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illiam called through the side porch screen, “the lobsters will be all gone if you two don’t hurry up.” “We’ll be right there,” Kate said, attempting to contain her daughter’s hair with an elastic band. “Veronica, sit still please.” “We have to hurry up, William says all the lobsters will be gone,” she tried to pull away from her mother. “He said I get my very own one this time, now that I’m a big girl.” “Yes you’re a big girl, but you might want some help cracking the shell.” Kate gave the elastic one more twist, before pushing the mop of curls through. “I can do it myself,” Veronica protested, turning to face Kate, balling her hands into fists, pressing them to her sides. “I’m seven years old.” She removed her hands from her hips to hold up the required number of fingers to emphasis her point. “I can do everything.” “I know how old you are. I’m just suggesting you might want some help, the butter makes the shell pretty slippery. Come on, let’s go—before William leaves without us.” She gave her daughter a pat on the backside, directing her out of the house. “William, you wouldn’t leave without us would you?” Veronica asked, jumping into his arms. “Of course not. Wanna skip? “ he said, setting her down on the sidewalk in front of Allen Manor. “Uh-huh.” She put her much smaller hand in his. “I’ll meet you two at the pier entrance,” Kate hollered, to their backs—they were already a full block ahead of her. Kate pushed Veronica’s ponytail aside so she could tie the bib at the back. “I’m not gonna wear a baby’s bib.” Veronica tugged at the thin sheet of plastic with a picture of a lobster embossed on the front. “That’s not a baby’s bib. See we all get to wear one,” William said, putting one on himself. “Matter of fact, I like mine so much, I’m going to wear one on my head too.” He tied a second one around his forehead. “You look silly,” Veronica giggled. “No, you do,” he pointed at her. “No, you do,” she pointed back. “All right you two—enough. You’re giving me a headache,” Kate said, smiling, but rubbing her temple at the same time. Three plates, each holding a large steamed lobster, were placed in-front of them. Veronica shied back from hers. ‘What’s the matter? I thought you wanted your own this time,” Kate asked her daughter. “It’s looking at me. I can’t eat something that’s looking at me.” William pulled a paper napkin from the stack, ready for fingers that would soon be dripping with butter. He tore a piece off, fashioning a blind-fold over the lobsters eyes. “Is that better? Now the lobster isn’t looking at you.” Veronica nodded her head, and picked up the cracker, trying to follow his lead on how to get started. It proved to be much more difficult than she thought it would, but managed to dig out a few pieces to dip in her dish of melted butter. When it was time to open the tail, Kate offered to help. Veronica pulled back, repeating that she could do it herself. Grasping the cracker with both hands, the lobster tail wedged between, she squeezed with all her might—her face set in a determined grimace. Instead of cracking the shell open, the lobster tail was launched by the force she applied. It shot up like a firework, and then over the railing, dropping


