Money, Masses, Misery: A Karis Burdett Excerpt
The diamond encrusted mirror in the Rolex store is huge; I yank on my baggy, gray sweater and readjust my ballcap as I stare at it. My signature sharp, jawline is covered by the cowl neck on my huge disguise. The Lulu cap hides my long, curly hair. The day is running smoothly, minus the huge chance I could be spotted by a swarm of paps, a nasty name my sister and I gave the paparazzi when we were kids. We used to laugh about them then. As a twelve year old I could never have guessed the life-threatening trouble they would cause us, only six years later.
Dax, my crazy ex-boyfriend, used to follow my life through the tabloids. Last time I was in Los Angeles, years ago, the paps snapped a picture of me with a family friend. The next day, Dax tracked me down, showed up at my Dad’s house and threatened to hurt any guy I ever got close to. The dark look in his eyes and thousands of connections assured me he wasn’t kidding. If Dax ever saw a picture of Mark and me, I'm pretty sure things would not turn out well. So far so good. I had mastered the art of disguise. Despite our frequent outings, no pictures had been taken of us together. Thank God, I don't know what I would do without Mark. He was the glue that held me together. After his sister, my best friend, died last year I almost came unraveled. I turn from the mirror and glance at Mark. His brilliant blues are watching me playfully.
“Jeff, can you look at this?” I tug my cap down further, scowl and slap him playfully. My code name when we’re out is Bernice but he much prefers calling me by any weirdo name he finds suitable in the moment. He’s got a crazy sense of humor. I love it.
“What is it, psycho?” He holds out a shiny, silver Mariner and I stare. It’s beautiful.
I turn to the petite saleswoman behind the counter. Her name tag reads “Lila”.
She glances at Mark then back at me.
“The Mariner is sixty thousand dollars.” I nod. Just as expected, it’s well beyond what the two of us make in a year, combined. Contrary to popular belief, just because my dad is filthy rich doesn’t mean I am. My mom could be if she stopped trying to buy out every liquor store in Toronto and the surrounding area.
I turn to Mark. “If your dad didn’t feel so bad about giving up a gift you bought him, he would sell this and give the money to charity. Let's not torture him.” Mark smiles ruefully and hands the watch back to Lila. She glides her gloved finger across the watch’s glass face then looks up at Mark anxiously. Tall, strongly built, dark hair and dimples deeper than the Grand Canyon. His effect on the woman doesn’t come as a surprise. I smile at her and move closer to Mark.
The brunette's face drops subtly as she moves away from us and towards a large set of cases. She unlocks a glass case and carefully places the timepiece on its plush bed then looks up to study me. I tense. Does she know who I am?
“Hey, sorry if this is weird. Has anyone ever told you that you look a lot like Karis Burdett?” I swallow hard and pretend to study a solid gold Daytona. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”
“As you should. She’s beautiful.” I nod, wrap my arms around my waist and glance at the exit.
“Hey Bradley, ready to go?” Thank God for Mark’s introspection.
“Thank you for your help.” He and I smile at the sales woman and take off through the exit, as slowly as possible. I can feel the heat of her stare as we move beyond the door and back into the crowded mall. A blur leaps past me, pain. My hat drops to the ground. I scramble to pick it up but the damage is done. Whispers erupt through the crowd. People stop and stare. Cell phones come out. An intrusive flash blinds me for a moment.
“Karis Burdett?” My heart is thumping so quickly. My knees are weakening. I need air. Camera flashes go off. People start to crowd us.
I whisper-scream at Mark. “You need to get out of here, now!”
His face hardens. “I’m not leaving you.”
“Mark. It’s Dax. Please, for my safety and yours. Leave.”
Much to my relief, he frowns and moves away from me. “I’ll call security and get the car.” I nod and plaster a smile on my face. The last thing I want to do is draw attention to the fact that my star-studded life is not as great as it seems, at all. Mom drowns her debt in Chateau Margaux, dad cheats on models with models and my sixteen-year-old sister is a closet drug addict. Mark is one of the few who cares to know me for me. Pushing the reality out of my mind, I focus on the crowd and smile mechanically.
Snap, snap, snap. After what feels like an eternity, my face starts to hurt. Three tall, beefy men wearing matching navy-blue uniforms shove their way through the growing crowd. The biggest of the bunch leans in and addresses me.
“Miss Burdett, come with us. We'll escort you to your vehicle.”
“Thank you. So much.” After much effort, we make it to Mark’s car. Sitting in the front seat with him, I have never been more relieved. As we drive away I don't dare turn around. I don't dare think about the fact that one of those people may have outdone the paparazzi. They may have taken the shot that would kill my best friend.
"Thank goodness that's over."
Mark smiles, his dimples deepening."No kidding. Fries and ice cream?"
My favorite."Yes please."
Ding. A text. Unknown number. Sweat beads my forehead. Please, no. No.
"Goodness, he's a cutie." My fingers shake as I try to respond. It can't be. "Who is this?"
"I'm good on my promises Kare Bear. I'm coming for ya."
