Robin can hardly wait for her cousin April and her Aunty Liz to come to the ranch for Christmas. When a devastating car accident sends Aunty Liz to the hospital for several months, Robin can't help but be overjoyed to learn that April will live with Robin and her family while her mother is recuperating. But April has changed, and Robin must deal with April's growing anger and resentment at being forced to leave her injured mother and her life in the city. Then Robin's little sister, Molly, disappears during a blizzard, and Robin and April's friendship faces the ultimate test.
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Text copyright © 2009 Becky Citra
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Whiteout / written by Becky Citra.(Orca young readers)
Electronic MonographIssued also in print format.ISBN 9781554690848(pdf) -- ISBN 9781554697786 (epub)
I. Title. II. Series.
PS8555.I87W45 2009 jC813’.54 C2008-907307-X
First published in the United States, 2009
Library of Congress Control Number: 2008940981
Summary: A near-fatal accident changes Robin’s relationship with her cousin.
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.
Cover artwork by Peter Ferguson
In Canada:Orca Book Publishers PO Box 5626, Station BVictoria, BC CanadaV8R 6S4
In the United States:Orca Book PublishersPO Box 468Custer, WA USA98240-0468
www.orcabook.com12 11 10 09 • 4 3 2 1
To my father, for so many years of encouragement and support
...Heavy snowfall warning for Vancouver with thirty more centimeters expected tonight...Motorists are urged to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary... Whiteout conditions...
Robin snapped the radio off. She was totally sick of doom-and-gloom weather reports. She released the drain in the kitchen sink and stared out the window at the frozen lake and the dull gray sky.
If the storm had waited just one more day, her cousin April and her Aunty Liz would already be here. They had planned to leave Vancouver that morning and make the six-hour drive to the ranch by midafternoon.
One more day. The problem with Vancouverites was that they made a big deal out of a bit of snow. They should try living here at Bridge Lake where it snowed all winter long.
Boots stamped on the back porch. Dad stuck his head in the door, letting in a sharp smell of cold and snow. “Time to get the tree!”
“What?” Robin swung around. “We always wait for April. She’ll kill us.” She forced her voice to stay calm. “Besides, the highway was open again this morning. Aunty Liz said they were going to try.”
“It’s going to be dark soon,” said Dad. He shouted into the living room. “I need my tree-finding elf. Outside. Now.”
“I’m coming!” yelled Molly’s voice.
With a huge sigh, Robin gave in. She bundled six-year-old Molly into her purple dinosaur snowsuit while Dad went outside to start the snowmobile.
When they were ready, Molly clambered into the caboose behind the snowmobile. Their border collie, Hurly, leaped in beside her, wiggling with joy at being included. Then Robin climbed on the seat behind Dad and wrapped her arms around his puffy down jacket.
Dad headed toward their ranch gate. High snow-drifts lined both sides of the road. It was like being in a long white tunnel. Robin closed her eyes and tipped her face into the sharp air. For a few minutes, she slid away from her disappointment and lost herself in the roar of the snowmobile and the cold.
Just before the gate, Dad slowed the snowmobile to a stop and shut off the engine. The sudden silence settled over them like a soft blanket. Molly and Hurly clambered out of the caboose. They plunged up and down a snowbank, Molly puffing like a train and Hurly barking joyfully. Robin dug her mittens into her pockets and watched.
Dad shook snow off a young spruce tree. “This one?”
Robin shrugged. “Sure. It looks fine.”
Dad tilted his head. “Say that again.”
“It’s fine.” Robin hunched her shoulders.
“You’ve forgotten your lines.” Dad raised his eyebrows. “You’re supposed to say it’s too skinny, fat, tall, short, feeble, scrawny, none of the above or all of the above. You don’t say it’s fine until we look at every tree on this ranch and then come back to the first one we started with.”
“Right,” said Robin. “This is the first tree. It’s fine.”
“Hmmm. What do you think, Mol?”
Molly stopped halfway down the snowbank.
“It’s okay,” she said.
“Then this is the one,” said Dad.
He pulled the cord on his chainsaw. It roared to life and sent Hurly scurrying behind the snowmobile, barking bravely. Dad cut the tree near its base and tied it to the back of the caboose. He brushed needles and snow off his jacket.
At the last minute, Robin decided to walk back to the house. She waited until the roar of the snowmobile had faded before she started trudging along the road, the snow squeaking under her boots. It had snowed again last night, and the gray sky looked heavy with the promise of more to come. It would be dark soon.
If only the storm had waited.
Up ahead, a row of Christmas lights twinkled on the barn roof. Christmas Eve! Robin’s favorite night of the year. Her dark mood melted away, and she broke into a run. After all, Aunty Liz would have phoned if they’d had to turn back. They were probably bumping over the cattle guard at the highway right now, and Aunty Liz was saying, “Rattle me bones!” like she always did.
