Darena Montoya flipped through the calendar app on her cell phone as she took a sip from her green tea-infused strawberry smoothie. She checked what she had to do next week and sighed. Hair frosting on Monday, pedicure on Tuesday, school project on Wednesday, and she was getting her acrylic nails filled on Thursday. How was she going to be able to properly moisturize with this much on her schedule?
Flipping to the following week, Darena almost choked on the icy drink when she realized that one of her BFFs was having a birthday next Saturday. Mckaylah Wagner, one of her best friends since preschool, was turning 16! Darena squealed in delight. Why didn’t she say something to everyone sooner?
Darena closed out the calendar app and accessed her speed dial. She called one of her other BFFs, Casie Clemons, to tell her immediately. Casie picked up on the fourth ring. “Hey girl, what’s up?” She asked, in normal, cheerful voice. Darena noted that in the background she could hear salsa music.
“Hey girl, I was just checking my deets and did you know that it’s Mckaylah’s birthday next Sat?” Darena asked, setting her drink down in the booth next to her and looking out over the restaurant. She was talking a bit loudly, considering that the juice bar was packed. But she really didn’t care.
“No way, girl!” Casie shrieked. “We need to throw her a party, pronto!”
“I know! That’s totally what I said. Let’s conference in the other girls so we can all plan,” Darena suggested. She pulled her phone away from her ear and hit seven additional speed dials. Within seconds, she was talking to Kadyn Ellis, Leighanne Larsen, Denelle Logan, Aala Burke, Kendele Roth, Jaliyiah Brady and Cambrie Sullivan.
The girls chattered excitedly for a second before Darena got all of their attention. “Okay ladies, it’s Mckaylah’s birthday next Sat and our girl can’t turn 16 without her slammin’ BFFs throwing her a killer party!”
They all chorused their agreement. “I have some extra tennis lessons next week, but I can help with the decorations,” Kadyn offered.
“I can arrange for a manicurist at the party!” Leighanne said, enthusiastically.
“I’m hand selecting all of the tunes,” Denelle informed her friends. “We all know that a rockin’ party relies on good tunes.”
“Crap, I just bought a new belly dance costume. How am I going to afford a present?” Aala pondered.
“We should make it a fashion show party! Where are you guys? I hop on my motorcycle right now if you want me to come over,” Kendele offered.
“Maybe we should make it a show to benefit the animals at the local shelter,” Jaliyiah suggested. “Just think about how we could find purses for cute little dogs and cats to live in.”
“No way, that would get too messy,” Cambrie told her friend. “What about goldfish? Everyone loves goldfish. Maybe we should get Mckaylah a pair of them.”
“Girls, girls,” Darena said, getting control of the conversation again. “Let’s meet after school on Monday to plan. I’ll start working right now. Think of what kind of theme and how we can make it work. You only turn 16 once and this party has got to be totally hot for Mckaylah!”
The YOLO Girls all agreed that it was now their life’s mission to make sure that Mckaylah had the best 16th birthday ever. They all said goodbye and hung up, already thinking of ways to make her birthday super special. Darena sat back in the booth and sipped her drink. She stared straight ahead, realizing that the family in front of her was looking at her weird. She smiled at them, smugly. They were probably just jealous of her. Figures.
Darena bit her lower lip. Thinking sure was hard. Even about something fun like a party. She tried to come up with fun ways to celebrate Mckaylah’s birthday. Like renting out elephants and making it an Indian themed event. Or maybe inviting a hot new boy band to come play for them as headliners. Mckaylah would love that.
When her phone rang, Darena almost didn’t recognize the sound. She looked down and realized that it was none other than the birthday girl herself calling. Darena told herself not to mention anything about the party during the call. She took a deep breath then picked up.
“Hey, girl!” She said, happily.
“Hey, how are you doing?” Mckaylah asked, her voice soft and sullen.
“I’m great, thanks for asking!” Darena responded. Don’t talk about the party, she told herself. Don’t talk about the party.
“Do you have a minute to talk?” Mckaylah asked.
“Uh, I can’t right now,” Darena said. With her new charge of planning out the best birthday party ever, she had no time to chat. “How about later. We can… uh, go out for a smoothie soon.”
“Okay, okay, sure,” Mckaylah said, sadly. “I’ll talk to you soon.”
“Bye!” Darena said, dreamily. She hung up the phone and got up from the booth. She had so much to do.
By 8pm that night, Darena had come very far in her planning. She decided that the chocolate fountain that she owned would be the center of the dessert table. She would get catering from their favorite local bistro and get desserts from the bakery that sold the best cupcakes in town. Happy with her work, Darena stretched out and yawned.
