Jenni's glad to spend a quiet week helping a friend at a fishing lodge in the off season - at least until Matt arrives. Matt's sudden and unwanted attraction to Jenni just annoys both of them, and Matt gets away as quickly as he can. It's only a week till Jenni's divorce comes through and she's determined to avoid any man who's not interested in her. Besides, Matt's in a long-term-relationship. But an unexpected storm and the need to rescue some campers forces both of them to deal with their ideas of what they really want - and don't want - in life.
The phone rang.
Jenni looked up from sorting fishing lures, eyed it suspiciously, then looked at Emilia. "You can get that," Jenni said.
"Could be a man," Emilia said. "After so long without one, I figure you're checking out any that come by."
"You think I'm nuts?" Jenni said. "Men are something I'm going to avoid for a while. At least till my divorce comes through."
"Avoid men at a fishing lodge? I wouldn't count on it." Emilia reached for the phone, smiling. "You know, it's darn hard to get good help these days."
"Isn't that the truth." Jenni added. "Technically, of course, you're the help at the lodge, and I'm just the helper's help."
"And lippy, too," Emilia laughed. "I guess I'll let you clean cabin 12. Besides, it's probably just your ex calling anyway."
"That," said Jenni, leaving the rest of the lures on the glass countertop, "isn't funny. It makes cleaning up cabin 12 seem like a picnic." But Emilia was already on the phone, saying "Two-and-a-Half Pine Resort; how may I help you?"
A bald man who'd been inspecting maps in the lodge store nodded to Jenni as she headed for the door to the lodge deck. He had gray curling hair around an expanse of baldness and a short, curly beard. Jenni remembered that her father had once made a joke about bearded bald guys, "He's not bald; he just has his head on upside down." Jenni looked down the lake sadly; her father had died the year before, not, as he'd wished, fighting a monster fish on some remote lake but slumped over his desk at work. He and Jenni had had a lot of good times on the lake, when she was young, and once she'd got past her teenage years. Her father had known small boats, wilderness craft, and men - and he'd advised her not to marry Julio. Jenni missed him.
"Has the place changed hands?" the bald man asked. He was wearing a green checked sports coat with things sticking out of various pockets. His glasses were on top of his head, and he caught them as they fell off (bald guys shouldn't put glasses on their heads, Jenni decided). "I'm used to Bob and Ellen being here," the man said, still holding the map." He seemed rather concerned. Must be a regular, Jenni decided, but wondered why he needed a map, then.
"Oh, an aunt of Bob's died and left him a small place in Florida," she said. "They've gone down there for a couple of weeks to check it out. And besides, I guess Bob hurt his back a couple of weeks ago, so he's glad of the rest and relaxation."
"Kind of hot down there in September," the man smiled, still holding a map of Hawk Lake. "But I suppose they'll have air conditioning." He waved at the lake. "Can't get a prettier place than this. Anywhere."
Jenni looked at the view. A lake, sparkling in the sunlight. There were a few scattered islands and a shore mostly lined with fallen logs and branches, the forest leaning over the water. A few cottages, with docks and boats, poked out of the woods. Part of the shoreline was done in granite cliffs. Some birds doing things only birds understood.
There were most of a million lakes in Canada, and most of them looked much the same. A few hundred had cottages and fishing lodges on them. To Jenni, it was all very familiar. Personally, she thought Bon Echo or Weslemkoon lakes were at least as pretty, but wasn't going to say so. "Got that right," she said. "Now I've got a cabin to clean up." She took a deep breath of the fresh air.
"That's the one with the party last night? My sympathy."
"That's the one." Jenni shook her head and sighed. "They seemed like such a peaceful bunch, too." A seagull squawked at something and a bluejay yammered warnings from a tree while watching the lodge's cat nose his way through the tall grass.
"And you're taking care of the place until Bob and Ellen get back. Well, I don't envy you the cleanup."
"Actually," Jenni said, "Emilia's a friend of Ellen's, and she volunteered to take care of the place for a couple of weeks. I'm just helping her. I figured September's kind of slow, so I could fake it that long."
"Ah. So you won't know where the fish are biting this week?"
"I suspect you'd be a better judge of that than I would. I've never fished this lake."
"Well, I have," the man said. "Every September I come here. I buy a new map and mark on it the places I go and the places I catch fish. Then I tack the map to the basement wall. Brings back a lot of memories." He looked around conspiratorially. "I don't often catch anything, but that doesn't bother me any more. Peace and quiet, you know." For a moment Jenni thought he was going to wink.
