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Excerpt - Lost in Las Vegas by Melody Carlson

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Lost in Las Vegas (Carter House Girls Series)

Zondervan (February 1, 2009)

Mix six teenaged girls and one ’60s fashion icon (retired, of course) in an old Victorian-era boarding home. Add boys and dating, a little high-school angst, and throw in a Kate Spade bag or two … and you’ve got The Carter House Girls, Melody Carlson’s new chick lit series for young adults!
In a whirlwind, DJ accepts “lonely” Taylor’s invitation to join her mom’s tour in Las Vegas during Christmas break. DJ soon discovers that the unsupervised Taylor is focused on one thing only—partying with a capital “P.” She’s invited Eliza, too, and DJ is quickly overwhelmed by the behavior of the wild duo. Desperate, she calls on Casey for help and prays for a miracle to help Taylor before she self-destructs.


Melody Carlson has written more than 200 books for teens, women, and children. Before publishing, Melody traveled around the world, volunteered in teen ministry, taught preschool, raised two sons, and worked briefly in interior design and later in international adoption. "I think real-life experiences inspire the best friction," she says. Her wide variety of books seems to prove this theory.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714923
ISBN-13: 978-0310714927


“Remind me to never, ever star in another high school musical again.” Eliza sighed dramatically as she poured her coffee. It was the Sunday morning after the final performance of South Pacific and DJ suspected that Eliza was just fishing for compliments. Not that she hadn’t already gotten plenty. And last night, she’d been presented with a huge bouquet of roses. DJ knew they were from Eliza’s parents, but Eliza received them like an Oscar.

“But what if Mr. Harper really does High School Musical in the spring?” asked Kriti with wide dark eyes. DJ could tell by the way Kriti said this that she was hoping he would. Eliza probably was too.

“That is so last week,” said Taylor.

“Meaning you wouldn’t participate in it?” Eliza pushed a long strand of blond hair over her shoulder and sat up straighter, looking directly at Taylor like this was a personal challenge.

Taylor rolled her eyes then reached for the fruit platter. “Meaning I don’t really want to think about it right now. Sheesh, Eliza, didn’t you just ask us to remind you never to be another musical?”

“Eliza is probably just trying to secure her next starring role,” said Rhiannon. Then she frowned like she hadn’t really meant it to sound like that. “And why shouldn’t she?” she added quickly. “Eliza was absolutely fantastic as Nurse Nellie. Everyone said so.”

“And it’s obvious that Eliza will never want us to forget that she was a star,” teased Casey.

“Was.” Taylor chuckled. “As in she’s a has-been now.”

Some of the girls snickered, but Eliza just glared at Taylor.

Then as if she’d just started listening, Grandmother cleared her throat, closing the open date book that she’d been studying, she looked at the girls. “I see there are only two weeks remaining until winter break, ladies.” She shook her head sadly. “I just can’t believe that it’s already December. It seems like only yesterday that you girls arrived at Carter House. My, my, how time flies.”

“And the Winter Ball is next Saturday,” Eliza reminded them. As if anyone could’ve forgotten with all posters plastered all over the school. But DJ was still unsure. Conner had asked her to go, but she hadn’t agreed. Even though Haley hadn’t returned to school yet, it still made DJ uncomfortable to be seen as more than “just friends” with Conner. And DJ knew that Haley’s swim team buddies were probably reporting to her.

“My mother and I are shopping for gowns today,” continued Eliza. She glanced at her roommate. “And Kriti too, or course.”

“I already have my dress,” said Taylor. “A little something my mother sent over from Milan while she was performing there last month.”

DJ could tell this little dig was aimed directly at Eliza. The two girls had been going at it steadily for the last couple of weeks. It had started when Eliza’s boyfriend Harry had made what Eliza interpreted as a flirtatious move toward Taylor during a rehearsal for the musical. Actually, DJ had seen it herself and, although she hadn’t told anyone, she felt certain that Harry had been flirting too. But he’d been unaware that Eliza had been watching at the time. Yet, in a way, DJ was glad Eliza and Taylor were at odds again. They had all experienced those two “power forces” united during last month’s ski trip—and it had been rather frightening experience. Sort of like it might be if Russia and China ever got together.

“My mother offered to shop a gown for me in Paris,” said Eliza, her attempt at one-upping Taylor. “But I told her to wait. I wouldn’t want to risk having a dress that fit poorly.”

“That’s why God invented alterations, Eliza,” said Taylor. “Or perhaps you don’t have such conveniences down south.”

“I don’t see why girls think they need to go out and spend a bunch of money on something new for a silly dance,” said Casey. She glanced at Rhiannon and DJ suspected that Casey was trying to make her feel better. “I mean you’ll wear that dress like one time. What a waste!”

