A SNOWY WEDDING
Lucy was late for the snowstorm. It was due to blow in at noon, just in time for her older sister’s wedding. Snow would swirl up the steps of their back porch as Nell was gliding out the door in her bridal gown under a blazing Georgia sun. Then Nell would get married and leave their little town of Puddleville to go live with Matt in the big city, forever.
The thought was unbearable. That’s why Lucy was sulking in the barn. It was so hot the sun was practically burning a hole in the barn roof. Salty sweat slicked Lucy’s short brown hair into a wet cap and dribbled down and stung her eyes. It must be nearly ninety degrees and only eleven a.m. And of course, the snow had already started.
Still, she stayed in the hot barn. She’d been there with Mrs. Chocolate, her pet chicken, for most of the morning. Nobody had even missed her. Television reporters from Atlanta had come early and swarmed the house, with lights and cameras on trolleys. The TV station was doing a special feature on Nell’s snowy June wedding. Lucy and Nell’s father was personally responsible for the snowstorm. He owned the biggest ice-making plant in America, and his machines would crush 40,000 pounds of ice to turn into snow for the wedding, just the way Nell wanted it. This was going to be a day Puddleville would never forget.
Nell herself was the kind of girl nobody could forget. She was beautiful, with smooth brown hair and gold-flecked eyes. She could cook and sew and do back flips with ease. She was basically perfect, and Lucy adored her. But so did everybody else. And that was the problem.
All morning everybody had ignored Lucy. She had sat at the kitchen table in her cowboy boots and jeans, waiting ever so politely. She was going to stretch the truth a little for the news: “I caught a bunch of deer and pulled their antlers off and then let them go. I rode a baby alligator all the way down the creek to town, got me a Coca-Cola, and rode him back home. And I skinned that poor poisonous rattlesnake and made this bracelet here.” Then she would blow on her knuckles and shrug. “That’s just one girl’s life in Puddleville.”
But nobody looked her way. They were all oohing and aahing over Nell. “I might as well be a ghost,” Lucy muttered as she slipped out the door.
Lucy Moon was ten years old, four foot two, and nicknamed “Pip,” for pipsqueak. She was planning to be a horse rustler. She wasn’t sure exactly what a horse rustler did, but she was saving up to buy a big ranch, and as soon as she got it, she was going to be the first pipsqueak in history to go find a bunch of wild horses and tame them.
She lived in a brick house on six acres of land in southern Georgia. Her mom had died in a car accident when Lucy was two months old. Her dad and eighteen-year-old Nell filled her world. And it had been a fine world until Nell fell in love. Suddenly, before Lucy could blink, her sister was engaged. And all anyone could talk about was the wedding and the snow. Then life took an even more horrible turn. Nell decided to sew Lucy a flouncy, frilly, hot pink maid-of-honor dress. “Tie me to a pig and roll me in mud. I won’t be caught dead in that dress,” she’d tell the chicken. Somehow she didn’t have the courage to say the same thing to Nell.
But life has a funny way of turning your worst day into your best, and changing the thing you hate most into your lucky charm. In the end, Lucy owed everything to that dumb pink dress.
It happened like this: Lucy slipped unnoticed into the barn, climbed the ladder to the loft, and hiked herself up the piles of hay. Once she was on top, she dropped easily down a secret opening. This was her hiding place, one she’d made herself. Nobody would ever guess, until maybe next winter when the hay got all used up. She even had a survival kit—a pocketknife, flashlight, jug of water, jar of peanut butter, and her dad’s laser thermometer. She loved that laser thermometer. You could point its red beam at anything, and the temperature of that thing would show up on the digital screen.
She lay down. She could hear the machines grinding the crushed ice, as loud as a million motorcycles, and she knew snow was blowing out of their green hoses. She could hear voices. Laughter.
And then she heard the screen door on the back porch bang open, hitting the railing like it always did.
“Lucy, where are you?” Nell shouted. “If you ran away on my wedding day, I’ll never forgive you!”
Lucy felt a little better.
“Matt, hold her dress for me. I know she doesn’t want to wear it and that’s what this is all about.”
Next thing Lucy knew, there were a lot of people crowding into the barn. Not just Nell, but a bunch of cameramen, and her dad, and half the wedding party. They were all shouting and stomping around and calling for Lucy, and then Nell said, “I’m going to hike up my gown and climb right up that ladder. She’s in that hay. I know it.”
