Authors: Kristina Springer
To my four little pumpkins:
Teegan, Maya, London, and Gavin
Thump, thump, thump.
“What theâ?” The redheaded woman standing across from me at the checkout pales and her dark brown eyes widen. She's looking at something over my right shoulder.
It takes me only a fraction of a second to turn, but it feels like everything is moving in slow motion as I take in the full scene.
I scream, racing for the huge pumpkin-tower display near the entrance to the Patch. Pumpkins are rolling down the sides of the tower from the top and people are yelping and jumping out of the way as the twenty- and thirty-pounders barrel toward them.
A woman screams, both her arms extended over her head like she's on a roller coaster. I look up into the sunlight at the peak of the tower and my eyes focus on the cause of both the scream and the avalanche.
A little boy.
His arms are out to his sides in a shaky
as he balances on the top pumpkin.
I don't think. I don't speak. I don't hesitate.
I run. I sprint up one side of the pumpkin tower, taking two pumpkins at a time until I'm at the top. Without pause, I grasp the little blond mountain climber under my right arm and jump off the back of the tower.
There are several yells of “No” and “Oh my God” and I can hear a number of women gasp, but I know what I'm doing. This isn't the first time a kid has climbed the pumpkin tower.
I bicycle-kick in the air like a high jumper on an all-star track team and land safely on a big fluffy pile of hay, Junior still safe in my arms.
Strategically placing the hay pile here was my idea two years ago when Jimmy Norton climbed the pumpkin tower, causing the first avalanche and my landing to be not quite so pleasant. I keep telling Dad that while the pumpkin tower looks cool, it's way too dangerous. And the hand-painted
PLEASE DON'T CLIMB THE PUMPKINS
sign posted in front of it is pretty ineffective since most toddlers can't read. But year after year he erects it anyway because he says half the crowd comes just to see the tower. Which I suppose is true. It is one of the popular picture-taking spots here.
Junior's mother is standing in front of me now, trying to catch her breath. Her cheeks are red and tear streaked. “My baby, my baby,” she sobs, scooping the boy out of my arms and into her own. She nuzzles her face into his neck and then looks back down at me. “You saved him,” she says, her eyes filled with relief and gratitude.
I smile and my heart swells.
“How can I ever thank you?” the woman asks. “Can I give you some money?” She jams a hand into a large striped diaper bag slung over her shoulder while the other still cradles her boy.
I wave one hand in the air. “Oh no, no. Really. It was no big deal. Go on and have a great day with your son.”
“Thank you,” she whispers, and walks away. Her son grins mischievously at me from over her shoulder and I shake my head at him.
I close my eyes for a second and lie back in the hay. I wiggle my body parts one by one to see if anything hurts. Nope. All good. I landed well this time.
“Jamie? You okay?” a deep voice asks.
My eyelids flutter open and the sunlight momentarily blinds me. But then I make out the unmistakable hazy figure hovering above me.
And my heart beats faster. Danny.
He kneels in front of me and takes both of my hands in his, gently pulling me into an upright position. He smells like a mixture of grass, Doritos, and Altoids. In other words, heaven. I consider falling back into the hay so that we can have us a little redo. But that might be a tad dramatic.
“IÂ â¦ I think so,” I say carefully. I'm totally fine but I don't want him to go away yet. Or ever.
His hand comes toward my face and for the briefest second I think he's going to grab me and kiss me passionately, overcome with the momentary fear of almost losing me forever. Yeah, I DVR a lot of daytime drama and that would definitely happen next if we were on a soap opera. But he carefully pulls hay from one of my pigtails instead. And I have to say, this is the second-best thing he could do right now, right after kissing me.
“That was awesome,” Danny says, standing up.
A small wave of disappointment comes over me. I was hoping we could stay down here for a while.
“Man, it looked like your feet barely touched the pumpkins,” he adds.
the secret during a pumpkin avalanche. If you are quick enough, you can climb to the top of the tower before the pumpkins barrel to the ground. It's kind of like running up an escalator backward. Only faster.
But I only reply, “Yeah.”
“How about I help you put the tower back together?” he asks, eyeing the pumpkins scattered all over the place. Patrons entering the Patch are stepping around the mess and throwing one another puzzled looks. I glance over at the three registers under the green-and-yellow-striped tent where I'd been working. Phyllis, one of our part-timers who has been working here since I was in diapers, took over my register for me and is handling the long line of customers waiting to check out with their pumpkins.
“That'd be great,” I reply in a voice a little more breathy than I'd like. But hey, I just jumped off the back of a pumpkin tower, I'm allowed to be a bit winded.
Okay, normally I'm what you'd call a “talker,” as in, I like to talk. Constantly. To everybody. Customers, people at the post office, grocery store clerks, other students at school. In fact, the only trouble I've ever gotten into at school has been for talking. I'm a repeat offender. I can't help it! I like to socialize. You'd think that was a healthy thing, right? But when it comes to talking to Danny it's like my heart is sucking all the blood from my brain and I can't put more than a few words together.
