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We had four little kids at the top. I heard them screech as each one took his or her turn to go down the slide, but my attention was focused on the three guys. The attractions in Mini Falls had height restrictions. People playing here couldn’t be taller than forty-eight inches.
No one else was waiting in line, which I guess made our slide a target. The guys started walking up the steps to the slide. I moved to block their way.
“Sorry, guys. This ride is for kids only.”
“Whatever, loser,” the lead guy said, holding up his hand, using his fingers to make a W, an E, then an L.
“Come on, babe, we just want to have some fun,” one of the guys beside him said.
My heart was pounding. I was afraid they could hear it. “Sorry. You’ll have to move on.”
I heard some splashing, then Nick was standing at the side of the slide, near the top.
“Hey, guys, get out of here,” Nick said.
“That’s discrimination,” one of the guys said. His red hair was buzzed short on the sides, but stuck up like three inches down the middle. Maybe he wanted to go down the kiddie slide because he was afraid going down a larger slide would mess up his hair. “If you don’t let us go down the slide, we’re gonna sue.”
Why were they doing this? What was the fun in arguing? And poor Nick. It was hard for him to appear tough when he was down beside the slide. He’d have to walk around the pool to get to the steps to stand even with the guys — or he’d have to hoist himself up, which probably wouldn’t look very manly.
“We’re going down the slide,” Shark Guy said. “So step aside.”
Part of me thought, What’s the harm? Let them do it. But rules were rules. And hadn’t I, personally, gotten chewed out for not following rules? So I stood my ground, even though my stomach was starting to quiver. “No. You’re not going down the slide.”
I was surprised that my voice didn’t shake. And where was Sean?
Suddenly a shrill whistle sounded. I jerked my head around. Whitney removed her whistle from her mouth. She was standing and grinning. “Chill, guys.”
She walked up to me, so now we were a barrier of two. I felt like we were united, until she said, “Let them go down the slide.”
I know my eyes did that whole widening thing —
“It’s obvious they’re babies,” she said sweetly. “They’re too chicken to do the real slides.”
“Whatever, loser,” Shark Guy said, doing the hand signals again.
I wondered if it was something he’d just learned, something that he thought made him cool.
“We’re not afraid,” one of the other guys said.
Whitney laughed. “Then why are you here? Us?” — she wiggled her finger to include me, Nick, and herself — “If we didn’t have to be here, we’d be hurtling down Screaming Falls this very second. We sure wouldn’t be wasting our time trying to get permission to go down a four-foot slide.”
“I know. Whatever, loser,” she said, interrupting Shark Guy and moving her hand so fast that it almost blurred. “How many times did you have to watch the video on MTV to learn that? Which you’re doing wrong, by the way.”
“What do you know?” Shark Guy demanded.
“I know you’re about to get kicked out of the park.”
“Hey, guys.” It was Sean. To the rescue at last. I felt my heart slowing to a normal beat. He was waving his hand like a traffic cop telling people to come through the intersection.
Jake was standing beside him. For someone who scooped ice cream, he suddenly looked like someone you didn’t want to mess with.
“Come on,” Sean said. “Management wants to see you.”
“Dude, we were just playing,” Shark Guy said like he was three years old.
“Playing is limited to kids in this area. You know the rules. Let’s go,” Sean said, sounding so in charge. I wondered if his stomach was quivering like mine had been.
Sulking, the three guys headed down the steps. Sean said something to them and then made them follow him.
“You guys all right?” Jake called out.
“We’re fine,” I told him. At least now we were.
“What losers,” Whitney said, imitating Shark Guy’s hand movements.
“You handled them great,” I told her.
“You weren’t too bad yourself. You just forgot rule number one: Always blow your whistle when there’s trouble in the area.”
She actually knew the rules? Who would have thought?
“Well, I felt pretty useless,” Nick said.
“Don’t be silly,” Whitney said. “But next time, flex those muscles.”
Nick laughed. “Think I’ll just blow my whistle.”
* * *
“I don’t understand what people are thinking when they do stuff like that,” Caitlin said.
We were at lunch, sitting at a table beneath an umbrella. It’s easier to talk when you can see each other. And quite honestly, lounging on the deck just made me sleepy.
Whitney and I had told her about the tough guys. I’d been as surprised by their reaction to Sean’s arrival as I’d been by Whitney’s confronting them. I’d pretty much figured she was useless, so now I needed to reconsider my opinion of her. Sean, well, I’d been thinking about my opinion of him way too much lately.
“They didn’t give Sean a hard time at all,” I told Caitlin.
“Sometimes he can look tough,” she said.
Maybe he was tough. I remembered last night when he told us he was leaving. No room for compromise. Caitlin and I had almost tripped over ourselves to get to the car. I guess some people just have that born-to-lead gene. I thought maybe Sean was one of them.
It was weird how much I was coming to respect him. How much I was starting to like him. He made me feel good about myself, called me his go-to girl. He counted on me. And maybe I was starting to count on him.
