Read Last Dance Online

Authors: Melody Carlson

Tags: #General Fiction, #(¯`'•.¸//(*_*)\\¸.•'´¯)

Last Dance (3 page)

3


I HAVE A SURPRISE FOR EVERYONE
,”
Grandmother announced after the girls quieted down in the third-story ballroom where they had just convened for modeling practice. She looked toward the door behind them, then waved her hand as if to invite someone in. “Our favorite designer—Dylan Marceau is here!”

Everyone turned to see Dylan stride into the room like a celebrity. The girls all stood and clapped as he joined Grandmother in front.

“And I’m happy to see that my favorite models are here.” Dylan smiled as he scanned the group. “As well as some new faces.”

Grandmother smiled. “Yes, we invited a few more of the local girls to join us for the Mother’s Day fashion show. Besides the eight girls at your New York debut, we have an additional four. Will you girls please stand when I say your names?” She glanced at her little cheat sheet. “Ariel Buford…Jolene Kranz…Tina Clark…Madison Dormont. I thought it might be nice to have an even dozen.”

“Very nice.” Dylan nodded.

DJ wasn’t inclined to agree. At least when it came to Madison and Tina. Those two girls still felt like trouble. But DJ was determined to do her best to get along. And if any catfights broke out, she would not be in the middle of them.

Dylan explained that the girls would be modeling the same line that they’d modeled during Fashion Week. “I apologize that it’s not the new spring line, but I must keep that top secret until fall.”

“But at least it will be new to Crescent Cove,” Grandmother pointed out. “And we are so appreciative to have Dylan honor us like this.”

“It’s
my
pleasure.” Dylan smiled at all the girls, but DJ sensed that his eyes were on Taylor. Not surprising, since Taylor was his favorite.

“And, just like you asked, I’ve found a choreographer who has volunteered to donate her time,” Grandmother told Dylan. “In fact, some of you girls probably know her—Miss Walford is the dance team coach at Crescent Cove High School.” This caused a few of the girls who were dance team members, including Tina and Madison, to clap with enthusiasm.

Grandmother glanced at her watch. “Miss Walford should be here any minute. She had an appointment to attend to first.”

“And I brought the music that I’d like you to use.” Dylan handed Grandmother a CD.

“Why don’t I have the girls do some runs on the catwalk while we wait for Miss Walford to arrive?”

“Sounds like a good plan,” Dylan said.

Grandmother clapped her hands, moving over to the stairs by the makeshift runway that they used for practice. “All right, girls, let’s get you lined up and ready to go.”

“If you don’t mind”—Dylan joined Grandmother—”I’d like to arrange them.”

“Certainly.” Grandmother stepped aside.

“Taylor, you will open the show.” He gave her a broad smile. “You’ll set the pace for everyone else to follow.”

Taylor nodded and went over to stand by him.

Now he scanned the girls. “Daisy I’d like you to be next. Then DJ, followed by Eliza.” Soon he had them lined up. But it seemed clear that he considered the first four to be his starting lineup. And while DJ felt flattered to be in the top four, it also made her a little uneasy. She suspected that some of the others, like Madison and Tina, might be jealous. But at least they couldn’t blame anyone but Dylan for this.

“Sorry I’m late,” called out Miss Walford as she came into the room. She had on jeans and a sweatshirt—not exactly Grandmother’s favorite sort of attire. But Grandmother was gracious to her, introducing her and explaining that they’d already begun to practice.

Soon the music was playing and Miss Walford coached the girls to move in some new ways and to strike some new poses. Dylan pointed out what he liked and what he didn’t, then eventually sat down and just watched. This was actually the part about modeling that DJ liked. It felt sort of like a sport and, no different from playing basketball or soccer, DJ focused on doing her best, and that meant imitating Taylor.

“You girls look fantastic,” Dylan said when the music ended. “I’m confident that you’ll do my styles honor on Mother’s Day.”

