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Authors: Melody Carlson

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Chapter 6

If anyone had told me one week ago that
I’d consider participating in a fashion-driven reality TV show, I would’ve just laughed. Now it’s not so funny. And as we’re driving to meet with Helen, I’m still wondering how this whole thing transpired. Obviously, there are a number of factors at play here.

Because Paige’s screen test was a success, Helen offered us a contract. For some reason the contract includes me, and for some reason Paige really wants me to do this with her. That reason is probably Mom—she is adamant that I should be involved. She says it’s because this is such a great opportunity for me, but I suspect it’s also because she thinks my older sister needs a babysitter. Not that she would say that, but I have a feeling Mom thinks I might be useful for keeping Paige out of trouble.

There is another factor that’s pushed me toward signing this contract, and that’s Blake. In the past five days he’s called me about a dozen times—not that I’ve answered all of those calls. As it turns out, he did break up with Sonya.

“I don’t know why I hurt you like that last year,” he told me yesterday when I finally agreed to meet him for coffee. “I just wasn’t thinking straight back then and Sonya was really persuasive.”

“And you were easily persuaded,” I reminded him.

“But being with her wasn’t anything like being with you. You and I had fun together, Erin. We liked doing the same things. Remember our bike rides? Or going to the museum? And the video we made in the park last spring? Sonya never wanted to do anything like that. Her favorite pastime is shopping. She isn’t anything like you. And it just wasn’t the same.”

Naturally, I didn’t know how to how to respond to that. Besides wanting to say “duh” or “get a clue.” Of course, it wouldn’t be the same. Good grief, Sonya is a different person—how could it be the
same
? Still, I was trying to be polite.

“I’ve really missed you, Erin.” He was looking directly into my eyes then. And it wasn’t that I didn’t believe him, but I think I was overwhelmed. I kept asking myself: Why this? Why now? Why can’t I just move on? And what if I’m pulled back in and I get hurt all over again?

“I missed you too,” I finally admitted. “But I was getting
over it.

“I’m not over it.” He reached for my hand again, and this time I didn’t pull away. Part of me wanted to get up and run…but another part wouldn’t move. I guess that’s how it is with your first real love—it’s hard to let go. “And I’m not over you,” he said with sincere, dark eyes.

“This is so confusing, Blake. I really don’t understand what’s—”

“Maybe I needed to be with Sonya,” he said. “It was like
being with her showed me how much better things were with you.”

That made me want to ask him why he stuck with Sonya for so long, if that was true. Instead I just studied him, trying to discern if he was really sincere. Not that Blake is an insincere person. At least he never had been before. But this whole thing just felt a tad bit flaky to me.

“I don’t know…” I felt my more sensible side stepping in. “I think maybe what we had is gone now, Blake. I think maybe it died and just really needs to rest in peace.”

He looked truly hurt then. “But I still love you, Erin. I don’t think I ever stopped loving you.”

Okay, he almost had me there. Despite my sensible side and my resolution not to be swept in, I could feel the tide starting to turn. This unexpected attention was flattering. Plus, it made me feel better about all those past months of being bummed and feeling rejected. Like maybe things were about to start leveling out, and life as I used to know it was about to start up again. Like that feeling of hopefulness might somehow be related to all this…or not.

That’s when I had to ask myself—if that was how Blake acted when he was supposedly still in love with me (specifically, I mean breaking my heart and dating another girl for more than half a year), why would I want to invite more of the same? Seriously, something is wrong when a guy says he never stopped loving you, but simultaneously continued dating someone else. It just doesn’t ring quite true.

Still, that other part of me was caving. I wanted to believe him, I wanted to give him another try. I knew it wasn’t reasonable, and I like to think of myself as a pretty grounded person. My heart does not rule my head—or at least I try not to let it.
So I pulled my hand away from his and told him that I needed to think about all of this.

Then I stood, told him good-bye, and left.

I was barely home when Blake called me again, apologizing for coming on too strong. “I wasn’t trying to pressure you, Erin,” he said gently. “I just wanted you to know where I’m at right now. You know?”

