Kenzie Rhines doesn’t have a home—she has too many. Her dad’s job keeps them flying around the country, which means “home” is whatever fancy hotel they’re currently staying in and “school” takes place 30,000 feet in the air. And since it’s just the two of them, she has no choice but to be his travel partner. Kenzie loves the constant adventures, but she wouldn’t mind planting her feet in one place for longer than two seconds, having her own bed, and maybe even finding a best friend she can talk to.
When Kenzie’s dad surprises her with the news that they’ll be in Las Vegas for an extended business trip, she’s thrilled he wants to enroll her in a local middle school while they’re there. And even though it's the longest she’s been in one place in years, Kenzie knows it’s only a matter of time before she’s on the move yet again. So, for the first time in her life, she decides to take some risks: why not let the cutest boy in school know she’s got a bit of a crush on him, give it a shot and audition for the school musical—The Wizard of Oz (her all-time favorite movie), and run for VP of her class?
Thanks to her plan, Kenzie discovers a courage she didn’t know she had—and finally feels like she belongs somewhere. But when things start to get complicated, Kenzie discovers that she’ll have to face the consequences of everything she’s done since her arrival—and that maybe home isn’t necessarily a place on a map, but where your heart is.
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No Place Like Home
When I was little, I used to wish I could fly. I dreamed of soaring through the air and seeing the world from far above it—with the houses and trees becoming so tiny I could put them in a dollhouse, and all the little automobiles turning into toy cars before my eyes. But I’m pretty sure that somewhere along the line, the universe got its signals seriously crossed, because this life of mine isn’t quite what I meant.
“Dad, can I please finish my dessert before I do the essay on the thirteen colonies?” I ask. Does it count as school when you’re thirty thousand feet in the air and your dad is your teacher?
A blob of warm, fudgy icing slides down the side of my brownie and helps make my point.
“Sure. I have something to talk to you about anyway.” Dad pushes his tray into the arm of his seat (yeah, fancy contraptions in the fancy seats) and turns to face me.
Translation: serious conversation.
I dig my fork into the brownie and shove a big mound of it in my mouth.
“I know it’s hard for you to be flying all over the country like this, Kenzie,” says Dad. “You don’t get to do a lot of the things other twelve-year-olds do.”
We’ve had this conversation before. Dad tells me how sorry he is that his job forces us to travel all the time. No, literally, ALL THE TIME. We don’t spend more than a few days in one place before we’re on our way to the next stop. He’s a consultant for companies trying to go green, yet we guzzle up fuel like crazy getting to all his meetings. Kind of ironic.
We lost my mom three years ago, and while Dad couldn’t afford to give up his job, he also wasn’t about to go anywhere without me anymore. On that first day we were on our own, those were his exact words. He knelt down in front of me, gently grabbed my hands, and said, “Kenzie, I’m not about to go anywhere without you anymore.”
So he told his company he wouldn’t fly international (uh, hello, Dad—Paris and London?!) and that they had to let me travel with him. That’s our deal and I get it. I always tell him it’s okay, and that it’s actually sort of fun staying in fancy hotels and getting to see different cities, because it is.
What I don’t say is that I miss having my own bed, a place for my things, and a best friend I can see every day.
“Sweetie, are you listening to me?” asks Dad.
Clearly, I haven’t been. There’s chocolate on my chin, and Dad’s face is all excited-looking. I totally missed something.
“Sorry, what did you say again?” I ask. “Ooh, did they approve the assignment in Minnesota? Because you said next time we could go to the Judy Garland Museum.” The Wizard of Oz is my all-time favorite movie, but we’ve had to skip the museum the last three times. Fun side trips aren’t easy to squish into jam-packed meeting days.
Dad laughs. “No, that’s not it. I said we’re staying in Las Vegas for about six weeks.”
It takes me a good ten seconds before I really get what he’s saying. “Six weeks?” I ask. My mouth drops open, and not for another bite of brownie. “What? Why? I mean, how is that even possible?”
Dad smiles like he’s amused by my response. “This one’s a big project. They rented us a house, and I was thinking you might want to enroll in the local middle school for—”
“Yes, please!” I don’t even give him a chance to finish. “A real school with real kids and lunches full of tater tots and those cute little milk containers? Who wouldn’t want that?”
Dad chuckles again. “It sounds fun, doesn’t it?”
Yes, it so does. KIDS. Like, people my size, not dressed in business suits or hotel-employee uniforms. No chaperone assigned to me while my dad is in meetings. Teachers who don’t go totally overboard with assignments and projects. I haven’t been to an actual school in a while, but I’m pretty sure they’re still the same.
