Authors: Margaret Standafer
By Margaret Standafer
Copyright © 2015 by Margaret Standafer
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Phil, who always knew I could do this.
Sam stood at her kitchen sink, sipping her coffee and looking out the window at the early morning mist swirling on the surface of the lake. It was cool with the window open but she knew the temperature would rise quickly. It had been a warm spring and the forecast was for a hot, dry summer. That suited Sam fine. Hot and dry, cold and wet, it didn’t much matter. Sam intended to work, not play. What did it matter if her new home happened to be situated on one of the prettiest lakes in Northern Minnesota? She wasn’t there to have fun.
Her new home. It still struck her as odd. When she had learned her grandfather had left her his cabin, she had been surprised. Shocked, actually. She hadn’t been to Misty Lake in years, not since she was a child and all was still right with the world. Her grandfather had stopped talking about the cabin years ago, about the same time he stopped talking about much of anything from the past. Sam had assumed he’d sold the place, not wanting the reminder of happier days. So three months ago when she had arrived in Misty Lake with plans to sell what she guessed would have to be nothing more than a run-down, mouse-infested mess, she was dumbfounded. The cabin was still there, sitting now at the back of the lot. But closer to the lake, where she remembered her grandfather’s cabin perching near the beach, was a beautiful four-bedroom log home complete with shiny new appliances, a master suite with a bathroom straight out of a glossy magazine, and a huge family room with a two-story stone fireplace and a stunning view of the lake.
Kathleen Melby, the local realtor she had contacted with the intention of unloading the cabin had been cryptic on the phone, only telling Sam that she shouldn’t make any quick decisions before seeing the place. Besides, she would need to determine a selling price and there was paperwork that would be completed much easier in person, Kathleen had told Sam. Frustrated, but resigned to the fact that a trip was inevitable, she had made the drive from Chicago to Misty Lake, Minnesota. It had been a long, painful drive. Feeling so alone and as if her heart couldn’t possibly take any more hurt, she had watched the miles tick off on her odometer while remembering the weeks she and her family had spent with her grandparents and cousins at the lake. Carefree as only a child with a seemingly endless summer vacation can be, she had spent the days swimming and skipping rocks, the evenings roasting marshmallows over the campfire and, as often as they could convince their parents, the kids all sleeping on the beach wrapped in sleeping bags and telling ghost stories late into the night. Until everything had changed.
As it had so many times over the past few months, the memory of the day she first saw the house came flooding back.
As Kathleen eased her car into the driveway, Sam stared in disbelief. This couldn’t be her grandfather’s house—her house—it just wasn’t possible. They must be at the wrong place, she thought. But then, at the corner of the lot, she saw the cabin she remembered. Confused, she got out of the car and looked around trying to get her bearings but finding nothing she saw made any sense. She wanted to ask questions but couldn’t put her thoughts into words.
Kathleen began heading for the house so Sam forced her feet to move and to follow when what she really wanted to do was run as fast she could in the opposite direction. The bubbly, chatty realtor never stopped talking as they made their way across the yard.
“From what I hear, your grandfather visited a few times over the years, occasionally someone would spot a car here. It sounds as though he would spend a few days in the cabin, never speaking to anyone or going into town, and then leave just as suddenly. As far as I know, he was only here once after the construction was completed. He met with the contractor, walked quickly through the new place, and then wanted to see the cabin.”
“Hmmm.” It was really all Sam was capable of saying. Her grandfather had been here? She had never known. And he had built this place without telling her, without telling anyone. Why? Sam blinked back the tears as questions swirled in her head knowing there was no one to answer them.
Sam listened to Kathleen rave about the quality craftsmanship, the ideal size and location of the lot, and the excellent fishing on the nearly eight-hundred-acre lake. She didn’t care, she told herself, she was going to sell the place. She knew she could never be happy here, the very idea of it filled her with anger and sadness. While she had never wanted for the basics growing up with her grandfather, they certainly hadn’t been wealthy. Yet this place must have cost a small fortune. Why build such an extravagant home and then never use it or even tell her about it? None of it made any sense and Sam had to fight the urge to run to the car and escape.
