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T here are only three types of kids who get summer jobs at Colonial Essex Village instead of just working at the mall, like the normal people do.
Type one: history nerds. People who memorized all the battles of the Revolutionary War by age ten; who can, and will, tell you how many casualties were sustained at Bunker Hill; who hotly debate the virtues of bayonets over pistols. They are mostly pale-skinned, reedy, acne-scarred boys in glasses (unless they can’t find a pair of historically accurate glasses and are forced to get contacts). I don’t know if they were born so unappealing, and turned to history for companionship because they realized they were too grotesque to attract real-life friends, or if their love of history came first, and maybe they could have turned out hot, but instead they invested all their energy in watching twelve-hour documentaries about battleships. It’s a chicken-or-the-egg type of question.
The second type are the drama kids. The drama kids are not so interested in authentic battle techniques, but they are super interested in dressing up like minutemen. And they are interested in staging chilling scenes in which they get fake-shot and fall to the ground, bellowing, “Hark! I’m wounded! Oh, what cruelty is this?” even when the history nerds grouch because that is not how it happened at all, and, in fact, no soldiers were wounded during the Battle of Blah Blah Blah.
The third reason for a teenager to work at Essex would be if her parents work there. Which is why I do it. Because my dad is the Essex Village silversmith, and my mom is the silversmith’s wife, and I am the silversmith’s daughter.
The silversmith is the guy who makes silverware and jewelry, and also sometimes he does dental work like fillings. Paul Revere was a silversmith, too, as my dad likes to remind me, when he’s trying to make me value his profession. Silversmiths play an important role in society, or at least they did in the 1700s.
Thanks to my dad’s career, I’ve worked at Essex since I was six years old. Well, I wasn’t technically employed for the first few years, since I did it for free. It was more like Take Your Child to Work Day every day, except that I had to wear a historically accurate costume of tiny boots, petticoats, a pinafore, and a bonnet.
When I turned twelve, I started getting paid—not a whole lot, but nothing to turn up my nose at either, especially since the only other jobs available to twelve-year-olds in my town are being a mother’s helper or trying to sell baked goods on street corners. And the baked goods market is really saturated. So historical reenactment was a solid gig for a while, and I had more independent income than anyone else in my middle school. I used it to buy a trampoline.
But now that it’s nearly the end of junior year, I’m sixteen years old, which means I’m legally employable. I can finally get a real job at a real place. A place where my coworkers won’t spend their lunch breaks debating who would have won the Revolutionary War if the French never got involved; where I can wear shorts instead of floor-length skirts; where there might even be air conditioning. Also and most importantly: a place where my parents don’t work.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents and all. But my father and I have the sort of loving relationship in which, whenever he says more than one sentence in a row to me, I want to stab myself in the heart with a recently formed silver knife.
“So obviously what we want to do this summer,” I said to my best friend, Fiona, “is work at the mall.”
“Yeah . . .” Fiona said in a tone that meant No. We were having this conversation over ice cream in her kitchen, a few weeks before school let out for the year. Fiona and I had recently decided to devote the summer to becoming ice cream connoisseurs. Which essentially meant that we were going to eat as much ice cream as possible, and then discuss it intelligently and rate it on qualities such as “flavor” and “texture.”
“We could work at the mall,” Fiona said. “Or, instead of that, here’s another idea: We could work at Essex.”
I sighed. “Fi—”
“Think about it,” she said.
“Trust me, I’ve thought about it for the past ten years. Working at Essex is not really that fun,” I tried to explain to her. “It’s like going to family camp, only you have to be in character all the time, and strangers watch you and ask questions.”
“I actually love being in character,” Fiona reminded me. “And I love having strangers watch me.”
Fiona is a drama kid, and she’s good. She can belt out songs, and she emanates this confidence that just commands attention when she’s onstage. You can’t help but watch her. To top it off, she’s tall and willowy with waist-length chestnut-brown hair and catlike green eyes. I will be surprised if Fiona doesn’t grow up to be a famous actress.
Fiona and I have never spent a summer together because she’s gone to the Catskills for theater camp every year since we were little. But this past fall Ms. Warren lost her job, which meant some corners had to be cut. And theater camp was corner number one.
