SEASONS HEARTBEAT: SPRING
By Vella Munn
Water shot out from the split in the pipe and soaked Alisha Hearne’s jeans. “Figures,” she muttered as she jumped back. Even though she was alone, she stifled her impulse to let go with a few choice four-letter words. Not only wouldn’t cursing stop the leak, she risked totally losing it. Besides, she didn’t want to wake Bruce, the eighty-pound mutt dozing in the sun.
She hurried into the cabin and pulled out the fuse that controlled the well. She turned the fuse over to the OFF position and reinserted it. Now that water was no longer being pumped through the antiquated galvanized iron lines, she went back outside so she could get a closer look at the damage. The split started where the pipe went under the cabin. She didn’t want to think about how far it might extend into the laughingly-called crawl space or whether there was more than one split.
Well, she told herself as she shook off her jeans, did she expect anything different? She hadn’t been to the cabin located in Oregon’s Umpqua forest since last fall and then only briefly. More to the point, the pipes had been subjected to winter’s sub-zero temperatures since they’d been put in in the 1940ies. At least she’d had the forethought to bring several jugs of water with her. She could turn off the valve between the pump and house, attach a hose to the pump, and have access to water that way.
A high-powered screaming distracted her from the immediate problem. It was coming from Lake Serene some fifty yards away, undoubtedly caused by a boat going way over the fifteen-miles-per-hour speed limit. Accompanied by Bruce who didn’t care that pine needles were sticking to his short black coat, she headed for the dock, jumping over water streaming from melting snow that had recently been on the roof. At least except for the berms around the cabin, most of last winter’s snowpack had melted. Otherwise she wouldn’t have been able to drive to the one place where her mother had felt at peace.
The dock listed so far to her right she’d probably slide off it and into the icy lake so she remained on the bank. Bruce looked around for a dry spot and sat. Three pines had lost their hold on the bank and fallen in or near the lake. Granted, they’d provide waterfowl with perches but she’d have to find a way to haul them to shore and cut them up.
Add it to the list.
She shielded her eyes and stared out at the still body of water that three weeks ago had been covered with snow and ice. Even with the irritating sound, she mentally slipped back to lazy afternoons spent fishing here with her mother. They’d bonded over trout bragging rights and whose turn it was to clean their catch. As for whether her mother had wished their conversations had gone deeper—no, she wasn’t going to go there on this late May afternoon.
There was the offending boat. Whoever was pushing the motor’s limits was kicking up a constant spray of white as he entertained himself creating figure eights. At least he wasn’t at the lake’s south end with its fish-rich deep hole and the Silent Creek inlet where a dozen or so fishermen were undoubtedly glaring at him.
She started and whirled to face whoever was behind her.
“Sorry. Guess you didn’t hear me for all the noise that fool’s making.”
“Doc!” she exclaimed as she hurried to the path where her closest neighbor stood leaning on his trademark walking stick. Bruce was already sniffing Doc’s coveralls. So much for warning her of intruders. She hugged the man she’d turned to more than once in the past for tools, advice, and sometimes handyman services. Doc, a retired dentist, had understood that her mother couldn’t always pull herself together enough to tackle repairs so had gone out of his way to help the daughter.
“I was hoping I’d see you.” Doc hugged her back. “Our family is so grateful to you.”
“I was just doing my job,” she said when they both knew it went beyond that.
“You worked your tail off. When I think of what might have happened if I hadn’t thought to call you—I’m so glad you stopped my daughter and her husband from getting into a mess with that deal they almost signed on.”
“It was a bad one. Your instincts were right.”
Doc smiled. “She’s my baby girl, always will be. What we’re really grateful for is how much time you devoted to finding them a place they could afford.”
“They’re happy with it?” She saw no point in telling Doc that much of the time she’d spent wearing her realtor hat for his daughter’s family was because she only rarely handled residential properties. She’d found the project to be deeply satisfying—worth the arguments with her father.
“Delighted especially since Rance didn’t have to change schools. And with my son-in-law gone as much as he is, it eases my mind knowing my baby is in a safe neighborhood.” Still smiling, he studied her. “They say women are at their most beautiful when they’re eighteen but they’re wrong. How old are you?”
She gave him a mock glare. “Twenty-eight, not that you have any business asking. I’m sorry I didn’t stay in touch this winter. I meant to.”
He squeezed her arm. “Your dad died. I figured you had your hands full.” He jerked his head at the lake. “That’s the third afternoon that moron’s been at it. I figure he works at the resort. Can’t be a cabin owner or guest. We know better.”
