So what’s next on the day’s ridiculous agenda? Elise wondered as they headed to a lavishly expensive room at The Luxe. The Kardezas had rented out the spa for the filming of the pilot episode.
The spa was dim, and exotic music hummed in the background. A woman in a silk kimono with bad plastic surgery emerged from the back room.
“So, ladies, are you ready to learn the skills that will drive your man crazy?” the woman asked as the cameramen zeroed in on her.
“It’s a blow job class!” Kadence announced, looking ecstatic.
“A what?” Elise exclaimed in horror. She looked sideways at Carson, whose mouth was hanging open.
“Don’t worry, honey,” the blow job instructor said. “You’ll be practicing on these.”
She unveiled a row of dildos, some of them neon-colored, some flesh-toned, all huge.
“Can you film me close-up for this scene?” Kadence asked the cameramen. “In fact, I want to save this segment for Kardeza Family Values.”
The instructor knelt down on her knees and took the dildo into her mouth.
“I’m sorry,” Elise said. “I can’t do this.”
“I can,” Kadence said, hopping out of her seat. “Do you have any secrets?” she asked the instructor.
“Do you have lip injections?” the instructor asked. “That should help you stretch your mouth.”
“What an amazing added benefit!” Kadence said. She took out her iPhone and held it in the air above her head, filming herself.
“A ‘private’ video to ‘accidentally’ leak on YouTube,” she explained with a giggle.
Elise turned to Carson. “So is this what they do all day?” she asked.
“Shut up,” Carson said. “Seriously. I don’t want to hear one more criticism of the Kardezas out of your mouth.”
She made an aggressive gesture like she was zipping her lips.
Elise obeyed, but only for now. She had a few days left to find a way out of the contract, without setting Carson off.
After the pilot filming was over, Chandler herded them into the producer’s suite.
“Jay will be here in a minute with the contracts,” Chandler said.
Jay walked in and dropped a thick stack of papers in front of Carson, but held Elise’s contract against his chest.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked, looking her in the eye long enough to make her uncomfortable. Neither of them dared mention last night.
“I think so,” Elise said.
“Really?” he asked again. “You’re positive?”
She looked over at Carson, who tapped her manicured nails to remind Elise she was getting impatient. “Say yes before he tries to put his girlfriend on the show!” she hissed.
“I’m ninety percent sure,” Elise answered.
“Alright,” Jay said with a shrug.
Carson flipped to the back page. “So do I have to read this, or should I sign right now?” she asked.
Lanny gave her a big, fake smile that made Elise uneasy. “You don’t have to read all that,” he said. “I mean, you can go over that boring legalese if you choose. B ut why bother?”
Carson scrawled her signature on the page.
“I want to read it over first,” Elise said.
Chandler got up to walk out, heels clanging on the floor. “If you must,” she said. “But don’t wait too long. There are tons of other girls who would love to take your place.”
Carson crossed her arms and ignored Elise as they took the elevator back to their room. “I’m going to sit on the balcony and read this document,” Elise said, grabbing the contract.
She sat outside, lifting her face to the sunshine. Then she paged through the contract.
“Lanny was right,” she mumbled to herself. “It’s a bunch of legalese.”
She skimmed over the contract. Deep into the legal mumbo-jumbo, she found something disturbing.
“Producers may make misrepresentations about cast members,” she read out loud. “I understand that my appearance, depiction, and portrayal in connection to the show may be defamatory, disparaging, or embarrassing, and may expose me to public ridicule, humiliation, and condemnation, and may portray me in a false light. Producers may delete, edit, fictionalize, and dub the presentation.”
Elise read a few more lines before she threw the contract onto her chair and sliding open the door into the suite.
“Carson,” she said. “Did you read this contract before you signed it?”
“No,” Carson replied in an airy voice. “My dad’s a lawyer. He’ll take care of any problems.”
