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Authors: Melody Carlson

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Premiere
On the Runway
Melody Carlson

BOOK ONE

Prologue

My older sister, Paige, has always been a
fashion freak. When we were little, she actually forced me to play Barbies with her. Of course, she’d get mad when I’d transform my doll into “Adventure Barbie.” My scrappy doll with her messy hair liked to jump out of burning buildings, rescue lost dogs, and do bareback tricks on my model horse, Prancer. But like most girls, Paige only wanted to dress her flawless every-hair-in-place blonde Barbie in one outfit after the next as she played “style show.” I should’ve known Paige might attempt to turn her fashion fetish into a career someday, but who knew it would happen so soon? Or that she would drag me along for the ride?

It all started out innocently enough when our mom (who is also a producer for Channel Five News) invited Paige and me to do some live coverage of the reopening of Wonderland, a theme park in southern California. And since Mom has involved us in a number of these “kid-oriented” gigs, it didn’t seem like such a big deal. Or so I thought.

Chapter 1

“Here we are at wonderful Wonderland.”
Paige doesn’t even blink as she flashes a bright smile at the camera crew before launching into a clever monologue about the local theme park and its recent improvements. I’m sure I’m one of the few present who knows her real opinion on this mediocre park. “This is so last century,” she told our mom earlier today. But now she is all sunshine as she espouses the park’s many “wonders.”

Meanwhile, a small crowd gathers around her, looking on with interest like she’s a celebrity. They’re chatting amongst themselves and nodding toward her like they’re trying to figure out just who she is. But the problem is she’s
not anybody.
Well, she’s my sister. And, in her own eyes, she’s a soon-to-be-discovered star. But then who isn’t down here in La La Land, CA, where it seems half the girls I know have a bad case of celebrity-itis? They either want to be famous themselves or connected to someone who already is famous.

I would never admit this to Paige, but she’s got the look of a star. Not to mention the attitude. Plus, she knows how
to dress. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s got peaches and cream skin, straight white teeth, clear blue eyes, and nearly natural blonde hair that despite being long always looks perfect. Not unlike her old Barbie doll. Some people have compared Paige’s looks to Cameron Diaz, but in all fairness, Paige might even be prettier. Not that you’ll hear those words coming from my mouth anytime soon. And certainly not while Paige is within hearing distance. I love my sister, but that girl’s head is big enough already.

Anyway, as usual, I am hiding behind my video camera, acting as if I’m a member the Channel Five camera crew, although I’m fully aware that this is live coverage and my shots will not be used. Still, it’s good practice as well as my best excuse to remain behind the scenes—or in other words,
in my comfort zone.
Not only that, but my camera helps to cover the conspicuous pimple that’s threatening to erupt on my forehead today. Okay, so I am a little self-conscious and a bit insecure when it comes to my looks. But who wouldn’t be with someone like Paige for a sister?

As I zoom in on Paige’s picture-perfect face, I notice that the wind has blown a silky strand of hair across her highly glossed lips, and it sticks there like a fly on flypaper. She casually peels the strand off and continues to rattle on about the park’s new and improved amenities, like it’s no big deal.

“It’s the twenty-fifth anniversary here at Wonderland.” She addresses the camera. “And crowds have gathered here today to celebrate the reopening of the recently renovated theme park. More than two million dollars were spent bringing the park back to its former glory and, as you can see, everything looks clean and new and idyllic.”

I try not to be overly wowed with my sister’s natural gift
for gab, but sometimes the girl totally floors me. How does she do it? Still, I never let on that I’m impressed. By the same token, I never let on that I’m intimidated. Not even by her looks. It’s not that I’m a dog. My friends all assure me that I’m relatively attractive. But, hey, they’re my friends. What else are they going to say?

The cameras continue to roll and Paige rambles on, and she’s starting to get this look in her eye, almost like she’s become bored with her subject matter. Not that I blame her. I mean, there’s only so much you can say about a second-rate theme park, no matter how much money they throw at it.

Fortunately for Paige, my mom is signaling for her to wrap it up by slashing her hand across her throat and mouthing “cut.” And Paige, used to this routine, makes her graceful exit. “And now back to the anchor desk at Channel Five News.”

“That was good,” Mom tells her, but her eyes are on the monitor and I can tell by her expression that she’s listening to her headset, probably taking direction from someone back at the station. She nods and says, “Okay. Sure, no problem, we can do that.” Then she turns back to the camera crew. “They want us to get a few more minutes of airtime—they decided to cut the trucker story. So we’ll be back on in fifteen. Everybody hang tight.”

