It was foolish to hope there was a perfectly good reason for a silver Subaru belonging to anybody but his soon to be ex-wife to be parked in front of their lakefront cabin, but Scott Ferguson hoped for it anyway.
Right up until the woman he’d spent the last two decades married to stepped out of the shadows of the deep porch, her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face. Emily wasn’t any happier to see him than he was her, and he let loose a weary sigh as he climbed out of his truck.
Twenty-two years ago, not quite to the day, he’d stood in front of their family and friends and vowed to be Emily’s husband until death did they part.
That hadn’t really worked out.
“What are you doing here?” they asked each other at exactly the same moment, and it was probably the first time they’d been in sync about anything in half a decade.
“I needed to get away,” she said, her chin lifted defensively. “I just wanted to be alone for the weekend and relax.”
He could tell she hadn’t been sleeping well. Usually she wasted a lot of time and gunk straightening her cloud of dark blonde hair, but today it was just pulled into a thick ponytail. And she looked pale and, while that could be partly because she wasn’t wearing any makeup, there were shadows under her hazel eyes.
“So you thought you’d come out here and open camp all by yourself?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Yes, that was the plan, because I’m actually a capable, grown-ass woman.”
Scott recognized the defensive reflex to defend himself and squashed it. He hadn’t meant to imply she wasn’t capable of opening the camp for the year. He’d merely been surprised she would be comfortable being out here alone. But he didn’t bother trying to explain that because he knew from years of experience the ensuing conversation would just continue to go downhill.
And there wasn’t a lot to opening the camp, anyway. When power had gone in on the road, they’d paid the exorbitant amount to get lines run down their driveway. There was an unofficial caretaker of the camps on this side of the lake, and they paid him to close it up in the winter—draining down the water, winterizing and boarding up the windows—and then to reverse the process in the spring, along with checking out the chimney. Since the caretaker had both email addresses on his send list, they’d both gotten the email earlier that week letting them know the cabin was open for the season. It was a bare bones service, though, so Emily would have had lights, heat and running water, but everything else, she would have had to figure out for herself.
“Did one of the kids tell you I was coming?” she asked.
“No. I had no idea you’d be here, and I thought I’d do some work on the place.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and looked around the property, his gaze falling on all the things he’d meant to fix up over the years and never gotten around to. He had to do them now. “We won’t have any trouble selling the property because it’ll be the only camp for sale on this lake, but putting a weekend of work into minor repairs and some cosmetic stuff will raise the price.”
When she pressed her lips together for a long moment before turning away, he knew she was trying to keep her emotions in check. So was he, though he was a lot better than she was at hiding his feelings. According to her, he was incapable of sharing his emotions.
Whether that was true or not, he felt them. This had been his family’s happy place since the kids were little. It had been a chance meeting, running into an old friend whose godfather had passed, and nobody wanted the old camp. By the end of the week, he and Emily had fallen in love with the place based on a few photographs emailed to them and they bought it before it even went on the market.
“The kids are doing their own thing now,” he said in a low voice. “They’ve only been here a handful of times since they started working and driving. I don’t want to come here alone. And even though you wanted to get away this weekend, I don’t really see you doing it very often, either.”
Emily wanted to argue the point. He could see it on her face when she turned back to him. But it would be arguing for the sake of not agreeing with him because he was right and she knew it. Instead, she walked to the back of her car, opened the liftgate and pulled out a big cooler.
“I know it’s time to sell it,” she finally said. “I guess I wanted to say goodbye. And just be alone.”
Being alone sucked as far as Scott was concerned. He spent too much time alone in the two-bedroom condo he’d rented. The kids were grown, so there were no custody battles to fight, and they stopped by when they could. Since they still lived at home, they spent most of their down time with Emily while he watched television shows he didn’t care about and tried not to miss his family too much. It didn’t work.
“I already brought the rest of my stuff in,” Emily said, “but I… We can’t stay here together.”
As much as he wanted to dig in his heels and point out that doing work to raise the value of the camp was more important than her relaxing, he didn’t want to stay anymore. Being at the cabin was going to be hard enough, but now he’d seen her here and he wasn’t going to be able to get her out of his head. Watching her drive away and leaving him alone in this place would be too painful.
“I’ll go. I can do the work another weekend,” he said. “But I just drove three hours to get here, so I’m going to wait until the storm blows over before I leave.”
