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Barbie & the Beast
By Linda Thomas-Sundstrom
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One "Geez, it's really dark out here," Barbie Bradley said, inching her way through almost totally invisible surroundings in Forest Lawn cemetery, searching for anything that might remotely resemble the party they were seeking.
"Duh," Angie Ward grunted.
"You don't happen to have a flashlight, do you, Ang?"
"Oh yes, I have one right here. And while I'm digging in my purse for it, would you maybe like a Big Mac? Some fries? It's all here in this little tiny clutch thingy I'm carrying, because you can't underestimate what you'll need at a party."
Chuckling over her best friend's reply, Barbie lifted her foot to step lightly over something her toe had struck-an object she couldn't actually see, since the owners of Forest Lawn seemed oblivious to the benefits of electricity.
Her foot stopped an inch from the ground. The tightness of her skirt nearly became her downfall. Literally. "Damn," she swore, tripping and righting herself. "Should have worn pants."
"Pants? To a party? Where there are m-e-n? No way, girlfriend. No pants, ever. And what was that you just tripped over?"
"Might have been a tree branch, but could just as well have been a body part. It is a graveyard, after all. No telling what's lying around."
"Body part?" Angie's voice was nasal and an octave too high, reminding Barbie that her friend didn't like the dark in any way, shape, or form. Angela Ward had grown up without the benefit of the two older Bradley brothers, who had prepared Barbie for all kinds of adventures-fake spiders on the bedspread, flies frozen in ice cubes, ghoulish movies about ghosts and machetes.
Graveyard? Piece of cake for Barbie Bradley, while Angie, even now, and as formidable as she could be at times, had little glowy lights all over the inside of her box-sized apartment. She probably even had a flashlight in that purse and didn't want to admit it.
"I'm not tripping. You don't see me tripping, do you?" Angie asked.
"A miracle, don't you think, in those heels you're wearing?" Barbie teased.
"These heels show my legs off to perfection. Shapely legs are an asset at a party. You can't view shapely legs if there are flat shoes at the ends of them-or if they're covered by pants."
"But four-inch stilettos can be a liability. Especially if stray body parts are skewered on them."
Angie's intake of air was audible. "You are downright catty. What do you teach those tenth-graders of yours, I wonder?"
"The hazards of wearing four-inch heels in a graveyard at night, for one thing. The pitfalls of dating, for another." Well, Barbie amended silently, nearly colliding with another lumpy item in her path, she didn't actually teach her students either of those things. But someone should. Modern dating rituals were positively archaic.
"Pitfalls of dating," Angie mused. "Now there's something I never learned in school. I guess I should have gone to college."
"You did go to college," Barbie reminded her tall, drop-dead gorgeous, curvaceous, espresso-hued, African-American beauty-technician pal, rolling her eyes. "Beauty college."
"Not the same as your state-college gig."
"I wouldn't go out each day without the benefit of your particular brand of talent, Ang." It was a repeat of their usual back and forth regarding the diversity of their career choices. For the thousandth time.
"Straightening your hair? Anyone could do that."
"Anyone who went to beauty school."
Yes, thank heavens for that beauty school, Barbie said to herself, prodding yet another object with the pointy toe of her sensible two-inch-heeled sandal. Balmy Miami nights like this one, without a good hairdresser's magic? She'd become a citizen of Frizz City. All those frizz jokes in junior high! God, that had been bad. But it also had been one of the reasons for her and Angie getting together in the first place: bad hair days.
Of course, Barbie decided, bypassing the mysterious lump, there had to be men on the planet who wouldn't mind a date with imperfections, just as there had to be men who didn't care for women who primped and pranced around in overly-tight skirts and ridiculous shoes. Expensive and ridiculous shoes. As for herself, she preferred a pair of washed-out jeans with a hole in one knee, and a baseball cap to cover her brunette, curly-haired chaos. Until now, she'd heeded Angie's pleas to straighten her hair, but if she relied totally on Angie's fashion advice, she also would be tottering around Forest Lawn in a mini skirt and sling-backed, rather slutty stilettos. Not to mention that her bank account would be depleted at the mere mention of the word Manolo.
"Okay," Angie said, voice back to normal. "So tell me this. If we're educated, talented, young, and fairly attractive, how come we don't have serious dates?"
This rhetorical question had become their mantra of late.
"Men are intimidated by intelligent women," Barbie said, taking a stab at the unanswerable with words that had been on her mind more lately-words she sincerely hoped weren't actually true. Because, heck, if all those other things Angie had just listed were legit, and they were indeed reasonably likeable babes, what was the holdup? Where were the men?
"Intelligent women, huh? Girl, I think you nailed it on the head," Angie said.
"Ew." Barbie looked down. "I hope not."