“So what do you intend to wear?” asked Eliza with a bored sort of interest. “Your Doc Martins and something with spikes?”

Casey made a face. “Actually, I might go eighties retro. Like Madonna or Blondie.”

“Right.” Eliza turned up her nose. “And the Winter Ball theme is White Christmas and we’re supposed to dress in a fifties style of Hollywood elegance.”

“You take those posters literally?” asked Casey.

“They suggested dresses in Christmas colors of red, green or white.” Eliza continued like she was reading it from a brochure.

“I think it’ll be pretty,” said Kriti.

“I intend to look for something sparkly in white to show off my tan,” said Eliza.

“Fake tan.” Taylor pushed a curly dark strand of hair away from her face and laughed. “My dress is black.”

“It figures.” Eliza snickered.

“I’m going to wear green,” said Rhiannon quickly, like she was trying to keep this from escalating.

“What do you mean it figures?” demanded Taylor.

“Everyone else will look Christmassy in red, green or white and the vamp will show up wearing black.” Eliza laughed.

“Speaking of Winter Break,” said Grandmother loudly. “What exactly are your plans, ladies?” She opened her date book and picked up her silver pen. “I’d like to make note of it now, if you don’t mind.”

“I’ll be in France for Christmas,” Eliza announced proudly.

“So you’ll be flying directly to France from Connecticut?” inquired Grandmother.

“Actually, I’ll spend the first week or so in Kentucky,” admitted Eliza. “Visiting with friends and family. Then my older siblings and I will travel together just before Christmas. My mother said the rooms aren’t completely renovated yet. Her designer, a well-known Parisian, promises to have it completed before Christmas Eve.”

“La—tee—da,” said Casey.

Grandmother frowned at Casey. “So, how about you, Miss Atwood? When will you be departing for California?”

“The same day that school is out.”

Grandmother made note of this.

“And I’ll be leaving the day after school it out,” said Rhiannon.

Grandmother’s brows lifted with curiosity. “To go where, dear?”

“To an aunt who lives in Maine.”

Grandmother smiled. “That’s nice. I didn’t know you had an aunt, Rhiannon.”

“I didn’t either. She’s actually a great aunt and…” Rhiannon paused as if unsure. “My mother may be joining me up there.”

“Really?” Grandmother looked a bit skeptical, and everyone else got quiet. They all knew that Rhiannon’s mother was in drug rehab—the lockdown kind.

“Yes. If my aunt signs something, they’ll release her for the holidays.”

“Very interesting.” Grandmother looked at Kriti now. “I assume you’ll be in New York?”

Kriti nodded happily. “Yes. We have some relatives coming from India to visit. My mother is very excited.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll have a delightful Christmas.” Grandmother frowned with realization. “I suppose you don’t call it Christmas, do you, Kriti?”

Kriti looked slightly embarrassed. “It’s a different sort of holiday, Mrs. Carter. We celebrate things like love, affection, sharing, and the renewing of family bonds.”

“That sounds lovely.” Grandmother looked at Taylor now. “And what will you be doing during the holidays, dear?”

Taylor sighed. “My mother has invited me to tour with her.”

Grandmother’s eyes lit up. She was a huge fan of Eva Perez. “Where will she be touring? Europe still?”

“I wish. No, she’ll be in the southwest by then. And it looks like we’ll be spending Christmas in Las Vegas.”

Eliza snickered. “Charming.”

Taylor tossed her a warning glance. “Hey, Las Vegas has its perks.”

“Most importantly, is that you’re with family, Taylor.” Grandmother smiled. “Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?”

Taylor shrugged. “I guess.”

Now Grandmother looked at DJ. “Now, you’re still certain you don’t want to join your father and his family for Christmas, Desiree?”

“No, Grandmother.” DJ tried not to show frustration. But she and Grandmother had already been over this. The last place DJ wanted to be during Christmas break was with her father’s happy little step family. It was bad enough that this would be her first Christmas without her mother. But to be stuck playing the live-in babysitter to the toddler twins was unimaginable.

“Well, I’m sure that we’ll have a delightful time right here at home.” Grandmother smiled at DJ. “Perhaps we’ll have the general over.”

DJ got sympathetic glances from Rhiannon and Casey and maybe even Kriti. Not that she wanted their pity. But Eliza just smiled smugly. And Taylor, well, she was a hard one to read.

But later that day, after DJ and Rhiannon got back from church, Taylor asked DJ if she was happy about her “holiday plans.”

DJ groaned as she flopped onto her bed. “Holiday plans? Like I planned any of this?”

