“When I was little,” Kaci said, “my dad would take me fishing all the time. And it didn’t matter how much I scared the fish with my noise or how many times we came back empty-handed, he always said he was proud of me. He always smiled and said he loved me.”
Winter turned to her.
“I haven’t been fishing in a long time.” A tear rolled down Kaci’s smiling face.
“Maybe you should ask him to take you again.”
Kaci shook her head. “No. I hate fishing.”
“Well, I’m sure he’s still proud of you. And I know he loves you very much.”
Kaci’s smile widened. But the tears flowed more freely. “I know.”
Winter grabbed her hand. “And the same goes for me.”
Kaci nodded and wiped her face with her other hand. “He taught me to pray on those trips. It was his way of getting us alone so he could teach me more about God.” She laughed and looked down at her knees. “I haven’t prayed in a long time.”
Winter moved her hand to Kaci’s back and scooted closer. “It’s okay. I’m sure God understands.”
“Have you ever been mad at God? I mean…screaming mad? I said some things to God this summer that I’m ashamed of. Do you think he understands that?”
Winter nodded. “I was angry at God for a very long time, since before my mom died. I blamed him for everything. But you know what I’ve figured out now?”
Kaci looked at her and sniffed. “What?”
“That he was never mad at me. My pain broke his heart. And through it all he stayed one step behind me, waiting for me to turn around. So, yes. I think he understands.”
Kaci looked back at the horizon. “Sunsets always make me feel small, like I’ll never be good enough for this amazing painting in the sky. And I know it’s a gift…just for me, meant to make me feel important and loved. But it’s so far away that I can never take it. It just disappears instead. And that makes me feel alone.”
“Maybe you should stop thinking of it as a gift.”
“What is it then?”
Kaci turned back to her. She chewed her bottom lip. “Is anything ever going to be like it was?”
Winter shook her head. “Not much. But it doesn’t have to be bad. It’s a new beginning.” She pulled Kaci tight. “I’m afraid you’re more on my path now. But the good news is I’ve been down that path already. The fact that I’m here now with you, should give you some hope. They don’t come more screwed up than me.”
Kaci laughed. “What do I do next?”
Footsteps on the pier made them both turn. Summer and Davis walked toward them.
Winter turned back to Kaci. “What do you do next? Just be Kaci.”
Kaci smiled and nodded.
Summer slipped her shoes off next to Kaci’s and plopped down beside Winter. “Hey. Cool sunset.”
Davis sat next to Summer. “Where’s Peter?”
Winter shrugged. “He hasn’t shown up yet.”
“He said he had to go to the store first,” said Kaci.
“You talked with him?” asked Winter.
“Yeah. He called me before we left.”
Summer scooted to the edge. “I wonder if I can touch the water.” She stretched out her foot.
Davis grabbed her shoulders and shook her. Summer screamed and scrambled for Davis as she lost her balance and slid over the side. She latched onto his arm and pulled him over the edge. At the last minute, Davis twisted and grabbed the edge of the pier with both hands.
Summer splooshed into the lake.
Winter stretched out to grab Davis’s hands. Kaci stood and rushed over to help him back onto the pier.
“Davis, I’m going to kill you!” said Summer.
“Nobody told me we were swimming.” Peter walked toward them, carrying two plastic shopping bags.
Winter looked back to Summer. Summer had reached the ladder and was climbing up.
“Um, I think I’ve got a towel in my car.” Davis took off running back to the parking lot.
Kaci resumed her seat. Peter sat down beside her.
“What’s in the bags?” Winter asked.
Peter reached in and took out two quarts of ice cream and a box of plastic spoons. He grinned. “I thought everyone might like a snack.”
“Where is he?” Summer splashed down in the middle of the pier.
“He actually went to find you a towel,” said Winter.
“Maybe we should go to a picnic table,” said Peter.
Kaci shook her head and swung her feet back to the middle of the pier. “No, let’s stay here. Just make a circle.”
Winter and Peter turned to join Kaci and Summer. Peter set out the two quarts…chocolate chip cookie dough and rocky road. He opened the box of spoons and passed them out.
Davis returned and draped a towel over Summer’s shoulders.
“Why shouldn’t I push you in now?” Summer asked.
“I brought you a blanket too. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that to happen. I was just trying to scare you.” His face turned darker than the sunset.
Summer smiled. “It’s okay. I was thinking of jumping in anyway, though I’d have preferred to have done it on my own. Sit down.” She patted the pier next to her.
Peter passed him a spoon and then scooped himself a large bite. Summer shoved Davis, laughing.
Kaci leaned toward Winter. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Peter made a joke that Winter didn’t hear. Summer and Davis laughed.
“For making me come. I needed this.”
Winter nodded. “Me too.”