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Summer of the Wolves Sisters in All Seasons
By Lisa Williams Kline
Copyright © 2012 Lisa Williams Kline
All right reserved.
Chapter One DIANA
My pills always made me sleep in the car. And they gave me crazy dreams. We were on the highway, and I dreamed I was riding this speed demon of a horse—like Man o' War. As the dream went on I realized I wasn't riding, I was the horse. I was Man o' War, and it was the greatest feeling. Galloping, galloping out ahead of everyone. And then there were other horses breathing really loud all around me. And then we were running up a steep mountain. Rocks slipped under my hooves, bouncing downhill. I lost my footing. The other horses were leaving me behind.
I jerked awake. The car went around another switchback, heading almost straight up. My ears popped. I swallowed, trying to get them to stop. Norm, my stepfather, turned off the air conditioner and hit the button to roll down the windows. Cool air flowed in. I rubbed my hand over my eyes. "Are we at the ranch?"
"Diana, you're awake!" Mom turned and smiled. "Yeah, we're almost there. And look, girls." She pointed to spiky bushes with delicate pink and white flowers clinging to the cliff beside the road. "Aren't the mountain laurel beautiful?"
"Ooh, yeah, they are," said Stephanie, giving Mom that fakey Southern girl smile.
I glanced at my new stepsister's polished toes, her sequined flip-flops, and tanned, smooth legs. Then I looked at my own scuffed leather sandals and worn jeans. The only thing Stephanie and I had in common was that we were both about to start eighth grade. Stephanie acted so perfect. It had to be a front. Who could be that sweet?
"Diana and Stephanie, look! Riders!" Mom pointed at five people on horseback who had just come around the corner. They faced us on the skinny gravel road.
Horses! I yanked off my seat belt and stuck my head and shoulders out the window. The horses were so close I could hear the clop of their hooves on the path and the squeak of the saddle leather. First in line was a white Appaloosa with black flecks on his haunches. The last was a little chestnut with a black mane and tail. He was out in the road trying to edge past the pony in front of him. Just as our car got close, the pony kicked the chestnut. The chestnut reared. The rider screamed and wrapped her arms around his neck.
Norm slammed on the brakes.
"Hey!" I grabbed the edge of the window and just about fell out.
"Whoa!" The leader stopped the Appaloosa and turned in her saddle. She was a dark-skinned woman with a bushy gray braid sticking out from under a stained cowboy hat. "Copper doesn't like to be last," she said. She got off her horse and said, "Copper!" Then she made a strange sweeping motion with her arm. The chestnut calmed down right away. "You can go ahead," the woman said to Norm, and tipped her hat. Then, as she remounted, she said to the riders behind her, "Everybody okay? We're almost back to the barn."
I kept on leaning out, watching the riders. How had that weird-looking woman calmed that horse down with just a sweep of her arm? I realized Mom was telling me to get back into the car. "Oh, man, I want her for my trail leader! And that's the horse I want to ride!"
"You've got to be kidding!" Stephanie said. "That horse bucked with that girl on its back!"
"It did not buck," I said. "It reared."
"It was standing on its hind legs." Stephanie's face had a look of terror.
"That's not bucking. You don't even know what bucking is."
"Diana!" Mom cried.
"Well, she obviously doesn't know anything about horses," I said. I lowered myself back inside.
Mom narrowed her eyes at me, put her finger on her temple, and tapped it twice. The signal suggested by my shrink. It meant, "Take a deep breath and think before you blurt things out." Mom was supposed to signal me without embarrassing me in front of other people. It seemed okay when Dr. Shrink first mentioned it. But now I felt like your basic trained dog.
Mom smiled at Stephanie. Then glared at me. "Diana, why isn't your seat belt on?" Mom watched me until I buckled my seat belt, then she put her hand on Norm's shoulder and squeezed. "This mountain driving is nerve-racking, isn't it?"
"Well, especially when there are hordes of wild beasts in the middle of the road," Norm said, grinning at Mom. "I hope you know what you're in for, Lynn, dragging a city boy up here to the mountains. Please tell me they have indoor plumbing."
"Oh, gosh, Norm, don't tell me you forgot to bring corn cobs for the outhouse?"
Norm's eyes got wide. Mom started laughing.
Norm pretended to bang his head on the steering wheel. "What was I thinking?" Stephanie and Mom laughed. Her hand was still on Norm's neck. I felt like biting it.
Last week Mom had dragged me to Dr. Shrink's office. We have a new family now and we all have to try to get along. Blah, blah, blah. The problem these days was Mom spent all her time trying to make Norm and Stephanie happy. Norm with his pocket calculator and stupid jokes. Stephanie with her rainbow toes and bouncy dark hair. Apparently Miss Congeniality at her school. Doesn't have to take mood pills. I felt like that little chestnut pony—last in line.
