The weather might be cooling down, but your 2018 reading list is already heating up thanks to a brand new summer story from the author of The Last Boy and Girl in the World and The List. Luckily, you don't have to wait until next year to see it, because Bustle is proud to reveal the cover and an exclusive excerpt from Stay Sweet, the newest young adult novel by bestselling author Siobhan Vivian, coming from S&S Books for Young Readers next year.
Seventeen-year-old Amelia and her best friend Cate have spent the last three summers in Chickadee Lake working at Meade Creamery, an all-women owned and operated local ice cream stand whose history began in 1944 when Molly Meade decided to start making ice cream as a way to cheer up her heartbroken friends whose loves were away at war. But when Molly dies at the start of Amelia's first summer as the "Head Girl" of the stand, the historic ice cream shop is in jeopardy of closing, or worse, changing. Things get even more complicated when Grady, Molly's grandnephew, shows up to ask Amelia to stay around and run the business, but with a few new troubling differences. Can Amelia and her best friend, Cate, save the iconic and empowering shop for future generations of local girls?
Described as "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants meets Mystic Pizza," Stay Sweet is a witty romance novel brimming with heart and inspiration. The perfect read for Nasty Women in training, Siobhan's novel is an delicious summer story with a fun feminist twist.
Although you will have to wait until April, 24th 2018 to get your hands on this irresistible treat, Bustle is happy to give you a little taste of Vivian's sugary summer romance. See below for the stunning cover and an exclusive excerpt from the book.
Meade Creamery doesn’t look like much, and especially not in the off-season, when the two service windows are boarded up with plywood, the picnic tables are brought in, and a heavy chain closes off the parking lot from the road. Really, the ice cream stand is a glorified shed, a white-shingled miniature of the farmhouse looming in the overgrown fields behind it, electricity zipping in from three thick wires sprouting off a nearby utility pole. But to Amelia, and most other people in town, it’s one of the most special places in the world.
Amelia hops off her bicycle and lifts this chain up and over herself as she passes underneath, then turns at the beep of a horn. A glossy black SUV pulls off the road and parks alongside the chain, roof rack strapped with luggage, a license plate from another state. These vacationers are passing through Sand Lake, headed toward other, larger lakes farther on—ones that permit Jet Skis and speedboats, ones where the waterfront is rented by the week.
"...to Amelia, and most other people in town, it’s one of the most special places in the world."
Amelia hears the music lower and watches the window unroll, revealing a woman with big sunglasses perched on the top of her head.
“Excuse me, sweetie! I know it’s a little early in the morning for ice cream, but I’ve been dreaming about this since last summer!”
Amelia grins. The anticipation is something she feels too. She can’t wait to taste the four made-from-scratch flavors they sell—vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and the best-selling, wholly original, nothing-else-like-it-in-the-world Home Sweet Home. “I’m so sorry, but we’re not officially open until Saturday!”
The woman beckons Amelia closer. “Well . . . is there any chance you could make an exception for us? I can make it worth your while.” Three kids in the backseat all eagerly look up from their phones. Same for her husband and his tablet in the front passenger seat.
If Cate were here, she would say something crazy, like fifty bucks, just to see what would happen. Amelia shakes her head. “I’m really sorry, ma’am. I would like to help you all out but I just can’t.” And she even adds, “I don’t want to get fired,” as if Amelia weren’t herself the Head Girl.
The woman isn’t mad. She nods, understandingly, approvingly even, as if Amelia has confirmed some thought she already held about this place and these people. “Can’t hurt to ask, right?” she says jovially, before lowering her sunglasses and easing back onto the road. “We’ll see you girls on Saturday!”
Amelia knows the woman means it, too. From the first week of June until the last week in August, there’ll be a line for Molly Meade’s homemade ice cream, out-of-towners and locals alike. A half-mile of cars parked half in the rain ditch, stretching in either direction.
There are exactly two days until opening day.
As she turns back to the stand, Amelia’s nerves give way to a new feeling—determination. She notes the chores that must be tackled between now and then. Mowing the lawn, weeding the crevices in the walkway, giving the stand a fresh coat of paint. She has a few hours before the other girls arrive, so she might as well get started. Anything she’s able to tackle on her own will make the day more relaxed, will be less she’ll have to delegate. Slipping the key out of her pocket, she walks around the side of the stand.
As she turns back to the stand, Amelia’s nerves give way to a new feeling—determination.
