Lilac in Winter by Susan Pogorzelski
Publication Date: May 26, 2019
Publisher: Brown Beagle Books
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Lilac Sophia Carpenter is sixteen years old. She’s going to be sixteen years old for the rest of her life.
Confined to her bed as her health declines, Lilac lives her life in daydreams, imagining her love story to her former best friend, Nathan Emery. But Lilac and Nathan haven’t talked since that fateful night—the night of her sister’s wedding, when her health worsened and his life unraveled and the already-fractured pieces of their friendship became irreparable.
With the comfort of her daydreams becoming more and more elusive, Lilac must decide if reality can be greater than her own imagination when there’s little time left for living.
Please provide a deleted scene
I actually don’t have any deleted scenes. This book came together in a surprising and somewhat miraculous way. But I’m happy to share a scene that almost didn’t make the cut:
Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like if Nathan hadn’t moved in next door when he was six. What if his parents didn’t like the portico or the gables or the narrow front porch and chose the modern house with the view of the river instead? What if we didn’t ride the bus to school every day or dig for dinosaur bones in the creek out back every afternoon? What if we didn’t run across the yards to attend each other’s birthday parties, what if we didn’t ever look at the stars?
What if, for all these years, we were only strangers?
- I guess we’ll go there and see how this one turns out…
We know each other on the periphery the way most people know their mailman or their hairstylist or that one bagger at the grocery store. A face. Maybe a name. But rarely anything more. Every so often, we’ll glance at each other as we pass in the hallways at school. Once in a while, our eyes will meet across the crowded cafeteria tables at lunch. But it’s nothing more than fleeting curiosity. Just a flicker of recognition, a mild interest, an acknowledgement that here’s someone else in the world who doesn’t mean anything, but maybe for one moment, someday, they will.
We have first-period art together our freshman year of high school. We’ve never had a class together before, and I wonder how that can be, after all these years in the same district. We take our seats, his eyes skimming the room for someone familiar until they land on me. I see the slight arch of his eyebrows, the question casting a shadow in his eyes.
Do I know you?
Nope. I’m just another face in the crowd. Just another voice piping up from the back of the room. He’s nobody to me. I’m nothing to him.
Mr. Berber claps his hands, and we all quiet down and turn around to face the front of the room, waiting for him to take attendance.
“Everyone here?” he asks. “Good. Let’s get started.”
Mr. Berber will go down in our personal history as the coolest teacher we’ll ever have. The first week of school, he wears old concert t-shirts featuring Led Zeppelin and The Doors, which wins approval from at least half the kids in the class and nonchalance from the others. But then he gets reamed out by the principal and begins wearing button-down dress shirts, his long hair pulled back in a ponytail and his gray goatee trimmed so he looks like every other teacher and their dad.
He holds up a finger when he walks in the door wearing a tweed blazer and carrying a brown leather briefcase. Then he dumps the blazer and briefcase on the floor in a corner and rolls up the sleeves of his shirt, and we spy the familiar tie-dye of a Grateful Dead t-shirt through the thin fabric. He notices us whispering to each other because he winks, closes the door, and pops in a CD. A second later, an electric guitar pierces the air.
“Let this be a lesson for all of you,” he says. “They can dress you up, but they can’t take away who you are. Or what you are.” Then he grabs a paintbrush, tosses it in the air the way I’ve seen drummers do on TV, and yells, “Let’s get to work!”
We spend the first semester learning the basics. Perspective. Shading. Texture. We sketch trees and fruit and scenery. We create self-portraits out of newspaper and magazines. We make clay molds from old shoes and render our personalities on them. I paint purple polka dots. At the table across the aisle from me, I notice Nathan coating his shoe with a simple layer of dark blue.
He looks up at me, like he’s startled I’ve said anything, and I realize I’ve spoken out loud and now I’m startled I’ve said anything. But there they are. The words are between us. We’re not just aware of each other’s existence anymore, we’re in each other’s lives, if only for this brief second, and there’s no going back.
He shakes his head and glances down, runs the tip of his brush against the sole of the shoe. He doesn’t say anything.
