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Authors: Melody Carlson

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Chapter 11

“Good news,” Paige announces on New
Year’s Day.

I look up from my Cheerios and brace myself.

“We’re invited to Mia’s birthday party on Saturday.”

“Yeah, right.” I stick my spoon in my cereal and shake my head.

“It’s a surprise party,” Paige continues.

“Yes, I’m sure Mia will be surprised if
we
show up. Try shocked, stunned, and speechless as she reaches for her pepper spray.”

“Why should Mia act like that?” Mom’s in the kitchen now, pouring herself some coffee.

“Because Paige is trying to steal her boyfriend,” I say under my breath.

“Erin!”
Paige gives me a wounded expression.

“Oh?” Mom looks curious.

“I’m not trying to steal him,” Paige defends herself. “I can’t help it if Benjamin likes me. Or even if I like him.”

Mom looks at me. “So why would you accuse Paige of stealing Mia’s boyfriend?”

I look down at my Cheerios, pressing my lips together. Really, why not just keep my mouth shut? Except that I was kind of under the impression that part of my job on the show was to help keep my sister from self-destructing.

“Erin?” Mom is waiting.

I look at Paige, who is giving me the evil eye—and suddenly I don’t really care. “Benjamin is still seeing Mia,” I say quietly. “It might just be me, but it seems kind of unethical to move in on a guy while he’s still with someone else.”

Mom frowns like she doesn’t know how to respond.

“I’m not moving in on anyone.” Paige holds her head high.

“That’s probably not how Mia sees it,” I say to her. “She seemed pretty mad at you last night. And not just because you criticized her dress either. She seemed pretty certain you were moving in on Benjamin too.”

“Mia’s just like that,” Paige says lightly. “A little drama queen. If you ever watched
Malibu Beach
, you would know this.”

“Right.” I roll my eyes. “Well, her act was convincing, because I think if she’d had a gun in her hand it would’ve been pointed at your head.”

“And this girl has invited you to her birthday party?” Mom looks understandably confused.

“I said it’s a surprise party.” Paige is getting irate. “Mia isn’t the one doing the inviting.”

“Who is?” I ask.

“I’m not sure.”

“Her boyfriend perhaps?” I venture.

“Look, the invitation came by way of Fran. Someone emailed her. Probably Rod Spencer.”

“The director of
Malibu Beach
?” Mom asks with mild interest.

“Maybe…” Paige frowns at me like I just rained on her parade.

“So is this a working gig?” I ask.

“It’s publicity, Erin,” she tells me with exasperation.

“It’s a setup.” I finish the last bite of Cheerios, then take my bowl to the sink. “Do you know that they deliberately cast more girls on that show than guys?” I say to Mom. “Just so there’ll be competition amongst the girls?”

Mom makes a small chuckle. “Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.”

“But it’s not right.” I run water in my bowl. “And I’ll bet the only reason Rod Spencer is inviting us to Mia’s party is to stir things up. He probably wants Paige and Mia to get into a great big hair-pulling catfight. Maybe it’ll raise their ratings.”

“Like I would do that.” Paige looks indignant as she pours some juice.

“If Mia saw you and Benjamin together, you might not have a choice,” I warn her.

“Will Fran and your camera crew be there?” Mom asks with a concerned brow.

“I don’t know.” Paige sets her juice glass down with a bang. “Does it really matter?”

“It might.” Mom sits down at the breakfast bar and presses her lips together. “I’m not sure how I feel about you girls getting pulled into the whole
Malibu Beach
thing. I don’t like what I hear about that show. I thought
On the Runway
was supposed to be different.”

“It
is
different,” Paige says in a pleading voice. “It’s just that Helen is trying to give us some exposure. And
Malibu Beach
is like—”

“Like overexposure,” I finish for her.

“No, I was going to say it’s one of the most popular teen shows right now. The more we can appear on that, the better known we’ll be.”

“Yes.” I set my bowl in the dishwasher, then turn around to look at my sister. “And you’ll become known as that boy-friend-stealing blonde who got her hair pulled out and face scratched up by the Malibu Barbies as they rushed to the defense of poor Mia Renwick at her own birthday party.” I pour myself a cup of coffee, shaking my head. “But you know what they say, bad publicity is better than no publicity.”

“Shut up!”

“Paige Marie!”
Mom looks even more concerned now.

“Sorry, Mom, but Erin just goes too far.”

“Erin is actually making sense.”

“Thanks, Mom.” I smile to myself as I add cream to my coffee.

But when I turn around, I notice that Mom’s frowning at me. “Except you could be a little diplomatic about it.”

