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My palms tingled with nervousness as a light perspiration prickled my brow. This was so not in my wheelhouse, but what the heck! If this summer had taught me anything so far, it was that life was more interesting when you ventured outside of your wheelhouse. Like, way outside.
As an actor, I'm used to opening-night jitters, and that's what this felt like — though I still had the sense that this summer I was "playing against type" (that means pretending to be a character who is very unlike the real me). And tonight would be our big performance — one I didn't want to flub.
Yes, fans, this evening's entertainment would be the annual Junior Lifeguarding Exhibition and Family Picnic, brought to you by Bud Slater and starring the Westham Town Lifeguards. And we, the Junior Lifeguard squad, were warming up our routines for the big show.
"Okay, we've got to try this again," said Jenna, our team captain and one of my best friends, but also a relentless taskmaster.
I groaned. The late-July afternoon sun was blistering and the humid air made it hard to breathe. "Again?"
Jenna gave me a curt nod. "Just act like you're filming some superhero movie, Selena. Now get in the ready position. We go on my whistle on three. One, two ..."
I am definitely more of a romantic comedy actress, for sure not an action hero, but I can act. I dropped to the sand and lay on my stomach, my forehead resting on the back of my wrists like someone in a war movie getting ready to go into battle. Then I reached deep down inside where I find my motivation for all my best roles, and when Jenna blew her whistle, I tried to act like Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman, even though it was a real stretch. I pushed up from the sand, pivoted, and ran fifty yards to where an eighteen-inch length of garden hose stuck out of the sand. Diving for it, I clenched my hand, expecting to grasp the cool rubber but instead feeling only air as I fell. My hair fell from its messy bun and practically gagged me with its weight in my face.
Sputtering, I stood and dusted myself off. Samantha Frankel was brandishing the garden hose high in her fist. I stood there dumbly, coated head to toe in sand, like a piece of Shake 'n Bake chicken. I was no Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman. I wasn't even Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade. I was only me: Selena Diaz, twelve-year-old landlubber lifeguard trainee, hopelessly aspiring movie star, and immigrant daughter of a maid and a gardener.
I sat down heavily in the sand in frustration. Not only had I lost again, but I'd lost to my boss.
"I'm dashing home to change, loves," trilled Samantha in her fancy English accent.
"Righty-ho," I muttered. She crossed the beach to the dune path that leads right to the terrace of her beachfront estate. I usually use this path when I leave the beach, but that's only when the boss isn't in town.
Okay, so, Samantha's not exactly my boss, but her parents are my parents' bosses. My mom is the Frankels' housekeeper and my dad is their property manager, and we live in a cottage on the grounds of their estate here in Westham, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. The family is usually not here much — maybe two weeks at most — but this year, the two Frankel girls are here for the whole summer. And they're staying here in their huge estate with just a dumb male nanny named Nigel to supervise, and no parents at all.
As soon as my mom realized that Nigel wasn't proactive about anything except his own social life (he likes to go clubbing in Provincetown), she stepped in and signed up Samantha to do a summer's worth of beach activities with me at Junior Lifeguards.
Five. Afternoons. A week.
It hasn't been easy.
"Cheerio!" called Jenna after Samantha, waggling her fingers. Jenna and Sam are now kind of friends, which makes our free time outside of Junior Lifeguard training a little awkward. Like, when I ask my besties to sleep over this weekend, will I have to ask Samantha to come sleep in her caretaker's cottage? The social aspects of Junior Lifeguards have really complicated my summer.
On the other hand, doing Junior Lifeguards has been cooler than I had thought it would be. My besties Ziggy, Jenna, and Piper all do it, so we get mad quality time together every afternoon. We've had some fun adventures and I've gotten to meet two celebrities, which has been awesome.
Also, I got to meet a talent scout for the Walt Disney Company. After she heard me sing when I babysat for her kids, she gave me her business card. Honestly, I've looked at that thing so many times in the last two weeks that it's amazing it hasn't crumbled to dust in my hands.
She had asked me to send her some headshots — professional pictures of me looking my best or showing off my skills in one way or other. The only thing is, these pictures cost a lot of money. And if I really want to do them right, I have to have my hair and makeup professionally done, too. Ka-ching! I have a paid summer job at the library three mornings a week, but I am not exactly rolling in the dough and neither are my parents. My mom's in grad school to become an accountant and my dad has his own landscaping business to fund. We don't have a thousand extra dollars lying around for this sort of project. We don't even have a few hundred extra.
"All right, break time," said Jenna, reaching her hand down to hoist me up out of the sand. "Sorry you didn't win that one, but you were closer than ever!"
"I hope I do better tonight." I sighed and dusted myself off. I think the big change in me so far this summer is that I am actually willing to try to win a race against long-legged Sam Frankel. For a total nonathlete like me, that's saying something. And I have to admit, it's thanks to Junior Lifeguards — something I initially did not want to do at all.
"Leeny, please tell me your mom's bringing the arepas tonight," said my friend Ziggy Bloom. She's tiny, but she has a hearty appetite, even if she is a vegetarian.
