Author: Megan Sutherland – First Place Junior Division 2020

“Sarah? Wake up.”

I had fallen asleep to the horses’ hooves on the dirt road, the sun on my pale face. We were passing the old wooden markets in downtown Torch Lake, a mining village in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We moved here from Texas years after Michigan became a state¾1837. The year was now 1877.

“We’re almost home,” Mama said, turning a page in her book. “Are you excited to start school in a few days?”

“Yes, Mama,” I replied, tucking a lock of my curly auburn hair behind my ear. “When will Papa and Peter be home?”

“I don’t know, dear,” Mama murmured, straightening my blue and white bow. “I expect soon. And oh, I forgot to tell you, my boss is coming over, so wash up when we get home.”

“Yes, Mama.”

Mama seemed to sense that I was thinking, so she didn’t press matters after that. I was thinking about her new job as a seamstress. She’d be making a lot more money now than in Texas, which would be nice, but not enough to get Papa here. He told us he would get money, but it would take two hundred dollars for him and Peter. We needed all the money we could get.

The wagon stopped in front of our cabin, just outside Torch Lake. It had a long porch with a swing and a big backyard, as well as a tall, triangular roof that was dark brown in contrast the rest of the house. We had a barn out back with two horses, three goats, four pigs, five cows, and six chickens. Mama picked up her purse, thanked the driver, and ushered me into the house.

I took off my brown cowgirl boots Papa got me and started up the stairs to my bedroom. From my window you could see our two acres with the barn. You could see Lake Superior shine at dawn in the sunrise and hear the birdsong in the trees.

I changed into a white, lacy tank top and a blue and white plaid skirt to match my bow before rushing down the steps and out the back door to the stables. Who cared if Mama had a co-worker coming over? I would be on Daisy’s back, enjoying the last few bites of summer.

Daisy was a tall, white horse with chocolate brown patches all over her body. She had a soft brown mane and tail, as well as honey-colored eyes. Mama’s black horse, Midnight, came forward to the gate so I could touch both of their noses. I chuckled a bit as he tried to step in front of Daisy, and she neighed loudly so he would back up.

“Nice horses you got there.”

I whipped around. There was a girl leaning against the doorway, wearing blue jeans, a T-shirt, and a cowboy hat. She was about twelve years old, like me. She smiled at me as she brushed her long brown hair over one shoulder, and I noticed a gap between her two front teeth. “Do you talk?” she asked, her big brown eyes wide.

“Um, yeah,” I replied, blushing.

“I’m Ellie. My mama’s inside, talking with your mama about sewing. I don’t want to be a seamstress. I want to farm like my papa. No girl does that, but I want to be the first one.”

“I’m Sarah,” I mumbled. “Sarah Lynn.”

“Nice to meet you. Can I ride your horse?”

I opened the horse gate, and she swaggered in before squaring up and jumping onto Midnight. I glanced at her, then took a saddle off a shelf that was attached to the wall. “Would you like one?” I asked Ellie.


“You don’t talk very formally for a lady.” I raised my eyebrows as I set up the saddle on Daisy.

“I don’t wanna be treated like a lady. I want to be treated equally with the men. Who says I can’t mine or vote or hunt? I can’t even talk like this in front of my own mama, because she’s so obsessed with etiquette.” Ellie ran her hand down Midnight’s mane.

I shrugged. “My mama says that it’s the men’s job to be loud and improper. We make them look good.”

“That’s what my mama says,” Ellie chuckled.

As we opened the gate and set out along the road that led out of town, I decided I liked Ellie. We talked and talked the whole time we walked. She explained how her papa took her fishing and hunting. She told me she had four siblings and sighed when I said I only had one.

“You may not like ‘em, but they’re amazing,” she told me.

We turned around and started heading back to town. After putting Daisy and Midnight away, it was dusk. The warm smell of stew wafted from the house, and as soon as the pot was set on the table we were in our chairs.

“Ah, Miss Lynn,” a woman greeted me. She had short brown hair, green eyes, and formal dress-wear. “Sophia has told me so much about you.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” I replied, laying my napkin out on my knees as Mama set a loaf of bread on the table.

