Read an Excerpt
Wild Horse Spring
By Lisa Williams Kline
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2012 Lisa Williams Kline
All right reserved.
"There's the third bridge!" Stephanie sat up and looked eagerly out the car window. "When you make it to the third bridge, you know you're almost there," she told me, poking my arm. "Look, Diana! See the water?"
I hated it when Stephanie knew more about something than I did. We were packed in the car on our way to spend spring break at North Carolina's Outer Banks. Stephanie had vacationed there with her dad for several years, but it was a first for me and Mom. And a first for all of us together. Our new family. Stephanie would probably spend the whole week telling me stuff I didn't know. Would I ever stop being jealous of her clear, tanned skin, and her wavy, dark hair? Her perfectly polished toenails?
As our car passed onto the bridge, I craned my neck, watching the choppy, sun-splashed, blue-green waves beyond the bridge rail. A seagull glided a few yards above, as if racing us, then banked and angled away. We passed a cluster of small flat islands with marshy vegetation and seabirds scavenging on the sandy shore.
Norm rolled down the driver's window, and we were buffeted by humid, salty sea air. "Just smell that!" He smiled over at my mom and grasped her hand. "I love this place, Lynn. I can't wait for you to see it."
"Me, either," Mom said, squeezing Norm's hand, then reaching back to rub my shoulder. "How about you, Diana? Excited?"
"Sure," I said. It was a relief to get away from school. I didn't know why, but some of the "popular" people had started talking about me. They'd started calling me "animal" in the hall when they passed. Some of the eighth-grade guys turned it into a long, ferocious sound. "Annn-i-MAL!" It had been better when they totally ignored me, when I was invisible.
But that wasn't the main reason I was excited about this trip. The main reason was I'd get to see my dad. For the first time in a year.
The bridge arched up high in the center to allow tall boats to pass underneath, and I held my breath as our car rose up, up above the water. As I looked down, a rangy boat slid under us, with two tall poles in the center and dozens of ropes and more poles set at angles from the masts, like wings.
"That's a shrimp trawler, girls," said Norm.
My jaw dropped when I looked up and took in the view. Acres of blue sky, silvery water on both sides as far as I could see, and a sliver of emerald land at the other end of the bridge. We drove down the other side of the arch, and the bridge leveled out again only a few dozen feet above the water, but it was still the longest bridge I had ever been on.
And then we were on the Outer Banks.
"When I started coming here with my family twenty years ago," Norm said, "the wild horses just wandered down the streets. There used to be a lot more."
"No way!" I said. "Wild horses?" Could it be true?
We were passing by a marina now, with line after line of sparkling, blue and white boats moored and bobbing beside the docks. On the other side of the road stood rows of beach houses with sea oats in the yards, wraparound upstairs porches, and weathered rocking chairs.
"Yep, wild horses. The story was that they were the descendants of Spanish mustangs from shipwrecks, five hundred years ago. We'd look out the window of our cottage and see them walking down the street. Several years ago people had to round them up and move them farther north because the area was becoming too populated and they were getting hit by cars."
"Hit by cars!"
"So we can't see them anymore?"
Norm glanced at mom. "Well, I'm hoping we'll see them. Our house is on the northern part of the beach, where the horses stay."
Mom smiled back at Stephanie and me.
"Wow!" I'd always dreamed of riding a wild horse. Sometimes I dreamed I was one. Flying over the sand, free, no one telling me where to go or what to do. And I thought, By the end of this week, I'll be riding a wild horse bareback on the beach.
"Diana, look, the dunes!" Stephanie poked me again. Rising on our left were enormous mountains of sand, the biggest dunes I'd ever seen. People dotted the tops of them. Some were sand boarding, some flew kites, and we watched one guy hang glide from the top of the ridge, suspended below giant red and white wings.
"That's Jockey's Ridge," Norm said. "It's the tallest sand dune on the East Coast. And right nearby is where Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first airplane. We'll go there one day while we're here."
"Can we hang glide?"