The Cost of Light
Darkness resided deep within the black waves. There were no crashes of light, no glimmer, no glitter, no sun. No hope. No life. All was rocked by stillness, all but the molecules pulled in and out by the subtle, gentle waves. The galaxy was black, still, silent. But finally, the time to create had come. The Maker had decided it to be so.
A peal of thunder ripped across the inky canvas of the heavens. The waters began to stir. The waves swelled. The tide crashed with higher frequency. All of the creation knew something big was to take place.
A voice, deeper than the sea and richer than the thick darkness boomed across the expanse of the black canvas, “y’hi ’ôr! Let there be light!”
Waves swelled, electricity surged, perilous waves began to glisten with sparks. Heat shot across the blank sky.
Rays of brilliant light exploded. Indigo, yellow, orange, green, turquoise… colours emerged and with them, warmth set in. All things were waking. Another great peal of thunder ripped across the sky. Melodious, deep, rhythmic. The Father was laughing. Joy! Joy! Joy! His plan was so good, so good. His Son stood at His right-hand side, observing. Flashes of light exploding in his smiling eyes. Holy Spirit spun around them, his laughter was light and gentle, just as diamonds of the earth brushing against one another. Sparkles burst across the land and settled into the newly formed dirt.
The sound of strings filled the air and circled the Three, the Trinity, bound as Love. Fresh scents rushed in as a wind, perfuming the land with the smell of freshly fallen rain, violet, jasmine and roses. Everything was being made new.
Many other colours emerged from the canopy above the lightened sea. They sliced through the waves and spread out beneath the waters, the first watercolour portrait. Blackness faded, only left as shading. The Creator’s smile shone over all that He had made, further accentuating the deep, light and pastel. The beginning of the world He loved had commenced. The Trinity danced over the world that had been created. The three danced together, forever intertwined in their love. They sang a song that rang across the waters and spread through all the land, “Beauty. Beauty. Beauty! It is good! It is good! It is good!”
Thousands of years later…AD 33
Long splinters dug their claws deep into his flesh, pricking like misplaced needles and drawing large drops of crimson blood. Torn flesh hung from both sides of his back, the pain he felt was further exacerbated by the roar of the massive crowd. The cross weighed heavily on his shaking shoulders and back.
Just keep walking. Father, give me strength. Oh, Father.
The man forced one foot in front of the other. The sand shifted and he lost his balance. The huge wood frame twisted towards the ground, taking his bloody shoulders with it. Everything in his body cried for relief. His knee cracked as it smacked against the earth. Sharp pains shot through every muscle, nerve and tendon.
Father, father, father!
The soldier’s whip whistled through the air and smacked against exposed flesh. Yeshua gripped the cross with white knuckles. Splinters dug under his fingernails and into his bloodied hands.
A man edged his way through the crowd, his eyes frantic. He lifted his arms in surrender and waved them in front of the Roman, “Stop! Stop!” The man stopped beside the convicted criminal. Without making eye contact he grit his teeth and shouldered the burden.
With the man’s strength, Yeshua made it to the top of the hill.
As the nails were buried deep, through his wrists and into the wood a violent shaking spread through his body. The searing nerves worsened as he was hoisted off the ground and into the air. The cross lifted then dropped. The nails in both wrists and in his feet pulled down, stretching and ripping tendons. The open skin on his back scraped against the wood. Pain. Pain. Pain. He tore attention from the pain and onto those his death would save. They are worth it. They are worth it. They are worth it. Humanity is worth it. Faces of those from past, present and future flipped through his mind. Smiling, frowning, in pain, laughing. They all belonged to the Creator and the Creator wanted them to know His love for them. So perfect. So perfect. So perfect.
Yeshua would suffer for them. He would die for them. He would give everything for them, no matter what the cost.
Yeshua squinted and gazed up towards the afternoon sun. Heat scorched his body and burned raw flesh. He felt a pair of eyes on him and looked down. Soldiers sat at a table beneath him rolling a dice, gambling away his clothing.
His mother glanced at the laughing soldiers then at her son. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Her face twisted in a grimace. John stood beside her, his face white, his head shaking. The man’s eyes dropped to the ground.
“John…” Yeshua gasped. His friend looked up to listen but Yeshua’s air was running out. He hoisted himself against the nails tearing his flesh and took a short breath.
He stared into Miriam’s dark eyes, the ones that had seen his first breath would now see his last. “Mother, here…” he tilted his head in John’s direction.
“Here is your son.” Yeshua raised himself once more then dropped. The pain was great, so great. With each laboured breath, darkness fell. Hours passed, pain intensified, organs failed the time drew close. Death was imminent. The time arrived. Pharisee’s stared, Romans jeered, his mother and sisters wept bitterly, his siblings stared angrily and muttered under their breath, “you’re such a fool.”