“And everyone is invited downstairs for a light brunch that Clara has prepared for us,” Grandmother announced. “Dylan, I hope you can stay a bit before you rush back to the city.”

“My pleasure.”

Soon they were all down in the dining room, eating and visiting. Madison quickly cornered Dylan, gushing about how much she loved his designs. But DJ wondered if Madison really
knew the difference between a Dylan Marceau and a Ralph Lauren. Not that DJ necessarily did. But she didn’t pretend to either.

“Do you want to make a break for it?” she asked Taylor as she set down her empty plate.

“Sure.” Taylor nodded toward Dylan. “But maybe we should tell him good-bye first.”

They went over and thanked Dylan for coming and told him they were leaving, but he wouldn’t hear of it. “You girls can’t go yet,” he said as if he was hurt. “What’s so important that you can’t spend a little more time with your old buddy Dylan?”

“Just prom dress shopping,” DJ admitted.

He nodded. “Well, that is important.”

“But we don’t have to rush off,” Taylor assured him.

He glanced around the room, then back to Taylor. “Is there someplace where we can talk privately?”

“The library,” DJ suggested.

“Thank you.” Dylan smiled. “And you come too, DJ. I know you and Taylor are good friends.”

DJ led the way to the library. She had little doubt about what Dylan was going to say to Taylor. He’d been taken with her right from the beginning. In fact, he’d already made one job offer to her following his New York debut, but Taylor later told him that she needed to finish high school first. And she’d confessed to DJ that she wasn’t sure that modeling would be the right fit for her—especially as a new Christian and recovering alcoholic. Taylor grasped that a model’s life would come with its challenges.

But as soon as they were seated in the library, Dylan began talking to Taylor about working for him. Following graduation, he wanted her to come to New York. “You would be my top model,” he told her. “Both in print and on the runway.”

“I’m really flattered,” she told him.

“You should be.” He grinned. “It’s a great opportunity.”

“I’m just not sure it’s right for me.”

“You don’t want to model professionally?”

Taylor’s face grew thoughtful, but she didn’t answer.

“Can I say something?” DJ ventured, glancing at Taylor for affirmation.

“Please, do.”

“I think I know why Taylor’s hesitant about this,” DJ began slowly. “We’ve all heard about how models get pulled into some pretty crazy lifestyles. My grandmother has shared stories about drugs and alcohol—”

“But not all models fall into that,” he said defensively. “Certainly not anyone as grounded and intelligent as Taylor.”

“I’m not as grounded as you think,” Taylor confessed. Then she proceeded to tell him about her stint in rehab last winter. “I’ve only been sober for less than four months.”

He nodded, taking this in.

“And Taylor’s been doing great,” DJ assured him. “She hasn’t fallen off the wagon once, have you, Taylor?”

“No.” Taylor shook her head. “It’s too scary to think about because I’m afraid if I fall off, I might not be able to get back on.”

Dylan seemed to be considering this.

“So, although your offer is amazing,” Taylor continued, “I think it’s wiser for me to say no.”

“What if DJ came with you?” he said suddenly. “You could both model for me. You two actually look great together, very complementary, and I could use DJ for the more—”

“Wait!” DJ held up her hands. “I don’t want to be a model.”

He frowned. “You don’t?”

“No.”

He looked skeptical. “I thought all girls wanted to be models.”

“Not DJ,” Taylor told him. “She’s never been into this. If Mrs. Carter wasn’t DJ’s grandmother, I’m sure DJ would’ve never put one foot on the runway. But she’s a really good athlete.”

He sighed. “So you’re turning me down?”

Taylor looked sad as she nodded. And suddenly DJ felt guilty like it was her fault that Taylor was missing out on this huge opportunity.

“I feel like the spoiler,” DJ admitted. “Like if I was willing, Taylor would be—”

“No, don’t think that,” Taylor said quickly.

“But you are disappointed, aren’t you?”

Taylor shrugged.

