Spring Break

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Chapter 7

She rattled them off like a bored housewife reading a grocery list. “As you know, Kadence is very fashion-conscious,” she said. “She expects any future co-stars to have impeccable taste.”

“See, I told you to let me pick your outfit,” Carson said to Elise.

“Then, when that’s over, you’re going backstage at Spring Fling,” Yolanda said.

“Oh, wow!” Elise exclaimed. Spring Fling was Right Now’s huge annual concert, which coincided with Spring Break.

“How do you feel about getting a few photos with Lindsey Shears?” the assistant asked.

Lindsey Shears had been the biggest teen idol of the decade. When Elise was in junior high, the local radio station hosted a “Body Like Lindsey” contest. Her biggest fan with plastic surgery. Every guy wanted to date her, and every girl wanted to be her.

But things had changed after her back-to-back pregnancies and divorce. The gossip headlines now screamed, “Lindsey’s a crackhead!” and “Flabby Lindsey won’t stop eating!” One cover story asked, “Lindsey’s Body: What Happened?” with her “trouble zones” circled in red.

Carson wrinkled her nose. “Is that good for our image?” she asked.

“Well, she is the hot topic of the moment,” the assistant reminded her. “Photographers will swarm her. Kadence got major press when she hit the town with Lindsey last month. Although the fact that Lindsey was drunk and sans panties didn’t hurt.”

She cackled.

“But first, you will get mani-pedis with the Kardeza girls,” she said. She looked at Elise’s hands. “It looks like you’re due for one.”

Elise folded her hands against her sides. She didn’t mention that her last manicure was before her high school prom.

“While the girls finish their photo shoot, I’ll walk you to the salon,” Yolanda said. “It’s right up the street. Follow me.”

Elise pictured the nail salon looking like the cheesy place she passed at the strip mall in Michigan. But this one looked a French chateau.

“Champagne, ladies?” the hostess asked as Elise and Carson settled into their seats.

“Thanks!” Elise said, dazzled by the offer. Carson frowned.

“I’d prefer a Cosmo,” she said.

The hostess nodded.

“Be nice,” Elise hissed at Carson.

“Why?” Carson asked Elise. “We need to get used to getting what we want.”

A few minutes later, the four Kardeza sisters sauntered in as if they owned the place. They sunk into the seats and chatted amongst themselves. They barely acknowledged the staff, let alone Elise and Carson.

Kallista snapped her fingers at the staff. “Someone bring me my air-meal,” she demanded. “Yolanda!”

“It’s coming right up,” the assistant assured her. “I’m so sorry it’s a half-hour late. We had trouble locating fresh, wild-caught Alaska salmon on the island. We had to drive into Jacksonville.”

“You’re so disorganized,” Kallista spat at her.

One employee emerged with a tray of delicious-looking salmon and vegetables. She wondered what they meant by “air meal.” Maybe the ingredients were so special, they flew it in on a private airplane.

Elise watched as Kallista cut into the salmon, lifted it to her mouth, and pretended to chew.

“She’s on the air diet,” Kiki Kardeza explained. “Her diet guru said she can get the benefits of food by inhaling the aromas and going through the motions of eating.”

Elise watched in horror as Kallista dumped the entire plate into the trash, uneaten. “I’ve had better,” she announced, taking a sip of expensive sparkling water.

Kallista’s lips were so puffy that she didn’t notice the water droplets clinging to them. Kallista denied plastic surgery, claiming she had naturally shapely lips. But up close, her mouth looked freakishly large, like a duck’s bill.

“I am so annoyed by this fucking incompetent staff,” Kallista muttered.

“You don’t look annoyed,” Kiki remarked.

“It’s the Botox,” Kallista replied. “Do I have any drool on my lip?”

“Not right now.”

“Good,” Kallista replied. “I’m getting another round of filler next week. My lips are deflating.”

“Speaking of food, I need my tree bark smoothie,” Karmen said.

“What’s that?” Carson asked, smiling and attempting to strike up a conversation.

“It’s a new cleanse,” Karmen said. “Kind of like a juice cleanse, but much lower-cal. They take bark from trees in the Sequoia National Forest and mix it into a green smoothie. It smells so weird, but it works so great.”

“Yeah,” Kiki said with a snort. “She has to sit on the toilet, like, eight times a day.”

“I’d love to try it,” Carson said.

“Yeah, unfortunately, a bunch of dirty hippies are upset about these dumb trees,” Karmen said. “Get this: they staged a demonstration to save the Sequoias. One protester accused me of hurting the environment by doing the Tree Bark Cleanse. I had my lawyers threaten to sue her for slander. Since then we haven’t heard a peep.”