“I appreciate that,” I told him. I was about to point out that he’d barely broken up with Sonya…and that maybe we both needed to give this thing some time. But the next thing I knew he was asking me if I would go out with him on Friday. Was he even listening to me?

“What?” I asked, wondering if maybe I’d misunderstood or just heard him wrong.

“I thought we could spend some time together—catch up on lost time.” He paused. “To start over.”

I can barely describe what happened next, but it was like an alarm went off inside of me, or a red flag was frantically waving and warning me to be cautious. Maybe it was God. “I don’t think I’m quite ready to start over,” I told Blake.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means this feels too fast…too soon for me. I was just starting to get over you and suddenly you blast back into my life and want us to get back together. It’s pretty overwhelming.”

“We can take it slower,” he said. “I don’t want to pressure you.”

“That’s good,” I told him. And I think that’s when it hit me: if I signed the contract to do the show with Paige, I would become very busy and possibly be traveling a lot. This whole thing with Blake really helped to solidify that thought, and I made up my mind.

“Here’s the deal,” I said. “It looks like this TV show is really going to happen. I mean, we haven’t signed the contract yet, but if my mom’s lawyer gives us the green light, things will probably start moving fast. It sounds like the show will take a lot of time and we’ll be traveling all over, and I just don’t see how I’ll have much time to be in a serious relationship.” I was so surprised at how freeing it felt to say that. Like a weight was being lifted.

But I could tell Blake was disappointed, and so I suggested that we could get reacquainted through email and occasional phone calls. Although he agreed to this, I could hear the hesitation in his voice. I actually wondered if he regretted breaking up with Sonya now—and that made me mad. It also made me wonder if Blake isn’t just a really needy guy—I mean, if he can’t even take a breather between relationships, if he just goes hopping from one girl to the next…well, I probably should be concerned about being in a relationship with him. Who needs another broken heart?

I’ve decided that if Blake really does love me (and that’s a pretty big
if
) then he should be willing to take it slow and support me in doing this show with Paige. And if what he said was true—that he
never
stopped loving me—then another year or so shouldn’t change anything either. Or so I’m hoping.

And that’s why I made my big announcement last night. I told Paige and Mom that I was in—that I would do the show. They were so happy that we went out for ice cream to celebrate. Mom told us that her attorney, other than a few little tweaks, felt the contract was solid and good. The starting salary wasn’t huge, but depending on the show’s success it could get better. Plus, all the travel and expenses would be covered. But the best part, according to Paige, would be the
free designer clothes. I’m guessing Paige would’ve agreed to this deal even if clothes were the
only
form of payment.

This afternoon we’re on our way to sign the contract, but suddenly I’m feeling doubtful and insecure. What was I thinking?
A show about fashion?
That’s just not me. Plus, it’s hitting me anew that taking on this show means putting the brakes on my education—I’d been so excited to get into the film program at UCLA. But, like Mom says, this experience might be more valuable than taking classes, as it’s doing versus seeing. She says that she’s sure my academic advisors would encourage me to go for it, and that I can finish school afterward and end up with a really impressive bio. Even so, I feel nervous as we sit down for the second time in Helen Hudson’s office.

“I have good news,” she tells us. “The pitch was well received on the first level, and I’ll be doing a follow-up pitch with the bigwigs after Christmas. Things are really moving along. I expect we’ll have a decision in early January, which is a good thing considering that the Golden Globes are right around the corner.”

“We’ll be at the Golden Globes?” Paige’s eyes are so huge that I’m sure she’s imagining herself giving her first acceptance speech for an award, which is totally ridiculous considering she’s never even been in anything.

“The plan is to have you on the red carpet.”

“The red carpet…” Paige lets out a happy sigh. “This is so exciting.”

“And I’m also trying to get you on an episode of
Malibu Beach
.”


Malibu Beach
?”

“You’d be interviewing Mia Renwick and some of her friends. But I’m sure they’d like to get you involved in the
storyline too. You know how they like to stir things up on that show.”

“That would be awesome,” Paige replies.

“You girls will have to hit the road running,” Helen tells us. “Filming could begin as early as January tenth. Would you be ready?”

