Every so often the foliage would part ever so slightly, opening up to reveal shadowy gravel driveways leading into the woods. Sometimes small, hand-crafted signs would announce ”The Bakers" or ”Jeff and Donna’s Lakehouse.” Once a carved wooden labrador retriever flashed by beside a sign reading ”Everything’s better at the lake.” Angela managed a grin. She hoped the dog was right.
Things hadn’t been going well in the city. Actually, that was an understatement. Angela had been in a state of misery when her parents swooped in and announced that she would be accompanying them to cottage country for what they hoped would be a two week reprieve from her depression. She was grateful for their concern and, without the willpower to fight it, she put in her time-off request at Biggs & Wilson Law Firm where she worked as a junior associate, packed a bag, and got into the car.
Any other time she may have objected to being taken on a mini holiday with her parents. Twenty-seven year old women usually went away with boyfriends, spouses, even friends, to romantic destinations, to exciting adventures, not to lay low and sulk in a summer home owned by mom and dad.
But the sane inner voice buried deep below her beat down exterior insisted that she shouldn’t give a fuck about that right now. She knew she needed to get away, to change the scenery, and at the very least take some time away from the office where she spent five minutes of every hour crying in a bathroom stall.
Mike had been a decent man, in the beginning. As with every new relationship, Angela ignored the glaring red flags in favor of the butterflies. Early on she convinced herself that their different hobbies and different outlooks made for an exciting and refreshing relationship. As time went on, she admitted to herself that they were in fact fatal flaws.
A year in, she knew it wouldn’t work out, yet she stayed. The sex was average at best, but eventually spiraled into dysfunctional, awkward, and eventually non-existent. Her resentment grew as she began to feel more and more rejected, more insecure, and more alone in their shared apartment.
She began to be haunted by doubt and she found her inner monologue did nothing but analyze her situation all day long. Often times she would find herself looking around the apartment, taking stock of every item, separating the his and hers of it all, and planning how to pack up. But she didn’t go.
Even her dreams contained theoretical breakup scenarios. She looked back on the whole of the relationship and began to acknowledge some of the most uncomfortable truths. Was she ever attracted to this person? Were they in love? She cared for him deeply, but had she stuck around for the comfort of it all? Where had the butterflies gone? Where were the fireworks? The passion?
Nasty thoughts began creeping in and she started to wonder if she were a mean spirited person. She began looking at his body in a new light. The pudgy tummy that was once endearing became an obstacle to overcome when it came time to initiate sex. The body hair that she initially convinced herself didn’t matter became repugnant, over abundant, and just plain gross. The spark was gone, and she felt more and more disconnected, turned-off, and uninterested in her boyfriend. Roommate was more like it, in fact.
Almost two years of failed intimacy made her question her own desires, her own libido. Going through the motions and forcing intimacy with your boyfriend just to end a dry spell got her questioning her own self-worth, and her identity as a sexual being. Angela felt like an asexual blob, and after three months without a single loving touch between them, she moved out. Mike didn’t even try to stop her.
With a gigantic swallowing of pride, Angela took up residence in her parents’ guest room. Nothing like living with your folks to deal the death blow to an already waning sex-drive.
But they were good people and cared deeply for her well-being. They took her in with open arms and no questions. They offered a home with no expiration date, and her mum cooked her meals and painted her toe-nails. It felt good to just lean into their parenting once again and be looked after.
Six weeks of the daily grind of commuting, going to bed at eight, and generally pouting around their home had spurred Angela’s parents into action. It was a beautiful summer and they couldn’t watch their lovely daughter waste away in a tenth floor condominium any longer.
Angela began to recognize the scenery outside the car window. The big curve in the road was familiar, the massive boulder painted yellow at the end of one driveway, and then finally her dad was turning the car into a small laneway. It was another few minutes of careful vehicular maneuvering before they finally reached the cottage, tucked far away from the main road.
The heaviness in Angela’s chest lifted just a bit as the property opened up before her, revealing the place where she’d formed countless happy childhood memories. The nostalgia was warm and safe and she sunk into it deeply. Ah. A good feeling. Finally.
The lake was still and sparkling in the mid-morning sunlight. Her family’s cottage had a prime location, this she had always known, as there were no houses on the other side of the lake facing them. Just an unobstructed view of the beautiful, quiet wilderness. The nearest neighbors to the sides were just far enough that they could bask in the illusion of complete solitude when they stayed here. Perfect. Nobody to ask her how she was doing, nobody to inquire about Mike’s well-being, or how work was going.
