Authors: Kristina Springer
I jump off the throne, hurl the blankets over it, and race for the front of the barn just as he's opening the door.
He examines the barn, looking over the baskets and plows and extra shovels and rakes, probably trying to see if anything is out of place. “What are you doing?” His voice has a hint of accusation in it.
I hoist up one of the large red baskets. “Getting ready to pick apples,” I say as innocently as I can. “We need some fresh ones up at the farm stand.” We do let people pick their own apples of course, but some don't like to do the actual work and prefer to buy a five-pound bag at the farm stand. I drag an arm across my forehead. Man, it's hot in the barn. And not just because Dad's yelling at me. It's gotta be in the 70s this morning. Too hot for September, that's for sure.
“Get a move on, then. Afterward, go up front to help your mother in the petting zoo.” He turns and leaves the barn.
“Nice chatting with you too,” I mumble. I've already been working for two hours and that's the first time Dad even talked to me this morning. We're not a chatty family in the mornings. Well, Dad isn't chatty ever. We all tend to do our thing without talking about it. Although, I wonder, where's Milan? She's supposed to be “working” here now. She could always go help Mom.
Twenty minutes later I've filled my basket with Fuji and Red Delicious and I'm pulling them to the front in an old rusty wagon. I leave the apples with Martha, the woman who runs the farm stand, and check my watch: 9:45. We open in fifteen minutes and there is still no sign of Milan. I know she is a guest in our home but she's here to work for the whole pumpkin season so she should be, well, working. With the rest of us. But it
her first day. I bet she's tired from the trip. I knowâafter I help Mom I'll stop and get Milan a nice strong black coffee from the concession stand and bring it to her.
On my way to help Mom in the petting zoo I stop at the caramel apple stand to visit Sara. She's putting the finishing touches on today's caramel apples. She makes them fresh each day and they taste amazing.
“Mmm, did you make the Jamie Special?” I ask.
“M&M'S, sunflower seeds, and crushed Cheetos?” she says. “Still disgusting, but yes, I surely did.”
“You're the best!” I say. “I'll come back at lunchtime for it. Any new combinations today?”
“Yeah, I'm trying a few new ones. I made two with pumpkin seeds and butterscotch chips in caramel, and a couple of s'moresâmarshmallow cream dipped in chocolate and graham cracker crumbs. We'll see if they sell.” She shrugs like it's no big deal but the caramel apples are a
deal to Sara. She labors over each concoction, trying to make each new recipe more interesting than the last. And she keeps close tabs on what her customers like and tries to improve on it. Caramel apples are her passion.
I look over the rest of Sara's display. She does carry most of the typical apples you might find at any other caramel apple standâregular caramel, caramel with nuts, caramel with M&M'S, chocolate drizzle, and so on, each individually wrapped in cellophane and tied with a pretty orange ribbon. But I always look forward to the new ones she comes up with. Like the honey-dipped Granny Smith covered in Gummi-Bears and dried cranberries. It's such a cool talent she has.
“Looking good,” Danny's voice says from behind me. I turn to look at him. I wish he was talking about me, but judging by the direction of his gaze he's talking to an apple dipped in peanut butter and pecans.
“Hey, Danny,” Sara says.
“Hi,” I softly add.
“How are you feeling today?” Danny asks.
“Um, m-me?” I stutter.
“Yeah, you.” He grins, adjusting the rim of his baseball cap so he can see me better. “After your Jackie Chan moves jumping off the tower yesterday I was wondering if anything is sore.”
I hesitate. Let me see if I can capitalize on his question. If I tell him something is sore, say, my shoulders, for example, maybe he'll rub them? “I'm fine,” I reply instead. God, I'm such a wimp.
“Good to hear,” he says. He reaches one hand up to his neck and rubs.
“Are you sore?” I ask before I even think about what I'm saying. Maybe I can rub him? Oh, who am I kidding? I'd pass out before my fingers ever met his neck.
“I think I slept funny or something,” he says, still rubbing.
I bet he's beautiful when he sleeps.
“You've got to be kidding me,” Sara exclaims, shooting a disgusted look past Danny and me.
