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The Space Between You and Me | Rhubarb Season


For Clem, summers are for Maine—for wandering the blueberry barrens, helping her grandmother on the farm, and stargazing with her parents. But her grandmother is gone, she hasn’t talked to her mom in months, and her dad is devoted to the family business. Now, all Clem wants to think about is a dance audition that could get her into Juilliard. She doesn’t need another distraction. Then she meets Rico. He’s nothing like the boys back home in LA or the boys in Maine, either. His secrets rival her own and as they grow closer, she must confront the hidden realities of places she thought she knew. In Julie True Kingsley’s debut novel, Clem and Rico’s worlds are threatening to tear them apart. Can they bridge the space between them before summer is just a memory?


The excerpt below is adapted from the first chapter of The Space Between You and Me by Julie True Kingsley, where the main character Clem returns to her family's blueberry farm.


 

Rhubarb Season - June


Mom always said dreams are the guideposts of a life well-lived. Aunt Vivi always said dreams were found in a good skinny dip into the Atlantic. Mémère always said dreams are illusions guiding you to the real goals, the ones you don’t even know about but nevertheless need. 

 

Waiting to hear about getting a second-round audition to the Summerset School of Dance reminds me of being a kid at Christmas: the gnawing excitement in the back of my stomach, the nervous flutters moving up my spine. But I must admit, there’s a sharp edge to it all. Christmas, at least, is orchestrated by people who love you, while the judges who look over audition film care only about the bottom line. Or, as my dance teacher would say, “They’re looking for the epitome of perfection! The lines of an angel! The person who encompasses the spirit of the art!” Madame Ouelette was always a tad dramatic. 


Johnny grips the steering wheel, his mammoth hands making it almost look small. He doesn’t take his eyes from the road. “You okay?”


“Yup. Couldn’t be better.” 


“But, coming back. It must feel weird after everything that happened last summer . . .”


“And the summer before that.” My throat constricts, trying to block the images of my grandmother, her hospital bed lying in the corner of the kitchen, so she could watch the blueberries grow. “I’m getting kind of used to things being different around here.” 


“Doesn’t make it easy.”


I brush some dirt off my knee and flex my quads. Out the window, I count American flags flapping in the wind. One. Two. Three. Patriotism runs high in Maine. We roll past the Penobscot River, swollen over its banks, an unpredictable snake pushing over rocks and trees. Johnny says, “If you wanted to talk. I do have the gift of gab . . . ”


“Can I hold your gun?” I say flippantly.


“So, you don’t want to talk?”


“Nope.” 


“Okay, I’m here if you need me.” 


I stare at the phone. 552. Unwavering. We drive past a man in green Dickies pants, slowly piling sandbags around his barn, trying to hold the water at bay. If I could put sandbags around my heart, protecting it from more disappointments that might come, I would. 


I climb out of Johnny’s border patrol truck, shaking the rest of California from my bones. Gone are the pressures of St. Andrews, where another year of honors classes are in the books. Gone is my face superimposed on the Los Angeles bus system, advertising our string of organic smoothie shops. Gone is my ex-boyfriend, Travis, the dumbass who cheated on me with my lab partner, Trinny Williams. Gone. Gone. Gone. 


The farmhouse never changes. It’s an old-fashioned Cape, built in 1953. It sits on the highest point of the blueberry barrens, next to the huge red barn that holds all the gear. 

Geraniums sit in clay pots all along the wraparound porch. Bright orange pillows rest on Adirondack chairs around the fire pit. Dad—five feet, five inches of pure French energy—opens his arms wide from the back porch. I close my eyes for a second and try to imagine three years ago when I’d arrived for the summer. Mémère plucking weeds from her cutting garden. Mom smiling like crazy, her finger pointing to a huge bow on the barn door. She was excited for me to see the studio she built for me.


“Mon chou!” Dad’s at me in a flash, grabbing me into a bear hug. I lean my head on his chest, taking in musky dad smell—part sweat, part Old Spice. 


Johnny coos from the driver’s seat. “You’re still his cabbage.” 


“Such a cute little cruciferous,” Dad teases before letting me go. 


“Dad, we’ve got so much to talk about.”  


Johnny points a thumb at me. “Dev, I pretty much caught her holding up the entire bus at the Greyhound station.” Johnny’s scanner blares: Officer LaMonde, we need your assistance with a suspicious lobster boat off Cousin’s Beach. 10-4. I don’t even have time to say “Thank you” before he’s gone, barreling toward trouble. 


In the old, sloped mud room, Roscoe, our black Labrador retriever, dive-bombs me. He shoves his nose into my crotch, practically knocking me over in the process. 


“How’s my canine pervy-perv?” 


He pulls his wet tongue across my ankles. I yank my ratty Converse high-tops off my feet and drop them on the floor. Roscoe eyes the left sneaker with interest, so I open the closet door and kick it into the darkness. I stop, surprised to see Mom’s vintage red raincoat still there.


“You still have her raincoat? Should we mail it to her?”


Dad mumbles something about processing rhubarb before disappearing into the kitchen. 

