In the Shadows of Dryden

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CHAPTER 1 - The lake trail

It was dark when we finally got to my grandmother’s rustic lake house, located on the outskirts of a small town called Dryden. The town was located in a valley, surrounded by huge mountains and lush forests. Its only way in and out was through a mountainous road that often got closed during winter, when the thick layer of snow would make it near impossible to keep the road clear.

Mom has always told us many stories of her childhood there. My grandfather had built the house by Tazia’s lake all by himself before he even met my grandmother. She kept living thereafter until he passed away, many years ago. From time to time, she would come to visit us but never considered moving closer or into Dryden. Guess the house made her feel as if grandpa was still there with her. So, my parents decided it was best if we moved closer instead, especially after she had gotten sick in her old age.

I have always loved to be in close contact with nature and the lake was gigantic, extending all the way to the distant snow-tipped mountains of Needle forest.

My school was going to start the following week so I and my sister Clarisse were unpacking our belongings while mom and dad unpacked the last few boxes from the van.

Clarisse is four years older and taller than me but what’s that, people say? “The best perfumes come in small bottles?” Yeah, I totally agree with that!

“Claire? Claaaaaire?...”

My thoughts were elsewhere as I stared out of the window, so I got startled when a pillow crashed on my face.

“Why did you do that for, Clarisse?” I grabbed the pillow, frowning at my sister.

“I’ve been calling you for minutes now! What’s wrong with you?” She was standing near a box with one hand on her hip, looking annoyed.

“Sorry!!” I looked away embarrassed, placing a hand on the window ledge. “Was just thinking about everything I left behind. I miss my friends and I don’t know anybody here.” Without noticing, I grabbed a picture with my friends and me in a park. My thoughts started to wonder again but sis brought me back to earth.

“Oooh, Claire. I too left all my friends AND my boyfriend behind. We will get over it together and soon make new friends here too.” She moved over to try and hug me, but I lifted up a hand to stop her.

“Thanks, but you were planning on leaving Lennon anyways. Moving out of town just served as the perfect excuse to dump him.”

She glared at me, or tried to, because, after 2 seconds, she sighed and went to sit on the bed with a nonchalant pose.

“Ok! Yes, it’s true.” She half paused for a second. “Partially. But I still left all my friends there.”

“Partially? What do you mean, ‘partially’?” I lifted an eyebrow, curious. Clarisse gently picked up my hand, placing the picture frame on the side table before tugging me to sit beside her. “Look, Claire. I know it won’t be easy for us to start from scratch but granny is old and sick. She needs us here.” She paused her sermon realizing I was staring at her with a frown. “What?”

“Sis, I’m alright, really. I know why we all came here and we all agreed to it. I’m just wondering how things are gonna turn out to be. I can always go back to visit my friends.” I was matter of fact in stating it but the reality was, I was also trying to believe it.

“I see. Here was I thinking you needed a little push-me-up from your big sis.”

She smiled at me, patting on my shoulder and tucking a rogue strand of my red hair behind my ear.

“So… what are your plans? You’re twenty-one, have a beautiful face and a drop dead gorgeous body. To top it off, you just got your teacher’s degree!” I asked half smiling, trying to change the subject.

*KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK*

The knocking sound interrupted us before she could answer.

“Girls, we’re gonna go eat out today. Dad and I are just finishing unloading the last boxes. Be ready in twenty!”

“YES, MOM!” We answered in unison.

We quickly organized the last few things in the right place, letting the silence take over the room. Clarisse finished first, heading for the door. Since she would only sleep in my room for a few extra days while her own room was being painted, she only unpacked the essential things. Casually holding the door by the doorknob, she turned to me with a ‘smart’ kind of smile.

“You know, my relationship with Lennon showed me that I needed a change in my life that I don’t think I could have had there. THAT’S what I meant with ‘partially’. Plus, there is a daycare center here who would like to hire me. My interview is scheduled for tomorrow.” She paused, thinking about something that made her lips curve into a grin. “Who knows? I might even find ‘mister right’ here.” She winked at me. “I’m heading downstairs. Don’t be late!”

And just like that, she disappeared through the door, heading downstairs.

The rest of the day was inconsequential. We went to eat together at a diner, whose owner was a nice middle-aged woman by the name of Sida Pilfer. After that, we went back home to finish organizing some more stuff before heading to bed.

***

*KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK*

“Girls, time to wake up! Get dressed and come downstairs. Breakfast is served!”