“Absolutely,” Paige assures her.

I nod and swallow hard. Everything is happening so fast. I feel like I’m about to climb onto a wild theme park ride and that I’d better hold on tight.

Before I know it, we are signing the contracts, and as Mom and Paige discuss details, I pray that this is not all a big mistake. I suppose that sounds like I’m praying in reverse, but mostly I want to cover my bases.

We’re just getting ready to leave when Sci-fi Girl (aka Sabrina the assistant) comes in. “Fran Bishop just got here,” she tells Helen.

“Send her in.” Then we’re introduced to a girl in jeans and a T-shirt who doesn’t look much older than Paige and me. “Fran will direct
On the Runway
,” Helen tells us. “She’s worked on several shows for me, including
Malibu Beach
most recently, and she’s not only an expert on reality TV, she’s really tuned into the teen market.”

“I’m hoping we can get a jump start on this.” Fran talks quickly, as if she’s in a hurry. “We’re shooting a
Malibu Beach
episode in early January. In this particular episode, we’re featuring a fundraising fashion show that Mia Renwick is helping to organize—unless the whole project goes south, which is a distinct possibility that could prove just as interesting. Anyway, I’d like Paige to cover the fashion event for
On the Runway.
Sort of a cross-promotion opportunity and a chance
for you girls to get a feel for this.” Fran peers curiously at Paige, almost as if she’s unsure of something. “Helen seems convinced that you’ve got the right stuff to carry this show, Paige.”

“I plan to give it my best effort.” Paige smiles brightly.

“I have to admit that I wasn’t overly thrilled to take on a newbie,” Fran tells us. “But I saw your screen test and I have to agree that you appear to have potential.” She looks at me now. “And you’re going to be our camera girl? Paige’s sidekick, little sister, Girl Friday?”

“That seems to be the plan,” I say with uncertainty.

She nods, then glances at her watch. “Well, nice to meet you girls. My assistant, Leah, will be in touch sometime after Christmas with more details.” And just like that, she takes off.

“Okay, then…” Helen stands. Once again, it’s our cue to leave. “Thanks for coming in. You three have a good Christmas, and I’ll see you in a week or so.”

We’re barely out of the building and Paige is on her phone. “I’m going to be on
Malibu Beach
!”

I try not to listen as she gushes to Kelsey about Helen’s plan to go into production after Christmas. Mom puts her arm around me as we walk across the parking lot. “Are you doing okay?” she asks quietly.

“I guess. I mean, other than the fact my head is spinning and I’m wondering what I’ve just gotten myself into.”

“I think this is going to be a growing experience for both of you,” Mom tells me. “It means so much to Paige that you’re on board.”

As far as I can tell, Paige is in her own world as she blathers on about Mia Renwick and the Golden Globes and how this is just the beginning.

“Are we still going to Grandma’s for Christmas?” I ask.

“Of course, why wouldn’t we?”

“Oh, good.” I sigh in relief. A trip to Grandma Hebo’s rustic mountain cabin sounds like a welcome break to me. For starters, there’s no TV. Cell phone reception is spotty at best. Best of all, working in our grandmother’s less-than-modern kitchen, chopping firewood, shoveling snow, and sharing the ancient bathroom with four women and three old cats will provide a needed reality check for my “celebrity” sister. And it might give me time to think some things over too.

Chapter 7

Christmas comes and goes. As much as I love being at Grandma Hebo’s, I feel antsy. Almost as antsy as Paige, who is acting like she’ll either end up in lockdown or take up chain smoking before too long. I’ve never seen my sister do so much pacing and fidgeting. Maybe it’s our grandmother’s strong coffee. I swear that brew could grow hair on someone’s chest.

“Really, Mom,” Paige complains as we’re outside working on our grandmother’s firewood—our mom’s idea, probably in hopes that it will tire us out. “I don’t see why we can’t go home a day early.”

“You know your grandma expects us to stay the full five days.” Mom swings the ax, solidly hitting the round of wood and splitting it in two, which I must admit is impressive. “It’ll hurt her feelings if we leave any sooner.”

