Aces up, p.1
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       Aces Up, p.1

           Lauren Barnholdt
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Aces Up

  To Kevin Cregg, for Turningstone,

  Tully’s, and everything else


  Thank you, thank you, thank you to:

  My editors, Stephanie Elliott and Krista Vitola, for their wonderful guidance and advice

  My agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin, for being made of awesome

  My sisters, Krissi and Kelsey, for being my best friends

  Mandy Hubbard and Jessica Burkhart, for being fabulous e-mail buddies and always talking me down when I’m having writing-related freak-outs

  My mom, for being there no matter what, always

  My dad, for reading every single one of my books

  Scott Neumyer, Jodi Yanarella, and the Gorvine family for their support

  And last but not least, my amazing husband, Aaron, for making me the happiest I’ve ever been—I love you.



  Title Page



  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15


  I will not freak out, I will not freak out, I will not freak out. It is only a dress. A flimsy, totally stretchable piece of fabric. A flimsy, totally stretchable piece of fabric that will not budge over my hips, but still. Not a big deal. In fact, I’m sure things like this happen all the time. I’ll just march out of here, head into the office of my new boss, Adrienne, and calmly explain to her that the uniform they’ve given me just doesn’t fit.

  I mean, I indicated on my application that I’m a size eight. And since they have somehow decided to give me a size two uniform, then really, they should be the ones apologizing to me. Isn’t that some sort of sizeism? (Sizeism = like racism, only against people who aren’t a size two or four.) They’ll probably be so nervous I’m going to sue them for discrimination that I’ll get some kind of bonus or something. You know, so that I’ll keep my mouth shut.

  I start to pull the dress off, but before I can get out of it, someone knocks on the door to the dressing room in the employee lounge, where I’m huddled with the dress stuck halfway up my hips.

  “Who’s in there?” a voice demands. A bossy, nasally, very loud voice. My boss, Adrienne.

  “Um, it’s me,” I say. “Shannon.” My voice comes out all strangled, and I clear my throat and try to sound normal. Maybe I just need someone to zip me up? Or I need to lie down on a bed somewhere, like I have to do when my jeans just come out of the dryer. Of course, there’s no bed in here, they wouldn’t put a bed in a dressing room, that would be a little ridiculous. And there’s definitely not enough room to lie down on the floor, but maybe if I angled myself a little better, I could lean back and then—


  “Shannon!” I say, louder this time. Maybe the uniform is vanity-sized, and so their two is actually a six. Like they do at the Gap. I give the dress a good yank, and it creeps up a little further over my hips. Hmmm. I give it another tug, this time as hard as I can. Riiiiip. The sound of fabric tearing echoes through the dressing room as the side seam of the dress splits in two. Oops.

  “What the hell was that?” More pounding. “There are customers waiting to be served!”

  “Um, well,” I say, throwing my sweatshirt over my head and opening the door to the stall. My face is burning with embarrassment, and I’m sure there are two big red splotches on my cheeks. “The thing is,” I tell Adrienne, “I have a problem with my uniform. It doesn’t fit.” I hold up the shredded piece of fabric. “Or, um, it didn’t fit.” I give her a hopeful smile.

  “You ripped it?” Adrienne asks, looking incredulous. She reaches out and fingers the material.

  “Well, not on purpose, I would never do something like that on purpose.” She looks at me blankly. “I thought it was vanity sized,” I explain, still trying to stay positive.

  “You tried to shove yourself into it, and you split it?”

  “Well, not shove, exactly, it was more like … wedge.” Adrienne is a few years older than me, and very, very scary. She has short black hair with thick bangs, and a dark red mouth. She wears lots of eyeliner and I’m pretty sure her boobs are fake. At my interview last week, when she asked me why I wanted this job, I told her I loved interacting with people, and she laughed, like she thought I was joking. I totally wasn’t, but I did not want Adrienne to hate me and/or think I was going to cause any kind of trouble, so I laughed, too.