I stared out at the shadowed forest as we wound up the mountain. If I were an animal, I'd jump out of this car, run into the woods, and keep right on running for miles.
Except, there was the chestnut pony. The lady called him Copper. I figured I could get him to like me. I knew it.
Norm shifted gears. The engine growled low, like a bear. "Call me cynical," he said, "but I have a feeling my cell phone is not going to work up here."
"Who would you need to call, anyway?" said Mom. She gave Norm a flirty smile.
Then we reached the top of the mountain and wow, High Mist Ranch spread out before us like a wavy quilt, its pieces edged with fences and horse trails. Horses and cattle grazed in sloped green pastures dotted with purple and yellow wildflowers and white chunks of rock salt. The rustic lodge looked out over the green valley, with purple mountains layered in the distance. Winding riding trails climbed up a ridge where you could see the Smoky Mountains for miles in every direction. I could hardly breathe, it was so beautiful.
"I have to ride today!" I said. "We can definitely ride tomorrow," Mom said. "It might be too late today. Isn't this beautiful?"
"Gorgeous," said Norm. "You told them we wanted the unit with the hot tub and the espresso machine, right, babe?" Stephanie and Mom both laughed.
The minute Norm pulled up beside the lodge, I jumped out and headed in by myself. The lodge was made from huge dark-colored logs that must have come from trees two hundred feet tall. Inside, the ceiling had giant beams made from those same logs. In the front room to the right was a desk where people checked in. To the left stood a stone fireplace, a soft-looking leather couch, and a thick rag rug thrown over the stone floor.
Mom and Stephanie came in. Mom put her arms around both of us. "This place looks nice, huh?" When Stephanie snuggled up to Mom, I escaped into a dining room with two long wooden tables. At the far end was the biggest fireplace I'd ever seen, with a stone face and heavy wooden mantel. A fire crackled, even though it was the middle of July. In front of the fireplace was a low coffee table with a Monopoly board set up with money and game pieces. No one was playing. No one was here at all.
Movement flashed through a window beside the fireplace and I stepped closer. Three bluish-green hummingbirds darted around a feeder. Their wings were a blur, kind of sparkling. I sat in the window seat and watched them flit, drink, and zip away. Imagined holding up my finger and one of the hummingbirds landing on it.
I'd never admit this to anyone, but I'd always wanted to be like those characters in old Disney movies who had animals following them around. Like Cinderella and her mice. Whenever I walked into a barn, I imagined all the horses swinging their heads to look at me and all this love pouring out of their big-as-the-world eyes. Animals knew things about me that people never seemed to understand.
Past the feeder, just a few hundred yards down the hill, I spotted the barn. The little chestnut, tied to the corral fence, pawed at the ground and twitched his tail, waiting for someone to unsaddle and groom him. He wasn't content like the others. My heart squeezed. I knew exactly how he felt, just like he'd spoken to me.
A kitchen door that read "Staff Only" swung open. Two people came out, talking. They didn't see me in the window seat. One of them was the woman I'd just seen on the trail with the long gray braid. She still wore her riding boots and an ancient flannel shirt.
"Here, this is about five pounds," whispered a guy with a ponytail. He handed a greasy package to the woman with the braid. Wiped his hands on a bloodstained white apron.
"They'll finish that off in ten seconds." The woman had a deep gravelly voice almost like a man's. Her gray hair was matted down where her floppy hat had been.
"One of these days you're going to lose a hand feeding them," said the guy.
"I'm careful." The woman patted the guy's arm. "Thanks." She left the lodge with the package, and he ducked back through the swinging door into the kitchen.
Horses didn't eat meat. What was that woman feeding that would eat five pounds of meat in ten seconds? And might bite her hand off?
"Diana!" Norm leaned through the doorway. "Come on, we're all checked in, let's go find our cabin." When I got to the doorway, he put his arm over my shoulders in a stiff hey-we're-pals sort of way. "It's too late to sign up for a trail ride today, but at dinner we can sign up for first thing tomorrow morning."
"Okay." I made my voice sound bored. Norm acted like he cared about me, but there was no way he could care about me as much as my own dad. And if things started to totally go downhill, I'd move to Florida with Dad.
Through the window, I saw the woman with the package get into an old black truck. She backed up, the tires crunching over gravel, and then headed down the mountain, kicking up a swirling cloud of red dust.
I left the dining room and followed my so-called family out to the car.
Excerpted from Summer of the Wolves by Lisa Williams Kline Copyright © 2012 by Lisa Williams Kline . Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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