The country road went alongside what Caitlin called Spruce River and then Frank turned the car into Cookstown. He’d been driving with his head half out the car window because the air was so green and misty. But the fog lifted when they got into town and all was hard and clean as crystal. Frank looked about and grinned. He couldn’t help it.
It was an old-fashioned American village and he didn’t know what to say about it. Most towns in America were like this but he hadn’t ever seen anything like it except in movies. One long focal street ran from end to end and Frank guardedly rode them because it was so crowded. In the middle was town hall and the police station, split in two by a great lawn. The lawn had a set-up market and all sorts of happy-looking people were about. Packs of children roughhoused on the lawn and an old woman with long braided hair played country-western music on a guitar. Even the policemen at the corners looked friendly.
“I couldn’t imagine growing up somewhere like here,” Frank said. “It’s beautiful here.”
Frank said it a few times. He tried to get Caitlin to agree but she was staring out the window and thinking to herself. She was sometimes so concentrated he was afraid to bother her. She sometimes got annoyed but this was different. When she felt low there were worry lines all over her face and she wouldn’t say anything for a long while. It could for something as stupid that she handed in an assignment late. Those things he could make fun of her for and she would laugh. But Frank knew she was thinking over their visit and he was worried.
“Is that your reverend up there?” he asked suddenly.
A thin man in a black suit stood outside a tall, narrow church called The Cathedral of Hope. Caitlin told him to slow down the car and she called to the reverend. The reverend raised his hand to her but he didn’t much move. His thinning grey hair ruffled in the wind. Some little children were passing by with their mother. The reverend patted them on their head, held their mother’s hand for a moment and nodded warmly.
“I’ll pull over and we can talk a bit to him,” Frank said.
“That’s alright,” Caitlin said. “We should go.”
“He looks busy, I guess.”
Frank wondered why the reverend didn’t come up to them and asked how Caitlin was, like most reverends would. Frank would’ve liked to shake his hand. But he looked to be an alright reverend and Frank would have to chance to meet him tomorrow. He knew the church here wasn’t strict but Caitlin had said the reverend was a good man and that it was the people here who decided what the church was and not him. Frank figured she was right but it made him sad to hear her say it. As he wondered, Caitlin rested her hand on his. He opened his mouth to say something but then the church bells rang and he forgot. It was ten o’clock in the morning.
“Here was where there was a diner we went to after school.” Caitlin pointed.
Frank saw a bank and some shiny stores set in a row. He wasn’t sure if he was looking where Caitlin had pointed because the businesses looked like they fitted where they should be.
“Above the bank was where we lived but I don’t remember it, of course.”
Frank nodded but he looked in the car-mirror, back where people ambled around the park. There were many stalls at the market selling breakfast things and he was hungry. They had left campus early in the dusky purple morning and Caitlin hadn’t wanted to stop.
She pointed him rightwards and they drove through a clearing and down a road beside a lake that glittered in the sun. It’d been hot and wet all morning and Caitlin said they could go swimming when they got there. She said the house was up on a ledge over the lake but that they could walk down. She didn’t talk so much about what it was like growing up here, but it must’ve been a good time getting to swim and canoe. She’d said down the ways a mile was a bridge to jump off if they had the nerve.
“It’s beautiful out here.” He tried to say it seriously, so she would say it was too.
“We’ll have breakfast and maybe Dad will want to take us canoeing,” she said.
“That sounds like a great idea.”
“He told me he got two new canoes for the summer, so he’ll want to show them off.”
“Alright.” Frank scraped his hair back and tried to be heavy. The air was heavy with the smell of lavender. “That town was like something out of old times. I couldn’t believe it.”
Caitlin didn’t say anything. She’d told him about the town all the while and had always seemed proud of it. The way she’d talked about it was like it didn’t exist anymore and it probably didn’t for her anymore now that she was at school. He didn’t feel so strange about that. He wasn’t apart of where he’d grown up either. But his old hometown was stale and dull and he hadn’t anything good to say about it. He said so little about it that sometimes Caitlin said he wasn’t from anywhere. She was joking but it didn’t sound like a good story to him.
She directed him down a shady road to a big house set way back in the woods. The house couldn’t be seen until they went around a bend and then it was right up on them. The house was large and square. All of it was white with light blue trimming and there were three garage doors and a big front yard. Frank had seen such things on television and in movies but he hadn’t ever thought that such houses could be real. Caitlin had told him of it but he hadn’t believe her. The drive was paved and he brought them to a quiet stop where Caitlin told him.
“I guess it’ll be alright down by the water for a little water,” Caitlin said.
“It’s the perfect weekend.”
“But we’ll need to leave tomorrow morning to go back to campus.”
