Authors: Kristina Springer
Milan considers this briefly and then pushes back from the trunk. “Yeah, sure. Knock yourself out.” She grabs a magazine from the dresser and plops onto the bed. “Oh, wait,” she says, lowering the magazine, “can you go wash your hands first? I don't want grub all over my clothes.”
“Um, sure,” I say, and head for the bathroom. Grub? Baby steps, I tell myself.
I return a moment later. Milan doesn't stop reading her magazine to acknowledge that I'm back, so I set to work. I grab a stack of hangers from the closet and kneel beside the trunk. It's crammed full of expensive-looking clothes. I pull out a couple of plain white tees and feel minorly better about Milan. Maybe she is a normal girl after all. Then I catch the price tag on one of the shirts: $89.99. You've got to be kidding me. I rub the fabric and turn the shirt over a couple of times in my hands. It feels like a normal cotton tee to me. Size
. No special design, no pocket, no fancy stitching. I don't get it. What makes it so expensive? I want to ask Milan, but I'm sure she'll roll her eyes at me so I put the tees on hangers and walk over to her closet to hang them.
I reach into the trunk and pull out a big stack of tiny, and I do mean
, denim shorts. They're a rectangular shape and I'm betting if I ran a stitch along the bottom, cut out the middle, and added a zipper to the top they could double for my third-grade pencil case. I don't know how she gets into these things. I fold the shorts, which takes barely seconds, walk to the dresser, and load them into the middle drawer. I look over at Milan and she's concentrating heavily on her magazine. I'll admit this is a little bit weird. I thought unpacking would be something we could do together. Some girl-bonding time.
I pick up a strapless pink floral sundress and hold it in front of me, not sure how to get it on the hanger. “This is cute,” I say, hoping to start a dialogue with Milan.
Milan looks at the dress and then back at her magazine. “You couldn't wear it. Your shoulders are much too muscular. Kind of manly, if you ask me.”
I stare at her, my jaw dropped. Did she just call me a man? Feeling wounded, I don't reply, but keep making trips back and forth from the trunk to the closet, hanging clothes.
When I'm done hanging Milan's outfits, all thirty-two of them, I perch on the end of her bed, hoping for a nice chat.
Milan senses that I'm not leaving and lowers her magazine. “Yes?”
I stumble with my words. “Umâ¦” I'm so not used to this much rudeness! People do not behave this way in Average. “So, uh, tell me about Los Angeles,” I finally get out.
“It's hot,” she says matter-of-factly.
Okay. “Um, what do you do with your friends for fun there?” I ask.
Milan rubs her forehead with her right hand, like she's getting a migraine or something. “You know,” she says, “I'm tired. So if you wouldn't mind.” She waves toward the door for me to go, and puts the magazine back up in front of her face.
That's it? Not even a thank-you? I hesitate, trying to digest what just happened, and then rise off the bed to leave. I linger at the door for a moment and look at Milan. I don't understand my cousin.
Twenty minutes later, while I'm in my room writing in my journal, I hear a car pull up outside. I look out the window and see two girls in the front seats. If I'm not mistaken it's Kettle Corn Girl and Sno-Cone Sammy. Both are seasonal workers at the Patch and community college students. I'm not too friendly with either girl. A no-longer-tired Milan runs out the front door, laughing, and jumps into the backseat of the car. I watch the three girls pull away.
I guess it isn't
Average people Milan dislikes. Just me.
It's midmorning Sunday and I'm getting a little hungry. I couldn't eat breakfast earlier, which never ever happens. I love food. And I'm not tired from staying up too late; I didn't even go out last night. I'm just down. Milan hurt my feelings yesterday. What have I done to her? I'd come right out and ask her why she doesn't like me if I didn't think she'd laugh like crazy at me. I head for Sara's stand for a quick check-in.
“Hi, Jamie!” Molly Jenkins calls as I pass the front of the corn maze. Molly runs it. She takes the tickets and lets people in and if they can't find their way out she goes on in and finds them. She's so sweet.
“Hey, Molly,” I say, pausing to chat. “How's it going?”
