Summers are supposed to be fun, right? Not mine. I’ve got a job at my dad’s company, which is sponsoring a college scholarship competition. I just found out that, in addition to my job assisting the competing interns, I’m supposed to vote for the winner. Totally not what I signed up for.
My boss is running the competition like it’s an episode of Survivor. Then there’s Carlos, who is, well, very distracting––in a good way. But I can’t even think about him like that because fraternizing on the job means instant disqualification for the intern involved.
As if that’s not enough, an anonymous informant with insider intel is trying to sabotage my dad’s company on social media...and I’m afraid it's working.
Much as I’d love to quit, I can’t. Kristoffs Never Quit is our family motto. I just hope there’s more than one survivor by the end of this summer.
|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.85(w) x 8.19(h) x 1.01(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Lisa Brown Roberts still hasn't recovered from the teenage trauma of nearly tweezing off both eyebrows and having to pencil them in for an entire school year. This and other angst-filled memories inspire her to write YA books about navigating life's painful and funny dramas, and falling in love along the way. She lives in Colorado in a house full of books, boys, four-legged prima donnas, and lots of laughter.
Twitter@LBrownRoberts or visit her at her website, www.lisabrownroberts.com
Read an Excerpt
It's the second Saturday in May, and I'm counting the days until I'm free of Clarkson K-12 Academy. Tonight — awards night — my school sparkles like a scaled-down version of the Dolby Theatre on Oscar night, fancied up in twinkling lights, ruby-red velvet stage curtains, and glittering decorations. Our private school is jokingly called Harvard High; everything is overfunded and insanely competitive.
Like all the Oscar almost-winners say, it's an honor just to be nominated. And in my case, that's true. All I want is to stand on stage and see my parents in the crowd — well, see my dad. Mom will be there; she always is. But Dad? Odds are low that Dad Vader will tear himself away from Emergent Enterprises, AKA his evil empire.
Is he here yet? I text my mom. I'm in violation of the no-cells-on-stage rule, but I don't care.
Her reply is quick: Not yet. Which in our family is code for he's not coming. My heart, which had been fluttering around hopefully, folds in on itself and sinks back into my chest. Despite my low odds, the fantasy of actually winning the photography award and standing at the mic to thank my dad for buying all my equipment, watching his face light up with pride ... that fantasy has played in my head for days.
"And now for the photography award." Our principal's voice jolts me to attention. I squint my eyes against the lights, searching hopefully for my dad's dark hair, but I can't distinguish faces in the crowd. Where's my zoom lens when I needed it?
"As most of you know, Clarkson Academy prides itself on its award- winning photojournalism classes," Dr. Farnham says, her spikey silver hair glinting under the spotlight. "Our top photographers often continue their studies in college, and at last count we had five Clarkson graduates working in major media outlets across the globe."
The crowd applauds politely as I rattle off those graduates' names in my mind. I stalk them in the news and social media because one day I hope to follow in their footsteps.
"This year we have an outstanding slate of nominees," continues Dr. Farnham. "Without further ado, I'd like each student to stand as I call their name."
I zone out as she rattles off the names. I already know that Blake is going to win. Awards always go to seniors, which he is, and his photos are as jaw- dropping as his attitude is annoying. If he had a halfway decent personality, I'd be madly in love with him, but unfortunately, he's as pretentious as he is gifted.
We each stand as Dr. Farnham calls our names. As I rise from my chair, I'm keenly aware of how wrongly I pegged the event's attire, wearing one of my mom's one-of-a-kind yarn and fabric creations instead of something sleek and sophisticated like all the other girls on the stage. I feel like a hippie flower girl trailing in the glamorous bride's wake.
My phone buzzes in my hand again and I sneak a glance at the text.
You look amazing! Followed by a thumbs-up emoji and a heart from my best friend Lexi.
That means I don't look amazing, and Lexi feels the need to give me a bad-outfit-choice-pre-award-loss boost. I chew on my lip to hide my bittersweet smile; Lexi knows me better than anyone.