He doesn’t like talking about my mom any more than I do. I reach for the necklace Mom gave me with a ruby at the clasp and three diamonds across the front, representing the “girls in our family,” for when we thought there’d be three of us, if you included Amalie. I should call Mom. I reach for my phone and stop. Since she left, things have been different. I’m not sure where the conversation starts or finishes. It’s too much.


My phone finally pings.


553. 


The Summerset School of Dance.


I sit on the bench. I brace myself. It’s okay if I’m not selected. My life won’t end if it’s a “No.” In reality, these thoughts are lies; if I don’t get in, I’ll go to a little blueberry hollow, curl up in the fetal position, and die. 


My thumb hits the screen, and the email springs to life: 


Congratulations! Summerset School of Dance invites you to the final evaluation in New York City on September 15, 2016. The winners of this competition will participate in the semester abroad program at our prestigious school in London, England. 

Please confirm receipt and attendance. 

Fondly, 

Sonia Mathers, VP, Summerset School of Dance 


I did it. I actually did it! I do a celebratory dance around the mudroom. Roscoe howls in excitement. “That’s right, Roscoe. I did it.”


“Clem, come on in here.” 


I text my best friend, Trace: 


I’m in! Auditions. NYC. September. 


She replies immediately: 


Kill it, girl! 


“Clem!” Dad calls again. The man has the patience of a toddler. 


I rush into the kitchen to tell him my news but stop. 


Dad’s whistling the old nursery song Frère Jacques and spreading rhubarb out on the wooden table. The new addition, renovated two years ago and a finalist for Country Home’s Kitchen of 2014, is trashed. Magazines are piled on the floor near the fieldstone fireplace. Books on social media lay open on the sectional couch. There are books on branding, books on living well, books on backyard chicken farms. The wide marble counters are covered in papers and half-eaten bowls of nuts, like he’s needed endless amounts of protein to keep him going. I scan the piles cascading across every flat surface. The Loss of Bees in America. How to Keep the Queen Alive. The Medicinal Effects of Blueberry Honey


I pluck a Post-it Note from the cupboard. “Homeland Security Audit. July 15th.”


“Yeah, that too. Gotta make sure my paperwork is up-to-date. No worries. I’m on it all.”


“But—” 


“I said I’m on it.” He gives me a wild grin and points to a whiteboard over the table. 


“Go look. I have a plan for everything.” 


At first, I’m impressed by his ability to color code, then it dawns on me; I am purple and purple’s everywhere. In his tight cursive, he mapped out the entire summer: first commercial, stock photos, Blueberries for America 100th Anniversary Special, Facebook Live chats.


“It’s like a grape slushy of chores.”


“Purple is the color of royalty.” He plucks a cherry from a bowl, pops it in his mouth, and spits the pit into the trash. “Since we put you on the last print ad, our hits have gone up 22 percent. Plus, what do you want me to do? All I hear on the news is people trying to keep my workers out of the country. We’re going to need a plan to survive.”


“Dad, I said I’d help, but this looks like a full-time job.”


“What do you think farming is?”


“Dad, you know I’m a dancer.” 


“Oh, I know . . . that’s why I used your old shots for the promos while you were in school. Use the studio whenever you want. But we need this farm to be a success, and you’re part of the farm. Dancing takes the money. It doesn’t pay money. Things are tougher now your mom’s gone and I have the whole kit and caboodle on my plate.”


Panic rises—starting at the back of my thighs, moving into my spinal column—and lodges itself in the back of my throat.


“No dance?”


“Not this summer, hon.”  


“When?”


“Well, you’re still in that fancy school. If it’s a banner harvest, you’re back in. If not, well, we just gotta work harder.” He shakes a rhubarb stalk at me, picks up a knife, and chops it to pieces. “Remember when Laura Ingalls Wilder was a girl? A little ‘half-pint?’ She was dealing with the same problems. Locusts descended upon the harvest and ate everything, just everything. You have no idea what will happen when you farm. Remember the year we had hail? In August. Ruined everything.”


“2011,” I say. 


“2011 sucked.” Dad whacks the rhubarb like an executioner. “Hated that year. This year’s going to be different, especially with you running the social brand.”


When Dad came up with the winner idea of me being the face of the family business, I squealed, “Okay, jokester! Give me another.” But it was all too real. 


I push a pile of Blueberry Today magazines onto the floor and sink into the couch. Dad hands me one of Mémère’s dainty dessert plates with a piece of rhubarb pie placed perfectly in the middle.


“Plus, we gotta make enough money to buy a new roof.”


“I dunno about all this, Dad.”


“It’s all going to be fine. I promise.” 


“You promised me a pony in fifth grade.”


“I got you Roscoe.”


Hearing his name, Roscoe lumbers in and falls at my feet, proof sometimes you don’t get what you want, but you do get what you need. Dad flings an arm over my shoulder, and I give him a chunk of pie. He raises both eyebrows, chews thoughtfully. “It’s you and me, kid. The Fountaine dreamers, together again!”


“To dreamers!” I echo. “Making things happens from 1953 to today!” And I will make it happen. My audition, the berries, all of it. 


 


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