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Glass like Greatness
It’s times like his I wonder how I got roped into this.
And then I remind myself: Oh. Right. I signed up for this. Voluntarily.
I know I’m lucky to have a summer job, and that I should thank my lucky stars or whatever that I worked up the nerve to apply. “You had direction,” my parents would say later, nodding their heads so I wouldn’t notice they were thinking, for once. “Not many kids your age have that,” they’d repeat. That’s their go-to response whenever they ask me what I want to do with my life and I shrug. “Not many kids have focus,” they say. “You need to stand out.” Like I should plan out my life if only so I can be one of the few who do.
They’re not very accurate, anyway. Everyone I know works during the summer, that’s why it’s so hard to find a job. But grownups like to think that adolescence is like a disease or something. No matter what else I am, the fact that I’m sixteen always defines me.
The truth is that while I could use some extra spending money, and a job looks better on a college application than “bummed around the summer before junior year, waiting for school to start so it could finish”, the main reason I applied for the job was Opal Kingsbury.
My parents aren’t exactly fans of Opal, so I kept this hidden from them. But once I found out Opal was spending the summer at Disney, it didn’t take much to get me to apply.
Opal is the kind of person that things happen around. Not that anything of importance—anything real—ever does happen in small, suburban Florida, but if it did, it would happen to Opal. And if nothing does happen, after a few weeks of having nothing more exciting than Macy Lamane’s new haircut to talk about, Opal makes something happen. Or at least, as close to something as she can get. It was Opal who led the first-ever sophomore class prank, outdoing the seniors by releasing rabbits in the girls’ bathrooms. Opal would organize infamously epic games of Truth or Fare at parties—the kind of parties I’m too scared to go to—and manage to be wilder than anyone else and the only one sober. Opal never drinks; she claims she doesn’t want to miss out on anything while she’s plastered (“The only thing that happens is that people get plastered,” I tried to tell her once), but I suspect she just wants to save that experience. There are a long list of contenders to top the “Craziest Things Opal’s Done” list, and I figure she wants to guarantee there’s a boundary left to be pushed.
I balance Opal out. I think that’s why we’re friends. I tag along with her—joining the Mock Trial team with her, taking a minor part in the musical she’s the lead in, accompanying her to a few birthday parties every once in a while. But I draw the line somewhere. I cover for Opal when she’s late for Mock Trial tournaments after spending quality time with the opposing council; I stay at the back of the stage with the freshmen; and I never, ever stay out later than 9:30.
“Honey,” Opal tells me. “You’ve got to live a little. More than you do.”
The thing is that just because I don’t go around trying to make things happen doesn’t mean I don’t want them to. I’ve gone through my life waiting for some Greatness to hit, until I realized I’m not going to find it here. The whole “we’re-bored-so-let’s-go-to-the-same-crazy-party-we-go-to-every-weekend” thing doesn’t seem that great to me. I don’t think Greatness, or at least the kind I’m looking for, can be found in a bottle of warm beer in Jay Marshall’s basement.
But Opal gets to me sometimes. She has this way of coaxing me into her plans, before I balk at the last second. Still, Disney sounded pretty safe. Maybe I could actually stick with her all the way this time.
“Besides,” she had said when she brought up the idea. “You can be Cinderella. She was my fave when I was tiny.”
“Why don’t you just be her?” I said. I had already decided to apply, but I didn’t want her to know she could win that easily. I didn’t like the idea of Cinderella, though. Being the center of every little girl’s fantasies for eight weeks seemed…stressful. I had plenty of that in my life already, thank you very much.
“Honey,” she said. “Look at me. I don’t think society has progressed quite that far.” Opal’s black, which, I hated to admit it, made her chances of playing a white princess slim to none. D*mnit, Disney.
They chose her to be Minnie, which she loved. (“You’re a rodent,” I tried to explain, but she shrugged me off.) It turned out we didn’t even had a say in which character we wanted to be, but they took one look at me (followed by several more looks at the background check we had to submit) and told me I’d be Cinderella. Not that I’m pretty or anything, but being tall and blonde and reasonably thin was good enough.
They were kind of desperate, too. I was surprised. People applied, but not enough to prevent me and Opal from getting hired, which was the case for a lot of kids I knew. Why hire a high school kid when you can get a 25-year-old? It seems like nowhere, from the mall to the local restaurant, was sacred.
No one ever thinks about being a Disney character, though. Like I guess the idea of being a waitress crosses your mind, but playing dress up for a squealing crowd of six-year-olds who complain if your signature’s not princessy enough? Not what I’d call a dream job.
So it turned out that most of our coworkers are also teenagers. Which was pretty lucky for me, because if some mob of college grads had swopped in and taken all our jobs, Opal would have been the one to find some shard of Greatness, and I never would have met Chase Arlington.