"A selection of our nominees' best photographs is displayed in the hall outside the auditorium. Please take time to view them later, if you haven't already." Dr. Farnham clears her throat and glances at us, then proceeds to open the envelope. I can hear the Oscar drumroll in my imagination as her finger slides under the tab and she removes the ivory card.
"And our winner is Blake Hamilton! Please give him a round of applause!"
Even though I knew my odds of winning were miniscule, a tidal wave of disappointment floods through me. I try to keep a "Yay, Blake" smile plastered on my face as Blake pushes past me in his rush toward the mic, stepping on my toes. Dr. Farnham presents him with a certificate and a crystal disc engraved with his name, the year, and an etching of a classic Brownie camera, circa 1940.
I've been picturing that award engraved with my name on it for weeks. My shoulders slump as I sit down, since standing is for winners.
It's just as well Dad's not here to witness my failure.
* * *
Two hours later, Mom and I sit on our patio under the stars sharing a pint of Bonnie Brae ice cream — the best in Denver, according to me. It's a warm spring evening and we don't want to waste it, even in the face of my crushing defeat.
Dad's text, sent minutes after I left the auditorium, had seared my heart and hastened my exit from the parking lot.
Sorry to miss the awards, kiddo. At least you didn't win.
"He didn't mean it as an insult," Mom insists, dipping her spoon into the red-and-white striped tub. "He's proud of you for finaling. He just meant he would've felt bad if you'd won and he'd missed it."
"Because he only shows up for winners." The words bite at my throat. Deep down I don't believe them, but right now I'm wallowing in self-pity. Not only did I lose, my finalist certificate has my name spelled wrong: Laura Kristoff instead of Laurel. I've been battling that mistake since kindergarten; you'd think my K-12 academy would have it right by now.
"Now, Laurel, you know that's not true." Mom's green eyes glint in the flickering light from the candles on our patio table. "Your dad loves you and he's so proud of you and your sister." She shoves a huge bite of ice cream into her mouth. I can tell by her wince when the throat freeze hits.
"So you say. I wouldn't know, since I only see him about ten minutes a day." An exaggeration, yes, but not by much.
Mom sighs. "Your father runs a demanding business. And he does it all for us."
As if on cue, the hum of the garage door sounds, followed by the crunch of tires on our gravel driveway. Mom checks the ice cream tub to make sure we've left some for Dad. Mom doesn't keep much sugar in the house, but Dad always consumes an unfair share.
A few minutes later, his tall silhouette appears in the French doors that open onto the patio. It's easy to imagine the Vader cape flowing off his broad shoulders.
My dad emerges like a king onto a palace balcony, striding toward us like a true victor, unlike me. His movie-star good looks are ridiculous, especially when paired with his name: Rhett, just like Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, my grandma's favorite movie.
"How are my girls?" He sinks into a wicker chair. Mom hands him a spoon and his eyes light up. "Chocolate brownie? My favorite!"
It's my favorite, too — probably because it's his.
He takes a big bite, but unlike Mom, he doesn't wince from throat freeze. Ice cream doesn't dare mess with Dad Vader. He leans back in his chair and smiles at his subjects. Without warning, I flash back to my sixth birthday party.
I'd dressed as Princess Leia, of course, and Darth Vader made a surprise guest appearance. When he'd stormed the party, brandishing his lightsaber, I'd shrieked in fear until my mom scooped me up and whispered in my ear, "It's just Daddy in disguise." Relieved, I attacked him with my own lightsaber. He fought valiantly but suffered a well-deserved demise, flattened on the grass by me and ten of my saber-wielding friends.
That party was the beginning of my love affair with Denver's famous Bonnie Brae ice cream, and cemented my childhood hero worship of my dad. When I was young, Dad was around a lot more for my sister Kendra and me. I remembered burnt pancake mornings and piggyback rides, tickle fights, and cozy story times when I fell asleep against his chest.
But that was a long time ago, before his business succeeded and took over our lives. Now I count myself lucky if I see him more than twice a week for dinner. When my friends complain about their overbearing parents, I nod as if I empathize, but the truth is I miss my dad.