“No, Carson. This needs our attention now. Is this a reality show or a sick joke?” Elise asked. “It says the producers can portray us in a false light. It says they can edit it in whatever they want for ‘dramatic effect.’ Even if they know it’s disparaging.”
“English, please,” Carson replied. “I don’t know what ‘disparaging’ means.”
“They can make us say things we never said and create a bunch of fake scenarios to embarrass us,” Elise said.
“Right, because Kadence Kardeza is so embarrassed all the time,” Carson said, rolling her eyes. “The producers aren’t retarded. They want the audience to love us.”
“Did they want the audience to love Jackie?” Elise challenged.
“She’s a whore.”
“They have the right to make anyone look like a whore.”
Carson crossed her arms and leaned in to Elise, the way she did when she was about to get aggressive. Elise had a flashback to Carson hazing the Beta Xi pledges last fall during initiation week. She liked to scream in the freshmen’s faces for failing at ridiculous tasks she concocted. It was hard enough to watch as a bystander, but on the receiving end, it was intolerable.
“I cannot believe you’re even thinking twice about this,” Carson said. “What are you going to do instead, sell cheese at a gift shop in Frankenmuth?”
“That’s not my only career path,” Elise said.
“How many job leads do you have?” Carson challenged her. “How many interviews have you done?”
“I don’t want to fight about it,” Elise said. “Let’s enjoy the rest of Spring Break, okay? Then I’ll sign it. I promise.”
Satisfied with Elise’s response, Carson pulled out her iPhone. “Let’s hang out with the Kardezas in their penthouse at the Luxe,” she said. “It’s the fanciest hotel on the island.”
She turned to Grace before they left. “Do not show up there with Connor,” she said.
Grace looked up with a somber face. “I would never do that,” she said.
“Good. He’s not invited,” Carson said.
“Don’t assume he cares,” Grace replied, unfazed.
Carson snickered. “Keep telling yourself that,” she sneered before slamming the door behind her.
“This is the most expensive room on the island,” Carson reminded Elise as they rode the elevator to the top floor of The Luxe, where the Kardezas were waiting for them.
They introduced themselves to a bodyguard standing outside the door. “We’re the new Skinterns,” Carson said, batting her eyelashes. “You know, the new reality show?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard about Kadence’s new co-stars,” he said. “Come right in, ladies.”
Karmen and Kallista were in makeup chairs, having their hair and faces re-done. Elise wondered if most of her life as a Skintern would revolve around getting ready for the cameras.
“The girls have two makeup artists each,” the publicist, Yolanda, said. “One for day, and one to create their evening looks.”
“Where’s Kadence?” Elise asked.
There was a series of mini-crashes in the next room. Elise heard an awful-sounding, guttural moan, like a donkey hee-hawing. Then a woman squealed, “Oh, yes…yes!” in a cheesy, breathy porn star voice.
Kallista gave the other girls a naughty glance. “Oh, Kadence is rehearsing,” she said. “I’m so glad she decided to emulate me.”
Elise heard Kadence’s voice on the other side of the wall. “Can you tilt the camera lower?” she was asking. “I want to showcase my new tits in this scene.”
“She’s filming a sex tape...right now?” Elise replied.
“Don’t worry, it’s just a rehearsal,” Kallista replied. “So it’s not sex-sex. You know.”
Kallista picked up a magazine and browsed it with a smug expression. “I’m so happy with my new spread in Hedonist magazine,” she said. “As predicted, the churchy people are calling for a boycott of the show over it. Can you believe it?”
Hedonist was a bona fide porn magazine. Elise snuck a peak at the copy in Kallista’s hands. She was spread-eagle and naked in the photos, looking supremely satisfied with herself.
Kallista looked up from the magazine. “Where did Kiki go?” she asked.
“Where do you think?” Karmen replied. “She’s next door, arguing with the junkie.”
“Ugh,” Kallista said. “Why is he still here?”
Elise could hear a heated conversation going on in the next room.
“Kiki, c’mon, you know I would never do that to you. Your mom got Mesick to take me to that place. I would never go on my own.”
