Bookish Musings, Banter & More
It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book’s FIRST chapter!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
About the Author:
Melody Carlson has written more than 200 books for teens, women, and children. Before publishing, Melody traveled around the world, volunteered in teen ministry, taught preschool, raised two sons, and worked briefly in interior design and later in international adoption. “I think real-life experiences inspire the best fiction,” she says. Her wide variety of books seems to prove this theory. (ISBN#9780310714927 , 208pp, $9.99)
â€œBut what if Mr. Harper really does High School Musical in the spring?â€ asked Kriti with wide dark eyes. DJ could tell by the way Kriti said this that she was hoping he would. Eliza probably was too.
â€œThat is so last week,â€ said Taylor.
â€œMeaning you wouldnâ€™t participate in it?â€ Eliza pushed a long strand of blond hair over her shoulder and sat up straighter, looking directly at Taylor like this was a personal challenge.
Taylor rolled her eyes then reached for the fruit platter. â€œMeaning I donâ€™t really want to think about it right now. Sheesh, Eliza, didnâ€™t you just ask us to remind you never to be another musical?â€
â€œEliza is probably just trying to secure her next starring role,â€ said Rhiannon. Then she frowned like she hadnâ€™t really meant it to sound like that. â€œAnd why shouldnâ€™t she?â€ she added quickly. â€œEliza was absolutely fantastic as Nurse Nellie. Everyone said so.â€
â€œAnd itâ€™s obvious that Eliza will never want us to forget that she was a star,â€ teased Casey.
â€œWas.â€ Taylor chuckled. â€œAs in sheâ€™s a has-been now.â€
Some of the girls snickered, but Eliza just glared at Taylor.
Then as if sheâ€™d just started listening, Grandmother cleared her throat, closing the open date book that sheâ€™d been studying, she looked at the girls. â€œI see there are only two weeks remaining until winter break, ladies.â€ She shook her head sadly. â€œI just canâ€™t believe that itâ€™s already December. It seems like only yesterday that you girls arrived at Carter House. My, my, how time flies.â€
â€œAnd the Winter Ball is next Saturday,â€ Eliza reminded them. As if anyone couldâ€™ve forgotten with all posters plastered all over the school. But DJ was still unsure. Conner had asked her to go, but she hadnâ€™t agreed. Even though Haley hadnâ€™t returned to school yet, it still made DJ uncomfortable to be seen as more than â€œjust friendsâ€ with Conner. And DJ knew that Haleyâ€™s swim team buddies were probably reporting to her.
â€œMy mother and I are shopping for gowns today,â€ continued Eliza. She glanced at her roommate. â€œAnd Kriti too, or course.â€
â€œI already have my dress,â€ said Taylor. â€œA little something my mother sent over from Milan while she was performing there last month.â€
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 had started when Elizaâ€™s boyfriend Harry had made what Eliza interpreted as a flirtatious move toward Taylor during a rehearsal for the musical. Actually, DJ had seen it herself and, although she hadnâ€™t told anyone, she felt certain that Harry had been flirting too. But heâ€™d been unaware that Eliza had been watching at the time. Yet, in a way, DJ was glad Eliza and Taylor were at odds again. They had all experienced those two â€œpower forcesâ€ united during last monthâ€™s ski tripâ€”and it had been rather frightening experience. Sort of like it might be if Russia and China ever got together.
â€œMy mother offered to shop a gown for me in Paris,â€ said Eliza, her attempt at one-upping Taylor. â€œBut I told her to wait. I wouldnâ€™t want to risk having a dress that fit poorly.â€
â€œThatâ€™s why God invented alterations, Eliza,â€ said Taylor. â€œOr perhaps you donâ€™t have such conveniences down south.â€
â€œI donâ€™t see why girls think they need to go out and spend a bunch of money on something new for a silly dance,â€ said Casey. She glanced at Rhiannon and DJ suspected that Casey was trying to make her feel better. â€œI mean youâ€™ll wear that dress like one time. What a waste!â€
â€œSo what do you intend to wear?â€ asked Eliza with a bored sort of interest. â€œYour Doc Martins and something with spikes?â€
Casey made a face. â€œActually, I might go eighties retro. Like Madonna or Blondie.â€
â€œRight.â€ Eliza turned up her nose. â€œAnd the Winter Ball theme is White Christmas and weâ€™re supposed to dress in a fifties style of Hollywood elegance.â€
â€œYou take those posters literally?â€ asked Casey.
â€œThey suggested dresses in Christmas colors of red, green or white.â€ Eliza continued like she was reading it from a brochure.
â€œI think itâ€™ll be pretty,â€ said Kriti.
â€œI intend to look for something sparkly in white to show off my tan,â€ said Eliza.
â€œFake tan.â€ Taylor pushed a curly dark strand of hair away from her face and laughed. â€œMy dress is black.â€
â€œIt figures.â€ Eliza snickered.
â€œIâ€™m going to wear green,â€ said Rhiannon quickly, like she was trying to keep this from escalating.
â€œWhat do you mean it figures?â€ demanded Taylor.
â€œEveryone else will look Christmassy in red, green or white and the vamp will show up wearing black.â€ Eliza laughed.