"I don't mean that kind of a head," Angie declared, shuddering. "And don't they have graveyard sheriffs to make sure nothing even resembling a stray head or body part is lying around? I'm sure they do, so you can stop with the creepy images, okay?"
"Okay. But will this be half the fun?"
"Double the fun," Angie grunted. "Tons of fun. Lordy, I don't know why I'm still your best friend, Barb. I have a feeling you're liking this dark, spooky cemetery shit. I can hear it in your voice. You've been hardened by all those students of yours. You're not afraid of anything anymore. It isn't natural. I don't know why I let you talk me into these ... adventures."
"I talked you into this?"
"Well, okay. Maybe it was that new client of mine," Angie admitted.
"Singles party, the client said."
"Probably guys to die for. She said that, too. Now I'm beginning to think she was yanking my chain. I mean, we are in a frigging cemetery here. I thought this party might be better than submitting us to that Dating Game show the country club is putting on soon. Think how embarrassing that would be!"
"Hear, hear," Barbie agreed, shivering at the thought. Guys on that show sat on the other side of a big screen where the main contestant couldn't see them, for all intents and purposes invisible. How helpful would that be?
Her toe hit something solid. Glancing up, Barbie decided that the nearly full moon would have been of some use-without the cloud cover. It was a given that the dead people in this place didn't need lights, but women trying to find a party sure did! If in fact there actually was a party ...
That last if gave her pause. A second pause, actually-the first being when they'd pulled into the parking lot with the address Angie's client had written down. Odd choice for a party, sure, she had thought. Then again, lots of things were odd these days. Think eyebrow piercings, nipple rings, and five-year-old children with personal cell phones. And there had been twenty other cars in the cemetery parking lot. It was conceivable that a graveyard might be the perfect place for a party, if you could get past the ick factor. On the plus side, who would complain about noise?
"Our problem, Ang," Barbie said, slowing, "is that we're too vulnerable."
"You got that right," Angie agreed. "We even bought new clothes for this."
Barbie ran a hand over the hem of her burgundy linen jacket, purchased that morning because it flattered her coloring, not because it was trendy. Her enjoyment of the feel of the paper-light fabric was interrupted by a wayward image of Angie's client laughing her head off about sending them here. Chain yankin', big-time.
"Your outfit is tres chic, by the way," Angie said. "Everything in the right place, accentuating the positives. Even if those 'positives' are a tad on the small side." She chuckled.
"Don't even go there," Barbie warned. Obviously her friend wasn't too scared to throw a jab. Why she bothered, Barbie didn't know, since there was nothing to be done about the slightly diminutive size of her boobs, short of having fake ones installed or wearing padded bras that would, if she were alone and naked with a guy, turn into an embarrassment. Sure, her breasts might lean toward the smallish, perky side, yet they were her breasts, the ones both God and Bradley family genetics had given her. Why mess with Mother Nature?
Hearing the crunch of gravel, Barbie moved a little faster, hoping she'd found a walkway they'd somehow missed from the parking lot, wondering how much more of this graveyard wandering they were going to endure. Sixty seconds?
We're on a quest, she reminded herself. But, while she and her friend had both made solemn vows on the first of January to try anything and everything to find good boyfriend/ husband prospects, surely the angels monitoring New Year's resolutions would excuse them from trying in bizarro locales. There had to be a loophole.
She wanted to find a man. She really did. Lately she'd had a terrible longing to rest her head on some guy's shoulder, a longing for rainy-day breakfasts in bed, with sex for dessert. She wanted a diamond ring of what ever size and clarity, as long as it was bigger than a bread box and sparkled brilliantly in all light sources. Presented to her, of course (was there any other acceptable way?) by a guy-her guy-down on one knee. A Cape Cod house with a white picket fence would be nice, too. A dog in the yard. A baby stroller. Someone to share jokes and baths with. Growing old in the same person's arms-someone who was like a bit of herself broken off from some internal seam.
Yes, what Barbie Bradley really wanted was to find Mr. Perfect. Problem was, so did every other twenty-something female. Hence, the shortage of candidates. So far, she hadn't come even remotely close to finding Mr. Tolerable, let alone Mr. Right.
Bill Lewis, her ex, hadn't helped much. He had, in fact, set her biological clock back a few ticks. She'd been hopeful he might be "the one." He had flat out told her so, suggesting a rosy future. Then, bam, he'd been hit by the jerk stick. Or else maybe he'd just been a really good liar all along. All those stories he'd told about working late. All those compromising situations she'd caught him in. Bill had been it all right-if you started it with an s-h. The truth was, she had been a sucker for a pretty face.