DJ turned to Dylan. “What if we worked for you during the summer?”

He brightened. “You’d do that?”

DJ nodded. “I could probably use some money for college tuition anyway.”

“Yes!” Dylan exclaimed. “You could make some good money in just one summer. I have a good friend with a modeling agency and I’ll bet you girls could get some work with her too, if you wanted.”

“You’re serious?” Taylor asked DJ. “You’d do that for me?”

“Just for one summer,” DJ said, wondering if she’d lost her mind completely.

Taylor jumped out of her chair and hugged DJ. “You’re the best!”

Dylan was standing now too, shaking both girls’ hands. “So, we have a deal then? You girls will come to New York for the summer and work for me?”

DJ felt like she was in shock as Dylan heartily shook her hand. Had she actually agreed to this? Voluntarily? Or was it all just a bad dream?

“You girls have made me the happiest man today” he told them. “In fact, I have an idea. You said you were going prom dress shopping, right?”

DJ nodded glumly. “Not that I was looking forward to it.”

“Well, now you don’t need to go.”

“Huh?”

“I will send both of you original Dylan Marceau gowns.”

“Seriously?” Taylor’s eyes lit up.

“Yes. We have your measurements and, if you’ll trust me, I will design gowns that will look perfect on both of you.”

“You’re kidding!” DJ could hardly believe her luck. She wasn’t going to have to go formal shopping after all.

“I totally trust you,” Taylor assured him.

“Me too!”

“To give you a heads-up, my assistant will send you color swatches,” he told them.

“Thank you,” Taylor said happily.

“Thank
you”
Dylan said back. Then he turned to DJ with real appreciation. “And
thank you!”

DJ still felt slightly blindsided as they rejoined the others. She couldn’t believe what she’d just agreed to, and even wondered if it still might be possible to back out of it. She’d apologize to Dylan and Taylor, explaining that she’d simply suffered temporary insanity. Then, before she knew what was happening, Dylan was telling Grandmother about their little agreement.

“Oh, Dylan,” Grandmother gushed. “That is fabulous! Absolutely fabulous!” She reached for DJ, pulling her close. “Oh, Desiree, you have made me so happy and proud!”

“But I—”

“Listen, listen, everyone,” Grandmother was calling out now. “We have an announcement to make—the most wonderful news! Dylan, you tell them!”

And suddenly Dylan was standing there in the dining room explaining to everyone how he’d just hired Taylor and DJ to model for him following graduation. Feeling slightly sick to her stomach, DJ watched the girls’ faces as they reacted to this “wonderful news.” Some, like Casey and Rhiannon, looked just as stunned as DJ felt. Others, like Madison and Tina and maybe even Eliza, looked seriously envious.

What in the world had DJ gotten herself into? And was it too late to get out?

4


I’M SO PROUD OF YOU, DEAR
.”
Grandmother’s eyes lit up as she patted DJ’s cheek with affection. DJ, Taylor, and Rhiannon had just gotten home from church when Grandmother stopped DJ in the foyer. “It’s so wonderful that you and Taylor have been selected to model for Dylan. Such a marvelous opportunity. I’ve already contacted a real-estate friend in Manhattan to find you girls a small studio to share. You must be so excited!”

DJ forced a smile. “I guess. Just don’t forget that I’ll only be doing this for the summer—just to earn some money for college.”

Grandmother smiled knowingly. “Yes, yes…we’ll see, won’t we.”

DJ knew better than to argue. Grandmother had already told DJ in no uncertain terms that “any girl with any sense” would model for as long as she could and attend college later. “You’re in your prime now,” she had insisted. “Trust me, it will end quickly enough.” As if DJ were some kind of hothouse orchid that would soon wilt and be worthless. DJ decided it was best to simply humor her. Besides, it was rather nice to be in Grandmother’s good graces for a change.

Fortunately, the general arrived in time to cut Grandmother’s little praise-fest short. “You two have a nice lunch,” DJ called as they left. Then she turned to see Casey at the top of the stairs, just standing there as if she’d been listening.