  If she finds out I’m only seventeen, I will be fired immediately. You have to be twenty-one to work as a cocktail waitress at the Collosio Casino, but I really, really need this job. My dad got fired from his job four months ago, and if I don’t make my own money, there’s no way I’ll be able to go to Wellesley in the fall. And since I’ve already been accepted early admission, which means I’m not allowed to apply anywhere else, this is a bit of a problem. (I’m calling it a “bit of a problem” so that I don’t freak myself out too much. The truth is it’s a “bit of a problem” that has the potential to turn into a “really bad disaster.” No money for Wellesley = no college.) So I bought a fake ID from this guy named Chris Harmon, who’s in my fifth-period study hall, and here I am. Besides, I’ll be twenty-one soon. Well. In, like, four years.

  “It was too small,” I say, holding the dress up in front of me, as if to demonstrate its too-small state. Adrienne’s making me nervous, and the lights overhead are beating down on me. I brush my long brown hair out of my face and hope I don’t start to sweat. “I am so, so sorry. I thought I marked down on my application that I’m a size eight, but apparently it ended up that—”

  Adrienne sighs and rubs her temples, then looks at me like I’m a child she’s babysitting. She sets her pen down on her clipboard. “What time is it, Shannon?”

  Um, is this a trick question? “Five o’clock?” I try.

  “Right. And what happens at five o’clock?”

  “I start work?”

  “Right. And if you come into work not ready to start working, then what happens at five o’clock?”

  “Um, I don’t start working?”


  “I’m sorry,” I say again. “But I marked down on the application you gave me that I’m a size—”

  Adrienne holds up a hand. “Look,” she says, her blue eyes narrowing. She smells like some kind of violet perfume. “Can you hang or not? Because there are a lot of girls who would kill for this job.” I’m not sure what “Can you hang?” means, but I have a feeling it’s to be answered in the affirmative and does not involve having a uniform situation on day one. Also, I’m very wary now that she’s said “There are a lot of girls who would kill for this job.” That’s what they kept telling Anne Hathaway’s character in the movie The Devil Wears Prada. And things did not go so well for her.

  “Yes,” I say, squaring my shoulders and trying to look shocked, as if I can’t believe she’s asked such an insane question. I roll my eyes. “Of course. Of course I can hang.” For ten dollars an hour plus tips, I can definitely hang. One hundred percent hanging.

  “Then go get another uniform from the uniform closet,” Adrienne says, pointing toward a door on the other side of the room. She snatches the ruined uniform out of my hands. “This one will have to come out of your paycheck. And then get back here and we’ll get you started on your training.” She waves her hand and her black-tipped acrylic fingernails, dismissing me.

  Fifteen minutes later, I’m in my new uniform (fits, but
makes me look like a sausage—stretchy black fabric, a gathered waist, and a built-in bra that pushes your boobs together is not a good look for anyone), standing in the bar area with Mackenzie.

  Mackenzie is the waitress who’s training me. She looks like a Miss Hawaiian Tropic and definitely does not have a problem zipping up her uniform.

  “Basically the tips are all you want to worry about,” she’s saying. “You want to take as many drink orders as possible, and get the drinks out as fast as possible.”

  She flips her long blond hair over her shoulder. I’m shadowing her, which, as far as I can tell, basically means I’m going to follow her around the casino all night, watching what she does. For this, I will earn my ten dollars an hour, with no tips.

  But whatevs. I’m all about the big picture. Once I get the hang of it, I’ll be out on my own, and then I’m sure I’ll be making tons.

  “Right,” I say. I work on practicing what I learned from The Secret, that book that says whatever you think will actually become your reality, and conjure up an image of myself at Wellesley, walking on campus with a bag full of newly purchased schoolbooks in one hand and a grande peppermint latte in the other. Feeling cheered by my mental picture, I pull a tiny gray notebook out of my pocket and write, “as many drinks as possible, make them come out fast.”

  “What are you doing?” Mackenzie asks. She’s wearing glitter eye shadow, and some of it has fallen onto her cheeks, giving her a sparkly glow.

