“We’re going to have the best float in the whole parade!” Nancy Drew said, tossing a plastic apple into a straw basket.
“My turn,” Bess Marvin called out. Bess was Nancy’s best friend. She aimed a plastic orange at the basket but missed. Instead of landing inside, the fruit rolled off the edge of the wooden float.
“Whoops!” Nancy giggled.
It was Thursday, after school. The volunteers of Carl Sandburg Elementary School were helping Ms. Frick, the art teacher. They were preparing their float for the River Heights Fall Festival parade on Sunday.
The kids had named the float the Pumpkin Patch Dream. Besides Nancy and Bess, Brenda Carlton, Jason Hutchings, and Jennifer Young were part of the third-grade group working on it. Some fourth- and fifth-graders were helping, too.
“I wish George could be here,” Nancy told Bess. Georgia Fayne was Bess’s cousin and Nancy’s other best friend. Everyone called her George. She had broken her arm in a soccer game a few weeks earlier.
“Me, too,” Bess said. “But she’s getting her new cast put on today. I can’t wait to sign it.”
Ms. Frick jumped off the float and stepped back to look at it. “The float’s looking good, kids. It just needs a few finishing touches.”
Nancy liked Ms. Frick. Each day the teacher wore a different pair of cool earrings. That afternoon she had on huge dangling ones shaped like pumpkins.
“Do you think we’ll win the prize for best school float?” Bess asked Nancy.
“Sure!” Nancy said. “We have the only float with a real-live Pumpkin Princess.”
“And don’t forget,” Bess added proudly, “my mom is sewing the princess dress.”
Jennifer tied a bright orange ribbon around a bunch of wheat. “I wonder who will get to be the princess.”
Jason sat up from the pile of hay he was resting on. He was supposed to be building a haystack. “That stupid princess is going to spoil the whole float!” he complained.
Nancy put her hands on her hips. “Can you think of something better?”
“Yes,” Jason said. “And when I do, it’ll replace that pumpkin priss forever!”
“Maybe you should think about finishing your haystack instead,” Bess told him.
Jason tossed some hay at Bess and flopped back onto the stack.
“He’s just jealous that the star of the float is a girl,” Nancy told Bess.
“You’re right,” Bess said, pulling the hay from her hair. “Everyone wants to be the Pumpkin Princess.”
“I don’t think I do,” Jennifer said slowly.
“Why not?” Nancy asked, surprised.
Jennifer pointed to the tree stump throne in the center of the float. It was on a platform. “I don’t like to be up so high,” she said. “Besides, what if my nose started to bleed?”
“That would be gross,” a voice said. Nancy turned to see Brenda Carlton standing right behind her.
“Besides,” Brenda went on, “the only girl around here who should be princess is me.”
Brenda flipped her dark hair over her shoulder. “I have hair like a princess and eyes like a princess…”
“And breath like a dragon,” Bess muttered. Nancy and Bess giggled.
“Girls! Girls!” Ms. Frick spoke up.
“The most important thing is having the best float we can, right?”
“Yeah,” a fourth-grade boy said. “We can’t let River Street Elementary win.”
Bess nodded. “They’re calling their float the Barnyard Brigade. I heard they’re going to dress up in animal costumes.”
“I’d rather be a Pumpkin Princess than a Pig Princess any day,” Nancy said.
“Hi, kids.” A man with a bushy mustache walked over to the float. He wore a bright red flower on his checkered jacket.
“It’s Cheery Charlie!” Jason said.
“Cheery Charlie’s my name,” the man said proudly. “And costumes are my game!”
The costumes for the kids on the float had been donated by Cheery Charlie’s Costume and Joke Shop. Nancy liked the store. It had not only costumes but other neat things like fake wax lips and funny wigs.
“What do you think of our float, Charlie?” Nancy asked.
Charlie put on a pair of eyeglasses. Attached to the frames were fake eye balls on springs.
