Now I closed my eyes, lay back, and tried to let the cool, clear water of Hidden Lake wash it all away. But the peaceful moment didn't last. The humming of an outboard motor signaled the approach of a small fishing boat from the opposite shore. Hope straightened my spine and sent shards of some old energy through my limbs and into my fingers and toes. And even though I knew in my heart that it wouldn't be you, I still deflated a bit when I saw your father, though in almost any other context I would have been thrilled.
He cut the motor and slowed to a stop a few yards away. "Kendra, it's good to finally see you again," he said. "I was sorry to hear about your grandpa. We wanted to make it to the funeral, but Beth and I were out of state."
"Yes, she told me."
He looked surprised at that, then seemed to remember something. Perhaps he knew about the strange email.
I swam to the boat—not the one I remembered—and held on to the side with one hand, using the other to shade my eyes as I looked up into his still handsome face. I didn't ask him where you were that day, and he didn't offer any explanation. More likely than not, he didn't know.
"Beth's in Florida now," he continued. "It's just been me since Memorial Day. I was hoping to catch your mother up here before she put the place up for sale."
"It's not going up for sale."
"No? Figured she would sell it."
"It's mine. Grandpa left it to me."
"That so?" He glanced at my beach. "I can help you put the dock in tonight, around five? I'd help now, but I'm off to talk to Ike."
"Ike's still alive?"
"Far as I know."
I smiled. "That would be great, thanks. Hey, I don't suppose you've heard from Cami? No chance she'll be coming up this summer?"
He looked away. "Nothing yet. But I've seen Scott Masters once or twice this month. And Tyler will be up Friday."
He waved and headed out across the lake to Ike's. I tried to separate the thudding of my heart from the loud chugging of the outboard motor that receded into the distance.
Of course Tyler would be there. Every paradise needed a serpent.
My buoyant mood sinking at the prospect of having to face Tyler in a matter of days, I toweled off and finished unloading the car in my swimsuit. I lugged in five boxes of books, each volume carefully selected from my personal library to inspire me to write something that would show that my first book's success had not been a fluke. That I had more inside of me to offer the world than just the story of my own pain. That the letter writer was wrong. I'd wanted to bring my entire library, but it would have required a U-Haul. Anyway, I wasn't planning on staying forever, just for the summer.
I installed my literary muses onto the shelves Grandpa had made with two-by-sixes in the unfinished interior wall of the living room and then shoved my full suitcases one by one up into the loft. The last met with unexpected resistance, tumbled down, and nearly yanked me off the ladder with it. I poked my head up over the threshold. The space that had been my room, my treehouse, my pirate ship, my enchanted castle tower, was filled with patio furniture, beach umbrellas, and plastic folding beach chairs.
I thought of Grandpa's emaciated body in the casket a few months earlier, of how he'd moldered in a nursing home for two years before his death. How had he gotten all of this up here? He'd always been wiry, small but muscular, his body sculpted by a lifetime of working with his hands. "Never pay someone to do something you can do," he'd told me one stifling August afternoon when I'd asked why we couldn't just buy firewood and have it delivered. He went back to splitting logs, and I went back to stacking the pieces that tumbled away from his keen axe.
He must have declined quickly at the end. And I hadn't been here to help.
I pulled the suitcases back down, lined them up on the living room floor, and took an overdue bathroom break, which reminded me that I still hadn't managed to get the water turned on. I couldn't flush, couldn't wash my hands, couldn't rinse the lake off when it was finally time to go to bed, which I also couldn't get to because of all the junk up in the loft.
Maybe things at Hidden Lake looked the same on the surface, but in some deeper place they were askew. What was this place without old Fred Brennan? What was my life without my grandfather? Fresh grief welled up inside of me, and I wanted to sit on the toilet and cry. But that wouldn't get the water turned on.