Authors: Melody Carlson
Tags: #Young Adult, #(¯`'•.¸//(*_*)\\¸.•'´¯)
“Just that…you guys are both Christians…and maybe you should try being nicer to her.”
DJ shrugged. “Yeah, maybe. We were actually just talking about that. Sort of.”
Rhiannon brightened. “Good. I thought you’d understand.”
Taylor’s mouth twisted into a half-smile. “This could be a challenge, but it might be kind of fun too.”
“Thanks, you guys.” Rhiannon stood now. “I don’t think you’ll be sorry either. I mean, it’s not like getting into fights is fun, right?”
“I don’t know.” Taylor chuckled. “I used to kind of enjoy it.”
“But that was the old you,” Rhiannon reminded her. “God’s at work in the new you. Remember.”
“I’ll try.” Taylor looked at the clock by her bed. “In the meantime I’d better get ready. Harry will be here soon.”
DJ thought about what Rhiannon had said while Taylor was getting ready for her date. It actually made sense. Not that it would be easy being nice to Eliza. But it was probably the right thing to do. And who knew…maybe in time Eliza would change. After all, Taylor had changed—was still changing. And so was DJ. So miracles could still happen.
“Harry and I are going to host a dinner before the Rockabilly dance,” Taylor announced at the breakfast table on Tuesday morning. “Naturally, you’re all invited.”
“Naturally,” Eliza repeated in a saccharine tone.
Taylor’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly as she smiled at Eliza. “It’ll be at the beach house.”
“Sort of a repeat of the dinner party we had before the Winter Ball?” Eliza ventured.
“Except for one thing.” Taylor looked directly at Grandmother now. “There will be no alcohol served.”
“Goodness!” Grandmother looked shocked. “Was alcohol served at the other dinner party?”
Everyone got very quiet.
“As a matter of fact, there was,” Taylor continued carefully. “But that won’t be happening this time. Harry and I will make sure of it.”
Grandmother sighed. “Well, that’s a relief. I’d hate to think that any of my girls are participating in underage drinking.”
“And if anyone brings alcohol to the dinner party”—Taylor looked directly at Eliza now—“it will be confiscated and disposed of.”
Eliza put on her most innocent face. “Well, of course it will. Not that any of our friends would do something like that.”
“No,” Taylor nodded. “I’m sure they wouldn’t.”
Thanks to Rhiannon, the conversation now shifted to dance clothes. Her plan was to have everyone try their outfits on Wednesday night. “I’ll have to miss youth group,” she said. “But there’s really no other way to get this done. We’ll have a fitting and then I can do my final alterations on Thursday after school,” she told them.
“And I’ve decided to go with a slightly different rockabilly style,” Eliza said. “Actually, it’s more authentic than what Rhiannon’s putting together.”
Rhiannon sort of rolled her eyes. “It depends on how you define authentic, Eliza.” Then she smiled. “But if you want to look like Marilyn Monroe goes country, I’m okay with it.”
Eliza laughed. “I happen to think Marilyn Monroe is hot.”
“This will be such fun,” said Grandmother happily. “I love seeing you girls all dressed up for these little events. Maybe I should invite the general to come with his camera again.”
The plans continued and before long it was time to head to school.
“That was brilliant,” DJ told Taylor as they drove to school.
“What was brilliant?” asked Casey from the backseat.
“Banning alcohol from the dinner party.”
“Thanks.” Taylor put on her shades. “I figured we’d just nip this thing in the bud. A preemptive strike.”
Casey laughed. “You seriously think Harry can keep the other guys from bringing booze?”
“Conner and Harry will talk to them,” said DJ. And although she hadn’t mentioned this to Conner, she knew she could count on him.
“And I think Rhiannon can convince Bradford to climb on the wagon,” Taylor continued. “He’s never been a big boozer anyway.”
“And I’m pretty sure that Josh only drinks to be social,” added DJ.
“Meaning that just leaves Seth and Lane?” asked Casey.
“Pretty much.” Taylor turned around to look at Casey. “I’m sure you don’t want Seth to drink, Casey.”
“What makes you so sure?” Casey’s tone was sharp now, almost like a challenge.
“For your sake, I don’t think you’d like to have Seth drinking.”