“How about we work at The Limited?” I suggested. “If you want, we could pretend to be characters who work at The Limited. And strangers will watch us fold shirts and stuff.”
Over her bowl of mint chocolate chip, Fiona argued, “But if we work at Essex, I can have some romantic historical name, like Prudence or Chastity.”
“Your name is already Fiona,” I said.
“Chastity Adams,” she continued dreamily.
“Your name is already Fiona Warren.” Fiona’s ancestors legitimately moved from England to the Colonies back in the days when there were Colonies. She doesn’t have to pretend that’s her story—it is her story. Plus, she is not particularly prudent or chaste.
“It’ll be like living in Pride and Prejudice!” she said.
“Really? When’s Pride and Prejudice?”
“Isn’t that when Essex is set?”
“No. Really, Fi? I’ve worked there for the entire time you’ve known me—you want to work there—and you don’t even know when it takes place?”
“Just tell me?” Fiona widened her eyes and pouted a little.
“I’ll give you a hint: Colonial Essex Village.”
She hazarded a guess. “Seventeen hundreds?”
“1774. Two years before the Declaration of Independence. Immediately before the First Continental Congress.”
“You sound like a history nerd! Anyway, what does it matter? The past is the past. It’s all kind of the same.”
Fiona is not dumb, by the way. She’s just an actress. Stories, emotions, people: that stuff interests her. Dates and facts leave her cold.
“Look, Chelsea,” she said. “I promise this year won’t be like every other summer. It will be two months of you and me running around together in beautiful old-fashioned dresses. You won’t have to spend the whole time locked in the silversmith’s studio with your parents. We can ask for a station together! Like at the stables or something! Nat says all the cool kids work at the stables.”
It was obvious that Fiona had never been gainfully employed before, since she seemed to envision it as a constant Gone with the Wind experience, minus the death and destruction.
“We’re not allowed to work at the stables,” I explained. “We’re girls. Girls didn’t muck out horse stalls in 1774. Also, is this really just about Nat Dillon? Is that why you’re so into this Essex job?”
Nat Dillon always plays Romeo to Fiona’s Juliet, Hamlet to Fiona’s Ophelia, the Beast to Fiona’s Beauty. Occasionally they hook up in real life. The rest of the time they only stage-kiss. My theory is that Fiona wants to take things to the next level—like, the level where Nat is her boyfriend—but she’s in denial about that. She shook her head and said, “I want to work at Essex because it will be good for my acting career, and because we can do it together. And, fine, the presence of cute boys doesn’t hurt.”
“There are no cute boys at Essex,” I said. “With the possible exception of Nat Dillon, and that’s only if you’re into long hair.” Nat wears his hair in a ponytail. He’s always lovingly combing his fingers through it. Don’t ask. “Everyone else there is ineligible. Trust me. I’ve grown up with most of them.”
“Your problem is that you hate true love,” Fiona said, clearing our bowls. “And I give this mint chocolate chip a six. The chocolate chips are strong, but the mint part should be mintier. Dyeing ice cream green does not actually make it taste any more like mint.”
“Five point five,” I said. “The mint part is the important part, and any ice cream manufacturer who doesn’t understand that is a sociopath.” As ice cream connoisseurs, we are extremely discerning. “And it’s not that I hate true love. It’s just that I don’t believe it exists. Especially not at Essex. I can’t see hating something that isn’t even real. That’s like hating centaurs or natural blondes.”
“How many times do we have to go over this?” Fiona heaved a sigh. “Just because Ezra Gorman turned out not to be the love of your life doesn’t mean there is no love of your life. It just means it wasn’t him.”
Fiona has been coaching me through my breakup with Ezra for weeks. She was really good at it for about three days. Then she got bored and now mostly just says things like, “Are you still not over that?”
“If you work with me at Essex this summer, I promise you that I will find you true love.” Fiona took my hands in hers and stared earnestly into my eyes.
“You will learn to love again,” Fiona continued, sounding like a movie trailer voice-over.
And at that, I totally lost it. “Okay, fine, Crazy Girl,” I said through giggles. “Let’s do it.”
But I want it to go on record that I didn’t say yes because of the true love thing. I said yes because there was no point to working at The Limited if Fiona wouldn’t be there with me.
© 2011 Leila Sales