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Authors: Susan Wilson

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BOOK: Cameo Lake
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“A what?”

“Benson Turner, unless I'm greatly mistaken, was a member of the Interior Angles. Blues funk, late seventies, early eighties. You remember, we went to one of their concerts before we graduated. They were really big.”

“I had no idea. He's never said. I just knew that he was a musician, he composes music for commercials.” I felt myself grinning in the dark. Who knew. “Hey, wasn't ‘Frozen Heart’ one of theirs?”

“Ironic enough for you, Miss Novelist?”

“Why didn't you say something?”

“I wasn't absolutely sure until you said he was a musician. Turner sort of disappeared about ten or fifteen years ago.” Sean had already lost interest in the conversation and set his mug down. He took my cup and set it beside his, then pulled me out of my seat and onto his lap. As we kissed and cuddled, the mist brought the sweet translucent strains of Ben's concerto to us from across the lake.

Seven

“I
'm sorry, Cleo. I have to go.” Sean brandished his cell phone like proof. He'd just come back from his daily walk and talk. His upper lip was moist although the day wasn't terribly humid, and he smelled of nervous sweat.

“What about the kids? They're not going to want to cut their vacation short.” This was Wednesday. They were planning on staying until Saturday, leaving late in the day.

“I thought maybe they'd stay here with you.”

“What?”

He quickly backpedaled, “I mean just for the rest of the vacation. My client is in a twist about this accident and can't wait for me to get back to work on Monday. He needs me now.”

“Oh come on, Sean. Surely one of your partners can take the helm on this one?”

“This is my client. I spent a long long time and a lot of sweat cultivating him. I can't pass the baton on this one.” Sean stood slightly inclined toward me on the balls of his feet, as if ready to run back home, not drive.

“When will you come back to get the kids?”

“Oh man.” Sean slapped his forehead. “This really screws things up. I have to travel on Sunday, I don't see how I can drive up here,
and back, and then be able to turn around and drive to New York.”

I knew what he was asking without asking. The breathtaking logic behind his unspoken suggestion. He knew I'd do the right thing. He knew.

“How long is your trip?”

“Three days.”

“And you've dragooned your mother into taking them?”

“They love to spend time with her.”

“Why don't you come back Friday night for them? Then you can get an early start on Saturday.”

“Look, Cleo, just get them packed and we can all go now.”

“No. Leave them until next weekend. It makes the most sense. Besides, your mother's done enough.”

Sean gave me his most boyish grin, “We'll shoot for next Friday.” Registering the annoyance on my face, he hastily amended himself. “I'll be here, I promise.”

Sean's parting words, “You know, Clee, the kids love it here. Believe me, I know they'll stay out of your hair.”

“Rat bastard.” I muttered under my breath at the departing car. He had managed to spring the trap on my suppressed maternal guilt. Rat bastard. What kind of mother lets her kids swelter in the city while she spends time on the shores of a most beautiful lake? Sean knew I couldn't, in good conscience, deprive them of the experience. He probably knew all along I'd cave in.

As Sean predicted, the kids were beside themselves with joy at the prospect of staying an extra week.

“Okay, you guys. Listen up.” I sat my children down and paced before them like Patton before the troops. “Here are the rules. One: I work from morning till noon. During that time you will have to entertain yourselves out of the water. Capeesh?”

Two curly red heads nodded.

“Two: No whining.”

More nodding.

“Three: You clean up your own messes and do whatever chores I give you without above-mentioned whining.”

Little smirks, more nodding.

I kept my amusement tucked away. Maybe without the demands of their activity schedules and the need to spend half a day every day in the car getting them from here to there, their physical presence wouldn't be such a distraction.

“Four: No planning, no planned activities. Don't make any plans which require me to act or to drive. Okay?”

“No problemo.” Tim's best Bart Simpson voice.

“Oh, one more thing,” I caught them by the backs of their shirts as they bolted for the door.

A duet of moans.

“Five: Can anyone guess five?”

Simultaneous head shaking.

“Enjoy yourselves. You are about to have very little adult supervision.”

“Mom.” Lily, taking her position as the eldest was already becoming my sergeant major. “You don't have to worry about a thing. We'll leave you to work. We'll even make lunch every day so you don't have to.”

“That would be nice, Lily.”

They scurried out the screen door before I could think of anything else.

The kids were in the water two seconds after I nodded, yes. They still hadn't quite gotten the concept of not interrupting me. Even though they made their own breakfast out of the horrible sweet cereal and played outside, I was on the alert for crises. Silence was more alarming than noise. Even as they played safely on the shore, I couldn't allow myself to sink deeply into the writer's trance. Once again, I was writing in fifteen-minute increments, finding myself peering out toward the lake to make sure they weren't drowning.

