Authors: Kristina Springer
“Oh, but it's not, Uncle Henry,” Milan says. “I've been working the espresso machine at home since I was six. If you get an espresso machine for the concession stand I'd be happy to make the pumpkin spice lattes.”
Dad mulls it over for a few moments and then finally grins. “Okay then. I guess it wouldn't hurt to give it a try. Let's do it.”
And that's my signal. I abruptly stand. “May I be excused?” I say to Mom. “I have a lot of homework tonight.” That, and I can't sit here and listen to this for another single second.
Mom nods. I pick up my plate and utensils and head for the kitchen, pausing briefly at the garbage can to dump in my dinner. I place my dishes in the sink and head for my bedroom, avoiding the dining room.
Once I'm safe behind my bedroom door, I fling myself onto my bed and let out a scream into my pillow. I flip over onto my back and whip my pillow across the room, almost knocking over my desk lamp. I'm
mad! What the heck was that? Now Dad's kissing Milan's butt too? C'mon!
I get off my bed and pace around the room. It's ridiculous. This whole thing is completely ridiculous. You know, I've always told myself that Dad couldn't help being so cold to me. That he always wanted a boy and did his best dealing with the disappointment of my being a girl. But with how he's acting with Milan now, well, he's never been nice to me like he is to her. And she knows it. So let's get this straightânot only is Milan seeking Danny's attention, now she wants my Dad all to herself too?
I kick my thick history book lying on the floor and let out a yelp. “Ouch, ouch, ouch,” I whisper, sitting back on the bed and leaning over to rub my toe. Ugh. That's going to leave a bruise.
I need to zone out, to forget things for a bit. Maybe read a book or watch TV. I glance at my nightstand and spot the Pumpkin Princess registration form. Hmm. I'll work on that for a while. Maybe that'll take my mind off Milan.
: Why do you want to be Pumpkin Princess?
That's easy. I smile and begin writing.
“Well?” I whisper into the phone. I lean out from my hiding spot and scan the hallway for teachers or administrators. I've ducked down between a row of lockers and a giant garbage can.
“Jamie?” Sara says.
“Yeah,” I reply anxiously. “You know it's me. What's going on?”
“Dude, you need to relax! This is the fourth time you've called today. Aren't you supposed to be in class?”
I know Sara is losing patience with me. I've driven her nuts this week calling so much to see what's going on with Milan and Danny. But I can't help it! I know Milan's up to no-good. I need to get through one more full day of school and then I can keep an eye on her myself.
I check the hallway again. Still clear. Though I'm sure I don't have much time. “Yes, yes. Of course. But it's only gym and I got a pass to the nurse's office to get a Band-Aid.”
“You're bleeding?” Sara screeches. “Jamie, go get your Band-Aid and we'll talk after school. I can't believe you're calling me while you're injured.”
I look down at my index finger wrapped in Kleenex. The cut is tiny and my finger is hardly bleeding. I know I'll survive a quick phone call. “Sara, please tell me. I can't stand not knowing what's going on thereâwith
and Dannyâwhile I'm stuck at school. Just tell me. Is it bad?” I hold my breath, waiting.
There is silence. “Umâ¦” Sara finally says.
My breath comes out in a whoosh. “Oh God, it's bad. It's bad!” I repeat. Oh, I knew it! Sara is trying to spare my feelings. It's awful.
“I didn't say that,” Sara says. “All I said was um. âUm' is a filler word used when one wants to gather his or her thoughts andâ”
“Sara!” I interrupt.
“Okay, okay,” she relents. “But it isn't
“Tell me.” I dig the fingernails of my phone-free hand into my knee.
“Well, they had lunch together. On the hayrack,” Sara says.
“What? They did? No one else was there?” I ask, feeling slightly hysterical. I peek around to see if anyone can hear me. There is a janitor pushing a big broom down the hall, but he's not paying any attention to me.
“No,” she says slowly. “It seemed to be, well, one might think that it possibly could have maybe lookedÂ â¦ a little like a date.”
“I could be wrong, I could be wrong!” Sara interjects. “It's not like she and I are best buddies and she told me this. We don't ever even talk. It's only that I saw her carry a picnic basket over to him and then they both climbed up on the hayrack.”
