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Life, Love, and Lemons | Pt. One

By: she’s-got-a-story


  Part One: Life

   Daniel wouldn’t have noticed anything different about his quiet little backroad street in Middle-of-Nowhere-Ville, Florida, if Rosie Winkerbaum hadn’t said she was miffed. “I’m miffed,” Rosie had uttered the phrase in question one muggy evening in June, just after the sun had slipped below the tree-line, but while the sky was still tinged with crimson and the fireflies had yet to make their nightly appearance. “Miffed” was one of Rosie’s new favorite words, along with “celestial” and “existential”. In Daniel’s opinion, Rosie read too much and played too little. She had a smart new red bike that was just sitting in the garage, waiting to be ridden. Daniel’s own bike’s tires were worn down from the rough gravel road on which he and Rosie both lived, and, perhaps because of this, he was just itching to watch Rosie’s sleek, shiny new black tires spin down the road.
            “Miffed, I tell you.” Rosie repeated, crossing her arms dramatically and huffily plopping down on the curb, which was hardly a curb, just where the gravel road met the unkempt grass on the side. “New word, Rosie?” Daniel asked, politely, as his mother had taught him, but his neighbor just scowled and sighed. “I’ll have you know I learned that word two weeks ago, and my name isn’t Rosie Winkerbaum if I haven’t been looking for a good time to use it since.” Rosie replied, patting the grass beside her, obliging Daniel to sit. He sat. He spread his gangly legs out into the road and gazed up at the darkening sky, through which stars had just begun to pop. They were sitting out in the empty street, quietly, like, facing their farmhouses, which were next to each-other across the street.
            The farmhouses were big, and painted all cute as a button, Rosie’s blue and Daniel’s white. Daniel had heard from Rosie that down the road a ways there was a third house, a yellow one that was bigger than the both of theirs together. It was all beaten up, like, Rosie had said, but the family, the Cresses, were trying to fix it up best they could. Oh, you wouldn’t believe how much Daniel had heard about the Cresses. Everyone in Middle-of-Nowhere-Ville, Florida (Population 93 people, 14 horses, 19 dogs, 7 cats, 40 cows, and heaven-knows-how-many chickens) knew that Rosie Winkerbaum could talk you all the way to the moon and back, and nobody knew that better than her next-door neighbor, Daniel. Oh, how Rosie loved to talk to Daniel. Daniel fully doubted it was because he was good company, but because he was the last polite person in town, the only one that wouldn’t say “That’s nice, dear,” and turn back to his grits. Because of this, of course, Rosie told Daniel everything she knew, and that was a whole lot. Rosie’s favorite subject of conversation, though, was the Cresses.
            “Did you know Miz Cresse is pregnant seven months, Daniel? She gone have the baby ‘round fourth of July!” Rosie had confided last May, whispering into Daniel’s ear while he was trying to feed the chickens. Distracted by his talkative neighbor, he was bitten four times by the rooster.
            And, last January, “Lucille Cresse is sick with the flu, Daniel! I’m off to bring her some good-ol’ fashioned steamy chicken-noodle-soup.” That time, while waving to Daniel, Rosie spilled a good bit of that good ol’ fashioned steamy soup on Daniel’s favorite dog, Rip, and Daniel spent a whole lot of time trying to track down his dog, who had bolted, and another whole lot of time cleaning him off.
            Another instant, this past September, “Did you hear, Daniel? Bobby Cresse, the little tike, you know, he done climbed up on top of the Hardy place, down on Main Street! He won’t get down for nothing, but Lucy, she reckons if I tell little Bobby to come down, he will.” Rosie was panting as she came by, and Daniel had to employ all of his self-control to keep from laughing out loud at the sight of Rosie Winkerbaum, panting and flailing, with her fussy pink dress fluffing about as she kicked up her patent-leather shoes harder and harder, until she flopped down on the grass-curb for a break half a mile up the road.
            Not surprisingly, Rosie’s choice subject of conversation that hot night in June was (wait for it) the Cresses. Daniel, needing a bit of entertainment, finally gave in. As Rosie prepared to say, “I’m miffed,” for the third time, Daniel, to her delight, sighed and asked, “Why are you miffed, Rosie?”
