As we get closer and closer to the entrance, my eyes remain glued to my window as I admire the surrounding forestry. Tall, obscuring trees line up on either side of us, evenly spaced from one another, breaking up the monotony of the tar road with their rich, earthy colors.
I keep wondering how the hell these trees are so damn green with all the snowstorms we’ve been having.
A moment later, we finally arrive at the mansion, and boy, they weren’t kidding when they said mansion! The car slows to a halt, and we stop in front of the largest pair of gates I’ve ever seen in my life.
Jeez, if this is only what it looks like on the outside, I can’t even begin to imagine what’s waiting for us indoors. I didn’t even know they had houses like this in Wisconsin! I feel like I’m in some extra-posh part of Beverly Hills or something.
We get to the security checkpoint a few feet away from the ginormous double gates. We pull up beside the check point window, and a man appears from behind it a second later.
His face comes into full view as he steps closer to the car, and I realize he’s a pretty good-looking guy. He looks sharp, in a crisp black tuxedo that looks brand new. I also quickly realize that he’s a security guard.
Holy hell. Even the freaking security guards are dressed like royalty here. He looks like something out of Men In Black— with a little bit of Abercrombie and Fitch thrown in. He’s actually really hot.
Nicole pulls out a silver-plated card from her clutch and hands it to him, smiling seductively. He gives it a quick glance before sliding it through some sort of scanner, presumably to verify its authenticity.
The scanner beeps once, and the grand gates unlock with an almost robotic sound. The metal barriers part from each other slowly, raising themselves as if for dramatic effect.
I can’t hide my amazement, feeling a little more than stunned at the impressive sight. It’s almost as if the large, barred gates are reaching for the heavens. Considering how big this place is, I guess a dramatic entryway is quite fitting.
He hands Nicole her card back, giving her a flirtatious smile of his own with a nod of his head.
“Enjoy your time here, ladies,” he says, gesturing with his hand before resuming his position behind the security check stand.
“Thank you, we will,” Nicole says, still giving the security hottie her extra friendly smile. She slips him a piece of paper and gives him a wink just before she takes off again, driving through the imposing gates and into the compound.
We pull up to a large roundabout, and I can’t help noticing that several other cars are pulling up here as well—from expensive Lamborghini and Ferrari coupes and two-seater Bentleys, to large SUVs and Hummer limos, and all sorts of brand name race cars.
I suddenly feel extremely self-conscious and out of place. This is not at all my kind of scene. In fact, it’s the furthest thing from it.
I know Mindy said their clients were rich, but this was not at all what I was expecting. Not even close.
Nicole leaves the engine on and gets out, and I reluctantly follow suit, stepping out into the chilly night. A blast of cold wind blows over us, as if in harsh greeting, and I instinctively wrap my arms around myself.
I wish they’d let us bring our coats, but Nicole said it’s against the rules. Apparently, the idea is to get a client or one of his rich friends to offer you his so that you have a reason to see him again and another opportunity to “build your network.”
I can’t believe they actually consider that network-building. And I can’t believe I’m complying with the damn rule. Hell, I can’t believe I’m complying with any of this!
She hands the car keys to a waiting valet and he hands her some sort of gold coin in exchange. I’m assuming it’s some sort of parking token.
As she gets things sorted with the valet, I take a minute to look around, and I’m stunned speechless.
My eyeballs immediately go on overdrive, screaming their appreciation as I can only gawk in awe at all the beauty surrounding me.
The place is absolutely spectacular!
The actual house—which kind of looks like several houses placed right next to each other—is insanely huge, with large rectangular and cylindrical segments stacked adjacent to each other to form this impressive, complex structure.
Violet, pink, and golden lights shoot across the cluster of mini buildings, illuminating the magnificent structure as well as brightening the quickly darkening night sky.
Dome-shaped rooftops sit high and proud on each section of the house. The large canopies look both sturdy and glamorous, their shingles reflecting the artificial lights beautifully.
I spot the source of light, and it’s coming from the tallest segment, beaming from within the center of its dome. It almost looks like a lighthouse—with a super-sized, translucent disco ball in it.
“Come on,” Nicole says, moving in the direction of the sea of lights.
I continue to admire everything as we walk, doing my best to take everything in without looking like a totally star-struck, country bumpkin—even if that’s exactly how I feel right now.
The compound is littered with granite sidewalks and tall palm trees and marble support columns, and there’s an illuminated fountain in the center of the roundabout.
I take a closer look at the eye-catching display, and I realize that it’s actually a circle of glass cherubs ‘pouring’ water from vases that are also adorned with the same wings sprouting from the plump, baby angels.
Nicole suddenly turns to me, looking me up and down a few times as if she’s inspecting something.
“You look good, Roni,” she says with an approving nod, and then quickly adds with a coy grin, “I mean…Raven.”
Tonight, I’m Raven.
Not Roni. Not Ramona. Not Sylvester Gallo’s granddaughter.
It’s the alias Mindy chose for me as an extra, and I suppose it’s fitting as I’m not part of her agency…yet. She said if I make the cut, then I’ll get to choose my own Rainbow color alias. I really don’t know if that’s something I dread or look forward to.
“I look easy,” I counter, the disdain clear in my voice.
Nicole gives me a huge smile with an even more emphatic nod. “Precisely.”
I’d opted for contacts, as per Mindy’s orders. It feels so weird not having my glasses on. I haven’t worn contacts in forever. And my lashes feel ten times heavier caked in too much mascara.
I admit that I really like the lipstick I’m wearing, though. It’s probably the only thing on me that I didn’t object to. It’s a deep wine color that I think suits me really well and makes my lips look even fuller than usual.
The bandage dress cinches my waist, exaggerating the sharp bend connecting my torso and hips. Even I have to admit it accentuates my body really nicely, and the enhanced shapeliness it gives me would be worth it if it didn’t make it so fucking hard to breath.
My arms clutch my body as another wave of chilly air washes over us. I can barely hear the clicking of my heels against the asphalt over my shudders and the smacking sounds of chewing gum—Nicole’s chewing gum.
The contraptions on my feet that she calls stilettos also belong to her, and for some reason unknown to me, she thought it would be a splendid idea for me to wear them, and like an idiot, I agreed. So, I’m wearing them—like everything else she told me to wear. Actually, it’s more like the stilettos are wearing me. I’ve never seen shoes like this; they have a ridiculous platform that’s too many inches high and a million straps and buckles and silver ornaments scattered all over them.
My feet are throbbing and the additional weight of these foot cages is making the simple task of walking unbelievably hard.
God, where do they even make these things?
We only walk for about a minute, but it feels like eons in these damn shoes. My feet are screaming in agony, and I think my little toe just told me to go fuck myself. The night hasn’t even begun and I’m already off to a bad start.
“You ready?” she asks.
“Nope,” I say honestly.
“You’ll be fine,” she assures with a wave of her hand. “You’re only here as an extra tonight. Just remember what I told you. Smile, laugh at their jokes, and try to relax. And no matter how much liquor they try to get you to drink, make sure you don’t get drunk.”
I take a deep breath with a nod. “Smile. Laugh. Don’t get drunk. Got it.”
She gives me an encouraging pat on the back. “Alright, then. Let’s go,” she says, walking into the grand entrance.
I warily place my foot over the threshold, taking another deep breath before I finally push myself through.
No turning back now.