Dad takes my enormous smile as a yes. “Okay, then, it’s settled,” he says. “We’ll take care of the paperwork as soon as we get there.”
Although Vegas isn’t where we’re headed now. We’ve got Chicago, Santa Fe, and Denver to hit first.
Dad glances over at my essay notes and taps his finger on the paper. “ ‘Foreign’ doesn’t follow the i-before-e rule, remember?” He taps again, this time at the bottom. “And two n’s in ‘tyranny.’ But otherwise it’s looking good, sweetie.”
I correct the mistakes, circle them, and add a couple of stars as reminders. They will most definitely be on this week’s spelling test.
“But I guess we can skip the essay for now,” Dad adds casually.
Yes! Homework pass for the win.
Dad gets up to use the bathroom, and everyone else in first class is either asleep or has headphones on, so for a few minutes it’s like I have the place to myself. I quietly sing the chorus of “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” bopping my head from side to side. And to top it all off, the flight attendant asks if I’d like another brownie. FYI, the answer to that is always yes.
* * *
After the one-day trips to Chicago and Santa Fe, we arrive in Denver, exhausted. These shorter trips totally wear me out.
Our first stop is always to see Fiona at the hotel concierge desk. They’re the people who take care of whatever you need (dinner reservations, tickets to a show, a toothbrush because you forgot yours), and regulars like my dad get to know them pretty well.
“My favorite guests!” says Fiona when she sees us. Her beautiful British accent is quite possibly my favorite ever.
She comes out and gives us each a big hug, and I immediately catch the familiar scent of her lilac perfume. She’s the kind of absolutely gorgeous that makes it impossible not to notice her instantly. She seems almost as tall as my dad, although I’m guessing she’d lose about four inches without the heels.
“I’ll phone the kitchen and order a fresh apple pie,” she says. We don’t bother telling her we’ll never finish it all, because she’ll insist anyway. Fiona uses only two words when she calls the kitchen—“VIP” and “pie.” “You can take what you can’t finish back to your room,” she says when she hangs up.
The three of us find a comfy spot in the lobby because Fiona also insists we relax when we get here. She’s one of the reasons I love this place.
“How have you been?” Dad asks her.
But Fiona waves him off. “My life is nowhere near as interesting as yours. What have you been up to, Kenzie?” She loves hearing about where we’ve been, even if all I have to say is that I got to order an ice cream sundae from room service in New York City.
“Well, there is something exciting,” I say. Her eyes open wide, and I hope I don’t disappoint her. “We’re staying in Las Vegas for a while, and I get to go to middle school for six weeks.” I try not to jump all over the place with excitement, but Fiona does it for me. She slaps her hands on the glass table between us, and her chair scoots back a few inches.
“Six weeks? Middle school? How fabulous!” The lobby chatter quiets down for a few seconds, but people quickly go back to their conversations. “Lucky girl. You’ll make lots of new friends.”
“I hope so,” I say. “I mean, I won’t be there long enough for anything major, but it’ll be nice to be around other kids.”
Dad excuses himself to go get us some water. As if he needs to get it himself. All Dad has to do is tip a finger in the air and they’ll bring him whatever he wants. Regular guests get really good service.
“But six weeks, that’s half a term,” says Fiona with a smile. “You’ll adore it!”
Her enthusiasm is yet another thing I love about her. Plus, she’s put into words exactly what I’ve been thinking. I have six weeks to be a kid in middle school. Six weeks to have a normal life and actually live in one place for more than a weekend. I didn’t even realize how badly I wanted that until now.
“You’re totally right,” I say. “As always.”
Dad is heading back to us, and Joanne from the Nannies to Go agency Dad uses walks through the front door. She gives me a high five with her red, manicured nails hitting the tips of my fingers. I’m happy to see it’s Joanne, because she always has some grand adventure planned for us. Although Denise (the other nanny I adore here—I call her Denver Denise) takes me to the absolute best restaurants.
“Did you finish all your homework on the plane?” asks Joanne.
I nod. “What are we doing today?” I ask.
“It’s a surprise,” she says. “But let’s just say your nails will never have looked better, your feet will be totally smooth, and you’ll be able to tell all your friends you saw the hottest new movie.”
“So it’s not a surprise,” I joke. And as much as I can’t wait for my next adventure in middle school, I have to admit I might miss all this pampering a little.