Josh didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want his dad to pick his classes for him in front of his school counselor—he would rather Dad picked his nose instead. But he knew what was coming. It always came.
His dad stood a half a foot shorter than him, but carried himself like he was ten feet tall as he led Josh into the counselor’s office. “My son’s a new student. I’m here to get his class schedule.” He slapped a yellow form he’d gotten from the office onto the counselor’s desk. “I’m kind of in a hurry, so can I just tell you what he wants to take and you put it together for me?”
A hefty woman with big hair glanced at the yellow paper. She raised an eyebrow and peered over her glasses at Josh and his dad. “I guess I—”
“I’ll make this easy.” Dad pulled a Post-it Note from his pocket. “These are the classes he’ll want.” He stuck it to the yellow paper. “I wish I could stay and make sure this gets done right, but everything else took too stinkin’ long.” He turned to leave, and his eyes connected with Josh’s. “I suppose now that you’re in high school, you can handle the rest of this on your own without screwing up?”
“Yes, Dad,” Josh said through gritted teeth, preferring to have handled it all on his own.
“Well!” The big-haired lady took a deep breath as soon as the door shut behind Josh’s dad. “Let’s get your schedule put together and you to your classes before the day’s half gone.” She examined the Post-it Note and then her computer screen. “It appears that all of the business classes are full. Is there anything else you would like to take?”
Josh hesitated. The desire to make his own choices screamed louder than usual inside him. “Uh, debate?” It had been his haven last year when his uncoordinated feet—and his dad—had made him despise sports. Back in Missouri, all his friends took debate. Making the team here was essential to surviving this stupid move—the one that had ripped his family from their home and relocated them to upstate New York. He’d barely had a chance to say good-bye to his friends back in Springfield. A lot of good all that rushing had done—he had still missed his first week of ninth grade.
“Sorry, but debate is full too.” Her bottom lip poked out almost in a pout.
There was no way she felt even half as bad as Josh did. “Full? How the crap does a debate class get full?”
“It’s . . . well . . . the teacher is very selective. He handpicks his team. It isn’t open to new students.” She scrolled her screen to another spot. “How about woodshop? It’s available. You need a fun class. What do ya say?”
Dad doesn’t need to know. “Sure, why not?” Josh’s response almost felt liberating.
The feeling continued as he and the counselor put together the rest of his classes. With schedule in hand, he ventured out of her office. He wished the adrenaline rush had stayed as he plodded through the maze of halls to find his second-period class.
Josh scanned the last unfamiliar classroom for the day. Finally! Only one empty seat—the front row, off to one side, next to a strange-looking girl. Her desk appeared as if it had been scooted apart from the others. Or maybe the other students did the scooting away.
Her mousy brown hair grew from her head like it was angry, or at least never saw the likes of a decent brush.
Josh’s pontoon feet suddenly didn’t feel so large. Maybe he wouldn’t be the weirdest kid at this school after all.
“Ahem.” The teacher cleared his throat while his finger ran across an official-looking paper on his desk. “And you are . . .?”
“Josh Sawyer.” Josh thrust his torn schedule at the teacher, Mr. Pierce—he hoped. He’d already gone to the wrong class twice that day. “I’m new.”
Mr. Pierce glanced at the paper and stood up, striding toward the whiteboard. His appearance was not helped by the off-colored toupee on his head. Even through the baggy polyester pants he wore, Josh could see that his short, skinny legs were bowed like an old cowboy.
Where had they found this guy? The lunch lady reject list? A personal ad in Polyester Playboy? Josh choked down an overwhelming urge to laugh.
“Welcome to the class, Mr. Sawyer.” Mr. Pierce pointed to the empty desk and smiled. “Have a seat.” He jotted some stuff on the whiteboard.
Josh plopped down and leaned to one side so he could read the words being written with the squeaking marker. With Mr. Pierce still in the way, Josh’s eyes moved to the upper-left corner of the board.
Debate Club Meeting: Tuesday after school.
This teacher must also be the debate coach—his passport to fit in here! Good thing he didn’t laugh a second ago. He couldn’t let his big mouth blow it. He just had to get on the debate team.
Josh’s eyes grudgingly moved back across the board to the fresh green words Mr. Pierce had written.
Historical Literature Assignment: Team partner and book choice due today.
Great! How was he supposed to find a partner? He didn’t know anyone.
It was almost like Mr. Pierce could read his mind. “Mr. Sawyer, you might need a little help with this assignment, this being your first day here.” His voice sounded like a snake with a sinus condition. “Is there anyone who has not yet found a partner for this project?” He glanced out at the class.