“I see you are as much of a lady as anyone, Miss Lynn. You could give Eleanor lessons.”

“Ellie,” Ellie muttered.

“No daughter of mine will eat at a table with no manners,” Mrs. Norfit commanded. “Put a napkin on your knees.”

Mama and I exchanged a glance before she cleared her throat.

“Oh, my apologies, Sophia,” Mrs. Norfit said kindly to Mama.

“Not at all, not at all,” Mama replied, smiling. “Allow me to serve dinner.”

Mama took the serving spoon and Mrs. Norfit’s bowl. The stew wasn’t much, just gravy, beef chunks, carrots, and potatoes, all grown ourselves. Mrs. Norfit scolded Ellie for ‘poor posture’ before daintily dipping a piece of bread in the stew and biting it.

After Ellie, stew was poured into my bowl. I neatly spooned the warmth into my mouth while Ellie gulped quickly and hungrily. I didn’t say anything as a gravy mustache formed on her lip.

“Eleanor Maye!” Mrs. Norfit scolded. “You are a lady, need I say it anymore? It is time you started acting it!”

“I eat like Papa,” Ellie replied smugly.

Suddenly, I stood up. Mama, Ellie, and Mrs. Norfit stared at me as I rushed away, up the stairs and into my bedroom. They didn’t know why I left. My papa ate like that.

* * *

At dawn the next day, I put on an apron and tied my hair back without saying ‘good morning’ to Mama. I went out to the barn, took my basket off a hook on the wall, and went out to the chicken coop. I had loved mornings like this back in Texas. After the rooster crowed, I would be out at the coop collecting eggs. Then the cows needed to be milked, the goats needed to be fed, and the pigpen needed to be cleaned. Normally, this would be Peter’s job, but I enjoyed it. Mama counted on me to take care of the chores.

“Sarah, I’m leaving. The wagon’s here!” Mama called from the back door. “I left a list on the table!”

“Bye, Mama,” I shouted back.

The door slammed as a chicken nipped my finger, looking for grain. I tossed the seeds, snatched the eggs, and trotted inside to put them away. The house was silent. Suddenly- DING a ling! DING a ling! DING a ling!

I rushed to the phone, picked up the speaker and earpiece, and listened.

“Hello?” said the voice, thick with a country accent. “Sarah?”

“Papa?” I whispered hoarsely.

“Sarah!” the voice exclaimed. “Oh, darlin’, it’s so good to hear your voice. I got good news.”

“What?” I gasped, my voice still hoarse.

“Peter and I are makin’ our way. Only a day or so trip.”

Confused, I replied, “But Mama and I moved here three months ago, and we were broke! How did you get money?”

“Never you mind,” Papa replied sharply. His voice softened, and he added, “I miss you, Sarah, but I’ll be there soon.”

“I love you, Papa,” I murmured.

“Love you too, darlin’. G’bye now.”

There was a click and a silence. I set the phone down and collapsed into a chair. There was no way Papa got all that money on his own. It would have taken the richest man six months to get two hundred dollars, and Papa got it in three. Something suspicious was going on.

“Paper!” a voice yelled, and there was a light thwack as the Daily Yooper Gazette hit the front porch. The paperboy’s horse clopped away as I opened the door and picked up the day’s newspaper. The headline blared:



Officials reported that local Portage bank was robbed two nights ago. The bank was emptied completely except for a single penny, and police are still searching for suspects.

I gasped.


There was no way Papa got his money from that bank.

But, a voice in my head said, he said he was only a day away. Sand Dollar Bay was twelve miles from Torch Lake, which was a day’s journey. Papa was extremely defensive when I asked him where he got the money. Obviously, the police would not suspect an innocent tourist and his son from Texas coming up to get with their family. Even if I did fully and one hundred percent think it was Papa, which I didn’t, the police wouldn’t believe a twelve-year-old girl. Okay, I told myself. Okay. I’m going to call someone, and they will help.

