Once Upon A Flash Drive

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Chapter Three

“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.” ~ William Butler Yeats


Shafer Lake . . .

Lara’s least favorite chore was cleaning her room. She jokingly referred to any form of housekeeping as a deplorable necessity that was as assiduous as a toothache. In truth, she found cleaning someone else’s house surprisingly rewarding.

In less than four hours, the lake house had been opened, aired, scrubbed and polished. Exhausted, but content, she and her mom celebrated their accomplishment with lemonade and cookies on the screened porch that overlooked Sawyer’s creek, one of the tributaries that allowed cottage owners boat access to Lake Shafer.

There was something comforting about the lushly beautiful landscape and the familiarity of their surroundings. Mother and daughter breathed in the fresh lake air and soaked up the beauty in silence.

The next morning, they were up and canoeing by eight o’clock. Afterwards, Lara was on her own. Susan’s time was devoted to yoga and a morning of piano practice.

After two days of moping around feeling sorry for herself, Lara realized that she needed a change. She craved the chatter of voices, and activity. There was no excuse for brooding in a resort town. Shafer Lake was the ideal summer destination for water bugs and boat enthusiasts, but there was also a sports square that provided tennis courts, a miniature golf range and basketball goals. Lara’s family was into canoeing, boating and exploration, but their favorite spot was Bella’s Café, the town’s gathering place.

The lake, for which the community was named, was river fed with more than a dozen tributaries and charming, hidden coves that were ideal for visitors who were adventure seekers. The business area of the town was small, but adequate. Bella’s was the heart and soul of the community, the meet and greet center for locals and out of towners.

As Lara meandered along the familiar paths that led to the cafe, she was thinking about her dad’s stories about the town’s history. On rainy summer afternoons in the past, her grandma and mom played cards and her dad and grandpa swapped jokes, trivia and history facts. She whiled away the afternoons wishing that she was at Bella’s with her friends. Despite her boredom with the men’s conversation, she had picked up a few interesting facts about Shafer Lake and the surrounding area.

In the early thirties, a textile mill and mill village for workers sprang up on the south side of the lake. The town wasn’t officially incorporated until 1948. After the incorporation, a contractor bought and developed the majority of the property on the north side of the lake. Many of the original summer cottages still stood today.

When the textile boom ended in the late fifties, dozens of the mill workers sought employment elsewhere. The official mill closing came in December of fifty-nine, and the mill buildings stood empty until the mid-sixties. It wasn’t until the mill village was rezoned—the houses refurbished and sold to professionals and shop owners—that the town blossomed and the economy improved.

Currently, the small white, clapboard bungalows housed specialty shops and offices. Main Street, in particular, was postcard picturesque. The buildings that housed Bella’s, Lerner’s Ice Cream Treats, and the water sports store were built as the need for new business space arose. Although more modern, the buildings were designed to complement the simple architectural style of the original homes. The town council was obviously mindful of tradition, but also recognized the need for innovation.

Lara’s thoughts retuned to the present when she entered the café and saw Bella, proprietor of the café, sitting on a stool behind the hostess station. Bella was a Roseanne Barr lookalike and sound-alike. The owner’s eyes brightened when she recognized Lara. “My stars, if it isn’t Lara Townsend. How are you, sugarplum?”

“I wasn’t sure that you would recognize me. It’s been two years since my family and I were here.”

“Forget you? Silly girl. You look too much like your nana. Are she and your papa in town?”

“Grandpa Sam is in the middle of project. When he’s completed his current consulting job, he and Nana will join us.”

“You tell that grandpa of yours that it’s high time he retired and moved to Shafer Lake permanently.”

“Mom and Nana have been singing that tune for years. He’s stubborn.”

“When did you and your mom arrive?”

“Friday. May’s always a busy month for us, so it takes a few days to unwind, to adjust to the relaxed atmosphere here at the lake. We’ve been sleeping in and enjoying the peace and quiet. Mom said to tell you hey, and that’d she be in later this week. Is the table over by the window reserved?”

“You know better than that. You see a seat, you grab it. If you know what you want to eat, I’ll turn your order into the kitchen.”

“A glass of tea and one of Bella’s famous hamburgers.”

“All the trimmings?”

“You betcha! What’s a burger without the trimmings?”

“Amen to that. Make yourself to home, and Kara will have your lunch out to you lickety split.”

“It’s great to see you, Bella.”

“You too, sugar. Tell that lovely mama of yours that if she doesn’t come by and say howdy that I’ll come looking for her.”

As she slid into a booth, Lara’s eyes were immediately drawn to the volleyball courts across the walkway outside the window. When freckled-faced, long-legged Charlene brought her tea, Lara asked, “Are the volleyball courts new? I don’t remember seeing them in the sports square last time I was in town.”

