Preview of Catch The Wind: My Journey With Caroline
Written by Kathleen Ernst
Published 2014 by American Girl Publishing
Mom's mouth twists sideways like it does when she's thinking. Finally she says, "Sometimes it helps to talk things through. Can you tell me exactly what you're afraid of?"
I've never told Mom that I'm afraid, but she's smart about guessing stuff. I'm bursting to say, "Everything!" I have to clench my teeth to hold that word inside.
It's true, though. I'm afraid I'll miss Mom so much that I'll be miserable every single second of every single day. I'm afraid she might forget about me, since the only way we'll be able to stay in touch is through Skype and email and telephone calls just once a week. I'm afraid that Mom will get hurt. That would be bad any time, but extra-bad if she's far away.
I'm also afraid that I won't have time to do anything except help Dad with the twins while Mom's gone. After all, Dad has his own job as a hospital nurse. The twins will always be bugging me to give them a juice box, or watch some little kid movie they've already seen a million times, or something. They can be a lot of fun to play with, and I really don't mind babysitting sometimes, but I'll probably be so busy chasing after them that I won't have any time to spend with my friends.
Worst of all is imagining Mom sailing away on the ocean. Those navy ships are huge--but still puny compared to all the water in an ocean. Just thinking about deep water makes my heart thump in my chest.
"Sweetie," Mom say, "the ship I'll be on has lots of things designed to help keep everyone on board safe. Would you like to hear more about that?"
"No." I don't want to hear one single thing about the navy ship that's going to take her so far away.
As if she reads my mind, Mom stops talking about the ship. "Dad will be counting on you while I'm away."
"I know." I sound kind of grumpy, but I can't help it.
Mom gently brushes my hair away from my forehead. "I don't want to be away from my family for so long, you know," she says. "I'll miss you every single minute."
"Really?" I ask.
"Really," Mom says in her I mean it tone. "But I'm also proud to serve my country. My father served in the navy, and his father before him. It's a chain of service that hasn't been broken for over two hundred years! I want to carry on that tradition."
I pick a long stem of grass and wind it around my thumb. Tradition seems like a terrible reason for a mom to leave her kids.
"And I want to make the world a safer place," she adds quietly. "For you and for your sisters. And for the children you may have one day."
That's more than I can imagine, so I don't answer.
"I need you to be brave," Mom adds. "Can you try to do that for me?"
I shrug, still not looking at her. Dad has already talked to me about that. He said I especially need to be brave on the day Mom leaves. "If you weep and wail you'll just make it harder on Mom," he'd said. "We need to tell her we're proud of her, and that we love her. Then we need to smile and wave good-bye."
I am positive that I won't be able to do that. Just thinking about watching Mom go away makes tears sting my eyes all over again. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I won't even go with everybody else to see Mom off. Hiding out right here by the pond sounds good to me. Then I won't have to say good-bye at all.
I wish I were brave, like Mom. But I'm not.
A few minutes pass before Mom says, "I want to give you something." She holds out her hand with fingers curled over the gift.
She's got a present for me? I hadn't expected that, and I feel a teensy bit better. Mom and Dad have promised that I can get my ears pierced on my next birthday. Maybe she picked out special earrings for me!
What she gives me isn't a little jewelry box, though. Instead, my present is something round and hard and made of metal. A piece of glass protects a dial on one side.
I glance at Mom. "Um...is it a pocket watch?"
"No," Mom says. "Take a closer look."
There are only a few letters on the dial: N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW. Now I get it. Everyone in my Girl Scout troop used a compass to navigate on a hike last spring. Our leader taught us that the letters stand for North, North-east, East, and so on. And I learned that the needle always points north.
I don't see much point to having a compass when you can use GPS to navigate wherever you need to go. "You're giving me a compass?" I ask, totally confused.
"I'm giving you a very old compass," she explains. "My father gave it to me when he was shipping out for a long voyage at sea. He'd gotten it from his father, who'd gotten it from his father, and so on. This compass goes back to the very first person in our family to serve in the navy. That was during the War of 1812."
