Authors: Susan McBride
“I hate those elliptical machines,” Laura whined as Mac tossed the clothes onto the bare bed. “They make me feel so uncoordinated.”
“Then you can walk on the treadmill,” Mac replied. “And if you keep griping much longer, I’ll whistle for Tincy. Your mom offered to help drag you out to my car if you tried to wimp out. I think she’d do it, too.”
Though Tincy Bell was as tiny as Laura was tall and big-boned, Laura was sure her mother wouldn’t hesitate to do just as she’d promised. Tincy was probably thrilled that Mac had taken Laura’s vow to work out so seriously. After all, it was Ma Bell who’d packed up Laura and shipped her off to fat camp in the Hill Country of Austin this past summer for two months. If Tincy had her way, Laura would miraculously
melt from her size-fourteen self to a size two overnight. Not that Laura could ever see that happening, even if she used an elliptical machine every day for the rest of her life.
Still, she had to watch her curvy figure in the months ahead, as Tincy constantly reminded her. Even though she was a legacy, the Glass Slipper Club wasn’t keen on plus-sized debutantes, so she felt lucky they’d let her slide onto the list of ten. Of course, that didn’t mean she couldn’t slip right off it if she gave them any reason.
“All right, I’m coming.” She swung her legs over the side of the bed, muttering, “And you call yourself my friend.”
“I’m the best kind of friend,” Mac assured her. “It’s my duty to make you suffer.”
“Well, better to suffer now than make a fool of myself doing the Dip,” Laura muttered as she pulled on the yoga pants. “Even my sister had trouble with it, and Sami’s, like, tiny and was a gymnast in junior high. Think about it—all eyes on you as your name is announced. You have to gracefully bow to the floor with your flowers in one hand and your hundred-pound dress with all those petticoats and corset stays.” Laura paused and swallowed hard. “I’ll be horrified if I get stuck on the floor like a klutzy swan in front of everyone. You can’t tell me you’re not the least little bit afraid too?”
Mac let out a dry laugh. “Like I could give two craps. I might even refuse to curtsy in protest.”
“Don’t even joke about that!” Laura said gravely. “Sami’s friend Leanne wouldn’t Dip, and she got herself banned from every important social event for, like, five years!”
The true-life tale of poor Leanne was one Tincy brought up every now and then to remind Laura what happened
when girls “act uppity,” as she put it. She couldn’t even imagine bucking the Glass Slipper Committee on purpose. Even thinking about it made her shudder.
“Swear that you won’t refuse to curtsy,” Laura begged her friend.
Mac crossed her arms over her chest as if to say, “Try me.”
Scowling, Laura grumbled, “I wish you’d stop being such a Debbie Downer. Our debutante season is supposed to be
“Fun?” Mac made a noise of disgust. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Laura wanted to grab Mac by the shoulders and shake away her cynicism. “One of these days, Ginger and I are gonna take you to the doctor and have your head examined.”
“Whatev,” Mac replied with an exaggerated eye roll.
Laura opened her mouth to further chastise her friend, but Mac threw a hand up in her face. “Not another word! Quit with the distractions and get changed.”
With that, Mac stomped off, straight into Laura’s walk-in closet, emerging with a pair of black and pink Nikes in hand. She tossed them across the room toward Laura. One smacked her squarely on her exposed shin.
“Ouch!” Laura rubbed the pink spot on her skin and glared at Mac, who merely smiled in return.
As soon as Laura had finished dressing, she made a bee-line for the bathroom, doing a five-minute version of her usual morning routine, sticking to the basics like teeth-brushing and face-washing. Forget the makeup. Who’d see her at the country club gym on a holiday morning anyway?
“What’s taking you so long?” Mac yelled from the other room.
“I’m going as fast as I can!” Laura pulled her long blond hair into a ponytail, squinting at her naked face in the mirror.
, she thought and snatched up her mascara, giving her lashes a quick two coats before she dabbed her lips with gloss. Well, she couldn’t go out with her face
bare, could she? Houston might be a huge city, but living in the Memorial Villages was like living in a small town in many ways. What if she ran into Avery? The last thing she wanted was for her on-again/off-again (and hopefully on-again) boyfriend to catch her looking less than spectacular.
“You ready to go?” Mac’s bespectacled eyes peered into the bathroom. “And no need to bring supplies. They’ll have Fiji and towels at the club.”
