Mini discovers her husband is cheating minutes before winning the largest prize in the history of her beloved theme park.

Available in paperback and Kindle versions through Amazon.com.

 

2015 Next Generation

Indie Book Awards, Finalist

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A sneak peek:

Chapter One

On a Disneyland morning when I was a kid, I’d jump into clothes set out the day before,

inhale the mandatory breakfast and be the first to buckle in the car. As a mature adult, I snagged

something clean off the unfolded pile, skipped the kitchen and headed straight for the driveway.

The tiny visor mirror was large enough to coat mascara around one brown eye at a time, but

too small to tell if I’d managed to pin up all my mousey shoulder-length hair. I rubbed on

foundation and blush by memory while my husband slid behind the wheel, his spiky blond crew

cut still glistening from the long shower after his crossfit workout.

Michael lacked the amusement park gene so instead of boring him with details of the many

Disneyland trips I’d taken with my parents, I listened to the voices in my head.

“We’re about there, Mini,” Mom said.

I heard her, Michael didn’t. The mental conversations with my parents started the day the

tickets arrived.

Michael’s fingers tapped the steering wheel to some imaginary beat as he took the Disney

Way exit from Highway 5, chatting about what the day had to offer him. I crossed and uncrossed

my legs in a pattern designed to keep my racing pulse in check and to appear I was listening.

“Can you spot the Matterhorn yet?” Mom asked.“Remember the first to see it, gets to pick the

first ride.”

I rolled down the window and strained out to see the white pointy peak, but decades of

construction blocked my view. It was too soon to see; too soon for the smell of popcorn as the

Southern California fumes filled the car.

Michael and I did everything together. Except this. Today I would have a day at Disneyland

alone with my memories and he would never know I’d rather not go to the park at all, than to go

with someone who didn’t get the magic.

The soft brush of his hand on my cheek startled me back to reality.

“Daydreaming, Babe?” Michael smiled. “Time to engage roll up. We’ve almost landed.”

“Roger that.” Michael always fell into pilot speak when excited. Combined with the

increasing tenderness he’d displayed the last few weeks proved he was as keyed up about the

countdown as I was.

We’d made a deal. The twenties were for us as a couple, our thirties for building a family.

Three days were left until our shared birthday. I’d spend the first day at Disneyland, then two

days at home planning how to convert an office into a nursery while he was at a Las Vegas

convention.

I didn’t marry Michael nine years ago because he understood me better than anyone else. It

was his smell. The soft vanilla scent of the plastic toys at the factory where he worked. Every

hug pulled me back to my warmest memories of holidays and birthdays. A promise of the fun

and family we would share.

But the scent faded as he moved up from the production floor to middle management. It was

replaced with the frustrated aroma of too much coffee and paperwork which brought me back to

my many failed attempts to finish college.

Last month he’d splashed on a new men’s cologne. This reminded me of nothing at all, but I

liked it.

Michael never let me call him Mickey and he didn’t approve that my family nicknamed me

Mini. He insisted on Margaret, which I’d inherited from my great aunt who had painted nudes in

Arizona until she passed during a senior tango competition at ninety six. My parents weren’t so

lucky. They’d died in a car crash.

Mom and Dad were the best. Every birthday they would drive me the five miles to Disneyland

and I’d have my picture taken with Mickey—Mom’s version of a growth chart.

For Michael, Disneyland ranked next to nicknames. So even though we lived in my parents’

house, minutes from the park, this was my first time back since I’d married. He didn’t see any

reason to pay for something I’d done so many times. I’d tried to explain. Kind of. But I couldn’t

put into words my love for a mouse.

It had taken dumb luck, a lie, and a secret obsession to get me here today.

Michael listened to a radio program for plane freaks and last week won box seats for an air

show in Vegas by being the first to call in. Since he’d already planned to fly to Vegas that night

to set up a booth for the toy convention, his company would be paying for his flight to the air

show.

Then his boss announced a surprise family day at Disneyland and expected Michael to take a

later flight.

“God!” Michael had cried. “Great air show tickets and I’m going to miss it for an amusement

park.”

“Uh, huh,” I’d tried to appear sympathetic, but—just an amusement park?

“Or I could pretend to be sick or something and we could skip the whole thing.”

“But, but,” I’d scrambled for a quick plan powered by the fear of losing my park day. “Won’t

there be others at the convention who might say something?”

“That’s true. I guess I’m stuck going.” His bottom lip had stuck out.

”Sorry about the planes,” I’d said. “But work comes first, right?”

“They’re jets,” he’d reminded me.

“Jets. You love them. And box seats? You can’t miss this.”

“Oh Margaret, you have no idea what working for a living is like.” He’d made a big show of

rolling up his sleeves and pulling out his model plane tool kit. “Chris is crazy enough to think

I’m not a team player if I don’t make it to the park.”

A vision of Michael grumbling and checking his watch all day while I struggled to have a

good time at Disneyland flashed into my brain and hatched a dream I’d been incubating.