What Yeshua had come to do was worth it all. The man on the cross tilted his chin towards the sky and opened his mouth. “Eloi… Eloi!” His voice cracked and broke, burdened by dehydration and the lack of air to his lungs, “lama sabachthani! My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
With laboured breath and shaking body he cried, “Tetelestai! It is paid in full!” The light, the breath exited his lungs. His bruised, bloodied body fell limp against the tree. Miriam’s sobs intensified as darkness, black as sin, descended heavily on the hill of the skull. The cranial shaped earth trembled. The cries of onlookers pierced the air.
What he had come to do, pay the price for man’s sin.
He had done it. It was finished.
Thunder of Heaven
A tremble shook the stones beneath me and the cavern's walls on all sides of me. Large chunks of rock disconnected from the ceiling and came crashing to the floor. The fall echoed through the cavern and blacked out most of the light my main mode of exit. One more complication in a slew of abounding difficulties. I was trapped, hunted and slowly hope for life. Had I not made enemies none of this would be a problem. Unfortunately, as royalty bound to a warring country, there was no escaping the fact that people would abhor me, hunt me and kill me for their own desires.
Many years ago, before I obtained adulthood and a mind of my own, my mother would tell me, “Cassia, you are meant for more. The war will end. You will be free.” She was so wrong. My mother is dead. Our country is not free. I am as angry, frustrated and bitter as ever. And now, I am being pursued by the people who are threatening to overturn the nation of Yisrael. They have killed mother, two brothers and sister. Now they are coming for me. When they invaded the courtyard of the palace three hours ago, I was in the gardens with my father, heard the screams and saw my sisters’ throat being sliced in two. Father and his men gave me no choice but to escape on horseback while they went back to fight. Although Abba is a warrior, well-versed in the art of attack, he probably isn’t alive anymore. I have been thinking about that fact for what seems like an eternity.
What disturbs me most is that I think all these things with little emotion. I am numb, lost and exhausted. I am all the things a princess of the king should never be. But I am no hero, I am no savior. If anything, I need a savior. I need something to trust in. I believe in Elohim, the Lord of my people. I think there is someone out there so much bigger than me. But I doubt the care and love all the religious leaders tell me of. I’m not supposed to say that; my mother would never hear it. But I really do. How could Elohim, the Creator of goodness and light, subject His people to such darkness as murder, pain and war?
I doubt Him.
Boom. Snap. Lightening, thunder. The ground and walls shake again, this time with more power. Another chunk falls from the ceiling and almost lands on my leg. I drop and roll, the rock clips the right side of my thigh, leaving a gash. I want to scream but can't. If I am going to survive I will have to stay quiet. I will also have to move out of the caves. Unfortunately, relocating will most likely place me directly into the enemy’s line of sight. The sea was right below the cliffs. If I could make it there and run the perimeter into Galilee I would have more shelter. But could I make it?
Boom. Crack. Rumble. Dust, splinters and pieces of debris flew in all directions as a massive rock came crashing from the ten-foot ceiling and onto the stone floor. I needed to move. I edged my way to the opening where the first rock had crashed and peered out. A flock of soldiers stood at the perimeter of the water, scanning the cliffs for any sign of life. I quickly retreat back into the cave. If I walk into their line of sight I would be committing suicide. Unless... I swallowed hard and peered out again. No archers. Good. Well, better. My heart jumped as one of the enemy soldiers screamed at the top of his lungs in Greek. “Exerchomai! Come out!” My heart started to pound. I started sweating. They knew I was here. How did they know? Did they know which entrance I was in? If they wanted to, they would search until they harvested results. This army took no prisoners, ever.
Crack! Boom! Another rock clattered down from the ceiling. It wouldn’t be long before the entire structure was brought to nothing. I had seen it happen before, when my brother and I were exploring these caves. I picked up my robe, held my head high and stepped into the light. If I was going to die, at least I would die of my own volition. I would not be hunted down like an animal and killed for sport.
One of the men stabbed his finger in my direction. “There she is!” I stood frozen. I couldn’t run. There was no point in fighting. It was over. I was dead. Two of the men ran in my direction, grabbed my arms and yanked them behind my back. Their cord cut into my flesh as they zipped it tight.
“Where are you taking me?” The soldier cocked an eyebrow and looked me up and down but didn’t answer me.
“I demand to know where you are taking me!” His ringed finger slapped my face, slicing a cut into my cheek. I grit my teeth.
“I don’t care what you demand. No one does anymore. Let’s just say, it’s going to be a little surprise.” I clenched my jaw and stumbled along as they led me from my hiding place.
Boom. Crash. A peal of thunder boomed and flash of lightening ripped across the dusky sky. With a loud crash, the cave, my last piece of security, collapsed into pieces. An apt, timely metaphor of my life. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Everything that had once held me together had crumbled into jagged, cracked pieces. All I can do is catch tiny glimpses while being dragged away. I glanced at the strong arm of one of my captures. What were they going to do to me? Without a doubt, it would be worse this way than if they had killed me. And there was no way I was going to free myself. Given the lack of control I now held, was it possible that all the pieces be fused together again?
I can't help but doubt it.