"She promised!" I smiled because I love them, too.
Piper smoothed her thick blond hair into a fresh long ponytail and grinned at Jenna. "And what is the Bowers clan contributing tonight?"
Jenna Bowers's mom's family runs the biggest and most successful farm stand in the area; people travel from miles around for their homegrown organic produce and freshly caught local fish. But the highlights of the farm stand are their baked goods and prepared foods: salty, crispy fried chicken; crunchy, tart cucumber salad; creamy pesto pasta; spicy pimiento cheese dip; and chewy cinnamon buns dripping with thick frosting, to name just a few standouts.
Jenna laughed. "You all just use me for my food!" Piper pretended to consider this for a moment. "Well, also for your dad's boat."
Jenna swatted her, and Piper shrieked and ducked out of the way.
"Hey, girls." Hayden Jones joined us as all the kids took a break from practice. Hayden is one of the cutest guys on the Junior Lifeguarding squad. Jenna and I both kind of have a crush on him — she a little more than I — because he is very nice but also tall and fit and tan, with sun-streaked brown hair and golden-brown eyes.
But Hayden's a little sketchy — he's kind of unreliable and secretive and prone to being late for things. He lives with Bud Slater, our Junior Lifeguard program director. Bud's an old family friend of the Jones family or something and he's trying to whip Hayden into better behavior, since Hayden's parents are flakes and Hayden got "asked to leave" his last boarding school. I don't usually swoon over preppy guys, but there's something in Hayden's combination of great looks and puppy-dog sadness that makes him irresistible.
"What's up, skyscraper?" I joked, since he is a good fourteen inches taller than I am.
"Want to see the weather up here?" he teased, and he suddenly knelt down, grabbed me around the knees, and hoisted me way up high in the air.
"Hayden! Put me down!" I yelled, flailing, and he swooped me back down to earth. "I could see Boston from up there!" I joked as I caught my breath.
Hayden was laughing. "Now you know what it's like up here, pip-squeak!"
"I'm not a pip-squeak!" I yelled, diving at him and trying to wrestle him. But Hayden was like a sequoia tree — he didn't budge. I backed away, winded.
"You two are like those college cheerleaders on TV," said Piper, smiling. "You know, where they wear the letter sweaters in matching colors and the guy tosses the girl in the air and makes it look all easy?"
"Hmm, maybe we should have put together a routine for tonight." Hayden held his chin in his hand and tapped it with his pointer finger, like he was still considering the idea.
"As if!" I said, turning to Piper. "He'd probably drop me."
I caught a glimpse of Jenna then and realized she was not enjoying this scene a bit. Hayden was definitely a player — he flirted with all the girls — but Jenna had kind of claimed him early on. She didn't like it when she felt like I was flirting back too much. Part of me felt like, too bad, so sad, but Jenna was a good friend and I didn't want to hurt her. So for now, I dialed back the joking around.
"So, Jen, remind me again about the timing for tonight?" I asked.
Jenna looked at her watch. "At five thirty the families arrive and set up. At six o'clock our demonstration starts. I think it should take about half an hour. After that, we eat and then have a five-minute Q&A session for kids thinking of joining the program next year!"
"And then sparklers!" said Hayden, waving his hands in the air.
"Oh, cool! Really?" said Piper.
"I have a bunch and Bud said it was okay to use them." Leave it to Hayden to have some slightly risky doodad to enliven things, I thought.
"Be sure to pick them up when you're finished with them!" warned Ziggy. She's a volunteer on the beach-cleaning crew, and she's always telling us how awful people are about garbage at the beach. She waved her finger at Hayden. "If I find even one sparkler here tomorrow ..."
Hayden laughed. "Scout's Honor. Ìll make sure they all get picked up."
"Hey! Were you a scout?" asked Jenna, her eyes lighting up. She loves all things even vaguely military.
"Uh, no. It's just a figure of speech," said Hayden sheepishly. I think Jenna fell a little bit out of like with him just then.
"Oh," she said, disappointed.
Suddenly one of the other Junior Lifeguards came running toward us from the parking lot. It was Summer, a girl I'm friendly with from science class.
"Hey!" said Summer. "Come check this out! There's a huge tricked-out bus in the parking lot selling life-guarding supplies!"
There were cries of "What?" and "Cool!" and we all grabbed our flip-flops from the kickoff area by the beach fence and scampered up the hill to see what was there.
Sure enough, as I crested the dune I could see a big, flashy Greyhound-sized bus with a red-and-white photowrap over it, showing red crosses and the word "Lifeguard," featuring photos of teen lifeguards at the beach. It was awesome!
"Wow!" We hurried across the parking lot to the door of the vehicle, which was open. A short flight of steps led to the top.
We weren't sure what to do. Jenna looked at us, shrugged, then climbed the steps, calling "Hellooooo?" She looked back at us once more but kept going.
"Helloooo?" she called as she climbed.
Then a singsong female voice called from inside, "Hello! Come on up!"
