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Jared's Sweet Deal
Jared Larson tingled all over. He was high on, and in, the heady hills of Hollywood. A wide smile of contentment spread across his classically chiseled face as he eased the Lexus convertible into the narrow driveway. The house it belonged to was empty and all his, all summer long. He planned to make excellent use of it. Rent out rooms, pocket a nice chunk of change, while spending the summer partying. Chicks, clubs, ka-ching for a twenty-one-year-old free spirit, it doesn't get any better than that! Especially because his father would never find out. Ah, freedom: It's what this great country was built on.
Flipping his Oliver Peoples aviator shades atop his stylishly short hair, he glanced over at the familiar front door and grinned. Painted a garishly loud royal blue, it stood a few feet behind a leaf-and-vine-covered gate. Shoulder-high hedges encircled the house.
It was so L.A., he thought. In this town, good shrubbery makes good (i.e, envious) neighbors. When you build a tall, dense fence around your crib, you force passersby to wonder: What's on the other side? Some crazy-amazing mansion? Who lives there? A star?
Jared chuckled as he started down the path of terracotta stepping-stones leading to the backyard. Amazing? This place? In the eyes of a stoner, maybe. The blinding blue front door was only one of the odd color choices the entire exterior had been painted a screaming pumpkin-orange color. Good thing this area of L.A. was considered artsy.
The neighborhood, officially Lake Hollywood, was a maze of eclectic houses on steep narrow streets that zigged and zagged so randomly, the only things you could be sure of were hairpin turns and blind driveways. A bitch to drive around, especially at night.
The part about a star living in the orange and blue monstrosity, however, was sort of true. A quasi-celebrity owned this house, an actor audiences knew by sight, never by name. Jared knew him as Uncle Robert, a character actor in his forties who had, as one critic viciously sniped, "a great future behind him."
Ouch. That'd hurt. Jared's uncle, the only relative he actually liked being around, had weathered a long dry spell, career-wise. He'd taken roles in straight-to-DVD junk movies to pay the bills. But Rob's desert days were done, as over as yesterday's sushi craze. Robert Larson was currently making a killer comeback, in a career-defining movie. Already, there was buzz about a best supporting Oscar nomination for him. The movie was filming in Prague. When Uncle Rob packed up and left, Jared moved in.
So what if the bizarrely painted cottage wasn't like the spacious mansion Jared had grown up in?
It was funky.
"Rustic, cozy, tucked away, perched above the Sunset Strip" was the description Jared had put in the Roommates Wanted ad on Craigslist. From that posting he'd already netted a trio of roomies. Two guys, Nick and Eliot, were coming in later today from Michigan; tomorrow, a chick named Sara from Texas would arrive. The guys didn't know the chick, and he knew none of them. That was cool with Jared as long as they knew how to pay the rent!
Seriously, Jared was positive the two guys and the girl would work out he needed just one more summer-share tenant to fill that last bedroom. He was confident he'd snag one by week's end, if not sooner. After all, he was charging what was, for this area, a bargain-basement rent for an amazing location. He could afford to because he had no overhead; their rent was his profit. So his dad had cut off his credit cards? Yo, every establishment he knew took cash. It was all good. Jared was born without a self-doubt gene.
He didn't need it. His father had enough doubt in Jared for both of them.
"Shabby" was the word Rusty Larson used to condescendingly describe this "shack" on "the wrong side of the hills." Why his ne'er-do-well-enough brother insisted on living there was beyond him. Of course, anything outside the three-square-mile area that encompassed the Larson family compound in Bel Air, Dad's high-rise office in Beverly Hills, and the beach house in Malibu where his bimbette of the day was stashed, was "beyond" him. Rusty Larson rarely stepped out of his Jag if an anorexic palm tree wasn't swaying gently above.
Jared agreed with his old man on absolutely nothing, but as he turned the corner into the backyard, his eyes widened in surprise. "Shabby" would've been putting it kindly. Forget about manicured lawn or neat patch of green. Overgrown, never-mown grass, dotted with scratchy stalks of burned-out weeds, covered what was once a decent-looking backyard.
Lucky, thought Jared, it was only a small plot of land just enough to surround the curvy natural rock swimming pool, abutting Jacuzzi, and barbecue pit. He strode over to the pool and gaped at what used to be sparkling blue, clean, welcoming. It was a sickening greenish hue. Dead bugs and other unidentified objects floated lazily on the surface, as if they'd moved in. It was the thick coating of muck that really turned his stomach.
At least Uncle Rob's neglect could not screw up the home's most kick-ass and valuable asset. The one thing that was free, always there, and breathtaking.
"Viewtiful," his horny teenage girlfriend used to call it. Even on a hot 'n' hazy Saturday in June, it was amazing. (Smog? What smog?)
Jared strode to the outer edge of the property and surveyed his summer fiefdom. Spread out before him, acres of lush, juicy Caliscape, The sky above, the valley below, the undulating dips and curves and turns and tiers of the hills were like surround-sound, encircling everything. Ah, the famous hills of Hollywood.
His father was a short-sighted snob. There was no "wrong side." Here was the heart and soul of the Southland: minimountains into which hundreds of homes neatly pressed. Some were on stilts, others carved into the rocks; all blended in with the terrain. And within eyeshot? Only the most famous of all landmarks, the Hollywood sign.
