The third and final pre-release excerpt from Stepsisters takes place further on in the story than excerpts one and two. The scene at the end was one of my favorites to write! (Warnings for bad language – and flying tennis balls!)
Angelina couldn’t believe it – Bane’s offer was legit. The man claiming to be a talent scout really was a talent scout; the same talent scout, in fact, who’d offered Jenny her audition for Sing for the Peace. Needless to say, she couldn’t have been more thrilled. Her father managed to take five minutes out of his busy schedule to confirm the facts the next morning, and once he’d arranged a solid try-out date, Victoria was nearly as ecstatic as Angelina was. Not necessarily because her stepdaughter was being given an opportunity, but more for herself and the bragging rights such an opportunity would mean.
“We’ll double your lessons with Margaret,” she fussed. “And we’ll have to find a good personal trainer. You should really lose a few pounds before the audition. Jenny Wexler is skinnier than you.”
Angelina rolled her eyes at Victoria’s nagging. First of all, Jenny was always going to be skinnier than her, because A) Angelina was short and had curves, and B) everyone knew that Jenny threw up every day after lunch. It was the only thing that made Angelina feel any modicum of sympathy for her, but her compassion didn’t tend to last very long when Jenny was constantly throwing bitchy comments behind her back and trying to outdo her in chorus class.
Secondly, Angelina was just fine with how she looked, thank you very much. And how she sang.
“I don’t need a personal trainer,” she retorted bluntly. “I can work out on my own. It’s not like I don’t play tennis.”
If Angelina were Nicolette, Victoria probably would have shot her a stern glare and a “don’t be such a smart ass!” Instead, she responded with her usual overly-sweet phony Victoria smile, said “of course, dear!” and patted Angelina on the head like a damn poodle. Angelina hated when she did that! It was so condescending!
But Victoria, though irritating, wasn’t important. What was important was her audition. Angelina was hungry for it. Starving. For as long as she could remember, she’d dreamed of having a career in the music business. Maybe her determination had even bordered at times on obsession. A part in the show this summer wouldn’t automatically mean “career,” but it would mean exposure – and now, the only thing standing between her and it was Jenny Wexler.
Angelina was so fixated on squashing her like a little bug and pulling off a winning audition in January that a few days post-offer, she was already driving her sisters crazy with ideas.
“What do you think, Blair?” she harassed her twin while Blair hunched over her homework at the vintage secretary desk in her bedroom, staring down at a notebook filled with endless lines of AP math problems that seemed intent on challenging her ability to pull off a perfect 4.0 average. “Should I sing something saucy like Habanera again or go for the more pristine stuff like Ave Maria?”
“Angelina, you’ve asked me that ten times already,” Blair mumbled, scrubbing her pencil eraser against the paper.
“Then what about something modern and poppy? Or do you think I should go for a standard and play it safe?” Angelina looked like she was seriously thinking hard about it, but no matter how fiercely she scrunched her eyebrows together, she couldn’t decide.
“Ugh! I can’t pick!” she groaned in frustration.
“Ang!” Blair insisted. “Please! I really need to do this.”
She motioned towards her open book and Angelina sighed.
“You and your damn homework… can’t you take a break?”
“Sorry, but no. You can’t go for class valedictorian with B’s.”
“Whatever. Valedictorian isn’t even an issue until next year.”
“And your audition isn’t an issue until January.” Blair refrained from adding that valedictorian was a career-long undertaking, not simply a one-year accomplishment. “Don’t worry, you have plenty of time to decide and I promise I’ll help you practice when you do. But these math problems are due tomorrow.”
As much as Angelina hated it, Blair had a point… but it didn’t make her feel any less anxious. For years, she had tried to make her mark. She’d made regular appearances at karaoke venues in the city, practiced diligently for every recital she’d ever had, and last year when BD Records – a big recording company out of LA – had relocated its headquarters to New York City and set up a branch office right here in Stirling, she’d even sent them recordings that she’d made with Gisele’s help, trying to get them to notice her.
Unfortunately, no one had seemed to care who her rich daddy was. She hadn’t even gotten rejection letters. Just ignored. The one time she had gotten a letter, she’d ripped the envelope open ravenously only to see the ugly words: Thank you for your interest in BD Records, but unfortunately we are not looking for new talent at this time. It was bullshit and she knew it. A canned form letter. They either thought that she sucked or just didn’t want to deal with her.
This audition would be her first solid shot – as much as it was Jenny Wexler’s. Furious Jenny made it a point to glower at her nastily every chance she got in school, just to let her know that she wasn’t going to relinquish her potential gig as the show’s “hot local talent” so easily, and Angelina found it annoying. She had enough to contend with already; Aiden was still acting weird and distant around her, and she didn’t appreciate Jenny shooting her dirty looks on top of it. By halfway through the week, she was sure that Jenny’s salty scowl had been permanently etched to her stupid face.