“What more can I say about Wonderland?” Paige demands, letting out a sigh that sounds like she just ran a fiveminute mile. Sometimes my sister can be a real prima donna.

“I don’t know,” Mom says absently. She’s still listening to her headset as if there’s another big story she should be going after. “Just ad lib, okay?”

“How about if we go shoot near the entrance,” suggests Sam Holliday. Sam’s the head cameraman and a very nice
guy, as well as the first person to let me handle a real camera.

Mom nods. “Good idea. Maybe we can get some of the park’s guests to say a few words and give Paige a break.” Now Mom points to me. “Or perhaps Erin can take a turn being on camera.”

This is all it takes to make my sister stand up and take notice. And I know her well enough to see that she is not ready to share the limelight with anyone—especially me. And this, I must admit, is a relief.

“I’ll interview some guests.” Paige takes the second mic and we head over to the entrance area. We’re barely set up when Mom gives Paige the signal to start. Then Mom heads off to use her cell phone.

“Here we are again for the big reopening of Wonderland,” Paige says with another brilliant smile. “As you can see the people are
pouring
into the theme park this afternoon.” An overstatement since there are about six people trickling in at the moment. “And here’s a fresh idea—since the Golden Globes are next month, let’s pretend like this is the red carpet and we are on
fashion watch.

Then with mic in hand, Paige approaches a couple of unsuspecting teenage girls. They look a bit wary as to whether they want to be on TV or not, but my sister quickly disarms them by smiling and saying, “Welcome to Wonderland, girls. Is this your first time here?”

One girl nods without speaking, but the other girl is a little braver. “Yeah. We decided to come since it was half price today.”

“And did you get those Capri pants for half price as well?” asks Paige. Well, I almost drop my camera, except that I’m curious to record the girl’s reaction and I have to admit the baggy,
white cropped pants were a bad choice. Not only do they make her butt look big, but there’s a spill stain on one knee.

The girl looks shocked, but her friend just nudges her with an elbow, then giggles. “Yeah,” the friend tells Paige, “she
did
get them on sale. How’d you know that?”

Paige smiles slyly. “Oh, it’s a gift. So how would you describe your fashion style today?” she asks the half-price girl who seems to be speechless. “Campy casual or theme park comfort or thrift shop chic?”

“Uh, I guess it’s theme park comfort,” the girl mutters.

“Well, comfort
is
important,” says Paige, turning to the other girl. “And how about you?” she asks. The girl frowns down at her black T-shirt. It’s well worn with a faded white skull on the front. “Sort of revisited Goth perhaps?”

I wince inwardly but keep my camera focused and running. In a twisted way this is actually kind of good.

The girl shrugs. “Yeah…it’s an old shirt.”

“And it’s just
adorable
on you,” says Paige, “and it reminds me of the good old days.” She’s smiling back at the camera now and totally ignoring our mom, who is off the phone now, but freaking out as she sends all kinds of throat slashing “cut-cut-cut” signals Paige’s direction, although no one is paying attention. I actually think the camera crew is enjoying Paige’s little spectacle—or else they’re too shocked to shut it down.

“And I’ll be the first one to admit that fashion is subjective,” Paige continues. “After all, this is only a theme park. But on the other hand, you just never know who you might bump into.” She laughs then turns back to the camera. “As you can all see everyone is having a fabulous time at Wonderland today. They’ve put on their very best togs and are parading about for the world to enjoy.”

Then Paige continues to describe outfits, turning what was supposed to be theme park coverage into a great big
What Not to Wear
spot. And by the time the camera crew finally does shut down after five long minutes of Paige’s merciless attacks, Mom’s face is getting those weird red blotches—not a good sign.

“Paige Forrester!” Mom seethes. “What on earth do you think you were doing?”

“Ad libbing,” Paige says lightly.

Sam chuckles as he pats Mom on the back. “Don’t worry, Brynn,” he tells her, “who really watches the five o’clock news anyway?”

Mom turns and actually glares at him now. “Well, have no doubts that this piece will be cut out of the six o—” But she cuts herself off to listen to her headset again. Now she’s grimacing as if someone back at the station is speaking way too loudly. Make that yelling, because I can hear him fairly well and it sounds a lot like her boss, Max. And the words he’s using would not be acceptable on the air.

“You probably got Mom fired,” I whisper to Paige.

Her brows crease slightly. “No, you don’t really think—”

“I didn’t
put
her up to anything,” Mom says loudly. “Listen, Max, I—” But she’s interrupted again and we can all hear him shouting.

