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“What kind?” she asked, like she was really interested.
She cringed. “OMG, why would you buy something that someone else has already owned? They could have barfed in it and you wouldn’t know.”
I didn’t want that image in my head when I went car shopping. Why did she have to say that?
“Look, I need something cheap, okay?”
“Maybe Whitney can hook you up with a knockoff Ferrari,” Caitlin said.
“Maybe I can,” Whitney said.
I felt like I was sitting between two hissing cats. Maybe there was a reason Caitlin and I had always been a group of two. Maybe she didn’t play well with others. Of course, Whitney was difficult to play with.
And me? I just couldn’t wait for lunch to be over.
* * *
I’d never been very good at lying. Maybe it was because when I was a kid, my mom told me that my eyes turned purple when I lied — they didn’t, of course, but when you’re a kid you believe in a lot of things that aren’t true. Like the tooth fairy.
So when I was a kid, I’d always close my eyes when I lied, so Mom wouldn’t see them turning purple. Duh?!? I know. Eventually I figured out that closing my eyes gave it away.
Anyway, I still have this thing about thinking people can look at me and tell when I’m lying. But I gave it my best shot. After lunch I told Whitney that I was going to the first-aid station for some Tylenol because I was getting a headache.
Actually, it wasn’t too much of a lie. Listening to her and Caitlin had made my head start to throb. So I did stop by the first-aid station for some Tylenol — as a preventative measure.
Then, even though it was going to make me late returning to my post, I walked slowly through Mini Falls trying to find Sean. I really needed to talk with him. And I figured he would have left Splash when Whitney showed up, because really two of us weren’t needed there. Sometimes I felt like I was babysitting her as much as I was the kids coming through our area.
I hadn’t signed up for this.
I finally spotted Sean at the petting tank. That was the one awesome thing about Mini Falls. It had two dolphins that just swam around, and people could go up and pet them. An employee stood watch, of course, to make sure that no one hurt the animals. Why anyone would try to hurt them was beyond me, but some people can’t be trusted to be decent. Sad but true.
Anyway, I thought the petting tank was one of the coolest things about the water park.
Sean was the only employee around, so I figured he was giving the tank attendant a break. Sean was explaining about the dolphins, demonstrating how to touch them, and encouraging a young girl not to be afraid. It hadn’t occurred to me that he needed to know everything about all the different positions so he could fill in for various workers. I found myself being impressed again.
It really was a shame that he was Caitlin’s brother, and my supervisor. And a jerk for chewing me out earlier over something that wasn’t my fault —
He looked up, furrowed his brow. “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be back at work?”
“Yeah, but I needed to talk to you.”
“Okay. Hold on.” As soon as the little girl had petted the dolphin and rushed off, Sean motioned me over. “What’s up?”
“This whole Whitney thing —”
“Yeah, look, I’m sorry about that.”
Before I could ask about what exactly, he said, “Mr. T told me that Whitney had that idea about getting rid of the tubes. He liked it, so they took them away while y’all were at lunch.”
Was that the reason Whitney was late in joining Caitlin and me for lunch? Because she was talking to the manager? How many new employees went to talk with the general manager? How bold could she get?
And hadn’t I told him it was Whitney’s idea? Didn’t he even listen to anything I said?
“So what do we do now?” I asked.
“Just stand around, hold your rescue tubes, and watch the kids.”
“Oh.” Wasn’t as much work, but would probably be more boring. I looked at him. “Oh, okay, great.”
“Yeah, great,” he muttered. “Anyway, thanks for being nice to Whitney.”
“You know, it really bugs me when you thank me for being what I have no control over — I mean, being nice is what I do.”
He grinned. “Which is why I’ve never been able to understand you hanging out with Caitlin.”
“She’s nice, too.”
“Maybe, but I don’t see it. How did she and Whitney get along?”
“Uh, honestly? Not great. Which is what I wanted to talk to you about. I’m not sure Whitney having lunch with us is going to work.”
“Make it work, will you? Whitney really likes you.”
I stared at him. “Does she not understand the definition of like?”
He grinned. “Come on, she’s really not that bad.”
“You keep saying that.”
“What’s she done that’s so awful?”
I reached into the tank and patted a dolphin as it swam by. It felt so slick. The other dolphin came over, rose up out of the water, and made a gawking noise. I rubbed it, too.
I couldn’t think of anything that Whitney had done that was really and truly awful. It was painful to admit, but I said, “She’s irritating. But I guess she hasn’t done anything awful.”
“There you go.”
He reached in to pet the dolphin. Our fingers brushed. My reaction was weird. It felt like electricity had shot through me. He seemed stunned as well, because he moved back quickly.
“Anyway,” he said, adjusting his visor. “You better get back to your post.”
“Right.” I backed up a step. Seemed like I needed to say something else, but I couldn’t think of what it was.
I spun on my heel and headed back to Splash. What was wrong with me? Why did I want to stay by the pet tank so badly?
Not because the dolphins were there.
But because Sean was.
Saturday, Memorial Day weekend, the parking lot was almost full by the time we arrived for work. People were lined up with beach bags and ice coolers. And little kids. Lots and lots of little kids.