Taylor laughed. “Yeah, I guess not.”

“I’ll be fine,” DJ assured her. “I’ll catch up on sleep and reading.”

“Maybe Conner will be around to keep you entertained,” Taylor said in a sexy sounding teasing tone.

“Conner is going with his family to Montana for two weeks.”


“Tell me about it.”

“I know!” Taylor exclaimed. “You’ll come out to Las Vegas and visit me for Christmas.”

DJ just laughed. “Oh, yeah, like that’s going to happen.”

“Why not?” Taylor looked slightly hurt.

“Seriously, Christmas in Las Vegas?”

“Why not?”

“Well, besides the fact that it sounds totally crazy. I know that my grandmother would never—in a million years—agree to something like that.” And the truth was that DJ was secretly relieved for this excuse. Because, really, the only thing she could imagine being worse than spending Christmas with Grandmother in Connecticut, or even her father’s step family in California, would be to spend Christmas in Las Vegas with Taylor Mitchell.

Chapter 2

“Why don’t you just go to the dance with Conner?” demanded Casey as DJ drove them home from school on Tuesday.

“I agree with Casey,” said Taylor. “Why don’t you just get it over with and say you’ll go?”

“I agree too,” chimed in Rhiannon. “Just go, DJ.”

“You know you want to,” urged Casey.

“Yes, I’ve admitted that,” said DJ. “But I just don’t want to risk hurting Haley again. She’s been through so much already.”

“That wasn’t your fault,” pointed out Rhiannon.

And, sure, DJ knew that she hadn’t been the one to push Haley into her “fake” suicide attempt—an attempt that nearly killed her. But DJ cared about Haley. She didn’t want to take any chances.

“But you said that when Haley was in the hospital, she told you that she was fine with you and Conner getting back—“

“Sure, she said that. But who knows how she really feels? Or even how she feels now?”

“Where exactly is she now?” ventured Taylor.

“I’m not supposed to say.”

“We know it’s some kind of loony bin,” said Taylor. “Why not just be honest and tell us?”

“It’s not a loony bin.” DJ scowled at Taylor as she stopped for the light. “If you must know, it’s a therapeutic clinic in New Jersey.”

“Tomatoes, to-MAH-toes. Same thing, Deej.”

“Whatever. The point is I don’t want to hurt her.”

“I know what you’re worried about…” Taylor was using that sly tone she sometimes put on to get DJ going. “You think Haley’s thugs are going to beat you up again, don’t you?”

“I do not.” Okay, the truth was, that was a little worrisome. DJ had done what she could to befriend Bethany and Amy while Haley was still in the hospital. And while Amy showed some signs of understanding, Bethany (a very large and athletic girl) was another story. Bethany was fiercely loyal to Haley. So much so that DJ sometimes secretly wondered if Bethany had feelings beyond just friendship for Haley. Okay, that was dumb. But Bethany was scary.

“Why don’t you just call Haley?” suggested Casey. “Ask her how she feels about it?”

“That seems a little harsh,” pointed out DJ. “I mean she’s being treated for suicide and I’m calling up to see if it’s okay if I go to the Winter Ball with the guy she almost OD’d for? Maybe I should ask her about my dress too and if I go for a white gown is it okay to wear white shoes after Labor Day?”
“Yeah, that does seem a little harsh,” agreed Rhiannon.

“So, really, you guys can give it up okay,” said DJ. “I think Conner already has.”

“I just feel sad that you’re the only one in Carter House who’s not going,” said Rhiannon.

“Well, don’t.” DJ turned onto their street, eager to end this conversation. The truth was DJ felt a little sad about the whole thing herself. In fact, it seemed a little unfair. But it also seemed like the mature thing to do. As far as Crescent Cove High and the world at large were concerned, she and Conner were still just friends. And that’s how she planned to keep it until she knew that Haley could handle it.

“So, do you think Rhiannon and I could borrow your car?” asked Casey. “We still have a few things to pick up for the dance.”

“Sure…” DJ pulled into the driveway, suddenly feeling even more out of it. “You mean this afternoon?”

“If you don’t mind…”

“We’d ask you to come along too,” said Rhiannon in an apologetic, “but that might seem crass…considering you’re not going to the dance…”

“Hey, why don’t we all go,” suggested Taylor suddenly. “You two can hit your retro stores and DJ can help me pick out some really hot shoes.”

“Okay,” said DJ, actually feeling eager. “And I’ll just pretend like I’m going to the dance too.”

“Who knows,” said Casey, “maybe we’ll change your mind.”

“Or maybe just talk you into a new pair of shoes,” teased Taylor.

