Building a family is hard, especially with stepsisters who are complete opposites. During the bleak and dreary days of winter, Diana continues to be bullied at school, Stephanie continues hiding a painful secret, and both their lives are shaken by two tragic accidents. They discover a beached whale on the North Carolina shoreline, then Stephanie’s brother is in a near-fatal car crash. The girls try pushing through the rockiness in their relationship and facing their challenges, until Stephanie’s lie is finally revealed. Can Diana find forgiveness and faith in her darkest hours?
Praise for Summer of the Wolves:
This funny, gentle and compassionate story feels fresh, thanks to appealing, closely observed characters, both major and minor, and a compelling setting” –Kirkus Reviews
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Winter's TideSisters in All Seasons
By Lisa Williams Kline
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2012 Lisa Williams Kline
All right reserved.
Two days before Christmas vacation, I was standing by my locker in the freshman hall getting out my world history book, which weighed about a hundred pounds, when I heard it. I'd been hearing it for a year now, and when it happened, I also always heard Dr. Shrink's voice in my head, saying, "Ignore it. Just ignore it," and always, up to this point, I had.
It was a girl from my gym class named Carla, and she was behind me saying, in a growly voice, "Annn-i-mal!" There was no real malice in her voice; it must have been something she was doing out of habit. A certain group of kids, the ones who wore designer clothes and wanted to make fun of the stuff I wore to the barn, who talked in loud voices about parties they'd only invited each other to, who stole their parents' liquor and talked about people behind their backs, called me "annn-i-mal."
And something in me snapped. A year of it, and I'd had enough. In a flash, I turned around and slung my book at Carla. The edge of the cover caught her on the cheekbone. She screamed and covered her cheek with her hand, and then she shoved me into the bank of lockers. My head bashed into my open locker door. A stabbing pain shot down my neck. The pain galvanized me, and I threw myself at her, knocking her to the floor.
As I got up on my knees, I heard a roaring in my ears that sounded like a freight train. People had started yelling, had started forming a circle around us.
And then someone roughly pulled me off Carla, and I was sitting in the hall, panting and crying, my heart pounding so hard I thought it might break my ribs.
A few minutes later the two of us were in Vice Principal Callahan's office. His red hair was mixed with gray, and he had a kind-looking face that belied the fact that he hated all of us and never showed a smidgen of mercy.
"As you know," he said, "we have zero tolerance at Bradley High for fighting. Anyone who fights is automatically suspended. No exceptions."
"I wasn't fighting!" Carla said, still holding her hand to her bruised and swollen cheek. "I was trying to defend myself. I mean, look what she did to me!"
"Why did you attack her, Diana?"
"She called me a name." The back of my head was throbbing from where it had collided with my locker door. I had put my hand back there but couldn't feel any blood.
"What name did she call you?"
"Is that true, Carla? Did you call Diana 'animal'?" Vice Principal Callahan's expression seemed to say he didn't think getting called "animal" was that bad compared to other things a person could be called.
Carla pretended to be shocked and innocent. "No! I didn't call her anything! I was just walking by, and she threw her book at me."
"Well, it's hard for me to believe that Diana would haul off and throw her book at you with no provocation. You're both suspended for five days. For the two days until Christmas vacation and again after school starts," said Mr. Callahan. "No exceptions. Call your parents. Now."
Mom's knuckles were white on the steering wheel as we drove out of the Bradley High parking lot. She had left work to come get me and was still wearing her white physician's-assistant coat.
"You say they've been calling you 'animal' for a year? Why didn't you tell me, Diana?"
"I told Dr. Shrink awhile ago. She said to ignore it." The only other person I'd talked to about it was Stephanie.
"And you ignored it until today. Why today?"
I didn't answer. I looked out the window. I hated it here. But I didn't know where I wanted to go other than the barn. I thought about grooming Commanche, about the way the warm air blew out of his nostrils, about the way his tail swished against his flank, and it calmed me down.
"Well, there is no appealing this," Mom said. "You were fighting. It's on your record now."
I glared at her. A thousand things I could have said raced through my brain, all having to do with how horrible it was to day after day go back to a school where people made fun of me. And it didn't really matter that those people were stupid and mean. At some point you have to fight back, don't you? Otherwise you get smaller and smaller until one day you disappear.
Once Mom got me home, she had to leave to go back to work. She said we would talk about everything later.
I wandered upstairs to my room, passing Stephanie's open door on my way down the hall. She had covered her bulletin board with pictures of herself and her friends. The latest pictures she'd put up were from our cruise last fall, with Stephanie and me and Lauren. The only thing I'd put on mine was a photo of me with Commanche.
I slammed the door, pushed the pile of dirty jeans onto the floor, and threw myself onto my bed. Mom was mad enough, but I was dreading Norm finding out what had happened. I knew that was why Mom wanted to talk later; she wanted to run everything by Norm. That wasn't the way it used to be. I felt like throwing a book at him. It would just prove to him, once again, that I'm a troublemaker. But I didn't care what he thought, right?
