Authors: Robin Alexander
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Lesbian, #Gay & Lesbian, #Woman Friendship, #(v4.0), #Small Towns
The Lure of White Oak Lake
© 2013 by Robin Alexander
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
First ebook edition: 2013
Walker, LA USA
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Executive Editor: Tara Young
Cover design by: Tiger Graphics
This book is dedicated to my dad who is sorely missed.
Many thanks to Tara and the Intaglio editorial team. Without them, I’d be lost.
To Becky, my love, for her constant encouragement and support.
organ Chassion thumped the screen of her GPS, certain that it was playing a joke or had lost its electronic mind. She was supposed to be looking at a town; instead, sugarcane and cornfields spread out for miles before her. Through the bug-encrusted windshield of her Jeep, she spotted a truck in the distance. Next to it sat a white sign with the word shrimp spray-painted in red. She’d only passed a few cars during the last ten miles and wondered why anyone would pick such a desolate backwoods highway to peddle seafood.
As Morgan pulled off the road, she noticed an old man sitting on a lawn chair in shade provided by a ratty tarp. He gave her a smile and a nod as she climbed out of her Jeep. “I’m lost. By any chance, have you heard of a town named White Oak Lake? It’s not on the map, and my GPS swears I’m there.”
“You are,” he said with a nod.
Morgan’s heart sank as she looked at the sugarcane blowing in the breeze. She knew it was a small town but had assumed there was an actual lake, perhaps people, and a building or two. “This is it?”
“We used to have a sign, but the last hurricane tore it down.” The old man stood and hoisted his sagging pants over slim hips. “Chet Aucoin at your service,” he said with another crooked smile that enhanced the jagged scar on his cheek and put out his hand. “You got people in White Oak?”
“I inherited property there recently,” Morgan said as she shook his hand. “My dad, Robert Chassion, owned it.”
Chet scratched at his cheek. “Don’t know him.”
“He used to come here often but not so much in the last few years.”
“Where ya from?”
“Atlanta.” Morgan looked around again, almost wishing she could go back. “My dad was from Baton Rouge.”
“Baton Rouge Bob, a tall fella walked with a limp?” Chet squinted against the sun. “Was that your daddy?”
Morgan smiled weakly and nodded.
“Yes, I do remember him now. I had coffee with him every now and then at the bait store. He used to tell a whole lotta jokes. You say he’s passed on?”
“Yes, sir, almost four months ago.”
“I’m real sorry, he was a nice fella.” Chet pointed down the road. “Now look, if ya go another half mile, you’ll see a turnoff on the right. You take that and go about five miles, it’ll put you right on Main Street. Go to the end and hang another right. That road will run ya right out around the lake. You know how to go once you get there?”
“I have a hand-drawn map. I should be able to find it then.”
“Here.” Chet walked over to the truck, opened a cooler, and pulled out a bag of shrimp. “You go on and take these, kind of a welcome present.”
Morgan’s face colored. “That’s really very kind of you, but I’m allergic to seafood.”
“Well, I never seen it, a coon ass that can’t eat shrimp. Chassion, that’s a Cajun name, but you ain’t got much of an accent. City livin’ will do that to ya.” Chet dropped the bag back into the cooler, then picked up a basket of tomatoes. “These here are my late-year girls, won’t find ’em in any grocery store. No tomatoes you find in a store will taste like these, neither.” He held the basket out to Morgan. “Go on and take ’em, it’s a gift.”
“Well, thank you, Chet, for this and the directions,” Morgan said with a smile. “I hope I can find a way to repay the kindness.”
Chet waved a gnarled hand. “You come down to the bait store some mornin’s and have coffee with me.”
“I’ll do that,” Morgan said with a wave and climbed back into her Jeep. She found the turn Chet mentioned and began to feel like a mouse in a maze with the walls of corn and cane growing on either side of the road. She was reminded of what Celeste Carmichael, her best friend, had told her the day they packed up her things: “You aren’t going to be happy in the sticks.”
Morgan was inclined to disagree as she looked up to enjoy an unobstructed view of blue sky. October wasn’t particularly cool in Louisiana, but on this day, the mild weather had mercy on a wandering soul cruising in an open Jeep. As if some demon focused on her inner thoughts had realized that she was enjoying a moment of peace, it began to remind her of hard days in her recent past.
She could hear Resa’s voice clearly in her mind as if her ex was sitting right beside her.
This isn’t working out. I’m not happy, sorry.
And then her former employer.
I’m sorry, Morgan, business isn’t picking up. I’m going to have to let you go.
And then the many voices of those offering their condolences began in a mournful chorus.
I’m so sorry for your loss
. If there were two things Morgan was truly sick of, they were the word sorry and change she didn’t cause. There had been too much of both lately. She’d taken some semblance of control by packing her things and retreating to the cabin her father had oddly chosen to leave to her instead of her brother, Brad.
Though she was thankful to have the cabin, her father’s choice made no sense. Brad had spent many a weekend there with their father. It had been Brad and his wife, Tonya, who took Robert into their home when he could no longer live on his own. In Morgan’s opinion, Brad was more deserving, it meant more to him, and he’d been their father’s caregiver to the end.
The fields on either side of the road gave way to cypress trees growing out of marshy terrain that changed just as quickly to a wooded landscape with dense brush. Long fingers of sunlight wove their way through thick foliage and made Morgan blink from the strobe light effect on her eyes. And then the town came into view. There were no tall buildings, no traffic lights, buses, or cabs. Morgan brought the Jeep to a smooth halt at a stop sign, where she rested her arms on the steering wheel. There was no one behind her to honk and complain that she was taking too long. Buildings lined one side of the street. A hardware store, bakery, café, and an office building stood in a neat little row facing the lake on the other side of the road. In the distance along the water, Morgan could see a few houses, a church, and a long pier protruding from a large wooden store into the lake with boats gathered around it.
