Kat Sebastian’s voice crackled through the phone line from her New York City studio. “Team Potluck will be featured tomorrow evening on our new reality show, The Great Party Showdown. It was a last-minute decision.”
I stood up and squealed into the phone as if I were a June bug who’d landed on a robin’s wing. “You’re kidding me!”
“I never kid. It’s too late to back out. We have your signature, and it is binding.” My head spun and I aimed my derriere for the nearest office chair and sat. “Wait a minute, wait. I’m not sure the girls even remember signing your release, and now you’re saying we have to fly to New York? When? Tonight?”
Kat’s voice was clipped. “No, no. We’re airing an edited version of the submission tape your son shot of your team catering the Byrd-Dolton wedding. Then it will be up to America to decide if your team will continue in the competition.”
I ran my free hand through my hair, disregarding the havoc to my appearance. “Meaning?” “If you make it through this round, a film crew from Stirring Productions will be in Summit View, Colorado, next week to tape your catering company in the next challenge. I’m faxing you the information you’ll need, including all the stats on the accommodations and the grand prize. That’s a carrot that should refresh your team’s memory.”
My fax machine started to purr as Kat said, “Call me if you have any more questions.” I opened my mouth, but before I could find my voice, the dial tone hummed in my ear. I hung up and walked to my fax machine, which was perched on a nearby marble-topped table. I caught the first of several pages gliding toward me. I stared at the document. Kat was right, it all looked legal. Though “binding” was how she’d put it. I closed my eyes. Who would have thought my son’s class project would lead to this?
During his spring break from college, Nelson had flown up from Austin, presumably for a bit of skiing. But instead of hitting the slopes, he’d joined my girlfriends and me and filmed our little Potluck Catering Company working the wedding of Becky Byrd and Allen Dolton, a young couple from church. At the time, Nelson had told us the footage was for a class project in his advanced marketing class at the University of Texas. Then he revealed he was also sending his tape to a TV reality show looking for contestants. Sure, we’d all signed off on the paperwork he’d handed out, but we were only playing along because he seemed so excited. No one wanted to squash his dreams. Besides, we figured reality would do that for us.
The fact was, reality had just given me a wake-up call. How would I ever tell the girls we were about to be on national TV?
I stopped to rub the beginnings of a headache in the center of my forehead. The real question was, how would I tell my husband? Henry would never go along with this.
I walked down the spiral staircase of my wedding boutique to my dessert bar by my front register and poured myself a cup of coffee. I took a sip then walked to the front window to watch the cars drive down Main Street. It was a beautiful July afternoon. The edges of the blue sky were embroidered with the silhouettes of jagged peaks that surrounded our mountain valley. Across the street I could see Clay Whitefield’s jeep parked in front of the Higher Grounds Café. As usual, Clay, our local reporter, was there looking for a story. But despite the fact that we’re practically colleagues, with the local paper carrying my advice column and all, I wasn’t about to give Clay the scoop, at least not yet.
I took another sip of my coffee and drifted back to my worries. My biggest problem was Henry. Things had been tense between us, and we’d made zero progress in our weekly counseling sessions with Pastor Kevin. News like this could . . . well . . . I shuddered.
I turned and walked through the shop’s plush sitting room to the kitchen in the back. I pushed open the swinging door and rinsed out my china cup in the stainless steel sink. After I placed it in the drying rack, I looked at my gold Chico’s watch and saw it was already past five.
A few minutes later, I pushed the accelerator of my Lincoln Continental a few miles over the speed limit, keeping a sharp lookout for Deputy Donna and her speeding tickets. It was dangerous to speed when she was on duty, but I had a lot to do if I was going to prepare for an emergency meeting of our Potluck Catering Company. I felt my forehead knit. Who should I call first? Evangeline Benson Vesey?
I shook a “no” to myself. Poor Evie. She still saw herself as president of what was left of the old prayer club. Never mind that once I’d arrived to town, the club had morphed into a catering company. Sure, we still had our famous potluck meetings, complete with prayer and gossip. I mean, that was a bonus. Plus, it was always a treat to see the dishes my friends cooked up. Which reminded me, I’d have to remember to pull one of my emergency leek quiches out of the deep freeze.
