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Authors: Emmy Laybourne

Sweet

BOOK: Sweet
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For my father.

I became a novelist

because you love story.

 

LAUREL

DAY ONE

A GUY WEARING SKINNY JEANS
and a neon-blue fedora is leaping into the air, vaulting up onto the backs of the people in the crowd, waving like crazy and shouting, “Baby Tom-Tom! Baby Tom-Tom!” like a man on fire calling for a bucket.

The dock is a zoo. Fans, maybe two thousand fans, are crammed into the space on either side of a red carpet that extends from the limo drop-off point, all the way up the dock, up a narrow gangplank and onto the luxury cruise liner, the
Extravagance.

It's dawning on me that I've made a terrible mistake: I walked.

My parents dropped me off way back at the ship terminal after besieging me with last-minute instructions about everything from cell phone usage to alcohol poisoning.

I should have come with Vivika. She begged me to join her in the limo her dad rented for her. But, eh, I felt like I didn't want to show up like some pseudo-celebrity in a rented limo.

Well, it turns out that when you're boarding a cruise that's filled to the brim with wannabe rock stars and reality-TV almost-rans, you want to be chauffeured. A limo means you wind up on the right side of the security guards and the red velvet cords.

I see a curvy, tan girl with a razor-straight brown pageboy haircut get out of a Hummer limo (yes, they make them) at the start of the red carpet.

It's Sabbi Ribiero, the Brazilian heiress from
Teens of New York
, along with several wealthy sidekicks. They all look polished and gorgeous, but not quite as polished and gorgeous as Sabbi, herself. Of course.

The fans go ballistic.

Uniformed bellmen start unloading stacks of leather matchy-matchy suitcases and hanging bags and valises and, God, hatboxes (hatboxes!) out of the trunk of the monstrous Hummer.

The lanky fellow in the blue fedora yells, “Sabbi! Sabbi, we love you!” and puts his hand on my head, to push off me like you would a fence post.

“Hey!” I shout. “That's my head!”

But he doesn't care. He's yelling to some off-site friend on his phone. “This scene is insane! I'd give anything to get on that boat!”

Hmmm, I feel the exact opposite way. I sorta feel like I'd give anything
not
to get on that boat. How did I let my best friend talk me into coming on this—the Solu “Cruise to Lose”? The most famous cruise since the
Titanic
?

I have to get onto the carpet. Vivika's already on board and her texts are getting apoplectic in tone. I don't blame her. I'm late, as usual.

If the ship is going to leave on time it's leaving in the next, yikes, twenty minutes.

Okay, I tell myself. You can do this. I close my eyes and take a deep breath.

Being pushy is not really in my wheelhouse. But I told Viv I'd come with her on this freak show and unless I get through this crowd and onto the other side of the red stanchions, it ain't gonna happen.

So I start shoving.

“Out of the way! Make way! Coming through!”

I elbow and push, dragging my mom's rolling suitcase behind me and using my extra-large handbag (which Viv calls “the Boho beast”) as a kind of very soft and lumpy weapon. My guitar, safely strapped to my back in its hard shell, isn't helping, although I do thwack a few irritating people on the head with it (by accident, mostly) on the way.

Finally, I make it to one of the guards standing at the left side of the red carpet.

“Hi!” I say.

He nods.

“I need to get in.”

He eyes my guitar.

“You gonna play for change?”

“Oh,” I say. “That's funny. No. I'm actually a passenger.”

He arches his eyes in surprise.

“Yeah, I know,” I say. “Strange, but true.”

“You just walkin' up, huh?”

“Yep.”

He's enjoying this now. “Just walkin'. You a local?”

I nod. He's really having fun. People are pressing up behind me and cursing my luggage.

“Couldn't get a lift or nothin'?”

I rifle in my purse and come up with my ticket case, a slim padded leather case embossed with the single word: SOLU. Some kids behind me jostle forward as another celebrity passes on the carpet. I think it's a famous chef guy.

“Ease up, now,” the guard bellows to the crowd behind, “this girl here has a ticket!”

I feel like Charlie Bucket for a second as people around me gasp and stare.

“Who is she?” a girl whispers.

“I don't know … Nobody, I don't think,” her friend answers.

Nice. (True, of course.)

I flash the man my ticket. The people around me are now taking my picture with their phones as the guard inspects my ticket.

“Maybe she's a rock star!” somebody guesses.

Yeah, right. (I'm an amateur classical guitarist.)