As usual, mom comes to wake us up in the morning even if we wake up perfectly by ourselves at the right time. Guess that’s a mother’s thing.

Slowly, Clarisse and I got up from our beds. I put on a white shirt and black shorts that I had separated the day before. After putting my shoes on and grabbed my favorite cream leather jacket, I headed to the door. My sister was already waiting so we would go downstairs together. The amazing smell of eggs and bacon on a french toast hit our noses.

Mom had managed to set the table, cook, eat breakfast, and was already organizing some things from the boxes in their right places. Sometimes, I wonder if she’s a witch to be able to do all that so early in the morning. Might be another mother superpower thing.

“Gosh, I slept like a rock!!” Clarisse sat in a relaxing pose, sighing in contentment.

“You always sleep like a rock! It’s the people sleeping near you that suffer from lack of sleep.” I walked straight past her, to grab the milk from the refrigerator.

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, you know very well! It’s like an elephant parade when you snore. Feels like there is an earthquake going on in the room.” I sat down and poured the milk in my mug. Mom cracked a light smile while Charisse waved me off, accustomed to my jokes.

“Oh, come on! Don’t be dramatic!”

I slammed the palm of my hands together as if praying, lifting them up, thanking God for that. Clarisse rolled her eyes and dug into her breakfast.

“So, what are you girls planning on doing today?” Mom eyed Clarisse for a little bit as she hung a picture on the living room wall.

“Nothing planned yet. Maybe a stroll through the forest. What do you say, Claire?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Oh, by the way, mom, I’m going to a work interview tomorrow.”

“A job interview? That’s nice! Why haven’t you told me about it before?”

Mom’s curious eyes peeked over at Clarisse just to see her answer by lifting her shoulders as an ‘I don’t know’.

“I wanted it to be a surprise?”

“I see. Well, good luck on your interview!”

She was now carefully unwrapping something as she turned to me.

“I take it, you will be going into the forest with your sister?”

“Yep! I want to check out the lake trail. I will also look up where my school is and explore around town tomorrow. Maybe another walk in the forest afterward too. I don’t know. How about you, mom? Oh, by the way, where is dad?” My searching eyes looked about trying to find him.

“Your school is right by the diner we went to yesterday night. Didn’t you see it? Actually, it’s near the hospital.”

“Oh!! I toth-tally michhhed it! Hmmm… Thanks, mom!”

She gave me an amused eye while clicking her tongue in annoyance.

“Aren’t you a bit too old not to know that you shouldn’t speak with your mouth full?” I nodded and shrugged at the same time, in an apologetic matter.

“Dad went into town to buy a few things for the house. I’m supposed to meet him there.” She paused, carefully placing one of her many naked Greek statues on the shelf and backed away to inspect how they looked like while holding her chin with both her index and thumb fingers. “Hmm… that will do.”

“By the way, when are we gonna see granny in the hospital?”

“Not exactly sure Clarisse. Marie Kykelviyk, her old friend, went to the nearby city with mom to help her get a special exam done. She will let me know when they are back.” She glanced at the wall clock and turned to grab her purse and car keys before heading out. “Behave, you two! Anything, call me! Love ya!” She waved at us and closed the door.

“So Claire, should we get going?”

I just nodded back an answer before drinking the rest of my milk chocolate.

After breakfast, we prepared our water bottles, chocolate, and some other supplies. Once outside, we walked up to the lake to follow the trail. It was completely taken by vegetation, though we could still see the red sign marks carved on the trees, indicating the right path.

“It will be nice to live this close to nature.”

“It sure will!” answered Clarisse.

We must have walked for about thirty minutes talking about everything and nothing until the conversation shifted another way.

“I wonder if we will be able to find a boyfriend around here.” Clarisse kept on poking a long wood stick on the ground as she walked.

“Hmm…”

“What’s wrong, Claire?” she was curiously glancing at me.

“Nothing! Was just thinking if I will ever even find someone I truly like. I mean, someone I’d like to spend the rest of my life with.”

“Oh, wow! Here was I thinking about a good boyfriend to date and you’re way ahead in time, thinking about marriage!!! Good Lord, Claire. Date, have fun first!!”

It was embarrassing hearing her say it that way when it wasn’t exactly what I meant. Especially hearing her laugh of my now red face.

“But I do plan on dating! I’m just…”

*SPLASH*

We both turned toward the noise with a big question mark floating over our heads. Silently, we approached the lake, being careful to hide behind some trees and bushes to peak in.

