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Authors: Jade Parker

Whitney

BOOK: Whitney
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Jake suddenly stilled, and I realized that he’d spotted me. I felt that little jolt of awareness that I always felt when he first looked at me. I always tried to look neutral, not to let it show.

So maybe I was giving him confusing vibes, too. Maybe he was wondering, “Does she like me? Does she not? Should I make a move? Should I not?”

I really wished that I didn’t feel the need to keep
everything
secret.

Working. Not exactly my idea of the perfect summer vacation. Oh, wait. Work, by definition, is
not
a vacation. What
was
my dad thinking when he came up with this plan?

He was thinking I needed to experience the real world. I wasn’t quite sure how a water park designed to look like a tropical island in the middle of north Texas was the
real
world, but whatever. I hadn’t been able to talk him out of his insane idea. So I was trying to make the best of what I considered to be a bad situation. I mean, really, who
wants
to work during the summer? Well, okay, I had met a couple of girls who actually
wanted to work — but their motivation was money. I didn’t need money.

“David, don’t pull all the way up to the gate,” I said from the backseat of the limo as he turned into the parking lot at Paradise Falls.

He looked in the rearview mirror. Our eyes met. His brown. Mine green.

“Right, Miss Whitney,” he said very formally in his really cool British accent. He brought the car to a stop, got out, jogged around, and opened the door for me.

I’d tried to get him to let me open my own door, but he’d insisted that he “simply couldn’t allow that.” When I was little, I liked being treated as though I were a princess. Not that I really was one. But my dad enjoyed spoiling me. Now that I was older, though, sometimes I got tired of being pampered. Makes no sense, I know, but that was how I was feeling today. Like I just wanted to be more independent than my dad and his staff would allow me to be.

“Thanks,” I said. “Please don’t follow.”

He’d done that the first time I’d ordered him to drop me off away from the gate. He’d rolled along slowly in the car. The next time, when I’d asked him not to follow in the car, he’d walked along slightly behind me. He was good at following orders as long as they were precise. He’s ex-military, British Special Forces. It’s a little embarrassing to arrive at work with my very own Transporter.

Yeah, my dad is just a tad overprotective, especially when he can’t be around to keep an eye on me. He’s involved with a lot of international businesses so he spends quite a bit of time traveling. Usually, during the summer, I travel with him. But this summer, like I said, he’d come up with the crazy idea that I should work.

I slung my Prada tote bag over my shoulder and headed for the entrance. At the beginning of the summer, I’d tried to get here early enough that no one would witness my arrival in the embarrassing white stretch limo. My dad thought I needed a stretch so I’d have plenty of room when my friends wanted to
hang out with me. I hadn’t told Dad that I didn’t have any friends anymore. Or at least, I hadn’t had any friends until recently.

During the past two months, while working at the park, I’d been hanging around with Robyn Johnson and Caitlin Morgan. I really liked them, and they seemed to like me. Of course, there were a lot of things about me that I hadn’t shared with them.

But they were starting to figure things out. When they knew everything, I knew I wouldn’t be able to trust them any longer. Of course, since I wasn’t telling them everything, maybe I didn’t trust them now.

I had a horrible experience during my last school year. Someone who I thought was my best friend turned out not to be. I was having a difficult time understanding why someone would betray me. I’d gone to see a shrink for a while. My aunt Sophie, who takes care of me when Dad is away, is a big believer in shrinks. I liked Dr. Succop — unfortunate name, right? — but we really
hadn’t done much talking. Instead we played video games during the time I was with him. He said it was therapeutic, that it would allow me to unleash my inner demons. When Dad discovered what my sessions involved, he decided working would be better therapy and would force me to face my issues. The problem was that I wasn’t really sure what my issues were.

People were already lined up at the ticket booths, waiting for the park to open.
Get a life
, I thought as I swiped my park ID through the security lock at the employee entrance. Maybe I was just jealous. I didn’t see anyone standing in line who looked like he or she was alone. Everyone seemed to have someone to share his or her day with. Friends, buddies, family. Not being alone a good deal of the time was a foreign concept for me.