I was afraid that, as good as it was, my quiche wouldn’t be enough to buffer news like this. This was enough to put the team into a fullblown panic. Sure, they’d been supportive of me during my recent marriage crisis, but just how far would their sympathies go? I turned into the driveway of our luxury retirement condo overlooking Golden Lake. Sure enough, Henry’s truck was missing from the garage, which meant he was off fishing in the Blue River. I’d have to deal with him later. I checked my Crock-Pot steaming with a summer squash soup, added a dash of pepper, then hurried to the phone next to the kitchen table. I hesitated, then picked up the handset to dial Vonnie, knowing full well that my news would soon change our lives, for better or for worse.
I’d been taking a little nap in my favorite recliner with my dog Chucky, a king kong bichon, when the phone rang.
I reached for the portable handset I kept within arm’s length and said, “Hello?”
A Texas-accented voice rang out, “Thank goodness I caught you!”
I kicked the chair out of its reclining position and sat upright, shooing Chucky to the floor. His little white face peered up at me and his brown eyes filled with reproach. “Lisa Leann? You sound like you’re in a panic. Is everything all right?”
“I’m calling an emergency meeting of the Potluck Catering Club, tomorrow night at six.” I slowly stood, stretching the kinks out of my back. “Oh dear. Is this about Henry? He hasn’t left you, has he?”
“No . . . Well, not yet.”
“That doesn’t sound good.” I walked from my darkened living room to where rainbows of light glinted through my baby doll sun catchers in my window above my kitchen sink. I held the phone between my ear and shoulder and poured water into my teakettle. I was so looking forward to a quiet cup of tea, a luxury I’d only recently been able to enjoy since Mother moved back home with Dad to their condo in the neighboring town of Frisco. Thank goodness that ankle of hers had finally healed.
“Is there anything you need me to do?” I asked.
“Well, I need a favor. Could we have the meeting at your house?”
I set the kettle on the stove and turned the heat on high, sighing as I thought of the chore of tidying up and dusting around my ever-expanding doll collection, which lined the shelves of my living room and filled every cranny of my home. “Why here?”
“Well, you and Fred just got one of those new flat screen TVs, right?”
“Yes, but . . .”
“And you’re on satellite?”
“Yes . . .”
“Do you think Fred will mind if we girls watch a show together at seven?”
“Luckily, it’s Fred’s bowling night, but why can’t we watch the show at your place?”
Lisa Leann sighed loudly. “That would never do. Henry. You know?”
I didn’t know, but I pretended I did. “Oh, right. Okay.”
“And, ah, one more thing. How about if you were to make your famous Mississippi mud cake?”
Before the kettle could whistle, Lisa Leann said, “See you tomorrow,” and with that she was gone.
Later that evening, my balding Fred and I were sitting in our matching blue recliners, watching Fred’s favorite monster truck show. When I stood to take our dinner plates back to the kitchen, a commercial came on about a new reality show called Great Party Showdown something or other. A sexy female voice said, “Ten catering teams from around the country compete to take home our extreme award, a million dollars and a catering kitchen makeover.” Fred’s voice rose an octave. “Isn’t that you and the girls?”
I turned just in time to see a clip of what looked like Donna Vesey and me giggling as we iced a giant cake. I blinked, but the TV image changed to a group of men dressed in baseball uniforms, singing as they stirred a huge pot of chili.
My heart pounded, but I shook my head. “How could that be?”
Fred laughed. “I think you’d know if you were going to be on a reality TV show. Right?” I nodded, feeling too nervous to mention that the woman who looked like me had been wearing my favorite butterfly monogrammed sweatshirt.
I’d fretted about it for an hour and probably should have called Lisa Leann, but the idea seemed so far-fetched I made myself believe it was all a coincidence. Just because those gals looked and dressed like us did not mean they were us.