So off they headed to the mall. And for a while DJ even pretended that she, like them, was getting ready to go to the dance. She even held up some dresses and imagined she was going.

“Oh, DJ,” said Taylor as DJ held up a garnet red sequined number. “That is really hot.” She shook her head. “And most people say blondes can’t wear red.”

“Well, I’m just a dishwater blond,” DJ reminded her.

“Why don’t you just go?” demanded Taylor. “If it makes you feel better, send Haley a note to explain it. Sheesh, she’s in therapy anyway…might give her something to talk about during one of her group sessions.”

DJ couldn’t help but laugh. Still, it seemed mean.

“Seriously, DJ. You might be doing her a favor to go. Kind of a reality check. I mean it’s about time Haley figured out that, even though she tries to kill herself, she can’t control other people. If a guy doesn’t like you, he just doesn’t like you. Get over it already.”

DJ considered this. As harsh as it sounded, it was probably true. “I don’t know…”

“Look, DJ,” said Taylor. “I know you’re trying to be nice—the goody-good girl. But have you considered the possibility that you’re just being codependent?”


“You actually have some codependent traits.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, your desire to keep everyone happy and—“

“I do NOT try to keep everyone happy.”

Taylor laughed. “That’s right. You usually try to make me miserable.”

“I do not.”

“See,” said Taylor, like that proved her point.

DJ felt confused.

“All I’m saying is that you and Conner go tiptoeing around, pretending you’re not dating so that you can protect Haley’s delicate feelings while she’s in the loony bin and you think you’re helping her? What happens when she’s back in the real world and you and Conner, say, want to go to the prom, do you blame yourselves if Haley gets hurt and goes and jumps off a bridge? Will you forever be responsible for Haley and the choices she makes?”

“That does sound a little creepy…when you put it like that.”

“It sounds unhealthy and codependent to me.”


“So, stop it!”
DJ pulled out her phone now and hit Conner’s speed dial. “Conner,” she said in a firm voice, “do you still want to take me to the Winter Ball?”

“Of course.”

So she quickly replayed what Taylor had just said and Conner actually laughed. “Well, I can’t believe that the roommate from hell could just tell you what I’ve been saying to you for weeks, but you would listen to her and not to me.”

“Sorry,” said DJ. “Sometimes God works in mysterious ways.”

Taylor frowned at her with arms folded across her chest and toe tapping.

“Anyway, if you’re okay, I’m okay,” said DJ. “But I plan to write Haley a little note to let her know what’s up. I think it’ll just be kind of like an I’m-thinking-of-you sort of email, and then I’ll casually mention that we’re going to the dance next weekend. Does that sound okay?”

“I don’t think you even need to do that much, DJ.”

“I just want to.”

“Yeah…that’s just one of the things I like about you.”

She smiled. “Okay, then…sounds like it’s a date.”

“You bet!”

“By the way, the dress is red.”

“Right…does that mean I need a red tux?”

DJ laughed and whispered to Taylor, “Conner just asked me if he needs to get a red tux.”

Taylor snatched the phone. “Not red, you idiot.” Then she told him specifically what he needed and where to get it before she handed the phone back to DJ.

“Sorry about that,” said DJ.

“No, it’s actually helpful. But I probably should’ve been taking notes.”

“I’m sure Taylor can write it down for you.”

“Guess I can tell the guys to put me down for the stretch limo now. Harry’s already ordered a Hummer.”

“Sounds fun.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Conner. “This will be our first real date in a long time.”

“Date?” DJ echoed as the meaning of the word sank in.

“Well, it is, isn’t it?”
“Yeah…” she nodded slowly. “I guess so.”

“And you’re okay with that?”

“Yeah…I’m just getting used to the idea.”

“Have fun shopping.”

“Thanks.” DJ hung up and looked at Taylor. “I guess we’re going.”

“Of course, you’re going.” Taylor shoved the red dress at her. “Now, try this on. I think it’s you’re size, but I’ll grab a couple of others just in case.”

After several tries, DJ found the perfect fit and when she came out to show Taylor, a couple other shoppers paused to look. Everyone agreed that it was perfect. DJ spun around. “It feels so good to be in a dress like this without a big old cast on my foot.”

Taylor laughed and explained to the bystanders that DJ had recently recovered from a broken leg.

“You look stunning,” said the sales woman. “Do you want me to start writing it up for you?”
DJ paused. “Oh, I didn’t even look at the price.”

“Just put it on granny’s account,” ordered Taylor.

“But I—“

“Trust me,” said Taylor. “If necessary, I’ll do the explaining. But I know that you’re grandmother would want you to have this dress, Desiree!”

“Yes, Desiree,” said the sales woman, “I’m sure she would.”

