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.