I chuckled to myself the next morning as I attacked the dust bunnies that sometimes hide in the corners of my hearth behind my vintage Raggedy Ann and her china doll friends. I couldn’t help but imagine the girls and me on a TV reality program. The idea was simply outrageous. But as I thought about the clip of the two women icing that cake, I suddenly remembered Lisa Leann’s son Nelson taping us girls catering Becky and Allen’s wedding last March. Oh, dear. I switched on the television, hoping to catch the commercial again. But every time I heard it start to play, I was either out of the room or saw a clip different from the one that aired the night before. I would have called Evie to tell her of my concerns, but I remembered this was Vernon’s day off. I hated to disturb the newlyweds with my silly fears.
Just before six, David, my handsome biological son, dropped by to take Fred to the bowling alley. It was so good to see the two of them together—a young man who’d never had a dad, and Fred, who’d never had a son. But now they both had me in common, and that seemed to make us family. It had been rocky when my husband first discovered that I, his wife of over three decades, had been a widow before I’d married him, much less had a son who’d been given up for adoption. But my reunion with my son had been a happy one, and now God was answering my prayers as I watched the growing friendship between the two men in my life.
As Chucky danced around us, I once again noticed how much David looked like his father, Private Joseph Jewell, who was killed in Vietnam. David gave me a squeeze. “Donna told me the girls are heading your way tonight.”
I smiled at the thought that our club’s youngest member, Donna Vesey, was getting closer to David. I wasn’t sure if they were going out, but I hoped so. Donna was like a daughter to me, and to think of her and David making a match? Well, the idea warmed my heart.
“What did Donna say?” I asked.
“Only that Lisa Leann was absolutely frantic. What’s up?”
“I wish I knew.”
As soon as the boys drove out of sight, Lisa Leann’s Lincoln Continental pulled up in front of the house. I’d just had time to put Chucky on the back porch before running to hold the door for her, allowing the cool of the summer evening to freshen my home. I glanced at the sky, which was just beginning to turn a golden teal as the setting sun started its descent. Lisa Leann, a petite redhead in her late forties, was dressed in a gorgeous button-down teal sweater over a lacy T-shirt and designer jeans. She rushed through the expanding shadows, up my front steps, and into my living room. I took her warm quiche, buffered between pink pot-holders, to my kitchen table before returning to see her tug off her sweater. She opened the front closet door and reached for a coat hanger. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Why don’t you pour the tea in the glasses?”
She disappeared as the front door swung open again. “Lizzie!” I said.
My librarian friend bent down to give me a hug, then pulled off her black windbreaker, revealing a crisp red shirt that brightened her usual pale complexion. Her blue eyes sparked beneath a splash of salt and pepper bangs. “How are Michelle and Adam?” I asked. “Still on their honeymoon. Do you know what this crisis is all about?” she asked. “I’d hate to speculate,” I said as she handed me her salad.
Lisa Leann called from the kitchen, “Lizzie, how’s that little bride?” “Michelle? I got a text message this morning that said, and I quote, ‘Love Adam and Niagara Falls.’ ”
“Young love.” I sighed, thinking how beautiful Lizzie’s daughter had been on her wedding day last week.
I put Lizzie’s salad on the table, then ducked back to the front door just in time to greet Goldie, a good-looking strawberry blonde in her late forties. She looked so polished in her matching camel-colored top and business jacket. “You look like you came straight from work,” I said.
“I did.” She walked toward the kitchen with a package of rolls. “Is the oven warm? It’ll just take a second to heat these.”
“Sure, let me.”
After slipping the rolls into my oven, I looked out the kitchen window to see a red pickup pull up in the driveway. Wasn’t that Donna with Wade and little Pete? I walked to the front door and watched Donna scamper up the front steps. She was looking good these days, since her dreadful, cropped hairdo had finally grown into flattering blonde curls. Donna was a tiny, feisty thing, and her too-short hair had been her way of looking tough in her role as a sheriff’s deputy. But even that bad haircut hadn’t been able to hide her natural beauty. In fact, Donna, much to her chagrin, was the dream girl of most of the single men in these parts. Now that she was finally starting to recover from some difficult losses, she’d even ventured into the dating game.
I gave Donna a hug and watched Wade’s truck disappear down the street. “Wade dropped you off ? ” I asked nonchalantly.
