Chloe made her way through the woods to the Snyder’s place. Quietly, she crept up to the barn and squatted behind a stack of wood. She had her Brownie and was ready to take a picture of …of what, she thought. Her thoughts stopped when she heard a voice, and peered over the woodpile. It was that boy, Cleatus. The last time she saw him, he was running and hollering like a kid, and she hadn’t noticed his black wavy hair and dark tan, and also he wasn’t a kid, he looked to be about sixteen or so. She looked around to see who he was talking to, but he seemed to be alone. Then she saw it—he was holding a fat toad frog in front of his face—talking to it!
“Merleene, yur purdier than a frog settin’ on a lily pad ketchin’ flies with ‘is tongue. Wud you like ta’ go out walkin’ with me?” A bug-eyed frog stared back, unmoved.
Without warning, Chloe burst out laughing. Immediately, she slapped both hands over her mouth. The Brownie camera she had hanging from her wrist, came up and knocked her in the head. “Ouch!” She cried.
The boy turned around so fast, he nearly fell. “Who are you and what are ya’ doing sneakin’ ‘round heere?!” Still holding the frog, Cleatus was now up in Chloe’s face, demanding answers.
Not one to be intimated, Chloe stood her ground. “Well, I sure ain’t some stupid boy sweet- talking a stupid frog! And I’ll bet Mer-leene wouldn’t appreciate being compared to one either!”
“I ain’t comparin’ her to a frog. I’s jus’practicin’ talkin’ to ‘er. ‘At’s all.”
“Well, it’s going to take more than that to convince her to walk out with you.”
Noticing that she was just a young girl, he laughed. “An’ I s’pose yer experienced in sweet-talk in yer, what, yer ten years ‘a courtin’?”
It seemed odd to Chloe, talking to him, of all things about girls, and without fear of risking limb or soul to do so. But then she realized the only difference in them was the way their families chose to live and nothing more. She puckered her lips in thought and then she snapped her fingers. “I have an idea that might help you with your courting Merleene.”
Cleatus scratched his head. “I still wanna’ know what yer up to, but I also wanna’ know sum more ‘bout courtin’. Which even tho’ yer inexperienced, yer still a girl and if ye can hep’ me, then have at it.”
As they walked down by the river, Chloe fired one question after another about the shooting. Cleatus showed her where the Snyder boys found the body of the dead man. He’d been dead for a few days; they had nothing to do with the murder. “Pa said he bought some mash off ‘a him and most likely he got likkered up and got into a fight with a’ nuther drunkerd and jest got hisself killed.” Chloe sat spellbound listening to Cleatus talk about how the backwoods folks and the ridge-runners were always feuding; mostly over the running of moonshine. But he told her not to tell a soul about his pa’s still. She promised. He also made her promise not to tell anyone about his conversation with a frog. They both laughed. Then Chloe asked if he’d let her take his picture. Cleatus grinned real big and she snapped the Brownie.
Later that night, Chloe was still awake, thinking about her new friend, Cleatus and the promises she’d made to him. She also thought about all the different things that had happened throughout her summer vacation. It was indeed a summer that changed the lives of the Sugargrove Gang forever. Most importantly, she learned that no one person was better than another, just because of the way they dressed or the kind of house they lived in; and that judging should be left up to God.
She rolled over in bed and looked out her window. The moon was shining brightly and looked as white as freshly popped corn, she thought. She closed her eyes to sleep and also thought about how happy Merleene would be when Cleatus presented her with a bottle of Midnight in Paris perfume.
Chloe’s other promise to Cleatus.
Editor’s Note: Judith Daily is on hiatus from Chloe and the Sugargarove Gang. She’s busy writing the sequel to Sojourner’s Ridge, Beyond the Hills, to be released at a later date. She could be persuaded to resume writing the Adventures in SugarGrove earlier than planned if we get enough letters from fans. Send any and all correspondence encouraging Ms. Daily to resume this story to email@example.com.