Spring Break

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Chapter 5

When he pulled up to the curb, Paul parked and turned to her. “You didn’t think I’d let you walk back here alone, did you?” he asked.

“No,” she said, and meant it.

“Good,” he said. “And the next time someone tries to get you drunk and take you home, you know where to find me.”

The rain stopped by mid-morning. The sun shone over the beach, and the temperature spiked to the mid-80s. Elise and Carson went to the outdoor pool at The Palace.

“God, last night was sloppy,” Carson said, sucking down a Bloody Mary. “So, what happened with Chase last night? I want all the dirty details.”

“I can’t remember any,” Elise said. “This is embarrassing, but I woke up in the pool after everyone left.”

Carson burst out laughing. “That’s hilarious!” she exclaimed. “Did you and Chase bone on a deck chair or something?”

“I still had my underwear on when I woke up, so I doubt it,” Elise said.

“Bor-ing,” Carson said. “Why are you dragging your feet on hooking up with him? He’ll lose interest if he has to wait around for sex much longer.”

“I’ve known him for two days,” Elise replied.

“In spring break time, that’s two months,” Carson explained. “Do you remember meeting Chase’s rich friend from California last night? The one whose mom is on Millionaire Wives of Orange County?”

“Kind of…” Elise said. “Not really.”

“Chandler and I had a threesome with him last night,” Carson said with an ecstatic grin.

Elise tried to hide her shock, which quickly turned to revulsion. “Wow,” she said, trying to force out a positive response. “That’s scandalous.”

“It was semi-epic,” Carson replied. “Anyway, Chandler and I bonded last night. We have big news for you. Are you ready?”

Elise’s heart dropped into her stomach. “What is it?”

“You won’t believe this,” Carson said, “But she showed the other producers our pictures. Right Now loves us and thinks we’re reality show material.”

“You must be joking.”

“I am dead serious,” Carson replied. “Chandler said the Right Now producers want to meet with us this afternoon.”

“Think about it, Elise,” Carson said. “You won’t need a job after graduation. You’ll become rich and famous…for being famous. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“Carson, I owe you big time!” Elise exclaimed, jumping up to hug her. It wasn’t because she relished the idea of being a reality star. Thinking about her her striving parents in Frankenmuth, she wanted to cry.

“You better make sure your game face is on for our meeting with Chandler,” Carson said. She reached into her beach bag and pulled out a bottle of Adderall.

For the first time, Elise took it.

By late afternoon it was time to meet the producers. Elise couldn’t remember the last time she had spent so much time grooming herself for an event. Not her senior prom, not even for sorority rush. For this meeting, she wanted to look flawless.

Carson pulled out her iPhone. “Let’s get an Instragram shot,” she suggested. “Maybe we’ll see it in a magazine someday soon.” She snapped a few selfies.

“We look perfect,” Carson declared. “So hot, it’s annoying.” With her stamp of approval, they left to meet Chandler in the producer’s suite.

Chandler was sitting with the head producer, Lanny.

“Hi, ladies,” Chandler said with a harsh nasal voice. “Have a seat.”

“So, as you know, we have a new reality show in the works,” Lanny said. “We know it’ll be a hit. It’s a Kardeza spin-off starring Kadence.”

Kadence was Kandi Kardeza’s youngest daughter. She was infamous for pole-dancing on Kardeza Family Values at the ripe old age of twelve. She’d since blossomed into a party girl who dated rappers and Tweeted pictures of herself two-thirds naked.

“Kadence wants a media career independent of the rest of the family,” Chandler said. “So she proposed a reality show about her internship at the Right Now Network. We want two girls to star as her roommates and co-workers, and you two are the perfect fit for it.”

Carson and Elise listened.

“We’d put the three of you in an apartment in L.A.,” Chandler said. “It’s prime real estate. It’d blow Hollywood Hills out of the water.”

“What is the show about?” Elise asked.

“So glad you asked,” Chandler replied. “You’ll be working as interns during the day. At night, the cameras will follow your glamorous and sexy lifestyle. Hence the name of the show…”

She paused for maximum drama. “…Skinterns.”

It sounded like a soft-core porn movie, or a smutty series on the Playboy Channel. It also sounded like it required the removal of clothes.

“What’s the matter, Elise?” Lanny asked.

“Oh, nothing,” she lied. “It’s just that…is it going to be, um, risqué?”

Lanny laughed. “Sounds like we have our token ‘good girl’ for Skinterns,” he said to Chandler. “I love it.”

