Comfort & Joy / Page 5

Page 5



I step into a steaming hot shower with my clothes on.

Why not?

Everything needs to be washed.

The first part of my slumber is bad, I’ll admit it—a kaleidoscope of ugly memories. The crash. My sister. Thom. The crash. But what I learn is this: when you’re tired enough, you fall asleep, and nothing heals your mind like a peaceful night. When I waken, I feel remarkably good for a woman who survived a small plane crash and is currently running away from her real life.

No.

I’m not running away. I’m on my first adventure.

Still, I can’t help hoping—just for a second—that Stacey is still at my house, waiting for me. Worrying. Maybe she’ll think I’ve been kidnapped and call the police. Then she’d be sorry for sleeping with my husband and breaking my heart. But even as I dive into the warm fantasy, I feel it grow cold. She won’t call the cops, won’t mount a search. A year ago, she would have. Not now. She no longer knows my life well enough to wonder at my absence. For all she knows, I’m on the beach in Jamaica with some young hottie.

Or in a wild and primitive rainforest . . .

I listen to the birds outside my window. I can hear the lake, too, lapping lazily against the shore. Somewhere a radio is playing.

In the bathroom, I find a small travel set in the top drawer. Toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, and body lotion. It’s everything I need. So I take another long, luxurious shower and dress in yesterday’s clothes. My black pants are dry, but stiff, likewise my now clean sweater set.

Showered and dressed, I feel ready to begin this adventure of mine.

I grab my camera and leave the safety of my room—1A, according to the plaque on the door—and go in search of someone to check me in. If I’m lucky, the boy is right and I can pay at the end of my stay.

The lobby is filled with pale sunlight and warmed by a crackling fire. In the light coming through the window, everything looks incredibly sharp and bright. Even the worn red-leather chairs and plaid sofa. I can see tiny diamond flecks in the fireplace’s stonework. In contrast, without the sunlight, the registration area seems dull and vaguely gray. This is a part of the world where light changes everything, obviously. I take a few photographs of the lobby for my scrapbook, then turn toward the door.

In the distance, I hear the high pitched whine of a tool—chainsaw, maybe, or a weed eater. A few moments later, there are footsteps outside, coming up the walk, crossing the deck.

The door opens.

It’s the boy I met last night. He’s younger than I thought—maybe eight or nine years old—with shaggy black hair and freckled cheeks. His lashes are long enough to make him beautiful. But it is his eyes that I notice most. They’re ice blue and sad.

When he sees me, he drops the hammer he is carrying.

I smile. “Hello again. It’s nice to see you.”

“Oh, boy.” He crosses his arms. I recognize the body language. It’s what I do now when I look at my ex-sister, cross my arms, as if a few more layers of muscle and bone can protect my heart. “I thought you’d be gone.”

I hear the way his voice trembles; it’s loneliness, that sound. The sense that your boat has come untied and you’re drifting away. It’s what I’ve felt everyday for almost a year. It’s why I’m here, pretending I don’t have a sister. “I’d like to stay awhile. If that’s okay.”

Before I can say more, the front door bangs open, and a man walks in. He is whipcord lean, with close-cropped black hair and a face that is all sharp lines and deep hollows. A dark stubble shadows his sunken cheeks; the harsh color accentuates the paleness of his skin. His eyes are strangely green, a color too bright for the rest of his hard, weather-beaten face. I can see how handsome he once was, before life wore him down. I know how he feels. Sometimes in the last year, I’ve thought that my color was washing away in the shower or fading in the sun. I wouldn’t have been surprised to wake up one morning and find myself a black-and-white woman moving through a colored world. He doesn’t even notice me. He is looking directly at the boy. “What are you doing in here, boyo? I thought we were cutting trees together?” His voice is deep and rich, softened by an Irish brogue.

“I came in for a Coke and found her.” He points at me. “Last night I checked her in to room 1A . . . just like mom and me used to do when this place was open. Before you showed up.”

The man looks at me for a second, maybe less. I am of no interest to him, obviously. “A guest, huh? Well, that’s grand.” The way he says the last word leaves no doubt about his reaction. He does not find it grand at all. And though his voice is full of sarcasm, a lilting Irish brogue softens it. He barely looks at me.

“I guess my presence is a bit surprising,” I say. “I’m sorry about that. I got here late last night. I’d really like to stay a few days.”

The man bends down for the hammer. Even with the distance between us, I can hear his sigh. “I know you don’t want me to sell this place, Bobby, but one guest isn’t gonna change things.”

“You said you were selling cause no one stayed here.”

“That’s not what I said.”

“I love it here,” the boy—Bobby—cries out. “And I know how to check in guests. Mommy taught me.”

The man seems to deflate at that. “Aye.”

“I won’t be any trouble,” I say. Suddenly I’m scared. If I leave here, I’ll go home. I know me. I’ve never handled obstacles particularly well, and I don’t want to go home yet. Stacey will be waiting for me; I’ll have to deal with the wedding and the baby and my broken heart. “Just a few days. Please? I need a vacation.”