“I exhausted my diplomacy skills last night.” Even as I say this, I’m starting to feel guilty. It’s not like I really want to throw Paige under the bus.

“Don’t you mean your judgmental skills?” Paige glares at me.

Feeling a mixture of remorse and irritation, I sit down across from my glowering sister and try to adjust my attitude. “Sorry, Paige,” I say in a calm tone. “But I honestly don’t see how crashing Mia’s birthday—”

“We’re not crashing. We’re
invited
!”

“Well, I have an idea,” Mom proclaims. “Or maybe it’s an edict.”

“An edict?” Paige’s brow creases and I wonder if she needs a pocket dictionary.

“If you girls want to go to Mia Renwick’s birthday party, there are a couple of things you’ll have to—”

“Who said I want to go?” I protest.

“Listen to my edict, Erin.”

So I just sip my coffee, listening as Mom explains that if we go, we have to go together, and we each have to take our own dates. “That way there will be no squabbling over boyfriends.”

“But I don’t want to take a date,” Paige complains.

“Then don’t go,” Mom shoots back.

“Besides,” Paige tries, “Fran didn’t say we could bring anyone else with us. And there will be a list at the party.”

“Then I’ll just call Fran and tell her that you won’t be going and why.”

Paige groans. “This is crazy.”

“Take it or leave it.” Mom picks up her coffee and hums as she goes to her bedroom.

“Thanks a lot,” Paige tells me after Mom’s door closes. “This is all your fault.”


My
fault? I don’t even want to go to the stupid party.”

Paige glares at me. “You
have
to go.”

“As far as I know this is a free country.” Then, like Mom, I pick up my coffee and go to my bedroom. Let Paige stew.

And Paige does stew. For the rest of the day, she totally ignores me. Then, on the next day, when crummy weather keeps us both indoors, she’s still not talking. On Friday, the sun comes out and I decide to finally make a trip to the desert to shoot photos. Knowing my mom will throw a fit if I go alone, I call Lionel to come with me, but he’s still in Tahoe. Then I try Mollie and she’s not answering, which worries me.
Mollie is usually the one calling me about ten times a day, but lately she’s been silent. I hope I haven’t done anything to offend her. Finally, in desperation, and since he’s left several messages, I try Blake.

“It’s about time you returned my calls,” he says pleasantly, but in a way that’s supposed to make me feel bad.

“Sorry.”

“I heard about your big New Year’s Eve gig,” he says with a little too much interest.

“Let me guess, Facebook?”

“Of course. And Mollie keeps me informed.”

“Where is she, by the way? Do you know?”

“I think she and Tony went to the beach.”

“Right.” I tell him about needing someone to accompany me to the desert. “The light is perfect today and I want to—”

“So I’m like your escort? Do I get paid for this service?”

“Fine,” I say quickly, “if you don’t want to go—”

“No, Erin, I’m just jerking your chain. Don’t be so touchy.”

“Oh…well, Paige has been jerking my chain too. I guess I am a little sensitive.”

He begs me to spill the beans on Paige, but instead I remind him that we’re burning daylight and promise to disclose more information once we’re on the road. “I’ll pick you up in about thirty minutes,” I say, unsure whether I’ll regret this.

To my surprise, Blake turns out to be a good companion on my fieldtrip. He’s even helpful as I’m taking photos. Unlike Lionel, who gets caught up in his own shots and equipment, Blake is catering only to me. And I must admit that I find it rather disarming…and sweet.

Of course, my payment for his attention is to tell him about the New Year’s party and Paige and the whole Benjamin
and Mia thing, as well as the invitation to Mia’s surprise party, where we can only go if we take a date. “Not that I plan on going,” I tell him quickly. “Honestly, it feels like an accident waiting to happen.”

“I can see how it could get a little explosive.” He chuckles. “But that’s what
Malibu Beach
is about. They love their fireworks.”

“Tell me about it.” I’m dropping him at his house now. He lives in a really swanky neighborhood about twenty minutes away, not too different from where we lived before our dad died. “Thanks for your help.”

“And, don’t forget, I got first dibs if you change your mind about Mia’s birthday party tomorrow,” he reminds me as he closes the door to my Jeep.

“Yeah, right.” I roll my eyes. “See ya!”

I’m barely home and it’s apparent that all is forgiven as my sister is speaking to me again. “How was the desert?” she asks pleasantly.

“Good,” I tell her as I put down my bags and head to the fridge for some ice water.

“Good.”