â€œSpeaking of Winter Break,â€ said Grandmother loudly. â€œWhat exactly are your plans, ladies?â€ She opened her date book and picked up her silver pen. â€œIâ€™d like to make note of it now, if you donâ€™t mind.â€
â€œIâ€™ll be in France for Christmas,â€ Eliza announced proudly.
â€œSo youâ€™ll be flying directly to France from Connecticut?â€ inquired Grandmother.
â€œActually, Iâ€™ll spend the first week or so in Kentucky,â€ admitted Eliza. â€œVisiting with friends and family. Then my older siblings and I will travel together just before Christmas. My mother said the rooms arenâ€™t completely renovated yet. Her designer, a well-known Parisian, promises to have it completed before Christmas Eve.â€
â€œLaâ€”teeâ€”da,â€ said Casey.
Grandmother frowned at Casey. â€œSo, how about you, Miss Atwood? When will you be departing for California?â€
â€œThe same day that school is out.â€
Grandmother made note of this.
â€œAnd Iâ€™ll be leaving the day after school it out,â€ said Rhiannon.
Grandmotherâ€™s brows lifted with curiosity. â€œTo go where, dear?â€
â€œTo an aunt who lives in Maine.â€
Grandmother smiled. â€œThatâ€™s nice. I didnâ€™t know you had an aunt, Rhiannon.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t either. Sheâ€™s actually a great aunt andâ€¦â€ Rhiannon paused as if unsure. â€œMy mother may be joining me up there.â€
â€œReally?â€ Grandmother looked a bit skeptical, and everyone else got quiet. They all knew that Rhiannonâ€™s mother was in drug rehabâ€”the lockdown kind.
â€œYes. If my aunt signs something, theyâ€™ll release her for the holidays.â€
â€œVery interesting.â€ Grandmother looked at Kriti now. â€œI assume youâ€™ll be in New York?â€
Kriti nodded happily. â€œYes. We have some relatives coming from India to visit. My mother is very excited.â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ll have a delightful Christmas.â€ Grandmother frowned with realization. â€œI suppose you donâ€™t call it Christmas, do you, Kriti?â€
Kriti looked slightly embarrassed. â€œItâ€™s a different sort of holiday, Mrs. Carter. We celebrate things like love, affection, sharing, and the renewing of family bonds.â€
â€œThat sounds lovely.â€ Grandmother looked at Taylor now. â€œAnd what will you be doing during the holidays, dear?â€
Taylor sighed. â€œMy mother has invited me to tour with her.â€
Grandmotherâ€™s eyes lit up. She was a huge fan of Eva Perez. â€œWhere will she be touring? Europe still?â€
â€œI wish. No, sheâ€™ll be in the southwest by then. And it looks like weâ€™ll be spending Christmas in Las Vegas.â€
Eliza snickered. â€œCharming.â€
Taylor tossed her a warning glance. â€œHey, Las Vegas has its perks.â€
â€œMost importantly, is that youâ€™re with family, Taylor.â€ Grandmother smiled. â€œIsnâ€™t that what Christmas is all about?â€
Taylor shrugged. â€œI guess.â€
Now Grandmother looked at DJ. â€œNow, youâ€™re still certain you donâ€™t want to join your father and his family for Christmas, Desiree?â€
â€œNo, Grandmother.â€ 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 fatherâ€™s happy little step family. 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.
â€œWell, Iâ€™m sure that weâ€™ll have a delightful time right here at home.â€ Grandmother smiled at DJ. â€œPerhaps weâ€™ll have the general over.â€
DJ got sympathetic glances from Rhiannon and Casey and maybe even Kriti. Not that she wanted their pity. But 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 â€œholiday plans.â€
DJ groaned as she flopped onto her bed. â€œHoliday plans? Like I planned any of this?â€
Taylor laughed. â€œYeah, I guess not.â€
â€œIâ€™ll be fine,â€ DJ assured her. â€œIâ€™ll catch up on sleep and reading.â€
â€œMaybe Conner will be around to keep you entertained,â€ Taylor said in a sexy sounding teasing tone.
â€œConner is going with his family to Montana for two weeks.â€
â€œTell me about it.â€
â€œI know!â€ Taylor exclaimed. â€œYouâ€™ll come out to Las Vegas and visit me for Christmas.â€
DJ just laughed. â€œOh, yeah, like thatâ€™s going to happen.â€
â€œWhy not?â€ Taylor looked slightly hurt.
â€œSeriously, Christmas in Las Vegas?â€
â€œWell, besides the fact that it sounds totally crazy. I know that my grandmother would neverâ€”in a million yearsâ€”agree to something like that.â€ And the truth was that DJ was secretly relieved for this excuse. Because, really, the only thing she could imagine being worse than spending Christmas with Grandmother in Connecticut, or even her fatherâ€™s step family in California, would be to spend Christmas in Las Vegas with Taylor Mitchell.
â€œWhy donâ€™t you just go to the dance with Conner?â€ demanded Casey as DJ drove them home from school on Tuesday.
â€œI agree with Casey,â€ said Taylor. â€œWhy donâ€™t you just get it over with and say youâ€™ll go?â€
â€œI agree too,â€ chimed in Rhiannon. â€œJust go, DJ.â€
â€œYou know you want to,â€ urged Casey.