“Hey, Case,” DJ called out cheerfully as she hurried to catch her. “What’s up?”

Casey frowned. “Nothing.”

“What’s wrong?”

“What makes you think something’s wrong?”

“Your face.” DJ winced at how that probably sounded. “I mean you look unhappy.”

“Unhappy compared to what?”

“Huh?”

“I mean, just because your life’s all sweetness and light doesn’t mean that everyone else is miserable.”

“No, of course not. And, just for the record, my life
isn’t
all sweetness and light.”

“Yeah, right.”

“If you’re talking about the modeling gig, trust me, it’s not anything I wanted.”

Casey’s eyes narrowed. “Then why are you doing it?”

DJ glanced over to her closed bedroom door. Not that she would say anything that Taylor didn’t already know.

“I know why you’re doing it,” Casey continued. “Because you think you’re helping Taylor. But you know what I think?”

“What?”

“I think you’re doing it to help yourself.”

DJ shrugged. “Well, it’ll be nice to earn some college money.”

“I’m sure that’s part of why you’re doing it. But I think, even though you complain about all this fashion biz, you secretly like it.”

DJ laughed. “That’s nuts.”

“I don’t think so, DJ. I’ve known you for a long time, and you’ve always been out there doing sports, soaking up all the glory—you love being the center of attention.”

“I do not.”

Casey nodded. “I think you do.”

DJ didn’t know what to say. And what was the point of this conversation anyway? Why was Casey needling her like this? “So, what if you’re right, Casey? Suppose I do like the limelight? What difference does that make to you?”

Casey seemed to consider this. “It just proves to me that you really have changed.”

“But you said I was
always
like that…that I
always
wanted to be the center of attention.”

“Well, you’re just not who I thought you were, DJ. That’s all I’m saying.”

DJ had to control herself. She wanted to shoot the exact same accusation back at Casey, but knew that would probably start a fight. And DJ did not want to fight. “I guess we all change…” she said quietly. “I mean, it’s probably just part of growing up. No one can stay the same.”

Casey nodded sadly. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“Hey, Casey,” called Rhiannon, “I thought you were coming to look at my sketches for your dress.”

“Yeah, I’m coming.” Casey turned and followed Rhiannon into her room. And DJ just stood there scratching her head. What was that conversation really about? And why did it feel like Casey was mad at her?

Eliza emerged from her room looking exasperated. “I really think that Casey and Rhiannon should go back to being roommates. It’s like the little dressmaker is taking over all the space in there.”

DJ tried not to laugh, since everyone knew that Eliza normally hogged not only the closets but most of the room as well. “Maybe you can talk Kriti into switching with her.”

“Maybe.” Eliza frowned. “Speaking of Kriti, did she remind you that my campaign party is tonight at six?”

“Yes, and I can hardly wait.”

Eliza put her face close to DJ’s. “Just because you and Taylor think you’re about to become supermodels doesn’t mean you have to treat the rest of us like dirt.”

“I’m not treating anyone like dirt.”

“Well, just in case this whole New York modeling thing goes to your head…”

DJ rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right.”

“And, FYI, I know the real reason Dylan asked you.”

“Huh?”

Eliza gave her a knowing look as she lowered her voice. “It’s so you can make sure Taylor doesn’t mess up. You’re kind of like a really expensive babysitter.”

“Think what you like.” DJ turned to go to her room.

“See you at six,” Eliza called in a sugary voice.

DJ went into her room and let out a loud sigh.

“What’s wrong?” Taylor looked up from where she was working on her laptop.

“Just your average green-eyed monster.”

“Let me guess…” Taylor laid her forefinger alongside her face. “Eliza is jerking your chain about Dylan.”

“Bingo.”

“Well, what did you expect?”

DJ sunk down onto her bed. “I don’t know…I just hope it blows over soon.”

“Were you paying attention to the sermon this morning?”