“This float is simply eye-popping!” he said, grinning as the eyeballs bounced up and down.
Nancy laughed as Charlie strolled to look at the other side of the float.
“My cousin Tracy is having a costume party for her birthday tomorrow,” Jennifer told Nancy. “I looked for a costume in Charlie’s shop last week, but I couldn’t find anything I really liked.”
“That’s too bad,” Nancy said. “But a costume party is a cool idea. What are you going to wear?”
Jennifer sighed. “Just the same gypsy dress I wore last Halloween. Everyone’s seen me in it already, even Tracy. “
Brenda made a face. “Last Halloween? I’ll bet it smells.”
“It does not!” Jennifer said. She lowered her eyes.
“That’s mean, Brenda,” Nancy said.
“Stop being so nosy,” Brenda sneered. “This isn’t a mystery, Detective Drew.”
Nancy rolled her eyes. She was very good at solving mysteries. But Brenda was always making fun of her detective work.
“Hey, everybody! ” Bess called out. “My mom is here with the princess dress!”
Mrs. Marvin’s red minivan pulled up to the float behind the school.
“Princess dress?” Charlie asked with a frown. “What princess dress?”
The kids hopped off the float and ran to Mrs. Marvin.
“Taaa-daaaa!” Mrs. Marvin sang. She held up the dress.
“Ooooh, ahhhh!” All the girls gasped.
Jason pretended to gag. “Blaaaaah!”
The dress was light orange with shimmery gold sequins sewn all over it. Yellow and red leaves circled the waist and the ends of the sleeves. Mrs. Marvin had made an orange velvet cape to wear with the dress.
“It’s the most beautiful dress I’ve ever seen!” Nancy cried.
“It almost matches your hair, Nancy,” Jennifer said.
“Really?” Nancy asked. She gently touched her reddish gold hair.
“If all the girls will line up quietly,” Ms. Frick announced, “we’ll have the drawing for the Pumpkin Princess.”
The girls swiftly formed a single line in front of Ms. Frick. Nancy stood behind some fourth-graders. Bess stood behind Nancy, followed by Jennifer.
Everyone watched as Ms. Frick pinned a red number seven onto the dress. She held out a fishbowl filled with small pieces of paper.
“The girl who pulls the lucky seven from the bowl will be the princess,” Ms. Frick explained.
Nancy crossed her fingers.
“Good luck, girls,” Ms. Frick announced. “I know any one of you will make a great Pumpkin Princess.”
Nancy felt someone bump against her back. She spun around and saw Brenda pushing her way in front of Bess.
“Hey,” Bess said. “That’s not fair!”
“It wouldn’t be fair if you won, ” Brenda said. “Your mother made the dress.”
Nancy didn’t have time to say anything. She was next in line. Reaching into the bowl, Nancy shut her eyes tight.
“Please…please…please,” she whispered, wiggling her fingers through the scraps of paper. She pulled one out. Number nine.
“Oh, well.” Nancy sighed and stepped aside.
Brenda dug greedily into the fish-owl. She yanked out a paper and unfolded it.
“Lucky seven!” Brenda squealed. “I won! I’m the Pumpkin Princess!”
Nancy watched Brenda jumping up and down. How could someone so mean be so lucky? she wondered.
“That’s mine,” Brenda said, grabbing the dress from Mrs. Marvin’s hands.
Bess marched over to Brenda. “If you hadn’t pushed in front of me, I might have been the Pumpkin Princess!”
“Don’t be such a sore loser, Bess.” Brenda twirled around with the dress.
“You’re the loser, Brenda Carlton!” Bess shouted. She tugged at the dress.
“Let go of it!” Brenda yelled.
“No way!” Bess yelled back, and pulled even harder.
“Bess, Brenda!” Mrs. Marvin shouted.
Ms. Frick ran over, her pumpkin ear rings swinging. “Girls! Stop pulling the dress. You’re going to — “