Read an Excerpt from my novel, True Colors, Book 1 in the Landry's True Colors series.
Every day I walked down the sidewalk to school and wished I was one of those interesting girls who ran up with exciting news. They were always yelling, way before they got to their group of friends so everyone could hear, about how they got asked out, or their parents were taking them on some amazing vacation or something. I’d prefer my news to be more like, “Guess what? I’m going to be in a music video!” Or maybe, “Guess who’s going to be in a movie?” But nothing, nada, never any news to share. Well, once a stray cat had kittens in my garage, but it was more annoying than anything since it smelled like cat pee in there for months after my mom found homes for them all. I couldn’t even say, “Ooh, guess who got a kitty?” since my mom said I couldn’t keep one because the poor thing would get lost in my mess of a room and starve. Still, just once I’d like to be the interesting one instead of the girl who didn’t get invited to things because people “forgot” about her. Instead, I was the girl picked last in gym class (like today) and who couldn’t even get noticed there when I tried to get hit during dodge ball so I could sit down.
“Okay, hit the showers,” Coach Daly said.
I hadn’t done anything to cause me to break a sweat, so I didn’t need a shower. I pulled my ponytail holder out of my hair and hoped for the best. My pale blond hair, which behaved so well last weekend when no one saw it, now looked and felt like a broom. The more I tried to fix it, the more it felt like hay. I tried putting in a dab of styling crème, but it just made it greasy. I didn’t know how my hair managed to have a dry texture while looking oily at the same time, but it did.
I gave up on my hair and went to get dressed. I tugged on my khaki pants and navy sweater, which made up my glorious Hillcrest Academy uniform, (it was just my luck my school picked colors which made me look like a dead goldfish), grabbed my bag, and went to join the rest of my class lined up to go to the cafeteria. I was almost fourteen and yet had to walk to the lunchroom in a straight line like Madeline from the storybook. Stupid Hillcrest. Lunch was my favorite part of the day. For one, it meant the school day was half over. I went through the lunch line and grabbed a ham sandwich, some chips, and a bottle of water and went to join my two best friends, Ericka Maines and Tori Robins. The lunchroom was always extra noisy on Fridays because everybody was talking about their plans for the weekend. Sometimes Ericka, Tori, and I went to a movie, but we didn’t do much else. Tori and I liked to go shopping, but Ericka’s parents thought hanging out at the mall would “morally corrupt” Ericka, blah, blah, blah. And they about had a stroke when she wanted to get a social media page. So I was surprised when Ericka said we should all go to the mall tomorrow.
“Landry, they’re having modeling tryouts to be on the American Ingénue show,” Ericka said, showing me the ad she had torn out of the Grand Rapids Press. “The Ingénue judges are trying to find local teens to compete on their reality show.” I watched every second of the last show. Talisa Milan won and got a Little Rose cosmetics contract and was on this month’s cover of Bright and Lively magazine. She was also a host on Hot Videos Now, a music video show. Melani Parkington, the runner-up, was the new spokesperson for Bouncy Hair conditioner. You were almost guaranteed to be famous if you made it to the final round of the contest. “First you have to win in your city, and then your state, and then the regional competition,” Tori read. “Then you get to the tough part of the competition where they vote off someone new each week on national TV.” “It’s an amazing opportunity to get discovered,” Ericka said, checking out her reflection in her spoon. “Yeah, except for the fact the judges are known to be brutal when they’re honest. Like when they told Melani her gorgeous face was too pinched, her forehead was too low, and her eyebrows were too high,” I said. “They also told one girl she was pretty, but her lips looked like she had walked into a sliding glass door.”
“Well, they did,” Ericka said shrugging. “The newspaper says the first fifty girls who try out got a free American Ingénue tote bag and Little Rose makeup samples.” They were holding auditions at the Perry Mall, which was the smallest mall in Grand Rapids. There weren’t a lot of stores there, so you usually just saw old people mall walking around there. Still, it had a decent bookstore and a cute clothing store, so I said I’d go watch while they tried out. “No, we’re all trying out,” Ericka said, grabbing the ad back from me. She said her mother thought she’d be a “natural” for the show since she always got the lead in the school plays. However, Ericka was usually the only one who tried out for the lead. Everyone else felt too stupid singing on stage in front of the whole school. Besides, you had to stay after school to rehearse, and I liked to go home and watch my favorite soap opera, As the Days Roll On. “There’s no way I’m trying out,” I said. “They always make the girl stand on a platform while they tell her everything that’s wrong with her. Melani’s gorgeous, and they tore her apart. Besides, I don’t look anything like those girls on the show.” I didn’t even buy makeup at the Little Rose cosmetics counter because I hated having the salespeople stare at my face to determine whether I was a summer gladiola or a spring daffodil. “You’re tall,” Tori said. “Remember one judge wanted to kick Melani out for being too short.”
“Yeah, you’re practically the tallest girl in school,” Ericka said.