It surprises her to find the door already propped open with a brick. A few steps more and she sees Molly Meade’s pink Cadillac parked, the trunk lid lifted. Amelia stops, wipes her hands on her shorts, makes sure her polo shirt is tucked tight into her waistband.
Though Molly Meade continues to make the ice cream every summer, nobody in Sand Lake sees much of her anymore. Not even the girls who work for her. This is another perk. The girls mostly have the run of the place. No adults looking over your shoulder. At Meade’s, the girls are in charge.
The way it works is this. Molly replenishes the ice cream when the stand is closed. If she needs something, she’ll leave a note in her mailbox for the Head Girl to find when she drops off money or time cards or picks up the paychecks. In fact, Amelia realizes she’s never heard Molly’s voice, which seems crazy and even a little bit sad, considering Molly Meade is indirectly though inextricably responsible for the best summers of Amelia’s life.
Amelia tiptoes over. There’s a fuzz of bright yellow pollen spread across the windshield like an afghan, as if the car hasn’t been driven all spring. She peeks inside the open trunk and finds it’s in the middle of being unloaded—a lot of empty space on the left and six cardboard drums of Molly’s homemade ice cream on the right, each flavor marked with Molly’s distinct handwriting.
Amelia checks her phone for the time. Molly wouldn’t have expected any stand girls to be here this early. Would Molly prefer Amelia to make herself scarce until she’s done with this chore? Or would she appreciate help unloading the ice cream drums, which aren’t exactly light?
Amelia sighs. She’s been Head Girl for barely a few hours and already she’s not sure how to handle something.
Biting her finger, she thinks it might be nice to let Molly Meade know that if she needs anything this summer, anything at all, Amelia would gladly be of service. Molly Meade could use the help at her age. She’s alone in the farmhouse.
Amelia reaches into the trunk and lifts out a drum of Home Sweet Home. But the cardboard sides unexpectedly flex from the pressure of her hands, sending the lid popping off like a cork. A wave of pale yellow crests over the sides of the drum, coating both of Amelia’s hands, and nearly the entire trunk bed, in thick, melted, lukewarm ice cream.
Amelia winces and gags as the smell hits her, an unpleasant sourness spiking the sweet. As if these tubs of ice cream have been sitting out in the sun for hours.
Maybe even days.
Amelia’s heart fills her throat. She glances nervously back to the open stand door as she sets the sticky drum down in the dirt.
Then she runs.
Amelia rushes inside, calling out for Molly.
Once her eyes adjust from the sun, she sees the cobwebs in the corners of the doorway, the floral bedsheet covering the toppings station, and another, different floral bedsheet hanging over the scooping cabinet. Boxes filled with waxed paper sundae cups, plastic spoons, and paper napkins are stacked neatly against the wall near the closed office door.
The stand looks the same as it does at the start of every season.
Another two steps, though, and she discovers one big difference: Molly Meade, in an old peach housedress and the no-name navy canvas slip-ons sold at Walmart for five bucks a pair, lying on the floor.
Amelia’s hands fly up to her mouth, stifling her scream.
This is the first and only dead body she has ever seen, and yet Amelia is positive Molly Meade is dead, even as her babysitter first aid training kicks in and she crouches down and takes hold of Molly’s wrist, hoping for a pulse but finding only skin that’s cold to the touch.
Amelia rises back up and steadies herself against the wall and closes her eyes. Her head suddenly feels like an unripe tomato, too light.
Was Molly sick?
Cancer or something?
Or maybe, Amelia wonders, it was her broken heart that finally did her in?
Amelia rises back up and steadies herself against the wall and closes her eyes. Her head suddenly feels like an unripe tomato, too light.
She glances up at the one color photograph of Molly in the stand, framed and hanging near their price list. In it, Molly is wearing a fuzzy blue sweater and a plaid wool skirt, her hair in soft bouncy curls, an army hat jauntily askew on her head, rosebud lips glossy and reflecting the autumn sunshine. She has one hand to her forehead in a playful little salute, the other outstretched, showing off an engagement ring. Her knees are turned in, and she’s up on the toes of her saddle shoes in a pool of fallen leaves. She looks like the kind of girl painted on the cockpit of a fighter plane.
Next to Molly stands a young man, movie-star handsome, in his army uniform and trim haircut, a large duffel bag stuffed full and slung over one shoulder. Though he is facing the camera straight-on, his eyes have drifted left toward Molly, and a wry, flirty smile is spread across his chiseled face.
Her fiancé, Wayne Lumsden.
