Authors: Kristina Springer
“I haven't shown anyone yet. But you'll see it soon enough,” I say. I don't want to tell her that I'm sort of shy about the dress. It's pretty fancy, and a long, long way from my typical overalls. “Anyway, I was thinking of getting some lipstick or something.”
“Wait, I'm doing your makeup,” Sara says. “But we probably should check colors on you.”
Dilly holds up a box of hair color. “What about your hair? Want me to dye it?”
Flashes of bright colors race through my mind. I'm definitely not ready for that big a change. “Um, no thanks.”
“Over here,” Sara calls from a few aisles over. “There are samples.”
“Ooh, I love samples,” Dilly says, and tugs my arm to follow her.
Sara and Dilly comb through the samples, discussing colors, and I take a seat on the bottom shelf of the endcap, resting my head on my knees.
“What's wrong?” Sara asks, looking down at me.
I sigh. “I don't know. I was thinking, what if Milan actually wins Pumpkin Princess? That's going to suck so bad.”
“Oh, she won't. You can't think like that,” Sara says.
“Yeah, but what if she
? I can hope and hope that everyone will vote for me. That they will think I'm the right person for the job. But what if they get caught up in the Milan craze and forget about me?”
“Hmm.” Sara looks stumped.
A few seconds later Dilly speaks up. “Maybe you should campaign?”
“Campaign? No, I couldn't do that. That would be tacky,” I argue.
“It's not a bad idea,” Sara says slowly. “It might help to remind people that you're here and running for Pumpkin Princess too.”
I shake my head no but now I'm thinking about it. Maybe I could. But only if I'm subtle.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
I've been thinking about it since our shopping trip on Saturday and I've decided that I
campaign. But only a little. Starting today, as soon as I get out of my school clothes and into my work clothes.
I head out to the information table near the entrance. Today I'm supposed to be demonstrating and giving tips on good pumpkin-carving techniques.
I grab the stem of the big pumpkin on the table and hold a knife in my free hand. “You know how when you make the opening at the top of the pumpkin?” I ask the crowd of ten or so patrons, watching me get ready to carve the pumpkin. “Well, sometimes it takes a bit of time to line it back up when you put the top on. One thing you can do is leave a small notchâin this case I'm going to make a one-inch triangle here at the back of my opening. Now, see how when I want to put the top back on I match up the triangles and I don't have to mess around with it.”
“Ahh,” a couple of the women say. I see Milan join the crowd and watch me. But I ignore her.
“I actually learned this tip from Gabby Ranebaker. Rememberâthe Pumpkin Princess from three years ago? She also worked at the Patch back then. Like me.” There. That's pretty subtle. “I think it's good to have a Pumpkin Princess who's a hard worker, and especially someone from the Patch, don't you think?” I ask no one in particular, hoping I'm not laying it on too thick.
“Speaking of hard workers,” Milan interrupts. “Know what that reminds me of? My good friend Anthony Taylor. You know, the YouTube sensation turned platinum recording artist? He's writing a new song called âReal Hard Worker.'”
“What? He is?” one girl says. “You know Anthony?” another girls asks. “What's he like?” someone says. And off they go, forming a circle around Milan to hear her talk about yet another famous friend and ending my presentation. Grr. She so did that on purpose.
I try again on Wednesday afternoon. And this time I'm going to do less talking and more bribing. I open up the large Tupperware tray I'm carrying and display the fifty pumpkin truffles dipped in white chocolate that I made last night. It's Mom's old recipe and they took forever to make. But they taste like heaven and people can't resist them. I pass them out to customers one by one. I feel like one of those sample ladies we see at the big warehouse club we go to once or twice a year to stock up on bulk items.
“Want one?” I ask Milan. I know perfectly well that she doesn't, but I don't want to be rude to her in front of all these people.
Milan makes a horrified face. “No, never. Don't you know that corn syrup kills?”
I gape at her. “Wh-what?” Corn syrup so does not kill. And I didn't put any corn syrup in these anyway.
The woman holding a pumpkin truffle midair on the way to her mouth suddenly drops it back on the tray.