“Oh, Daniel, I thought you’d never ask!” Rosie exclaimed, and Daniel muttered to himself, “I almost wish I hadn’t.”
            “Daniel, I’m miffed because of the Cresses.” Rosie said, pouting. Shocker, thought Daniel. “The Cresses moved away without even saying goodbye,” She continued, and Daniel half-listened as firefly lights began to blink in the distance. “They moved away and some new family moved in and I didn’t even know until I went to see Lucille and some boy answered the door.”  Daniel, who had been reclining on his elbows, sat bolt upright. A family moving out of town was normal, and to be expected, since there wasn’t really anything here except farms and orchards, but a family moving in to Middle-of-Nowhere-Ville, Florida, now that was exciting. “You said there was a boy?” Daniel said, trying to be casual, but his voice betrayed him. Rosie, elated now that she saw he was interested, smiled with excitement and said yes. “Oh, thank you, dear God.” Daniel sank to his knees and raised his arms to the heavens. When he was finished, he saw Rosie looking on and said defensively, “What? The only boys ‘round these parts are the Lewis gang, and you of all people know they don’t agree with me.”
            Rosie nodded, and after a brief period of smiling, she returned to being miffed. “Lucille Cresse has left me all alone on a street full of boys.” She said, and Daniel reminded her, grinning, “Not all boys, remember, there is Serafine!” At the mention of Daniel’s younger sister, Rosie let out a mournful wail. “Oh, that devil, Serafine!” She cried.
            Daniel felt mildly inclined to defend his sister, but Rosie’s description of Serafine was not far off. Still, he halfheartedly said, “She’s not that bad.”
            “Not that bad? Not that bad?” Rosie screeched indignantly, standing up suddenly and dusting off her frilly blue dress. “Just yesterday, I swear,” Rosie placed her hands on her hips, “She took my lacy purple dress from the clothesline and hid it in the compost pile. I will assure you that you, Daniel, will never see me wear that dress ever again.” Daniel stood and stretched, swatting mosquitoes away from places he’d rather not draw attention to in front of his neighbor. Rosie seemed not to notice, caught up in a rage as she was. “And last week, just last week, Oh, Daniel, you won’t believe what she did,” Rosie continued, strutting like a plucked turkey ‘round the green, “She let loose into my room two squirrels, one rat, and a bat. A bat, Daniel!”
            “That was a good one!” Daniel crowed with laughter, and Rosie snorted angrily, saying, “Daniel, you pig! Sometimes I like conversing with you, but I forget that you are a boy! And such a smelly boy you are, too.”
            Daniel snorted, and, pursing his lips out and speaking in a high, girlish voice, said, “Oh, Daniel, Oh, Oh! I wear pink and prance about like a sick cock, I do, and I, so wimpy am I! I done reckon I can speak like a posh princess ‘round here some times and other dag-nabbit times talk like a good old mountain git.”
 “Oh, Daniel!” wailed Rosie, “I did believe you were the polite one ‘round these parts!”
            This did remind Daniel that he was, indeed, the polite one, and hung his head as the moon began to rise. He could see Rosie’s pouty face illuminated in the flickering light of the fireflies. “Sorry, Rosie.” Daniel offered. The girl’s eyes lit up, and shone, giving off a light of their own, as Daniel and Rosie stood all by themselves off in the center of the green, in the dark, surrounded by flowers and fireflies. It would have been very romantic, Daniel reflected, if he had been there, on that pretty night, with any-one other than Rosie Winkerbaum.
Still, even though it was Rosie, she looked awful pretty, with her auburn curls framing her face just so, and her green eyes sparkling and dancing in the fireflies’ light. The tip of the moon became visible over the citrus orchards, with the lemons and oranges growing there glistening in the silver light. Daniel let his mind wander over to the groves in the distance, where he could see his father still working by the trees.
