The Bandbox Hat
Previously: Linda offers a Premiere Edition bracelet to Sarah Jane and asks her to stay on the show. Sarah Jane agrees. She and her new friend Cassie each received a bracelet. The cocktail party continues as Linda and Austin talk to girls and decide who will stay and who will leave. Sarah Jane and Cassie meet Amanda, a beautiful but stand-offish woman who commandeers Austin’s time and attention at her first opportunity.
The rest of the evening passed in a fog. Cassie and I stayed in the kitchen and ate chips and veggies. After a couple hours, Liam and his minions assembled us in the living room and we had a replay of the bracelet ceremony.
When the dust settled, there were twenty women still in the house. Harrison told us to get a good night’s sleep and he’d see us tomorrow. Austin grinned. Linda met my gaze and smiled. Then they all disappeared and the rest of us wandered upstairs to find our rooms, cameras and boom mics following our every move.
The next morning the refrigerator had been stocked with yogurt and fresh fruit. I made a smoothie and had taken my first slurp when buzzing from the others drew me into the living room.
Amanda stood in front of the fireplace with a thick envelope. “It says Life’s a Beach.”
Oohs and aahs echoed around the room. I took another draw on the straw in my drink. The girls were scattered around the room in various stages of dress. And undress. Cassie skipped down the stairs in workout clothes. She caught my gaze and froze on the bottom step.
Amanda tore into the envelope and pulled out a card. The envelope wafted to the floor as she cleared her throat. “Amanda—” she paused for a squeal and indrawn breath, “—Cassie, Tiff, Sarah Jane, and Hayley please join Mom and me for a day at the beach.”
All eyes turned from Amanda to me. Gazes also turned from curious at the noise to baleful as they realized I had a small group date.
A redhead in a green tank top and short shorts stood and strode out of the room. The others drifted away too until Cassie, Amanda, and I were left with two others, presumably Tiff and Hayley. Tiff was tiny, like a gymnast, with dark hair and a perky pug nose. Her lips were thinned into a pout. Hayley wore her sandy hair pulled into a loose swinging pony tail. She was the only one of us dressed and ready to go out.
“How long do we have to get ready?” Hayley asked Liam.
My brow furrowed because she looked perfect. Strappy wedged sandals, ruffley dress with spaghetti straps. Perfect makeup. Perfect everything really.
“Be down here in thirty minutes. Dress casual. You’ll be at Malibu.”
Amanda, Tiff, and Hayley bounded up the stairs.
Cassie glanced at the clock over the fireplace. “I can get in ten minutes on the treadmill. See you back here.” She disappeared down the other staircase, presumably to the workout room.
I followed the others upstairs.
Twenty-eight minutes later I was back in the living room.
Liam stood with his tablet computer. A few cameras with their operators hovered.
“Where are the others? I thought I was late.” I had finally settled on a pair of shorts and a scoop neck T over my basic bathing suit. What took me so long was coaxing my hair to curl under and frame my face. Even as I curled and sprayed, I knew it was a lost cause. We were going to the beach. My head would be a giant frizz ball ten minutes after stepping on the sand.
Liam stood at the foot of the stairs. “Let’s go, ladies. Amanda, Cassie, Tiff, Hayley, the limo’s pulling out!” he bellowed. He turned back to me. “Gets ‘em every time.” He winked but sure enough, twelve seconds later Cassie appeared followed by the other three. Amanda was the last one. Hayley looked exactly as she had when she’d fretted about how much time.
Liam herded us outside and into the waiting Hummer limo.
Amanda, Tiff, and Hayley spread across the back seat, leaving the side seats for Cassie and me.
“Lucky I don’t get carsick.” Cassie leaned toward me, murmuring as she adjusted her skirt.
The limo took us out of the neighborhood and onto the freeway. The three girls all stared either straight ahead or out their windows. No one made a sound.
“This should be fun. I haven’t been to the beach since I moved to LA,” I said.
Cassie and I chatted easily about our hometowns and what surprised us about living in southern California. She hadn’t expected all the sunshine, which seemed weird to me. She thought it was crazy that LA was actually a better quality than the Central Valley’s and Rosedale’s.
After forever we finally pulled into a parking lot. We had to wait some more for the cameras to get in position before we clambered out. Well, I clambered out. The others swung their legs through the door and stood in one graceful motion.
“Hi everyone!” Austin ran up to our huddle, and everyone drew a breath. He wore board shorts and a ball cap but nothing else. He had a volleyball tucked under one arm. “Who wants to play?”
“I do!” Cassie and I spoke at the same time.
Amanda and Tiff exchanged glances before adding their agreement.
“I think I’ll keep your mom company, Austin, if that’s okay.” Hayley waved at Linda who sat on a blanket midway between the parking lot and the water.
“That’s great,” Austin said. “Let’s go.”
We trekked across the asphalt to the sand. The volleyball net had been strung up a few yards away from Linda. I slipped off my sandals and jogged to the blanket.
“Hi, Linda. Can I leave these here?” I dropped them on the sand next to Linda.
“Of course.” She smiled. “They’ll be safe with us, won’t they, Hayley?”
A frown crossed Hayley’s face, so quick and smooth I might have missed it.
“Thanks.” I waved at the blanket pair and made my way to the volleyball court.
“Since we have an uneven number, I think I’ll sit this one out,” Tiff was saying. “I’ll play the winner though.”
“Austin and I will take on you two,” Amanda said, slipping her arm through Austin’s and around his waist.
I might have imagined his flinch.
In just a few minutes, Cassie and I had found our rhythm and were ahead, 6-3. Cassie was serving and I was covering the net.
“Just a minute,” Amanda called. She jiggled on the other side of the net. “I have sand in my suit.” She jumped up and down.
She wiggled and ran a finger around the top of her bathing suit bra.
She leaned over and shook out her hair.
“Service!” Cassie called, tossing the ball up.