“The storm that’s been in the forecast for at least two days,” he said, and the way her mouth tightened told him she’d taken that as a shot at her for not checking the forecast before heading north. And maybe it was. He hadn’t said the right thing to his wife in what felt like years.
He hadn’t known what to say to keep her. He hadn’t known what to say to stop her from leaving him. So there wasn’t much chance he was going to come up with the right words to get her back. And even if he did, he hadn’t made her happy the first time around, so what was the point?
Losing her once was killing him. He couldn’t even think about the possibility of losing her a second time. It was better left alone.
Scott had barely gotten the words out when the first raindrops started falling, so Emily hefted the cooler and hauled it to the covered porch. The last thing she wanted to do was spend an hour or two alone with him, trapped in the cabin together, but she couldn’t exactly send him on his way in an early spring storm, either.
Not that he would go. Scott was one of the most stubborn people she’d ever met.
When she’d looked out the window and seen the late-model, blue F-250 with magnetic signs advertising his landscape engineering business on the door coming up the drive, she’d been so angry. She’d taken a half-day off from her secretarial job at the elementary school, loaded up her car, and made the three-hour drive because she wanted to spend the weekend alone. She wasn’t here to dwell on the end of her marriage or think about how it affected their children. She didn’t want to cope with endless doubts about her decision constantly spinning through her mind.
She just wanted to breathe.
For just a couple of days, she wanted to escape feeling like a failed wife and a mother who’d broken her children’s hearts. And maybe she could find enough peace so she could think of him without her own heart breaking all over again.
She’d had enough of the sympathetic looks and well-meaning advice. Of the guilt every time she saw the fallout of her decision on her kids’ faces. Of sifting through belongings to separate his from hers, and trying to figure out what to do with things that were theirs. Things like this cabin, which they were undoubtedly going to sell, so she was here to say goodbye.
And now he was here, ruining any possibility she’d find some peace.
Despite her frustration, her heart ached with seeing him again and she couldn’t help giving him a once over to see how he was holding up on his own. His dark hair and beard had been recently trimmed, and his clothes didn’t have the rumpled look of having been plucked out of a clean clothes basket. It shouldn’t annoy her that he was managing not to fall apart without her, but she couldn’t help it.
“I would have carried that for you,” he said once he’d joined her on the porch. He was carrying a much smaller cooler, which he set next to hers, but she noticed he’d left his duffel bag and anything else he’d brought back in the truck.
“I know you would have.” She didn’t bother telling him she was getting used to doing things for herself now, since she’d been doing just that for the last three months. Maybe she didn’t want to introduce the negativity into the moment, or maybe she was afraid he’d tell her it was her own fault since she was the one who’d called an end to their marriage. Either way, she didn’t want to hear it right now.
The rain started coming down in earnest then, and a loud crack of thunder made her jump. Emily had loved thunderstorms as a kid, but once she’d reached adulthood and had to worry about damage and lightning strikes, they’d become more anxiety-inducing than fun.
She pulled open the screen door and propped her hip against it, intending to pick up the cooler and bring it inside, but Scott lifted it before she had the chance.
“I’ve got it.” His tone told her not to bother arguing, so she stepped out of the way while still holding the door open.
After he set it next to the fridge, she thanked him, and wasn’t surprised when he just nodded and went back outside with a bang of the screen door, grabbing one of the collapsible camp chairs they kept by the door on his way out because the Adirondack chairs were wet. A few seconds later, she heard the chair being snapped open and the slight groan it made when he sank into it.
If he wanted to sit outside and watch the storm alone, more power to him, she thought. It was better than the two of them occupying the same space but having nothing to say to each other.
Early in their marriage she’d seen the story play out on television screens and even for a few of their friends—two people get married and raise kids together, seemingly happy, until one day when it’s just the two of them and they realize they have nothing to say to each other anymore. Emily had sworn to herself that would never be her and Scott. She’d believed it with all of her heart.
Until the day came when she realized that, without Dylan and Janie there to fill the silence, she and Scott had nothing to talk about.
As rain pounded on the roof, punctuated by claps of thunder and bright flashes of lightning, Emily sang along with a playlist she kept on her phone, and wiped away the dust that had settled over every flat surface since the last time they’d visited. She would wait until the storm had passed to transfer food from the cooler to the refrigerator, because if the power went out, she’d just have to move it all back.