DJ thought about church. “For the most part.” Then she paused. “Although I suppose I did space out a little.” The truth
was she’d still been fretting over her agreement with Dylan Marceau, wishing there was an easy way out.

“Remember the part about welcoming your trials as friends?”

DJ nodded. “Or in our case…we welcome our friends as trials?”

Taylor laughed. “I guess that works.”

“So I need to remember that the hard stuff, like Eliza’s jabs or Casey’s criticism, might actually be God’s way of making me stronger.” DJ flopped onto her back to think about this. “Kind of like training for sports—it’s not easy to build muscles and get into shape.”

“No pain, no gain.”

“That’s true.” DJ closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, then slowly let it out. “Oh, by the way, don’t forget Eliza’s prom queen campaign party at six.”

Taylor groaned. “Thanks for reminding me.”

“No pain, no gain.” And DJ knew that Eliza’s campaign party, despite her promise of food, would be painful. At least for DJ since she did not get why something so silly should matter so much. Seriously, why was Eliza so driven to win a silly crown that would be forgotten in a few days? What did it really matter? And although Eliza had always been competitive—whether to prove something to herself or her friends or even her parents—it seemed like it had intensified recently. DJ wasn’t sure what was behind Eliza’s obsession, but it was fierce.

And though it made no sense, DJ wondered if Eliza’s need to reign over the prom was related to what had happened to her in Palm Beach. Not that anyone was allowed to bring up that particular subject. Grandmother had made that perfectly clear after they’d returned to Crescent Cove. The Carter House girls and their boyfriends were expected to respect Eliza’s privacy—
and that meant not discussing or repeating the Palm Beach incident to anyone. Grandmother had even gone so far as to enlist the general to do everything possible to keep the whole thing under wraps both in Florida and at home. Although rumors had circulated in school for a few days, some kids had actually believed the whole thing was a hoax. And it soon blew over. Or so it seemed. DJ wasn’t sure. Maybe Eliza hoped that a crown on her head would erase the humiliation of being kidnapped by a jerk who had pretended to be a boyfriend. DJ didn’t think that was possible.

“I want to thank you all for coming tonight.” Eliza stood up by the fireplace, dressed immaculately in a pale yellow blouse and white pants. Every golden hair was in place as she struck an “elegant” pose, almost as if she thought the photographers would arrive any moment and start snapping publicity shots. She smiled as she looked out over her “captive” audience of the other five Carter House girls plus Daisy and Ariel, friends from modeling class. “I so appreciate your help in my campaign. As you know, Daisy is my campaign manager. I invited her to speak tonight, but she insisted I should do it.”

Daisy giggled. “I’m lousy at speeches.”

“That’s okay,” Eliza assured her in a placating tone. “We all have our different gifts.”

DJ leaned back into the couch and tried to stay awake as Eliza droned on about how critical the next two weeks would be in winning the crown for her. She sounded so serious, so sincere…it was like she thought this was a presidential campaign. “I expect you all to wear buttons and…I have a little surprise.” She reached down to the pink canvas bag on the table beside her. “Kriti had T-shirts made up for everyone.” She shook out a pink T-shirt with Eliza’s face printed on the front, complete with
a rhinestone-encrusted crown as well as the words
Queen Eliza
printed beneath. “Aren’t these spectacular!” She beamed at Kriti. “Great job!”

“My uncle has a silk screen shop,” Kriti said almost apologetically.

“I expect you all to wear these,” Eliza told them. “And give them to anyone who promises to be a supporter. But keep in mind, we only ordered a hundred.” She reached into her bag of tricks again. “And to sweeten the deal”—she held up a small pink box with graphics similar to the T-shirt—”chocolate.” Between the T-shirts, buttons, chocolates, posters, and other junk, DJ estimated this campaign must’ve cost a bundle. Not that Eliza had reason to be concerned about that. But DJ thought it was a waste. Plus she felt sorry for Haley, who was campaigning on a shoestring. DJ wouldn’t make a big deal of it, but she planned to vote for Haley. And if it weren’t for Grandmother’s pressure and DJ’s desire to keep the peace (plus the fact there was food involved), DJ wouldn’t be sitting here right now. Eliza was in for a surprise if she honestly thought DJ was going to wear that stupid T-shirt. In her dreams—although DJ knew she wouldn’t even wear something like that to bed!

