Finding Fantasyland

A Novel

by Stephanie Estrada | Release Date: September 7, 2015 | Availability: Print, Kindle

Today, Your Prince Has Come

Alex loves Jenna, but Jenna just wants to be friends. Christi's on the outs with her BFF, whose brother wants to be more than friends. Is even pixie dust enough to sort it all out?

In 1987, Christi has no plans for what she'll do after high school. She takes her best friend, Stacy, with her for one last childhood trip to Disneyland, but then Stacy abandons her and she's left with Stacy's brother, Troy, who has never said two words to her.

In 2015, Jenna's parents—who work at Disney and love the company possibly more than they love their own daughter—take her to Walt Disney World, along with Jenna's best friend, Alex, who has just confessed to her his undying love, which she can't return.

Two trips, no magic.

Set entirely in Disneyland and Walt Disney World, Finding Fantasyland is more than just finding your way around a theme park: it's about finding who your friends really are, finding what makes life worth living, and finding who it's worth living it with.

First-time author Stephanie Estrada weaves a powerful spell that will pull at your heart. What connects Christi and Jenna over the decades? Will they learn that fantasy is a fraud, and that "happily ever after" has no power past childhood?

Some hearts a Dole Whip can't mend.

“So, Christine, what do you want to do with your life?” Gina, my high school’s one and only student advisor, eyes me pointedly over her blue tortoise shell glasses.

And there it is, the million dollar question.

If only I had an answer.

“Uh, I don’t know…yet?” I grimace, because, really, at this point, I should be able to give her an answer. What senior doesn’t know what they’re going to do with their lives; it’s practically the only thing people at school are ever talking about.

“You don’t know,” she muses. “Well, by this time in the school year, I’d say you should have an idea of what direction you want to be heading in, but I can understand just how pressured you might feel at the thought of that, so let’s start somewhere simpler. Have you applied to any universities?”

I laugh, and it’s miserable, because, yes, I’ve applied to college, as in very singular, and not at all plural. I’ve applied to college, not colleges.

“I applied for community college,” I say, in a voice too small and insecure for someone my age to get away with.

I don’t elaborate past that, only because my sole reason for even applying is, you guessed it, it isn’t mandatory to pick a major.

Gina’s face brightens up almost instantly, but if she only knew. “That’s great, Christi! What major did you select?” Her hands wait, freshly manicured and clasped together on her office desk, and all at once I feel my throat drop into my stomach.

“I didn’t.” My hands grip the chair’s armrests tight, awaiting her disapproval, because I know that’s what’s coming next.

“Didn’t what?” Her smile is patient and kind, understanding, even, but I know more than to trust that face.

Gina’s office is decked out in trophies, diplomas, pictures shaking hands with governors, and books signed by bestselling authors. I can only imagine what she thinks of someone like me, clueless and uninterested, sitting in her office. She’s probably worried my lack of potential is going to contaminate all of her documented success. Heck, I’m concerned. I don’t doubt she can sniff the terror off me.

“Right, okay,” she brings her hand up and taps a thumb to her bottom lip. “I see where this is going. You know, I remember what it was like to be your age, afraid of the future while having so many hopes and dreams.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I say, but I’m not even listening anymore.

I’m instead mesmerized by the picture that’s perched on the bookshelf just behind her. It’s Gina, and beside her is Bono, somewhere that looks suspiciously like the backstage of a concert venue, and he’s got his arm slung around her, smiling wide at the camera like they’re best buds. Bono. The Bono.

She’s still going on and, admittedly, I’ve lost a bit of what she’s saying, but when I do finally catch on, I’m not exactly following.

“…so I want you to go out and do things that scare you. I want you to have fun, live. Go hiking or take a surfing lesson! Just do something different, anything that you think you’ll be interested in. Heck, you can even go to Disneyland, for all I care. The point being, Christine, you never know when or where the idea’s going to pop into your head, but going out and doing things like this, that’s what helps. I’m scheduling us for another meeting two weeks from today. When you come back, I want to hear about all the rad things you did, and maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll find something you might be interested in pursuing.”

Disneyland, I think to myself.

Now that is something I can get on board with.

Stephanie Estrada

Once upon a time Stephanie spent most of her days working for the Mouse. She’s currently an English major, reading her way through a degree. You can follow her @stephest21 on Twitter and Instagram.

The rift between Christine and BFF Stacy widens after a debate about the "fakeness" of Jungle Cruise.

“All the animals are fake, I don’t know why anyone likes that ride. It’s so horrible. You’d have to be a dummy not to realize that those hippos aren’t real.” Stacy’s eyes roll, and the only thing more embarrassing than her words is that one of the skippers is standing right next to us, waving the guests goodbye, and I can see it in her eyes when she overhears Stacy; it hurts.

On cue, Matt emits this small breath of air in what I’m assuming is supposed to be his form of laughing. All it really is, is a strangled, chain-smoking wheeze. It sounds painful, but I won’t ask questions; this is the most emotion we’ve gotten out of him all morning, and my, is it refreshing.

