A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 9
A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.
Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.
Album danced to the dismay of the other guys. He had purchased drinks for three girls, and they were all grinding around him. The beat was slower and sexier, and Album took it as a sign to get real close. The girls complied.
“What’s your name, girls?” He asked. He got something back he could barely make out. Three voices in a crowded club, it came out muzzled.
“I heard Gretchen,” Album said. “Which one of you is Gretchen?”
Three hands went up.
“My God, three Gretchens! Let’s get all bad Mormon! Fuck yes!”
Tess sat at the bar. Her feet hurt. She’d danced with Album for an hour, then sat, needing a rest. Album was stone drunk from the beginning, another reason she kept her distance. She’d seen far too many guys have far too many and think they were Brad Pitt all of a sudden, except they ended up acting like Rob Schneider. She thought to herself, “Brad Pitt hasn’t even acted in a film where he’s a gigantic douche. I don’t get it.”
Tess took a drink of her beer. She looked out on the crowd. She was happy she wasn’t working tonight, but fuck, why wasn’t she home? She could be in a bath. She could be catching up on her email and magazines. She could be calling her mother. She could be watching a movie with Bret. And then she realized she wasn’t with Bret anymore, and that she hadn’t been in some time. She wondered if they were even friends, or if she wanted even that.
It was at that point Tess missed home for the first time. She missed Bret from home, too.
Album returned from dancing with the Gretchen’s and high-fived Tess.
“Can you believe it? They were all named Gretchen.”
“Sure,” Tess said, not wanting to bother arguing. “That’s crazy.”
“Let’s do this,” Album said to nobody.
Tess didn’t reply. He put a hand on her shoulder.
“Seriously, let’s do this,” Album screamed in her ear.
“Fuck man, you don’t have to yell. Do what?”
“Run this town. Your beauty and ability to get in any room in the city, and my website. We can alter things. Fix things. Break things. Whatever. We could totally be in charge.”
“Are you offering me a job? What would “help run things” look like on a resume?”
“Oh, I don’t fucking know. I don’t have a resume. I’m a Blogger for fuck’s sake.”
“Well, think of a title and get back to me.”
“Oh,” Album spit. His tone changed. “And your resume’s stellar. You’re a pretty face in the crowd. That’s what you get paid for.”
“Yeah,” Tess said. “And I get paid very well for it.”
Album got another beer. Tess tried to stop him.
“Hey, it’s only 1am. Don’t you think you should pace a little?”
“Fuck off,” Album said. “Isn’t it your job to push booze?”
“I’m not on tonight. I’m out with you. And you’re an embarrassment.”
Album looked at her. He could have done anything at that moment. But he opted for trying to kiss her.
The slap was hard.
Tess stamped out through to the casino and out the door to fresh desert air. Album didn’t follow her out. He didn’t have anything to fight for. He put the new cold glass bottle against his cheek and shrugged. He checked the score of the Rockies game on the screen above the bar and went hunting for Gretchens.
# # #
Bret awoke to the warm air from Jenny’s lips. They’d slept close, hands clasped, his arm underneath his pillow, underneath hers. Jenny was nude. She was the first naked woman Bret had seen since he’d last been right here, in this bed. He looked at Jenny’s still sleeping face and liked how she expressed no emotion and yet looked happier than any time she was awake. He lifted a few strands of her hair out of her face, and he worried whether meeting Album was the worst thing to ever happen to him.
Jenny made him want to stay, and when nobody’s pulling you in any direction, a naked ex can shake the heavens.
Bret lifted himself slowly out of bed and made way to the kitchen. He boiled water, prepared coffee. It was habit he’d grown out of while alone; the first day he was by himself, he made three times too much. Jenny hadn’t changed where anything was. She hadn’t redecorated or rearranged or even painted. Jenny’s apartment stood silent, without judgment, figuring all along they would get back together.
Jenny came out wearing pajamas. She could sleep naked, but she couldn’t walk around like that. She tried to fix her hair but it wasn’t going to happen. Her face scrunched. She wasn’t used to seeing Bret in the mornings.
“What are you…” she stopped. Remembered.
“I can get out of here if you want,” Bret said. “It was your idea, but I get it if you want to take it one day at a time.”
“No,” Jenny murmured, slinking into a chair beside her kitchen table. “Is that coffee you’re making? Do you remember where everything is?”
“Yeah,” Bret said. He poured the boiling water into the french press. “Four minutes.”