Josh turned in his seat, hoping to see a hand or two in the air. Nothing. In desperation, he turned the other direction. One hand stuck up above the plain of heads.
It belonged to her.
“How fortunate,” Mr. Pierce said. “Ms. Smith, this time you have a partner for your project.”
Josh craned his neck to look at her. Despite the sunny September day, she wore a bulky orange sweater that engulfed her body. Her bright pink paisley stretch pants looked like a couple of party-prize pencils poking out of a pumpkin. That was a lot of P’s. I’m going crazy—I want out of this place.
She caught his glance. A pair of large, distorted pea-green eyes stared at him through the thick lenses of her glasses. Her thin lips formed half a smile.
“Now that you have a partner, Ms. Smith, you may come up and make a choice.” Mr. Pierce waved his hand across a small number of books standing upright on his desk. He straightened the flap of a book of intimidating size. “There aren’t many left, but I strongly recommend this one for you, Ms. Smith.” Clearing his throat, he then addressed the class. “Those of you who have not made your choice, hurry and come pick one.”
The girl seemed to hesitate, and then turned toward Josh.
He glanced at her.
It was almost like that simple act infused her with courage. She leaned slightly toward him. “Is that okay, if I pick one for us?”
He slouched down in his seat. “Uh . . . yeah,” he mumbled.
“Really?” She appeared off guard, like she was expecting him to say something else.
“Go ahead—choose it. I don’t really know what’s going on.”
“Okay.” Her eyes lit up.
“And do you go by anything other than Ms. Smith?” Josh asked.
“Oh . . . yeah. Uh, Ester. Not like the biblical name—without the H. It’s a chemical compound.”
“Uh . . . okay.” It’s not like Josh knew the proper spelling of Esther anyway—or cared. The room grew noisy. A few kids scurried to the front of the room and picked through the books, and Josh watched the selection dwindle.
“Quick, pick something,” he said. “Anything but that fat blue book the teacher tried to pawn off on you.”
Ester stood up and stepped over to Mr. Pierce’s desk. She grabbed the last thin book—a red one that had a cover similar to the lame biography of some ancient dude he’d had to read the year before. The thick blue one was all that remained, rejected like the beefy, clumsy kid at a neighborhood game of football.
“So you and Mr. Sawyer have chosen Daniel Boone.” Mr. Piece spoke with a hint of disappointment as he recorded her choice in his notebook.
Ester nodded and quickly sat down. She held up the red book for Josh to see, and he gave her a thumbs-up.
“Class!” Mr. Pierce yelled. “Let’s put a lid on the noise!” A blanket of silence enveloped the room. “That’s better.” He picked up the thick blue book and brushed its cover with his hand. “I know I counted correctly. Are you sure each pair has chosen a book?”
Josh heard a stir in the back of the room. He turned around to see a stocky, well-dressed kid fumbling through his books like he had lost something. His arm shot into the air. “Mr. Pierce.” He spoke without permission. “I told you yesterday that my partner and I wanted . . .” He leaned toward another kid who looked like he was dressed for his grandmother’s funeral, not a day at school. His fat hand covered only part of his mouth. “Hey, what was the name of the book the weird chick got?” he whispered.
Murmurs erupted around him.
“Yeah, Daniel Boone. That’s what we chose. Somehow we spaced it and didn’t come get the book from you.”
“Yes, you’re right, Tyler,” Mr. Pierce said, his lips forming a creepy smile. “Come up and take it from Ms. Smith. I’m sure she won’t mind.”
Josh heard the clomping of heavy footsteps behind him. A white hand with fingers the size of hot dogs pulled the book from Ester’s grasp.
“Hey, Sausage Fingers, I don’t know about her, but I mind,” Josh said so only Tyler could hear.
Tyler stared back at him with raised eyebrows and a fiendish grin. “Like I care?”
Josh looked over at Ester. She merely shrugged. Josh slouched down in his seat, wishing he had kept his mouth shut.
“Ahem.” Mr. Pierce walked over and leaned his bony butt against the front edge of his desk. “As every student at Claremont High knows, I am a fan of history. Although this is an English class, I have created a clever assignment that will bring these two wonderful subjects together, teaching you literature as well as the thrill of history. I have handpicked some biographical novels from my own library and wish for you to write a twenty-page essay on your chosen historical character. It is to be given as an oral report in class in one month. I have been gracious enough to allow you to work in pairs to make it easier.”
