Chapter 2

The party had been a blast, at least what he could remember. Top notch everything – booze, blow, women. They should be. After all, he was the one throwing the party. Michael stayed away from the women. You could never be sure who was ‘hired’ and who simply came as a guest. Too complicated and he didn’t need to find himself in the headlines again.

At some point he had run out of cigarettes – that he did remember. He would send his assistant, but he had her take the night off to keep from having a dull evening. She liked to hover.

Michael’s eyes popped open.   He remembered where he was right away; a little pissed that being stuck in this place wasn’t also part of the dream. This last thought cemented him to the creaking bed for a long while.

His agent, lawyer and even a few directors had sent him to a string of places like this in the past. There had been mention of the need to get bonded and not wanting uninsured actors. Apparently his lifestyle made it difficult to get insured – or so they told him. Typically there was some sort of intervention beforehand. Maybe he had blacked that out as well. Once, the stay had been court ordered, but what did the judge know?

This one was by far the worst yet. The bargain basement of treatment centers. With all of the money he made, this was the best they could find? No security of any kind that he had seen, not even cameras. Paparazzi could just walk right in. On second thought, he could just walk out. Someone had thought sending him to a dump would be incentive for him to clean up. They thought wrong. The state of this place was motivation to leave. And the lady in charge; she was something else. Nobody called him by his given name anymore. Legally, it wasn’t his name. He thought about the rules Mrs. Peters had explained. But he was Michael James; the rules did not apply to him.

There was something strange about this establishment. More than the lack of amenities and it being a complete shithole. He wondered how he would last here for 30 days. The Peters lady asked odd questions, nothing about what was his drug of choice was or how much he drank. Maybe they would get to all of that later. She could already have it; his file had been pretty thick. The daily schedule had not been given to him. Even if it had been posted somewhere, he hadn’t seen a clock. “Can’t be late if you don’t know what time it is.”

Michael rose from the bed and kicked the door closed. He searched under the bed for a suitcase, finding nothing. The dresser was empty as well and he left the drawers hanging open. Maybe his bags hadn’t arrived yet. Frantically, he hunted through his jacket and jeans pockets. Where the hell were his damned cigarettes? He threw himself back on the bed and covered his eyes with his arm. This already felt like it would take forever to get through. If only he could remember what had happened in the last few days to land him here. He squeezed his eyes shut, but nothing came. His blackouts were never this bad. The bed creaked as it moved up and down with his weight, breaking his concentration. It seemed to grow louder with each dip. The sound put shivers down his spine like nails on a chalkboard. He left the bed and hopped up onto the dresser.

There was a phone on the desk downstairs. His agent would be able to fix this, plus he could find out what the hell was going on. If it was a studio thing, he would have to bite the bullet and sit tight for a few weeks before production began on his next movie. If not, he was out of here.

Michael opened the door and scanned the hallway. All was quiet. He locked the door behind him and pocketed the old fashioned key, before making his way down the stairs to the first floor.

The creepy old woman and her bucket were gone. Just a straight shot past the old dog to the where the phone waited for him. As he passed the sitting room, he heard his name called. Mrs. Peters sat smiling among a group of others in a neatly arranged circle. Michael assumed these were the other ‘guests’ of the house. He could see the phone on the waiting room desk and took another step, ignoring Mrs. Peters. Again, his name was called. The phone would have to wait. He turned to face the group, but remained in the hallway.

“Michael, please, will you join us?” Her tone was polite, but it was clear the invitation was not optional. Reluctantly, he walked into the sitting room, finding a seat next to a young woman whose eyes were fixed on the floor. There were five others besides himself and Mrs. Peters.

“As you are probably all aware, we have a new guest. This is Michael.”

Michael gave them a half salute and took a seat in the empty chair. A woman wearing a pink tracksuit let out a small gasp and covered her mouth with her hand. Michael was used to fans. Before the woman had a chance to speak, Mrs. Peters got the group on track. “Now, where were we?”

Michael leaned back in the chair, stretching his legs out in front of him, and stared up at the ceiling. Apparently, there would be no introductions. The woman in the tracksuit removed her hand from her mouth and immediately started talking. Some sort of marital dispute with her husband. Mrs. Peters had called her Karen. Michael took this as a cue to begin his little game.

On one of the many occasions he had been sent to “rest”, Michael tuned out any type of group therapy he happened to find himself in. Instead of listening to his fellow “guests” talk about the intimate details of their lives, he spent time conceiving the story about what they did to wind up in rehab.