“Sweet, innocent Michigan native learns to shed her uptight ways,” Chandler added. She looked over her notes. “It says here that your parents own a beer shop in a Bavarian resort town. Is that true?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Even better,” Chandler said. “We could dress you up in a bier maid costume, put braids in your hair. That’d make a great segment.”

“We don’t have to pose for anything, do we?” Elise asked, alarmed.

“It’s not in the contract,” Lanny said. “Why, do you want to pose nude? Because that can be arranged.”

“No thank you,” Elise replied.

Carson beamed a big smile at the producers. “It sounds amazing,” she said. “I’m all in.”

“Fabulous,” Lanny said. “Before you sign your contracts, you will have an audition of sorts, so Kadence can be sure she likes you. We’re planning to have you meet up with her tomorrow for a day of shopping and self-care, all expenses paid. Charge it to these cards.” He handed them each a platinum credit card.

Elise’s jaw dropped.

“If Kadence approves, you can sign your contracts tomorrow,” Chandler said. She looked at Elise. “But don’t wait too long. There are other girls dying to get the part.”

Carson burst with excitement. “This. Is. Awesome!” she shrieked as they left the meeting. “I cannot believe this is happening.”

She pulled out her phone and admired herself on camera.

“Actually, yes I can,” she said haughtily. “Everyone tells me I could be a celebrity. I mean, I keep MU Live in business.”

Chandler came walking out of the producer’s suite after them. “Hey Carson,” she said, “Can I let you in on a little secret?”

“Oh, but of course,” Carson replied.

“Come back to the suite with me.”

Elise tagged along, uninvited. She felt awkward standing there waiting for Carson, and Chandler didn’t seem to care.

“We had to take drug tests today,” Chandler said. “As you can imagine, that was a teeny bit of a problem for me. So, can you be my alibi if anyone questions this result?” she said. She led them into a closet where Right Now had placed rows of urine samples, labeled with employees’ names.

She peeled off the label that said Chandler. Looking behind her shoulder, she pulled out the specimen cup labeled Sienna.

“Of course, our bosses will figure the black chick does coke,” Chandler said.

“God, you are so bad,” Carson replied, and they both laughed wickedly.

That night, the Right Now Network unveiled the open mic contest in The Palace’s giant auditorium.

“Who’s ready to decide the fate of the next It Girl or Guy?” the MC shouted. The audience went wild with applause.

“Stars from Socialites and Eligible Bachelor are judging,” Carson said. “So at least you know they have good taste.”

Elise nodded, barely paying attention. She only snapped back to reality when she saw Grace walking up to the stage.

“Contestant number five, please take the stage!”

Grace was wearing a sundress, looking nervous yet placid in the face of the drunken crowd.

“What should the audience know about you?” a judge asked.

Grace exhaled and smiled. “Well, I guess the most important thing is that I’m a Christian…”

The judges made sour faces and glanced sideways at each other. Elise saw Lanny, the producer, waving his arms, mouthing the word “no” at the judge’s panel.

“Better question,” the judge interrupted. “Doggie style or reverse cowgirl?”

Grace narrowed her eyes. “Wait, what?” she asked with thinly concealed disgust.

“What’s your favorite—”

“I know what it means,” Grace interrupted.

The audience tittered at the awkward exchange. Carson buried her face in her hands. “I can’t watch,” she said. She lifted her head and looked at Elise. “Can you believe she just mouthed off to the judges?”

“She has serious balls,” Elise remarked.

“I didn’t mean it as a good thing,” Carson snapped. “She is so weird.”

Grace launched into a gorgeous version of LeAnn Rimes’ “How Do I Live.” Elise closed her eyes for a moment and hummed the lyrics. The audience looked disinterested. People started rustling in their seats and getting up for more drinks.

“This is boring,” one spring breaker said to another as she stumbled up the aisle. “We can’t even dance to this.”

Sure you can, Elise thought. She imagined slow-dancing to it, although college students didn’t do much of that.

“Is this over yet?” Carson said, playing with her phone.

“Why do you hate Grace so much?” Elise asked Carson.

“You don’t get it,” Carson replied. “My dad only married her mom because he’s reached his middle-aged ‘spiritual longing’ phase. It sucks he had to pick a bunch of Jesus freaks. They can’t even pick a cool religion, like Buddhism or something.”

“How does your mom feel about it?”

“How does my mom feel?” Carson replied. “My mom doesn’t have feelings.” She narrowed her eyes. “I hate her.”