“Darling,” Matt said, “that hay is packed way too tight for someone to hide there, even for a pip like Lucy.”
“I won’t get married without Lucy.”
“It looks like you’ll have to,” Lucy heard a cameraman say. “Otherwise, all your snow will melt and we’ll go home without a news show.”
There was a sudden, hushed silence. Then a sniffle. Was Nell crying?
“Lucy!” Nell called finally. “I don’t care about the pink dress! Just come to my wedding as you are. Please!”
Then Bill Goldsmith, their next-door neighbor, ran into the barn. “Everybody look at the blizzard Buddy’s machines have made! Buddy Moon, you are the King of Ice!”
“My daddy was the one who taught me, and Pa Moon taught him,” Lucy heard her father say modestly. And then he added loud and clear, “Folks, I know Lucy, and I know she’ll do the right thing. She wouldn’t miss her sister’s wedding even if the whole world were on fire. She’ll show up in the nick of time. So let’s get on with the celebration. We’re blessed today. Aren’t we blessed?”
Buddy had a way with words, simple but strong, and people usually agreed with him. Everyone began to murmur, “We’re blessed. Yes, we’re blessed.”
And then the barn was empty again.
Amazing, thought Lucy. I’m going to the wedding in my blue jeans. And I’ll be on TV! I can’t believe it! She pointed her laser thermometer at the hay. It was then that she noticed a small, shiny object. She moved the red laser beam over it. The digital screen read 86 degrees. She picked up the object. It was warm to the touch, a shiny, old-fashioned copper key with two square teeth at the end. The key fit her hand perfectly.
Hey, this was kind of exciting. She turned it over. On the back were words she could barely pronounce.
“Divina sectia,” she said slowly. “Well, that sounds about as pretty as a bucket of rocks. I wonder what it means.” She thought for a minute, and decided the key had fallen out of the rafters into her hiding place for a reason. It might have belonged to my great-great-grandpa. He probably hid it there before he died. It could be the key to a buried safe full of gold I can use to buy my ranch.
The thought was so wonderful that she nearly laughed with delight. Just in case someone unexpectedly discovered her key and her secret hiding place, she opened the peanut butter jar and shoved the key inside. And then she climbed out of the hayloft and skipped across the now deserted barn, taking the back steps two at a time, banging the kitchen door as loud as she could, and racing across the kitchen to the living room, where she ran smack into her dad.
“Ready for the wedding, Pip?” he said, brushing bits of hay from her shirt.
She hugged him. “Thank you, Daddy.”
“For trusting me.”
“You deserve to be trusted. Even if you took my thermometer and put it in your secret hay room.”
Her mouth dropped open.
“You know about my hiding place?”
He smiled. “How could I not? I made the exact same one when I was a kid. In the same place. And of course, my daddy knew about mine, because he’d made one when he was a kid. Hiding in hay goes back a long way in our family. The other day I worked on your hideout a little, to make it more comfortable. I straightened out the edges and made it quite a bit bigger. Did you notice?”
Lucy flushed deep pink. “Yeah, I was able to lie down and stretch out. I couldn’t figure out how it had grown on its own. So does Nell know too?”
“I doubt it. It’s just our secret. You’re a pip off the old block.”
He ruffled her hair. Then he asked, “Are those the jeans you’re going to wear to the wedding? Or do you want to put on the ones with holes in the knees?”
She laughed. “No, but I’m gonna get my cowboy hat.”
“Come look at the snow first, Lucy,” her father said, motioning her to the bay windows in the front of their living room. “It looks even better than I imagined.”
She gazed out at a sight she’d never seen in Puddleville, where snow was almost unheard of. Their front porch, the stately steps, and the entire front yard were softly blanketed in billows of white. Her dad had even dusted the rosebushes with snowflakes. It looked exactly like a postcard from some faraway place. Yet across the street, the warm sun shone on green lawns without a speck of snow.
“You made magic, Daddy,” said Lucy.
“I did, didn’t I? I’ve got to clear a path now so Matt can carry Nell through the front door and down the steps at the wedding ceremony. So go on and get your cowboy hat and shine your boots.”
“I’ll shine ’em until they’re so bright they blind you!”
He laughed. “It’s going to be one fine wedding.”