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Authors: Sarah Gagnon

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BOOK: Date With A Rockstar
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Jasmine tucks her chin in and sits up straight, affronted.

“You're dismissed.” He points to a lady standing by the door. She's in her forties, wearing a wine-colored suit. “Eleanor will show you out the back entrance.”

“Hi, girls,” she says. She lifts her eyes to mine like I'm vaguely interesting, or maybe disgustingly dirty. “I'll be along for the duration of the show, so if you need anything, I might be able to help.”

The guy starts to walk away, but yells back, “Remember what I said about reporters.” I nod. Eleanor mumbles under her breath. “Well, come on, then. The back exit is this way.” Jasmine steps in front of me as we follow along. Judging by Eleanor's purposeful walk, she's in good shape. We're released back out into the
real world. The door slams behind us and I'm left in the rain again.

Jasmine huffs and pulls out her cell. “Yes.” She pauses. “Yes, no, send the car to pick me up.” I pretend to adjust the heel of my flats as I eavesdrop.

In less than a minute a gray Jag picks her up at the curb. I hope all the other girls aren't as wealthy as she is. It seems like an unfair advantage.

I step over the cracks in the sidewalk as I walk home. Our apartment is two miles away on the thirty-fifth floor of a massive brick building. The crumbling façade gives glimpses of the steel structure beneath, which keeps the thing from caving in. China wasn't interested in old reclaimed industrial steel, lucky for us. On the bottom floors, bars cover the windows for security. One good thing about living up so high, if someone wanted to rob us, there are hundreds of easier apartments to choose from.

The rain stops, but the smog cuts the sun down to nothing. I avoid the wire pigeon traps a few blocks away. I can't take their feathers and desperate squawking. The poor birds overpopulate the streets almost as quickly as humans do. According to the city, they taste delicious—a new money-making crop requiring no maintenance. I'll take vitamin spread over flying rats any day.

My trail crosses through the park between the bank buildings. The Chase skyscraper is the nicest. A projection of a rainforest fills the mirrored glass, giving the illusion of a better world. The other banks have chosen different environmental themes. I love them all. If I stand close enough, I can pretend I'm there, in the wilderness, instead of this filthy city. Today, I keep walking.

When I reach our place, I try to pick our window out from the ground. I painted a design on the inside of the glass, but from this distance, all the windows
on my floor look the same. I can't believe I'm coming home to this place after all of the extraordinary occurrences of the last few days. I never truly believed I'd be picked. Of course, I fantasized; I had to. To have a future in which I'm disease free, with a boyfriend that gets what's important to me—now that would be amazing. Maybe another artist. This show could give me those opportunities. With this prize money, my whole life could change. Now, to be back home as though none of it happened. No line, no room of fruit. But it did happen. I met Jeremy Bane. A small part of my brain adds,
and he touched your arm and held your hand for a second.

A speck of rust falls on my head as I walk through the doorway and start up the stairs. I laugh at the building, daring it to fall down. My legs flex and push off each step. I don't even care that the elevator only works intermittently. At least my calf muscles are well defined. My climbing time is down to fifteen minutes. Not a bad cardio workout and cheaper than a gym membership. Of course, the elderly residents aren't as lucky as I am. If the supermarket didn't deliver, they'd be in a bad position. Still, to have to pay a delivery fee on top of vitamin spread costs must suck. The hollow echo of my feet on the stairs mixes with a crying child behind one of the doors. The floors speed by with the memory of Jeremy touching my arm.

I pause in front of our apartment. I slowly blow the air out of my lungs before swinging the door open. Mom waits on the couch a few feet from the door. She slaps her magazine closed and clasps her hands in anticipation. I know she wanted to check on me while I was in line, but there were no visitors allowed. “How was the audition?” She smiles at me, waiting for good news. Mom, the optimist.

I told her I have a crush on Bane to explain why I wanted to audition. I don't want her to know I'm doing
this for the money. She'd think it was her fault for not coming up with the cure money quickly enough. Which would be stupid, because she's done everything she can. Besides, Jeremy Bane is an easy guy to imagine having a crush on.

