The Cottage by KarLynn Erickson
This is adapted and updated from a previous submission.
Christine strolled to the screen door and paused before opening it. The slight squeaking sound made the edges of her mouth curl upward into a slight smile. She carried her sad mood with her all the way from the city, but the more time she spent at the cottage the better she felt.
A single tear escaped her watery eyes as she looked up. The evergreen grove stood tall at attention in perfect rows like soldiers ready to march. Bursts of golden leaves weaved in between the rows as the Aspens began their fall color change. The view brought a whole new set of emotions, she had been suppressing. She gently rubbed her growing belly and whispered, “We’re home”.
“Hurry up and grab your bag, Joe!” I want to get on the road! We still need to stop to get groceries.”
“We can get groceries at Lucy’s when we get there.” Joe spun Jenny around to look her in the eye. “You need to slow down and take a breath. You’re going to ruin your own good time! Didn’t anyone ever tell you part of the fun is the journey to get there?”
Jenny rolled her eyes at her irritatingly levelheaded husband. “I’m just so excited! I haven’t seen Christine face to face in 2 years. I can’t wait to catch up with her!”
“She’s bringing her new boyfriend, right? Do you know anything about him? I hope we have something in common. When you girls start your squealing and hen clucking, we’ll get lost!”
“Squealing and clucking, really? What are we farm animals? You are so weird! Let’s goooo!” Jenny howled.
She let the door slam behind her, so it shut right in Joe’s face. He quickly grabbed his eye and let out a howl of his own.
Jenny didn’t fall for it for one second. She and Joe joked around all the time. They loved to laugh and usually it came at the expense of one another. They climbed into their beloved beat-up Jeep and headed North.
The drive passed fairly quickly for being over an hour. Joe drove and Jenny read and dozed off. She had been saving her vacation time for this trip. Joe looked over and smiled at his wife. She planned to relax and have a fun time with her childhood best friend in their hometown and he vowed to do everything in his power to make that happen.
Her eyes popped open as the rugged tires hit the gravel. Her stomach did a slight flip as butterflies began ballet dancing. The cottage came into her view, and she sucked in her excited breath.
“Alright, alright take it easy. We are almost there, no need to hyperventilate”, Joe teased. He and Jenny had been married for 5 years. He knew how important this weekend was for her. They had been so stressed and busy. They both needed to get away.
She smacked his arm lovingly, but hard enough to let him know not to push it. She tried to give him “the look” but couldn’t keep the smile from creeping across her face.
Joe had barely shifted to park and Jenny was out the door like a shot. Christine’s blonde curls came bounding down the steps with the rest of her and ended up right in Jenny’s arms. They embraced and cried and embraced again. They walked arm in arm up the wide steps to the covered porch and into the house.
Joe looked around and saw no sign of the new boyfriend and wondered why he hadn’t come out of the house. He grabbed the bags and cooler and walked to the door.
“Well, I guess I am on my own with the bags”, he shrugged.
“What is that delicious smell?” He asked while balancing the luggage and the door.
“It’s beef stew and fresh bread,” she let out enthusiastically. The farm stands had fresh produce and I couldn’t resist. I’m so glad you’re here! I’ve been cooking all afternoon to try and pass the time. I know it’s August and a little early for stew, but it’s what I was craving.” She stated nervously.
Jenny caught the sadness in her eyes and wondered what was going on.
“Where’s the new boyfriend?” Joe blurted and Jenny gave him a dirty look.
“Um, well Matt sort of couldn’t make it, so it’s just me. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, but it happened very last minute. Are you mad, Joe?”
“I’m not mad one bit. I’ll stay out of your hair and let you girls catch up. Call me when you’re ready to eat.”
Joe left the room with his head lowered. Out on the porch he opened the white cover of the blue cooler he left there and grabbed a cold beer. He lowered himself into the Adirondack chair and settled in to relax. He inhaled the view and country air and felt the stress begin to release with his exhale.
“Really,” Jenny asked, “Last minute decision? You were so excited for us to meet him when I talked to you last week. What happened that he couldn’t make it?”
Christine sat at the small island and put her head in her hands. Her shoulders began heaving up and down slowly.
“Are you crying? Oh my gosh, what is going on?” Jenny rounded the island and took Christine into her arms.
Christine cried for a few minutes into Jenny’s shoulder and finally brought her head up to face her friend.
“I am so upset. I never meant to start off our vacation with blubbering in your arms. “
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m here for you and if you’re going through something then I’m here for that too!” Jenny reassured.
“Well, I don’t even know where to start really except that, I’m pregnant.” Christine looked down at her hands and started to cry again.
Jenny couldn’t hide her surprise and covered her gaping mouth with both hands.
“I’m gonna have a baby and I have no idea how I am going to do it alone.”
“Ok maybe you should start the story a little before that. What is going on?” Jenny prodded.
“You know Matt and I have been dating for a few months. Last week I wasn’t feeling good at all, so I went into my doctor. She confirmed it. When I told Matt, he flipped out. The panic on his face was undeniable and he left without another word. He isn’t returning my calls and he won’t see me.”
Christine sobbed and let it all go. She hadn’t been brave enough to share this with anyone yet and it hurt so bad to keep it inside. She was so angry with Matt and frustrated with her situation. Now that her friend was beside her and she had a sympathetic ear she felt safe enough to pour out her heart.
Jenny simply listened. The situation wasn’t good. Christine Lived in a tiny one bedroom that was not big enough to raise a baby in. Her beau was no longer willing to share her life and she lived 8 hours from her family.
After the crying subsided and everyone was fed the two friends changed to comfy clothes and found the sofa in front of the fireplace.
Joe made tea and brought it to the living room.
