Peanut butter and jelly. Tarzan and Jane. Salt and pepper. Tom and Jerry. Some things just belong together, even as extremes on opposite ends of the spectrum.
That’s the great thing about friendship. Relationships with our polar opposite sharpens our attitudes, challenges our thinking, and carves out bonds that last a lifetime.
Such is the case for two characters in my latest novel Where Dandelions Bloom.
Cassie Kendrick is on the run from her abusive father. The only way she sees to escape his reach is to enlist as a soldier in the Union army. The rigors of war—drilling, fatigue, the deception—all threaten to crush her, until she finds a soul as lonely as her own…a nine-year old boy named Jonah Phifer.
Orphaned and alone, Jonah has been thrust into the heart of the conflict as an errand boy for a Union commander. While Cassie (Thomas) is serious and thoughtful, Jonah is mischievous and outgoing. They both protect each other from harm, as well as annoying each other to distraction.
And isn’t that what friends do best?
Here’s an excerpt:
“My name’s Thomas Turner.” She stuck out her hand, and after a moment’s hesitation, the scruffy boy offered his own sunburned paw.
“Nice to meet you, Jonah.”
“Where you from?”
“Missouri.” He wiped his nose with the back of his hand. “You?”
The gruff tone melted away as Jonah blinked at her in the light of the dancing fire. “Does it get cold up there?”
Blond hair peeked out from underneath the brim of his kepi. “We get some snow, but I’ve always wanted to see a great big bully snow. Snow so deep you can build a house out of it and live like them Eskimos I’ve heard about.”
“We get snow deep enough to do that.”
His chest puffed out. “Of course, I’m used to the heat and humidity too. Our summers are tough. They‘ll make a man out of ya.” Shooting her a haughty glance, he lifted a brow. “Something Michigan types don’t know much about.”
So much pride packed into such a tiny body. She kept her face serious. “You’re right. I’m not used to this heat. I feel sticky all the time.”
Jonah barked a sudden laugh. “My buddy Wes says stepping outside in the air during July is like getting licked in the face by a slobbering cow.”
Cassie’s chest bloomed with pleasure as she laughed along with him. What a funny little boy.
“How old are you, Jonah?”
“I’m ten.” He lifted his chin as if daring her to refute him.
Cassie grunted. “Hmm. I would have guessed thirteen or fourteen.” A wispy smile of pleasure hovered over Jonah’s mouth. “What’s your job, soldier?”
” He frowned. “I was wanting to be a powder monkey for the Federal Navy. Trained for it and everything, but I couldn’t get my sea legs.” He sighed melodramatically. “I sure was looking forward to blowing stuff up.”
She suppressed the laughter bubbling for release. “Sounds like an interesting job . . . if you take away the queasy stomach.”
Jonah tossed a rock into the fire and smiled with satisfaction when it made the logs shift, causing the wood to snap and whistle. “I like that sound. What makes burning wood whistle like that?”
“How did you manage to enlist? Being underage and all?”
Jonah sniffed, his face turning dark. “Schoolmaster Howe encouraged the recruitment officers to give me a try. They take on drummer boys, so why not?” His little jaw tightened. “I’m an orphan.” He turned to her with a scowl. “That don’t make me lonely or sad or anything like that, you know.”
“Of course not.”
Straightening his spindly shoulders, Jonah scratched the straw-colored hair crammed under his kepi. “No, Howe thought he was getting rid of me, but what he didn’t know was that I hoped to join up. I wanted to join up.” Jonah glowered. “I was thrilled to get away from that old man.”
“I take it you two didn’t see eye to eye.”
“No, sir.” Jonah shook his head. “He hated me and I hated him.”
He shrugged. “Don’t know. He called me a poor little orphan boy a lot, and that made me fighting mad. Also called me the devil’s son from time to time.” Jonah turned to Cassie with an incredulous glare. “
She somehow managed to keep a straight face. “Doesn’t make much sense.”
“’Xactly. He sure could get mad. Like the last day, he took a switch to me. I asked him a question and called him ‘Teacher.’ He didn’t like that none. He wanted us to call him Schoolmaster Howe.” Jonah snorted. “He stopped in his tracks and said, ‘Mr. Phifer, can you be so kind as to call me by my respectful name?’ So I says, ‘Of course, Schoolmaster Howe-’d-he-get-so-ugly-and-mean.’”
It took all of Cassie’s willpower not to burst into gales of laughter.
“Old Man Howe like to have whipped me raw that day. So, you see, when he was happy to recommend me as fit to serve, I was more than happy to oblige him. The captains here drill us until I’m bored out of my mind, but at least they don’t whip me or call me the devil’s son.”
Keeping her smile in check, Cassie nodded. “Well, I’m glad you’re here. Say, I’ve got a group of friends I’d like to introduce you to. We’re gonna play some cards before bed. You want to join in?”
Jonah’s slow manner spoke of reluctance, but there was no hiding the excited pleasure that filled his eyes. “I reckon that’d be okay.”
“I appreciate it.”
They stood and walked side by side.
“I like you, Private Turner. You don’t jaw too much at all and that’s nice.”
Cassie winked. “Happy to oblige, Private Phifer.”
Question: Do you have a friend who is your polar opposite? How so? I would love to hear!
About the Author:
Tara Johnson is an author and speaker, and loves to write stories that help people break free from the lies they believe about themselves.
Tara’s debut novel Engraved on the Heart (Tyndale) earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, as well as numerous other accolades. In addition to be published in a variety of digital and print magazines, she has been a featured guest on Voice of Truth radio, Enduring Word radio, television and podcasts. She is a history nerd, especially the Civil War, and adores making people laugh. She, her husband, and children live in Arkansas.
Author with Tyndale House Publishers
Where Dandelions Bloom by Tara Johnson releases today, July 1, 2019. For a chance to win a free copy, subscribe to my blog. I’ll draw a name from my subscribers and announce the winner on Facebook on Friday, July 5, 2019.