A few minutes after Stephanie got home from cheerleading, she came upstairs and knocked on my door. I didn't say, "Come in," but she peeked her head in anyway.
"Hi," she said. "I heard."
"Yeah? Everybody's talking about it?"
"I guess." She came in and sat at the foot of my bed. I was still lying there among the twisted covers. "What happened? What made you do it?"
"She called me 'annn-i-mal.' I just got sick of it. I couldn't take it anymore."
Stephanie looked uncomfortable and stared at the floor.
"Look," I said. "I know you think what I did is bad. But I'm not perfect like you."
"I'm not perfect!" she said. "What are you talking about?"
"You wouldn't have gotten into a fight with Carla. But I couldn't take it anymore, that's all."
"I'm not blaming you," she said. "People have been unbelievable about calling you that. I wish they would stop."
"I do too. You'd think they'd be tired of it by now."
"So you're suspended until after Christmas vacation?"
"I'll get your homework for you," she said, getting up and standing with her hand on the doorknob. She was wearing a T-shirt and those stretchy shorts they wore for cheerleading practice. Even though she'd been flipping around the gym for hours, her ponytail was still perfect.
"Don't bother. I'm not going to do it," I said.
"I'll get it anyway. You might change your mind."
When Norm got home, I could tell he already knew. Mom had probably texted him. I was up in my room and heard the garage door close, but I didn't hear the usual animated conversation that Mom and Norm have when they've been away from each other all day. Dinner was quiet, like there was a gigantic elephant on the middle of the table. And, sure enough, after Stephanie and I did the dishes, Mom and Norm said they wanted to talk to me but that Stephanie could go back upstairs.
I collapsed into the La-Z-Boy that Norm usually sits in because the two of them sat on the couch together, side by side, like they were on the same team or something. Which they were. Ganged up against me.
"We understand how frustrated you were today," Norm started out.
"Why do you always let him do the talking?" I said to Mom. "I'm not even his daughter, and he's making all these decisions about me."
Mom sat forward. "Diana, we are a family. We make decisions together. That's our agreement."
"Your agreement. Nobody asked me what I thought."
"We're on your side," Norm said. "You seem to be missing that, Diana. You're too busy being antagonistic."
I looked away. This was torture.
"This name-calling is a form of bullying, Diana," Mom said, "and we understand that. You were taunted and baited until you couldn't take it anymore. Yes, you threw your book at her, but you were provoked. And apparently they've been trying to provoke you for a year now. We're on your side, sweetie."
"But fighting isn't the answer," Norm added.
"Well, I guess ignoring it isn't the answer either!" I yelled. "What is the answer?"
"There is no good answer. The teachers and principal are aware of it, so that should help. They will be looking out for it," Norm said.
"We're going to ask to meet with the principal to appeal this being on your record. Meanwhile, let's discuss what this means. What should we do? Should we move you to another school?"
I ran my finger over a spot on my jeans. Mom apparently had done some thinking about the situation, because this sounded different from what she'd said earlier. She did sound more like she was on my side.
"No," I said. A whole new school would be scary. And it would be cowardly. I didn't want that. "I don't want to switch schools."
"All right," said Norm, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. "We'll fight back ... but not by fighting. How does that sound, Diana?"
The next day I wasn't allowed to go to the barn, but there was an emergency appointment with Dr. Shrink.
Dr. Shrink: Diana, why don't you tell me what happened.
Me: I threw a book at a girl because she called me "animal."
Dr. Shrink: You've been successful at ignoring it for such a long time. What happened?
Me: I don't know. I just lost it.
Dr. Shrink: Your coping techniques—counting to ten, taking deep breaths—seemed to be working so well. Nothing else going on?
Not really the truth. There was a new guy in my Spanish class. His name was Noah, and he had longish, uncombed blond hair and had, so far, alternated between two different flannel shirts with his jeans. But he'd come up to me after class and asked me a question.
"Hey, what's the homework again?"
I gave him a look that said, Are you stupid? Why was he asking me? But then I told him. "The vocabulary on page eighty-five." Noah scribbled it down while I put on my backpack and started heading out of class. He followed me.
"Why do people call you 'animal'?"
I stopped and stared at him. He wore a small silver hoop in one ear.
"I don't know."
"That's kind of weird, don't you think?" Noah said.
"I hadn't thought about it." That was a lie. I thought about it all the time.
"I mean, it could be an insult. Or it could mean you're really tough. Like, a real animal. Which is it?"
"I don't know. I just know I don't like it."
We were out in the hall by now, and I turned left. He came with me.
"Why don't you just punch one of them?" Noah said.
I had had dreams of punching them. Dreams in which my fist connected with their chins in some otherworldly way and knocked them into the next solar system.
"I would," he said. And then he peeled off and went into the chemistry classroom, leaving me walking down the hall wondering what it would be like if I did punch one of them.
Dr. Shrink: I think it's a good idea that your parents are going to talk to the administration.
Me: It feels like I'm telling.
Dr. Shrink: You tried to handle it on your own, and that didn't work, so now it's a good idea to have someone on your side.
