Read an Excerpt
By Melody Carlson
ZondervanCopyright © 2008 Melody Carlson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneStealing Bradford
"I'm sorry, but my car's just not big enough for all the girls," announced Eliza as they were finishing breakfast. She pushed a glossy strand of blonde hair away from her face and then took a slow sip of coffee. As usual, Eliza was stylishly dressed, her hair and makeup absolutely perfect, and she looked ready to make her big debut at Crescent Cove High today.
"And I've already reserved my ride with Eliza," said Taylor a bit too smugly. She too was perfection — at least on the surface. But DJ was well aware that looks can be deceiving.
Eliza smiled at DJ now. "And I told Kriti she could ride with me too ... which only leaves room for one more." Eliza and DJ hadn't really spoken since last night when they'd made their splashy entrance into Harry's beach-house party together. A few hours and a lifetime later, DJ had left the party and driven all the girls (except Taylor and Eliza who weren't ready to go) back to the Carter House in her grandmother's car. They barely made it home before curfew, and DJ felt certain that the party-hardy girls, Taylor and Eliza, got back quite a bit later than that. Although, as far as DJ knew, Mrs. Carter hadn't said a word.
Naturally, this double standard aggravated DJ. Not that it was unexpected since her grandmother clearly favored those two, but it did seem a bad omen for the year ahead. Still, DJ was determined not to complain. Because today was not only the first day of school, it was also the first day following DJ's amazing life-changing episode on the beach last night. And she didn't want to blow it by getting mad.
"School's not that far away," pointed out Rhiannon. "I don't mind walking. That's how I used to get there."
DJ had walked to school last year as well. And she wouldn't mind walking today, except that she had on a new pair of Michael Kors shoes — ones that Eliza had coaxed her to buy, telling her they would be perfect for the first day of school. Now DJ wondered if she should run upstairs and change them. Maybe she should change her whole outfit and go back to her old style of casual grunge sportswear. Although she knew that would upset her grandmother, not to mention Eliza.
"I will drive the other girls to school today," proclaimed Mrs. Carter with a loud sigh. DJ could tell that her grandmother was not pleased with this setup. Still, wasn't this her own fault for boarding this many girls? She should've considered there might be transportation problems down the line.
Eliza smiled at DJ now. "So, do you want to ride with us then?"
DJ glanced over at Casey and Rhiannon. These two still looked like the Carter House misfits, although at least Rhiannon was trying. Casey, on the other hand, could clearly not care less. DJ briefly considered abandoning them to ride with Eliza — in the cool car. And maybe she would've done just that yesterday. But today things were different. She was different. And so she simply shook her head. "No, that's okay, Eliza. I can ride with my grandmother today."
Eliza frowned. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, but thanks anyway." DJ could tell that Eliza was not happy about her choice. And she suspected that Eliza had hoped to make a flashy entrance this morning, probably with Taylor on one side and DJ on the other — maybe with Kriti trailing slightly behind them like a handmaid. And, of course, Eliza probably hoped that Rhiannon and Casey, who did not measure up to her fastidious fashion standards, would lag somewhere far, far behind.
"Well, I'm going up to put on my finishing touches," said Eliza lightly. "And then I'll be ready." As if on cue, the breakfast table began to vacate. And before long, they were all on their way to school. The sporty white Porsche, with its three fashionable girls, drove about a block ahead, while Mrs. Carter's more sensible silver Mercedes followed discretely behind.
Rhiannon and Casey sat silently in the backseat, and DJ sat next to her grandmother, wondering what school would be like this year. Feeling nervous, she fidgeted with the handle of her Hermès bag. Of course, this only reminded her of that embarrassing moment at the beach when Taylor had used the contents in the purse to humiliate her. Still, it seemed that DJ and Conner had made it past that. It seemed that he had really liked her. And she knew she liked him. They'd even gone out since then. And after that, it seemed that their relationship had begun to unravel.
