This Book is the second book in the Season Named Series. In saying that you can read it as a standalone, but to get the full effect I recommend you read Autumn's Dance first ;)
There's always that belief in life, even from a young age, that as you grow up you will always have a “forever” friend. Whether it's someone from school or the kid down the street, somehow, someway, you will remain by one another's side and take on the world together. Nothing, nor no one, can break the bond you have; throughout life you will always remain close—forever and ever.
Truth is, only the lucky ones find that special kind of soulmate. Through good times and bad, both hearts hold on for dear life and fight for what they mean to each other. You could have another friend or a million buzzing around, yet it doesn't make a lick of difference because both of you know nothing can break the loyalty and love of true friendship.
Winter Harris knew it the moment she met her next-door neighbour, Connor Bartley.
"Why don't you go outside and play, Winter? I hear there's a boy about your age who has moved in next door," Winter’s mother suggested, her hands signing while she tried to shoo her daughter off the bed.
Winter looked into her mother’s eyes and frowned. She didn't want to go outside; all she wanted to do was rest next to her papa. If she had her way, Winter would never leave his side.
Abigail Harris shook her head in defeat, turned back around, and finished her task of placing her husband's folded shirts into the top drawer of their bedroom dresser.
"Go on now Snowflake. I could use a rest," her father signed weakly, trying to conjure a smile. He looked so thin and tired of late; Winter struggled to leave him, afraid of what might happen if she was not there.
She wrinkled up her face and crossed her arms, knowing it was no use trying to fight to stay in the house. Her papa obviously needed the rest; anyway, it wasn't a fight she was going to win. Sooner or later her mother would have been on her back again about giving her father some space.
Winter climbed out of her parents’ bed, stomped her foot down dramatically and then reluctantly turned and exited the room. She made her way down the passage into the kitchen for one final statement, letting her parents know how upset she was about being pushed out; she made sure to slam the side door with bravado as she left the house, hoping it was loud enough for them to hear. She prayed they would feel how hurt she was to have to leave her father’s side.
Winter made her way around the side of their single-story, white weatherboard home and into the backyard. What the home lacked in grandeur it most certainly made up for with its over-planted gardens. The large space contained beds of different colorful flowers including daffodils, snapdragons, bluebells, and a heap of others, though Winter could never remember their names. Along the fences, jasmine grew wildly, its vines spilling onto the neighbor’s property. Abigail was a genius at growing and nurturing every type of greenery; Papa always praised his wife's gardening skills, professing to Winter and her brother, Charlie, how their mama had a special green thumb. Winter never saw it, though; their flowers looked as normal as everyone else's.
She picked up a long, broken, skinny branch and began sweeping it through the grass as she wove her way between the rows of flowers. It was a sunny, warm day, a rarity for the time of year as the start of spring was usually brisk. Winter relaxed her shoulders, still tight from her disapproving posture before being forced out of the house. She made her way towards the side fence and leaned up against it, raising her face towards the sky with her eyes closed to soak in the sun. Breathing in a lungful of fresh air, she caught the scent of jasmine in her nostrils and sighed. Her senses were overloaded, picking up things most probably would not, like the smell of wet grass drying slowly as the heat warmed it and the slight breeze that caused goose bumps to crawl up her arms, promising rain to fall in a few short hours. She was attuned, sensitive to her surroundings.
Maybe Mama was right, she thought, it was good for her to be outside. But there was no way she was gonna traipse next door and meet some new boy. God knew she had enough trouble since starting school; she was not up for more rejection.
As she was submerging herself in the rays, from out of the sky a boy jumped down right in front of Winter and scared the living crap out of her. Her instant reaction was to punch her arm out, just like her older brother Charlie taught her. Winter swung from the side and clipped the grimy boy in the chin. He fell back, landing on the ground with his legs swinging up in the air.
Winter looked down at him, still clutching her chest from the fright. She took a breath and leaned forward to get a real good look at him. He was about six or seven-years old with round, espresso-colored eyes and unkempt, sandy blond hair in desperate need of a haircut. She wondered for a moment where he had crawled out from, as he was covered in dirt with a few twigs protruding from his locks, mud smeared across his face and wobbly legs that were scratched and scraped from knee to ankle.
