Spring Break

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Chapter 6

Paul was at a poker table.

“Pull up a seat. Or sit on my lap, if you want,” he said, winking at her. “Just kidding.”

She considered it for a moment, feeling butterflies in her stomach.

“I’m blowing off some steam after my small victory tonight,” Paul said to her. “I had some stiff competition in the chocolate-sauce chick, but at least I got Ace Galentino’s attention.”

Elise slid into the chair next to him. “Madison and Carson are fans of yours now,” she said.

“Don’t worry. I’m not interested in a girl who didn’t even recognize me as the guy who broke up her catfight yesterday. As for Carson, she’s not my type,” Paul said. “If you’re not convinced of that already, wait until you see my favorite bar.”

The Town Pump was full of local residents from the island. Taxidermied animal heads dotted the wall, and the bar stools were covered in camoflage fabric. Country music was playing.

“So, can I ask you how you tolerate Carson all day long?” Paul asked. “I’ve met some bitchy girls on this trip, but damn.”

“I’m getting fed up with her,” she admitted. “I mean, I knew she wasn’t the nicest person. But now she’s really letting the true colors fly.”

“I had a friend like that in high school,” Paul said. “The captain of the football team, the big man on campus. I was afraid to stand up to him, no matter how wrong he was. When I watch you with Carson, I always think about how I was back then …”

“What do you mean?” Elise asked.

“When I first saw you at the airport, walking by with your long blonde hair as every guy checked you out, I assumed you were a snob,” he said. “But you were actually really sweet. I was shocked to see you at that party with Chandler and Carson.”

“I’m the third wheel with those two, that’s for sure,” she said. “I’m not rich. I usually dress like this…”

She looked down at her jeans and cotton shirt.

“When I went to college, I went through sorority rush,” she said. “It was just on a whim. But then I got a bid from Beta Xi, one of the ‘top tier’ sororities. Some of the girls are nice. A lot of them aren’t. There are so many rules to follow, like buying certain brands and going to these parties that are sort of stupid. They have themes like Slutty Secretaries and CEOs, or Anything But Clothes.”

“Long story short, that’s how I met Carson. I still can’t believe she invited me here,” Elise said. “But at least I can make some money. Right Now wants to put us on a reality show with Kadence. It’s called Skinterns.”

Paul straightened his back, alarmed. “Us?” he repeated. “What do you mean, us?”

“Carson and me,” Elise said.

“They asked you to be on a Kardeza spin-off show?” Paul said, incredulous.

“Yes.”

“Don’t tell me you’d ever do that,” Paul said.

“I don’t really want to,” Elise replied. “My family would hate the idea, especially my mom. But at least I could pay off my student loans.”

“Paying off student loans and getting a real job is better than being owned by the network,” he replied. “Remember what I said about the producers.”

“Can I ask you one question?” Elise asked him, eager to change the subject.

“Sure.”

“Who called you yesterday?” she asked.

“I told you it was a wrong number,” Paul said, averting his eyes from her for the first time tonight.

“Then how did she know your name?” Elise persisted. “If you have a girlfriend, you can tell me.”

“No, that’s definitely not it,” he said. “It was someone claiming to be my sister.”

“Why would someone do that?” Elise asked.

“I don’t know,” Paul said. “There are a lot of sick people in this world.”

He spun his beer glass on the table, revealing how uncomfortable he was with the conversation. “There’s no way my sister has my number,” he said.

A country song started playing. The cheery and upbeat tune that disguised the sweet, sad lyrics. “If you really wanna know, she comes here a lot. She just loves to hear the music and dance.”

“Is this ‘Straight Tequila Night’ by John Anderson?” Elise asked. “I love this song.”

Don’t ask her on a straight tequila night, she’ll start thinking about him, and she’s ready to fight. Blames her broken heart on every man in sight, on a straight tequila night.”

“This song brings back memories,” Elise said.

“No kidding,” Paul said. He stopped talking and looked into her eyes, studying her face as if he was trying to pique his memory.

“You’re sure you grew up in Frankenmuth?” he asked her.

“Do you think I’d lie about growing up in a dorky resort town that no one has heard of?” Elise replied.

“No,” he said. “Never mind.”

He paused again, looking around the bar. It was a regular weeknight on this part of the island, and the bar had emptied out. “Want to play some pool?” he asked. “The tables are free.”

They went into the next room, where he picked her up and hoisted her onto a pool table.

“Don’t do that show,” Paul said. “It’s one thing for Carson to sell her soul to the Kardezas. You’re a different story.”

Saying nothing else, pulled her onto his lap on the pool table. He gathered her in his arms and kissed her on the neck. A shiver ran down her spine. She felt her heartbeat between her legs.

She reached for the zipper of his pants as his breathing deepened.

“Want to go to my house?” he asked.

“Yes,” she whispered.

They left the Town Pump and walked down the quiet streets of Esmeralda Island. Nothing was open except a few small bars. She could tell it was the sort of place where everyone knew everyone.