Robin raced the rest of the way to the house. She stamped her snowy boots on the mat and went inside. The smell of burnt raisins hit her like a wall. A pot of mincemeat was bubbling over on the stove. Robin turned off the burner. She sucked in her breath.
What was going on? And why was the house so quiet? She peered into the living room. Molly was sprawled on her stomach, coloring a picture of a sleigh full of presents. She was scribbling over the lines with a red crayon. Totally un-Molly.
Robin frowned. “Where are Mom and Dad?”
“They’re upstairs talking. Gran phoned while we were out.” Molly picked up a green crayon and scratched at the paper covering with her fingernail.
Robin stared at the pile of torn crayon wrappings. “Don’t do that, Molly. You’re making a mess.”
She swallowed an uneasy feeling. She went upstairs and stood in the hallway beside her parents’ bedroom door. She could hear their voices, a little bit of Mom and a lot of Dad. Robin knocked. “It’s me.”
“We’ll be out in a minute,” said Dad.
And then Mom. “No, Mike. Come in, honey. And get Molly.”
Molly was already there, squeezed up against Robin. She raced into the bedroom and scrambled up on the bed beside Mom.
Mom had been crying. Robin saw that right away. A thin icy prickle crawled up her back.
Dad stood up. He kept one hand on Mom’s hair. “Gran phoned while we were getting the tree. There’s been an accident.”
Robin’s head filled with a roaring noise. It was suddenly impossible to breathe.
“Whiteout conditions...twenty-car pileup...” The thunder in Robin’s head drowned out Dad’s words. She pressed her hands against her legs.
“Liz’s car slid sideways,” Dad was explaining in a steady voice. “A truck hit the driver’s side. April has some bruises and cuts, but she’s okay.” Dad reached down and covered Mom’s hand with his own. “Liz has been taken to the hospital, and Gran will phone us back as soon as there’s news.”
Questions spilled out of Molly. Did Aunty Liz get to ride in an ambulance? Was Gran going to sleep at the hospital too, like Mom did when Molly had pneumonia? Could they still come for Christmas anyway?
Molly didn’t get it. Robin pressed her fingernails into the palm of her hand.
Her little sister finally wound down, like a balloon losing air. “Are we still going to have supper and decorate the tree?” Molly asked in a small voice.
“Of course.” Dad charged into action. “Come on, Mol. Let’s go on a scavenger hunt in the freezer.”
Robin stared out the window. From here, the lights on the barn looked like they were suspended in nothingness. Red and green and blue stars.
Last night, on the phone, Aunty Liz had promised. “We’ll do our best to get there, sweetie. Our very best.”
A sick feeling washed over Robin when she thought of her reply. “You have to come, Aunty Liz. Please, please, please. I’ll never ever forgive you if you don’t.”
If only she could make those words go away. Maybe then Aunty Liz and April would never have tried to come.
The Christmas lights blurred together, and Robin blinked hard. Behind her, Mom said, “The important thing now is to save Christmas for you and Molly.”
The bedroom door closed softly. Robin hugged her arms to her chest, but she couldn’t stop shivering.
Christmas happened and it didn’t happen. Dad was on the phone a lot.
“A terrible shock...months of rehabilitation... broken legs...a crushed pelvis...No, the doctors don’t know yet...Not the Christmas everyone expected... We’re going through the motions anyway.”
Going through the motions.
When they opened their presents and Robin saw her new cross-country skis, for a few minutes she managed to forget. Dad stuck a bow on Hurly’s collar, which made everyone laugh, and Robin’s gray cat, Jellybean, tunneled into the mounds of wrapping paper. The afternoon was harder. Robin and Molly took carrots to the horses, and part of Robin wanted to stay outside forever. Mom cooked the usual turkey dinner, but everyone picked at their food. Molly protested when Mom wrapped the turkey wishbone in a paper towel to dry. “I want to make my wish now.”
I wish...I wish...I wish...
Robin was glad when the long day came to an end and everyone could stop pretending. On Boxing Day morning, they drove Mom to the airport in Kamloops so she could fly to Vancouver.
Mom filled the two-hour drive with instructions. “Molly needs to get dressed for school before you put the cartoons on. And if she wants a show-and-tell, make sure she gets it the night before. She’s too slow in the morning.”
School wasn’t starting for another week, but of course Mom wouldn’t be back by then. She probably wouldn’t be home for ages. Robin stared out the truck window. Mom moved on to wearing helmets on the snowmobile. When she got to the emergency casseroles in the freezer, Robin tuned out.
The first week back at school, the weather turned drippy. On Saturday morning, Dad and Molly built a
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