The cottage itself was a smallish, well-appointed bungalow with a gorgeous red cedar deck out front complete with cushy outdoor furniture and a barbecue to make any outdoorsman jealous. The cottage was the perfect mix of cozy and luxe. Her parents had money, there was no doubt, and they had turned a dilapidated shack into the perfect getaway over the years. And yet it still felt like a humble retreat.
Angela adjusted her sunglasses and grabbed for her wild auburn hair, tossing it into her typical ‘I don’t give a shit’ messy bun that flopped lazily on the crown of her head. This was not a place for vanity and she welcomed the idea.
She stepped out of the car and was greeted by the wonderful melody of nature that brought on another wave of smooth, delightful nostalgia. The leaves on the trees gently rustled against each other in the soft July breeze, the birds chirped, and the rowboat clanked softly against the dock.
She grabbed her bag, left the shadows of the laneway behind, and made her way across the rich green lawn and into the sun. She tilted her head up to absorb the rays and breathed deeply, taking in as much of the fresh scents as she could. No more hot pavement smell, city garbage, or bus exhaust. Delicious.
Her dad broke her reverie, throwing his arm around her shoulder and mimicking her stance in the sun. He closed his eyes, looked up, and took in an exaggerated breath of air.
“I love it here,” he announced proudly. He gave her a bit of a shake and bent his head down to look Angela in the eyes. “I’m so happy you came.” He beamed at her.
“Oh, Frank,” said her mother, coming up beside him and prying his loving arm off his daughter. “Don’t be so mushy!”
Angela smiled at her mother as the woman whisked her father away towards the cottage. She turned and winked at Angela as they ascended the three steps onto the deck. She and her mother had a special understanding. Without having to say a word, her mom knew that Angela didn’t want to be doted upon while here. Didn’t want constant reminders that this was a getaway to help her out of her recent funk. No more pity, please and thank you.
Her parents disappeared, arm in arm, into the house with their bags.
Angela sauntered down to the boathouse down by the lake. It rose up two stories, the first being a garage of sorts for her dad’s fancy fishing boat, the second level a game room with sofas, dartboards, shelves of board games, a pool table, and of course a ghastly old beer fridge that her mother wouldn’t allow in the house.
As she traversed the adjacent dock she looked up fondly to the windows of the second level, her mind unpacking a load of memories of herself and her cousins running up and down the outer stairs in wet bathing suits, telling scary stories huddled on the sofas with nothing but flashlights, and daring each other to jump out the top window into the lake.
At the end of the dock she plopped herself down, removed her flip flops, and dunked her feet into the cool water. Her breath hitched in her throat at the sensation. Funny, she never thought it was cool when she was a child. Or maybe she just hadn’t noticed.
She stretched her arms out behind herself and leaned back, swishing her feet around below. Her face was skywards and the sun felt good. It can’t hurt to try for a tan, she thought. All her indoor time lately had ensured a nice pasty complexion that positively screamed “I’M MISERABLE!”
A distant mechanical buzzing sound invaded her lakeside daydreaming and she opened her eyes and looked out over the lake. From around a bend in the water came a boat, making its way slowly towards her. Angela brought her hand up to shield her eyes from the sun’s reflections on the surface of the water and squinted through her sunglasses. Who is that?
It only took a moment for her to recognize her dad’s boat. It was unmistakable with its green and black stripe across the side. She quickly turned to the boathouse and saw that the large doors were hanging open, the chain and lock dangling in the water below.
The engine cut out and the boat glided silently towards her, and Angela watched, mouth agape as it slid up to the dock in front of her. The sun’s glare finally subsided and the figure in the boat came into focus. She heard him before she really saw him.
“Ahoy!” called a slightly raspy but friendly voice.
Angela pulled off her sunglasses and took in the view before her, pulling her feet out of the water and setting them beside her body. A moment passed.
The man laughed as he leaned over the edge of the boat and grabbed hold of the open door. “Sorry,” he said, a hand reaching up and nervously running fingers through a head of sandy colored wavy hair. “That was dumb. Who says Ahoy, really?”
Angela remembered her manners. “Hi,” was all she managed as the man pulled the boat in through the doors and he disappeared inside. Her neck craned to watch as he smirked at her before he was gone.
“You’re Angela!” he shouted from the inner docking area. It wasn’t a question. He knew who she was.
“Umm, yes I am!” she yelled back, getting to her feet and heading for the door at the dry end of the boathouse.
Inside the man was fumbling with ropes and securing the boat. He hopped out gracefully, picked up a rag and wiped his hands, and headed straight for Angela.