The boy jumped up almost as quickly as Winter knocked him down. She took a step back, placing her tiny fists up ready to defend herself once more. He rubbed his chin, a smirk on his face as if he was ready for her. Winter thought it seemed as if punching him did not have the effect she was going for; he didn't seem scared off one bit.
His mouth began moving while his eyes were alight with wonder. The boy jumped up and down like he was a pirate who had found some hidden treasure.
Winter shook her head back and forth. She was getting better at lip reading, but only when people spoke slowly and evenly. She was beginning to know the shapes and movements of her family’s mouths, but even then it was like fitting pieces of a puzzle together, picking up on a word here and there and trying to figure out its meaning. She used her hands to play a kind of charades, mimicking pen writing on paper.
The boy stopped his chatter and placed his hands on his hips, tilting his head to the side like a confused puppy, before his lips moved again. Typical boy talking a hundred miles an hour, Winter thought. She held her hand up for him to stop and then cupped her ear, trying to get him to understand. He just scrunched his soiled face up and shook his head. Oh lord, Winter thought, as she rolled her eyes and darted off, leaving the strange kid standing there alone.
Running to the kitchen door, she turned the knob and rushed inside. Her brother was standing right in her way at the kitchen table making a hot chocolate; she nudged him gently to the side and opened up the kitchen drawer to retrieve a pen and notepad.
Charlie tapped her on the shoulder and signed, "What's the rush?"
Winter tried to think of the words, but ended up signing back, "Boy outside."
"You mean Connor?" he pointed towards the next-door neighbor’s house.
Winter shrugged; she had no idea who he was, but he irked her.
Charlie walked towards the kitchen door, popped his head out, and searched around. With a grin, he nodded as if he was right, "Yep." Winter’s one and only brother, older only by a year, went back to stirring his drink, just leaving her standing in the middle of the kitchen clutching the pad to her chest.
She wasn't just going to leave the boy waiting there so she turned and rushed back out into the back garden. Still standing there looking around as she approached, Winter came to a halt in front of him, scrawling quickly “Deaf“ and turned the piece of paper for him to read.
The boy looked at it and then back to her. With a massive grin, he shrugged his shoulders and took the pen and notepad from her hands.
"Connor," he wrote, his hands leaving dirt across the page. She nodded at him. He looked down at the page again "You’re Winter? I met your brother." She nodded again. Once again his attention went back to the paper, "I'm 7."
Winter pointed towards her chest and nodded her head, hoping he would understand that she was the same age. Connor placed the small notepad in his shorts pocket and put the pen behind his right ear, seemingly satisfied with the information they exchanged. Without so much as another letter or word, he reached over and grabbed Winter’s hand and began running, pulling her behind him.
Within half an hour, after climbing trees and catching tadpoles from the back creek behind their house, Winter knew without a doubt that she and Connor were going to best friends for life.
Their days together, whether on the playground at school or frolicking in their yards at home on weekends and holidays, Connor proved their friendship status; they were inseparable.
On the ever-decreasing days her papa managed to make it outside, he would watch as his son & daughter created adventures to go on with the boy next-door, who quickly became a part of the family. Over the next ten years as Winter mastered American Sign Language, so did Connor. Although she had pretty much mastered lip reading for those closest to her and continued working on understanding everyone else, it was sign language that became their language, making their own short forms and nicknames.
Connor was there for her throughout every major turn of events, especially the bad ones. That's what soulmates did for one another.
Connor sat next to Winter and held her hand in the front pew of the church. This was how they were in her world of silence; no need for communication, an understanding of each other’s need without the use of words. Connor always knew what she needed and, right then, Winter just needed to be comforted by his sure, steady touch.
She peered beside her and looked up at her mother. She wasn't crying or wiping at her eyes; instead, Abigail just sat in her simple black lace dress staring ahead. Her deep, chestnut hair was pulled back painfully in a chignon. No makeup adorned her heart-shaped, pale face. What worried Winter was the sense her mother wasn't even really there; she was emotionless, as if the wooden box in front of her did not hold her beloved husband.
