Tuesday, August 25
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
I hit the snooze button on my alarm clock and turned over. I begged for a few more minutes of sleep. I closed my eyes, and all of the sudden,
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
I threw my alarm clock against the wall, and it fell behind the desk. I turned my lamp on, got out of bed and stretched. I walked over to the desk, reached behind it, and pulled the clock out. Five thirty! Why did mom get me up this early? I looked at the calendar. Oh, yeah. First day of seventh grade. I rummaged through my closet, and pulled out a short, pink dress. After dressing, I brushed my short light brown hair, and opened my jewelry box. I put some pink dangling earrings, and a silver necklace on. I examined myself in the mirror. Perfect. If I wanted my friends to like me, I had to dress nice. I walked down the hall into the bathroom. I looked in the sink. Disgusting! Is it too much to ask J.D. to rinse out the sink after brushing his teeth? How could a kid who polished his sneakers leave this big mess? I tried to rinse the goop out with hot water, but to no avail. It stuck. I squeezed some mint gel onto my toothbrush and after brushing my teeth, I washed my face. I walked downstairs into the kitchen where the smell of French toast greeted me. I poured myself a cup of coffee, and sat down at the table.
“Mom,” whined my little brother, J.D. “Why does Tina get coffee every day of the week and I only get it on Saturdays?”
“Because she is older,” said Mom. “And she does a lot around here,”
“I do a lot of work too,” he said. “So can I have coffee every day, too?” he said.
“No, J.D. I told you already, you can start drinking coffee every day when you turn ten. That was when Tina started drinking coffee.”
“Ten!?” yelled my brother. “That’ll take years!” and he sunk back into his chair. Mom carried two plates of French toast and warm, homemade maple syrup. Yes, I said homemade. We have two maple trees in our backyard. I lifted my fork to eat, when mom said,
“Tina, aren’t you forgetting something?” I looked up, and Mom and my brother had their hands folded. Oh, yeah. We prayed now. I put my fork down and did the same. Mom prayed a long prayer, thanking an unseen God for our food, and acting like he was right there with us, listening. Prayer took up so much of our time, nowadays. It was one of the reasons Dad left us. It bothered me.
After breakfast, I took my plate to the sink. Mom said, “Tina, what are you wearing? That dress is way too short. Go change into something appropriate.”
“But Mom,” I said. “I want friends, and all the girls dress this way.”
“That is too short. I want you to change. Now.” She said.
“Can’t I wear this just once? It is the first day of school,” I said, hopefully.
Mom sighed. “Okay, but just for today. But first, I need you to feed the dogs,”
“Okay, Mom.” I said. This was new too. She normally didn’t care how I dressed. But during the last few months, she didn’t let me wear anything “inappropriate”. Dresses and skirts above the knee, inappropriate. Bikinis, inappropriate. Really short shorts, Inappropriate. Blah, blah, blah. Why couldn’t I just wear what I want? It was driving me crazy.
After feeding our collie, Ariel, Our very pregnant golden retriever Dakota, and her two older puppies, Apple and Buttons, I through some sandals on and went outside to collect the eggs. We lived on a farm, and we had about twenty chickens. And that means a lot of eggs. After collecting, mom called me inside.
“I need to talk to you for a minute,” she said.
“Uh, okay,” I said as I sat down across from her at the kitchen table.
“The last couple of months have been kind of rough for us financially,” she said. Yeah. Since dad left.
“Mmm hmm.” I said.
“Well, our savings aren’t going to last forever, and I have decided that I need to start working full time again.” She sighed. “And, because of that, there are going to be a few changes made. First of all, there will be no one to watch J.D. in the afternoon. I know I said you would have to wait until you turned twelve to stay home alone, but I can’t afford a babysitter right now, and so you are going to have to watch J.D during the afternoon. So that means you need to get home right away. No hanging out at friends’ houses, no waiting around after school, just get right home.”
Great. I get to watch J.D, the most annoying little brother on the planet. “What else, Mom?”
“Well, you are going to have to quit Gymnastics.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie, but you know I can’t afford it,” She hesitated. She sat there so long, I started to get up. “Wait, Tina,” I sat back down. “There’s one more thing,”
Great. What else could there be? “Yes?” I asked.
“We have to sell the farm,”
Tuesday, August 23
I was one of the first to arrive. I sat down at a desk in the middle, waiting for my best friend, Scarlett Childes.
At least that wasn’t changing. Everything else seemed to be changing. New school, new house, even I was changing. Clothes that could fit a month ago were suddenly too small, to tight, or too short.
Scarlett’s parents switched her to private school after elementary school, too. We only had first period and lunch together, though. She came into the classroom and sat beside me.
“Hey Tina, What’s up?” She said, giving me a sideways hug.
“What?!” She stared at me in disbelief.
“Mom just told me this morning. She said that she can’t afford it.”
“But you’re so rich! How can you not afford it?” She said.
“Are you deaf?” I exclaimed. “My dad left three months ago. Mom only works part time. I tried to tell you, but you were so caught up with your own life that you didn’t have time to listen to me.”
“Oh. I’m sorry, Tina. I didn’t realize.” She gave me a sympathetic look.
After our first class, French, I had Math, my best subject. I sat down by the window, and stared outside.
“Hi,” I heard someone say. “Is anyone sitting here?” I turned, and there was a girl with long blonde hair.
“Oh, um, no, I don’t think so,” I said. Her hair was in a very pretty style. The sides were braided around her head, with little locks of hair going through the braid.
“You hairstyle’s pretty,” I said.
“Really?” She said. “It’s called a waterfall braid.” She sat down. “I’m Erin,” She said, smiling. Her whole face lit up when she smiled, real, not fake.
“My name’s Tina,” I said.
“I love your southern accent,” she said.
“My accent?” I said.
“Yeah, it’s really cool,” she said. After Math, we had History. Erin was in there too.
“What lunch shift do you have? Eleven, noon, or one?” She asked as we waited for History class to start.
“Eleven,” I said.
“Me too!” Erin said.
At Lunch, I was one of the first ones into the cafeteria. Scarlett cut in front of me.
“Ok, remember how last week I said I was going to start a club for all the cool kids, like you and me?” I did.
“Yes. Did you start it?” I asked as the lady plopped spaghetti onto my plate.
She nodded. “Rebecca’s already in,”
“Rebecca Star? I though she moved to Seattle with her dad,” I said as I grabbed a carton of apple juice and passed the chocolate cake. My stomach can’t handle junk food. I get stomachaches and heartburn when I eat too much sugar, but I grabbed one anyway.
“She was just visiting for the summer.” She said.
“Great! Let’s talk about it at the table,” I said as we headed toward the tables.
“Well, I made a rule that only active club members can sit at our table. But don’t worry, after you complete the initiation you can sit with us. Every Friday we give people the chance to join.”
“Friday?” I said as I sat down at a table. “But that’s three days away,”
“Well, sorry, but those are the rules,” She said as she headed for the middle table where Rebecca was sitting. Rebecca had curly brown hair and blue eyes. She was really pretty, but always wore too much makeup. She had on red eyeshadow and red lipstick today, to match her red t-shirt.
“Anyway, see ya on Friday!” Scarlett said.
I started to eat my lunch in silence, when Erin came and sat across from me.
“Hey Tina,” She said as she bit into her meatball. I waved. I finished my spaghetti and garlic bread a few minutes later, and gazed at the delicious looking chocolate cake. But I decided not to. I pushed it away.
“You’re not going to eat that?” Erin said. She had finished her spaghetti. Already? Boy she eats fast! I thought.
I shook my head. “I can’t eat very much sugar. It upsets my stomach and gives me headaches.” I said.
“Can I have it?” She asked. I pushed it to her, and she dove into it. When she finished, I pointed to her nose.
“You have frosting on your nose,” I said, laughing. She laughed too, and she took a napkin and wiped it off.
“Better?” She said. I nodded, and we took our trays to the trash.
After lunch we had English, then P.E, and finally science. I walked out of the building with Scarlett, when Rebecca ran up to us.
“Hey Scarlett!” she said. “Do you want to come over and swim?”
“Sure!” Scarlett said. She turned around. “You can come too,” she said. Rebecca faked a smile.
“Uh, no thanks,” I said. I could tell that she didn’t want me there. Besides, I had to get home. “But you guys have fun,” They walked toward Rebecca’s car, laughing and talking. I just had the feeling they were walking away forever.
Our house was a fifteen minute walk from the school. As I walked across town, my phone vibrated. I looked at it, and it was a text from Scarlett.
Hey Tina, Becca and I talked about your initiation, and we have decided that you have to trip Rosalina
Rosalina? Who’s she? I replied.
You know, Rosalina Lopez! The ugly girl with the big ears and the glasses and the unibrow!
Oh yeah, I know who she is. I texted back. I had a bad feeling about this.
Well, on Friday, sit on the end of the table in the second row. Rosalina always walks by that table. Then just stick your foot out and she’ll trip. Easy breezy
Ok. But what if I get in trouble?
You won’t. Just act like it was an accident. Help her up and apologize and everything. Then, you’ll be an active member. Oh, I just remembered, Rebecca’s having a big club sleepover on Friday night, and you’re invited.
Ok! A sleepover at Rebecca’s house sounded like fun.
