At the time of its construction in 1922, Maplewood Lodge was state of the art, the ultimate in luxurious summer vacation accommodation. Built among the stately maples and hemlocks at the crest of a massive gently sloping rocky cliff, the three story structure had a commanding view of Lake Muskoka, its glorious sunsets, and numerous islands. The building featured a grand wrap-around screened verandah, an absolute must for summer residences of the era. Set on a Muskoka stone foundation, the building’s wooden walls were painted a tasteful green to blend in with the surrounding hemlocks. The trim was white. The roof was covered with green shingles.
Subsequent to purchasing it in 1977, Mike’s ten fraternity brothers changed its name to The Health Club, and spent a great deal of time partying and rendering the facility decidedly unhealthy. The highlight of most parties was the late night, co-ed black-tie event in the sauna bath. Stories related to those gatherings were endless. To their credit, the brothers eventually matured, and in recent years had spent much of their spare time money and effort to make the old lodge livable, attractive, and insurable.
The day had blossomed into an autumn delight. No clouds. Gentle breeze. Temperature at Seventy-five, Fahrenheit. Prior to leaving Azimuth Island, Mike had phoned The Health Club to say that he, Karen and his daughter, Kerri were on their way. He made no mention of Kerri’s recent traumatic experience, hoping to spare her the need to discuss it with anyone.
Mike cut the motor and allowed his Donzi to glide to a stop against the bumpers of The Health Club’s massive crescent-shaped cedar dock. His boat joined eight others, all in the very expensive category. Nine of the ten owners, dressed in tuxedo tops and bathing suit bottoms, stood side by side on the dock, welcoming their guests. The first to greet Mike was Paul Sanderson, one of the nine, and the brother who had introduced Mike to Barbara Larkin in 1963. Barbara became Mike’s first wife, and later, Kerri’s mother. Hugs, handshakes, and blizzard of introductions followed. Next came the introductions to the wives, significant others, and guests. The entire exercise was a blur to Kerri. Visions of airplanes hitting buildings plagued her mind as she endured an endless stream of boring small talk sessions.
Two hours later, she stood on the verandah with a group of six women, bored and totally excluded from the conversation. She locked her eyes on a metal tub full of beer and ice, quietly withdrew from the group, and helped herself to a Coors Lite. She headed for the dock and one of its numerous white Muskoka chairs. Alone at last, she sipped her Coors and watched the heavy Saturday boat traffic.
Within minutes her solitude was interrupted. “I think I’ve found someone who’s as tired of small talk as I am,” said a young male who had just claimed the chair to her left.
Kerri took another sip and continued to gaze at the water, slightly annoyed by the interruption and certain she would be forced to engage in another boring conversation. “Why do you think I’m tired of small talk,” she asked.
I’ve been watching you. I saw that you had a choice between heavy duty female chin wagging and a beer. “You chose beer, and you don’t look like a beer drinker to me.”
Kerri glanced to her left to see the most compelling hazel eyes she had ever seen. Framing the eyes was a tanned and handsome face, topped by close cut sandy brown hair. Shifting her eyes lower, she saw a perfect physique dressed in white bathing trunks and a bright yellow sweat shirt. No shoes. He appeared to be in his early to mid thirties with the body of a twenty year old. His perfect white smile exuded a laid back self confidence. She registered a ten.
“You’ve been spying on me,” she said. No smile.
“No, just bored and desperate to talk to someone my own age. You happen to be the only one here who falls into that category.”
Kerri was intrigued enough to return the smile and introduce herself. She extended her hand. “I’m Kerri King.”
He accepted her hand. “Nice to meet you, Kerri. I’m Steve Monteith...You must be related to Mike King.”
“He’s my father...Are you here alone?”
Monteith frowned. “Yes, I’m representing my father. He was one of the ten Health Club owners.”
“You used past tense.”
His eyes watered. “He was killed on Tuesday...He was president of the Canadian subsidiary of Seismic Oil. Unfortunately, he was at a board meeting in New York that day. The company’s head office was in the north tower of The World Trade Center.”
Kerri’s mood was transformed instantly. Sitting beside her was a man who had experienced the same indescribable horror of losing a loved one in Tuesday’s terrorist attacks. Her heart screamed at her to reach out. She leaned forward and grasped Monteith’s right hand with both of hers. “I’m so sorry,” she said.
“Thank you...I shouldn’t be here today, but the brothers made it impossible for me to stay away. They’ve been so kind to my mother. She’s having a rough time.”
Kerri was about to speak when Mike and Karen appeared on the dock and approached Mike’s Donzi. “All aboard,” Mike said, causing Kerri to stand.
Monteith stood also. “I hope you’re not leaving,” he said.
“We really must,” Mike said. “We promised Kerri we wouldn’t stay long. He approached Steve, shook his hand, then hugged him. “You have our deepest sympathies, Steve. Please tell your mother that Karen and I will be at the memorial service on Wednesday.”
Steve thanked Mike, then turned to Kerri. He showed disappointment. “It was a pleasure meeting and chatting with you, Kerri. I hope we’ll have an opportunity to continue the conversation,” he said, determined to make that a reality. He had just met the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Until now, his engagement to Christine had never been a concern.