“Oh, my God, I’ve landed in Mayberry,” she said as she began to move slowly. People on the sidewalk gave her curious glances, then a wave. Children played in a park on the banks of the lake. Someone was taking advantage of a beautiful Saturday afternoon grilling beneath a pavilion while others fished. Morgan chuckled as she waved at two men playing chess at a picnic table. White Oak Lake was lovely, wholesome, serene, and scary as shit to a lesbian from the city.
She put the scrap of paper with her map drawn on it in front of the odometer and referred to it as she turned on Lake Shore Drive. Most of the houses were old, some Victorian style. All had large porches where people waved while they sat in rockers and on porch swings. Morgan waved back as she took in the surroundings.
The Lure, a bait shop and general store with a big hook on the top, was a landmark on the map. The parking lot surrounding the store, which sat over the water on pilings, was filled with boat trailers connected to pickups. Boats fanned out behind it on the lake in the late afternoon sun. Morgan began to count the driveways when she passed it and turned right at the fourth one. Gravel crunched under her tires as she navigated down the shaded path. What she beheld when she turned off the engine wasn’t anything like the stately homes she’d passed on the way. She’d quit smoking many years ago, but as she gazed at the cabin overgrown with vines, she wanted to get a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of bourbon and consume both until the heebie-jeebies went away.
“The inside will look better,” Morgan said aloud, needing to hear the audible assurance. “It’s paid for, and it has great potential.” She repeated what Brad had said, but when he’d uttered those words, they sounded comforting. Rolling off her own tongue, they didn’t have the same effect.
Brush had grown mostly over the front porch. Spiders in large cobwebs almost deterred Morgan from trying one of the steps. The seat of a weather-worn chair near the door gave way and landed with a thud. Along with the spiders, it too seemed to say, “Go back to where you came from and do it quickly.” But tempted as Morgan was to heed the warning, she was reminded there was nowhere else to go, unless she wanted to stay with Brad. Her father had died in his house, and Morgan had not been back there since that night.
The key slid into the lock roughly, and it took some effort to get it to turn. Slowly, Morgan pushed open the door and peered inside. The place smelled musty and felt damp as she stepped in. The hardwood floors were scuffed and in need of refinishing but were surprisingly sturdy as Morgan dared to go deeper into the small living room. In the muted light, she squinted at a plaid-covered couch resting against one wall and a matching chair in the corner next to a table with a lamp. Both faced a small brick fireplace. She crossed the room and opened the drapes, needing more light. They came down in her hands, and she gasped at the view. The large window overlooked a deck, beyond it a small yard covered in brush and pine straw, then the lake in all its dazzling glory. The sun’s reflection danced on the surface, making it shimmer like diamonds.
“Okay,” Morgan said with a nod. “I’ve found a...positive.” She jumped as the cell phone in her back pocket rang.
“Are you there yet?” Brad asked excitedly.
“Yes, and I just about turned away when I pulled in the drive.”
“It’s kind of overgrown. I didn’t have a chance to get it cleaned up. Have you found the breaker box yet?”
“No, lead me to it. I’m in the living room and maybe the kitchen, I think.” Morgan squinted at the adjoining room. “It’s daylight. Why is it so dark in here?”
“All the windows are closed, and the place is completely shaded. Your electricity bill isn’t going to amount to anything because you won’t have to run the AC units as much in the summer. That little fireplace will near about warm the entire cabin in the winter, but there are space heaters in the hall closet. Go down the hall to the first door on the left.”
Morgan followed Brad’s instructions to the door and opened it. “I can barely make out anything it’s so dark. I’m gonna have to use my phone for light.”
“It’s the top breaker, just throw it. I’ll wait.”
Morgan threw the breaker and heard the refrigerator compressor kick on. She switched on the hall light, then the one in the bathroom as she put the phone back to her ear. “I can shower and pee at the same time.”
“Yeah, the bathroom is kind of small. There are towels, washcloths, and a couple rolls of toilet paper in the closet with the breaker box. Now look in the bedroom.”
Morgan could tell Brad was smiling as she moved down the short hall. She stepped into the room and flipped the light switch. “Oh, Brad, did you do this?”
“I had help,” he said proudly. “Tonya picked out the bedding and the rug because she knows you like blue. I made the bedside table and the dresser. Whaddya think of your baby brother’s craftsmanship?”
Morgan ran her hand over the smooth finish of the light wood, the color in contrast to the dark blue of the comforter on the bed. “You are a master,” she said as she opened one of the drawers.
“I wanted you to be comfortable. We were in such a hurry that we didn’t have time to do anything with the living room. The place is clean, though. All the appliances in the kitchen work. Tonya put a few canned goods in the pantry for you.”
“I can’t thank you both enough.” She bit back a sigh and asked, “When will I see you again?”
“Soon, I promise. We’ll come up for a weekend. You okay?”
“I’m good, thanks to you and Tonya. Give her my love.”
“Oh, hey, there’s a TV in the bedroom closet. I didn’t want to leave it out in case any kids were snooping around the place. The cable’s hooked up and ready to go. I hooked up a router so you can go wireless, but you’ll need to recycle the modem. And you may want to let the water run for a while because it kind of stinks. You’re on a well. Dad always said it was safe to drink, but I’d stick to the bottled stuff if I were you.”