Oh, and I don’t think we should text until you’re in. Ok?
Ok, bye Scarlett!
I clicked my phone off. There was a slight pang of guilt, but I pushed it away. I could always make it up to Rosalina by inviting her to some sleepovers or whatever.
When I got home, the entire house was silent. Mom must’ve been at work. I knew that the bus didn’t drop J.D. off until four, so I had the entire house to myself for forty five minutes. I went up to my room and set my backpack on the bed. It was a queen sized bed, with a white headboard and baseboard, and a silky pink bedspread and matching pillows and curtains. My two dressers, one tall one and the other wide, were white with pink jeweled knobs on the drawers. I had a matching desk, and two white chairs with pink pillows sat in a corner. Last Christmas, before dad left, he had surprised me by letting me redecorate my room however I wanted. We fixed up the windows and repainted the walls, but he left before we could tackle my bathroom. Ever since I found a huge spider in there I had never went in there. I figured with our tight budget, I would never get my bathroom done. Not that it mattered, since we were moving.
I put some more casual clothes on. Some jeans, cowboy boots, a pink shirt, leather vest, and a pink bandana. I put my cowboy hat with the pink band and examined myself in the mirror on my wide dresser. I looked like a real cowgirl. I went downstairs and outside, past the in-ground pool and outdoor kitchen. After Grandpa died, leaving the farm to my parents, dad fixed it up and made it more modern. I do have to say, both mom and I were happy to get rid of the 70’s wallpaper.
J.D. Got home as soon as I finished cleaning the horses’ stalls. I washed my hands, then I threw a frozen pizza into the oven for dinner. I went with the whole prayer thing again, and went to bed at eight thirty. When I complained about my early bedtime, she quoted famous Benjamin Franklin, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”. Whatever.
Friday, August 28
The next day I continued to get to know Erin, who seemed pretty cool. I also discovered that she had a twin sister, and that her parents arranged for them to have the same lunch schedules. So Erin sat with her sister Elsa for the next couple days, while I sat by myself.
The dreaded day, Friday, finally came. Fridays are supposed to be fun, because school only last until noon instead of three, and there are two choices for lunch. But I didn’t have an appetite today.
“Chicken tenders or a burrito?” The lady asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. Chicken,” I said.
“Ranch, barbecue, or ketchup?”
“Ranch I guess,” I said. I grabbed a can of coke and sat down at the table Scarlett had said. My hands were sweating, and my stomach was tied in knots. I sipped my coke, hoping it would calm me down, but it didn’t. I pushed my tray away.
“Hey Tina, what’s up?” Erin said as she and her identical twin sat down across from me. Erin? What’s she doing here? I thought. Didn’t she usually sit on the other side of the room?
“Tina, I want you to meet my sister, Elsa. Elsa, this is Tina. She’s really cool, and she lives on a farm and owns horses!”
“Hi Tina,” Elsa said.
“If you two didn’t wear totally different outfits, I wouldn’t be able to tell you apart!” I said. Erin wore casual clothes, like jeans and t-shirts, but Elsa wore more fashionable outfits.
“We’re different in a lot of ways,” Erin said as she scarfed her burrito. “Elsa loves music. She can play several instruments.”
“Erin couldn’t stay on key if her life depended on it,” Elsa laughed. “She’s more into science. Like our mom. She studies plants,”
“Erin told me about that,” I said in a shaky voice. Rosalina balanced her tray in one hand and her book in another. I stuck my foot into the walkway.
“Are you okay Tina?” Erin said. “You look like you’re sweating,”
“I’m fine,” I said. I pulled my foot back in just in time. Rebecca snickered and whispered something to Scarlett, who gave me a mean look and turned around. Rebecca turned around and said something to Skye Foster, who stuck her foot way out and tripped Rosalina. She tumbled to the ground, crying, and the whole cafeteria burst into laughter. Skye joined them at the club table.
“Some people have no feelings for others,” Erin said as she licked her fingers. “Are you going to eat those?” She said.
“Be my guest,” I said as I pushed the tray to her.
After lunch, I dumped my trash into the garbage can. I gazed longingly at the club table, where the four girls were huddled together, and probably telling secrets. I went to my last class, science, totally friendless.
My phone rang when I got home. I answered. “Hey Scarlett,” I said.
“What got into you?” She yelled. “You were so close to joining! Why didn’t you trip her?”
“I-I couldn’t Scarlett. I just couldn’t,” I stuttered.
“Why? It was just a little prank. No big deal.”
“It was a big deal to me,” I said. Just because I wasn’t a Christian it didn’t mean I was going to humiliate Rosalina. “I have a conscience, you know,” I said.
“Well you should’ve ignored it!” She started yelling so loud I had to hold the phone away from my ear.
“I thought you were my best friend!” She said.
“I am!” I said. I was crying now.
“No you’re not! I thought you could be cool. Now you’ve made me look like a complete idiot! In front of the entire club!”
“I’m sorry Scarlett.” I was crying now.
“Well consider this friendship over!” Then she hung up. I sat on my bed and cried. Now I had no friends, and no one to talk to.
What about praying? I thought. I hadn’t ever prayed before. At least, not since dad left. Any belief in God had totally diminished after that happened. God wouldn’t let something like that happen to a good family, would He? He couldn’t be real. Could He? I felt lost. I did my chores without any real enthusiasm.
“What’s wrong, Tina?” Mom said as I loaded the dishwasher.
“Scarlett totally ditched me for Rebecca,” I said. I started crying again.
“Why?” She said. She actually looked concerned. I just blurted the whole story out, about the club and tripping Rosalina.
“Well, you made the right choice,” Mom said. “Don’t you have any other friends?”
I mentions Erin and Elsa. “Well, see? Maybe you can hang out with them instead. They sound nicer than Scarlett Childes anyway.” She finished the dishwasher for me. “Why don’t you try praying for Scarlett?” mom said.
“Mom, please stop with all this religious stuff,” I said. Mom sighed. “I’ll be in my room,” I said. I went upstairs, took my shower, and after blow drying my hair, checked my phone. I had one text from Erin. I read it, remembering that we had giving each other our phone numbers.
Hi Tina, it said.
Would you like to sleep over at our house tomorrow night? We’re having a cookout at the park. We can pick you up around 2 tomorrow, and drop you off at noon on Sunday. I hope you want to come!
A sleepover sounded like fun. Besides, I would get to know Erin and Elsa better. I went downstairs and asked mom, who said it was fine.
“Didn’t you say they were Christians? Maybe you could tell me what church they go to. I’ve been looking for a church for J.D. and you to go to.”
Church! I had forgotten that Erin said they were Christians. I really didn’t want to go to church, but I also didn’t want to miss out on another sleepover. But, I figured it would be worth it, so I texted Erin back.
Thank you for inviting me! I would love to sleep over.
I clicked the phone off and got into bed. Maybe church won’t be so bad after all, I thought.
Saturday, August 29
Erin and Elsa got here right at two. While our moms talked, I showed them my room.
“Wow!” Elsa said. She looked around at my room. “Did you do this? It’s like this is a princess’s bedroom!” She ran her hand over the silky bedspread. Erin started to open the bathroom door.
“No don’t…” too late.
“Whoa,” Erin said.
“Yeah, sorry. I haven’t done the bathroom yet. Ever since I saw a huge spider in the toilet last February I haven’t gone in there.” I said as Erin shut the door.
“Can we see your horses?” Erin asked.
“Sure!” I said. I led them out to the pasture.
“How many do you have?” Erin asked.
“Seven,” I said. We went back inside, where their mom was waiting.
“Your house is very nice, Molly.” Erin’s mom said. “Ready to go, girls?”
“Yep!” we said.
“Bye Tina,” Mom said as she handed me my backpack. I got into the back of the suburban with Erin, while Elsa sat in the middle with their little brother who was J.D.’s age, Zack. A very cute boy who looked a little older than us sat in the passenger seat up front.
“Who’s that?” I asked Erin.
“My brother, Tucker.” She said. “He’s thirteen, in eighth grade.”
“You sure have a big family,” I said.
“Jacob’s eighteen.” Elsa said. “He went to college this year,”
We stopped at a small, old house. This couldn’t be their house, could it? A girl with chocolate brown hair came outside, carrying a small grocery bag. She got in next to Elsa.
“This is my best friend, Vera,” Elsa said. “We have a bunch of classes together.” Vera smiled shyly. When we arrived at the Taylor’s house, which was bigger than our farmhouse, Erin and Elsa led us to the kitchen. It was very modern, with hardwood floors and white cabinets and counters.
“Do you want a soda?” Erin asked, opening the fridge.
“Sure!” I said. I grabbed a coke, and then we went upstairs.
We went into Elsa’s room, which was Paris themed. She had white walls and her bed had black and white pillows, with a dark pink ruffled comforter. Miniature Eiffel Towers were displayed on the shelves, and her black window seat had lacy black curtains around it, with black pillows on it. She had a TV on a dark pink TV stand, and she had a pink chandelier hanging above her queen size bed. It was much prettier and bigger than my room. It a corner there was a keyboard, and on her bookshelf were lots of notebooks.
“Do you play the piano?” I asked Elsa.
“Yeah,” she said. “I love music. Do you play an instrument?”
