The great oak tree reached its arms to the sky—higher, higher, higher. Lissa lay on a quilt at its foot and gazed through spring-green leaves to the gray sky beyond. It made her feel dizzy. She closed her eyes.
“Lissa, will you help me get up the tree?”
Her eyes opened. It took her a moment to focus on her little brother, Spencer, looming above her. “Uh-uh,” she said. “The wind’s too wild. You’d be scared.”
“I wouldn’t be scared.”
“Then I would be.” Even as she spoke, thunder rumbled in the distance. The wind became a mad thing, suddenly swirling and tearing in all directions. The giant pines in their yard swayed and bent as if they would snap in two. The oak was a churning green sea, its leafy whisper changed to a roar.
Spencer drew in a frightened breath. Lissa laughed and leapt to her feet. She caught his hands and whirled him around and around until he was laughing, too. “Will the wind blow us away?” he asked.
“No,” Lissa said. But it felt like it might.
“Come inside now,” Dad called from the house.
Lissa and Spencer hesitated and whirled around again.
“Now!” Dad yelled. “Before the storm hits.”
Even as Lissa snatched up her quilt and dashed for the door, fat raindrops struck her skin. By the time they were inside, the rain was pouring down in silver sheets.
While Dad made them hot chocolate, Lissa and Spencer dried themselves off. They slipped beneath blankets on the couch and sipped their drinks. How cozy and safe it felt in the house, although the walls seemed to tremble and the windows rattled.
Dad huddled with them. “When I call you,” he said, “you need to come right away. Don’t stop to think about it. Just come. There’s always a good reason.”
Lissa and Spencer nodded.
The room grew dim. Dad switched on the lamp. He brought a book of stories to read aloud and drew them close.
It was hard to listen.
Boom! shouted the thunder.
Spencer jumped. Lissa shivered. White lightning flashed. Then B-O-O-M! It was explosive!
Dad sprang to his feet and ran to the window. Lissa and Spencer followed. “What was that?” Lissa asked, her heart thudding in her chest.
Dad peered through the gloom. “Looks like the oak tree’s down. Good thing it missed the house.”
“Oh, no!” Lissa cried. “I love that tree.”
The storm passed on.
A few days later, Dad took his chain saw out to the fallen tree. “We can use it for firewood,” he told Lissa and Spencer.
Lissa said nothing. She still wanted to cry when she saw the oak stretched out in their yard. Its branches were tangled, and its great clump of dirt-choked roots lay exposed. She watched from the porch step, her chin in her hands, as Dad worked.
Spencer scrambled over the trunk like a squirrel. He ignored scratched knees and sap-sticky hands. After a while he disappeared. “I’m down in this big hole where the roots were,” he called. “There are all kinds of bugs and worms poking their heads out.”
“Don’t get too dirty,” Dad called back.
Lissa could hardly hear them over the chain saw’s buzz. Dad was making good progress. He had the branches off and was starting to cut the trunk into sections. Lissa sucked in a breath of the fresh-cut wood smell.
Dad put the saw down for a moment. He reached his arms above his head to stretch his back. He flashed a smile at Lissa. Her return smile fled when his expression changed to a look of horror. “No!” he yelled.
It happened too fast to even think. Without the weight of its limbs to hold it down, the trunk of the tree had risen from the ground and its heavy ball of dirt and roots smashed back into the hole with a thud that shook the earth. The trunk quivered for a moment. No movement or sound came from the hole.
“Spencer!” Dad and Lissa screamed at the same time. They raced for the hole. Tears streamed down Lissa’s cheeks as she and Dad shoved at the trunk. It didn’t budge. They kept trying.
“What’s the matter?” Spencer’s voice came from behind them. “How’d the tree stand up again?”
Lissa and Dad whirled around. Spencer watched them calmly from beside a clump of azaleas.
Dad’s face collapsed with emotion as he grabbed Spencer to him.
“Where were you?” Lissa asked. Her voice sounded strange.
“Behind the bushes,” Spencer said into Dad’s shirt.
“We thought—we thought you were down in the hole!” Lissa put her arms around both Dad and her brother.
“You thought I got squished?” Spencer asked, pulling away from them.
“I was down there,” Spencer said, “but Dad told me to get out.”
Dad looked at him. “I didn’t.”
“Yes you did,” Spencer insisted. “You said, ‘Get out of the hole right now.’”
Dad shook his head. “It wasn’t me. Was it you, Lissa?”
Spencer’s eyes grew wide.
“I’m glad you listened,” Lissa whispered.
“And obeyed,” Dad added.
Spencer gave a shaky grin. “I guess I always will from now on.”
“Me, too,” Lissa said. And she meant it with all her heart.