Daze in the Valley
by Jay Cantrell
The highlight of Saturday night was the beginning of the long promised and awaited “Date Night”. The concept spread quickly and soon everyone had decided to go out in twos, threes and fours to something of interest to the group.
Some of the pairings were natural. Walt and Mary invited Katey to join them for a game at Dodgers Stadium. Sean, Rachelle and Meredith planned an evening of dinner and dancing.
Adam wasn’t a bit surprised when Beth and Jason decided to spend Saturday at the Museum of Natural History before going out to a quiet dinner. He had seen that one coming for days. Leslie and Tyanna invited Lucy to join them for a ballet performance. Anya and Katya were going to a Russian restaurant and then to a foreign film festival.
The rest of the lower house drew cards for partners. Allie and Shelly each drew jacks and decided a shopping trip and a movie was called for. Adam and Sarah drew queens and decided go-kart racing and a batting cage would be a good date. The kings went to Trinity and Karlie. Both were avid mini golfers and decided to see how many courses they could hit. Erin and Rebecca drew aces and picked a beach volleyball match.
Adam figured the natural pairings would leave Cameron and Timm in pretty high demand – in case the evening extended into the night. He was wrong.
In fact, the women went to such lengths to avoid appearing greedy that the guys were left to the last two to arrive at the houses – Veronica and Elena. Neither of the women appeared disappointed and Timm and Cameron certainly weren’t upset.
Both Timm and Veronica were old enough to get into some of the better clubs in Los Angeles (which insisted the occupants be 21 years old unless they were a reality TV star or an heiress or something). They decided to have a simple dinner and then go clubbing.
Cameron and Elena planned a visit to Hollywood to take in the sites and then go to a concert. Cameron said he had lived in Los Angeles his whole life but had never been to Hollywood. Elena was excited about going to see Rodeo Drive.
It was after 11 p.m. when everyone returned. Allie and Shelly were the last ones back but they were laughing and giggling like crazy.
“We saw the worst movie!” Allie said. Then Shelly explained the film in excruciating detail. Adam wondered – but wisely didn’t ask – why she felt the need to fill them in on a movie that was horrible.
“The volleyball game was cool,” Erin said. “You know a lot of women’s sports are lezzie fests so we fit right in.”
Rebecca simply rolled her eyes. She had determined during the course of the evening that Adam’s presence was having an adverse effect on Erin’s tact. Still, she laughed when Erin related the story of the player whose bikini wound up almost at her knees when she dove to dig a spike.
“I enjoyed our movie,” Anya offered. “The restaurant was delicious. I let Katya pick the menu. It was amazing!”
“I’m happy to watch movie I understand,” Katya replied with a grin. American television shows required a bit of explanation from time to time because of the slang terms that predominated in the language.
“I killed on the course – again,” Karlie said smugly. “It was no contest. Trinity talks a good game but talk is all it is. Isn’t that right, Trinity?”
Trinity closed her eyes tightly for a moment before answering.
“Yes, Mistress Karlie,” she said. Karlie dissolved in laughter.
“That was her bet,” she explained. “She seemed to think my prowess was overstated. So she wanted to play for slave rights for the rest of the weekend. Guess who’ll be doing my undies by hand tomorrow.”
“Sweet!” Shelly said. “Can I borrow her for a few minutes? I have a few things that really need to be hand washed.”
Karlie smiled sadly.
“Sorry, Shelly,” she said. “I really am. You know I don’t usually mind when you play with my things. But we decided early on that this would be non-sexual and non-transferrable.”
“What fun is that?” Allie asked with a laugh. “How were the go-karts?”
“Adam cheats!” Sarah said. She did her best to look sad but smiled anyway. “He completely cut me off the last lap. He almost spun me out.”
“It’s called drafting and bumping,” Adam said. “You should watch more racing with me. I just got underneath her a little and gave her a love tap. It’s not my fault she can’t drive.”
“Hey, that sounds like fun!” Rebecca said. “Why don’t you do that to all of us tonight? You know, get underneath us and give us a love tap.”
The girls broke down in giggles again and it was a smiling group that wandered downstairs to the bedroom – Anya and Katya in tow.
Adam somehow found himself beneath each of them at some point during the evening and early morning and did his best until they tapped him out.