“I took piano lessons for three years,” I said. “I still play sometimes, but not as much as I used too. I usually spend most of my free time with my horses,”
“You have horses?” Vera asked me. I nodded. We went into a nice bathroom, with two sinks and a separate tub and shower, and then into another bedroom.
Erin’s room was the same size as Elsa’s, but it had green walls and a fuzzy green rug covering most of the hardwood floors. The bedspread was green too, and she had a white wardrobe, dresser, bed, and nightstand, along with a TV on a white TV stand. A breeze coming from the open window blew her white curtains. A cage sat in a corner. I didn’t see any animals in it, though.
“Normally she’s not this clean and organized, but mom made us clean our rooms,” Elsa said.
“You have a really nice house,” Vera said. She was right. Elsa and Erin were rich. Oh, not super-duper filthy rich, but they obviously had more money than the average person. We went into the basement, which was really, really awesome. It had a game area with a pool table, ping pong table, air hockey table, and foosball table, a small kitchen, a big couch, bean bag chairs, and a TV. There were a lot of nice houses in our town of Pineville, Montana, mainly because of the great views and resorts close by. I just never thought I would get to see inside one.
We played air hockey and foosball for a while, then we sat on the couch, trying to think of something to do.
“We could go shopping,” I suggested. They had finally finished building a mall here in town, and I had been wanting to check it out.
“But our mom can’t drive us,” Erin said.
“We can walk, I know my way around town, and I’m sure Vera does too.” I said. Vera nodded.
“But I don’t have any money,” Vera said.
“Don’t worry, I’ll give you some,” Elsa said.
“Well, all in agreement of going shopping say “I”,” Erin said.
“I,” we all said in unison. They got their money out of their bedrooms, and then Erin and Elsa told their mom we were going shopping.
I had been saving my money for a long time, I had about one hundred fifty dollars saved up, mostly from animal sitting. But mom had said to save it for my cheerleading uniform. We headed outside.
“When’s your birthday, Tina?” Erin asked me.
“September twenty third,” I said.
“Ours is February, you’re never going to believe this, twenty ninth.” Elsa giggled.
“Ha!” I said. “On leap day! How do you celebrate it?”
“If it’s not leap year, either February twenty eighth or March first.” Erin said.
“Mine’s June seventh,” Vera said. Vera gradually talked more and more with us, and she seemed pretty fun. She was just shy with other people. I didn’t understand how they were best friends, they seemed like they were polar opposites. Vera had chocolate brown hair with green highlights, dark brown eyes, and was a shy tomboy. Elsa was a talkative girly girl with blonde curls and blue eyes.
We checked out a bunch of stores, bought lemonades at the food court, and then headed back home. Elsa, of course, had several bags of clothes. Vera and Erin had each bought a few things. It was around five thirty when we got home, and Mrs. Taylor said it was time to go to the park. Elsa changed her clothes (For the second time I was here) and then we headed to the park.
Tucker had brought a volleyball, and some tennis stuff. While Mr. Taylor started grilling the hot dogs and burgers, we played volleyball. I was with the boys, Tucker and Zack, while Erin, Elsa, and Vera teamed up. We played a few rounds, then we ate dinner.
I sat next to Erin and Tucker. I pulled on my shorts. I had changed into them for the park. I figured mom wouldn’t mind since it was pretty hot outside.
I gazed at the ice cream and cupcakes after dinner. I wanted some so badly. My stomach and my taste buds were fighting, and in the end, I decided to compromise. I had one cupcake.
We gathered our tennis things and headed for the courts. Tucker was talking to me (Me!) and seemed like he wanted to get to know me better.
“Maybe I can come see your farm sometime before you move,” He said.
“Yeah, maybe,” I said. I told him how Dakota was about to give birth.
“We’re hoping she has a big batch of pups that we can sell,” I said.
“I’ve always wanted a puppy,” he said, handing me a racket. “Maybe we can buy one of yours. But only if mom lets me, she’s not very fond of animals,”
I challenged Tucker to a round of tennis.
“You’re on!” He said. The other girls watched as we played. I won.
“You’re great at sports, Tina,” Vera said as we got into the car.
“Thanks,” I said. Zack, who was J.D.’s age, kept pestering us, like all little boys do.
“Can I stay up late too?” He said.
“No Zack, this is Elsa and Erin’s sleepover,” Mrs. Taylor answered.
“I want to have a sleepover,”
“Maybe another time,” Mr. Taylor said. When we got home, we went upstairs to Elsa’s bedroom, where we did makeovers and our nails. Elsa wanted to show us the music room, so she took us downstairs to the basement. She took us into a room, where there was every kind of instrument imaginable. A piano, guitars, a mandolin, banjo, trumpet, drum set, flute, oboe, and a bunch of other instruments were in there.
“Feel free to try out anything you want,” She said as she took the banjo off the wall.
Erin strummed a guitar. “The guitar is the only thing I can do. I can’t even sing,” she said. “Tina, why don’t you play the piano for us?”
“Um, okay,” I said. I sat down at the piano, and opened the songbook that was propped up in front of me. I found a song that looked good, and I started to play. When I stopped, they were all looking at me, even Elsa.
“Wow, you’re really good,” Elsa said.
“I made some mistakes,” I said.
“I didn’t notice,” Vera said.
We went upstairs for bed. We slept in Erin’s room, because she had the bigger TV. Elsa popped in a movie, while Erin opened the cage in the corner of the room. I went over to investigate.
“Want to see my chinchillas?” Erin asked. I nodded, and she pulled two fuzzy little creatures out of the cage.
“Chili and Chelsea,” Erin said as they crawled onto her shoulders. She handed me one. “This is Chelsea,”
I petted the little chinchilla. She cuddled up against my shirt. We put them in the cage, and we laid down and turned the lights out.
Sunday, August 30
I woke up to sun pouring in through the window. Erin said,
“Good morning, Tina!”
“Hi Erin,” I said drowsily as I stretched. I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept this long. I looked at the clock. Seven twenty five. Erin unplugged her blow dryer and put it away. How in the world did I sleep through her blow dryer? Probably because I went to bed so late, I thought.
“You did remember to bring shower stuff, right?” Erin asked as she straightened her hair with her curling iron.
“Yeah,” I said. When she finished, she looked through her wardrobe. She was wearing a light blue and white dress with a bronze belt, she pulled out a brown sweater to match. She shut herself in the closet. I looked through her wardrobe, and found a very nice white sweater. She came out, and caught me being nosy.
“Oh, sorry,” I said. She looked at the sweater I was holding. “Like it?” I asked, holding in up to me. She looked stunned, then took the sweater.
“Yeah, I, uh, was just going to put it on.” She returned to her closet. Weird, she looked ready to me.
“Elsa and I just got done with our shower, you can go ahead and take yours if you want,” she said. “I can’t wait to do something with your hair. Its length limits my options, but I have an idea,”
After my shower in their nice bathroom, I put on my yellow sundress. Mom wasn’t too thrilled, but I insisted that I didn’t have any longer dresses, which was true, (mostly) and that it was going to be hot out today. I asked Erin what to wear, and she had told me to bring a nice dress for church. She had also insisted that I shower here instead of at my house before I left so she could do something with my hair. I emerged from the bathroom, drying my hair.
“Good, now come here,” Erin told me. She turned around, and stared.
“What? Did I not get my hair rinsed all the way?” I asked.
“No, sorry,” she said. She had me flip my hair upside down. She started drying it and combing it. She brushed it and added some hair spray, then stepped back.
“Perfect!” She exclaimed. I turned toward the mirror on her dresser. It did look nice. It had a lot of volume, and it looked really silky. She had fish tale braided her hair, and added a pretty light blue flower to it.
Elsa came into the bedroom. “Wow Tina,” She said. She had on a light blue dress with gold sandals, and a gold waistband. “You look really, really great,”
“Thanks,” I said.
“But I’m afraid it’s just not right,”
I stopped smiling. “What do you mean?”
“Come with me,” She said. I followed her into her bedroom, where she dug through her dressers and pulled out a lacy, dark blue sweater. “Wear this,” She said. She opened her closet and handed me a dark blue pair of high heels. “And these,” I put them on, along with some jewelry Elsa gave me.
“Better,” Elsa said. “Mom has very strict dress rules. No spaghetti straps, and nothing above the top of the knee.” She said. “But you look amazing in that color,” she said.
“Thanks!” I said. We had pancakes at the breakfast bar, and then we headed to church. I felt a little nervous.
“Don’t worry,” Erin said. “Everyone’s nice,”
When we got to the church, Erin led me through the hallway and down some stairs. We were in a big room with some other kids, including Tucker. There were some chairs set up, along with some tables. There was a lady serving some donuts and other treats, and some boys played ping pong and foosball. Erin led me to the front of the chairs, where a guy was setting up things.
“Mr. Grayson,” she said. He stood up. “This is my friend, Tina, from school. Tina, this is Mr. Grayson, our youth pastor,”
“Hello Tina!” He said, shaking my hand. “Would you mind answering a few question before the lesson starts?” I nodded, and Erin and Mr. Grayson led me into his office.
“What’s your last name and middle initial?” He asked.
“Swenson, M.” I said.
“What’s your age, grade, and birthday?”
