striking, middle-aged woman who must be his wife, judging by the easy, comfortable way they interact with each other. The table on the other side has Lawrence and his wife, Amy and her husband, and a man with salt-and-pepper hair and vivid blue eyes, who I assume is a producer or something, and his date.

The rest of the tables are seated quickly, and servers appear bearing bowls of soup and trays of water and silver pitchers and bottles of wine. A dozen young men and women in white coats with a towel over one arm move from table to table, listening and taking orders, and then return with a bottle of wine, which he or she then opens with elaborate formality, pouring a tiny amount into a glass and waiting for approval.

As we wait, Adam leans into me, and I hear his voice buzz in my ear. “You’re amazing. You’re a natural at this, Des, for real. Everyone is absolutely nuts over you.”

I turn to look at him. “What the hell were you thinking, bringing me here? I’m so out of place it’d be funny if I weren’t terrified.” I say this in a tiny, tight whisper, pitched so low he has to put his ear to my mouth to hear me.

He laughs as if I’ve said something funny. “I know you feel out of place, Des. I get it. I feel the same way, every time. Just keep faking it. No one will ever be the wiser.”

“That I’m a fucking janitor, you mean?”

He frowns at me. “Does that really matter?”

I give him an incredulous expression. “Um…yeah? If these people find out you brought a garbage collector as your date to a Hollywood A-list fundraiser gala…I don’t even know what would happen, but nothing good. For me, or you.”

He shakes his head. “Des, you’re overthinking this. It’s going to be fine. Just be you. You’re beautiful. None of the guys can take their eyes off of you.” His hand, resting on the table, lifts and a finger inscribes a small arc to indicate the dining room. “Look around you.”

I sip at the glass of wine that appeared in front of me at some point, and try to unobtrusively scrutinize the room. When I do, my heart rate skyrockets. Adam is right. Everyone is looking at me. Everyone. Not just the men, but women, too. The men are more obvious about it, glancing at me, and then away, around the room, and then back to me. But the women are watching me too, and that’s almost more frightening. They’re more judgmental. I can feel their scrutiny. I can feel them examining my hair, my makeup, my dress, the cheap silver bangle around my wrist, and the cheap cubic zirconium earrings in my ears. At least I’m sitting down, so my height and shape are mostly hidden by the table.

“Thanks,” I tell Adam, darting a quick glance at him. “I’m even more self-conscious now that I’m aware that everyone in the room is wondering who I am and why the hell I’m here.”

“They’re wondering how I managed to get someone as sexy as you to come with me on such short notice.”

“Bullshit,” I say, but it lacks venom.

The fact that Adam seems to honestly think I’m sexy does something to me, makes my brain and my stomach and my heart all quiver with a weird, restless energy.

The eyes in the room eventually stop staring at me as the dinner progresses, and I find a measure of comfort. I’m still hyper-aware that I’m out of place, that I’m a nobody in a room full of famous people, but Adam engages me in conversation.

By the time the main course is done, I’m stuffed full and my bladder is screaming. “Adam? Where’s the restroom?”

Rose overhears my question and stands up. “I have to go, too. I’ll show you.”

I’m hesitant, but I can’t very well get out of it now. I glance at Adam, who is half-standing, watching me, concerned. I can’t look scared just to go to the bathroom, and everyone is watching, so I let out a small breath and shake my head at him subtly, then I follow Rose out of the dining room and down a short, wide set of stairs to a narrow hallway. There’s a gift shop opposite, closed and dark now, and then an opening leading to the front desk. A velvet rope blocks the stairway, guarded additionally by a pair of hotel doormen and another pair of huge, black-suited bodyguard types. They nod respectfully at Rose, and the rope is pulled aside to let us through. The bodyguard steps in front of us, opens the door to the women’s bathroom, and calls out to see if it’s occupied. A woman’s voice calls back, and she comes out a moment later, staring at the hulking bodyguard and then at Rose, and then at me. Her eyes go wide, and she opens her mouth, but a hotel employee is adroitly escorting her away, and Rose pulls me into the bathroom after her. The door closes slowly, and I see the bodyguard take up position in front of the doorway, massive arms crossed over a broad chest.

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