"We'll see," Norm said. But I'd begun to recognize that tone in my stepfather's voice, which meant, No, but I'll play along for now to pacify you, Diana.
"How long before we get to our cottage?" Stephanie asked.
"About forty-five minutes, if the traffic isn't too bad," said Norm.
We drove for miles, past rows and rows of beach houses. On the left side, we passed a golf course, and then, on the right, a shop advertising Jet Skis and parasailing.
I thought about what it would be like to see my dad. After the divorce he moved to Florida with his girlfriend. I'd met Susan when I stayed with them for spring break last year.
This past Christmas he'd sent me fifty dollars, and he'd even called me on New Year's Day. When Mom answered the phone and said "Hello, Steven" in a suddenly stiff, defensive voice, my heart had started thumping. When I got on the phone he said he was coming to the coast of North Carolina for a conference while we would be there. So this week, I might get to see him.
We drove at least twenty more miles, passing shopping centers and more beach houses, rows and rows, some huge and new, but many small and weathered. We passed a hammock store, with hammocks hanging from trees in the front yard, and at least three WINGS stores, decorated bright yellow with blue and green waves painted along the roof line. My heart seemed to be beating faster and faster, and I could feel my Moronic Mood-o-Meter souring. Dr. Shrink had reminded me to use this stupid rating system to rate my moods, especially while we were on vacation. A ten is zooming around, out of control. One is a black cloud, depressed and angry. Five is where I want to be.
Stephanie and I were both practically hanging out the window, watching the sights go by. Since we'd crossed the bridge, we hadn't yet had a glimpse of the ocean, though I could tell from the flat land, the rows of beach houses and the salt scent in the air that it wasn't far away.
"Okay, we're in Duck now," Norm announced at one point. On our left, the sound sparkled behind a single row of shops. A huge pink plastic shark hung outside one bait shop. Shops lined the other side of the road too. In front of many shops stood statues of horses with wings, painted with wild, colorful patterns.
We passed a town called Sanderling, and a town called Corolla, which had a red brick lighthouse, and then we kept driving north. Soon we were on a narrow, windswept stretch of land that seemed to hold only the road and a few dunes with twisted, dense shrubs on either side.
"The sound is on our left, and the ocean is on our right," Norm said. "Imagine what this place is like in a storm."
"How much farther to our house?" Stephanie asked.
"Well ..." he said. "This year we're staying really far out, past the end of the road. We have to use four-wheel drive on the beach for the last bit!"
"Cool!" I said.
Stephanie didn't say anything. She chewed her fingernail.
A few miles later, the road came to an end. Norm shifted into four-wheel drive, took a right, churning through soft piles of white-rutted sand, and drove near the shoreline where waves crashed onto the flat, shimmering beach.
"Whoo-hoo!" I yelled. I leaned out of the car and let the wind whip my hair around.
"Tax season is over!" Norm joined me, leaning to his left and shouting out the window, above the roar of the wind. He's an accountant.
"Flu season is over!" Mom leaned to her right and shouted out her window. She's a physician's assistant.
Finally, Stephanie put one arm out her side and shouted, "The water looks cold!"
"I'm swimming anyway!" I shouted back, laughing.
I could tell Stephanie was scared of the horses. Last summer when we went on vacation together, we'd barely known each other. Mom had just married Norm. We'd gone to a ranch in the mountains to horseback ride, and I found out right away that riding scared Stephanie. A lot of stuff scares Stephanie.
I'd been pretty mean to Stephanie, I don't deny it. I didn't want to share Mom with Norm, and I didn't want a stepsister—especially one who is scared of everything. I went to the stables and left her alone in the cabin. I made fun of her jeans. She was scared of the horses, and I made fun of that. I even made her horse spook and run away with her.
But even though I was so mean, she was still nice to me. That surprised me. And then we'd released the wolf-dogs, and boy did we get in a lot of trouble&mdahs;together. And we actually started to become friends.