I can be obsessive but I’m not one to easily become infatuated. Despite that fact, Adrian Loose’s gorgeous hazels leave a searing impression. It’s been over an hour since the thirty-year-old rocker and I first locked eyes yet there he remains in my mind. Forever embedded as waves of mesmerizing gold, green and auburn paradise. The colors weave through my sparking imagination and send a deep buzz through my whole body. Worst timing ever.
All I want is a successful show. To make that reality, focus is the only lover I need. Besides, Adrian is dating a diamond studded movie star, lucky her, lucky him.
I turn to check the digital clock on the back wall. Showtime was in less than ten minutes. I breathe in deeply and take a glimpse back at my fellow Victoria Secret angels. Dark waves, blonde curls, high cheekbones, slender bodies, toned muscles, none a day over thirty. Some sway their hips to an imaginary beat, others pop out their legs, toss their manes and snap streams of endless selfies. Plastic. As much as I want to ignore the fact, that’s exactly what we are. A parade of contrived perfection, the earthly definition of an angel, the closest to flawless mankind can attain. Women envy us, men lust after us. Millions look to us as though we are heaven come to earth, yet our stories are not fairy tales. Perching on a flat, cold, hard pedestal can hurt. Yes, we hurt. We sacrifice and pay dearly and yep, we bleed. I know this for a fact. My right toe is gushing as we speak. I bend down to conceal it and stop the bleeding. Monica Snow, fellow angel and drama queen of the century, gasps a lot louder than necessary.
“Kare, what happened to your toe? Ow!”
“It’s nothing. I probably just bumped it.”
“It needs to be wrapped!” I start to protest, it has been a climb to the top and I don’t want to cause trouble. The only piece of advice my mother, an ex-supermodel, gave me was to never leave a producer with a reason to give me the boot. Much to my mother’s chagrin, my actor father was a lot more open about the ins of showbiz. He told me to be kind, sweet, compliant and do what the director of the show wanted. Always. Well, so far so good. But that perfect image was about to be ruined by a bikini clad string bean. Monica waved her bedazzled arm in the air.
“Monica, please. I don’t…”
She ignores me, her eyes wide as she strains to get someone’s attention. “First aid! First aid! Good, oh good! Here comes someone.”
I plant my hands on my hips and glare. “My God, Monica, I’m fine. Please!”
Her blue eyes turned icy as she backed into a circle of other girls. “Woah, sorry.” I turn away from the eyes watching me and face the stage. I want to apologize. That came out so wrong, no matter how hard I tried to fit the perfect mold, it never worked. Mom was right, I should have stayed out. Even though I finally looked like I belonged, the industry wasn’t made for me.
A woman with a blinking blue headpiece rushes in to inspect my foot. Her name tag reads “Patricia”. A loud, voice hollers from somewhere backstage, “alright ladies, five minutes before show time! This is it! Five minutes!” Patricia’s sharp eyes dart from my foot to my face.
“What the hell happened?”
“Not sure.” Yeah, that was a lie. I knew. The super high heels they forced me to wear at the five-hour rehearsal had rubbed my flesh chicken skin raw. When they handed me today’s pair of crème-du-la-torture I didn’t dare protest. I slipped them on and “boom” the scab popped off. The woman’s tinted lips pull back, her eyebrows lift but not too far. Botox. Plastic.
She pats down her silky pockets. “I’ll try to find a see-through bandage.”
The voice hollers again. “Ladies who need help with wardrobe, just let Patricia know, she’s back!”
“Dammit Clark.” Patricia shoved a chunk of choppy blond hair behind her ear and took off in a whirlwind of expensive fabric. The smell of exotic flowers and dark notes of vanilla tangle with the scent of hairspray and heated hair. I glanced at the line of Victoria Secret models standing a couple paces behind me.
Most keep their eyes closed. Their wings flutter as they draw their breaths in slowly, calming themselves. Was it true that the immortal could be nerve-wracked? Did goddesses work hard to earn respect and work to keep it? Apparently. We had sacrificed freedom, bared our bodies, strut for men three times our age and here we all are. Chosen by the prestigious, lauded individuals who deemed us worthy enough to walk the God ordained show of fashion. It was our time to shine, to show the world how beautiful, perfect and valuable we are. To make normal women feel like they don’t measure up like they aren’t worth a man’s attention. Ironically, I feel the furthest thing from an unshakeable goddess. I despise the person I have become, beautiful on the outside but inwardly so unsatisfied. Apparently, plastic wings can’t hoist me above and away from the hideous imperfection dwelling within. My mouth is dry. My stomach is twisting into thick knots. Nausea sweeps over me in waves. I can’t help but wonder what the point of all of this really is. The voice screams again. So shrill.
Patricia books it towards me, almost knocking over two crew members in the process. “Take the shoe off!” She hollers from a distance. I hesitate. Rude. She stands in front of me and looks up at me, her face beat red.
“I’m sorry. But please hurry. Hurry!” I step out of my stringy shoe and wait as she administers the bandage. The lights above us dim slowly. Waves of anticipating screams rise from the audience. Millions would be watching at home, their eyes glued to computer and television screens. Nausea. I can hear my heart in my ears. A loud thumping sound washes over the stadium, all falls silent. I hold my breath. Thump. Thump. Thump.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Adrian Loose!”