I fold my camera closed and shake my head at Paige. “See what you did?”

Paige nods without speaking and her eyes look worried. For some reason this makes me feel a tiny bit better about my sister’s sensibility, or rather lack of it. Still, I’m wondering what we would really do if Mom lost her job. It’s only been three years since Dad died and our world was turned upside
down. Since that time, Mom has worked long and hard to gain respect at the station—enough respect to land her this producing job about six months ago. And despite her hard work, there are still some Channel Five employees who think she got her promotion out of pity…simply because her husband (our dad), Dan Forrester, the beloved anchor on the Channel Five news for more than a decade, had been tragically killed in a plane wreck. To think that Paige could’ve messed this all up in just a few minutes is seriously disturbing.

Chapter 2

“Do you have any idea what kind of a position
you’ve placed me in?” Mom asks Paige as we’re leaving the theme park.

“I was just joking around, Mom.” Paige is using her “little girl” voice now—it used to work on our dad, but Mom’s a lot savvier.

“You do not joke around with the news.”

“But I remember Dad used to joke—”

“Your father earned the right to make a few well-timed and lighthearted comments.” Mom’s voice is growing sharper. “Not that he would have abused that right by treating people the way you did just now, Paige Marie.”

We’ve reached our vehicles and the guys are quietly loading their equipment into the news van, probably trying to lay low as Mom and Paige continue their public family squabble. Good thing the cameras aren’t rolling now.

“I trusted you to act professionally, Paige.” Mom’s voice remains angry. “And you let me down. You have actually placed my job in jeopardy. Do you understand that?”

“I’m sorry.” Paige actually looks like she’s on the verge of real tears now. Suddenly I wish there was something I could say to smooth this thing over—for everyone.

“I’m glad you’re sorry,” Mom continues. “But that doesn’t change a thing. I’m on my way to talk to Max now. I can only imagine the calls he must be getting. He even said that some of your
fashion victims
might try to sue the station. Did you ever consider that
?

Paige is crying now. “I’m sorry, Mom,” she chokes out. “I’m really, really sorry.”

“Maybe it won’t be such a big deal,” I say cautiously to Mom. “I mean, I’ve heard that bad publicity is better than no publicity.”

Mom looks at me like I have rocks in my head, but after a moment, she reluctantly smiles. “You could be right, Erin. At least the viewers will have something to talk about.”

“I don’t
ever
want to be in front of a camera again,” Paige declares.

“Oh, don’t be so melodramatic.” Mom reaches over and hugs Paige. “Hopefully this will all blow over by tomorrow.”

“I’m sorry, Mom.” Paige sniffs, wiping her damp cheeks with her hands.

Mom pulls out a tissue and gives it to her. “And I’m sorry I made you cry.”

“And I’m going to pray that something good comes out of this,” I say quietly. Being the only believer in the family, it’s awkward talking about my faith, but I want to keep trying. As usual, Mom and Paige give me a tolerant but slightly skeptical look…like they wonder what planet I just arrived from.

As we say good-bye to Mom, wishing her luck at the mad Max meeting, and begin to head home, I do pray. Silently.
Driving north on the freeway, I pray that God will make something good come out of Paige’s fiasco. I know that her debacle might be considered “small stuff,” but I think God cares. And I don’t want Mom to lose her job.

Other than a few sniffs, Paige is silent too. It isn’t until I exit into Pasadena that she finally speaks.

“Do you really think Mom could get fired over this?”

“I don’t know…”

“We’d probably have to quit school and get jobs.”

Like quitting school would be a sacrifice for Paige. She’s supposedly a sophomore at PCC (Pasadena City College), but as usual, she doesn’t take her education too seriously. And although I’m only a freshman at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television, I’ll bet that I can catch up with her as far as credits go by the end of the year. Of course, competitiveness is just one of the hazards of being “Irish twins.” Not that we’re really Irish or twins. But that’s what they call siblings who are born within a year of each other—and Paige is only eleven months older than me. So yeah…we’re competitive.

But where Paige intimidates me in the beauty department, I overshadow her in the brains department. Most of the time—not always—it seems a fair trade. And this is one of those times when I could use my wit to knock her down a peg or two. But I guess she’s suffered enough for the day. Besides, I remind myself, that’s not how Jesus would treat her. I’m just trying to think of something comforting to tell her when the next thing I know she’s on her phone. And it figures; she’s called Addison Leiberman—the guy who plays Clinton to her Stacy.

