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The Lemonade-and-Water Secret

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TOAST was pulling her wagon past the Brubakers' house when Annabelle Brubaker called out her name."What'cha got there, Toast?" Toast stopped. "It's my wagon." "No, not that, silly. What's inside?" "Lemonade," Toast said. Annabelle and her friend, Betsy, came off the porch steps to look. They each had on overalls and blue tie-dyed T-shirts, no shoes or socks, for it was a hot day and the air smelled of seaweed. The ocean was a block or two away. All three girls were 10, in the same class at school. "Who's the lemonade for?" Betsy asked. "Anyone," Toast told her. "I'm selling it." Inside the wagon was a five-gallon thermos with a spout and a stack of paper cups. On top of the thermos was a hand-painted sign: "Lemonade 10 cents a glass." "Pretty cheap," said Annabelle, who always had a lot to say. Betsy asked, "Make any money?" "Sure." "How much?" Toast let go of the wagon and emptied out the pockets of her shorts. Her hands and her feet, which stuck out of sandals, were dirty. Her face was smudged. She'd been working all day. A few coins fell into the wagon, so Toast put the rest of her earnings there, too. The coins made a pile - $3.50 in all. "Pretty good," Betsy said. But Annabelle felt otherwise. "When'd you start?" she asked Toast. "This morning." "Only $3.50 for a whole day? I could do better than that." Toast made a face at her. "Well, I could," Annabelle persisted. "Me an' Betsy could make ... triple that, easy." Betsy looked doubtful. "Can we have some lemonade?" she asked Toast. "Sure," Toast said. "Ten cents a glass." "But we're your friends," Annabelle reminded her. "It's my summer job," Toast said. "I'm saving up for something very important. It costs a lot. My dad says he'll help me out if I earn $50 on my own. I've already made about ... hmmmmm, $20, counting this." THE two girls stared at her, their faces wet and sticky from the heat. The trees by the side of the road were still. A car went by. "What is it you want to buy?" Annabelle asked. In addition to having lots to say, she was nosy. "It's a secret," Toast told her. "Tell us," said Annabelle. But Toast wouldn't. "I don't have 10 cents for lemonade," Betsy said. She looked thirsty. "Well, OK," Toast relented. "Just one glass each." She poured them each a glass, tipping the thermos to one side. "Almost empty," she said out loud. "Come sit on the steps with us," Betsy offered. Toast pulled the wagon up the walk, put the money back in her pocket, and sat down. It felt good to sit. "I bet it's a 10-speed bike," Annabelle guessed. "What is?" Toast asked her. "Your secret. What you want to buy." Toast shook her head. "Not even close." "A Walkman, then. Or a whole bunch of tapes. Or a new outfit. A runner's watch. Or one of those mini-pool tables like they sell at the mall." "I don't play pool." Toast laughed. Betsy just sat there, sipping her lemonade. "No," Toast said. "It's none of those things." She could tell that nosy Annabelle was near exasperation. "Oh, who cares what you do with your dumb money," said Annabelle, giving up. She'd finished her drink by now, and crumpling the paper cup in her hands, threw it up in the air and caught it. Betsy did the same. Then the three of them played catch, sitting on the steps in the shade. All at once Toast had an idea. ll tell you my secret, Annabelle," she said, "if you and Betsy come with me tomorrow and show me how to triple my money." "Deal," said Annabelle. The secret was driving her crazy. But Betsy had a concern. "Do we get some of the money, too?" she asked. "I mean, if we're going to work all day we should get something besides knowing your secret. Don't you think?" "She's right," Annabelle agreed. Toast thought this over. ll give you each a dollar if we make $10," she finally said. "That way I get to keep $8." Annabelle and Betsy said OK, and a moment later Toast got up to go home. "Wait," Annabelle told her. "One more thing. You have to leave the money you made today. I'll need it for what we're gonna do tomorrow." Toast looked shocked. "Leave my money? No way." "Don't you trust us?" Annabelle asked. "Well "Look, Toast," said Annabelle impatiently. "If you want to make $10 tomorrow you'll