Chapter 12 - Now

"Painfully Aware"

Let me tell you about the first time I met Julia Summer. She told me she'd send a limo for me and she'd meet me at a party for the Grand Opening of one of her friends' new club in town. She said everyone that was anyone would be there, so I should go too. Because I certainly was someone. And if no one else thought so, they'd soon change their minds, she vowed.

I wore a light pink dress I had designed. Smooth and sophisticated, with a four inch lace band under my breasts. I swept my hair back into a ballerina bun and wore long, dangly pink earrings and a pink diamond necklace Erin bought me for the occasion. I don't know where that girl gets the money. I supposed she was in debt because of me, though she didn't say anything about it. But when she saw me ready for the party, I knew for a fact even if she was up to her eyeballs in debt, she didn't care.

The limo picked me up, and I kissed Erin goodbye. She said 'Good luck' to me, which made me nervous, but when I saw the flashing cameras from the tinted limo windows when we pulled up outside the club, it went away. It just disappeared. My second nature was kicking in. My thirst for exposure got the better of my nervousness.

I stepped out onto the street, and felt several paparazzi taking my picture. So, I smiled my best smile and walked inside. It was a lot different, walking in front of cameras alone, than walking with someone. It made me feel independent. Like I was making my way up on my own steam.

I went inside the club and took a champagne glass from a tray a waitress was carrying by. I stood by the bar, saying hello to the few celebrities who'd even look my way. The music was loud, and when it quieted, it got everyone's attention. A woman got up on the stage the band was playing on. There was a pole and a few people in front of me, so I couldn't see her. I knew she was a woman when I heard her voice. And I knew it was Julia Summer when I heard her laugh.

But nothing prepared me for when I stepped out from behind the pole and those people to catch my first glimpse at her. It turns out, it wasn't my first glimpse at all. She was wearing a gold dress I'd designed, that I'd sold to her from Mr. Delgado's store one day that seemed so long ago. I just stared with my mouth wide open. I recalled the day she came into the store, and I thought she looked homey, with good common sense. I had no idea in my wildest dreams that she could have been one of the biggest names in fashion.

I heard her say something about the dress she was wearing. Something about a 'Rickie Connor original'. She searched the crowd for me, and when our eyes met, she smiled and pointed her finger at me. A light from the stage spun to land on me, and the people who were standing beside me backed away. I didn't realize they were applauding for me until I looked over and saw them clapping their hands. Then, I heard the noise. I smiled, mostly an amazed smile, and saw my picture being taken.

Looking at it now, it's a great picture. My amazed smile looks gorgeous. And the dress I was wearing, it sold for some un-Godly amount on E-bay yesterday. It was hard to part with it, but Julia and I created more of them to sell in her store. I bought one, myself. Which Julia laughed at me for, since I could've made one at home and kept it, saving myself the money. But I told her I was helping the business.

Right now my career is climbing. Julia and I talked about renaming the company, to include my essence. But I discouraged that idea. And we even talked about me creating my own line. Julia would be sad to see me go from her company, since her profits and popularity sky rocketed since my inclusion, but she'd also be happy for my success and support me any way she could. She's become a real good friend.

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I tilted myself back on my chair and looked at my ceiling. A smile always came to my face when I looked around my new house. I bought it only a little bit after I joined Julia's company. That's how well off I'm doing in that job. My life has been slowly putting itself back together around me. Erin was the first piece of the puzzle. And my parents and Jake came to visit me the other day.

Completely out of the blue, my father kicked my door and yelled in to me, "Rickie Jeanette, open this door! These suitcases are heavy! Your mother packed our whole house!"

I jumped up immediately and ran to the door, flinging it open to reveal my very exhausted looking father. My mother was getting her clutch from their white Lumina, and Jake was standing behind my dad, holding just as many suitcases. I imagined they were all my mother's. I also imagined my parents forced Jake to come. Though I don't know how they could force him to do anything anymore. He was an adult. But somehow, I knew they had to have done it, because he was there. And he sure as hell didn't come on his own.

I got them all settled in to the guest bedrooms, and we ordered some dinner. My mother and father chattered excitedly about how well I was doing, how much of a success I had become. Not once did they mention their previous disownment. I decided not to bring it up, either. No sense in ruining an otherwise beautiful get together.

Jake, on the other hand, had barely said five words to me the first day. And they were mostly asking where the bathroom was. The next few days of their visit, we talked more. But always about something light. And he made sure we never talked for more than ten minutes at a time. He was a mystery to me. I never knew what he was thinking.

One night, my mother came into my bedroom while I was just climbing under the covers. I had taken the canopy bed I had in my apartment to my new house.

"Rickie, sweetie?" She stuck her head in my doorway.

"Come in momma." I patted the bed next to me, and she climbed under the covers.

"Listen, Rickie. Jake told us about the phone call he gave you before. We didn't really tell him to say anything like that. We had always wanted you to come to family get togethers, no matter what. We were just a little bit…shocked at seeing your face in the tabloids, doing what you were doing." She lowered her eyes, and I sat up.

"Mom, you never even asked about it. You never gave me the chance to explain that Jim was high! And I pushed him off me outside the club that night in Paris!" I said, a bit louder than necessary in my exasperation. I thought that issue was done and over with. My mom raised her hands to me, indicating surrender.

"Okay dear. I believe you. I'll tell your father that." I breathed a sigh of relief. "And you know, Jake is very proud of you." I turned my eyes quickly to hers, to see if she was being sarcastic, or making fun of me.

"What?" I raised my brow. My mom nodded her head, as if she'd just told a girlfriend a juicy piece of gossip.

"Before we came, I heard him bragging about you to his friends. And last night, when you were in the other room, he couldn't stop going on about how wonderful the house was and how great you were doing." She gushed happily. I was shocked.

When my family left, I hugged my mom and dad and thanked them for coming. Jake stood in the doorway, taking one last look inside at my beautiful house. He turned his eyes to me, but quickly diverted them when he saw I was looking at him, too.

"Thanks for coming." I said quietly, meekly. Hoping he wouldn't brush me off like dirt on his shoulder as he had for all of my life. You can imagine my surprise when I felt his hand tousle my hair. I looked up from my feet into his face, with surprise. He smiled at me.

"Not bad little sister. Not bad." He said, before taking the last of his bags to the Lumina and driving away. My mom waved to me out the window as they left my drive way. I raised my hand absently, still too shocked over my brother's affection to wave. That was the most he'd ever shown approval of anything I did.

I grinned, my heart filled with satisfaction and happiness, as I turned back into the house.

That was a few days ago. The satisfaction and happiness in my heart hasn't diminished, but has just been buried a little bit, under a new sadness that weighs on me.

I had finally called Morgan, when I bought my house, and he won't return my calls. So, today, I'm going to visit him.

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"Ugh." I groaned at myself as I stepped away from my computer and flopped onto the couch. My book is kicking my ass. I like writing it, though. It's fun to tell about myself. I hope I'm not becoming vain.

"I guess I'll have to wait to write the rest until after tonight." I muttered to myself, both dreading and reveling in the thought of a confrontation with Morgan.

'At least I'll get to see him. And he'll speak to me.' I thought hopefully, trying to squeeze the best out of the situation as I could.

Even if it was the last time in my life I would lay eyes on his beautiful face, and the words he spoke were to say he never wanted to see me again.

I'd probably treasure his last harsh words to me until the day I died.

Sad.

I was aware of the fact. All too painfully aware.