Read an Excerpt Homecoming Queen
By Melody Carlson
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One HOMECOMING QUEEN
DJ Lane jumped at the sound of someone opening her bedroom door. It was well past midnight, and the house had been quiet for at least an hour now. The floor creaked as the intruder slipped into the room. With a pounding heart, DJ wondered if she should scream for help or simply play dead. Without daring to breathe, she peeked over the edge of her comforter just in time to see her long-lost roommate quietly closing the door.
"Taylor!" cried DJ as she threw back the covers and leaped out of bed. "Where on earth have you been?" Taylor had been AWOL for several days, and everyone in the house - including Taylor's enemies - had been frantic with worry.
"Shh!" Taylor held a finger to her lips and then shirked off her leather jacket. It appeared to be soaking wet, and she dropped it to the floor with a heavy thud. "Don't wake up the whole house."
"We should wake them." DJ turned on a bedside lamp and stared at her runaway friend. Taylor, usually stunningly beautiful with her perfect olive-toned complexion, exotic eyes, and luxurious dark curls, now looked like a train wreck. Plus, she was dripping wet. "I mean, everyone's been freaking over you, Taylor. We should tell my grandmother that you're back and -"
"Tomorrow," said Taylor as she unzipped her jeans and peeled them off. "It's late now. I just want to grab a hot shower and go to bed. No fuss."
"But what about the police and the -"
"Seriously DJ, I am dead tired." Taylor scowled as she tossed the soggy jeans next to the jacket on the floor. "We'll sort it out tomorrow. I promise."
"But the others will be so relieved to -"
"I mean it, DJ," hissed Taylor. "Shut up and go back to sleep!" Then, acting like no big deal - as if everyone in the entire town hadn't been freaking over her disappearance - Taylor slipped into the bathroom and quietly but firmly shut the door.
DJ felt slightly enraged. Wide awake and full of questions, she wanted to go in there and confront her roommate. She wanted to demand answers and explanations for this crazy missing act that had put everyone in Carter House on high alert this week. Who did Taylor think she was anyway?
DJ could hear the water in the shower running and, remembering that tomorrow was a school day, got back into her bed. As aggravating as it was to have Taylor pull a stunt like this, sneaking back into the house while everyone was sleeping, it probably did make more sense to sort this whole thing out by the light of day. And despite feeling seriously irritated at Taylor's nonchalance, DJ was also hugely relieved that the girl was back.
DJ remembered the past couple of evenings and how she and the other Carter House girls had gathered and actually prayed - each in her own way - that Taylor would make it back safely. And now, just like that, Taylor was here - and it seemed that she was just fine. Well, other than looking like a mess. Knowing Taylor, she would remedy this by morning. Still, DJ was curious as to where Taylor had been hiding out and even more curious about why she'd come back. Whatever the case, it did seem that God really had answered their prayers. Taylor was safe!
"You're kidding?" said Rhiannon. DJ had slipped into Rhiannon and Casey's room to share the news the following morning. "Taylor's back? Is she here right now?"
"Yep." DJ nodded as she sat down on Casey's bed, watching as Rhiannon quickly braided her long red curls to get them away from her face. She still had on pajamas, and DJ knew she'd awakened her, but she had to talk to someone. "Taylor got in late last night and she's still asleep. Where's Casey?"
"In the bathroom." Rhiannon shoved her feet into her slippers and yawned. "Did Taylor say where she'd been?"
"No. But she was soaking wet when she came in, so I can only assume she rode home on her Vespa."
"Yeah. It was pouring down last night."
Just then Casey emerged from the bathroom, wrapped in a towel. Her short wet hair stuck out in all directions. She stared curiously at DJ. "What's up?"
Casey's already large brown eyes grew huge now. "She's back?"
"Yep." DJ quickly filled her in on the late-night arrival.
"And she's okay?" Casey's already pale complexion looked even paler now.
"As far as I can see. She's asleep right now."
"Did you tell her ... about me? I mean, that I'm the one who did the MySpace thing?"
"No. She wouldn't even let me talk to her."
Casey sank into the window seat cushion and slowly shook her head. "I guess this is when the stuff hits the fan, huh?"
"I don't know." DJ glanced nervously at Rhiannon, hoping she could say something encouraging.
"It's going to be okay," Rhiannon said to Casey in a soothing tone.
"How can you say that?" Casey looked at Rhiannon and then DJ. "I committed a crime! Libel!" It was true. Casey had posted some pretty nasty photos of Taylor on the Internet. Some shots had actually been "authentic," but others had been tampered with by Casey. She'd managed to create some very crude and lewd images that even Taylor had been unable to live down once they'd hit cyberspace.
"No one is prosecuting you," said DJ.
"Not yet. But that could all change today." Tears slid down Casey's cheeks. "I can't believe I was so stupid."
"None of us can believe it," said DJ.
"It seemed like a great idea at the time," said Casey, wiping her nose on the edge of her oversized towel. "I thought I was being so clever - getting even with Taylor. She deserved it after how she hurt Rhiannon."
"Revenge never works," said Rhiannon.
"Tell me about it." Casey sighed.
"And worrying about it won't change anything," said DJ.
"That's easy for you to say." Casey stood. "I'm the one who could end up in jail."
"You're a minor," said Rhiannon.
"Okay, juvenile detention." Casey tightly shut her eyes. "That's even worse."
"That would only happen if Taylor presses charges," said DJ. "Remember what Detective Howard told us the other day?"
