Chapter 1 – Gertie
Gertie laid the rag on the counter. “Ma, I finished wiping down the kitchen. Is there anything else you’d like me to do?”
Moving had sounded so exciting when Pa made the announcement. Now, it was just tiring.
Ma smoothed her apron. “There is no more to be done in here. Thank you for your help.”
“Mind if I walk a bit and see the town?” Gertie untied her apron.
Ma glanced outside, trying to decide on an answer. “Don’t be gone too long. And be careful. We don’t know people yet.”
“Yes, Ma.” Gertie hurried out before Pa came in and made her stay home.
On the porch, she looked out at the town. Moving to a new place a year before graduation wasn’t her choice. How would she find friends?
Their new home had more land than the old one, which allowed room for a good-sized garden, and the peach trees at the back of the property made her Pa smile, which rarely happened. Sometimes it felt like he cared more for the land and the barn than he did for his family.
Having no sons meant he shouldered the outside work alone. Perhaps having only a daughter disappointed him.
Gertie couldn’t do anything to change that.
She stepped off the porch, holding her breath as she walked toward the street. If the door opened, Pa would call her back inside. When she made it to the road, she breathed a sigh of relief and had to decide which direction to go.
When they’d driven into town, she’d seen a big house, the largest in the area. Wanting another glimpse, she headed that direction. Once she turned the corner, the well-cared-for white house with fancy trim came into view. The place had a second floor and a porch that wrapped all the way around the house. Chairs sat on the porch in a few places.
The house was beautiful, but what impressed Gertie was the way the house made her feel. Somehow, the house almost smiled. It exuded a warm and welcoming feeling.
Pretty curtains fluttered in the open windows.
Maybe one day, she’d get to see the inside of the house.
Not wanting to be caught staring, she continued down the street. The downtown area wasn’t far up the road . . . if four buildings could be called a downtown.
“Hello!” A girl with brown curls and a fashionable dress waved as she hurried toward Gertie. “Hi! I’m Maybelle. You must be new here.”
“Gertie Johnson. We just moved into the house up the road.” Gertie pointed in the general direction.
“The Smith’s place?”
Gertie shrugged. “I guess.”
“They moved to the big city. Their son has some fancy job, and they moved into his big house. I’m glad someone my age moved into that place.”
“It’s very nice to meet you.” Meeting a friend on her first day in town seemed like the best of luck.
Maybelle looped her arm around Gertie’s. “You’ll love it here. Want to see the bees?”
Gertie swallowed back her fear. “Well …”
“Come on. If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.” Maybelle tugged Gertie down the street. “See that back porch? That house over there is the sheriff’s place. I don’t like his boys or him. Stay clear. And that big house on the corner … see it?”
“The white one?” Gertie pointed at the house that had quickly become her favorite.
“That’s the one. That’s the Crawford place.” Maybelle sighed. “I’ll tell you more about them later. But the Maddox farm is that way, next to the Miller farm. You never want to walk through the Miller farm. Old man Miller is grumpy.”
“I’ll remember that.” Gertie committed the names and places to memory. She followed Maybelle down the street and around the corner. “You take care of bees?”
At least there weren’t many streets. It would be hard to get lost in town.
“When I was younger, I helped the Maddox boys, but now that they are away at the university, I do most of the work.”
“Your parents let you do that?”
“They haven’t said anything. But I didn’t ask either.” Maybelle laughed. “If I stay out of trouble, I can pretty much do what I want.”
Gertie stopped when the hives came into view. “I’m not sure I want to get closer.” She wrapped her arms around herself as if that offered any protection against the bees.
“All right.” Maybelle smoothed her curls. “I know. We’ll go watch the boys work.” She flashed a wide smile. “This way.”
Struggling to keep up, Gertie glanced around. “Where are we going?”
“To the Parker house. Mrs. Parker hires some of the guys to work in her garden and keep the grounds looking nice.” Maybelle stopped and faced Gertie. “Do I look okay? How’s my hair?”
“Pretty. You look very nice.” Gertie wished her hair would curl like that.
“We’ll swing around the side of the house and peek.” For someone who talked about staying out of trouble, Maybelle sure liked to sneak and peek.
Being a rule-follower, Gertie wasn’t used to that.
At the corner of the large stone house, Gertie leaned around where Maybelle pointed. One boy, probably her age, was on his hands and knees pulling weeds out of the garden. Another boy raked leaves into a pile.
“How many are working?” Maybelle leaned back against the building, coiling a curl around her finger.
“Two—wait. Three. There is another one up in a tree, but I’m not sure what he’s doing.”
“That’s probably Jimmy in the tree. He’s not working. Just causing trouble, I bet.” Maybelle leaned around the corner. “Isn’t he handsome?”