â€œYes, Iâ€™ve admitted that,â€ said DJ. â€œBut I just donâ€™t want to risk hurting Haley again. Sheâ€™s been through so much already.â€
â€œThat wasnâ€™t your fault,â€ pointed out Rhiannon.
And, sure, DJ knew that she hadnâ€™t been the one to push Haley into her â€œfakeâ€ suicide attemptâ€”an attempt that nearly killed her. But DJ cared about Haley. She didnâ€™t want to take any chances.
â€œBut you said that when Haley was in the hospital, she told you that she was fine with you and Conner getting backâ€”â€œ
â€œSure, she said that. But who knows how she really feels? Or even how she feels now?â€
â€œWhere exactly is she now?â€ ventured Taylor.
â€œIâ€™m not supposed to say.â€
â€œWe know itâ€™s some kind of loony bin,â€ said Taylor. â€œWhy not just be honest and tell us?â€
â€œItâ€™s not a loony bin.â€ DJ scowled at Taylor as she stopped for the light. â€œIf you must know, itâ€™s a therapeutic clinic in New Jersey.â€
â€œTomatoes, to-MAH-toes. Same thing, Deej.â€
â€œWhatever. The point is I donâ€™t want to hurt her.â€
â€œI know what youâ€™re worried aboutâ€¦â€ Taylor was using that sly tone she sometimes put on to get DJ going. â€œYou think Haleyâ€™s thugs are going to beat you up again, donâ€™t you?â€
â€œI do not.â€ Okay, the truth was, that was a little worrisome. DJ had done what she could to befriend Bethany and Amy while Haley was still in the hospital. And while Amy showed some signs of understanding, Bethany (a very large and athletic girl) was another story. Bethany was fiercely loyal to Haley. So much so that DJ sometimes secretly wondered if Bethany had feelings beyond just friendship for Haley. Okay, that was dumb. But Bethany was scary.
â€œWhy donâ€™t you just call Haley?â€ suggested Casey. â€œAsk her how she feels about it?â€
â€œThat seems a little harsh,â€ pointed out DJ. â€œI mean sheâ€™s being treated for suicide and Iâ€™m calling up to see if itâ€™s okay if I go to the Winter Ball with the guy she almost ODâ€™d for? Maybe I should ask her about my dress too and if I go for a white gown is it okay to wear white shoes after Labor Day?â€
â€œYeah, that does seem a little harsh,â€ agreed Rhiannon.
â€œSo, really, you guys can give it up okay,â€ said DJ. â€œI think Conner already has.â€
â€œI just feel sad that youâ€™re the only one in Carter House whoâ€™s not going,â€ said Rhiannon.
â€œWell, donâ€™t.â€ DJ turned onto their street, eager to end this conversation. The truth was DJ felt a little sad about the whole thing herself. In fact, it seemed a little unfair. But it also seemed like the mature thing to do. As far as Crescent Cove High and the world at large were concerned, she and Conner were still just friends. And thatâ€™s how she planned to keep it until she knew that Haley could handle it.
â€œSo, do you think Rhiannon and I could borrow your car?â€ asked Casey. â€œWe still have a few things to pick up for the dance.â€
â€œSureâ€¦â€ DJ pulled into the driveway, suddenly feeling even more out of it. â€œYou mean this afternoon?â€
â€œIf you donâ€™t mindâ€¦â€
â€œWeâ€™d ask you to come along too,â€ said Rhiannon in an apologetic, â€œbut that might seem crassâ€¦considering youâ€™re not going to the danceâ€¦â€
â€œHey, why donâ€™t we all go,â€ suggested Taylor suddenly. â€œYou two can hit your retro stores and DJ can help me pick out some really hot shoes.â€
â€œOkay,â€ said DJ, actually feeling eager. â€œAnd Iâ€™ll just pretend like Iâ€™m going to the dance too.â€
â€œWho knows,â€ said Casey, â€œmaybe weâ€™ll change your mind.â€
â€œOr maybe just talk you into a new pair of shoes,â€ teased Taylor.
So off they headed to the mall. And for a while DJ even pretended that she, like them, was getting ready to go to the dance. She even held up some dresses and imagined she was going.
â€œOh, DJ,â€ said Taylor as DJ held up a garnet red sequined number. â€œThat is really hot.â€ She shook her head. â€œAnd most people say blondes canâ€™t wear red.â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™m just a dishwater blond,â€ DJ reminded her.
â€œWhy donâ€™t you just go?â€ demanded Taylor. â€œIf it makes you feel better, send Haley a note to explain it. Sheesh, sheâ€™s in therapy anywayâ€¦might give her something to talk about during one of her group sessions.â€
DJ couldnâ€™t help but laugh. Still, it seemed mean.
â€œSeriously, DJ. You might be doing her a favor to go. Kind of a reality check. I mean itâ€™s about time Haley figured out that, even though she tries to kill herself, she canâ€™t control other people. If a guy doesnâ€™t like you, he just doesnâ€™t like you. Get over it already.â€
DJ considered this. As harsh as it sounded, it was probably true. â€œI donâ€™t knowâ€¦â€
â€œLook, DJ,â€ said Taylor. â€œI know youâ€™re trying to be niceâ€”the goody-good girl. But have you considered the possibility that youâ€™re just being codependent?â€
â€œYou actually have some codependent traits.â€
â€œWhat do you mean?â€
â€œOh, your desire to keep everyone happy andâ€”â€œ
â€œI do NOT try to keep everyone happy.â€
Taylor laughed. â€œThatâ€™s right. You usually try to make me miserable.â€
â€œI do not.â€
â€œSee,â€ said Taylor, like that proved her point.
