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."