“Which one?” Gertie began to understand why they were peeking around buildings.
“Ignacio. He’s pulling weeds.” Maybelle darted back a step. “I think they saw me.” She grinned. “Want to grab a soda? My treat.”
Gertie glanced around. “Sure. Where?”
“The Drugstore sells groceries, but it also has a soda fountain. Let’s go.” Maybelle took another quick peek around the corner before leading Gertie around the front of the building. “Don’t say anything about Ignacio. That would get me in trouble.”
Maybelle stopped in front of the Parker House. “This is downtown. The church, the post office, this place, and The Drugstore.”
Living in Schatzenburg might turn out better than Gertie hoped. With Maybelle as a friend, life wouldn’t be boring.
Chapter 2 – Sam
Sam Crawford lined up cans of beans, restocking the shelves while the store was quiet. He only had half the box unloaded when the bell above the door jingled.
“Be right with you.” He set the half-full box of cans aside then jotted a note on his inventory sheet.
The giggling coming from the corner booth left little doubt about the identity of the customer. Maybelle came in often during the summer, sometimes alone … sometimes with friends. When she was there with friends, it made things a bit awkward. Having the high school kids come in for sodas was good for business, but Sam would never get used to the girls whispering about him.
He walked to the table. Maybelle waved. Another girl, with long, straight, brown hair and big brown eyes smiled. He hadn’t seen her before.
“Afternoon, ladies.” Sam pointed over his shoulder at the soda fountain. “What can I get you?”
“Hi, Mr. Crawford.” Maybelle giggled again.
“Hello, Maybelle.” Sam turned to the friend and stuck out his hand. “Sam Crawford.”
“Gertie Johnson. It’s nice to meet you Mr. Crawford.” Gertie glanced out the window toward the big white house.
Maybelle had already been talking about him.
“Nice to meet you, Gertie. Please call me Sam.”
“All right.” Gertie nodded.
“I want a chocolate milkshake.” Maybelle pointed at Gertie. “What do you want?”
“I’d like a cherry Coke.” Her eyes twinkled.
Perhaps the soda was an uncommon treat.
“Coming right up.” Sam glanced back over his shoulder as he pulled bottles off the shelf.
This girl was different than most of the others. Instead of giggling and talking, she studied her surroundings.
Maybelle’s not-so-quiet whisper carried from the table. “That’s his big house. His mama and sister live there too. He’s so good-looking, but no one is good enough for Sam Crawford. He never even looks twice at anyone.”
Is that what people were saying? With the responsibility of the store and providing for his mother and sister, Sam didn’t have time for dating. But he was still young. Only twenty-three, he’d have a chance later to find a wife … hopefully. But hearing that bit of gossip stung.
Turning on the machine would drown out the conversation. But he delayed flipping the switch. How would Gertie respond? And why did he care?
Forcing himself to keep his eyes on his task, he gave up trying to listen. Gertie knew how to whisper, which made eavesdropping impossible. The motor came to life, drowning out all other sounds.
With drinks in hand, Sam set them on the table. “Here you go. Anything else I can get you?”
“No, thank you, Sam.” Maybelle sipped her milkshake. “This is the best one yet.”
Gertie made eye contact with him for a split second. The surprise etched on her face almost made him laugh. Clearly, she wasn’t accustomed to Maybelle’s flirty nature.
“Enjoy, ladies.” He grabbed his box and returned to stocking the shelves.
With the girls here, it wouldn’t be long before the guys showed up. They seemed to have a sixth sense about where to find the ladies.
As soon as the last can made it onto the shelf the bell jingled again.
“Maybelle! Do you have room at that table for us?” Blue sauntered toward the corner booth.
Behind him, Ignacio hesitated near the door.
Sam walked up and patted Ignacio on the shoulder. “Sit anywhere. I’ll be right there.”
“Thanks.” Ignacio relaxed.
Not everyone in town had the same idea about people whose skin color differed by a shade or more, and that angered Sam. In his store, everyone had the right to shop or sit and have a drink. He went out of his way to make sure they felt at ease.
Sam paused before walking to the table.
“Hello there.” Blue had spotted Gertie. He glanced at Maybelle. “Aren’t you going to introduce me?”
“As sweaty and smelly as you are? Why should I?” Maybelle flipped her curls over her shoulder, glancing at Ignacio.
Blue slid in next to Gertie, who just about pinned herself to the wall. “Mind if I sit here?”
She shook her head.
“Gertie, this is Tr—”
“Everyone calls me Blue.” Blue wiggled his eyebrows. “On account of my eyes.”
Maybelle slid toward the wall, but only a little. “There’s room here, Ignacio.”
Sam worried that one day Maybelle would find herself in trouble. Her family wouldn’t be pleased to see her sharing a booth with Ignacio.