"Sorry you didn't take home the trophy, kiddo." Dad scrapes the bottom of the ice cream tub with his spoon. He glances up. "Next year you'll win."
On the one hand, it's a rare moment, the three of us sitting outside together, my dad relaxed and smiling instead of stressed and scowling. On the other hand ...
"I wish you'd been there." The words tumble out of my mouth, surprising me.
"Laurel, honey. I'm sorry I wasn't there, but I had to wrap up a client proposal, and we've got the interns starting in two weeks and — " Dad's smile fades, along with his excuses.
"I wish I was an intern." Then maybe I'd see him for more than ten minutes a day.
"What?" Dad blinks in surprise. "Don't be ridiculous, Laurel. The intern program is for students who can't afford college tuition, who need the scholarship we provide." He cocks an eyebrow. "Unlike you or your sister. Sometimes I wonder if you realize how fortunate you are."
His words hit me like a punch. Dad's new scholarship program is a big deal; it was in the local news a few weeks ago, a feature story with photos of him and his top executives. One lucky intern will win 100K, enough to cover an in-state tuition full ride. The runners-up will each receive five thousand, but the full-ride is the holy grail everyone will vie for.
"I'm calling it a night," Dad says abruptly, rising from his chair.
Guilt tugs at me as he ruffles my hair before turning toward the house. For someone who wants to spend time with her dad, I did a great job chasing him off.
* * *
I started badgering my dad the next day, hoping to turn my offhand comment into reality. Why not be an intern? Without competing for the money, obviously. If nothing else, I'd get two long car rides each day with my dad in which he wasn't distracted — unless he spent them yammering on his Bluetooth.
Thirteen days ago, he gave me a curt one-word "No" answer.
Ten days ago, he sighed and stared at the ceiling. "I said no already."
Seven days ago, he crossed his arms over his chest and pinned me with an intense stare. "And what exactly would you do at the office?"
I wasn't prepared for that, so I stalled.
Five days ago, I suggested working as the assistant to the interns. Or I could help out Miss Emmaline at the reception desk. Miss Emmaline is an eighty-year-old, ninety-pound holy terror, but I was getting desperate.
"I can give you feedback on the interns," I told Dad. "Honest feedback, to help you decide who wins the scholarship." His only response was a disapproving frown. "A peer review," I pressed. "One college-bound student assessing the others."
Four days ago, I pulled out my best card — emotional manipulation. "You're going to be an empty nester in a year. Then you'll wish we'd bonded, Vader, but instead I'll be on the other side of the galaxy, joining the Resistance."
My sister Kendra just finished her freshman year of college at UC San Diego, but she'd stayed out there this summer to do her own internship with some start-up tech company full of hot nerds, according to our most recent text convo. A year from now I'll be off to college, too, mostly likely somewhere out of state — hopefully somewhere with my own batch of hot nerds to crush on.
Now it's D-Day, the Sunday before the internship program starts. I've given up on convincing Dad. Tomorrow I'll start my search for a summer job, which I've procrastinated on due to 1) laziness and 2) my intent to spend my summer taking photos for the Faces of Denver contest. I probably don't have a chance of winning that contest, either, but I'd love it if one of my photos made the final portfolio voted on by the public.
My dad studies me from across the kitchen table. We're in the process of devouring an extra-large Hawaiian pizza, a Sunday night tradition that he still makes an appearance for. Tonight, it's just the two of us; Mom is at a church meeting. Dad takes a long sip from his microbrew, then stretches out his legs and narrows his steely gray eyes.
"All right, princess, you win. Tomorrow morning be ready to leave the house by seven thirty."
Stunned, I gape at him.
"You'll earn minimum wage. Interns earn fifteen bucks an hour." He takes another bite of pizza, his eyes still on me. If the pay disparity is supposed to dissuade me, it doesn't. Instead, I'm giddy with victory.
I raise my glass in a toast. "You're on, Vader."
Dad narrows his eyes, but his lips quirk. I hope I made a chink in his business armor. My fun dad is still under there somewhere.
