Read an ExcerptThe Winter of Candy Canes
By Debbie Viguie
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One Candace Thompson was once again eye-to-eye with Lloyd Peterson, hiring manager for The Zone theme park. This time, though, she felt far more confident. She had already spent her summer working as a cotton candy vendor, and she had worked one of the mazes for the annual Halloween event. She had even saved the park from saboteurs.
Now she was back, and this time she was interviewing for a job working the Christmas events at the park. Surely after everything she had done for the Scare event, she had nothing to worry about. She tucked a strand of red hair back behind her ear as she gazed intently at the man across from her.
"So you want to work Holly Daze?" he asked.
She nodded. Christmas at The Zone was a big deal, and the park began its official celebrations the day after Thanksgiving.
"You keep hiring on for short bursts of time and then leaving. Do you have some sort of problem committing to things?" he asked, staring hard at her.
She was stunned, but answered, "I don't have any problem with commitment. I signed on to do specific things, and the jobs ended. That's not my fault. I didn't quit."
"So, you plan on making a habit of this?" he demanded. "Are you going to show up here again in a couple of months expecting me to give you some kind of job for spring break?"
"No, I -"
"I know your type," he said, standing up abruptly. "You're just a party girl. No commitments ... no cares ... just grab some quick cash and get out. You think you can handle Holly Daze? Well, you can't! You're weak and a quitter. You're going to bail on me as soon as your school vacation starts, and then what? Well, let me tell you, missy. You aren't wanted here. So just pack your bags and get out!"
By the end of his tirade, he was shouting, eyes bulging behind his glasses and tie swinging wildly as he shook his finger under her nose. Candace recoiled, sure that he had finally flipped out. I'm going to end up as a headline: Girl Murdered by Stressed-Out Recruiter, she thought wildly. Well, I'm not going down without a fight! She jumped to her feet and put some distance between her and the wildly wagging finger.
"You need to calm down!" she said, projecting her voice like her drama teacher had taught her. Her voice seemed to boom in the tiny office. "Pull yourself together. You're a representative of this theme park, and there is no call to insult me. Furthermore, I'm not a quitter. I'll work for the entire Christmas season. Then the next time I come in here, I'll expect you to treat me with some respect. Do you even realize what I've done for this park so far? Seriously. Take a chill pill."
She stopped speaking when she realized that he had gone completely quiet. She held her breath, wondering when the next explosion was going to come. Instead, he sat down abruptly and waved her back to her chair.
"Very good. You passed the test," he said, picking up a pen.
"What test?" she asked, edging her way back into the chair.
"The ultimate test. You're going to be one of Santa's elves."
"Doesn't Santa, you know, have his own elves?" she asked, still not sure that he was completely in charge of his senses.
"Of course Santa has his own elves. However, when he's here at The Zone we supply him with courtesy elves so that they can continue making toys at the North Pole," Mr. Peterson told her.
"So, I'm going to be a courtesy elf?" she asked.
He nodded and handed her a single sheet of paper. "Sign this."
She took it. "What? Just one thing to sign?" She had expected another huge stack of forms that would leave her hand cramped for hours afterward.
He nodded curtly. "You're now in our system as a regular seasonal employee. All of your other paperwork transfers."
"Regular seasonal" sounded like some kind of contradiction to her, but she was still not entirely convinced his outburst had been a test. She scanned it, signed her name, and then handed it back to him.
"Good. Report to wardrobe on Saturday for your costume fitting," he said.
"Okay, thank you," she said, standing up and backing toward the door.
"Welcome back, Candy," he said, smiling faintly.
"Thanks," she said, before bolting out the door.
As soon as she was outside the building, she whipped out her cell phone and called her friend Josh, a fellow employee of The Zone.
"Well?" he asked when he picked up.
"I think Mr. Peterson has seriously lost it," she said. "He totally flipped out on me."
Josh laughed. "Let me guess. You're going to be an elf."
"So he was serious? That was some whacked-out test?"
"Yeah. Elves are considered a class-one stress position, and it can get pretty intense."
"How hard can it be to be an elf?" she asked.
She was rewarded by a burst of laughter on the other end.
"Josh, what is it you're not telling me?"
He just kept laughing.
"Okay, seriously. You were the one who convinced me to work Holly Daze. I think it's only fair you tell me whatever it is I need to know."
"Sorry!" he gasped. She wasn't sure if he was apologizing or refusing to tell her.
A girl bounced around the corner and slammed into Candace.
"Josh, I'll call you later," she said, hanging up.
"Sorry," Becca apologized.
Becca was one of Candace's other friends from the park, one who had some sort of bizarre allergy to sugar that made her uncontrollably hyper. Candace looked suspiciously at Becca. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes were glistening, and she was hopping from one foot to the other.