            Daniel’s father had twice as many duties that summer, due to the fact that Rosie’s mother had hired him to take care of the Winkerbaum groves as well as his own. Helena Winkerbaum had hired some Mexican workers, but they hadn’t arrived yet, and her oranges was going to rot if someone didn’t pick ‘em soon. Daniel’s father was quick to agree, being polite, like any good-old-fashioned Langford man, and he thought it honorable to do the work for Ms. Winkerbaum, since she couldn’t do it and Mr. Winkerbaum wasn’t around anymore.
            Rosie was really close, Daniel noticed. He could count out all of her freckles, one by one. She was pursing her lips, like, and Daniel was feeling mighty uncomfortable. His eyes grew wide. Uh, oh. He thought, drawing back suddenly.
            “God, Rosie!” said Daniel. He would have given her a shove if he hadn’t been so much bigger than her.
            “Dangit,” said Rosie.
            Daniel scrunched up his nose, angry like, and took another step back. “You need to quit doin’ things like that!” He said.
            “Well,” said Rosie, “School’s gonna start soon, Daniel. You’re gonna be in the sixth grade, and you’re gonna leave me all alone in the elementary school with nobody but all the jerks from Morrison County.”
            It was true. Since Middle-of-Nowhere-Ville, Florida, was so small, it had no school of its own, and all of the children went to school in either neighboring Morrison or Bearbank. The Morrison County kids thought themselves vastly superior to the Middle-of-Nowhere-Ville kids and the Bearbank kids, and Rosie was going to be quite alone in the fifth grade.
            “And anyway,” continued Rosie, “We haven’t done anything interesting together since prankin’ Serafine in May. We oughta go do somethin’.”
            “Like what?” said Daniel.
            “Like spyin’! On the new people!”
            Daniel groaned. “Aww, Rosie. Why’s it always have to be so big with you?”
            Rosie gave a grin. “Because I am the great and wonderful Rosie Winkerbaum. Go get your bike.”
            Seven and a half minutes later, Daniel met Rosie in her garage where she was, admiring her shiny new bike. Daniel gazed wistfully at it for a moment. “Let’s go.” Rosie said, and they did.
            There they were: pedaling down the gravel road with reckless abandon. Daniel’s shoelaces hung loose, and his worn bike tires bounced on the road. Rosie somehow managed to prance even on a bike, and she wore a sparkly pink helmet that, though it was mighty beat up, gave the impression that she cared more about its beauty than the fact that it protected her skull.
            Daniel wasn’t allowed to go down the road past the intersection; he felt a tingle of excitement as he passed it that night. He’d only passed the intersection twice before, once on a dare from the Lewis gang, and once on a night much like this… years ago. The tingle of anticipation quickly turned into a ripple of fear, a feeling of doubt. Daniel felt dread in his gut.
            “Rosie?” he called out into the darkness. Rosie had up until that moment been pedaling a bit behind him (she was chubby and had a bit of a hard time pedaling long distances), but now she was beside him, apprehension absent from her face.
            “Why is it... so dark down here?”
            Rosie was silent for a moment. Then her voice got frightfully naughty. “You’re not… afraid, are you, Daniel?”
            “Of course not.” He said quickly.
            “Well, you sound scared.”
            “I’m not.”
            “Well then, you won’t mind me telling you the story of the Ghost of the Unnamed Road.”
            Daniel blanched. “What?”
            “Well, it’s true. Let me tell you.”
            Daniel concentrated on his pedaling. Bike-riding in the dark was not one of his favorite pastimes.
            “Once upon a time…” began Rosie. “There was a boy who lived on a road that had no name. (Like you, Daniel) One night, he was pedaling along the road with his best friend ever, who was a girl, and was mighty beautiful. They came across a house, a tall, white one. Its paint was peeling off, and it was old and sort of scary. (Like the Cresses’ house, Daniel).”
            There was a rustling in the bushes. “What was that?” Daniel suppressed a gasp.
            “Never mind.” said Rosie. “Anyway, they came across this house, and it was all foreboding and stuff. They went up to the house to peer in one of the windows (one of the ground floor windows, obviously, since they were both irritatingly short) and they saw—“