Me: It feels like I'm a baby. I didn't want to tell anyone. That's why I only told you. And Stephanie.
Dr. Shrink: How did Stephanie react?
Me: She's upset. She thinks it's terrible. She even offered to talk to some of the people she knows, but I said for her not to. I thought it might be bad to get help from her. It might make things worse. Or make things bad for her.
Dr. Shrink: I see. Normally it's best to try to handle these situations without making a big deal of them. But we all need support in our lives.
Me: Norm doesn't want to support me. He just thinks I'm a troublemaker.
Dr. Shrink: What makes you think that?
Dr. Shrink: I bet that's not true. Remember, he jumped in the water and saved you when you fell out of the raft on your white-water rafting trip. He showed, by his actions, that he cares about you.
Me: I think his feelings about me have changed. I think the fighting thing made him mad at me. And also that I don't want to go to church. He wants the whole family to go to church and I said I wouldn't.
Dr. Shrink: Why does he want the whole family to go to church?
Me: I don't know! I guess he thinks it will help us "bond." (I hold up my fingers and do air quotes on the word bond.)
Dr. Shrink: And what about church don't you like?
Me: Everything. I don't believe in God. I think all those people sitting inside the church pretending to be so good are hypocrites. People do terrible things and then they go to church.
Dr. Shrink: And what about the people who do good things?
I didn't answer. I hadn't thought about that.
So I missed the last two days of school before Christmas break. Mom and Norm went to meet with the vice principal, and he said that because the school had a zero-tolerance policy for fighting, and I had started a fight, I couldn't be let off. All students must have equal treatment.
At this point Mom allowed me to go back to the barn. She dropped me off one afternoon while everybody else was still in school. It was a cold but sunny, sparkling winter day. I didn't have a lesson, but I planned to hang around and help Josie, the barn manager, with the hopes that maybe she'd let me ride Commanche.
I love the smell of the barn. I love the fresh smell of the hay and the earthy, living smell of the horses. Josie had put a Christmas wreath on the barn door and a small fake tree with horse ornaments stood on the desk in her office. She'd hung a stocking on each horse's stall door.
"I brought Commanche some carrots and horse cookies for Christmas," I told Josie. "Can I give him one now?"
Josie was sweeping the barn floor and wiped sweat from her temple with the back of her gloved hand. Josie is athletic and plainspoken, and she's always got horse hair and hay all over her shirt. "If you do a few chores around here, I'll let you ride later. How about that? And you can give him a treat then," she said.
"Yay! Thanks!" Josie was going to let me ride!
In fast motion, I mucked some stalls and filled some water buckets. When I finished, I stood outside Commanche's stall with the carrots I'd brought. With his peach-soft muzzle, he explored the flat of my hand and took a carrot in his teeth. I felt myself start to relax for the first time in three days. Why do I always feel like problems don't matter when I'm at the barn?
"Commanche was in a bad mood this morning, but it looks like you've perked him right up," Josie said to me.
"Can I ride him bareback today?" I asked. I figured she'd probably say no, but I wanted to ask anyway.
"No, it'll hurt his back," she said. "You know that."
"But I did ride bareback that one time when I had a lesson."
"That was when you were working on balance, and I wanted to make a point. The saddle is there for a purpose," she said.
But later she let me canter Commanche out in the ring. The cold air stung my nostrils, but I relaxed into the saddle and the rocking of Commanche's gait. It was perfect. Commanche liked the chilly weather and was frisky and cantered more easily than usual, tossing his head, vapor coming out of his nose. He's an old horse, about twenty or so, and sometimes he's lazy, but not today. I ran my palm down his neck.
"That's a good boy, Commanche. You're doing such a good job," I said. "The stuff that happened at school doesn't matter one bit, does it? Not one little bit. All that matters is you and me out here in the ring. Isn't that right, Commanche?"
One of his ears cocked back in my direction.
Afterward, while I was grooming Commanche, he made little snorts of pleasure and leaned up against me. I thought about that guy, Noah, from my Spanish class, telling me to punch someone, and I wondered if that had been on my mind and maybe that's why I'd done it.
On Christmas Eve, it was windy and cold. Late in the afternoon, as the sun was starting to set, Norm and Mom and Stephanie started getting ready to go to church.
I stood in the hallway outside my room, listening. I heard them all downstairs talking in the kitchen, the rapid click of Mom's heels, and the rattle of Norm's car keys.
"Colleen just texted me that they're sitting on the right-hand side, if we want to sit with them," Stephanie said. Colleen is Stephanie's friend from church, the one I don't trust.
"Oh, nice," Mom said.
"We better get going. Otherwise there won't be any seats at all," Norm said.
"Diana, we're going!" Mom called.
I came to the top of the stairs and looked down. Mom and Stephanie wore their red sweaters and scarves and gloves, and Norm wore his leather jacket. Mom's dangly Christmas earrings flashed a reflection of the lights from our tree when she looked up at me.
"Okay," I said.
Excerpted from Winter's Tide 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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