Her phone alerted her that she had a new text message. Darena glanced at her phone and saw that it was Mckaylah. She rolled her eyes. What could she possibly want? Darena opened the message.
Want to go out for coffee? I can meet you at Starbucks.
Darena brought up her keyboard and started typing back.
Super busy right now. Maybe another day.
She put her phone down and went back to her planning notebook. She needed to find a venue. That was going to be the biggest hurdle. She needed somewhere that would host them without complaint and serve all of the girls like the princesses that they are. Darena then realized that she would need a new dress.
Of course, she couldn’t go to Mckaylah’s awesome 16th birthday party wearing something old. She quickly called Denelle. The girl picked up quickly.
“Hey, I was just thinking about you,” Denelle said.
“I was just thinking about clothes! What are we going to wear to Mckaylah’s birthday party?” Darena asked.
“You’re so right. We need to get everyone together after school to go dress shopping,” Denelle agreed.
“Absolutely. You message everyone and tell them to meet at my locker after classes are over. We can all carpool,” Darena instructed.
“Getting on Facebook right now,” Denelle told her. “By the way, I thought that maybe we could have a fashion show birthday party. I mean, if we’re all wearing our new dresses, then why not?”
“You’re so right! We absolutely need to find a place that has a runway,” Darena said, excitedly. Nothing was better than a fashion show. “I have a few ideas for venues. I’ll call around.”
“Awesome, talk to you soon!” Denelle said before they said their goodbyes and hung up.
Darena looked back at her notes. Where could she find a venue with a runway and the lights needed to put on a fashion show? Thinking quickly, she remembered that a local hotel had put on a charity fashion show the year before. She wondered if their ballroom was going to be free.
Googling the hotel’s phone number Darena called and inquired about the ballroom that the fashion show had been in. The room was available on Mckaylah’s birthday and was only $500 to rent for the evening. The cost included the set up and tear down of the runway as well as the lights and sound for the show.
Darena jotted down some notes about the costs and details of the venue rental. When she got off the phone she had reserved the room and made an appointment to come in and sign the contact for the event. Pleased with her progress, Darena decided to watch some reruns of Gossip Girl before she went to sleep.
The school day took forever. By the time Darena met her friends at her locker, she felt completely drained and ready to leave. When she arrived at her locker, she found Kadyn, Leighanne and Cambrie already waiting for her. They exchanged small talk about how excited they were about the party and their fashion show.
Kendele joined the girls with a few minutes, followed by Aala. Just then, Mckaylah walked by. She waved to her friends and came over right away. The other girls tensed up and looked around nervously.
“Hey everyone,” Mckaylah greeted.
“Hey, what’s up?” Darena asked, shakily.
“Not much. Did anyone want to do something tonight?” she asked. “I just have some chemistry homework, then I’m free for the night.”
“Oh, uh,” Aala started.
“We’re all busy,” Kadyn blurted out. “We were just talking about how stressful everything is today.”
Mckaylah’s happy expression slowly slid off her face. “Oh, okay,” she said, sadly. “I just wanted to hang out. I guess there’ll be another time.”
“Of course!” Cambrie said. “We can go to the pet store and look at the goldfish really soon, okay?”
“Okay,” Mckaylah shrugged. She walked off just as Jaliyiah walked up. They watched their friend leave, then once she was out of earshot, Jaliyiah turned to the girls.
“No one spilled, right?” She asked.
“Nope, we have it under control,” Leighanne said, smiling. “She doesn’t suspect a thing.”
“Awesome, let’s go get some stylin’ dresses and practice our runway moves,” Jaliyiah said, smiling.
“Jammin’! Let’s go!” Aala called.
The girls grabbed their backpacks and walked out of school together. As Mckaylah sat in her car, she watched the other girls, talking and laughing, pile into their vehicles and driving off. She quietly wondered where they were going and why they didn’t invite her to come along.
Sitting back against her leather seats, Mckaylah furrowed her brow. They said that they were all busy, so why are they going somewhere together to hang out? Why didn’t they tell her that they were doing something or invite her to go along? She frowned. Maybe they didn’t like her anymore. Maybe they didn’t want to be her friend.
The week before the party moved swiftly for Darena. She was so proud of the way that she and her friends managed to avoid questions about what they were planning and how they sent out a secret invitation on Facebook to everyone at school (that was popular) and told them all not to spill to Mckaylah.