It was going to be a very busy day. I probably wouldn’t even have time to notice how lazy Whitney was.
As employees, we got front-of-the-line privileges. Well, actually, we had a special entrance, a gate off to the side where we swiped our employee IDs. The gate clicked open and in we went, saying hi to the guard on the other side.
After changing into our uniforms in the employee locker room, I promised Caitlin I’d see her at lunch and headed to Splash. Nick was already there waiting. Whitney was oddly, or maybe not so oddly, absent.
Maybe she’d convinced her dad that he didn’t want her to work. Or maybe she’d gotten fired. Who knew with her? And here I was all prepared to be nice.
The area filled up pretty quickly once the park actually opened. Little kids yelling and screaming and rushing down the slide, throwing water on me. Wild and crazy. I really wished I could be doing my own playing.
About half an hour into my shift, Whitney strolled over.
“It’s insane around here,” she said, like maybe I hadn’t noticed.
“You wanna help?”
“Not really.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “There’s no place that I can sit without getting splashed. Can’t you make them go away?”
I stared at her openmouthed. “You’re not serious.”
“Why don’t you go sit in the kiddie pavilion or, I don’t know — walk around. It’s not like you’re really helping here.”
“This is my assignment.”
A little girl almost tumbled. I caught her before she smashed her chin on the edge of the slide. “Okay, kids, calm down!”
Where was her mother?
“Like they’re going to listen to you,” Whitney said.
“You wanna try?”
She shook her head. “Nah. N
ot worth the energy.” She glanced around. “You know, without the tubes we really don’t have much to do over here. Getting rid of them might not have been one of my brightest ideas.”
“What do you care? You weren’t doing anything anyway.”
“But you were. And it was so much fun to watch you work.”
I sighed. She was really annoying. I returned to watching the kids. They seemed okay with the slide only, didn’t even seem to notice that the tubes were gone. Of course, maybe this was their first time here, and they didn’t know better.
I saw Sean striding through, making his rounds. He cut a sharp corner, coming toward us. I wondered if maybe he’d finally — at last — noticed that Whitney was pretty much useless as an employee.
“Hey, Robyn,” he said when he got close. “I was wondering if you could do us a favor.”
How many favors was he going to ask for? Did I have “favor-giver” tattooed across my forehead? On the other hand, perfect employees moved up the ranks, right? So, I said, “Sure.”
“Lisa is the supervisor for parties and entertainment. Someone overbooked. We’ve got, like, eight parties coming in at the kiddie pavilion, so could you go help her out?”
Something to do besides stand around? I couldn’t say yes fast enough, mostly because before I could say anything, Whitney said, “I’m most excellent with giving parties. I can do it.”
I was shocked that she’d volunteer to do anything.
“Yeah, but I already asked Robyn.”
I wanted to hug him for not changing his mind about me. “Where do I go? The pavilion?” I asked.
“Yep. Just tell Lisa I sent you.”
I hurried off before Whitney cast her spell over him and made him forget that he’d asked me first. She had some sort of control over him, making him think she was nice, letting her get away with things he scolded me for.
Lisa was hard to miss. She was almost six feet tall. She was wearing red shorts and the familiar white polo shirt. She smiled broadly as I approached.
“Great!” she said. “You must be Robyn. Sean said he’d send you over.”
How had he known I’d come? Maybe he’d only made it sound like he was asking. Maybe when it came right down to it, he was going to order me to come over here. It didn’t matter. I was away from Whitney.
“So what do you need me to do?” I asked.
“We’ve got about an hour before the first party arrives. To start with, we need a lot of balloons. I’ve put a reserved sign with the party’s name and number on each table. You just tie that many balloons to the ring at the end of the table. Can you do it?”
“Wonderful. Sean said you were his go-to girl.”
Before I could ask her what that meant, she was hurrying off to see about something else. As I walked over to the helium tank, I thought about Sean saying positive things about me, asking me — me, not Whitney — to help out during a crisis. Maybe he was beginning to realize that I was nice. Made sense, since I was starting to think he was nice.
I reached the tank and saw the box of balloons resting beside it. I inserted the first balloon on the nozzle, blew it up, tied it off, and wrapped the end of the ribbon around a nearby chair. I reached for another —
“Oh, good, more helpers,” Lisa shouted.
I looked over. It was Sean and Whitney. Sean stopped and talked with Lisa while Whitney walked over to me.
“Who’s watching Splash with Nick?” I asked.
“Sean found someone. I wanted to help. I love doing parties.”
I couldn’t believe it. How had she wrapped him around her finger like that? He had to have a crush on her, had to want her to be his girlfriend. But why say I was his go-to girl? And why did I want so badly to be his go-to girl?
“You do realize we’re not actually invited to the party. We’re just supposed to help.”
“Hey, Whitney, you want to help me put out the party favors?” Lisa asked.
“Oh, yeah. I love giving gifts.”
She said it like the gifts were from her personally.
Smiling, Sean came over. “I’m pretty fast at doing balloons. Why don’t I blow them up, you tie them off?”
I thought about how many we had to get done. “Sure.”