“That’s not the point, Stace. The skippers are here to entertain the guests. It’s not so much about the animals, but the atmosphere the cast members are creating on the ride.” I jump to defend the saddened cast member, and can only hope that despite our distance from her now, she overheard what I’d just said.

While my maybe-best friend is making a good point, there’s no reason to have an attitude like that about the situation. Everyone is here to have a good time, and if you can’t act as though the magic is real, no magic is going to be made for you. It’s equal parts the responsibility of the cast and the guests to make things here real and mystic.

“It’s still boring,” Stacy tsks and I wallow on the inside.

“Maybe they’re working on creating a real sort of Jungle Cruise, but they just haven’t gotten there yet. That’s something to think about,” I add, as almost an afterthought, in hopes that she’ll agree with something I have to say, finally.

“That would be pretty awesome,” Troy says, and my smile goes up a notch.

“Right?” I squeal.

“And wouldn’t it be cool if they did some other sort of landscaping?” Troy scratches his head.

“Like the African savanna?” My eyes widen. Who knew I could actually talk nerdy with Troy?

Which one of the siblings was really supposed to be the doctor here?

“That would be wicked. I mean, elephants!”

“And cheetahs!” I chime in.

“Wow,” Stacy says, scowling. “You guys are both definitely dweebs. It’s almost embarrassing to be seen with you. Anyway, what do you wanna do next?”

I feel myself shy away from Troy, embarrassed that he and I have been caught in a rage of geekery that is incurable, but also pretty darn cool. The looks on Stacy and Matt’s faces tell us what I already know: that we are being judged to the billionth power.

Troy, on the other hand, does not react like I do; instead, he cracks his neck in waiting.

This is Troy, I decide; the boy who does as he pleases when he pleases, whether it goes against social standards or not, and makes no move to feel ashamed for it because he could care less what anyone actually thinks of him.

Which leads me back to the same question I’ve been asking myself: why does Troy make a show of hanging out with Matt? Is it because he does whatever he wants, or because it’s something that’s expected? Pressures of society? I have so many theories. I’d really like an answer one of these days.

“Matt and I were thinking Space Mountain would be okay,” Stacy suggests, looping an arm through Matt’s and just about giving me a heart attack. If she’s been lying all this time about her and Matt’s relationship, what else has she had the nerve to lie to me about?

“That’s all the way on the other side of the park, though,” I say, not bothering to hide my distaste at this point.

“Christi’s right.” Troy’s weight switches from one foot to the other, and he looks bored with our conversation. I would be too if I lived with Stacy and she made a point to always act like this in front of my friends.

“Why don’t we do Pirates? It’s the next one over, after all,” I suggest, and I’ve barely finished my sentence before Stacy is making up some sort of excuse. Any other way but hers will always be the wrong way, so it seems.

“That ride is so boring.” She rolls her eyes and shares a snicker with Matt. One that pushes me right on over the edge.

“Do you like any ride at this park?” I throw my hands out wide and can tell by the way that everyone is suddenly looking at me that maybe I’ve picked the wrong time to voice my opinion on things. “You think everything here is boring!”

Stacy guffaws. “I do not!”

“You do. There hasn’t been a single thing we’ve done here that you haven’t complained about.”

“We haven’t done anything yet.” Stacy’s brows furrow and I feel the boys slowly drifting apart from us. I can’t blame them; no one ever wants to get in the line of crossfire when it comes to a catfight.

“Exactly, you’ve been complaining nonstop and we just got here. How am I supposed to put up with you the entire day if all you do is whine about how stupid everything here is?” I’m fuming at this point, but the larger part of me that was keeping a hold on everything negative I’ve felt toward Stacy has decided it’s time to disappear and let the very small, though very dangerous, beast inside me take over.

“Wow, Christi, lots of pent up anger, I’m getting?” Stacy makes a show out of picking at her nails and I let out a high-pitch laugh that catches the attention of more people than I’d like to admit.

“Wow, Stace, really? After everything you’ve said about me today? All you’ve done is make fun of me in front of the boys just to make yourself look better. Have you thought of how crummy I feel because of that?” The rage inside me is slowly dying, melting from harried anger to a sort of aloof disappointment.

“I don’t even know what you’re talking about, but from the sounds of it, you definitely don’t want to go around the park with me.” She crosses her arms over her chest and dodges a waddling toddler.

“You’re right,” I confess. “I don’t.” And it hurts to say it, but I’m not in the mood to go around lying and having the worst time of my life all in the name of keeping this side of Stacy pleased. I’ve always gone out of my way to make everyone else happy even if it means sacrificing my own happiness; maybe today is the day to change all of that.

Continued in "Finding Fantasyland"!

Just as Jenna finally decides she might like Alex, after all, Alex wonders whether she's worth the trouble.

“So, what’s your final verdict on the revolutionary Dole Whip?” I give Alex only moments after his first bite before I lay it on him. Let’s face it, even though Dole Whip may very well be life-changing on multiple levels, right now I can not care less how he feels about it. What I’m leaning more toward is seeing just how he feels about me.

