The trees were a blur of orange, red, and yellow that burned bright against the dull, withering grass. London held a hand over her eyes to dim down the brightness of it all. The apple farm was packed—families and long-time friends gathering around for pictures and scrambling on top of one another to grab the ripest apples located at the top of the trees. London watched as a young girl hoisted herself onto her father’s shoulders and snatched a bright red apple dangling from a branch. She held it over her head like a trophy and the rest of the family applauded and whooped in victory.
London arched an eyebrow and turned to Aliya. “So, what’s the point of all this, again?”
Aliya beamed at the woman behind the cash register, handing her cash for a wicker basket. She turned to London. “It’s fun, that’s the point.”
“But there’s no carnival games or, I don’t know, a petting zoo. There’s nothing special to make this feel like a real vacation. We’re not even staying the night at a hotel or anything.” She crossed her arms, surveying the farm with only a handful of apple trees. They were standing in the gift shop portion of the apple farm, which was claustrophobic in itself with customers pressing against and knocking her shoulders.
“It’s not supposed to be a vacation. It’s called a daytrip for a reason.”
Aliya huffed and narrowed her almond eyes at London. She bit back her complaint and squeezed her arms tighter around her chest, neatly avoiding another bump in the shoulder as a woman passed behind her hauling two baskets filled to the brim with fruit.
“That’s what I thought,” Aliya said, satisfied with London’s silence. “Now, let’s go pick some delicious Fuji apples, shall we?” She sauntered out the screen door exit of the gift shop and London followed.
When London’s mother announced that her boyfriend of three years decided to pop the question and propose, London squealed and danced around their kitchen clutching her mother’s hands. Their ten years of binging soap operas and raiding the cupboards for chocolate at two in the morning were great—but they were nothing compared to competitive game nights and movie outings, all things they once had before London’s father decided to leave when she was only six years old. Becoming a part of a brand-new family meant having their old traditions back from before her father left. London’s heart had thundered at the hopeful possibility and willingly accepted the role of wedding planner.
The blissful moments only lasted a few short months as she realized her mother was drifting farther and farther away and, along with her, the old traditions London longed for. Her mother became too busy to help London with her pre-calc homework or cry over the boy she’d had a crush on for months who suddenly decided he had better things to do than to attend their previously scheduled date. Aliya would try to butt her way in as a true sister should, but the more London’s mother became distracted with the wedding, the more she resented her newfound family.
Three months came and went, and now London was standing in the middle of a beaten-down apple tree farm with her stepsister who practically had to kidnap her in order for her to come along. "Sisterly bonding" is what Aliya called it.
They strolled through the rows of lush trees carrying various breeds of the same fruit, all glowing in shades of crimson, gold, and even the occasional green for the apples not yet matured. Kids and adults still littered the farm, each competing for the best-looking apples. London noticed Aliya gazing at the families, a small smile lingering on her lips. Her eyes sparkled and London fought back an eye roll. Sure, the trees were a picturesque sight, but why was she gawking at the families?
“Ah, Fujis!” Aliya said, pointing a finger to a voluptuous tree overflowing with dusty red apples. London startled at her chipper voice. “These are the best for apple pies. They’re super sweet, but with a touch of tartness to balance it out. It’s enough to make your mouth water.” She licked her lips, eyes wide as if to emphasize her point. She flicked her eyes towards London. “Do you like apple pie, London?”
“Never had it,” she mumbled. Though she’d always heard good things about the American dessert, she’d never had the taste for it. Instead, London and her mother settled for fruity cherry pies.
“Never had it?” Aliya squealed, eyes bugging. “Well, we’re just going to have to change that, aren’t we?”
She started for London’s wrist and London tensed. “No thanks,” she said, flashing a tight-lipped smile.
Aliya’s eyes hardened the tiniest bit, but she continued beaming. “The gift shop has a bakery inside that sells fresh apple fritters. The exterior is a different texture than a pie, but the inside is the exact same. Gooey, tart goodness.” She licked her lips again and made a humming sound. “Come on.”
Aliya gripped London's wrist before she had a chance to protest and dragged her in the other direction. They moved into the shop and appeared in front of a shielded bakery located at the back of the store. An array of cinnamon scones, flakey pies, and jugs of hot cider were displayed along the inside of a glass case. It made London’s mouth water and stomach grumble longingly.
As promised, Aliya ordered two apple fritters and the baker emerged a minute later with two tinfoil packages. They took them back out into the open air where a row of rocking chairs was lined up at the front of the store. Aliya sat down first, and London followed hesitantly.
“You know, I’ve always wanted a family tradition like this,” Aliya said, ripping apart the foiled wrapping containing the fritter. “Mom died before we established a real tradition and Dad was never eager to create one without her. I was really excited when Dad met your mom and we might actually have a shot at a normal family.” She paused. “Your mom is super cool, by the way.”
London fidgeted with the foil wrapping and bit the inside of her cheek. Gushy conversations like this usually made her grimace but she resisted. “Yeah, she’s a really great mom,” she mumbled at last.
“She really loves you,” Aliya said, taking a small bite out of the dessert.
London scoffed but felt the hardness in her stomach dissolve the tiniest bit. “Is this what I’m going to be dealing with from now on with my new sister? Touchy feely conversations?”
Aliya laughed brightly. “Possibly. Better get used to it now.”
London smirked and continued picking apart the tinfoil. A beat of silence passed before she spoke again. “Sorry I’ve been acting so irritable today. I guess...I just…” London inhaled deeply and let out a nervous laugh. “I guess I just wasn’t ready for a new family yet. It’s always been my mom and I and I wasn’t quite ready for that to be over so quickly.”
Aliya smiled softly. “I get that. After my mom passed, I was spiteful to every woman who walked in our door, even if they weren’t even interested in my dad.”
“You? Spiteful? The great and joyous Aliya Hooks?”
Aliya laughed a bright and bubbly sound. “I know, I know. Surprising, huh?”
“Just a tad,” London responded.
Aliya peeled half of the tinfoil wrapping to reveal the dessert underneath, intact all except for the small nibble at the top. She held it up like a salute. “Cheers to our new family?”
London sighed, staring at the peace offering before her. As much as she hated to admit it, she was starting to realize that her newfound family might not be as terrible as she thought. She unwrapped her dessert, matching Aliya’s, and held it up. “Cheers,” she said.
They clinked their desserts together and then sank their teeth into it. London’s eyes widened at the gooey inside bursting with cinnamon and nutmeg. Who knew apple pie was actually delectable?
After gobbling up their treats, London immediately hurried into the gift shop to order another with Aliya promptly following after her.