“They were added last spring. Are you Ms. Dora’s and Mr. Sam’s granddaughter?”

“I am. My name is Lara.”

“Welcome to Shafer Lake, Lara. I’m Charlene. As for your question about the volleyball courts, the teens around here started making waves about a year and half ago. It took months of lobbying before the members of the town council finally gave in and voted to add two volleyball courts to the sports square. And sure enough, just as the teens predicted, the courts are rarely empty. Kids come from all over the county to compete.”

During her last summer vacation in Shafer Lake, when she and her friend Greta weren’t on or in the water they were hanging out at Bella’s or playing a game of miniature golf in the square. Although Lara vehemently denied Greta’s accusation, her primary reason for being at the square was Greta’s older brother, Carleton. He and his buddies were into hoops, so Lara became a basketball fan. If truth be known, she was there to watch Carleton.

The other venues in the square included two tennis courts, a dance pavilion, a paddle boat rental booth and horseshoe pits. Today, a crowd had gathered to watch the volleyball match in progress. The girls on the court looked vaguely familiar, but their opponents were strangers.

She immediately became so engrossed in the match that she wasn’t aware of the man eying her until he ambled over to her table and spoke. Startled, she felt a moment of sheer panic, something new to her. She’d never shied away from strangers before her dad’s disappearance.

The stranger apologized. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to alarm you. Bella tells me that you are Lara Townsend. I’m Brian Rafferty, the rector at St. Paul’s.”

Lara’s eyes met those of a man who looked to be in his early 40’s. He was casually dressed in cargo pants, a Lake Shafer t-shirt and flip-flops. His engaging smile and friendliness put her at ease.

“Hi. Should I know you?”

He grinned. “If you’re asking if I’m a native, the answer is no. I’ve been rector at St. Paul for four years. I remember seeing you, but since you didn’t attend St. Paul’s, we never met. I know your grandparents and I’ve met your mom. In Dora and Sam’s absence, I’ve been commissioned to act as the one-person welcome wagon.”

His graciousness was a reminder that she was in a community where friendliness was next to godliness. “Thank you for your welcome. I was so engrossed in the battle of wills taking place on the volleyball court across the way that you startled me. It’s quite a match, by the way.”

He directed his gaze to the action on the volleyball court. “The competition on the courts is fierce, especially when Janet and Megan are involved. The girls were power players on the local volleyball team. They get a kick out of challenging unsuspecting visitors who expect an easy win. Do you play?”

“I’m not into competitive sports, but I enjoy watching a good match. I thought I recognized Janet and Megan. They finished school this past year, didn’t they?”

“It’s been two years. They will be college juniors next fall. There’s a volleyball clinic being held in the square next week. They are here as instructors.”

“Charlene mentioned that volleyball has become the rage in Lake Shafer.”

“The local teens are responsible for getting those courts built. Now they like to brag about Shafer Lake being the unofficial volleyball center in the county. Men, women and children from other communities come to Lake Shafer to compete. The courts have been so successful that the town council decided to host an annual volley ball clinic. Last year, the event brought in dozens of visitors. There’s another positive. Sales for the shops along Main Street have increased dramatically since the courts were built. As a result, the council is debating whether to add two more courts.”

Lara said, “Wow. I’m impressed. Sorry for my rudeness. Why don’t you join me?”

“Just for a second or two. I’m in between meetings.” He slid into the booth across from her.

“Do Nana and Papa attend your Church?”

“No. They attend St. Michael’s, but they are friends. In addition to my job as rector, I have a side business. Your grandparents’ lake house is on a short list of properties I manage. If Sam had not let me know that he had family visiting, I would have been on the phone to the police when I spotted lights in their house. Dealing with a police officer at your door, is not the way to start a vacation.”

Lara flinched. “That’s the last thing we need.”

“Precisely, that’s why Sam called. Your grandparents were sorry that they couldn’t be here to welcome you, so I agreed to do it for them. So . . . from the entire community, welcome.”

“Thank you. I’ll pass your welcome on to Mom.”

“When I stopped by the house to turn on the utilities, I put my phone number on the fridge. If you have issues, or you need a question answered, please call.”

“Pastor Rafferty, since you mentioned questions, I have one for you. Are Mom and I going to have to deal with gossip about my dad?”

“Those of us who know about your family’s tragedy, and that’s a very small number, understand that you and your mom came to Shafer Lake to get away from the gossip mongering that goes on when there’s a criminal investigation in process. I can’t guarantee that you won’t encounter a few whispers and stares, but most of the local people respect the privacy of others, and visitors won’t know who you are.”

Lara felt that a heavy weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

“Since you’ve asked a question, let me ask you one. Have you considered talking to a counselor or joining a support group? If you haven’t, you should.”