“Twelve, seventh, September twenty third.” I said. He asked me a few more questions, and then we went back into the main room .The lesson started, and we sang some songs, none of which I knew, had prayer time, a game, and then the lesson. I didn’t listen that well, though.
After the lesson, I stood up and stretched.
“I’m going to get another donut before the service starts,” Erin said.
“There’s more?” I asked.
“Yeah. This was just Sunday school. Kids under seventh grade have children’s church, but the youth group kids go upstairs with the adults.”
“Oh,” I said.
“It starts in fifteen minutes, so if you want a soda or something you can get one,” Elsa said and she and Vera went over to the refreshments. I grabbed a coke and headed upstairs into the foyer, where a bunch of people dressed in suits and dresses were going into the auditorium. I look through the windows, and it was pretty big. And there were a lot of people.
“Hey Tina, do you want to sit on the balcony?” Erin asked me as we went in.
“Sure,” I said.
She pointed to my coke. “We’re not supposed to bring food into the auditorium,” she said.
“Oh,” I ran downstairs to throw it away. A girl walked up to me. She had shiny black hair that was neatly cornrowed. I remembered she had sat at our table.
“Hey, your Tina right?” She said. “The girl that came with the Taylors?”
“Yeah, that’s me,” I said.
“I’m Davina,” She said. “I work in the toddler nursery on Sunday mornings, and my partner is out of town today. Would you like to work with me in the nursery? You’ll get payed twenty five dollars,” She asked.
“Sure! I love kids,” I said. It was true too. “I’ll go tell Erin,” I ran back down the hallway and up the stairs. Anything was better than being stuck in a boring service all morning. “Erin, Davina asked me to help her in the nursery,”
“Oh, cool!” She said. “I would volunteer, but I’m terrible with kids. Have fun!” she said. Davina led me down the hallway into the large nursery. There were only two kids in there, so I figured it wouldn’t be that bad.
“I found a partner, mom,” Davina said to the lady in there. Davina looked like a miniature version of her.
“That’s great Davi! What’s your name?”
“Tina,” I said. “I’m visiting with the Taylor family,”
“Welcome to our church!” She said, hugging me. “Vanessa is out of town visiting with her mom today. I’ll pay you what Vanessa usually earns. Have fun girls!” She left the nursery. The girl played with the toy kitchen in the corner, and the boy played with the Legos.
“More people come for church than for Sunday school,” Davina said. “There’s usually six to eight toddlers in here,”
“Wow,” I said. The little girl came up to me, and handed me a book. “What’s your name?” I said.
“Becky,” she said. “Whas yos?”
“I’m Tina,” I said. I read her the book, and then she got down to play with another girl who had just arrived. Four more kids came after that, making seven toddlers in there. They were pretty good, and at the end, just like Davina’s mom had promised, I earned twenty five dollars. I stuck the cash in my small leather purse, and we headed outside to the car.
“Our youth group has a big party every three or four weeks,” Erin said. “Plus the monthly youth rally.”
“Next weekend a Christian Camp in California is hosting a fall retreat for teens. You should come with us!” Tucker said.
“What’s a youth rally?” I asked.
“It’s when a bunch of youth groups from churches all over the area get together for games, food, sports, and preaching,” Elsa said. “There’s a big youth retreat at a camp in California, which is basically a youth rally where youth groups from all over the nation go to hear great preaching and have fun.”
“Cool! I would love to come! I’ll have to ask my mom though,” I said. I got in the back seat next to Erin.
“Don’t worry,” Elsa said. “The church covers everything, you just have to bring the fifty dollar fee, and any money you want for the snack shop and coffee shop.”
Fifty dollars! That’s twice as much as I earned today in the nursery. Mom wouldn’t give me twenty five dollars. She would never let me use my cheerleader money, she was already paying for most of the uniform.
“What’s wrong, Tina?” Erin said as we drove down the country road toward my house.
“I don’t know if I can go. My mom can’t give me twenty five dollars, and I don’t have very much money either,”
“Maybe you could ask God to give you some money,” Vera said.
“She’s right,” Elsa said. “Someplace in Psalm 37 it says that he will give you the desires of your heart.”
I thought about this on the way home. When I got home, I thanked the Taylors, and headed inside. I noticed the “For sale” sign on our lawn.
“Mom, I’m home,” I yelled.
“Great sweetheart! How was it?” Mom asked. I went into the great room, where she was sitting on the couch. I sat beside her.
“Actually, it was pretty fun. I worked in the nursery.” I answered. “You know mom, this religious stuff is starting to grow on me. Maybe I’ll even become a Christian like you someday,” I thought mom was holding back a smile, but I couldn’t be sure. “The Taylor’s told me about a fall retreat in California that they’re youth group is going to next week, and they invited me.”
“Of course you can go Tina. You deserve a break,”
“But there is a fifty dollar fee,” I said.
“Oh, now that could be a problem.”
“Yeah. I earned twenty five dollars in the nursery, and I figured if I worked in there again I could earn the rest. But another girl usually works in there, and she was just out of town today.”
“What about babysitting the Peters’ kids? You earned a full twenty dollars last time you did that. All you would need is five dollars.”
“But mom, those boys are brats. And I mean it. They totally destroyed their playroom that day. And they got mad when I wouldn’t let them color on the walls. They told Mrs. Peter that I was a bad babysitter.”
“You could do housework for Grandma,”
“I suppose. But she always works me hard and only pays me like five dollars.”
“I’m sorry sweetie, but you’ll have to come up with some money on your own. I need to make a phone call, so you’re going to have to skedaddle until I’m done,” I nodded, and went upstairs. Why couldn’t we be as wealthy as Scarlett? Or Rebecca? Why did the mean girls always get to be popular and have everything they want? It just wasn’t fair. Suddenly, I had an idea. I ran into my room and searched through my disorganized desk. Not there. I searched my bookshelf and my closet, and I finally found it hidden under my bed. I brushed the dust off it, and opened it. The Bible’s pages crinkled and the cover was worn, but I could still read it. I hadn’t read the Bible in months. I turned to Psalm 37, the chapter Elsa had mentioned, and started reading.
1 Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.
2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.
I didn’t quite understand it, but it seemed like it was written for me. Don’t envy Scarlett and Rebecca. I read more.
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.
4 Delight thyself also in the LORD: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
There’s the verse that Elsa mentioned.
5 Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
But it says to “Commit thy way unto the Lord,” What does that mean? I believe in God. Does that mean I have to become a Christian? I felt so confused. I decided to call Erin, maybe she would be able to help.
“Hey Tina, what’s up?”
“Erin, I need help,” I said.
“What is it?”
“I was reading the chapter that Elsa mentioned, and I don’t understand it. It says to “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart,” but I don’t know what that means.”
“It means that you have to believe in Jesus,”
“I believe that Jesus is real,”
“No, I mean… can I come over?”
“You know the way?”
“I have a GPS on my phone. Besides you’re just outside of town.”
“See you in fifteen minutes,”
Fifteen minutes later, Erin and I were sitting on the front porch.
“You can’t just believe in God. Lots of people believe in God. You have to accept Him as your Savior.”
“Jesus died for us. Three days later, he rose again, defeating death. He was perfect, yet he died in our place, so that we can live forever with Him.”
“So we’re all Christians and we just don’t know it?”
“No. We have to accept Him. I can go down the street and buy you a coke, but it’s not yours until you take it. You see?”
“I think so,”
“And after we get saved, we have to give live for him. That’s what “Commit Thy way unto to Lord” means.”
“Wow,” I said.
“You can get saved right now if you want,” Erin said.
“Right now? Here? Don’t I have to get baptized or join a church or something?”
“No, those are ways to live for Jesus, but they don’t get you saved. Besides, you can’t truly live like a Christian unless you are saved,”
“Oh,” I said. It was all starting to make sense now. She handed me a small paper.
“This is a tract, it will explain it better than I can.” She said. She looked at her watch. “I really have to get home now. I really hope you read this, Tina.” She got on her electric scooter. “Have a good day,” She rode down the gravel driveway and onto the street. I read the paper, and it was all clear now. I needed Jesus. At first I just wanted to become a Christian so I could go to the Retreat. But now, I really wanted to get saved, to become a Christian. I went upstairs into my bedroom, and closed the door. I sat on one of the chairs, and prayed.
Monday, September 1, Wednesday, September 3, and Sunday, September 7
I walked into French class, and Scarlett gave me a sour look. I ignored her, and looked for a place to sit.
I turned around, and Davina was sitting near the front. I sat next to her.
“Thanks so much for helping in the nursery yesterday. You don’t know how much my mom and I appreciated it. Are you coming next Sunday?”
“I don’t know, probably,” I said. I considered telling her I became a Christian, but I decided that I wanted Erin to be the first to know.
“Cool! Vanessa might decide to stay in Seattle with her dad. I hope not, she’s my best friend,” Davina said. After French, I went to Math, where I met Erin at the door.
“Hey, Erin,” I said.
“I know, you probably think I’m stupid and you don’t want to be my friend anymore,” she said.
“No! That’s not it at all! I read the paper! And I’m a Christian now!”
She stared at me. “No way! Really?”
“Yea! That’s great! Are you going to come to church again?”
“Probably,” I said.
Rebecca came up to us.