I can tell by the tone of her voice that she wants something. And it doesn’t take a mind reader to guess what it is.

“So…” She smiles sweetly. “I talked to Fran today.”

“Right.” I take another swig of water.

“And she really wants to see us go to that party.”

“To surprise Mia?”

Paige bites her bottom lip.

“Doesn’t that seem mean to you?” I ask her. “I mean, how would you feel if it was reversed? What if it was your birthday and your boyfriend and—”

“I’m not going there to get Benjamin,” she shoots back at me.

“But it—”

“I already invited Addison to go with me.”

“Did you mention to Addison how you feel about Benjamin?”

She waves her hand. “Oh, I was just crushing on Benjamin. You know that, Erin. It’s silly, really. Like, he’s the big celeb and it was fun to catch his eye. I know it’s not anything more than that. And to be fair, you know he’s just playing me for his own publicity too. That’s all it is.”

I’m sure the skepticism is written all over my face as I refill my glass.

“Anyway, you might be interested to hear what Fran said about you.”

“Fran said something about me?”

“Just that you were brilliant.”

“Fran said I was brilliant?”

Paige nods firmly. “She looked over the film from the New Year’s party and she really liked how you handled things. When I told her it was your idea to do the interview thing outside of the party, she said you were brilliant.”

I try not to feel too impressed with myself.

“And…she really wants us to go to Mia’s party.”

“Yeah, you already mentioned that.”

“So, come on, Erin, will you do this for me?” She smiles hopefully. “And for our show?”

“Well, I do have a volunteer to escort me,” I confess.

“Great!” She gives me a high five. “Who?”

“Blake.”

Her expression turns sober, and she’s probably wondering
if I’m making a bad move. “But…I thought he was seeing that Sonya chick.”

“He was. But he broke up with her before Christmas and now he keeps telling me that I’m the only one, that he’s always loved me, and stuff like that.” I shake my head as if I’m still not convinced.

“Wow, do you believe him?”

“I don’t know.” I shrug. “But just because he’ll be my date to Mia’s party doesn’t mean that we’re back together, right? I mean, you and Addison aren’t a real couple either.”

“No way. This is just show biz, baby.” She laughs. “And, don’t worry, Addison knows that up front.”

“If you really think it’ll help our show, I guess I’m willing. Not eager,” I remind her, “but willing.”

“It’s the same deal as the last party. We need to get to the studio by one tomorrow to turn in our New Year’s outfits and pick up new ones.”

“Another formal party?” I groan.

“No, you’re in luck. This is more of a beach party. But you know how those
Malibu Beach
girls are. They never go slumming. And neither can we.”

“Especially you…with your fashion reputation.” I realize just how much I don’t envy her role. What a relief that no one’s judging my sense of style.

“The stakes continue to rise.” Paige is totally nonchalant, like this is nothing more than just playing Barbies. And maybe that’s not too far off—Malibu Barbies. I can’t help but think about our childhood Barbies, and how it seems Paige was made for this.

I retreat to my room, trying to decide whether or not I really want to call Blake. I know he’ll probably be ecstatic at the
possibility of meeting the cast of the hottest teen reality show, and I realize I sort of promised him. And yet, I’m not sure. Maybe Lionel would be a better choice.

I turn on my computer to download my desert photos, and I have this weird sense of relief that Paige and I are going to Mia’s party. Of course, it’s not that I’m glad about the silly surprise party. But I am happy that Paige and I are talking again. She may be a sometimes-intolerable fashion freak, but she’s still my sister.

Chapter 12

“Seriously?” Blake asks me again.

“No. I’m lying,” I say sarcastically.

“I really get to be on
Malibu Beach
?”

“I can’t believe you’re this excited, Blake.” I feel guilty for having called Lionel first—even after I’d promised Blake that he’d get the chance. I guess I just had cold feet.

“Hey, what can I say? I think it sounds like fun. And you know how much Katie loves that show. She’ll go nuts when she hears about this.”

“How is little Katie anyway?”

“‘Little Katie’ is probably taller than you now. She just turned thirteen last month and she’s gotten so mouthy, my mom’s considering military school for her next year.” He pauses. “I really get to be on
Malibu Beach
with you, huh?”

“I can’t promise that you’ll make it on the air. They film almost everything that goes on, but most of it ends up getting cut. I’m actually hoping that anything I’m in will be cut.”

“Why?”

Why? How do I begin to explain why? We dated for a long time. Shouldn’t he know why? “Because—”

“Wait. Let me guess. Because you’re more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it.”

“Right.” I guess Blake does still get me.