Sam forced himself not to glance at Gertie as he walked to the table. “What’ll it be, fellas?”
Blue pointed at Gertie. “I’ll have what she’s having.”
Ignacio didn’t look up. “Just water.”
“I’ll have those out in a minute.” Sam strolled back to the counter.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Sam was coming in with friends when his dad was working at the store. But those days were long gone. Life had changed.
“Mama, I’m home.” Sam let the screen door close behind him as he wandered into the kitchen. “Something in here smells good.”
“It’ll be ready in just a few minutes. How was your day? Meet anyone?” Mama asked a variation of that question at least once a week.
Sam washed his hands before dropping into a chair. “Maybelle had a friend with her. I’m guessing a new family moved into the Smith place.”
“I saw that. Is she…?” Mama’s eyebrows lifted expectantly.
“In high school, I’d guess.” He’d given up telling his mother that everyone his age had either left town or gotten married.
“Well, that’s nice.” She rubbed at a spot on her apron. “Call your sister to the table.”
Sam went down the hall and knocked. “Eleanor, dinner is ready.”
He didn’t wait for her. Back at the table, he downed half a glass of water. “Is William coming for dinner?”
“He’s picking her up later. I like him.” Mama glanced down the hall.
“He seems like a nice enough fella.” Sam jumped up to take the platter from his mother. “Let me help you with that.”
In a conspiratorial whisper, Mama asked, “Has William asked you anything?”
Sam scratched his head. “Why would he—oh! No, he hasn’t. I’m not sure he will.”
“We’ll see.” Mama patted his shoulder then went down the hall.
Sam stared at the food and waited. He trusted Eleanor to make her own decisions. If William asked, Sam would give his blessing.
Besides, planning a wedding would be good for Mama.
Chapter 3 – Gertie
Gertie slipped out the front door. “I have to be home before dark.”
“We’ll be back way before that. I have a surprise for you.” Maybelle pointed toward the Miller farm. “We’re going fishing.”
In the last month, Gertie had snuck around more than ever before. Life with her new friend was exciting, something Gertie wasn’t used to. “Without poles? And I thought we were supposed to stay off that farm?”
“We’ll stay out of the way. No one will see us. Come on.” Maybelle rolled up the ends of her pants. “Hurry.”
Gertie hadn’t seen Maybelle in pants before. Ma didn’t think girls should wear pants. But Gertie had little time to think about that as she ran to keep up.
“Why fishing?” She jumped over a tree root.
Maybelle grinned. “Technically we aren’t fishing. We’ll just watch the boys fish.”
“Ignacio?” Gertie had kept secrets just as Maybelle requested.
“And Blue. I think he’s sweet on you.”
Gertie shook her head. Too much denying would make it sound like she wanted it to be true. Did she? He was rather handsome. The attention was nice.
Pa wouldn’t like Blue one bit.
Pa didn’t seem to like anyone who laughed and had fun. And to Blue, everything was fun. At least that’s how it seemed to Gertie.
She glanced back toward the big white house before they ducked behind a line of trees. “Are the other Crawfords as nice as Sam?”
They’d only been back to The Drugstore once since Gertie’s first day in town.
“They are. Eleanor is a couple years older than us. She has a fella. Sam is even older. But believe me, girls like us don’t catch his eye.”
“I wasn’t asking because of that.” Gertie hoped her cheeks weren’t turning red, but she could blame the exercise.
Watching the way Sam made everyone at ease and the way he accidentally made an extra soda and left it on the table for Ignacio had painted her a picture of a man with a kind heart.
Jimmy swung down out of a tree, his bright blue eyes twinkling with mischief. “Hi!”
Maybelle jumped and slapped a hand to her chest. “Jimmy Bentley, you are the worst.”
“You headed to see Blue and Ignacio?”
Maybelle’s cheeks colored a shade. “Maybe.”
He shrugged. “I’ll come along.”
After an eyeroll, she nodded.
Gertie knew who he was, but she hadn’t spoken to him. From what Maybelle said, Jimmy and trouble were close friends.
He turned to Gertie. “Hey. I’ve seen you around. I’m James, but you can call me Jimmy.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Gertie.”
He grinned. “You’re Gertie? Swell.” He ran on ahead then looked back. “They down by the creek?”
Within seconds Jimmy disappeared into the trees.
“Don’t let him bother you, Gertie. He’s just a dumb kid.” Maybelle slowed her pace. “He gets into all kinds of trouble, but he isn’t mean.”
Gertie didn’t like the trouble part. “What about Blue?”
Maybelle flashed a wide smile. “Once you get to know him, I think you’ll really like him.”
Gertie hadn’t gotten an answer, and she wasn’t sure Maybelle was right. Time would tell.
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