Authors: Shana Norris
Copyright 2011 by Shana Norris
Cover photograph: Copyright 2011 by iStockPhoto/Morton Photographic
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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If there was one thing I hated more than anything else in this world, it was Giant Hot Dog Day. The late April sun beat down on me, heat radiating from the sizzling sidewalk as I stood outside Diggity Dog House in a big red hot dog costume complete with two zigzags of mustard and ketchup snaking up my stomach and enclosed in a fluffy pillow of bun.
The costume always smelled suspiciously like sweaty, fungus-infected feet, and the current heat wave settled over Willowbrook made it much worse. I tried to breathe through my mouth as much as possible when inside the hot dog to spare my nose from the fumes. Seeing anything through the screen mesh over the small hole in front of my face was nearly impossible. The only good thing about this was that anyone standing outside the costume was unable to see who was inside, so at least the cheerleaders I vaguely recognized as sophomores from my school didn’t know who exactly it was they laughed at. I gave them my best wave with my puffy white gloved hand as they passed into the diner, causing them to giggle even harder.
hated Giant Hot Dog Day.
“Look, Bailey,” a woman said, clutching the hand of a boy who didn’t look more than three. She pointed at me and grinned down at him. “It’s Bob the hot dog!”
The kids of Willowbrook loved the giant hot dog. When you were forced to live far away from Disney World or Six Flags or any place that might have cute and cuddly mascots walking around, a giant hot dog worked to fill the void.
“Hot dog!” the boy cried, giving me a drooly grin.
I patted him on the head and turned around to continue my mascot duties.
But the little boy wasn’t done with me yet. “Dance!”
Oh, no. Not happening, kid. I’d wear the costume, but there was no way I would do the Hot Diggity Shuffle. Not on the corner of Hawkins and Main Streets in one hundred degree heat for everyone in town to see.
I raised the roof with my arms a bit, hoping that might appease him. I attempted some telepathy with his mom.
You’re starving for a Diggity Dog Loaded Special,
I sent the silent message her way.
Go inside the restaurant and leave me to my misery in peace.
Apparently telepathy wasn’t my strong suit. The mom and the boy remained where they stood on the sidewalk in front of me.
“Dance! Dance! Dance!” the boy ordered, stamping his feet.
That kid could really screech for someone barely three feet tall. If he kept this up, my manager Mr. Throckmorton would come outside to see what was going on and then I’d get written up for not doing the shuffle. Again. I was on dangerous territory already because I had received two strikes against me in the last month. One for sneaking a milkshake to my best friend Molly five minutes after ten and the second for forgetting my hot dog hat at home on a day I was supposed to run the register.
There were only three Unbreakable Rules at Diggity Dog House:
Number 1: Closing time was at exactly ten o’clock. Not one minute after. Ten on the dot.
Number 2: All counter attendants must wear the hat featuring a big plastic hot dog across the forehead at all times during their shift.
Number 3: Bob the Hot Dog has to do the Hot Diggity Shuffle whenever asked.
“Okay, okay,” I growled. The shuffle was this stupid dance Mr. Throckmorton made up involving a kind of tap dance move—step, step, shuffle, step, shuffle, repeat—while swinging your arms from side to side. And then for the finale, you jumped around and shook your
at your audience.
But the little boy loved it. He grinned wide and clapped his pudgy hands.
Just as I jumped around to shake my bun to the little boy’s screeching laughter, a voice shouted, “Look out! Runaway shopping cart coming through!”
Being encased in a bun of foam made sudden movements impossible. I managed to see a blur of blue and gray before something slammed into my hip, sending me flying backward. I landed flat on my back on the sidewalk.
Getting up in giant foam hot dog was also impossible. I flailed back and forth, trying to work up enough momentum to flip myself over.
This must be what it felt like to be a turtle.
Someone grabbed my arm and pulled me into a sitting position. “Are you okay?” a vaguely familiar voice asked.
I opened my mouth to say I was fine—foam hot dog was surprisingly good for pillowing a fall—but another, much more familiar voice stopped me.
