Wild Ice(6)

By: Rachelle Vaughn

Lauren wasn’t worried about the cottage being isolated. In fact, she was looking forward to it. She’d always been more of a loner than the social butterfly her mother had wanted her to be anyway. And she was definitely more comfortable behind a pair of binoculars or with her nose buried in a field guide.

Growing up, Lauren and her older brother Scott came to the cottage to visit their Aunt Cora every summer for as long as Lauren could remember. Just like now, Lauren didn’t have many friends to keep her in Oregon during the summer and she had enjoyed spending the summers at the refuge. Girls and cars quickly caught Scott’s attention and replaced his interest in birds. Once they reached high school, Scott soon lost interest in nature altogether and Lauren continued going to the cottage without him. Lauren worried she’d grow out of her love of the wetlands, but luckily that never happened. If anything, she grew to like nature even more and in high school she even started thinking about making a career out of it. Everyone thought her pursuit of ornithology was an impractical pipe dream, especially her extremely practical parents. Everyone doubted Lauren’s career choice. Everyone except Aunt Cora. She was the only one who encouraged Lauren to follow her dreams no matter how unrealistic they might sound to everyone else.

Lauren didn’t understand her parents’ doubt. Being an ornithologist wasn’t so insignificant. Sure, the demand for them wasn’t equal to the demand for, say doctors, lawyers and psychologists—especially in the city—but that didn’t hinder Lauren’s motivation. She loved being a part of nature and couldn’t imagine being stuck in a cubicle all day or a stuffy office listening to people drone on about their problems. Besides, the refuges needed people like her to protect and maintain them.

The cottage on Blue Heron Lane had been Lauren’s own personal refuge during the summer. A place where she could spend the warm days at her own pace, brush up on her bird identification, and lay under the stars and make wishes as they streaked across the night sky. Except now there wouldn’t be any more slumber parties in the living room, hikes along the many trails that snaked around the property, or weenie roasts in the backyard. Aunt Cora wouldn’t be there to draw sketches of Lauren and her brother. She wouldn’t be in the kitchen whipping up her world famous blackberry cobbler. And she wouldn’t be there to answer Lauren’s questions about birds, boys and life in general.

Scott wasn’t the only one who eventually stopped visiting Cora. Lauren’s visits had dropped off and then stopped altogether when she went away to college and had been too wrapped up in her own life and with her relationship with Daniel to make the trip down to California. Lauren hoped Aunt Cora understood her absence. She was never one to hold a grudge, but Lauren still felt bad about it. No one should have to die alone. They said Aunt Cora went peacefully. That was all Lauren had heard about her aunt’s passing. No one knew if she’d been sick for a while beforehand, or if her death was sudden and unexpected. She just went to sleep and didn’t wake up again.

Lauren should have been there for her aunt. Instead, she’d been standing in a church staring down the barrel of her future. She should have at least stayed in touch with Cora. After all, Lauren wouldn’t have pursued her dream and went to work for the South Oakdale National Wildlife Refuge if it hadn’t been for her dear aunt. But Lauren had allowed herself to get caught up in her other goals and focused on the future much more than the present. She had her heart set on a quaint little wedding ceremony followed by children and…

Well, those things wouldn’t be happening now. At least not with Daniel anyway.

Hey, no more coulda, shoulda, woulda, remember? Lauren reminded herself. It might be easier said than done, but she was bound and determined to stick to her new motto. She shook away the feelings of sadness and made the turn off of the county road onto Blue Heron Lane.

Actually, there was something else Aunt Cora left behind besides the cottage. Marshmallow, or Marsh, as her aunt called him because of the marshlands that bordered the cottage, sat on the passenger seat growling angrily inside his plastic pet carrier.

The poor kitty had been boarded in a kennel ever since Aunt Cora’s death. It would be nice to have a cat around to keep Lauren from being completely alone, but Marsh didn’t seem very companionable. At least not right now. He looked like he was angry enough to gnaw right through the metal bars on the carrier’s door. Not that she could blame him. She wouldn’t want to be cooped up in a confined space either. She would have let him out, but she feared losing him under the seat. He’d have plenty of space to prowl around inside the cottage.