Wild Ice(5)

By: Rachelle Vaughn

The further north she drove, the more the sounds of the noisy interstate faded away. To the average person, Red Marsh Road looked like an ordinary road off the freeway with nothing special to offer besides a way to reach point B from A. But Lauren knew it was much more than that. It was the path to a magical place where inspiration was found, dreams were stoked, and birds sought refuge.

She felt different now compared to the last time she’d driven down this long and dusty road. She’d found love, graduated from college at the top of her class, had her heart broken, and she’d grown as a person and thrived, despite the natural inclination to become bitter and denounce love altogether. A lot had changed in her life, but her dream of studying birds in their natural habitat remained as steadfast as ever.

Arriving in Hayley’s Point was a bittersweet moment. Lauren was excited to see the cottage again, but her happiness was overshadowed by the fact that her aunt wouldn’t be there. Poor Aunt Cora had passed away, leaving the cottage to Lauren in her will. Lauren wasn’t expecting to inherit anything from Cora Colwater, so when estate attorney, Bernard Templeton, contacted her, she was just as surprised as everyone else in her family who didn’t inherit anything from Cora.

Although Aunt Cora never mentioned him before, Bernard Templeton must have been a friend of hers because otherwise Lauren couldn’t imagine leaving important documents in his care. Mr. Templeton was frazzled and disorganized to say the least.

After arriving at his office, Lauren had waited patiently for what seemed like an eternity while he dug through the mountain on his desk looking for Cora’s file. Paperwork was by no means her specialty, but Lauren knew there had to be a better way than whatever “system” Mr. Templeton was currently using. He was so flustered that Lauren had to fight back the urge to straighten his desk and help him find what he was searching for. Instead, she sat back, clasped her hands in her lap, and waited until he found the file so he could read her Aunt Cora’s last will and testament.

After she signed and initialed every document he’d shoved in front of her, Mr. Templeton assured Lauren that everything was in order. Then, after she’d gotten up to leave, he had opened his mouth as if to say something else but then decided against it and closed it again. Lauren couldn’t get rid of that niggling feeling like Mr. Templeton wasn’t telling her everything. Oh, well, it didn’t matter. At least she’d gotten the keys to the cottage. At one point, she was worried he’d lost those amongst the rubble on his desk too.

Lauren chuckled about the funny little man and smiled at the key hanging safely from her keychain in the ignition. When she received the letter from Mr. Templeton saying she’d inherited the cottage in Hayley’s Point, just outside of Red Valley California, the news couldn’t have come at a better time. A few months ago, her job at the South Oakdale branch of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife had been “dissolved” due to lack of funding, and then to top everything off, she was publically humiliated by her fiancé—make that ex-fiancé—and her plans for the future had been dissolved as well. After enduring months of the entire town talking about her, moving to Hayley’s Point was a no-brainer.

Fortunately, Lauren wasn’t leaving much behind in Oregon. She had no friends to speak of and her parents were distracted by their work as South Oakdale’s most renowned psychologists. Lauren had been psychoanalyzed by her mother for weeks and it was definitely time for a change. There would be plenty of time to figure out her next move later. She just wanted to enjoy the next few months before her parents expected her to rejoin the rest of society.

Lauren took a deep breath and guided her thoughts back to the present. After the year she’d had, she was determined to live in the moment. No more coulda, woulda, shoulda. No regrets. She promised herself she’d spend the summer flying by the seat of her pants. No looking back. There had been a sufficient amount of time moping and feeling sorry for herself and this summer was going to be all about getting her life back on track. The cottage would be a perfect place to regroup and gather her bearings and that’s exactly what she needed to do.

More than anything, it felt good to be out on her own for the first time. Eighteen years under her mother’s watchful eye followed by a tiny dorm room shared with a sloppy roommate, and then after that a cramped apartment with her ex, left Lauren itching for some independence and some space.

Even though the circumstances were unfortunate, it was good to be back in Hayley’s Point nonetheless. Lauren’s mom, great Aunt Cora’s niece, wanted nothing to do with “that ratty old cottage.” Lauren scoffed at the harsh, inaccurate description. The cottage wasn’t ratty at all. At least not from what she remembered. It was cozy and welcoming and secluded, and the perfect place to gather one’s thoughts.