Lily sneaked up on me, whispering as if that was less of an intrusion than simply bounding onto the porch. “Mom, where are the Band-Aids?”

“Who needs a Band-Aid?”

“Tim.”

“What happened?” Whatever pitch-perfect sentence had been about to leave my head for my fingertips was gone and I abandoned the attempt.

The good news was that it wasn't completely horrible. In fact, it was wonderful having them there. As much as the solitude felt good, having my children there, playing in the lake or discovering the wonders of nonelectronic games, was probably worth the distraction in the long run. However, at this moment I was still angry with Sean for not giving me the option.

I saved and shut down my laptop and leaned my elbows on my little work table, chin resting on the backs of my folded hands, admiring Lily and Tim's complete love of the water. They'd be in the cold water until I made them come out. I wished I could be like that, splashing without self-consciousness, pretending to be a mermaid, or a sea monster, or a shark. Diving endlessly, playing Frisbee or catch with a tennis ball.

I could see a group of the East Side neighbors on the communal beach, which was a man-made shoreline comprised mostly of raked dirt supplemented by imported sand. Not like a seashore beach, probably only ten feet wide and twenty feet long. Our cabin's private lakefront was muddy earth dropping off to brown water. Apart from the availability of the raft from our shore, the kids preferred the beach, where they could dig and hang out with their new friends. After struggling to get my still damp suit up over my hips, I grabbed a towel and chair and headed to join them. As I went along the path to the communal beach I rehearsed the names of the women lounging on aluminum and web chaise lounges, but by the time I walked the short distance to the narrow strip of beach, all but two of the neighbors were packing up to go home for lunch.

I was greeted cordially enough, but it was clear that, as a newcomer, I was outside the group. I told myself that it would take too much effort, and would negate the purpose of my sabbatical, to try to enter into it.

With everyone else gone, the conversation between the two women hissed with gossip. The pair of beach biddies took turns sniping at every absent neighbor. Little, decidedly catty, remarks about this one's poor taste in furniture or that one's weight gain. “Isn't Margaret looking happy these days, it must be nice to be able to let yourself go.” Delighting like fat bumblebees on heavy blooms, they at last alighted on Benson Turner.

“So, Cleo, you've met Ben Turner?” This from the woman whose name I thought was Glenda, or maybe Brenda.

“Yes, I have.” There was something in the tone of her voice, a slight knowingness, which made me cautious. “We've bumped into each other now and then.”

“We've seen you on the raft together.” This remark from Carol, one notch up from accusatory.

I could see a look pass between the two women. “What'd you think of him?”

“He seems very nice. A little shy, maybe. But pleasant.” I was instinctively circumspect.

“He killed his wife, you know.” Glenda got the reaction she was hoping for in my utter speechlessness. “Well, not like domestic abuse, but he was responsible for her accident.”

“They were arguing. Everyone knows that they were having trouble. And they say he was drinking that night.” The other woman, Carol, chimed in with her lines of the story.

I closed my mouth against saying anything. I needed a moment to adjust to this new view of Benson Turner. I realized that the tone in Glenda's voice, asking me if I had met Ben, was teasing, almost derisive, and it was clear Ben was the lakeside leper. Intuitively, I knew that in order to join that group, I had to anathematize Ben with them. To join the club, I was supposed to ask them for details. I needed to get into the mud with them and evince shock and condemnation. Screw them, I thought, and opened the fat mystery I'd lugged to the beach with me.

“We only mention this because we thought you ought to know, you seem to be so chummy with him, and we didn't think he'd say
anything.” Imagining that they had done their job, Glenda and Carol packed up their beach things and headed up the path toward their cabins. “Nice to see you, Cleo.”

“You too,” I waved insincere fingers. “Good thing I don't want your company.” I hissed under my breath as the two beach biddies moved out of earshot, heading home for their afternoon naps. I closed the book. They had done their job, the seeds of curiosity had been pressed into the ground of my imagination. I began to wonder what other revelations about Ben would surface before I next lay beside him on the raft. Rock star and wife killer. I could imagine the first, I could not imagine the second. But the grief in his eyes was obvious and the mourning in his music was real.

I suddenly realized that Lily and Tim were standing within earshot of this conversation. “Hey, Mom, didja bring lunch?—we're hungry.” A familiar duet. I wondered if they'd been paying attention and hoped that, until I could come to terms with this fresh revelation, they hadn't.

“You know where the kitchen is.”

“Okay.” Lily and Tim scrambled out of the water and raced up the path to the cabin to forage.

The shallow water where I stood was warm, the July sun was comfortingly hot with very little breeze at this time of day. Later on it would pick up, the lick of the evening breeze would goose-bump the skin of the still lake, only to be licked flat again as it died. I strode out into deeper water and made for the raft.

BOOK: Cameo Lake
11.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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