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Jamie and I snagged our way into the thicket of the blackberry patch. I picked a dark berry and popped it into my mouth. The insides of my cheeks puckered.
"They need a few more days to ripen," I said.
Jamie had got stuck and had his thumb in his mouth. He took it out with a smacking sound and put his "shh" finger to his lips. Someone was coming.
"I'll bet Jamie and them will be sorry they didn't come," a voice said. I was "and them."
Jamie and I made faces at one another and pressed our lips together to keep quiet.
"Maybe they knew the berries weren't ripe," another voice said.
Jamie nodded. I almost laughed out loud.
"Well, that's what Jamie will say anyway." The voices began to fade. "He thinks he knows everything."
Jamie nodded again. He clasped his arms to himself, shaking in silent laughter.
"I've got to get out of here," he whispered. He started charging his way out of the brambles. The stickers snatched at him every which-a-way. When he cleared the patch he fell down and rolled.
Jamie couldn't laugh without falling down in exaggeration. But he did have more sense than to fall in the middle of a blackberry patch.
I sat down cross-legged and watched. I could see the tops of the kids' heads as they went down the hill. It was funny, that we'd been right there, hidden, and heard them talking about us.But it wasn't worth having a fit over.
That Jamie. For my best friend he surely did aggravate me sometimes. I mean, if we got to pretend ing -- circus dogs, for instance -- he didn't know when to quit. You could get tired and want to do something else but that stupid Jamiewould crawl around barking all afternoon. Sometimes it was funny. Sometimes it was just plain tiresome.
Jamie sat up, finally, and wiped the tears that had squeezed out from the corners of his eyes.
"Race you to the creek," he said. He hopped up and tore down the dirt road behind the houses. He had sneaked a head start on me and I really had to dig in to catch up with him.
If we started even I could always beat him. And, since he beat me in most things, I wasn't giving him an inch if I could help it. I urged my legs into long strides and pumped my arms by my sides. I pulled ahead of him just as we reached the creek.
"Oh, you!" he scowled teasingly. He grabbed the side of my head and pulled me toward him, curved his leg around behind mine, then pushed.
As I went down I clutched his shirt and pulled him with me. We rolled around in the dirt until I said, "I give up."
Jamie would never quit but I got tired after a while. I had seen Jamie fight with bigger boys, Even if he was getting beat he wouldn't give up. If they let him go he piled back into them, asking for more.
We rock-hopped the creek and sat down on the other side where there was a fence to lean on.
Jamie's face was crimson. Dirt made streaks where it had stuck to the sweat.
"Is my face," I puffed, "as red as yours?"
He passed his hand across his face as though he could feel how red it was. He whooshed out his breath and leaned over the creek to splash his face.
"Brrr," he shivered. "That water must be about thirtythree degrees!"
I stuck my finger in the water to remind myself how cold it was. When we waded it was a challenge to see who could stand it longer. The water cooled the air around and the trees held the coolness under a green umbrella of leaves. You could even smell the cool.
Jamie finished splashing and nodded toward the other side of the fence.
"How about an apple?"
"Oh, no. Thank you," I said.
The fence guarded a farm which the city had surrounded. The farm was said to be guarded, also, by a farmer with a shotgun. Older boys made a game of snitching apples.
"Aw, come on," Jamie urged.
"Not me." I wrinkled my face and shook my head.
"Yeah," Jamie said scornfully. "You're afraid of him just like you're afraid of Mrs. Houser."
Mrs. Houser was Jamie's next door neighbor, my across-the-street neighbor. Honestly, we tried to stay out of her yard. But if you accidentally stepped one foot inside her boundary line she shouted out her window. She seemed to be always looking out her window to see if anyone touched a blade of her precious grass.
"I don't think he would shoot a boy over an apple," Jamie said. "Come on, chicken." He started over the fence.
"Cluck, cluck, cluck," I said, trying not to let myself feel dared. "Chicken and proud of it." I grinned at Jamie, trying to joke him out of his idea.
Jamie up-and-overed the fence and started across the field. My eyes skimmed the field until they bumped into the house. I thought I saw a movement at the door.
"Jamie, come back," I screamed.
Jamie kept going and never stopped. He reached the tree, shinnied up, grabbed a couple of apples, jumped down and started back.
The man had come out onto his porch. I fancied I saw a shotgun cradled in his arms. It was too far away for me to be sure. I ducked.
What would I do if Jamie got shot? Should I climb the fence and help him? How could I get him back over the fence? Maybe I should run for help instead.
I squeezed my eyes closed, waiting for the blast. Next thing I knew I was in the field myself, racing toward Jamie. He pushed an apple into my hand and we made tracks back to the creek. Two boys never cleared a fence so fast.
We skittered down the bank so we would be out of sight of the house.
"Did you see him?" I asked. My heart was beating paradiddles.A Taste of Blackberries. Copyright © by Doris Buchanan Smith. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.