"You didn't have sugar, did you?" Candace asked, fear ripping through her.
"No! Promise," Becca said.
"Then what gives?"
"Roger made me laugh really hard," Becca explained.
Roger had a crush on Becca and had wanted to ask her out since Halloween. It hadn't happened yet.
"Oh," was all Candace could think to say.
"So, are you working Holly Daze?" Becca asked.
"Yeah. I'm going to be an elf."
Suddenly, Becca went completely still, and the smile left her face. "I'm sorry," she said.
"Why?" Candace asked.
Becca just shook her head. "I've gotta get back to the Muffin Mansion. I'll catch you later."
She hurried off, and Candace watched her go. Okay, now I know there's something people aren't telling me.
She debated about following Becca and forcing her to spill, but instead she headed for the parking lot where her best friend Tamara was waiting. She walked through the Exploration Zone, one of the several themed areas in the park.
The Zone theme park was created and owned by John Hanson, a former professional quarterback who believed in healthy competition at work and play. His theme park had several areas, or zones, where people could compete with each other and themselves at just about anything. Almost everyone who worked at The Zone was called a referee. The exceptions were the costumed characters called mascots. Most of them, including Candace's boyfriend, Kurt, were to be found in the History Zone. People visiting the park were called players, and the areas of the park they could reach were called on field. Only refs could go off field.
Candace cut through an off field area to get to the referee parking lot. She waved at a few other people she recognized from her time spent working there. Finally, she slid into her friend's waiting car.
"So are you going to be the Christmas queen?" Tamara asked.
"What am I, Lucy VanPelt? There's no Christmas queen in Charlie Brown's Christmas play, and there's no Christmas queen in The Zone," Candace said.
Tamara fake pouted. "Are you sure? I think I'd make a beautiful Christmas queen."
Candace laughed. Tamara was gorgeous, rich, and fun. Her whole family practically redefined the word wealthy, and, with her dark hair and olive skin, Tamara was usually the prettiest girl in any room. She didn't let it go to her head, though. Anybody who knew Tamara would vote for her as Christmas queen.
"Although I think you would, they're only hiring elves."
"You're going to be an elf?" Tamara smirked.
"Hey, it beats being a food cart vendor," Candace said.
"But you're so good at it. Cotton candy, candy corn ... you can sell it all."
"Thanks, I think. So, what are we doing tonight? Kurt's going to swing by at six to pick us up." Just mentioning her boyfriend's name was enough to make Candace smile. She closed her eyes for just a minute and pictured him as she had first seen him - wearing a Lone Ranger costume. With his charm and piercing blue eyes, she had fallen for him right away.
"You told him my house, right?" Tamara said, interrupting her thoughts.
"Yeah. So, who's this guy you're taking?"
Tamara sighed. "Mark."
"Remember my cousin Tina?"
"Well, she broke up with him over the summer, and he's been all shattered since then. He won't date other girls; he just mopes over her."
"Attractive," Candace said sarcastically.
"Tell me about it. Well, Tina asked me if I could help him get his confidence back and get over her or something."
"A pity date? Are you kidding me? You want Kurt and I to double date with you on a pity date?"
"You don't think I'm about to go by myself, do you? No way. That's the best-friend creed. When you're happy, I'm happy. When I'm miserable, you have to be too."
"Great," Candace said, rolling her eyes. "So, where are we going?"
"That's the problem. I was thinking dinner, but then we'd have to talk, and frankly, I don't want to hear him go on about Tina. Then I thought we could see a movie."
"You wouldn't have to talk to him," Candace confirmed.
"Yeah, but what if -"
"He tries to grab a hand or put his arm around you."
"Exactly, and I don't think me giving him a black eye was what Tina had in mind."
"I guess that also rules out any kind of concert possibilities?" Candace asked wistfully.
"So, what did you come up with?"
"I was thinking ... theme park?"
"No way. Kurt doesn't like to spend his downtime there."
"I thought he took you to that romantic dinner there over the summer."
"It was the nicest restaurant he knew, and he got an employee discount."
"Charming," Tamara said.
"Plus, ever since we got trapped in there overnight, he's been even more adamant about avoiding it when he's off work."
"I can't believe you two get to be the stuff of urban legend, and you don't even appreciate it."
Candace sighed. It was true that she and Kurt had spent one of the most miserable nights of their relationship trapped inside the theme park. Urban legend, though, had since transformed the story so that they were supposedly chased through the park by a psycho killer. It was still embarrassing to have people point at her and say that she was the one. Around Halloween she had given up trying to correct people. They were going to believe what they wanted.
"Earth to Candace. Helloooo?"