“There might be another way, Michael,” I’d wanted to appear more helpful than eager. “Why

don’t you go until the company photo then sneak out? I’d be willing to stay and pretend you’re

still there all day if that helped you.”

“That might work.” He’d spun around and took me by the shoulders. “That’s asking a lot of

you though. You aren’t a good liar.”

“I know.” An inability to bend the truth was a character flaw to this three-time Salesman of

the Year.

His eyes returned to his planes, giving a light spin to the suspended 1938 bomber model that

had taken him two months to complete. “You finally know how to use your cell phone, so we’d

be in contact all day long if you needed me.”

“So it’s a go?”

“Affirmative.” Yes! I’d had wormed my way into a day for myself. I’d planned to do three

Hail Mary’s to readjust my Karma after my altered truth. I was not Catholic, but being raised

Protestant didn’t leave you with any quick way to both punish then forgive yourself.

And in a few minutes, it would be me and my mouse.

Michael stopped the car at a light and a long trail of parents and children crossed Harbor

Boulevard to the park side of the street. The same electricity that placed a bounce in their step

was charging my heart.

“Remember I’m going to bail after they finish the company picture,” Michael said. “Do we

need to go over again what you’re supposed to say?”

“I got it. Hang out in plain sight and if anyone asks me, tell them you’re in the bathroom.”

“Try to leave me a little dignity,” he sighed and turned into the park. “Say I’m on a ride that

you’re too scared to go on.”

I spotted my favorite mountain against the blue-gray sky.

“I see it Mom! I win. I get to pick the first ride.”

“It’s a good thing I’m getting reimbursed,” Michael grumbled and forked over the cash to the

parking attendant then handed me the slip and park map. I pulled the organizer Michael bought

me out of my carpet-bag style purse and slid the receipt into the folder for today marked

“parking” and entered the amount on the attached three-color sheet.

“Check time,” Michael announced. “Purse.”

“Check.”

“Ticket package.”

“Check.” I’d been guarding them with my life since he’d brought them home.

“Stupid hats.”

“Check.” I tugged the bright red baseball hat over the top of my French twist that was

Michael’s favorite look for me.

He snatched it off and tossed it into the back seat. “That is not attractive babe.”

“Check.”I was not sure I had a look. My large boobs were out of proportion for my frame.

Today I’d picked khaki pants and a beige top that reached my narrow hips. Michael prefers his

own clothing tight, to show off regular workouts.

We walked down the parking ramp to the front entrance past waist-high green cones to the

security gate where a diligent employee took five minutes to go through my large bag.

“Let’s get this over—” My ears shut Michael out again when I pushed through the turn stall

and came face to face with the main garden, planted in annuals in the shape of Mickey’s face. I

was home.

“Isn’t this lovely, Mini?” Mom asked. “Let’s get a picture of you with Dad.”

Michael grabbed my arm and moved me to his work group where dozens of smiling Chris’

Toys employees, spouses, and children waited. “This is going to be a great day,” he whispered as

we stood next to his boss Chris and his family—wife Emily and a teenage son who looked about

as thrilled as Michael to be at the park.

“Thanks for having us, Chris.” I shook his hand after the photo was complete. His round

figure mimicked their bestselling children’s toy, a rolling clown. “This is one of my favorite

places.”

“Mine too. But you’re not wearing the hat,” Chris said.

“She’s always worried about her hair,” Michael shrugged. I smoothed the wrinkled front of

my colorless blouse wishing that the bright red logo shirt everyone else in the picture wore had

looked good on me.

Chris’ smile thinned. “You remember my wife Emily and son Luke.”

Luke expressed the level of boredom only thirteen-year- olds forced on a family outing could

muster. “This isn’t my happiest place on Earth. There aren’t even any video games.”

“Oh but there are!” I was so excited to share the news. “I read that the newest X-box and

Playstation games are in the Dream House at Innoventions. You should check it out.”

“Cool!” Luke smiled. Michael pulled me back to his side. I talked too much, but I couldn’t

stop the flow of words.

“See? You’re never too old for Disneyland.” Chris draped an arm over Luke’s shoulder, the

other around a young woman. “Remember Jessica? She just finished grad school at UC Santa

Barbara in marketing and is back to work with us.”

“Wow, you look great!” I said. With her long blonde hair cut into a bob that angled around

her face, I didn’t recognize her. I had about seven years on her, but in my serviceable outfit and

old hairstyle, it looked closer to seventeen.

“Thanks, Mrs. Gunderson.” Jessica bent to tighten the buckle on her precarious high-heeled

sandals. She isn’t going to last long on her feet today. Jessica had always been a favorite office

helper of Michael’s during summer breaks and was going to be at the same convention in Vegas.

“Time for fun. Shall we all go together?” Chris grinned and pointed to an older woman next

to him, who smiled as our eyes met. “This is Felicity. She’s setting us up with a tour guide so we

don’t miss anything.”

“Not me,” Jessica shook her head. “I’m going to meet some friends, then catch my flight for

Vegas.”

“I’ve never been on a tour,” I raised my hand, forgetting for a moment I needed to be a lone

wolf.