Josh raised his hand.
“Mr. Pierce.” Josh clenched his fist under the desk. Mr. Pierce had made this assignment anything but easy. “My partner and I chose Daniel Boone for our project. Sounds like Tyler did too. Does that mean we just have to scrounge up another copy of the book? Maybe at the library?”
“Certainly not, Mr. Sawyer,” Mr. Pierce cried out as if he had been asked to show his underwear. “Where’s the logic in that? I’m sure your fellow students would not want to hear two reports on the same person. They want to learn about as many different historical figures as they can.”
Yeah, right. Kids would want that about as much as they would want to have a tooth pulled—without anesthesia. Josh could use some anesthesia right about now.
“You and Ms. Smith will be privileged to report on this book.” Mr. Pierce picked up the blue book. “You should feel right at home with the author . . . with a name like Sawyer.”
Josh scrunched his eyebrows and stared at Mr. Pierce.
“This book was considered by Mark Twain himself to be his greatest work. Tom Sawyer was just for fun.”
“So the book is about Mark Twain—I mean, Samuel Clemens?” A spark of relief spread through Josh’s body. He’d read Huckleberry Finn at his last school and didn’t mind it. And maybe if he took on this book, he could score a few points with Mr. Pierce.
“Gracious, no,” Mr. Pierce said. His bulgy eyes rolled up in their sockets. “It’s about Joan of Arc.”
Joan of Arc! Josh felt like he would hurl. There went his chances of faking his way through this assignment. He didn’t know a thing about Joan of Arc—except that she was some French chick who got burned at the stake. And to top things off, he was stuck with a partner whose hair looked like it was burned at the stake.
Mr. Pierce handed the book to Josh and immediately jumped into the dreaded, dry subject of grammar. The moment the bell rang, Josh made a mad dash for the door. Sentence structure held as much interest for him as the newest colors of nail polish at Walmart. Add Mr. Pierce’s voice and the stupid assignment, and it was with great fortitude that he held back from jumping out of the third-story window for relief.
“Hold up.” Ester touched his elbow as he moved into the bustling hallway. “Oh, uh . . .” She ducked her head. “When do you want to get together to work on our project?”
That was the last thing Josh wanted to think about at the moment—only about getting home.
But why? It wasn’t his favorite place either. And what could he do there? The TV and his Xbox were still buried from the move. Even if he could play his favorite game, he didn’t have Xbox Live to connect to Missouri, and it wasn’t fun to play without friends. He had none here. Homework—he had plenty. But since when did he rush to do that? And as much as he hated to face the reality, he needed her help to do the assignment.
His lungs forced out a weary sigh. “How about right now?”
“Really?” Ester lifted her head, her face lighting up like a neon sign.
“I mean, we could just discuss it,” Josh said quickly. “Like, make a plan of action—not really work on it right now.”
“Oh, okay.” Ester’s face held its smile. “I don’t mind missing the bus.”
“Never mind,” Josh blurted out. “I don’t want you to do that.” He didn’t want to be stuck with her any longer than he had to be.
“Tell you what—walk with me to my bus, and we can brainstorm on the way,” Ester said.
“Uh . . .” Josh mumbled. Words refused to come.
“Do you need to stop at your locker?”
“No.” Josh rolled his eyes and followed Ester with sluggish steps. “I can’t remember where it is.”
Josh felt the gaze of curious faces looking at him. An uncomfortable knot tied itself in his gut. He needed friends—it was essential to survive in this school. Was hanging with her, even for a minute, a bad idea?
All day, elbows had collided with his ribs as he walked through the crowded halls. But now, the sea of T-shirts and blue jeans parted down the middle, compressing bodies against the painted brick walls. Following Ester, he glided through the boisterous crowd like an icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean. Josh searched the faces for explanation. No one even looked at Ester. Their actions were almost like dominos set in motion, moving because someone else did, but not consciously moving on their own. Weird. He fought a cold sweat.
“We could get my Uncle Reuben to help us,” Ester said as the split in the crowd ushered them out the front doors. “He’s a brilliant physics professor, and he knows everything that has anything to do with books.”
“I think we can do this assignment fine by ourselves.” Josh could just imagine what this Uncle Reuben might be like. “How big is that dumb book, anyway?”
She opened it and flipped to the back. “About six hundred pages.” Something like exhaustion, or maybe discouragement, showed in her expression. “I swear this is an AP book. That doesn’t surprise me,” she mumbled.
