Moving to Kitchener hasn’t been an easy transition for Juliana. So, when Juliana’s first dance practice at her new studio goes horribly wrong and her dad dismisses her feelings, Juliana snaps, unleashing years of resentment over his job as a truck driver. With no one to talk to, Juliana turns to the only thing that has given her comfort in Kitchener: her great-grandmother’s sketchbook.
Elisabeth needs her father now more than ever: a wedding on his side of the family means she must spend time with his hateful family members without him there to protect her. But his cousin Georg is different. Not haughty like the others, he suffers from frightening nightmares from the war. Everyone fears Georg, but the more Elisabeth gets to know him, the more she believes Georg’s fits are not what others claim them to be.
As Juliana and Elisabeth struggle with the conflicts in their families, they come closer to understanding the long-held pain that caused them. With a little empathy and understanding, could both girls find a way to close the distance between them and their family members before their pain becomes a permanent scar on their relationships?
The Distance is the second book in Lori Wolf-Heffner’s contemporary/historical series, Between Worlds. If you love history, the arts, and family ties, pick up a copy of The Distance and enjoy a story that spans generations.
"This series of books were SO good, and not only did my 12-13 year old love them and want to read more, but as a mom in my 30s this felt like a blast back to reading books as a teen and I just binged the whole series in a few days. It's so amazing how you can feel like you're connecting to BOTH main characters who are so different, but also learning things about a different way of life than the one we are accustomed to. Lori, thank you so much for this refreshing and wholesome read and a reminder of why I fell in love with books in the first place!"
“Juliana?” An older woman, perhaps in her sixties, withher gray hair styled in an old-fashioned tight perm, cameout from behind her desk.
Juliana nodded, her voice locked in her throat.
“I’m Mrs. Laing. We’ve emailed a few times.”
The friendly older woman who looked like she couldbe anyone’s grandmother didn’t fit the image Juliana had in her mind of the Mrs. D. Laing who wrote the cold emails. She blushed when she realized she couldn’t have been more wrong about this, too.
“Yeah, we did,” Juliana said. “Um, where do I go?”
Mrs. Laing smiled like the grandmothers on television who invited their grandchildren inside for a scoop of ice cream after a hot summer’s day of outdoor play. Only instead of offering ice cream, Mrs. Laing was inviting Juliana into a new world of dance. “Follow me.”
“I’ll be back in two hours, okay?” Dad said. “I’m going to pick up some food for tomorrow night. Your mom’s family’s coming over again.”
Part of Juliana wanted to grab Dad by the arm and drag him inside with her, and another part wanted her to act brave and hold up her chin. You’re not a baby anymore! she admonished herself and waved to Dad.
Mrs. Laing took Juliana down one hallway, pointed out a few music rooms and washrooms, the junior girls’ changeroom, the boys’ change room, and then the intermediate girls’ change room.
“You’re in here. Why don’t you leave your bag there and then we’ll finish the tour.”
Juliana pushed open the heavy door and was greeted by a room with bags all over the benches, and ten or more winter coats on the hooks. She made a mental note to bring her jacket in here next time.
But did this mean she was she the last one? She swallowed.
“Am I late?”Mrs. Laing smiled her kind smile again and shook her head. “They’re just finishing up their acro practice. If I recall, you didn’t register for acro this year.”
Juliana shook her head. “I’ve never done it, and Mom and Dad thought it would be too much for me.”
“It is very demanding,” Mrs. Laing confirmed. “Especially if you haven’t done it before.”
Juliana’s confidence took a nose dive, though it admittedly didn’t have very high to dive from. Did that mean all the others in her competition group were human pretzels?
“Come along,” Mrs. Laing said, but her urging was gentle, not harsh. She pointed out the senior and adult women’s change room, an accessible washroom, a hallway with two small studios for little kids, and then the main hallway with the dance studios.
It seemed to stretch on forever with its high ceilings and white walls.
“There are five studios down that hallway,” Mrs. Laing said, “aptly referred to by their numbers.”
“Like every other studio, I guess, eh?” Juliana said.
Mrs. Laing responded with her smile. “Get changed, put on your tap shoes, and then go back to Studio 3 in five minutes.”
Juliana nodded. She turned around to hurry back and then stopped. “Um, which way?” Her face grew hot and she hadn’t even stepped inside a studio yet.