But while Taylor was taking the dress up to the counter, DJ called her grandmother and quickly explained. “And Taylor insists it’s the perfect dress,” she said finally, “but I think it’s a bit ex—“

“If Taylor says it’s perfect, it’s perfect,” proclaimed Grandmother. “And I’m so pleased to hear you’re going to the Winter Ball, Desiree. I didn’t want to say anything, or to make you feel badly, but I was terribly disappointed when I heard you hadn’t been invited.”

DJ almost pointed out that she HAD been invited but that she’d declined, but then she realized it would make no difference. Grandmother, as usual, would draw her own conclusions. Why bother? “Thanks, Grandmother,” she said brightly. “And now I’ll need shoes and—“

“Of course, you will. Ask Taylor to help you with those too. Her taste is as impeccable as her looks.”

“Okay….” What Grandmother didn’t know never failed to astonish DJ. Still, everyone knew that Taylor was Grandmother’s prize pony.

“The second-hand shoppers just called,” said Taylor after the saleswoman put the dress on her grandmother’s account and handed over the sleek garment bag. “I told them the good news and that it’ll take us at least an hour to snag the other things you’ll need.”

“They were okay with that?”

“Sure, Rhiannon said they’d just grab the metro back to town.”

“They didn’t mind using public transportation?”

“You know those two.” Taylor shook her head. “The grittier it gets the happier they are.”

“Did they find what they’re looking for?”

“Sounded like it.” Taylor hurried DJ along. “And I just remembered a great pair of shoes that I noticed several shops back. I think they’ll be perfect with that dress.”

“Grandmother knew you would.”

Taylor looked curiously at DJ then laughed. “Well, of course!”

By the time they finished, DJ was starving. “Let’s get something at the food court,” she urged Taylor. “I’m craving real food.”
Taylor looked like she was going to turn up her nose, but then she noticed the new Japanese place. “I could go for sushi.”

“No,” said DJ, pulling Taylor by the arm. “I mean real food. You’ve been bossing me around the fashion arena, I’m going to boss you around the cuisine arena. We’re having pasta.”

“Pasta?” Taylor’s eyes lit up.

“Yeah. And, trust me, we’ve done enough walking and shopping that you don’t need to worry about the calories.”

And so they didn’t. And as they sat there slurping up linguini with pesto, DJ thought there might be hope for them yet. After all, hadn’t this been a fairly normal shopping trip? Just two friends out getting ready for the Winter Ball? And yet DJ knew Taylor well enough to know that Taylor could pull the rug out from under her at any given moment. And while that was kind of exciting—in an adrenaline rush sort of way—it was also a little frightening.

Chapter 3

“Show and tell,” said Eliza as soon as DJ and Taylor came into the house with their arms loaded up with bags.

“What?” Taylor frowned at Eliza.

“Come on,” urged Eliza in her southern singsong voice. “Show and tell.”
Taylor rolled her eyes. “In your dreams.”

“But I showed you girls my dress on Sunday night,” she protested.

“Showed off, don’t you mean?” Taylor just kept walking up the stairs.

“Come on, DJ,” urged Eliza. “Don’t you want to show us your dress? We already know that you’re going to the dance.”

“Who told you?”

“Your grandmother,” Kriti informed. “At dinner.”

“So you’ve decided that Haley can just go take a flying leap?” teased Eliza.

“No. I realized that I was doing her no favors by sparing her from the truth.” DJ looked up the stairs. Taylor was already in their room. “My roommate helped me to see the light.”

Eliza laughed loudly.

Now Rhiannon and Casey looked down the stairs. “Did you find a dress?” called down Rhiannon.

“Yes, but Taylor and DJ won’t let us see their dresses,” Eliza called back up.

“I didn’t say that.”

“So, can we see?” asked Eliza hopefully.

“I’ll think about it,” said DJ. Then she ran up the stairs.

“We’re watching a chick flick down here,” said Kriti. “If you’re interested.”

“Thanks,” said DJ. “But I have homework.”

“And we’re designing,” called Rhiannon.

“So we’ve heard,” Eliza called back. “Not that we’re interested. Are we, Kriti. Who cares what everyone else in the house is wearing. We know that we’ll look great.”

DJ couldn’t help but laugh as she went up the stairs. Why was it so vital for Eliza to know what everyone else was wearing? Of course, DJ knew the answer to this. It’s like everything was a competition with that girl. A competition where Eliza Wilton had to come out on top. And DJ had seen Eliza’s beautiful white dress. To be honest, it could’ve passed for a wedding dress. A comment that Taylor made, but not in such a flattering way. But there was no denying that it was beautiful—in a confectionary sort of way. All sparkly white and fitted, and Eliza did look like a princess in it. Fitting since Eliza probably did consider herself to be royalty. At least in Carter House.