“Yeah, he’s been over at my house with his cousin Pete. Pete had to interview someone in law enforcement for a class project. He’s in summer school, you know.” “It wasn’t a date?” I asked. “I don’t date twelve-year-olds,” she said with a laugh. “But Wade’s not twelve,” I teased. “No, he’s not. We go out sometimes, though I do have a date with David this Friday.” “Really?” I winced as I realized my enthusiasm showed. I had to be careful. Though Donna was like my own daughter, I couldn’t interfere. She had to make up her own mind when it came to matters of her heart.
Donna smiled and handed me a jar of cinnamon-flavored applesauce as she pulled off her leather jacket to reveal that she was wearing her standard black jeans with matching tee. She was looking . . . what did the young people say? Hot. “How are you going to get home?”
“I’ll catch a ride with Lizzie,” she said.
Lisa Leann swooped up the jar of applesauce and was busying herself in the kitchen, putting the contents into a bowl, when the door blew open once again. I ran back to see Mrs. Evangeline Vesey holding her “in a pinch” rice dish. “Sorry I’m late,” she huffed. “Had to make Vernon’s dinner.”
Donna looked surprised. “My dad can cook.”
“If you like grilled cheese every night,” Evie said with a hint of a smile. “Good thing I’m finally there to change all that.”
Donna pasted on a hard smile. These two had their troubles, but Donna had the good sense to play nice with her new stepmom.
Evie followed me to the girls, who were already gathering around the table. Goldie was just pulling her rolls out from the oven and placing them into my linen-covered basket. “Lisa Leann, what’s the big emergency?” Evie said as she sat at the table. “Let’s pray first,” Lisa Leann said. We all settled down, and Lisa Leann bowed her head. “Lord, have mercy on us,” she said.
So help me, I peeked and caught Evie’s startled expression. She raised her eyebrows at me as if to ask, Do you know what this is about? I shook my head and closed my eyes again. Lisa Leann continued. “Please, Lord, please!”
After the “Amen,” there was a long silence as the girls stared at Lisa Leann, one of the strongest women we’d ever known. But there she sat, pale and shaken. “What is it?” Lizzie cried. “Is Henry leaving you?”
Lisa Leann shook her head. “No, no. Let’s eat and then I’ll explain in a moment.” Since I was sitting next to Lisa Leann, I leaned in and whispered, “This doesn’t have anything to do with a TV reality show, does it?”
Lisa Leann sputtered a cough and grabbed her napkin to cover her face. “You’ll know soon enough,” she said.
Donna, who was sitting to my left, asked me in a low voice, “What did you say to her?” I hesitated. “I think I’d better let her explain.”
Forty minutes later, I’d poured the flavored coffee while Evie and Lisa Leann moved my oak kitchen chairs to the living room for our business meeting. Once we’d settled in, Lizzie and Goldie served everyone a plate with a generous slice of Mississippi mud cake, while Donna and I followed with steaming mugs of coffee.
Lisa Leann stood unsteadily before us, looking like someone had wiped all the blush off her cheeks. She put on a brave face. “Girls, I have good news.”
Evie stuck her fork in her cake and piped, “I thought this was some sort of emergency?” “It all depends on the perspective you choose to take,” Lisa Leann said. “I like to think of this as a chance for us to raise a million dollars for the building fund at church.” I plopped my coffee so hard onto the coffee table it sloshed on my napkin. “This is about that reality show. What’s it called?”
“The Great Party Showdown,” Lisa Leann said. She reached under her chair and pulled out her briefcase, then pulled out a batch of packets, which she passed around the table. Evie was already balking. “A reality show? You’ve got to be kidding. You’d never catch me on something like that.”
Lisa Leann walked over to the TV and flipped on the switch. “I hate to hear you say that, Evie, because tonight you’re a star!”
Evie’s jaw dropped. “What?”
A preview for the show popped onto the screen, and sure enough, there was Evie’s face, smudged with a bit of flour as she pounded a huge ball of dough in my bridal shop kitchen. That same sexy voice I’d heard earlier said, “How will the Colorado church ladies of Team Potluck fare in their battle against the Wild Cajun Cooks of Baton Rouge?”