“And I can respect that, Erin. But I happen to think you’re a beautiful girl and I wish you—”

“Yeah, yeah,” I cut him off. “You don’t need to butter me up. You’re invited to the party already. But I do want to be straight with you about something, okay?”

“Okay.” I imagine he’s bracing for another one of my spiels.

“This isn’t a real date.”

“Meaning I’m still on probation?”

“Not probation…” I don’t like the way he puts it, but I can’t help but think he’s actually kind of spot-on.

“Whatever.”

“It’s the same deal as when you went to the desert with me yesterday. We’re
friends
, Blake. For now that’s all. If my inviting you to this party makes you think we’re dating again, I’ll just have to—”

“I get it, Erin.” He sounds a little dejected. “And that’s fine.”

“Good. So here are the details. You’ll come over here at seven so that you can ride with us in the limo. Our director, Fran, will be riding with us and she’ll give you and Addison some tips. Then we’ll all get wired for sound. When we get out of the limo, the fun begins.”

“So what do I wear? How do I act? Anything I should know?” He sounds like a little kid on Christmas morning and I can’t help but think it’s kind of cute.

“Maybe I should have Paige call you. She’s the expert
when it comes to how to dress. As far as how to act, they’ll all tell you to just be yourself, only more so.”

“More so?”

“I’m not saying that’s a good idea. I think the directors just like to hype things up, you know, to make the show more sensational.”

“So there’s no script?”

“It’s reality TV.”

“I know, but sometimes it almost seems like those shows are scripted, like the kids are acting.”

I think back to my conversation with Avery. “Well, sometimes they’re staged, but not really scripted.” Suddenly I’m wondering if Blake will want to act too. After all, he was into drama in high school. He still helps out with skits for our youth group sometimes. In a way, he’s a bit of a ham.

“So can you have Paige call me?” he asks with slight hesitation. “For, uh, some fashion advice?”

I try not to laugh as I remember how this guy takes style more seriously than I do. “Sure,” I tell him. “But right now, Paige and I need to go to the studio to get our own outfits. My guess is that Paige will be better able to advise you after she knows what she’s wearing. I mean, she wouldn’t want anyone to upstage her.”

He chuckles. “No worries there.”

“See you at seven then.”

“Can’t wait.”

As I hang up I have mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s hard not to start falling for this guy again. Blake is a lot of fun and he still really seems to care about me. On the other hand, I still question his timing…and his motives. And I wonder if it’s possible that he broke up with Sonya, and started pursuing
me again, simply because of the TV deal. Blake was always the one who wanted an acting career. And even though his dad talked him into more traditional education, I remember how he really wanted to do the UCLA program in film and TV.

I put these concerns behind me as Paige and I head over to the studio.

“My goal is to win Mia over,” Paige tells me as she stops for a light. “I want to give her a really cool birthday present. I just don’t know what it should be.”

“How about a written promise to stay away from her boyfriend,” I tease.

“Give me a break.”

“Well, I’m sure Mia will be relieved to see you brought your own date tonight.” I point to the green light. “I actually think that was pretty brilliant of Mom to suggest that.”

“So are you saying I shouldn’t even look at Benjamin? I mean, what if he says hi? Am I supposed to ignore him?”

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”

“Fine. Back to Mia’s birthday present.” Paige drums her fingers on the steering wheel as she waits for the next light. “What would make her trust me?”

“I don’t think you can
make
anyone trust you, Paige.”

“You know what I mean. What would get to her…in a good way?”

“What kind of gift would get to you?” I ask.

Paige gets a thoughtful look. “Diamonds.”

I laugh. “Well, sorry, but you can’t afford diamonds.”

“True. But maybe the show can afford something. This is for publicity, right? Why can’t we, on behalf of
On the Runway
, give Mia something special?”

“I guess you can ask Fran.”

“Like a real Badgley Mischka dress!”

“I don’t know…what if Mia got offended, like you were trying to remind her that she’d worn a fake?”

“Good point. But maybe some other hot designer. Fran says that she’s been getting all kinds of cool stuff from designers who want a little publicity.”

And so, not only do Paige and I pick up our outfits—which still seem overly dressy for a real beach party, but Fran assures us are “perfect”—we also leave with a birthday present for Mia. Fran thought it was a great idea, especially in light of the upcoming fashion show that Mia is helping to organize. “We need to stay on her good list,” Fran reminded Paige. And after some serious perusing, they finally decided on a size four Vera Wang dress in a soft periwinkle color that Paige says will be stunning on Mia. I just hope it doesn’t blow up in our faces.