“Kill me now,” I say.
“Come on, Jamie, it might be nothing. It doesn't mean he likes her. She probably cornered him and forced him to have lunch with her.”
“Right,” I say dryly. “I can hear him now. âNo, no, stop coming on to me, beautiful, rich daughter of famous movie stars. I'm saving myself for the girl in the pumpkin-smeared overalls with dirt under her nails.'”
“Jamieâ¦” Sara says quietly.
“It's fine,” I reply quickly. “I'm fine. Listen, I've got to get back to class before someone finds me out here on the phone. I'll see you after school.”
I hit End on my cell and check my finger. It has stopped bleeding already. Guess I don't need that Band-Aid now.
I pull myself up from the floor and start walking slowly back toward the gym, almost running head-on into Dilly.
“Hey, Jamie,” she says. “I was just coming to look for you. Ms. Grenovich was worried that you were passed out from blood loss somewhere between the gym and the nurse's office.”
I try to grin. “Nah, I'm fine. It already stopped bleeding.” I wave my finger at her.
Dilly frowns. “You look upset.”
“Oh, I'll be fine.” I shrug.
“Do you want to talk? We can break out of here and go sit at the Burger King,” she suggests. Burger King is the only fast-food restaurant in all of Average so it's not like we'd exactly be inconspicuous sitting there in the middle of the school day.
“We'd better not,” I say. “We're in our gym clothes.” I point to our matching yellow tees and maroon shorts. “We'd totally stick out and I don't want to get in trouble. Let's go back to class.”
We return to gym and join the class in playing floor hockey. Floor hockey always gets a little aggressiveâit's like a free pass to chuck people you don't like in the ankle with a wooden stick. Not that I think anyone would try to hit me, but I like to stay out of the cross fire so I keep some distance between me and the puck. Dilly and I hover near the goal, talking. I tell her how Milan is only getting worse and that I don't know how I'll survive the remaining four weeks of pumpkin season living with her.
“Well,” Dilly says after I finish telling her about Milan and Danny's lunch date, “I don't know your cousin, but I do know you, and you rock.”
My cheeks pink at the compliment.
“She must have some serious issues to be harassing you like this,” Dilly continues. “I wouldn't take it personally. And this thing with Danny? If he's smart he'll avoid the chick with the issues. I think guys can sense that kind of thing. Let her go on making a fool of herself and she'll eventually get a clue.” Dilly seems so sure.
“Really? I mean, you think Danny might avoid her?” I ask hopefully.
“Oh sure,” she concludes, like it's the most obvious thing in the world. “You know, I'm a pretty good judge of people. I think I'll stop at the Patch and pick out my pumpkin today, and, you know, check out the situation.”
My eyes widen. “You're not going to say anything, are you?”
“Of course not. Just picking out my pumpkin.” She grins.
“In that case, I'll give you a ride over after school,” I offer.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
The last bell rings and I see Dilly leaning on the passenger door of my car in the student parking lot.
“Ready to pick out your pumpkin?” I ask when I reach her.
“Definitely,” she says. “This year I'm thinking of going for a big, round, fat one. At least a forty-pounder.”
“Sounds good,” I reply. I unlock the car and we get in.
We park near my house and walk to the Patch, heading for Sara's caramel apple stand first. I have to say, Dilly has made me feel a lot better about the situation. I mean, it kinda makes sense that there is something wrong with Milan and not with me.
“Hey, Sara,” I say when we reach the stand.
“Hey, Jamie. Hi, Dilly,” she replies. Sara and Dilly have met a couple of times before but we haven't actually ever hung out together.
“What're you working on?” I ask Sara, pointing to the paper on the table under her forearm.
She looks at the pen in her hand and the paper, surprised. “Oh, this? Nothing.” She quickly folds the paper and jams it into her back pocket.
“Come on, tell me,” I plead. “What is it?”
Sara shakes her head. “You'll laugh.”
“No, I won't,” I insist. “Promise.”
“Wellâ¦” Sara pulls the paper back out and smooths it out on the table. “It's an application. For school.”