“What?” Josh felt sick. And why wasn’t she more upset, if that was really the case? “Okay, here’s the plan,” he said, just wanting this day to end. “I’ll read the first three hundred pages and report on them. You read the last three hundred and report on them. No need to get together again except to exchange the book. It’s simple, direct—like a good debate.”
“I suppose.” The bright green in her eyes faded a shade. Her voice became reserved. “And don’t worry about rushing to get the book to me.” She looked at the ground. “I’m sure I can borrow a copy from my uncle.”
He’d hurt her feelings—he was such a jerk. He hurried and changed the subject. “Hey, who is that Tyler kid, anyway? And why does he get called by his first name? That whole book thing stinks. I don’t get it!”
“There’s nothing to get.” Ester slowed her pace. The line of yellow school buses awaited in the distance. “Mr. Pierce uses your last name if he doesn’t know you—or doesn’t like you. Tyler has attained the high position of Mr. Pierce’s favorite. It wasn’t hard, I suppose. Some major sucking-up was all it took. It’s pretty much a requirement to get on the debate team.”
“Tyler’s on the debate team?” Josh felt a twinge of nausea churn his gut. Suddenly, his quest to approach Mr. Pierce about getting on the team became Mt. Everest, and he . . . he had no legs. Only big feet.
Josh stared at his huge shoes and sighed—he’d probably be just as clumsy at debate too. He turned to Ester. “What about getting a halfway decent grade in his class? Can you pull that off without sucking up?”
“It’s possible. Superior work seems to compensate.”
“So you’d rather study your guts out than suck up?”
“Yes. Especially in the case of Mr. Pierce. He’s a nihilistic chenopod. Oops, did I say that?” Ester’s pale face turned a dark shade of pink.
“Yeah, you did,” Josh replied, unsure what it meant—but it didn’t sound good. He liked it.
“Besides, I know my place. It’s at the bottom. Why do you think I dress this way?”
Clueless, Josh twisted his face.
“It’s easier to remain invisible than play their games.”
“Invisible?” Josh stifled a laugh. “Is that what you call walking through a crowd of people like Moses parting the Red Sea?”
“People think we’re weird, my family.”
Josh winced as they walked past bus after bus of wide-eyed kids, feeling like a specimen under a microscope.
“I tried to dispel the rumors when it first happened—the little incident with Uncle Reuben’s anti-adiabatic time-permutation machine—but to no avail.” Ester paused several feet away from her bus door. “So I painted the picture they craved and they left me alone. That was better than the ridicule.”
Josh didn’t want to ask. He didn’t want to know. “Uh . . . so, I’ll get started on my three hundred, and you do the same. We’ll pull this stupid assignment together. Okay?”
The buses were filling up. One had already left. He didn’t want Ester to miss her bus—and it wasn’t because he felt compassionate. The smell of diesel fuel offended his nose, but he welcomed it for once. It meant Ester would be gone, and this weird conversation would soon be over.
Josh left Ester by her bus and ran for the street. Toward home. Something grabbed his elbow. He spun around and looked into the long, pale face of a kid with a sharp, zit-covered nose. “You don’t want to hang with her,” the kid said.
“And why not?” Josh stood tall, all six foot three of his height, hating it when someone told him what he wanted.
“You’re new here, aren’t you?”
“Yeah.” Josh squared his shoulders.
“If you don’t want any trouble, stay away from her.” The kid glared at Josh. “Just trust me.”
First chapter of The Hitler Dilemma
“Your accent . . . German?” The man in the aisle seat readjusted his
Max nodded. His muscles tensed, unsure if the man next to him was
uncomfortable with the heat, the cramped Greyhound seating, or with
sitting next to a former enemy.
The man’s wrinkled white shirt was unbuttoned at the neck. He
loosened the knot of a limp red tie, revealing a thick neck glistening with
perspiration. It wobbled as he gulped and asked, “Where you headed?”
“Salt Lake City.” Max tried to speak his best English. “Ah . . . Utah?
Did I say it right?”
Max released a sigh of relief. Air rushing through the open windows
made it hard to hear, and his shaky command of English would make it
difficult to carry on a conversation. Yesterday that seat had been empty.
Max wished it had remained so. He glanced out the window. Everything
looked different here: the size of the highway, the slope of the land, the
shape of the trees, the clothes people wore.
“Have you been in the States long?” the large man continued.
Max reluctantly turned to the man. “Got here a three days ago . . . on
the Queen Mary.” He kept his emotions in check. He had thought once
he got here, all would be well. The hunger, the cold, the deprivation, the
pain of piecing his life back together after the war were behind him now. A
chance for a new life lay ahead. So why was he scared? Why did he want to
hop on another ship and sail back to Germany?
