Below is Part Two of a chapter from my memoir. If you haven’t read part one click on this link Forestville: Part One.
All my writing is dedicated to my loving wife, Linda Lee Bruce (03/07/1948—09/27/2013). I hope my story brings to heart a glimpse of the wonderful relationship we shared for nearly 50 years.
“Ryan, can you help us flip the mattresses?” She stood in the doorway, hands on hips.
“Yep.” I crushed my cigarette with the toe of my shoe, picked up the rugs and went inside.
We flipped both mattresses, and within an hour, the place started to shape up. The musty odor was replaced with lake smells and floor cleaner. I popped open of a couple of cokes while I watched Aunt Carmen bustling around wiping walls down with a dust cloth wrapped around the end of a broom. She saw me staring. I tilted a coke toward her. She smiled and nodded.
“No problem, Lilla has sandwiches ready.” I slid chairs up to the table, and we gathered around.
While we ate, Lilla and her Aunt rummaged through the box of puzzle pieces organizing them by color. They were speaking French. I assumed they were talking about the puzzle until Lilla said, “It’s not like it’s the first time we slept together.”
Aunt Carmen glared at me. I shrugged my shoulders. Technically, it would be the first time we spent the night together.
Then she said something that sounded like “my ears on the floor with one eye open.” With her lips pursed she glared at me, then she nodded her head with a short snap that seemed to convey—so there!
Lilla took my hand. “Tante, Ryan and me are walking down to the beach…back in a jiffy.”
She said, “Go, go,” and waved us off as if swatting misquotes with the back of her hand.
I lit a cigarette and followed Lilla around to the back of the cabin.
“One hundred twenty-two.”
“A hundred and twenty-two what?”
“Steps,” she clarified.
“What, you counted them?”
She stopped and faced me, wrapped her arms around my waist and nestled her head into my chest and said, “I love you.”
“You said that before we left—or was that because you worried aunt Carmine’s lead foot would disintegrate us while driving down M-25?”
“Don’t forget, okay?”
“I’ll carve it on all hundred twenty-two steps.”
“One would do.” She grabbed my hand. “Come, I’ll show you something better.”
Lake sounds got louder as we descended the steps—birds screeching, waves rolling along the shore. An unseen marker buoy clanged offshore.
Lilla started trotting along the shoreline. “Come on, try to keep up.”
I tossed my cigarette in the water, and we sprinted down the beach. I smacked her butt when I passed her. One hundred feet ahead, there was an outcrop. I slowed and waited for Lilla. A large boulder skirted the waterline and a fallen tree jutted across our path and into the water.
“That’s where I want our names carved.” She hopped onto the rock and sat down to catch her breath.
The trunk stood shoulder-high, and the roots shot skyward another three or four feet. The bark was stripped off in several places.
“Looks like a lot of people beat us to it.” I pulled back a piece of bark. “Remind me to bring a knife next time.”
We relaxed on the rock for a while, watching waves lap at our feet while we talked about our favorite music groups. The setting sun reddened the misty horizon.
“I’m over the Beatles,” I said. “A Hard Day’s Night was pretty good, but I like that tune by the Animals, The House of the Rising Sun.”
“What about ‘Do Wah Diddy, Diddy?” she squeezed my arm.
“Forever the best and it’s still in the top ten.” We were silent for a few minutes. I was thinking about the day she claimed it as “our” song. It was that same moment when I realized that she loved me, truly loved me! It was also the day I got the snot knocked out of me. Many firsts that day.
“Come, let’s get back. I’m cold, and it’s lousy climbing the steps in the dark.” She looped her arm in mine, and we wandered back up the beach.
By the time we got to the cabin the sun had set and the wind picked up again. It was blowing toward the lake with a chill. When we walked in the door, Lilla’s aunt was hunched over the table grouping the jigsaw puzzle by candlelight. Lilla leaned in and embraced her.
“Je t’aime, Tante.” She then sat beside her. I sat across from them and began raking through the pieces. By the time we were ready for bed all the edges were connected and most of the lower half was complete. It was a beach scene with a lighthouse on a cliff. I had a white piece edged with green in my hand when Aunt Carmen stood up.
“Heure du coucher,” she said while stifling a yawn.
“Okay if we stay up a little longer, Tante?”
She nodded and picked up a travel bag. “Viendras-tu avec moi.”
Lilla said to me, “Tante and I are going down to the bathroom, be right back.” They padded out the front door and into the night. I continued working on the puzzle.
When they returned, I had still had the same piece in my hand. Aunt Carmen walked over and kissed me on both cheeks.
“Bonne nuit, Ryan, appelez-moi tante.”
Lilla said, “She wants you to call her tante.”
She kissed Lilla too. “Pas trop tard.” Then she gave her the ‘you’re my favorite niece’ look and ambled off to bed.
We huddled on one side of the table whispering about my sister, Karen and Lilla’s older brother, Todd while we dredged through puzzle pieces. Lilla’s brother was dating my sister. We were the current buzz at school.
By midnight, we had more than half of the puzzle completed. I still hadn’t found where the white and green piece fit.
Lilla kissed my cheek, “I’m tired, let’s go to bed.”
“Me too.” I shoved the piece in my pocket as I got up. Lilla blew out the candle.
“Come with me, please. It’s too dark.” In the dim light, we gathered toiletries and headed out into the night.
When we got back from our basement excursion, I asked Lilla, “Should I sleep on the sofa?”
Trying not to wake Aunt Carmen, we climbed the bunk ladder. Then tucked under the blankets and sunk into the soft mattress. We laid on our sides facing each other, listening to night sounds. A branch teased alongside the wall and the roof creaked against the wind. An airy tune hummed in the chimney.
I whispered, “Your aunt’s feisty.”
“All the women on my mom’s side are, but she’s nice.”
“All short too?”
“I guess, fits with the feisty thing…package deal.”
She scooched up a little, so our eyes met. I touched her hoop earring with the tip of my finger and followed her jawline until I reached her lips.
“You said you were two when you got your ears pierced?”
“I was about two months old, not two years.”
“I think it’s sexy.”
She smiled, then pressed into me, and brushed her mouth against mine. She kissed me. Warmth surged through me, and my senses tingled. I placed my hand on her neck and drew her closer. Her sweet breath, warm on my cheek. The soft pattering of her heart played on the palm of my hand—a tempo within our silence.
“Next month will be a year since we met.”
I didn’t say anything. Mostly because I had forgotten the month and the day. Besides, I didn’t feel like talking.
“October 2oth, in case you forgot.” She leaned away from me, and with a quick motion pulled off her pajama top. Her hair tickled my arm like a breeze on an ebbing tide. A wisp of moonlight coming through the window outlined her delicate features. With my hand on her shoulder, I spread my fingers wide and followed the contour of her body.
“Sounds like a challenge.”
She rolled toward me again, snuggling into my arms. Tracing the curvature of her body my fingers looped under the silky band of her pajamas. We were a hundred miles from parents, siblings, and friends. Except for the light purring in the bunk beneath us, we were a million miles from reality. A world of worries gone, our lives entwined in a way I have never known. Beginning with a whisper of breath our passion blended into a symphony while embracing the softness of a lullaby. The night wind stirred a subtle chorus.
With the breaking dawn, a refrigerator whirled to life in the one-room cabin. Cupped together our limbs naturally interlaced and we drifted off to sleep.
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