“Great!” She smiles brightly. “Jacob lost two teeth this morning and Amber started walking last week.” Molly's been working here to help her mom out since last pumpkin season, when her dad went on disability. She's got a mess of brothers and sisters and when she's not here she's usually watching them.
“Aw, they're so adorable,” I say, and she nods. “Well, you have a good day.” I wave and continue on toward Sara.
“Is it getting hotter and hotter today or what?” I ask when I reach her stand.
“Tell me about it,” she replies. “Need a water?” She reaches down into the cooler and pulls out an icy-cold bottle of water for me.
“Thanks,” I tell her, and rub the bottle across my forehead. “Can I get some M&M'S?”
“Are your hands clean?” She looks down at my hands and I do too. They're a bit dusty but not bad.
“Fairly,” I say.
She smiles and scoops a spoonful of M&M'S into a napkin and hands it to me.
I look around the Patch. “Seen Milan lately?” I ask. I heard her come in late last night so I wonder if she's even come out to work today. I focus on my candy, separating the orange M&M'S from the rest on my napkin. I always eat the orange ones first.
Sara nods and chuckles. “That girl,” she says. “She certainly stirs things up, doesn't she?”
“What now?” I ask, not sure I want to know.
“Well, let's see. I think she worked with Martha for all of five minutes this morning before Christy and Dana ran over with refreshments.”
Christy and Dana work at the main concession stand on the weekends.
“But Milan doesn't eat anything,” I say.
Sara's eyes widen. “Oh yeah, I'm pretty sure she told them that because they turned right back around and five minutes later returned with a bottle of water and baked pumpkin seeds.”
I shake my head. “That girl,” I say, repeating Sara.
“Wait,” Sara says. She puts a hand on my shoulder and nods straight ahead. “Here she comes. Watch how the employees look at her.”
I lean an elbow on Sara's counter and watch Milan cross from the farm stand to the row of pumpkin weigh stations. My eyes dart around, from the zoo to the pony rides to the craft tent, and sure enough, all the Patch workers have paused in what they're doing and are watching Milan. She's like a traveling car crash. “I don't get it,” I say to Sara. “Are you and I the only ones resistant to her spell?”
“It would seem so,” Sara agrees, and returns to packaging finished caramel apples.
It's amazing, I think. Just amazing how one girl creates such a commotion. I glance at the entrance to the Patch and see my favorite family, the Spinellis, walking in near the giant pumpkin tower. “Be back in a bit,” I say to Sara, and then wave and jog over to the Spinellis. “Hi, Chastity! Hi, Christian!” I say, bending down to hug the six-year-old twins.
“Hi, Jamie,” they say in unison, giggling. Christian pulls Chastity's hair and Chastity gives him a hard shove.
“Stop it!” he yells.
“You started it!” she returns.
“No, you did!” he says.
“Need help picking out your pumpkins?” I ask, trying to distract them from annoying each other any further. Plus, I help them pick out the perfect pumpkins every season so it's a tradition.
The kids bob their heads up and down in excitement.
“Well, okay,” I start.
Chastity points over my shoulder. “I want
to help me. She's pretty!” she says.
Do I even need to turn around? I sigh and look over my shoulder. Yep. Exactly what I thought. Milan is standing a few feet behind me, smiling down at the kids.
“She's busy,” I say to Chastity. “I can help you though, just like I do every year.”
“Oh, I'm not too busy,” Milan says. “And not to toot my own horn, but I have amazing taste in picking out everything from the perfect top to the perfect clutch so I don't think outfitting this sweet little family with the perfect pumpkins will be difficult.”
“Yay!” the twins yell, jumping up and down, clapping their hands. Chastity gives Christian a hard shove and he stumbles into me.
“Whoa, careful,” I say, straightening him back up.
“She pushed me,” Christian says.
“Did not!” Chastity returns.
I try to smile at them but it's hard. I'm not even feeling irritated with Milan's abrupt intrusion, though I know I should be. No, I'm feeling something else right now. I'm feeling hurt that even the kids are choosing Milan over me. And a little jealous.
“I'm supposed to be helping with the pony rides, but you can do that for me while I help the kids. Right, Jamie?” Milan says. She doesn't even wait for an answer. “Let's go, guys.” She wraps an arm around the shoulders of each kid and guides them away from me.