Because, as ravaged as it was, it was home. It held familiar faces
and places and memories. America offered only a single relative—an
2 Carolyn TWEDE Frank
unfamiliar cousin of his Mama’s. His family had scraped by for three
years since the war ended, starving, saving, and selling all they had
to buy their passage to America—and this bus ride to the middle of
nowhere. The future felt uncertain. A single goal had kept his family
going. “We hope soon to get citizenship,” Max said to the man.
“We?” The man surveyed the jostling interior of the bus.
“I travel with my parents.” Max nodded toward the snoozing, grayhaired
couple across the aisle—what remained of his family. A surge of
gratitude filled his heart.
“Are you Mormon?”
Max’s attention shot back to the large man. “How . . . did you
know?” The moment he responded he wished he hadn’t—perhaps this
man was no more fond of Mormons than most Americans were of
A slight grin formed on the man’s face. “You’re going to Salt Lake
City. I just put two and two together.” He slid his elbow from the
armrest, tucking it by his side. “I know plenty of Mormons. Got nothing
against them personally.”
“Against them?” Max’s muscles remained tight, unsure what the man
“I’m sure you’re a fine fellow, just a little misguided. The way I see it,
one religion is as wrong as another.”
“You do not believe in God?” Max had mixed emotions; he’d felt a
little discouraged with God as of late. He had offered prayer after prayer,
pleading for comfort, crying for a confirmation that what he was doing
was right. But the windows of heaven seemed closed.
“No. I used to go to church. But not once since I joined the army—I
was an officer, by the way.”
Max sized up the man’s waistline, surmising that America had
obviously not faced the food shortages Germany had after the war.
“I saw things in the South Pacific that would curdle your insides.”
The man stared at the back of the next seat like it was a movie screen.
“Nobody can tell me that a loving God would allow such horrible things
to happen.” He turned and focused on Max. “How old are you, boy?”
“I was going to ask if you fought in the war, but I guess you would
have been too young. You’d have been, um . . .” The man gazed at the
ceiling, obviously calculating.
I Wouldn’t Serve Hitler 3
“Eighteen when it ended,” Max finished the man’s sentence. “I had
been soldier for almost two years . . . by then.”
The man’s eyes widened. “You don’t say. A Mormon—a teenager at
that—fighting for Hitler?” His voice took on a hint of sarcasm. “How
did you justify that with your God?”
“I did not fight for Hitler,” Max said in a hurry. “I did not like him.”
The man again readjusted his weight in the confining bus seat. His
voice held a note of contempt. “But obviously you fought; you even
joined up early.”
“But I was. . .” Max stammered. To tell this man that he had been
a Hitler Youth didn’t seem like a wise thing at the moment. He had no
idea how long he would have to travel with him, or how empathetic
this American would be toward a youth organization fueled with Nazi
indoctrination. With a fleeting glance out the window, Max simply
muttered, “I had no choice.”
“Yeah, that’d make sense.” The man stroked his wide chin. He
paused as if trying to form the right words. “I never had this problem—
because first off, I fought on the defensive team, and second, I don’t have
to answer to no God—but how could a good Mormon boy like you
fight in a war for Hitler and keep your conscience clear?”
Max gritted his teeth. Would all Americans ask such questions?
What about Mama’s cousin? Uncomfortable emotions swept through
him. “I could not . . . I would not fight for Hitler.” Max’s voice faltered.
An almost-forgotten struggle resurfaced momentarily, stinging him with
its unpleasant memory. “He was evil.”
“Oh, really.” The man’s voice held a hint of mockery. “How did you
know?” He leaned on the shared armrest; his eyes shone with curiosity.
Or were they taunting? “A lot of your German comrades over there
thought he was the cat’s meow.”
Max shrugged his shoulders, unsure if he wanted to share something
so personal with a stranger. Especially one so brazen. “It is painful . . . to
“It’s okay, boy. Sorry.” The man let out a whistling breath. He
stretched his arm past Max’s chest and tapped on the window. “Well,
what you see out there is a land of freedom. You need not worry about
dictators over here.” He pulled his arm back, grabbing a magazine from
the briefcase at his feet, and began to read.
4 Carolyn TWEDE Frank
Max stared out the window at the rolling fields of grain, interrupted
here and there by silver silos and white-washed farmhouses. His eyes
took in the scenery of this new country, but his mind dwelled elsewhere.