“Thank you for showing me around but I think I’ve seen enough. I’d really like to get going and take care of the paperwork. I definitely want to put the place up for sale as soon as possible,” Sam said after a few minutes inside. She was desperate to leave, wanting to put the experience behind her.
Kathleen gave Sam an odd look and said, “Before you make your final decision I think we should take a look at the cabin.”
Sam wanted to argue but sensed it would be futile. Fighting to keep her emotions in check she nodded her agreement and quickly made her way out of the house.
As they walked back through the yard and toward the cabin, Kathleen listed features of the lake and surrounding area while Sam simply tuned her out. She didn’t care about the house, about the lake, or about the town. This had been a mistake. She should have just insisted Kathleen handle the sale, forwarding any paperwork that needed signatures.
As Kathleen opened the door to the cabin, Sam tried to decipher the look on the realtor’s face. Kathleen had been almost giddy with excitement at the thought of listing the property—she had nearly bounced right out of the shiny blue pumps she was wearing as she had walked Sam through the house—but now that excitement didn’t quite reach her eyes. Sam continued to study Kathleen as she stepped across the threshold. She thought she caught a look of resignation in the woman’s eyes but it disappeared just as quickly as she turned her bright smile back on Sam. Shaking her head slightly, Sam braced herself for her first look at the cabin she remembered so well.
She froze in her tracks as she took in the space around her. Gone was her grandmother’s tiny kitchen where she had baked chocolate chip cookies and popped popcorn for her grandchildren. Gone, too, were the small bedrooms where the adults had cozied into creaky old beds at the end of the day while the kids sacked out on the floor or the beach. Her grandfather’s favorite little corner window, where he would sit in his rocking chair calling out the names of the birds he spotted, was no more. Instead what greeted Sam was the last thing she ever expected.
Along the walls were shelves, cabinets, and pegboards designed, she knew, to hold her tools. There were long, smooth workbenches with plenty of electrical outlets so extension cords wouldn’t be stretched across the floor. In one corner was a fancy dust collection system, a must, in Sam’s opinion, in any woodshop and something she had never been able to afford. And light. The room was filled with natural light from the skylights and from the windows facing in all directions. But what Sam could hardly tear her eyes from was sitting in the middle of the room, bright and shiny and beautiful. It was the panel saw she had longed for. Her tears almost blinded her as she made her way to the machine. She slowly reached out her hand to touch the cool steel, needing to convince herself it was real.
She remembered the hours she had spent with her grandfather in his small garage workshop, first as a child watching and learning and later as an adult working along side him. He had given Sam her start and had taught her the joy that comes from making something yourself. They had talked about getting new equipment, new tools, but it was never in the budget and the shop really wasn’t big enough anyway, they’d reasoned. The panel saw was always the one piece of equipment, though, that they had both dreamed about. Like a chef may want the latest new cookware or a photographer a new lens, they had longed for the saw. The fact that her grandfather had built this place and bought her the saw was too much. Sam collapsed onto one of the stools in front of the longest workbench and sobbed.
She wasn’t sure why, but obviously her grandfather wanted her to stay here. They had often discussed her future. Why hadn’t he told her about this place? They could have come here together, set up the workshop and started on all the projects they had talked about one day tackling. Now she was here, their dreams a reality, but she was alone.
Sam wasn’t sure how long she sat before Kathleen had quietly cleared her throat. Sam had forgotten she was there and jumped up quickly, embarrassed by her behavior. Wiping her eyes and trying to compose herself, she saw Kathleen looking as though she knew what she was going to hear. Sam couldn’t sell the place. For some reason her grandfather had wanted her here and since there was no longer anything tying her to Chicago, she would try to start over in Misty Lake.