Karen, the woman talking, he guessed to be in her mid-thirties. Not bad looking, nice figure, way too much time spent on her perfectly coiffed blond hair. A huge diamond ring adorned her manicured nails. She would fit in well among the ladies in the upscale neighborhood he lived in outside of Los Angeles, but he could tell that was not where she was from. Her accent gave her away – Brooklyn. Michael’s parents had the exact accent and it had rubbed off on him, even though he grew up much farther north of the city. When he first moved to Los Angeles, he had spent what felt like a small fortune in elocution lessons to rid himself of it. She must be one of those bored housewives who was unsatisfied with her easy life. Antidepressants, with a large side of chardonnay.

Next to her sat an elderly silver-haired gentleman, sitting straight as an arrow in his chair. He was dressed impeccably in a dark three-piece wool suit, complete with bow tie. He lightly tapped his freshly polished shoes as Karen spoke. His hands were outstretched in front of him, resting on a wooden cane embellished with an engraved silver handle. Probably had a hip replacement and got hooked on the painkillers.

A pudgy young man wearing nothing more than a pair of boxers, a flannel bathrobe and a small lotus tattoo on his wrist was next in the circle. He was leaning in close, listening intently as Karen droned on, nodding his head at times. He tentatively made a few attempts to add insight into the discussion, which was difficult. The woman never stopped talking long enough to take a breath. Aside from that, he actually seemed happy to be part of this. The chump was eating up what this place was dishing out. Maybe he was on his way out soon. He didn’t have the ravaged body that came from long-term drug use. The “Just Say No” campaign of the 80s must have ingrained a warped idea of what an addict was. Michael decided he was just a paranoid dabbler of controlled substances.

The other two were a bit more difficult to peg, but he took his time trying to figure them out. The young woman next him was still looking at the floor. Her brown eyes occasionally took a quick glance up at each person in the circle. She did her best to not make eye contact with anyone. Her hairdo and worn out blue dress were dated; he recognized the style from a WWII film he had starred in. There were plenty of women with this vintage look in the clubs of Los Angeles. Seemed like a lot of work to put your hair in pin curls just for group therapy. She was nervous, wringing a small knitted blanket in her hands and shifting her weight in the chair. Michael considered it could be from withdrawal. This one had serious issues. She watched him out of the corner of her eye, her body stiffening each time he caught her. It almost amused him to watch; she grew more and more uncomfortable with each glance.

“Simone.” A gasp came out of the woman next to him. Her eyes moved away from Michael and back to the floor. The blanket fell from her hand as she tightly gripped the seat of her chair. His fun was over.

“Simone, have you come to any type of resolution today?”

Simone’s eyes focused on the floor and she shook her head violently, saying nothing. Mrs. Peters seemed accustomed to this response. “Maybe next time. It will come.” Simone relaxed, retrieving the small blanket and tucking it into her sweater.

“Who is next?” Mrs. Peters was calling on each person in the circle. “Elizabeth?”

A teenaged girl looked around at everyone. “Me?” She seemed uninterested in what they were all talking about and replied with what seemed like a rehearsed answer. ”Well, like I keep saying, I don’t belong here. My dad is coming soon, then I’ll leave.” Her attention went back to the hall.

Her being here seemed peculiar. “Young,” he thought, “maybe 16”. Why would someone so young be here? Didn’t they make places like this specifically for the under 18 crowd? In all appearances she was a typical teenager – denim shorts, graphic band t-shirt, Converse high tops complete with different colored laces. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail, revealing a constant teenaged expression of indifference. Not indifference in the world, more like the kind he felt listening to adults when he was that age. She didn’t seem withdrawn either. In fact, she seemed pretty damn content. Maybe she was out of place, but who knows, could be her overzealous parents found a joint in her dresser and sent her to rehab. When it came right down to it, he didn’t care why she or any of them were here – it was just a game to kill some time. He didn’t even really care why he was there. Nothing would be any different for him or these other fools as far as he was concerned. When his time was up, he’d go home and jump right back in where he left off. He did not belong here.

The chubby guy sheepishly raised his hand. Mrs. Peters gave him a nod. “Ruben, you don’t always have to wait for everyone else to have their turn.”

Ruben’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “I just want to give everyone else a chance first. I can wait.”

Mrs. Peters reassured him. “Next time, don’t be afraid to start us off. We all want to get things off our chests.”

