Toby Magill had just sat down at his desk to boot up his computer when he heard his cell phone ring. Tossing aside the graphic novels and clothes strewn across his bedroom floor, Toby found the phone in a pair of cargo shorts and snapped it open.
"I'd like to speak to Toby Magill, please."
"This is Steve Rogers, from Killer Pizza."
"Oh, yeah. Hi."
"I have good news, Toby. We'd like you to wear Killer Pizza's distinctive black T-shirt with the red logo known around the world."
"Congratulations. The job is yours to lose. Come in tomorrow morning at eleven. By the end of the day you'll know how to make the best pizzas in the universe."
Steve Rogers hung up before Toby had a chance to say thank you. Staring at the phone, Toby wondered if he really heard what he thought he had just heard. After peppering at least a dozen local businesses with work applications over the past few weeks--and getting turned down by all of them--had this man actually offered him a job?
If so, Toby wanted to do more than just say thank you to Steve Rogers. He wanted to kiss the guy's foot! He felt like letting out a whoop of joy! But Toby--by nature a shy, introverted kind of kid--bypassed the whoop of joy and simply smiled at this wonderful news.
So long, summertime blues!
Only two weeks had ticked by since school let out, but Toby was already dealing with a mean case of the SBs. Sure, he had his graphic novels, computer, video games, and chores he was always forgetting to do. But step outside of his home and there was nothing to do in his Ohio suburban community of Hidden Hills. Nothing for Toby, anyway. His only real friend had left for California to spend the summer with his dad and stepmother. That had left Toby hangin' out in the wind. Alone.
But this was great! Toby was confident that Killer Pizza would kick-start what had so far been an incredibly dull summer.
"Guess what? I got a job," Toby announced at dinner that evening.
Toby's mother frowned, obviously not overjoyed at the prospect of her son finding employment. His sister, Stacey, looked like she didn't believe him. As for Mr. Magill, Toby's news of summer employment brought a smile to his face. "That's great, Toby. Where?"
"Killer Pizza. It's right down on Industrial Avenue."
"Weird spot for a pizza place," Stacey said.
Toby felt like giving his bratty twelve-year-old sister a swift kick under the table. To say the two had a combative relationship would be putting it mildly.
It didn't help that Stacey was so good at everything, from academics to learning the flute to being so naturally at ease with people.
By contrast, nothing had ever come easily to Toby. He struggled to keep a B average, had not been able to master any of the instruments he had tackled so far--including his battered secondhand guitar--and had always found it difficult to make friends, thanks to that shy streak of his.
Those weren't the only differences between brother and sister. Physically they were worlds apart, as well, Stacey being a small, petite kid--she took after her mom in that regard--compared to Toby, who was big for his age and close enough to being overweight that his mother was constantly reminding him to watch those sweets.
"Well, that's where it is," Toby told his sister, referring to the location of Killer Pizza. "Go look for yourself if you don't believe me."
"I still think you're too young to be working," Mrs. Magill said. Toby had turned fourteen just a few months before, which meant he had been able to apply for a work permit. "Especially at a place called Killer Pizza. What kind of name is that?" Mrs. Magill's expression looked like she had just eaten something very distasteful.
"It's ‘Pizza to Die For.' If I'm lucky, no one will die from any of the pizzas I make."
"Toby! That's a terrible thing to say!"
"Just a little joke, Mom. Anyway . . ." Toby gave his dad a smile as he got up from the table. "I start tomorrow morning." After placing his plate, silverware, and glass into the dishwasher, Toby walked from the room.
"Tell you one thing," Stacey yelled after her brother. "I'm not ordering a pizza from you, that's for sure!"
Stacey was actually right about Killer Pizza's address. It was an odd spot for a pizza place. Industrial Avenue wasn't an avenue at all. It was a dead-end side road lined with old, somewhat decaying industrial buildings that housed a hodgepodge of businesses, from Washabaugh Auto Body to a dog obedience school to Harr's Boat Covers.
Toby was nervous as he rode his bike past Harr's the following morning. "The job is yours to lose." That's what Steve Rogers had told him. When he got to the Killer Pizza shop--located in a crumbling, 1950s-era brick building that sported a certain kind of funky charm--he hesitated before entering, took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly.
Toby didn't want this job just to ward off the summertime blues. Fact was, he harbored a secret passion he hadn't revealed to anyone. Not to his family. Not to his best friend.
He religiously watched the Food Channel.
Yes, Toby thought it might be kind of cool to be a chef. And why not? Celebrity chefs were in, after all. They were stars. What they mostly weren't--from what Toby had seen on TV, anyway--were muscled, perfect-looking, athletic types, the kind who always brushed past him disdainfully in the hallways at school.
That gave Toby the license to dream about being a chef in a way that he could never dream about being one of the Popular Kids at school. Problem was, dreaming was all Toby had done, as far as being a chef was concerned. Cooking was still a secret ambition of his, which meant he had zilch experience in the kitchen.
So that's why Toby was so nervous as he stood on the sidewalk in front of Killer Pizza. This wasn't dreaming anymore, it was real life, a pretty scary thing for someone who was not exactly overloaded with self-confidence. After squelching a sudden impulse to turn and run, Toby squared his shoulders and nodded. Ready or not, it was time. Time to meet his destiny!
Or at least try to learn how to make a decent pizza pie.
When Toby pushed through the front door of the pizza shop, he was greeted by the sight of four people standing in the small area in front of the ordering counter. He tried not to stare at the beautiful girl with the ink-black hair.
This can't be right, Toby thought. That's Annabel Oshiro. What's she doing here?
And yet it was Annabel Oshiro. A bona fide member of the Cool Kids Clique at Toby's school, Annabel was also a Rich Kid, her family being one of the wealthiest in the community. Impressive social credentials, to be sure, but the really impressive thing about Annabel--as far as Toby was concerned--was how down-to-earth she was. With her outgoing personality and winning smile, Annabel managed the rare feat of actually being nice to everyone, no matter where they were on the social scale.
Thrilled as Toby was at the prospect of working with Annabel, he couldn't help but wonder . . . why she was here, at Killer Pizza, standing in front of the large, colorful poster that advertised the various KP pizza choices. Certainly she had better, more exciting things to do than slave away in the hot kitchen of a take-out pizza chain all summer long.
"Mr. Magill?" Steve Rogers, with his crew cut, glasses, and pressed T-shirt, was the classic small-shop manager type. His eyes, magnified behind his glasses, were