“But we’re leaving
tomorrow
, right?”

Mom waits as Paige picks up the split pieces. “I remember a time when you girls couldn’t wait to get up here, and then you never wanted to leave.”

“When we were in grade school.” Paige lobs the wood toward the pile that I’m neatly stacking, nearly hitting me in the foot.

“Hey, watch it,” I warn as I jump to avoid getting any broken bones.

“Sorry,” she grumps back at me.

“Come on, girls,” Mom urges us. “Just because you’re going to be TV stars doesn’t mean you have to turn into spoiled divas. Don’t forget your roots.”

“Yeah, right.” Paige holds up her hands and frowns. “Dirt, pitch, broken nails…like I’m a
real
diva, Mom.”

“I still like being up here and helping Grandma,” I say. “It’s just that I wanted to make it to the desert to take photos before the show goes into production. This is supposed to be our vacation time, remember?”

“And I just want to get back to civilization to check my phone and Facebook and maybe even watch a little TV,” Paige says. “I feel so disconnected up here—seriously, I think it’s making me crazy.”

So much for a reality check. Somehow we make it through another day, and I’m actually a little sad to leave as Grandma Hebo kisses me on the cheek. I promise to come back on my own next summer, maybe stay a few weeks if I can and get her stocked up with firewood.

“Travel safely,” she tells us.

Then as we’re heading home and I’m half asleep, Paige lets out a shriek that makes me think there might be a semitruck coming straight at us.

“What?” Mom slows the car, as if she too thinks we’re headed for death and disaster.

“I finally managed to get a connection!” Paige shouts.
“And there’s a message from Fran Bishop.”

“So?” I lean into the backseat, wishing my sister wasn’t such a drama queen. Although considering what we’re getting into, I suppose it’s a good thing.

“What does it say?” Mom asks. “Is something wrong?”

To my surprise, I feel slightly worried. What if the show has fallen apart already? I can’t believe that this actually troubles me, but it does.

“No. Something is totally right. Erin and I are invited to a New Year’s Eve party that’s actually going to be an episode on
Malibu Beach
!” she exclaims.

“What are we supposed to do there?” Now I’m feeling a bit unnerved.
Malibu Beach
is way out of my comfort zone.


Debut.
” Paige says this word in a dreamy way.

“Huh?”

“Fran says it will be our first debut on national TV, and she wants to meet with us tomorrow to give us some wardrobe and makeup direction as well as some scripting ideas.” Paige makes a face. “Does Fran think we’re totally ignorant or something? I know how to do wardrobe and makeup, and I certainly don’t need someone telling me how to talk. I mean, it is a reality show, is it not?”

“She’s probably just being careful,” Mom says as she turns from the back road onto the main highway. “You girls are still new to all this. I’m sure she just wants cover all the bases.”

“Or else she’s worried about me,” I say quietly. “Do you think Fran really expects me to go to this New Year’s party too? I’m only the camera girl, right? And
Malibu Beach
isn’t
our
show.”

“She said
both
of us,” Paige clarifies. “We’re supposed to come to the studio at five o’clock tomorrow. I better call her and confirm that we’ll be there.”

I want to point out that this is not exactly what I’d signed on to do. I mean, agreeing to play camera girl with my sister is one thing. Making an appearance on one of the most popular (and IMO, shallowest) reality shows on TV wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the contract. Although I do recall a clause agreeing to do publicity, and I suspect
Malibu Beach
might fall into that category. Still…I am feeling more than a little nervous at the moment, and I’m wishing that I’d talked Mom into staying another day or two at Grandma Hebo’s. Then I could have avoided this Malibu Barbie party altogether. Of course, Paige would’ve been furious.

“Those shoes do not go with that dress, Erin.” Fran is pointing at my feet with a troubled expression. We’re at the studio, and Fran is getting us all set for our “big night out.”

“Maybe it’s the dress,” I suggest, since I like the shoes a whole lot better than the magenta cocktail dress that Fran has selected for me. In addition to these straps, which feel like they’re slicing into my shoulders, it’s so tight that I doubt I’ll even be able to sit down.