Michael raised an unconvinced eyebrow but remained silent. Ruben rubbed his tattoo and started talking about what Michael assumed would be his tale of woe. “Well, I really just want to know why I wound up here. I mean, I know why I’m here, but it seems like there must be something more that caused me to end up in this place. It can’t just be by chance.”

Michael snickered, a little too loudly. The entire group was staring at him, Simone’s eyes wider than the rest, but each moved their gazes away when he met their eyes. He straightened up in his chair; uncomfortable with the attention he was now being given. Attention from screaming fans he was used to and enjoyed. This room full of eyes here was unsettling.

Mrs. Peters raised an eyebrow. “Do you have something to add Michael?”

He tried to play it off. “Nah, nothing.”

“Well, something struck you as funny. Please share with us so that we all may enjoy the humor.”

Michael sat up. “Ruben is wondering why he is here? Totally blaming someone else. It’s typical. I’ve heard this a million times. That is what is funny. People sittin’ around, justifying why they aren’t the cause of their own plight, and everyone’s listening to them, eating it right up.”

Mrs. Peters didn’t seem to be buying it. “So, by saying that, you admit that you are the cause of your own issues as well?”

Michael laughed louder this time. “No, I wouldn’t say that.”

“And why not? Why such hypocrisy?”

“Because unlike the rest of you, I don’t have any problems.”

“Give it some time.” Mrs. Peters held her penetrating gaze for longer than Michael felt comfortable, but he would not look away. With a flutter of her lashes, she broke her stare and addressed the rest of the group. “That is all for now, everyone. I hope we will all have made some additional progress when we meet again.”

Everyone rose and replaced the chairs around the room, everyone but Michael. He left his chair and quickly headed to the waiting room. The old man called after him. “Young man, put your chair away.” Distracted, Michael stumbled over Agnes as she scrubbed the floor outside of the sitting room, sending her scrub brush skidding across the wide hallway.   It barely missed the dog, who continued to sleep. Agnes’s expression exploded in anger as she sat up, her eyes shooting daggers at him. Michael stepped over the scrub brush and the dog, ignoring the old man and continued on to the waiting room. He didn’t put the chair there in the first place. Let someone else take care of it. The lady scrubbing the floor could use something else to do.

The waiting room was empty. Michael grabbed the phone and put the receiver to his ear – no dial tone. Thinking he needed to dial first to get an outside line, he stuck his finger in the hole for the ‘9’ and turned the rotary dial around to the stopping point. When there was still no tone, he pressed up and down on the plastic buttons in the handset cradle, but still there was nothing but silence.

“Is there something I can help you with, Michael?”

Michael jumped, almost dropping the handset. Mrs. Peters was standing in the doorway.

“Geez, you scared the crap out of me.” He replaced the phone to its original state and leaned on the desk. “I need to call my agent. Something is wrong with your phone.”

“I am sure I can assist you in anything you need.”

He scratched his head. “I don’t think so. I just need to get filled in on some things, get my luggage sent over.”

“As I said, I am sure I can accommodate anything you may need.”

Michael scratched his forehead to find something to do with his hands. “You see, I’m just a little fuzzy on what I’m doing here. The last couple of days are a bit of a blur.”

Mrs. Peters clasps her hands together. “Ah, well, I am sure that will come back to you in time. Maybe go and sit in front of the fireplace to think for a while.”

“I don’t see how that will help with anything.”

“You will be quite surprised how it clears the mind.”

Michael was becoming frustrated. “If I could just make a phone call, I could get this cleared up now.”

“I am sorry, but that is simply not possible.”

“Not possible? Do you know who I am? People are going to need to talk to me at some point. So, when will it be possible?”

Mrs. Peters sighed and put her arm around his back and slowly started directing him out of the waiting room.

“You will find that calls will not be necessary.”

When they arrived at the sitting room she aimed her outstretched arm in the direction of one of the high back chairs in front of the fire. “It will help, I guarantee it.”

Michael stood looking at her and then back to the chair. Deciding he wasn’t going to try to win this one, he straightened his expression to hide his sullen mood and took a seat. As he fell into it, a cloud of dust puffed up into the air. He watched as the lint and dirt slowly floated down to the floor, adding another layer of dust to the already filthy carpet. ‘Did the cleaning woman ever come in this room?’ he wondered. Sinking back into the chair, he thought about the rules Mrs. Peters had told him when he arrived. There had been nothing about not using the phone; it might be an earned privilege. Could be it was out of order. The fire crackled loudly and he closed his eyes to think. A flash of headlights crossed his mind, but nothing more before he quickly drifted off.