all of the beautiful people Who: Jocelyn and Obed, cameo by Vinnie What: Jocelyn has been thrown into the deep end at her employer’s charity gala. Where:Chateau Palmier (which we will all pretend is closer to LA than it actually is) When: Evening, July 15th.
Note: backdated like WOAH (3 of 3); cameo by Vincent added 10/11/17.
In a city like Los Angeles, much like in its older East Coast siblings of NYC and DC, there was nothing strange about a charity gala. There was always the mix of celebrities, politicians, and captains of industry with too much money in their bank accounts and too much tarnish on their reputations, looking for a way to use one to solve the other. One could go to a benefit every night, and still not manage to see the exact same grouping of glitterati more than once. Here in Los Angeles, during the charity season, there were whole weeks in a row where there was a major event every single night, and sometimes more than one.
Tonight’s event was not quite the spectacle that other events this season would be. Sure, the trimmings were there - small tables scattered across the patio and grounds of a local mansion, delicate strings of light and lanterns casting a warm glow against the fading twilight; the exquisitely catered food, the black tie fashion; the usual gaggle of moonlighting new arrivals who came to Hollywood with stars in their eyes or half-written treatments on their laptops, serving time in the purgatory of valet parking and catering and all the while hoping to brush shoulders with greatness. But the crowd was full of lesser lights: B and C-list actors, local politicians, business owners with personal net worth measured in millions, and the men and women on the cusp of wealth, who might not be able to afford a $25,000 a plate affair, but could easily part with the more modest donation requested tonight. Just respectable enough for the page six types to show up and make the rounds.
So, too, the hosts of the evening were something out of the common way. None of the organizations benefitting from this evening’s activities was large enough to manage the event on its own. Instead, a double handful of smaller charities, operating under the somewhat lofty name of “United Catholic Charities of Orange County,” agreed to work together and share the proceeds. And while the evening was just beginning, their staff was already hard at work, circulating through the crowd and making nice with the benefactors.
Up until the very hour before the event, Obed had vacillated on whether or not to come. Even now, standing before the massive slab of the entry table, languidly adjusting his cuffs as as he cast an eye over the gift bags prepared for each attendee, he was not entirely certain he wanted to be here. But Carver had insisted he get out and about particularly when he did not feel so inclined. Besides, this socialization had the added benefit of polishing a quietly tarnishing reputation.
He glanced around the room, observing the mixture of strangers and acquaintances. He waved to a silver-haired woman whose name escaped him; she raised a glass of Champagne in his direction, then returned to her conversation. Just as well for Obed, who took that moment to slip beneath her notice and deeper into the gathering crowd.
’It’s turning out to be a beautiful evening after all,’ Jocelyn thought as she moved through the crowd. She had arrived early to help with the preparations, and at the time the air had been hot and still and the sky choked with low clouds. Not exactly the ideal conditions for an outdoor event. Fortunately, by the time she finished helping and disappeared inside to freshen up and get dressed for the party, a cool breeze had picked up, and the clouds scattered, leaving behind clear skies and a gorgeous Southern California sunset.
She had to admit, she’d be glad when this evening was over. It wasn’t that she was uncomfortable at black tie events - back in Toronto she had enough experience with them to learn to to fake an expensive look on the budget of a production assistant that it was almost second nature - she just had taken this job because of the work it did. Sadly, when one lands the rare paying job at a non-profit, it tends to come with all the extra responsibilities like this.
She glanced around, taking in the crowd. She had glanced through the binder of attendees up in the prep room before coming back down, allowing her to put name and business to the faces. Most were already engaged in conversation, but there were a few loners scattered throughout. One of the faces seemed more familiar than the others, though she still needed to rack her brain for the name. ’Brandt. Real estate....and wine?’ her memory helpfully supplied, though it was somewhat less than forward with elucidating where she might have actually encountered him before.
She eased her way through the crowd towards him, ending up standing near his side. “It’s a beautiful evening, isn’t it?”
"It certainly is." Obed turned from the bar, a glass of scotch in one hand. He extended his right toward the girl before him, his gaze sweeping over her distinctive—and somehow familiar—form. "Obed Brandt. I'm sorry, but have we met?"