Then we got home. Stephanie transferred to my school, made the eighth-grade cheerleading squad, and soon knew more people than me, even though I'd been with the same kids since fourth grade. Going on five years! Stephanie was cute and friendly and perky and perfect and didn't have to take pills.
When Stephanie and I were alone together, it was okay. At school it was different. Even though I'd always told myself I didn't care about having friends, that I'd rather be at the barn, it just wasn't fair. I was reminded once again why I liked horses more than people. Horses were nicer. They stood quietly while you brushed them, they listened to your problems, and once you climbed on their backs, your problems seemed to melt away.
Mom and Norm were always coming up with ideas to play games and go to movies when Stephanie stayed with us every other weekend. It was like having me around was normal and having her around was some special occasion or something. It really irked me. And it still drove me crazy how every little thing scared her.
Now we passed people who had parked their trucks on the beach so they could fish. The grown-ups wore tall, thick rubber boots and cast their lines out into the churning water. White plastic buckets stood on the sand beside them. Little kids wearing sweatshirts were building a sand castle that looked more like a mountain with turrets. As seagulls circled above the fishermen, hoping for scraps, their high, eerie calls pierced the air.
Driving even farther up the beach, we didn't see anyone else.
"Wow, it's deserted along here," said Mom. "That makes me a little nervous, Norm."
"Is my cell phone going to work here?" Of course Stephanie would be worried about that.
"My buddy, the guy who owns the house, said it will, honey," said Norm.
I didn't have a cell phone, but Stephanie's mom had given her one because of having to pick Stephanie up at different times from cheerleading practice. Mom and Norm had gotten annoyed with Stephanie's mom for getting her a cell phone, since I didn't have one, but I told them I didn't care. I was glad I didn't have one. If I did, people might notice that I never got a text.
It would be exciting to stay in such an isolated part of the beach. A better chance we'd see the wild horses. By the end of the week, I'd be riding bareback into the ocean. I'd always dreamed about having a horse that had never been touched by human hands but would become docile and affectionate toward me. Only me.
"I think this is where we turn," Norm said, cutting away from the water between two dunes after glancing at the directions he'd printed out. We followed a short road of packed-down sand. And back among the dunes, surrounded by sea grass and some twisted bushes leaning away from the water, were two small beach houses.
We drove slowly by a yellow house on stilts with a wraparound porch and a four-wheel-drive vehicle parked underneath. Then Norm stopped in front of a small gray cottage on stilts enclosed by latticework, with a large triangular picture window and a long, long wooden walkway leading over the dunes to the beach.
"I think this is it," Mom said, looking at the picture on the printout. "It's called Wild Horse Lookout."
"Oh, I love that name!" I said.
Stephanie glanced at the house, then over at the yellow dunes, then back to the stand of gnarled, scrubby trees with shiny leaves behind us, and bit her lip. I was reminded of the white, terrified look on her face the day her horse ran away with her. I feel bad about it now, because I laughed at her, and it had been my fault. But later I helped her with her riding, and on our last day at the ranch, she'd ridden a big, gentle gelding named Sam. Some of her fear had gone away.
Now we pulled up in front of the gray house, and the most wonderful and amazing thing happened. Seven or eight small horses, chestnut and bay and black, still wearing their rugged winter coats, galloped across the dune behind our house. Whinnying and sending sand flying, they veered away from our car and pounded off toward the inland forest. Second to last was a tiny black foal with long legs and knobby knees, stumbling along to keep up with its mother. The stallion was in the rear, also black, with his dark head low, herding the rest.
"Oh my gosh!" I practically jumped out of the car before we stopped moving. "Did you see the foal?" I couldn't believe how small the horses were. They looked like ponies. And their tails were so long they almost brushed the ground.
Mom jumped out of the car too. "Oh, Diana, wasn't that a beautiful sight?"
I ran up the dune after them, my feet sinking in the soft, cool sand, and I watched until the foal disappeared into the gnarled trees in the direction of the setting sun. Without a thought I followed her.
Excerpted from Wild Horse Spring 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.