Vegas, page 1
Summer Road Trip
Written by Nick Day
Copyright © 2018 by Abdo Consulting Group, Inc.
Published by EPIC Press™
PO Box 398166
Minneapolis, MN 55439
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America.
International copyrights reserved in all countries.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without
written permission from the publisher. EPIC Press™ is trademark
and logo of Abdo Consulting Group, Inc.
Cover design by Christina Doffing
Images for cover art obtained from iStock
Edited by Rue Moran
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Names: Day, Nick, author.
Title: Vegas/ by Nick Day
Description: Minneapolis, MN : EPIC Press, 2018 | Series: Summer road trip
Summary: After both getting rejected by their prom dates, two best friends, Mitch and Kendra, decide to leave their high school woes behind. What follows is a wild ride through roadside diners, the endless desert, the alluring Las Vegas Strip—and encounters with danger Mitch and Kendra hoped to never find.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016962619 | ISBN 9781680767278 (lib. bdg.)
| ISBN 9781680767834 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Adventure stories—Fiction. | Travel—Fiction. | Teenagers—Fiction.
| Las Vegas Strip (Nev.)—Fiction | Young adult fiction.
Classification: DDC [FIC]—dc23
LC record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/2016962619
This digital document has been produced by Nord Compo.
To Ryan, Ben,
Dylan, Ella, and Brendan
MITCH MATLIN HAD ALWAYS BEEN A ROMANTIC. AT just four years old, he would beg his parents to let him re-watch, over and over again, their dusty VHS copy of An Affair to Remember. He had a Breakfast at Tiffany’s-themed eighth birthday party. In his teenage years—when everyone is hiding something—Mitch was forced to keep his love for romance on the down-low. But now, in his senior year of high school, Mitch had finally found the perfect outlet for his lifelong obsession: prom.
It was a rainy, sticky May night in Salt Lake City, and Mitch was up late finalizing his plans. The next day—a Thursday, the day before prom tickets went on sale—he was going to absolutely nail it. East High had been buzzing for months about this year’s prom. The theme was “A Night on the Las Vegas Strip,” which would include poker tables, a big-band orchestra, and even more glamour on display than usual.
Mitch had been perfecting the plan his entire life, and now it would be put into motion. It was a plan so perfect, Mitch thought, that it would work on anyone—even Nora Dickinson, the class valedictorian, class president, and unanimous Homecoming Queen, four years in a row.
It didn’t matter that he and Nora barely knew each other, Mitch consoled himself. The perfect ask—and this would be textbook—was universal.
The old-school ’80s boom box sat at the end of Mitch’s bed. Beside it sat a blank cassette tape he had just bought at Walgreens down the street. When he laid the tape down on the checkout counter, the cashier, a white-haired older woman, looked at him while smirking and said, “Even I don’t remember how to use these things!”
Making a mixtape—not a mix-CD, not a Spotify playlist—was integral to the plan. But now, looking at the boom box and the tape, Mitch realized he had no idea how to make one.
“Come on, Matlin,” Mitch muttered to himself. “You’re gonna lose out on Nora because you can’t figure out how to use a cassette tape? You’re never gonna get anyone to love you unless you cure your bad case of Too-Millennial-to-Function disease.” He rubbed his hands through his shaggy brown hair, coming close to pulling it all out in agony.
Rather than blindly trying things and risking breaking the stereo, Mitch picked up his phone and called the one person he knew could calm him down. After just one ring, a voice came up on the other end.
“Kendra!” Mitch exclaimed. His best friend for years, Kendra would listen and probably get him back on the right track. The whole issue of prom dates would have been much simpler if Kendra and Mitch had any romantic interest in each other, but that was never going to happen. After so many years of being friends, they treated each other like siblings. And siblings don’t usually go to prom together. “Things are getting really desperate over here,” Mitch said.
“What, you get caught in your zipper again?” she asked, laughing at her own joke.
“Spiritually, yes!” Mitch said. “I’m trying to make this effing mixtape for Nora.”