DJ felt confused.
â€œAll Iâ€™m saying is that you and Conner go tiptoeing around, pretending youâ€™re not dating so that you can protect Haleyâ€™s delicate feelings while sheâ€™s in the loony bin and you think youâ€™re helping her? What happens when sheâ€™s back in the real world and you and Conner, say, want to go to the prom, do you blame yourselves if Haley gets hurt and goes and jumps off a bridge? Will you forever be responsible for Haley and the choices she makes?â€
â€œThat does sound a little creepyâ€¦when you put it like that.â€
â€œIt sounds unhealthy and codependent to me.â€
â€œSo, stop it!â€
DJ pulled out her phone now and hit Connerâ€™s speed dial. â€œConner,â€ she said in a firm voice, â€œdo you still want to take me to the Winter Ball?â€
So she quickly replayed what Taylor had just said and Conner actually laughed. â€œWell, I canâ€™t believe that the roommate from hell could just tell you what Iâ€™ve been saying to you for weeks, but you would listen to her and not to me.â€
â€œSorry,â€ said DJ. â€œSometimes God works in mysterious ways.â€
Taylor frowned at her with arms folded across her chest and toe tapping.
â€œAnyway, if youâ€™re okay, Iâ€™m okay,â€ said DJ. â€œBut I plan to write Haley a little note to let her know whatâ€™s up. I think itâ€™ll just be kind of like an Iâ€™m-thinking-of-you sort of email, and then Iâ€™ll casually mention that weâ€™re going to the dance next weekend. Does that sound okay?â€
â€œI donâ€™t think you even need to do that much, DJ.â€
â€œI just want to.â€
â€œYeahâ€¦thatâ€™s just one of the things I like about you.â€
She smiled. â€œOkay, thenâ€¦sounds like itâ€™s a date.â€
â€œBy the way, the dress is red.â€
â€œRightâ€¦does that mean I need a red tux?â€
DJ laughed and whispered to Taylor, â€œConner just asked me if he needs to get a red tux.â€
Taylor snatched the phone. â€œNot red, you idiot.â€ Then she told him specifically what he needed and where to get it before she handed the phone back to DJ.
â€œSorry about that,â€ said DJ.
â€œNo, itâ€™s actually helpful. But I probably shouldâ€™ve been taking notes.â€
â€œIâ€™m sure Taylor can write it down for you.â€
â€œGuess I can tell the guys to put me down for the stretch limo now. Harryâ€™s already ordered a Hummer.â€
â€œIâ€™m looking forward to it,â€ said Conner. â€œThis will be our first real date in a long time.â€
â€œDate?â€ DJ echoed as the meaning of the word sank in.
â€œWell, it is, isnâ€™t it?â€
â€œYeahâ€¦â€ she nodded slowly. â€œI guess so.â€
â€œAnd youâ€™re okay with that?â€
â€œYeahâ€¦Iâ€™m just getting used to the idea.â€
â€œHave fun shopping.â€
â€œThanks.â€ DJ hung up and looked at Taylor. â€œI guess weâ€™re going.â€
â€œOf course, youâ€™re going.â€ Taylor shoved the red dress at her. â€œNow, try this on. I think itâ€™s youâ€™re size, but Iâ€™ll grab a couple of others just in case.â€
After several tries, DJ found the perfect fit and when she came out to show Taylor, a couple other shoppers paused to look. Everyone agreed that it was perfect. DJ spun around. â€œIt feels so good to be in a dress like this without a big old cast on my foot.â€
Taylor laughed and explained to the bystanders that DJ had recently recovered from a broken leg.
â€œYou look stunning,â€ said the sales woman. â€œDo you want me to start writing it up for you?â€
DJ paused. â€œOh, I didnâ€™t even look at the price.â€
â€œJust put it on grannyâ€™s account,â€ ordered Taylor.
â€œTrust me,â€ said Taylor. â€œIf necessary, Iâ€™ll do the explaining. But I know that youâ€™re grandmother would want you to have this dress, Desiree!â€
â€œYes, Desiree,â€ said the sales woman, â€œIâ€™m sure she would.â€
But while Taylor was taking the dress up to the counter, DJ called her grandmother and quickly explained. â€œAnd Taylor insists itâ€™s the perfect dress,â€ she said finally, â€œbut I think itâ€™s a bit exâ€”â€œ
â€œIf Taylor says itâ€™s perfect, itâ€™s perfect,â€ proclaimed Grandmother. â€œAnd Iâ€™m so pleased to hear youâ€™re going to the Winter Ball, Desiree. I didnâ€™t want to say anything, or to make you feel badly, but I was terribly disappointed when I heard you hadnâ€™t been invited.â€
DJ almost pointed out that she HAD been invited but that sheâ€™d declined, but then she realized it would make no difference. Grandmother, as usual, would draw her own conclusions. Why bother? â€œThanks, Grandmother,â€ she said brightly. â€œAnd now Iâ€™ll need shoes andâ€”â€œ
â€œOf course, you will. Ask Taylor to help you with those too. Her taste is as impeccable as her looks.â€
â€œOkayâ€¦.â€ What Grandmother didnâ€™t know never failed to astonish DJ. Still, everyone knew that Taylor was Grandmotherâ€™s prize pony.