Maybe by the end of summer I'll rip off the Vader mask and find that guy again.CHAPTER 2
"So, what am I doing for the Empire this summer? Plotting the destruction of peaceful planets like Alderaan?" I thought a Star Wars joke might be a fun way to start our first morning as coworkers, but Dad Vader doesn't look amused.
"I'm not the enemy, Laurel," Dad snaps. "Also, I'm your boss, so watch it."
Mom slides us both plates of scrambled eggs, toast, and bacon as we sit at the kitchen counter. Well, I sit. Dad stands, glancing at his watch anxiously.
"Have some breakfast, Rhett," Mom insists.
"No time to eat." Dad slaps together the eggs and bacon inside the toast and gestures for me to do the same. He's in conquer-the-universe mode, so I decide to knock off the jokes, for now.
"You're okay with me eating in your car? What if I spill?" Dad's car is immaculate, unlike Mom's and mine.
He scowls as he yanks a paper towel from the roll, handing me one and wrapping his makeshift sandwich with the other. "We need to go, Laurel. Kristoffs are never late. And they don't spill."
Mom and I share a smirk, but fortunately he doesn't bust us.
"Try not to kill each other today," Mom says cheerfully. She takes a sip of coffee from her "I'm a knotty hooker" mug patterned with colorful skeins of yarn.
"For my part, I promise a homicide-free day."
"No one's going to die," Dad grumbles, grabbing his briefcase.
"In case he's wrong, tell Kendra I love her," I stage-whisper to Mom, who snort-laughs.
Dad's dark eyebrows bunch together, but when Mom stands on tiptoe to kiss him goodbye, he reciprocates way too enthusiastically for this early in the morning.
"Kristoffs don't have time for PDA," I call over my shoulder, grabbing the messenger bag Mom made for me from vintage Star Wars fabric.
Five minutes later I'm a captive in my dad's spaceship (AKA Mercedes SUV) as we begin the stressful rush-hour drive from our faux ranch outside of Castle Rock into downtown Denver.
Dad passes a slow-moving minivan, then side-eyes me. "I'm not a villain like Vader, you know. I prefer to think of myself as Yoda."
"Really? You see yourself as a — — "
"Wise warrior? Yes, I do."
Dad returns his focus to the road as I stifle a laugh. He's the most un-Yoda person I know. As he passes another slow-moving car, I wonder if he's pretending to levitate all the other cars with the Force and fly us straight to his LoDo office.
"I'm excited about the job, Dad. Thanks for giving me a chance." I clear my throat. "What exactly am I going to do?"
"Help out the interns." Dad's frowny face returns. "Isn't that what you wanted?"
Even though I pushed him hard for this opportunity, I'm getting that Han Solo feeling, as in, I have a bad feeling about this. I'm worried he's a corporate dictator, an unyielding Scrooge to a cowering army of Bob Cratchits.
What if my dad really is like Darth Vader and the interns end up hating me by association? Then again, with a huge scholarship on the line they'll probably put up with a lot. That thought makes me even more uncomfortable.
Dad sighs like he just read my mind. "You won't have to foil any secret plots to destroy innocent planets, Princess Laurel. Contrary to your overactive imagination, I don't run an evil empire. Ewok's honor." Dad raises three fingers in the air. "No enemies to take down, either."
Ewok's honor was something he made up when I was eight years old and scared to play soccer with girls more experienced than me. Dad swore on my stuffed Ewok I'd have a great season. I hadn't, but then he'd created a new family motto: Kristoffs Never Quit. Almost ten years later, I've proven his point by earning a spot on the varsity soccer team.
"Let's hope you're right," I say. "My saber skills are rusty from lack of practice."
Dad sighs. "I'm one of the good guys. My company is full of them."
"We shall see," I say dramatically.
We don't argue for the rest of the drive. By the time he pulls into the underground parking garage, I dare to hope this summer will be what I wish for — — the chance to reconnect with my dad.
"A New Hope," I whisper, cracking myself up with a nerdy joke.
"Ready, princess?" Dad's eyes meet mine.
"Take me to your Death Star, Vader."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Spies, Lies, and Allies"
Copyright © 2018 Lisa Brown Roberts.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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