Still, she couldn't put her finger on what had gone wrong between them last night. Maybe she would never know. On one hand, she told herself that it might be for the best. After all, she had just invited Jesus into her heart. Perhaps that was what she needed to focus on for the time being. And yet, she couldn't deny that she still really liked Conner. And she still wanted him to like her. She tried to block the disturbing image of him and Taylor dancing together last night. Or Taylor's superior expression this morning. Like she'd won. And she reminded herself that Conner had kissed her — before he'd said what sounded like a final good-bye. None of it made much sense. And thinking about it just frustrated her more.
DJ suddenly remembered what Rhiannon had told her before they'd gone to bed last night. "If you're stressing about something, just pray. There's actually a verse in the Bible that says to do this."
Well, DJ wasn't sure she really knew how to pray, but she was definitely stressing over Conner. And for that reason, as Mrs. Carter turned down the road to the school, DJ made a feeble attempt to pray. Naturally, she did this silently. No way was she going to start praying out loud with her critical grandmother and Casey, the rebel girl, listening in. She said the words silently inside her head. She just hoped that God could hear her, and that he was listening. And, by the time Mrs. Carter pulled in front of the school, DJ felt amazingly calm. Maybe this prayer thing really did work.
"Will you pick us up afterward?" asked DJ.
Her grandmother nodded. "At three?"
"That's about right," said DJ. "Although I have volleyball after school. And Kriti said she might try out too. In that case, everyone would fit in Eliza's car."
"Wouldn't that be delightful?!" Mrs. Carter seemed relieved now, and DJ suspected she was calculating how much afternoon naptime she was willing to sacrifice for the sake of the girls. "How about if you give me a call when you know for sure, Desiree?"
Mrs. Carter smiled and waved. "Have a nice day, girls."
Rhiannon politely thanked her, and DJ grabbed her gym bag and waved, but Casey just grunted as if this prospect of having a good day was highly unlikely.
Unfortunately, that would probably be the case with Casey. Going to Crescent Cove High dressed like Goth Girl meets Punk Rocker might not go over too well. Just this morning, DJ had tried to warn Casey of this, but the stubborn girl was not ready to listen to anyone. Still, it seemed a little unfair that DJ and Rhiannon were stuck walking into the building with Casey. It was her choice to stand out like a loser, but why did she have to subject them to it as well? Then, when DJ imagined what the three of them must look like together, she almost laughed. Almost. She just hoped, as they headed for the school's entrance, that others would have as much self-control. What a whacky threesome.
DJ, thanks to her grandmother's and Eliza's fashion intervention, looked fairly stylish. Although, according to Casey, DJ had simply been transformed into "an Eliza clone." Casey, in total contrast, with her safety-pin-pierced brows and skull T-shirt and black lace-up boots, looked freaky weird. This was aside from the fact that her hair — cut in a short Mohawk and dyed jet black with an electric-blue stripe down the middle — was a real show stopper. Then there was Rhiannon, who DJ thought actually looked sort of cool in her own unique design of "recycled" retro clothes and funky-junky jewelry. Unfortunately this was also a style that some of the snobby mean girls would be glad to take turns slamming. Yes, they were making quite an entrance.
"Hey, DJ," called Eliza from behind them.
DJ paused at the top of the steps and then turned to see Eliza, Taylor, and Kriti crossing the street from the student parking lot and casually strolling toward them. DJ waved and waited, but Casey just kept on walking into the school as if she was resolved to get this over with ASAP — not unlike a convicted murderer on her way to the electric chair. DJ actually called out, but Casey just kept on going, didn't even look back. Whatever.
"Here we go, girls," said Eliza with a smile. "Are we ready?"
DJ could feel them being watched as they entered the school. Even so, she held her head up high. Okay, maybe she was imitating Eliza now, but if it worked, what difference did it make? All DJ knew was that she didn't want to take the same abuse she'd suffered last spring.
"Where's the security?" asked Taylor.
"What?" said Rhiannon.
"You know, X-ray machines, gates, uniforms ... What's the deal?"
"We don't have them," said DJ.
"We're such a small town," explained Rhiannon. "I guess they don't think we need all that."
"That's one thing I won't miss," said Taylor as they continued down the hallway.
"I'm supposed to pick up my registration packet in the office," said Eliza. "Where is that?"