My mom died from cancer a couple of years ago. I didn’t like to think about her being gone. I still missed her a lot. My therapist assured me that it was typical, that I would always miss her. So at least when it
came to grief, I was apparently normal. But when it came to friends …

I’d had some close friends, only they turned out to be my worst enemies. Maybe they were the issue that I needed to deal with, because now I was wary of making friends, of trusting people not to have ulterior motives where I was concerned. Everyone wanted something from me, even if that something was just to make me look bad.

The gate clicked open. I walked through.

“Hey, Whitney,” the guard said. All he needed was a beard and he could fill in for Santa Claus. As a matter of fact, maybe he did in December when Paradise Falls was closed. The park management hired several retirees who were just looking to fill their days — mostly because many of the positions didn’t provide much advancement. Since the guard received free passes to the water park, he was a big hit with his grandkids.

“Hey, Mr. Smith.”

“How’s your dad?”

“He’s good. He’s in Paris this week.”

“I went to Paris once,” he said. “Lovely city. Great food.”

“Yeah, I liked it, too.” I’d been to several foreign cities. I had a world map on my computer. I colored in each country when I traveled to it. I tapped my gold Cartier watch. “I’d better get to work.”

“Have fun.”

I never understood why he said that. Who had fun working? The two words simply didn’t go together.

I brushed past him and walked along the cement path that led to the main portion of the park. I slowed as I approached the park’s mascot. The green-and-yellow parrot was supposed to welcome everyone who walked by.


Brawk!
Daddy’s girl!
Brawk!

“Don’t call me that.” Who knew parrots could recognize people? I’d spent some time watching the trainer, Mitch, teach the bird what he needed to say. “Welcome to Paradise Falls!” Mitch had thought teaching him to say “Daddy’s girl” was cute. At the time, so
did I, but then I hadn’t planned on ever walking past the bird at the park. Now, the words were just a little embarrassing. Thank goodness, no other employees were around. I didn’t want to explain what was going on with the bird. I tossed a treat up to him to shut him up.

Then I headed for the employee locker rooms. I wasn’t really fond of locker rooms. No matter how clean they were, they always smelled like old dirty socks. Ours also smelled like chlorine, which made sense since we were a water park and an abundance of chlorine and other chemicals were running through the systems.

Even though I’d started to like being here, I set my expression to just-too-bored-to-care. I’d learned the hard way to never let people know what I was really thinking, and never, ever let them know what I was feeling. Psyched for a day of not being the real me, I pushed open the door, removed my Dior sunglasses, and sauntered in.

Many of the girl employees were already there, changing into their uniforms. The lifeguards and ride attendants wore red bathing suits and visors. Those who worked away from the water, like I did, wore red shorts, a white polo shirt with the Paradise Falls logo, and a red visor. No one was spared the red visor. Apparently fashion sense wasn’t important at places designed for amusement.

“Hey, Whitney,” Robyn said, smiling at me. Her brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Everyone with long hair had to wear it in a boring ponytail. I did it only when someone reminded me. Otherwise, I left my blond hair to brush over my shoulders. I wore it loose to be rebellious, a small statement that I really didn’t want to be here. So far I hadn’t gotten in trouble. Chances were that I wouldn’t. We had only a month to go before the park closed down for the off-season. Ninety percent of the park’s employees were students. When we were in school, we weren’t available to work.

“You’re usually here before us,” Robyn added.

“Us” was Robyn and her best friend, Caitlin, who was pulling off her T-shirt. She wore her bathing suit underneath her clothes. She tossed her tee into her locker and used her fingers to fluff her short black hair. Short hair looks good on certain people. It looked good on Caitlin and brought out the deep blue of her eyes. I was almost jealous because her eyes were such a startling hue, but then mine were a vibrant green.

“Yeah, so what’s up with that?” Caitlin asked.