Sunday saw most of the group preparing for the final exams in their summer courses. Erin, Anya, Katya and Adam went out to a number of locations to shoot sets for the new additions to “Sweet Things.”
The last place they visited was a deserted beach that Adam was sure was private property. There was no sign in sight, however, so he went along with the plan.
He took about 200 pictures of all the women in apparel that ranged from swimsuit to birthday suit. Then he took 50 more pictures of them walking hand in hand down the beach as the sun set behind them.
He barely made it back to the house for the Subarctic meeting.
As it was, there was little to discuss and most of the talk centered on the upcoming trip to Las Vegas and the various dates from the night before. The only real news came from the newly contracted business manager who gave an update on profits and expenditures from the varying businesses.
Only Carter Creations had shown no profit – which earned Walt some good-natured ribbing. But the other companies were showing earnings between good (Five Friends Casting) to astounding (Petal Technologies).
The tax-abatement plan was approved and would take effect in the next business year. If projections held true, within a year, Subarctic Enterprises would be a billion dollar corporation.
Even Adam gulped at the magnitude of that.
Outside of the business plan, Walt and Erin took center stage. Steve Rayburn, the local man who sold the second house to the group, was suffering from the normal problems faced by small, start-up business – too little capital to survive any downturn in business. Walt recommended a low-term, long-range loan or an offer to invest.
“I don’t see much profit in it,” Matt Tolliver, the newly-hired business manager, cut in.
“Not everything with this company is about profit,” he said. He knew he had to cut off Adam, who would have told the guy it wasn’t his fucking money so shut the hell up. As it was, Adam still got a word in.
“I accept your business acumen but I reject your advice,” Adam said. “A business like Steve Rayburn’s might not show a great deal of profit on the financial ledger but it provides a needed service to the community. If you plan to stick around this company, you’ll need to understand that we put a large emphasis on making life better for our employees and for good people who might need a little boost to see them through hard times regardless of the cost to us.”
“And Steve definitely falls into that category,” Walt said. “His main problem is that he works in a low-income area and he refuses to hold a customer’s car until payment is made. Most of the folks need their cars to get back-and-forth to work or get their kids to school. He’s trying to do better but he’s not going to survive the rest of the year without help.”
“I move we instruct Walt to begin negotiations with Steve Rayburn to determine if a loan or outright investment works best for him,” Mary said.
The business manager pursed his lips but stayed silent.
Walt sat down and Erin asked to be recognized.
“Walt stole a bit of my thunder,” she said with a smile. “But Jack Simms, a/k/a Renaldo, is in the same boat. His problem isn’t a lack of customers or slow payment. His issue is that he really needs some new equipment and no bank will touch him because he is so new. He also really needs to hire someone to help him out but that is a matter for him to decide.”
“Will you apply for the job?” Rachelle asked.
“No, I’m actually busier than he is,” Erin said with a smile. “In a month or two, I’ll be asking to discuss opening a studio in the office complex. I think I could make it work with just the clients I already have. That is if Adam doesn’t steal them. He’s doing really well with the camera.”
“I have had some marvelous subjects,” Adam said with a smile. Everyone laughed but he was mostly serious. It’s hard to take a bad picture of a half-naked (or completely naked) beautiful woman.
“Uh, I might be out of line again,” Matt said. “But do I have this correct? You want to offer assistance to a company that you will compete with in a few months?”
Erin tilted her head slightly, and then nodded.
“Why?” Matt asked before he could stop himself.
“Actually, it is not direct competition,” Sarah answered for the group. “Jack works mostly contract jobs with studios but he is branching out to include artistic portraits. Erin would do mostly portrait and candid photography. But there is enough room in that realm for two companies to succeed – especially in L.A. Jack is a good person and he was helpful to us when we were nobodies. We don’t forget that.”
Matt had only a couple of years of experience but he knew this was not how a business usually operated. He wondered why he had been hired because the group routinely rejected his ideas. He had told them it was ludicrous to keep so much cash unbudgeted. He had been appalled that the group had placed almost half of its net worth into an educational trust. When he first read about Subarctic Enterprises, he had dreams of just what he could do with an investment portfolio of $500 million.