Mrs. Laing’s face wrinkled like a raisin as she smiled. She spoke kindly, “You’ll be fine, Juliana. Your team is a good team. There’s no need to rush. If you walk in one minute late, you walk in one minute late. This is your first day, and I know Miss Denise will be understanding.” She pointed Juliana in the right direction.
Was it really this relaxed here? Miss Kasia would positively growl if you walked in a minute late.
Juliana whipped off her warm-up clothes and ripped open her dance bag to find her tap shoes. After a few moments, she began to panic.
She dumped her bag on the ground and pushed asidehip-hop shoes, jazz shoes, pointe shoes, ballet shoes, toe supplies for her pointe shoes, hair elastics, bobby pins, antiperspirant, leggings, everything. Everything but her tapshoes.
She slapped herself on her forehead. “I left them in thebasement!”
Her fingers shaking, she tore open the zipper in her bag with her phone in it. She pressed a button on her phone.“Call Dad” she instructed it. Her hand shook as she waited for her father to answer.
“This is Paul. Sorry I can’t talk right now. I’m driving. Leave a message.”
Juliana’s voice shook. “Dad? Why aren’t you picking up? I forgot my tap shoes!”
Realizing yelling at his voicemail was counter-productive, Juliana hung up and dialled home.
“Opa? Where’s Mom?”
“Who is this?”
“Oh, of course! You sound like your cousins to my old ears.”
Juliana had no time for his grandfathering. “Nice. Where’s Mom?”
“Let me think...”
Juliana’s heart was ready to break through her rib cage. “She’s not home?”
“No, she left to go somewhere, but I don’t remember where.”
“Okay, I’ll try her cell. Thanks—”
“She left it on the table, Yulika. It keeps beeping. Do you know how I turn it off? It annoys me.”
Every word Juliana wasn’t allowed to use flew into her head and she tried to push them all away. The last thing she needed was for Mrs. Laing to hear her swearing.
“I have to go,” Juliana said.
“Is everything okay?”
“I left my tap shoes in the basement. I have to go.”
“You’ll be fine, Yulika. Don’t worry.”
“You don’t understand! You don’t show up to dance class without your shoes!”
“You’ll be fine. I can’t wait to hear about your first classwhen you get home.” Opa hung up.
Juliana slumped onto the bench. Her first dance class and she didn’t have her tap shoes.
The clock chimed three, and it was nearly time to leave: Elisabeth needed to cook supper. She looked over to Anna’s handiwork to see how far she’d come. Anna had chosen a simple rose pattern for her handkerchief: two roses in each corner, their petals stitched in red thread and their leaves and stem in green. Seven of the eight roses were already finished, and Elisabeth knew Mammi would certainly be upset if her daughters left without finishing.
“That looks lovely,” Elisabeth said, and Anna beamed. The other women glanced over at the young girl’s work and nodded in approval.
“You’ll make a fine wife someday if you keep up with that,” said Margarethe-Néni. “And speak a little more. We’ve hardly heard you say a thing these past several hours.”
Anna’s temples twitched, but no one seemed to notice.The conversation simply continued about others in the village. Elisabeth had had to stifle yawns several times to prevent herself from drifting off to sleep, stabbing herself with her needle, or thinking about Tata. Why hadn’t she heard from him yet? She glanced up at the crucifix that hung over the doorway. Was Tata truly so far away that not even Jesus could see him? Why else wouldn’t Jesus give Elisabeth a sign that he was well? She was trying so hard to be a pious girl—surely some good must come of her efforts?
“Anna, finish up,” she said to her sister. “We should go: I need to start supper shortly.”
She headed through the kitchen into the back room to retrieve their shawls. As she returned, Georg entered through the house door. His short hair was neatly trimmed, his face shaven clean, and his broad chest and thick arms showed no signs of feebleness. He removed his hat and nodded.
“Hello, Elisabeth,” he said, though without a smile.
The creases in his face made him look older than he was. If he had been anyone else, Elisabeth would have taken his still face to mean something rude, and indeed, many in the village did view him that way. His shaking, his unfriendly greetings, his quiet demeanour—all these things often embarrassed his family. But he was a trades-man: he would take over his father’s blacksmith shop someday, so that—and only that—gave him respect, because there were few tradesmen among the German Lutherans.