“Do you know - I was just wondering that myself,” Jocelyn replied with a bright smile as she shook the offered hand. Whatever reason he might look familiar to her - and apparently, her to him - still stubbornly eluded her, so she settled for: “Jocelyn Klaes. Society of St. Francis of Assisi.” She released his hand, and continued. “I’m so pleased you could join us tonight. I was going to offer to find you something to drink, but I see you’ve already managed that!”
"The first order of business at any of these events," Obed said. He raised his glass in a small toast to her. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Jocelyn. Maybe I've seen you before… I think I came to the last one of these, too… but I think…" His hand still wrapped around the glass, he pointed to her with his index finger. "Were you at the pool party? At Pax Letale?"
She blinked. “Yes, for a little while. So, we must be neighbors, then. That explains why you look so familiar.” She smiled, and took a sip from her glass of champagne. “Thank goodness - I was going nuts trying to place where I’d seen you before.”
Nodding, Obed said, "I don't attend a lot of those functions, but I've been trying to get out a bit more. I should probably get to know my neighbors, after all, particularly given how difficult living in that building can be at times. I've never been anywhere like it. Sometimes I think there should be a Pax Letale survivors' club." He smirked, raising his glass for another bracing sip of liquor.
“So I’ve been told,” Jocelyn agreed. “I admit, I seemed to have missed the majority of the excitement - I only moved to California in May.” She thought of how every time she’d bought groceries in the past two weeks they had ended up disappearing, leaving her with an empty refrigerator and a massive mess to clean up in her apartment. “Though...it’s becoming abundantly clear to me why that beautiful building has so few tenants…” she muttered, before taking another small sip of her drink. She forced a smile back on her face. “But speaking of real estate - I saw the pictures from the opening of The Gardener's Daughter. I was very impressed!”
Obed tried for an abashed smile; it was smaller than it needed to be, and tighter at the corners. The small boutique hotel, with its lavish green spaces and intimate rooms, had been a labor of love conceived early into his now defunct relationship. The property was doing quite well, its few rooms booked out into the following year, but it remained a source of deeply mixed emotions for him. Still, he nodded, and thanked her for the earnest compliment.
"I like to get away from the larger projects when I can," he said. "The smaller ones make much less money, if they turn a profit at all, but I certainly appreciate them more. More room to be creative, and all that."
“And certainly there are plenty of people in California that appreciate creativity - especially here,” she agreed. “And even if there weren’t, one of the benefits of being successful is gaining the latitude to indulge your whim on occasion.” Her eyes glimmered with genuine amusement as she lifted her glass in salute. “In either case, it’s obvious how much care you put into The Gardener’s Daughter, and I hope that it will succeed in living up to its auspicious start.”
After another sip of her drink, she glanced around the party. “If you’ll forgive me, I should probably circulate a bit more before dinner. Please, if there’s anything you need, don’t hesitate to seek me out.” And with that, she slipped away into the crowd.
He raised his glass to her retreating back, nodding a small farewell.
* * *
Some time later, Obed found himself back at Jocelyn's side. A fresh glass of red wine sat before his plate, a match to the other five places neatly set. Jocelyn sat to his left, a silver-haired widower to his right. His interactions to this point had largely been with the latter, but he turned to his neighbor as their conversation began to lull.
"Enjoying yourself?" he asked her. "Or is this all just dull, ordinary work to you?"
Jocelyn had been engaged in lively conversation with a pair of doctors and a Silicon-Valley type, but had found herself more and more adrift as the topic turned more towards the esoterica of one of the doctors’ specialty. Despite the amount of time she had spend in hospitals, she was not a medical professional, so she was relieved when Mr. Brandt offered her a change of conversation.
She turned towards him with a smile. “Well, I will freely admit that this…” she gestured with her glass to indicate the party, “...is not the part of the job that enticed me to take the position.” She grinned suddenly, “But it is fun to dress up for an evening, don’t you agree?”
"Now and again," Obed agreed, nodding. "What did draw you to this work, if I may ask?"
Jocelyn fingered the medal that she had pinned to her dress - the organizations had decided that it was a more subtle way to announce who worked for each charity. “A couple of years ago, I was attacked. Badly.” She hesitated, not wanting to bring up too many unpleasant details during dinner, and took a sip of water to cover the pause. “I was living in Toronto at the time, but my family was all back on the west coast. I went through a lot of my treatment alone.”