“Bottled water?” Laura squawked in mock horror. “If Ginger heard you say that, she’d beat you with a hemp whip for not being earth-friendly.”
“What Ginger doesn’t know won’t hurt her.” Mac shrugged. “Besides, we’ll recycle them.”
“So much for our no-secrets rule,” Laura joked, and slung an arm around Mac’s shoulders. “Okay, I promise not to rat about drinking water from plastic bottles so long as you swear not to tell anyone how spastic I look on the elliptical, or, God forbid, doing the doggy pose in yoga class.”
Mac held up her right hand with the thumb and pinky folded down. “Girl Scout’s honor, I will never breathe a word about you being a spaz or doing the doggy pose,” she said with a straight face.
And of course, she wouldn’t, Laura knew, since Mac had actually been a Girl Scout and had earned, like, four hundred badges by the time she was a sophomore; at which point Laura had begged her to drop out because Mac was nerd
enough for being on the honor roll every frigging semester and in Mu Alpha Theta, the math honors club.
“I’m good to go. So let’s boogie,” Laura said, and brushed past Mac to lead the way out of her bedroom and through the marble-floored hallways of the Bell mansion. Before they blew out the front door, Laura yelled back to the empty foyer, “See you later, Mother! I’m going to the club with Mac!” which, she figured, sufficed as a news flash if either of her parents was within hearing distance. Although she had a good idea her dad wasn’t even home—Labor Day meant nothing to a workaholic CEO like Harrington Bell—and God only knew what Tincy was up to, except that it probably involved a deep-tissue massage or some kind of age-defying skin treatment.
Without further ado, Laura hopped into Mac’s Honda Civic, enduring her friend’s reminder to put on her seat belt. Mac started the car and checked her mirrors. Then they took off, leaving the Bells’ house on Hedwig Drive in Hunters Creek Village, cutting across Green Bay to Memorial Drive and enjoying a relative lack of traffic on the busy road all the way past the Voss intersection, where the Villages Country Club was located.
Mac pulled in at the pretty stone sign with a monogrammed vcc in its center, scooting around landscaped berms planted with neat rows of petunias. They veered left at the tennis complex, finally driving into the parking area near the whitewashed clubhouse and pool.
Parking spots abounded since, Laura figured, the majority of the country club’s membership was taking the Labor Day holiday seriously and sleeping in or having a leisurely breakfast in their sunrooms. Though, as the morning progressed,
the swimming area would doubtless swell with sun-worshippers enjoying themselves before the pool closed for good until Memorial Day next year. Like that mattered, Laura mused, when all the members of the VCC had pools in their own backyards.
But at five minutes to nine, the Olympic-sized pool was still deserted. Only fitness addicts or those with early spa appointments were out and about on this humid September morning. Laura noticed a handful of Maria Sharapova never-will-bes in pastel outfits, chasing balls around several of the two dozen tennis courts. She wondered how many exercise addicts would be working out in the humongous fitness room, eyes glued to the plasma TV screens, ignoring the wall of windows beyond, which offered a view of the bayou.
The Honda’s brakes squealed as Mac brought the car to a stop as near to the clubhouse as they could get.
Laura swallowed the last few bites of a granola bar she’d dug out of her purse. “Can we stop in at the Grill for a quick breakfast?” she asked, her mouth tasting like grit. “I could use a glass of OJ.”
Mac sighed. “Your delay tactics aren’t gonna fly with me.” She turned off the ignition and grabbed the door handle.
“Yes, sir, Sergeant Mac,” Laura said, and gave a quick salute before she scrambled to exit the Honda and follow Mac’s deliberate strides toward the club’s front doors.
Once inside, soft music played from hidden speakers, something jazzy and instrumental. Laura glanced to the left at the pro shop, which wasn’t even open yet, then at the frosted glass door to the day spa farther up on the right, thinking she’d rather spend the next hour getting a massage instead of working out. Laura had an aversion to sweat,
which showed just how much she wanted to be the perfect Rosebud. Everyone knew the Texas Dip was what separated the real debs from the poseurs, and Laura wasn’t about to get shown up by her archenemy, Jo Lynn Bidwell, or any member of Jo’s Bimbo Cartel.
“Stop looking like you’re going to your execution,” Mac said over her shoulder. “You want to do a perfect Texas Dip or not?”
“I want to do it so insanely perfect that Jo Lynn Bidwell’s pea green with envy,” Laura retorted as she followed Mac down the hallway hung with photographs of golf and tennis champions, hoisting trophies or posing with local dignitaries.