Amelia has told the story of how Meade Creamery came to be thousands of times, repeating it to every out-of-towner who asks. It felt less like real life than a movie script: teenage Molly making ice cream to cheer up her lovesick friends because nearly every boy in Sand Lake, including her fiancé, Wayne, was off fighting in World War II. When the war ended and Wayne was declared missing in action, no one in Sand Lake thought Molly would make ice cream again. But the next summer, she reopened Meade Creamery with a full staff of girls. And it had been open every summer since, because making ice cream kept her hands busy, her life sweet, and her hope, that Wayne might one day find his way back home, from melting altogether.
A tiny cry startles Amelia as a black-and-white kitten rises sleepily from Molly’s side. He cracks open his slick red mouth and lets out another cranky mew.
"...it had been open every summer since, because making ice cream kept her hands busy, her life sweet, and her hope, that Wayne might one day find his way back home, from melting altogether."
Amelia clicks her tongue for the kitten. He doesn’t seem to want to leave the bed he’s made in the folds of Molly’s housedress. He’s not a stray—there’s a white plastic flea collar around his neck—but he’s clearly an outdoor cat. Nettles cling to the fur along the ridge of his back where his tongue can’t reach.
Amelia lifts him straight up by the scruff, careful not to disturb Molly’s body. He’s a baby, he fits easily into her hand, and she can feel his tiny bones underneath his fur.
Then she notices a drum of ice cream that Molly must have carried into the stand and set down on the floor before she died. It’s seeping pink across the white penny tile, a strawberry puddle creeping closer and closer to Molly’s dress. With the tip of her finger, Amelia guides the hem so it’s clear of the growing spill. Then, on unsteady legs, she flees into the office, sets the kitten on the desk, and picks up the heavy black handset of the landline.
“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?”
Amelia peeks around the doorway and sees the toes of Molly Meade’s slip-ons pointing to the ceiling. She answers, her voice trembling, “I . . . I don’t think this is an emergency, exactly,” she says, trying to clarify. “It was. Only not anymore.”
After hanging up, Amelia debates calling her mom at the bank, but decides instead to text her dad, knowing he won’t have his phone turned on. He keeps it in his bag during school hours.
Hey Daddy. Molly Meade passed away. I found her when I got to work this morning. I’m okay. Handling things here. Just wanted to let you know.
Next, she calls Cate. “Pick up. Pick up. Pick up,” Amelia whispers.
It takes a few rings. “Hello?” Cate’s voice is groggy, though once Amelia tells her the news, she sounds instantly, fully awake. “Wait, hold up. Are you for real?”
Amelia hears Cate swallow. “And you’re there with her dead body right now?”
“I’m hiding in the office. I just called the police.”
“Jesus,” Cate says, and lets out a long breath.
Amelia notes an envelope on the desk, addressed to her in Molly’s handwriting. “Cate, I should go.”
“Do you need any help? Is there anything I can do?”
“No, I don’t think—”
“What about the other girls? Should I let them know not to come in?”
Amelia doesn’t say what she is suddenly thinking, the ever again part, because it is too sad. “I’ll do it, Cate. You should go back to sleep.”
“Amelia, there’s no way I’m falling back asleep now! Please, I’ve got it. You’re going to have enough to deal with.”
“Okay. Thank you. You’re the best.”
After hanging up, Amelia carefully opens the envelope.
Happy First Day of Summer.
The walk-in freezer is fully stocked, as are all supplies. I tested the waffle irons and found one wasn’t working so I ordered a replacement. It should be delivered sometime Friday.
PS. Thank you for working so hard for me over these past four years. I really liked how your shirt was always tucked in.
Amelia feels the back of her shirt as sirens wail in the distance. Molly had known her. Seen her. It wasn’t arbitrary or accidental. She had picked Amelia.
The paramedics burst in. Careful to keep the kitten corralled in the office, Amelia slips out and watches as one calls out Molly’s name, as if she might suddenly wake up, while another checks her neck for a pulse. It takes less than a minute before they radio for the coroner.
Amelia slinks backs to the office and closes the door.
A policeman arrives next, and double-checks with Amelia if there’s anyone he should inform that Molly has passed. There isn’t, Amelia confirms, assuming his question is more a matter of procedure. Everyone in Sand Lake knows that when Molly’s parents died, the farm was left solely to her. Though she had two brothers, she outlived them both. Molly Meade never married, never had kids. There’s no next of kin, no anyone. Aside from the kitten pawing at Amelia’s shoelaces, Molly Meade was alone in the world.
A little while later, the local funeral home arrives, trades some paperwork with the policeman, and takes Molly Meade away.
Then it’s just Amelia.