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My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summerby Jennifer Gennari
Unlike some people, Lake Champlain was a friend I could count on. I knew her every mood—sometimes she was flat like a cookie sheet, and other times she was whipped up like meringue on a butterscotch pie.
That was the way I felt, too. Ever since Eva had moved in with Mom and me last month, I was as changeable as the lake.
I looked out my bedroom window. The lights were already on at Stillwater Marina; Mom was probably boxing pies and wrapping cookies, getting ready for the customers who would tie up at the dock and come into our shop. Id be there to help her soon. Or maybe Id swim first. The lake, rolling steadily to shore, was as dark and inviting as rubbed blueberries.
My mouth watered, thinking about blueberry season and tasting the sweet zing of the first berry. What I needed, though, were champion berries, the kind growing wild on the cliffs around the lake. I was going to make my best pie ever and enter it into the Champlain Valley Fair. I could see the newspaper headline already: "Wild Berry Pie by June Farrell, 12, Astonishes Judges."
The trick to great pies—and I should know—is fruit combinations. Everybody does strawberry-rhubarb. To stand out from the crowd, you have to do something offbeat, like apple-blackberry or strawberry-peach-pineapple or blueberry-pear. And you need the best ingredients, of course—no store-bought blueberries or hothouse strawberries.
I shrugged out of my PJs and pulled on my bathing suit. Luke would know where to find wild blueberries. I stood on my bed and grabbed the large flashlight suspended by fishing line from my curtain rod and covered it with a green cellophane lens, pointing it east toward the island just a softball field away from our shore. I trained my binoculars on Lukes house on the tip of the island and zoomed in on his window.
He was up—his green light shining back at me. We had been using the color lenses left over from a school play for about four years, since we were eight: green—I can play; yellow—I cant; red—trouble. I wish I could claim it as my idea. Luke says, when you dont have a phone, you learn to improvise.
I shifted my gaze to the dock and spotted Luke. His shaggy black hair was in his eyes, his hands carrying oars to the rowboat at the end of his dock. I couldnt wait to hear his plan for the day.
I yanked my Stillwater Marina T-shirt over my bathing suit and pulled my brown hair into a ponytail. I didnt bother looking in the mirror: I was the same June, never mind the changes other people saw. I clambered down from my loft to the kitchen.
"Good morning, June." Eva moved her plate over. "I was just finishing up."
"Thats OK." I grabbed a bowl and the Cheerios and sat at the other end of the table. I still couldnt get used to her being here.
In between us was a bowl of sliced strawberries, courtesy of Mom, I was sure. I took a handful for my Cheerios. Strawberry-blueberry-cherry? I wanted the strangest fruit mixture for my pie.
Eva brushed a crumb from her shirt. I could have told her everything was in its place, from her cropped blond hair to her nametag neatly pinned on the right: EVA LEWIS, MD. I balanced the comics upright on the cereal box, hoping shed get the message.
"OJ?" she asked.
I shook my head and remained behind the box.
She turned to the newspaper, rustling the pages. "Look at this headline," she said, pointing to "Grassroots Organization Backs Candidates to Repeal Civil Union Law." "Has everyone gone crazy?"
I was sick of hearing about civil unions and gay rights. "Mom says not to worry."
"Thats MJ for you." Eva folded the paper on the table. "By the way, a package arrived that has to be unpacked—on top of wrapping all those cookies you two made last night."
"I know what needs to be done." I picked up my bowl and put it down hard in the sink. As if Eva knew anything about the marina shop. She hated boats. I knew how long mooring line was, what kind of oil motorboats needed, and what size cleats were best for main sheets. Mom and I knew how much bread to make for sandwiches and batter for giant batches of peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies.
Eva put her dish in the dishwasher. "MJ asked me to remind you."
"I didnt forget."
"Of course, Im sorry," she said, glancing at a little milk pooled on the table. I could tell she couldnt wait to clean it up. Id leave it for her; my eyes were on the lake.
"Lukes here." I banged through the door and down to the dock.
I grabbed the line he tossed my way.
"Hey, June." Luke was dressed like me in a faded T-shirt and ready to swim. He climbed out of his boat. "Your mom need help?"
"As usual." I tied a quick hitch around the pier cleat.
"When were done, Ive got a new place to show you," he said.
Luke and I turned toward the shop. His strides were longer—he was a head taller than me—but I kept up.
"Does Joe need you to hold a piece of sculpture or anything today?"
"Hes still sleeping—he was up late blowtorching."
"Evas still in the kitchen."
He looked at me sideways. "Fireworks, already?"
I snorted. "Shes just so perfect."
"Like me?" He pulled at his faded shirt and made a face.
I laughed. "Yeah, right!" That was one of the things that made Luke so likeable—he didnt care what other people thought. Maybe living on an island was so offbeat, you just had to give up on fitting in.
Luke and I found Mom slouched over a book behind the counter, her Stillwater Marina cap pulled low. At the sound of the door, she pushed her cap back and smiled at us.
"There you are," Mom said, turning down a page as she closed her book. "Help me wrap plastic around these cookies—two to a package. Luke, you put the price tag on."
"Anything you say, MJ," Luke said, and stuck a $1.95 sticker on his nose.
I grinned. Thats another reason why I like Luke.
"Did you have breakfast with Eva?" she asked me.
"The strawberries you left were perfect," I said. "Made me imagine the perfect pie."
"How about blueberry-pineapple?" Mom said.
I paused to consider the combination, but I shook my head. "I cant get fresh pineapple," I said. "Its gotta be something really good, really surprising."
"Well, corns coming up—why not corn-berry pie?" Luke said. "Or zucchini-apple! Is that weird enough?"
"Youre the weird one around here," I said. The plastic wrap stuck together as I stacked two cookies together. I picked at it to untangle it. I was the strange one, living with two mothers. The thought of my unknowable father came to me, again. Was he like Tinas dad, driving a tractor and planting crops, or like Lukes, welding together sculptures he dreamed up in his mind? What I wanted was a dad, not another mother. Instead, I got Eva, all fussy and difficult. I pulled the wrap clumsily around the cookies and stuck a price tag on the bundle. It looked lousy.
Luke was clicking out price tags from the labeling gun, lining them up along the counter.
"Slow down," Mom said. "Thats all we need."
"Can we go then?" Luke asked.
She gathered up the wrapped cookies and arranged them in the basket. "OK, but June, please come back for lunch."
The marina door banged shut as we raced out.
"The new spot is up by the old camp," Luke said.
We crossed the road to the meadow, and I turned a cartwheel, just for the freedom of summer. Luke somersaulted.
I turned to tell him to catch up, when a strange sign sticking out of the shop front lawn caught my eye. Something about the sign didnt seem right. Sometimes Mom tacked up a notice outside the shop saying SPECIAL: HAM and CHEESE, $2.99 or EXTRAORDINARY PIES INSIDE. But this sign didnt say anything like that. In fact, it didnt seem like something Mom would put out.
"Whats ‘Take Back Vermont mean?" Luke asked, standing next to me.
"I dont know," I said. Right away I knew it wasnt right; it wasnt something Mom or Eva had posted.
"We should ask MJ if she wants it there."
I shivered. Someone had been sneaking around early, hammering the sign outside our shop.
We were still standing there when Eva pulled out of the driveway. She tooted her horn, and Mom came out to wave. But then suddenly Eva was out of the car, running, and Mom ran, too. They were running toward the sign. Eva got to it first, and in one angry motion, Eva pulled out the stake and ripped the sign in half. She looked around wildly, but Mom grabbed her and pulled her close. I turned away.
"Lets go," I said to Luke.
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