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Samantha Sweet Curls. That’s all I am, and that’s all I’ll ever be. People in started calling me that since the day I was born for my curls the color of melted sugar. And everybody knows nothing ever changes in Hartwick. I’ll be Samantha Sweet Curls until the day they close my coffin. Still here in Hartwick.
It takes time to notice, but, everyone who lives in Hartwick is a prisoner. A prisoner to their own routine. Every single day is exactly the same—nothing has even changed in the past twenty years. I suppose that knowing what to expect from every single day is both comforting and upsetting at the same time. But it is a fact that no one in Hartwick had seen any changes in a long time. And changes can be pleasant if you let them in.
The first change happened one fall afternoon while I was coming home from school. The ground was a mattress of leaves crunching under my feet, and the wind was frigid and biting, as if it was blowing chips of ice against my cheeks. But that was expected. Every fall is the same in Hartwick. The sky was padded with burgeoning clouds of gray. I quickened my pace. Just the thought of getting doused in precipitation made my toes feel numb already. I swung myself inside the door of our clapboard house to find…Silence. Usually there was laughter, clinking of cups, music, or any other sort of sound at all. But not today. Today the only music drifting through the halls was the deathly song of silence.
“Hello? Is anyone home?” My heart rapped against my chest. No one. I strode into the kitchen. Empty. I tried to convince myself that everything was alright, and that nothing was wrong. Change isn’t easy to accept in Hartwick.
Then came a rapping at the door. Salvation! I thought, expecting it to be a friend to accompany me. I swung open the door.
“Hi—” I was dead wrong. “Umm…Who are you?” Newcomers aren’t easily accepted in Hartwick.
“Samantha?” the visitor greeted. Not Samantha Sweet Curls. He was tall and slim with the body of a basketball player. He wore brown corduroy pants and a sweater vest, which were foreign items to Hartwick. His hair was like lichen growing on a tree trunk, and thick framed glasses covered his eyes.
“Yes, that’s me,” I said quietly. Part of me wanted to slam the door and forget about this moment. No one wants to remember changes in Hartwick. But another voice inside is lingering for a change, an adventure. And that side wins over.
“What do you come for?” I asked, gaining confidence.
“I am a relative of yours. You have to come back with me, because you have inherited some land downstate. You have to come now.”
“What? Why? I don’t have any relatives downstate.” The visitor raised his eyebrow.
“You do.” My mind was going numb. I had never met my father, didn’t know his name, or how he looked like, or how his voice sounded. Maybe I have never heard of this relative either…
“My mom is coming home. Soon,” I said, my voice growing nervous. I wanted more than ever to run from all of this and forget it.
“I can’t wait.” I felt like telling him to leave, and never come back, and slamming the door shut and going back to my normal life. My life as Samantha Sweet Curls. No. Never.
“Okay. I’ll come with you.”
As the truck bumped along, each sharp jolt set more sore thoughts tumbling. This is the most stupid mistake you have ever made in your life! You can’t just go with any stranger who comes to your door claiming he is a relative and you have inherited land! You can’t leave Hartwick without anyone even knowing it!
These thoughts and more bombarded me as we drove through the autumn afternoon.
“You are acting as if this is all a surprise!” he said. His voice was strident, like pinched up fabric.
“It’s not?” I bellowed. He laughed and looked at me through the rear view mirror.
“This has been planned for months, how could you not know?” I did not reply. And when I did not, he said, “I forgot introductions. I’m Will. Your cousin.”
Finally, an hour later, after parting through seas of cornfields, we arrived. It was a small house lost in a rolling field. I got out of the car, and then turned back around.
“Will, you have to take me back. No one knows I’m even here. I can’t stay!” Will clasped me by the shoulders.
“Relax! You can’t leave! Everyone knows you’re here. Your father expects you.”
“My father?” I was lost in this whirlwind of excitement as Will led me into the house. Why hadn’t anybody told me about this? Back in Hartwick? I wanted to be there more than ever. But I have to face it. Changes can happen. Even in Hartwick.
I leave on a whim with a long lost cousin to inherit property far away. I meet the father I have never seen. What will I do next? That is what I am thinking as Will shows me to my father’s room.
“She’s here. Samantha.” I hear a voice, muffled through the door, and then a man comes into view. Now I know where my sweet curls came from.
“Samantha! How you’ve grown!” he said, his voice tender like pouring frothy milk. He invites me into the room. It is covered in soft fabrics and gentle patterns like the spring sky. I sit down in a velvet armchair beside him and Will disappears down the hall.
“Samantha, I expect you to know that this whole house, and all of this property, is yours.” He holds out his hands, as if offering me to take it all now.
“All of this is an unexpected surprise,” I say, feeling the pulses of a headache coming on.
“Your mother never told you?”
“Not the slightest hint. No one likes to give unexpected news in Hartwick.” He nods his head, as if he was there the whole time.
“Yes. You are old enough to come live here—aren’t you?” Now I have a headache.
“I’m still in high school!” I wailed. No one in Hartwick ever regards the thought of moving pleasantly.
“I suspected you to be older than that. I must have my years wrong.” Hopefully, this was all a mistake, and then Will would drive me back home and I would forget this ever happened…But then I’d just be Samantha Sweet Curls again. No more, no less.
“I suppose we can make some accommodations,” my father improvised. “But you have to make a decision before you leave: to accept the property, or not.”
I feel like running away from all of this. My life is turned upside down and inside out. What do you do when your life takes a completely unexpected turn, and you don’t know where you are going? Should I just turn around and go back to Hartwick, where nothing ever changes? Or should I leave that all behind and become part of the real world.
The next morning came altogether too fast. I arrived downstairs to find only Will in the kitchen.
“Samantha,” he says, “have you decided yet?” I sighed in exasperation.
“No. I mean, I don’t want to go back to Hartwick, where nothing ever changes, and go back to being Samantha Sweet Curls.”
“Sweet Curls?” he asked inquisitively. I nodded.
“Yep. For their color of melted sugar.” He smiled.
“When I saw them, the first thing that came to my mind was ‘jazz apple.’ That’s what color they are. Not sugar. You are more than just sweet.” When he noticed the questions on my face, he said, “Come on. I’ll show you a jazz apple.” He took me outside, walking me through the cold fall day, until we came to an apple tree. He reached up on the branch and took down an apple. “Try it,” he said. I took it from his hands. One side was a golden yellow, the color of my hair. Not Samantha Sweet Curls. I bit into it and felt its tingling sweetness on my tongue.
“That’s the most delicious apple I ever had,” I declared after it was stripped to its core.
“And it is as sweet as you,” Will pronounced. Silence hung in the air. “Come on. Your father expects you to make a decision.”
Inside the house my father awaited my answer. I thought about everything. I thought about the jazz apples.
“What have you decided, Samantha?” my father asked me. I took a breath, and a step forward into uncharted territory.
“I think I will accept,” I said finally. I wasn’t Samantha Sweet Curls anymore. I didn’t hide myself from life. I didn’t live in Hartwick anymore, where nothing ever changes. I would come here and live in the real world.
My father decided that it would be best for him to take me home and share the news with my mother. As I walked outside, the fall day’s chill tickling my nose, Will came up to me.
“Here,” he said, handing me a bag. I opened it and peered inside as a smile crossed my face. The sweetest gift he could ever give me.