Rigi’s bark jolted Sam out of her reverie. A car was pulling up her drive and Sam remembered Kathleen was stopping by this morning with the final papers for her to sign to complete the transfer of ownership of the house. She rinsed her coffee cup, set it in the sink, and gave a quick twist of her wrist to secure her long hair into a ponytail. With a deep breath she went to greet the realtor.
Rigi beat her to Kathleen. She poised to jump, but Sam’s sharp ‘off’ had her instead quivering at Kathleen’s feet, hoping for a pat or belly rub. Silly dog. She drove Sam crazy sometimes but she was a loyal friend and had helped Sam through some very dark days during the past year. Funny how a dog always knows when you need a hug, Sam thought.
For her part, Rigi couldn’t be happier with her new home. She had had a small backyard to romp in at their suburban Chicago home, but it was nothing compared to the acres of woods and the stretch of lake shore she had staked claim to in Misty Lake. The dog was positively in heaven chasing birds, squirrels, and butterflies through the yard or splashing in the lake and fetching the sticks Sam threw off the dock with the exuberance only a Golden Retriever can muster.
“Come on, Rigi, leave her alone,” Sam called. Rigi gave Kathleen’s hand one last little nudge then bounded happily toward Sam.
“Good morning, Sam. How are you today? Feeling settled in your new home? It sure is a beauty. And the location is prime. You’re a lucky girl.”
As usual, Kathleen’s words came out fast and furious. The woman had a way of squeezing so many thoughts into one breath, it made Sam’s head spin. Before she could answer, Kathleen was reaching into her briefcase and drawing out papers. “This should be the last of it, Sam. Then this stunning place will be all yours.”
Kathleen headed toward Sam, gliding over the gravel drive in a way that seemed impossible given she was wearing three-inch, hot pink heels today to match her equally pink business suit. The heels still only brought the top of Kathleen’s head to Sam’s chin. Her blonde hair was done up in some sort of complicated twist Sam couldn’t accomplish if her life depended on it. There was gold dripping from her ears, hanging heavily around her neck, and dangling at both wrists. Honestly, how did she have the time to put herself together like that every day? Sam wondered. Didn’t the woman own a pair of jeans?
“Thanks for coming over, Kathleen. I could have come to your office, though. And thank you again for handling all the paperwork.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” she said with a little wave. “Your grandfather’s lawyer drew up most of the paperwork, I’m just handling signatures and filing the appropriate papers with city hall. And I always love a reason to drive out to the lake, it clears my head. Besides, I’m sure you’re busy with the kids. How’s it going?”
“It’s going well. Really well,” Sam said with a rare, genuine smile. “I’m so glad you told me about Project Strong Start.”
And it was going well, she thought to herself. Sam remembered her first meeting with Kathleen and how the topic of Project Strong Start had come up when Kathleen mentioned she would be working with a couple of girls over the summer. Sam’s interest had been piqued and she had pressed the realtor for details.
Project Strong Start was a program started ten years ago with the goal of giving disadvantaged and at-risk kids from the Twin Cities a chance to spend the summer at a camp on Misty Lake. However, it wasn’t just a twelve-week resort stay. The kids chose from a variety of work/study courses and were expected to spend three hours a day, four days a week, learning a skill or trade. Some kids worked with Clyde, the town’s auto mechanic, while others worked at the hardware store, the bank, the clinic, or learned culinary skills from Sally, the owner of the town’s best steak house. This would be Kathleen’s second year with the program. Last summer she had mentored two girls. They shadowed her while she scheduled appointments, showed houses, and prepared documentation. More importantly, according to Kathleen, the teens learned that options existed for girls to succeed and even own their own business.
Some of the kids had spent their lives shuffled from one foster home to the next, never having a role model or anyone to tell them they could do something with their lives. Those who lived with a parent often did so in fear. Many lived with drug addicts or alcoholics. Too often, these kids wound up on the streets, becoming alcoholics or drug addicts themselves. Gangs also posed a serious threat, preying on kids who were looking for a place to fit in and ready to latch on to the first person who showed them some attention, even if that person was a gang member.