I was hoping Tori and Ericka would say I was so beyond gorgeous I was destined to be a model. Instead, they pointed out I was freakishly tall. Of course there was no use arguing with Ericka — especially when she had Tori on her side. It seemed like it was always two against one, and I was always the one left out. Maybe I’d at least get a tote bag and some free makeup out of it. “I’m going to wear my black mini skirt, and my sister said I could borrow her high-heeled sandals. I think my legs look even longer in heels,” Ericka said.
I didn’t say anything, but I hoped Ericka changed her mind. Her legs weren’t her best feature. I mean, my legs were skinny, but I had heard people say she looked like a flamingo on stilts when she wore a skirt. She always bragged about her amazing Molly Sims legs, but last year she wore a short skirt to sing “O Holy Night” during the holiday pageant. As soon as she started to sing, Kyle Eiton said, “Ericka looks and sounds like a little fawn that got kicked in the gut.”
Ericka found out about it and was mad, but Tori and I told her he was just kidding. He was right though. I wouldn’t even notice those sorts of things if Ericka wasn’t always pointing out my flaws. Sometimes it seemed like her mission in life was to make sure I knew my hair looked like crap.
A lot of girls at school were talking about trying out, but most of the girls at Hillcrest were jocks. Yasmin McCarty, the most popular girl in our class with one thousand-three people on her social media friends list, could win a modeling competition, but she would never enter because it would be beneath her to stand in line and wait to be judged on her looks. She was always saying modeling and stuff was so superficial, but she was also the same girl who walked around school pretending she was freezing so the teachers would let her wear her designer hoodie over her uniform. I dunno, maybe some girls just knew they were hot and didn’t need some TV show to confirm it. I loved watching the show, but the thought of going up there to be judged on how I looked scared me. I was afraid of the judges but even more afraid of Ericka. I knew she’d get mad at me if I didn’t try out. So while some girls were secure enough not to need strangers to tell them they were pretty, I spent the whole day trying to figure out the right outfit for my audition (and my dad wondered why my math grades sucked). I mentally went through my closet, and nothing seemed right. My clothes said American Couch Potato, not American Ingénue. I went to math class still trying to decide on an outfit. Thalia Zimmer started reading the answer key, and I realized I forgot to stop at my locker to get my homework before class. I went up to Ms. Ashcroft’s desk holding my stomach. “Ms. Ashcroft? Can—” I stopped as she raised her eyebrows. “May I have a bathroom pass?”
“Are you sure you need to go, Miss Albright?” she asked, looking at me over her glasses. It was pretty risky of her because if I was sick I could puke on her floor and the janitor would have to throw pink sawdust on it and it would sit there, soaking all day, but hey, it was her call. I nodded putting on my “brave little trouper fighting through the pain” face. She sighed and pulled out the laminated bathroom pass. Earlier in the year she tried to limit our bathroom trips by saying we only got five passes a semester, but several parents called to ask her if an increase in bladder infections was worth the extra class time. If the angry parent calls hadn’t worked, I had planned to mention to my dad, who was a doctor, I was afraid to drink anything from seven-fifteen till two-fifteen each day in case I needed to use the toilet. I raced to my locker and got my homework. I slid it under my sweater so she wouldn’t notice me holding it when I walked back into class. As long as I had the pass I went to the bathroom and stopped at the drinking fountain before I headed back to class. Ms. Ashcroft didn’t even bother to ask me if I was feeling better. I swear I could die on her floor and she would just move me aside with her foot, lecture the students about not getting distracted by my decomposing corpse, and continue on with her lesson.
When Ms. Ashcroft got up from her desk, I carefully slid my homework out from under my sweater. Math took forever, but I didn’t mind because it was my daydreaming time. Nothing was expected of me as long as I pretended to be working on the problems. After school, I tore my closet apart looking for an outfit. I got so desperate I asked my mom for help when she got home from work. “You’re going to a modeling audition at the mall?” she asked, looking up from the carrot she was chopping. “You know you’ll have to go up in front of people to try out, right?” “Maybe I’ll just say I’m sick,” I said, popping a piece of carrot in my mouth. “I didn’t mean you can’t be a model, honey, it’s just… well, you hide whenever you see a camera,” she said. “How are you going to get up in front of all those people?”
I told her I didn’t have a chance of getting picked anyway. The producers wanted girls with great hair. I just didn’t want to trip or anything because the show did an embarrassing moments segment right before they announced the winner.
“I don’t want to talk you out of it. I just want to make sure you know what you’re getting into. You could wear the plaid kilt grandma got you. You look adorable in it,” Mom said.
Models were supposed to be “exotic” and “gorgeous,” not “adorable.” I was trying to get chosen to be a supermodel, not to sell grape juice. It was true the kilt was the nicest thing I owned.
We were supposed to wear heels to the tryout, so I borrowed a pair of my mom’s strappy black heels and practiced walking in my room. My right ankle kept wanting to cave in, and I think one of my legs might be shorter than the other since my right foot seemed to drag behind me. I just didn’t have a fierce runway walk.
“How about wearing my navy pumps. The heels are a little lower, and your toes won’t squish out the sides,” Mom said.
“No, it’s hopeless. I’m just going to call Ericka and pretend I have the flu, and if she gets mad—”
“Just try the pumps,” she said. I put her shoes on and practiced walking in the hallway. The pumps didn’t make me wobble from side to side, and I didn’t look half bad. Even Mom looked impressed.