“Whoa,” Kendra said, sounding genuinely surprised. “Dude, this is so last-minute! I thought this was your Plan of a Lifetime.”
“I know, I know,” Mitch said. “I’ve been picking out songs for months, but I didn’t realize actually making it would be so complicated. This thing I found online says I have to play the whole song out loud from the radio and record it to the tape while it’s playing! That’s gonna take hours!”
“Yeah, man,” Kendra said. “Times were tough back in 1985.”
“There’s no other way to do it?”
“I don’t think so,” Kendra said. “I mean, the last time I made a mixtape was for my elementary school boyfriend. I kind of gave up after that. I think it was just ‘She Will Be Loved’ over and over again.”
“Well, at least my song choice is better than that,” Mitch said. “Want to hear what I picked?”
“Not really, bro,” Kendra said. “I’m putting the finishing touches on my plan, too.”
“You don’t sound as stressed out as me,” Mitch said. “I’m jealous.”
“Well, I’m not going overboard like you,” Kendra said. “I’m going for subtlety. I know that’s what Adam wants. So, the flash mob is only gonna have forty people instead of a hundred. Seems good, right?”
Mitch could practically hear her winking on the other end. He smiled. Kendra was just as much of a hopeless romantic as he was. “I just can’t get over that you’re asking him,” he said.
“Hey, join me in the twenty-first century, dude,” Kendra said. Mitch could hear her smirking on the other end of the line. “Jenny Lewis asked Dante King two years ago. Do you remember who Dante King was?”
“Of course,” Mitch said. Dante King was the captain of the basketball team that year—the team that had won East High’s first state championship in the history of the school.
“Right,” Kendra said. “And when he said yes, she officially changed the game. She was like the Susan B. Anthony of prom.”
“I can’t even believe how confident you are,” Mitch said. “I’ve come close to scrapping the whole thing, like, eight times tonight.”
“My plan is foolproof,” Kendra said. “I mean . . . at least I actually sort of know the guy I’m asking.” Mitch’s stomach sank at Kendra’s diss.
“I know,” he said, sighing. “But, like, she knows who I am, right?” Kendra didn’t answer right away. “Right?!” Mitch bellowed.
“Dude,” Kendra said. “I don’t know what that girl knows. I’m just . . . I’m a little nervous for you, man. Why don’t you ask someone you actually know? It wouldn’t even be fun to go with Nora, she’d probably ditch you as soon as you got there!”
“But none of the girls I know see me like that,” Mitch said. “You know it’s true. Sure, there’s Molly and Janelle and Julia and everybody, and of course I like them, but they’ve totally friend-zoned me! I’m trying to get a smooch at the end of the night, know what I mean?”
“I hear you, I hear you,” Kendra said. “Right there with you.”
“Go big or go home,” Mitch said.
“Alright, I should go,” Mitch said, looking back down at the boom box and the tape. “I have ninety minutes of my perfect playlist to listen to while hoping this big hunk of plastic actually still does something.”
“Word,” Kendra said. “Hasta mañana.”
Kendra tossed the phone down on her desk beside her computer. She was glad Mitch had a reason to hang up—she was working against the clock, too. Because unlike what she had told Mitch, things weren’t exactly going according to plan.
Kendra’s fingers flew over the keys of her MacBook as she responded to the endless Facebook messages rolling in. The flash mob she had planned for tomorrow, aimed at winning Adam Green’s heart, was crumbling. Kendra had asked one hundred people to take part in it, knowing that some would cancel. But now more than seventy had cancelled on her, and the remaining thirty were on the brink.
“Ten people is not a flash mob,” Kendra whispered to herself. “That’s not even a flag football team.”
On paper, the plan was genius. Who could say no to a performance by East High’s award-winning music and theatre students? She made an a cappella arrangement of Adam’s favorite song, “MMMBop” by Hanson—his parents’ favorite band from the ’90s—and choreographed an entire number. The mob was going to assemble right at the end of the school day, surrounding Adam and Kendra, and standing there, immersed in the music, Kendra would pop the question.