“That dress happens to be a Miu Miu.”

I imagine a cat with a hairball as I give her a very blank look. “Sorry, I’m not too well versed on designers.”

Fran frowns at me. “Then you better start doing your homework, Erin.”

“Miu Miu is Prada,” Paige explains in an authoritative tone, which I’m sure is meant to impress Fran. “The Miu Miu line was originally targeted at the younger market because it was more affordable, but it’s been so popular that even older women like it.”

Fran nods. “That’s right.”

“Well, I wish this Miu Miu was a muumuu,” I mutter as I struggle to shimmy the short, tight dress down my thighs to what feels a more respectable length, if that’s possible.

Fran looks at me with a creased forehead. “Maybe it’s not that the dress is too small, but rather you are too large.”

Did she just say that? I want to throw something. I can feel Paige looking at me now, as if to say,
keep your cool, Erin…don’t fly off the handle.
But it’s too late. I’m already mad. “Are you saying I have to be a size four to be on TV?”

“You said it, not me.” Fran is thumbing through the dress rack now, her back toward me.

“Because I am not into the anorexia thing. Not at all. I’m just fine with my body the way it is. And if you expect me to lose weight just to be on this stupid—”

“No one’s telling you to lose weight, Erin,” Fran says. “Just chill, okay?”

“Well, just so you know,” I continue, “I never wanted to be in
front
of the camera. I only wanted to work on the camera crew, and maybe that was a mistake.”

“That’s not what Helen said.”

“Then maybe I should speak to Helen.” I’m struggling to unzip the tight dress, deciding that it’s time to make a fast getaway.

“You signed a contract, Erin.” Fran looks slightly angry. “A contract some girls would kill to sign.”

“I did it for Paige.” I peel off the detestable dress, then just stand there feeling humiliated in my underwear, which is not nearly as cool as the underwear Paige is wearing. But why should that surprise me? “And now I regret it,” I continue hotly.

“Come on, Erin.” Paige urges me with a worried look. “Lighten up, will you?”

“And I’d just as soon not go to this New Year’s party,” I tell Fran as I hand her the dress. “I agreed to do
On the Runway
—to play my role as camera girl. I never said I’d make a fool of myself on
Malibu Beach
.” Seriously, what am I doing here?

Fran takes the dress and turns away. Paige is giving me one of her big-sisterly
I’m warning you
looks. The “don’t spoil this for me, or I will make you miserable.” Not that I’m worried. I grab up my clothes and am starting to get dressed when Fran comes back.

“Oh, don’t start getting all snippy on me, Erin.” Fran actually smiles—but it’s a catty smile. She’s holding up a black dress with a little more coverage on top and some flare in the skirt. “This is Miu Miu too, but it’s a size six.
And
I think it will go with your shoes.”

“It’ll look great on you,” Paige says happily. “Come on, try it.”

“It’s a classic,” Fran tells me as she takes it from the hanger and begins putting it over my head. “And maybe you are too, Erin.”

Okay, I’m not sure how to react as she zips the dress, which is much more comfortable than the first one, but I’m thinking maybe Fran is a little passive-aggressive. Like that old aunt who pokes at your weight until you cry and then buys you an ice cream sundae to make you feel better. At least the black dress fits and seems to look okay—or so they are telling me.

After Paige tries on several dresses, all which look fantastic, Fran finally settles on a red number for her. It’s got a name I can’t begin to pronounce, but I have to admit Paige looks
fabulous in it. Well, except for all the cleavage that’s showing.

“So the girls are going to get a little airtime of their own, huh?” I ask my sister, pointing to her chest while Fran is consulting with the hair and makeup stylists.

Paige just laughs. “It’s just a little skin. You really need to lighten up.”

Well, maybe I would lighten up if I didn’t know that Mom expected me to babysit. I wonder what she would say—not that she’s commented too much on our clothes these past couple of years. That was Dad’s domain. He always said that his daughters had too much self-respect to go out in public looking like prostitutes. Not that Paige looks like a prostitute, but she certainly doesn’t look like Laura Ingalls Wilder either.