Was it a little weird for all of us to get on some stranger's bus? Stranger danger? White van? Probably not the smartest thing. But there were a lot of us and Hayden was a big guy, so we piled up the stairs and into the vehicle
Inside, the bus had been completely emptied of all bus-type things (except for a little closet-sized bathroom and a curtained changing area) and kitted out as a store. There were racks and shelves running down either side of the interior — on the right was lifeguarding clothing: red bathing suits for males and females in all sizes, red hoodies, white hoodies, red-and-white lifeguard T-shirts folded in stacks on shelves, flip-flops aligned along the floor in neat rows. On the left were neat racks of surfboards, lifesavers, boogie boards, skimboards, swim fins, paddles, and more. Not a square inch of the space was wasted — there was stuff for sale everywhere. Even the ceiling was hung with all sorts of hats: straw hats, boating hats, baseball caps, you name it — all with lifeguarding themes.
I stood and spun in place. "Wow!" I breathed.
I heard the woman's voice again and turned to look. She was super fit with bleached blond, long surfer-chick hair and a deep tan that made her look, as my mother would say, like a wallet. She might have been thirty or fifty — it was hard to tell.
"So, kids, what'll it be today? Zinc? Goggles? New whistles?" She gestured at a rack of lifeguard whistles all with different colors and styles of lanyards. "Bracelets?" A pegboard held colorful rope fisherman's bracelets and woven friendship bracelets. "A beach umbrella?"
I looked back at the woman as she bounced around, showing us her wares with enthusiasm. Her teeth were bright white and perfectly shaped — like the Chiclets gum we used to get back home in Ecuador — and though she smiled easily, her eyes were narrowed, like she was trying to read our minds.
"I like your shirt. Do you have those for guys?" asked Hayden. The woman wore a fitted white terrycloth polo shirt over red lifeguards' board shorts and flip-flops. A pukka bead choker adorned her neck, and rows of the brightly colored rope bracelets climbed her arm next to an expensive-looking Nixon surf watch.
"Yes, right this way. What's your name?"
Hayden introduced himself to her and they walked back to a rack of shirts at the rear of the bus, chatting away.
"Kinda cool to see all these lifeguarding supplies in one place, right?" asked Jenna. Her eyes were agog.
"Yeah. I just wish everything weren't so expensive." Piper lifted the tag on a fluffy white hoodie to examine it, then quickly dropped it as if it had burned her.
"Who needs all this junk, anyway?" whispered our own little anti-consumer, Ziggy.
Just then Samantha boarded the bus, all changed into a new outfit and with her hair redone. "Well, well, isn't this snazzy! This is just like the Styleliner they have down in the Hamptons."
"There's lots of cool stuff. It's just all pretty pricey," I added unnecessarily. Sam loves to shop and price is of no concern to her. Shopping in the Hamptons is probably just chump change to her.
I have to admit, though, I never get tired of hearing about Sam's glamorous vacation spots. She's got tons of celeb stories and last week we even got to meet Queen Cee, the famous singer Celeste, when we were with Samantha on Nantucket. If I hadn't had the pictures to prove it, I would have thought I'd dreamed it. I sometimes can't even believe the life she lives. It's like a TV show.
By now, the entire Junior Lifeguarding crew was on the bus. It was pretty packed. The surfer lady was showing everyone around and encouraging people to buy things. It was getting a little stuffy and I'd decided to get off, when suddenly a loud whistle pierced the chatter.
There was dead quiet and everyone turned to look at the bus's entrance. Bud Slater stood at the top of the steps with a furious look on his face.
"Junior Lifeguards! We've got an event to put on in twenty minutes! Back to the beach! Now!" and he turned and marched down the steps.
We all looked at each other and then began to scramble after him. Some kids were mid-transaction but we're all so intimidated by Mr. Slater that I could hear them negotiating with the sales lady to come back later.
As we streamed off the bus and down onto the sand, I turned to look back at the bus one last time. I was surprised to see the woman exiting as well, and locking the door behind her. She jogged after us and came down straight to Bud Slater.
I could overhear them talking.
"Sir, I'd like to introduce myself. I'm Farah Hart ..."
"You got a permit to park that thing there?"
"As a matter of fact, sir — "
"Licensed to collect sales tax in the state of Massachusetts?"
I wondered why Bud was being so gruff with this woman.
"I don't want my kids in there during working hours." Bud was stern. "I don't want them hanging around in there at all ..."
"But, sir —"
Bud turned to look at Farah Hart again and he glared straight in her eyes. "We've got a shop here in the pavilion. There are shops down in the town. I don't need some fancy-pants bus blowing in here for a few weeks, pulling business away from local tax-paying entities and distracting all my lifeguards. Lifeguarding is a job and a calling. It's not a branding opportunity."
I started to feel bad for this Farah Hart person. Bud wasn't even giving her a chance!(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Junior Lifeguards, Book 6: Take a Stand"
Copyright © 2018 Elizabeth Doyle Carey.
Excerpted by permission of Dunemere Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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