A new family moved in next door and I was hoping there’d be a girl my age, but it’s just a couple and the woman looks pregnant, which means I’ll probably have to babysit.
My mom is baking a loaf of apple fritter bread to bring over to them because when she said she was going to bake an apple pie, I told her that was so cliché. She did not appreciate that, but she knows I’m right. My mom has a thing about apples in September. We eat them all year round, but if she bakes anything — and in the fall she bakes a lot (talk about cliché) — it’ll be something with apples in it. Apple muffins, apple crisp, apple-cider donuts, apple pie, apple fritter bread. Once she pulled out ingredients for sugar cookies in September, and I was totally confused until she used her apple cookie cutter and coated them with white frosting and red sprinkles.
Under no circumstances will she bake anything with pumpkins until October 1, even though just about anything with pumpkin is her favorite. It is currently the middle of September, and our fridge is covered with pumpkin recipes she plans to try. I told her we are going to turn into pumpkins. She didn’t appreciate that either, but one year I ate so many orange things — cajun pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie, paella-stuffed acorn squash, butternut squash with butter and salt — that my fingertips and cheeks turned orange. “You can be a vegetable for Halloween,” is what she told me when I complained about my hue. I didn’t appreciate that and gave her an eyeroll.
My mom made two loaves of apple fritter bread. One for the new neighbors and one for us. They’re cooling in the front window of our kitchen. My mom opened the window because the day is brisk, and I know she’s speeding up the bread’s cooling so she can slather on the icing. “Now this,” she said to me waving her hand under the loaves like a game show host, “is a cliché, Carter.” She said it like she was happy about it.
My mom loves it when the seasons do what they’re supposed to do in the time she believes they’re supposed to do it. In September it should be cool and leaves should change. It should snow in December, and that snow should be gone by March. We should be wearing flip-flops by May, at the latest.
She gets an attitude when things like this don’t go her way. Like the weather cares.
There is a wooden bench on the neighbors’s porch, and the woman placed a woven basket turned upside down next to it. She went inside the house and brought out a pot of geraniums and a coffee mug. She placed the coffee mug on the basket and the pot of flowers next to the bench, and then she sat down. I watch her and look at what she’s just done, and I understand the basket is an end table. It’s cute, what she did, but she has the same look on her face as my mom did when she opened the kitchen window and declared — delightfully — what a cliché the scene was. I don’t want to roll my eyes at a stranger.
The woman looks at her pregnant belly then puts a hand on it. She lifts her coffee mug and takes a sip then looks at our street. I pick up my phone and pretend to scroll before she catches me staring at her.
I smile to find I have a text from Charlie. We’ve been playing this game all summer where we randomly text each other song lyrics, and the other person has to respond within seconds or the sender gets the points.
“There must be bubbles,” we both stated, meaning, we’d have to see text bubbles knowing the other person was in fact typing and not looking up the lyrics.
Charlie sent me this text minutes ago, so he’ll get the points, but I know what comes next, and I hate being shown up so I text him the next two lines.
This is not a challenge. This song “Dynamite” has been playing all summer long. I want to start giving Charlie lyrics from the ’80s, or ’90s, maybe even some Sam Cooke or Bobby Darin, but I’m still getting to know him, and I like this volley we have going on. I’m not sure I’m ready to level up.
The game started a few months ago toward the end of the school year. A group of us were walking along the Potomac River after having just left a concert at the Kennedy Center. Every Monday through Friday, there’s a free concert at 6 p.m. in the lobby. We started going on Friday nights because our sophomore band director, Ms. Hopler, told us she’d give us extra credit if we posted a photo of a concert with a 150-word review on Instagram. It beat actually writing a review, you know, like on paper, and since we always had our phones with us and loved heading to Georgetown, we figured it was an easy assignment. Turns out, the concerts were great, and after we’d get fries and Cokes at Nick’s Riverside Grill and sit and make up stories about all the people on their yachts. Usually they were all Hill workers and politicians who were heavily involved in a scandal.
One night we were leaving the Kennedy Center and discussing a familiar piece that none of us could place — until Charlie and I started singing the refrain because we’d figured it out at the same time. The whole group started laughing because the band had taken Beyonce’s song “Crazy in Love” and turned it into a classical piece. It was pretty cool how the melody didn’t change, but the feeling of the song had. When Beyonce sings the song, there’s a confidence to how she’s feeling. When the band played, it felt more trepidatious and uncertain. Both felt true, though.
“Yeah, but do you know Jay-Z’s part?” Charlie challenged me.
People always assume that the girls don’t know the rap parts. It drives me crazy. I started in the middle of Jay-Z’s part just to flex because everyone knows the beginning.
When I stopped, I pointed to Charlie and he picked up right where I left off, and that’s how it went until the whole group picked up on Beyonce’s part.
The rest of the night we just threw lyrics at each other to see if we could stump the other person, and that’s how the game started.
That night is one of my Top 10 favorite nights of the year.
“The apple fritter bread is ready,” my mom says, pulling me away from the memory and my phone. “Let’s walk over and introduce ourselves.” She hands me a slice of the bread from our loaf and I take a bite. It’s delicious. Cliché or not, my mom can bake.
I wipe my hands on the kitchen towel — “It’s Fall, Y’all,” it says with a pickup truck filled with sunflowers and move to get a butter knife to take the loaf for the neighbors out of the pan. My mom bought a kitchen towel (also fall themed) to go with the bread. She will tie it up with twine before she delivers it. I admit, it’s a cute touch.
My phone buzzes as I’m taking the bread out of the pan. It’s Charlie, sending me the next line to the song.
I smile again.
I wrap the bread in wax paper and then in the towel, and this time I tie it up with twine, then hand it to my mom. “It’s good bread, Mom,” I tell her.
“Thank you,” she says, sort of smirking, sort of smiling.
“Don’t get cocky,” I tell her, to which she scolded me for using the word “cocky.”
“It’s crass, Carter,” she says.
“I’m just sayin’,” I shrug my shoulders, “I wouldn’t call up The Food Network or anything.”
This time she rolls her eyes, and then together we leave to meet the new neighbors.
Fall Means Fiction!
This chapter was inspired by Cinnamon Swirl Apple Fritter Bread, from the blog “Home Is Where the Boat Is.”
Do you have a story stirring in you, as we enter autumn? Maybe a recipe is the perfect place to start.
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