But this was a new year, and dammit, time was wasting. She wasn't getting any younger. Twenty-something-else was right around the corner. Everyone knew that flimsy teddies had to be worn before gravity took its toll. Sex had to be a top priority while a woman was still capable of achieving a rollicking-good orgasm-assuming, of course, that she was indeed capable of achieving a rollicking-good orgasm. Considering such things, in light of her non ex is tent experience, meant wallowing in uncharted territory, perhaps in the land of myth ... but she could dream.
Still, did she and Angie want to rustle up boyfriends this badly? Tromping-through-a-graveyard type of badly?
"I think I see a light," Angie said.
Barbie paused midstep, staring out into the dark, and sighed. "Yep. I see it, too."
"Suddenly I'm not too excited by that light, or whoever might be around it," Angie said. "How about you?"
"Do you want to turn back?" Angie suggested, hope ringing in her voice.
"I'm considering it, though you could go on if you want."
"Alone? Not on your life, Barbie girl. My name might not be Midge, but I'm sticking to you all the same."
The mention of the Mattel toy went unchallenged by Barbie. Almost anything could be tolerated between best friends, even poking fun at her doll-inspired name. Maybe her mother had named her after the doll, hoping her daughter would turn out as successful and proper as the plastic blonde, but it had been the bane of Barbie's existence. Mothers should know better. And if anyone else had brought up the Barbie/Midge thing besides Angie, she would have excused herself to stick a finger down her throat. Or theirs.
"If you really want to go, I'll go," Barbie offered.
"No, if you want to go, I'll go," Angie declared.
"Flip a coin?" Barbie suggested.
"Couldn't see it, it's so bleeping dark. Although ... this could be a test. Right?"
"A test. You know, a survival-of-the-fittest kind of thing. If women actually make it to the party out there somewhere, having traipsed through all the darkness and dead bodies, those women-us-will be deemed worthy of all the waiting maleness."
After a hesitant silence in which this theory hung itself, spontaneous giggles broke out between the pair. Girl giggles. Pal giggles. Comfortable giggles that kept right on rolling, same as they had way back in seventh grade.
"That's pathetic," Barbie said, a hiccup later.
"Yeah," Angie agreed. "So maybe we can skip this particular golden opportunity. Besides, that light could be a mirage."
"Maybe," Barbie suggested, "I just scared both of us with all the talk about stray body parts."
"Have to say, though, that I have a new hankering. One that doesn't involve men," Angie confessed. "Not any men who'd be out here, anyway. What man worth a damn would be in a graveyard? Living ones, I mean. We need to try Home Depot. On a Sunday. Or a lumberyard. My new hankering says we go to your place, have some chips and Oreos, and top those off with ice cream. Throw caution to the wind. What do you say?"
"Sounds good to me," Barbie replied, very honestly relieved. The promise of cookies and ice cream seemed a fitting end to the silliness of their current predicament. As a matter of fact, cookies and the mass consumption of them was beginning to seem a fitting end to every situation. "Let's go," she stated firmly. "We don't need this."
Before she could take a backward step, Angie's voice rang out. "Hang on! Barbie, did you hear that noise? Over there?"
There was no way could Barbie see where her friend was pointing, if she was pointing. "Damn. I hope no one heard us," she muttered.
"I hope that noise isn't coming from a severed head," Angie said, tone again high-pitched, as though her own hand might be on her throat, squeezing. "Detached heads don't still have vocal cords, do they?"
"Not unless they're in a Stephen King movie." Barbie didn't actually hear anything. "Most likely it's someone from the party. I'll bet if we can't see them, they can't see us, either."
"Then no one would see us run," Angie said.
"Can you run in those shoes?"
"I'd be willing to give it a try. Can you run in yours?"
"Remember the punch line of that old joke? I don't have to run fast, just faster than you."
"Hmmm," Angie conceded. "It might be a good idea if I took these heels off for a few minutes."
"And step on all those body parts with your bare feet?"
"Geez, Barb!" Angie's subsequent expletive was muffled. No doubt she'd bent over to remove her shoes, chin pressed to her substantial and much-envied bosom. "Did you have to remind me of that joke? Or of Stephen King? That kind of stuff gives me the willies!"
Surprisingly, Barbie couldn't respond to that. Something had encircled her right wrist with a viselike grip, and it couldn't be her friend. Angie would have been worried about breaking a nail.
The suddenness of the touch rendered Barbie speechless. She was pulled sideways, struggled to remain upright with the damn pencil skirt inhibiting knee action, and heard Angie's voice crack slightly. "Okay. Shoes are off. Ready to sprint, Barb?"
Then, "Barbie? Quit playing tricks. Not funny. Say something." Angie's nasal whine returned, following Barbie into the darkness. "Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap. You there, Barbie?"
Barbie was just too stunned to answer.
Excerpted from Barbie & the Beast by Linda Thomas-Sundstrom Copyright © 2009 by Linda Thomas-Sundstrom. Excerpted by permission.
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