It’s not that I don’t like Addison (although I’m not terribly fond of him) but it’s so predictable that Paige would call him
in her “hour of need.” Usually, despite the fact that he and she are fashion freaks and he worships her, she’s too busy to give him the time of day. Until she needs something. And right now it’s consolation she’s seeking as she pours out her “poor me” story.

“I was just trying to spice things up,” she says finally. “I don’t see why it turned into such a big deal. Seriously, some people get paid to do what I did. What about Stacy London and Clinton Kelly? No one ever picks on them. And Joan Rivers and Melissa?” she pauses to listen. “I know!” she declares triumphantly. “And Steven Cojocaru has been known to tear people to shreds. Well, no, Mr. Blackwell died a few years ago.” And on and on she blathers about fashion and critics and how people shouldn’t be so sensitive, until I’m forced to tune her out.

By the time we get home, Paige’s courage has been fully restored and she’s even agreeing to go out with Addison, which is something she’d sworn off a few weeks ago. And it actually sounds as if the two of them are making a plan to—big surprise here—critique other people’s fashion sense! I would attempt to dissuade my shallow sister but I have a feeling it would be futile.

“Addison is going to call in to the station,” Paige tells me as we walk toward our condo. We used to have a real house…back before Dad died and the economy went south. But the condo’s okay. It has a good pool and maintenance people to do the yard work. “He’s going to pretend he’s a viewer.” She giggles as she unlocks the front door of our two-story unit. “And he promised to go on and on about how brilliant that segment was and how great I did and how he wishes they’d do something like that on regular basis.”

“You’re kidding?” I frown as I retrieve my camera, then toss my backpack onto the bench in the foyer. “Did he even see it?”

“Of course not. Why would he?”

“So he’s lying.”

“I just told him all about it, Erin. You heard me.”

“Yeah, but you told him your version. What about the people you trashed on live TV? Do you wonder how they felt?”

“They should thank me for my honest expertise.” She opens her phone again, setting her pale pink Kate Spade bag on the breakfast bar. She recently picked the purse up on eBay for “next to nothing,” or so she says. “I was simply doing a fashion intervention. Who knows how this might help them in the future?”

As she checks her phone for messages, I retreat to my room. And I’m asking myself how it’s possible that some people can be so dense sometimes—not to mention flaky. I mean, one moment she’s tearing them to shreds and the next moment she’s “helping” them. And one minute she feels remorse for her unscripted diversion and the next she thinks it was perfectly warranted. I just don’t get it.

As I turn on my computer, Paige bursts in.

“I can’t believe it!”
she shrieks.

“What?” My heart’s racing and suddenly I’m afraid something has happened to Mom. My greatest fear since losing Dad is that we’ll lose Mom too. Then it will be just Paige and me. And that is very, very scary.

“I have a bunch of texts and voicemail messages.”

“Huh?”

“Friends who are telling me that I was great on the news.”

“Oh…” I feel a weird mixture of relief and dismay.

“Isn’t that nice?” She smiles brightly.

“Yeah, sure.” I turn away from her and restrain myself from growling.

She giggles as she exits. “Hey, this last one is from Mollie Tyson and she’s saying that I rock!”

Now this makes me mad, but I’m determined not to show it. Mollie is
my
best friend and has been since seventh grade. I don’t get why she’s suddenly encouraging Paige like this. Well, except for the fact that Mollie thinks Paige is the coolest thing since iced mocha. And while I can forgive Mollie for being starstruck and a little superficial, since she’s always been a little like that, it’s hard to believe she’d condone what Paige just did. After all, Mollie is a Christian and she knows we’re supposed to love our neighbors and be kind to each other. But I try not to think about this as I start to download some recent photos into my computer. I mean, really, I shouldn’t judge Mollie. Maybe she’s just trying to be nice to Paige. And yet…it just doesn’t seem right. Since Mollie is my friend, I decide it’s okay for me to give her a piece of my mind. She has to forgive me if I step on her toes, right?

Feeling more than a little irked, I hit my speed dial and suddenly she’s on the other end. “Mollie!” I jump right in. “Why on earth are you texting Paige that
she rocks
? Didn’t you see those poor girls she embarrassed at Wonderland?”

“I thought it was funny.”

“But they were publicly humiliated. How would you like to be in their shoes?”

“But what Paige said was true. They did need some fashion help.”

“But it seemed so mean spirited.”

There’s a quiet lull and I almost think she hung up on me. Maybe I came on a little strong.

“Yeah…” she mutters quietly. “I guess it was a little mean.”