Milan smiles. “Here, would you like one of these great iPhone cases I'm passing out today instead?” she asks the woman. Milan pulls something out of a bag I didn't even notice she had swung over her shoulder. It's an iPhone case with a close-up picture of Milan's face on the back and her name written in glitter across the bottom. Gag.
The woman nods and Milan hands her one. “Anyone else?” she asks. “I've got plenty.”
I step back and watch people line up for Milan's iPhone cases. I don't get it. I bet half of these people don't even own iPhones. And even if they do, who wants Milan's big ol' head on their phone?
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
On Thursday, I'm working at the register, weighing and checking out pumpkins, but my mind is elsewhere. The contest is a little over a week away and I'm not sure how to get people to vote for me without coming right out and asking for their votes. And that's tacky. I've thought about buttons and stickers that say “Jamie for Pumpkin Princess” but that's even worse. And even if I came out with something like that, Milan would just do it bigger and better.
Speaking of Milan, she's headed right for me. I'm going to ignore her and concentrate extra hard on weighing these pumpkins for Mrs. Fini and her kids.
“Hi, Jamie,” Milan sings out.
I can't help myself; I look up. And the first thing I see is her shirt. “Hey,” I yell, “you can't wear that! You didn't win yet!” Milan is wearing a supertight orange T-shirt with the words
bedazzled across her chest.
“âYet' being the operative word,” she replies.
Ooh. Did I say “yet”?
“And it seems to me that I can wear what I like,” she continues. “Don't be so jealous, Jamie. It's not cute. And besides, maybe you'll get runner-up.”
I slam one of the Finis' pumpkins down a little too hard on the counter. I am completely and totally 100 percent furious with Milan. Just as I'm about to rip into her I glance up and see Danny watching us from outside the tent. My heart is racing and I take a deep breath, trying to calm down. I hate looking lame in front of Danny. He probably agrees with Milan and thinks I'm jealous too.
I ignore Milan and turn my attention back to Mrs. Fini. “That'll be twenty dollars, even,” I say in the steadiest voice I can manage.
I'm supposed to pick Sara up in ten minutes to go out but I can't find my hairbrush anywhere. Maybe I left it in the bathroom this morning. As I head down the hallway I hear talking coming from inside Milan's room. I wonder who she has in there. I pause outside her door and listen.
“Oh God, it's dreadful. No joke, Gabrielle,” Milan says.
Gabrielle? Who the heck is Gabrielle? I lean in closer to hear better.
“For real,” she goes on. “This has got to be the most boring place on earth. There is literally nothing to do. They have one store for the entire town. Can you imagine? And the people, well, you know how midwesterners are.” Milan lets out a loud laugh.
How dare she! What does she mean “how midwesterners are”? How exactly are we? I'm pretty sure friendly, family-oriented, and hardworking isn't what she's implying.
I wait for her to say more, but there's only silence. She must be on her cell phone.
“You're so right,” she finally says. “And get this, oh you'll love it, promise. Okay.” She pauses. “I'm in a contest.” She laughs again. “No, seriously, I am. Swear. It's called Pumpkin Princess.”
There is silence. This Gabrielle person must be asking her what Pumpkin Princess is.
“It's so lame, like everything else here,” Milan says.
I feel my blood boiling. I knew she wasn't serious about Pumpkin Princess! It's been an act. She's only doing this because she knows that I want it.
“Of course I'll win,” she continues. “Please, like there is any competition here. I could walk out there in a garbage bag and win hands down.”
I gasp. The nerve!
“And the prize is some silly little beanie or something. I don't know. Samantha says it's actually cute, but I can't imagine how it could be. It's supposedly a pumpkin stem covered in green rhinestones. What? A stem. You know, that curvy thing at the top of the pumpkin? It's like the handle for carrying it. Yeah, that's it. Well, the winner gets to wear this thing on her head. Isn't that the funniest thing you've ever heard?” Milan dissolves into giggles again and I storm back to my room, forgoing the search for the missing hairbrush.