Kallista and Kadence cackled. Kiki tuned out and scrolled through her phone. “I’m stepping outside to call Leroy,” she said.

Leroy Henderson was an NBA star who married Kiki last summer. The gossip rags reported that Kandi Kardeza was no fan of LeRoy’s, and tried to stop the wedding. They watched Kiki talk with a genuine smile, not the fake movie-star grin she wore for the paparazzi.

“Her stock has gone way down since she married him,” Karmen said.

“I know. Why haven’t we gotten rid of him yet?” Kadence asked. “He’s so boring on the show. All he cares about is basketball and trying to get Kiki pregnant.”

“Don’t worry,” Kallista said. “Mom has a plan in place for getting him off the show by next season. If he doesn’t go back to Detroit or whatever ghetto he came from, his little drug habit will take a turn for the worse.”

“He’s from Michigan?” Elise asked. “Carson and I are from Michigan.”

“Really?” Kadence said. “How did they find you for the show? Isn’t that, like, a local-yocal place on a river?”

“That’s Mississippi,” Elise replied.

“What do your parents do?” Kadence asked.

It was an odd question, one Elise only saw in the movies...or on shows like Socialites.

“Mine own a shop in a tourist town,” Elise said, eliciting unimpressed stares.

“My dad’s a lawyer,” Carson said. “Like, a high-powered one.”

“Our dad was a lawyer,” Kallista said.

Richard Kardeza defended CJ Sampson, an NFL player accused of killing his wife.

“Very high-powered,” Karmen added. “I mean, he got CJ Sampson off the hook!”

The girls giggled in unison.

“So he was guilty after all?” Elise asked.

“Duh,” Kallista said. “He came to our house that night with blood all over his clothes. But my dad knew how to play it: he got a bunch of dumb blacks on the jury and told them it was a civil rights issue. And those gloves that didn’t fit CJ? They were my dad’s. He went to his wife’s house to help him clean up the mess.”

“Oh,” Elise said, speechless. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“His ex-wife was the biggest drama queen,” Kallista said. “She was always giving people these sob stories about how CJ came over to her house and hit her. Well, maybe if she weren’t such a gold-digging whore...”

Kiki Kardeza walked back into the room. “Kallista!” she snapped. “Don’t tell them that!”

“Why? It’s true,” Kallista said, flipping her hair. “And besides, we can’t get in trouble now that dad is dead. Mom had her lawyers cover the bases. The only person who still cares is Connor. He won’t shut up about how dad made him sit in the car while they cleaned up the blood. That’s his excuse for getting fat and being such a fuck-up.”

Yolanda walked back into the room. “Ready to shop?” she asked.

“Aren’t we always?” Karmen said.

The Kardeza sisters emitted canned laughter, the type that sounded rehearsed.

“Do you have your credit card?” Carson asked Elise. “We’ll turn you into reality star material.”

“Let’s go in Louis Vuitton first,” Kadence’s assistant said.

“You read my mind,” Kadence replied. “I’ve been meaning to get the latest limited edition.”

Elise’s jaw dropped when she saw the price tag: five thousand dollars.

“Do you want one?” Carson asked her.

Elise sucked in her breath and offered an honest opinion. “No,” she said. “It’s ugly.”

“Are you kidding me? This is the bag of the season,” Carson replied. “Come on. We’ll get matching purses.”

“This is half of a semester’s tuition,” Elise reminded Carson.

“I know, right?” Carson said. “I feel so fabulous right now.”

“I need new shoes for tonight,” Kadence said.

Kandi Kardeza was infamous for her two-story closet, which housed over a thousand pairs of shoes. Kadence must be starting her own collection.

“You could use a pair of Christian Louboutins,” Carson said to Elise.

They stepped into the boutique. “Why are there no price tags?” Elise asked.

“Because it’s tacky to worry about the cost,” Carson replied. “Your number-one priority is finding a fabulous pair of shoes, not bargain-hunting.” She eyed a pair of white open-toed stilettos.

“I’ll show you how it’s done. What’s your shoe size?”

“Seven,” Elise replied.

Carson snapped her finger at the salesgirl. “We’ll take this pair in a size seven,” she said curtly.

The salesgirl retrieved the shoes and rang them up for Elise. “One thousand ninety-nine dollars,” she said.

Elise clenched her jaw as she handed over the Right Now credit card, disgusted with herself. She wondered what her family would think of her thousand-dollar shoes. Moreover, they’d get trashed after one night of spilled drinks and drunken stumbles.

