The Secret Cookie Club
Monday, July 6, Moonlight Ranch
Hannah lay on her top bunk listening to rain and staring at gloom. She was worried. Tomorrow was Grace’s tenth birthday, and not one of the three other campers in Flowerpot Cabin cared.
In the distance, thunder rumbled, and then the rain let up. Hannah was from New York City. The summer camp was in Arizona. It was Hannah’s first year as a counselor there, and after a week, she was getting used to these brief nighttime
storms. Now she rolled over, closed her eyes, and tried her usual strategy for falling asleep—counting backward from one hundred. By eighty-six, she was worrying again: The real problem wasn’t Grace. It was all of them.
The four girls in Flowerpot Cabin simply didn’t like each other.
Take that morning during chores. It had been Emma’s turn to do inspection. When Emma pointed out the streaks Olivia left on the bathroom mirror, Olivia handed Emma the rag. “If you don’t like it, you do it!”
Hearing this, Grace had said, “Too early for yelling,” and walked out.
As for Lucy—she wasn’t paying attention. While Emma and Olivia were quarreling, she had stood precariously on a chair, using a drinking glass to rescue a spider from the ceiling.
Remembering this, Hannah sighed and pulled up her covers.
The trouble was the four girls were very different—different backgrounds, different interests, different temperaments.
Olivia was the drama queen—in both the best sense and the worst. She was tall and lovely and graceful with real singing and acting talent. For her, everything that happened was either really, really awesome or really, really dumb. She had enough chutzpah—as Hannah’s parents would say—to fill the horse barn twice over.
Emma was organized, a worrier, and—to be honest—a bit of a klutz. She had fallen off her horse twice the first week, but both times she’d bounced up again, insisting she was fine. To get out of square dancing, she’d volunteered to pick up litter. The other girls thought Emma was bossy, but Hannah didn’t agree. Emma was more like a mother hen, concerned for the well-being of everyone she knew. For the pool, she packed extra sunscreen.
Grace was different—tidy, precise, and good at everything she tried, especially music. She was also quiet and serious. At the same time, she had a secret—a funny one. She kept a private, personal stash of Oreos hidden under a washcloth in her bathroom cubby. Hannah had found them by accident one morning when she reached into Grace’s cubby instead of her own. Because food might attract
bugs or field mice, campers were supposed to keep it in closed metal containers. To prevent bad feelings, campers were also supposed to share any treats they had. This meant perfect, obedient Grace was breaking two rules with her hidden Oreo cookies!
Maybe, Hannah thought, Grace needs to have her own little secret if she is going to stay otherwise perfect and obedient. In any case, Hannah would never tell.
The last camper in Flowerpot Cabin was Lucy, who was blond and carelessly pretty. She liked to paint and draw. She didn’t seem to notice or care what anyone else thought of her. Lost in her own thoughts most of the time, she had been half an hour late to dinner the second evening because she couldn’t find the dining hall. Unlike the other girls—unlike pretty much anyone else at Moonlight Ranch—she came from a family without much money, a family she never talked about.
Hannah rolled over again and sighed. Maybe it was all her fault. She was the counselor. She should do something to promote peace, love, and understanding. But what?
Still worrying, Hannah drifted off to sleep and
dreamed. It was almost morning when her grandfather made an appearance. He had been dead for five years— since Hannah was fourteen—and she was glad to see him. That night he was mixing cookie dough in the kitchen of the delicatessen in Manhattan where he had worked. His cheeks were flushed from the oven’s heat. He was smiling.
“Hannahla, try this.” He offered an oatmeal raisin cookie. “You know what I always say about flour power.”
This was an old joke between them, and Hannah knew she was supposed to spell it out: “F-L-O-U-R!”
After that, the camp bell rang—time to wake up. Hannah opened her eyes, thinking she could still smell the cinnamon. It’s a shame I didn’t get to eat the cookie, she thought.
But her mood was lighter. She had an idea.
* * *
The Moonlight Ranch Summer Camp is located an hour north of Phoenix in the Arizona desert. Arrayed in a stand of cottonwood trees, it consists of forty cabins behind split-rail fences on either side of a dirt road—girls’ cabins to the right, boys’ to the left. The dining hall and kitchen are
near the entrance gate, a wooden arch topped by a metal sculpture of a full moon with a laughing face. The pond, horse barn, playing fields, show ring, and outbuildings are over a hill where the road dead-ends. Beyond that, cattle graze.
After the campfire that evening, Hannah led the four girls of Flowerpot Cabin up the road toward the camp kitchen.
Grace walked beside her. “Aren’t we going to get in trouble?” she asked. “It’s almost lights-out.”
“We have special permission,” Hannah said.
“Is this something to do with Grace’s birthday?” Emma asked.
“Ma-a-aybe,” Hannah said.
“That means yes,” Olivia said, “in grown-up talk.”
“Who are you calling a grown-up?” asked Hannah.
“You don’t have to notice my birthday,” Grace said. “I don’t mind.”