Jenni stuck out her hand. "I'm Jenni, and on behalf of Bob and Ellen, who I've never met yet, I welcome you back to Hawk Lake."
The man laughed. "Lenny Everson. A pleasure to meet you." He shook her hand. "Is Lonnie around?"
"Lonnie," Jenni said. "our handyman. He said he'd be a bit late today, but he should be here any minute. If you don't want to wait, just take a boat and go."
"All my stuff's in boat 19," Lenny said. "All I need is some gas."
"Take the gas can from boat 8," Jenni said. "We had it ready to go yesterday for the guys in cabin 12, but they left."
"Thanks!" The bald guy put on a bright hat and started down the steps to the docks. She watched as he more or less fell into his boat, spilling most of his fishing tackle. His new map fell into the water, and he fished it out and shook it off. Seeing Jenni on the deck, he waved, then got the motor going. For a moment he went nowhere, but then remembered to untie the boat from the dock. It was worth watching.
It is pretty, Jenni decided, but it's not as peaceful when you can't get out on the water, as she promised herself again that she'd take the canoe out for half an hour just around sunset. She watched the lodge's cat stalking sparrows by the birch grove. For a moment she couldn't decide whether she was happy that the lake was so pretty, or sad that the days of fishing similar lakes with her father were gone. She decided not to think of the canoeing trips she'd done with Julio before her marriage had all gone wrong.
In the end, she decided to accept the whole scene for its peace and get on with cleaning up cabin 12. Down at the shoreline, a motor roared to life, and the bald guy backed his boat away from the docks, then turned it towards the east shore of the lake. He turned and waved at Jenni; she smiled and waved back, hoping he caught at least a few bass.
Cabin 12 was across the creek by way of a small bridge and up the hill, with a partial view of the lake. The rooms attached to the lodge all had a front-on water view, but the cabins were further back, and most were back in the trees. You could walk from the lodge to the cabins, but if you wanted to drive, you had to go back down the road a bit and take a smaller driveway to one side.
The guys who'd rented the cabin the day before had paid cash in advance. They seemed like a nice pair of middle-aged fishermen, eager to get to bed early so they could get onto the lake early the next morning. Lonnie had nodded wisely as they signed in, but after the two men had gone to the cottage, he said, "Drinkers, not fishers." Lonnie wasn't big on long conversations. "You'll need a mop," he'd added before going home for the night.
Lonnie'd been right, of course. It had been party time at the cabin, and one of the guys had phoned the lodge the next morning saying they'd changed their minds about fishing and were checking out.
Jenni carried some extra cleaning equipment as she walked to the cabin. She passed the fish-cleaning station, with its old sink and its pail for discarded fish parts. From the smell, she concluded that at least some of the lodge's guests had caught fish.
They'd left the key in the door. Jenni looked inside, sighed, and started the cleanup. Well, she said to herself, you wanted to get away from things for a while. She turned on the radio and got out a couple of plastic garbage bags, one for the bottles and cans, and the other for the rest of the stuff scattered around.
It was a typical cabin, both the structure and the interior dating back several decades. People who wanted more luxury than old appliances and linoleum flooring could find it at other lakes, but not at the Two-and-a-Half Pine Resort.
It was almost relaxing, once she got past the mess, because there weren't many decisions to make. There wasn't significant damage to the cabin - nothing Lonnie couldn't patch - and nothing more than a couple of rolls of toilet paper stolen, so there'd be no hunting down the two "fishermen". But their license plate number would be added to The List, and shared with other cottage rental owners. These two jokers would be paying by credit card for a long while.
Eventually Jenni had the cabin in a reasonable shape and had left a note on the table for Lonnie, listing suggested repairs. Her back aching a bit, she straightened up then dragged the two garbage bags to the porch overlooking the lake. She put the cleaning stuff back into the closet, and began the walk back to the lodge office.
In the office (which was also the store) Emilia was behind the counter poking at a laptop. A couple of boys not yet into their teens were trying to decide whether to buy a magazine or just peruse it to death. Emilia had an opened bottle of ginger ale beside her; she looked up as Jenni entered. "How was it?"
Jenni made a face. "I've seen worse. Couple of patches by Lonnie and it'll be fine for the hordes who'll show up on the weekend."
Emilia laughed; in early October serious fishing types showed up, but in September the summer crowds were back at jobs and schools, and there was a quiet space. "Sad to report that your ex didn't phone. and no blue Buick SUVs showed up, so you must have lost him. I wouldn't have known what to tell him, anyway. How lonely you were, maybe?"
"Well, tell him if he shows up, I'll use his balls for catfish bait."