He figured he could take the $500 million, make some shrewd but potentially risky investments and turn it into a $2 billion with a couple of years. That idea was quickly, but firmly, squashed. In fact, Matt Tolliver had to have three signatures to go forward with any plans – signatures that were not forthcoming unless he could explain (in detail) how his proposals would help not only the company’s bottom line but provide a service to its employees or the community at large.
It was only then that he realized this group wasn’t really interested in growing substantially. It wasn’t until he saw the financial ledger that he realized the company was set up like no other he’d ever seen. The group wasn’t interested in putting anyone out of business. In fact, they seemed more interested in helping weaker companies stay in business.
The majority of the group’s projects required little or no capital investment. Instead the corporate board had determined the money was best spent for the benefit of their current and future employees. The board members were content to draw their minimal salaries, continue their educations and grow their subsidiaries at a modest pace.
Still, he realized he had just told them they were seeing a net profit in excess of $70,000 a month after only a few months in existence. That didn’t count the massive interest payments the banks were paying on the trusts and the tax indemnity it had acquired. So it must be working.
Matt shook his head and couldn’t help but smile. This flew in the face of every concept his MBA had taught him. But it did meet the most important business concept: Don’t argue with success.
“So, can we offer Jack a little help?” Erin asked.
“Talk to him and see how he reacts,” Sean suggested. “Let him know we’re not looking to buy him out or anything like that. Just let him know we’re willing to offer him low-interest financing on new equipment if he’s interested.”
“Thanks, guys, he’s really been a huge help to me.” Erin said. “Oh, by the way, Adam, he says he’s willing to offer you some hands-on instruction if you need it.”
The group dissolved into giggles as the meeting was adjourned.
“Coming to Vegas with us?” Adam asked Celina afterward.
“Looking forward to it,” she said, before switching topics. “You guys hired a real wiener to look after the accounting.”
“He’ll come around, I think,” Adam said. “Sean said this guy was the most normal of any of them. Most of them seemed to think they would be running the operation instead of offering suggestions.”
“He asked me out,” Celina said. “Two minutes after I introduced myself, he asked me to dinner.”
“Are you going?” Adam wondered.
“God, no,” Celina said. “He probably still has a nightlight in his bedroom. Besides, I’m holding out for bigger and better things.”
Adam almost jumped out of his skin when she reached out and ran her hand along his package.
“Uh,” Adam said.
Celina smiled at him nervously. The girls had told her that she needed to be more aggressive if she wanted Adam to consider her fair game.
“I want one date and one night in Vegas,” Celina said. “I’ve talked to all of your women. They understand.”
“I’m not sure I do,” Adam admitted. “And I’m not sure it’s a good idea. Celina, our relationship isn’t like that. This won’t evolve into more.”
“See? Right there,” she replied. “That is exactly what I like so much about you.”
“That I’m a jerk?” Adam wondered. He had recognized that his words might be viewed as hurtful shortly after they left his mouth.
“No, because most guys – even really great guys like the ones here – would shuffle their feet and try to talk their way around saying what they mean,” Celina stated. “Look, Adam, I know this is not something that is going to evolve. There are times I wish it could but I still recognize it won’t. But the young women who cluster around you see that I’m not that different from them.”
“I recognize that, too,” Adam said.
“Do you?” Celina asked. “When you see me, you see a tough chica. You see a woman who got off the streets and wound up as an attorney. You don’t see the person underneath.”
“Sure I do,” Adam insisted. “Celina, I think I probably know more about your childhood than anyone else here.”
“Then I shouldn’t need to explain this, but I can see I’m going to have to,” Celina answered. “For the first 16 years of my life, I couldn’t trust a guy because they would trade me to their friends – or worse, pimp me out to anyone who would pay or who they owed money. When I got away from that, I stayed away from guys because my skin was darker than theirs and that always created problems outside of the inner-city.
“Then I got to college and I didn’t want a guy to disrupt my plans. In law school, I couldn’t let anyone know about my background because they would either run or try to exploit me. Now that I’m well off and in a good job, I have to worry about guys trying to use me.
“I’m almost 25 years old and I do not know how to trust a guy,” Celina continued, making sure Adam saw how much this bothered her. “My head gets in the way – I always start to wonder about when my race or my past or my future or my whatever will become an issue. Except with you, that is. Since I met you, I’ve found myself opening up to other guys. I told Mike Cunningham about my whole past. Not because I want to sleep with him but because I learned I could trust him. Walt and Sean know for the same reasons.