"Of course she'll press charges," declared Casey hotly. "She's probably already spoken to a lawyer. I'm toast."
"You don't know that," said DJ.
"I need to get dressed," said Casey quickly, heading back to the bathroom. "If I'm going down, at least I can have some clothes on."
"You're not going down, Casey." DJ made an attempt at a laugh, but she knew it sounded fake.
After Casey returned to the bathroom, Rhiannon looked at DJ. "Do you think she'll really have to go into juvenile detention?"
DJ shrugged. "It seems crazy, but I suppose it's possible. According to Detective Howard, she did break the law. Taylor has the right to press charges."
"We really need to pray about this."
DJ nodded. "Yeah." She put her hand on the door handle and looked sympathetically toward the bathroom. "Well, I need to get ready for school. And I need to tell Grandmother what's up so she can notify the police."
"What about Taylor's parents? Do they know?"
DJ shrugged. "Guess that's Taylor's business."
DJ felt a mixture of emotions as she returned to her room. On one hand, she was relieved that Taylor was back - and safe. On the other hand, life would probably get complicated again. Casey was right, the stuff would be hitting the fan soon - and just after Casey had finally made an effort to fit in here at Carter House and after DJ's grandmother had decided not to send her home after all. All that could change now.
As DJ finished getting ready for school, she prayed for Casey. She wasn't even sure how to pray, so finally she just asked God to bring something good out of this mess. She had no idea what that might be, but she felt certain that God could do it.
"You done in there yet?" asked Taylor in a groggy voice.
"Sure," said DJ as she opened the bathroom door more fully.
"I didn't know if you'd even be up yet. Are you planning on going to school today?"
Taylor shrugged then pushed a dark strand of curly hair out of her eyes. Even after her late night, and possibly riding her Vespa in the pouring rain, she still looked gorgeous. "I don't know."
"I'm going to let my grandmother know that you're back."
Taylor rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Whatever."
DJ controlled herself from saying something sarcastic back at her - like "Thank you very much, DJ. I appreciate your concern." She knew it wouldn't do anyone any good to get into a fight with Taylor today. If anything, she felt like she should be very placating, very kind and understanding. Maybe if she played her cards just right, she could induce a bit of Taylor's sympathy toward Casey. Possible, though unlikely.
"She's back, isn't she?" whispered Inez with dark, curious eyes. The housekeeper had stopped DJ on her way to Grandmother's room. "I saw her little green motorbike outside, and I know that means she's back."
DJ nodded. "Yes. She's back."
"Does this mean trouble, you think?"
"I don't know. Right now I just want to tell Grandmother."
"I'll tell Clara to set another place for breakfast."
"Thanks." Then DJ knocked on her grandmother's door. Although her bedroom was on the same floor as the girls, it was in the back of the house, with the stairway acting as a sort of buffer to the other rooms.
"Yes?" Grandmother opened the door, still wearing her rose-colored satin robe, as she peered blurrily at DJ. "What is it, Desiree?"
DJ quickly told her the news.
Grandmother blinked. "She's here now?"
"And she's all right?"
"She seems perfectly fine."
"Did she inform her parents?"
"I don't know. We haven't really had a chance to talk. I just wanted to let you know so you could contact the police and stuff."
"Yes. Yes, I'll get right to it." Grandmother smiled as she clasped her hands in front of her. "Oh, I'm so glad that she's back."
DJ nodded, but felt unsure.
"She's such a beautiful girl," said Grandmother.
DJ wondered what that really had to do with anything. "Well, yeah."
"And I have such plans for her."
"Oh." DJ got it. The old grooming-the-girls-to-be-models idea was poking up its ugly head again.
Grandmother put a thin, wrinkled hand on the side of DJ's face. "Oh, it's not that you're not pretty too, Desiree. You most certainly are. But that Taylor -" The old woman smacked her lips like she were about to devour a piece of chocolate cream pie - or more likely a carrot, knowing her. "That Taylor - well, she has the makings of a real supermodel."
"Right." DJ stepped away now. "So, you will let the police and everyone know?"
"Oh, yes, of course." Grandmother nodded in a vague kind of way that suggested that she had already forgotten about Detective Howard and Taylor's parents, as if she had simply dismissed all of that as insignificant compared to the fact that Taylor had the "right stuff" to be molded into some kind of supermodel. Talk about delusional.
"And, Desiree," said Grandmother as DJ started to leave. "Please, tell Taylor that I'd like to see her in my room - before breakfast."
"Okay." DJ sighed.
"And don't slouch, dear," said Grandmother. Then she stood a bit taller herself, as if to show DJ how it was done. She held her pointed chin higher as she used the back of her fingers to give it a pat underneath, as if that might help the slightly sagging skin to tighten. "Good posture tells people that you believe in yourself, dear. It makes a good impression."
"Yeah, right." For her grandmother's sake, DJ stood a bit straighter, suppressing the urge to grind her teeth and growl as she walked back to her room. Sheesh. Sometimes DJ wondered if she was honestly related to that crazy old bat. DJ's mom, an intelligent and down to earth person, had been nothing like Grandmother. But then DJ's mom was dead. And DJ's dad didn't want to deal with a teenage daughter. Really, DJ knew she should be thankful for the old woman. But sometimes it was tough.
Excerpted from Homecoming Queen by Melody Carlson
Copyright © 2008 by Melody Carlson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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