And Kriti had looked like a nice little lady in waiting to Princess Eliza in her red velvet gown. Although DJ had thought it hadn’t done much for Kriti’s shape. Not that Kriti had a bad shape. But the velvet seemed heavy and awkward and probably added pounds, which didn’t help since Kriti was much shorter than the other girls, and not as slender. Anyway, it seemed that the dress overwhelmed her. But Eliza had proclaimed it perfect. And for a handmaid, it probably was. Poor Kriti. Still, she seemed happy with her lot in life—catering to Eliza.

“Want a sneak peek?” whispered Rhiannon once DJ was at the second floor landing.

“Of you guys?”

“Yeah, but we’d like to see your dress too.”

“Sure.” DJ slipped into their room, unzipping her bag to reveal the scrumptious gown.

“That’s gorgeous,” said Rhiannon with an affirming nod. “Really, really beautiful.”

“Swanky,” teased Casey.

DJ frowned.

“But pretty,” Casey said quickly.

“Thanks. Now, show me what you guys put together.” DJ looked around the messy room. Rhiannon’s sewing machine was still out and there were pieces of dresses and scarves and fabric strewn all about. “It’s certainly interesting in here.”

Rhiannon went over to her sewing machine and lifted up what appeared to be a pile of varying shades of green fabric. But when she held it up it turned into what looked like an incredible creation. “What do you think?” she asked hopefully.

“I think it’s fantastic, Rhiannon.” DJ went closer to examine it. Constructed of all different types of green fabrics, scarves, ribbons, beads and trims and yet it didn’t look goofy or homemade. “It’s amazing.”

“Isn’t it?” said Casey with pride. “I can’t believe she made this from scrap.”

“From recycled dresses and blouses and whatever I could find that worked,” said Rhiannon.

“You could sell clothes like this,” said DJ.

“And you don’t need to worry about anyone wearing the same dress,” added Casey.

Rhiannon laughed. “For sure.”

“Hold it up,” urged DJ.

Rhiannon held it in front of her, and those rich green tones against her pale skin and vibrant red hair looked absolutely stunning.

“I can’t imagine anything more beautiful,” said DJ. “It’s perfect.”

“I told her she looks like a Celtic goddess,” said Casey.

“It’s certainly magical. It reminds me of Ireland…or fairies.”

“Thanks so much, you guys!” Rhiannon was beaming now. “It’s kind of hard, you know, not having money like some people and trying to keep up with…well, everyone.”

“There’s no need to keep up with me,” said Casey.

“What are you wearing, Case?” DJ turned to look at her.

“Just like I said.” Casey opened her closet and pulled out something that looked like a cross between a string corset and a multi-ruffled petticoat. “And I’ll wear my black motorcycle jacket and fishnets and boots. You know, the rocking retro thing.”

“Eliza’s going to love this,” teased DJ.

“I think that’s why she’s doing it.” Rhiannon got a slight frown. “Just to get Eliza’s goat.”

“And to express my individuality,” proclaimed Casey.

“You’ll both be one of a kind,” said DJ. And a part of her wished that she’d used more ingenuity for her own gown. But, to be fair, creativity was not her strong suit. And she’d always been fashion-challenged.

As DJ zipped her gown back into the bag, Casey chuckled. “With you in that dress, Princess Eliza will probably be pea green with envy.”

“I doubt that,” said DJ. “But it’s fun making her wait.”

“Princess Eliza needs to learn that she doesn’t rule Carter House,” proclaimed Casey defiantly.

“Yeah,” agreed DJ, “This isn’t Eliza-lot.”

Rhiannon laughed.

“Thanks for showing me your dresses.” DJ headed for the door.

“And you promise you won’t show Eliza?” Casey peered at her.

DJ shrugged. “Don’t know why I should.”

Casey gave her a thumb’s up.

Of course, DJ felt slightly guilty now. It’s not like she specifically wanted to mean or to exclude Eliza. But sometimes Eliza was so pushy. Oh, she’d do it in that sweet southern style. But it felt pushy all the same. And, knowing that Eliza’s parents were from one of the wealthiest families in the country didn’t make it any easier to be nice. And, really, this wasn’t Eliza-lot!

“Did you see Rhiannon and Casey’s dresses?” Taylor asked with mild interest, not even looking up from her fashion rag.

“Yeah.” DJ hung her dress in the closet. “Rhiannon’s is spectacular.”

“Really?” Taylor set the magazine aside.

“Like it could be in a movie spectacular.”