“I’m here to pick up Eva to go visit her family.”
“We’re almost finished, I believe,” Elisabeth answered, frozen in her spot.
Georg removed his boots without saying another word, walked into the front room, and nodded to everyone around the table.
“Hello, Georg,” Eva said, beaming, but even to such a happy welcome he just nodded and left the room. Elisabeth saw Margarethe-Néni’s flash of anger once Georg turned around, while Eva’s face fell. Elisabeth wondered if this happened all the time. To Elisabeth’s relief, Anna was just tying off her threads.
Elisabeth hung the shawls over the back of a chair and smoothed out her handkerchief on the table: she had two blue birds in each corner, joined by a chain of leaves that travelled along each edge. For an extra blessing, she had embroidered a little star on top of each pair of birds. She had begun the handkerchief earlier in the week, so she finished it today.
“Elisabeth, you truly have a gift from God,” Margarethe-Néni said and thanked her.
“I can do one more at home if you’d like,” Elisabeth offered. It wasn’t as enjoyable as the drawing she loved to do, but it would give her a break from her chores without causing Mammi to complain. Margarethe-Néni happily accepted the offer and handed her another cotton square. Elisabeth and Anna collected their bags and shawls and the others followed them, congregating at the house door, in the kitchen. Georg was sitting at the table, puffing on a cigarette. Judging by his unfocused eyes, he was lost in thought.
“Georg,” Eva said, “your cousins are leaving.”
Georg nodded to both girls but otherwise said nothing.
Elisabeth and Anna wrapped their shawls around their shoulders, and Gretche reached around Anna to the table beside the oven to pass Anna her red mittens.
“No,” Georg said, shaking his head. His cigarette dropped onto the floor and Georg jumped up from his chair, his eyes fixed on the mittens.
“Georg,” Eva said, her voice polite but stern. “I just told your cousins that you’re doing better. Stop this.”
Still staring at the mittens, he wrapped his arms aroundhimself, as though he was trying to stop his body from shaking.
“Don’t shoot!” he yelled.
Realizing the mittens had somehow caused his change, Elisabeth turned Anna around, said a hurried round of goodbyes herself, and rushed out.
“No!” she could hear Georg call from inside. “Leave him!”
The girls walked around to the front of the house,where Elisabeth stopped in her tracks as she saw Margarethe-Néni slap Georg in the face. “Stop embar-rassing our family!” she screamed, her voice carrying through the several panes of windows. She saw Georg collapse in the doorway.
Anna’s eyes and mouth were wide open, and Elisabeth didn’t know what to tell her. “We should go,” she said and tried to push Anna along.
“But he needs help,” Anna replied.
“He has family. They will help him.” She looked up to the sky. Jesus saw this, did He not? He must have. If the two girls had seen Georg, then Jesus must have, too. “Jesus will help Georg, too, when He feels it’s right.”
“Shouldn’t Jesus help him right now? Margarethe-Néni isn’t.”
Elisabeth didn’t have an answer.
Can a sketchbook from the past help Juliana move forward?
How can family rifts be healed when problems from the past keeps pulling them apart?
Growing up is hard enough. Why does family have to make it harder?
Friends hold our hands and light the way through tragedy, no matter how far away they live.
When do you give up on a search for a family treasure?
Can a move half way across the country be a blessing in disguise?
Time will march forward, no matter how terrifying the future seems.
Sometimes a parent’s love, even when deeply desired, can become overwhelming.
Lori Wolf-Heffner began baton twirling as a toddler. But one bonk on the head from that shiny stick sent her to jazz class instead, leading Lori into a successful competition dance career that culminated with becoming an inaugural member of the Canadian National Tap Team in 1996.
In 2015, the Canadian Senior Artists' Resource Network accepted Lori into their one-year mentorship program. Mentored by Carol McQuaig, Lori wrote the first version of Postcards in a Closet, a creative non-fiction memoir about Katharina Wolf, a great-grandmother who was a single mom-to-be in the aftermath of World War I. At first printed only for family, Lori published it later for the public.
Inspired by her great-grandmother’s story, Lori wrote and published Between Worlds 1: The Move in 2018. The rest, as they say, is history.