But now, looking at the messages popping up on her computer screen, Kendra was sweating bullets.
Hey girl, ugh my mom needs the car so I have to get home right after school tomorrow, sry!
Yo I didn’t have time to learn the music, count me out
So sorry, I’m gonna be up late studying tn so I’ll have to go right home and fall asleep lol ugh, I’m such a grandma!
And on and on.
Don’t worry about the music! Kendra typed frantically. Just lip-sync, I’ll play the song out of my Jambox!
She responded to another, from Maya Anderson, hoping she was still online to read it. I’ll bring you a Red Bull! It’ll just be five minutes, you don’t even have to dance if you’re tired, just stand there smiling!
Kendra untied her long jet-black hair from its ponytail and wound it all up in a topknot. She went to her bed and grabbed the small stuffed Jack the Jackal doll she’d had since before she could remember. Kendra got up early on Saturday mornings to watch Jack the Jackal cartoons from preschool to the end of middle school, when she forced herself to stop watching them, since it was kid stuff, and she was no longer a kid. She held the doll under her chin and nuzzled it, the only thing that never failed to make her feel better. “Oh, Jack,” she cooed. “What am I gonna do?”
She had the increasing feeling that things were not going to turn around in her favor. Of course it happens this way, Kendra mused. The two most romantic people at East High aren’t interested in each other and can’t get anybody else to pay attention.
The next day flew by in one big blur. Kendra had a critique done on her charcoal drawings in art class; she could barely remember a word anybody said, positive or negative.
Suddenly, it was almost 3 p.m., game time. Kendra, sitting in Calculus, played out the whole event in her head: the courtyard outside the main building, covered in dewy grass; the sun peeking through the low-hanging clouds; people milling about in every direction, headed to buses and cars—and then, bam!
Kendra ran through in her mind the list of twenty names she had talked back into participating. Maybe, she thought, that’s the perfect amount for Adam. He doesn’t like being the center of attention anyway!
Anticipating the end of class, the other students around her got up, packed their bags, and lingered near the door. Mr. Krulich, their crusty middle-aged teacher wearing a Utah Jazz T-shirt, turned around in his creaky desk chair. “Hey now,” he said, “that’s all fine, but don’t go until—”
The bell rang, cutting him off, and the students bolted out the door. Kendra pushed forward through the mob, knowing that time was of the essence. She spotted Adam ahead of her, as planned. Kendra knew that Adam’s seventh-period class was just across the hall. She pulled out her phone and texted the group thread with all the flash mob participants: It’s go time! Courtyard in three minutes!
Her stomach churning, Kendra bustled on, keeping an eye on Adam. Then, appearing seemingly out of nowhere, came Mitch, walking in the opposite direction. He smiled at her as he spotted her, and held up his hand for a high five.
“Go get ’em, tiger,” Mitch said.
“You, too,” Kendra muttered nervously, giving him a tepid slap on the palm.
Hurrying down the main staircase towards the front door of the building, Kendra checked her phone again. No responses on the group thread. Well, Kendra said to herself, that’s probably no big deal. Everybody’s leaving class. They know the plan. Why would they need to look at their phones? She kept repeating this to herself as her feet pushed onward, seemingly of their own volition.
Suddenly, she was throwing open the front doors and walking into the courtyard. She immediately stopped short as cold, fine, misty rain settled over her head and face and started soaking into the fabric on her Keds. My adorable, out-of-the-box fresh, baby-blue Keds!
Umbrellas sprang up all around her, and people hurriedly walked to buses and cars. Kendra wanted to scream, No! Wait! Just slow down!
She kept an eye on Adam, watching him make his way across the courtyard. Adam was without an umbrella. Sensing her opportunity, Kendra bolted across the sodden grass toward him, slinging her backpack off her shoulders.
