Home > Bodyguard (Hollywood A-List #2)

Bodyguard (Hollywood A-List #2)
Author: C.D. Reiss



When we became friends, she was just Darlene McKenna. She wasn’t even in third grade when she started singing in her church on Sundays. I sang a little, danced a little, but gymnastics was the love of my little heart.

We met during gymnastics camp in Chicago. I was awesome. We were in the same group, and I was already on the team. My parents had put a bar across the garage door so I could practice my casts. Which I did. A lot.

My parents worked. They were lawyers, and I was a ten-year-old kid who talked like a buzz saw and couldn’t keep still. So they sent me to lessons and camps to keep me happy. All they ever wanted was to keep me happy. The gym I went to was a second home in a massive warehouse space just south of the city. Banners with team members’ names over the colleges they attended. They’d trained Olympians and champions. There were so many banners they were running out of space. I grew up thinking the odds of winning all the chips were in my favor.

Camps were fun enough, but gymnastics wasn’t fun. I wasn’t into the leap-into-the-ball-pit-bounce-house fun. That was for babies and I was team.

“What’s your name?” Darlene asked me the day we met. She was bigger than I was by a lot. Taller, thicker, bursting with confidence. Her skin was honey and her hair was kinky and dark. She was pure power, in one direction. Up.

“I’m Emily and I’m team. We’re going to the state championships in May.”

I pointed my toes when I walked and when I sat on the mat. I pointed them when I stood there fidgeting between stations. My coach, Tammy, tried to be funny, calling the constant practice at toe pointing “good habitizing.” I got the joke, but gymnastics wasn’t funny.

“Let’s be friends!” She jumped up and down, clapping as if this was the biggest idea since the iPod. “I’m Darlene!”

I didn’t have a lot of friends. I left school seconds before the bell rang and had no time for playdates or parties.

“Sure. I’m Emily.”

Space had opened up on the red floor, and I wanted to get on it. There wasn’t a coach around, but I was better than all these girls. I didn’t need no stinking coaches.

“Where you going?” Darlene bounced after me to where kids were leaping in a line and young coaches spoke the language of encouragement. Her leotard was hot pink and just a little too tight, as if she’d had a growth spurt.

“The red exercise floor. Wanna come?”

“There’s no coach by it.”

I shrugged her off. It was just a springy floor. I’d been coming to that gym seven years already. Forever.

I lined up in the corner. Feet together. Arms up, right knee bent, toes pointed, visualizing the run, then the cartwheel.

“How many you gonna do?” asked Darlene.

“Two. Cartwheel then flip.”

“Do three.” Hands on hips. A two-word challenge. I wasn’t made of stone. I was made of 100 percent US grade-A kid. I’d never done three, but it was just one more.

I took two big steps, turned, landed on my hands, flipped, spun, did a perfect cartwheel. I bounced on my toes, did the flip, and somehow found a tiny bit of torque. Enough for an ugly half-assed third thing that didn’t have a name.

I landed on my bottom, ashamed of my failure. Then angry. Then resentful. I got up to try again.

Darlene held judgment. I might have been mad at her for that for half a second. If I was, it was gone by the time I got into the corner again.

“Hey,” Darlene said, “did you know I sing in my church? The AME church on Pico. I’m the youngest they ever had.”

“That’s really cool.” I did my run, finally nailing the landing. Darlene clapped and stuck two fingers in her mouth to whistle. That made me smile. It was nice to have a fan.

“Do you know about acoustics?” she asked when I came back to her.

“Yeah.” I knew everything. Of course.

“That whistle I just did, man. The acoustics in here are insane.”

The whistle had been really loud. It had drawn attention to us, and Coach Tammy blew her little metal whistle.

“Girls! What are you doing over there?”

I waved, letting her know we were fine.

Darlene leaned in and whispered, “I bet we could sing ‘Ain’t I Your Baby?’ so loud the roof would come down.”

I giggled.

She looked around the huge space. “I bet if you went by the vaults and I went by the uneven bars and we both sang, it would be crazy.”

Something about the way she said it made it seem like the best idea ever. She had an infectious sense of fun. Besides, it was just camp. It wasn’t team practice.

“I can hold the note in ‘yours’ longer than you can.” She held up a finger and stuck her butt out. That sealed the deal. She had no idea who she was dealing with.

“Is that a dare?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

The space took up half a city block. Even as an adult, it looked huge. As a kid, it was planetary. I just had to go to the opposite corner and sing a long note. Easy. And better than doing baby stuff with the other campers.

I held my hand up, and she slapped it.

We were on.

“Go!” she said, and I ran. She found her corner first and started the first verse. I joined in with lyrics we weren’t old enough to understand. Darlene belted it out from the bottom of her lungs, and when I joined her, we sounded so good under the thirty-foot ceilings, I barely heard the sound of my voice without hers.

And that note, in “yours”? The one we were competing to hold? It was magic.

Gymnastics was my life, but if I could pin down a moment when I started to love singing just as much, it was that moment I harmonized with Darlene. I felt us becoming friends. It was inside the note.

The applause was deafening.

We both hopped to the red floor and bowed.

It was the last time we’d take a bow together. Which was fine. She was Darlene McKenna, and I was just Emily.





I was late. I figure the whole thing could have been avoided if I’d been on time. But the auto lock on my front gate had jammed, and the back gate wasn’t set up for leaving. It was set up for coming in, so the keypad was on the outside. I had to go back into the house, which took a few steps, then I had to find the key to the back gate, and then the phone rang. Darlene wanted me to bring the video of the Sexy Badass Tour, which I didn’t have loaded on my laptop. So I loaded it. Then forgot the key.

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