Authors: Kristina Springer
So I asked around the Patch and everyone said take her to Betty Sue's. When we arrived at Betty Sue's house she led us to her basement, where she has a sink and a table set up to do nails. Well, Milan. Flipped. Out. She started ranting about nail fungus or cuticle disease or some such thing and stormed out. She acted as if I was trying to kill her by taking her there. Which is ridiculous. Who ever heard of death by nail polish? I was so embarrassed.
Sara thinks I need to stop trying. That I'm only hitting my head up against a wall when it comes to Milan. Mom always says there is good in everyone, but maybe there isn't any in Milan. My feelings haven't been this hurt since third grade, when Susie Schulman had a slumber party and invited all the girls in class minus me.
“Raaaah,” I say, more than yell, this time. Hmph. That was pretty pathetic. I don't think I'd scare a kitten with that.
I lie back down and snuggle into the pillow as best as I can. I'm going to clear my mind. A little meditation wouldn't hurt. If I'm thinking about nothing then Milan surely can't upset me.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
“Jamie?” a voice says.
I pop up, ripping the plastic mask off my face. I blink, adjusting my eyes to the dark. Oh, it's Petey. I must have fallen asleep. My power nap did me some good though because I'm feeling more refreshed.
I hand him the mask and climb clumsily out of the casket. I exit the haunted house into the bright daylight and rub my eyes. When they adjust I head for the front of the Patch to find Mom and see who I should relieve next.
Mom is talking to Milan near the giant pumpkin chucker, this huge medieval-looking wooden catapult. My dad put it in three years ago and it's one of my very favorite attractions. For five dollars, patrons can chuck a ten-pound pumpkin out into the field at targets. There are things you can win if you hit the various targets, anything from free popcorn at the concession stand to a twenty-five-dollar gift card for Megastore. People love it.
When I approach Mom and Milan I hear Mom telling her what a top-notch job she's been doing at the Patch. It takes all my willpower to resist putting my index finger in my mouth to make the universal gag sign. Mom goes on and tells Milan how impressed she is that Milan got the pumpkin-chucker bin launched and ready to go by herself, and with extra pumpkins lined up and ready too. I look at Milan, waiting for her to tell Mom she didn't do it.
“Thank you, Aunt Julie,” Milan says sweetly. She smiles at me over Mom's shoulder.
I want to scream. She so did not have anything to do with getting the pumpkin chucker ready to go today. I saw Jeff and Teegan hauling the pumpkins to the chucker early this morning. I glare at Milan but she totally ignores me. Not that that's new.
“Jamie,” Mom says, like she is just now seeing me standing here. “Milan will need to rehydrate after her hard work. Go ahead and relieve her for break.”
Oh? So I should saunter around the Patch batting my eyelashes and bragging to anyone who might listen? Easy. But I don't say that. I don't say a word. I'm too mad. Mom never seemed overly concerned about me rehydrating and I work hard all the time.
I watch Mom walk back toward the petting zoo area and Milan join Kettle Corn Girl and Sno-Cone Sammy at Sammy's stand. Milan is laughing about something and the three girls turn in my direction and then rehuddle.
obnoxious! Even the most popular and snobby kids at my school don't act this badly. What a bunch of jerks those three are. And is it my imagination or are Kettle Corn Girl's and Sno-Cone Sammy's shorts even shorter today?
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
At the end of the day, I'm washing my hands in the kitchen sink when Milan walks in carrying a bouquet of fresh-picked pink and purple asters.
“Aunt Julie? Do you have a vase?” she asks.
Mom peeks at Milan over the top of the open refrigerator door. “Oh, aren't those pretty! Yes, I do. Go look in the bottom section of the china cabinet in the dining room. I should have something there that will work,” Mom tells her.
Milan gazes down at the bouquet as she passes by me. “Danny is so sweet,” she comments.
Danny? Is she implying that he picked those flowers for her? I grimace. Danny doesn't seem like the flower-picking type to me. But maybe around Milan guys do things they wouldn't normally do. Ugh, I can't watch. I pick up my backpack and head for my room until it's time for dinner.