â€œThe second-hand shoppers just called,â€ said Taylor after the saleswoman put the dress on her grandmotherâ€™s account and handed over the sleek garment bag. â€œI told them the good news and that itâ€™ll take us at least an hour to snag the other things youâ€™ll need.â€
â€œThey were okay with that?â€
â€œSure, Rhiannon said theyâ€™d just grab the metro back to town.â€
â€œThey didnâ€™t mind using public transportation?â€
â€œYou know those two.â€ Taylor shook her head. â€œThe grittier it gets the happier they are.â€
â€œDid they find what theyâ€™re looking for?â€
â€œSounded like it.â€ Taylor hurried DJ along. â€œAnd I just remembered a great pair of shoes that I noticed several shops back. I think theyâ€™ll be perfect with that dress.â€
â€œGrandmother knew you would.â€
Taylor looked curiously at DJ then laughed. â€œWell, of course!â€
By the time they finished, DJ was starving. â€œLetâ€™s get something at the food court,â€ she urged Taylor. â€œIâ€™m craving real food.â€
Taylor looked like she was going to turn up her nose, but then she noticed the new Japanese place. â€œI could go for sushi.â€
â€œNo,â€ said DJ, pulling Taylor by the arm. â€œI mean real food. Youâ€™ve been bossing me around the fashion arena, Iâ€™m going to boss you around the cuisine arena. Weâ€™re having pasta.â€
â€œPasta?â€ Taylorâ€™s eyes lit up.
â€œYeah. And, trust me, weâ€™ve done enough walking and shopping that you donâ€™t need to worry about the calories.â€
And so they didnâ€™t. And as they sat there slurping up linguini with pesto, DJ thought there might be hope for them yet. After all, hadnâ€™t this been a fairly normal shopping trip? Just two friends out getting ready for the Winter Ball? And yet DJ knew Taylor well enough to know that Taylor could pull the rug out from under her at any given moment. And while that was kind of excitingâ€”in an adrenaline rush sort of wayâ€”it was also a little frightening.
â€œShow and tell,â€ said Eliza as soon as DJ and Taylor came into the house with their arms loaded up with bags.
â€œWhat?â€ Taylor frowned at Eliza.
â€œCome on,â€ urged Eliza in her southern singsong voice. â€œShow and tell.â€
Taylor rolled her eyes. â€œIn your dreams.â€
â€œBut I showed you girls my dress on Sunday night,â€ she protested.
â€œShowed off, donâ€™t you mean?â€ Taylor just kept walking up the stairs.
â€œCome on, DJ,â€ urged Eliza. â€œDonâ€™t you want to show us your dress? We already know that youâ€™re going to the dance.â€
â€œWho told you?â€
â€œYour grandmother,â€ Kriti informed. â€œAt dinner.â€
â€œSo youâ€™ve decided that Haley can just go take a flying leap?â€ teased Eliza.
â€œNo. I realized that I was doing her no favors by sparing her from the truth.â€ DJ looked up the stairs. Taylor was already in their room. â€œMy roommate helped me to see the light.â€
Eliza laughed loudly.
Now Rhiannon and Casey looked down the stairs. â€œDid you find a dress?â€ called down Rhiannon.
â€œYes, but Taylor and DJ wonâ€™t let us see their dresses,â€ Eliza called back up.
â€œI didnâ€™t say that.â€
â€œSo, can we see?â€ asked Eliza hopefully.
â€œIâ€™ll think about it,â€ said DJ. Then she ran up the stairs.
â€œWeâ€™re watching a chick flick down here,â€ said Kriti. â€œIf youâ€™re interested.â€
â€œThanks,â€ said DJ. â€œBut I have homework.â€
â€œAnd weâ€™re designing,â€ called Rhiannon.
â€œSo weâ€™ve heard,â€ Eliza called back. â€œNot that weâ€™re interested. Are we, Kriti. Who cares what everyone else in the house is wearing. We know that weâ€™ll look great.â€
DJ couldnâ€™t help but laugh as she went up the stairs. Why was it so vital for Eliza to know what everyone else was wearing? Of course, DJ knew the answer to this. Itâ€™s like everything was a competition with that girl. A competition where Eliza Wilton had to come out on top. And DJ had seen Elizaâ€™s beautiful white dress. To be honest, it couldâ€™ve passed for a wedding dress. A comment that Taylor made, but not in such a flattering way. But there was no denying that it was beautifulâ€”in a confectionary sort of way. All sparkly white and fitted, and Eliza did look like a princess in it. Fitting since Eliza probably did consider herself to be royalty. At least in Carter House.
And Kriti had looked like a nice little lady in waiting to Princess Eliza in her red velvet gown. Although DJ had thought it hadnâ€™t done much for Kritiâ€™s shape. Not that Kriti had a bad shape. But the velvet seemed heavy and awkward and probably added pounds, which didnâ€™t help since Kriti was much shorter than the other girls, and not as slender. Anyway, it seemed that the dress overwhelmed her. But Eliza had proclaimed it perfect. And for a handmaid, it probably was. Poor Kriti. Still, she seemed happy with her lot in lifeâ€”catering to Eliza.