“You should put them on before you go backstage with Lindsey Shears,” Kadence’s assistant said. “Speaking of that, it’s time for Spring Fling.”

Elise slipped into the shoes, which felt heavy on her feet, even heavier than the bun on top of her head.

“Wow,” Carson said. “I never thought I’d say this, but you look like a movie star, Elise. I thought you’d never shed your frumpy small-town tendencies.”

“Thanks,” Elise said, although she struggled to smile this time.

“Can you believe this?” Carson asked as they headed to Right Now’s beachfront concert pavilion. “I’m holding backstage passes to Spring Fling. My life keeps getting more awesome by the minute.”

“I’m surprised Lindsey Shears is performing,” Elise said. “She’s been such a mess lately.”

“Of course she’s performing,” Kadence Kardeza said. “It’s great entertainment. That’s why we call them train wrecks: you can’t look away.”

She and Carson giggled, dazzled by their own wit. Elise wondered if they thought they were the first people in the world to come up with that joke.

When they made it backstage, Lindsey Shears had tears in her eyes.

“I want to cancel the show,” she wept. “I miss my boys.”

“Calm down, Lindsey,” her manager said. “Do you want to take your multivitamin?”

He turned and winked at another of Lindsey’s managers, who produced a white tablet. He glanced over his shoulder before handing it to her.

“Oh, thank God,” Lindsey mumbled. “You’re a lifesaver.”

“No sweat,” the manager said with a crooked grin.

“That wasn’t a multivitamin,” Kadence whispered to Carson, sounding amused.

When Lindsey saw her, Kadence’s demeanor changed in an instant.

“Linds!” she yelled, running up to hug her as if they were lifelong friends. “I haven’t seen you since that afterparty in Santa Monica!”

They posed for several photographs. Kadence kept contorting herself into different positions and asking for retakes. When the camera flashes faded, she dropped the smile.

“God, she’s so annoying,” Kadence said to Carson. “But I guess she’s not so fat.”

It was true: Lindsey had a petite, yet athletic build, with toned legs and slender arms. There was the slightest bit of pudge around her middle, left over from her pregnancies.

“No kidding,” Elise said, grabbing her own waist. “If that’s fat, we’re all screwed.”

“That’s what Adderall is for,” Carson said, fishing a pill out of her purse. “Or on special occasions, coke.”

Elise offered her hand to Lindsey, who greeted her with a genuine warm smile.

“Hi there,” she said with a Southern twang. She eyed Elise’s backstage pass, looking anxious. “Are you from the media?”

“No,” Elise said. “We’re fans. I’ve been listening to you since junior high.”

She shook Lindsey’s hand, which was clammy and trembling.

“I really admire you, Lindsey,” Elise said.

“Thanks,” Lindsey said, looking as if she might cry again. “It means a lot to me.”

From the tone of her voice, Elise knew she meant it.

Before Elise could respond, Lindsey’s manager barged in. “Right Now wants a wardrobe change,” she barked.

“Why?” Lindsey asked, wide-eyed. “I thought we agreed this outfit took attention away from my post-baby belly.”

“It’s boring,” the manager replied. “This concert is vital for

the new resort. You need something edgier.”

Lindsey took a deep breath and sucked in her stomach. “Okay…I guess.”

A few minutes later, she reappeared in a costume that was two sizes too small and cut her at all the wrong angles. Lindsey grabbed a roll of flab on her stomach that escaped from the too-tight fabric. “Do I have to wear this? I haven’t got my body back.”

“Do you want to make a comeback or not?” the manager snapped.

Lindsey was getting a glazed-over look in her eyes.

“It’s showtime,” her manager said. “Lindsey, here’s your Red Bull.”

But it wasn’t only Red Bull: even from several feet away, Elise picked up the biting scent of Jaegermeister.

Elise wondered why are they were getting her drunk right before she went onstage. She thought of Lindsey’s impeccably coordinated music videos. “I couldn’t dance like that sober,” Elise said under her breath.

Then Elise overheard the manager whisper to another, “Tip off the paparazzi. She’s about to make an ass of herself.”

When Lindsey came onstage, the crowd held its collective breath. Even the applause had a dark undertone of aggression. Elise wondered if the audience wanted to see her blow the performance.

Maybe that’s why headlines like “Lindsey’s a Whale!” sold so many magazines. Elise felt tempted to sneak out of the pavilion so she wouldn’t have to watch.

The music started. Lindsey swayed. Her muscles looked loose and limp, and her face was devoid of expression.