“Remember what happened with Garrison,” DJ reminded her. “Going to the Winter Ball in a barf-soaked dress wasn’t too—”
“In case you forgot, I never made it to the dance.”
“Just my point, Casey,” persisted DJ. “Why go back there again?”
“I’ve never seen Seth wasted like that.”
“Trust me,” said Taylor, “you don’t want to.”
That shut Casey up, but DJ could tell that she was fuming. And as soon as the car was parked at school, Casey grabbed her stuff, jumped out, and took off.
“Guess I stepped on her toes,” said Taylor as she slung a strap of her bag over her shoulder.
“I don’t know why she’s being so hypersensitive.”
“Probably because she’s a little insecure,” said Taylor evenly, “and because she feels things deeply.”
DJ considered this. Taylor was right. Casey was insecure and she did take things hard. But what good did it do her in the long run? She usually just ended up hurting herself as well as those around her. “Casey needs God in her life,” stated
DJ as they went into the school. “
would make a huge difference.”
“Amen, sister!” Taylor gave DJ a high five and laughed.
It wasn’t that DJ hadn’t been praying for Casey. And DJ sometimes tried to share her faith with her. But Casey usually acted like she knew it all, like she’d heard it before. After all, Casey had been raised in a “Christian home.” Never mind that her parents fought like they wanted to kill each other sometimes. But Casey wasn’t exactly open to listening to anyone talk about God. Plus, she continued to question Taylor’s sincerity. In some ways, Casey seemed like she was the on path to fall flat on her face…but maybe that would get her attention and help her to rethink some things. DJ hoped so.
But DJ wasn’t prepared for how Casey suddenly seemed to be aligning herself with Eliza. It just made no sense. In so many ways, Eliza was everything that Casey claimed to hate—superficial, materialistic, stuck-up, and insincere. DJ had even heard Casey refer to her as “plastic.” And yet, there was Casey, sitting next to Eliza at the lunch table, laughing together like they were the best of friends. It felt even weirder when DJ saw Rhiannon joining in—like the three of them were the new It group, surrounded by several guys and enjoying the attention. Kriti was there too, although she had her nose stuck in a book. But the really odd thing was that no one had saved DJ a seat.
DJ glanced around, looking for Taylor, and saw her just coming into the cafeteria. She waved and together they found empty seats at a nearby table.
“This is different,” said Taylor as they sat down. “Are we being shunned or something?”
“I don’t know. But it seemed a little weird to me.”
“I’m sure we could’ve forced our way in, but this might be more interesting.” Taylor nodded toward the table where Eliza was keeping her little audience of girls and guys entertained with a story about what she’d done for spring break last year. It seemed she was speaking loudly so that DJ and Taylor would be sure to notice, not to mention embellishing it for the sake of her listeners, but who could know for sure?
“She seems like she’s up to something,” observed Taylor.
“And that surprises you?” DJ opened a ketchup package and squirted it onto her burger.
“Hey, ladies,” Harry called out as if he’d just noticed that Taylor and DJ were at another table. “What’re you doing over there?”
Taylor just smiled. “Eating lunch…by ourselves.”
He frowned. “Intentionally?”
Taylor pointed to the table. “No room over there.”
Just then Conner showed up, taking the seat next to DJ. Within seconds their table filled up, and suddenly Taylor was the center of the conversation. DJ wasn’t sure if Taylor was enjoying this attention or not, but she did notice that Eliza was watching. It felt like there was some kind of secret competition going on between the two girls.
“I’ve made it clear to everyone that our dinner party will not involve alcohol,” Taylor was explaining to Harry.
“What kind of party is that?” asked Garrison.
DJ frowned at him. “A party where someone doesn’t end up barfing on his date.”
“Low blow,” he said to her.
“Besides, you don’t even have a date, old boy,” Harry pointed out.
Garrison nodded over toward Haley and Daisy. Both girls had just joined their table and had been listening in with
interest. “I might have a date.” He winked at Daisy now. “But I heard that the girls are supposed to do the asking.”
DJ wanted to tell Daisy to run for her life, but it was too late.
“Is that a hint?” Daisy asked him boldly.
He grinned at her. “Yeah, I can rockabilly with the best of them.”
Now she looked perplexed, like maybe she was rethinking this.
“Come on, Daisy,” he urged her. “It’ll be fun.”