This is not a summer about Chase, any more than this will be a summer about Opal, or even me. This is a summer about Cinderella, and having the glass slipper fit, every single day.
I’m not the Cinderella the use in the performance at 4. That’s the big leagues. I’m her understudy, though, and sing autographs for her and walk around the muggy park for hours while the lady who plays her (who might actually be a college grad) puts on her makeup or whatever. The funny thing is, I never did get to meet her.
Chase is in a similar position, only he’s the other Prince Charming. Which means that every day from 10 to 2, I walk around with Chase Arlington on my arm.
The first thing I noticed about Chase was that he was uptight. Chase took this job seriously. I do too, to a certain degree, but I’m not above sneaking through the backdoor of Goofy’s Lemonade Hut a few times a day. Gus gave me free drinks, which wasn’t exactly a park-approved decision, but I considered it employee perks. Florida is hot, and the mass of petticoats don’t help. Chase, however, tried to talk me out of it, and threatened to walk away without me.
He’d make up excuses. “I need this job,” he’d say.
But he also needed me—you don’t come just to see Prince Charming—and I needed to not have heat stroke, so he’d end up waiting outside in the sticky heat. He was trying to prove something about how he was too moral or whatever to take time away from his all-important role as the Stud with the Sword who Signs Autographs, but I always brought him out a drink. Maybe I should have let him swelter in his own stubborn stupidity, but I liked to let him think he was being noble. Though I guess anyone would feel noble in that princely getup.
Chase and I were encouraged to talk as we walked around. The park execs apparently want customers to get a sense of “the real Disney”, as Patrick, our supervisoe put it. It ws with that in mind that Chase and I strolled through the park, chirping away like we were Walt Disney himself. I swear, that man wouldn’t stand a chance against the elaborate plots Chase and I created.
Me: Shall we go to the ball tonight?
Chase: Why of course, darling, for we must celebrate Priscilla’s engagement.
Me: Oh, what a lark!
Chase: And then I must go hunting and strangle six wild boars with my bare hands.
Me: You do know how to charm a girl!
We’d only do this when there were kids around (with some editing about the boars). You’d be surprised how many adults come to Disney on their own. I guess if I were 43 and single, I’d want a reminder of happily ever after, too. But as Chase gradually got rid of the stick up his a**, we decided we could have a little fun (after Chase spent a good five minutes making sure there were no park officials around).
Chase: Shall we go to the ball and celebrate Priscilla’s engagement?
Me: And then six months later we can celebrate her divorce!
Chase: I heard a chipmunk say she and Duke Derek are getting a pre-nup.
Me: So scandalous!
But after trying to be funny and realizing, sadly, that neither of us were, Chase and I started talking. Actually talking. I don’t remember there being a conscious decision to start acting real to each other. But after two weeks, on the hottest day of the whole summer, Chase turned to me and said, “You know, it’s kind of pathetic how many people come here.” It was the first time I heard him without his Prince Charming voice. He was a little higher, a little more uncertain, a little more of who I guess he actually was.
“Tell me about it,” I groaned. “My hand is aching from signing autographs.”
Chase laughed. “Can we call them autographs is they’re not really ours?
“Sure,” I said.
“Autographs,” he repeated. “I guess this is my one shot to feel what it’s like to be famous.”
I probably should have paid more attention to that, but it was pushing 100 degrees that day, and I was worrying about what Patrick would do if Cinderella got sweat stains on her ball gown. “It feels like this,” I said. “Hand cramps and weird costumes that don’t fit the weather. And eight-year-old girls snapping embarrassing photos of you.”
I expected him to laugh, but he just shook his head. “That’s only the part we see. But I kind of like feeling…” he trailed off.
“Important,” I said without thinking.
Chase looked at me. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess that’s right.”
He looked kind of glum about it, and I felt like a twit, so I blurted out, “Well, that’s what everyone wants. Like, to feel important and like you matter and everything. Everyone wants that.” I didn’t know where I was going, but it was hot and I had said something stupid and I rambled on. “Even those people that go down to, like, Ethiopia and build homes for orphans and stuff, they do it so they can feel like they’re doing something meaningful.”
Chase didn’t say anything, so I kept talking. “Everyone worries about that so much that they don’t live, though. I mean, my grandma died when I was, like, ten.” I didn’t know why I was saying this, and to Chase of all people, but , I don’t know, I wasn’t feeling like Cinderella that day. It was too d*mn hot. And after spending these last two weeks talking about balls and trying to fit myself in to this perfect like world, I jumped a the chance of something real. Cinderella melted away.
And without her, all I had was me.