The fitness center was at the far end, behind a pair of etched glass doors. Mac pushed her way in first, holding the door open for Laura. Mac even signed them both in before herding Laura toward the locker room so they could put away their bags.
“Leave the CrackBerry!” Mac commanded when she saw Laura palm her BlackBerry Pearl.
“But I need—”
“Oh no you don’t.” Mac grabbed her cell from her, set it firmly in the locker, and slammed the metal door. Then she gave the combo lock a spin for good measure.
“Out,” Mac ordered next, pointing at the exit.
Laura snatched up a towel, Mac right behind her, emerging just as the nine o’clock yoga class began in an adjacent room.
She peered into the studio through a wall of windows and did a double take when she recognized two of the class’s participants.
“You want to go in?” Mac asked, and looked relieved when Laura shook her head.
“Pass,” Laura told her, gazing disdainfully at the pair of girls in trendy pastel yoga outfits. “I’d rather fall in a pit of fire ants than sit in the same room with any of the Bimbo Cartel.” She turned her back on the window when she realized Camie and Trisha had spotted her and were staring back, heads bent together, whispering.
“Oh, yeah.” Mac caught on fast enough. “Wow, I’m actually surprised that the Queen of Hos let those toadies out of her sight. I didn’t think they went anywhere without her.”
“I guess she gives them time off so they can attend their Yoga for Anorexic Chicks with Giant Fake Boobs Class,” Laura got out with a straight face.
“Well, I’m surprised Jo Lynn’s missing that one,” Mac cracked back.
Even Laura couldn’t resist smiling. “All right, let’s sweat fast and then bounce before they’re done with doggy poses. I don’t want to run into either one in the locker room. I might hurl my granola bar.”
“So long as you aim for their shoes and not mine,” Mac said, pushing at the bridge of her black-rimmed glasses as she glanced down at her unsullied white Asics. “These suckers are brand-spankin’-new.”
“Then it’s time to break them in.”
“Let’s do the elliptical machines,” Mac suggested.
“Fine,” Laura agreed, busy glancing around the gym, relieved to find it relatively empty, except for a gray-haired woman in velour sweats on a recumbent bike, and a couple of guys using the weight bench, one spotting while the other lifted. She squinted harder at them.
Mac had already started walking toward an open machine, but Laura found herself frozen in place, stuck on the dudes pumping iron.
Isn’t that Dillon Masters on the bench? And is that—Oh, God
Laura’s heart stopped for a split second until she realized the guy spotting Dillon wasn’t Avery Dorman. Maybe it was the light brown hair (cut a little too short) or the broad shoulders (that weren’t quite broad enough) … or just her wishful thinking.
look familiar, somehow, like she’d seen him before at one of the Caldwell football games. Was he another player? Or a team trainer maybe? He did look a little older on second glance. Well, whoever he was, he stood hovering above Dillon as Jo Lynn’s boy-toy grimaced, lifting the heavily weighted bar above his chest, holding it for a couple seconds, and then lowering it again.
So Jo Lynn’s two BFFs
her man are at the club without the Chief Bimbo anywhere around to keep an eye on them?
If Jo Lynn had any idea that Laura was standing right across the fitness room from Dillon this very moment, it would totally freak her out.
Hmm, this could get interesting
The thought of messing with Jo Lynn’s head was way too tempting, Laura decided, making up her mind just as she caught the loud clank as Dillon finished his set and dropped the bar back into its cradle.
She wiped her hands on her yoga pants and lifted her chin, then started walking across the gym toward the weight bench.
“Laura?” Mac called from the nearby elliptical machine. “Where’re you going?”
“Be back in a sec,” she promised, and kept on strolling through the neat rows of equipment, homing in on the
weight bench where Dillon resumed his presses; his biceps and triceps bulging impressively. His rock-hard pecs strained against his sweat-soaked Caldwell Mustangs T-shirt, which was damp enough to outline his abs, which looked more eight-pack than six-pack.
“… but if you go to Austin, that’s just a couple hours’ drive from here,” Laura caught Dillon’s pal saying to him.
“You’re assuming I’ll sign with the Longhorns,” Dillon shot back. “But I don’t want to be red-shirted, dude, and I don’t want to play third string. I want to start as a freshman. I’m not playing by my dad’s rules my whole senior year for nothing—”