The walk to Paul’s cottage was dark, and the dirt road leading there was empty. As he went to turn the lights on, Elise saw his digital camera sitting on the nightstand next to his bed. Without asking, she turned it on and browsed his pictures.

“Hey!” she shouted. “You took a bunch of pictures of girls in their lingerie?”

“Put that down,” Paul ordered.

She complied, but scowled at him. “So that’s what you did at work last night? You took pictures of other girls in sexy outfits?”

“I told you, I’m trying to document the fact that money can’t buy class.” He turned the screen toward her and showed her a picture of two drunk girls making out while a frat-boy type cheered.

When Paul turned his back, Elise picked up the camera again. She leaned back on the couch and aimed the camera at herself, letting her hair drape over her breasts.

“What are you doing?” he asked as the flash went off.

“Since you have so many pictures of other girls, I thought you might want one of me,” she said.

“You look better in that t-shirt than those girls do in their bras,” Paul replied. Then he looked sideways at her.

“And what do you mean, other girls?” he said. “What does that make you, my girl?”

Elise flushed with embarrassment. She remembered Carson admonishing her about getting too serious about guys.

“You’re wearing your bathing suit under your clothes,” he noted. “Should we find out what the beach is like at night?”

“Let’s do it,” Elise said, stripping off her shirt and jeans and draping them over the back of the couch. The stars were twinkling in the cloudless night sky. They looked especially bright now that they were away from the lights of the resort.

“It’s dark out here,” Paul said as they waded into the ocean together, listening to the waves crash against the wet sand. “Don’t let go of my hand.”

“The water feels rougher at night,” Elise said, the wind whipping her hair away from her face. She felt the seaweed between her toes as she navigated the sand, trying to avoid the rocks.

An aggressive wave came at them, causing Elise to lose her footing.

“Whoa,” Paul said, grabbing her around the waist to keep her from falling. “You’re a lightweight, aren’t you?” He stroked his hands up and down her back.

Without thinking, she gave in to her instincts and wrapped her arms around his neck. He grabbed the back of her thighs and held her legs around his waist. “You’re so beautiful,” he said before he kissed her. As their hipbones pressed together, she noticed how hard he was.

All of a sudden, a bright white light lit up the beach. Elise screamed.

“Is someone taking pictures?” she cried, shoving Paul away from her. She got up and started to run.

“Don’t take a picture of me, man,” Paul said, throwing his palm in front of the camera.

The voyeur ran away, laughing. Elise realized he wasn’t alone—there were at least two other men with him, crouched in the sea oats.

She began to shake, feeling an icy sensation in her stomach. “Take me home,” she said.

“Elise, don’t panic,” Paul said. “I scared them off. Everything is alright.”

“I don’t care,” Elise said. “Take me home. They were taking pictures of me.”

She kept repeating it over and over as she rubbed the sand off her wet skin. She trembled as she wondered where those photos would end up.

As she composed herself, his words to the voyeurs replayed in her head. Don’t take a picture of me, man.

“Paul,” Elise said, backing away from him, “did you know those guys?”

He stared at her. “What?”

“It sounded like you knew them.”

“No, Elise,” he said as he reached out to grab her hand. “Please, calm down.”

She yanked her hand away from his. “No.”


Elise slept little that night. When she dozed off, she had a dream about seeing her own picture in the gossip pages. She dreamt of getting a phone call from her mom and her brother Eric, who didn’t know her as Chase Rinehart’s latest fling. She dreamt of Mom saying, “This isn’t like you. What’s gotten into you?”

She woke up around eight and tried to forget.

Carson was up early, primping in the bathroom. “I’m going to get breakfast,” Elise said to her.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

“Why?”

“We’re meeting Kadence at ten, and you don’t want to look bloated,” Carson said in a very “duh” way.

“Will it really make that big of a difference?” Elise said, annoyed. “I mean, really.”

“I wouldn’t take the risk.”

“Alright, black coffee it is,” Elise said with a resigned shrug.

Grace sat up in bed.

“Be careful what you tell the Kardezas about yourself,” she said to Elise. “Connor said they tip off the tabloids themselves to get attention.”

“Connor doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about,” Carson snapped from the bathroom. “There’s a reason he’s the only Kardeza they won’t even show on Kardeza Family Values. He’s the family outcast, the black sheep they don’t acknowledge. Why do you think he’s the only child whose name doesn’t start with K?”

“It did,” Grace said. “He changed it in high school. He thought it was stupid and gimmicky.”

“Why? I’m thinking about changing my name to Karson with a K,” Carson said. “It would be more attention-grabbing in headlines.”

Elise and Grace looked at each other. “Is that a joke?” Grace whispered. “I hope it’s a joke.”

“I don’t think so,” Elise replied.

Carson emerged from the bathroom looking nightclub-ready. She looked Elise up and down, sizing up her floral maxi dress. “Don’t wear that,” she said.

“What’s wrong with this dress?” Elise asked. “I got tons of compliments on during at Greek Week last year.”

“No offense, but looks like you got it at a department store,” Carson replied. Elise’s cheeks burned when she remembered that she’d bought it at Macy’s last spring.