“Alright.” Frank looked to either side of him, at the tall pines that shadowed the car. “We’ll go when you want.”
Mr. Barrett came out on the porch and stood leaning against the porch railing. He was short and square like Caitlin was. His blonde hair was greying and his face was red and shiny. Frank thought there was a funny, dazed expression on his face. Sometimes Mr. Barrett smiled and waved his hand and other times he stood, hopping a little in place and waiting on them.
“Maybe we can go into town and I’ll show you The Basin,” Caitlin told him.
“Alright.” Frank wondered why they weren’t getting out of the car, but he didn’t ask. “We’ll go to the church too.”
“Oh, the church is … anyways, we’re going tomorrow morning for it.”
“We’ll go to church.” She considered and looked worried. “Then we’ll say we need to get back to campus.”
Mrs. Barrett came out holding two mugs. The mugs were baby-blue with white handles. Thin curls of steam drifted in the quiet air. Mr. and Mrs. Barrett stood staring at them as they drank from the mugs. They were good-looking people. He wanted to say to Caitlin she looked like her father but he knew he couldn’t. He might say something on Mrs. Barrett and she wasn’t Caitlin’s mother.
“Dad will want to show you the canoes and maybe we can go out later but I want to show you the school,” Caitlin mumbled as she got out of the car. “But we’ll need to leave early tomorrow. They’ll want us to stay long. But we must get back to campus.”
When they got out, Frank put his arm around her waist and they walked up the drive. He wished that Caitlin would rest her head on his shoulder like she did almost always when he held her but she didn’t. He was nervous and looked suddenly over his back shoulder, where the bright sun was trying to sneak its shine through the pines. They walked slowly and almost timidly towards the house.
“You don’t need to say anything, but we don’t need to be out here so long. Maybe it’ll go alright, but we should go back into town.”
“We can do whatever you would like,” Frank said. He was almost shaking now that he was to meet Mr. Barrett. It was important that he made a good impression. “This is a beautiful house. I couldn’t imagine anything like this.”
“Tell them that you like it,” she whispered. Her voice was a bit mean. “They’ll like you double for it.”
“Tell them they look young too.”
Mr. Barrett was a good-spirited, kindly man. He joked a lot. He said that he was Caitlin’s mother and then said he’d been singing in the shower all morning until he ate a little soap. And then he sang a soap opera. Frank shook his hand and maybe he gripped it a little too hard but Mr. Barrett smiled and Frank didn’t feel so awkward. They talked on the drive down here and what was going on at school. Mrs. Barrett talked enough for all of them. She told them to come in for coffee. Mr. Barrett said they would get a drink and then go down to the lake.
There was a big front room and a long hall that led to the kitchen in the back. The ceilings were high and the corridors were made of brown, varnished wood. The kitchen was white. There were two long marble tables in the kitchen and on one of the tables was a wooden bowl of apples and half-full bottle of whiskey. Frank walked off from them and looked through the windows down to the back.
“Isn’t it nice out there,” Mr. Barrett said. His eyes shined as he said it.
“It’s beautiful, Mr. Barrett.”
Mr. Barrett pointed to the new fire pit and to the raspberry bushes he’d planted nearby. They’d cleared the path down to the lake. They had two MYCANOE Origami Canoes from L.L. Bean. They could paddle to the bridge. Frank said it sounded like a good idea.
“I’ve never been fishing or anything like that,” he told Mr. Barrett. “Caitlin said you have salmon in your lake?”
“We have everything in our lake.”
Mrs. Barrett and Caitlin prepared breakfast for them to take outside. Frank looked back and tried to catch Caitlin’s eye. But she wasn’t looking. Mrs. Barrett made orange juice in glasses with flowers printed on the side. Mrs. Barrett made the juices with champagne and Frank turned away. Mr. Barrett talked on how excited he was to have someone to go fishing with. They would need to get up early tomorrow because salmon couldn’t be waited on.
“Let’s get out into the sun,” Mrs. Barrett called as she came to them. She laughed.
Frank helped Caitlin with the tray of pastries and small bowls of fruit salad.
“You come down and see the raspberry bushes,” Mrs. Barrett said. She gave one of the glasses of orange juice to Mr. Barrett.
Frank watched Mr. and Mrs. Barrett go out to the porch. He’d been sore and nervy coming all this way because he loved Caitlin so much. But they were nice people and seemed to already like him. Mr. Barrett had said how happy he was to meet him and how long it’d been since Caitlin had been home. Maybe tomorrow they would catch some salmon before church.
Caitlin was remaking their glasses of orange juice. Frank tried to meet her eyes but she wasn’t looking. Her hair was pulled back by a band but the band was slipping. He wanted to go over and fix her hair but he didn’t. Caitlin tried to smile but she was too rigid and cool making the juice to do so. She only whispered to herself.