Shrugging, I punched in the key code to my locker. No way was I going to tell them that I’d stayed up way too late last night thinking about Jake, so I’d overslept this morning. Jake worked at the park, too. He was assigned to one of the ice-cream carts. Basically, he loaded ice cream into the cart, set it up where they told him to, and sold ice cream. It was funny, because for most of the
summer he’d been assigned to spots near wherever I happened to be working, so we’d gotten to know each other a little.

We had a strange sort of relationship. I liked him. I liked him a
lot
. Sometimes we palled around together, but it always seemed to be by accident. He never really acted like he was interested in me. But he always seemed to be there when I needed something.

Like I said, strange. I really couldn’t figure us out. And I was feeling a little bit of pressure to define our relationship. If he didn’t want to be more than friends, then I might have to start looking at other guys for what I wanted — which was my first kiss.

Since I’d met Robyn and Caitlin, they’d each acquired a boyfriend. Robyn’s boyfriend, Sean Morgan, had started out the summer as our supervisor when she and I had worked in the kiddie zone, officially known as Mini Falls. Sean was also Caitlin’s brother. Caitlin was dating Michael Romeo. He brought his twin brothers to the park
nearly every day. Michael always hung around Tsunami, which was where Caitlin was a lifeguard, so they’d met there.

Tsunami was the signature pool of the park with twelve-foot waves. Totally awesome.

Before this summer, I would have been like Michael — lying around in the sun, soaking up the rays, playing in the human-generated surf.

Instead, I was helping out with Parties and Entertainment. Such an unimaginative name, but it summed up exactly what we did. I’d moved to P&E — as those in the know called it — because I didn’t like doing anything lifeguard-intensive: watching kids, being responsible if they got hurt. Parties were all about fun. No CPR was involved. Kids didn’t nearly drown in cake. They might eat too much and get sick, but that wasn’t my problem. That was the domain of the park cleanup crew.

I always enjoyed throwing parties. Sometimes I would pretend that the ones at
the park were my personal parties and that everyone was there to be with me — because they liked me — not because of who my dad was. James St. Clair was rich, powerful, able to do just about anything he wanted. We lived a sweet life. Dad worked hard for it, though. Sometimes people don’t understand that money doesn’t grow on trees. At least it doesn’t in our yard.

I’d been really careful about making sure that the people I worked with didn’t know who my dad was. Oh, the park’s general manager, Mr. T, and a few of the office staff knew. But the kids who worked in the park — the lifeguards, ride attendants, clerks, cooks, ice-cream guys — didn’t know. I knew if they found out, they’d treat me differently. Everyone always did.

I’d actually never planned for them to find out that my family had a lot of money, but that information sort of slipped out over the summer. I tried to pass my designer stuff off as knockoffs, but most of the employees didn’t believe it. Then there was the whole
arriving-at-work-in-a-limo thing. Really spoiled the poor girl image.

“Just wanted to sleep late,” I said, brushing off Caitlin’s question and my reason for being late, like it was no big deal.

“You pretty much get to do anything you want, don’t you?” Caitlin asked.

Robyn and I had hit it off shortly after we met. Robyn was quiet, the kind of person who wants everyone to be happy. Caitlin was a little more outgoing, a little more in your face. Or at least she was in
my
face. Nosy, too. She hated not knowing what was going on. For a while, she had threatened to Google me if I didn’t spill my secrets. But since I’d been instrumental in her getting together with Michael, she’d backed off.

Michael’s father owned a laser light-show company, and I’d convinced the general manager to hire them to put on a show for our Fourth of July extravaganza. Caitlin had been on my entertainment team, so she’d gotten to know Michael. Now she
owed me, so I was safe from her Googling me. A search on my name could bring up some pretty embarrassing stuff.

“Pretty much,” I said.

Caitlin and I were a little closer to being friends, but just a little. We both liked to be in charge. Since I didn’t have any brothers or sisters, I was used to doing what I wanted, when I wanted. Caitlin had a brother, but she still got her way. I guess she’d learned to fight for what she wanted.

BOOK: Whitney
3.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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