“She’s stayin’,” Bobby says defiantly, looking at his father.

The man looks at his son, and in the glance that goes between them, I see a pair of people who’ve lost their way together. “Tell her not to expect anything from me. I’m too busy to play host.”

I feel a surge of gratitude. Every runaway needs a break, and this stranger has given it to me. I can stay here—hide out—for a while, just long enough to catch my breath and gather my courage for the next round of real life.

“I really appreciate this. You . . . can’t know . . .” I don’t know how to express it, how much this means to me. If I say all that I’m feeling he’ll write me off as a wacko. “I’m Joy,” I say by way of introduction.

“He’s Daniel. I’m Bobby.”

Daniel looks irritated. “Come on, Bobby, I need your help clearing trees down by the lake. Your mum let this place go.”

Bobby moves reluctantly toward his father. When they are at the door, Bobby looks back at me. Then, wordlessly, he follows his father outside.

I n the quiet that follows their departure, it strikes me: I’m staying. I am on my first vacation in years, and I am in an exotic location. Although it started off rocky (okay, so that’s a mammoth understatement), as the kids at school say: it’s all good now.

I have been given a great gift in this holiday season.

Time.

Time to let go of some of this baggage that has weighed me down in the past year. There’s no way for me to gauge how long this interlude will last, so I better take full advantage of the time I have.

No whining or moping or crying. That’s the resolution I make.

Here, for as long as my time lasts, I intend to be the old—or, perhaps the young—Joy Faith Candellaro, the woman who believes in love and marriage and fairy tales. The woman I used to be.

But first I need to find something to eat—I’m starving.

It takes me hardly any time to find the kitchen. The small, old-fashioned space reminds me vaguely of my mom’s kitchen in the house in which I grew up—same yellow beadboard cabinets, silver appliances, and oak plank floors. It has a lovely, homey feel, and the scent of freshly made coffee makes my mouth water.

The coffee tastes better on my vacation than it ever did at home. Same goes for the bagel and cream cheese I find in the fridge. Opening the drawer by the stove, I look for a paper and pen. Like all junk drawers everywhere, it’s full: playing cards, paper clips, store receipts, recipes ripped out of magazines, red marking pens, and travel brochures. Tucked in the back is a brand new DVD movie, unopened. The Lost Boys. The receipt taped to its face is dated three days ago.

It’s the same movie I bought a week ago, on sale at Target.

So, we have the same weird taste in movies. Smiling at the unexpected connection, I find what I’m looking for: a notepad and pen. On the blue-lined page, I write: bagel, one tablespoon cream cheese, coffee. At the end of my stay, I’ll figure out a way to pay for all of it. Thank God for the computerized world. It won’t take five minutes at an ATM for me to get cash, even here, in the middle of nowhere.

Later, perhaps I’ll take a cab to town, but for now, I want to explore this place where I have so unexpectedly landed. I stop by my room, get my camera, and go outside.

In full daylight, I am amazed by this wild, isolated corner of the world.

Everything is washed out, softened somehow by air that is threaded with fog. There is water everywhere: in the grass that springs beneath my feet, in the steady dripping of drops from branches and eaves, in the slap of waves against the dock. I feel rejuvenated by the moisture, like a desert traveler who has stumbled onto an impossible oasis. I can’t see anything with perfect clarity; it is a world veiled by mist and water, and yet made all the more beautiful by obscurity. Lord knows I’ve seen my life too clearly in the past year. I choose my photographs carefully; I don’t know when I’ll get more film.

Looking for the perfect shot, I walk out toward the lake. The water is a soft gray, striated by reflections of the clouds above.

The shore is made up of tiny bits of pea gravel and stones that seem polished to a mirrored black sheen. A silvery wooded dock juts out above the water. Waves slap playfully at the pilings. Not far away, a gorgeous hand-built swing set stands empty; every now and then the wind rattles the chains.

There are no other houses on the lake that I can see. It is almost primeval, this forest. I have never seen anything like it.

I turn and look back at the lodge. From a distance, it looks more quaint than run down. According to the article I read, the place is more than sixty years old. In the photographs in the magazine, there were kids on the lawn, tossing Frisbees to one another and trying to use hula hoops, others playing badminton and croquet. No doubt the canoes and paddleboats and kayaks stacked by the dock would have been in constant use.

For the rest of the day, I poke through the cabins behind the lodge. They are shabby but quaint. With a new coat of paint, refinished floors, and a lot of scrubbing with bleach, they could be ready for guests. The old windows, with their wavy glass and clear maple trim, are in great shape, as are the skinned log interior walls.

I take pictures of all of it—of spiderwebs beaded with dew, of swans on the lake, of listing cabins furred by moss and inhabited by mice. All the while, I find myself imagining what this place could be. There was a time, ten or twelve years ago, when I dreamed of owning a bed and breakfast. During those years, I collected dozens of books and hundreds of articles on inn management. I can picture each cottage with old-fashioned brass beds, big fluffy down comforters, and hand-painted dressers.


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