She waves her hand in the air. “Are you going to tell me?”

“They picked me. I'm going back tomorrow.”

She squeals in delight. “I knew they'd love you, honey. You're so beautiful.” She reaches out and picks my wet, dirty hair off my shoulder.

“Ick.” I twist away from her. “My hair is nasty, and you only think that because I'm your daughter.”

“Bah, clearly
Jeremy Bane
does, too.” She drags out his name, teasing me. “So, what are you wearing tomorrow?” She cocks her hip to the side and doesn't mention the brown smear on her hand from where she touched my hair.

Ugh. I hang my head and fall back onto the couch. My wardrobe is pathetic. “I have no idea.”

“Well, give me that outfit, and I'll rinse it out in the sink.” She retreats to the next room to give me enough privacy to change. Our coffee table opens up into a storage bin, which is where I keep my clothes. I move Mom's coffee and magazine to the floor as I search my belongings. Our apartment is small and efficient. Everything folds up and down in the two rooms. My bed is inside of the kitchen wall right now. Mom's is behind the TV. She and I have made the space homey. We painted flowers around the door and got peach curtains.

“Throw your clothes in,” Mom says. The walls are thin between the rooms, and I hear her perfectly. I sit in my bra and underwear for a minute, then discreetly smell my arm. I always feel like a hidden camera could be watching me. Once I found out about Fluxem, I've been waiting for the symptoms—wondering if
I'll suddenly smell like a lizard some morning. I've never been around a steaming cup of iodine, but I read online that it smells like a crocodile and I can't get that description out of my head. So far, I'm good. No open sores marring my skin, or worse, yellow pus oozing from the scabs while my body tries to flush the disease out of my system. If I can win the prize money, I can put Fluxem behind me before it scars my life even more.

I sort through my clothes and pull out my other pair of jeans. I have a few skirts, too, those are easy to make and Mom is good at stitching things out of remnants. What will Jasmine wear tomorrow? Do I even want to know? Getting caught up comparing myself with other girls used to be something I avoided. Now I can't stop wishing I had paid more attention. This competition goes against every bit of common sense I have, and I've spent too long trying to be content with what I have. But then I see Mom coming home from the restaurant way after dark, exhausted. All because of me. Because I couldn't protect myself in a fight two years ago. Now we're even more broke. Not for long. If I can win the money, she can stop working so hard. Maybe then we can have a buffet like the one the TV show provided.

The buffet…oh, crap. That fruit is still in my pocket. I quickly slip on an old T-shirt and fumble in my jeans for the strawberries. “I've got a surprise for you.” I step into the kitchen. “Which hand?” I ask, holding both behind my back.

Mom grins at me. “That one.” She pokes my arm.

“Nope, the other one.” I pull out the napkin and let it fall open. The berries are squashed, but she doesn't care.

“Oh, sweetheart.” She pops one in her mouth, savoring the flavor the same way I had. I love her so much. I'm proud all of a sudden. I brought home food
and I made it to the next round. “I have papers I need you to sign.”

“Oh?”

I go back out to the living room and grab them. She finishes with my jeans and drapes them over the rack by the window. Then we settle down on the two-seater couch with the papers on our laps. She tips her head back and her eyes close.

“You're tired, aren't you?”

She sighs. “No. I'm only resting for a second.”

There are lines around her mouth from smiling so much and dark circles under her eyes. I know she's tired even if she won't admit it.

She straightens back up. “I'm ready to sign. What do you have for me?”

I sigh. I'm going to win that prize money. I glance over the first page and then hand it to her. She squints at the small print and holds the page closer.

“You do realize they're asking my permission to let you fly all over the place?”

My smile widens. “I know. I had no idea the dates were going to be so…exotic.”

“Monet, think this through. I want you to be safe and every city has its problems. Only the biggest local crimes end up in the news. It's not like the federal laws are enforced all that well anymore. If they're not gathering up metal or tax evaders, all of a sudden they don't have enough resources.”

