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Honestly though, summer was the worst. My summer was, at least. To save up for college next year, I got what I thought would be a pretty great summer job, but as it turns out, harvesting tomatoes was not as glamorous as I pictured. It was only the fifth day, and I was pretty sure I had lost fourteen pounds in pure sweat. Basically everything about this job, from the summer sun, the North Carolina humidity, the mosquitos that feasted on my sweaty and sunburned body, sucked. There was only one thing keeping me from stealing my boss’ tractor and dramatically riding it into the sunset and it wasn’t the minimum wage. It was the same reason I applied for this job, and practically begged Willy to hire me every time I saw him at church on Sundays: the smart, gorgeous, will-get-me-in-trouble-someday, veteran Johnson’s Tomato Farm field hand, Hudson James.
I’d been fascinated by her since she moved to town in second grade, the same year she single-handedly organized a grade-wide game of tag that lasted every day for a month. Of course, I don’t like her because of a game of tag, that would be creepy, but for all the other million reasons she’s given me over the past decade, like how she always laughs at my jokes, her laugh in general, actually, the way she takes care of her younger siblings, how brilliant and motivated and dreamy she is, just everything, really. But I have never had the opportunity to spend much time alone with her, and with senior year just around the corner–I don’t want to miss my opportunity. Besides, everyone knows the most romantic places are in patches of red dirt, searching tomatoes for “bottom rot.”
After I finish my morning’s task of fixing a row of messy stakes (which might have been my fault to begin with), I hustle over to the picnic table near the barn where we take our lunch. Willy and Hudson are there already, laughing over something, probably the sheer amount of dirt currently on my face, and eating sandwiches. I pick up my own, a slightly melty peanut butter, and join them, hopefully stealthily wedging in beside Hudson.
“Hey, Annie,” Willy says, “how are you holding up?”
Maybe this is the time I am supposed to lie, to tell my employer that I have discovered my life’s purpose, that I am meant to be a tomato farmer, that my destiny is to have a contract with Heinz ketchup. Unfortunately, I have never been that good at lying, so instead I say, “Everyday, before I come in, I think, ‘today might be the day I die.’ But I haven’t died yet, because I can’t think of a tomato related song to play at my funeral.”
“I truly have not heard of something that tragic before, in my life.” Willy says.
I ignore his sarcasm though, because the sound of Hudson’s laughter is pulling me away, warming my stomach and making me feel giddy. Willy leaves, giving us fifteen more minutes of break. Hudson turns to me quickly, the sun lighting up her brown eyes, and I have to hold my breath for a moment, so I don’t get overwhelmed by her status as a beautiful, fierce tomato goddess. A teasing smile creeps up her mouth, “I didn’t realize that you don’t love working here, Annie.”
“Well, I–um, I–”
“No, I’m just picking on you. It’s hard work and not many people can take it. But Willy said you used to pass notes down to his pew in church, asking for this job, so why did you want it so badly?”
At that moment, I am thankful that my numerous layers of sunscreen have done nothing to prevent the bright sunburn growing on my cheeks and also really angry and that giant traitor, Willy. “Oh, no particular reason, just needed a job and all that. I thought Willy would be a nice boss.”
Hudson seems to dim a little at that.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Nothing, I just hoped that maybe you wanted to go into agriculture too, like me.”
I stand up quickly, like I’ve been shocked on the butt by an electric eel, “What?! You, Hudson Marie James want to be a farmer? Our school’s future valedictorian is going to live off the land? I thought you would want to be a neurosurgeon or pharmacologist of plasmabotanist or something.”
“Well, a plasmabotanist, now that would be exciting, but yeah, I’ve always dreamed of being a farmer, of growing things, and feeding people. I want to go to college and study sustainable planting practices, but I’ve been working here the past few years to get more experience.”
“That’s really cool. I think you’ll make a great sustainable farmstress. Will you grow cauliflower? That’s my favorite.”
Hudson just smiles at me, and we head back to the field together.
Later, just a few minutes before the end of the day, a tomato wooshes past me, grazing my shoulder. After my initial shock settles down, I look across the row at Hudson, who is picking off a rotting tomato innocently. I go back to work, tying up another stake, when a meaty Heirloom lodges itself into my chest. Looking up again, I meet Hudson’s eyes, which are dancing with mirth, “Lots of rotters this year, I think.” She smiles mischievously and I notice the leaky, misshapen mess of tomato in her hand. I only have the time to begin my plea before the tomato splatters across my face–ow. In retaliation, I grab the nearest remains off the ground and race after her disappearing figure, lodging and dodging as necessary.
Maybe summer wasn’t the worst, after all.
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