“I see you’ve found a new best friend already,” she said. “I’m surprised she’s even talking to you after what you did to Scarlett.” Rebecca went into the classroom snickering.
“What?” Erin looked at me. I told her the story of Scarlett asking me to trip Rosalina.
“Oh, that’s why she’s being mean to you?”
“Rebecca never really liked me anyway,” I said.
“Do you consider me your best friend?”
“I guess.” We went inside the classroom.
Erin passed me a note. Have you figured out if you can come to the teen retreat yet? It said.
I wrote back, No, but I am thinking or some ways to earn some money. Do you have any ideas?
Our neighbor has a Siberian husky, and he needs someone to watch it for the week for him. I could recommend you.
You’d do that? Thx!
When I got home that day, I waited for my phone to ring. Finally, it did.
“Hey Erin! What did he say?”
“He already hired someone else.”
“Do you want to come to youth group with us on Wednesday?”
“There’s another service on Wednesday too? Twice on Sunday and now Wednesday?”
“Yeah. The adults have a Bible study in the auditorium, the teens have youth group, and the little kids watch a video. Want to come? We can pick you up.”
“Yes, that’s great! Thanks! What time?”
“It starts at seven, so we’ll pick you up at six forty five. Is that all right?”
“Yes, what do I wear?”
“Just something casual.”
“Oh, and your little brother can come if there is nobody to watch him,”
“I gotta do my homework. Have a good day, Tina!”
“You too! Bye!” I clicked the phone off and slid it into my pocket. I poured the macaroni noodles into the boiling water on the stove. Mom got home at seven, just like every other night, and I dished out the macaroni and cheese. During dinner, I told mom that I had become a Christian yesterday.
“Oh, Tina,” Mom said as she leaned over and gave me a hug. “I have been praying for you for the last four months. You don’t know how happy this makes me.”
“Erin invited me and J.D. to church on Wednesday,” I said.
“She did? That’s so nice of her parents to be willing to drive you two to church. I wish I could go. Oh why do I have to work on Sundays?” Mom and I loaded the dishwasher while J.D. wiped off the counters.
“Did you say that Erin has a brother who’s my age?” J.D. asked as we went into the great room to watch a movie.
“Yeah, Zack. He’s seven like you. Erin said that your class watches a video and then has cookies and juice, and a coloring page.”
“Cool!” J.D. said as he looked through the movies on the TV stand. He found one. “Can we watch Finding Nemo?” he said, holding it up.
“Oh, again? You’ve watched that like every day for the past two weeks.” I said.
“Well, anything’s better than those horse documentaries that you like,”
“Those are educational and interesting,” I said.
“How about Star Wars?”
“Sure,” Mom said.
“I guess,” I said. We put the movie in and sat next to mom on the couch. I remembered when I was little I had this plastic light-up sword and I would go outside and pretend to be a Jedi fighting storm troopers.
When the movie was done, I went upstairs and checked my phone. I had one message from Davina, telling me to call her back.
“Hi, Davina!” I said when I answered.
“Hey Tina, I was calling to say that Vanessa decided to stay in Seattle.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said.
“Yeah. She was my best friend. I need a new partner for the nursery, too. You were great yesterday, so I was wondering if you would like to be my partner. You have to help in the nursery every Sunday, every other month. You’ll get payed twenty five dollars every week. Want to?”
Twenty five dollars! If I did it, I would have enough money for the retreat! “Sure! I’ll do it!” I said.
“Great! I’ll tell my mom. Thanks, Tina!”
“Your welcome, Davina.” We chatted for a few minutes, and then I said,
“Hey Davina, I got to get to bed now,”
“Oh yeah, It’s almost ten thirty. I should probably get to bed too. See ya tomorrow Tina!”
“Bye,” I clicked the phone off and climbed into bed.
On Wednesday night, J.D. and I walked into the church. Zack led him to the Sunday school room, and I went downstairs with Elsa and Erin. Elsa ran toward Vera, who was in line for the refreshments, while I stood back with Erin and Davina.
“Hey, Erin,” Tucker said. He and two other boys walked toward us.
“Come on Tuck, can’t you and your friends leave us girls alone for five minutes?” Erin said.
“This is Derek, my brother,” Davina said, pointing to the boy with dark hair.
“And this is Stephen,” Tucker said, pointing to the blonde dude. Erin blushed when Stephen looked at her. I’ll have to ask her about that later, I thought.
“You three never leave us alone, do you?” Erin said.
“Hey we were just coming over to ask you girls if you wanted to play foosball,” Derek said.
“Alright,” Davina said. We went to the foosball tables. It was kind of cramped have three on each side, but it was still fun. Thanks to Davina’s genius defensive strategy, we won, and Mr. Grayson told everyone to sit down. We sat at a table in the middle of the room, and after some fun upbeat songs and a game, Mr. Grayson began the lesson.
“Many of you are true born again Christians,” He began. “You accepted Jesus as your Savior. But, many of you are not living the way you should. You might still listen to the wrong kind of music, or wear the wrong kind of clothes.” I looked down at my tight skinny jeans. “In order to live for Jesus, you have to get rid of worldly influences in your lives. We are going to separate the girls and the boys for this lesson. The girls will stay here, and my wife will teach you, and I want the boys to follow me upstairs into the fellowship hall,” Once the boys left, a lady stepped up to the microphone.
The lesson was good, and for once I actually listened. I knew that God wanted me to get rid of my immodest clothes, but part of me wanted to keep them. At the end, as we filled out the study questions page, I had decided that I had to clean out my closet, and get rid of everything that was immodest.
When I got home, I thanked Erin’s family for taking us to church, and I ran upstairs. J.D. seemed to have fun, as he ran into the kitchen to tell mom every detail of his lesson. I looked at the closet, and I pulled out all of my dresses that were too short, including the pink one that I had worn to the first day of school. It was my favorite dress, but I knew it had to go. I got rid of my shorts and skinny jeans, as well as some tank tops and tight shirts. I carried my box downstairs, got a sharpie, and wrote “Goodwill donations” on it. I was about to carry it to the garage, when mom stopped me.
“What are you doing Tina?” She said, looking at the big box of clothes.
“The lesson was on getting rid of things in your life that aren’t pleasing to God,” I said. “So I am getting rid of all my clothes that you don’t like. I hope that’s okay,” I said, balancing the box on my knee.
“That’s great Tina. But that’s at least half of your clothes, including some new ones you bought for school. You do realize that I won’t be able to take you shopping for a while, right?”
“I understand, mom. It’s okay,” I put the box on a shelf in the garage, then went back inside. I went upstairs, and cartwheeled down the narrow hallway, into my bedroom.
On Sunday I went to church with the Taylors again. I enjoyed working in the nursery, and I earned my other twenty five dollars. I left the nursery and went into the auditorium to look for Erin.
“I can go to the retreat!” I said. “I earned enough money in the nursery!”
“That’s great!” Erin said. “Mom says it’s time to go home,” I followed her out to the car, and I sat next to her.
“Where’s Vera?” I asked Elsa.
“She’s sick,” Elsa said. “I hope she gets better in time for the retreat,”
“Hey Tina, I grabbed a registration form for you,” Erin said, handing me three papers stapled together.
“Thanks,” I said.
“We’re taking the church bus,” Elsa said, “It’s a sixteen hour drive, so everyone has to be at the church by six forty five in the morning on Thursday, so we can leave by seven.”
“Ok,” I said. When we got home, Erin and I ran inside. I found a note on the coffee table.
I took J.D. to soccer practice. Be back in a couple hours. Feel free to make yourselves some lunch.
“Mom took J.D. To soccer practice,” I said. “Want something to eat?”
“Sure,” she said. We each made ourselves some ramen noodles, and then we went upstairs to work on our homework. Neither of us had much, because we had finished most of it on Saturday.
Once we finished, I asked her, “Hey, Erin, want to ride my horses?”
“Can I?!” she said. “Of course! I’ve only ridden a few times, though.”
“That’s okay, you can ride Serenity. She’s gentle and can tell if a rider is experienced or not.” I gave her a pair of jeans and a shirt, since she was wearing a dress.
“I think these are too big for me,” she said.
“Oh yeah, sorry,” I said. She was only 4’11”, but I was almost 5’6”. Mom was just a little taller than I was, and dad was 6’3”. Mom had said that since I looked like my dad, except for my brown hair, (Dad had blonde) I would probably end up being taller than her. I looked through my shelf in the closet for a pair of jeans that would fit Erin, and then I gave her a long sleeved blue and white plaid shirt that I had worn a few years ago. She went into the hall bathroom, and I changed into my jeans, a park pink shirt with buttons, and my riding boots. I pulled out a hat, and some riding boots.
Erin came into my room, and I handed her the boots.
“It’s embarrassing that I wear clothes that are too small on you,” she said as she pulled the boot onto her foot. “And my shoes are the same size as yours,”
“Well, I have small feet.” I said. “I wish I was your size,” I said. “Everyone always mistakes me for being in high school.”
“I wish I looked like you,” she said as we went out to the barn. I stared at the disgusting pool, filled with algae and leaves. We hadn’t cleaned the pool since dad left, and it was getting pretty bad.
“Why do you say that?” I asked when we reached the barn.
“Well, you’re so gorgeous, even in your casual clothes. I’m just plain Jane.”