“So, wow,” she said.
“Oh, don’t start that,” Bret said. “Don’t act all surprised we hooked up. You wanted me and I had a concussion.”
“You have a concussion?” Jenny asked.
“Maybe,” Bret said. “I should probably go to a clinic today.”
“Should I ask?”
Bret blinked, and then thought what the hell? He said, “This guy has been stalking me and we got into a fight yesterday before you called and I broke a camera over his head, then I got arrested but the cop let me go because he used to skip the border for weed.”
Jenny’s lips pursed inward. She said, “I don’t know if I like your life.”
“I’m not crazy about it myself. It doesn’t matter. I’m quitting today. I’ve taken my last shot.”
Jenny perked up. “Are you sure about that? I mean, you won’t get an objection from me. But is this what you want?”
“Yeah, definitely. It’s an albatross, you know? It really sinks you. I want to do good but I can’t. Every single result from this work hurt somebody. And I just can’t deal with that anymore.”
“Well,” Jenny said, getting up, throwing her arms around Bret, and kissing him on the nose. “I’m proud of you. You’ve grown a lot in the last month.”
Bret kissed her back. It lasted until the coffee was ready. Bret poured, and they sat. The sunlight came in through one window. It was warm, but not crazy.
“Oh,” Jenny said. “I remember my dream.”
“What did you dream?”
“I think we had a threesome with God.”
“I’m sorry? We fucked God?”
“Yeah, or maybe it was Santa Claus.”
“You,” Bret said, kissing her. “Need a really expensive shrink. You’ve got to get over this old man thing. It’s making me insecure.”
She kissed back.
# # #
It was a hot and dry but sweet summer day. The tourists were out, the signs shone bright against the sun, and everything smelled of good waste. Bret got out of his car and looked up at Album’s apartment complex. He put his sunglasses away and entered, pressed the button for the elevator and waited. He felt solid, like a man with an easy to-do list. Pick up eggs. Place a long distance call. Quit your fucking job.
Bret arrived on Album’s floor and what he saw ruined everything. He saw the back of the camera man, walking away from Album’s door, towards the stairs. Bret began to chase him, but stopped after two steps. Did he really want another fight? What was the point? He was never going to figure this asshole out. He was never going to explain himself. He’d just disappear again. He was another Vegas nut ball, just like Bret in a way. Bret straightened out, and thought, Helping or hurting? Helping, or hurting?
So Bret stepped slowly, and when he couldn’t hear the camera man’s steps anymore, he knocked on Album’s door.
“Hey man,” Album said, opening up. He was wearing a kimono. Bret didn’t care why. “What’s shaking? You missed a hell of a party last night.”
“I don’t care,” Bret said. And then he placed his hands on his hips, and calmly asked, “What’s your relationship with him?”
“You know who. I just saw him leave your apartment.”
Album paused. He sat down in his desk chair and swiveled a little bit. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
“The camera man,” Bret said. “The guy who’s been following me around. The guy that fought me in a parking lot yesterday.”
“Oh,” Album said nonchalantly. “Him.”
Bret shook his head. “Christ, Album. Do you have something to do with him?”
“Of course. I hired him.”
“You….you what?” Bret was confused, and very, very pissed off.
“I hired him. To be your nemesis.”
Bret considered storming out right there and heading for the nearest bat store.
“All of this, the paranoia that asshole put into me, the fight, the cameras. It was all because of you? Why the fuck would you do that to me?”
“Because,” Album said. “I needed you.”
Bret wished his eyes could shine bright. He wished he could shoot Album right there and get away with it using cowboy law.
He said, “You’re going to explain yourself. You’re going to give me your story. And then you’re never going to see me again.”
“Maybe. I was hoping it would last longer than this. All’s well, though. He was getting expensive. I had to pay double because of what you did to his face. I mean, a camera to the head? What were you thinking? That kind of shit’s expensive.”
Bret didn’t waiver. “Explain.”
“All right,” Album said, getting up. He dragged himself to the fridge and pulled out a beer. He motioned Bret to take it, but he just stood there, gritting his teeth. Album shrugged and popped the cap open on the edge of the counter and took a swig. “The second Fane’s photo leaked to the bigger press and you saw what was going to happen, you were like a completely different person. Before that, you didn’t care what lives you affected. It was like your jiminy cricket fucking conscious suddenly woke up. So I thought, what’s going to keep you grounded? What makes you stupid? What makes you think day to day, without any real time to plan for the future? I needed a good camera man, so I hired another one to spy on you. Because you’re the kind of guy who needs a conflict. You need your own personal drama. You need a nemesis, someone who you can’t figure out but is one step ahead of you.”