  “I’m writing down what you just said.”

  “You can’t remember to serve as many drinks as possible?” She looks as if I’ve just said that I can’t remember what my name is, or that I’m supposed to eat.

  “Well, I probably would, technically, be able to remember it,” I say. Which is true. I have a very good memory. “But if I write it down, then I’ll definitely be sure.”

  She looks at me blankly, and then I get it. Mackenzie is one of those girls who never, ever write things down. She probably shows up to her classes without notebooks or pens and is that annoying person who’s always borrowing loose-leaf paper from everyone.

  “What’s that?” she asks, peering down at my notebook.

  She’s looking at the opposite page, where I’ve done a thorough calculation of my financial situation and how much I will need for Wellesley.

  It’s all broken down into subsets, like type of financial aid, type of cost, academic year. Then there’s an overview at the bottom.

  For example, my freshman year overview looks like this:

  Total cost of tuition, room, and board = $48,786

  Total loans = $3,245

  Grants = $18,141

  Total amount of financial aid = $21,386

  Total amount needed = $27,400

  “Oh, that,” I say. “That’s just a breakdown of how much money I need to pay my tuition.” Then I realize I’m already supposed to be in college, so I rush on. “For all my other years at school.” She’s looking at me blankly again, so I show her the page. “See? For example, I need twenty thousand dollars still to pay my tuition. Now, they have payment plans, but if you don’t pay, then they can totally hold your transcripts and your credits.” I bite my lip. “At least, I think they can. I heard it from one of my sister’s friends. Her mom lost her job and then her loans got—”

  “Whatever,” Mackenzie says, putting her hands up like I need to stop talking.

  Suddenly, I am suspicious of her. Anyone who can look this good in the Collosio Casino waitressing uniform and is also questioning the validity of taking copious notes and making diagrams and flowcharts cannot be trusted. That size double-zero I saw in the uniform closet? Definitely hers.

  “Grab that tray,” she instructs, pointing to an empty one in the kitchen near the bar. Great. Now she’s bossy. I pick it up and watch as she starts loading my tray with the already-filled little plastic cups sitting on the bar. “These,” she says, “are what you fill your tray with. Water, soda, beer. They’re the most common drinks people want. But you need to keep a pad with you in case you need to take special orders.”

  Right. I write down, “Fill tray with H2O, soda, beer. Keep notebook for special orders.”

  “Look, stop writing crap down,” Mackenzie says. The lights overhead bounce off her perfectly white, perfectly straight teeth. “We don’t have time. Keep filling your tray.”

  I do what she says, and when I’m finished, the tray weighs about three thousand pounds. I am then expected to heft it over my head and follow Mackenzie through the bar and into the poker room. Immediately I feel like maybe I’ve pulled a muscle. Mackenzie hoists her tray over her head like it’s a feather and starts weaving her way through the tables.

  The poker room at the Collosio is huge, the biggest poker room in the United States. You’d think the biggest poker room would be somewhere in Vegas or Atlantic City, but nope, it’s right here in Connecticut. There are more than a hundred tables filled with people playing cards, and even more people are standing around, waiting to get into a game. One of the best things about working the poker room is that it’s quiet compared to the rest of the casino. No screaming slot machines. And it’s smoke free. It’s Thursday night, so I figured the place would be dead, but there are so many people I wonder how we’re even going to be able to walk, let alone do it with these trays.

  I try to keep myself from tripping as I weave my way through the tables. I’m not very good in high heels, and Adrienne wouldn’t let me wear the shoes I had on (black Adidas gym shoes, which my older sister, Robyn, bought last year and then immediately stopped wearing when they became “uncool” a few months later) and made me wear black heels she borrowed from some other waitress, named Nancy, who had an extra pair. (Very shady, wearing someone else’s shoes, because of toe fungus, bacterial infection, etc.)