I walked into the kitchen and looked over a list of phone numbers tacked to the wall. As I walked back to the phone and dialed a number, I felt more confident. It rang for a few seconds, then I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Ellie Norfit speaking.”

“Ellie, it’s me, Sarah.”

“Sarah? Hello! Can I come over?”

“Yes, please,” I replied shakily. “I need to talk to you. Can I trust you with something important?”

“Yes!” Ellie shouted through the speaker. “I’ll be there right away. I live a few blocks away from you, but my horse is fast. See you in a few minutes.”

“Goodbye,” I whispered.

Ellie hung up, and I set the phone down again. Do the chores, I told myself, and went out to milk the cows.

* * *

I finished all the chores just as Ellie rode up to my house. She situated her horse with Daisy and Midnight, then we sat down in the kitchen. I got out a bowl of Tootsie Rolls and a kettle of tea, and we sat across from each other at the kitchen table.

“So. What did your papa say?” Ellie demanded.

“Nothing, really,” I replied, shrugging. “I asked him where he got the money from, and he just told me it was none of my business.”

“That’s a signal,” Ellie agreed, taking a sip of tea.

“And then the paper came,” I pointed to it where it sat between us, “and I just connected two and two.”

“Do we have proof?” Ellie asked. “Were there any pictures with the article?”


Ellie made a noise. “Okay. When did your papa say he’d be home?”

“A day, so most likely today or tomorrow.”

“Here’s the plan. When your papa comes home, we send him a letter¾”

“No, Ellie. I’m not doing anything ignorant.”

Ellie rolled her eyes. “Fine. Every other day, ask your papa for five cents.”

“For what?”

“For chores. Would he ever do that otherwise?”

“No,” I mumbled. “He’d tell me he didn’t have money.”

“If he says no again, we’ll forget it. If he agrees, we move to stage two.”

“What’s stage two?”

Ellie shrugged. “Let’s see if stage one works before we worry about stage two.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Just trust me, okay, Sarah?”

I nodded. “I trust you.”

Ellie grinned. “Let’s go for a ride into town.”

“Why?” I asked dubiously.

“I have some money. Let’s go get some candy from the general store.”

“Again, why?” I repeated. “What’s the point?”

Ellie sighed. “Look. My mama cares about where I am and what I’m doing when she’s at home, but during the day, I can do what I like. Let’s go, and you can meet my friend Belle.”

“Who’s Belle?” I asked as we went out the back door.

“My first best friend, next to you. She’s really nice. Her dad owns the store.” Ellie pushed the door to the barn and it swung open.

I touched the unfamiliar caramel colored horse on the nose. “What’s her name?”

“Butterscotch. It’s frustrating that I have to ride her with a saddle, but at least I have her.” Ellie took a saddle off the shelf and started setting it up on Butterscotch.

I saddled up on Daisy, and after giving Midnight a sweet we set off. It was warm out, and the sun peeked out from the clouds. We set out, Ellie leading the way, and I was thankful that it was a silent journey. Papa had worried me, and a tornado raged inside my brain with questions. How did he get the money? Did he steal from the bank? Would he ever lie to me?

“Sarah?” Ellie’s voice, for the first time, was tentative. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” I replied, shaking my head. “I just feel so ignorant. I have so many questions.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Ellie promised. “Let’s think about something else.”

“I can’t,” I murmured. “Papa got me all shook up. I don’t know what to think.”

“When he comes home, we’ll set up our plan,” Ellie soothed. “It’ll be fine. Like my papa says, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.’”

“At least you know for sure your papa isn’t a criminal,” I said mournfully.

Ellie groaned.

It was noon now, and there were people scattered throughout the market down Main Street. It was warm and sunny, too, with a light breeze and barely any clouds. A perfect day for everyone. Everyone except me.

“We’re here,” Ellie said cheerfully, hopping off Butterscotch. She took a rope tied to a metal pole and attached it to Butterscotch’s headset, and I mimicked her. Ellie pulled a five dollar bill out of her jeans pocket and led the way inside.