“That,” Bret cut in. “Is the most fucked up thing I’ve ever heard.”
Album smiled like a crazed villain. “But it worked, didn’t it? You kept working. You stopped worrying about Reggie, you got over Jenny, you didn’t go back to Tess, and you’re still here, taking pictures. It all worked out.” Album took a swig. He proclaimed, “I’m a genius. Probably a bastard, but a genius nonetheless.”
Bret’s eyes lit up a little. “Actually, asshole, I never really stopped feeling guilty about Reggie. Jenny and I are back together as of last night, and I tried going back to Tess, but she turned me down because I was so far away from having my shit figured out. You know, shit I probably could have figured out if I didn’t have to look over my shoulder every five minutes because a psycho had it out for me.”
“Well,” Album said. “I guess it didn’t work out so well. Still, you’re still here. You’re still taking pictures.”
“Actually, I came here to quit.”
“Fuck no. I refuse. You can’t quit.”
“You hired a guy to stalk me. You get no say whatsoever in my career path.”
“I hired him to keep you doing what you do best. What, you’re going to go back to Canada, back to the job you hated? Back to the cold, rainy, hippie-filled winters of fucking Vancouver? And what, you think Tess is going back with you? Trust me, man. I was with her last night. That slice is Vegas bred, baby. She’s not going anywhere. Though I guess you’re not going anywhere if you’re back fucking that republican bitch. I always hated her. You don’t get it, and that’s fine, but I was your best friend. I knew what you needed, and I was there to provide.”
“What do you mean you were with Tess last night?”
Album said nothing. He just smirked.
And that’s when Bret hit him with a left hook.
Album fired back, a hard left to Bret’s stomach. Bret took it in and lunged at Bret. They fell over Album’s chair, knocking his beer over and ramming into Album’s desk. Everything rattled. Bret rallied on Album’s head with quick, hard shots. Album flailed. Neither men were all that great at this, and it quickly degenerated into rolling and shoving and the odd stomach punch.
“Fuck, get off me asshole,” Album said. “We didn’t do anything. Fuck.”
Bret got off Album. He breathed hard. He let Album up.
“Sorry,” Bret said. “I’ve been getting into too many fights lately.”
“You fucking Canadians, apologizing for everything.”
“Yeah, well. You fucking Americans keep trying to fuck everything up.”
“Noted,” Album said. “Look, I’m sorry if your nemesis didn’t work out for you. It was a weird plan and there was a pretty good chance it was going to blow up in my face.”
Bret laughed. It was the first time he’d heard Album apologize for anything.
“I still don’t know if you get it,” Bret said. “You mess with people’s lives. You mess with the people who help you mess up people’s lives. Nobody is happier at the end of this process. Nobody is better off with their tits on the internet or egg on their face. Nobody is better off naked and famous.”
“I, for one, still think there’s a lot of value in brutal truth,” Album said. “And it pains me to see that you’ve lost your appetite.”
“Yeah, I think it all just stops at brutal. I’ll be seeing you.” Bret turned to leave.
“Wait,” Album said.
“What? What could there possibly be?”
“I have a going-away present for you.”
Bret turned. “What?”
“One last job,” Album said.
“Oh, Fuck you,” Bret said. “I’ll hit you again. In the face. With a brick.”
“No, seriously, you’re going to want to do this one. If you’re going to quit on me, the least you can do is accept this. It’s a challenge, but I’ll pay you triple. Consider it vacation pay, severance, and bribe money all wrapped in one.”
Bret wanted to sock Album again, but then thought about the practicalities. He was about to be out of a job. Jenny was broke, too. One more gig might hold him over for a little while. Especially if it was triple. Especially if it was easy.
“Prince. The artist formerly renamed as.”
“Prince,” Bret chewed.
“The Palomino,” Album said, swigging.
Bret thought about it. “Fine, but this is it. I’ll get him with a couple of strippers.”
“It’ll be sad to see you go,” Album said. “You were the best photographer I ever worked with. Even if you did suck at COD.”
Bret stated, “I thought we were on the same team.” Bret shook Album’s hand, and left. He felt like shit all over again, like the inside of a whore’s boxing glove.
# # #
“I’m not working the Palomino,” Tess stated, matter-of-fact-like.