“Boo!” someone shouted, and as if on cue, others followed.

Lindsey was lip-synching out of step with the music. The jeering grew louder and angrier. The audience looked smug, making amused faces at each other.

Lindsey tripped. The crowd kept yelling as she turned white and writhed in pain. She grabbed her left knee, revealing that she wasn’t wearing underwear.

The crowd roared with laughter and titillated gasps as Lindsey limped off the stage.

The Jumbotron next to the stage flashed: “How low can she go? Chubby drug addict Lindsey blows Spring Break performance!”

“That’s bullshit,” Elise protested, as if someone with power could hear her. “The managers were loading her up with Jagermeister and pills. And do you think those headlines weren’t planned ahead of time? How’d they go up on the Jumbotron so fast?”

Carson gasped. “Shhhh!” she hissed. “Do you want people to hear you talking shit about the network? You could blow our Skinterns contracts!”

“Aren’t you worried about what Right Now will do to us?” Elise asked her.

“No,” Carson replied, tossing her hair. “We’re not idiots.”

A few hours later, Carson and Elise met with Lanny and Chandler, who wanted an answer about Skinterns.

“Good news,” Chandler said. “You won over Kadence.”

“Yes!” Carson squealed. “What’s next?”

“We want to film a pilot episode tomorrow to see how you do on camera,” Chandler replied, then winked. “Carson, I know the camera will love you. Elise, the same goes for you, if you can loosen up a little.”

“Don’t blow your opportunity,” Chandler added, with a sharp look aimed at Elise. “Oh, and bring a bathing suit tomorrow, along with a casual outfit that you can take off easily.”

Elise didn’t bother to speculate about what absurd stunts Right Now had planned for the pilot episode. Instead, she decided to take a walk on the beach, away from the crowds. It was easier to appreciate the sand and waves when she was alone.

Away from the resort, little bungalows dotted the landscape. Thick patches of rugged forest abutted the beach. Deep down, she knew who she was looking for. But she didn’t expect him to find her first. Paul was sitting on a boat ramp, feet in the water.

“Are you still mad at me?” he asked.

“No,” she said as he put his arms around her waist. “I don’t know what got into me. Maybe it was the stress of auditioning for Skinterns.”

“Say no,” he said again. “Unless you want to take me to L.A. as your personal bodyguard.”

She dipped her toes in the water, running her foot over the smooth pebbles. “It’s quiet out here,” she said. “Is this your boat?”

“Yeah, I bought it from a regular at the Town Pump,” Paul said. “I don’t take it out much, but it’s my retreat. I like to lay in it and feel the waves.”

She sat next to him, watching foamy saltwater lap at the sand, carrying seaweed and jellyfish.

“Do you want to come inside with me?” he asked. “It might be our only shot at being alone together.”

She knew from the look in his eyes what he meant.

She followed him up the stone path to his house, her heart pounding hard with anticipation.

“I’m sweaty and dirty from working outside all day,” he said to her, grabbing a towel. “I hope you don’t mind if I take a quick shower.”

She shook her head and sank into the couch, picking up a book sitting on the coffee table. But he pulled her back up to her feet.

“Want to join me?” he asked her, putting his hands behind her head and twisting her hair in his fingers.

“Yes,” she whispered as he turned on the water.

He kissed her on the neck and shoulders under the water. He stroked her nipples gently, instead of pinching them until they were sore like Chase did. After he shut the water off, he laid her on his bed.

Neither of them anticipated the bang-bang-bang on the bedroom door. Elise screamed and grabbed the bed sheet, wrapping it around her naked body.

“Paul, why aren’t you answering your phone?” a voice on the other side shouted.

“Not now, man,” Paul said, using the same word he’d chosen for the voyeurs on the beach.

“Who is that?” Elise asked, petrified.

Before Paul could answer, the door flung open.

It was Jay, who looked even more shocked to see Elise lying there in Paul’s bed.

“Sorry,” he said, slamming the door and looking mortified.

“What is he doing here?” Elise asked, her voice trembling.

“He’s my roommate for the week,” Paul said.

“What? Why didn’t you tell me that?” Elise demanded, rolling over and jumping to her feet. “Why didn’t you tell me you were friends with him?”

“Paul, get to work,” Jay called out, sounding shaken. “The security staff needs you at The Palace.” Then the screen door slammed behind him.

“I’ll explain later,” Paul said, throwing on his clothes. “I promise.”

He leaned in to kiss her again, reassuring her that he’d keep his word.

Elise walked back to The Palace on the beach, making footprints in the surf. She had her head down when she heard her own name.