Adrian’s smooth voice trills as it booms through the speakers. “Just shoot for my heart if it feels right… one life baby it’s yours better do it right.” A suited man stands beside me, black earpiece tightly wrapped around the outer lobe. His beefy hands press into the ear piece. My foot aches as Patricia finishes stretching the bandage over the wounded area. The suited man speaks.
“Karis Burdett, you’re on. In three, two, one.” I launch myself away from Patricia and towards the runway. Nope. My ankle dips to the right. I quickly snap it back. The cameras probably caught that. I beam despite the pain and give the audience one less thing to criticize later. Opening the show was a huge deal that many would kill for. I needed to pull my performance together with the cards I have left.
The main stage tonight far outshines how it had looked at rehearsal. Awash with blue, purple and green, the colors of the sea and decorated with large, glass pillars. Utopian, Atlantis. A place with no wars or fighting, no disease or disputed presidencies. Only the best of the best rule here, the stuff of legend, the immortal. At least that’s what the tabloids, star news, and fashion lines scream. Too bad the average person couldn’t plunge beyond the aquamarine mascaraed and into the ocean filled with plastic, plastic, plastic. This deep-sea world is so different from what I imagined. Yet the ambiance is still just as enthralling as the day I started. So confusing.
The handsome pop-star stands at the back of the stage, his gaze washes over me as I strut forward. He locks eyes with me again. I can’t help but be taken aback. The heated buzz I felt an hour ago, returns. It amplifies as he walks towards me and reaches for my hand. I take it. The crowd roars. Rumors will be buzzing tomorrow but who cares? This is show business. This is what the media wants. Publicity is how we make the money.
Adrian’s voice dips dangerously low then soars to new heights. “Girl, I found you. Finally, you’re here… shooting to those stars, why don’t we disappear into the night, together.” As we walk together, I notice his hands are warm and soft. Security. Something I hadn’t had since dad left. But Adrian has a girlfriend! How dare I hold his hand! He releases me as I near the end of the runway. I pause at the end, toss my glittery dress, twist my hips right then left, seek approval from the crowd. Am I good enough? Am I good enough? Cameras snap continuously. My eyes wander over the packed seats, gauging expressions. My attention settles on a young girl with a long ponytail. Her eyes wide.
She reminds me so much of me at that age. Innocent, young, unsuspecting and unaware of the dangers of the stage. I flash a smile in her direction, wave like a queen then strut back down the walk. The crowd erupts with applause. I feel the warmth of million of eyes as they scan me up and down. Adrian winks. I flash a bright grin. The buzzing continues. I disappear behind the curtain, enshrouded by the lie of perfection. If only I could disappear from myself.
Karis (YA Contemporary Fiction)
Had the question been too weird? Karis held her breath, fiddled with her straw, took a sip then pushed a thick lock of brown hair behind her ear. The most attractive guy at their private high school looked back at her inquisitively with squinting eyes.
“Great question Karis. Um, the cugliest animal… I would have to say is a pug.”
She released her pent-up breath. “Oh, totally!”
Luke popped a fry into his mouth and smiled. “Mostly ugly though, not so cute.”
She grinned and took another sip of her fizzy, orange drink. “If you insist.” Luke paused and fiddled with his fingers.
“So, cugly? Did you come up with that?” Karis grinned. “Super Cute yet super ugly, you bet.”
“That’s creative.” He took a sip of his tall milkshake.
Karis felt her face flush. “Thanks.” He propped his hand under his chin and made eye contact, something much more than half of the female student popular would kill for.
“So, how about you Karis Burdett? What’s the cugliest animal ever to crawl planet earth?”
She picked at a fry with her plastic fork. “Mmmm… I would have to say a sloth.”
“A sloth eh? Yeah, I can see that. Did you know there are two different kinds?” Karis grinned, he was as smart as he was attractive. “I didn’t. Weird, what are they?”
“Ah, we’ll talk about that a little later. There’s a video I want to show you, it explains the sloth way better than I can.”
“So, I get to drive you to the soccer game together this weekend?” Karis grinned. She had been looking forward to the trip since he asked her if he could take her two weeks ago.
“I’m looking forward to it… what are your favourite snacks?”
“Have any kangaroo jerky?”
Luke pulled his fingers through his hair. “Hmm, last time I checked, my dealer was out but I could try to find more.” Karis chuckled as he flicked a fry at her.
“I’m totally kidding. But I would really love some choco…”
A loud shriek cut her sentence in two and made her jump. “No freaking way! Is that Karis Burdett?” Two middle-school aged girls stood in line staring in Karis’ direction. One of the girls looked baffled and spoke in hushed tones. “Karis who?”
“Burdett you dumb! Do you live under a freaking rock? Her dad is Jake Grey!” The other girl’s eyes widened. “She’s the daughter of the movie star? What is she doing in Toronto?” The two broke out of line and hurried towards Karis’ table. “Can we have a picture?” Karis forced a smile. “Sure.” The loudest of the pair bumped Luke’s milkshake, emptying its goopy contents onto his lap and all over the phone she had borrowed from her best friend. Karis leapt up, moved the iPhone to higher ground and grabbed a napkin for him. “Oh, no. Luke. I’m so sorry.”