Taylor’s brow creased slightly. “Maybe we should pay the girl to start designing for us.”

DJ picked up her laptop then sat on her bed. “You know…that’s not a bad idea, Taylor.”

“We’d have our own designer originals and Rhiannon could make money for college.”

DJ stared at Taylor in wonder. “Sometimes you blow my mind, Taylor.”

Taylor looked surprised now. “Huh?”

“You can be…kind of mean sometimes…and then surprisingly nice.”

Taylor just shrugged then returned to her magazine. “We all have our faults.”

DJ laughed and opened her laptop. “I guess….”

But before DJ even started her homework, she decided to write Haley the promised note. She and Haley had emailed a few times (not daily) since Haley had gone to Oak View for treatment. Finally, DJ felt like the note had just the right tone to it. Light and encouraging, but honest and to the point. She read through it one more time.

Hey Haley. I hope you’re doing well. Life around here is pretty much the same. School is boring. Finals are impending. And everyone is counting down the days to Christmas break. Everyone but me that is since all I get to do is stick around Carter House with my grandmother. Big thrill. I just wanted you to know (from me and not someone else) that I’m going to the Winter Ball with Conner next Saturday. The main reason I decided to go was because he felt left out since all his friends were going. And I suppose I felt left out too. I wish you were around so you could go to. I know there are dozens of guys who would jump at the chance to take you! And I hope it’s not upsetting for you to hear that Conner and I are going to this dance together. I know you said that it’s over between you two. But I don’t want to make you feel sad. Catch ya later. Love, DJ.

DJ said a quick prayer for Haley then hit send. Really, she told herself as she switched gears to homework, Taylor was right. This might be one more step in Haley getting over it. And if it wasn’t, well, wouldn’t it be better for Haley to be where she had professional help anyway? Still, DJ decide this would be even more motivation to keep praying for Haley. She really did want her to get well—and soon. Hopefully Haley would be back to normal and back school after winter break.

The next three days at school seemed focused on two things—and really, DJ thought, it seemed crazy—but everyone was either talking about the upcoming dance or complaining about finals. Kind of a dichotomy. But by the end of the week, DJ realized that a lot of the talk and excitement weren’t only about the dance, but about what was happening “after the dance.”

It turned out—big surprise here—that some of the guys had rented some hotel suites in the same place where the Winter Ball was being held. And there was no mystery as to why they’d done this. Oh, sure, DJ had overhead guys saying things like, “We just want to keep the party going,” or “we need a place to just relax and hang.” But DJ was pretty sure she knew what it was all about. And she mentioned this to Conner as they were going into the cafeteria for lunch on Friday.

“I’m assuming that you had the good sense not to rent a room?”

He looked shocked then chuckled. “Well, I’m not a saint, DJ. But, no way! You know I would never do something like that.”

“Besides being a waste of money, you’d end up dancing by yourself at the Winter Ball.”

“Trust me, I know that.”

She laughed. “Well, actually, I’m sure there are plenty of girls who’d want to dance with you, Conner. But I wouldn’t be among them.”

“Thanks.” He grinned. “I got that.”

“So what’s up with these guys?” she said quietly since they were getting into the lunch line now. “I mean like I even heard that Harry talked Josh Trundle into going in with them.” I glanced to see if Kriti was around. “And I just can’t imagine that Kriti would go for that.”
“Unless Eliza talks her into it.”

“Good point.”

“And I’m sure you’re aware that your roommate is on the guest list.”

“Not that she’s told me, but I assumed.” DJ rolled her eyes as she picked up a tray.

“I heard that Garrison is in on it too. He and Seth reserved an adjoined suite.”

Now this surprised her. “Does Casey know?”

Conner shrugged as he reached for a burger.

DJ sighed. “I wish our friends would just act like normal teenagers.”

Conner laughed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

DJ had to laugh too. “I don’t know…I guess I just wish everyone wasn’t so into playing grownups. Won’t we get there soon enough?”

Unfortunately Madison Dormont overheard this. And she laughed so loudly that she snorted. Then she took off and DJ could only assume she ran to tell her friends. Not that DJ cared. Sometimes DJ wanted to shout her opinions from the rooftops. “Everybody just chill!” she would scream at the top of her lungs. “You don’t have to drink alcohol or do drugs or have sex or break the rules to have fun in high school. News flash—it usually turns out to be exactly the opposite!” But DJ figured most kids wouldn’t listen. Or if they were listening they’d probably pretend like they weren’t.