He mulls over the taste of pineapple and vanilla melding inside his mouth a few more seconds before gracing me with an answer. “This is actually pretty great, J. Now I see what everyone’s always talking about.”

We’re quiet again as we continue to scarf down the rest of our fruity treats, and while Alex might see this as us watching the sunset beside Cinderella Castle with Dole Whip, I’m busy thinking about how lame I must have come off only minutes before when I’d been insisting that Alex let me pay for the Dole Whips, and no, really, it was alright, it was my pleasure, I wanted to. I think desperate is the word I’m looking for to describe my behavior.

“You know, I’m almost done with this thing and I’m feeling pretty sad about it right now. I might have to go and get myself another,” he says through a mouthful of ice cream, his cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk.

I’m feeling too sick to touch my own. I’ve barely laid a hand on it since we found a spot to eat.

All around us, people are hurrying across the park, to and fro. I’d made the mistake of taking Alex to the one place I thought might be least busy around this time and semi-private: a small hidden pathway that bridges across Adventureland and Fantasyland and has a killer side-view of Cinderella Castle. I’d hoped that this would be the spot where I’d get to tell Alex everything without worrying about interruptions, but now that there were so many people crossing the divide, I am convinced we’re hopeless.

“Do what you want, just don’t get Dole Whip in the moat.” I jut my chin out at the body of water below us. The sun in its dying state is reflected there, almost giving it the appearance of an orange-based rainbow. I can imagine myself tipping over just another inch so that I’d be closer to its colorful beauty, though toppling over into the Magic Kingdom moat would not be cute and might also be fatal, and considering things are already going downhill for me, I don’t think I want to push it.

“Think about how many other people have possibly dumped that stuff in there already…I’d swim in a float of this stuff.” Alex eyes widen in a brief epiphany and I smirk.

If Disney ever goes through a drought, they can rest assured that opening a Dole Whip theme park will save the day. The things people will pay for.

“You know, they have Dole Whip floats. They’re pretty great, too.” I purse my lips.

“There’s what? Floats? Oh, good god, where have these things been hiding all my life?” Alex downs the last of his dessert and I’m not sure whether bursting his bubble bluntly is the way to go about this or if a more subtle approach is what he may need.

I know I’m using this as a poor excuse of a decoy, but at the rate my heart is beating, I really can’t be saying anything of substance. Cardiac arrest is not exactly the way to win anyone else’s heart over.

“Al, did you read the sign? It was on there, buddy.” I pat his back sympathetically and he guffaws, in a mixed state of disbelief and excitement.

“It was not,” he counters.

“If it makes you feel better, sure,” I coo mockingly, and spot a small speck of ice cream left over on his bottom lip. “Oh, uh, you’ve still got some,” I whisper unintentionally, and when Alex turns his head toward me, I point in the general direction of his mouth because I’m terrified that if I speak I might say the completely wrong thing.

“Ice cream? Leftovers, sweet,” he licks the outer corners of his lips and misses the spot entirely. It’s like a movie moment waiting to happen.

“Not really.” I lean over and stick my hand out before thinking that it might be a tad odd. While we may be close, and as preschoolers we might have licked the ice cream off each other’s faces if given the chance, I figure that this is not the time or place for that sort of thing and it would be deemed inappropriate at this age. Social standards are keeping me down, man.

He probably isn’t thinking that. Boys are dense.

Now that my hand is a few millimeters from his face, I can’t retract it without looking like I’m hiding something, and Alex doesn’t seem to think too much of it, either way, so when I finally take his lip under my thumb and remove the small trace of ice cream from it, I don’t pull right away because this is when the oddest thought hits me: now is the time.

I need to be brash, bold, exciting. What better way to get my message across than by a kiss? I’ve been waiting all day for what might be the perfect timing, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that the perfect timing will never exist for someone like me. I could go around waiting a lifetime for the perfect moment to let Alex know about how I’m feeling if I wait around for that moment.

The sun is just about gone from Magic Kingdom and the darkness around us is all the courage I need. This may be the last chance I have today, and better here than an airport, I always say.

Alex is watching me, almost bored, like we do this thing all the time, and in retrospect, that is the case, for the most part. I can’t think of the last time I went a day without looking into Alex’s eyes just as languidly, bored and unbothered. The usual unhurried laughter behind each other’s eyes was always present, but today is different.

The sounds of laughing teens and crying babies whir in my ears alongside the zipping of small Florida creatures and the carrousel, the rest of the park awake with us, a cacophony of beautiful Disney-filled chaos, as I move forward, just a hairbreadth away from making contact with this beautiful boy that I’ve waited so long to pay attention to, without knowing it’s what I really wanted.

This could be my last chance for forever, and I’m not going to let it pass me by.

In the millisecond it takes me to convince myself to go through with it now that I’ve come this far, the worst thing that can possibly happen, does.

“Jenna, stop.” Alex’s breath is warm on my lips, and when I straighten up, frozen in a mixed emotion of fear and shock, he does us both the favor of taking a step back. It stings just a little, knowing I’ve been shot down before I could even start.

Continued in "Finding Fantasyland"!

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