A team of men dressed in long white aprons sporting the name “Wild Cajun Cooks” appeared on the screen. One fellow, whose white chef’s hat read “Bubba,” looked like he’d had a few too many. Bubba sipped a beer before pouring the remains into a bubbling pot, then whooped for the camera. The voice continued as pictures of the other teams flashed on the screen. “Or our other competitors? Stay tuned for an all-out food war on The Great Party Showdown, coming up next.” Lizzie asked, “Wasn’t that clip from Allen and Becky’s wedding?”
Lisa Leann nodded as Donna rose to her feet, her hand on her hip, like she was reaching for her gun. “What’s the meaning of this? We didn’t sign up for any reality show.” “Calm down, everyone,” Lisa Leann said. “I can explain.”
“Well, you’d better,” Evie said.
“Remember when my son Nelson was here with his fancy video camera? It was state of the art, just like the kind they sometimes use on TV reality shows. His dad and I had bought it for him on eBay to use for a marketing class at U Texas.”
“But how did his footage get on that program?” Evie asked. She leaned back in her chair as she knitted her brows into one long line of worry.
“Evie, I’m getting to that. Like he said, Nelson sent the footage to this reality show as part of his assignment. You might recall we each signed off on it. Though I don’t think any of us thought something like this could actually happen.”
Ever the legal secretary, Goldie recovered her voice to ask, “But I didn’t sign my permission.” Lisa Leann pulled out a packet of papers from her briefcase and held it up. “Actually, I have a copy of it. Don’t you remember signing the waiver and other paperwork for Nelson?” Goldie reached for the papers. “Well, yes, but . . . it was part of his class assignment.” She studied her signature. “I guess I didn’t read the fine print.”
Lisa Leann shrugged. “None of us did.”
Just then, the commercials ended and the musical intro for the show started as all eyes fixed on the television.
I felt my stomach do a flip-flop.
What had Lisa Leann gotten us into this time?
As we finished the vanilla lattes Vonnie had made from my special homemade mix, Gianne Gillian looked into the camera, her blue eyes twinkling. “America, I hope you’ve come hungry,” she said. “Our ten catering teams from around the country are about to whip up a party, and you’re invited. Find out which team can outcook, outcater, and outparty the other teams. America, it’s up to you to say which teams stay in the competition. What’s at stake? For starters, our winning team receives a cool million dollars plus a one-hundred-thousand-dollar kitchen makeover by Fridgnetic.”
The girls and I exchanged glances. “Think church building program,” Lisa Leann said in a stage whisper, to which Vonnie added, “Here’s to a new youth wing.” Gianne continued. “But first, America, let’s meet The Great Party Showdown judges. First up, meet Teresa Juliette, star of her own cooking show, Teresa Sizzles. Welcome to the show, Teresa.”
Amid thunderous applause, a plump African-American woman glimmered in a sparkling chef’s hat that topped off a matching white coat dress. She waved a white sequined spatula at the crowd. “Thank you, it’s good to be here.”
“Teresa, can you tell us the role of the judges on the show?” “We can’t vote off the contestants,” Teresa said. “We’re only here to offer America our expert opinions.”
“Very good,” Gianne said. She stepped over to a small man with beady blue eyes. “Next, meet Brant Richards, our British import, and famous chef and party planner in his own right. Brant has been quoted as saying, ‘Nothing of good taste and nothing that tastes good comes from America.’ ” The crowd booed, and Brant held up his hands as if to greet cheers. With his British flair, he said, “Mine is a discriminating palate.”
Gianne asked, “Do you expect to see a team you’ll approve of?” “If you put it that way, no.”
Gianne stepped to the right. “Well, then, America, meet Isabelle Salazar, a popular Brazilian party planner and caterer.”
A spicy young woman in a black cocktail dress jumped to her feet and vibrated like an excited puppy as she let out her trademark “Muito bom, baby!”
The crowd went wild with applause, and Gianne stepped back into the shot. “My goodness, Isabelle, you seem excited to be here.”
“Food and parties are my life,” Isabelle shouted into the camera, waving her hands above her head.
“I wonder what she’s on?” I asked as the girls twittered. “Who knows,” Evangeline answered.
“Personally? I’d like to administer a breathalyzer.”
Lisa Leann winked at me. “Well, if we make it through the next couple of rounds, maybe you’ll get your chance.”