I feel a bit relieved. “And the worst part is that my mom’s in trouble now.”

“Seriously?”

“Her boss was furious. She could lose her job.”

“Oh…I’m sorry. I didn’t even think about that.”

“And Paige is acting like it’s no big deal. Like she thinks she’s Mother Teresa to the fashion-impoverished population of the planet.”

Mollie laughs.

“I wasn’t really trying to be funny.” I let out a loud sigh of frustration.

“Sometimes you just can’t help yourself, Erin. And, really, you shouldn’t take it too seriously.”

“And if my mom loses her job and I have to quit school and go to work just to help pay the bills?”

“Oh…well…that probably won’t happen. Besides, remember what Jesus said.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t worry about tomorrow—it’ll take care of itself.”

Now I do feel a little silly because I really want to live my life like I believe this, but sometimes it’s so hard. “Yeah…I suppose you’re right.”

“So…speaking of not worrying,” she continues, “how did you do on your finals this week?”

I flop down onto my bed and close my eyes. “Okay, I guess.”

“Man, I wish I could say the same.”

“I’m sure you did fine.”

“Hey, I almost forgot to tell you. I got a callback on the commercial job—the one for that new protein bar.”

“That’s great. Way to go!”

“Yeah, my next audition is on Monday. I wonder if they want me to look fat or thin. I mean, I can do both.” She giggles. Mollie is kind of short and curvy and her dream is to have a successful acting career, and so far she seems to be off to a fairly good start. She had the lead in most of our high school plays, she’s had some bit parts and commercials, and her portfolio is slowly growing. She says it’s an uphill battle when you don’t look like Julia Roberts. But I think her wavy red hair and sea green eyes give her a unique look. Plus her voice has this really interesting throaty quality that seems to get people’s attention. I’ve encouraged her to go for it because I tend to think God wants us to follow our dreams.

“I’m sure you’ll be great whichever way they go.”

“I know, but I just hope I’m not playing the fat girl.”

“Maybe you’ll do both. The before and after girl. You know they do digital adjustments.” I sit up in bed, looking at my slightly bedraggled reflection in the dresser mirror. Sometimes I think I could use some digital adjusting too.

“I know…but it kind of feels like cheating.”

“Well, in the old days they said the camera never lied. Nowadays you never know what kind of enhanced images you’re looking at.” I stand in front of my mirror now, taking a good hard look at myself. Straggly dark brown hair, green eyes, straight nose, small mouth…I wonder what I’d do to enhance this. For sure I’d erase that zit starting to show on my forehead. “And that is exactly why some girls—like me—have selfimage problems, Erin.”

“Hey, you’re not the only one. I simply figure that by now every girl has to know that when she’s looking at any media image, it’s probably an illusion.”

“But sometimes I wish it could all go back to reality.”

“Yeah. I know what you mean. But I have to admit that I don’t mind tweaking on my own nature photos a little. Not to make the birds prettier or the whales skinnier…just to make the general photo more appealing with light and hue and clarity.” I turn sideways now, checking out my figure, which is okay in a short, compact way, but nothing like Paige’s long waist and perfect curves. And suddenly I feel silly for being so self-absorbed. I’m glad Mollie can’t see me.

“I can’t believe we have three blessed weeks off from school,” she says. “I’m so in need of some sleep. So what are your plans for winter break?”

“First of all to chill a little. I’ve had a pretty heavy class load too. But I also want to get out to the desert.”

“The desert?” Mollie sounds appalled. “What for?”

“Photos. I want to do the Mojave and maybe even down to Baja if the weather cooperates.”

“What can you shoot down there? I mean, besides cactuses or cacti or whatever they call them.”

“There are some amazing birds and plants, and even the gray whales.” I consider asking her to join me, but I can already guess her response. Mollie isn’t exactly a nature girl. Her idea of the great outdoors is more like a beach, preferably one in Balboa or Laguna. Throw in a cabana and a fruity drink with an umbrella and she’s in heaven. For more serious adventurous treks I usually rely on my buddy and fellow camera buff, Lionel Stevens. But I know he’s joining his family in Tahoe during winter break so I might be on my own. Although I wonder whether Mom will approve of me heading south of the border all by myself in my good old Jeep Wrangler.

“Hey,” I tell Mollie as I hear a beep, “I have another call coming in and I wonder if it’s Mom. I better go.”

“Later.”

It turns out to be Mom and thankfully she sounds a little less stressed than earlier. “Is Paige home?” she asks me. “I’ve tried to call her, but I go straight to voicemail.”

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