I drop onto my bed and cross my arms over my chest. I'm so mad. This is exactly why Milan shouldn't be within a hundred yards of the Pumpkin Princess contest. How my parents think she'd represent our town adequately is beyond me. I wish they had heard her talking so badly about it just now. They and everyone else around here need to be straightened out on what kind of person Milan really is.
Pumpkin Princess is a cherished tradition in our town. I'm positive people wouldn't vote for Milan if they knew how poorly she thinks of everyone. There has got to be a way I can show people who Milan is without being pegged as jealous and catty. I know that's exactly what Milan will say if I call her right out on what I overheard. Girls with seriously bad attitudes like hers always claim that everyone else is jealous of them. And, sure, that may be the case sometimes. But sometimes the problem is that they are real witches. And it's no use going to Mom and Dad; it's obvious they will take her side over mine. No, I'm going to have to think long and hard about this and figure out a plan that will work. Milan can't be Pumpkin Princess. I can't let it happen.
I finger-comb my hair as best I can and race off for Sara's house. We're already late to meet Dilly at the town hall. Once a month our town puts up a giant movie screen and shows an old movie behind the town hall. There's a big hill right there and just about everyone comes out with their blankets and bags of microwave popcorn to watch the show. The movie is generally not great but it's something different to do. Tonight they're showing the 1989 Michael Keaton version of
“Dilly,” I call out in a loud whisper as Sara and I weave in and out of blankets, trying to spot Dilly's. Hers has a giant blue Care Bear with a glow-in-the-dark tummy so it shouldn't be that hard to find. But there are a lot of people and a lot of blankets out here tonight.
“Jamie!” Dilly says, and I whirl around. We passed her. We backtrack two blankets and move up the hill one.
“Hey,” I say, taking a seat on her blanket.
Sara drops two bags of popped microwave popcorn and three diet root beers on the blanket before plopping down beside me.
“I was wondering when you guys were going to get here,” Dilly says.
Sara looks at me to respond.
“My fault,” I say. “I was running late. But with good reason. I was eavesdropping on Milan.”
Dilly's eyebrows shoot up in interest.
“Really?” Sara asks. “You didn't mention it on the way here.”
A fuzzy static sound comes over the speakers and lights flash on the giant movie screen. They're warming up the projector.
I better make this fast. I quickly relay every single word Milan said to her friend on the phone.
Dilly hugs her knees and rocks back and forth. Sara shakes her head and flings burnt pieces of popcorn out onto the grass while I talk.
“So what do I do?” I ask when I'm finished.
“Hmm. I don't know,” Sara says. “But something has to be done or she's going to turn Pumpkin Princess into a big joke.”
Dilly nods in agreement. “Yeah, but Jamie's right. She can't call her out. No one will believe her.”
We sit quietly, thinking. The opening credits of
start and a baby cries somewhere up the hill. I turn around to see who it is. The Applegates had their baby a month and a half ago, but I'm not sure they'd bring her out here to a movie in the cool night air like this. I scan the crowd, but don't see where the crying is coming from. My eyes land on someone a heck of a lot more appealing though: Danny. He's a good ten blankets behind me, sitting right on the grass, his long legs stretched out before him. He looks like he's still wearing his jeans and flannel shirt from work. The two guys he's sitting with are tossing popcorn at each other, but Danny's ignoring it. He spots me looking at him and waves. I return the gesture and quickly turn back around. I shudder. I cross my arms and rub them with my hands. Geez, he can give me shivers even when he's a good sixty feet away.
Sara leans in to me and whispers, “The contest is only a week away. If you're going to out Milan to the town, then you're gonna need to find a way to do it without anyone knowing it's you. Something anonymous.”
Anonymous. I nod and turn my attention toward the screen.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
On Saturday morning, Mom decides we need more decorative gourds at the Patch entrance so of course she asks me to go fetch them. My arms tingle at the mere thought of touching the gourds and squashes again. But I don't have to pick them today. Mom said Jake already put together a box of the best-looking gourds for me. I'm still wearing my work gloves anyway, just in case.
I start the trek to the gourd field, my mind racing. I need to develop a surefire plan to get Milan. Something that will let people see beyond the glamorous Hollywood stories and glittery boots. Something that can't be linked back to me. But what?