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Summer vacation was coming to an end for the Gang. School would soon be starting, which meant their lazy days of freedom to come and go as they pleased, were also coming to an end. Their Sugargrove adventures had been nothing short of surprising—startling—mind-boggling—overwhelming—and definitely eye-opening. However, there were still enough days left for trouble, of the unforeseeable kind, to manifest itself.

A soft steady rain had fallen throughout the night, but was now reduced to nothing more than an occasional spitting against the windowpane. Chloe raised the window, and allowed the calm summer breeze to gently blow against her face, inhaling the all too familiar scent of fresh wet dirt. She watched as the air caressed the delicate, sheer fabric curtains, swaying them as easily and continuously as the ebb and flow of the ocean. She lay at the foot of the bed, taking in the amazing view from her bedroom window. The morning sun nudged golden rays through the foggy hills, weaving its blushing beauty among the oaks, maples, and cedars, while puffs of thick mist cloaked the valley floor. The tall poplars that lined the ridge, stood like toy soldiers guarding the inhabitants below.

It seemed that Chloe and the sun were the only ones up at the Baxter’s. She rolled out of bed and walked over to the calendar that hung on the wall. She marked a large red X across the day and date and counted, in a whisper, the number of days left before school started. “Eight?” She said aloud. “Time’s wasting!”

By 10AM, Chloe had assembled the Gang at Blue Hole for suggestions on how to spend the afternoon. All agreed with Chloe’s proposal of a picnic in the woods behind Susanna’s house. There was a spot down by the river, which had become their second favorite place to meet. They would gather at Susanna’s around noon; each was to bring her own food and drink.

Katy helped Chloe fill a picnic basket with several goodies. “Since you didn’t eat breakfast, I packed a few extras.” Katy winked at her.

“Thanks, Mom.” Chloe smiled and was about to leave the house, when she saw the weekly paper lying on the table. “I’m taking this too.” She held up the paper, then tucked it into the basket.

Sadie spread a quilt on the ground, and they placed their food in the middle so they could share. Everything was delicious, and their bellies filled quickly. They all relaxed and began making plans for the upcoming school year. The sixth grade seemed promising to them, and for the first time, they’d have to change rooms between classes.

“We’re nearly in junior high.” Sadie popped up and said.

“We haven’t even had one day of the sixth grade, and you’re already thinking about the seventh!” Beth Ann retorted, then giggled and threw a carrot stick at her. Everyone laughed and talked about all the fun they’d had during summer break; even though some of their escapades weren’t all that amusing. But there was one thing they’d all agreed upon, and that being, that it had been a summer of life-changing experiences.

Chloe pulled out the paper from her basket. “Hey, ya wanna hear what Miss Ruby has to say this week?”

Sadie piped up, “My dad says that she needs to get a new typewriter, or at least oil the “O” key on the old one, so it will stop sticking. But wasn’t it a hoot when she wrote and thanked Miss Velda Pruitt for organizing the Poot-luck dinner for the Christian Quilter’s Association at the Assembly of God Church.” They all rolled around on the ground and hooted with laughter.

Suddenly, Chloe stood up with the paper in front of her face. “Hey, what’s wrong with you?” Beth Ann questioned. Chloe didn’t answer. She just stared, dumbfounded and silent, at Susanna.

Then in a jittery voice, she read, “An unidentified man was found… dead last Saturday wh…when his body washed up in the narrows along Pinefall River. His body was… the Snyder brothers…the Sheriff stated that he’d been dead about three weeks, and that foul pl…play was suspected. A full investigation would be made.

“The screams…” Susanna whispered.

Chloe could only nod.