Tyler Mesick was Karmen Kardeza’s douchebag boyfriend. He gladly played the villain of the show, although Karmen didn’t seem to mind one bit. She had two children with him, and she delivered the oldest in full view of Right Now cameras. A week later, the headlines gushed, “Mommy Joy: Karmen At Home with Baby Bomber!”
“Bomber?” Elise’s brother Eric said when he saw the magazine sitting on the coffee table at her sorority house. “What kind of stupid ass name is that?”
“A cute one,” Carson snapped at him.
“No, really,” Elise’s brother persisted. “What kind of moron parades around ‘Baby Bomber’? It sounds like the Underwear Bomber, or the Unibomber.”
“Your brother’s a hillbilly,” Elise said when Eric left. They watched him pull away in his mud-splattered Jeep wearing a plaid jacket.
Now, Carson looked intrigued by Tyler’s latest act of douchebaggery. “What happened?” she mouthed to Kallista and Karmen.
“He got caught at a strip club again,” Karmen said, taking a sip of her drink and looking bored. “You know Kiki hates him hanging out in strip clubs.”
“So why did he do it?” Kallista asked.
Karmen pressed her finger to her lips and shushed her. “We arranged the whole thing,” she whispered.
“What?!” Kallista replied.
“Yeah,” Karmen confirmed. “We arranged for the paparazzi to follow them. Tyler got Leroy high first so he’d be game. Could you blame us? He’s ruining Kiki’s image. I mean, she’s a Kardeza, and he’s so ghetto and so...”
“Black,” Kadence finished for her. She stepped into the room wearing a sheer tank top that showed her nipples. “Mom told us no more black guys. It’s bad for our image. The interracial thing was trendy for a while, but Star Watch magazine did a poll, and it’s ‘out.’ People think it’s trashy.”
She looked at Carson and Elise. “You’re not into that, are you?”
“Into what?” Elise asked.
“Black guys? Oh God, no,” Carson replied. “My mom would disown me. We belong to a country club with an unofficial ‘whites only’ policy. As for Elise, she’s got her hopes set on Chase Rinehart.”
For once, the Kardezas looked impressed. “Wow!” she said. “He’s so hot. Ohmigod, you should have Chase on Skinterns. He’d be fabulous for our ratings.”
There was a thud in the next room. Kiki came bursting in a minute later.
“Call 911!” she screamed. “LeRoy collapsed!”
“Wait, what?” Karmen said. “That wasn’t on our agenda for the week.”
“Seriously, guys!” Kiki screamed. “This isn’t staged!”
“Someone call an ambulance!” she screamed as she ran down the hallway, sounding desperate.
“Is that an order? I am so sick of them and their stupid drama,” Karmen said.
As Kiki’s screams reached more frenzied heights, Elise searched for her cell phone in the depths of her new purse. Without another word, she dashed into the hallway and dialed 911.
Kandi Kardeza stomped toward her, waving her arms. “Put that down!” she said. “We have a strict confidentiality agreement!”
“It’s an emergency,” Elise replied.
“Honey, do you want to get sued for breaking the agreement?” Kandi said coldly. “We have this handled. Now put that phone away before I have you escorted out.”
Kandi looked calm and composed as she pulled out her own cell phone. She scrolled through her contacts as precious minutes ticked away.
“Hello, is this the producer’s suite?” she asked. “…It’s Kandi. We’ve got a little situation in the penthouse with LeRoy. He might need a doctor. But first, I have a few ideas for how to spin it to the press.”
Elise realized she was sweating and shaking. She looked down and saw red blotches forming on her chest.
“Don’t worry. I’ll escort myself out,” she said to Kandi.
Kandi ignored her and addressed the whole penthouse instead. “Everyone clear out of here,” Kandi demanded, shooing Elise and Carson away. Then she turned to Yolanda, the assistant, and whispered, “Get rid of the drugs and call the paparazzi. We’re using this to our advantage.”