Elise had met Carson’s mom twice at MU. She rolled up to the Beta Xi house in her black Escalade, talking on her iPhone. She was an attorney too, like Carson’s dad.

“Tell her I’ll sue her fucking ass if she smears my reputation online,” she said as she stomped upstairs to the house. She saw Carson sitting on the front porch.

“Carson, honey, did you get that professor who gave you a D fired?” she said, her face tight from Botox injections. “If not, I’ll make a few phone calls.”

The judges had stopped paying attention by the time Grace finished her song. Grace slumped off the stage, looking as if she might cry. She ran up to Connor Kardeza and wrapped her arms around him.

“You did great, babe,” he said, cradling her hand and glaring at the judge’s table.

Carson gawked at them. “Wait, is Grace getting into a whirlwind romance with Connor?” she said, with a half-laugh, half-scoff. “What an idiot. I hope she’s ready to land in the tabloids the next time he gets in some pathetic Twitter fight.”

As Grace made her way back to Elise and Carson, Carson went back to playing with her phone, taking Snaps of herself and refusing to talk.

“Okay, contestant number six, you’re up!” a judge announced. And at that moment Paul took the stage.

“Tell us where you learned to play music,” one of the judges said.

“I learned it from my dad,” he replied. “Growing up on a farm, I went to see his band play every Friday night. There wasn’t much else to do in my hometown.”

“A farm?” Elise said to Grace. “He never said anything to me about growing up on a farm. He said he was from Florida.”

Grace shrugged. “It could be an orange grove. Maybe he didn’t want you to judge him,” she said, eyes downcast. “You know, like everyone else on this island.”

“What are you singing?” the judge asked Paul.

“Do you know the song ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ by Whitney Houston?” he asked.

“Yes!” Elise exclaimed. “I love that song. It’s a classic!”

“Calm down,” Carson said, exasperated. “You’re like an over-excited puppy, and it’s making me sick.”

“It’s a countrified version,” Paul added. “It was originally written as a country song, you know.”

The judges raised their eyebrows and looked at each other.

“It’s weird, but we’ll allow it,” the head judge said. Elise held her breath, hoping his performance wouldn’t be as disastrous as Grace’s.

Paul looked like he was holding his breath, too, as he started to strum the chords. Then, the words came.

Clock strikes upon the hour, and the sun begins to fade. Still enough time to figure out how to chase my blues away.”

“Wow, it is a countrified version of Whitney Houston,” Carson said. “How the hell does anyone pull that off?”

I’ve done alright up to now, it’s the light of day that shows me how. And when the night falls, loneliness calls.”

“He has the hottest voice,” a girl two rows up said.

It was Madison Banks, the socialite who hosted the six-figure birthday party yesterday. She wasn’t the only girl in the audience who started to sing along to the refrain.

Oh, I wanna dance with somebody. I wanna feel the heat with somebody. Yeah, I wanna dance with somebody, with somebody who loves me.”

At the end of the song, the audience burst into applause. Girls leapt out of their chairs, cheering.

“So they’re just going to start liking him now?” Elise said, catching herself off guard with how defensive she sounded.

“Very good, Paul. Thank you,” one of the judges said, sounding bored. But it didn’t matter. When Paul left the stage, a middle-aged man with a ponytail stepped in his path.

“Excuse me, son,” he said. “I watched your performance. You’ve got a unique style and a great voice.”

“Well, thank you,” Paul said, looking discomforted. “I learned from my dad.”

“Have you ever heard of my company?” he asked, handing Paul a business card.

For the first time, Carson perked up and listened to Paul’s conversation.

“Oh my God,” she said to Elise. “That’s Ace Galentino! He’s talking to a big-time record company exec!”

“No kidding,” Elise said, recognizing the famous name.

“I never knew Galentino looked like an ageing hippie,” Carson said. “But regardless, that’s a big deal. A huge deal. If he’s not an undercover celebrity who’s loaded now, he will be if Ace Galentino signs him.”

Carson twirled her hair and stared at Paul.

“You know, he is hot in a rough sort of way,” she said.

Elise’s jaw dropped. “You must be joking,” she said.

“Why?” Carson said. “He has a sexy voice.”

“Because he’s talking to a record company executive, you’re into him now?” Elise said, flabbergasted. “You wouldn’t even let me talk to him yesterday!”

“Well, I hadn’t seen this side of him,” Carson said. “Do you think he’d be up for the hot tub tonight?”

They were interrupted by a girl, three-fourths naked, prancing onto the stage. She looked like a cross between Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus at the VMAs. She donned huge sunglasses, a wig, and what looked like red beer pong cups tied together with yarn.