The phone rang. "Two-and-a-Half Pine Resort; how may I help you?" Emilia said, still laughing. She listened a bit. "Okay. No, we haven't seen him yet, but I'll pass the message along if we see him. You're welcome."
Emilia shrugged. "Somebody named Annie Canning. She says a guy named Matt Canning is planning to put a canoe in the water this afternoon, and go camping. She thinks he's going to park here and be gone for a couple of nights."
"Keeping track of him, is she?"
"Probably making sure he's actually going fishing. Alone. Not," she added, "that I can imagine a guy sneaking off to go fishing with a love interest. Actually, she seemed concerned that there might be a storm coming in. Wanted to warn him."
At that point Lonnie came in. A tall skinny guy missing a couple of fingers, Lonnie had the ability to look shifty and threatening at the same time. His habit of wearing brightly checked jackets didn't add anything to his level of sophistication, but Jenni had learned that people who knew him would trust him with their lives. He was endlessly helpful and dedicated not just to the lodge but to the satisfaction of its customers.
"Hey, Lonnie," Emilia asked him. "Is there going to be a storm tonight?"
Lonnie scratched his leg. "Maybe. There are a few nasty thunderstorms coming in from Michigan. They'll probably miss us - they're small, and they're supposed to go south of us, but you never can be sure of these things. How's things here? Sorry I'm late today; son-in-law problems I couldn't avoid."
"There's a bit of patching in cabin 12," Jenni told him, "and I told boat 19 he could have the gas from boat 8."
"Told you those guys weren't going to fish," Lonnie said.
"That you did," Emilia admitted. "Are there any catfish in this lake?"
"A few. Why?"
"Oh, Jenni says if her ex shows up, she'll use his balls for catfish bait." Emilia looked at Jenni, who was just a bit embarrassed.
"Sounds like a plan." Lonnie said. "Let me know if you need me to hold him down for the gelding." Lonnie was on whatever side Jenni was on, simply because Bob and Ellen trusted her. He left to check out cabin 12 and to do whatever other chores needed doing.
"How will I know if Julio shows up?" Emilia asked. "Or shall I get out the baseball bat for every guy driving a Buick in case he's your husband?"
Jenni looked around the room. The two kids were contemplating the ceiling. "If there's a guy with a blue Buick and a blue canoe on it, just call me."
"You never did tell me what you happened between you and your ex, you know. How long since you two parted?"
"About six months before you and I met at that night course in Spanish. That's a few years back." Jenni looked uncomfortable. "I was with Julio for almost two years, I guess."
"Turned out to be incompatible, did you?"
"Well," said Jenni, "if you meet him, you'll like him. Most people do. He'll probably tell you how much he loves me and how he can't live without me." She hesitated.
"Sounds like a winner, so far." Emilia called over the two boys, who approached nervously. "Look," she told them, "I usually catch a small fish for Hank Dayton about this time of day." Seeing their puzzled looks, she added, "Hank's the cat."
"The big yellow one?" one kid wanted to know.
"That's the one. I'll trade a big bag of chips for a small fish for the cat. Has to be less than this long." She spread out her palm and indicated the distance between the tip of her thumb and the tip of her little finger. "But not much smaller. Think you can do it?"
"I guess we can give it a try," the chubby kid said. "Do you care what kind?"
"Nope. Hank's a pretty easy cat that way. Do you need a fishing rod?"
The kids both shook their heads. "Dad left a spare one up at the cabin," one kid said. In a moment they were gone, calling each other names and pounding each other on the shoulder.
"I don't remember you catching fish for the cat," Jenni said.
"Made that up. Just trying to keep those kids out of trouble. Cruel of their father to go fishing without leaving them a computer connection. Child abuse, it is. Anyway, I think Hank'll eat fish. Hope so, anyway."
"Surprised they didn't go out with the father."
"I'm not. The guy's a bit compulsive and I imagine going around in circles for a few hours in a small boat loses its excitement pretty quick for a kid. Now where were we?"
Jenni smiled. "Julio thinks he loves me."
"I get a message from him from time to time, or did till I got an unlisted number. I was going to get a court order to keep him away, but it's been quiet for the last few months."
"Too much love for you, was it?"
"Wrong kind." Jenni stared over the trees. "He told me I was all his world. He also told me I was stupid. And ugly. And had no talent." She looked Emilia in the eyes. "Not to mention a lousy lay and a poor excuse for a cook."
"He said those things?"
"Oh, yes. He'd say them, and apologize, but it was as if he was sorry for pointing them out, not sorry that he ever thought any of those.... thoughts... were wrong or anything."
