“You got the job, kid,” Dennis said. “Kid’s birthday party. Standard clowning, but with the possibility for tips above and beyond the listed pay rate if you do a good job.”

“Oh gods,” said Squids. “Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods. I didn’t actually think I’d get the gig. Oh gods. What am I gonna do?”

“You’re gonna do a little kid’s birthday party,” Dennis said, “and be grateful that his grandfather’s raising him on old Bozo tapes.”

“No, you don’t understand,” Squids said. “I’m part of the Disguise Club. We meet once a week in disguise and just…you know…hang out. It’s all right,” Squids said, though her painted smile did not budge. “I dress like this because it represents what I would like to be: more outgoing, better with kids, less concerned with what people think of me.”

“Great,” Dennis said. “This is your chance. All the details are in the packet. You need a ride, or you driving yourself?”

“But I’m not any of those things!” cried Squids. “I’m a smartass, sarcastic, stick-in-the-mud who smokes.”

“Well, no smoking at the party, for sure,” Dennis said. He took another look at Squids, seated and trembling, and had a momentary swell of empathy. His daughter was only few years younger, after all, and he felt the same swell of fear and self-loathing whenever he had to speak in public.

“Listen,” Dennis added. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Nobody is who they present themself as, especially not people who seem to have everything all put together. Those folks who go out there every night to entertain? They’re just as scared as you and me.”

“But how…?”

“Fake it,” Dennis said. “Pretend. Pull one over on them. You’re already halfway there with that makeup, now go the rest of the way. The idea, Miss, uh, Squids isn’t to stop being afraid. It’s to get so good at resending otherwise that it’s second nature.”

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