He took it from her hand and glared at the girl. “It’s not your fault.” The quieter girl nudged her way beside Karis and held her phone out to Luke. “Who are you? Can you take this?” Luke paused and stared. She stretched her small wrist. “If you’re not telling us who you are then at least take the picture. Today! Please!” He gritted his teeth and grabbed the phone. The girl scowled at him, pulled a small compact from her pocket and fluffed her hair.
The girls leaned in next to Karis and shrieked in unison, “smile!” They scurried back in line, swiped the phone to life and started whispering to each other.
“Karis has hot friends but he is so rude.”
“Tell me about it…I think I’ve seen him somewhere before. Who is he?” People in line stared. She could feel Luke’s eyes on her as well. Karis grabbed the phone from its pedestal and stared at it.
“Does that happen a lot?”
Karis looked at him, and forced a grin. “More than what makes me comfortable, yep.”
Luke swung around to look over at more curious onlookers. “Do you want to leave? This is awkward.”
She kept the forced smile. Faking it until you make it was the way the entertainment industry worked. It was the way her life worked. “Yeah, before they ambush.”
She kicked herself for not wearing a better disguise. The date had been coming along just fine. Luke was one of the sweetest guys she had liked to in a long time. She couldn’t believe she was going to lose out because she hadn’t paid attention to the details. They slipped past the line and quickly piled into his Honda.
Karis looked over at Luke. His face was red.
“I guess you probably want to take me home?”
He answered quickly. “Yeah, sure.” After ten minutes of unusually stale conversation they reached Forest Hill, home of movie stars and congressmen. Home of retired super model Mandy Burdett and her two daughters Karis and Beverly Burdett. A neighbourhood that was more than enough to intimidate anyone and everyone who wasn’t used to affluence.
“Your house number is 313, right?”
“Actually, you can drop me off here. It’s close.”
She turned to face him. “Luke, I’m so sorry for what happened back there.”
He nodded slowly. “Karis, I hate doing this but I need to be blunt. I know you’re popular but I didn’t realize… I mean, the kind of lifestyle…what happened back there. It isn’t one I can handle. I like you but I really like my privacy and safety. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” She nodded and unlatched the car door. She had seen this coming from a mile away.
“Don’t feel bad. It makes sense. Thanks for lunch.” He nodded and gave her a slight wave. Tears burned Karis’ eyes as she closed the door behind her. If only she could text her and tell her about what had happened. Unfortunately, her mother had knocked it off the table and accidently stabbed one of her ridiculously high heels through her iPhone screen. Mandy had promised a new one but who knew how long that would take? A couple months ago, Mandy had borrowed Karis’ favorite makeup kit for her fashion show then lost it. Apparently one of the underpaid models had “stolen it.” Yeah, she was never compensated for that. Oh, well. Thankfully, there was no school today. She needed to get her car then head to the mall to buy two new phones. She needed to find a new ride to the soccer tournament that weekend too.
After a quick jog home, she slipped through the front door and ran up the winding staircase to her room. Karis grabbed her Toronto Maple Leafs baseball cap then made her way back downstairs. On the way down, she passed her sister’s open door. The huge chandelier above her sister’s bed twinkled in the sun, leaving dots and patterns all over her bright pink walls. In a flurry of last-minute decision making, designer clothes had been ripped from their hangers and strung all over her floor.
Her mother’s door was open as well. Shoot, neither of them were home. That meant her younger sister might have her car. A couple weeks ago, Beverly made headlines after crashing the Ferrari her dad bought her for her sixteenth birthday. Karis had, very hesitantly, offered her Lexus under the condition that it be driven at the speed limit.
Much to her relief, her car was still in the covered garage. Beverly must have gotten a ride with their mom.
For a Wednesday afternoon, the mall parking lot was jammed and people were vicious about getting a spot. Beyond the chaotic parking lot swarms of people milled about, smiling and laughing. A father walked across the lot with his daughter hoisted high on his broad shoulders. They both smiled as the gentle wind blew tufts of sandy-blonde hair away from her chubby face.
The jerk behind her slammed on his horn and scowled through his front window.
Perhaps the impatience was helpful. She needed to stop being sidetracked and get the new phone to Amber before Amber headed to work in three hours. Thanks to the wonderfully impatient Mr. Honk she found a spot way further than preferable but it would do the job.
It was weird, when she was younger Karis wasn’t ever overwhelmed by crowds. Knowing who her parents were many flocked her and took shots of her. Sometimes the paparazzi even brought her presents to win her favor. Beyond being flanked by photographers she also found herself traveling from country to country with her parents. They would take her anywhere from photo ops, modeling shoots, movie sets to the Oscars. She loved the glamor and new friends but mostly enjoyed soaking in the adventure of it all. She had felt so free and light like nothing could ever go wrong.