“Sky?” I guess again because it’s too late now. I’m already way too deep in this.
“No,” he says, and I frown.
“Blueberries?” The girl on the other side of him glares at me, but I can’t stop myself. “Rainclouds? Robin’s eggs? Oh! The moon?”
“It’s nothing, okay?” There’s an anger in his voice I don’t expect, and I clamp my mouth shut. He must see the surprise in my eyes because he sighs and ducks his head, his eyes focused back on his artwork. When he speaks again, his voice is quieter, remorse buried somewhere nearby. “It represents nothing.”
I don’t get it. I don’t know what I said that was so bad, but when I try to make conversation with him again at the sink, he scrubs at his brushes wordlessly, then walks away as soon as he can.
We don’t talk again for weeks.
When we walk into class the Monday after Christmas break, the chalkboard is covered with images of significant moments in history. Soldiers raising a flag atop a pile of rubble. Astronauts walking on the moon. A newspaper cutout proclaiming the fall of the Berlin Wall. On the floor below the chalkboard is a plastic toy chest filled with odd materials: twigs and yarn and metal coils. A collection of Legos. Modeling clay. Old machine parts and screws and magnets affixed to sheet metal.
“What’s up with all this, Mr. B?” CJ Bartlett calls out from the back of the room.
“This,” Mr. Berber announces, “is your next project. The convergence of two of the most powerful abstract ideas: history and art.” He holds up a hand. “‘Ah, but Mr. B,’ I can hear you saying. ‘History isn’t abstract.’” We pause and glance at each other. We’re pretty sure no one is saying that, but Mr. Berber continues anyway. “But isn’t it? Isn’t it? Isn’t history just the retelling of a story? And what is art if not the visual expression of that story?
“So, my young savants,” he says, crossing to the front of the room and pointing to the chalkboard. “You’ll each be assigned a significant event in history and use art to tell its story. And because in this room I get to play God, I’ll choose your event and your partner for you.” He scans the room, then points to me and Nathan. “You two. Pair up.”
Yep. This isn’t going to go well. We spend the rest of the class period barely talking as we try to plan our project around D-Day, but it feels like World War II between us. Only a little more…quiet. Nathan refuses to look at me when I ask him if he wants to make a replica of Normandy out of Legos, so I, in turn, decide to ignore him.
The next day, I make it even easier on him. I don’t show up to school at all.
I’m stuck in the hospital for three days while they run a battery of tests on me because they can’t figure out how to get my fever down or why my muscles have suddenly decided not to work. When I’m finally home, it’s nearly February and another full week before I’m feeling well enough to go back to school.
That’s the way it really happened. But we’re not talking about what really happened. Not now, anyway…
Mr. Berber claps his hands together when he sees me sitting across the aisle from Nathan. “You’re both back. Good. Your project’s due today.”
I whirl around to look at Nathan. He looks just as surprised as I do.
Mr. Berber raises his eyebrows. “No project? Interesting, interesting… You can both come in at lunch to work. Moving on!”
I’m the first to arrive to the empty classroom at lunchtime, so I head to the back where the toy chest now sits and kneel beside it, digging for stray Lego pieces. I don’t hear him come up behind me, but he drops his backpack and kneels down beside me. I pause and glance at him, then add a plastic palm tree to the pile of colorful bricks between us.
“Why didn’t you do the project?” he asks me.
“Why didn’t you?”
“I wasn’t here.”
“Well, neither was I.”
We stare at each other, at a stalemate. No one will be the winner today—not when our grade is on the line and we’re both at risk of losing.
He pulls out a green base plate and flips it over in his hands. “I guess we can start with this,” he says.
I nod in agreement. “That can be the beach.”
“Maybe we can build a tank, draw a Nazi flag on it.”
“And then a plane for the Allies.”
“And this—” He holds up a Lego man decked out in what looks like a superhero outfit. “He can be a parachuter.”
I giggle, and his mouth curves up in a grin. I realize I’ve never seen him smile before, and I feel my cheeks grow warm when I find myself wishing he would smile more.