It was like stepping back in time. Except for a tiny bathroom, the cabin was all one room, with an open sleeping loft for the kids. There was a queen bed in one corner, along with a battered leather sofa. A small kitchen table with four chairs and two beanbag chairs—unused for years—completed the furnishings. There were two folding camp cots in the loft because proper twin beds would have filled the space, and the kids liked the ability to fold up the cots and have the floor space on rainy days.
They’d made so many good memories here. But as time went on and the kids got busy, it got harder to get away. Once they started driving and had jobs of their own, it became almost impossible. She and her daughter had done a girls’ weekend two years ago, but Emily hadn’t even visited the camp last year. She’d held out hope that someday in the future, maybe grandchildren would be an excuse to spend time on the lake again.
The storm raged for almost an hour before winding down to nothing, and by the time she’d put fresh linens on the bed, the rain had stopped. She heard Scott’s footsteps on the porch and a few seconds later, he spoke to her through the screen door.
“I’m going to look around and make sure there’s no damage before I go.”
“Okay,” she replied, and she had to clench her jaw to keep from telling him he didn’t have to go. He was probably exhausted from the long drive after a workday, and to turn around and drive all the way home was a lot. They could make it work.
But he was a grown man. If he thought he was too tired to make the drive back, it was on him to bring up the possibility of them sharing the cabin for the night. And if he was too stubborn to do that or if he truly couldn’t stand the thought of being in the same space as her, then that was on him, too.
About twenty minutes later, he returned and as soon as he stepped into the cabin, she could see he didn’t look happy.
“The good news is that there’s no damage to the cabin or the dock,” he said.
If the good news made him look that grim, she was almost afraid to know the rest. “So what’s the bad news?”
“There are two trees down across the driveway.” He dropped into a kitchen chair, running his hand over his face. “I don’t have a chainsaw and we are not at the top of the list of people who need help. The trees down on power lines and buildings get priority. And the main roads, of course.”
“So we’re trapped.” Her first thought was of the kids. They’d be okay if she wasn’t home by Sunday afternoon, thankfully, though Dylan got on Janie’s nerves if they spent too much time together. The bigger question was how okay she would be after spending a weekend sharing a space with the man she’d lived with for over two decades.
“I guess you could swim to another camp if you wanted. Or see if that old canoe in the shed will float.”
“The canoe got shoved into the shed because it didn’t float. Nice try at getting rid of me for good, though.”
He looked offended for a few seconds, but he must have seen that she was joking because she’d never been capable of pulling off humor with a straight face. He chuckled, and it felt good when his mouth curved into a real smile.
Maybe they weren’t going to be man and wife anymore, but they’d been together for over twenty years. Surely they could find their way to being friends again.
“Did you eat on the road?” she asked, taking that tentative first step toward an amicable relationship.
“Yeah. Did you?” She nodded. “I’m going to clean up around the yard and get my tools out of the truck and stuff. Do you need help taking your stuff up to the loft first?”
His assumption that he would be getting the bed while she slept on one of the cots grated on her nerves. To hell with amicable. “I got here first and I’ve already made up the bed for myself. But thanks for the offer.”
“I’m a lot taller than you. And I’m taller than the couch is long, so I should get the real bed.”
“My bag’s already on it, so it’s mine.”
“This isn’t summer camp, Emily.”
“It’s our summer camp, and I got here first, put my bag on the bed, and claimed it. The cots are still folded up in the loft if you don’t like the couch.”
“You’re really going to be like this?”
She shrugged. Maybe it was petty because he was taller than her, but she was tired of sacrificing her own comfort for other people’s. It was part of the deal when it came to the kids, but Scott was a grown man. He could deal with it. If he was too tall for the cot, he could sleep on the floor.
He looked at the bed for a long moment, and then back at her. When he arched one brow in a questioning look, she shook her head, and after a few seconds of tense silence, he walked out of the cabin.
Scott could be mad if he wanted to, but there was absolutely no way they were sharing that bed. Yes, they’d done just that for many years, but being that close to him and not being able to touch him wasn’t an option.
Being alone here in the cabin with him was hard enough. Even though she knew putting them out of their marital misery had been the right thing to do, she missed him. Sometimes it was the low-key ache of missing the person she’d shared her entire adult life with. And sometimes it was the breathtaking agony of having lost the man she loved with her whole heart.
There was no denying her marriage had been broken, but she still struggled every day to accept it was really over. She’d thrown it away, though, and she could never take that back.