“I’m not gorgeous,” I said as I approached my horses, Serenity and Dustbuster. They were my favorite horses. I led them into the corral, where I groomed them and put the saddles on them. Once the saddles and bridles were in place, I helped Erin mount.
“Sit up straight,” I told her. “Now squeeze her sides with your legs.” Serenity went into a walk. “Great job Erin!” I said. We circled the corral a few times. “Ready to go out into the field?” I asked her.
“I guess so,” she said. I showed her how to do the trot, and told her to bounce up and down to the rhythm of the horses hooves. After riding for a while, we led them back to the corral, where we took the saddles off and let them and let them out into the field again.
Mr. and Mrs. Taylor picked Erin up for the evening service around five thirty. Mom declared we would go to.
“Really?” I said. “What about the house?” Sunday nights were mom’s official housework time.
“I’ll wait until tomorrow. I should at least try to go on Sunday nights since I can’t go in the mornings or on Wednesday.”
The church service was good, and mom seemed to like it. The pastor came to talk to us, and I went to talk with Erin.
“Hey, your mom came!” she said.
“Yep!” I said. We chatted for a while, and then we left.
Wednesday, September 10
At youth group on Wednesday, our lesson was on money. Mr. Grayson said that God gave us all the money we had, and if we trusted in Him, we would always have everything we need, and we should be content with that. We always had everything we need, but sometimes I looked at families like Erin’s, who had more money than us, and I felt a little jealous.
The last part really bothered me. He said that God said to give ten percent of everything we earn, as a tithe. But I have just enough to the retreat! Does God want me to give up the retreat? I thought. As they passed around the offering basket like every other night, I noticed a lot of kids giving money. I didn’t want to, but when I remembered that Mr. Grayson said we were stealing form God when we didn’t tithe, I gave ten percent of fifty dollars, five dollars. I felt good about it, but I also was worried. How am I going to earn five dollars before tomorrow morning? Mom would say that I need to be responsible and independent, but how could I get the money in less than twelve hours? Five dollars may not seem like a lot, but it was to us. I wasn’t sure if I could trust God or not.
Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of thy heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. I was surprised that I remembered the verses I had read last week. I wished I could trust God to give me the money, but it was hard.
After youth group that night, all the kids who were going to the retreat had a meeting with Mr. Grayson.
“Okay, everyone must bring the registration forms and fees tomorrow morning,” He said. “And any money you want for the Snack Shop. Here is the brochure for the retreat, it has a list of things to bring as well as the activities that they will be doing,” He handed all the kids a piece of paper. “Be sure to get some sleep tonight, it’ll be a long sixteen hour drive to California tomorrow.”
When I got home, I looked over the list.
Pillow and bedding
Swimsuit (Girls’ swimsuits must be one piece)
2-3 changes of clothes
2 nice outfits for evening chapel
There were a few more basic items, and I started packing. I couldn’t find any good towels, they were either used and hanging up in the bathroom or all torn up. I wasn’t about to bring any of those to the retreat. I remembered I had some towels in my old bathroom, but they needed washed. I slowly opened the door, and I was greeted by a gust of thick, musty air. I held my breath and looked under the sink, and sure enough, there were several good towels under there. I grabbed several, and was about to run downstairs to wash them, but I saw an envelope under the sink, with “Tina” written on it. I grabbed it, wondering who it could be from, and ran out of the yucky bathroom, closing the door behind me. I opened the dusty envelope, and it looked like it had been written several years ago. I pulled out a neatly folded paper, and read it.
If you are reading this, I am gone. I want you to know you are an awesome granddaughter, sweet and loving yet hardworking and responsible too. Your mother may not have told you this, but I am leaving the farm to you. When you turn eighteen the farm will be yours, the entire property and everything on it. I want you to take care of the animals, and fix up the house and the pool. Make your old grandpa proud, okay? Don’t worry, your mother promised to take good care of the farm until you are old enough to own it.
I’m leaving you some money too, enough for college I hope. I’m giving you some money now, too, use it however you want. I pray that you will use your life and this money to honor God. Get a college degree, to something good for this world. Promise you won’t get into drugs or smoking, like I did as a teenager, okay? I love you and I always will,
I reached inside the envelope, and pulled out several dollar bills. One hundred… two hundred… seven hundred dollars! I gasped and counted again, surely it couldn’t be this much. I read the letter again, slowly this time. The last part of the first paragraph caught my eye.
Your mother promised to take good care of the farm until you are old enough to own it.
Anger boiled inside of me. Not only did she not tell me Grandpa left the farm to me, but she tried to sell it! I was really, really mad at mom. I stormed downstairs into the great room, where she was paying bills.
“Why didn’t you tell me Grandpa left the farm to me and not Dad?!” I said.
“What do you mean, Tina?” Mom said. I gave her the letter.
“See! He says right there that you promised to take good care of the farm until I was eighteen. And now you are trying to sell it! How could you do that!?” I turned my back toward her.
“That was last year before your father left. Things are different now. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think you needed to know. I have to sell the farm, Tina, so we can afford to live,”
“But this is my farm! You were trying to sell my farm without my knowing it was mine!”
“Tina, there is nothing I can do. I need to be closer to town, for work and for school, and now I have decided that I will go to church on Sunday nights. It’ll be cheaper. Our life will be so much better living closer to people, in a town,”
“But mom, you’ve never liked living out in the country anyway. You are always saying how you wished you could live in a modern condo in a city. This is just your way of getting the life you want, and you are willing to lie to your own daughter to get it!” I through the letter on the ground and stomped upstairs, slamming the door behind me. I sat on the chair. How could she do this? It was bad enough that we had to move, but she didn’t even tell me the farm was mine? And did this have something to do with Dad leaving? Ugh! I was very upset.
Mom came in and sat on the chair beside me.
“You’re right, Tina. I should have told you Grandpa left you the farm,” she said.
“Does this have something to do with dad leaving?” I said. “Was he mad that Grandpa didn’t give him the farm? I knew you guys fought a lot,”
Mom sighed. “I wanted to sell the farm, Tina. From the very beginning, when your grandfather died, I wanted to. I think part of dad leaving was my fault. He didn’t want to sell it, but I always argued that if you never knew it was yours, it would be okay to sell it and then we could have a better life in town. Of course, then I became a Christian a few months later, which really mad him mad. You know your father was strongly anti-God. I told him we shouldn’t sell the farm and that he was right, but he was already planning on leaving. It didn’t help that he found his stupid ex-girlfriend on Facebook and they talked a lot. Maybe he planned it from the very beginning, I don’t know.” Her eyes got a little moist, and she looked down. She was right, it was her fault a little.
“But you are trying to sell the farm now,” I said.
“This time I prayed about it, Tina,” she said. “And I believe it was the right thing to do. But, I was wrong not to tell you, I’m sorry,”
“It’s okay Mom,” I said. “And I am sorry for yelling.”
Now that we forgave each other, she helped me finish packing. I showed her the money.
“Grandpa gave this to me,” I said, showing her the money,”
“He gave you all that?” she looked as surprised as I did when I found it.
“Yes!” I said. I stuck a couple twenties in my purse, and I added five dollars to the envelope with my fee in it.
“I hope you have a good time, tomorrow, Tina,” Mom said as I got into bed. She shut off the light and closed the door, and I fell asleep.
Thursday, September 11, through Monday, September 15
The next morning we arrived at the church bright and early. I said goodbye to J.D. and Mom, and then caught up with Erin and my other friends, Elsa, Vera, and Davina.
“Have you noticed that the four of us each have four letters in our names?” Erin said.
“Hey, you’re right!” Vera said. Vera was fun, but I felt bad for her. She lived in the worst neighborhood in town. At least I had a nice house, and I reminded myself to be thankful for having a nice house, even if we were downsizing in a few weeks or so.
The ride to the retreat was long, and I slept most of the way. When we finally arrived in California, in was eleven at night at all of us kids were pretty cranky. We stayed in a hotel for one night, and then after breakfast we headed to the camp. It was nice, the cabins were air conditioned, and there were lots of kids there.
The cabins were named after the Fruit of the Spirit, and we were assigned to cabin Patience. It had a big dining room with two couches and a TV in a corner, next to the fireplace, along with a kitchen. The kitchen was just for when some rented the cabin for their event, the camp itself was putting on the retreat. On each side there were two rooms with five or so bunk beds each, each room with its own bathroom. One side was for the girls, and the two rooms on the other side were for the boys. It was around seventy five degrees outside, much warmer than it was in Montana at this time.
“Isn’t it great that each church gets its own cabin?” Davina said as she put her suitcase on the bottom bunk.
“Yeah, unless you are a small church, then you share a cabin.” Elsa said. “I like having a big church,”
“Yeah, I think we have one of the biggest youth groups here,” Vera said.
“Elsa!” Erin said, running into the room. “The youth group from our old church in Boston is here! They’re in Cabin Joy!”
“Cool!” Elsa said. “Is you-know-who here too?”
“Of course,” Erin said, giggling. Elsa grabbed her makeup bag and headed into the bathroom.
“Who’s ‘you-know-who’?” I asked.
“A boy from our old church in Boston, Jared,” Erin said.
“Oh!” Vera said. We giggled as Elsa came out of the bathroom, with every perfect hair in place and her makeup just right. She grabbed her purse and headed outside. We all followed, except Davina, who stayed in the cabin with her mother.