Okay. Now I'm irritated. I turn to leave and see Danny standing about fifteen feet away. He must have seen and heard everything. I feel my cheeks go red with embarrassment. I look down at the ground and quickly pass by Danny, not saying a word.
The day can't end fast enough for me, which is a first. Generally I adore my job here. I'd rather be out here than back at the house on almost any given day. I love the Patch. I just never imagined it would be this difficult working with Milan.
Milan has only been here a little more than a week and I've had it. For real. I need to get far, far away from her or I'm gonna lose my mind.
I walk in through the back door of the one-hundred-year-old farmhouse, now the number-one scariest haunted house in all of Average and possibly the county. When my parents first bought the Patch they built a new house so we never actually lived in the farmhouse. But when I was little I used it as a sort of playhouse until Dad decided to turn it into a haunted house. I feel my way in the dark until I get to the casket room. There are three black old-fashioned caskets in a row and every thirty seconds a light flashes and Petey Johnson pops out of the middle casket in a Dracula mask. I stand at the bottom of the casket waiting.
“Raaaah!” Petey screams, both hands in a booga-booga wave over his head.
“Hey, Petey,” I say.
Petey puts his hands down. “Oh, hey, Jamie. What up?”
“Break time,” I answer.
“Cool,” he replies. He climbs out of the casket, pulls his mask off his head, and hands it to me. “Back in fifteen.”
“Take your time,” I say. Really. I'm in no hurry.
I climb into the casket and pull the sweaty plastic mask over my head. This part is kind of gross, but Petey is a fairly clean kid so I don't think he's going to transfer any icky germs to me or anything. That's the hope anyway.
I lay my head down on the cranberry-colored velvet pillow in the casket, closing the top over me, and enjoying the pitch-black darkness. There is nothing to do but lie here until the tiny red signal above flashes, alerting me to jump out. Nothing to do but obsess over Milan and how I'm going to deal with her. I'm not sure I'll be able to make it through pumpkin season with the way things are going now. This is certainly nothing like I'd imagined her visit would be.
“Raaaah!” I scream, and jump out of the casket. No one was even walking through the room to catch my scream. I lie back down and get comfy on the pillow again. There is a faint yet funky smell under the mask today. I'm betting Petey was eating Funyuns earlier. Gross.
I know I shouldn't let Milan get to me like this but it's hard. Last night I heard Kettle Corn Girl's noisy Audi pull up and the girls were laughing and carrying on as Milan climbed out of the car and came into the house. It was as if she wanted to make sure that I heard her or something. Like a slap in the faceâshe can hang out with these random unrelated girls, but not with her very own cousin.
And while Milan is completely antisocial to me at the house, it's like she's Miss America out here on the Patch. She strolls from booth to booth visiting with all the employees. I'm surprised she isn't signing autographs. Who am I kidding? She probably
signing autographs and I just haven't seen her doing it yet. She's so darn braggy and it's totally getting under my skin. Which is probably exactly what she wants.
“Raaaah!” I yell, popping out of the casket. Two preteens squeal and hug each other and I smile briefly under the mask.
I lie down and stare at the inside of the casket lid. I'm so sick of hearing Milan tell absolutely everyone about her great life back home: how she has one of those giant infinity pools and she swims in it year-round, how designers send her loads of clothes hoping for the chance that she might wear something of theirs out in public and get snapped in a photograph, and how she's BFFs with all these other celebrities' kids, like that wacky Scientologist's kooky offspring. That's not something I'd be bragging about, that's for sure. Everyone else around here is eating it up though. Except for Sara. And Danny doesn't seem too interested, thank God. Of course, the other males at the Patch are panting after Milan like puppies. It's completely disgusting. It's as though they've never seen a pretty girl before.
And she rejects every friendly attempt I make. I even tried to do something I thought she'd want to do. On Thursday night, a rare night that she didn't have plans to go out, I asked her if she wanted to go get manicures and her face lit up. I thought, “Finally, I'm getting through to her! We've found a common ground.” Though I've never had a manicure and didn't even know where to go to get one. I never did think much of paying someone to paint my fingernails when they'll just get dirty at work anyway. But I was willing.