It smelled musty and sweet. The bell above the door gave a little ding-a-ling as we stepped onto an old green carpet set on steps above a wooden floor. There were shelves of candy everywhere, packed to the brim. At the very front of the store, a girl our age with long, dark brown hair was wiping the counter. In front of it was a row of stools. Rows of glasses were hung on the wall above her, and on the back wall there were two signs, one on the left and one on the right. The left said LIQUOR, and the right COCA-COLA.

“Hey, Belle,” Ellie called, strolling up to the counter with me at her heels. The girl glanced up, grinned, and set down the rag. I noticed she had big blue eyes that were almost clear.

“Who’s this?” Belle asked, nodding at me. She wore play wear like me: a cotton T-shirt and a skirt.

“I’m Sarah,” I replied, offering my hand.

Belle took it, and we shook twice. Ellie slapped the five dollar bill on the counter and sat on the swiveling stool. “One Coca-Cola, please, in the bottle. We’ll be here a while.”

Belle turned around and opened a large fridge door, took a Coca-Cola off the rack, popped it open, and slid it to Ellie. She shut the fridge and turned to me. “What would you like, Sarah?”

“Um…” I stared into the clear fridge door. Mama never let me have soda. I didn’t know what I liked.

“She’ll take a Squirt.” Ellie sipped her Coke and smiled.

Belle pulled a glass bottle with the yellow and green logo on it from the rack, popped off the lid, and gave it to me. I sat down and gingerly took a sip.

“You like?” Belle asked, smiling and sitting on a stool behind the counter.

“Yes!” I exclaimed. It was bubbly, sweet, and stung my throat as it went down, leaving an aftertaste of lemon lime. I took a larger sip, still being as ladylike as I could. “Knew it,” Ellie laughed.

Belle gave us three dollars and fifty cents back as change and sat down again. “Did you just move here, Sarah?” she asked.

“Indeed,” I replied, sipping the Squirt again. “I’m from Texas.”

“Anything interesting going on in your life?” Belle continued.

Ellie and I exchanged a glance, then burst out laughing.

Belle stared Ellie down, grinning. “Fill me in.”

“I will,” I told Ellie. She shrugged. Belle turned to me with wide eyes.

“Did you hear about the bank robbery?” I asked her.

“Sure. It was in the paper this morning. Gave my papa quite a scare. He hid all of our money, and it took Mama two hours to coax him to tell us where he hid it.”

“My papa had to stay in Texas because he didn’t have enough money to get our whole family here. Then yesterday, he called me and told me he was only a day away from here.”

Belle looked thoughtful. “I don’t know. Do you have a plan?”


“Then follow out the plan and forget about it until he gets home. In the meantime, go get some candy. We have our usual Sunday sale on¾”

“Penny Candy! Yes!” Ellie shouted. She swiped a dollar and seventy-five cents off the counter and vanished into the piles of sweets.

I took my half and gasped as I walked into an aisle. There was everything I loved! Peppermint drops, lemon drops, sour drops, gum drops, rock candy, butterscotch, jelly beans, all in big clear bins with tongs to get the exact number. There were little brown paper bags next to each display, stacked on a shelf. I took a pair of tongs in the peppermint drop bin and counted out ten. Then ten of lemon drops, ten of sour drops, so on and so forth, until I had exactly seventy pieces of candy. Stacked in a glassy storage container were mini cookies of all types. Chocolate chip, peanut butter, macaroons, snickerdoodles, shortbread. After neatly placing two of each in each bag, I left the aisle. When I rounded the corner to go back to the counter and pay, I saw Ellie. She had a bag and a half of sweets and was chomping on a string of red licorice. Belle raised her eyebrows.

“One dollar and seventy-five exactly,” Ellie mumbled, slapping the money on the counter. Belle rolled her eyes.

I neatly placed my half-full bag on the counter and gave Belle the one dollar and seventy cents. She handed me a nickel. “Thanks for that. It contributes to my paycheck.”

I smiled. “Anytime.”