Old memories and emotions rushed quickly to the surface, each
begging to be noticed. When did he first know Hitler was evil?
The answer was obvious: it started with his brother, Harold.
First chapter of Promises for you to check out.
I hope you enjoy it.
April 29, 1898
Yesterday was Hattie’s birthday. No one remembered. Mama didn’t bake a big cake like usual. Turning twelve should have made her happier.
Hattie’s eyes grew moist. It was hard for her to focus on the endless view of sagebrush. Billows of dust, kicked up by the team of horses, only made it worse. She felt like a pioneer, riding in a covered wagon, venturing into the unknown.
Is this what Grandma and Grandpa felt like when they crossed the plains?
She knew her grandparents had been forced out of their home in Nauvoo and moved west to Utah because of religious persecution. Hattie’s family was only moving from Orderville to the town of Tropic—in the next county. There was no reason for them to leave. Everyone in Orderville loved them.
The rhythmic creaking of wagon wheels seemed to sing her thoughts.
Why . . . why . . . why . . .
Hattie turned around. Long Valley had slipped from her view. She could only see unfamiliar hills behind the family’s black-topped carriage. The buggy jostled down the road, lagging behind the wagon by a good hundred yards. Mama was at the reins. Hattie didn’t recall ever seeing the family carriage so full. Any inch of space not occupied by her brother or sisters was stuffed with personal belongings. Then again, she never recalled seeing their old wagon anywhere but out in the field filled with hay. Now it rolled slowly down a rock-infested road, overflowing with bedding, pots and pans, a long pine table, and a handful of mix-and-match chairs. How Pa managed to squeeze in the family pump organ and phonograph player, she’d never know. But she was glad—whether playing it or listening to it, music always brought her comfort. Sitting on top of the organ was ten-year-old Ethel. Hattie glanced up to the freckled face of her sister. At least Ethel was smiling.
“You hanging on good?” Hattie hollered.
“Yeah, but tell me when it’s my turn to ride up there with Pa,” Ethel said, her red pigtails bobbing up and down. Her right hand held on to the rope that secured the organ in place. With the other, she grasped a small cage. Bessie, their best laying hen, clucked louder than usual. The chicken didn’t look too happy in the cage, and Ethel was doing her best to comfort the animal.
Hattie returned her attention to the long, dusty road. The ugliness brought the painful move back into her thoughts. Usually she kept her feelings to herself. But her world, as she knew it, was ending. She had to say something or explode.
“Pa,” Hattie muttered. “Why did we move?” It was not a real question. She didn’t expect a real answer. Mama had already told her of Pa’s longing for more land. She knew that ever since the United Order had been abolished eight years ago, Pa had made his little portion of land flourish. It made sense that Pa would want more. An uncomfortable ache in her chest encouraged the need to say something. “I loved our house in Orderville. The white picket fence, the orchard, and all those flowers—it was wonderful.”
“I’ll build us another wonderful house,” Pa said.
“It’s not just the house I’ll miss—it’s Lou.”
“You know, Louise Lamb, my best friend. What am I going to do without her?”
She and Lou had been friends as long as she could remember. They lived next door to each other in Orderville. Hattie never had to meet Lou, introduce herself, and make friends with Lou—she was just there—kind of like family.
“There will be other girls your age in Tropic, I’m sure.” Pa winked while a familiar warm smile filled his face. His expression then changed to one more serious. “Now, Hattie, You can’t let your timid nature rule your life forever. This here move’ll be just what you need. It’ll help you learn to meet people; make new friends. Promise me you’ll try.”
Pa didn’t understand. He had no problem meeting new people, talking to strangers, standing up for himself. Hattie hated her shyness. More than anything, she wanted to be like him.
And she needed to be more like him if she ever hoped to survive in this new place.
“Promise?” Pa cleared his throat.
“Okay.” It came out an unassertive squeak. She turned and gazed at him. Everyone loved Pa. His coarse red hair waved slightly as it rose from his head. A bushy orange moustache grew on his upper lip, spreading one inch past his constant smile on either side. A soft, round nose and merry eyes; who wouldn’t like Pa? She adored him—except when he disrupted her life with his business adventures.
With heaviness in her voice, Hattie whispered, “but there’s plenty of land closer to Orderville.”
“Tropic’s a new town,” Pa said. It was almost like he had heard Hattie’s thoughts—he couldn’t have heard her over the clomping of horse hoofs. “Settled only six years ago. Acre-and-a-quarter lots are sellin’ for seven dollars and fifty cents. It’s opportunity, Hattie.”