“I can’t do this one without someone I trust,” Trice said. “It’s crazy money. We’re talking Prince money. Thousands in one night.”
“I don’t do nude work, Trice. You know that. Cigarettes. Booze. Free swag. That’s my racket. You and your sister do whatever you want.”
“It’s not nude, though. Just the other girls. We’re there to be arm candy for the entourage, to pour drinks and fill up the VIP section.”
“Get someone else,” Tess said. “I’m getting so sick of this shit, anyway.”
“What? This is the life, bitch. This is the fucking life.”
“It wasn’t always like this. Not for me, anyway.”
“Look, bitch,” Trice said. “It’s tons of money. It’s five hours. It’s at the old strip club, so what? What’s the worst that’s going to happen?”
“Answer’s no,” Tess stated.
Trice argued with Tess for another half hour, with little give. Finally, she threw up her hands and asked what Tess’ problem was. The problem turned out to be energy. Tess was tired of doing the job. She was tired of removing herself from every night. She was sick of playing a character. More than anything, though, she was scared that she was becoming more and more like the character she put on. She felt like less and less of her woke up every morning, and less and less of her went to bed every night.
Finally, though, Trice did talk Tess into the job. Tess wasn’t even sure what the big turn around was. Maybe she was just sick of arguing the point. Going along seemed easier. And she hated herself for being what she spent the better part of the afternoon arguing she wasn’t.
# # #
“You can’t go one day without getting into a fight, can you?”
Jenny pressed a damp washcloth into Bret’s swollen forehead. Back in her apartment, Bret found solace and warmth and all the things associated with a woman once loved.
“Didn’t I tell you? I’m joining the Ultimate Fighting thing.”
“You’re not funny,” Jenny said, pressing in so he’d feel it.
Bret smiled. “At least it’s over. Well, almost over. He talked me into doing one more. But it’ll be for a lot. It’ll tie us over for a while until we both find work.”
“Good,” Jenny said. “God knows I’ve been trying. I’ve been looking at all sorts of jobs over the last few weeks. I’ve even had the odd interview, but as soon as people find out I was part of Fane’s team, I’m out the job. I’m pretty well blackballed.”
“Really? It’s that bad, huh?”
“You don’t know what you did to me, asshole.”
They kissed. It was still kind of weird for both of them.
They left the bathroom and Bret sank into the bed, curling in. Jenny followed, crawling over him, planting her face right in front of his.
“We’re cute, you know. As a couple. My sister said so.”
“It’s why I got back together with you, I think.”
“Yeah, she was relentless. I told her to ask you out.”
“You should’ve. She’s cute.”
“But not cuter than me, right?”
“Because that’s the right answer.”
Bret held her for a moment. The room was still and air-conditioned. He could hear the motor coming from the box in the wall, above them. Sometimes he had trouble sleeping, and he blamed it on that motor.
Bret thought of something. “Hey, if you need money, I could hook you up with some work.”
“What kind of work?” One of Jenny’s eyes squinted.
“I’ll call Tess. She can get you into some things.”
Jenny sat up.
Bret looked at her, puzzled. “Why not? It’s good money. Tess tells me it’s pretty easy. And you’re pretty.”
Jenny glared at Bret. “Qualifications aren’t the issue, Bret. I don’t want to do that job.”
“What? Promo stuff? Why not?”
“I just don’t, Bret. Don’t you think I’m a little better than that?”
“Better than what?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Jenny said. “But the answer’s no.”
Bret was all of a sudden pretty uncomfortable. “Is it because my ex does it?”
“Because I graduated from UNLV, Bret. Because I was the secretary to the Governor a few weeks ago. Because I have dignity, mainly.”
“What’s dignity got to do with it? It’s work.”
Jenny put a hand on Bret’s shoulder. “Just because you don’t find any dignity in work doesn’t mean I don’t, honey. Okay? End of discussion.”
“I…” Bret stopped himself. “I don’t know how to feel about this. That was some pretty harsh judgment.”
“You just told your girlfriend to go be a stripper, Bret. How do you think I feel?”
“It’s not stripping. Tess doesn’t take her clothes off. You’re just peddling stuff. Booze. Smokes. That kind of thing.”
“Yeah, you’re really selling it. Do you want to watch TV or something? Let’s change the subject.”
They found their way to the living room, turned on the television. There was nothing but reruns, but they sat in silence for nearly an hour before falling asleep.