Erin introduced us to her old best friends.
“This is Chrystal and Holly,” she said. Chrystal had blue eyes and brown curls, and was my height. Holly was a few inches shorter than me, and had blonde hair, hazel eyes, and wore glasses. They didn’t look bad on her, though. They made her look more sophisticated and older.
I felt a little awkward around them. They chatted and talked with Erin, and I just listened. I finally made some new friends at my new school, and here I was all lonely again. I know Erin and I have only been best friends for like three weeks, but still, I was a little upset at the fact Erin would probably spend more time with her old friends than me. But I could understand that, she didn’t get to see them very often anymore.
She introduced three other girls, Veronica, Lucett, and Madison. As soon as everyone arrived at the camp and got acquainted with the other kids, the youth pastor of the church hosting the retreat called everyone into the chapel building. He told everyone the activities that we would be doing over the weekend, and they included swimming, a zip line, and sports. He said they paid a lot of money to rent the horse stables as well. He called all the youth pastors and other adults that helped and were helping put the retreat on, and we clapped for them. It was lunch time by then, so we went to the large dining hall, where we had taco salad and ice cream. Then it was time for the activities. Cabins Love, Joy, Peace, and Patience all headed for the stables, while the others had sports and games.
We had riding tested, where we would circle the corral and do a walk, trot, and canter, and show we could ride and control a horse. Some kids had never ridden, and had to be taught, most had ridden before but weren’t very experienced, but since I owned horses, I passed the test without any mistakes.
“Tina Swenson, you are on the advanced group,” the lady said. I led my horse, Star, next to the advanced group. I silently prayed that Erin would be on this group too, since she had ridden a lot at my house. Since I had to watch J.D. every day except Friday, we always went to my house to do homework, and then we would ride my horses. She had a natural talent for riding, too.
Fortunately, she made it onto my group, but unfortunately, her other friends didn’t. Neither did Tucker or Elsa, who hadn’t ever ridden before. The advanced group mounted their horses and we headed out for our ride, while the beginners got a short lesson.
“It’s pretty embarrassing for Tucker to have his little sister and her best friend be better than him at something,” Erin said. “Of course, I wouldn’t be on this group if it wasn’t for you teaching me to ride,”
“It’s so great I could come to the retreat,” I said. I told her about Wednesday night and the letter.
“Wow, he left you seven hundred dollars? What are you going to do with it?”
“Probably save it,” I said. “I might go on a small shopping trip next weekend, but other than that I don’t really know what to do with it yet,”
Erin and I talked a little as we rode through the woods, but we mostly just enjoyed the scenery. The trail split, one way wound around a tree and back toward the stables, probably the way the beginners group would take, but we continued on the other path.
The horse ride was fun, and soon it was time for the other cabins to ride. As we went back to the cabins, we talked about what to do next.
“We could go swimming,” Erin suggested. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like doing the race, do you guys?” We agreed with her, it was really hot outside, too hot to run. Well maybe not to some people, like that church from Arizona, but to us it was hot outside. We changed into our swimsuits and headed to the pool. It was pretty big, and no one was there except the lifeguard. I did a flip off the diving board and dove in, the cool water felt good rushing past my face. I reached the top and took a big breathe, then swam toward the edge of the pool and sat down on the ladder.
Elsa tanned herself on the pool chair. Some other kids joined us, and it was fun. Erin and I got bored after a while, so we dried off in the sun and headed to the cabin to get ready for the evening service. After showering and dressing, we had dinner and then we went to the chapel. It was around nine when it ended, and the snack shop opened before bedtime.
Erin and I got in line. I bought a coke and some Doritos, and she bought a coke, ice cream cone, and nachos.
“How do you eat so much yet stay so small?” I asked her. “I’d think you’d be full after scarfing two hamburgers, three servings of fries, and two of those huge cookies down at supper,”
She shrugged. “I don’t know.” she dipped a nacho into the salsa. I grabbed a large nacho and got a huge glob of cheese on it, then ate it.
“Hey!” she said, holding her snacks away from me. “A girl’s gotta eat you know,”
We went into the cabin, where several boys were watching a movie and a group of adults played a board game at one of the tables. Davina, Elsa, Vera, Erin and I sat down to eat our snacks. The bird clock on the wall chirped ten times, ten o’clock. We ran into the bedroom and pulled out our cell phones, since we were only allowed to use them past ten. Mom had left me a message.
“Hey Tina, how are you? Hope you’re having fun. Call when you can, I have some news for you,” I dialed her numbered and waited for her to answer.
“Hey Mom, it’s me,”
“Oh, hello Tina. I have good news and bad news, what do you want first?”
“Okay,” she paused. “Aunt Kate and Cousin Gabriella are coming to stay for your birthday. I tried to tell them you just wanted a sleepover with your friends, but they insisted.” Great. Aunt Kate was Dad’s sister, who became a model as a teenager. She married this rich dude and moved to New York when she was nineteen. She was tall and blonde and beautiful. Her daughter, Gabriella, who was one year older than me, and looked just like her. And was just as rude. No wonder I was Grandpa’s favorite granddaughter.
“Anyway, the good news is that I got a promotion,” she said. I gasped.
“Really?!” I said. My friends looked at me, curious. I put my finger on my mouth.
“Yes, Tina!” Mom squealed. I haven’t seen her this happy in forever. “I have decided to take the house off the market,” she said.
“You mean we don’t have to sell the farm?”
“Yes, Tina, we can keep your farm.” She said. We talked for a few minutes, then I hung up.
“What?” Erin asked. I told her the news.
“That’s great!” Erin gave me a hug. We changed into our pajamas and climbed into bed. Lights out was at ten thirty, but we were allowed to stay on our phones. Erin and the other girls were on Facebook, but I wasn’t. Social networks are stupid in my opinion. I might as well go around announcing what I’m doing at random times. I don’t like to be stuck looking at my phone every five minutes.
Instead I tried texting dad. He never answers them, but instead of saying, “When are you coming back?” I said, “How are you, dad? I’m praying for you,” Which was true, I was. I also texted, “I love you.” I still loved dad, and I had forgave him, but just because I loved him it didn’t mean I had to like him. I clicked it off and turned over, and fell asleep.
I woke up to the sun streaming in through the windows. I quickly dressed in the bathroom, and looked at the clock that said seven thirty. The other girls in our room were getting dressed too, all except for Erin. She was still sleeping. I decided to have some fun, so all the girls got their pillows. I whispered,
“One…two…three!” And we all hit her with the pillows.
“You guys,” she said, laughing.
“That’s what happens to those who sleep in,” I said. We all went outside, where three kids were trying to start a game of nine square. Erin, Vera and I joined in, as well as some other kids. I managed to make it to the middle, but Elsa called us for breakfast and caught me off guard. We Pineville girls followed her into the dining hall, and after breakfast, headed to the pool.
“Are those kids still playing?” Erin said. “They’re going to miss all the food,” We had the pool to ourselves most of the morning, but then it was time for the morning service. We dried off and put our clothes on top of our swimsuits, since we would probably swim after lunch, and we headed toward the chapel. Surprisingly, the lesson was on Psalm 37, the chapter that I read before I got saved. The speaker was right, I delighted myself in the Lord, and he gave me the desires of my heart. I wanted to keep the farm, and I did.
After lunch we played some games and sports, and swam some more before showering off and heading to the evening service. It was basically the same thing on Sunday, and on Monday morning, Mr. Grayson and Ms. Sherman, Davina’s mom, surprisingly got the entire youth group ready to go by six thirty. We got home at midnight, and I was really happy to sleep in my own bed.
Tuesday, September 16
At school on Thursday, I was a little tired, but happy as well. I got to keep my farm! Erin came over, as usual, to do homework. But unfortunately, so did J.D.’s pesky friend, Josh. It must be weird to him, (since J.D. stands for Joshua David) to have a friend named Josh.
They wanted to play video games, but I kept telling them that they needed to finish their homework. Once they finished, I let them play, mainly so Erin and I could discuss my birthday party plans.
“I want to have a sleepover,” I said. “With you and Elsa, Davina, and Vera.”
“Good idea,” she said, writing something down in her notebook. “What’s the theme?”
“I don’t know.” I said. “I’m not good at planning stuff. What do you think?”
“We could have an outdoor adventure theme,” Erin suggested. “We could have a scavenger hunt, and maybe even ride your horses. Didn’t you say you Aunt and cousin are coming to visit?”
“Yeah, on Friday.” I said. “They’re staying for three weeks. I don’t think Gabriella would like an outdoor themed party.”
“What about a Princess party?” She suggested.
“Too little-girlish,” I said. Suddenly, I had an idea. “What about a spa and fashion birthday party?” I asked. Scarlett had one for her twelve birthday, and it was a big hit. Of course, we couldn’t have a big expensive one with every girl in the school like she did, but it was a great idea to do with my closest friends. “We could buy some nail polish and makeup and spa supplies, and ask everyone to bring some great outfits. We get our nails done and then we have a fashion show!”
“What about Vera?” Elsa said. Oh, right, Vera was a tomboy, and never wore dresses. I mean, she always wore nice pants and a shirt to church, but never a dress. Elsa said Vera only owned two skirts.