“Seven dollars and fifty cents,” Hattie mumbled. “Is that good?” Somehow she knew the answer before Pa said anything. Though she wasn’t knowledgeable in such matters, she knew that Pa was, and their prosperity had something to do with that.
"You bet it’s good! But I got more than just land for that price.”
“Yep, I got our new house—‘course it will need some addin’ on to. But it’s on the edge of town next to some good farm land.”
“Why would someone practically give their house away—especially with so much opportunity there?”
“Well, there’s one slight problem with the town of Tropic.” Pa’s voice took on a less light-hearted tone. “There’s not much water; lots of good farm land, protection from the cold season, but just one small spring.”
“That doesn’t sound like opportunity—sounds like disaster.” Hattie’s lower lip slid between her teeth, an anxious feeling churned in her stomach. “Why would the prophet send members to settle a town there?”
“He didn’t. It was settled by a few men who saw the potential and settled it themselves.”
“But no water? Why would we want to move there, Pa?”
“Hattie, my girl,” Pa said with a confident smile, “with opportunity often comes risk. I’m sure that’s why that other guy sold out.”
“The fellow I bought the house from. He must not have been willing to wait for the canal to do its job.”
“Yep. A man named A.J. Hansen—ambitious fellow. I think he’s the bishop in Tropic. He practically built that there ditch by himself. Met him once while I was travelin’ to Salt Lake City. He was buying tools for diggin’ and blastin’.”
“Blasting,” Hattie muttered. “That must be some canal.”
“Oh, it was. Old A.J. was planning on diverting the waters of the East Sevier River over to Tropic, fifteen miles away. He even laid out the streets of the town and sold the lots to help fund the project. If his canal worked, he said there would be plenty of water for all the crops and critters there.” Pa paused, twisting the end of his long moustache. “Well, I got word a few months ago that his canal is finished and workin’ fine. Me and your ma were tired of cold winters and wanted more farm land, so we decided to move.” Pa glanced at her, raising an eyebrow. “Didn’t I tell you this before?”
“I swear I did. Must have been Will or Eliza; I swore I told all of you older kids.”
Hattie kept her eyes on Pa, but said nothing. She didn’t like the idea of living in a town that wasn’t sanctioned by the prophet.
Pa grew silent for a moment. He flecked the reins and the horses took their next several paces a little faster. “So when I found that fellow who wanted to sell his land fast and cheap, I jumped on it. And here we are.”
Pa’s words added to Hattie’s unsettled feelings. She turned and stared at the road ahead. “Tropic.” The name rolled from her tongue with uncertainty. Palm trees and beaches formed a gorgeous picture in her mind. She had learned about Tahiti in school last year. But this was Utah. They lived in a desert with scorching summers and harsh winters. The beautiful picture melted, replaced with the reality of her surroundings: drab. At least Long Valley had a fair share of cottonwood trees near the river, and tall junipers covered its yellow hills. But this new valley, if you could even call it that, stretched on for miles with rolling hills pocked with scrawny junipers and the low-lands covered with sagebrush.
Her head bobbed up and down with every bump in the road. The unvaried landscape stretched the minutes into hours that felt endless. When she switched places with Ethel, she leaned her elbows on her knees and made a perch out of her palms to rest her chin. This made it easier to stare at the sagebrush.
“Pa, Pa,” Ethel shouted. “Look at those rocks. Aren’t they the most pretty things you’ve ever seen?”
Hattie sat up straight and gasped. She grabbed hold of the organ and turned her body to get a better view. Red rock seemed to erupt from the tops of the juniper-covered hills in the distance. The wagon crept slowly forward, bringing the attraction closer into sight.
Eventually the rolling hills of sage and junipers faded from view, and ledges of red rock and pines surrounded Hattie.
“If you children think this canyon is pretty,” Pa said, “just wait until we get to Tropic. Next to town is a site that’ll be candy for your eyes. This here is Red Canyon we’re comin’ up on. It’s just a little taste—kind of like a raisin you snatch out of the Christmas puddin’.”
The team of horses strained. The rutted dirt road climbed the hillside, demanding the extra strength Pa’s work horses were bred to give. Hattie’s ears popped. She had to hold on to the ropes securing the organ to keep from falling off, but the breath-taking view pushed away her sullen mood. Rusty red cliffs appeared carved into myriad different shapes. Some looked like a bunch of carrots waiting to be pulled, some like sentinels guarding the vivid red canyon. Pines trees grew in places that seemed impossible, shooting up from cracks in the rocks. Their needles of blue-green were made to appear more intense by the contrast of the red rock. The fresh scent of the pines treated her nose as she passed near them. She took a deep breath. Never had she experienced anything like this.