“If you ask Garrison,” Haley challenged her, “I’ll ask Nick Jefferson.”
Daisy’s eyes gleamed like this was a dare. “Okay,” she declared. “You better not embarrass me now, Garrison.”
He waited, and DJ cringed to imagine how humiliated Daisy would be if he was just jerking her chain. Poor Daisy was still getting used to her new image since her transforming makeover. And DJ wasn’t sure if the
Daisy was really ready for the
one. Fortunately, thanks to Daisy’s continued interest in sports, Eliza had given up on trying to turn Daisy into her permanent patsy. But even so, Daisy had changed.
“Okay,” Daisy continued. “Want to go to the dance with me, Garrison?”
His brows lifted in a flirty way. “Oh, yeah, I sure do.”
“You should dress up like Daisy Mae,” suggested Taylor.
“Daisy Mae?” Daisy looked confused.
“It’s a rockabilly dance,” Taylor pointed out.
“Haven’t you ever heard of Li’l Abner?” Taylor asked her.
As it turned out, most of them hadn’t heard of the old classic comic strip, but Taylor borrowed Harry’s laptop, clicked onto a website, and explained the hillbilly characters to everyone
with so much dash and style that her audience quickly grew. Funny what it sometimes took to draw a crowd. “My dad was a big fan of Al Capp,” she told them.
By now several others had abandoned Eliza’s table and joined this other group, and Lane was looking on with interest. “Hey, I should tell my mom about this,” he said with enthusiasm. “She’s helping with decorations and stuff, so she might find some inspiration here.”
“Wow, Daisy Mae is hot,” said Garrison as he pointed to the blonde bombshell in skimpy clothes. “I think Taylor’s right, Daisy.” He pointed to his date. “You should go as Daisy Mae.”
Lane nudged DJ. “You’d make a good Daisy Mae too.”
Conner’s brow creased. “Shouldn’t you be saying that to Eliza?”
Lane just laughed. “Hey, it’s a free country. A guy can look, can’t he?”
“You can look,” DJ said in a forced light tone, “but don’t touch.”
Conner laughed, but still looked slightly uncomfortable. “Yeah, that’s right.”
Lane grinned with an odd twinkle in his eye. “Hey, Conner, did I hear you’re not joining us in Palm Beach next week?”
“Soccer playoffs.” Conner tossed DJ a sympathetic look. “But I might try to make it by the end of the week.” Then he turned to Lane. “If I’m still invited.”
“Oh, sure,” Lane said easily. “I don’t back out of an offer.” He glanced around the crowded table. “And for you guys who’re thinking about the Rockabilly dance, you better get your tickets. I hear they might be sold out soon.”
“Isn’t he the best promoter?” said Eliza as she joined Lane, slipping her arm into his elbow possessively. “I’ll bet your mama is proud of you.”
He just laughed. “Come on, Liza Jane, we need to discuss how we’re going to make you into a Daisy Mae in time for the dance.”
“She’ll need implants,” Taylor whispered into DJ’s ear as she pointed to the voluptuous Daisy Mae character on the website, “or maybe a set of falsies and a good push-up bra.”
DJ laughed. But then she got it. So that’s why Lane was suggesting that DJ could be Daisy Mae. The insinuation was rather irritating. But the first bell rang and the cafeteria began to empty out.
“That Lane is a real piece of work,” Conner told DJ as he walked her halfway to her class. They stopped in the hall between the science and math departments. “Tell me you couldn’t see that he was flirting with you.”
“I think he flirts with everyone,” DJ said lightly. “I’ve seen him hitting on Taylor too.”
“Well, I don’t trust him.”
DJ just shrugged. “He’s just a jerk, Conner. Don’t let him get to you.”
Then it was time to go. As DJ hurried to Botany, she felt conflicted. On one hand it was a little aggravating for Conner to be that possessive of her. On the other hand, it was kind of nice. But she felt that his concern about Lane was overblown. Seriously, why would Lane be that interested in her? And even if he was, she wasn’t the least bit interested in him. Plus there was the Eliza factor. DJ had no intention of attracting that girl’s jealousy—even if it was unfounded.
