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Summerlost, Page 2

Ally Condie

  “Want to walk to the gas station and get a Fireball?” Miles asked when I was done.

  Miles was into Fireballs, the huge red kind that you get at convenience stores. Tears ran down his face while he ate them because he couldn’t stand how hot they were but he wanted to suck all the way through one without stopping by the end of the summer. Since the house was in the middle of town, we didn’t have to walk far to get to a gas station, which meant that Miles had learned quickly about every kind of cheap candy, like Lemonheads and Necco Wafers and gum shredded to look like tobacco. My mom wouldn’t let him get the gum, or the candy cigarettes.

  I liked Lemonheads best. They were so sour they made my nose sweat.

  “It’s raining,” I said.

  “It doesn’t matter,” Miles said. “The rain will feel good.”

  I decided to stay put.

  I stayed put a lot, ever since last summer. My mom worried about it because she thought it meant that I was afraid to go out, because of what happened to my dad and Ben.

  I walked over and opened the window. Even with the wind. Even with the rain. I felt like I might as well let all that sound surround me. I curled up on the bed and waited to see if the house would look at me again.

  The black thing came back. This time, in the daylight, I could see what it was.

  It was a bird.

  It was a vulture.

  I had never seen one up close but I recognized it from movies. Or TV. I wasn’t sure how I knew, but I did.

  It looked at me. It probably wasn’t used to anyone living in my room, because no one had for a while. It watched me and the house watched me.

  If the vulture wanted, it could fly right inside.

  “I’m not afraid of you,” I whispered.

  It cocked its ugly red head.

  It knew I lied.


  After the rain cleared up, my uncle Nick brought over an old bike that someone at his work was giving away. “I thought you kids might like it.”

  “We keep saying how dumb we were to leave our bikes at home,” I told him. “Thanks.”

  “I stopped by Sports & More and got a helmet too. I knew your mom would want you to have one.”

  “Good call,” I said. “Would you like a Fireball?” Miles had brought some back, and I had one lodged in my cheek. I almost drooled.

  “Absolutely not,” Nick said. He said it in a nice way though. “I didn’t even know they still made those.” He leaned the bike against the porch. “Where’s your mom?”

  “Out back,” I said. “Working on the deck.” My mom planned to build a deck while we were here. She’d never done anything like that before.

  “I’ll go say hi to her,” he said.

  “Will you tell her I went on a ride?”

  “Sure. Where are you going?”

  “I don’t know,” I said. That was true and also a lie. The minute I’d seen the bike I’d known what I would do, even though I didn’t know where I would go.

  I had decided to follow Nerd-on-a-Bike.


  I’d never had to lie in wait for someone before. It was kind of hard. I put the bike on the sidewalk that led up to our house. Then I sat on the steps wearing the helmet so that I’d be ready to go the minute he came by. I sat behind the porch pillar just in case, even though he’d never noticed me before.

  It didn’t take long. As soon as he was two houses past ours I jumped on my bike and followed him.

  He rode straight down the street. He stopped and waited for a light so I stopped too. I made it through after him.

  He headed in the direction of the college campus. We rode past fraternities that used to be regular houses. One of them had a rope swing hanging from a tree out front, and another had a yard that was nothing but gravel.

  Then we came to the best part of the campus, the forest. It was my dad’s favorite part because of the pine trees that grew there. They were almost as old as the school and stood very tall and straight. The groundskeeper put Christmas lights on the tallest one every year.

  The forest was big enough to feel quiet but small enough that it didn’t feel creepy. A waterfall and a couple of sculptures were hidden among the trees. And outside of the forest was a grassy quad where my mom used to play Ultimate Frisbee when she was a teenager.

  Nerd-on-a-Bike turned into the forest and rode down the squiggly sidewalks under the trees.

  He rode past the quad.

  He rode toward the middle of campus to the theater, which looked like it got picked up out of old England and set right down in Utah. And then I realized where he was going.

  The Summerlost Festival.

  Of course.

  I should have known.

  The Summerlost Festival in Iron Creek was the third-biggest Shakespearean festival west of the Mississippi River. It happened every year on the college campus during the summertime. A big billboard told you all about it as you came into town:


  The Greenshow they did out on the lawn before the plays was fun and also scary because they sometimes pulled people out of the audience to be part of it, and there were always crazy props. One time they had my dad get up to be a prince in a skit. He had on tan shorts and a blue polo shirt like he usually did when he was on vacation. The actors in their tights and peasant dresses surrounded him. He had to wear huge wooden shoes and stomp around on the tiny stage on a quest to rescue one of the actors, who had been cast into a deep sleep by a witch’s spell. My dad had to pretend to kiss her. His face went so red. “My prince!” the princess exclaimed to my dad when she woke up.

  My mother could not breathe, she was laughing so hard. When Dad sat down, he shook his head. I knew he’d hated it, but he’d been a good sport. Mom hugged him and I felt proud of him even though it had been sort of awful to watch.

