When the Disney World character actors go on strike, teens are hired as replacements. Ella is assigned the role of Cinderella simply because the shoes fit. And every afternoon at three o?clock she gets married to Prince Charming. A perfect dream come true?except Ella doesn?t believe in dreams anymore. Meanwhile, Luke is one of the fur characters (Dale, the chipmunk), and his girlfriend, Cassie, plays his counterpart, Chip. Cassie is perfect in every way, so why does Luke want to be with Cinderella? Then Luke and Ella are brought together during a scavenger hunt, and as they uncover the Magic Kingdom?s hidden treasures, they discover an undeniable magic between them. Perhaps dreams really can come true after all?
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Brad Barkley is the author of two adult novels (Money, Love and Alison's Automotive Repair Manual) and two story collections, the most recent of which is Another Perfect Catastrophe. Two of his books have been Booksense 76 selections. His short stories have appeared in over thirty magazines. He lives in western Maryland where he teaches fiction writing and raises two children, both too smart for their own good.
Heather Hepler grew up in North Texas. She has lived in Reno, on the coast of Maine, in the interior of Alaska, and near Death Valley, but she currently is being held against her will in Tyler, Texas. She holds a Master's in Library Science from the University of North Texas and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine. She works as a reviewer for VOYA, Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, Library Media Connection, and The New York Times. Her first novel, Scrambled Eggs at Midnight (Dutton) is set for release in May 2006. The second, The Dream Factory (Dutton) will be released Spring 2007. Her writing has also appeared in the Southwest Review and the Cincinnati Review.
“Where do you want to go?” Luke keeps watching me with this half-grin on his face.
I pull my feet up on the bench. “To the moon?”
“Okay, ding dong. Somewhere in the park.”
“Ding dong? We’re at the name calling phase of our relationship?”
“Ella, we need to focus here.” Luke slides his hands into the pockets of his jeans and rocks on the balls of his feet. The same grin. The same light that keeps flickering across his eyes. “Where in the park do you want to go?”
“Anywhere?” I tilt my head and look up at the handful of stars that can shine through the light of the park.
“I want to see the inside of the castle.” I smile back at him, knowing it’s an impossible task. No one goes inside the castle. Not even the security guards.
“Done,” Luke says, raising his eyebrow. I hear a jingle in his pocket. “Close your eyes. I want to show you something.” I close my eyes and wait. I hear the jingle again, louder as he pulls his hand free of his pocket. “Okay,” he says. “Open them.”
“You want to show me your keys?” I look at the ring of maybe fifty keys dangling from his hand. “It does take a real man to pull off a Tinkerbell key chain.”
“Okay, ding dong. These are not my keys.”
“Again with the ding dong.”
Luke fishes in his pocket again and pulls out a folded piece of paper. “These are Bernard’s keys. And this,” he says, passing me the paper, “is a list that tells you what key we need to go anywhere in the park.”
“Where did he get all those?” I ask, reaching out to brush my fingers against the keys hanging lowest on the chain.
“He just told me that thirty years on the force has its benefits.”
“The force. That must have resonated with you, young Jedi.”
Luke sighs and rolls his eyes. “You’re never going to stop, are you?”
“Of course,” I say, unfolding the paper and scanning down the list. I look back up at Luke and smile. “Like maybe when we’re seventy.”
“No, you won’t,” he says. “We’ll be sitting out on the front porch on our rockers, half deaf complaining about our rheumatism, and you’ll still be cracking Star Wars jokes.”
I lower my voice as low as it can go and breath slowly and heavily. “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” I start laughing before I can even finish.
“How do you know all this stuff?” Luke asks, squinting at me. “I mean, I get the obvious ones, but that’s pretty obscure Darth Vader.”
“Ash was a real Star Wars freak.” It’s the second time in a long time that I’ve said his name out loud. Both times to Luke. And when I’m talking to him, it feels okay. It feels just right, like this is exactly where I’m supposed to be. Doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. “How about you? You must know tons of stuff.”
“Not me,” he says, jangling the keys. “I think on a much higher plane than that. I spend my time asking life’s bigger questions.”
“Like, who ate the last brownie?”
“That was one time.” He smiles at me and reaches for my free hand. “Come on, princess. We have a castle to check out.” We walk in silence for a few minutes, his fingers woven into mine. I’m almost afraid to breathe. Afraid to break the bubble around us. Afraid if I do he’ll let go of my hand. Luke looks over at me and smiles.
“Wonderful girl. Either I'm going to kill her or I'm beginning to like her." This time we both laugh and underneath it all I can feel his fingers tighten around mine, trapping each one with his. He’s inside the bubble too and both of us are holding our breath.
It was weird ending the date, if you could even call it that. It was more like three friends going out to eat and shopping and taking along their very beautiful and very angry pit bull. Even before we could all get through the doorway into the dorm, Cassie had said good night and was climbing the stairs to the second floor.
“I think that went well,” Mark said, smiling at us.
“Sarcasm?” Luke said, running his fingers through his hair. “This is a weird night.”
“So are you going to look in the box?” Mark asked, pointing to the cardboard shoebox tucked under Luke’s arm.