Grandmother allowed Rhiannon to use the third story ballroom as her design boutique. It wasn’t only the Carter House girls taking advantage of her creativity, but several other girls from school as well. By Thursday, the day before the dance, Rhiannon had managed to help put together outfits for about ten girls and several guys as well. She didn’t make everything from scratch, but she had such a knack for putting bits and pieces together that it all seemed to work out and, for the most part, everyone was pleased. But DJ had been surprised when Casey had gone along with Eliza, choosing to get her outfit from a costume store in town. As it turned out, Eliza was footing the bill, so that explained part of it. But it still didn’t explain Casey’s sudden interest in Eliza.
“You’re really making some money,” DJ pointed out as she slipped another check into Rhiannon’s cash bag (actually an old beaded evening bag that Rhiannon had given her to use). DJ was assisting Rhiannon in her little business venture by acting as “cashier.”
“I know,” Rhiannon told her as she continued running her sewing machine, stitching some kind of funky red trim along
the edge of a skirt made from several bandanas. “It’s so cool. I mean, I almost feel like I’m a real designer.”
“You are a real designer,” DJ pointed out. “You’re designing clothes and being paid to do it. How much more real does it get?”
Rhiannon nodded as she removed the skirt and clipped the threads. “How’s that?”
“Perfect,” said Haley as she took the skirt and held it up. “Thanks, Rhiannon! And I agree with DJ, you are a real designer.”
“How does this look?” called out Daisy as she emerged from the makeshift dressing room—several sheets suspended by a wire in a corner.
Taylor let out a hoot as she entered the room. “Daisy Kemp-ton, you look just like Daisy Mae,” she called out. “Except we need to work on that hair—it needs to be puffy and curly and will probably involve some backcombing and hairspray.”
look like Daisy Mae.” DJ couldn’t help but laugh at the red-and-white-spotted peasant blouse and tight red skirt with a jagged hem.
“But do I really go barefooted?” asked Daisy with concern.
“You could wear cowboy boots until you get to the dance,” suggested Taylor. “But if you’re going for the real thing, you should go barefoot. And you need red lipstick.”
“Are you here to try on your outfit?” Rhiannon asked Taylor. “It’s not quite ready, but I could—”
“It’s okay,” Taylor told her. “I just wanted to see how it’s going.” She lowered her voice as Daisy went back to change into her street clothes. “And I thought you’d be interested to hear that Eliza and Casey are trying on their outfits downstairs.”
“How do they look?” asked Rhiannon with concern. DJ knew that her feelings had been hurt by them looking elsewhere for their dance clothes.
Taylor grinned. “Pretty lame.”
Rhiannon looked relieved. “I guess I shouldn’t gloat,” she admitted. “But tell us about them.”
“The only reason I know is because I wanted to borrow Kriti’s biology book to do some last-minute studying for my final tomorrow. And when I went into her room, Casey and Eliza were there trying on their stuff.” Taylor chuckled. “Eliza didn’t appreciate the intrusion, but just so you know, I was very polite and I told them both that they looked great. Actually, I think I told them that they looked hot.” She laughed. “And that’s not untrue. They look like hookers from the fifties.”
“And they think that’s rockabilly?”
“I guess it’s one kind of rockabilly, or at least that’s what the salesman at the costume store told them.” Taylor picked up a big belt buckle. “But I think it’s hokey and I have a feeling Eliza is regretting not letting you design an outfit. Yours are superior by far.”
“Thanks, Taylor.” Rhiannon continued to sew. “Unfortunately, it’s too late for me to help them.”
“Looks like Eliza and Casey will have to go as rocka-hookers,” said DJ. “I just hope they’re not sorry.” DJ was thinking more about Casey than Eliza. In some ways, Eliza was simply getting what she asked for. But Casey…well, that was different. For some reason she was being pulled into Eliza’s game and DJ just hoped that Casey wasn’t getting in over her head.
Before long, the room cleared out and it was just Rhiannon and DJ. “I’m kind of worried about Casey,” DJ admitted as Rhiannon continued to sew.
“Yeah, me too.” Rhiannon glanced up then turned her attention back to the sewing machine. “And I feel partly to blame because I gave her that ‘we should be nicer to Eliza’ speech too.”
“Seems like she took it a little too seriously.”
“Oh, rats!” Rhiannon stopped sewing and pulled out the piece and shook her head. “I sewed that on wrong.”
“I should probably quit distracting you.” DJ stepped away. “Besides, I need to study for a botany test anyway.”