But all these feelings were related to work. They couldn’t move beyond our work environment, because the truth was that he liked Whitney. He cared about whether she was happy.
Or could it be that he cared about everyone being happy?
“Earth to Robyn. Earth to Robyn.”
Fingers snapped in front of my face — - and I know my eyes widened. Caitlin was snapping at me.
“What?” I asked, irritated because I wanted to examine my feelings about Sean.
“I’ve been trying to talk with you about tomorrow. You know? Our day off.”
“Oh, right. So what did you want to do? Go shopping?”
“Actually, I’m coming here.”
“No, playing. Well, sorta. Mostly I want to hang around here, so Tanner can take his breaks and lunch with me. Do you want to come?”
I wouldn’t mind coming to the park to play — but I’d be doing it alone.
“No, I’ve got some stuff I need to do.”
“Miss Mysterious. Okay. Whatever.”
Whitney and I were walking back to Splash when she said, “You don’t really have stuff to do tomorrow, do you?”
“So what gave me away? My eyes turned purple?”
“What?” she asked.
“Nothing. But yes, you’re right. I don’t have anything to do tomorrow. I just didn’t want to be a third wheel — again.”
Which meant I’d be a lone wheel. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be that either, but what choice did I have?
The next morning I rolled out of bed without a purpose. I didn’t have to go to work. Mom had taken care of the dust bunnies a few days ago so I was pretty sure none had multiplied since then — and if they had, well, I wasn’t going to go looking for them.
So I had the whole day to myself and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I almost always hung out with Caitlin. Usually at the mall, sometimes at a movie, occasionally in her bedroom scouring through all her teen mags for the answers to life
’s toughest questions. Like how to give yourself a professional-looking pedicure in ten minutes or how to lessen the sting when plucking your eyebrows. Not that I was plucking my eyebrows yet, but when I was ready, I’d be prepared.
So I stumbled around my room getting dressed. I was sure Mom had already left for work. When I was dressed, with my hair clipped in back, I walked to the window and just looked outside. Caitlin’s house was two streets over. Since my bedroom was on the second floor, I had no problem seeing the roof of her house.
What really bothered me was that I was wondering what Sean was doing today. He wasn’t working either. I guess he was going to take Caitlin to the water park and then either hang around there or go home. I wondered if I’d gone if he would have hung around with me. Probably not. But I was a little interested in knowing what might have happened if Whitney wasn’t around.
He and I had been getting along fine at the ballpark, talking and everything until Whitney showed up. If she hadn’t shown up would he have still sat on the quilt with us? Would it have been like he was there with me?
I was still looking out the window when a car caught my eye. A white car. No, not a car. A limo. What was a limo doing on our street?
It came to a stop in front of our house and my heart nearly stopped. What if it was Stacy and Clinton from What Not to Wear? What if Mom and I were going to get a clothing makeover? Or maybe it was someone coming to make over the house?
A front door opened and a man — - dressed like a chauffeur in a movie — got out and walked around to a back door. He opened it —
All the while I was holding my breath. I had a feeling our lives were about to change —
And then Whitney stepped out.
Whitney? In a limo?
She walked toward the door. I was too stunned to move. The doorbell rang. This was just too much.
It rang again.
She was probably expecting my butler to answer the door.
I hurried down the stairs, then wondered why I was rushing for her. What was it about her that made people respond like she was a princess or something? I slowed my step, then my curiosity spiraled and I found myself hurrying once again. I opened the door.
“Hey,” Whitney said brightly.
“You drive around in a limo?”
She laughed, like she was embarrassed. “What? Oh, yeah, that. My dad had to work today so he rented a limo for me. It’s no big deal. He’s feeling guilty. Do you want to ride around in it?”
“Uh …” Did I? Maybe. “I don’t know. How’d you know where I live?”
“I asked Mr. T.”
“And he just gave you my information?”
“Well, uh, yeah. See, helping with those parties over the weekend just really put me in a party mood, and I thought it would be great fun to have an employee get-together after work Sunday night. And I told him you’d help me plan it, so” — she lifted her shoulders — “will you?”
“You volunteered me without asking me?” Did she think everyone did what she wanted? I wasn’t Sean, who was wrapped around her finger.
“I thought you’d want to. Why wouldn’t you?”
She seemed completely baffled.
“Shouldn’t you have asked me first, though?”
“Well, I would have if I’d known it was such a big deal. I just figured you’d want to help with a party. Who doesn’t want to help? But if you don’t, I can tell Mr. T you weren’t interested. I can do it by myself.”
It was a little sad that she’d come to me. We weren’t really friends. Did she even have any friends?
“I might be interested. I have to think about it. Do you want to come in?”
“That’d be great. Thanks.” Whitney looked back over her shoulder and waved. “Just letting David know that I’m coming in.”
“Who’s David?” I asked.
“The chauffeur. He has to stay with the car.”