“And I went to her funeral and I just kept thinking, ‘where are all the people?’. There were, like, thirty people there, max, and I kept being like, ‘Is this really everyone Grandma was important to?’ God, her obituary wasn’t even front page of the local paper. It was in the middle, where no one reads, across from an ad for the consignment shop.” I moved to run my hand through my hair before I remembered how it was all coiled up and doused with hairspray, so I let my arm that wasn’t resting on Chase’s hang there awkwardly. I was still practically attached to him, walking around the park like it was normal, but I kept my voice down and watched my feet pass one brick at a time. “But when those people went up to speak about her, they said she had changed their lives. They talked about how she was an angel in her last few years, how she never complained, and how inspiring her fight was against the cancer.” I bit my lip. I didn’t want to tell Chase that I had never really known Grandma; she and Mom had fought a lot. It wasn’t until the cancer kicked in that I met her. But she had found Greatness, somehow, and that was enough.
A gaggle of pink-clad girls was coming towards us. “Incoming,” I murmured. The tallest one saw us and squealed.
I smiled as best I could. “Good morning,” I called, my voice higher than usual. I gave a royal wave. The girls ran over and flipped through their autograph books furiously. Tigers were less eager to kill their prey. They found their blank pages and shoved them into our faces, the pink sparkly pens they whipped out jabbing me in the nose.
I asked each of their names, scrawled, “With much love, your friend Cinderella”, and passed them to Chase. But he was still caught off guard by our conversation. The first girl he handed the book back to scowled after examining it. “Who’s Chase?” She pouted with miniature lips.
“Um, that’s my nick name!” Chase scrambled. “Here,” He ripped the book out of her hands, scribbled “Prince Charming”, and gave a shaky smile. She looked satisfied.
Chase wasn’t though. “It’s not like being famous, though” he muttered as they walked away. “No one gives a d*mn about Chase Arlington.”
We had half an hour for break, thank God, although ours was at a different time than Opal’s and everyone else’s. They couldn’t let us all disappear at once. I grabbed my brown paper bag, wondered if my peanut butter sandwich had melted, and went to the small cast trailer.
I walked in. The last person I ever expected to see with a joint, Chase Arlington, was smoking away.
“What the h*ll?” I said.
Chase whirled around, almost dropped it. The joint hung clumsily between his fingers. Not like I’ve ever smoked—and I shudder to think of the damage a pot arrest would do to my college app—but Chase looked like he was trying to figure out how to hold it.
He was paused, with the joint about to hit his lips.
“Jesus, Chase!” I scanned the trailer. No one except us, but still… “Put that out right now!” I half-screamed, trying to keep my voice down. “Get rid of it before anyone sees!”
Chase looked up. “Why?” he said, just like a child, like he was just curious.
I ripped the joint out of his fingers, sprinted to the bathroom, and flushed it down the toilet. Then I washed my hands for five minutes. I didn’t know if that stuff left traces.
When I went back to the main part, Chase was sitting on his stool, still in his prince outfit., Changing back and forth took too much time, so we ate in our costumes and prayed we didn’t spill.
I sat down on the stool across from him. “What. The. H*ll.”
He looked like he had been caught stealing a cookie.
“Seriously, Chase! I thought this mattered to you! You keep saying you need this job! If someone else walked in, you wouldn’t just get fired, you’d get arrested, Chase!”
“No one else goes in here,” he muttered.
“They could have, Chase! Any one could have! Don’t you see…” I swallowed. I was acting like his mother, I knew it, but of all people…
Chase was staring at the floor.
“Chase?” I said softly.
He looked up, straight at me. “It appears,” he said. “That I am a prince.”
“And this chair,” he continued. “Is eating my leg. Becca, why is the chair eating my leg?”
He looked scared all of a sudden. “Becca!” he said. “Make it stop!”
It was then I realized what he had done. Chase Arlington, formerly one of the most goody-goody people I had met, was officially stoned.
“Chase,” I said again. He glanced up. “Why were you smoking?”
Chase sat there for a minute. Then he fumbled with the fake sword on his belt. Jesus…He held it up to his face and stared at it.
“I,” he said quietly. “Am going to war.”
“That’s great Chase,” I said, trying to be soothing. Maybe I could treat him like the kids I babysat.
“No,” he shook his head wildly. “I’m serious! I’m going in the army. I have it all figured out.”
I couldn’t tell if he was kidding. “I’m enlisting in the fall,” he said. He gave the sword an experimental flick. “So they’ll drug test me in October,” he stabbed the sword through the air. “Which means,” he continued. “That my first and last drug usage has to be sometime this week. I calculated!” he added, nodding. “I’m good at math!”
“The army?” I repeated.
“The army,” he said gravely. He whacked the chair with the sword. “Cross my heart and hope to…” He trailed off.
I didn’t want to think about why he didn’t finish. “So you decided to smoke because you could?” I said. I tried to make it sound like it wasn’t an accusation.