Ugh, the safety lecture again. Ever since I got Fluxem, she's been trying to protect me from everything else. “I can handle a trip. Besides, the TV show isn't going to let anything too horrific happen to the contestants.”

She sighs. “The government used to be able to afford more. Plus, there's all that pollution. You'll have to be careful of the water, the ground, the people—”

“I'll be fine. I'm smart.” I scratch the back of my neck. I want to travel, but…

She smiles again. “You're right. I know you'll be okay and this is a wonderful opportunity.”

I pick the document back up and continue reading. “This one talks about them filming our house and me. I'm sorry, Mom.”

“No, no, it's okay. I'm not embarrassed, a lot of the population lives like we do.” She tucks her hair behind her ears and then twists it into a bun. “You wouldn't believe all the changes I've witnessed in my life.”

“You're not that old, Mom.”

“Forty-seven.”

“So the world has had forty years to change, right? So it's not that much worse.”

“Maybe, but at least back then I would've been able to get you medical treatment even if I didn't have money.” She stops and massages her lower back. Which is my fault. She's on her feet working too much. I wish there was a way to just rip Fluxem out of my body. Mom relaxes back, still thinking about her past.

“When I was born, companies would just give you credit to buy whatever you wanted. Then too many people stopped paying back the debt.” She stops and yawns. I hate when she rambles about politics. “There are only so many resources in the world. Not like the wealth is going to get redistributed in this lifetime. And you know what? I bet we're happier than the social elite.”

“Yeah,” I say, but my thoughts are all shifting to Jeremy. What would make him choose me?

She takes the paper from me and signs. “It's about time TV shows stop glossing over the economic disparity. It's the people wasting space in those sprawling mansions that should be ashamed.”

I nod, not wanting this discussion to go on any longer. I'd be happier with money. No one who's eaten
vitamin spread sandwiches for more than a week in a row would question the superiority of wealth. Mom says they're delicious. Maybe her taste buds have dissolved.

“I'm so excited for you, honey. You're actually going to get out of this city for a week or two. Though, they're a little vague on how long you'll be gone.”

“I'll ask about it tomorrow.” I glance over at her face. She's still young. Her eyes barely crinkle, and she's good at being positive. I wish I could close myself off to the problems around me. Every time I have to hide in bed to bend metal into jewelry I'm reminded how limited my future is. I have no shot at a career, no money for college, and no boyfriend. I'm not pissed. I'm not depressed. I accepted the facts long ago, and while I'll do everything I can to make my life better, I'm realistic.

She nudges my arm. “Always so serious.”

I shrug. “I'm excited.”

“What are you going to wear?”

I hold up my jeans.

“Good choice. Wanna borrow one of my shirts?”

“The maroon one?” I ask.

“Ha. My favorite. You've been waiting for an excuse.”

Too true.
“Please?”

“All right, but that Jeremy Bane had better fall in love with you.”

I shake my head. I don't need love. I just need to get rid of Fluxem so that I can have a regular life. I just need a miracle so I can win the show. “He probably won't even notice me with all the other girls.”

“Of course he will.” She pats my hand and then uncurls her fist to reveal the second squashed strawberry that she still hasn't eaten. “Want to split it?”

“No, Mom, you go for it.”

She savors the berry and I fill with hope about tomorrow.

FIVE

I WALK ALONG the sidewalk, avoiding the doomed pigeons and beggars. Mom's maroon shirt feels silky on my skin, and despite the gut-clenching nerves, I'm in a good mood. An advertisement with Jeremy standing on a stage flashes on the side of the mall.

Date With a Rockstar,
featuring Jeremy Bane…One girl will win thirty thousand dollars and the possibility of true love.

I could be that girl.

My positive attitude lasts until I reach the studio. Outside, the next two hundred and fifty girls fidget in a ragged line. They look amazing. They're all bright colors and symmetrical faces, each one more beautiful than the next. Jeremy will probably pick eight more girls in less than an hour.

I walk to the front of the line because I don't even know where I'm supposed to go to get inside.

“Hey, numbers have already been given out, idiot,” a crisp voice yells. I keep walking.

BOOK: Date With A Rockstar
11.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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