"Sorry. So, what does that leave us with? Shopping?"
"No need to torture both our dates," Tamara said.
"I don't - miniature golf!" Tamara suddenly shrieked, so loudly that Candace jumped and slammed her head into the roof of the car.
"Tam! Don't scare me like that."
"Sorry. Miniature golf. What do you think? Built-in talking points, lots of movement, and zero grabby potential."
"I like it. I'll have to borrow one of your jackets though."
"At least you'll have an actual excuse this time," Tamara teased.
A few minutes later they were at Tamara's house and upstairs raiding her wardrobe. As Tamara considered and discarded a fifth outfit, Candace threw up her hands.
"Maybe if you'd tell me what you're looking for, I could help."
"I'm looking for something, you know, nunlike."
Candace stared at her friend for a moment before she burst out laughing. She fell to the floor, clutching her stomach as tears streamed down her face. Tamara crossed her arms and tapped her foot, and Candace just laughed harder.
"I don't know why you think that's so funny. You know I don't go past kissing."
"Tam, nuns can't even do that. And if you're looking for something that will completely hide your body, then you're going to have to go to the mall instead of the closet. You don't own anything that doesn't say 'look at me.' I'm sorry, but it's true."
"Really? Maybe we should go to your house. Think I could find what I'm looking for in your closet?"
"Not since I started dating and mom made me throw out all my old camp T-shirts," Candace said with a grin.
"Then hello, you've got no call to laugh."
Candace stood up, stomach still aching from laughing so hard. "Tam, I'm not criticizing. I'm just telling you, you're not going to find what you're looking for."
Tam reached into the closet. "Oh, yeah, what about this?" she asked, producing jeans and a black turtleneck.
"If you're going for the secret agent look, it's a good choice."
Tamara threw the jeans at her, and Candace ducked.
"I could wear some black pants with this. Would that be too funereal?
"For a pity date? Go for it."
Candace opted to borrow Tamara's discarded jeans instead of wearing the skirt she had brought with her. They turned out to be slightly tighter on her than they were on Tam, and she had to admit when she paired them with her red scoop-neck top that she looked really good.
When Kurt arrived a few minutes later, he whistled when he saw her.
"Keep the jeans," Tamara whispered to her. "Obviously, they work for you."
Kurt then looked at Tamara and frowned slightly. "Did you just come from a funeral?"
"No, but thank you for thinking so," Tamara said with a smirk.
"I don't -"
Candace put her finger over his lips. "Don't ask," she advised him.
He smiled and kissed her finger, which made her giggle.
The doorbell rang again, and Candace turned, eager to see the infamous Mark.
Tamara opened the door, and Candace sucked in her breath. Mark was gorgeous. He had auburn hair, piercing green eyes, and model-perfect features. He was almost as tall as Kurt, and he was stunning in khaki Dockers and a green Polo shirt.
"Hi," he said, smiling.
Tamara glanced at her and rolled her eyes.
Kurt drove, and Candace was quick to slide into the front seat with him, leaving Tamara and Mark to the back. She shook her head. Mark was not her idea of a pity date in any sense of the word. Maybe Tamara would come around if she actually talked to him.
They made it to the miniature golf course and were soon on the green. Candace got a hole in one on the first time up to putt, and Kurt gave her a huge reward kiss.
When they moved on to the next hole, Tamara whispered in her ear, "Thanks a lot. This is supposed to be a no grabby zone. Now Mark will be getting ideas."
"Tam, you really need to relax a little."
They made it through the course in record time, and Kurt gave Candace another kiss for winning by one stroke. After turning in their clubs, the guys headed inside to order pizza while Candace and Tamara went to the restroom.
"This date is the worst," Tamara groaned once they were alone.
"What's wrong with you? He's gorgeous."
"Really? I guess I just can't see past the Tina mope."
"What mope? He hasn't even mentioned her, and he's done nothing but smile all night. You should totally take him to Winter Formal."
"No way. This is a one-date-only kind of thing. I'm not taking him to Winter Formal."
"Fine. Suit yourself. I'm just telling you that if it weren't for Kurt, I'd be taking him to Winter Formal."
"As if. There's no way you'd ask a guy out."
"I don't know. You might be surprised."
"It's a moot point anyway. I'll find someone to take."
"You could always take Josh," Candace suggested.
"You're not setting me up with Josh, so just forget it."
"Find out for me, though, if Santa needs a Mrs. Claus," Tamara said.
"You're going to find some way to be the Christmas queen, aren't you?" Candace asked.
"Even if I have to marry old Saint Nick."
They both laughed.
Excerpted from The Winter of Candy Canes by Debbie Viguie
Copyright © 2008 by Debbie Viguie. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.