“Tell Taylor that you guys can come try on your outfits in…let’s see…” She looked at her watch. “Is eleven too late?”
“That’s pretty late for you, Rhiannon.” DJ looked down at her hardworking redheaded friend and suddenly got worried. “Hey, what about your classes? Do you have time to study?”
Rhiannon just nodded as she used a tool to rip out a seam. “I’ll be fine.”
“Because you don’t want your grades to—”
“I said I’ll be fine!”
DJ took another step back and just looked at Rhiannon. She knew that making money was important to her, but school should be important too. Rhiannon had been hoping to go to a good design school. But wouldn’t she need decent grades to do that? “Later,” DJ called as she headed out. Hopefully, Rhiannon was right. Hopefully, she was fine.
The late-night fitting went well and both DJ and Taylor were pleased with Rhiannon’s work. “Aren’t you going to bed, Rhiannon?” DJ asked as she and Taylor started to leave.
“Not yet.” Rhiannon was back at her sewing machine. “I have to finish this.”
“Don’t overdo it,” Taylor warned.
“I’m fine,” Rhiannon shot back in an irritated tone.
After Taylor and DJ left, DJ felt even more concerned. And, once they were back in their room, she voiced this to Taylor.
“I know.” Taylor nodded. “I think she’s working too hard.”
“I mean, it’s been a good distraction,” DJ admitted. “I haven’t heard her mention her mom once this past week.”
“The good news is that the dance is tomorrow,” Taylor pointed out. “And even if Rhiannon is exhausted by then, she’ll have all of spring break to relax.”
“Well, besides our little photo shoot.”
“Your grandmother promised it was only a one-day thing.”
“Let’s hope so.”
“Anyway, it won’t do Rhiannon any good to worry about her.” Taylor was rubbing cream onto her elbows now.
“But we can pray.”
Taylor nodded as she put the cap back on the cream. “Exactly.”
DJ wanted to ask Taylor if she ever wanted to pray together, but somehow DJ couldn’t quite get the words out. Besides, she was sleepy. Maybe some other time.
Taylor had taken charge of ordering the food for the dinner party at Harry’s family’s beach house. And since they were unsure of the number of guests (it kept changing), she had eventually told the caterers to plan on twenty-four guests. “Does that sound okay?” she asked DJ after her final phone call on Friday morning.
“I guess it’s better to have too much than too little.”
“Precisely my thinking.”
“And do we need any kind of a plan…I mean, just in case someone tries to sneak in some booze?” asked DJ as she pulled into the school parking lot.
“Conner and Bradford promised to act as bouncers so that Harry and I can play hosts.”
“And I can help them,” offered DJ.
Taylor chuckled. “Yes, I can just imagine you flexing some muscle in your cute little rockabilly costume. They’ll be sure to take you real seriously.”
“I’ll have on my cowboy boots,” she pointed out. “I could really kick some…booze-smuggling behind.” She laughed. “Hopefully that won’t be necessary.”
By the end of the school day, it felt like the entire school was on some kind of a high. Classes were finished and spring break seemed to have broken out fully. Suddenly everyone was acting like they’d just been released from a long prison sentence. Carter House was no different as the girls rushed about putting together the final touches to their rockabilly outfits as well as packing their bags for tomorrow’s travels to Florida. Taylor was helping with makeup, and since Rhiannon (their usual hair expert) was still doing some last-minute alterations, Grandmother had brought in her own hairdresser, Val, to help the girls with their hair. His makeshift salon was located in the library.
“So I hear you girls are going to do a swimsuit shoot down in Palm Beach,” Val said as he rolled a section of DJ’s bangs onto a hot roller. “Wish you needed a hairdresser down there. I adore Palm Beach.”
“Did you mention that to my grandmother?”
Val laughed. “As a matter of fact, I did. And she turned me down flat.”
“Tell me about it. Poor Val stuck up here in Connecticut while you girls are down there living the life. I hear the general’s house is amazing.”
“Right on the beach, but it has a pool too. Sometimes I think I was born into the wrong family.” He shook his head sadly as he rolled up another section of hair. “I feel like there’s a poor little rich boy trapped inside of me. And that I just need
to find those wealthy ancestors that forgot to leave me all their beautiful estates and money.”