Emilia shook her head. "I've heard of guys like that, but I never dated one, that I know of. I knew a lot of guys in rehab, but addicts tend to be a little more self-absorbed."
"Aren't addicts interesting?"
Emilia shook her head. "Pretty much all the same. A few exceptions, maybe, but they're so tied up in their own world that everybody else's problems are way down the scale. Other people seem a bit shadowy and unreal to a drunk. There are a few exceptions, as I said, but fighting addiction's like living in a house with a dragon; other things seem less important than not being eaten for supper."
"You seem to have survived it," Jenni noted. "And you and Jack seem pretty happy together."
"Had a lot of help. Some darn good people and a friend or two." Emilia laughed. "And Jack, of course. Hey, here comes somebody with a canoe." She pointed outside, where a tan-colored Hyundai with a yellow canoe was just pulling up to the lodge.
"A customer!" Jenni squinted. And he's got a new windproof jacket and a pair of new clean pants with pockets everywhere. Business is looking up."
"Maybe a bit, but canoe people aren't big spenders as a rule. Anyway, what do you instantly know about a well-dressed man? His wife is good at picking out clothes. My compliments to Annie" She laughed. "Then again, he didn't bring her, so maybe your love life is going to pick up." She watched as the man stretched, then started up the stairs to the office.
"Gee," Jenni said. "Do I have time to get a boob job?"
"You don't need one," Emilia chided her.
"Okay, a nose job."
"There's nothing wrong with your nose!"
"Good nose; for the wrong face. I figure changing the nose would be easier." Jenni laughed and picked up a magazine as the man came into the office, the door tingling the bell mounted above it.
The man hesitated, looking at Emilia, then said with a smile, "You must be Ellen."
"Actually," Emilia said, "Ellen and Bob are away for another week. I'm handling the desk till then. My name's Emilia." She pointed over towards Jenni. "The chick over there is Jenni, and she's hiding behind a magazine because she needs a nose job."
Jenni laughed, lowered the magazine, then said, "Matt! My gosh, I haven't seen you since grade six!"
Matt looked a bit confused, until Emilia said, "She also needs a brain transplant to rework her sense of humour. We got a call from Annie that a guy named 'Matt' would be showing up, and Jenni's just trying to pull a fast one on you. Right, Jenni?"
Jenni laughed again. "It seemed a good idea at the time. Welcome to Two-and-a-Half Pine Resort. How can Emilia help you while I'm doing as little as possible?"
"Ah... Okay. What did Annie want? Is there a problem?"
"Apparently, she's concerned that there's some nasty weather coming in tonight, and felt you should be warned before going off canoeing all over the darn place. That's all."
Matt looked relieved. "Okay. Had me worried for a bit. I have a phone, but I'm planning on not turning it on unless I need to." He looked around. "Is there any way to confirm the weather?"
Emilia tapped on the keyboard, then turned the screen towards Matt. "Here's the King City radar plot; it's as close as we can get." She pointed. "This is a band of thundershowers coming our way. Probably get here about dark, maybe a little later."
Matt nodded. "Sure looks like it's got Hawk Lake in its sights."
"You'd probably be okay," said Jenni, "if you've got a good campsite by the time it gets here. Assuming it doesn't deke to the south." She looked at Matt. "You wouldn't want to be out on the water unless you're a good canoeist."
Matt looked lost for a moment, then said to Emilia. "I know motorboats pretty well, but I don't know much about canoeing." He pointed out the window. "Just rented that canoe for a few days." He seemed to reach a decision. "Got a room for the night?"
"No problem." Emilia got out the registry. "In the high season we ask for a minimum of three nights, but at this time of year, we'd probably book people in for a couple of hours." Matt didn't laugh, so she added, "Just joking."
There was a noise at the door and the two boys came in with a plastic bag. "Three fish," said the larger of the boys. We only got little ones, so we caught three." The fish in the bag weren't much bigger than guppies.
"That'll do," said Emilia. "Grab yourselves a bag of chips, and I'll throw in a couple of cans of ginger ale if you'll find the cat and feed him the fish." The process of decision took a few minutes. Matt took the opportunity to make a call.
"Hi," he said, "it's me. Look, I'm at the Hawk Lake launch place. Yes, Two-and-a-Half Pine Resort they call it. I'm going to spend the night here. I'll take off in the morning. Sure. Thanks for the warning. Bye."
Men, thought Jenni. Such great conversationalists. And so darn affectionate. She turned away and rolled her eyes. "Your personal weather warning unit," Jenni said, but Matt just looked away.
"You," Emilia told Matt, "have the choice of a cabin or a lodge unit."
"What's the difference?"