At dinner I purposely don't sit in my usual seat next to Milan's chair. Maybe she'll actually notice and realize that not everyone thinks she's the most special thing ever to set foot on the planet. I take Dad's seat, forcing him and Mom to have to sit on either side of Milan. As Dad approaches the table he comes to an abrupt stop, noticing the seat change. He stands there, staring at me like I've committed some huge sin or something.
“What?” I finally mumble. “The air-conditioning was making me cold.”
Dad frowns and takes my seat without a word.
Milan cheerily enters the room and slips into her seat. “Dinner smells great, Aunt Julie,” she comments. “This hard work has really been giving me an appetite.”
I cross my arms over my chest and slump back in my seat, staring skeptically at Milan. But she doesn't even glance in my direction.
“Thank you, Milan,” Mom calls from the kitchen. “I tried something new. I hope you like it.”
Hmph. She never hopes I like anything. Of course, there generally isn't much that I don't like.
“Working at the Pumpkin Patch is so much fun. I had no idea I'd enjoy working as much as I do,” Milan continues.
Oh puh-lease. What a load ofâ
Mom sets a big bowl of steamed broccoli on the table in front of Milan.
I frown. That's new. No cheese or crumbled Ritz crackers on the broccoli. Not even a few pats of butter. Are we on a diet or something?
“Well, you're doing a wonderful job. Right, Henry?” Mom asks, placing a hand on Dad's shoulder.
Dad wipes some milk off his mouth and clears his throat. “Excellent. Better than workers that have been here two, even three seasons.”
My elbows drop on the table with a thump. What's this? Compliments from the man who on most days won't even utter a hello to his only child? Is Dad feeling okay? Is there a carbon monoxide leak in the house or something and he's tripping? Milan doesn't even do 10 percent of the work I do around here every day. I never get praise.
Mom sets a big bowl of homemade applesauce on the table and retreats to the kitchen, smiling.
“Gee, thanks, Uncle Henry,” Milan says, glancing my way to make sure I'm taking this in. “This looks delicious.” Milan scoops some applesauce out of the bowl. She briefly passes it by her nose before dropping it onto her plate. Probably trying to see if Mom put any sugar in it.
Mom returns and sets a big platter ofÂ â¦ somethingÂ â¦ in the center of the table and takes a seat. She looks proud. It looks like some sort of rubbery ball of meat. And it smells sort of like turkey, but it sure doesn't look like any turkey I've ever seen.
“Tofurkey!” Milan exclaims, clapping her hands together.
Tofurkey? Hehe. Okay, this is going to be good. I look at Dad, waiting for him to give Mom hell for putting a big peachy tofu ball on the dinner table. And I wait. But he doesn't say anything. I widen my eyes at him. Hello? It's
. Say something.
“Looks good,” Dad says.
It's six in the morning and I'm ready for school. I set my heavy backpack by the front door, grab an apple and a banana from the kitchen, and head outside to feed the bunnies before I leave. I eat my banana in three bites, before I'm even at the end of the gravel driveway, and start in on my apple.
I crack open the heavy wooden gate and let myself into the bunny pen. We have a good fifty-plus bunnies of all colors hopping around. It's hard to ever be in a bad mood when you're around these supercuties. My favorites are the gray ones with black spots. We have four of them and they are totally adorable. They are the only ones I've namedâLily, Delilah, Anastasia, and Gwendolyn. I know, I know, it's not Flopsy and Mopsy but these gals seem to fit their names.
“Hello, sweeties! Who's hungry?” I pull down a big bucket of rabbit food from a shelf and give it a shake. But none of the bunnies are paying attention to me. Huh. I shake the food harder. “C'mon, guys!” I call, but the bunnies still pay no attention to me. You know, I'm going to develop quite the complex if even the animals start ignoring me. I look at their water system and see that it's full. That's weird. Somebody has already been in here and fed my bunnies.
I walk to the edge of the bunny hill area and look around the Patch. Who else is out here at this hour?
Suddenly it becomes clear. I spot Mom and Milan walking together in the distance, each carrying one side of a bale of hay, laughing at something. I squat on a nearby step stool and wrap my arms around my knees. I'm hoping Milan didn't see me. That would make her day, I'm sure.
