Muskoka. Wednesday, April 17.
Mid April was a magic time in Muskoka. Each year the month featured a re-awakening, a renaissance. Straddling the forty-fifth parallel of latitude, half way to the north pole, the area was once again in the process of emerging from the deep freeze of winter. Today was exceptional. The sky was cobalt blue, no clouds, no wind, temperature in the mid fifties. It was the day Kerri had chosen to take Steve back to Muskoka, to risk exposing him to an environment very familiar to him, until the day of his accident.
Since her return to Canada at the beginning of the month, she had moved into the guest suite of her father’s North York home and dedicated her life to obscurity, and to her friend, Steve Monteith. She had visited him each day, taken him on long walks, and, as his schedule stipulated, driven him to the Thornhill CBT, (cognitive behavioral therapy), Clinic. She was encouraged by his rapid progress, but his frequent failure to remember names and events made it clear that he was still far from full recovery from his head injury. It broke her heart to see his anger and frustration when he struggled with detail. Gail Menschew, Steve’s psychotherapist at the clinic, had recognized Kerri as a critical component of her patient’s recovery therapy. She knew they shared a strong emotional bond. She coached and encouraged her, urging her to suppress her frustrations and to keep going. “Steve’s recovery is a marathon, not a sprint,” she insisted.
Kerri’s black BMW rolled to a stop on the graveled parking area of The Monster. She had discussed with Gail Menschew her idea of re-introducing him to the palatial cottage, and, in spite of the risk of inducing a negative response, had gained approval. A few patches of snow and ice in shaded areas remained, survivors of the warm April sun. A large green and white Muskoka Lakes Realty ’FOR SALE‘ sign protruded from the ground in front of the cottage. Kerri, for the first time staring at the huge and magnificent structure into which Steve had poured his heart and soul, was aware of why it was no longer his. Her father had told her the grim details of Jamie Stewart’s mortgage and his ruthless re-possession subsequent to the demise of his daughter’s marriage to Steve.
Steve frowned as he stared at the sign. “I don’t want to be here,” he said, tears rolling down his cheeks.
Steve’s reaction to the visit was a clear indication to Kerri that he had remembered and associated the scene with a bad experience. “I’m sorry. This was a bad idea,” she said, then turned her car around and headed for the southbound lane of Highway 69.
Steve was sullen, quiet and almost motionless until Kerri slowed her car to make the left turn at the T-intersection of Highways 69 and 169. His face blanched as he turned to his right to stare at the huge boulders where his green Ford truck had come to rest. He covered his face with his hands as he turned to face the entrance to Highway 169. “No!” he shouted, visions of the large chrome grill of a Peterbilt truck flashing through his brain.
Without a word, Kerri completed the turn and accelerated to the speed limit. She remained silent until she made the left turn onto Highway 118, then turned to face Steve. “You okay?” she asked.
He nodded without speaking or facing her.
Twenty minutes later, she parked her car beside the Health Club’s tennis court and the two got out. Both wore black Sunice ski pants and jackets, a gift from Steve’s mother. She put on her beloved Yankees hat, then grasped Steve’s hand and led him around the south side of the lodge and down the flat stone path to the dock. The channel separating Beaumaris island from the mainland was still frozen, but the dock’s bubblers had saved its cribs from the ravages of winter ice shift. The vast expanse of Lake Muskoka to the north west was still mostly ice covered, but sections of deep blue water were clearly visible. Only the occasional sound of cracking ice broke the silence. Kerri could see the outline of Karen’s beloved Azimuth Island in the hazeless distance. She would love to have shown the island to Steve, but it was impossible at this time of year. The ice was too thin to support the weight of a human, but still too thick to use a boat.
Kerri tore her eyes from the incredible view and faced Steve. “Is this familiar to you?” she asked.
Steve frowned and once again scanned his surroundings, a clear indication that he was struggling with his connection to The Health Club. Then he looked at Kerri and his frown gradually transformed into the irresistible smile she remembered seeing for the first time, a few feet from where she stood. “I think this is where I met the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
Overjoyed, Kerri lost her veneer of control. She did what she had wanted to do for a very long time. She hugged him, then gazed into the most compelling hazel eyes she had ever seen. Her joy exploded when he returned the hug. “Welcome back,” she said with a huge smile.
Seconds passed in silence as the two, still locked in an embrace, contemplated what to do or say next. As she had concluded on their first date in New York, a kiss would take her over the invisible line separating friendship from something else. Her heart screamed at her to do it, but fear gripped her. She had crossed that line twice before in her life, once with Brian Pyper, next with Louis Visconti. Both crossings had resulted in misery and unhappiness.
Steve’s smile again transformed, this time into a more serious expression. He allowed his lips to graze Kerri’s. “It’s nice to be back,” he groaned, then gently placed his right hand against the back of her head and pulled her into a long and passionate kiss. She responded eagerly. At last she was where she wanted be, in the arms of a man she had thought would forever be unavailable. The multitude of problems that had plagued her for so long were temporarily forgotten.