“Adam!” Kendra called brightly, coming up behind him. Adam stopped and turned to look over his shoulder and smiled upon seeing Kendra. His chestnut-brown eyes meeting hers made Kendra lose track of where she was and what she was doing, and she had to mentally slap herself to stay focused.
“Oh, hey!” Adam said. “Hey, I was gonna text you—do you want to get a group together to see the new Avengers movie this weekend?”
“Uh, sure, that sounds good . . . ” Kendra started. The last thing she wanted to talk about right now was the stupid Avengers! Trying to stay on topic, Kendra looked for a grand gesture. “Here,” Kendra grunted, hiking her own backpack up over Adam’s head, only somewhat protecting him from the drizzle. Adam stood three inches taller than Kendra, and immediately she realized she did not have the muscle mass to keep this up for long.
“Oh,” Adam said. “Thanks.” He looked completely confused, as if he was looking at a new animal species no one had ever seen before.
“No problem,” Kendra said, though her arms were already shaking. She cursed herself for bringing her AP Chemistry, Spanish, and English textbooks home for the night. Gritting her teeth into a smile, she said, “Wow, it sucks out here.”
What?! “It sucks out here”? Kendra wanted to slap herself.
But Adam laughed. “Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “And I was getting all excited for it to be a nice, pretty spring day.”
“Yeah,” Kendra managed.
“Well, I should keep walking,” Adam said, putting one foot in front of the other.
“Oh yeah, me too,” Kendra said. She started walking in exact time with Adam, still holding the twenty-pound backpack aloft.
“You really don’t have to keep doing that,” Adam said. Kendra frantically looked around the courtyard for everyone—anyone—who said they would do the flash mob. Where were they? Had all of her friends bailed on her? Really?
They were nearing the street, where Kendra knew that Adam would turn left and get on the number seven bus home. Realizing she was going to have to do all of this herself, Kendra pulled the backpack down, and leapt in front of Adam, blocking his way.
“Mmm-bop, dip a dop da ooh bop, ba doo-ee-oo ba, mmm-bop dip a dop da-ooo, yeah, yeah,” she sang, trying desperately to remember the tune to the stupid Hanson song. Could Adam even tell what she was trying to do? Did
Kendra smiled broadly, now wild-eyed with desperation. She spread her arms wide and forcefully step-touched side to side like a demented Madonna backup dancer.
“What . . . is happening?” Adam asked, slack-jawed. “Are you okay?”
Kendra stopped, breathing hard. She dropped her backpack on the sopping-wet grass. Her mouth dry and her arms trembling from overexertion, she looked up into Adam’s eyes and forced a big smile.
Across town, Mitch was close to hydroplaning on his Schwinn road bike as he flew towards his house. The rolling streets of his leafy neighborhood were slick with rain, but he refused to slow down. This afternoon was all in the timing, and if that meant skinning a knee, or running part of the way because his bike broke in half, so be it.
Skidding into his driveway, Mitch hopped off his bike and bolted into his house. Charging up the stairs, Mitch slipped off his backpack and chucked it on the floor just inside his room. Quickly, he pulled out his phone and checked his texts. There was one from his friend Danny. Since Danny lived across the street from the Dickinsons and went to a different school that let out earlier in the day, Mitch had charged him with sentry duty.
Still not home, bro, Danny had said. That message had come in ten minutes ago.
How bout now? Mitch texted, his thumbs trembling. Knowing he couldn’t do anything without a green light from Danny, Mitch stood stock-still in his room, staring at the screen. Then:
Dude, nice timing. She just pulled in.
Without responding, Mitch shoved the phone back in his pocket. Checking the tape deck in the boom box to see that it was loaded and ready to go, Mitch grabbed the boom box, cradling it in his arms like a huge, unwieldy baby.
“Oh man,” Mitch muttered to himself. “I should have been training for this.”
He bounded down the stairs and back out the front door, still carrying the boom box. It was a twelve-minute ride to Nora’s—he’d timed it—so if he hurried, there was no way he’d miss her.