in the water far below. Veronica turned to look at her mother, then William—all three burst out laughing. “Do you want some of mine Honey,” Kate offered. “I’m not letting you throw mine in the ocean,” William said, pulling his plate closer. “Na, I don’t think I like lobster anyhow,” Veronica rested her chin in her hands, “Can I have an icecream now?” Brightening at the prospect of having her most favorite dessert. Getting ready for summer renters, was the busiest time of year for Kate and William, and as she got older, Veronica participated too. William would check for damage caused by the high winds and heavy snows of winter, while Kate and Veronica prepared the garden. “Veronica, come give me a hand please,” Kate called through the side-porch screen, while carrying seed-starter trays, and garden tools. “What are you gonna plant this year?” Veronica asked, accepting the packets of seeds her mother handed her. “The usual: carrots, beans, onions, lettuce. And, oh I thought we’d try pumpkins this year.” “Cool—those pumpkins that get really big?” “Yes, those pumpkins that get really big—just like you and William wanted.” “Can I do it? I want to grow the biggest one ever.” She stretched out her arms as far as she could. “Then William and I are going to carve it out on Halloween.” Kate smiled at Veronica, pleased that her daughter took an interest in gardening at an early age and still enjoyed it, now that she was twelve. Veronica checked her plants every morning before leaving for school, and transferred the seedlings to the garden days before the summer break started. She diligently watered and weeded around them—flicking off any bugs that dared to land. The twisting vines and large rough leaves snaking through the garden, taking over more than their fair share of space. Once the green globes, which would soon turn pumpkin orange, got too big, an entire sections of onions were lost to the invasion. By the time Halloween rolled around, one of the pumpkins had gotten so large, when the time came to carve it out—William had to help Veronica climb in to reach the bottom. Veronica, raced across the back lawn, almost tripping over the string suspended between two posts stuck in the ground. “What the heck are you doing William?” “I’m building a boxing ring,” he said, wiping his brow, putting down the sledge hammer he held. “Boxing ring?” Veronica spun around the area, punching an imaginary opponent. “Can I help?” He chuckled at her antics, marveling at how much she looked like her mother, blond curls refusing to stay contained by the simple elastic she had gathered them in. At fifteen years old, Veronica stood almost as tall as Kate, and it was uncanny how similar their profiles were. “You’re not really building a boxing ring… are you?” she asked. “No, actually it is going to be a bigger garden for Miss Kate. If you decide to keep planting big pumpkins, there won’t be room for anything else. And I got a handy new tool for planting trees, so I thought we would put a chestnut tree in that corner.” He pointed to the chosen location. “I don’t think I’ll grow pumpkins anymore, I’ve got more important things to do now,” Veronica said, in her best grown-up voice. “Oh you do, do ya. Like what?” “You know, woman stuff… my hair.” She flicked at her curls. “My nails.” She wiggled her fingers at him. “And I must go shopping for something to wear.” She tugged at her simple outfit of shorts and a t-shirt. “Well la-de-da,” he chanted, doing a pirouette, holding out his tool-belt like a skirt hem. “I thought you were going to help me?” “I’m still going to help you. Someone has to show you how to use that new gadget you bought.” “Hey, I’ll figure it out just fine. I wouldn’t want you to break a nail, or something.” “Come on, let me help. I’ll get my nails fixed later.” They assembled the hole digger, teasing each other, as she read the directions, and he scratched his head when he realized they had some spare parts left over. Regardless of the unused nuts and bolts, the tool


was easy to use and worked well. Veronica got busy digging, while William went to retrieve the chestnut tree sapling from the truck bed. Lowering the burlap wrapped roots in to the hole, Veronica held the tree in place while William shoveled the dirt in around the base. They stood back, admiring their handy work. “It’s not much of a tree.” Veronica stretched and jumped, reaching for the top branches. “It’s a perfect tree Missy. Give it a chance to grow and fill out—it will be spectacular in a few years. I predict it will be higher than the windows of your bedroom in oh, I don’t know… maybe fifteen years.” “Fifteen years, oh my gosh—that’s like forever! I’ll be old by then, and you’ll be reeeal old. That won’t even be my room anymore—I’ll have moved away.” “Well, you may not live here anymore, but that… ” he pointed toward the three windows, “will always be your room. As for me being reeeal old… speak for yourself… I’ll never be reeeal old.” “You already are,” she said. Sprinting toward the house before he dropped the shovel, chasing after her, demanding she take it back. Just as she reached the back porch, with William in hot pursuit, she collided with her mother opening the screen door to come outside. “Ohmf, what is going on? What are you two up to now?” Kate asked. “There’s a phone call for you Veronica.” “Saved by the bell!” Veronica raced past her mother to take the call. “I’ll get you next time,” William yelled after her. “Nice tree William,” Kate said. Not bothering to ask again what they were doing. “Wanna walk to the pier with me Veronica,” William hollered up the stairs. “I’m getting lobsters for dinner.” He listened for the sound of her bounding down the steps. “Come on—I’ll buy you an ice cream,” he offered. “I’m kinda busy,” she finally responded from her room. “Go ahead without me.” “What the heck are you so busy with you can’t walk with me to the pier,” he called back—his feelings hurt, she hardly went anywhere with him anymore. “Oh all right, I’ll go with you,” she said. “Come on, let’s skip,” William grabbed for Veronica’s hand when they stepped on the boardwalk to the pier. “No way,” she exclaimed, pulling free of him. “I can’t let people see me skip. I’m way too old for that.” “We always skip—besides, I’m not too old. How can you be? What the heck is up with all this talk lately of being old.” She gave no answer to his question and just shuffled along. At one point, he was sure she actually moved away from him, as if to imply they weren’t walking together—let alone skipping together. It happened when they passed a group of kids, he suspected were classmates of hers. Once they were out of sight, Veronica dropped back to William’s side, and tugged on his sleeve. “Did you see that boy with the great wavy hair,” She whispered to him. “William, answer me,” she said, when he looked off into space. “Me,” he pointed to his chest, “are you walking with me—again. Which boy would you be referring to? They all look the same to me.” “Oh no, he’s different,” she smiled. “He just moved here from Chicago.


Family by Choice5