“I imagine I’ll tell Timm, Jason and Cameron about my life, too, in the coming weeks, because I’m coming to trust them as well. But in order to take the next step – to move forward with my life and to completely trust a guy enough to want to spend my life with him – I have to get over one more hurdle.
“Adam, I have been used sexually since I was 12 years old. I have never, not once, had an enjoyable sexual experience. I have never had a romantic date. Every memory of sex involves pain or deceit or humiliation or domination.
“In that respect, I’m no different from how Allie or Shelly were a few months ago. I’m in the same situation Erin, Karlie and Sarah were when they met you. Even Rebecca and Trinity say they had no idea what sex could be like with a partner who respected them and cared for them until you.
“I’ve read some of the things on PornLife from women you work with. Angel Pretty said she put her trust in you out of necessity but would now do it because of how you treated her. The women from ‘Bountiful Assets’ say pretty much the same thing. They’re comfortable with themselves and feel better about themselves because you found a way to turn what they saw as negatives into positives.
“That’s all I want, Adam. I want to be able to look back in a few days or a few months or a few years – whenever I’m ready to commit to a man – and have a good memory to reflect on when a relationship reaches that point.”
There was a pleading tone to Celina’s voice by the time she finished. Adam pulled her close to him. He wished her could protect her from anything that might cause her pain. He cared about Celina. He liked her and he respected her.
But this was different than having Anya or Katya spend the night with everyone. This was different from working with Leslie or even Katey. He looked up and saw Rebecca standing in the shadows, waiting to head to next door.
She gave him a sad smile and she realized that, even though Adam didn’t always employ words in the most tactful way, he made people feel better just by being around him.
She wouldn’t offer advice on this decision. She knew he would ask their opinions and she was sure everyone would let him know that this wasn’t something that would create problems for them. They had discussed it among themselves for the past few weeks and had reached that conclusion early.
But it was still up to Adam to decide if this was something he wanted to do.
Everyone was surprised when Adam didn’t bring up the topic as soon as they were all together. They could readily see that he was thinking hard about it but he didn’t discuss it.
Celina knows the rules, they figured, and he knows she has our blessing if it has made it this far (and the flirting and innuendo has continued this long).
Adam spent most of Sunday night transferring the pictures he took to the computer while the others started packing.
He could throw a few things in a duffle bag and be ready to go in 10 minutes. The women seemed to be going through their entire wardrobes – Katya and Anya included.
The first issue the group confronted was transportation. There were so many people going that there was a seat for everyone – but only if they traveled light. That obviously wasn’t going to be the case, because all the ‘Dragon Lore’ costumes and props had to be transported along with personal belongings for a week. They had considered renting a multi-passenger van but Mike Cunningham didn’t have one to spare and no one else would rent one to anyone younger than 25 – and then a special license was necessary to transport passengers.
Walt’s mechanized animals required a transport unto themselves. Each was as large as a horse without a head and probably weighed the same. It was a good thing his father had construction vehicles nearby because it took some doing to get everything even moved to the doorway of the workshop.
Putting them on a trailer would be an even bigger task.
The first thought was a moving van. However Walt soon discovered that the weight distribution would create havoc should he try to go through some of the mountains that separate Nevada from California.
Jason suggested a flatbed truck but finding someone to rent one to a 20-year-old had been a major hassle.
Walt wound up contacting Steve Rayburn. He knew Steve had access to a rollback wrecker (a towing vehicle without a lift arm but instead a level surface that tilted, with high-capacity winches near the cab).
Steve actually owned the vehicle and had planned to use it to get immobile cars to his shop. He soon found out it was far cheaper to pay for a towing service than it was for him to pay insurance and upkeep on a vehicle he had used once in three months.
He offered to sell it and the price he quoted gave Walt more evidence of Steve’s financial hardships. Walt countered with the full-market value of the 10-year-old vehicle and thus, Carter Creations had a vehicle in its fleet. What it didn’t have was anyone employed who could drive the damn thing, which required a Commercial Driver’s License.
Rachelle had gone with Walt to buy it and pay it off but she said there was no damned way she was taking it through the desert and the mountains.
That would be left to Adam. Both Walt and Timm were in the process of studying the manual to get a CDL but they hadn’t had time to get it arranged before the group planned to leave.
