The business guy’s finger pecked at his phone like a bird’s beak until we hit the lobby. The younger guy told his girlfriend how everything that happened tonight was definitely going to stay in Vegas. People repeat everything they see in commercials. Yeah, what they did here, they’d keep private. Gossip about riding in an elevator with a celeb didn’t count. My stomach kept tightening up every few seconds, especially when the guy got off-balance and put his hand on the wall near me for support, but they were so into themselves and drunk that they didn’t notice me.
We got out, and with the blinking lights and sounds of the casino on the ground floor like an overproduced video and song, I blended in more easily and could’ve passed for being on vacation with my parents. I found the lobby desks and saw a black woman with gold glasses and the name tag angela behind one. She was fit for her age, which I’d guess was 37 or 38. I’m getting almost as good at the age game as Jane.
A few people were in line, so I waited to one side with my back turned and pretended to be reading the glossy. What would really kill my chances was if a tween girl spotted me. But I was the only kid around. When no one else was near, I walked over to Angela and lifted up my sunglasses for a second. “Is this enough proof?”
She put her hand over her mouth and was like, “Oh my god, you weren’t joking! Wait till I tell my girls about this, they play ‘Guys and Girls’ 24/7!”
Normally I’m only a little annoyed when adults act this crazy around me and forget I’m in the room with them, except Angela made me extra pissed since she could’ve sparked crowd interest and she called it “Guys and Girls,” not “Guys vs. Girls.” There’d been like a five-hour discussion with the label when we produced it about vs. or and.
But I acted like a consummate professional. “If it wasn’t for my fans I wouldn’t be here. Everything I do belongs to them,” I said. Angela was still in shock and I don’t think she really heard me, so I waited a few seconds, also to make it not sound like this was all I cared about. “So, do you think you can get me the key-card to my mother’s room?”
“I don’t know.” She wasn’t so starstruck that she wasn’t worried she could get caught, the same way I was. “You’re not authorized in the system.”
“What if I give your kids an autograph and let you take a picture?”
She looked around to make sure no one was watching. No one was, and she pushed a hotel stationery pad and pen over the desk. “Write it to Ashley and Lucy,” she said. Offering the autograph was like gaining 30 experience points in Zenon.
I grabbed the pad and wrote a “Songs, Smiles, and ♥ JV” autograph, which I basically do without thinking now like when Dr. Henson hits my knee with that little hammer. Angela took a photo of me with her phone and gave me a key-card and whispered, “Don’t tell anyone about this, OK?” which relaxed my diaphragm because it meant she wasn’t going to tell anyone, either, plus the photo could’ve been taken at any time so I didn’t have to worry about it getting back to Jane. I waited until the elevator area was clear before going upstairs.
I got back to Jane’s door without running into anyone else. The locked castle door. I knocked in case she’d gotten back, but no one answered. When I opened it, the lights were on and a bunch of dresses and thongs and shoes were scattered around one of Jane’s open suitcases like a mage from Zenon had cast an explosion spell inside it. She throws a fit if there’s any mess or dirt at home, but she’s a slob in hotels.
One of her toiletry kits was between the two bathroom sinks, and the zolpidem bottle was inside. That was Level 63’s gem, the zolpidem. I shook out one of the tiny rectangles. It’s harder to wake up when you’ve had two.
I turned off the lights to save energy, but when I did there was still something blue glowing from the back of the room. Jane’s computer was open on the desk, and it was on my Twitter account’s sign-out screen. It’s super-important to have a strong social media presence, and Jane’s always going, “When interviewers ask you about your Twitter, say you love reaching out directly to your fans,” and I’m like, “I don’t even know how to use Twitter or what the password is because you disabled my laptop’s wireless and only let me go on the internet to do homework research or email Nadine assignments,” and she says, “I’m doing you a big favor, it’s for nobodies who want to pretend like they’re famous and for self-promoting hacks without PR machines, and adults act like teenagers passing notes and everyone’s IQ drops thirty points on it.” Jane hasn’t set up her own Twitter since she doesn’t have as much brand awareness.
I went over to the computer and googled my name in a new window. It was the same stuff I always saw, tons of pictures and videos and fan sites and articles and blog posts and the “Jonny Valentine Legal Countdown Page” this gay guy set up that has a timer ticking down to my 18th birthday that Jane tried to take down but he has a legal right to keep up because he’s not explicitly being a child predator. It was at 2,248 days, one hour, thirty-three minutes, and sixteen seconds. I watched it tick down a few more seconds.
There was too much to go through, and some of it I couldn’t access anyway since Jane had a parental block on and it thought a lot of regular sites were porn sites, sort of like how normal-looking guys might be child predators.
I was about to close the browser and get out before she caught me, but I noticed a piece of paper sticking out of an envelope at the corner of the desk. It was one page, and there were a lot more underneath it in the envelope. The stationery address listed a law office in L.A. called Bergman Ellis Jacobson & Walsh and the top said:
via overnight mail and email
Re: Albert Derrick Valentino
Jane always told me my father didn’t have a middle name, so I almost didn’t recognize his name at first. I tried reading it:
Per our telephone conversation on 1/12, until we are able to determine the identity of the individual(s) referred to in the letter dated 1/7, we cannot seek any judicial remedy. However, we recommend the following precautionary measures.
The rest of the page was all legal language, and I’m usually OK at understanding financial terms because Jane reviews my contracts with me, but I couldn’t figure any of this out, and I was afraid to take out the other papers from the envelope in case I screwed up the order. I slipped the page back in where it had been and spun in the chair once around the room to make sure I was still alone and for fun.
Then, even though it was a high-risk decision, since if Jane caught me she wouldn’t just enforce check-ins, she’d take away my game system, too, I double-checked that Jane’s computer was preset for private browsing like it always is, and googled “Albert Valentino.”
All the usual info about him being my father and how nobody knows anything about him came up, like that he left our house when I was five or six, and even I don’t know which it is or when they got divorced because Jane doesn’t hardly ever talk about him. The times I’ve asked, she says something like “Jonathan, remember that your father left and the one person in this whole world who will always stick with you is me, everyone else will try to take from you, but people who love you will give to you.”
Once in a million years, though, she’ll slip and say something nice about him, like when we saw this war movie on TV two Christmases ago with a telegenic young Irish actor, the first time he came on-screen Jane whispered to herself, “God, Al,” and at the end of the movie, when the Irish actor jumps in front of his general before a grenade goes off and he departs the realm, Jane cried a Jacuzzi, and it had to be because the actor looked like my father, since it was a mostly crap movie and he was the caliber of actor who you could tell was repeating someone else’s words. I only have a couple memories of him and don’t totally remember what he looked like, just brownish hair and that he smelled like cigarettes. If we ever had any pictures, Jane threw them out.
Then I Googled something I’d never googled before: “Albert Derrick Valentino.”
There weren’t many hits, and they were all about people or things that weren’t my father, but I went to the second page anyway, and when I did, something stopped me. His name showed up in a Jonny Valentine fan forum.