â€œWant a sneak peek?â€ whispered Rhiannon once DJ was at the second floor landing.
â€œOf you guys?â€
â€œYeah, but weâ€™d like to see your dress too.â€
â€œSure.â€ DJ slipped into their room, unzipping her bag to reveal the scrumptious gown.
â€œThatâ€™s gorgeous,â€ said Rhiannon with an affirming nod. â€œReally, really beautiful.â€
â€œSwanky,â€ teased Casey.
â€œBut pretty,â€ Casey said quickly.
â€œThanks. Now, show me what you guys put together.â€ DJ looked around the messy room. Rhiannonâ€™s sewing machine was still out and there were pieces of dresses and scarves and fabric strewn all about. â€œItâ€™s certainly interesting in here.â€
Rhiannon went over to her sewing machine and lifted up what appeared to be a pile of varying shades of green fabric. But when she held it up it turned into what looked like an incredible creation. â€œWhat do you think?â€ she asked hopefully.
â€œI think itâ€™s fantastic, Rhiannon.â€ DJ went closer to examine it. Constructed of all different types of green fabrics, scarves, ribbons, beads and trims and yet it didnâ€™t look goofy or homemade. â€œItâ€™s amazing.â€
â€œIsnâ€™t it?â€ said Casey with pride. â€œI canâ€™t believe she made this from scrap.â€
â€œFrom recycled dresses and blouses and whatever I could find that worked,â€ said Rhiannon.
â€œYou could sell clothes like this,â€ said DJ.
â€œAnd you donâ€™t need to worry about anyone wearing the same dress,â€ added Casey.
Rhiannon laughed. â€œFor sure.â€
â€œHold it up,â€ urged DJ.
Rhiannon held it in front of her, and those rich green tones against her pale skin and vibrant red hair looked absolutely stunning.
â€œI canâ€™t imagine anything more beautiful,â€ said DJ. â€œItâ€™s perfect.â€
â€œI told her she looks like a Celtic goddess,â€ said Casey.
â€œItâ€™s certainly magical. It reminds me of Irelandâ€¦or fairies.â€
â€œThanks so much, you guys!â€ Rhiannon was beaming now. â€œItâ€™s kind of hard, you know, not having money like some people and trying to keep up withâ€¦well, everyone.â€
â€œThereâ€™s no need to keep up with me,â€ said Casey.
â€œWhat are you wearing, Case?â€ DJ turned to look at her.
â€œJust like I said.â€ Casey opened her closet and pulled out something that looked like a cross between a string corset and a multi-ruffled petticoat. â€œAnd Iâ€™ll wear my black motorcycle jacket and fishnets and boots. You know, the rocking retro thing.â€
â€œElizaâ€™s going to love this,â€ teased DJ.
â€œI think thatâ€™s why sheâ€™s doing it.â€ Rhiannon got a slight frown. â€œJust to get Elizaâ€™s goat.â€
â€œAnd to express my individuality,â€ proclaimed Casey.
â€œYouâ€™ll both be one of a kind,â€ said DJ. And a part of her wished that sheâ€™d used more ingenuity for her own gown. But, to be fair, creativity was not her strong suit. And sheâ€™d always been fashion-challenged.
As DJ zipped her gown back into the bag, Casey chuckled. â€œWith you in that dress, Princess Eliza will probably be pea green with envy.â€
â€œI doubt that,â€ said DJ. â€œBut itâ€™s fun making her wait.â€
â€œPrincess Eliza needs to learn that she doesnâ€™t rule Carter House,â€ proclaimed Casey defiantly.
â€œYeah,â€ agreed DJ, â€œThis isnâ€™t Eliza-lot.â€
â€œThanks for showing me your dresses.â€ DJ headed for the door.
â€œAnd you promise you wonâ€™t show Eliza?â€ Casey peered at her.
DJ shrugged. â€œDonâ€™t know why I should.â€
Casey gave her a thumbâ€™s up.
Of course, DJ felt slightly guilty now. Itâ€™s not like she specifically wanted to mean or to exclude Eliza. But sometimes Eliza was so pushy. Oh, sheâ€™d do it in that sweet southern style. But it felt pushy all the same. And, knowing that Elizaâ€™s parents were from one of the wealthiest families in the country didnâ€™t make it any easier to be nice. And, really, this wasnâ€™t Eliza-lot!
â€œDid you see Rhiannon and Caseyâ€™s dresses?â€ Taylor asked with mild interest, not even looking up from her fashion rag.
â€œYeah.â€ DJ hung her dress in the closet. â€œRhiannonâ€™s is spectacular.â€
â€œReally?â€ Taylor set the magazine aside.
â€œLike it could be in a movie spectacular.â€
Taylorâ€™s brow creased slightly. â€œMaybe we should pay the girl to start designing for us.â€
DJ picked up her laptop then sat on her bed. â€œYou knowâ€¦thatâ€™s not a bad idea, Taylor.â€
â€œWeâ€™d have our own designer originals and Rhiannon could make money for college.â€
DJ stared at Taylor in wonder. â€œSometimes you blow my mind, Taylor.â€
Taylor looked surprised now. â€œHuh?â€
â€œYou can beâ€¦kind of mean sometimesâ€¦and then surprisingly nice.â€
Taylor just shrugged then returned to her magazine. â€œWe all have our faults.â€
DJ laughed and opened her laptop. â€œI guessâ€¦.â€
But before DJ even started her homework, she decided to write Haley the promised note. She and Haley had emailed a few times (not daily) since Haley had gone to Oak View for treatment. Finally, DJ felt like the note had just the right tone to it. Light and encouraging, but honest and to the point. She read through it one more time.