“I told you to leave the shopping cart alone,” Hannah Cohen snapped.
Her boyfriend, Zac Greeley, knelt in front of me, holding my puffy gloved hands in his as he tried to help me up. A rusty shopping cart lay on its side next to us, one wheel still spinning.
Zac and I only vaguely knew each other from school. I didn’t know what he and Hannah could possibly have in common. While Zac’s wrinkled clothes and eternal cowlick in the back of his hair indicated that he apparently rolled out of bed and threw on the first thing he grabbed from the floor, Hannah always looked neat and put together. She was president of the junior class student council (I was vice president), vice president of math club (I was president), and the girl who was currently tied with me for highest GPA in our class. In other words, Hannah was my official arch nemesis.
She was also once my best friend, a lifetime ago.
They didn’t know it was me inside the giant hot dog. Thankfully, the costume included foam legs and feet in addition to foam arms and gloves, so I was completely covered and they couldn’t see the embarrassed flush creeping up my neck at this fiasco.
“Sorry, sorry!” Zac pulled me to my feet, grabbing hold of my arms when I stumbled a bit as I tried to catch my footing. “Next time I’ll remember to figure out how to steer before I decide to ride a shopping cart down the sidewalk.”
He grinned, looking like an impish little boy. From what I knew of Zac, riding a shopping cart down the street was only one of many things he’d done, or was rumored to have done. I still wasn’t sure I believed the rumor that he’d danced an Irish jig in nothing but green boxers in the cafeteria on St. Patrick’s Day.
Again, what did he and Hannah have in common?
There was no way I would speak and let Hannah hear my voice, so I gave him a thumbs up. Or at least, as close to a thumbs up as was possible with the huge glove engulfing my hand.
Hannah waited by the door, her arms crossed over her chest. “Can we go get your hot dog now, before the weekend is over?” Back when Hannah and I were friends, she was silly and fun. These days, as we got closer and closer to our senior year, all anyone ever saw of her was the stressed out, serious overachiever who was determined to knock me down to salutatorian.
I knew a lot of people probably said the same thing about me. But my case was different. One day I had a mom. The next I didn’t. My mom’s disappearing act when I was twelve changed everything. And from that point on, everything that didn’t put me closer to my goal didn’t matter. I
to succeed, to make things better for my dad and brother and me.
Hannah, really, had no excuse, other than the fact that she was a liar who sneaked around behind her best friend’s back and then abandoned that so-called best friend when things didn’t go her way.
Luckily, she couldn’t see the face I made through my costume as they headed into the restaurant.
Two hours later, I was on a break from mascot duties, seated in the very back corner of the kitchen. The hot dog body laid crumpled on the floor beside me as Elliott Reiser and Tara Watkins worked nearby. They were on hot dog duty today—as in, making them, not wearing them—and they stood awfully close to each other at the counter. Since Elliott had started working at Diggity Dog House three weeks ago, he and Tara had become cozier and cozier with each other.
I absolutely despised Elliott Reiser, but he and my best friend Molly Pinski had this
going on between them. Not quite dating yet, but definitely headed in that direction.
Elliott had swept Molly off her feet when they both reached for the same computer game at Valu-Mart. Leave it to Elliott to cast his charms on an innocent girl like Molly when I wasn’t around to make her see reality.
And the reality was, Elliott was a jerk. Plain and simple. Maybe once he had been a pretty decent guy, but now he always had some obnoxious comment to make, thinking he was funny. Who knew what went on between him and Tara when no one was around. I had tried to tell Molly this, but she always said Elliott was friendly and outgoing and she didn’t care if he talked to girls.
It wasn’t like I’d actually seen Elliott do anything with Tara other than talk, as Molly constantly reminded me. But they talked a
. More than he talked to anyone else. From what I’d seen of the secrets and lies within the halls of Willowbrook High, guys and girls could not be “just friends.” There was always something going on behind the scenes.
I cleared my throat a little too loud and Elliott and Tara both looked my way.
“Well, if it isn’t Avery James, resident hot dog,” Elliott said, giving me that stupid grin of his. “Doing all right over there?”