  Another time, a few years later, we came to see the show and Ben was having one of his hard days and couldn’t stop screaming and yelling. Finally my mom took Ben away to the grassy quad and he rolled down the hill over and over, like a puppy. When he came back, happy and big-eyed and sweaty, he even sat on my lap in a kind of curly way like a puppy would have, but he was a boy.

  My brother was a boy and now he’s not anything.


  “Hello,” someone said, and I looked up. Nerd-on-a-Bike. He’d caught me. My face must have looked funny thinking about Ben because the boy’s face changed. He’d looked as if he was going to say something to me, like he’d had all the words ready to go, and then he said something else instead.

  “You live on my street,” he said. He had dark hair and freckles. I expected his eyes to be brown, but they were hazel. “In the Wainwrights’ old house.”

  “Yeah,” I said.

  “I was going to ask why you were following me.”

  “I wanted to see where you were going dressed like that,” I told him. “I should have realized. The festival. Do you work here?”


  “How old are you?”


  So I could work too. The thought seemed to come out of nowhere. I didn’t know I wanted a job. I didn’t know what I wanted, except to go back to how things used to be, and that could never happen, but I wanted it so bad that it didn’t leave room to want much else.

  “Are they hiring?” I asked.

  “We can find out,” he said. “What’s your name?”

  “Cedar Lee,” I said.

  “That sounds like a movie-star name.”

  I almost said, It’s not. It’s a tree name because my dad grew up in the Pacific Northwest and there was this huge old cedar tree in his yard and for some reason he thought that would be a great name for his first kid, boy or girl, and my mom liked it too, and he always joked that’s how he kne
w he’d found the right person. They fought sometimes but they were super in love, my parents. You could tell that in a lot of ways. They were the same height—my dad was short and my mom was tall—and whenever they dressed up and went out, he never cared at all whether she wore heels or not, whether she was taller than he was or not, even though that was one of those things people seemed to think they should care about. Without her heels they could stand together and they were exactly the same height. Nose to nose. Eye to eye.

  “I am a movie star.” I didn’t know why I said that, when it was so obviously not true, but he grinned. When he did, his eyebrows went up in a very dramatic way, like a cartoon devil.

  “A movie star,” he said. “Like Lisette Chamberlain.”

  I knew right away who he meant. Lisette Chamberlain was the most famous person the town of Iron Creek had ever produced. She got her start at the Summerlost Festival and went on to star in soap operas and movies and then later died under mysterious and dramatic circumstances.

  “What’s your name?” I asked.

  “Leo Bishop,” he said.

  “That’s a good name too.”

  “I know,” he said. “Come on. Let’s go talk to my boss.”


  We parked our bikes out in front of the box office building, in the rack closest to the fountain. It had a pool with a geyserlike spray that went straight up, and then the water ran down like a waterfall over a pie-shaped wedge of concrete jutting out over another, lower pool. When we were kids we climbed back behind the waterfall, even though we knew we could get in trouble for it.

  Leo took me around to the concessions building, which was half timbered and pretend-old-looking, like the theater.

  Once we were inside, Leo introduced me to his boss, Gary, and told him that I wanted a job.

  “The season has already started,” Gary said.

  “But we could use a few more people,” Leo said. “Especially since Annie quit last week.”

  “Have you worked anywhere before?” Gary asked me.

  “No,” I said, “but I babysit a lot. And I have good grades at school. I’m very responsible.” A couple of girls about my age stood watching me. I felt dumb.

  Gary looked at my feet and said, “No flip-flops. Never again. Can you get some sandals by tonight?”

  “Sure,” I said. I had a pair of leather sandals at home that looked like the ones some of the other girls were wearing.

  People milled around the room, all wearing peasant costumes. I saw some older people too, around my grandma’s age. They were the volunteer ushers, who gave directions and instructions and helped people find their seats in the theater.

  “You can train today and tonight,” Gary said, “and then start tomorrow. Your mom will need to sign this because you’re not sixteen. Bring it back with you tonight.” He handed me a form and I nodded. I wondered what my mom would say. Would she agree to this? What was I thinking?

  “You work from one to three in the afternoon and from six to eight thirty at night,” Gary said. “Every day but Sunday. You’re here to sell concessions before the matinees and evening performances start, and during the Greenshow. Then you come back and help clean up afterward. Payday is every other Friday.”

  “Okay,” I said.

  “Lindy,” he said to one of the older ladies. “Can you go to the costume shop and ask Meg if we have anything that will fit?”

  Lindy nodded and left.

  “I’ll have you shadow Leo today,” Gary said. “He’ll show you what to do. Do you have any questions?”

  “I guess I have one,” I said. “What do I . . . concess?”

  Behind Gary I saw Leo grin again.

  “We’ll assign you something later,” Gary said. “For now, learn from Leo.”

  A few minutes later Lindy came back with a peasant skirt and blouse. The blouse was white with ties at the neck. The skirt had flowers on it. They both looked big.

  “It’s the smallest one they had,” Lindy told me.