Jenny looked up as he was headed back through the white archway to the kitchen. He turned to look back and their gaze met. She smiled warmly and he winked at her. She felt so loved at that moment and felt more horrible than ever about her friend’s situation.
As the afternoon turned to night the conversation moved onto the deck. The trio did not want to miss the sunset. The two friends sat on the porch swing covered in a quilt and Joe found his Adirondack chair.
The brilliant orange and pink sky met up with the yellow glow of the sun and made the most magnificent moment of peace. The group was quiet for a long time.
The emotion of the day, the scrumptious food and calm of the woods made Christine’s eyes very heavy. She laid her head back on the cushion and was about to close her eyes. Jenny laid her hand on Christine’s arm, and she stirred. “Better head to bed.”
Christine let out a quiet response and headed off.
“Good morning.” Christine said with a yawn.
“Hey sleepy head. Are you hungry?” Jenny asked with a warm smile.
“I am starving! What are you cooking?”
“Bacon, French toast, and eggs. What do you feel like eating?”
“I’ll have some bacon and French toast. I haven’t been able to eat eggs.” Christine admitted with a squeamish scowl.
Jenny set a steaming cup of coffee in front of her, and Christine began to shake her head no.
“Don’t worry, it’s decaf. I know the rules.” Jenny waved her hand and walked back to the stove.
“You know what rules? How do you know, and I barely know anything.”
“Well Joe and I have been trying to have a baby for about a year now.” Jenny lowered her gaze. “It hasn’t worked out, but I plan to be prepared when it happens.”
“What? You didn’t tell me that! How could you not tell me that?”
“Christine, I didn’t want to tell anyone until it happened. I want the big celebration with everyone there! The fact that it hasn’t happened yet is so embarrassing and upsetting. I don’t like to talk about it. I feel like a failure. I can barely face Joe each month when he looks at me expectedly and I have to shake my head no.”
“I’m so sorry! I’m such a horrible friend. I had no idea you were going through this and then I come in here and sob about my pregnancy like it’s a burden. You must think I’m a monster
“I do not think you are a monster. You weren’t ready for this and it’s a complete surprise. You can feel the way you feel. I’m fine, really. No need to apologize either. You needed to get it all out and I am so glad I am here for you!” Jenny encouraged.
For a while neither of them said a word. Christine ate her breakfast and Jenny busied herself by cleaning the kitchen.
Jenny finally broke the silence by asking, “Have thought about what you’ll do? Are you going to ask your mom for help?”
“I don’t know,” Christine exhaled loudly. “She’s here and I’m in the cities. She won’t move there; I’ve asked her to come for years, and she always says this is home. I know it’s home for her, but it’s not mine anymore. It’s all so new, I haven’t even had time to process it let alone decide what I’m going to do.”
“You know Aunt Sandy rents this cottage out as an Airbnb now. That’s why this kitchen looks so amazing. You probably haven’t even had time to notice the upgrades. Tile backsplash. Granite island. Everything is cozy and shabby sheik.
“I didn’t really notice, but now that you mentioned it. I remember it being much more plaid and woodsier before.” Christine looked around the room.
“You mean like a lumberjack would step out of the bedroom? Yeah, that’s the way I remember it too.” Jenny agreed.
“You just completely changed the subject, why did you do that.? Christine asked quizzically.
Jenny just shrugged and smiled.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“My mom said that Aunt Sandy is doing very well renting this out and she is having a blast with her Bed and Breakfast too. Who knew that old 2 story, white house would end up being a popular destination? Remember when we thought it was haunted?”
They both laughed at the memory of Jenny’s aunt trying to assure them that no ghosts lived in the attic. They weren’t buying it. They stayed up all night waiting with flashlights one weekend when they were children. Nothing ever happened, but it was a great memory.
“Funny when we were kids this was just the hunting cabin up the road from Aunt Sandy’s house and now, she rents it out as a short term housing.” Jenny said proudly.
“Well having the lake just up the road and the state forest nearby, this is a great destination for anyone who wants to escape city living for a while.” Christine stated.
Jenny’s smile widened like a Cheshire cat. Her face lit up and she blurted, “You should talk to Aunt Sandy about moving in here and renting it from her? You would be close to your mom and much closer to me.”
“Are you crazy? You just said that she loved renting this to short term weekend people. I’m sure she doesn’t want a fulltime tenant. And besides I have an apartment and a job in Minneapolis.”
“You have a tiny apartment, and you work in a bookstore which you are way overqualified for.” Jenny gave her friend a sideways look. “Come on this would be perfect! I could come whenever you needed me and think of all the family and friends we have here. And mom just told me that the library is looking for full time help in town.”
“So, what? You want me to be a librarian? I’m pretty sure I moved away to get out of this town. Remember I don’t want everyone to know my business?”
“Yeah, but now it’s different, now you need help and the comfort of home. Just think about it. I’ll talk to Aunt Sandy with you! She will not object. She could never say no to us, remember?”
“I think you’re crazy, but I’m willing to try it.”
Again, they were squealing and hugging and crying as Joe walked in the room. He shook his head and started to walk out, but Jenny grabbed him and pulled him in for a good morning kiss and to tell him the great news.
“Guess what? Christine is moving home! Isn’t that a great idea?”
“Yes, it is actually. You’ll need plenty of support and you’ll have all you need right here. So where are you going to live, at your mom’s?”
“No, I guess I’m moving to the cottage”, Christine said with a huge grin.
Christine once again felt a peace come over her. She knew she was making the right decision and she knew she wasn’t alone.
The trio walked to the porch again to enjoy the warm August morning sun.
Jenny smiled and hugged Christine, “I’ll be back when ever you are ready to get settled in. We have so much planning to do! I’m so excited to have you so close!”
Christine hugged Joe and thanked him for putting up with their antics. She couldn’t hide her smile when he said, “Welcome home Christine.”