My eyes follow her gaze and land squarely on Milan, standing about a hundred yards away, sporting a teeny tiny pink bikini top, the shortest short-shorts I've ever seen, and glittery magenta cowboy boots. The look could easily rival Jessica Simpson's in her
Dukes of Hazzard
“You've got to be kidding me,” I echo.
I run for Milan, not entirely sure what I'm going to say or do when I finally reach her. My first instinct is to grab one of the horse blankets and throw it over her before my dad sees her out here like this. I don't see any blankets or other alternatives nearby, however. I stop abruptly in front of her, panting. She cocks her head at me, looking slightly amused.
“Um, okay. Hi. Good morning. Hope you slept well and all that stuff,” I begin, talking fast. I glance left and right to see if my dad is anywhere in sight. But I don't see him. Yet. “So, listen,” I continue. “We don't, um, er, dress like that here at the Patch. Like, we
don't dress like that. Not that you look bad or anything, I mean, it's a nice bathing suit and the pink brings out your, uh, makeup. I guess. Obviously you look great, and I'm sure where you're from people dress like that all the time, but seriously, you can't be out here half-naked in front of the customers. If my dad sees you he'll flip his lid. For real,” I add for emphasis.
Milan chuckles and shakes her head at me and not in a that-was-a-great-joke-you-told kind of way but in a you-poor-jealous-girl sort of way. But she's got me all wrong. I'm not jealous. Well, not much. I'm not protesting her attire out of envy, but out of a desire to avoid the almost certain confrontation if my dad sees her. I'm looking out for her like any good cousin would.
“I'm not trying to be a prude or anything, Milan,” I go on, “but this is a family place. There are kids!” I gesture to a five-year-old boy peeking out from behind a tall corn-husk decoration to emphasize my point. The boy is staring at Milan like she's a double-dipped ice-cream cone.
Milan sighs loudly. “Listen,
, if I'm stuck out here working all day then I'm going to be working on my tan at the same time.” She examines one of her lean arms, admiring her already perfect bronze color.
She's totally trying to brush me off! I can't let her. “Please, Milan. Please go back to the house and grab a shirt at least. The shorts areâ¦” I pause, evaluating her way-too-short-and-frayed denim. “Well, they'll do I guess but you really need more on top.” I wiggle my index finger in the direction of her overexposed chest. “And before my dad sees you. Please?” I add, hating how whiny and desperate I sound.
“No,” Milan shoots back. “I'm not walking all the way back to your house just to get a silly shirt. These are new boots and I'm not going to get a blister because you're afraid of a little skin.” She reaches down to wipe away an invisible speck of dirt from her right boot and gives Junior a real eyeful of her cleavage. His mother sees him gawking and puts a hand over his eyes.
Argh! I want to pull my hair out. She's so darn frustrating. I'm not afraid of a little skin. It's not like I don't have skin too. My skin is fine. I just don't show it to the whole blasted world. And who told her to wear new boots to work? Okay. Deep breath. It's not her fault. She doesn't know any better. It's like she's from another country or something. Would we yell at someone visiting from England for driving on the wrong side of the road? Okay, we would. Bad example. I need some patience with Milan, that's all. I contemplate making a dash back to the house to grab a shirt for her, to fix the situation, when Danny steps up beside me. Milan straightens like she's noticing him for the very first time and gives him a toothy smile.
Danny's long fingers quickly unbutton the light brown flannel he's wearing. “Here,” he says briskly, pulling the shirt off his broad shoulders and handing it to Milan. “Put this on.”
Milan looks at Danny, now in only a dark brown tee stretched ever so slightly across his chest, and then at me, and shrugs. While it's a completely logical and utterly sweet gesture on Danny's part, seeing anyone other than myself in Danny's deliciously worn-in flannel will feel like a thousand knife stabs to my heart, I'm quite sure.
Milan takes the shirt, says thank you sweetly to Danny, and slips it over her narrow shoulders.
Yep. My heart is Swiss cheese.
Danny mutters, “No problem,” to Milan, and then says, “I better get back to work,” to me.
I nod slowly and watch him retreat to his tractor. He needs to get ready to take the first group of patrons on a hayride out to the pumpkin field to find their perfect pumpkins.