Soon the red seemed to dissipate. More and more pines filled the gaps. She could feel the wagon continue to climb. The air took on a chill, and Hattie had to pull on her sweater.
The trees appeared to step aside, like wall flowers, opening up an immense prairie dance floor before her eyes. Scattered sheep grazed on the new spring grass growing between the sagebrush. A couple of ranchers waved in greeting. Pa and Ethel waved back as the wagon rolled across the grassy plateau. Hattie forced her hand to wave too.
She felt the wagon jostle—more than usual. Where was Pa leading the horses?
Certainly not down there.
The pasture ended without warning and the wagon headed down the steepest, roughest road she had ever seen.
“Hold on tight,” Pa urged.
Hattie could feel the road descend abruptly under the jerking wheels of the wagon. She turned around to see the buggy. The muscles in the horses’ legs bulged as they worked to hold their ground on the sheer, dangerous slope. Her ma’s face concentrated on the task. They were entering another valley—a deep one. Hattie gripped the rope. Her whole body went ridged. More than ever, she wished she was back in Orderville.
Finally, the ground underneath the wagon leveled out. The warmth of the valley soothed her like an extra quilt. Crimson cliffs rose up in all directions but east. They were pretty, but nothing like Red Canyon. She knew Pa was just pulling her leg back there.
The valley soon revealed a small town nestled in a corner. Orderville suddenly seemed large to Hattie.
“I see it, Papa, I see it!” Ethel hollered with excitement. Her small hands clapped to her mouth and then pointed. “Is that Tropic over there?”
Hattie looked toward the west side of the valley that had captured Ethel’s attention. She observed a smattering of small wood-framed homes dotting a collection of long, narrow blocks. Several homes had been white-washed a cheerful shade of light cream with matching picket fences. Neat rows of fruit trees, with trunks the size of broomsticks, filled the backyards. Struggling shade trees bordered the dirt streets. Hattie glanced down at Pa, asking the same question without speaking.
“Yes, it certainly is!” Pa said. The excitement in his voice did not match Hattie’s emotion: disappointment.
The clip-clop of hooves took on a faster beat. Whether the animals anticipated the end of their journey, or Pa had used a heavier hand on the reins, Hattie was unsure.
The creaky old wagon, loaded to the brim with her on top, rolled through the middle of town. The black-top buggy with Mama, her big sister, and three wiggling siblings followed close behind. Pulling up in the rear were her two older brothers on horseback, herding their best milk cow and a few other cattle. Hattie felt like her family was on parade. She glanced around at the houses lining the street, hoping no one would be outside to notice their caravan. Four young children darted out of one house. They stood on the covered porch of their two-story home and waved like they were, indeed, watching a parade.
Hattie looked over each and every spectator with anxiety—and with hope.
Several more children emerged onto porches, one or two grown-ups, but not a single twelve-year-old girl. Not one even close.
The wagon moved past a large house lacking the cheery white-wash. It appeared to sit in the center of town. “Who do you think lives in that great big house?” Hattie motioned to the out-of-place building.
“That’s not a house,” Pa said. “That’s the church—and the school. They also use it for dances and social gatherin’s, I’m told.”
Hattie spotted something out of the corner of her eye at the end of the road. It sparked an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach. Her eyes rushed back to the house they now passed. Red and pink tulips bloomed next to purple hyacinths in a kaleidoscope-like flower bed. Shades of yellow-green mapped out the footprint of new lawn. She was tempted to take another glance at the end of the road, but instead moved her gaze to the next yard’s flower garden. Pa drove the wagon past the first pretty house, then the next. One by one, they slipped by white-washed houses with tidy yards. She could be happy with any one of these homes.
Please, Pa, stop!
They passed the last inviting home on the street. Pa urged the horses on. She knew it. Somehow she knew with her first glimpse. Pa kept the horses going toward a house that sat by itself at the end of the road. There were no nice shade trees or fruit trees to be seen, only patches of weeds and a diseased old cottonwood tree claiming their ground in the red soil. Several empty lots partitioned it off from the other homes on the street. It created a picture to her of an unwanted playmate surrounded by taunting, well-liked children.
Hattie lurched forward as the wagon came to a stop.
“We’re here,” Pa announced.