“Does that mean we might actually go to Hollywood?” Vonnie asked. Lisa Leann shook her head. “Nope, this show is broadcast live from New York City.” Goldie gasped. “New York City?”
Lisa Leann shrugged. “It wouldn’t be for a couple of weeks.” She shushed us as the camera panned back to Gianne for a close-up. “Coming up, can the ladies of Team Potluck really stir it up? Stay tuned.”
When the commercials started, Vonnie said, “Oh dear, I’m so nervous I’m shaking.” Evangeline, who was sitting in Fred’s recliner, reached for her hand and gave it a little squeeze, then shot a stern look at Lisa Leann. “Vonnie, I know just how you feel,” she said. Lisa Leann’s cell phone blasted Sandi Patty singing “Majesty,” and she answered. “Hello? Nelson? Yes, sweetheart, we’re all watching. What’s that? A warning?” She was silent for a moment, then said, “Okay, thanks for letting me know. Oh, did you talk to your dad? Oh, okay. Talk to you after the show.”
She hung up. I turned to her. “Warning?”
“Nelson wanted me to know that he may be providing some of the commentary introducing our team members. He hopes no one gets too upset.”
“How bad can it be?” I asked. “Nelson lives in Austin. He barely knows us.”
“That’s not true, Donna,” Evangeline said. “He was here over spring break helping with the wedding. Besides, he knows whatever his mother told him.”
We all turned and stared at Lisa Leann. “Listen, I don’t know what he said on camera, but he just used the word embellished. He said he’s sorry, he never thought the footage would go to air. He was just trying to be funny and get a good grade.”
Vonnie asked, “But he was behind the camera, so how could he film himself ?” “His tripod,” Lisa Leann answered before turning back to stare at another TV commercial for insurance.
I decided to get comfortable, so I stretched out on the floor with my hands cupping my head, looking up at the screen as the theme music of the show started to play. Gianne said, “Meet Team Potluck from the Colorado high country.” Nelson’s face appeared on the screen. He was a fresh-faced college kid, handsome with his green eyes and blond hair. He was wearing a waiter’s uniform, and the wedding reception was in full swing behind him. “I’m not really part of Team Potluck. I’m just helping out,” he said. Suddenly a wide shot of several of us Potluckers appeared as we scrambled in studio-enhanced fast motion to set up the buffet while music from the Keystone Cops played in the background. A breeze had picked up, so when the footage slowed back to normal, there I was under the table, taping the edges of the tablecloth down with duct tape. I looked at the camera and smiled. “This ought to hold her,” I said. The camera cut back to Nelson. “That’s Deputy Donna. She’s the hottest chick on the team, and the word on the street is she knows a lot about duct tape and has used it to subdue a few criminals.” I sat up. “What?”
The camera cut back to Wade helping me carry the wedding cake to one of the tables. Honestly, he looked like Brad Pitt in a waiter’s uniform. The voiceover continued. “Wade is one of the deputy’s boyfriends.” Wade put a dot of icing on my nose, and I playfully hit him with a fist. I groaned.
Another clip showed me carrying the punch bowl with Vonnie’s son David, who happens to be an Enrique Iglesias look-alike. Nelson said, “But then again, there’s David.” More footage showed David whispering something in my ear, and I laughed. Nelson piped up, “So as we can see, though the woman carries a gun, it certainly doesn’t scare off the guys around here. Though rumor is she’s had to use that gun more than once.” I flopped back on the floor and stared up at Vonnie’s ceiling. “No, no, no, this isn’t happening.”
Vonnie leaned down from her recliner and patted my shoulder. “It could have been worse, dear,” she said, as if that were any consolation.
Just then the camera focused briefly on Becky dressed in a flowing white gown as she clutched a bouquet of silk wildflowers and headed down the aisle to meet her groom, who was dressed in a black tux. The next shot was of Vonnie, who was grinning from ear to ear as she straightened the gold table runner down the buffet table. She was a cute, plump grandma, her round cheeks pink beneath her white hair, which fluffed in curls around her face. Nelson said, “Meet Vonnie Sunshine—she’s the happy pill of Team Potluck.”
Vonnie put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, dear!”