have to leave the $3.50 now. That's all there is to it." She sounded a lot like her mother. "But why?" Toast wanted to know. "It's a secret," she said. "Trust me. Betsy, too. We know what we're doing. Meet here at 10 in the morning and bring your wagon, the paper cups, and a thermos full of ice." Toast was confused. "Not the lemonade?" "No," Annabelle told her. "We won't need that." Huh? Now even Betsy looked confused. "Trust me," Annabelle said again as Toast reluctantly handed over the money. "As long as it's hot tomorrow we'll make a bundle. Just you wait." The next day at 10 sharp, Toast and her wagon pulled up in front of Annabelle's house. The two girls were outside, carrying gallon-sized containers of spring water out to the curb. The day was hot as a barbecue pit. Sunny and still. Not a breath. "What's this?" Toast asked. "What's it look like, silly?" said Annabelle. "Water. We bought it with your money." The two girls in overalls were smiling. Toast was incredulous. "You spent my money on water!" "Right," said Annabelle. "Oh, I almost forgot." She ran back inside her house and came out with a large red-and-white sign. It said: "Cold fresh spring water 25 cents a glass." "Come on," she said. "There's no time to lose." But Toast wasn't budging. "You think someone's gonna pay 25 cents for water?" Annabelle nodded. "Betsy thought 50 cents was too much. But I'm not so sure. Come on." "Where're we going?" "To the beach," Annabelle answered, helping Betsy load the water into the wagon. "Tell you the plan when we get there. That way you can see for yourself." The beach was crowded with summertime bathers. About half the people were already in the water, trying to stay cool, the other half either lying on towels, or standing in long lines at the refreshment stand. The sun beat down. "We'll set up next to the water fountain," said Annabelle. Again Toast was incredulous. "We're gonna sell water next to a place where people can drink for free?" She gave Annabelle a doubtful look. Had Annabelle gone crazy? Had Betsy? The two of them just laughed. "Look," Annabelle explained. "People at the beach get thirsty. Some bring their own drinks, but a lot more visit the refreshment stand. The one thing the stand doesn't sell is water. That's why there's always a long line at the fountain. Only the water's warm and has a funny taste. Did you ever try it?" Toast had to admit that she had. Once. It tasted awful. "So," Annabelle continued, "we sell them what they want. Good clean cold water. That's why the sign says fresh. They can see it's spring water because of the bottles. We'll make a fortune." In addition to being a talker and nosy, Annabelle, as anyone could see, was plenty smart. She also had what Toast's father would have called business acumen. By two in the afternoon the spring water was gone - almost $18 profit. The three girls did a little dance under a nearby tree. Toast subtracted the cost of the water, gave Annabelle and Betsy $3 each, and kept the agreed-upon $8 for herself. "We can come back tomorrow and the next day and the next," she said excitedly. ll have that $50 in no time." But she was wrong. "No, you won't," said a policeman who had come up behind them on the sand. "You need a permit to sell on this beach, and you need to be 21. Sorry, girls." That ended that. But still, Toast was closer to her goal and could always go back to selling lemonade out of her wagon. It was hard work but worth it. "By the way," Annabelle reminded her. "What's your secret?" Toast gave a funny laugh. "You'll never believe it," she said. "Tell us," said Betsy. "You've heard of CLAWS?" Toast said. "The Clean Land, Air, and Water Society. Well, membership costs $100. My dad said he'd pay for half and sign me up if I could pay the other half. They want to make the environment safe for everyone." Annabelle gave her a hard look. "Why is that so funny?" she asked. "Because," Toast told the two of them, when you join, you get a free water purifier so that every drop of water you drink is as fresh as spring water. That's part of their motto: 'Spring Water Fresh. "I wonder if it works on public drinking fountains," Annabelle said out loud. "Oh, no!" Toast and Betsy exclaimed at the same time. "Here we go again!"

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