Everything changed when Dad left. Her dazzled, childish world had slowly faded to a dull gray. The hundreds of voices screaming her parents’ names echoed off the concrete walls of her imagination and into her thoughts. After a moment of concentrated effort, she could only hear the many voices of the mall goers.
Tears burned her eyes. Karis tugged her baseball cap over her eyes, trying to hide from any internal chaos. A loud male voice spoke through the others.
“I said next! To the person next in line. Can I help you?”
“Yeah, uh. My phone. I spilled ice cream all over it and was wondering if you could fix it. If not, I’ll buy a new one.”
“Sure.” He took the phone then stared at her. Karis tugged down on the cap again, wishing she had worn a full body suit of some kind. Oh no.
“Aren’t you Karis Burdett?” Whispers erupted from behind and around her. It didn’t take long for lenses to start snapping. The whispering grew louder. She needed to push through this. She had to get this phone for Amber. Karis pulled down on the cap again, trying to keep her voice low and her demeanor cool.
“Yes, I am but please can we get these phones quickly. I need to be somewhere.”
His eyebrows shot up. “Yeah, yeah. Sure. Of course.” Behind her, loud voices filled her mind again. They seemed to be coming from every direction.
“Karis, are you excited about your dad’s Oscar nomination?” “Do you talk to your father anymore?” “What is the relationship like between your mother and father?” “How is your sister recovering?”
She ignored the questions and stood in line waiting. As she waited, more lenses snapped and more voices shrieked. Thankfully, security came and dealt with the situation, eventually escorting her to the safety of her car.
Two hours had been lost in the mall. What had she been expecting? A smooth entry and exit? Toronto wasn’t Hollywood but it didn’t take a genius to see through her disguise. It’s no wonder Luke didn’t want anything to do with her. To do anything in public without being swarmed she would have to wear a chicken suit around forever. Given the crazy state of her life, she wouldn’t want to be associated with her either. More than anything, she wanted to stop thinking about the crappy quality of the day, see Amber, forget about Luke and stop thinking about stupid animal costumes.
After zooming along a little faster than she was comfortable with Karis reached the huge oak doors. Behind them was a family more precious than all the stones in Beverly’s jewelry case. Amber’s dad, David Biller, was a pastor to the largest church in Toronto, River Valley church and successful businessman. He was well known and celebrated across the world. His book,“Your Storm, God’s Call” had sold millions. Most of the money they made went into funding rehabilitation programs across Canada. These were only some of the things they didn’t care to brag about.
Beyond the book deal and international success, the three-person family was impressive. They were incredibly humble and loving to everyone.
Their son, twenty-one-year-old Mark, was a handsome book worm, a geeky type but not in a bad way. Amber, eighteen-year-old fashion vlogger, was the most loving person she knew.
Even though Amber’s mother died from cancer five years ago the family worked together well. She knew that no matter what she was carrying on her shoulders would be safe with them. Amber and Mark were the only two friends she trusted to not spill any of her secrets to the press.
Karis punched in the security code and walked in. She was always welcome to just walk in. They had told her that on countless occasions. She took off her boots and made her way up to Amber’s room. Loud pop music thudded through Amber’s door. A breezy female voice sang about love.
“Now I know what I’m after… now I know what I’m doing doing…” It had always baffled Karis but Amber studied better with loud music on. Karis pushed up Amber’s door and entered the room.
“Kaaare Bear! Hey, girl!” The curly-haired brunette threw her arms in the air, jumped up and started moving to the rhythm. Karis threw her hands over her ears; a huge smile tugged at her lips.
“Bur, you’re nuts!” Amber tilted her head sideways and cupped her ear. “What?”
“I said, you’re nuts! The music is way too loud.” Amber laughed and danced her way over to the speaker to turn down the volume. “Says you.” Karis sighed a breath of relief. “Thank sweet Jesus, I can hear again.”
Amber curtsied. “Not a problem; glad to have you here. Want some lemonade?” Amber always knew how to make her feel better after a tough day.
“Yeah, Sure. But I have some bad news.”
Amber popped open her mini fridge and reviewed its contents. “Oh?”
“Some chick bumped into Luke’s drink and it dumped all over your phone. The good news is that I bought you an entirely new phone, the newest model in stock.”
Amber grabbed the bright, yellow liquid from the fridge. “Oh, thanks, Karis. You didn’t have to.”
“I ruined it.”
“No, no. The other girl did. What the heck happened?”
“She was a fan and wanted a picture…” Amber studied Karis carefully as she poured the drinks. “Was Luke okay with it?”
“Hah, yeah. We won’t be going out again. He told me that kind of ‘lifestyle’ is too much for him. It makes sense.”
Amber stopped popping ice cubes into the drink and faced Karis. “Well yeah, but that’s frustrating.” Karis nodded then stared up at the inspirational creature quote posters on Amber’s wall.
“It’s tough but I can’t say it’s tough. You know? I don’t want people following me, asking me intrusive questions. It’s old and I’m so tired because of it. I want to be normal.”