The resort consisted of the main lodge that included a restaurant, meeting rooms, bar, and the reservation office for the various motel rooms, cabins, and studios. Fortunately the complex was more than a mile away by boat and nearly four by vehicle. Except at night when she could see the distant lights, she was barely aware of the commercial establishment’s existence.
“Have you seen what they’re doing there?” Doc asked. He scratched the top of Bruce’s head.
“No, I haven’t. I wanted to get the cabin open and aired out.”
“Bet it was musty as all get out.” Doc shook his head. “I still have a key, could have taken off the shutters and put on the screens so you can have the windows open if I’d known you were coming. I must have been inside. Otherwise, I would have heard you drive in.”
She looked in the direction of the cabin Doc and his wife had bought when their children were little but could barely glimpse it for the evergreens between the two lots. Ponderosa and other pine seedlings fought for every inch of soil not taken up by mature trees. Beautiful as they were, they also represented a fire danger in summer and needed to be thinned.
Another item for the list.
“The road has more ruts than I remember,” she said, “not that I’m complaining. Not having it paved keeps resort visitors from this side of the lake.”
“That’s going to change if the new owner has his way.”
She’d heard a few things about the proposed improvements the well-heeled owner intended to implement. Some like allowing water skiing on a lake known primarily for its fishing was bound to get a lot of résistance. Of course if she decided to sell the cabin, it wouldn’t affect her.
“Darn it,” Doc grumbled. “He’s heading this way.”
Taking her cue from the older man who’d already started toward the shore, she trailed behind him. Doc was right. The crazy boat driver appeared intent on checking out the fifty-some small docks belonging to the private cabin owners starting with those to her south. At least he’d slowed to trolling speed. At the rate he was going, he’d reach her dock in a couple of minutes so she planted herself as close to the listing structure as she dared. She didn’t care what he thought of it. She just wanted to give him a piece of her mind about his disregard for what this high mountain lake stood for.
The motor’s high growl seeped into her and triggered something she didn’t want to examine. Suffice to say, she’d been under a lot of stress lately and didn’t need this idiot adding to it. She wanted him gone and quiet back.
Now that he was close, she realized this wasn’t one of the nearly-derelict boats the resort rented out. At least twenty-feet long, it had both a trolling motor and an outboard she guessed was at least ninety horsepower. Judging by the shiny sides and immaculate pedestal fishing seat, the craft was new.
As it eased around partly-submerged trees and docks, she stopped trying to decide whether the boat was privately owned and focused on the man with his hand on the steering wheel. She guessed him to be in his early thirties. The wind had been having its way with his longish dark brown hair while his slightly canted nose and cheeks looked wind-chapped. He had a square jaw, deep-set eyes shielded by shaggy brows, and a serious slant to his mouth that made her wonder if there might be more to him than a hell-raiser.
Over a blue T-shirt sporting a motorcycle logo he wore an unsnapped grey windbreaker that speed had pushed away from a chest made for physical labor. This was no indulged teenager, not this man with his broad shoulders and big, tanned hands. Because he was sitting low in the boat, she couldn’t see his lower half.
“Where’s your life vest?” Doc called out.
When the man didn’t immediately respond, she wondered if he was debating answering. If he gave Doc a hard time, she’d tell him to leave.
He shifted into neutral and pointed behind him.
“Crazy as you’ve been driving, I’m surprised you thought of safety,” Doc grumbled. “There’s a speed limit here.”
The man shrugged. She wanted to examine his expression, but now that the wind was in charge of its movement, the boat had started to turn away from the shore. For a moment she imagined him a drifter, a lost soul maybe without an idea how to put his life on course. Then he put the motor back into gear and came alongside the dock. He stood and leaned over the boat so he could grab the one remaining cleat. He wrapped a tie rope around it and sat back down.
“This yours?” he asked Doc, indicating the listing affair.
“No,” she said. “It’s mine.”
The two words almost made her laugh. “Thanks for pointing that out. Winter’s been a little rough on it.”
He’d turned his attention to her while she was talking, surely time enough for her to get used to the intensity in his eyes. There was something arresting about him. She almost expected him to jump out of the boat and take off at a dead run as a way of dealing with the energy boiling inside him. This wasn’t a man for sitting and contemplating his navel. Just sitting inside a motionless boat was testing his self-restraint.
“It took more than one winter to do that much damage.” The comment wasn’t judgmental, just a stating of facts.
“It did,” she admitted. “You wouldn’t happen to be offering to do a little maintenance are you?” Where had that question come from?