Wayne had a couple of steel come-alongs and some tie-down straps he wasn’t using. Wayne was used to transporting cargo far heavier than what Adam would be driving and he assured the young man he would be able to keep the load from shifting. Wayne had been more than willing to discuss the weight distribution with Walt and Adam. During his travel through the mountains, he had seen too many drivers who didn’t consider a shifting cargo until they took the first curve a little too fast and wound up over a ravine. Driving through the mountains was far different than driving on flat or well-graded highways.
Still, there wouldn’t be enough room for everyone and all they wanted to take with them if the group in the lower house was any indication. Each woman had two suitcases and a bag sitting out somewhere in the house.
Adam decided it was best to speak up now before it became a mad rush on Tuesday.
“You know, you’re not going to be able to take all that stuff,” he mentioned to Allie, who happened to be using the office as her packing station.
“Why not?” she wondered.
Adam raised an eyebrow. Allie would never make an Air Force loadmaster, he decided.
“We’ve got twenty women times two suitcases and a bag equals 40 suitcases and 20 bags,” he said in a voice that attempted to convey their predicament. “In six or even seven cars that means at least six suitcases and three bags per cargo space. That doesn’t even count the stuff for ‘Dragon Lore’ or what the guys might bring.
“Cameron’s little rice burner won’t make it up a couple of the mountains without a push if we load it to the gills. It also puts too much strain on the engine in the desert. I’m sure the air conditioner will be cranked up and the cars will be filled with passengers, too. You’re going to have to pack lighter.”
Allie stood in front of him with her arms crossed. Adam held up his hands in surrender.
“I’m just trying to save you some grief on Tuesday,” he said because it was evident he wasn’t getting his point across. “You’re welcome to find out for yourself when it comes time to pack. You can consolidate your stuff then and hold up the entire trip. I’ll already be halfway to Vegas with whoever is riding with me in the truck.”
“This is stuff I need,” Allie protested. Again, Adam held his hands apart in a “do as you want” gesture. Allie didn’t really care for it, it seemed.
“Fine,” she said.
She turned and headed out of the room – to bring in reinforcements, Adam was certain. It didn’t matter if all 20 women showed up to chew his ass. He couldn’t change the laws of mass, torque and engine compression.
Sure enough, Allie returned with Shelly and Trinity in tow.
“She says you’re not going to let us take what we need to take,” Shelly said, gesturing to Allie.
“I think it is more a matter of ‘want’ versus ‘need’,” Adam countered. “And I think Allie has mis-stated my point. I don’t care if you want to box up the entire house and take it with you. I am in no position to ‘let’ you do anything or keep you from doing it.
“I was simply pointing out that there will not be room for it. Look, we already decided that taking the two-seat cars was a waste. Jason doesn’t think his truck will survive another trip through the mountains. That leaves two SUVs and five or six passenger cars. A couple of the cars are small. Cameron’s car can’t carry anyone taller than Allie in the backseat and his trunk is almost non-existent. The same is true with Veronica’s car. I’m just suggesting in this case, less is better because of how hurried Tuesday is going to be for a lot of folks.”
“But we plan to go out while we’re there,” Allie countered. “That means we need dresses and makeup and shoes. Plus we’re going to be doing tourist stuff during the day. So we’ll need shorts and T-shirts and walking shoes. You can’t just cram stuff in a bag.”
Trinity and Shelly were bobbing their heads in time with Allie’s tune.
“Why are we having this conversation?” Adam asked the walls. “It’s obvious you are going to do exactly as you want to do. But do not, for a single instant, put the blame on me or act like it’s my fault when you have to rush through repacking on Tuesday. If everyone packs as much stuff as you want to, you’ll need a tractor-trailer to transport it.”
“He’s right,” Rebecca said from the doorway. “I just thought of the exact same thing. It’s why I brought my stuff over in three trips.”
Three heads turned to look at the new voice.
“Then I guess we’ll have to try a different plan,” Allie said, as if Rebecca’s agreement was the Holy Gospel. A simple declarative statement from Rebecca had done what Adam’s reasoned points could not.
“Fuck this!” Adam said, shaking his head. He got up and left the room – then the house entirely.
Edited by BlackIrish; Proofread by ZoltanTheDuck and Lee.