“My dear Rebecca,” he replied. “I could and I wanted to. What other reason is there?” I started to respond but he cut me off. “My brother Robby’s in the Marines,” he said. “But I get so d*mn seasick. I can’t pay for college, didn’t have the scores to get a scholarship, and this has always been a back-up plan. My mom likes the idea of a military man. Honor and glory and all that. My dad was in the army, before he left.”
And I’m sure that was honorable, I thought, but I wanted to let Chase finish. I felt like I was taking advantage of him somehow—like I was hearing things meant for someone else, things that only came out because of the weed, but I couldn’t feel guilty. Maybe I had only said those things to him because of the heat. Maybe we were supposed to say things like this to a different person, but here we were, stuck together, and for no reason at all we were us.
I think there’s a moment when a person becomes real. Looking back on anyone who’s ever been close to me, it always happens in a conversation, in something they do or say. And after weeks with Prince Charming, I wanted Chase to be real so badly.
So I let him talk.
“I’m going into the army,” he continued. “And this is my last chance to have a summer job. To do something stupid and call it work. And I thought it was fitting to go to work at the most concentrated center of childhood before I went off to be more adult than I wanted.” Chase looked like he was about to cry. “So I apply here after getting rejected a few times, and they tell me I’m going to be Prince Charming.”
“And you know what,” he said, his voice rising. “It made me want to be stupid Prince Charming. It made me want to matter and save the day and be a f***ing hero., And then I meet you and you tell me how selfish that is, and…” I guess he notices he opening my mouth to protest. “Bec, you were just telling the truth.” Bec? I thought. “It is stupid, it’s f***ing stupid, and I know I shouldn’t want to be important and all that, even though everyone does. But I don’t even have a life full of stuff I’ve done hat I can fall back on. Like if I die—God, Bec, don’t look so surprised—if I die in the army, I’ll have served my country and all that, but I wouldn’t have done anything. I guess I shouldn’t care if I’m a hero or whatever, but to die without…” His face scrunched up. He closed his eyes and I was so sure he was going to cry, but he didn’t.
“To die without having a life is a tragedy,” he said. “And sometimes I wonder if this qualifies as a life. I know that sounds stupid or whatever, but…”
“Chase,” I started, but Patrick barged in.
“Did you eat at Goofy’s Grill?!” he shouted.
“What, no,” I said. Chase didn’t look that different, I guess, but still, if Patrick noticed…
But Patrick was too wrapped up in bigger issues. “Don’t. There’s something wrong with the salad. Lucy and Ray ate it and are sick. The real you!” He explained. “The Cinderella and Prince in the show! I need you to over for them this afternoon,” He glanced at his watch. “In twenty minutes.” He rushed out of the trailer.
“Wait!” I shouted. “What do we do?”
His eyes narrowed, he looked stressed out of his mind. “You know the f***ing story!” He shouted. “You put on the right f***ing glass slipper!”
Lucy and I are the same shoe size, thank God. I wonder if they pallned it that way, me being just a spare Lucy and all.
I think Chase is okay. I’m hoping everyone around him is too flustered to pay attention to any more, “The stool is eating me” comments.
I have so much makeup on I look like Barbie. You couldn’t find a blemish on me, but hta doesn’t mean I look good. Nicki, who I guess is the resident makeup artist, sprayed a ton of gook on my face to make everything stay, but I can feel it threatening to melt off.
Patrick dashes into my makeshift dressing room and pulls me backstage. It’s a huge platform, and I hear the crowd outside. I guess I should fell nervous, but I’ve become Cinderella so many times that I just slip into her. Everyone running around back stage stops in their step a little to look at me. After all, I’m a princess. I’m important, as important as it gets behind a thin curtain in a theme park in the sticky Florida heat.
Opal runs up to me, still in her mouse shell. “Good luck, Becca!” She squeals and half-hugs me, but I’m Cinderella now.
And then someone pushes me on stage. If I’m surprised, I don’t show it. I think of the script Patrick slammed into my lap while Nicki was painting my face, but mostly I just play my way through the story I’ve been acting all summer.
Chase comes on. We dance, and we should be a mess because we don’t know how to dance like this, and not together, but somehow it works, and somehow his eyes aren’t that bloodshot. And then I’m running from him, letting my shoe fall off and prancing over to the side of the stage.
“I must find her!” Chase declares. He looks straight at me, which he’s not supposed to do, but we go with it. “I must,” he tells me. He brings the slipper over. For the sake of time, the performance skips over some things, makes the happy ending easier to get to. He kneels and places the glass slipper on my foot. It should feel silly, but it doesn’t. “A perfect match!” He shouts.
It’s times like this I wonder how I got roped this. How I became the one to fit Prince Charming’s shoe. How I was the one to see Chase Arlington become real. And then transform seamlessly into what he never would be.
He takes my hand and we spin around for one last dance. And I swear, we look perfect, like we belong on the top of a cake.
Like my shoes aren’t all that’s made of glass.