“I love being onstage in front of hundreds of strangers,” the contestant said, her sultriness so exaggerated it sounded preposterous. “I love when people watch. It’s my fetish.”

“Oooh, how original,” Connor Kardeza said.

The music started. Elise expected the contestant to start singing. And what a stupid mistake that was: instead, contestant number seven writhed around the stage, making guttural moaning sounds.

“What is this?” Connor shouted. “This isn’t a song!”

“Oooh, oh yeah,” the contestant moaned. She twisted and turned her body as if she was working an invisible stripper pole. Then she reached into one of the red cups and produced her surprise: a tube of chocolate sauce. For a few seconds she turned around. Then she faced the crowd again, revealing that she’d smeared her bare breasts with the sauce.

“It’s edible,” she purred into the microphone. “Now, which one of you lucky lads—or ladies—wants to come up here and taste me?”

“Wait,” Elise said. “Is she inviting people to lick chocolate sauce off her boobs? Please tell me she’s not really inviting people to lick chocolate sauce off her boobs.”

And then one by one audience members in the front row did it. The judges laughed and clapped as the cameras captured every X-rated moment.

“I love it!” one of the judges said. “Talk about a viral video!”

Connor Kardeza’s head was about to explode.

“Are you fucking kidding me? This sucks!” he bellowed to no one in particular. He raised his hands in the air with a thumbs-down sign. “Booo!”

Grace, who was still looking heartbroken, stifled a laugh. Madison Banks and her friends glared at them. “What’s his fucking problem?” they asked each other.

The contestant finished by spraying a dollop of whipped cream on each nipple and then licking it off. “Can I have a record deal?” she asked cloyingly. “Pretty please with a cherry on top?”

She pulled a maraschino cherry out of her makeshift thong. Pausing for dramatic effect, she dangled it in the air above her mouth before biting it.

“Gross!” Connor shouted.

The audience—and the judges—burst into applause. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!” the head judge roared.

“Congratulations,” the female judge said. “You’re exactly what Right Now wants.”

“Let’s go,” Connor said to Grace as the audience broke up. “This has to be one of those candid-camera things, or some stupid ass publicity stunt. I wouldn’t be surprised if my mom came up with it.”

“Oh my God,” Carson said as she watched Connor and Grace. “Let’s move and pretend we don’t know those two.”

Carson pointed across the auditorium to the bar. “Hey, is that Madison Banks from Socialites talking to your bouncer friend?” she asked.

Elise watched as Madison walked up to Paul, smiling and running her fingers through her hair.

“Hold my drink,” Carson said to Elise, shoving her margarita at her. “I’m going to interrupt them.”

Elise stood at the bar, fuming, thinking hard about what to say to her when she came back. But she was even angrier at Paul.

“What a waste of time,” Elise mumbled to herself, discarding her drink. As she made her way through the auditorium, she locked eyes with Paul. He was still indulging Madison, smiling back at her as she giggled and touched him.

“Have fun tonight,” Elise said as she brushed by, then stormed off as Paul watched.

Elise was peeling off her tight clothes when the phone in her hotel room rang.

“I forgot this thing existed,” Elise said as she answered. She assumed it was the front desk—anyone else would call her cell phone.

“Don’t worry, I saw right through that,” Paul said.

“Where are you?” Elise asked.

“I’m downstairs in the casino,” he said, “But I’m going to the Town Pump soon.”

“That does not sound like a nightclub in The Palace,” Elise replied.

“It’s a bar,” Paul said. “It’s popular with the real islanders, before Right Now bought it.”

“I have to fix my hair,” Elise said, still bitter about Madison.

“No you don’t,” Paul replied. “Are you coming?”

“I guess.”

“Bring your bathing suit,” he said, then paused. “…Don’t worry, you won’t wake up passed out on a deck chair.”

Elise responded with a wry laugh. “I’ll be there in ten minutes,” she said.

Elise was the only girl wearing casual clothes as she rode the glass elevator to the lobby. In the casino, she stopped to admire the Roman statue suspended in the air.

“It’s not a bad replica,” she said to no one in particular, recalling her art history classes at MU. She’d only been here a few days, and she was starting to get homesick. She was getting tired of smiling and prancing around half-naked.

But she did love the sights, smells, and sounds of casinos. The oxygen pumped into casinos to keep gamblers awake all night gave her a head rush. The tinny music of the slot machines sounded like a Nintendo game, and it brought back happy memories. She used to play those games for hours with her brother Eric.

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