Last time she checked, the guest list was up to 75 people with enough maybes to put them over 100. Of course, none of that included the ten girlfriends. The hotel had told them that they could have no more than 90 people present in the room because of fire code violations or something boring like that. But Darena didn’t have time to worry about the fire code.
Going over her checklist again she decided that they were right on track. Maybe even ahead of schedule. Their dresses we bought, the catering was taken care of, the dessert table was going to blow everyone away. They had even secured a DJ. The man was in his late 40s and asked a lot of questions about what the girls would be wearing and where the bathrooms at the hotel were located, but that didn’t matter.
He as the hottest entertainer in town after he had gotten on television for DJing a party for a Real Housewife. Darena couldn’t remember which one it was, but they were all so hot. So it didn’t matter.
“Hey girl, there you are!” Cambrie’s greeting brought Darena out of her thoughts. She looked up and smiled at her friend, who was holding a large box.
“Hey girl,” Darena greeted. The pair were at the local smoothie bar, where they had all agreed to meet to finish the planning and coordinate how they were getting Mckaylah to the party on the big night. “What’s in the box?”
“They’re decorations!” Cambrie said, excitedly. “I know you all said no goldfish, but I found a few hanging decorations that look like koi. So I thought that maybe that would be okay.”
Darena rolled her eyes. Cambrie was determined. “Where is everyone else?”
“They should be here too,” Cambrie said, sitting down at the table and setting the box aside of her. “Aala just called me from her belly dance class and said that she was heading out.”
“That’s good. I hope no one has let–” Darena stopped in horror when she saw Mckaylah approaching.
“Who?” Cambrie asked, her back towards their approaching friend. Mckaylah waved and walked over to their table.
“Hide the decorations!” Darena hissed.
“What?” Cambrie asked, leaning in.
“Hi, Mckaylah!” Darena said, standing up and greeting her with a large hug. Cambrie then realized what Darena had been talking about and her closed the flaps on the cardboard box and pulled one flap through the others to secure it.
“Hi, how’ve you been?” Mckaylah asked. “I haven’t seen you guys in ages. If I didn’t know better I would say that you were all avoiding me.”
Darena laughed a little too hard. “What a wild imagination you have!” She said, a bit too loudly.
“Yeah, wild,” Cambrie added, nervously.
“So what are you guys up to?” Mckaylah asked, looking at her scared looking friends.
“Well, we were just… leaving,” Darena declared.
“Yeah, we have to go,” Cambrie said, nodding enthusiastically.
“Oh, you do?” Mckaylah asked, frowning.
“Yeah, we have that school project to work on,” Darena said, grabbing her purse and her smoothie and motioning to Cambrie to leave.
“Yep, have to go working,” Cambrie responded.
“Which class?” Mckaylah asked, as Cambrie hoisted the box onto her hip.
“Uh, government,” Darena said, as the two started backing away from her, carefully.
“Government?” Mckaylah asked, furrowing her eyebrow.
“Yeah, got to get started right now. It’s a really big project!” Darena said, almost to the door with Cambrie. “We’ll talk to you soon!”
The two girls left, waving to their friend and smiling as if nothing was out of place. Mckaylah waved at the two girls, wordlessly. She was in Cambrie’s government class and Darena wasn’t. So what project were they working on? Also, why did they leave before Cambrie could even get a smoothie? No one came here without getting one of their amazing fruit combinations.
Outside, Darena turned to Cambrie and gave her a frustrated expression. “We need to contact the other girls and tell them that we can’t meet at the smoothie bar. Imagine Mckaylah just happening to be there on this day!” She said in annoyance.
Cambrie got out her phone and started texting all of her friends, ignoring the fact that they were always at the smoothie bar, so it wasn’t as if this was a weird place to see their friend. She sent the message warning quickly. After it was sent, the girls started checking in.
“Where should we meet instead?” Cambrie asked as she got a text from Denelle.
“Let’s meet at the hotel,” Darena suggested. “We can go over where everything is going to be and finish coordinating.”
“Okay,” Cambrie confirmed. She started furiously texting again.
Darena picked up the box of decorations from the ground and hoisted it into the backseat of her 4-door sedan. She motioned for Cambrie to get in and the girl walked around to the passenger’s side, still texting, as Darena got into the driver’s seat and started the car.
“I think the big question is, how are we going to get Mckaylah into her dress for the party,” Casie said, sitting cross legged on the floor with the rest of the girls. “I mean, we can get her to the party no problem. We can just tell her that there’s a fashion vendor sale in the lobby. But how are we going to get her dressed up to make her runway debut without telling her about the party.
