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By Melody Carlson
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One VIVA VERMONT!
DJ STILL FELT LIKE CINDERELLA the next morning - Cinderella after the magic was gone, that is. Not that she wasn't still pumped about last night. Who would've thought that she, of all people, would be crowned homecoming queen? But now it was Saturday morning, and her grandmother was droning on and on about today's BIG fashion show, like she thought they were walking a runway in Paris instead of Crescent Cove, Connecticut.
"And I expect my girls to behave themselves as ladies," Grandmother said as the six girls poked at their breakfast of granola, fresh fruit, and plain yogurt. For no explainable reason, DJ was craving bacon, eggs, and pancakes slathered in butter and syrup. Like that was going to happen.
"You will be representing Carter House ... and me," continued Grandmother. "And this fashion show is your debut in the community. I expect all of you to put your very best foot forward."
"That would be my right foot." DJ held up her cane and frowned down at her large walking cast. "Do I still have to do this, Grandmother? My leg is really aching today."
"That's because you were such a show-off last night." Eliza's tone was teasing, but DJ sensed a hard glint in her pretty blue eyes.
"You're just jealous," said Taylor as she refilled her coffee cup.
"I most certainly am not," said Eliza, her chin held high. "I couldn't be happier for DJ. I thought it was just the sweetest thing ever seeing her limping forward with her cute little cane to receive the crown. Even my parents were glad for her."
Casey made a snorting laugh of disbelief, and Grandmother gave her a stern look. "Sorry," said Casey sarcastically. "But I happened to have been sitting directly behind Eliza's parents last night, and I heard her mother gasp when they announced DJ's name over the loudspeaker."
Eliza blinked. "Well, that's only because she was surprised."
Grandmother cleared her throat. "We were all rather surprised to see Desiree crowned queen last night." Then she actually smiled at DJ, in a way that made DJ wonder if Grandmother had been just a little bit pleased.
"I wasn't surprised," said Rhiannon. "It was the buzz at school yesterday."
"The buzz?" Eliza frowned. "Like who even uses that word anymore?"
Rhiannon just shrugged, and Casey looked like she wanted to say something that would probably get her excused from the table. Instead, Grandmother continued her monologue about the fashion show.
"Well, I'm sure you must all be ready to put the homecoming queen competition behind you now, girls. We need to focus on today's big event. I want you all to be at your very best." She pointed a finger at DJ. "And, yes, Desiree, I certainly do expect you to participate today. After all, this show is part of the Crescent Cove Homecoming weekend. The alumni would certainly appreciate seeing this year's reigning queen amongst the models. Take some pain medication if you need to. Besides, you only have one outfit to show, how hard can that be? Really, I don't think it's too much to expect you to contribute your best effort. This is, after all, for a very good cause."
"What very good cause?" asked DJ.
Grandmother frowned. "Well, I don't recall offhand, but I do know it's something worthwhile." She glanced up at the clock on the sideboard. "And we need to be at Keller Tavern by eleven."
"Keller Tavern?" questioned Casey. "Will they be serving beer?"
Grandmother gave Casey a withering look. "No. For your information, Keller Tavern is a historic inn that dates back more than two hundred years, and it is merely the finest restaurant in this part of Connecticut."
"So, no beer then ..." Taylor exchanged a smirk with Casey, and DJ wondered if those two were actually starting to get along again.
"Anyway," said Grandmother loudly, "I'm sure you girls will want to spend plenty of time in preparation. Makeup, nails, hair ... all must be absolute perfection."
"Why nails?" asked DJ as she peered at her hands. "I mean, who's going to see our nails?"
"I'm sure that I've already mentioned that I expect some very important fashion people to be in attendance at this event." Grandmother stood stiffly. She was clearly getting impatient. "And I want you girls to look divine." She smiled directly at Taylor and Eliza now. "You just never know. Some of you girls may be scouted for some other important fashion projects. You must always be ready for the unexpected." Grandmother smiled and patted her silver hair.
"And if you'll excuse me, I want to be sure that I am looking my best as well." With narrow eyes, she peered at all of them. "So, do not be late, girls. I expect to see you all at Keller Tavern at eleven sharp. Until then."
"Until then," said DJ in an affected voice, but only after Grandmother was out of earshot.
"So, you guys aren't actually taking this seriously?" asked Casey. She seemed to be directing this to Eliza and Taylor.
"What?" asked Eliza.
"I mean modeling professionally." Casey rolled her eyes. "You're not really into it, are you?"
"Why not?" asked Taylor. "I hear the money is pretty good."
"It's not about the money," said Eliza in a superior tone. Easy for her to say since her family was one of the wealthiest in the country. "I simply think it would be fun."
"What do your parents think?" asked DJ.
Eliza shrugged. "They think that it's nice that I'm learning to be a lady." She sort of laughed. "But I doubt they'd be too excited to see me taking modeling as seriously as your grandmother does. Still, I think it would be kind of exciting."