“How much did your dad pay to get you an audition, anyway?” Jenny’s snotty friend Sarah Rossi commented in the locker room while they changed for gym. Angelina was sitting on a bench, tying her Pumas, alone of course, because these girls could only stand to challenge her when her posse wasn’t around. Sarah and Rebecca Aaron flanked Jenny in matching goldenrod short-shorts and knee-high black gym socks, looking like a trio of angry hornets. It was a fitting picture, but Angelina snorted at them, unfettered.
These girls were worker bees. She was the queen.
“More than your dad could afford,” she retorted, standing from the bench and shoving her duffel bag into her locker. She shut the door coolly, never breaking eye contact. It was a lie, but the point was they wanted her to argue and stomp her feet. It was much more satisfying to go along with it and watch them get red in the face. “By the way, Jenny, you should really fix your shorts. Your ass is hanging out and I really don’t think that anyone wants to see that.”
Jenny glowered at her spitefully and she winked.
“See you in gym, girls!” she said as she took her leave.
Classic Angelina von Essen. Cool as a cucumber.
At least to an extent. Angelina could ignore Jenny and the other jealous girls in school, but it was much harder to ignore the awkwardness that had made its bed between her and Aiden. Aiden smiled and nodded at all the right times, but something about him still felt off. He wasn’t talking much. He’d made it a point to keep any conversations they did have short. They didn’t pass notes in English class and they didn’t hang out one-on-one after school. There was always some reason, some excuse. Football. Homework. Ashleigh’s soccer game. And the worst thing about it was that Aiden was acting like none of this was happening. Was he oblivious or just in denial? He’d said that he didn’t want to make things weird.
But they were weird. So weird. Angelina felt so perturbed by the idea that this might be their relationship from now on that she could only think of one thing to do to vent some of her frustration away. She pulled her arm back and swung it forward, letting out an agitated grunt as her racket made contact with something solid.
Smack! Here came another ball, yellow-green and fuzzy, flying at her fast. Smack! It hit the tall chain-link face surrounding the court with a punctuating clink! She squatted down, ready, spinning her racket in her hands. Here it came. Pop went the last ball from the machine. She wound up and brought her arms forward, both palms clenched around the grip, cracking the ball so hard that it flew high into the air as it bounced gracelessly off of the court. It disappeared behind the fence, one that she’d have to fetch later.
“Wow, Angelina,” a familiar voice broke her concentration. “Don’t think you’ll get into sectionals like that.”
Angelina spun around to glance over her shoulder, groaning under her breath as a wild Jenny appeared in a short black tennis skirt and a hot-pink athletic tank top, sauntering through the gate with her racket hugged against her side and a tube of tennis balls in her hand. Great. She pulled up her white visor, wiping the sweat from her brow before re-adjusting it to shield her eyes again.
“What do you want, Jenny?”
“Well, I wanted to use the machine,” Jenny said huffily, motioning at the balls littering the court. “But, oh well. Looks like someone else got to it first. You know, first come, first serve? Like, the way things are supposed to be? You should probably clean this up, by the way. You’re going to step on a ball and twist your ankle.”
Angelina rolled her eyes, scooping up a nearby ball with her racket, balancing it on the strings and bouncing it a few times before walking to the machine and letting it fall in with a plop. When she finished clearing the court, she was annoyed to see Jenny still there, standing on the opposing side with a glare on her face and a hand on her hip. “Do you want something?” Angelina glared back at her.
“Serve,” Jenny glowered.
She put up her racket and Angelina felt a competitive defiance flare in her veins. Jenny wanted to play? She’d be sorry.
She scooted the ball machine to the side and plucked two balls from it, stuffing one into the pocket of her white tennis dress and tumbling the other over in her hand. She stood at the baseline, bounced the ball against the ground, got into position, and served.
A bullet flew towards Jenny. Thwack!
Jenny swung and didn’t miss. Smack!
Back and forth the balls went, serve after serve, lob after lob. Fuzzy neon bullet after fuzzy neon bullet. Angelina was surprised at how well her opponent was fighting back. What the hell! Had Jenny been practicing? The girls’ sneakers squeaked across the court, sweat dripped from their brows, and harsh grunts and huffs of panting breath punctuated their slices and backhands. Angelina skidded to a hard stop as the ball whizzed past her, smacking the baseline.
“Out!” she yelled.
“What?” Jenny snapped back. “That wasn’t out!”
“OUT,” Angelina snarled at her.
Jenny grit her jaw and Angelina heard her mutter, “Bitch.”