Winter saw every movement, every facial feature, and every gesture her mother made. Looking down at her mother's lap, she saw her brother Charlie had reached over and taken their mama's delicate hand. Even then, her mother made no move to reciprocate. Poor Charlie, she thought as she leaned forward to look past her mother and watched silent tears fall from her brother’s eyes.
Winter didn't need to look anywhere else to know what the service held. She knew the town’s pastor was going through the motions of talking about how great her father was; being Port Townsend's sheriff for so many years, he knew most folks from around these parts. It wasn't a surprise to see all the people who had piled into the church to pay their respects.
She felt the slight pressure of Connor squeezing her hand once again, letting her know he was right there with her. He was always there with her. There wasn't a day in the past three years in which they were ever really apart and if Winter had her way, they never would be. They regarded one another with a silent understanding passing between them.
In Winter’s peripheral vision she could see Connor’s mother, Rose, with her arm draped around her son’s shoulders as she sat on the other side of him. The funeral affected her in ways the townsfolk could never understand. Her reason for moving to Port Townsend from Sacramento was because she had buried her husband after a freak electrocution while working on the power lines.
Winter looked towards the front once again, at the coffin her father lay peacefully in, and wiped a stray tear from her eye. She would miss him more than her heart could express, yet she also knew he wasn't in any pain anymore after battling colon cancer for years. There were moments—days—when he looked like he was possibly returning to health. Winter would always treasure those moments as he left his bed and made his way outside to kick a ball with Charlie or help her and Connor find more snails for their fairy village or collect ants for their farms. But all too soon, he would return to bed and lay prostrate for days, as those adventures outside the house drained him each and every time.
She cherished the fact that if she wanted to remember how her father looked, she only needed to find a mirror. Her raven black hair was the same shade as his and her full lips were just as puffy. They were so alike, whereas Charlie was more like their mama, especially with her wavy chestnut hair. Unlike Winter, easily the smallest in her class, Charlie was tall; at just eleven-years old, he was already half a foot above his classmates. It didn't matter though at how small she was; she always had Connor to watch out for her.
Winter didn't go to the burial; Connor's mother brought the two friends back to her house. Even when Winter ran back home to get changed, wanting to strip away the morbid black dress weighing her down, Connor was with her. He walked her through the front door and waited right outside her room. She threw the drab dress into her wardrobe and retrieved a pair of denim overalls and a yellow striped t-shirt. Tying up her white sneakers and preparing to leave, she glanced over at her desk and saw something out of place.
A notecard with a snowflake sketched on the front caught her attention. She stood up straight and walked over to pick it up. Her lip quivered knowing whom the card was from; her father always called her his little Snowflake—no one else had the privilege. She hugged it, wanting to savor the last piece of him she had left one last time. But her curiosity got the better of her and she opened it up, careful not to bend or rip a fiber of its construction.
My Beautiful Snowflake,
You floated into my world the day you were born and melted my heart. Never succumb to the silence. See the voices in everything you do and make a loud noise with all that you are. I'll always hear your life's footsteps.
Love, Your Papa
The tears slid down Winter’s face in a river of grief; she closed the card and clutched it to her chest—her papa was really gone. A part of her still thought it was all one big nightmare and she would wake up, walk down the hallway, enter her parents’ room, and there he would be, managing a smile through the pain just for her.
Winter could feel the hole inside her chest as she dropped right where she was standing, curling into a ball on the floor. Life wasn't fair. How could such a kind-hearted man be taken so early in his life? Why was he taken from a family that thought the sun shined only because he was there?
Mrs. Fuller, Connor’s mom, said God missed him so much he called him home to his side. Winter wanted to believe her; she had to hope he was happy and running through fields of grass and rainbows, maybe even riding a unicorn. After all, didn't Heaven hold everything good?
She felt Connor enter as the breeze from the door gently hit her back. He made his way around her shaking, small frame that lay grieving on the hardwood floor. He crouched down right beside her and then he, too, lay on the floor next to her. His long blond hair fell across his forehead as he brought his face nose-to-nose with hers and gently swung his arm across her frame as sobs wracked her body. Attempting to comfort Winter, his fingers swirled shapes on her back—letters of promise spelling the word, “Forever.”
Yes, best friends forever.