**** Ericka’s mother picked me up at nine o’clock the next morning. The competition didn’t start until eleven, but Ericka wanted to get there early in case there was a huge line. I always had to sit in the front seat of Mrs. Maines’s SUV because even though Tori and I lived on the same street, Ericka always picked up Tori first. I think it was so they could sit together in the back. Ericka had spent extra time curling her hair, but it looked more like the “before” picture in a Bouncy Hair conditioner ad. I had put on makeup and curled my hair, but any illusions of being the next American Ingénue died when I saw my reflection in the van’s visor mirror. The curl had fallen out of my hair, and I had a foundation streak on my chin. I scrubbed at the peach colored smear and wondered why I thought I could be a model in the first place. It had only been an hour since I washed my hair, and already, my bangs looked greasy and I swore my chin was breaking out the closer we got to the mall. I thought about pretending to get explosive diarrhea (nobody would accuse me of lying if I admitted to something super gross), but I knew Ericka would get mad at me if I backed out now. Tori was super quiet, so I asked her if she was nervous, too. She looked like she was going to puke, but she straightened her back and said she was fine. There was already a line when we got to the American Ingénue table. The organizers made us wait the full time before they had us fill out forms. Then some lady, who smelled like cinnamon and cigarettes, took a picture of each of us and gave us stickers with numbers on them. “Great, I got unlucky thirteen,” Tori said. “Anyone wanna trade? Landry?”
I had number twelve, and I offered to trade with her since I knew I wouldn’t get picked anyway. Besides, I didn’t even know if I wanted to be chosen. I hated being singled out. I wouldn’t even yell “Bingo” when we played in social studies. Ericka pulled out a compact and started pushing her finger against her eyelashes. “Did you get something in your eye?” I asked.
“Duh, I’m trying to curl my lashes,” she said. “It opens up your eyes.”
Ericka wasn’t allowed to wear eye makeup, but her mom had gotten her some medicated foundation to cover up her blemishes. Her makeup looked caked on as it tried to cover up her bumpy complexion. She was allowed to wear nail polish, although for some reason it was always chipped around the edges. It was weird, but I didn’t think I’d ever seen her wearing fresh polish. Tori wasn’t into makeup, but she already had rosy cheeks and lips and pretty gray eyes, so she didn’t need much. However, I had skin the color of a dead goldfish, and my eyes were pretty uninteresting as far as blue eyes go. My mom said I was lucky to have such light blonde hair, but if you asked me, it was way too pale. Ericka called it “albino blonde.” I looked like I needed a blood transfusion without blush, and mascara kept me from looking like a newborn baby chicken.
“Okay, I need numbers one through twenty to line up,” the cinnamon/cigarette lady said, gesturing towards a big velvet curtain. More girls had begun showing up, and now the line stretched all the way down to the Mr. Fluffy Muffin Man counter. The Perry Mall probably hadn’t seen so many people since they had “free donut day.” I asked the woman in charge when we got our tote bags. I did not get there two hours early to go home without a tote bag. She snapped her gum, and she said we could pick them up after our turn on the runway.
“What runway?” I asked. Tori pointed out they had cleared some tables off in front of the curtain to make a platform. I walked to the front and looked out from behind the curtain. The tables were now part of a runway, and there were folding chairs set up for the audience to watch. It was just mall walkers and parents, but they were still people who were going to watch me walk… in heels. The competition was for girls between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, but it felt like Ericka, Tori, and I were the youngest ones there. I only saw a couple of girls from school, and the lineup looked more like something you’d see on a music video set. All the girls were gorgeous, and they had these curvy womanly bodies. I looked like a skinny little kid next to them. The first girl walked out, and I heard the judges say she “owned the runway,” and, “walked like a gazelle.” I was starting to feel ill. I wasn’t sure which way it was going to come, but I knew I had to find a bathroom — fast. I started to get out of line when Ericka grabbed my wrist. “It’s almost time,” she said. A tiny bit of spit flew out of her mouth and hit my cheek.
I wasn’t sure why she was so intent on me going through with it, but she had a death grip on my arm, so I didn’t have much of a choice. Her number was called and she walked out to the stage. One of the other girls said she walked like a kid with sand bucket stilts on her feet, but she came back with a smirk on her face like she knew she’d get chosen.
“They said they had never seen such long legs,” she said.
Tori was next.
“She walks like a gorilla at feeding time,” said the girl behind me. I went next, and I tried to focus on not tripping over my feet. My mom’s pumps had a rubber sole on the bottom, which probably wasn’t the brightest idea seeing as my shoes were making squeaking noises as I walked. I was so nervous I couldn’t stop smiling as I walked. I looked like the plastic clown who blows up balloons with its mouth at the Pizza Palace. When I got to the end of the runway, I tried to cross my feet to turn like the other girls had, but I over rotated and ended up doing a full spin which made my kilt fan out and gave the mall walkers a view of my blue underpants. I tried to act like it was intentional and did an extra turn. One of the judges put her hand up to stop me, and I held my breath as she started to speak.