            “What did they see?” Daniel asked worriedly.
            There was another strange rustling to their right—off the road, in the brush. Rosie startled on her bike. “What was that?”
            “I don’t know. Just tell the story, Rosie. What did they see?”
            Rosie nodded. “A ghost. It was a girl, dressed in pigtails and a gingham dress.  Like Dorothy from Oz."
            Daniel gulped. 
            "Why was she dressed up that way, you may ask?' Rosie said, "Well, I'll tell you. The day she died, she was all dressed up for church one Sunday, and she went upstairs to get her brother, to make sure he was ready, and she found him dead on the floor! Now, their parents were already gone, 'cause it was their turn to set up the pews and pass out programs and the like, so she had no one to scream for. Their phone was broke. So she ran, down the stairs  and out the door and all the way down the road, and came to the intersection, where two unnamed roads met up. (This very intersection, Daniel) And she came across a man in his car, and she said, 'Sir! Do you have a carphone? Please, oh, please, let me use it!' and so she ran up to the car and then the man pulled out a gun and--BOOM. And then when her parents came home, they found her layin' there bleedin' on the ground. And they called the police, but they couldn't tell the police where they were... except that they were at the intersection of two streets. The police never found 'em. To this day, the ghost of the girl still mourns her brother in the great big house where he died."
                "Oh, shut your trap, Rosie." said Daniel worriedly. 
                "No!" said Rosie. "I have to finish the bit about the boy and the girl a-lookin' into the window! So, anyway, they looked into the window and saw her, and she came up to the window and stared into their eyes—and the boy and the girl ran screaming into the night. But the ghost girl followed them! Down the road, down the road, into their houses and—“
            Just then, someone darted across the road ahead of them.
            Rosie screamed.
            Daniel almost screamed.
            “Daniel, can we please go home?” Rosie wailed.
            “This was your idea, Miss Rosie the great and wonderful!" Daniel said indignantly, feeling betrayed. He said, with a bit of spite behind his words, "We’re gonna finish this out! All we gotta do is go up to the Cresses’ and spy!”
            “Well, what does that mean?”
            “I don’t know! It was your idea! We’ll just peer in a window or somethin’; see what we can see!”
             “Okay.” Rosie said in a whimper. 
            And so they rounded the corner, and there was the Cresses’ old house, all foreboding, just like Rosie had said. They dropped their bikes in the grass and snuck up to the house, Rosie whining and carrying on all the while. “If we get shot at, Daniel Langford, it is your fault. You gonna have that on your conscience, I suppose.”
            “Rosie, this was your idea!”
            They said nothing more on the subject. The house was looming closer, and there were still lights on. “Let’s just go up to that window there.” Daniel whispered. It was a ground floor window, but Daniel still had to hoist Rosie up to see in.
            “What do you see, Rosie?”
             “Hmm, I see some boxes, and a table. Lots of cardboard boxes. A grandfather clock. There’s a picture on the wall. Put me up higher.”
            Daniel strained and grunted beneath her weight.
            “Let’s see… There’s a cup on the table. What does that mean?”
            “I dunno! Maybe someone was thirsty? Is there a tablecloth? Maybe it’ll be a werewolf-patterned tablecloth, and so we’ll know that the new family is made of werewolves!”
            “You don’t have to make fun of me.” Rosie pouted, pulling herself up on the sill a bit. “I can see into the living-room…there’s a blue couch, and… Oh, my God. Bring me down! Bring me down!”
            Daniel hurriedly brought a shaking Rosie to the ground. “There’s a person!”
            They pressed their backs to the house. “It was the ghost, Daniel! I swear it!”
            “Yeah, right.” said Daniel, trying to calm his breathing.
            “Honest! She had pigtails and a gingham dress! Just like the story!”
            “Rosie, you made that story up.”
            “So what? I still saw her!” Rosie said in a fierce whisper.