  I ducked into the employee bathroom to get dressed and I pulled out my ponytail because I’d noticed the other girls all had their hair down. I left my shorts on under the skirt but I balled up my T-shirt and put it on a chair in the bathroom, hoping no one would take it.

  “That looks all right,” Gary said when I came out.

  Gary and Leo showed me all the things they sold out on the yard (as Gary called it). I’d seen some before when I’d been to the festival. Fresh tarts—raspberry, lemon, and cream cheese. They looked like tiny folded-up purses. I wanted to eat one. Bottled water, with the words SUMMERLOST FESTIVAL and the logo, the theater, printed on the labels. Old-fashioned candy in cellophane packages—lemon drops, horehound candy, and taffy in wax-paper twists. Chocolates. And programs. Fancy, printed-up programs. Leo took a basket of those and so I did too.

  Gary had lots of final instructions. “Remember,” he said, “no flip-flops tonight.”

  “I understand,” I said.

  “Take care of your costume. Delicate wash only. You don’t want Meg from the costume shop mad at you. Trust me.”

  “All right.”

  “Don’t forget that you’re in England,” he told me. “In the time of Shakespeare.”

  I nodded. I didn’t point out that I’m part Chinese-American and so the odds that I would have been in England back in Shakespeare’s time were highly unlikely.

  “And,” Gary said, “you’re a peasant.”

  That part felt kind of true thanks to the outfit.

  “Stay in character,” he said, “but don’t use an accent unless you’re given specific permission. The only kid here who has permission to use an accent is Leo.”

  “Okay.” I followed Leo toward the door.

  “Where are you?” Gary called after me.

  For a minute, I didn’t get it, but then I did.

  “I’m in England,” I told him.


  “I’ve actually been to England,” Leo said. “That’s why I can do the accent. Because I’ve heard it in real life.”

  “Let’s hear it,” I said.

  “Oh, you will. Soon.”

  We walked across a brick courtyard with a big tree in the middle. A wooden bench was built all the way around the tree. “It’s not as busy for the matinees,” Leo said. He had a lively voice and talked fast, but not so fast that I couldn’t keep up. “People don’t wander around much when it’s hot. They stay in the gift shop and buy their stuff there or go straight to the theater. The nighttime shows are the big ones, as far as we’re concerned. That’s when the real work gets done. That’s when I break records.”

  “What kind of records?”

  “All kinds of records,” Leo said. “Most programs sold in an hour. Most programs sold in a night. Most programs sold in a week. Gary keeps track of all of it. I’m gunning for most programs sold in a single season, and I’m a lock for that if I keep up the way I’m going. But what I’m most proud of is that one night I outsold everyone in concessions. Do you know how much harder it is to sell programs than water? We’re in the desert. But I did it. One night. One awesome night two weeks ago. And I’m going to do it again.”

  It seemed like Leo had more energy than anyone I’d ever met.

  “So,” he said. “Why did you want the job? What are you saving up for? And don’t say college or a car.”

  “Why not?”

  “That’s what everyone says.”

  “What’s wrong with wanting to go to college or get a car?” I didn’t think far enough ahead for either, but something about Leo made me want to play devil’s advocate.

  “It’s fine,” Leo said, “if you’re specific. Like, Jackie, one of the girls, says college, but she says UC San Diego to study marine biology. That’s fine. And if you know exactly the type of car you want to get: also fine. But vague stuff
is stupid.”

  “Well then, I’m stupid,” I said. “Because I don’t know.”

  Leo frowned. “You can’t think of anything you want?”

  I did not answer that question because right then an older lady walked by and that’s when it happened.

  The accent.

  Leo smiled and, sounding like Oliver Twist or who knows what, called out, “Can I interest you in a program, my lady?”

  I didn’t know if the accent was right. I didn’t know if it was real England or kid-in-a-movie England. What I did see was that Leo’s face lit up and then the lady’s face lit up and his smile seemed as big as the world. Like he loved the world. Like he had no idea what it could do.

  She bought three programs while Leo joked with her in his maybe-real English accent and I stood watching.

  “Impressed?” Leo asked me when she’d gone away.

  “Very,” I said, but I made it sound sarcastic.

  “Let’s hear you try,” he said. “Next time, your turn. With an accent.”

  “But Gary said—”

  “I won’t tell Gary,” Leo said. “Come on.”

  The next person we saw was a man, an old man, with a neatly pressed white shirt and a bottle of water in his hand. He had a nice face and big glasses, and he walked fast.

  “Sir,” I said, and then when he didn’t hear me, I said it louder. “SIR. Could I interest you in a program?” I did not know what was coming out of my mouth, accent-wise. Maybe I was German? Or Italian? Or Irish? Australian?

  He stopped and looked at me and I held out a program.

  “I don’t think so,” he said, pleasantly enough, and then I turned around to see Leo shaking with laughter.

  “What was that?” Leo asked.

  “I’m surprised you didn’t recognize it,” I said. “It’s from a little-known part of England. A very small province.” Did they even have provinces in England? I wasn’t sure. I knew they didn’t have states.