The girls looked from one to the other. No one knew how to solve that problem. Leighanne looked at her nail polish and noticed there was a tiny chip in the corner. She started picking at it, mindlessly.
“Wait, what if someone comes over and tells her that we want to get all dressed up and go to the movies, like we did that one time,” Kendele suggested. The girls thought for a second.
“That might work,” Darena said. The previous year they had decided that the movies needed to be more formal like the olden days and had gotten all dressed in furs and gowns and rhinestones to go see the latest teen movie with their favorite movie hunk, Jake Kissen.
“I think that’s excellent,” Kadyn said, nodding. “She won’t suspect a thing. She’ll think that she’s going on a night out with a girlfriend and then we arrive at the hotel and BAM! She’s in the middle of the best birthday party that she’s ever had.”
“Who wants to pick her up?” Leighanne asked.
“I’ll do it,” Darena said. “This whole thing was my idea, so I’ll go get her.”
“You should call her now and make sure that she doesn’t have plans or anything,” Aala figured.
“Good idea,” Kendele added.
Darena fished her phone out of her pocket and speed dialed Mckaylah’s number. She put it on speaker phone and told the other girls to be quiet as it started to ring. The girl picked up on the second ring. “Hey Mckaylah!” Darena greeted.
“Hey girl, how are you?” Mckaylah asked, sounding rather soft.
“I totally forgot to ask you earlier today, but do you want to go to the movies on Saturday?” Darena asked.
“Sure, I’m totally free. What’s playing?” Mckaylah said.
“Uh,” Darena fumbled. “We can figure that out when we get there,” she quickly lied. “By the way, we’re going to dress up, like we did last year, okay? So wear something really cute. Maybe even get something new. You never know who could be there.”
“That sounds really fun,” Mckaylah laughed. “Are the other girls coming?”
“Er, no, it will just be us,” Darena said.
“Well, that’s fine,” Mckaylah said, absently. “I was hoping that I could talk to you a little bit before the movie. Maybe we could have dinner, then go?”
“Well, I don’t have much time on Saturday,” Darena said. She had so much setting up to do and so many things to organize. Besides, they were serving food there.
“Oh. Okay,” Mckaylah said, softly.
“Don’t worry, we’ll have a great time,” Darena said. “I have to get going now, but I will talk to you soon!”
She hung up on her phone, looking around at the other girls. “That went well,” Cambrie said. “She doesn’t suspect a thing.”
“We are such great best friends,” Kendele laughed.
“Hells yeah, we are,” Jaliyiah confirmed. “Now, let’s talk about when we’re going to do the runway show. It should be before we eat. No one wants to be gross and bloated during a runway show.”
“Yeah, and models don’t eat anyway,” Kadyn commented.
“Absolutely,” Aala agreed.
The day of the party arrived entirely too quickly. Darena awoke with a million thoughts and plans running through her mind. She sat in bed, staring at the ceiling, nervous about the entire day. Would everything go perfectly? Would it be a disaster? Would everyone blame her if it was a disaster? What if Mckaylah didn’t like it? What if one of the boys poured a beer over her head like at the last party they went to?
Darena sat up, pushing her blankets back. She needed to think positive. This party was going to be amazing. Mckaylah was going to love it. Everyone would call her the master party planner. Her reputation would be cemented for the rest of her senior year of high school.
Darena grabbed her phone and looked over the checklist that she had made for that day. She had her chocolate fountain all packed. She needed to take that with her as well as the streamers to set up. Then she had to come home, take a shower and head back to the hotel to sign off on all of the deliveries and the oversee the food prep.
Then she had to leave everything to the other girls while she went to grab Mckaylah. The plan was for her to leave the hotel at 6:30, arrive at Mckaylah’s at 6:45 and arrive back at the hotel with the birthday girl at 7:15, just in time for the runway show to start.
Then Mckaylah would be first. They had already purchased a crown and a sash for her to wear during her triumphant strut down the catwalk. Then the other girls would model. Darena would be last and she would announce DJ Jeezy Weezy, who would start the dance music and everyone would begin to party.
It was a perfect plan. Darena got up and yawned, walking into her bathroom. It was her night to be the best friend that Mckaylah had ever known and she was going to come through.
It was 6:40 when Darena got a text message from Mckaylah asking where she was. Darena swore under her breath as she realized that their entire time table was thrown off. But she took her anger out on Mckaylah, texting back that she was just having trouble finding the right pair of shoes and she should calm down. She added that she’ll be over when she got there and to stop being such a drama queen.