The next few shots of Vonnie showed her in a hugging frenzy—hugging Donna, then David, then Lisa Leann, then Evie, Wade, the bride, the groom, Lizzie, and even Nelson, who crossed his eyes then winked.
Nelson’s face came back on the screen. “It’s said they didn’t have to use sugar in the wedding cake.” The wedding cake, perched on a linen-covered table with the gorgeous Colorado Rockies in the background, appeared on the screen. “Vonnie only had to put her finger in the batter to sweeten it.” The last frame was of Vonnie’s face in full grin, with the special effect of sparkles bouncing off her pearly whites as chimes played.
Vonnie closed her eyes to block out the image as the camera panned to Lisa Leann. Nelson said, “This is the little lady known as Lisa Leann, and I can only say nice things about her because she’s my mom and, well, she’s the brains of this outfit.“ The camera showed Lisa Leann hugging Nelson, and he leaned down and kissed the top of her red hair.
“So moving on, let’s talk about Dizzy Lizzy.” One shot after the other showed Lizzy turning and pointing as she helped direct traffic. Nelson said, “The only reason this ol’ gal’s dizzy is because the other team members rely on her so much.”
Nelson continued, “Next up, meet our golden girl, Goldie the Goalie.” One clip after the other showed Goldie tossing items to team members: a rolled-up pink apron, a roll of paper towels, a fat candle still packaged in cellophane, even a camera.
Goldie shrieked. “Do I really do that?”
We all turned to her and replied as one, “Yes.”
“That’s what I get for marrying a high school coach,” she muttered.
Then the camera focused on Evie, whom I noticed was beginning to glow from a light perspiration. “Next, meet the woman some folks call Evil Evie,” Nelson said. The camera zoomed in to show Evie frowning, then panned back to show her hands on her hips. “But I say she’s really not all that bad, just occasionally grumpy. So judges, be warned.”
Evie squealed. “How could Nelson say such a thing? Everyone knows I’m as sweet as pie.” I shot her a look and nodded. I kept quiet so I wouldn’t sound insincere. Vonnie Sunshine patted her leg. “Of course you are.”
Now the camera panned to show all our wonderful dishes displayed in their full glory while we, the smiling ladies of the club, minus Lizzie, stood by ready to serve. There was a succulent roast beef royally displayed, baby carrots in a light yellow sauce, fresh homemade rolls, gravy, fruit salad, and so much more.
Lisa Leann narrated the menu while a smiling Nelson helped by lifting lids, then tasting each dish on a china plate.
His face filled the screen. “Really, this is delicious.” The camera zoomed even closer, and he whispered, “Mom paid me to say that.”
The screen faded to black, and I was surprised that our three-and-a-half minutes of fame was already over. It was amazing the producers were able to show so much in such short, zippy clips. Gianne appeared with Teresa Juliette, who held her glittering spatula as if it were a scepter. Gianne asked, “What do you think of Team Potluck, Teresa?”
“I wish I could wave a wand and make that team more organized. Those women are a mess.” Brant Richards smirked. “It was sheer chaos. And what were they thinking serving the rolls next to the gravy? A good caterer would never do that. But then, these women aren’t good caterers. They’re amateurs. Even the bride and groom were amateur.”
Lisa Leann gasped. “I hope Becky and Allen aren’t watching.”
We watched Teresa playfully whack Brant on the head with her spatula. “Don’t be such an idiot, honey. I’m glad they’re not like you. Why, you’re already on wife number four. This bride and groom were so sweet, this was no doubt their first wedding.”
Gianne said to Brant, “Doesn’t it bother you to give this kind of critique to Team Potluck when you know that Deputy Donna carries a gun and Evil Evie can be grumpy?” “Hmph, this team will never make it through this round. I have nothing to fear from that girly deputy or the so-called Evil Evie.”
My cheeks burned, and I flopped onto my back. “Ugh.” Then I turned over and perched on my elbows to see Isabelle Salazar stand and gyrate like she was shot by a jolt of electricity. “Muito bom, baby!” she called. “I love the Colorado cheesecake.” “I didn’t see any cheesecake,” Gianne said.
“I’m talking about those spicy waiters, Wade and David. Vote this team through so we can have another serving. Muito bom, baby!”