And why is that anyway? I rack my brain, trying to remember if I did something to annoy Milan and make her hate me so much. But no, I've been nothing but nice to her since the second she arrived. I'd like me if I were her. But for some reason she seems determined to make me look bad, not only in front of my parents but also in front of my friends at the Patch. I don't get it.
I look down and Gwendolyn is nibbling at my right shoe like she's hungry. I reach into the rabbit feed, pull out a handful of pellets, and offer them to Gwendolyn. She eats from my hand, watching me. It's pity eating. Like when you're at your grandma's house and you force down a piece of lemon poppy-seed cake not because you actually want to, but because it would make Grandma happy.
And it works. I smile at Gwendolyn and rub her back. “Thanks, sweetie.”
After the much-needed quiet time with the bunnies, I grab my backpack from the house and jump in my car, purposely not saying goodbye to anyone before I head to school. I'm not sure this was even noticed. No one is paying attention to me these days. I turn on the car radio and crank up the music, trying to drown out my thoughts. Of course, this has never exactly worked for me. I must be a loud thinker. On the one hand, it'll be nice to not be in Milan's presence for a few hours. On the other hand, if I'm away from the Patch, how can I keep an eye on her? What if she takes advantage of my absence to suck up to my parents even more? Or worse, what if she spends the whole day hitting on Danny?
Ugh. It's totally not fair that I have to be in school, worrying about what Milan's up to when all she has to do is homeschool for two hours a day on her pink laptop in her room. She probably won't even do that. She'll bat her eyelashes at some Patch worker and have him or her writing essays for her in a snap.
“Morning, Jamie,” Dilly says, slipping into the desk next to me in math class.
“Hi, Dilly,” I reply. “Did your hair again, huh?”
Dilly smiles and tucks a piece of hair behind her ear. “Yeah, you like?”
Dilly's dark brown hair is newly highlighted with thick Crayola-yellow stripes. “It's totally you,” I say. And actually, it's kind of cute.
Dilly looks thrilled. “Thanks! I'm making a statement. It's supposed to be a message to all of the sheepeople out there with their matching haircuts and highlights.”
I smile. I've never colored or highlighted my hair so I'm not sure I get the message she says she's putting out there, but I get Dilly. And this is totally her.
“So, how was your weekend?” Dilly asks. She flips open a notebook on her desk and pulls a pencil out of the backpack hanging off the back of her chair. “Did your cousin start playing nice? Did you guys have fun?”
“Fun?” I repeat. Hmm. When I think of Milan the word “fun” doesn't spring to mind. Manipulative, snotty, unfriendly, high maintenanceÂ â¦ Now those words seem more on target. “Well, Iâ” I begin, but am interrupted by our math teacher walking in.
“Okay, people, let's get started right away. Open your books to page 112,” Mr. Cranshaw says, flipping on the overhead machine and uncapping a dry-erase marker.
I watch Mr. Cranshaw's scribbled letters and numbers appear on the large screen hanging on the wall at the front of the room and I know I should be taking notes like everyone else in class. But, really, how am I supposed to care about dividing one polynomial by another polynomial when at this very moment Milan could be blowing in Danny's ear? It's driving me crazy not knowing what she's up to back at the Patch.
At lunch I buy a greasy cheeseburger in the school cafeteria and take it outside to eat. I stop in front of a shady apple tree, kick the rotten apples lying on the ground out of the way, and plop down to call Sara. She answers in one ring.
“What's up?” Sara asks.
“Nothing, what's going on there?” I reply. I absentmindedly pick up a red apple lying on the ground nearby and roll it around in my free hand.
“Well, my Peanut Butter Cup apples are selling like crazy.”
“No, you know what I mean. What's
“Sara!” I say, exasperated.
“You mean Precious? She'sÂ â¦ Well, I believe she thinks she's working. Socializing while doing the least amount of physical exertion is a more accurate description, however,” Sara says.
“Is she, I mean, has she been talking to Danny?” I ask, hating how I sound. But I can't get those flowers she brought home Saturday and her implication that they were from Danny out of my mind.
There's a pause.
“Sara?” I prompt, knowing that if it's taking her this long to answer then I'm not going to like what she says. At all.
“Well,” she begins, and she pauses. “Here and there. I wouldn't get worked up over it though,” she adds quickly.