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Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Call it Pumpkin Love by Marianne Arkins

Petunia swiveled the huge pumpkin head that balanced precariously upon her slim shoulders until she could see through the grin of its mouth. She fastened the coveralls of her scarecrow costume and pulled on the gloves. Everything was in order, except her state of mind.

She forced a bounce into her step and headed out to the candy hunt. She groused to herself about doing this favor for her sick brother, Rod. She'd tried to pawn it off onto her sister, Dahlia, but Petunia was closest in height to Rod and fit best in the costume. She only had to hitch up the waist a little bit, and the top was only slightly snug around her chest, a fact that demoralized her self-esteem.

Why did Rod have to get sick this week? Why did her entire family expect her to give up one of her precious weekend days to help him out? So what if his budding career as a holiday entertainer rested on his ability to follow through at this hunt—the biggest job he'd had yet? So what if it paid enough to cover his rent until the spring season of outdoor birthdays began. She didn't want to be a pumpkin-headed scarecrow. She wanted to be a marine biologist.

Still, family was family.

The good news was that her darling brother, Goldenrod, would owe her big and she'd most certainly spend the day deciding how to collect.

Now, it was only five minutes before things got hopping and there must've been two hundred kids waiting for their little plastic pumpkin baskets. She took her place at the table for children aged two through four and looked to see how many little ones were in line. She froze when her eyes met the warm brown ones of the father of the boy in front. Wowza. Was it her imagination, or was did she know him? His face looked vaguely familiar.

He was tall enough Petunia had to tip her head back, carefully so as not to lose her head, in order to look him in the eye. He had a patient smile on his face and his left hand on the boy's shoulder, a hand noticeably devoid of a wedding band.

Just her luck, she finally found the man of her dreams and she was wearing a Halloween costume. Unbelievable! Worse, it was a male Farmer Joe scarecrow costume to boot.

Nine o'clock finally arrived. She handed out baskets, pointing toward the roped area where miniature pumpkins full of candy were hidden. The excited children were allowed to collect five each and she tapped the rules with a gloved finger each time she handed out a basket. Rod warned her not to speak since she wasn't a man and it would give the game away, but being mute was altogether frustrating.

Once all the kids were out hunting, she strolled into the field to help. She made her way over to the little boy and his handsome father, giving the boy an exaggerated pat on the head, when the man leaned and punched her on the arm.

"Doing a great job, Rod," he murmured. "Phillip is sure having a great time. Thanks for the suggestion to bring him."

Oh. No. Should she break cover and correct his erroneous assumption? Before she could weigh the pros and cons, Phillip ran over and held up a tiny pumpkin as if it were a gold nugget. "Uncle Nash, look! It's perfect."

Uncle. Oooh…very nice. But Nash? Where had she heard that name? Her eyes rolled up as if searching in the file cabinet of her brain. Oh yeah. Nashville Wright was her brother’s college roommate. A few years back, he'd come home with Rod for Thanksgiving. Even then, all three girls had fought over who got to sit next to him at the table. Dahlia had won that round, but Petunia ended up across from him, which was almost as good. He didn't live in town, did he?

Nash squatted down on eye level with his nephew. "It is perfect."

"If I hold it high enough do you think Mommy and Daddy could see it, too?"

Petunia saw Nash's lips tighten at Phillip's words. He nodded and said, "You bet. I'll help you get up there."

Nash handed the basket to Petunia and lifted Phillip high over his head. The boy held up his prize to the clear autumn sky and smiled. After a moment, Nash dropped the boy down in a rush, catching him at the last moment. Phillip giggled and took the basket to go look for more booty.

"Thanks, Rod," Nash murmured. "He really misses them, but you already knew that."

Petunia felt like a fraud, listening in on a private conversation, but couldn't say anything. She didn't want to get her brother in trouble and she didn't want Nash to feel awkward. Instead, she patted his shoulder and walked away.

The hour passed quickly, and she actually enjoyed the last part, posing atop of straw bales for photos with the kids. She'd forgotten what being a kid was all about and understood a little better why Rod had chosen this particular calling as his profession.

When the chaos was over, she waved at the event organizer, pretending she didn't see the woman gesture for her to come over. Rod said he'd send out a bill later instead of settling up at the event like he usually would, and she should get out of there the moment things were finished. Exhausted, Petunia dragged herself in the direction of Rod's van. When she turned down the aisle where she'd parked, she saw Nash leaning against the bumper.

"I didn't think you'd ever get here." Nash thumped her on the shoulder and nearly knocked her off her feet. "Tired, huh? You up for a burger?"

She shook her head and looked around for Phillip.

Reading her mind, Nash shrugged and said, "I sent him home with my sister, Cheyenne, for a sleepover."

Petunia nodded and wondered how she could get into the van without Nash knowing she wasn't Rod. The guy would be mortified to know he'd been talking to a stranger all day and, since he seemed nice, she didn't want to do that.

"Rod, I know you're probably beat, but did you get a chance to check with your sister about going out sometime?"

What in the blue blazes was the man talking about? Which sister and why would Rod agree to do that? He should know better than to try and set any of the girls up on a blind date. Although, she had to admit, this would have been one doozy of a blind date.

She shook her head in reply, pulled out the key ring and stuck the van key into the lock.

Nash put a hand on her shoulder, turned her. "You said you'd put in a good word for me."

When she didn't respond, he continued, "We've talked about how tired we both are playing the field. Losing my brother really showed me that we have to live for now, not the future."

Her heart broke a little at the pain in his voice. If he was as close to his siblings as she was to hers, he must be devastated. She started to reach out a hand in comfort, but realized that a guy wouldn't do that to another guy. Should she slug him instead?

She wondered which sister he wanted. Petunia, Dahlia or Lily?

She gave into the urge to touch him and thumped him on the shoulder once before climbing into the van. After she closed the door and strapped in, he tapped on the window. She rolled it down and he leaned through the window.

"Can you at least tell Pet I said hello?"

Her heart leapt at his words. Pet. He wanted her. That did it. She pulled off the pumpkin head and laughed at the look on his face.

"Why don't you tell me yourself?"

"It was you all along? Where's Rod?" He looked confused.

"Home, sick." She grinned. "Is the offer for a burger still open?"

His smile grew, along with the joy in his gaze. "You bet it is. Wide open."

About the Author: Marianne was born in California, met her husband in Colorado, got a puppy and got pregnant, then moved with the group of them to the frozen north of New Hampshire where her thin blood keeps her indoors six months of the year. It's the perfect scenario for writing! She has a novel, "One Love For Liv" available in print on December 29th, and a novella "Kitchen Matches" available from Samhain Publishing, and eight published stories with The Wild Rose Press. Check out her website or blog for more information or to see what's going on inside her brain. If you dare.

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