A New Life


6. One Last Visit To Summer 2

I picked up a T-shirt up off the floor and threw it at Franklin's head to signal to him that I was done and it was safe to move his eyes around the room again.

"All ready?" he asked.

"Yup." I slid on some flip-flops as I headed to find Aunt Bessie.

Aunt Bessie was in her chef's clothes, which are black even though chef's outfits are usually white. She and I agreed that black clothes look nicer, cleaner, and more slimming for her plump figure than white. She used to be a red-head; now that she's in her fifties, her hair is dull orange and pepper grey, but she still wears it pulled back in the same long, thick braid. She was carrying trays to load into her catering van.

"When will you be back?" I asked.

"This afternoon."

"Can we make some end-of-the-summer ice cream?"

"I'll set aside some fresh strawberries for it. Does that sound good?"

"Yum! I mean, yes!"

Aunt Bessie went to set the trays on the racks in the van. That's a job Franklin and I are not allowed to help with. She doesn't consider us strong or steady enough. It would never be worth the time it might save in the event that a tray was dropped.

"Ice cream later," I promise Franklin when he followed me out onto the porch. His eyes got all big and shiny and sugar-hungry again. "Now for Uncle Hugh."

We headed across the large gravel circle of the driveway in front of our house to the barn.

The barn isn't old and falling-down like a lot of barns. It was renovated, complete with electricity and a bathroom and an open lift to the second floor, so that Uncle Hugh could have his workshop up there. On the second floor is a hallway lined with shut doors only about as far apart as horse stalls would be, except for two on either end, which are a little farther away. Once, when I was little, I climbed up the stairs (I was never, ever allowed to play in the lift) and counted the doors: eight. I was trying all the doorknobs when I heard Aunt Bessie behind me.

"They're all locked, Elise," she said, holding out her hand to me. I took it. "Let's stay downstairs." We walked back down to Uncle Hugh's workshop. What she meant was I wasn't to go up to try to open the doors, and I wasn't to play upstairs in the barn, and I wasn't  to worry about what was up there. It was probably dangerous equipment for Uncle Hugh's work.

"Hey, Cricket," Uncle Hugh greeted me as Franklin and I came into the barn. He's been calling me Cricket since I learned to talk in full sentences and wouldn't shut up. I don't talk all the time like that anymore, but he says all those interesting things I'm not saying are still whirring around in my head.

"Is there anything to finish?"

"Nope. Actually, I just finished finishing." Uncle Hugh chuckled to himself, rubbing his hands over the legs of the table.  "I have to go out on deliveries."

"So there's nothing we can help you with?"

"Not at the moment, but you're welcome to make something out of the scrap pieces."

Uncle Hugh puts any extra small pieces in a bin for me and Franklin to build with and leaves some nails and two hammers. We've made plenty of neat things. I looked at Franklin, who was holding the torn-off piece of yellow paper and the pencil. He shook his head at me. "Not on the list."

"List--?" Uncle Hugh started, but then changed his mind. Whenever he asks about what Franklin and I are up to, he gets a really long explanation that he'd rather not hear. "Well, I'm heading out. You can play with the stuff if you want. You know never to touch anything else in here. Just don't tell your mother Franklin, she wouldn't like you here on your own."

"Aye-aye," Franklin answered, with a salute. Then he turned to me. "Frogs next, I think."


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