“You need to dress like ladies so you’ll be treated like ladies,” my dad used to tell us. I suppose his influence on me was even stronger than he knew, because I still think of his words when I pick out my clothes. I wonder if there’s some way I can continue to remind Paige of Dad’s wishes. Yet, when it comes to fashion, I doubt that Dad’s advice carries much weight.

With shoes, dresses, and accessories finalized and bagged up for us to take home, we are back in our street clothes, moved on to hair and makeup. I sit with Vivian the makeup expert, and Paige is with Luis the hair guy.

“I try to go more natural with my makeup,” I tell Vivian. Not that she’s listening.

“This is a New Year’s party,” Fran points out from where she’s standing behind me. “You’re
supposed
to look glitzy and glamorous, Erin.”

“That’s right,” Paige encourages her. “Just close your eyes and go with the flow.”

“Right…” I do close my eyes. I take a deep breath and try not imagine myself being seen on national TV looking like a tramp. To my surprise, the makeup’s not too terrible. A little dramatic perhaps, but for a party I suppose it’s okay. And I have a feeling everyone is tired of hearing me whine. It’s weird because I don’t usually consider myself a complainer.

“Time to switch places,” Fran announces as she continues to prep us from her notes on the latest happenings, mostly romances, on
Malibu Beach.
“Mia Renwick and Benjamin Kross are still dating,” she continues, “but it got a little rocky before Christmas, and some suspect that Avery Stratton has been making moves toward Benjamin.”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Paige says quickly. “Avery is too nice to step in and do something like that.”

“I’m just saying.” Fran continues. “So here’s what I’m thinking. Paige, I want you to focus on Mia since she’s the one organizing the fashion show that you will be covering in your first
On the Runway
episode. Besides, it’s a sure way to give you more camera time, and viewers will be curious to see how you two hit it off. Plus, Mia should be very interested in spending time with you since, no doubt, she’ll want her fair share of camera time on your show.”

I sleepily close my eyes as Luis puts hot curlers in my hair. I could so use a nap right now. And yet, I’m supposed to be at work, right? That’s when it hits me that this is my
job.

“Also, I thought Erin could cozy up to Avery. Maybe even find out what her interest in Benjamin is. Just for fun.”

“Why would Avery even want to talk to me?” I ask without really thinking.

“Like I said, you and Paige are the new stars of
On the Runway.
Naturally, all the cast—primarily the girls—will want
to score points with you. These girls are very savvy about the industry. They know
Malibu Beach
won’t run forever. The smart ones are already looking for the next opportunity.” Fran rambles on and I know I’m not paying as much attention as I should. Whether it’s the heated rollers or the time of day, I am so sleepy that I can’t imagine staying up until midnight. I wonder if I’ll be able to sneak in a nap.

“Mostly I want you girls to just be yourselves,” I hear Fran say as Luis begins to remove the rollers, and her voice jars me back into the present. I think I actually dozed off and I feel a little guilty. I hope I didn’t snore. But Fran seems oblivious as she chatters on. “I’m starting to see why Helen wanted both of you on the show. Your personalities as well as your physical looks are actually quite complementary to each other.”

I figure this is her way of saying I make Paige look even better than she already does, but I won’t mention this.

“So, really, just be yourselves…only
more
so.”

“More so?” I ask Fran, hoping she thinks I’ve been awake this whole time. “How do you mean exactly?”

“Well, you’re obviously the conservative sister. You’re cautious and careful and that’s okay. Go ahead and play that up. It’s actually kind of cute and funny.” Fran goes over to stand behind Paige, placing a hand on her shoulder. “On the other hand, Paige is more dramatic and adventuresome. She’s confident and competitive and I want her to just take it up a notch.”

“A notch?” Paige looks like she’s noodling on this.

“Yeah, take it to the next level.”

Paige’s eyes narrow slightly as her brows arch—I know my sister, and this is her watch-out-for-me look. “Okay,” Paige begins. “Let’s say I’m talking about Mia’s dress tonight. Are
you suggesting I should go ahead and give my honest fashion critique and maybe a bit more?”

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