Amber nodded, handed Karis a drink and sat down beside her. “This is a toughie… so, I guess this means you’re not modeling in your mom’s fashion show?” Mandy Burdett’s fashion show was one of the most highly anticipated, televised events in Toronto. It was attended by the most wealthy, prominent people in Toronto. Last year, even the mayor did his part and modelled a couple of Versace pieces. At the end of the night, most of the proceeds were given to struggling, single mothers, a fact that the people of Toronto applauded year in and year out.
Karis bit her lip and answered Amber’s question, “I should focus on landing a spot at Wharton.”
“Makes sense. It’s a super difficult school to get into, just ask Mark.” Mark, Amber’s older brother, applied the year before and was accepted. He didn’t take offer. Mark was offered an internship with the government that he just couldn’t turn down. He was nothing short of brilliant and a part of that brilliance was knowing how to get what he wanted when he wanted it. The most prestigious business school in the country would have to wait.
Karis looked over at Amber, who had a great big twinkle in her eye. “Girl, why are you staring at me?”
“Because, Kare you’re drop dead gorgeous.” Amber paused and pressed her chin into her palms, “I don’t understand why you won’t model professionally.”
Karis swiveled her long leg over the bedframe. “It’s fun but I want to be known more than my looks.” The two friends paused.
“Hey, do you mind if I pray for you?”
Karis laughed. That was Amber’s answer to everything. “Yeah, sure.”
Amber placed her hand gently on Karis’ shoulder, “Father, we ask for peace over Karis. Please give her guidance and the smarts to blow a hole in Wharton. In your name, amen.”
“Thanks Bur. I hope you like your new phone. I can’t apologize enough for breaking the first one.”
Amber swallowed a big gulp of lemonade. “Stop that you! I told you it wasn’t your fault. By the way, I finished reading all those books you let me borrow. Thanks.”
Karis laughed and sipped at her drink. “Oh, yeah.”
Amber stood up and walked to her closet, dug around for a while then emerged with a Bench bag filled with everything from historical fiction to sci-fi. “Here they are.”
“Great, perfect! It’s good to have them back.”
Amber slung her arm around Karis’ shoulder. “Given how much you love your fiction I thought that would be the case.”
“Oh, hey would you be able to give me a ride to my soccer tournament this weekend? It’s in London.”
“Oh! Kare that would be so fun. But oh, no. I’m scheduled to work on Friday and Saturday. I’ll see if I can get out of it.”
Karis smiled, her friend was always so willing to help, even at her own expense. “That’s fine, no worries if you can’t.”
“I’ll talk to them at work then let you know.” Amber snuck a peek at her computer. “Speaking of work, I have to leave soon. Walk out with me?”
“Sure, let’s go.”
Just as they were heading out the front door, Mark’s Corolla rolled into the driveway. Karis’ heart skipped. For the past couple of years, she always felt so nervous and giddy around him. Why wouldn’t she? He was smart and hilarious but he was a Christian. Mark wouldn’t date a girl who didn’t believe the same things, would he?
Amber squeezed Karis in a bear hug then made a beeline for her car, her long curls billowing behind her. “Let me know what you decide about the fashion show.”
Distracted, Karis gathered her thoughts. “Sure thing.” She grabbed the heavy Bench bag and grazed past Mark’s car. He looked through the glass, squished his fingers to make a V then waved. Such a nerd. Karis tried to create the same shape with her fingers before giving up and pressed them against his car window. Mark grinned, collected his government books off the passenger seat and slowly opened his door. A faint whiff of Old Spice and musk floated from his car.
He called after Amber. “See you later sis!”
Amber rolled her window down. “Bye geek. Bye, Karis.” Mark waved at his sister then turned to Karis.
“I see who she likes more.”
Karis lost the grip on her bag, sending it tumbling to the pavement. He bent down to pick up her books. “Careful, you might damage your trained V-making fingers.” Karis laughed and slapped his shoulder way too hard, “whatever ‘nerd’.” Her face flushed. Rude!
She did such dumb things when she was nervous. “I’m so sorry!” Mark looked at Karis with those big, brown eyes. “Sorry for what? Any special plans today?”
“Well… I need to start studying for my English final.”
“Makes sense. If you ever need help prepping for the application to Wharton just let me know.”
They bumped fists, “I will, thanks.”
“But don’t study too much!”
Karis grinned and eyeballed the stack of books he was carrying. “Look who is talking.”
“You are young. Save your social skills and have some fun.” As if he could say anything about his lack of social skills. Out of anyone she knew he was the most charming and gentlemanlike.
“Thanks for the advice.”
He stuck his thumbs in the air and grinned. “Anytime.” She drove home with a smile on her face, feeling alive and refreshed. Amazing what less than half an hour with that family could do.
Less than five minutes passed before Karis pulled her Lexus into the cobblestone driveway. A deep black Mercedes was parked in front of the garage.
Mom was home. Weird. That usually wasn’t the case unless something urgent needed to be done or something had happened with Beverly. What could Beverly have done? There was no school today. Knowing her family, Karis could only wonder what kind of storm she was about to walk into.