“Should we?” Luke asked. He looked at me and I shook my head.
“Let’s wait until tomorrow. Get a little space between tonight and the surprise.” What I didn’t say is that I wanted to open it when it was just Luke and me.
“Good idea,” Luke said, lifting the box up to his ear and shaking it slightly. “No fair peeking,” I pushed his shoulder and noticed Mark looking at us, watching us, but when he saw me looking at him he just smiled.
“You going up?” I asked Mark. He nodded at me and turned toward the stairs.
“I’m going to stay up for a while,” Luke said, turning toward the TV room. He looked back at me once before disappearing around the corner.
“Hey,” I said, catching up with Mark on the stairs. “Thank you. It was fun.” I reached out and briefly touched the collar of his shirt, sliding the soft fabric through my fingers.
“It was, wasn’t it?” he asked, putting his hand over mine. “Ella, it’s okay, you know.” He squeezed my hand with his.
“What is?” I tilted my head at him, watching. He leaned back against the wall and smiled at me.
“You aren’t going to make this easy on me, are you?” I shifted a bit and leaned against the wall straight across from him and looked down at my feet. “Ella, anyone can see it. I mean, everyone can see it.”
“Luke…” I said, my voice barely above a whisper. We stayed like that for a few moments, listening to the noises spilling down on us from the floors above. A series of thuds followed by a door slamming and then footsteps coming down the stairs.
“You two should be together,” Mark said softly. The footsteps stopped a couple of stairs up from where I was standing. Around the corner and out of my sight. “Hey,” Mark said to the person standing there.
“Am I interrupting anything?” Robin Hood asked, jumping down the remaining steps and landing with a thud next to where Mark was standing.
“Just talking,” I said, still staring at my feet.
“You okay, princess?” Robin Hood asked. I just nodded without looking up at him.
“I was just telling her that sometimes the prince and princess don’t live happily ever after. At least not together,” Mark said. I looked up at him, but he was still smiling.
“You’re dumping her?” Robin Hood asked.
“I’m right here,” I said.
“Not exactly,” Mark said, shifting so that he was looking more at Robin Hood than at me.
“She’s dumping you? Man, bitches. You can’t live with them—“
“I’m still right here,” I said. “No one is dumping anyone.”
“I was just telling her that maybe she needs to rethink her fairy tale,” Mark said.
“Maybe get a little chipmunk action,” Robin Hood said. He laughed, and Mark and I looked up at him. “What?” Robin Hood said. “You know it’s true. I just gave your roommate her laundry payment. Looks like Prince Charming beat me to it with you.”
“How’s that?” I asked. He just rolled his eyes at me and jabbed Mark in the shoulder.
“Come on, prince. What do you say to a couple beers to chase away the heartache?”
“Sure,” Mark said. “Just give me a minute.” Robin Hood pushed past us and down the stairs. We listened as the heavy sounds of his footsteps grew fainter. Then his voice, from downstairs.
“Luke, my man. We were just talking about you.”
Mark shook his head and smiled at me.
“It really is okay, Ella.” He touched my cheek with the tips of his fingers. “The thing about fairy tales is they’re only as real as you make them.” He smiled again, shrugged. “I think I will have a beer. Maybe two.”
“Wow,” I said as he stepped past me and started making his way down to where I could still hear Robin Hood talking to Luke. “It really is a weird night.”
“The weirdest,” Mark said. I kept standing there until I could hear his voice along with the other two, then I headed up to my room.
“We’ll have to be pretty quiet,” Luke says, squeezing my fingers before releasing my hand. “When I was here earlier, I dropped the keys and it sounded like the whole castle exploded. Something about the acoustics in here.” He’s right. Even whispering, several feet away from me, sounds like he’s talking normally, maybe even loudly, right in my ear.
“Wait, what do you mean when you were here earlier?”
“I had something to drop off,” he says, climbing the stairs to the balcony, but instead of taking a right out to where I usually greet my wedding guests, he veers left and climbs another short flight of stairs to a door marked “Private.” I stand on the step just below him and place my hand on the small of his back. He looks over his shoulder briefly, smiling at me and then back at the ring of keys in his hand. “Here it is,” he says, freeing a key with the number 17 printed on it in black marker. He presses the key into the lock, turning it once to the right. “It sticks a bit,” he says, pulling the handle toward himself.
“How do you know?”
“I told you, I was here earlier. I didn’t want to get here and have the key not work.”
“How did you know I’d pick the castle?” Luke pushes down again on the handle and the door pops free from its jam with a sharp snap, which echoes down the stairs.
“Shhh,” I say, pressing my face into the center of his back to keep from laughing.
“Shhh yourself,” he says. “Come on. I didn’t go all the way in before. I didn’t want to see it without you.”
“How will we be able to see anything?” I ask, stepping up and through the doorway after him.
“You’ll find I’m full of surprises.” Luke reaches down and feels around on the floor before standing. “Here, you hold this,” he says, handing me our surprise box. “Voila.” Suddenly the whole area we are standing in is bathed in a pale pink light. I look at the flashligh...
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Book Description Book Condition: New. Dream Factory. Bookseller Inventory # BBS-9780525478027
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