Below were broad boulevards named Sunset, Melrose, Wilshire, and Beverly. At night their ginormous billboards blinked and beckoned, their hot clubs called. Down there, deals were waiting to be made, girls waiting to be flirted with, the pleasures of food and drink, all spread out before him like a never-ending smorgasbord. Ah, the possibilities. More than anyplace else on earth, Hollywood was about possibilities. They were as endless as the landscape.
This was where he belonged. This summer, he'd prove it.
Jared checked his sport Tag Heuer watch it was nearly two. The roommates weren't due for several hours, but if the inside of the house were as wrecked as the yard, he'd have to deal quickly.
He counted the stepping-stones, knelt next to the fourth from the right, and slipped his palm underneath the terracotta stone. Wedged between the stone and the dirt was exactly what he expected to be there. The front door key.
Once inside, Jared heaved a sigh of relief. Unlike the mess of the backyard, Uncle Rob had left the house in order. Just as Jared remembered it.
The large living room was warm, welcoming, and cluttered. It was, Jared often thought, the intersection of high-end and low-brow, where expensive and rare crisscrossed with junky, cheap, and marked-down everywhere. Hippie-meets-haute. Nothing matched, and everything worked.
Dark wood beams tented a vaulted ceiling, and a worn black leather couch abutted a blue-and-orange-striped sectional sofa. A mirrored orange high-backed Moroccan wing chair and matching ottoman, which his uncle had shipped from overseas, sat by the brick fireplace.
A gallery of guitars (bass, electric, baritone, and acoustic) and other stringed instruments sitars, mandolins, banjos, and violins lined the pale tangerine walls, mounted like artful pieces of musical sculpture. CDs, vintage record albums, photos, and candles perched on shelves and bookcases tucked into random nooks and crannies. Between the albums, guitars, bongs, incense holders, aromatic candles, and bottles of Kabbalah water, the entire room was a hippie paradise.
Kitchen, bathroom, and a tricked-out game room completed the main floor.
Suddenly, Jared's cell phone rang. He checked the caller ID: his father.
Jared watched himself in a hallway mirror as he talked to his dad. Make that lied to his dad, who believed he was in summer school, making up for the disaster that'd been his freshman-year grades.
"Hi, Dad, I'm good. I'm just walking into the dormitory now...it's fine, I'll survive. It's Ojai Community College, not the county lock-up!
"Nope, don't need a thing. Just got done confirming my classes they'll wipe out last semester's failing grades, like they never happened."
"Yeah, I got a private room, no pesky roommates to distract me.
"Totally, I understand why you cut off the credit cards. It sucks, but I'll have to deal, right? What's my choice?
"No need for you to visit you've got business. It's cool, it's chill."
After he hung up, Jared raked his fingers through his hair. He would make good this summer that part wasn't bogus. Just in a different way than he'd told his old man.
Jared picked up a huge copper bong from the old chipped oak coffee table and stared at his reflection. Smooth-cheeked, collar up, cool and confident, clear green eyes he did not recognize the screwup his father saw him as.
Whose fault were those failing grades anyway? He'd made it clear he neither wanted nor needed college. Rusty Larson owned Galaxy Artists, the hottest talent agency in town. Why Jared wasn't there, working at the junior exec level already, was the mystery. Whatever. He'd play it the old man's way, promising to take make-up classes, which he'd pass with flying colors. The rent-a-brainiac he'd hired to take the tests for him would see to that.
His one regret regarding his summer scheme was the secrecy involved: He couldn't tell his friends what was really up. Someone was bound to blab. In Hollywood, gossip is precious currency, and he would not chance his dad finding out. That meant house parties were out. He'd have to socialize on neutral turf: the clubs, or some girl's apartment.
Speaking of...he punched in speed dial. But neither Caitlin nor Julie picked up. He left messages. "Hey Cait, it's Jared. See you at Mood tonight...?" "Jules, Jared here. Be at Hyde later?"
Then he made for the liquor cabinet, poured himself a Stoli-rocks, and slipped out the sliding glass doors that led to the backyard. Standing on the stone lip of the pool, he sipped the smooth vodka, refusing to let the toxic crap in the water screw with his happiness. A simple call to a cleaning service would take care of everything. As he'd told his dad, it was all chill. It'd be a funky, functional, fund-enhancing summer. Accent on the "fun" part: Jared was determined to have keggers 'o it this summer.
Inspired, he raised a toast to his absent relative.
"Here's to you, Uncle Rob to bagging that Academy Award, and to the biggest favor you've ever done for me. Does a favor count any less just 'cause you don't know you're doing it?"
Jared knew the answer to his existential question was a resounding...
It happened so quickly he could not react couldn't get his mouth closed before sucking in a glob of foul-smelling, vomit-inducing algae garbage. Couldn't keep his balance, couldn't hold on to his drink. He'd been pushed from behind, shoved, rendered defenseless as a girl. He heard the smash of his vodka glass hitting the poolside pavement and felt a wet film of fetid slime cover his skin. He belly flopped, face forward, into the muck.
Copyright © 2007 by Randi Reisfeld