  “Mackenzie!” I yell, trying to get her to slow down. I step on a guy’s foot, a middle-aged man with a gray beard who’s sitting at a poker table. “Hey!” he yells. “Watch it!” My tray gets jostled, threatens to spill my plastic cups full of liquid all over the carpeted casino floor.

  “Sorry,” I say, but he’s already turned back to his cards. This is definitely not part of “hanging.” I take a deep breath, trying to practice the yoga breathing I learned in the Young Meditators group I was in last year. (Line from the Wellesley Web page under “admissions requirements”: “Prospective students should be well-rounded, with a variety of extracurriculars.” Which is so me. Completely well-rounded with a variety of extra-curriculars. And now I even have a job, yay!)

  “What are you doing?” Mackenzie’s a few feet ahead of me, looking back in exasperation. “You didn’t stop to write something down, did you?”

  “Uh, no,” I say, abandoning my breathing. “I’m just having trouble walking in these shoes.” I hold my leg up as if to illustrate the insanity of having to carry heavy trays in high heels.

  “You’ll get used to it,” she says, not sounding all that sympathetic. She puts her hand on her hip, her fingers curving around her slim waist. “Now come on.” I follow her obediently. “Beverage,” Mackenzie calls, zipping among the poker tables. “Beverage?”

  “Beverage?” I say uncertainly, holding my tray and following her as best I can. “Bevvverragge?”

  A man wearing a blue flannel shirt gives me a dirty look. Geez. Not too friendly around here, are they? But maybe it’s because they take their poker really seriously. I would, too, if I was risking hundreds of dollars. Of course, I wouldn’t be risking hundreds of dollars. That just seems stupid.

  “You don’t have to scream,” Mackenzie hisses. She hands someone a soda and takes the dollar chip he hands her. She gives the guy a huge smile and drops it into her tip cup. “Thanks, honey,” she says.

  “Thanks, honey,” I echo, trying it out and putting a little wiggle in my hips. Mackenzie rolls her eyes. “Less flirting, more concentrating on keeping your tray up. You’re going to drop it.”

  “Oh, come on,” I say. “I’m not tha
t bad.” Yeah, the tray is heavy, but I’m totally coordinated. In second grade I took gymnastics. We learned to do cartwheels and did a synchronized dance. “I used to be in gymnastics,” I explain to Mackenzie.

  “Yeah, well, you’re not in Kansas anymore.” This makes no sense, and I’m contemplating what she meant by it (that I’m out of my element? that I’ll be desperate to get home after working here?) when I trip and fall, spilling my whole tray of drinks onto a dealer.


  ? ? ? ?

  He was perfectly nice about it. The dealer, I mean. Said it wasn’t even his good work shirt. But still. How embarrassing. Not to mention one of the customers sitting at the table was totally annoyed. And I can tell Mackenzie is not too pleased with me.

  “Shannon spilled some drinks,” she immediately tells Adrienne during our break. We’re in the employee lounge, where Mackenzie has produced some kind of yogurt seemingly out of nowhere. No one told me I was supposed to bring any dinner, and even though there’s a little café in the casino, right around the corner from the poker room, I’m not sure I’m allowed out of Mackenzie’s sight. Not to mention I probably shouldn’t be spending seven dollars on a sandwich. Why didn’t I remember to bring something to eat? Going hungry definitely can’t be good for my working state. In fact, I think I’m starting to feel a little light-headed. You know, from all the heavy tray lifting and stress.

  “Lovely,” Adrienne says, writing something down on her clipboard. “How’d you do that?”

  “I tripped,” I say, wanting to blame it on the shoes she gave me, but not wanting to seem whiney. I wonder if she’s going to fire me already.

  But all she says is “Well, don’t trip. And bring me a copy of your birth certificate. I need a backup form of identification.”

  “Sure!” I force my voice to sound bright and cheerful. I don’t have a fake birth certificate. I wonder if I can get one. Fake IDs are one thing (everyone needs them to drink), but fake birth certificates? I’ve only heard of these in movies, when people go into some dark alley and get fake papers for secret spy missions. I’m not a spy. And I’m afraid of dark alleys.

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