She shook her head slightly, as if trying to shake off the memories. “Anyways, there were volunteers there that came and sat with me, to keep me company. I honestly believe they saved me, and once I was back on my feet, I wanted to be able to do the same for others..”
"That's admirable," Obed said. He looked up from the medal she touched, embossed with St. Francis' beatific face. He could not help but wonder about the nature of the attack, but it was clear she did not want to discuss it, and he knew better than to pry. Instead he focused on the present, on her future, on all those her work would benefit. He smiled softly. "Everyone talks about paying it forward. Few put it into practice. I'm sure your family is proud of the progress you've made."
She blushed, just a bit, and looked down at her glass. “I like to think they are.” She was saved from further delving into her personal experiences by the timely interruption by one of the other members of the party, asking a question about the charities involved in the evening’s festivities. Her answer lead to more questions, and very shortly the conversation had expanded to include everyone at the table, and continued more or less in that mode until the end of the dinner, when the group dispersed.
* * *
The last car full of party-goers had long since made the long, winding trip down into the city by the time Jocelyn was finally freed from her work obligations, and most of the day-hires as well, gone as soon as they had their pay in hand. The remaining charity staff and volunteers gathered around one of the few tables still set up, laughing and chatting over the remains of the catered food.
She had braved the crowd long enough to load a paper plate with leftover hors d'oeuvres, then escaped to a quieter part of the grounds, plate and mostly full bottle of champagne in hand. She was perhaps half-way around to the back of the mansion when her feet presented their complaint about the quality of the shoes she had been wearing all night.
She swore softly, and looked around for a place to set the plate and bottle down. Not finding any, she had to improvise, tucking the bottle under one arm, and holding the plate with the same hand, while reaching down to try to retrieve a shoe from under her gown with her other hand, and teetering precariously on the other heel.
Vinnie had stuck around after receiving his pay to help clean up a little, partly from the goodness of his heart but also because food. Free food that was not pizza, of course he'd put up with the monkey suit a little longer, even if it meant having to keep his hair in that bun. He'd loaded up a plate when he spotted his smoking neighbor sneaking out one of the doors.
Unwilling to raise his voice enough to call after her, Vinnie extracted himself from the small crowd with smiles and a few waves, the click of his over-shiny shoes turning into a whisper as his brisk walk took him into the grass. Vinnie’s pace turned into a jog when he noticed Jo wobbling on her feet, years of fast food service spurring him to say, “Behind you,” as warning before he wrapped an arm around her waist, shifting to stand directly at her back.
Jo started at the sudden voice behind her and that moment of distraction might well have been enough to turn a moment of unbalance into an out-right catastrophe, if it wasn’t for the sudden firm warmth of Vinnie’s arm around her, stabilizing her. She took this sudden stability to finish freeing her foot from the high heel, before half turning and looking up to see her rescuer. “Thanks,” she said, with a soft smile. “I didn’t think you’d still be here...it’s after midnight.”
Vinnie smiled down at her, his expression warm and fond. “Sleep is for the weak,” he joked, belying the very real restless energy that he knew from experience would keep him awake well past sunrise. “Besides, free food--of which I see you had the same idea,” Vinnie nodded at the plate balanced in her other hand, much like he’d done with the hand not still resting a polite amount north of her hip. He couldn’t quite make out what was tucked under her arm at that angle, and took a guess. “Forget to grab the purse with a strap?”
She laughed, and kicked off the other shoe. “I lifted a bottle of the prosecco, and I was going to go find a place to be an absolute heathen and drink it straight from the bottle.” Her eyes glinted, a bit wickedly, as she freed the bottle from under her arm. “Care to join me?”
This time he didn’t restrain the wide grin that curled his lips, Grinch-like. “I would like nothing better,” he answered, reluctantly letting his arm drop to allow her freedom of movement. “Did you have a particular place in mind? Because if we can’t find anything, I did drive. We could be completely trashy and chug it in the bed of my truck.”
“In for a penny, in for a pound,” she agreed, handing him the bottle and bending over to scoop up her discarded shoes. She straightened up and looked up at him, now a few inches shorter than she had been with the heels on. “I’ve been told I’m officially off the clock, so lead on!”