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"Remind me to never, ever star in another high school musical again." Eliza sighed dramatically as she poured her coffee. It was the Sunday morning after the final performance of South Pacific, and DJ suspected that Eliza was just fishing for compliments. Not that she hadn't already gotten plenty. And last night, she'd been presented with a huge bouquet of roses. DJ knew they were from Eliza's parents, but Eliza received them as if they had been an Oscar.
"But what if Mr. Harper does High School Musical in the spring?" asked Kriti with wide dark eyes. DJ could tell by the way Kriti said this she was hoping he would. Eliza probably was too.
"That is so last week," said Taylor.
"Meaning you wouldn't participate in it?" Eliza pushed a long strand of blonde hair over her shoulder and sat up straighter, looking directly at Taylor like this was a personal challenge.
Taylor rolled her eyes and then reached for the fruit platter. "Meaning, I don't really want to think about it right now. Sheesh, Eliza, didn't you just ask us to remind you never to be in another musical?"
"Eliza is probably just trying to secure her next starring role," said Rhiannon. Then she frowned like she hadn't really meant it to sound like that. "And why shouldn't she?" she added quickly. "Eliza was absolutely fantastic as Nurse Nellie. Everyone said so."
"And it's obvious that Eliza will never let us forget she was a star," teased Casey.
"Was." Taylor chuckled. "As in she's a has-been now."
Some of the girls snickered, but Eliza just glared at Taylor.
Then as if she'd just started listening, Grandmother cleared her throat, closed the open date book that she'd been studying, and looked at the girls. "I see there are only two weeks remaining until winter break, ladies." She shook her head sadly. "I just can't believe that it's already December. It seems like only yesterday that you girls arrived at Carter House. My, my, how time flies."
"And the Winter Ball is next Saturday," Eliza reminded them. As if anyone could've forgotten with posters plastered all over the school. DJ was still unsure whether she should go. Conner had asked her, but she hadn't agreed. Even though Haley hadn't returned to school yet, it still made DJ uncomfortable to be seen as more than "just friends" with Conner. And DJ knew that Haley's swim-team buddies were probably reporting to her.
"My mother and I are shopping for gowns today," continued Eliza. She glanced at her roommate. "And Kriti too, of course."
"I already have my dress," said Taylor. "A little something my mother sent over from Milan while she was performing there last month."
DJ could tell this little dig was aimed directly at Eliza. The two girls had been going at it steadily for the last couple of weeks. It first started when Eliza's boyfriend, Harry, gave Taylor a "shoulder massage" while backstage during a rehearsal for the musical. DJ had observed the two of them and had no doubt that Harry was flirting. But what Harry didn't know was that Eliza had been watching too. Of course, Harry denied everything, and then Eliza blamed Taylor for the incident. Yet, in a way, DJ was glad Eliza and Taylor were at odds again. They had all experienced those two power forces united during last month's ski trip-and it had been a rather frightening experience. Sort of like it might be if Russia and China ever got together.
"My mother offered to shop for a gown in Paris for me," said Eliza-her attempt at one-upping Taylor. "But I told her to wait. I wouldn't want to risk having a dress that fit poorly."
"That's why God invented alterations, Eliza," said Taylor. "Or perhaps you don't have such conveniences down south."
"I don't see why girls think they need to go out and spend a bunch of money on something new for a stupid dance," said Casey. She glanced at Rhiannon, and DJ suspected that Casey was trying to make her feel better. "I mean, you'll wear that dress like one time. What a waste!"
"So what do you intend to wear?" asked Eliza with a bored sort of interest. "Your Doc Martins and something with spikes?"
Casey made a face. "Actually, I might go eighties retro. Like Madonna or Blondie."
"Right." Eliza turned up her nose. "The Winter Ball theme is White Christmas, and we're supposed to dress in a fifties style of Hollywood elegance."
"You take those posters literally?" asked Casey.
"They suggested dresses in Christmas colors of red, green, or white." Eliza continued like she was reading it from a brochure.
"I think it'll be pretty," said Kriti.
"I intend to look for something sparkly in white to show off my tan," said Eliza.
"Fake tan." Taylor pushed a curly dark strand of hair away from her face and laughed. "My dress is black."
"It figures." Eliza snickered.
"I'm going to wear green," said Rhiannon quickly, like she was trying to keep this from escalating.
"What do you mean 'it figures'?" demanded Taylor.
"Everyone else will look Christmassy in red, green, or white, and the vamp will show up wearing black." Eliza laughed.