“So, let’s go ahead and enjoy dinner, which I’m sure must be set up by now.” Eliza glanced at her watch. “Then we’ll reconvene on the third floor to make some new posters and put together goodie bags for the voters.” She clapped her hands. “And just wait until you see the cool stuff we’ve got for the goodie bags!”

DJ forced a congenial smile as she filled her plate. The dinner was buffet style, catered by the local Thai restaurant, and it actually looked delicious. DJ finally dropped a couple of prawns on top of the rest of her food, then went and sat at the game table in a quiet corner of the living room—hoping this would keep her far away from Eliza. But Eliza seemed to have other plans because she came over and sat right next to DJ.

“You’re running a very slick campaign,” DJ told her.

“Thank you.” Eliza nodded as if that were a great compliment.

Then, to DJ’s relief, Taylor came over. “Nice food, Eliza,” she said as she sat down across from DJ and opened her chopsticks.

“Thank you. I hope everyone appreciates it.”

“You’ve really put a lot of money into your campaign.” DJ picked up a prawn and studied Eliza’s expression.

“You know what they say.” Eliza smiled.

“What?”

She held up her hands. “It’s only money.”

“Oh…”

“But is it really worth it?” Taylor ventured.

Eliza stiffened. “What do you mean?”

“I mean is it worth all this just to be elected prom queen?”

Eliza glared at Taylor. “Well…it is to me.”

“I didn’t mean to offend you,” Taylor said sincerely. “I just wondered.”

“I have to admit that I wondered too,” DJ said. “I mean, it’s like you’re taking it so seriously.”

Eliza leaned toward them. “The truth is…I am very serious about it. I really, really want this. I know you both probably think I’m shallow and silly, but I really want to be prom queen. You can make fun of me. In fact, I’m sure you already do.” She looked close to tears now. “But this is really important to me. And I’d…I’d just appreciate it if you two—
especially you two
—would support me in this. It’s not like I’ve ever won anything before. DJ, you won homecoming queen. And Taylor’s going to be Dylan Marceau’s next hot model. I just want to finally win something. Is that so bad?”

DJ was speechless and it seemed Taylor was too.

“Is that too much to ask?” Eliza demanded.

“No,” Taylor said quickly. “It’s not too much. And I really appreciate your honesty Eliza. I’ll support you in this.”

“Me too,” DJ agreed. “I didn’t feel that supportive before…but hearing how much it means to you…well, I’ll do what I can to help.”

Eliza looked immensely relieved. “Thank you.”

“But I have to draw the line,” DJ said hesitantly.

“Where?” Eliza looked suspicious.

“I won’t wear that T-shirt. I’m sorry, but I just won’t.”

Eliza looked slightly offended, but then nodded. “Okay.”

Just then Daisy called to Eliza from across the room.

“Will you please excuse me?” Eliza said politely.

“Certainly.” Taylor nodded. As soon as Eliza was out of earshot she whispered, “I totally agree about the T-shirt, DJ. I just didn’t want to rock Eliza’s boat more than necessary.”

DJ chuckled. “Poor Eliza. She
really
wants to be prom queen.”

“Who knew?”

“I had actually been secretly planning to defect to Haley’s campaign…but I guess I won’t now.”

“Well, I meant what I said. It won’t be easy, but I will campaign for her.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Later on, when they were all up in the ballroom, DJ and Taylor both worked wholeheartedly on a poster together. And the end results weren’t bad.

“That’s beautiful!” Eliza told them. “I love it!”

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