Just the same, she decided to bring it up at Carter House. But not while her grandmother was listening. They were just finishing up dinner. Grandmother had excused herself—she and the general were meeting for dessert, which was probably in the form of an after-dinner drink. DJ thought it was somewhat unusual that all six girls were still sitting around the table on a Friday night. But there hadn’t been a basketball game, or anything else it seemed, to tempt anyone besides Grandmother out on a cold blustery evening in East Connecticut. And DJ supposed, because of the big night planned for tomorrow, everyone was taking it easy tonight.

“So I hear some of the guys are planning an all-night party tomorrow,” DJ mentioned casually.

“Are you coming?” asked Eliza.

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

Eliza laughed. “I didn’t think so.”

“I’m curious as to how you explained this to my grandmother.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.

“Nothing…just that I’m curious.”

“You’re not planning ratting on us, are you?”

DJ innocently held up her hands.

“I’m not completely sure that I’m going yet,” said Kriti quickly.

“Good for you.” DJ smiled at her.

“Yes,” agreed Rhiannon. “That’s the wise choice.”

“Not that she’s made up her mind,” said Eliza with a cool smile.

DJ turned to Casey now. “So how about you?”


“You’re joining in the all night party?”

Casey shrugged. “I told Garrison we could go up there for a while.”

“For a while?”

“Yeah…what’s wrong with that?”
“What do you think is wrong with that?”

She shrugged again. “Nothing. We’ll just hang and party a while. Then I’ll come home. No big deal.”

“And do you honestly think that’s why the guys are shelling out the big bucks to rent these expensive suites?” DJ asked her. “Just to put your feet up and have a few laughs?”

“Why not?”

“You don’t think they expect anything in return?”

“Oh, DJ, lighten up,” said Eliza. “Maybe we do just want to hang and have a few laughs. What is wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong is that you know that’s not what this is about, Eliza.”

Taylor, who had been silently watching had a very sly grin on her face, but she still didn’t say anything. So DJ turned to her. “Tell them, Taylor. Why do you think the guys are renting hotel suites tomorrow night?”

“Why not?”
“See,” said Eliza. “Even Taylor gets that it’s no big deal. I don’t see why you and Conner don’t pop up to check on us if you don’t believe it.”

“Yeah, right.” DJ glanced at Rhiannon for backup now.

“I have to side with DJ on this,” she said firmly.

“What a surprise,” said Eliza. “But, really girls, if you’re so sure that we’ll be up there having some big orgy, why don’t ya’ll pay us a little visit?”

“Maybe we will,” DJ said hotly.

Taylor laughed. “You will not.”

DJ sighed in resignation. “Probably not.”

“If it makes you feel any better,” began Casey, “I’ll lay my cards on the table with Garrison.”

“Meaning what?” DJ challenged her.

“I’ll tell him that if he’s asking me up there to have sex, then he’s out of luck.”

DJ nodded. “I can actually imagine you saying that,” DJ told her. “But I wonder if Garrison will take you seriously?”

“That’s a good point,” said Rhiannon. “It’s like saying one thing and doing another.”

“Like you tell a guy no and then you follow him up to his hotel room,” DJ added. “What’s that really saying?”

Casey seemed to consider this.

“I think Josh would understand,” said Kriti quietly.

“I’ll admit that Josh seems like a mature kind of guy,” DJ told her. “But he’s a guy.”
“That’s right,” said Rhiannon. “I thought Bradford was more mature too…” She glanced at Taylor, as did everyone else. “But I’ve been disappointed.”

“All I’m saying,” DJ said to everyone except Rhiannon. “Is that if you go up to the suite with your boyfriends, no matter what they say, they will want things to go further.”

“And, really,” said Eliza in an exasperated tone, “is that any of your business, DJ?” She stood like she was leaving and Kriti stood, too, just like her puppet or puppy dog or lady in waiting.

“Because we live under the same roof and because some of you are my friends…yeah, I think it is.”

Taylor narrowed her eyes at DJ. “So what are you saying, DJ? Are you threatening to tell your grandmother? Because, if that’s the case, I will have my alibi ready.”

“So will we,” said Eliza. She was obviously speaking for Kriti too.

Casey said nothing.

“All I’m saying is that I hope you all use good sense tomorrow night.”

“Your good sense?” asked Taylor. “Or our own?”

“Whatever.” DJ rolled her eyes, wondering why she’d even bothered.

“Nice try,” said Rhiannon after the other four had left.

“What’s the point?”

“Do you think that’s how God feels when he sends warnings to us?”

DJ sighed. “I don’t know….”

“Well, people have the right to make their own choices,” Rhiannon reminded her, “and their own mistakes.”

And, although DJ knew Rhiannon was right, she still wished there was something she could do. But sometimes the only thing to do was to pray. And maybe that wasn’t such a small thing.


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