“Fine,” I said. “And you?” I looked pointedly at him, then Tara, and then him again.
“Great.” Elliott grinned wider and then went back to preparing hot dogs.
The Diggity Dog House office door opened and Mr. Throckmorton appeared, looking disheveled as always. Every day, he arrived at the diner before noon looking nicely pressed. But within a couple of hours his hair stuck out all over his head and his clothes were stained and wrinkled. Apparently, running a hot dog diner was incredibly stressful.
“James!” he barked when he saw me. “Am I paying you to sit around?”
“I’m on a break,” I said.
“That’s no excuse. Get outside when your break is over.”
I saluted him. “Yes, sir!”
“And don’t get sassy with me,” Mr. Throckmorton said before marching toward the door leading to the counter area.
According to Mr. Throckmorton, no matter what I said, I was “getting sassy” with him. I was beginning to think he had a predisposed prejudice against sixteen-year-old girls with red hair. Or maybe just sixteen-year-old girls with red hair who always grumbled about having to shuffle and wear hot dogs across their foreheads.
“Better get back out there, Avery,” Elliott told me. “Your boyfriend is waiting.” He nodded toward the crumpled costume on the floor.
Tara apparently found his stupid joke hilarious.
Think about the money,
I reminded myself. One thousand sixty-four dollars and thirteen cents and six weeks left to go.
If it weren’t for the money, I would never put up with this job and Elliott. But unfortunately, Diggity Dog House, in addition to being the most embarrassing place to work, was also the best paying in town. Mr. Throckmorton basically
to pay us a little more than the other restaurants to get employees willing to make idiots of themselves on a daily basis.
So I publicly humiliated myself once again. The next couple of hours outside passed slowly, and then once the sun had set, I came inside to wander around the dining room and greet people while they ate. Frankly, I’d be a little annoyed by a six-foot wiener interrupting me while I ate my dinner, but the customers at Diggity Dog House loved Bob. They all grinned wide and waved me over to their tables. A little old woman whose head barely reached my armpit had her husband take a picture of her with me.
Finally, it was ten and the last customer had been literally pushed out the door by Mr. Throckmorton. He had a strict closing time policy because he liked to be at home in his pajamas and watching reruns of
The Facts of Life
at exactly eleven.
The foam hot dog peeled from my sweat soaked skin as I shook it off. I tried a different deodorant each week to see if anything was strong enough to stand up to Bob’s inner core, but so far no luck. At the end of the night I always smelled. It was like a science experiment: Which Brand of Deodorant Can Withstand the Giant Hot Dog? Normally, I loved science experiments, but this one was a little too much to stand.
I reminded myself again as I wiped my forehead with a wad of napkins. I
I headed toward the kitchen, bumping the door open with my hip since my arms were full of crushed foam. Elliott and Tara were alone in the kitchen and they jumped back away from each other when I entered. Tara busied herself with wiping down the stove while Elliott gave me a smirk.
“Taking your boyfriend home for the night?” he asked me.
I narrowed my eyes as my gaze flicked between the two of them. Elliott looked unconcerned about anything, but I detected a slight red tinge to Tara’s cheeks. What exactly had I walked in on?
Molly never supported my theory that relationships were a waste of time. She had let her hormones take over her common sense. She didn’t even realize how much she needed me around to protect her.
“So,” I said as I returned Bob to the closet where he was stored, “you two seem very friendly these days.”
“I’m a friendly guy,” Elliott said.
I’d bet he was. “I’ll be sure to tell Molly how
you are. You remember Molly? The girl you follow around drooling over every day?”
My words didn’t have the effect I hoped for. Elliott smiled at me and reached for the broom to sweep the floor.
Okay, there may have been one thing I hated more than Giant Hot Dog Day: Elliott Reiser. Ever since that summer after seventh grade, I’d hated him almost as much as I hated my mom. But I couldn’t tell Molly about
incident unless I wanted her to drop me like last week’s shriveled hot dogs.
Somehow I had to make her see the light and get rid of his sorry butt.