DJ laughed. “I think being rich is highly overrated.”
He chuckled. “Yes, you’re probably right.” Now he lowered his voice. “It doesn’t seem to make our rich little heiress very happy. That girl was in such a snit when I did her hair earlier.”
“Oh, I know I shouldn’t gossip.” He chuckled. “But I AM a hairdresser, what can I say? Anyway, I asked Miss Eliza about what she was wearing to the dance—you know, so I’d know what kind of a hairstyle she was going for. But, goodness, the girl was perfectly rude about the whole thing.”
He nodded as he began to unroll a hot roller that had apparently been on long enough. “Yes, it seems that Miss Eliza had hoped to ace the best-looking outfit at the dance, but somehow her efforts went sour and now she’s not a very happy camper.”
DJ laughed. “She had the chance to have a designer original and she passed.”
“Yes, our little Rhiannon is quite the talent, isn’t she?”
“She’s been working really hard.” DJ considered this. “She doesn’t have any rich ancestors either.”
“So, I suppose this is a good reminder that money does NOT buy happiness.” He laughed. “Not that I wouldn’t like to give it a shot sometime.”
Val continued to rattle on about money and a friend of his who had just purchased a beautiful home in Martha’s Vineyard, and how he’d been hinting for an invitation for weeks now. “At least I might have a chance of meeting someone wealthy up there,” he said as he undid the final roller. “If you
can’t be born into money, there’s always the possibility of marrying it.”
DJ laughed as he brushed out her curls, fluffing them up and backcombing them until she looked like a bad imitation of an old western singer. “Now, remember I’m not the one wearing the hooker dress, okay?”
He nodded. “Oh, yeah, I was getting carried away.” He pulled it back into a very full-looking ponytail. “How about this?” He fluffed out her bangs.
“Perfect!” she declared.
“And maybe Rhiannon can find you a nice big ribbon to tie it with.”
“Thanks, Val,” she told him. “Shall I assume that Grandmother is handling your tip too?”
He gave her a sly look. “I cannot tell a lie, she is. But here’s a tip for you, Sweetheart.”
“Watch your backside.”
“You know I don’t like to gossip, but I overheard Miss Eliza on her cell phone. And I don’t know what she was planning, but it sounded suspicious and your name came up.”
He nodded. “Like she was going to try to slip something past you and Taylor tonight.”
DJ nodded back at him. “Thanks for the heads up.”
“Don’t say you heard it here.”
DJ hurried back to her room, hoping she could tip off Taylor. But it seemed she’d already left. DJ knew that she and Harry had planned to head to the beach house early in order to get
things set up. So DJ tried Taylor’s cell and then told her about Val’s warning.
“Thanks,” Taylor told her. “We’ll be on high alert.”
“And I’ll let you know if I snoop out anything around here.”
“I’m sure it’s just that they think they can sneak alcohol into the dinner party.” Taylor didn’t sound too concerned. “And we’ll just deal with it.”
The general was on hand to take photos of the girls. He seemed to enjoy their outfits—particularly Eliza and Casey’s. “You girls remind me of something,” he said as he snapped some cheesy-looking pinup type shots. “Something from back when I was a young man.”
“Call girls?” DJ whispered to Rhiannon.
Rhiannon suppressed a giggle.
“What’s so funny?” asked Casey as she sauntered over toward them.
“Everything,” said DJ as she looked down at her lace-trimmed denim skirt and stuck out a pointy-toed cowboy boot. “I mean, look at us, we all look pretty crazy.” She tried not to stare at the bulging bodice of Eliza’s low-cut hot pink satin dress, but it did seem that some kind of “enhancing” was going on there. Not that DJ planned to mention this.
“Crazy good,” said Rhiannon.
Just then Conner arrived, and DJ realized they needed to get moving if they were going to head off the booze smugglers at the dinner party. “See you guys soon,” she called to the others as she and Conner left.
“You look great,” she told him as she admired the red fitted rockabilly cowboy shirt. “Did Rhiannon find that shirt for you?”
“She did.” He smiled as he opened the door of his pickup for her. “And you are looking mighty fine yourself, little lady.”
He slapped the big buckle on his belt. “This actually belongs to my dad,” he said proudly. “He won it one summer when he was out West working on his aunt’s ranch.”
“At a real rodeo?”