Yeah. He's that cute.
I've always thought I was pretty tall at five feet eight, but Danny is a good six or seven inches taller than me and built like a baseball player, muscular and slim. And he's got this smile that melts my insides every single time I see it. I've been in love with him since I was thirteen and first started working at the Patch. That's four years of solid devotion.
I remember the day, really the very second, that Danny stopped being just another Patch worker and started being the guy who could make my heart thump out crazy beats. It was late August and a half dozen or so seasonal workers and I were out in the field, loading the wagon attached to Danny's tractor with pumpkins to bring up front for the displays. He was sixteen and a part-timer at that time. I was pretty tiny back then and the other workers were loading much faster than me. One of the older girls called me Squirt and said I should stick to loading the small pumpkins. Well, I didn't like being called Squirt so I went after the biggest pumpkin I saw. It had to be a good forty to forty-five pounds. I picked it up and started making my way slowly to the wagon. The pumpkin was heavy and the next thing I knew I lost my balance and fell over backward. The pumpkin tumbled over my shoulder into the dirt and I got a nasty scratch on my cheek from the stem. I bit down on the insides of my cheeks, determined not to cry and look like a big baby in front of everyone. Danny came over, looked at my face, and brought me to the driver's seat of his big green tractor and had me take a seat. He pulled out a first-aid kit and set to cleaning and bandaging my scratch. I didn't say a word while he worked and I didn't even cringe when he put on the stinging antiseptic. I watched him concentrating on my cheek and how the corners of his lips curled up slightly like they might turn into a smile at any given moment. Suddenly my skin got prickly, I felt flushed, and my heart was pounding in my ears. That's when I knew I was D-O-N-E, done. Danny was then, and still is, the only target of my affection.
Danny hoists a fat orange pumpkin under each of his arms and heads for the center of the collapsed tower. His gray flannel sleeves are rolled up and his tanned biceps are flexed.
wish I had my digital camera right now. I would capture this moment, blow the picture up to a monster-sized poster, and hang it over my bed. Or maybe I'd take a bunch of shots and make a calendar. Twelve months of Danny. Wow. This would be the shot for October, my favorite month.
Time to stop daydreaming and get to work. I wipe my sweaty hands on my overalls, scoop a pumpkin into my arms, and follow him to the pile.
The avalanche-watching crowd has dissipated now since there isn't anything to see, just a mess to clean up. The parents pull their small kids in old red metal wagons and head for the petting zoo or the pony rides or the caramel apple stand. During pumpkin season, people come from all over to visit the Patch, even as far out as Chicago. It's tradition to a lot of folks. Not to mention all the school field trips, Scout troops, church groups, and people who want to hold picnics and parties here. There are a hundred things to do at the Edwards Pumpkin Patch; it's 160 acres of fun and I've loved it my whole life.
I look over at my best friend, Sara, who is working at the caramel apples, and feel myself blush. Sara is making this incredibly obnoxious kissing face and passionately hugging herself. Sheesh, I hope no one else sees her. She can be such a freak. I turn back to see if Danny noticed, but he's busy scooping up two more pumpkins.
“Stop it!” I mouth at her, and she laughs. Sara knows all about my long-term crush on Danny. She's always telling me to ask him out already. But I can't do that. Geez, what if he said no? I'd be so humiliated and never be able to face him at work again. Which means I'd have to quit, thus losing all my spending money, not to mention the ability to pay for gas for my car. And, furthermore, ruining my social life since cruising is the number-one Friday night teenage activity in the town of Average, Illinois. True, my family owns the Patch, but Danny is a full-timer now and they need him here to do a lot of the heavy work with my dad. Sure, I'm family, but if it came down to who would keep their job at the Patch, I'm pretty sure Danny would win. People come to the Patch and see what a huge operation it is but I'm not sure they know that most of these workers are seasonal. During pumpkin season, Dad hires anywhere from seventy-five to a hundred seasonal workers. But as for the rest of the year? He only has ten part-timers and a handful of full-timers. He needs Danny.
And, ugh, what if Danny has a girlfriend? Though I'm almost certain he doesn't. He works too hard to have time for a girlfriend. One outside of the Patch anyway. He's always here, taking whatever overtime he can get. He's saving to buy his own land. He wants to run his own farm one day. Man, having goals is so sexy.
Danny looks over at me and smiles. I almost drop the pumpkin I'm holding, but I manage to smile back, wishing my smile could convey what's in my heart, like: “You're wonderful.” “You're gorgeous.” “Please, please, please ask me to go on a date!” But there's no heart-to-English translator around and Danny picks up two more pumpkins and heads for the tower.