Bertha the coaster grinds to a halt. The smell of smoking rubber fills my nose. “Lift your arms and wait for the bar to raise,” my voice automatically says. “Exit to your left.”
The human sheep exit the train, and a child’s scream pulls me from the monotonous work.
“Dad, I’m stuck,” the sweet little lamb cries out.
I rush over and squat down, looking in her tear-filled eyes. “It’s okay, sweetheart. You’re so special that Bertha wants you to stay with her.” Her eyes grow larger, and her cheeks look like two ripe tomatoes. “But, the good news is, I have a special key so she can’t keep you.”
I jingle the key in front of her face before inserting it in the release slot. Click. The stuck safety bar pops open, and she jumps out of her seat with relief.
“And now you get a special treat. Do you like ice cream?”
The gentle lamb nods.
“When you exit, go to the right and present this card to Micah at the ice cream stand. He’ll give you a free cone.” She grabs the coupon with her tiny little hand, crumpling it in the process. Her cuteness causes me to giggle as I pat her blonde curly head.
With a smile from ear to ear, she skips to her dad on the exit platform. “What do you say, Zoe?”
“Thank you,” whispers the girl in a sugary voice.
The gate opens, allowing the next sets of sheep to file in, and my auto-play continues. “Pull the bar down until it clicks.”
The sweat rolls down my cheek as I meander to the last cart in the back of the roller-coaster. My chafed thighs burn with each step. When are they going to fix my fans? It’s ninety-seven degrees today with no hint of an afternoon thunderstorm; the thick air feels heavy in my lungs.
I walk the length of the train, tugging on each unmoving bar. Safety check complete. My hand raises, not caring about any potential sweat stains. The extra deodorant applied during my lunch break feels long gone.
A new train with its cheering occupants replaces the outgoing one that is now clicking up Bertha’s wooden hill. And it all begins again. Monotonous. That’s my job.
“Sir, take your sunglasses off, please,” I say, pulling on the safety bar as I see my flushed face in the mirrored frames.
“What do you want me to do with them?” the teen sheep barks. His pinched face makes me want to punch him. I’m usually not a violent person. I blame it on the heat. My grandma always tells me I’m sweet as peaches as she squeezes my cheeks, because I put spiders outside instead of squishing them to oblivion.
My customer service attitude toward hostile teens disappeared once it hit a sweltering ninety-five degrees. “You’re supposed to put them in a locker before getting in line.” But since you can’t read, “I’ll take them and put them on those shelves right over there.” My middle finger points to the shelves at the exit with the sign “WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ITEMS LEFT IN CUBBIES” hovering over. “You can get them on your way out.”
He removes the glasses, revealing sapphire eyes that lighten in the afternoon sun as it peeks into the station. My unchanging brown eyes scream jealousy. “Can you hold onto them for me? They’re kind of expensive.” His friend guffaws and punches him on the shoulder.
I huff and paste a glower on my face, but hang the sunglasses on my collar by the temple. I’m a sucker for blue eyes.
He grabs my hand, forcing me to look even deeper, causing my knees to go weak as a surge of energy courses through my body. “Thanks, Ma’am.” His tone holds condescension, and all five guys he’s with snicker.
I’m not willing to let this guy have any effect on me. My arm jerks from his grip, and then I continue to check the remaining safety bars.
I hate rich kids. And this guy—although his strategically tattered t-shirt and khaki shorts are nondescript—has rich and entitled written all over him. He looks like one of those rock band singers who graces the covers of teeny-bopper magazines. His friends look like they belong in a gym advertisement.
I could accidentally drop and step on the sunglasses, or better yet, I should tell him I lost them then sell them on eBay. The profit would be more than my next paycheck. But that’s not me. The dollar signs dissolve as I shake the mean idea away.
Rich rocker guy’s train returns to the station. He stands, struts over, and tries to grab the sunglasses from my shirt. “Thanks, sweetheart.”
My hand wraps around his wrist with a firm grip causing my knuckles to go white. “Don’t call me sweetheart.” I release him then remove the sunglasses from my shirt and drop them in his awaiting hand.
“Thanks, Ma’am.” He puts on the sunglasses, covering the sparkling beauties, which makes it easier for me to be meaner.
“I’m not an old lady; I’m your age. Don’t call me Ma’am,” I snap and start to stomp off.