“But we’d slow you down,” Michael grabbed my arm and pulled me in the opposite direction.

“Margaret doesn’t do the rides. So she’s going to walk through all the shops while I go on

Indiana Jones first. I’ll try and catch up with you later.”

He pulled me down Main Street at a pace too fast to see anything but a blur of strollers.

“Hey,” I slowed at a colorful prize wheel, “we should check our tickets to see if we won

anything.”

“There’s no time.”

Racing under the arched entrance to Frontierland he taxied to a stop in front of a bathroom,

and peered back to see Chris, his wife and Luke walking to the opposite corner of the park in

Tomorrowland behind a young guide holding a small flag. I wanted to be part of that tiny parade.

“What’s your flight plan?” he asked.

“I don’t know yet.” I had given the park all of my attention since he’d brought home the

tickets but I hadn’t settled on a direction.

“You should start from right here. The Tiki Room has a show in ten minutes.” He scanned the

crowd again. “Okay they’re out of sight.”

He handed me the car keys and waited for me to zip them into the side pocket of my purse.

“The parking space number is written on the ticket in your organizer. I need you to do this one

thing for me, then you can go home.” He took my face in his hands. “Are you sure you can

handle this?”

I didn’t want to hurt his feelings with the truth that I was anxious for him to leave. It had

taken the Blue Angels to blast him from my side.

“I can do it.” I had the driving directions in my purse, cash for food, a lie ready for Chris, and

a day with my parents at the park. Their memories anyway. “Have a great time at the air show.

Maybe you’ll meet one of the pilots.”

His grin widened and he nodded.

“I’ll check in with you throughout the day to make sure you’re okay and that you get home.

Love you.” He pulled me in for a long kiss, then tucked a stray lock behind my ear. “You should

duck into the bathroom first. Your hair is falling out.”

Both of my hands were trying to smooth some sense of style into my hair as he hurried off.

The bathroom was already crowded, so I tightened the knot at my head and smoothed the fly

away strands behind my ears without looking in the mirror before returning to the Tiki Room

entrance.

The talking flowers and birds were on my list, but I wasn’t ready for them. I didn’t want my

day to start from here. So much around me appeared familiar yet new at the same time. Michael

wasn’t going to chart my course today. I’d start all over again from the park gate and let

Disneyland unfold for me naturally.

Today I could do anything. Like a rebel with an original Disneyland E ticket, I would have

my day, my way.

I focused on the sidewalk to avoid spoiling the adventure and zigzagged upstream between

strollers and a sea of park guests back to the entrance. I turned back toward Main Street when a

tug pulled at my leg. I hobbled and started to fall when my shoelace caught a passing stroller. I

grabbed out for support and managed to miss taking the head off the child.

“Ah!” Pain shot through my knees and hands as I hit the ground. I pushed myself up to

discover a plush Mickey Mouse staring back at me in a bed of tall pink snapdragons. The sound

of a crying child pulled my attention straight at a set of passing shoes. Michael’s shoes—next to

a pair of familiar high heels.

Detaching my shoelace from a stroller wheel, I tossed the stuffed Mickey and an apology to a

crying toddler and searched for Michael. I found him. He held Jessica’s hand at the exit. Michael

pulled her into his arms and I stopped close enough to hear him ask “Tickets?”

“Check,” she giggled.

“Kiss?”

Her lips mouthed “Check” but my hearing was gone again. Michael smiled and leaned in for a

long kiss. The kind he had just given me. I was so close. If they turned they would spot me. But

neither looked. When they pulled apart, he wrapped an arm over her shoulder, turned his back

and walked out the exit without asking for a return hand stamp.

“I’m afraid he won’t be there for you,” Dad said. “He’ll always put himself first.”

My breaths were a ragged pant. A pounding that started in my chest radiated to my head

where the thrums drowned out Dad’s words.

I stayed upright only by the sheer number of people bobbing around me, supporting me.

“Excuse me, dear,” an elderly woman’s voice said from behind me with a light touch on my

shoulder. “It’s your turn.”

“What?” I focused ahead on a young man dressed in a train conductor’s uniform, his hand

outstretched.

“It’s your turn at the wheel,” the woman’s voice behind me repeated.

Flashing lights on the large spinning wheel drew me in.

“I’ll need your ticket,” the conductor said, still holding out his hand.

“Check,” I squeaked.

I watched him place my ticket on the scanner. Mickey’s black ears stood strong on the white

paper background.

The woman’s voice spoke again, with a giggle. “I have a hunch today may be your day.”

The wheel spun in blurring strips of flashing lights and loud clicks. The sound typed out:

“Michael has a lover. Michael has a lover.” The wheel slowed, then stopped with a scream of

sound—popping, whistles.

“We have a grand prize winner!” the conductor yelled.

“Huh?” I narrowed in on his young face. What is he saying?

“You’ve unlocked the Castle!”

My leg bones liquefied and tiny stars twinkled at the corner of my eyes. A blue Mickey

Mouse balloon escaped higher and higher into a sky filled with confetti and then went black.