The path down to the lake was paved with flat stones. He’d never been out on a lake before. He’d never fished or ridden in a canoe. From the distance, the water was so gilded in the sun he turned away. It was all so beautiful, but something about this was strange and spoiled. Frank didn’t understand why. He chewed his bottom lip as he followed Caitlin down the path.
“This is good orange juice,” he told Caitlin. But he hadn’t drunk any yet. It only seemed like a nice thing to say.
“Have a scone?” she asked.
“I will soon.”
Mrs. Barrett examined the raspberry bushes and Mr. Barrett crouched before a square chopping-log with a shiny Brant and Cochran axe sticking out of its top. Mr. Barrett told him it was a Maine Wedge pattern but Frank didn’t know what that meant. Mr. Buckley then called to Frank they should go down and look at the canoes.
“This sure is beautiful out here,” Frank told Mr. Barrett.
“This isn’t from where you’re from,” Mr. Barrett said.
The canoes were inflatable and lightweight. There was a wooden seat at the front and back and plenty of storage for dry bags and fishing gear. The canoes even had USB ports and foam bulkheads for capsizing security. Mr. Barrett showed him everything and Frank followed closely. The more he looked at them the gloomier he felt and eventually he stood and brushed back the hair off his forehead.
“It’ll be nice to have a man around here,” Mr. Barrett said as they went back up the hill. “We’ll sure go up to the dam and get some perch for dinner. Then we’ll fry them on the grill. How about it?”
“I’m sure happy to have you around here,” Mr. Barrett told him again. His voice lowered but he was still cheery. “I would love to take you out fishing sometime. Maybe we’ll go out tomorrow and try to get trout for breakfast.”
“If we can get out before service,” Frank said.
“That’s right, tomorrow’s church,” Mr. Barrett said with a confused harumph. “She’s making you go.”
“I’ve never been to service at an Anglican church, Mr. Barrett.”
“We don’t need all that praying on a sunny day.” Mr. Barrett laughed into the back of his hand. “If God wanted us to be praying then he would make Sundays rainy and sad.”
“I guess so,” Frank said.
“But if God doesn’t, then we go fish.” Mr. Barrett laughed loudly and took another drink. The ground under him was uneven and he almost slipped. “Oh well,” he said again with a heavy sigh, patted his knees, and stood back up. “You look a little too smart to be fooling around in some dumb church when you could be fishing. Isn’t that right, Frank?”
“I don’t know,” Frank said. He didn’t want to make anyone angry.
“Look at her,” Mr. Barrett pointed at Mrs. Barrett. She fussed around the raspberry bushes. Mr. Barrett wrapped his arm partway around Frank’s shoulder and whispered, “Look, the funny bitch thinks there are raspberries this early in the season.”
Mr. and Mrs. Barrett walked along the bushes and Mr. Barrett told Frank that he should go get some logs from the pile they had by their backdoor and make them a fire. The rack stood against the back of the house. It was packed full of cleanly chopped wood and covered by a blue tarp held in place with elastic bands. The way the sunshine shined through the pines made the blue of the tarp splendid like the lake. Mr. Barrett said there was the fire-starter and long matches in a kit under the rack.
Frank stared at the rack wondering and then he sat next to Caitlin on a bench by the firepit. The bench had foam pillows for seats and he sighed and stretched his legs and tried to feel restful. He stared into the firepit wondering why he felt the way he did. Caitlin tapped his knee and then she held his hand and he felt better. He didn’t know if she held his hand or he held hers but it didn’t matter which it was. It was beautiful out here and he didn’t know he felt down but it hadn’t anything to do with finals starting next week. A low breeze whistled and the waves of the lake broke noisily against the shoreline.
“It’s nice out here,” he said.
“We can go down to The Basin,” Caitlin said after a moment. Her head remained bowed. “Up the river. Let’s go.”
Frank heard behind them the heavy footsteps of Mr. and Mrs. Barrett walking up the steps to the porch. He turned but it was too sunny for him to see clearly. Mr. Barrett was calling something but he couldn’t be heard well. Mrs. Barrett was laughing. Caitlin stared after them and then she turned and kicked at the turf until there was a divot. It was an ugly hole in the middle of the flat land and she bent down to cover it. Frank helped her too. They didn’t say anything.
“Do you want to go?,” she asked quietly.
“You want to go see The Basin now?”
“I think so. Don’t you?”
“I say we can go then.” He looked about. “I didn’t know you wanted to go so quickly.”
“I’ll tell him that I made a plan for us to meet some friends of ours,” she said lowly into his ear. “I’m just going to say something and you can come or stay here and canoe.”
