Today's Reading

CHAPTER ONE

Everybody seems to think the summer after your senior year is the stuff of legends. That it's two months of pure teenage bliss or something. It's almost as if there's this big conspiracy surrounding it, like, sure, kid, throw your cap in the air, cue up that hit pop song you will definitely hate by fall, and then you, too, will be guaranteed the most epic summer of your life. I mean, we all know that's not how it actually goes down, right?

Even though I won't kick off my own senior year for another couple of months, I've already witnessed way more than my fair share of post-senior summers. It's a hazard of attending a tiny school—you can't really be picky about how old your friends are. But yeah, I think I can conclusively say that frantically searching Target for extra-long twin bedsheets while freaking out about what to major in does not an epic summer make.

So no, I don't buy into that whole post-senior-year magic thing. I think pre-senior year is where it's at, and for me, that starts right here in this tiny breakroom—with a stomach full of butterflies and a brain full of fireworks.

This is going to be my summer, no doubt about it.

I take a deep breath and slide my finger down the crisp page in front of me, searching for my name on the corkboard of destiny. Seriously. That's what we call stuff like this at Magic Castle Playland. It's not a bulletin board; it's a "corkboard of destiny." It's not a list of job assignments; it's a "character reveal chart." I swear to god everything here is about as whimsical as it is rusty.

I look lower, past the names of the ride operators and the food service people, over housekeeping and maintenance, until I get to the costume crew. I pause at the listing for princess. It's not my name. Okay, that's fine, disappointing but fine. I knew it was a long shot when I put in for it. My finger dips even lower, gliding past the prince, and the pirates, and all the furry park mascots, until it hits my name: Elouise May Parker. I drop my head against the board. No, no, no. Not again. I can't. This has to be a mistake.

My best friend, Seeley, nudges me out of the way. "What's it say?"

"I'm the hot dog."

Pity flashes in her hazel eyes. "It could be worse."

"Could it, See? Could it really?"

"Yeah! What if they put you in housekeeping and you were stuck in the bathroom by Swashbuckler Bay?" She shudders, cracking herself up.

"It's not funny." I pout, but technically, yes, that would be worse. I mean, the bathroom crew finishes every shift smelling like mildew and old diapers, so . . .

Seeley holds up her hands. "Hey, I'm just kidding, but it's going to be okay, Lou, promise."

She's right. I know she is. This is a minor speed bump. I mean, it's not like anybody died or there's a giant meteor about to strike Earth or anything. But still, there are so many things I have planned for these last few months before we're sucked up in the frenzy of senior year, and playing the hot dog isn't one of them.

I glance back at the list, letting out a little humph, and then look back at Seeley with an exaggerated frown. She bursts out laughing, shaking so hard her teal hair tips right into her sun-kissed face. Seeley's always got it a different color these days, almost like a mood ring. The happier she is, the brighter her hair gets.

Meanwhile I'm her slightly duller, significantly paler sidekick. My skin doesn't tan—it just burns—and my hair is this permanent mousy brown color because it doesn't hold dye. My dad calls it "caramel brown," which makes me think it's been way too long since he's actually seen any caramel.

Seeley grins and shoves her bangs out of her face as we start to walk toward the main stage for orientation. "Seriously, what are the odds that a vegetarian ends up in a hot dog suit two years in a row?"

"Shut up. What did you get?" I almost hope it's something awful like the Scrambler, where she's guaranteed to clean up tons of puke on the daily. It's only fair we both suffer.

"The carousel." She shrugs, her lips twisting into a smirk.

"I hate you."

"No you don't." She laughs. "Besides, would you honestly rather have Marcus or Brynn in charge of the carousel? They'd have Butters and Racer scratched all to hell from day one."

"I would kill them."

Seeley crosses her arms. "Exactly. So really, you should be thanking me for helping you avoid a lengthy prison sentence."
...

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