"I'd take it seriously," said Kriti. Then she frowned. "If I wasn't so short."
"You could still do print," said Eliza. She used her forefingers and thumbs to frame Kriti's face. "You would be great for cosmetic ads. They go for those exotic-looking girls."
Placated, Kriti smiled.
"Well, the only part of the fashion industry that interests me is design," said Rhiannon as she stood and pushed her chair in. "And I consider myself fortunate to have Mrs. Carter's influence to help me get where I'm going."
"And don't underestimate that influence," said Eliza. "My mother told me last night that Mrs. Carter still has some pretty impressive connections in both New York and Paris."
Taylor chuckled. "Yeah. Ms. Katherine Carter may be getting long in the tooth, but the old girl's not dead yet."
"We better get moving," said Eliza.
DJ groaned as she stood and reached for her cane. Her leg really was aching today. This fashion show might be a great big deal to some girls, but to DJ it was simply a great big pain. Everyone began heading for their rooms. But, as usual of late, DJ moved more slowly, clomping along like an old woman with her cane and big boot. When she finally reached the foot of the stairs, Eliza seemed to be waiting for her.
Eliza smiled stiffly at DJ as she placed a hand on her shoulder. "You know ... despite what Casey or the others might say, I really was happy for you last night."
DJ blinked at her. "Seriously?"
"I really did think it was sweet."
Sweet? That word put DJ's teeth on edge. "You actually seemed kind of shocked at the time."
"Well, naturally, it was pretty surprising." Eliza flipped a silky blonde strand of hair over her shoulder and laughed. "I mean, only days ago, you weren't even a finalist. If memory serves, I think you actually put down the whole thing. I'm sure you didn't even want it ... not like others might have."
"Like you, you mean?"
She shrugged. "I invested myself in the campaign. I thought it would be fun. My parents came to ... well, you know."
"So, you think it's unfair that I won?"
"Oh no, DJ, I'm not saying anything like that." Another sugary smile. "Like I said, I think it's very sweet that you won." She nodded down to DJ's walking cast and cane. "I mean, you obviously got the sympathy vote."
DJ pressed her lips together and nodded. "Obviously."
"So, no hard feelings then?" Eliza smiled again. Such a perfect smile. Perfect teeth. Perfect hair and skin. Even perfect words. And yet DJ could never be too sure what lurked beneath the surface.
"No hard feelings from me," said DJ lightly. She grabbed the stair railing with one hand and maneuvered her cane with the other. Then she paused and looked at Eliza. "And your parents are really okay with it too?"
"Other than being a little shocked, they are perfectly fine. Like I already told everyone, they only came up here to show their support for me."
DJ began maneuvering up the stairs. "Well, that's a relief."
"Don't worry, DJ. They're still glad they came up. And, naturally, my mother cannot wait to see me in the fashion show today. Speaking of which, we better get moving."
"Right." DJ grimaced as she took another step.
"Do you need any help?" asked Eliza from behind her.
DJ continued clumping up the stairs. "No, I'm fine." She took in a sharp breath to block the pain shooting through her leg. "Just slow."
"Well, I'm sure you'll be the hit of the fashion show today. Not everyone gets to see a 'crippled' girl going down the runway. Very sweet." With that Eliza passed DJ and gracefully jogged up the stairs.
DJ clenched her teeth tighter now. She was determined not to respond to that obvious slam. Really, what was the point? What difference did it make? Still, it was weird how some girls, like Eliza, could knock the wind out of you with just a few sweet-sounding, harmless words and a fake smile. And yet it hurt more than being punched or slapped. Freaky.
"Ready to get beautiful?" asked Taylor as DJ limped into their bedroom.
"Yeah, right." DJ made her way to the bed and dropped her cane as she eased herself down with a long sigh. "Do you really think anyone would miss me if I skipped it?"
"Your grandmother for starters."
"Maybe not ..." DJ actually considered this. "I mean, she's really got her eye on you and Eliza. You guys are the ones with a future in fashion."
"You'd have a future too, DJ. If you wanted it." Taylor kind of laughed. "And if you weren't so handicapped."
"Those are big ifs. But, seriously, my grandmother will be so busy with everything else, she might not even notice my absence."
"Maybe not at first, but eventually she would realize you weren't there, DJ. And, think about it, then she would make you miserable for a few days. Is it really worth it?"
DJ shrugged. "I don't know."
"Come on. Just play along and get it over with."
"Fine. But first I'll take a pain pill and a nap."
"But I thought those pills wiped you out?"
DJ grinned at her. "Will it be my fault if I sleep too late?"
Taylor rolled her eyes as she headed for the bathroom. "It's your funeral."
Excerpted from Viva Vermont! by Melody Carlson Copyright © 2008 by Melody Carlson. Excerpted by permission.
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