“What about a tea party?” I said. “We have a spa and salon, and then a formal tea party. That way Vera wouldn’t have to wear a dress,”
“Good idea!” Erin said. “We could have small sandwiches and fruit, crackers with toppings, and cupcakes and small candies and cookies…”
“Whoa,” I said. “How about I just let you plan the menu, and then I’ll buy everything,”
“Okay,” Erin said, laughing.
“You and your food,”
Erin and I had everything planned by the time mom got home. She popped in a frozen pizza.
“Erin, it’s pretty late, don’t you think you should be getting home?” Mom said as she set the timer on the stove. Erin looked at the big window, and the light was disappearing.
“Oh, yeah, I’m not allowed to be out after dark,” she said. She grabbed her backpack and purse, making sure she had everything in them. “See ya tomorrow, Tina!” She unplugged her electric scooter, took it outside, and rode off toward her house.
“She’s a lot nicer than Scarlett,” Mom said. “I’m glad you’ve made a real friend, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” I said, looking over our plans. “All Scarlett really cares about is herself, and I found myself doing everything exactly the way she wanted.” I handed mom the notebook. “What do you think of our plans?” She read them carefully.
“This is a great idea, Tina, but I’m not sure if I can afford all this,”
“I was going to pay for it. Remember, the money that Grandpa gave me?”
“Oh, yes, I remember. I’m thinking God planned for you to find it now, so you could have a nice thirteenth birthday party. Just think, if you would have found it when he died a year and a half ago, you probably would have spent it all at once.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” I said. I had this bad habit of spending all my money at once instead of saving it.
After dinner, I cleaned the kitchen in record time. I was excited for my birthday. It would be perfect, except for the fact that my nosy aunt and cousin were visiting. It was weird, since they would probably come up for the holidays, even when dad left. Aunt Kate got along with Mom pretty well, and I guess they liked getting away from the bustling city.
Friday, September 19, through Tuesday, September 23
On Friday, we drove to Kalispell to pick up Aunt Kate and Gabriella. They had five large suit cases each, as well as carry-ons. J.D. was squished in the back seat of our suburban, between suitcases. Gabriella was my height, and had shoulder length blonde hair and a tan, with perfect makeup and designer clothes. She was texting on her phone the entire way home.
When we got home, I led her upstairs to my room, where she would be sleeping. Aunt Kate and mom helped her with the air mattress, and once everything was ready, we went downstairs for some homemade coffeecake mom made.
“So, what’s up Gabby?”
She stared at me. “I don’t go by Gabby anymore Tina. It’s too immature. I prefer to be called Gabriella,”
“Oh, sorry,” I said.
“So, Tina, any good places to shop here?” Gabriella asked me. Her blue nails curled around her sparkly pink phone as she read her text messages.
“Yeah, they just finished building a new mall. Want to go shopping tomorrow?” I said, taking another sip of my black coffee. I preferred it unsweetened, especially when eating a desert with it.
“Yes, thank you Tina,” she said, still texting. I was proud of the fact I wasn’t a phone addict like her. Maybe that’s because I wasn’t a teenager yet.
I woke up at five thirty on Saturday, long before Gabriella, and finished up my chores before breakfast. Gabriella was in her pajamas, yawning, and looked like she was half asleep still. But, at least she wasn’t texting.
After a breakfast of my mom’s famous French toast, Gabriella took a shower and got dressed. She had her designer purse on the couch next to her, and I came downstairs wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
“You’re wearing that?” She said, looking at my outfit.
“Um, yeah,” I said. “Ready to go?”
“Sure thing,” she said. “I’m going shopping with Tina, mom!”
“Ok Gabriella, have fun.”
When we reached town five minutes later, Gabriella said,
“I don’t see any taxis,” she said.
“Of course not,” I said. “It’s a small town. We’re walking,”
She looked at me like I was insane, but followed silently. When we reached the mall, we headed for the food court and bought lemonades.
“My feet are killing me,” she said.
“Then why did you wear those uncomfortable boots?”
“Because they look absolutely amazing with this outfit,” she said.
“Function over fashion is what Mom always says,” I said, finishing my lemonade. We threw our cups in the trash and headed into Macy’s. Suddenly, I saw some familiar faces.
“Erin! Elsa!” I said. They waved, and came over.
“Gabriella, this is my best friend, Erin, and her twin Elsa. Guys, this is my cousin from New York City, Gabriella.”
“Hello, Gabriella,” Elsa said, shaking her hand. “Love your outfit,”
“Thank you,” my cousin said. “I designed the clothes myself.”
“Cool, you design clothes?” Erin said.
“Yes, I do.” Gabriella said. “I want to be a model and fashion designer when I am older.”
“I love fashion,” Elsa said.
“You have good tastes,” Gabriella said. “Would you like to see pictures of my bedroom?”
“Sure!” Erin and Elsa said together. Gabriella enjoyed showing them her humongous closet and bedroom. Honestly, I envied her a little, she lived in a penthouse for Pete’s sake! But I preferred the quiet country and my horses over bustling New York City. I’d like to visit it one day, though.
“I’m super rich,” she said, proudly.
“Yeah, you are,” Elsa said. I can tell Gabriella’s bragging was getting on her nerves.
“Come on Gabriella,” I said. She reluctantly followed, and Erin and Elsa went the other direction.
“But I wanted to show them the pool,” she said.
“Sorry,” I said. We headed home around noon.
Once we got home, she immediately took her boots off and sat down on the couch. Mom was making lunch, and I got bored, so I convinced Gabriella to see our horses. She followed me outside.
“Want to ride?” I said.
“Um…” she hesitated. “Okay,” I led her back inside, and once I got her to change into riding clothes, we went back outside.
I approached my horses Serenity and Mitch, and groomed and saddled them. She watched carefully, and wasn’t texting. She looked scared as I helped her onto Serenity.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “She’s gentle, and can tell if someone is experienced or not.”
“I’ve never ridden before,” she said. I mounted Mitch and showed her how to hold the reins. We went into a walk, and circled the corral.
“I’m doing it!” she squealed. Serenity neighed and shook her head.
“Don’t yell or jerk, you might spook her. Just stay relaxed. Sit up straight, and bend your knees a little. You’re doing it!”
“Can I gallop?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “When galloping, it is hard to control the horse and it puts strain on him. Only experienced riders should gallop. I rarely do it myself.”
“Oh,” I showed her how to do the trot and canter, just like I had showed Erin. We went out into the field, but stayed close to the barn. Mom called us into lunch, and I took the saddles off and let them into the field.
“I don’t understand how you country girls eat so much,” Aunt Kate said.
“Well, unlike some people, we work for a living.” I said. “And work makes us hungry,”
After dinner, we played monopoly.
“I’m sure you wondered why we’re visiting so soon,” Aunt Kate said and she moved her piece.
“Yes, it does seem a little strange, since you are coming this Christmas,” I said.
“Well, since Gabriella took modeling lessons when she turned thirteen, and has now on her way to becoming a professional model like myself, I wanted Tina to have the same opportunity as Gabriella,”
“What are you saying?” I asked.
“I’m saying that for part of your birthday present, I am paying for you to take modeling lessons. You’re certainly tall enough, and pretty too,” She said. “With a few tweaks, you could be a professional model just like I am.”
I stared at her. Was she serious? Me, a model? I admit I am tall for my age, but a model? “I’m not pretty,” I said.
“You are, Tina.” Aunt Kate said. “You just don’t know how to show it. You have the perfect nose. If you knew how to use makeup and pluck your eyebrows and maybe even grew your hair out, you’d be just as beautiful as Gabriella.”
“But short hair is so much easier to handle,” I said. “Which is why I like it, it makes it easier to do my chores around the farm,”
“But if you became a model, you wouldn’t have chores,” Gabriella said. “You’d be rich, like us. You’d have maids and a housekeeper, and a huge bedroom and closet like me. Don’t you think that is better than living on this dirty farm?”
I nodded, it did sound nice.
“Tina, do you know what I’m offering you?” Aunt Kate asked. I shook my head. “I’m offering to take you back with me to New York for a while. To get professional modeling lessons, and give you everything you need to become a model. You’d be almost every girl’s dream, rich, beautiful, famous. I talked with your mother, and she said it was okay. You’d have everything you wanted, more even.”
I stared at her. Were they serious? I looked at Mom, and she nodded.
“What about school?” I asked.
“We’d homeschool you,” Aunt Kate said. “Like Gabriella. We invited you’re mother and brother for Christmas. You’d take your modeling lessons and make your decision, and they would take you home if you didn’t want to become a model.”
“And, what if I did?” I asked.
“Well, I’d become your guardian.” Aunt Kate said.
“Mom, do you agree to this? You’d let Aunt Kate become my guardian?”
“Only if you want to do this,” she said. “This is serious, Tina. This could determine what you do for the rest of your life. Think about this carefully. Promise me that you will?”
I nodded. I went to my room, shocked. I didn’t expect to be making a life decision this early. I loved my horses, but I’ve always wanted to visit a big city. What about Mom? She wouldn’t sell the farm, but could she keep it up? Would she have to hire someone, maybe sell the animals? What about J.D? I’d miss him, too, even if he was my little brother. My head hurt from all the pressure. What should I do? I was so confused.