Lara shook her head. “No. Initially, I had to concentrate on getting through exams, and then almost immediately, we decided to come here. Usually, I can use my writing and art work as an escape. Since Dad’s gone missing, I’ve been dealing with a creative block.”

“I’m not a writer or an artist, but there are times when I can’t find the words that I need for a sermon. When that happens, I use Vincent van Gogh’s words as a challenge. He said, ’If you hear a voice within you saying you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.’”

“Thanks. That helps. Is St. Paul’s the charming little ivy covered stone church on Grant Street?”

“It is.”

“Would you mind if I stop by and make a few sketches of the church. I adore old churches, especially the ones built of stone. Maybe St. Paul’s will be the inspiration I need.”

“Anytime.”

“I hope to write and illustrate a children’s book someday. I guess you could say that I’m a wannabe writer and artist.”

“One favor. If you make a few sketches, I’d love to see them.”

“I can’t promise that the church will turn the tide, but if it does, I’ll show you my work.”

“Good. By the way, the church has an open-door policy. If you want to go in and take a look around, feel free. If you have questions about the church history, I’ll be happy to answer them. There’s someone in town who might give you some guidance when it comes to publishing a children’s book. Do you know Mary Givens, the owner of Backstories?”

“I adore the book store, and yes I know Mary. When I was younger, I never missed a story time while I was visiting Shafer Lake.”

“You should have her critique your work. When it comes to children’s books, she knows her business.”

“I have a long way to go before my work is professional enough for a serious critique, but thank you for the tip.”

He glanced at his watch. “Again. Pardon my intrusion. I’ll be on my way and let you watch the end of the match. He handed her a business card. This is for the pastor not the property manager. If you need to vent, call. I’m available anytime of night or day.”

After she left Bella’s, Lara window-shopped as she slowly made her way down Main Street. When she reached Marsha’s Boutique she stopped dead in her tracks to take a second look at the sassy summer outfit on display. Normally, Lara wasn’t a clothes shopper. Now, her friend Sara, was another story. Sara was as obsessed with clothes as Lara was with children’s books. For a split second, Lara was tempted to try on the outfit. But, why bother. She had nowhere to go, and no one she wanted to impress.

Backstories was two doors down from Marsha’s. That was the center of her temptation. During past visits to Shafer Lake, she had spent countless hours browsing Mary’s bookshelves for new titles, looking at illustrations, and trying to decide which mediums produced the most vibrant illustrations. After much deliberation, she concluded that a true artist was the one who was able to tell the author’s story in a way that appealed to children.

When Mary opened Backstories, the shop’s inventory was limited to hardbound books. She quickly learned that vacationers preferred the less expensive paperback books for vacation reads. Currently, the shop’s inventory was primarily paperbacks and magazines. The shop also had a swap corner.

Children’s books were the exception. Mary vowed that as long as her doors were open for business that she would continue to promote budding children’s authors. Her selection of hardbound books for children was extensive. What she didn’t sell in the shop, she marketed online.

As Lara approached the bookshop, the door flew open and a gangly adolescent barreled out, missing her by a hair. He stopped long enough to mutter, “Sorry.” Then, hopped on his bike and pedaled off down the street.

When she entered the shop, she caught Mary’s eye. “Whew. For a minute, I thought I was in Kansas.”

Mary’s eyes twinkled. “And I thought for a moment that Dorothy had blown in. What I wonderful surprise. I heard that you were in town, Lara.”

“News travels fast.”

“Your grandma and I communicate via email. She knew that I was hoping that you would be here this summer. Your family has been away too long.”

Lara hurried cross the shop and threw her arms around Mary. “I’ve missed you. Tell me. Was that a boy or a tornado?”

“That was Chris Tillman. He operates at two speeds. Fast and faster.”

“I don’t recognize him.”

“He’s Fran Llewellyn’s grandson. You probably know Fran as Ms. Lou. Half of the people in town call her Fran and half call her Ms. Lou.”

Lara nodded. “She’s a good friend of Nana’s. I didn’t know she had children, much less grandchildren.”

“She’s been a widow so long that most people forget she was ever married. Don’t judge Chris by the one encounter. He’s really a well-mannered young man. But, when he’s in a hurry, all bets are off. He has a hearing loss that causes him to miss the signals that others pick up on. It helps if you stay in his line of vision when you speak to him.”

“Thanks for warning me. I’ll keep that in mind the next time Chris and I have a near collision.”

Mary laughed. “Chris is a regular, so there’s a very good chance that you’ll meet again. Enough about Mr. Speedy. Tell me about yourself. You must be a senior next year.”

Lara glanced toward the door when the bell signaled incoming customers. “We’ll catch up when there’s a break in customers. I’m going to browse through the magazines to see if I can find a crossword puzzle book that mom doesn’t have.”

“I’ll look forward to getting an update. If you read Mary Jane Williamson’s books, there are several of her books on the clearance table.”

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