“Oh, Sara,” I exclaim, “that's fantastic!” I lean over the stand and give her a hug, excited that she's decided to give school a second chance. “Why on earth would I laugh at that?”
“It's for a cooking school. You know, like, for desserts and stuff,” she adds.
“That's cool,” Dilly says.
cool! That's so perfect for you, Sara,” I say. “But do we have a cooking school in Average?”
Sara twists up her face. “No. It's in the city. I'll have to move there if I go. At least for the school year.”
My stomach drops. “You're leaving?” Sara can't leave. I'd be lost without her.
“Not yet,” she says quickly. “I'll be here for the entire pumpkin season. If I get in I'll start after Christmas. In the winter quarter.”
“Oh.” While I'm happy that she's not leaving right away I still can't imagine not seeing her every day.
“Don't be sad. It'll be good. Think of the yummy stuff I'll be able to bake for you when I come home for visits.” Sara looks happy. She must really want this.
I try to smile. “I know. It's only that I'll miss you.”
“I'll miss you too,” Sara says, and reaches over the stand to give me another hug.
Dilly coughs uncomfortably.
“Sorry, Dilly,” I say, pulling away from Sara.
“'S okay,” Dilly says.
“She's picking out her pumpkin today,” I explain to Sara. “I'm going to help her.” I turn to go.
“Cool,” Sara says. “But waitâbefore you go. There's something else.”
I look back. “Yeah?”
Sara hesitates. “Well, brace yourself.”
Oh no. I throw a look at Dilly, my heart racing in anticipation of whatever Sara is going to say. “Braced,” I say, though really I feel like I could drop into a puddle at any moment.
“You know I'm friends with Kate, right?” Sara starts. She turns to Dilly to explain. “She's one of the cookie bakers. She works days.” Sara returns her gaze to me. “Well, Kate is friends with Laurel.” She pauses to address Dilly again. “Laurel is the funnel cake maker here, and also Mayor Hudson's wife.”
“Yeah, I know Laurel,” Dilly says. “She's on the town board with my mom.”
Sara smiles. “Oh yeah, that's her. Okay”âSara puts a hand on my forearm and takes a deep breathâ“well, Laurel told Kate who told me that the townspeople on the Pumpkin Princess committee are strongly urging Milan to run for Pumpkin Princess.”
“What?” I take a step back. I can't believe it. I must have heard wrong. It's completely absurd.
“Pumpkin Princess,” Sara repeats. “They want Milan to run. They're probably doing it to make her feel welcome. Or maybe they think it will be good publicity for the town, like if it leaks out to one of the big newspapersâ¦”
I can't hear her anymore though. I can't hear anything. It's like someone pressed a Mute button on the world. I'm numb.
This girl has come to my town and turned my life upside down. She wants everything I haveâmy family, my friends, and now she wants to be Pumpkin Princess too.
I look at Dilly. Her face is a mix of concern and sympathy. She's saying something. I try to focus in and listen.
“It's okay, Jamie. I'll try to find out what's going on. I'll ask my mom,” Dilly says, trying to comfort me.
“Hey, Dilly,” I reply. “You know that something-wrong-with-Milan theory? I know the something wrong. She's
It took me the rest of the afternoon to calm down. Sara made me my favorite caramel apple, heavy on the M&M'S. And Dilly hung out with me at the pumpkin chucker while I chucked pumpkins at targets, pretending they were Milan. She's lucky she wasn't anywhere in sight because I'm pretty good at pumpkin chucking and I hit enough targets to win three bags of apples, two free popcorns, a twenty-five-dollar gift card to Megastore, and a large pumpkin spice latte. I didn't collect any of my prizes though because technically family can't win at any of the games at the Patch. But you know what I would have done with that pumpkin spice latte? Milan would have been wearing it.
I drop Dilly off at her house and head home. She was reluctant to let me goâI could tell she was worried that I would go home and really chuck something at Milan's head across the dinner table, but I assured her that I was okay. A few minutes later I pull up in my driveway and turn the car off. The front lights are on and I can hear laughter inside. I take my time walking into the house, unsure of what I'm going to do or say, if anything, to Milan when I see her.