Jenny didn’t respond. She tossed another ball into the air and her racket sliced down, cranking out a serve with such force that Angelina had to jerk back to avoid it.
“What the hell is your problem, Jenny?” she hissed.
Jenny lost it. “You can’t let anyone else have the spotlight for five seconds, can you?!”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Angelina huffed, switching her weight to one hip. “If you’re still pissed over my audition, then sorry, but it had nothing to do with one-upping you!”
“Yeah right!” Jenny spat. “Everyone knows you can’t stand that I got something and you didn’t! Everyone knows you threw a tantrum at your dad until he offered that scout a load of money, and everyone knows that you’re only being looked at at all because of your stupid dead mom! You’re going to hold that over everyone’s heads forever! You just love the special treatment, don’t you?”
Angelina’s face went dangerously red. Fuming, she picked up the closest ball she could find and smashed it straight at Jenny’s face. Jenny screamed bloody murder as it nailed her in the shoulder.
“You fucking slut!” she shrieked. “You tried to kill me!”
The girls’ rackets fell to the ground and they met at the center net. Angelina was shaking. All she could think about was Jenny at that damn recital with her happy little family. Hugging her mom and taking it all completely for granted.
“Fuck you, Jenny!” she hissed at her nemesis, jabbing a furious finger in her face. “How dare you! If you think I get any satisfaction out of my mom being fucking dead, you’re delusional! I would give anything to have what you have, you ungrateful bitch!“
Jenny stared back at her, tight-lipped and tense, but before things could escalate any further, the girls turned in unison at an urgent “hey!” by the chain-link fence. It was Aiden. His blue Camaro was parked in the street and the driver’s side door was hanging open. Apparently football practice was out, and judging by his polo shirt and jeans, he’d opted to take a shower before heading home this time. He squeezed through the gate, rushing onto the court.
“What’s going on here?” he demanded, grabbing Angelina’s arm. “Is she bothering you?”
Angelina was refusing to cry, trying to ward off panic, but her eyes were glassy and her fists were clenched, fingernails digging moon-shaped divots into her palms. Aiden didn’t know what had been said to make her like this, but he glared at Jenny scornfully.
“I don’t know what just happened, but don’t you ever do whatever you just did to her again.”
“She hit me with a tennis ball!” Jenny stamped her foot.
“You insulted my mom!” Angelina snapped back.
She jerked forward, ready to pull hair or slap or do whatever it was that girls did to constitute a fight, but Aiden tightened his grip on her and held her back. “Screw her! Come on, I’ll take you home.”
Angelina gave Jenny the middle finger then turned sharply on her heel, yanking her arm out of Aiden’s grasp and wiping her nose with the back of her hand. She stomped ahead of him to her discarded racket and snatched it from the ground.
“What happened?” he asked, behind her.
She didn’t turn to look at him. “I hate her!”
Her face hardened as she swung open the gate. She was bottling up, letting her frustration boil inside of her. Not good. It meant that eventually the top would blow and Angelina would erupt. And when Angelina erupted, it made volcanic disasters look like baby burps. He opened the passenger’s side door for her.
“You’re getting yourself worked up.”
“I don’t care!” Angelina snapped, slumping into the seat. She stared straight ahead and said nothing as Aiden drove her home, trying hard to keep herself from crying. She crossed her legs, crossed her arms over her chest, and set her jaw. It wasn’t working.
Aiden hadn’t planned on coming into the house with her, but when he saw the state she was in by the time they arrived at the mansion, he couldn’t just pull off and leave her there alone. What if she had a panic attack? She hadn’t had one in so long, but he’d seen her have them before, when they were younger. They were horrible.
“Come on, Ang,” he coaxed her, setting aside the petty awkwardness to take her by the elbow. He led her up the staircase, past Victoria chatting with the part-time cook in the kitchen, to her room. Angelina stormed straight to her bed and sat on the edge of her lavender comforter with an angry plop. He settled down next to her as she finally lost the battle completely, burying her face in her hands. She worked so hard to hold back emotion on a day-to-day basis, but this had been too much. Aiden rested a hand on her back.
“Hey…” he said softly. “What happened back there?”
A pained sound escaped her throat as she wiped fruitlessly at her eyes. “She’s pissed about my audition. She said that the only reason I have one at all is because of my stupid dead mom.”
“Jesus…” Aiden muttered. “I should have let you hit her.”
“I hate her, Aid,” she whimpered. “I fucking hate her.”
Aiden slid his arms around her shoulders and she crumpled against his chest. “Don’t listen to her. She’s trying to psyche you out. She wants you to mess up, but you’re going to kick her ass.”
Angelina sniffled. “You really think so?”
“I know so. You’re getting into that show.”
If you like what you’ve read so far, check out “Stepsisters” on Amazon.