Hey Haley. I hope youâ€™re doing well. Life around here is pretty much the same. School is boring. Finals are impending. And everyone is counting down the days to Christmas break. Everyone but me that is since all I get to do is stick around Carter House with my grandmother. Big thrill. I just wanted you to know (from me and not someone else) that Iâ€™m going to the Winter Ball with Conner next Saturday. The main reason I decided to go was because he felt left out since all his friends were going. And I suppose I felt left out too. I wish you were around so you could go to. I know there are dozens of guys who would jump at the chance to take you! And I hope itâ€™s not upsetting for you to hear that Conner and I are going to this dance together. I know you said that itâ€™s over between you two. But I donâ€™t want to make you feel sad. Catch ya later. Love, DJ.
DJ said a quick prayer for Haley then hit send. Really, she told herself as she switched gears to homework, Taylor was right. This might be one more step in Haley getting over it. And if it wasnâ€™t, well, wouldnâ€™t it be better for Haley to be where she had professional help anyway? Still, DJ decide this would be even more motivation to keep praying for Haley. She really did want her to get wellâ€”and soon. Hopefully Haley would be back to normal and back school after winter break.
The next three days at school seemed focused on two thingsâ€”and really, DJ thought, it seemed crazyâ€”but everyone was either talking about the upcoming dance or complaining about finals. Kind of a dichotomy. But by the end of the week, DJ realized that a lot of the talk and excitement werenâ€™t only about the dance, but about what was happening â€œafter the dance.â€
It turned outâ€”big surprise hereâ€”that some of the guys had rented some hotel suites in the same place where the Winter Ball was being held. And there was no mystery as to why theyâ€™d done this. Oh, sure, DJ had overhead guys saying things like, â€œWe just want to keep the party going,â€ or â€œwe need a place to just relax and hang.â€ But DJ was pretty sure she knew what it was all about. And she mentioned this to Conner as they were going into the cafeteria for lunch on Friday.
â€œIâ€™m assuming that you had the good sense not to rent a room?â€
He looked shocked then chuckled. â€œWell, Iâ€™m not a saint, DJ. But, no way! You know I would never do something like that.â€
â€œBesides being a waste of money, youâ€™d end up dancing by yourself at the Winter Ball.â€
â€œTrust me, I know that.â€
She laughed. â€œWell, actually, Iâ€™m sure there are plenty of girls whoâ€™d want to dance with you, Conner. But I wouldnâ€™t be among them.â€
â€œThanks.â€ He grinned. â€œI got that.â€
â€œSo whatâ€™s up with these guys?â€ she said quietly since they were getting into the lunch line now. â€œI mean like I even heard that Harry talked Josh Trundle into going in with them.â€ I glanced to see if Kriti was around. â€œAnd I just canâ€™t imagine that Kriti would go for that.â€
â€œUnless Eliza talks her into it.â€
â€œAnd Iâ€™m sure youâ€™re aware that your roommate is on the guest list.â€
â€œNot that sheâ€™s told me, but I assumed.â€ DJ rolled her eyes as she picked up a tray.
â€œI heard that Garrison is in on it too. He and Seth reserved an adjoined suite.â€
Now this surprised her. â€œDoes Casey know?â€
Conner shrugged as he reached for a burger.
DJ sighed. â€œI wish our friends would just act like normal teenagers.â€
Conner laughed. â€œWhatâ€™s that supposed to mean?â€
DJ had to laugh too. â€œI donâ€™t knowâ€¦I guess I just wish everyone wasnâ€™t so into playing grownups. Wonâ€™t we get there soon enough?â€
Unfortunately Madison Dormont overheard this. And she laughed so loudly that she snorted. Then she took off and DJ could only assume she ran to tell her friends. Not that DJ cared. Sometimes DJ wanted to shout her opinions from the rooftops. â€œEverybody just chill!â€ she would scream at the top of her lungs. â€œYou donâ€™t have to drink alcohol or do drugs or have sex or break the rules to have fun in high school. News flashâ€”it usually turns out to be exactly the opposite!â€ But DJ figured most kids wouldnâ€™t listen. Or if they were listening theyâ€™d probably pretend like they werenâ€™t.
Just the same, she decided to bring it up at Carter House. But not while her grandmother was listening. They were just finishing up dinner. Grandmother had excused herselfâ€”she and the general were meeting for dessert, which was probably in the form of an after-dinner drink. DJ thought it was somewhat unusual that all six girls were still sitting around the table on a Friday night. But there hadnâ€™t been a basketball game, or anything else it seemed, to tempt anyone besides Grandmother out on a cold blustery evening in East Connecticut. And DJ supposed, because of the big night planned for tomorrow, everyone was taking it easy tonight.
â€œSo I hear some of the guys are planning an all-night party tomorrow,â€ DJ mentioned casually.
â€œAre you coming?â€ asked Eliza.