"Speaking of winter break," said Grandmother loudly. "What exactly are your plans, ladies?" She opened her date book and picked up her silver pen. "I'd like to make note of it now, if you don't mind."
"I'll be in France for Christmas," Eliza announced proudly.
"So you'll be flying directly to France from Connecticut?" inquired Grandmother.
"Actually, I'll spend the first week or so in Kentucky," admitted Eliza. "Visiting with friends and family. Then my older siblings and I will travel together just before Christmas. My mother said the rooms aren't completely renovated yet. Her designer, a well-known Parisian, promises to have it completed before Christmas Eve."
"La-TI-da," said Casey.
Grandmother frowned at Casey. "So, how about you, Miss Atwood? When will you be departing for California?"
"The same day that school is out."
Grandmother made note of this.
"And I'll be leaving the day after school is out," said Rhiannon.
Grandmother's brows lifted with curiosity. "To go where, dear?"
"To an aunt who lives in Maine."
Grandmother smiled. "That's nice. I didn't know you had an aunt, Rhiannon."
"I didn't either. She's actually a great-aunt and ..." Rhiannon paused as if unsure. "My mother may be joining me up there."
"Really?" Grandmother looked a bit skeptical, and everyone else got quiet. They all knew that Rhiannon's mother was in drug rehab-the lockdown kind.
"Yes. If my aunt signs something, they'll release her for the holidays."
"Very interesting." Grandmother looked at Kriti now. "I assume you'll be in New York?"
Kriti nodded happily. "Yes. We have some relatives coming from India to visit. My mother is very excited."
"Well, I'm sure you'll have a delightful Christmas." Grandmother frowned with realization. "I suppose you don't call it Christmas, do you, Kriti?"
Kriti looked slightly embarrassed. "It's a different sort of holiday, Mrs. Carter. We celebrate things like love, affection, sharing, and the renewing of family bonds."
"That sounds lovely." Grandmother looked at Taylor now. "And what will you be doing during the holidays, dear?"
Taylor sighed. "My mother has invited me to tour with her."
Grandmother's eyes lit up. She was a huge fan of Eva Perez. "Where will she be touring? Europe still?"
"I wish. No, she'll be in the Southwest by then. And it looks like we'll be spending Christmas in Las Vegas."
Eliza snickered. "Charming."
Taylor tossed her a warning glance. "Hey, Las Vegas has its perks."
"Most important is that you're with family, Taylor." Grandmother smiled. "Isn't that what Christmas is all about?"
Taylor shrugged. "I guess."
Grandmother looked at DJ. "Now, you're still certain you don't want to join your father and his family for Christmas, Desiree?"
"No, Grandmother." DJ tried not to show frustration. But she and Grandmother had already been over this. The last place DJ wanted to be during Christmas break was with her father's happy little stepfamily. It was bad enough that this would be her first Christmas without her mother. But to be stuck playing the live-in babysitter to the toddler twins was unimaginable.
"Well, I'm sure that we'll have a delightful time right here at home." Grandmother smiled at DJ. "Perhaps we'll have the general over."
DJ got sympathetic glances from Rhiannon and Casey and maybe even Kriti. Not that she wanted their pity. Eliza just smiled smugly. And Taylor, well, she was a hard one to read.
But later that day after DJ and Rhiannon got back from church, Taylor asked DJ if she was happy about her "holiday plans."
DJ groaned as she flopped onto her bed. "Holiday plans? Like I planned any of this?"
Taylor laughed. "Yeah, I guess not."
"I'll be fine," DJ assured her. "I'll catch up on sleep and reading."
"Maybe Conner will be around to keep you entertained," Taylor said in a sexy-sounding, teasing tone.
"Conner is going with his family to Montana for two weeks."
"Tell me about it."
"I know!" Taylor exclaimed. "You'll come out to Las Vegas and visit me for Christmas."
DJ just laughed. "Oh, yeah, like that's going to happen."
"Why not?" Taylor looked slightly hurt.
"Seriously, Christmas in Las Vegas?"
"Well, besides the fact that it sounds totally crazy, I know that my grandmother would never-in a million years-agree to something like that." The truth was that DJ was secretly relieved for this excuse. The only thing she could imagine being worse than spending Christmas with Grandmother in Connecticut, or even her father's stepfamily in California, would be to spend Christmas in Las Vegas with Taylor Mitchell.
Excerpted from Lost in Las Vegas by Melody Carlson Copyright © 2009 by Melody Carlson. Excerpted by permission.
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