Children were starting to crowd the shop, so after waving goodbye to Belle, Ellie and I walked out of the shop. I placed my bag in a pouch on the side of Daisy’s saddle, and we were off. A man stopped us, spoke to Ellie, and she groaned before turning to face me. “I gotta go. Mama needs some help with the shop, but I’ll come to your house for dinner.”

I laughed. “Okay. Goodbye, Ellie.”

“Bye.” Ellie rode her horse away, behind a shop.

I started home, occasionally reaching into the bag and grabbing a lemon or peppermint drop. When we got to the house, there was an unfamiliar wagon outside. When I put Daisy away, there was a new handle on the barn door. Could this mean…

“Baby!” a man shouted as I closed the barn.

Him. All in his glory, with the sun shining on his overalls, boots, old shirt, cleanly shaved face, brown hair, and green eyes. He picked me up and spun me in a circle above his head while I laughed and sobbed. For so long I’d waited, and now I was in Papa’s arms. He smelled like sweat and dust and cheap cologne, the smell I missed for three months.

Papa set me down on the ground, kneeled down, and pulled me into his strong arms. I wrapped my arms around his broad back and felt his muscles shift under my hands. I felt the stubble on the back of his head and his breath on my shoulder. I watched his spine rise and fall with each breath he took, and didn’t let go until be pried my hands from him.

“Sarah Rose Lynn, I missed you so much.” Papa put his big paws on my shoulders and grinned, showing me the gap in his front two teeth that looked just like Ellie’s.

“Papa,” I forced out, because I was too shocked for words.

“We’re gonna have a better life here, you hear me? I got some money. We’re gonna fix up this house with my money and Mama’s, and it’s gonna shine like new. I got a job as a blacksmith, and it makes almost as much as Mama.”

I giggled. “Papa, I don’t care about the house. I’m glad you’re home.”

“School starts in a week, baby girl. Are you excited? I’m going to be there to walk you in, tell all those little trouble-makin’ boys to back off on my girl.”

I snorted. “Whatever you want.”

“Mama’s makin’ a feast tonight,” Papa beamed. “In celebration of Peter and I comin’ home. We’re havin’ pork, beans, corn, and I bought some fruit along the way.”

“Apples?” I gasped, hope rising. I had loved granny smith apples since I was a little girl, especially in pie.

“Apples in a pie for my little girl.” Papa pulled me into a hug again. “And Mama’s havin’ the Norfits come over. Good impression on ‘em, you know.”

I smiled. “You’ll like Ellie, Papa. She’s just like you.”

Papa smiled back. “Let’s go inside. Peter’s probably whining, wonderin’ where I am.” He took my hand, stood up, and led the way into the house. Papa pushed the door open and let me go inside in front of him.

Mama was at the kitchen table, cutting up apples. She wore a big smile and her finest clothes under her apron.

“I cannot believe Mrs. Norfit let you go early,” I said to her, beaming, as she set down her knife and hugged me.

“I got a call,” Mama replied, releasing me. “It was Papa, and he said he was home, and when I told her she practically pushed me out of the place and told me she’d be round at six p.m. sharp with Eleanor and her husband.”

Just then, Peter came rushing into the noisy kitchen. His short brown hair was askew, his pants were dirty, and his white T-shirt had mud on the sleeves. He saw me, and his face lit up with joy.

“Sarah!” he shouted, running over and hugging my hips. He was short for a seven year old, so I had to bend to hug him back.

“Papa got money from¾” Peter began.

But Papa cleared his throat loudly. “What did I tell you?”

“It’s a surprise,” Peter replied mournfully.

Papa nodded curtly.

I stood up, and Peter ran off, screaming, “Bun-bun! Bun-bun!”

Papa was talking to Mama, so I crept over to the phone and dialed a number.

“Stella’s Spectacular Sewing, Eleanor speaking, how can I help you,” Ellie’s voice said dully into the phone.

“It’s me, Ellie,” I whispered.

Ellie’s voice lit up at once. “Sarah? What is it?”

“Papa’s home. You’re coming over for dinner with your mama and papa.” I nibbled on my fingernail.