“It's legit,” the guard says, regarding my ticket. People around me literally
gasp.

The guard unhooks the stanchion and lets me onto the carpet.

“Hey!” he yells. “We need a bellman over here!”

I shoulder my handbag and pull my mom's rollaway bag onto the red carpet and stand there like the dork of the century.

Here's the picture:

•
Awkward, slightly chubby girl.

• Most of wavy, strawberry-blond hair escaping the “Easy Crown Braid” hairstyle I tried-really-hard-and-failed to copy from
Seventeen
magazine.

• Guitar on back.

• Freckles. Too many. Everywhere.

• Combat boots on feet with wool socks my grandma knit peeking out the top.

• Cool white Indian tunic from India Bazaar now crushed, sweaty, and ripped at hem.

• Jeans shorts looking dumb when I thought they'd look rocker classy.

• My face blushing beet red under the numerous freckles.

• My expression clearly showing that I would like to sink into the red carpet and disappear forever.

Also, I should have worn more makeup than Carmex and mascara.

Then, fate intervenes in the form of a slim black man with a magnificent handlebar mustache, dressed in a fashionable seersucker suit with a pocket square in a calming shade of lavender.

He strides toward me, holding a clipboard and looking like he was born and raised to run a red carpet.

“Darling! It's me, Rich. Rich Weller, the publicist for the cruise,” he says, feigning some prior acquaintance. (As if anyone on earth could ever have met him and then
forgotten
him.) He kisses me on one cheek, then the other. I think we're through, then he kisses me again on the first cheek. Three kisses.

“Come with me, sugar,” he says. His tone is intimate and friendly and clearly conveys that he knows I am a fish out of water and is doing his best to try to help me not make an ass out of myself. (Ass-Fish? Fish-ass?) “Leave your bags.”

When I don't move immediately, he says, “Just drop them.”

I let go of the handle of my mom's suitcase and, of course, it plonks over onto its belly with an awkward
thomp.
A grinning Indonesian bellman sweeps in and lifts the bag onto a cart.

“May I carry your instrument, miss?” the bellman asks, gesturing to my guitar. He gives me a friendly smile.

“That would be loverly, Imade,” Rich says for me. Rich takes the guitar off my shoulders and hands it over.

Now I'm conscious of the sweat stains on my back. The tunic, well, it's a little see-through when you sweat like you're facing the guillotine, so everyone can now see the back of my bra where the sweat has made my shirt transparent and the chub that flows over and under the band. This just gets better and better.

Behind us, there are screams as a new celebrity (an actual celebrity, I should say) arrives. Thank God, the attention's off me.

“Tootsie pie, listen to me.” Rich murmurs. “Shoulders up, now. That's good. Now you go and walk that carpet, sis. Come on, stand up straight or they'll eat you alive.”

I gather myself up and square my shoulders to the carpet and the banks of photographers on either side.

You can do this, I tell myself.

I take two steps forward, and
whack,
Rich spanks me on the butt.

“Go get 'em, girl,” he tells me.

The photographers, God love them, don't take my picture! Oh, a couple do, but most of them are angling to snap some shots of the guy coming up the gangplank behind me (he's a reality-show God—survived on nothing but grubs for two weeks on some island where apparently all they have to eat is grubs).

At the top of the gangplank, a line is forming—the boarding passengers are backed up.

It's a check-in line, where you give them your ticket and they hand you some kind of ID card, but that's not why there's a backup.

There's a weigh station.

You hand them your card, then hop on a scale. They record your weight and swipe your card.

Okay, so I knew that this cruise had a weight-loss contingent. The Solu Cruise to Lose has been all over the talk shows and tabloids for months now. Solu is this new diet sweetener that not only sweetens your coffee, but makes you lose weight. And when the divorce between Viv's parents became final, it seemed pretty clear that Vivvy's dad would give her pretty much anything she wanted. Well, this was what she wanted. To go on the cruise. (She's been unhappy with her weight since preschool. I remember her love-hate affair with graham crackers and apple juice.) They say that each of us will lose 5–10 percent of our body weight during the cruise's seven-day trip.

So I knew all that. And I agreed to go because—well, a luxury cruise? For free?! And living in Fort Lauderdale, we're always seeing the big ships come and go. I was so excited to actually be on one. To wave good-bye from the prow is something I will never get to do again in my life, I am sure!

But I did
not
know that we'd be publicly
weighed
before we were allowed to board the ship!

BOOK: Sweet
9.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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