Gianne laughed. “America, you’ve heard from our judges. We’ll be right back after the break.” A Toyota commercial appeared, and one after another our cell phones rang, making the room sound like the warm-up for an orchestra as each phone played a different tune. First Nelson called Lisa Leann. I could hear her say, “It wasn’t that bad. No. I think the girls liked it. Really.” I rolled my eyes and then listened in on a cell conversation between Evangeline and my dad. Evangeline was saying, “So you saw it? No, I didn’t know we were going to be on. I’m appalled, I tell you, appalled. Did you hear what he called me? Evil Evie!”
Goldie was saying, “Jack, I just can’t understand how this could happen either.” A call came in on my cell from our Clay Whitefield. “Donna, why didn’t you tell me you and the girls were going to be on that catering show?”
“I didn’t know it myself.”
“Well, I want an exclusive.”
“Gotta go. Wade’s trying to ring through.” I hung up with Clay and turned my attention to Wade. “Hey,” I said.
“Why didn’t you warn me about the reality show?”
“Sorry, but I had no idea about it.”
Wade laughed. “Well, I guess I don’t mind being called a cheesecake on national TV.
“Oh, so you think it’s funny now?”
“I do. Would you care for a slice?”
“Ha! I don’t think so. Look, the show’s starting again. I gotta go.”
As soon as the theme music started, our voices fell silent and we watched the packages the network had put together for the nine other teams. The teams included the Wild Cajun Cooks from Baton Rouge and the Boston Bean Team, which featured men in funny paper hats. Then there was Team Tex Mex from San Antonio. The caterers were made up of cappuccino-skinned beauties twirling in yellow skirts as they served up some great-looking Mexican dishes. I was a bit confused by the Moon Beam Team of Sedona. They all wore crystal necklaces and served tofu dishes on clear platters, which they referred to as vortexes. Do people really eat that stuff? hen of course there was the New York favorite, Team Batter Up, an all-guy team from New York City and dressed in baseball uniforms. Another team that presented well was the Comfort Cooking Team from Savannah, Georgia, a group of June Cleaver look-alikes who served heaps of fried chicken and mashed potatoes along with some beautiful pecan pies. Then there was a bunch of college guys who looked like fraternity boys and did a lot of cooking with beer and French fries. They called themselves Team Gators and were from somewhere in Florida. Also included was Team Hollywood, a bunch of beauties dressed like starlets. They served elegant but strange and tiny appetizers. Mysteriously, they were the only group that got high marks from Brant. And last but not least was Team Café Mocha, a group of housewives who specialized in soups, coffee, and coffee-flavored desserts.
The hour passed quickly, and in the final moments, Gianne showed each team’s highlights with individualized phone numbers so the viewers could vote. “America, voting will be open for the next hour. Tune in next week to see which eight teams remain in the competition. If your favorite team is chosen, we’re flying to location to tape the results of their next great party challenge on their own home turf. Tune in for the results. Good night, America, and bon appétit.”
I began to rapidly dial one of the numbers on the screen while Evie tried to stop me.
“Honestly, Donna, you don’t want us to make next week’s show, do you?”
“No way,” I said. “I’m calling to support Team Batter Up.”
“Hold it, everyone,” Lisa Leann said. “And hold your phone calls. I have more news.” “Now what?” Evie asked.
“Did you hear what Gianne said? If we make it through this round, we’ll have a film crew from Stirring Productions in town on Thursday, that’s in two days. Kat, the producer, is going to call me here, in an hour, to tell us if we made the cut and to tell us what the showdown challenge will be.”
“Oh, dear,” Vonnie said. “Do you think we’ll make it through this round?”
“Maybe. And girls, remember, if we win this thing, Team Potluck can sponsor the church building fund. Let’s do this for a good cause. Agreed?”
The girls mumbled an agreement while Goldie said, “Well, Lisa Leann, I’m for supporting the church. Who knows? Maybe something good will come from this fiasco.”
Lisa Leann nodded. “That’s the spirit!”
Evie snorted, but before she could comment, I asked, “What now?”
Lisa Leann replied, “Now we wait for the phone to ring.”