Wild Ice(7)

By: Rachelle Vaughn

Lauren wouldn’t let Marsh’s foul mood ruin today for her. She was excited to see what kind of bird activity was in August County compared to South Oakdale. Speaking of birds, Lauren turned down the volume on the stereo and rolled her window down. The cool air from the air conditioner competed with the sweltering heat outside. Ah, there it was. The sounds she’d been looking forward to hearing.

Outside in the warm summer air, a plethora of bird songs competed for attention. The sound was music to Lauren’s ears. As an ornithologist, Lauren could easily pick out each individual species and match them to their song. The gurgling song of a marsh wren could be heard in the distance, the secretive bird probably clinging tightly to the reeds. And there was the loud kill-dee of the killdeer and the cheerful twitter of a tree swallow…

Lauren took a deep breath and sighed. Whatever doubts that lingered about her decision to move into the cottage fluttered away like the red-shouldered blackbird outside the car. When her little car bounced over a pothole, Marsh growled low in his throat. He wasn’t happy about riding in the car or about life in general. The look he gave her from behind the metal bars—whew!—suffice to say that if looks could kill, then Lauren would be flat on her back.

“We’re almost there, I think,” Lauren reassured the frightened kitty. In fact, she wasn’t entirely sure how far they were from the cottage. She hadn’t been there in years and all she had was a blurry printout of the directions in case she got lost.

Marsh hissed his reply.

When Teal Manor came into view, Lauren knew she was close. She slowed the car and admired the beautiful architecture of the sprawling mansion. Its gable roof jutted into the sky and what she could see of the manor beyond the gates was imposing. Oak, laurel and alder trees dotted the front yard. She remembered the spectacular mansion from her childhood visits to the cottage. As a child, she had marveled over its tremendous size and had pretended a princess lived inside its walls.

Lauren wondered who lived there now, if anyone. It looked vacant and the landscaping was overgrown. There were no cars parked out front and a giant rusty wrought iron gate stood guard. What a pity for such a regal place to sit empty and neglected! Oh, well, it could have been haunted for all she knew. A small shiver crept up her spine and she shook away the silly notion. The last time she’d been to visit Aunt Cora, the mansion didn’t seem so mysterious.

Marsh hissed and Lauren kept driving. Immediately past the mansion, Aunt Cora’s mailbox came into view. There it was. 22 Blue Heron Lane. The cottage was a lot closer to the mansion than she remembered.

While everything else was overgrown and deserted, the cottage’s mailbox remained as cheerful as Lauren remembered. The numbers were painted bright yellow underneath a hand painted silhouette of a sharp-shinned hawk. Her aunt’s doing. Lauren remembered the summer Aunt Cora had painted it there like it was yesterday.

“Why a hawk?” she’d asked. “Why not a hummingbird or a marsh wren?”

“Because,” Aunt Cora replied, standing back to admire her handiwork. “Hawks are majestic and the kings of the sky.”

Lauren smiled at the memory and turned into the driveway.

Cora’s great-grandfather had built the cottage decades ago. It was originally a cabin for the groundskeeper at the refuge, but eventually the land was parceled off by the county and sold for funds. The cottage was then purchased by the Colwater family and passed down through the generations.

Where the mansion stood out and boldly announced its presence, the cottage was nestled quietly in the trees. It was so hidden by its surrounding that if it weren’t for the mailbox, someone might not even know the cottage was there. Lauren knew it would be there, though, warm and welcoming like a hug from a long lost relative.

There were only two houses on the street and Lauren’s only neighbor was the mansion next door. The refuge office was a mile down the road, but besides that, she and Marsh were completely alone in this little corner of the world. The idea of so much privacy appealed to her, especially after the public humiliation she’d suffered as a result of her ex.

No looking back, she reminded herself and continued down the driveway.

From the looks of the driveway, the property hadn’t been tended to in quite some time. The bushes and trees were so overgrown that they nearly scraped the sides of her car as she drove. Once again, Lauren ignored the incessant pangs of guilt. The place just needed some TLC and a bit of elbow grease to return it to its former glory.

When Lauren opened the door of her faithful Geo Metro and stepped out of the car, the lively sounds of birds greeted her. She closed her eyes and inhaled a deep breath of fresh air. Emotions from the past few months overwhelmed her senses. This was exactly what she’d been missing. Did she really think she could live without birds in her life? The calming sounds of the mourning dove, the noisy vocalizations of the white-breasted nuthatch, the lively sound of the bushtit? No, not a chance. Being here felt right. It felt welcoming. It felt like home.