Lucy said, “What birthday?”
As they neared the kitchen, Hannah was surprised to see lights on. Inside, she was even more surprised to see a boy.
She knew he was from Lasso Cabin, which made him aged ten to eleven, but she couldn’t remember his name.
“I’m allowed,” he said instead of hello. “I asked the cook.”
“Well, I asked her too,” said Hannah. “What are you making?”
“Cupcakes.” The boy pointed at a mixing bowl full of batter. “I’m Vivek.”
“Where’s your counselor?” Hannah asked.
“Getting the other guys to shut up,” Vivek said. “I’m the only good one in my cabin. Not to brag or anything.”
Emma nodded. “Everybody knows about Lasso Cabin.”
“OMG, are we making cupcakes?” Olivia asked. “How totally fabulous!”
“I like cupcakes,” Lucy said, “with white frosting and sprinkles.”
“We are making cookies,” said Hannah. “Because my grandpa was a baker, and he believed in flour power. Get it?”
“You mean like f-l-o-u-r?” Grace asked.
“I don’t get it,” said Lucy.
“You’ll see,” said Hannah.
“Why is Vivek making cupcakes?” Grace asked.
“Hello?” said Vivek. “I’m right here, and it’s not like I can’t hear you. I’m making cupcakes to mail to my mom for her birthday.”
“Wait—so that’s whose birthday?” said Lucy.
“Cupcakes are really, really a lot of work,” said Olivia. “You should buy her earrings.”
“I don’t have any money,” Vivek said.
“You don’t?” Olivia said.
“Not everyone has money,” said Emma.
“Okay, ladies.” Hannah pulled a recipe card from her pocket. “Lucy—you’ve been poking around. Can you find measuring spoons and cups, a rubber scraper, and two bowls? Grace, you get the eggs and the butter from the refrigerator. Vivek, are you done with that mixer?”
While Hannah read the directions aloud, the girls measured, sifted, creamed, and combined—eating only small bits of soft, sweet dough and making only a moderate mess. Then they rolled out the cookies, cut them, and placed them one by one on cookie sheets.
They had just begun to sprinkle sugar when Emma
frowned and said, “Does anybody else smell smoke?”
“My cupcakes!” Vivek moved to open the oven. Emma handed him oven mitts. Inside, instead of cupcakes, there were twelve black and shrunken cinders, which immediately set off the smoke detector. Hannah hurried to open a window, and a gust of wind blew in, silencing the squawk and announcing the evening thunderstorm.
Vivek was crushed. “I must’ve set the oven too high. Now what am I supposed to do?”
For a second, it was quiet.
Then Lucy said, “If you frost them enough, maybe your mom won’t notice.”
And Olivia laughed. “That is the dumbest idea I ever heard.”
Lucy looked at her toes. “My mom wouldn’t notice.”
“Send her some of Grace’s cookies,” said Emma.
“Naturally, Emma has the answer,” said Olivia.
“Have you got a better one?” asked Emma.
“I don’t mind sharing,” said Grace.
“It’s a better idea than mine,” said Lucy.
Emma looked at Olivia. “What do you think, O?
Give some of our cookies to Vivek’s mom or not?”
“O?” Olivia looked at Emma. “Is that supposed to be me now?”
Emma shrugged. “If you want.”
Olivia sighed theatrically. “I am entirely certain that Vivek’s mom would prefer earrings. At the same time, I am not one to be selfish. “Also,”—she looked shy all of a sudden—“if you guys want to call me ‘O,’ that would be cool.”
Hannah couldn’t believe it. Kind of, sort of . . . the girls of Flowerpot Cabin might be beginning to get along.
A few minutes later, the sugar cookies came out of the oven, and they were perfect. Placed on wire racks, they cooled quickly. Then Grace helped Vivek pack a dozen into a tin for his mom while Olivia, Lucy, and Emma cleaned up, and Hannah poured glasses of milk.
Outside, rain fell and thunder rumbled, then a flash of lightning and—crack—the lights in the kitchen went black.
Everybody squealed. Then everybody started talking at once: “Don’t panic!” “Find a flashlight!” “Who’s panicking?” “I
found birthday candles.” “Somebody stepped on my toe!” “Sorry.” “Sorry.” “Ouch!” “Sorry.”
It took a few minutes, but finally all five girls and one boy were gathered around a plate of cookies, ten of them stuck with birthday candles. In the dark, the tiny flames cast a warm and cheerful glow.
Lucy said, “I thought it was Vivek’s mom’s birthday.”
Grace said, “It’s my birthday.”
Lucy said, “What a coincidence! Happy birthday!”
After that, everybody sang, and Grace blew out her candles.
From that night on, every girl in Flowerpot Cabin loved every other girl in Flowerpot Cabin every moment all summer long.
But Emma, Olivia, Grace, and Lucy did have a special flour-power bond, which paid off when they won the cabin competition for cleanest bathroom, got second place at the talent show and the girls’ prize in the egg-and-spoon relay on Game Day.