"Oh," I say. We haven't studied the War of 1812 in school yet, so I don't really know anything about it. I can tell that Mom thinks I should be excited about this, but honestly, I wish a pair of sparkly earrings had gotten passed down in my family instead.
Mom gives me her Pay attention look. "Sailors in our family have always used this compass to navigate."
"OK," I say. What does that have to do with me?
"I hope it will help remind you to steer a steady course while I'm at sea," Mom says. "And I hope it helps remind you about our family tradition of service to our country."
I don't say anything. All this compass is going to do is remind me that Mom chose to join the navy and go away instead of finding a job where she could stay home with her family.
"This compass means a lot to me," Mom adds, and her voice gets a little shaky. "Over the years it's helped many people in our family find their way home."
"Then you better keep it," I tell her.
Instead of taking it back, Mom closes my fingers over the compass. Then she gets up, kisses the top of my head, and starts walking back to the house.
I stay where I am, relieved that Mom has left me alone. I don't feel like being with my family. I don't want to talk about Mom going away. And I especially don't want anything to do with this compass!
After a moment I lie down and wriggle to the edge of the bank. I see my reflection in the still pond water below. My eyes are all red and funny-looking from crying.
I hold out the compass in front of me. The gold part is dull and dented, and the glass is cloudy. What am I supposed to do with it? I'm tempted to throw the compass into the pond, but I don't quite dare.
I turn the compass in my hand, but the needle on the dial keeps pointing in the same direction--north. Right now it's pointed straight at me. The needle looks like a little arrow. I aim it at my heart, thinking about how Mom going away feels like an arrow in my heart.
A tiny whirring sound in my right ear distracts me. There's a hummingbird hovering not six inches away! I hold perfectly still. Hummingbirds zip around so fast it's hard to get a good look at one.
Suddenly movement in the water below pulls my attention away from the bird. My reflection is trembling, as if someone had tossed a rock into the pond. But I would have heard if something fell into the pond. How strange!
The water ripples and sloshes until my face becomes a blur. It makes me feel dizzy, so I close my eyes. The compass is clutched tight in my hand.
After a moment the dizziness passes. Feeling better, I slowly open my eyes. The water below is still, and I can see my reflection again.
Except...it's not me.
I blink. The face I see in the water is mine, but my hair is covered up with an old-fashioned bonnet. I'd put on a bright red t-shirt with sequins this morning, but now I seem to be wearing something pale blue with white lace around the collar.
And instead of the pond's muddy bottom, I see stones through clear sparkling water.
That's so spooky that I scramble to my feet, almost tripping because that pale blue top I saw reflected is actually a long dress. I slap at it, as if that might make it turn back into my comfy old shorts, but nothing happens. My sandals have turned into black shoes.
Gulping, I take a look around. The summer heat is familiar, but that's all. Instead of the little pond behind my house, I'm beside a humongous lake that stretches away into the distance.
It all makes me feel dizzy all over again. What is going on?
"Are you looking for warships too?"
I whirl around. A blonde girl about my age is walking toward me, easily making her way over the stones. She's wearing a long pink dress, and looks as if she belongs in a play or something.
I open my mouth, then close it again. Finally I stammer, "Did--did you say warships?"
The girl looks off into the distance and clenches her fists. "They're out there," she says. She looks half angry and half scared. "We drove them off yesterday, but they'll be back."
I do not like the sound of that. "Um...who, exactly?" I ask.
"The British, of course!" she exclaims. "Those black-hearted British will repair their ships and sail back across Lake Ontario again."
Back to where? "This might sound stupid," I say, "but can you tell me where we are, exactly?"
She looks startled. "Why...you've reached Sackets Harbor, New York. The village is just around the curve of the bluff." She grins, and suddenly the worry is gone from her face. "My name is Caroline Abbott. Who are you?"
Her smile is so nice that I can't help smiling back, as if we're sure to become best friends. I introduce myself. "And I just arrived," I add, to help explain why I have absolutely no idea what's going on.
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