I moved aside. He grabbed a balloon, but before he attached it, he put the hose in his mouth, swallowed a breath —
“Shouldn’t take us long,” he said in a high-pitched squeaky voice that made me burst out laughing. He grinned broadly. “Want a hit?”
Laughing even harder, I shook my head. “I get in trouble for sliding down a slide in an inner tube and you play with helium?”
He stopped grinning. “Oh, man, what was I thinking?”
He still sounded like a chipmunk — if chipmunks could talk.
“I won’t tell,” I promised.
It was so funny, so strange, seeing him not so serious. He was the one who was always looking out for Caitlin. Both their parents worked, and he’d taken care of her after they decided he was old enough. I never realized that he could actually be fun, had never stopped to think how much responsibility he shouldered.
He blew up a balloon, handed it off to me.
“So, uh.” How did I say this? “So you decided to let Whitney help, too?”
“Yeah, she really wanted to. Was practically begging.” He sounded normal again, his voice deep, which made me smile. “I don’t get girls and parties.”
“Shouldn’t you be supervising?” I asked.
“Someone’s covering. Newbie supervisor. I go where I’m told.” He nodded toward someone. “Hey, Jake.”
It was the ice-cream guy. He was even cuter up close, with dark, serious eyes.
“Got the ice cream,” he said, pointing toward a silver cart on wheels.
“Talk to Lisa. This is her gig,” Sean told him.
“Will do.” He walked away.
“So we give the partygoers ice cream?” I asked.
“We do everything except the cake. They bring that.”
“Makes it easy on us, I guess.”
He laughed. “Yeah, right.”
“Okay, okay, y’all need to work harder,” Whitney said, taking a group of the balloons. “Front gate just radioed Lisa and the first group is on its way in.”
I didn’t miss the fact that we — not Whitney — needed to work harder. I didn’t know how we managed to do it, but we had all the balloons in place by the time the first group joined us. Twenty kids around the age of eight were screaming, laughing, and running around.
And that was just the first group. By the time all eight groups arrived, it was madness. But what really surprised me was what Sean did with the balloons. Not the ones he’d blown up using the helium. But the ones he was using to make balloon animals. He went from table to table, entertaining the kids, creating fish, ducks, crocodiles. I was pretty impressed.
Jake was scooping out ice cream. Whitney was taking pictures of people, borrowing their cameras, making sure everyone was in the party picture, making a big production out of posing the group. Lisa was making sure everyone had everything they needed. And me?
I was trash girl. Sounds a little like a superhero, but I rolled a big trash container around and put the discarded gift wrap, used paper plates, empty cups, and anything else that looked like garbage into the can. We only had to watch the groups for an hour or so. Then they were on their own.
I was working at a table, clearing away the debris when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around. Sean was holding a balloon dolphin out to me.
“Thanks for helping today,” he said.
I took it from him. “Thanks. That was nice of you.”
Sean smiled at me. “Maybe you haven’t noticed but I do ‘nice’ really well.”
Hadn’t I said practically the same thing to him yesterday? And okay, I had started to notice, but it made me feel funny to admit it. I’d spent so m
uch of my life believing he was a jerk. What would Caitlin say if I told her that I thought her brother was nice?
I looked at my watch. “Oh, my gosh! I missed lunch with Caitlin.”
“She’ll survive,” Sean said.
I wasn’t so sure.
“Hey, guys, let’s finish cleaning up real quick so we can grab something to eat. We have a group of thirty six-year-olds coming at two,” Lisa said. “It’s going to be wild.”
* * *
“You didn’t even let me know,” Caitlin said.
She was sitting on the lifeguard platform, staring at the pool. The waves were calm. In a little bit, they’d sound the alarm and the pool would shift into Tsunami mode, creating its eight-foot waves.
“I didn’t know I’d be there that long,” I said, staring up at her. My neck was starting to ache. “We just got busy and time flew.”
“I had to eat alone. It made me look like a total loser. How can I impress Tanner if it looks like no one wants to hang out with me?”
What could I say to that? I knew Caitlin didn’t like doing things by herself.
“I’m sure no one noticed,” I said, trying to appease her.
“What are you doing hanging out with my brother and Whitney anyway?” she asked.
“We weren’t hanging out — we were working the birthday parties.” I glanced at my watch. Sean had told us we could all eat at the food court, that management would treat us to lunch. Even though I’d brought a sandwich, I was really in the mood for a burger, so I wanted to get to the food court. “I’ve got to go get something to eat. I’ll see you after work.”
The alarm sounded, signaling that the large waves were about to start up.
“Yeah. All right. Later,” she said.
I wanted to believe she was distracted watching the swimmers, making sure they were all safe. I didn’t like Caitlin being upset with me, but it really hadn’t been my fault. I hadn’t considered that when you’re working, a lot of things happen that you have no control over — that you have to put the job first. Unless you’re Whitney, of course.
But I didn’t want to be Whitney. I liked being Sean’s go-to girl. I couldn’t tell Caitlin that, though. She wouldn’t understand that I was starting to like her brother — as a person. That I thought he was nice. That I was impressed with how hard he worked, everything he knew, everything he did.