"Right this way," said DJ. "I have to pick up mine too."
As it turned out, they had all registered online, so they all needed to go to the office. Several of the kids from last night's party greeted the girls and, as they continued to the office, DJ began to relax a little. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad after all. She tried not to worry about Casey, although she did feel concerned. But perhaps this was just something Casey needed to work through on her own — like a rite of passage. Not that DJ would wish that on anyone.
At the office, Mrs. Seibert, the counselor, welcomed them. Apparently she'd already heard about the Carter House girls and seemed curious as to how it was going. DJ gave her a quick summary, trying to play down the circus element of their living arrangements, and Mrs. Seibert handed them their registration packets. "We're a little short on lockers again this year. Do you girls mind doubling up?"
"Not at all," said Eliza. She turned quickly to DJ now. "Want to be locker partners?"
DJ could feel Taylor glaring at her as she nodded and muttered a meek, "Sure."
"And the rest of you?" asked Mrs. Seibert.
"I don't mind sharing," said Kriti.
"I'll share with her," offered Taylor without enthusiasm.
"I can share with Casey," said Rhiannon.
"Casey Atwood," offered DJ. "She's new too."
"Another Carter House girl?" asked Mrs. Seibert with raised brows.
Mrs. Seibert nodded. "Interesting."
"Yes," said Eliza. "It has been."
"So, do you girls need anyone besides Rhiannon to show you around the school?" asked Mrs. Seibert. "We do have some student guides."
"That's okay," said DJ. "I was actually here for a few weeks last year, so between the two of us, I think we can handle it."
"Well, I hope you'll all have a wonderful year at CCH."
"Thank you," said Eliza politely. "It seems like a very nice school."
Of course, this evoked a snide remark from Taylor. They were barely out of the office when she said something about the espresso shade of Eliza's nose. But Eliza just shrugged it off. "It never hurts to be nice, Taylor. Someday you may even figure that out for yourself."
Then Eliza sided up to DJ. "Looks like we have first period together, as well as some other classes. Want to show me around?"
Rhiannon fell into step with Taylor now. "I noticed we have some classes together too, Taylor. You need any directions?"
"I suppose that would be helpful," said Taylor in a bored and I'm-so-much-better-than-you tone.
"And we have our maps," said Kriti as she slipped a paper out of the folder. "I think I can find my way to the science department on my own. I have chemistry first period."
"Chemistry," said Taylor with a disgusted expression. "Why on earth would you intentionally subject yourself to that?"
"It's called education," said Kriti.
"It's called boring," said Taylor.
"Let's find our lockers first," suggested DJ.
"Like I'm going to use a locker," said Taylor with disgust.
"You mean you're going to carry everything around with you?" asked Rhiannon.
Taylor held up her oversized Burberry bag. "Why not?"
"What about when it's winter and you have coats and scarves and mittens and things?" persisted Rhiannon. "You're going to haul all that around with you too?"
Taylor seemed to consider this. "Maybe I'll look into the locker ..."
They quickly found their lockers. After several failed attempts at the combination lock, DJ finally let Eliza take a turn at opening the locker. Naturally, it opened on the first try. Eliza just laughed. "I guess I have the touch."
DJ threw her gym bag in and slammed the door shut.
"See you later," called Kriti. "I don't want to be late to chem class."
Taylor turned to Rhiannon now. "Lead me to the music department."
Rhiannon did a fake salute. "Yes, sir." And they took off.
"And the English department is this way," said DJ, pointing in the opposite direction.
"This is fun," said Eliza as they navigated through the crowded hallway.
"Fun?" echoed DJ.
"Sure ... all these new people, new challenges. Don't you think it's fun?"
DJ considered this. "Yeah, maybe. I guess I just hadn't looked at it like that before."
"Hey, there's Conner and Harry up ahead." Eliza waved and DJ cringed. She just wasn't ready for this yet. Still, there seemed no choice but to paste on a happy face and act as if all was well.
Excerpted from Stealing Bradford by Melody Carlson Copyright © 2008 by Melody Carlson. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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