“But how are we going to tell a story?” I ask.
He frowns and glances in the toy chest, then pulls out a loose ball of yarn and begins unraveling it. “We can create a zipline from the plane down to the beach.”
“And have him topple over the flag!” I exclaim, getting the idea.
“Good,” a new voice says from behind us.
We whirl around to see Mr. Berber leaning in the doorway, watching. “Your project’s complete. Go grab some lunch.”
Nathan and I exchange glances.
“But we didn’t make anything yet,” he says.
Mr. Berber walks towards us, crossing his arms. “Art isn’t always brushstrokes and sculptures. That’s what I want you kids to learn. Art is what you see, what you feel, what you create in the world around you.” He nods towards the scattered Lego bricks between us. “Don’t think I haven’t seen the wall you’ve been building all year. It’s why I paired you two up. Potential, that’s what you have. And now, here you are, two opposing sides uniting to become friends and solve a problem. That kind of thing can break down barriers.” He points to the newspaper cutout still on the chalkboard. “That kind of art can end wars.”
Nathan stares at his hands, fiddling with the toy figure. I play with the plastic leaves of a palm tree.
“You both get an ‘A,’” Mr. Berber says. He tilts his head towards the door. “Now come on. You’ve still got time for lunch before your next class.”
“I’d like to do the project anyway,” Nathan says quietly.
I glance at him, then nod. “Me, too.”
Mr. Berber stops, a smile slowly spreading across his face like he’s just confirmed something he’s suspected all along. “Suit yourselves,” he says. “I’ll be at the easel if you need me.”
A moment later, soft rock rises from the CD player at the front of the room. I glance at Nathan, then snap the palm tree on the plastic base and resume building the tank.
“I’m sorry I didn’t do the project,” I hear him say quietly. “My dad was sick. He, uh. He tends to get sick a lot around the holidays, you know? So I stayed home to make sure…”
His voice trails off. I stare at the bricks in my hand, lock another one into place.
“I was in the hospital,” I tell him. “They did all sorts of tests, but they’re still not entirely sure what’s wrong with me. They think my cells… They don’t function like other people’s cells.”
He holds up the Lego figure. “You mean like superhuman cells?”
“No, the opposite.”
He’s silent for a minute as he figures out what I mean. “Are you okay?”
I shrug. “Today I am.”
“What about tomorrow?”
“I hope so.”
“Yeah, me too,” Nathan says. “It would suck to lose a friend.”
I wish this is what happened. I wish Nathan and I had met all these years later in art class with a cool teacher named Mr. Berber who called us friends before we even knew that’s what we were becoming. I wish our real friendship wasn’t so fractured, that something like art could end this war—this division that exists between us—that’s existed between us for years.
I wish we’d had this second chance.
But there’s no use in wishing. Even if we met when we were fourteen, everything that came after would still be the same.
We still wouldn’t have enough time.
Susan Pogorzelski is the award-winning author of Gold in the Days of Summer: A Novella.Her first full-length novel, The Last Letter, is a semi-autobiographical account of her experiences living with Chronic Lyme Disease and was an Honorable Mention in the 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. When she’s not writing her own stories of nostalgia and the magic of everyday life, she works as a consultant, editor, and creative coach at Brown Beagle Books and is the founder of LymeBrave Foundation, Inc. She lives in South-Central Pennsylvania with her family and two dogs.
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- One (1) winner will receive a physical copy of Lilac in Winter by Susan Pogorzelski
Lynda Dickson says
I LOVE this cover!. The book description and the excerpt make me read the book, but it’s so pretty I also want to own a physical copy.
Congrats on the new release! Thanks for sharing the great excerpt.
Elizabeth Robinson says
Love the cover. Thanks for the giveaway.
Mayor Sonni (@Readeropolis) says
Congrats on the new release! Why did this scene almost not make it in the book? Best of luck with the book and book tour! I saw this post in the Monday, Jun. 17, 2019 edition of The BookTube Your Shelf Daily Reader.
Teresa D Kunberger says
This Cover is so pretty! Makes me wanna go smell the flowers!!!