â€œThanks, but no thanks.â€
Eliza laughed. â€œI didnâ€™t think so.â€
â€œIâ€™m curious as to how you explained this to my grandmother.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s that supposed to mean?â€ she asked.
â€œNothingâ€¦just that Iâ€™m curious.â€
â€œYouâ€™re not planning ratting on us, are you?â€
DJ innocently held up her hands.
â€œIâ€™m not completely sure that Iâ€™m going yet,â€ said Kriti quickly.
â€œGood for you.â€ DJ smiled at her.
â€œYes,â€ agreed Rhiannon. â€œThatâ€™s the wise choice.â€
â€œNot that sheâ€™s made up her mind,â€ said Eliza with a cool smile.
DJ turned to Casey now. â€œSo how about you?â€
â€œYouâ€™re joining in the all night party?â€
Casey shrugged. â€œI told Garrison we could go up there for a while.â€
â€œFor a while?â€
â€œYeahâ€¦whatâ€™s wrong with that?â€
â€œWhat do you think is wrong with that?â€
She shrugged again. â€œNothing. Weâ€™ll just hang and party a while. Then Iâ€™ll come home. No big deal.â€
â€œAnd do you honestly think thatâ€™s why the guys are shelling out the big bucks to rent these expensive suites?â€ DJ asked her. â€œJust to put your feet up and have a few laughs?â€
â€œYou donâ€™t think they expect anything in return?â€
â€œOh, DJ, lighten up,â€ said Eliza. â€œMaybe we do just want to hang and have a few laughs. What is wrong with that?â€
â€œWhatâ€™s wrong is that you know thatâ€™s not what this is about, Eliza.â€
Taylor, who had been silently watching had a very sly grin on her face, but she still didnâ€™t say anything. So DJ turned to her. â€œTell them, Taylor. Why do you think the guys are renting hotel suites tomorrow night?â€
â€œSee,â€ said Eliza. â€œEven Taylor gets that itâ€™s no big deal. I donâ€™t see why you and Conner donâ€™t pop up to check on us if you donâ€™t believe it.â€
â€œYeah, right.â€ DJ glanced at Rhiannon for backup now.
â€œI have to side with DJ on this,â€ she said firmly.
â€œWhat a surprise,â€ said Eliza. â€œBut, really girls, if youâ€™re so sure that weâ€™ll be up there having some big orgy, why donâ€™t yaâ€™ll pay us a little visit?â€
â€œMaybe we will,â€ DJ said hotly.
Taylor laughed. â€œYou will not.â€
DJ sighed in resignation. â€œProbably not.â€
â€œIf it makes you feel any better,â€ began Casey, â€œIâ€™ll lay my cards on the table with Garrison.â€
â€œMeaning what?â€ DJ challenged her.
â€œIâ€™ll tell him that if heâ€™s asking me up there to have sex, then heâ€™s out of luck.â€
DJ nodded. â€œI can actually imagine you saying that,â€ DJ told her. â€œBut I wonder if Garrison will take you seriously?â€
â€œThatâ€™s a good point,â€ said Rhiannon. â€œItâ€™s like saying one thing and doing another.â€
â€œLike you tell a guy no and then you follow him up to his hotel room,â€ DJ added. â€œWhatâ€™s that really saying?â€
Casey seemed to consider this.
â€œI think Josh would understand,â€ said Kriti quietly.
â€œIâ€™ll admit that Josh seems like a mature kind of guy,â€ DJ told her. â€œBut heâ€™s a guy.â€
â€œThatâ€™s right,â€ said Rhiannon. â€œI thought Bradford was more mature tooâ€¦â€ She glanced at Taylor, as did everyone else. â€œBut Iâ€™ve been disappointed.â€
â€œAll Iâ€™m saying,â€ DJ said to everyone except Rhiannon. â€œIs that if you go up to the suite with your boyfriends, no matter what they say, they will want things to go further.â€
â€œAnd, really,â€ said Eliza in an exasperated tone, â€œis that any of your business, DJ?â€ She stood like she was leaving and Kriti stood, too, just like her puppet or puppy dog or lady in waiting.
â€œBecause we live under the same roof and because some of you are my friendsâ€¦yeah, I think it is.â€
Taylor narrowed her eyes at DJ. â€œSo what are you saying, DJ? Are you threatening to tell your grandmother? Because, if thatâ€™s the case, I will have my alibi ready.â€
â€œSo will we,â€ said Eliza. She was obviously speaking for Kriti too.
Casey said nothing.
â€œAll Iâ€™m saying is that I hope you all use good sense tomorrow night.â€
â€œYour good sense?â€ asked Taylor. â€œOr our own?â€
â€œWhatever.â€ DJ rolled her eyes, wondering why sheâ€™d even bothered.
â€œNice try,â€ said Rhiannon after the other four had left.
â€œWhatâ€™s the point?â€
â€œDo you think thatâ€™s how God feels when he sends warnings to us?â€
DJ sighed. â€œI donâ€™t knowâ€¦.â€
â€œWell, people have the right to make their own choices,â€ Rhiannon reminded her, â€œand their own mistakes.â€
And, although DJ knew Rhiannon was right, she still wished there was something she could do. But sometimes the only thing to do was to pray. And maybe that wasnâ€™t such a small thing.
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