“Look there!” Whispered Clarisse as she pointed to something in the lake.

My eyes followed her index finger to a figure in the water. Gently, I lowered a branch out of my line of view. Long raven hair waved with the ripples formed over the water.

“Is it a woman?”

Clarisse moved around me to get a better angle, squinting her eyes.

“Hmm… looks like it. Wish the person wasn’t completely immersed in it.

Not soon had she replied, and the person moved near the shore. The water was now waist high and we could see some of the person’s features. His wet raven hair undulated over his firm and well built back muscle formation.

We stared at him like a dog looking at a juicy bone for a moment before moving closer to try to see his face. Silently moving behind a robust hedge of bushes, we carefully pulled some branches to give another peek at him. He had just turned to his side and was splashing water on his face. His flexing arms glistened with the many drops of water running down his upper body. I followed his hands to find him wiping the water from his eyes and noticing the perfect contours of his diamond-shaped jaw. This man was a real adonis! A freaking greek God that you only see in fantasy books. The scene was definitely tantalizing to our desires. He was positively the most gorgeous man I’ve ever set eyes on, with muscles so well defined that one could easily study anatomy on him.

Suddenly, the adonis lifted his head up to gaze into the dark sky for a couple of minutes. An indecipherable expression stamped on his fine face. Slowly, he started walking up to shore, completely revealing the v-lines on his naked body. We were left in total awe, mouth-watering, and flushed to the bones with embarrassment, or at least, I was.

Trying to reposition me, I ended up stepping over a couple of branches on the ground that snapped under the pressure of my foot. Clarisse immediately covered her mouth as she glanced at me.

I mouthed a “Sorry!”, trying to make myself small. The adonis had turned towards us with the noise. His eyes searching for a second, stopping right about where we were.

“Shit! I hope he can’t see us.” Whispered my sister, trying to turn into a statue as best as she could. Actually, we both froze like statues, trying to hide within the thick foliage around us.

His lips seemed to slightly curve into a smirk before taking his clothes from a nearby tree.

*AWOOOOOOoooo*

Startled by the nearby sound, we quickly scanned around us looking for any potential danger. Wolves included! Realizing that the man could also be in trouble, I glanced back to his location on the lake but found he was already gone.

“Claire, let’s get out of here! I don’t feel like turning into wolf dinner. Shit! We can’t go back the way we came because that’s where the howling came from.”

With a quick nod, we both turned and rushed back up to continue the trail at a brisk pace.

“I didn’t know there were wolves here in Kodoku.” One could clearly hear the nervousness in her voice as just a look at her confirmed it. Her nerves were at its peak, turning her head in every direction. It looked like she was expecting THE big bad wolf himself to jump at us at any second out of nowhere.

“Neither did I, though I didn’t expect to see a man bathing in the lake either.”

“Definitely! Grandma’s house is the only one around here that is both near the lake and inside of the forest. My God! He was hot! Pity we were so far, I couldn’t get a ‘better’ look at him. What physique!”

My sis sure recovered from the howling scare fast! Jesus!

I gave her a half-smile before pointing my eyeballs down to the fern and small bushes on the ground, remembering every little detail about him. My cheeks were burning hot, probably crimson, just by reliving the memory. It felt as if he was looking directly at me.

“Claire? Are you all alright? You’ve turned into a tomato! Here, drink some water to cool you down.”

“No, no. I… I’m fine! Really, I’m fine.” My hands went straight over my cheeks as I nervously answered her.

“Oooooh!”

No, no, no, no, no. She can’t have caught up to it yet. Oh, please, God! She won’t give me peace for months to come. I thought to myself, sighing internally.

“Don’t tell me he gave you the hots! So THAT’S your kind of man. Hot and handsome bad boys!”

“Shut up, sis! You don’t even know if he’s a bad boy or not.”

“Owww, but you didn’t disagree that HE IS your type.” Clarisse kept teasing me with a sarcastic smile on her face.

“You’re too much sometimes. As I recall, you too were drooling there watching him.”

“Well, you know me. I’m single, plus I’m still in the looks for Mr. Right! Even if I haven’t had any luck in the love department yet.”

She continued analyzing my every move as we kept walking. Well, at least that gave her something else to think about than the howling.

“Ok! Now, we need to find out who this mysterious man is. I wonder if he’s married or has a girlfriend. Oh, God! I hope he doesn’t have kids! Well, that would be alright with me actually. But those kinda men are hardly ever single.”

“Hmm…”


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