Massachusetts had cold, dewy mornings but not like this.
It has been made universally clear that I simply don’t do mornings. But when I used to take vacations in New Hampshire, it was always the same: Something about the weather and the atmosphere served as a welcome wake-up call for me. I didn’t want to miss a New Hampshire morning. They were crisp and smelled better than any other morning: pine, dew, and a raw, animal-like, natural scent. At least I think they smelled better; what could I compare them to?
I made a large pot of coffee and took a grateful sip from my “Granite State” mug. I commended myself when I reached for my thick Boston College hoodie that I had remembered to pack last minute. I slipped it on over my t-shirt, donned a pair of jeans, stepped into my well-worn moccasins, and slid out onto the front porch. I carefully set my coffee mug on the deck railing and hugged myself, both embracing and warding off the chill of the air. Mist hung gently over the water like a dusty shawl, showing no urgency to burn up into the warmth of the rising sun. I watched the smooth surface of the lake, where an occasional fish jumped, forming a little ripple in the water before it returned to placidity again. My heart lurched in my chest as if it had been hooked by a skilled fisherman. For a moment, I ached for Brody, and I fondly remembered our second date, the one we had spent on his boat. We might have been completely happy together. But there was no going back now.
I looked down to notice a small gnat had landed in my coffee. I scooped my index finger over the surface to catch the fly and flicked it over the side of the railing.
A breeze picked up and my gaze turned to a set of chimes hanging from a hook on the eaves of the house. They were old and slightly rusted at either end. They had gotten tangled in the wind of last night’s storm and they clinked together in the breeze in an unpleasant, non-musical way. For some reason, it was a sad reminder of my recent struggles. As much as I wanted to chime away with the winds that blew in unexpectedly and sometimes violently, I ended up getting tangled up in them and could only wait until someone came and straightened me out. With some relief, I separated the thin strands, like fishing wire, that connected the chimes. Now they had a pleasant ring as they swung cheerfully. I sighed. Who was going to step in and untangle me when I needed it?
I returned to the railing. I felt possessive of this view of the water, wishing I could claim this space and this moment as my own. It was as if he sensed it. I heard the sliding door open behind me and I knew it was Eric.
He stood next to me and placed his coffee mug on the railing next to mine. I closed up to him as an intruder and my body stiffened as a breeze lifted some of the mist from the water. That animal-like scent—scaly fish and fresh dirt it smelled like now—wafted in. The sun broke over the opposite side of the lake and the tiny sliver of light made the mist glow deep orange over the still water. That beautiful image released the tension I felt in his presence. Thankfully, he could tell I wasn’t in the mood to talk. He sipped calmly from his mug and when I raised my eyes to him, he was looking out on the lake. He didn’t look at me, and I was grateful for it.
I gazed around at the nearby pines, their lofty heights ending with pencil tips writing clouds into the sky and thick trunks announcing the long years they grew there. I wondered about the many people who had stayed at the chalet, enjoying the view of the same trees. Then I thought of the years of my life as the rings of a tree—how would I mark this year? This particular ring wasn’t one I was too proud of; it was jagged and ugly but it certainly stood out from the others, which were smooth and unremarkable beside it.
Those unpleasant thoughts ended abruptly as something moving directly below me caught my eye. The deck was only ten or so feet from the ground, where a skunk was waddling beneath us. I instinctively grabbed Eric’s arm, pointed toward the skunk, and put a finger over my mouth to tell him to keep quiet. My panicked look would surely communicate that I hated skunks and was terrified of getting sprayed.
Eric moved close to me and whispered with a teasing expression, “I suppose I can pour out this coffee here, right?” and held his mug over the edge of the deck, tilting it threateningly directly over the crossing skunk.
I grabbed his arm hard and pulled it toward our side of the deck. “I will kill you if you get us sprayed,” I whispered back, undoubtedly looking even more horrified.
Eric, forgetting himself, laughed out loud. I shielded myself with his body, gripped his arms hard, and shut my eyes tightly, waiting for the stench to assail us. Apparently the sound had startled the skunk, but luckily it scurried away instead of spraying.
We both exhaled as it moved out of range. “That was a close one,” Eric chuckled.
I shoved him, both to admonish him and to put some distance between us. “I really would have killed you if it sprayed us. I might kill you anyway just for scaring me like that.”
He did something odd then. After taking a sip of coffee, he moved toward me, whispered, “You’ll be fine,” and kissed me softly on the cheek.
The brief touch of his lips to my skin caused a little jolt that rushed down my neck until I felt it at the back of my thighs. I blushed instantly, and then blushed harder when his eyes met mine because I felt like a fool for blushing. He looked immediately at his feet, took a last look at the water, and returned to the house. Nothing else was said, because… what was there to say? Although my breakup with Brody was gut-wrenching and I felt a pang of humiliation every time I thought of what Eric and the others might think, Eric had done exactly the opposite of what I expected. When I thought he’d berate me for being picky and impossible to please, he was friendly and acted like he might actually care about me. Although he claimed I’d be fine, I wasn’t all that sure. Just as I knew that the chimes hanging from the eaves would get tangled in the next storm, I knew my troubles were far from over.
The beginning of what is now Ch 20 of my novel. It’s smack dab in the middle of the book. The protagonist spends a long weekend at a chalet in New Hampshire with her sisters and a few friends.