To her surprise he gave the dock a long, appraising look. “Are the pilings wood? They might have rotted.”
“I don’t know. I never thought to—I haven’t stayed here for several years.”
The moment the words were out of her mouth she felt vulnerable. She might have said enough for him to conclude that she was here alone. Determined to get across the point that she could take care of herself, she walked over to where an interested-in-the-proceedings Bruce was studying the newcomer and rested her hand on his head. Bruce was a contender for the Guard Dog of Shame award but with his black coat and bulldog build he looked intimidating.
“This is just a guess on my part,” Doc said, “but I’m thinking you’ve been hired to work on the resort. You aren’t fishing and the campgrounds aren’t open yet. Didn’t your boss educate you about proper conduct on the lake?”
Nothing in the man’s demeanor hinted at his reaction. She could be wrong of course but he impressed her as someone who didn’t divulge any more of a personal nature than absolutely necessary.
“This boat’s built for speed,” he said after a telling silence. “It’d be a crime to rein it in. So these cabins are privately owned? You don’t have anything to do with the resort?”
“That’s right,” Doc answered. “There aren’t that many of them. We look out for each other.”
The man folded his arms across his impressive chest. “I’m not looking to steal anything if that’s what you’re thinking. Believe me, I’d never do anything that might lead to me being locked up”
“I’m not thinking anything. I’m just stating a fact.”
She’d been working for her father’s commercial real estate development business since high school and had become accustomed to intense, sometimes hostile conversations, but this wasn’t work. She was at Lake Serene, land of well-defined seasons, wood stoves, pure well water, moonlight glinting off the lake, and sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows, not confrontation.
The newcomer turned his attention back to her. She hadn’t been to the beauty parlor for what, three months at least and hadn’t bothered with makeup. She wore a faded, oversized flannel shirt, muddy jeans, and even muddier tennis shoes.
So much for making an impression, not that she cared.
“I spotted a couple of newer cabins but most look as if they’ve been here a long time. What’s the appeal?”
“The appeal?” she echoed.
“Yeah. The nearest town of any size is what, eighty miles away.” He leaned forward. Even though a good fifty feet separated them, she felt a connection she hadn’t expected, a need on his part for more than casual explanation. “What do people do when they’re here?”
“Deal with water leaks,” she blurted.
“Plus scraping paint,” Doc said. “Chopping wood, chasing mice out of the cabin and bats out of the attic, replacing shutters, screwing down ridge caps, cleaning chimneys, changing old windows, repairing siding. Why? You looking for a job?”
“Water leaks?” His attention went to her cabin.
“Unfortunately. I must not have gotten all the water out of the lines the last time I drained them.” She shrugged. “Ice swells. Old pipes don’t.”
“The line’s split?”
This was no casual question. He really wanted to know.
“Unfortunately. There are some products that promise to seal—“
“They won’t work. You’ll have to replace the line with something flexible.”
“You sound as if you know what you’re talking about,” Doc said while she groaned. “Are you a plumber?”
“Yeah.” He sat back, again turned his attention to her. “If you want, I can give you husband some suggestions.”
“Tell me.” She didn’t add that just contemplating tackling plumbing problems made her nervous. More to the point, she didn’t have a husband.
He leaned forward. “Why don’t you show me what we’re talking about?”
Her mother had spent most summers at Lake Serene doing little. Necessity had guided Alisha as she tackled maintenance projects. She’d never turned Doc or any of her other neighbors down when they offered to help. When you live the better part of a hundred miles from a hardware store to say nothing of qualified plumbers, electricians, and other trade professionals, cabin owners learn to depend on each other. Maybe that’s why she nodded.
And maybe wanting to learn more about the newcomer factored in.
Warm days are melting winter’s snow at Lake Serene when Alisha arrives at the family’s mountain cabin which is full of memories both good and painful. Should she repair it or sell and never again study the pristine water or hear the wind in the evergreens?
Lake Serene represents one thing to Nate—a place to earn a living. He doesn’t feel it’s magic. Once his work here is finished he’ll move on as he’s done since a barred door opened years ago.
Realizing Alisha needs his expertise, Nate steps beyond his self-imposed isolation. Watching the competent, muscular man at work, Alisha feels alive, sexual. She longs to trust him, but Nate hides his emotions and she carries her own inner burdens.
They bond over a shared love of Alisha’s mutt Bruce and the area’s wildlife. Loneliness and need bring them closer. Leads to lovemaking.
But are they capable of asking for and receiving forgiveness?