            There was a creak above them. Someone was pushing open the window. Daniel’s breath caught. “Hello?” a girl’s voice.
            “Hello? Is anyone there?”
            Rosie let out a tiny yelp. Daniel slapped his hand over her mouth.
            “Hello?” said the girl.
            There was another creak. Then a thump. The girl was climbing out the window.
            Oh, my God. Rosie mouthed as Daniel took his hand away.
            We’re going to die. Thought Daniel.
            There was a thump as the girl landed on the ground. Her back was to them. She wore a dress, checkered. Gingham. Daniel’s heart began to thump faster. Rosie grasped his hand and squeezed. The girl brushed her hair back. Her hair was in two long, blonde braids.
            We’re really going to die. Thought Daniel in a panic. His heart beat out of his chest.
            “It’s the ghost.” Whispered Rosie.
            The ghost whirled around and cackled.
            Daniel and Rosie screamed, scrambled to their feet, and took off running.
            The ghost was in fast pursuit, tearing along with her arms outstretched. She cackled evilly, and the sound echoed along the street as Daniel and Rosie fell over their bikes, righted themselves, and hopped on.
            Then they were pedaling. Rosie’s helmet was hanging off the handlebars, and Daniel was missing a shoe. “I’M COMING FOR YOU!” screamed the ghost in an evil, raspy voice, still running.
            Then the ghost burst out into raucous laughter as Daniel and Rosie passed the intersection. “Let’s do this again sometime!” called the ghost in a normal, human-sounding voice.
            Rosie screamed again.
            “We just almost died!” Daniel hollered as his feet moved like lightning on the bike pedals.
            “I know!" Rosie screamed back. 
            “You did make that story up, didn’t you, Rosie?”
            “I thought I did!” Rosie wailed as they turned into her driveway. She was shaking.
           Daniel looked over his shoulder.
            “What if she comes after us in our sleep?” Rosie said worriedly.
            “She won’t.” said Daniel, trying to sound encouraging, but his heart was pounding.
            "Just don't act scared." He added in a whisper, glancing behind him again. 
            And so Rosie went inside, face anxious, and Daniel  walked his bike through the short grass strip that separated their houses, feeling as if someone was breathing down his neck. 
            Daniel propped his bike against the house and leapt up the front steps, heart beating. I just need to get inside. He thought anxiously. Dad’s in there.
            He opened the front door, trying to look as if he wasn’t scared, went inside, and hurriedly shut it. He locked, bolted, and double-bolted it, and then walked into the kitchen, legs like jelly. Serafine was sitting in the doorway, stroking her favorite cat, Mars.  
            “Hello, Daniel.” She said evilly. (I say evilly, but this truly was just the way Serafine spoke)
            “Where’s Dad?”
            “My, my, Daniel, “said Serafine, ignoring the question. “You’re as white as, say, a ghost.”
            Daniel jerked his head to look at her. “What fearsome prank have you orchestrated this time, Serafine?”
            “Oh, I’ve done nothing. But I hear Lila Truman has had a delightful time scaring you and Rosie Winkerbaum out of your wits.”
            “Who’s Lila Truman?” Daniel asked obligingly.
            Serafine smiled evilly (again, just the way she did things) “Haven’t you heard, dear brother? The Trumans are our new neighbors.”

If this piece is well received, I'll write the next two parts. This is a WIP! Feedback greatly appreciated. 

Message to Readers

If this piece is well received, I'll write the next two parts. This is a WIP! Feedback greatly appreciated.

Peer Review

I like a lot of them, but the first sentence was really good

Hard to explain- kind of nostalgic, wishing I lived in a small town lol.

What time period is it supposed to be set in? It doesnt seem contemporary, or from that long ago. I dont think the ambiguity takes away from the story, but you could drop a few more hints.

Reviewer Comments

This is really good! It caught my attention because I am also working on a story about a summer in a small town, though im not very far yet. Anyways, keep it up, I definitely want to read part 2!