Elise felt numb as she watched as a helicopter hover over The Luxe. Swimsuit-clad, sand-crusted spring breakers packed the beach. Most of them were good and drunk after an afternoon of beer bongs and tequila shots. The crowd pointed at the sky, wondering if it was a camera crew or a celebrity’s private helicopter.
“It’s a life flight, you idiots,” a familiar Southern voice said. “Looks like Spring Break finally caught up with someone, and nobody cares.”
It was Jackie from Eligible Bachelor. She looked drained despite her glowing tan and bright blonde hair. Still, there was a surprising fierceness in her voice. “Or is it fake drama staged by Right Now?”
“It’s Kiki Kardeza’s boyfriend, Leroy,” Elise said to her. “Except it’s not staged.”
“Trust me, it’s staged,” Jackie said. “They’d leave you for dead if they think it’s good for ratings.”
Jackie was holding a big plate of quesadillas and an orange-colored drink in her hand.
“It’s orange juice,” Jackie said. “I’d never drink while I’m pregnant.”
Elise’s jaw dropped. No wonder Carson noticed she was getting chubby.
“Congratulations,” Elise stammered, unsure of what else to say. Jackie sure hadn’t looked happy all week, so Elise surmised that the pregnancy wasn’t planned.
“Thanks,” Jackie said. “You’re the only person I’m gonna hear that from on this island.”
Jackie stared off into the distance. “If my mom were here, she’d say it,” she added.
“You mean if she were on Esmeralda Island?”
“No, I mean here on Earth,” Jackie said. “She wouldn’t be proud of Eligible Bachelor, or the nude pictures. But she’d be proud of me for keeping my baby.”
“What happened to her?” Elise asked.
“When I was twelve, her boyfriend touched me,” Jackie continued. “My friends told me she wouldn’t believe me. But when I told her, she packed us up, and we left that night. She said I would never have to see his face again.”
Jackie took a bite of her quesadilla, as if this story weren’t a big deal.
“And I didn’t see him again,” she said. “Until the night he showed up at our trailer looking for her. She tried to fight back.”
“He shot her.”
Jackie’s eyes looked greener and more intense now, sitting in the sunset and staring out at the ocean.
“I wanted to join the military after high school so I could support myself,” Jackie went on, taking a deep breath. “Then my boyfriend talked me into modeling. Or maybe I should say ‘modeling.’” She made air quotes around the word, shaking her head at the memory.
“I didn’t want to do it at first, but I figured posing nude was less scary than getting blown up by IEDs in Iraq,” Jackie said. “He ended up getting me into porn.”
Elise stared at the ground, again wondering what to say to that.
“I’m sorry. Too much information, I know,” Jackie said. “I talk to anyone who will listen these days. When I tried to tell the story on Eligible Bachelor, the producers stopped me. Said it was too dark. I think it was because they wanted the audience to hate me.”
“That’s horrible,” Elise said. “I’m starting to think these people are evil.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Jackie said. “Leroy is their latest victim. They did it to Lindsey Shears.” She looked at Elise with a piercing stare. “They’ll do it to you, too.”
“Jackie?” a voice called out. “Where have you been?”
It was Jay.
“What do you want?” she shot back. “I told you I don’t want to see your face.”
“Pack your bags for the airport. I’m sending you home,” Jay said, looking pale and solemn. “This place is starting to suck.”
The emergency helicopter was swooping lower over the beach. “No kidding,” Jackie said. “What did your co-workers pull off this time? An actual murder?”
“I don’t know, but they’re starting to scare me,” Jay said.
“If you cared about me that much, you’d leave with me,” Jackie said. “And leave the job behind while you’re at it.”
Jay tried to grab the drink and the plate from her hand. “We need to talk,” he said.
“No, Jay,” Jackie snapped. She pointed at the helicopter. “How can you stand by and watch them get away with this? Because you get to go to cool parties and it looks good on your resume?”
Elise watched as Jay ran after her, trying to grab her arm.