Winters Thaw - By Mari Carr


This story is dedicated to the strong women in our lives—our grandmothers, Mary, Virginia, Gretchen and Ruth; our mothers, Linda and Susan; and to daughter Glen.


“Shh. Quiet,” Sienna Compton warned as she and her cousins snuck into her family’s barn. It was nearly two a.m. on her sixteenth birthday. Sweet sixteen. At last.

Her cousins—and best friends—Jade, Sterling and Hope had planned a sleepover to celebrate with her. They’d piggy-piled into sleeping bags in Sienna’s bedroom shortly after ten, chatting and giggling for hours. Her dad, Seth, had come in twice to tell them to quiet down.

After a couple hours of whispered conversations, the rest of the house fell silent. That was when Jade had climbed out of her sleeping bag, tiptoed to the door and listened for a moment before declaring the coast was clear.

When Sterling had asked what the heck it was clear for, Jade had refused to answer, picking up her backpack and telling them to follow her. On their way out, they’d detoured through the kitchen so Jade could grab a saltshaker and oranges.

As they reached the hayloft, Sienna grabbed a camp lantern from the supply room and they each took a turn climbing the ladder. Once they reached the top, Sienna turned on the lamp. It cast the area in an eerie, dim light. They sat in a small circle facing each other as Jade produced a bottle of tequila from her bag.

Hope’s eyes went wide. “Where did you get that?”

“I smuggled it out of my parents’ liquor cabinet.”

Sterling shook her head in disbelief. “Uncle Sawyer is going to ground you until you’re forty-seven.”

Jade shrugged, unconcerned. “It’s Sienna’s sixteenth birthday. We need to do something special.”

“The cake I baked for her wasn’t enough?” Hope asked.

Sienna reached over to touch her cousin’s hand. “The cake was perfect. Chocolate is my favorite.”

Jade rolled her eyes. “We always have cake on our birthdays. I thought tonight called for something different. The Mothers always pull this out on special occasions to make a toast. Why shouldn’t we do the same thing?”

Sienna grinned at Jade’s nickname for their moms. The Mothers, as she and her cousins had taken to calling them, were a force unto themselves around Compass Ranch. Sienna was proud to come from such a long line of strong, self-confident women. Her mother, Jody, and aunts Leah, Lucy and Cindi, as well as her beloved grandmother, Vicky—Vivi to them—had raised her to believe in herself, always offering encouragement and unwavering support.

Sienna was part of the Compton heritage, a family whose name was synonymous with power and honor in Compton Pass. The town had been named after her gazillions-great grandfather, and it had grown quite a bit during the years since her granddaddy JD’s death over fifteen years earlier. Though she’d never met JD, his legacy certainly lived on, and Sienna felt as though she had known him through the stories Vivi told her.

“I turned sixteen in May and you didn’t steal tequila for me.” Hope crossed her arms, appearing only slightly put out. Sienna knew her cousin was uncomfortable with the trouble they were risking with this escapade. While Sterling and Jade were the more rebellious of the foursome, she and Hope tended to walk a straighter, narrower line in terms of following the rules.

“I tried,” Jade explained, “but you decided to have a big-ass Sweet Sixteen party at the community center with our whole family and half of Compton Pass. There wasn’t anywhere to hide the damn bottle in that fancy dress I had to wear.”

Hope’s birthday party was still a bone of contention between the two girls. Jade resided squarely in the middle of tomboy camp. Wearing a dress to any event was akin to eating manure. Sienna recalled Aunt Leah telling the other Mothers about the battle she’d waged to get Jade to wear the simple green dress. Aunt Leah knew Jade well enough to buy her a dress without frills, but regardless of her efforts, Jade resisted putting it on. Jade had insisted she’d look just fine in her new jeans, but Aunt Leah had stuck to her guns.

“You were really pretty that night.” Hope remained resolute in her choice of fancy attire for the party. “Half of the boys in our class looked like their eyes would pop out of their heads when you showed up.”

“I think you’re mistaking shock for interest. So, are we gabbing or are we drinking?” Jade pulled the cork out of the bottle of Patrón.

Sterling took a quick sniff, scowling.