“And this isn’t a sorority event in Michigan,” Carson added. “You know the line from Wizard of Oz, ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore?’ You’re not in Frankenmuth anymore.”

Carson pulled out a huge Louis Vuitton suitcase and scoured its depths. She produced a small, silky piece of black fabric.

“What is that?” Elise asked.

“Don’t worry, you’re tiny enough for it.”

Barely, Elise thought as she looked in the mirror. It was a skin-tight black dress with deep cut-outs in the sides. She had to pull it down in the back to cover her cheeks.

“Oh, you can totally pull that off,” Carson said. “I’m impressed.”

Elise tried not to frown into the mirror. She felt overexposed—and considering it wasn’t even noon yet, foolish.

Carson came up behind her with a brush and smoothed out her hair.

“You’re doing a high bun today,” she informed Elise. “Your hair is long enough for it.”

“I wanted to wear it down,” Elise replied. She hated those high donut buns that Kallista Kardeza had made all the rage.

“This isn’t a wear-it-down kind of day,” Carson said. “I promise it will look awesome on you.”

Elise felt like she was balancing a weight on her scalp.

Carson pulled out her phone and took a Snap of herself. “I never go out without doing a test picture,” Carson said. “It’s one of my secrets to MU stardom.”

“Here, you try it,” she said, handing the camera to Elise.

Elise felt awkward tilting her head and angling her face to get a flattering shot.

“Let me do your eyes,” Carson said after examining the picture.

“I already did them,” Elise said.

Carson ignored her and approached Elise, wielding a black eyeliner stick. “They’re so pretty and blue, but they disappear on camera.”

She held still and let Carson apply an elaborate smoky eye.

“This shadow looks so good on you,” Carson said. “I’m so glad I intervened in your makeup and wardrobe choices. Now all you need is a decent purse, like mine.”

Carson picked up her Chanel handbag, which was worth more than Elise’s used car back in Frankenmuth. She remembered the Right Now credit card in her purse. Skinterns was becoming harder and harder to reject.

“Wow,” Grace said from her perch on her bed. “You’re like a blonde Kardeza sister, Elise.”

Then she slinked out of the room.

Elise looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize herself.


At ten, Carson and Elise met Chandler on the main boulevard on Esmeralda Island. Chandler was standing with a harsh-looking woman wearing a headset.

“This is Kadence’s publicist, Yolanda,” Chandler said. “Kadence is running late. She went to do yoga on the beach with Kallista and Kiki.”

“Is the whole family here?” Elise asked.

“Yep,” Chandler replied. “And they’re staying at The Luxe tonight. But don’t tell anyone. Kandi hates it when someone ruins their entrance.”

Kadence’s assistant was yammering into the headset, looking like she was on a mission.

“Are the girls on their way back from yoga?” she was saying. “I’ll tip off the photogs.”

Elise turned to Carson. “Photogs?”

“Paparazzi,” Carson whispered.

Elise spotted three dark-haired women walking towards them. They wore head-to-toe couture workout clothes. Their flawless hair didn’t frizz in eighty-degree humidity.

“That’s how they look after working out?” Elise said. “There must be a new exercise craze that doesn’t involve sweating.”

The Kardeza sisters raised their voices as they walked past the throng of paparazzi. The photographers mobbed them, elbowing each other for the best camera angles.

“God, that was so hot,” Kadence purred, shooting a seductive glance at the paparazzi. “I love doing tantric yoga.”

Kallista tossed her hair and laughed as if they were sharing an inside joke. “I like naked yoga even better,” she said, batting her eyelashes.

The photographers shouted questions at them: “Kadence, can you explain tantric yoga?”

“Is that a real thing?” Elise asked.

Carson shrugged. “It is now,” she said.

Elise cringed. “I hope they don’t make us do it.” She wondered if they were making it up to titillate the paparazzi. Then again, did they need more attention?

Kallista screeched to a halt. “Shit, my eyelashes are falling off!” she shrieked. “Yolanda! Where’s my makeup artist?”

A woman came running out of the crowd, toting a makeup bag. She whipped out a set of fake lashes and glue. Kadence’s publicist turned to the paparazzi and put her hand up in a “halt” sign.

“Hold on a sec,” she barked. “We will need a retake.”

Kallista peeled off the faulty eyelashes and tossed them at her assistant.

“Where did you buy these?” she sneered. “They suck.”

“Uh, MAC?” the bewildered makeup artist replied nervously. “I thought they were your style.”

“Well, you thought wrong!” Kallista huffed. She turned away and added, “I should fire her.”

“Kadence, do you need a touch-up?” the assistant asked. She applied bronzing powder to her nose and cheeks.

“Okay, we’re good!” the assistant yelled, and the picture-taking resumed.

“So that’s how it works?” Elise asked. “I thought paparazzi shots were candid.”

“Not for the smart celebrities,” Yolanda replied. “While we’re waiting, I’ll fill you in on the plan for today: you girls will go shopping on Main Street. It has the usual luxury stores—Fendi, Gucci, Louis Vuitton…”

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