“Thank you, Kelsey.” His tone is musical, halting me; his sweet voice won’t sweet talk me. Its cadence is not glazed in creamy milk chocolate and covered in rainbow sprinkles like my favorite donut. Liar.
I cast a sneer in his direction. “How do you know my name?”
His mocking smile causes the hair on my neck to rise. “Nametag.”
Turning on my heels, my ponytail smacks my face as if trying to slap the unusual nastiness away. The laughter of teenage boys echoes behind me as they head out. The tallest one winks at my mean girl co-worker, Willow, as he brings his hang-ten hand up to his ear. Her blinding teeth show as she acknowledges him with a thumbs up. She collects more phone numbers than Bertha’s wishing well, disguised as a feeding trough, collects pennies.
Put your game face back on, Kels. I run to check the safety bars on the next herd of seated guests, smiling at each of them, giving special attention to a boy crying to his older brother. Patting his head with reassurance, I say with a voice as sweet as my favorite donut, “Don’t be scared. You’re going to love Bertha.” He stops pouting and smiles at me.
Ten minutes later, rich rocker guy is back at the front of the line with his sunglasses on, and my bad attitude returns. Wednesdays at the amusement park equal short lines for repeat customers. As he sits down in the cart, he hands me his glasses again.
I slip them in my collar with a roll of my eyes and a snarl to my lips, knowing he forgot about the lockers on purpose. He’s not surrounded by his male chauvinistic entourage.
“Did your winning personality run your friends off?” I ask.
He sneers. “Well, aren’t you funny? They had somewhere to be.”
I turn to the short queue and yell out, “Need a single rider.” Two people raise their hand, the closest being a rotund male. Perfect. I walk over to release the gate and let him through.
Rich rocker guy narrows his eyes and presses close to the opposite side of his seat as the large man squeezes in the cart. Rich rocker guy mimics my sinfully sweet smile as I check his safety bar, ignoring his hard but beautiful eyes and the way those eyes seem to look deep down into my soul. Payback.
Through the intercom, Jett, the lead foreman, says over the clicking sound of rich rocker guy’s retreating cart, “Kels, it’s five. You can go.”
A real smile crosses my face when my fist pumps to victory. I don’t know why I’m excited to leave other than getting out of this blazing heat. I usually stay and work a double when my mom can’t pick me up until ten. Today, it’s just too darn hot to offer myself up for overtime. The cool cafeteria is calling my name, and so is the last book on my summer reading list. Two weeks should be plenty of time to read Jane Eyre before eleventh-grade starts.
A burst of cool air hits my face when I open the door to the control room. “Thanks, Jett. Tell Sophia I said hello, and I hope she gets to feeling better.” I walk over to the panel board and give him a departing fist bump.
I grab my see-through purse from the cabinet, standing for a minute as the icy air blasts me, momentarily relieved. I wipe my sweaty palms on my uniform shorts then hold them up to the vent. Maybe next year, I’ll be tenured enough to work in this luxury. Departing the igloo in revolt, my feet take me down the stairs to the exit, and my eyes squint when I’m blinded by the afternoon sunlight.
Rich rocker guy runs down the stairs toward me, his jet-black hair spiked in all directions and not even flopping. What does he want now?
The sunglasses still dangling from my collar reflect the bright sunlight into my eyes causing them to burn. Shoot. I hand them to him. “Sorry. I forgot I had them. That’s why we recommend the lockers and not the workers.”
I make a one-eighty as the sweat starts to roll down my neck. Cafeteria, here I come. I’m so ready for this scorching work day to end. Only for it to begin again tomorrow, precisely the same. Monotonous. That’s my life. Work. Rinse. Repeat. At least for one more week.
The musical voice draws my attention, and I make an about-face as he steps right in front of me, invading my personal space. “Hey, since you’re off, you want to walk around with me? Ride some rides?”
Is this some lame ass joke? Am I being punk’d? I scoff and elude him, stepping toward the employee gate. What should come out of my mouth is, I live in a trailer down a dirt road. And not a double-wide. A single-wide two-bedroom with my mom and grandma. I share a room with my mom. Why would a rich boy like you want to walk around with a poor girl like me? That would shut him up instantly.
Boys don’t fit in the monotony of my life.