“Really? Yes! We set our plan into action tonight, Sarah. The candy store is open till nine.” There was a click, silence, and I knew she was gone. She probably hung up to keep me from arguing, I thought, chuckling.

I knew that Mama wasn’t going to want me in the kitchen while she cooked, so I snuck out the back door and entered the dusty barn. This was my happy place, in case you hadn’t noticed already. It was quiet as I sidled up to the horse pen, opened it, and sat down next to Daisy, who was lying on the floor. She huffed and let me rest my head on her. The barn door creaked again, and Papa appeared. He looked around, but couldn’t see me from where I was on the floor, so he left, and the door creaked shut. I sighed and pulled a small book out of my pocket. The cover read Great Expectations in worn letters. I opened it and started to read until they came to get me.

* * *

“Welcome, welcome. I’m Charles Lynn.” Papa took Mr. Norfit’s hand and shook it firmly twice.

“Zach Norfit,” Ellie’s dad replied.

“Stella Norfit,” Mrs. Norfit beamed, shaking Papa’s hand. “This is Eleanor.”

Ellie grunted as Mama took Mr. Norfit’s hand.

“This is Peter,” Papa said, pushing him forward a little bit. Peter buried his face in Papa’s dress pants. Mr. and Mrs. Norfit laughed. Ellie shot me a dark glance.

“Let us eat.” Mama grinned and showed the guests to the dining room with many “after you”(s) and not “y’alls”.

My family sat on one side of the table, the Norfits on the other. Mama cut up the pork, dished out the black and pinto beans and corn, surprise rolls, and sat. Papa asked God to bless dinner, and we ate.

“So, Charles,” Mr. Norfit began. “I hear you struck it rich a week or so ago. That true?”

“Yes,” Papa replied smugly.

“Don’t get smart with me,” Mr. Norfit warned, opening his jacket to reveal a police badge. I stared at Ellie, and she shrugged.

“I’ll get smart with anyone who threatens me in my own home,” Papa shot back.

Mr. Norfit stood up and had his hand on his belt, where I knew was the classic pistol all policemen carried. Papa stood up as well, and they glared at each other.

I couldn’t take it.

“Stop!” I shouted, standing up. “Papa, don’t deny it.”

Papa turned to me, a shocked look on his face. “How did you know?” he whispered.

“What about our plan?” Ellie wailed.

“We don’t need a plan,” I replied, not looking at her. My eyes were locked on Papa. “All the clues lead up to this. Papa somehow made it up here, probably by stealing. He’s a good thief because he’s got quick fingers. Then he got into the bank and stole the money. He knew it would look like he didn’t do it, because he’s just an innocent man with his son. But he’s not.”

“Sarah,” Papa whispered.

“It’s not right for me to do this to my own father. But I would rather live in a home without him right now than with him. Officer Norfit, I know he did it. There’s no other way.”

Officer Norfit pulled handcuffs out of his belt and glanced at me. “Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked. “If he’s proven guilty, you’ll most likely have to come to the prison to see him.”

“I know,” I replied.

“I’m proud of you, Sarah,” Papa told me as Officer Norfit clipped the cuffs on his wrists. “Very angry, but proud. You were smart enough to find all the tracks and brave enough to turn me in. It’s incredible you figured it out in a few hours.”

I gave a small smile. The room was silent as Officer Norfit led Papa outside, got into their wagon, and left for the police station.

Belle, Ellie, and I were up in the rafters of the barn. We recounted the story for Belle when she came over the next day with a small cake.

“Do you feel okay that you did it?” Belle asked, eyes wide. “I mean, he’s your papa. I couldn’t do that to my papa, no matter how bad the crime.”

“I don’t feel that bad,” I replied. “I did the right thing.”

“You did good,” Ellie said, grinning.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“You don’t think you did something, do you,” Belle murmured.

“No,” I sighed. “I don’t.”

“Your Papa did that to himself. All you did was let him see the effects. No one needs money that badly that they should rob a bank.”

I nodded. “Thanks, you guys.”

They smiled. “Anytime.”

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