“Don’t forget to call Blake,” I remind Paige when we get home.

“Oh, that’s right. Fashion direction.” She pauses to study me. “You decided on the Ralph Lauren dress, right? The nautical one?”

“Yeah. You called it my little sailor dress, remember?”

“It looked great on you.”

“Well, at least it was comfortable.”

She nods. “Okay, I know just what Blake can wear. We’ll keep it sweet and simple. Khakis, a pale-blue-and-white-striped oxford shirt—preferably Ralph Lauren—and topsiders.”

I smile like I care, then go to my room, where I’d like to take a fashion break and print out some of the desert photos I took yesterday. But I’ve barely started when Lionel calls. “Hey, I saw you called a couple times,” he says. “What’s up?”

I quickly explain my need for a date, and before I can tell him that I already asked Blake, he is volunteering. “I should be home by five,” he tells me. “Give me an hour and I can be—”

“Sorry,” I interrupt. “I was kind of desperate, you know, so I called Blake.”

“Blake?” His voice sounds stiff.

“I know that probably seems pretty random.”

“A little.” He sounds slightly hurt.

“Well…when you couldn’t go to the desert with me, and I knew my mom would be mad if I went alone, and Mollie wasn’t around, well, I kind of asked Blake to go. And then when you weren’t around for the party, I just—”

“You don’t have to explain, Erin.” He sounds formal.

“I know. But you’re my friend.”

“Right. And I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.”

“It’s okay!”

“And I hope you’re not getting in over your head with Blake.”

Part of me wants to question what he means by this, but another part says
let it go.
And anyway, I can pretty much guess what he means. “Sorry about the miscommunication,” I say. Then to change the subject I ask him about his ski trip, but he tells me that he’s just getting into traffic and probably shouldn’t be on the phone, and so we hang up. And then I feel guilty, but I’m not even sure why.

“You guys look great,” Fran says as the four of us pile into the limo—a real limo this time.

“Thanks,” Paige tells her. “With Erin and Blake I was going for more of a preppy-ingénue look. Sort of yacht club. And
Addison and I are more like the islands…maybe Jamaica, don’t you think?”

“This is why we love you, Paige.” Fran nods approvingly at Addison’s white shirt, linen pants, and sandals. The perfect complement to Paige’s off-white dress with embroidered birds and flowers. When she had first held this dress up on a hanger, I thought she was kidding. But when I saw it on her, I knew it was perfect. And fortunately, the weather has been dry and unseasonably warm today, just right for a beach party. If this really were a party. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not—it’s work. As if to drive that point home, we begin wiring ourselves for sound.

“Our camera crew won’t be allowed access within the party,” Fran tells us as we fiddle with our mics and wires. “But like the other night, you’ll get as much time with them as you want outside of the party. Unfortunately, they probably won’t want you hanging outside though, since this is supposedly a surprise party.” She laughs. “Like Mia doesn’t know.”

“Does Mia know
we’re
coming?” I ask.

Fran just shrugs. “Hard to say. It was their producer who extended the invitation. Anyway, all four of your names should be on the list. The best plan is probably to head in there and then, later on, see if you can lure anyone outside for the sake of our cameras.” She looks to me. “You did a great job with that last time, Erin.”

“Most of them were more than willing once they realized they might be seen on our show too,” I tell her.

Next, Fran preps the guys for what’s in store, and tells them to just be themselves. “Don’t let those kids intimidate you. But don’t be camera hogs either.” She chuckles. “Just because you’re at a
Malibu Beach
party does not mean you’re
going to be instant stars. Most likely you’ll end up on the cutting-room floor.”

Suddenly it’s time to get out and I’m feeling seriously nervous. Despite Paige’s noble plan to win Mia over, I realize that tonight’s “party” could be even more challenging than the last one.

“Have a good time,” Fran says as we get out of the limo.

“This is so fun,” Blake tells me as he takes my arm.

I lower my voice, shielding my mic. “Oh, and just FYI—there’s a lot of drinking at these parties…”

He shrugs. “I don’t plan to get caught up in that.” As the camera crew comes closer, he puts on his Hollywood smile. “But I don’t mind getting caught by the cameras.”

I consider warning him that with Paige leading the way, there’s not much chance the cameras will be interested in us. But, hey, why spoil his fun? I must admit that it’s kind of reassuring to have him with me tonight. And even if he’s just using me as his opportunity to grab fifteen minutes of fame (more like fifteen seconds, and that’s if he’s lucky) I suppose I’m kind of using him too, but it’s in a friendly way…I think.

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