“I’m Andy,” he smiled, extending the freshly cleaned hand.
“Nice to meet you,” she returned the smile and took the hand. It was a big hand and she felt tiny while he shook it gently.
“Yes, actually we’ve met. Ages ago.”
“Don’t worry,” he smiled again, his blue eyes crinkling, wonderful dimples forming around his full lips. “We played here as kids. I’m the one who broke the tire swing. Then you hit me with a big stick, and I needed two stitches.”
“Oh my god,” Angela whimpered, her hands rising to cover her reddening face. “Yes I remember.”
Andy pulled her hands down and bent ever so slightly to be eye to eye. “It’s ok, I forgive you.” His mouth turned up in a crooked smile. “Although the bill for all the therapy should be arriving any day.”
A hearty laugh burst from Angela’s mouth and she scrambled for something witty to say.
“Yes well I’m sure we can call it even, what with you stealing my dad’s boat and all.”
Andy’s eyes lit up. “Hah! Well all right then, maybe we’ll call it a draw.”
“It’s good to see you again,” Angela continued, trying to fill the otherwise silent garage. “It’s been what... twenty years?”
“Ish,” Andy replied, now back beside the boat, squatting down and fidgeting with the rope once more. He turned back to her. “You can tell Frank it’s purring like a kitten.” A sly wink.
“Will do.” Suddenly her mouth was dry. Suddenly she was hyper-aware of the ugly tangled mass of hair atop her head, her lack of makeup, and the ten pounds she’d put on during her eating-her-feelings phase with Mike.
Andy puttered back and forth, filling the boat’s tank from a gas can and arranging tools on shelves. He wore a plain white t-shirt, fitted nicely to his broad torso and exposing his thick muscular arms. Below the waist he wore black and white patterned board shorts. His look was finished off with cream colored boat shoes.
Angela shook her head in an attempt to put a halt to the detailed assessment of Andy’s physical form and her mind made a quick deduction. Andy got the boat up and running, he had set up the patio furniture, mowed the lawn, and generally opened the cottage for the season.
“Hey thanks for helping out,” she said. “Really saved us a lot of time, not having to set it all up.”
“My pleasure,” Andy replied, standing upright again. “I’m here from June first onward and only two houses down, so I’m happy to get things started for you guys. I know it can be a pain.”
Angela smiled politely as Andy stared at her with a delightful grin.
“Ok see you later!” she exclaimed awkwardly and turned on her heels in a flash.
“Bye!” Andy’s voice rang out cheerily behind her.
She huffed across the lawn briskly and made her way towards the cottage. Frank intercepted her halfway.
“Hey sweetie!” he cooed, looking over her shoulder and waving at Andy down in the boathouse. “Remember Andy?′
“Oh yeah, I remember,” she groaned, the image of a tree branch flailing through the air and whacking a seven-year-old face flitting through her mind.
“How nice of him to help set up. And he’s going to finally fix those rotten boathouse doors this week as well. Good guy.”
Angela mumbled under her breath as she stormed into her bedroom, smashing her duffel bag onto the bed. “Fuck fuck, motherfucking fuck,” she grunted. She faced the wall mounted mirror and pulled the elastic from her ugly-bun. It snapped in her fingers. She mussed up her hair and let it fall around her shoulders. A bit better.
So much for comfort and relaxation and an escape from the world of men, she groaned inwardly.
Andy sprayed a final coat of sealant on the patch he’d put on the small crack in the fiberglass of Mr. Watson’s speedboat.
He puttered around the garage and tidied up the tools and products, all the while berating himself for saying Ahoy. What a poindexter.
His flirting game was rusty, to say the least, and he’d been nervous ever since Frank had called him a week ago to ask him to open his cottage for the season.
Angela Watson. The first girl who didn’t have cooties. The first girl he ever actually wanted to be around. The only girl at the lake who would play Ghostbusters and the only one who wanted the boat to go faster while they rode the rubber donuts behind it.
Andy remembered her blue eyes more than anything. They were big and doll-like and she had lashes for days. When his marriage fell apart he couldn’t stop his fingers from typing her name into the Facebook search bar and he saw that she was as pretty as ever. The cursor hovered over the friend request button, but he couldn’t bring himself to click. It was too soon.
He stared up at the crumbling boathouse doors and began to make a mental outline of the project ahead of him. Order new doors, new hinges, new chains, paint. He would do this job right, no matter how long it took. Andy looked out the doors opening up onto the lawn. Angela was nowhere in sight.
In fact, maybe I’ll make it last.