“Hey, is that Elise Apple?”

She looked up to find a group of frat guys from MU standing there, in the midst of a sand volleyball court. In the middle of the pack was Brent.

“Is that the clingy girl?” one of the frat brothers said to Brent. “At least she’s hot.”

Elise rolled her eyes and ignored him.

Brent greeted her with a cocky smile beneath her sunglasses. He was drunk, holding a can of Natty Light in both hands. “Hey Elise, are you still, like, in love with him?” his friend called after her.

“Nah,” she said, nonchalant as she kept walking. “I moved on to someone better.”

It was her turn to smile now. They watched her walk away with looks on their faces like she had turned their world on its head.

The next morning, Elise donned her powder blue bikini for the filming of the pilot episode. She didn’t bother picking her own easy-to-remove outfit. Carson had already shopped for her the day before.

“I used the Right Now credit card to get you the perfect outfit,” Carson told her that morning as they primped. She thrust a shopping bag at Elise. “You’re welcome.”

“Thanks, Carson,” Elise replied. “That was nice of you.”

“It was worth it to make sure you didn’t show up in an outfit that screams ‘Flyover Country,’” Carson said. “It could cost both of us our contracts.”

Elise and Carson put on their cover-ups and went to meet Yolanda.

“We’re going to the beach,” Yolanda said, looking as if she were trying to suppress an amused smile. “You know the girls do daily yoga, right? Today, you’re going to participate…in Kama Sutra yoga.”

Elise couldn’t stop herself from laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Yolanda asked, stone-faced.

“I’m sorry. I thought you were kidding,” Elise said.

Yolanda raised her eyebrows and hammered out a text message on her iPhone. Elise had a feeling she was updating Kadence and her staff about every little move she and Carson made.

“Go along with whatever they tell us to do,” Carson said. “So we have to twist ourselves into weird sex positions called The Pretzel or The Flying Squirrel or something. So what? Is that too much to ask to become rich and famous?”

Elise distracted herself, breathing in the smell of coconut sunscreen. It turned out she needed it. Standing in front of the four Kardeza sisters was a naked man. He somewhat resembled Richard Simmons, slicked in body oil and sitting Indian style.

Elise rarely swore, but in this moment the words rolled out. “What. The. Fuck.”

The Kardeza girls were giggling. “If this were a real episode, his junk would be blurred out,” Kadence explained.

“Really? I hope mine isn’t,” Kallista said, and shimmied out of her bathing suit.

“What does this have to do with internships?” Elise asked.

The cameramen swept in, and Elise had no time to object before showtime.

“We have another surprise for you, ladies,” Chandler announced. “Meet your partners for Kama Sutra yoga!”

A gaggle of oiled-up men with obnoxious gym bodies arrived on the scene. Elise’s breath stopped when she saw Chase.

“Hey, Elise, guess who your partner is?” Chandler asked. “We want to see you film a steamy scene together before we put you in that penthouse in L.A.”

“Okay, everyone, let’s start with the Portuguese man-of-war,” the instructor said. “If you do it right, you’ll look like a multi-limbed lust creature.”

Elise watched the instructor demonstrate the position with Kadence. Elise realized she’d have to straddle Chase’s lap and put her ankles up on her shoulders, with her arms behind her.

“Here goes,” Elise said, trying not to show any revulsion. Chase grabbed her hips and pulled them against his crotch. She didn’t feel safe the way she did with Paul. Instead, she shuddered and winced in pain.

She felt relief when the instructor said, “Okay, now let’s try the electric eel.” He hopped to his feet, displaying his private parts for the camera. “As you can see, we have a sultry sea creature theme today.”

“He sounds like one of those bad writers giving freaky sex advice in Cosmo,” Elise said to Carson.

“Nice work, Elise and Chase!” Chandler said with a thumbs-up.

“Yeah, you like that?” Chase asked. Then he snuck his fingers inside her bikini and forced them inside her.

“Ow!” she cried out.

“What’s the matter?” the instructor asked.

“Nothing,” Elise said. “This hurts my elbows a little.”

“You’re tight,” Chase said, trying to jam his fingers inside her again.

“Stop it,” she snapped, suppressing the urge to kick him. She didn’t want him to touch her, as if it would taint her magical few minutes with Paul yesterday. And it made her feel something else, something she didn’t have the word to describe.

“Whoa, what’s with the attitude?” Kadence snapped, giving Elise the evil eye. She turned to Kallista. “She’s looking less and less like Right Now material.”

Kallista glared at Elise and nodded in quiet agreement.

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