Whitney walked inside and looked around. I didn’t want to look at my house through her eyes. It was mostly decorated with stuff from Target, but Mom always pronounced it Tarjay — like it was French and fancy. I wasn’t totally convinced that all Whitney’s stuff were really knockoffs. And now that she’d arrived in a limo —
My stomach rumbled. I felt the embarrassment warm my cheeks. “I haven’t had breakfast yet. I was going to make a peanut butter sandwich.”
“My culinary skills are limited. Do you want a sandwich?”
“No thanks, but you go ahead. I’ve never seen one being made.”
“No, we eat out a lot. It’s just my dad and me since Mom died, and Mom never cooked either, so …”
While she rambled, I led her back to the kitchen.
“Nice house,” Whitney said.
Was she actually giving compliments? This was really a little weird.
When we got to the kitchen, she sat at the counter and I grabbed all the sandwich makings. “So what does your dad do?”
“Oh, you know. He’s involved in some business. Boring stuff. I don’t pay much attention.”
After I finished making my sandwich, I offered Whitney something to drink, but she wasn’t interested. I poured myself some milk and sat at the counter. “I just realized that I don’t even know where you go to school.”
“It’s a private school. Very private. You’ve probably never heard of it. So are your parents around?”
“It’s just me and Mom. Dad left when I was little. I don’t even know him.”
“Oh, gosh, sorry. What a jerk! My dad’s okay. Just overprotective.”
“Mom’s pretty neat. She’s at work right now, though.”
I couldn’t believe that Whitney and I were actually talking like normal people. She was revealing things about herself. Not in great detail, but I was getting a glimpse into her life.
“So will you help me plan the party?” she asked.
“You want to plan a party for all the employees?”
“Well, duh, yeah. I don’t want anyone feeling left out.”
“Do you have any idea how many employees there are?”
“Two hundred and forty-five.”
“You know the exact number?”
She looked guilty about something, like she was trying to think of the answer. “Well, yeah. I mean, I asked Mr. T.”
“Where could you have a party for that many people?”
“At the water park. After it closes.” She leaned forward. “Look, all we have to do is come up with a list of things that we want to happen. I’ll give the list to Mr. T. His staff will take care of it. It’s not like we have to actually do anything.”
Again, it seemed odd that she’d come to me.
“Anything we want?” I asked.
“Look, it’s like my dad always says, you always reach as far as you can. If you don’t make it, you’re still farther along than you would have been if you didn’t reach at all. Corny, I know, but his point is, we ask for everything we want. We might not get it. We probably won’t get it. But even if we don’t, we still have something. So are you in or not?”
I couldn’t think of a reason not to be.
* * *
We spent an hour at the counter tossing ideas back and forth. Whitney knew a lot — I mean, a lot — about the park and how it operated. She knew the things we could use without too much hassle — like all the water stuff that just needed lifeguards, not attendants. There wouldn’t be lifeguards on duty, but since we were all essentially lifeguards, we didn’t need any on duty. We didn’t want anyone having to work. And food. The dishes that were easy to prepare. Things that could just be set up — like the ice-cream and drink carts — that we could just take things from. I was amazed by her knowledge. I’d been going to the park as a guest for a few years and there were things I hadn’t noticed.
“It just seems boring,” she said.
“How can it be boring?” I asked. “We’ll ha
ve a chance to play, to go down slides without getting yelled at.”
“Still I want something different. Something … I don’t know. Exciting. Something that’s never been done at the park before.”
“If I knew, then I’d know.”
She wasn’t much help. But then maybe she didn’t think I was either. She was scribbling on a pad of paper, then she stopped, looked at me. “My dad goes driving when he has a problem he needs to figure out. So, you want to take a drive in the limo?”
Okay, it might be geeky but I really did want to ride around in the limo.
“I’d love to.”
I called Mom at work and told her what was going on. She was okay with it.
The inside of the limo was spacious, luxurious. Lots of leg room. The seats were leather. The windows were tinted. We could see out, but no one could see in. Whitney reached into a little fridge and handed me a soda.
This definitely wasn’t a knockoff.
She told the driver to start driving until she figured out where she wanted to go. It was such a smooth ride.
“Wow,” I said, totally amazed. “This is really awesome.”
“A sports car would be more fun. Anyway, what can we do that’s different?”
I took a sip of the cola. Shook my head. “I don’t know.”
“Money’s no object.”
I laughed. “You think the park owners are going to want to spend a lot of money on this?”
“I just mean that we can think big, not worry about cost, and the owners can say no. Or not. Who knows? They might surprise us.”
“I can’t think of anything different. When I’m at the park, I like to play in the water. And we’ll be doing that.”
“True. But think big, different. Bold.”
I looked out the window. We passed a movie theater. Maybe when Whitney got tired of playing party planner, I’d go to a movie. Alone. Gag. Then something started teasing me.
“Okay,” I said. “I might have an idea.”
“Well, it’s kinda out there.”
“Robyn — reach!”
“Okay. Okay.” I was used to Caitlin being the one with the ideas, the one who said what we did, when we did it. This was a little scary, which was silly really. The worst she could do was laugh.