“I want to come with you,” Frank said. “I was only thinking how it would look.”
Caitlin brushed her front and they started up the slope to the house. When they got to the top they stood together and looked back. The wind was blowing straight down over the lake so the waves were like that of the ocean. Frank squinted until he could see the surf crashing against an injunction point further down the lake, by where it bottled into the Spruce River.
Mr. Barrett stood on the porch. He held his blue mug in one hand and his cheeks pulsated. Mrs. Barrett came out behind him and laid down on a bench in the shady part of the porch. Mr. Barrett called to them but what he said was weakly-formed, and the words disappeared with the wind.
“I don’t want to stay around here but we’ll come back later,” Caitlin said.
“Sure, let’s go see The Basin.” Frank was getting itchy.
They stared at Mrs. Barrett sleeping on the bench for a moment and then tiptoed slowly past her. Frank tried not to look, though he knew he’d stared at her before they’d come up the steps and he didn’t like that he had.
“Have a beer,” Mr. Barrett told them from the dining room table. He drank a beer and looked at something on an I-Pad. “Have one, Frank. This is good amber beer made with honey. They make everything now with someone strange, don’t they?”
“I say this table is big enough for King Arthur’s Court,” Frank said loudly, and he tried to laugh. “This is quite a house.”
“Dad, we’re going to go into town to look around,” Caitlin said.
“Would you like anything? There’s a little farmer’s market in the square.”
Caitlin shifted her weight slowly from one foot to the other. “Let’s have dinner early tonight,” she said. She waited. “We want to get to bed earlier to get ready for church tomorrow.”
“Yes, you still go do that.” Mr. Barrett stood and walked stuttering and stumbling across the kitchen. The way he walked was almost confrontational. “Where’s my wife?,” he asked aloud several times over. “Where is she?”
Caitlin had her arms crossed but she spoke softly. “Dad, she’s on the porch taking a nap.”
He wandered about the kitchen and then finally got the idea to look through the glass windows. “There she is. Resting in the sun.” He sighed. “I’ll come along with you, I guess … but I really should be here when she gets up.” He stopped to roll up his sleeves and then waddled to the refrigerator and got himself another beer. He hemmed and hawed in front of the refrigerator and then took the pitcher of orange juice and uncorked the champagne Mrs. Barrett had used for the orange juice drinks. “I better stay with her.”
“That’s alright, Dad,” Caitlin told him. “We’ll be back later.”
“We’ll go fishing later. We’ll get some perch.”
Mr. Barrett sat back at the table. He stared down at the I-Pad until the tip of his nose almost rested against the screen. The beer shook in his grasp as he brought it slowly to his mouth and he took large gulps and seemed appeased.
“I say we can go out in the canoes before dinner. There’s nothing better than the –” He paused and sneezed. “The sunsets are beautiful out here, Caitlin. We’ll go out in the canoe and look at it? How about it? Just me and you if you want.”
“That sounds wonderful,” she said with small, sad smile.
“And we can go fishing later too.”
“We can’t wait, Dad.”
Caitlin put away some of the breakfast things that had been left out and when Mr. Barrett asked her for another beer Frank brought it to him. She took away the empty beer bottles and placed them in the receptable under the sink. She cleaned the countertop with a sponge and washed dishes. Frank felt proud of her for cleaning up the kitchen for them and he wished to tell her this but he was afraid to. He watched her go to the window to see on Mrs. Barrett and then she turned back to her dad but Mr. Barrett was eagerly watching his I-Pad.
“Maybe we should stay and see how they are,” he said when they were on the porch.
“He’ll be fine for a while. They’ll probably sleep for a while.”
Frank said nothing. It was a good idea to him that they should go back to The Basin. But he felt awful on it too. He thought Mr. and Mrs. Barrett were nice enough people. It made him sad because he didn’t want to come back here. He didn’t want to go fishing with Mr. Barrett nor paddle a canoe about. He didn’t want to collect wood for a fire and he didn’t want to learn how to make one. Even that shiny axe made him low. It was alright that they were leaving for a time.
“Maybe we could go get a box of strawberries at the market and walk for a bit.”
“I’m not so hungry,” Caitlin said and shook her head. “Let’s go out to The Basin.”
“I thought you might be.”
Frank reached for her. “Let’s go to The Basin.” Frank said. “I want to see whatever you want to show me.” He put his arm around her, as he liked to do. “Promise? I wish I grew up in a place like this with rivers everywhere and pine trees. All I had was the movies and Wal-Mart.”
He held her close and kept talking until Caitlin started laughing a little and trying to be glad. He was good at cheering her up. She was the only important person he had. He held her close until she promised she would show him everything.