Honestly, Darena thought. She was doing so much for her friend, the least Mckaylah could do was be a little patient. The girl looked around the ballroom. Everything was set up and some of the early guests were starting to arrive. The present table was already boasting lots of large boxes and gift bags.
Darena observed their teenage friends eating appetizers and talking about what an exciting night this was going to be. She gave herself an imaginary pat on the back for being such an awesome friend and an awesome person. Just then, Kendele, already dressed in her white, sparkly gown approached, checking her cell phone.
“You haven’t left yet?” Kendele asked her.
“I’m leaving now,” Darena said, rolling her eyes. “Seriously, everyone just needs to calm down. Being fashionably late is a privilege reserved for the popular.”
“Well, everyone is starting to arrive, so you better get over there,” Kendele said. “Besides, Cambrie has already gotten into the chocolate fountain and she’s going to be a total hog body if you don’t get Mckaylah back here soon.”
Darena sighed deeply. Freaking Cambrie. She could never resist my amazing chocolate fountain. “Okay, okay, I’m going,” Darena said, in defeat. “Seesh, you people are demanding.”
Darena left the ballroom, picking up her swirling purple skirts and power walking to her car. She slid behind the driver’s seat and started up her car, her thoughts lost in how amazing this party was going to be and how much Mckaylah would enjoy herself. Singing along to her latest Nicki Minaj CD, Darena navigated to Mckaylah’s house. Pausing briefly to enjoy a car full of teenage boys aside of her at a stop light turn and admire her beauty. She waved to them before she turned onto Mckaylah’s road.
Walking up to the house, Darena knocked on the door, expecting Mckaylah to burst through immediately, ready to go party. But there was no response. Darena sighed. She looked at her phone. It was getting late.
She texted Mckaylah that she was here and stood back to wait a bit more. Nothing happened. Darena rang the doorbell and walked over to the living room window to see if she could spot her friend. Maybe she was upstairs putting the finishing touches on her makeup.
Darena squinted through the glass. She could see what looked like a figure at the dining room table, but it wasn’t moving. Darena furrowed her brow. She had just texted Mckaylah before she left the hotel. She knew she was coming. Where was she?
The girl texted again. From where she was standing, she heard the faint sound of Mckaylah’s cell phone alert. Maybe Mckaylah was being a drama queen now and making her wait.
Darena went back to the front door and knocked again. When nothing happened, she tried the knob. The front door was unlocked and swung open without progress. Darena stepped in and saw Mckaylah sitting at the dining room table with her head down
She rolled her eyes. Her friend must have fall asleep in her ball gown. Mckaylah was a terribly heavy sleeper. “Come on, sleepy head, we’ve got a movie to see,” she announced as she walked over.
“Seriously, Mckaylah, it’s time to-” Darena stopped short when she saw the blood. She froze in place, for a second not sure of what she was looking at. “Uh, Mckaylah?” She poked the girl in her shoulder. Mckaylah didn’t move.
There was a small piece of folded paper laying on the opposite side of the table. Darena walked over and grabbed it, making sure to avoid stepping in the blood that had been splattered on the floor. She unfolded the note and skimmed it.
I’m so sorry that I had to do this, but I’ve been in so much pain and I can’t see a way out. My parents abandoned me, my friends have been ignoring me and obviously don’t care about me, and I don’t have a boyfriend. I’ve tried to be strong, but this is all too much. It’s my birthday today and no one cares. No one cares that I was born or that I’m here. I’m sorry if this causes you any pain, but I don’t think that anyone really cares at this point.
Darena looked up and then saw the hole at the top of Mckaylah’s skull where the bullet she had put through her chin had exited the top of her head. She set the note down, unsure of what to do. She looked at Mckaylah’s dead body for several seconds before her cell phone rang. It was Leighanne.
“Hello?” Darena asked in an even voice as she picked up.
“Hey girl, where are you guys? We’re ready to start,” Leighanne said, laughing.
“Uh, we might have to cancel the party,” Darena said. “I think Mckaylah’s dead.”
“What are you talking about? It’s her birthday party today!” Leighanne insisted.
“Yeah, the top of her head is missing and I’m pretty sure you can’t recover from that,” Darena explained.
“Have you tried CPR?” Leighanne asked after a second of stunned silence.
“I’m going to call 911. Go ahead and start the runway show and I’ll let you know what happens here,” Darena said.
Leighanne agreed and the girls said their goodbyes. Darena put down her phone and looked back at her dead friend. She vowed never to throw anyone a surprise party ever again.
Want to read more in the YOLO Girls series? Click here.