When I turn back to Milan she has Danny's flannel sleeves rolled up to Tuesday and she's tying the tails of the shirt up high enough to show maximum tummy.
“There. Better?” Milan asks, waiting for my approval.
I try to smile, repeating the Milan-is-new-and-doesn't-know-any-better speech in my head. But all I really want to do is rip Danny's shirt off her and run away screaming “Mine, mine, mine!”
I nod. “Much.”
“Good. Then if there's nothing else I'm off to find Uncle Henry and see what it is that I'm supposed to do out here.” Milan turns and leaves me.
I stand alone for a moment, watching her, and then head for the petting zoo to help Mom.
“Hey, Mom,” I say a few minutes later when I find her with a shovel, cleaning the pony stalls. “I'm here to help.”
Mom smiles. “Hi, honey. The ponies still need to be brushed, the pigs need to be fed, and the antibacterial instant hand-sanitizer dispensers need to be refilled. Start wherever.”
I nod. It's easy stuff. I grab a big brush and set to work on Brownie, my favorite of the ponies. She's a favorite with the kids too. She's super gentle. “Hey, sweetie,” I coo to the pony. “How are you today? Did you miss me?” Brownie grins at meâwell, I like to think she's grinning at meâand I rub her nose. She loves Jolly Ranchers and I reach into my back pocket for the three watermelon-flavored ones I brought for her.
“Is Milan out here?” Mom calls to me from the stall she's working in.
“Yeah. Finally,” I mumble.
“Dad has her helping Martha this morning,” Mom goes on. I can hear her scraping the floor of the stall with the shovel.
“Doing what?” I ask. Martha always has the farm stand in tip-top shape. She never needs help from anyone.
“I'm not entirely sure,” Mom says. “But Martha will find something for her to do.”
Hmph. So that's how it's going to be this season. Milan isn't actually going to be doing any real work, but rather playing the part of someone working at a pumpkin patch. Nice. I shake my head in disgust and keep working on Brownie's coat.
“You know, Jamie,” Mom says in an accusatory tone, “it wouldn't kill you to go out of your way to be nice to your cousin. It's hard living in a new place where you don't know anyone.”
“What? I've been nice,” I protest. And I have. She's the one who has been cold to me since the second she got here.
“Well, be nicer,” Mom says, and turns her back to me.
I sigh. I suppose Mom's right. Milan's barely been here a day. I need to try harder. I'm sure by this time next week we'll be just like sisters. “Yes, Mom.” I start brushing Brownie's coat again, then stop. “Hey, Mom,” I say. “Why is Milan here, again?”
“I told you. She's on a break.”
“But who gets a break a few weeks into school starting?” I press on.
“Jamieâ¦” Mom says in that warning tone that means I'm to stop pushing her. She leaves the petting zoo, ending the conversation.
When I'm done working for the day, I head for the house, wiping the dirt off the front of my overalls as I walk. I saw Milan leave the Patch over an hour ago and I'm wondering how her first day went.
I greet Mom and head for Milan's bedroom, determined to be pleasant and to try to strike up a conversation with her. I peer in and see Milan struggling with a giant, heavy-looking trunk. It must have been delivered today since she didn't have it with her when she arrived yesterday. I pause, figuring out what I'm going to say. I've got to try again with Milan. We have to get to a good place or these six weeks are going to be miserable. I'm going to kill her with kindness, as they say. I take a deep breath. Okay, I'm going in.
“Hey, Milan!” I sing out cheerily. I stretch my cheeks into such an enormous smile that it almost hurts.
Milan glances over her shoulder at me and then returns her gaze to her trunk. “Hey,” she replies flatly.
I rock on my heels, waiting for her to say something else. But she doesn't. Okay. “So,” I try, “got more stuff today, huh?”
“Nope. Not a thing.”
I give her a quizzical look. Oh. Sarcasm. Fun! Ignore, ignore, ignore.
I step farther into the room and reach out to touch the trunk. “Your luggage is gorgeous,” I say, admiring the smooth brown leather with the funny gold letters on it.
Milan sighs heavily and looks at me, no expression on her face.
“You've got to be so tired from your first full day on the Patch. Would you like me to help you?” I offer.