Anna staggered off the small plane convinced she was going to die. The motion sickness wrist band hadn't helped at all, nor had the pills she took. Shear determination made her walk across the tarmac and toward the small airport terminal. She collapsed on a bench just outside the coffee shop. The winter air felt much colder and snow piled up along the corners of the airport and surrounding streets. She didn't care if she got hypothermia right now, she just needed the earth to stop turning momentarily so she could recover. Is a halt to the earth’s rotation really too much to ask?
Twenty minutes later Gabe, Sean, and Chris reached the group after parking the small plane and loading the luggage into the rental car. Gabe knelt next to Anna still lying on the bench, her head now in Rose's lap. “Are you going to live?” he asked, seriously concerned.
She sat up slowly with her eyes still closed. “I had some 7up and popcorn from the coffee shop to settle my stomach and I think I may survive. But,...I need to drive to the cabin.”
Gabe waited for the punch line and then accepted that she was serious.
“If I drive I won't be sick. It's the only way I'll make it up the mountain,” she explained. He helped her to her feet and handed her the keys. She looked up at him gratefully, surprised at this man willing to relinquish control of the rental car to her just because she asked.
The winding mountain road led through a pass and into a neighboring valley. Clusters of trees popped up here and there, hiding several ranches and cabins. Gabe pointed out where Anna should take a right turn and as the steering wheel came back around she came to a sudden stop, jarring the others in the car. “What's wrong? What happened?” various voices inquired.
“Look at that sunset.” She pointed to the streaks of red, orange, and light blue. The golden sunlight filtered through the foliage, breaking through in spectacular glimpses of color. “It's amazing how the colors blend with the trees. How peaceful and beautiful,” she sighed in contentment at the beauty out the front window.
Several momentary groans about being slammed to a stop to look at a sunset turned into mutual appreciation of the view. It was truly gorgeous. “The Sierra Nevadas and Tahoe especially are my favorite mountain place. It's so green, all year round, even when it's covered in snow,” Doug chimed in. Everyone nodded agreement, too entranced to speak.
Eventually, Rose commented, “I think if it had been up to me I would have just made the whole world covered in beaches. It's a good thing God knows better than I do.” She laughed. “I think it's also a sign of His love for us. So much detail, so much variety on the earth, from the smallest insect to the largest mountain, all of it for us. Amazing to think how much work and planning must have gone into it, just for our enjoyment and benefit.”
“God is good,” Sean added.
Anna slowly pushed on the gas pedal and they continued their travels toward the cabin. Soon she could see a small clearing with a beautiful log house, a smaller cabin laid a ways away and the barn stood alone between them with a fenced corral.
“John Michelson and his wife and daughters live here year round to take care of the animals and land,” Gabe explained. “Susan said she would turn on the heater this afternoon, so the house should be ready for us when we get inside.”
Just then the front door opened and a woman in her forties stepped outside and waved. Anna pulled up to the back door and everyone climbed out. Gabe gave the woman a hug and she motioned to the smaller cabin. Then, they turned and he introduced her to Anna, Chris, Bob, and Mary. “I just dusted a little. There's nothing worse than traveling all this way and walking into spider webs the second you walk in the door,” Sue said.
Gabe scolded her for going to so much effort, but she waved it away and added that she and John had prepared dinner. “If it's OK with you, we'll eat in the house. Too many people won't fit in our cabin,” Sue added. Gabe, with his arms filled with bags, followed Sue headed toward the house, while the rest of them carried in their luggage and Rose gave them the grand tour.
The first floor was large and open, a family kitchen, painted red, filled one corner, Anna liked it immediately. The walls were a little more of an orange-red than her kitchen at home, but just as fun. The rest of the area divided into two sitting rooms. One surrounded a large television, the other an oversized coffee table with plush chairs. Off to one side opened a large bedroom with an attached bathroom for Rose and Doug. “Our knees aren't young enough to be running up and down the stairs all the time.”
The second floor housed the majority of the bedrooms and guest bathrooms. Anna and Chris chose a room and Mary and Bob took the room in the far corner hoping it would be a little quieter. Another stairway led up to Gabe and Sean's room, a loft tucked underneath the eaves. A bunk bed and a queen bed lined the walls. Toy bins filled the space behind the door. A carved wood desk sat under the main picture window.
“Sean is always inviting friends over, so they need extra beds and we still end up with kids on the floor,” Rose motioned toward the bunks.
Anna pointed out the beautiful quilt and pillow shams on Gabe's bed. “I didn't take him for a flowery kind of guy,” she smiled.
Rose told her about the older woman who lives in town and still makes these quilts to supplement her income. “Gabe asked her to make several quilts for him. He has them all over the house. It may seem a little feminine, but he actually likes some of the softer touches.”
Anna raised her eyebrows in surprise. A man who actually chooses a flowered quilt has to be pretty secure in his masculinity. “Haven't you ever seen his room back home in Santa Monica?” Rose asked. “She made that bedspread for him too.” Anna shook her head no, and it was Rose's turn to be surprised. A thought crossed Rose's mind, but she dismissed it as she turned toward the door and motioned them all downstairs.
The suitcases were unpacked and everyone had gathered downstairs when Gabe returned with Sue, John, and their teenage daughters, Poppy and Clover. Mary commented on their names and Sue told the story of her two aunts, Patricia and Chloe, who were never called by their real names. They were like mothers to me after my mom died, so we named our girls after them. The girls agreed that their names were original, but that they fit their personalities well.
They had brought over enough food to feed an army and the hungry travelers dug in. Even Anna regained her appetite when met with all the delicious, aromatic food. They were half way through eating when the door opened and Doug's brother, Uncle Jack, stepped in followed by Aunt Jenny and their youngest son Tom. They were quickly introduced to everyone and invited to join the dinner party, their bags left at the bottom of the stairs.
It had been a long day and after dinner everyone separated to their rooms to get a good night's sleep. John, Sue, and the girls went back to their home. Chris and Sean went up to the loft to hang out for a while before bed. Gabe and Anna stayed up to wash dishes and clean up dinner. “It was so kind of John and Sue to cook for all of us. We'll have leftovers for the rest of the weekend,” Anna commented.
“She does as much as she can before we get here,” Gabe explained. “She helps John with the horses and chickens, too. He's a handyman and she used to teach, before the girls came along. They moved up here when their daughters were little, to enjoy the solitude. They've lived here for so many years; they are just part of the family now. It's comforting to know I have someone up here to keep up the place when we're gone. They wanted to live on a ranch but couldn't afford it and I wanted the cabin but can't be here all year long to watch over it. It's the perfect arrangement.”
They talked more as they finished the dishes, then Gabe walked her around the downstairs pointing out each unique piece of furniture or feature of the house. She remarked on the beauty of the whole house and she loved some of the small details that added character and personality to it. It was just as much a home as his house in Santa Monica.
Tired, they walked up the stairs to the second floor and said goodnight. Anna headed to her room and Gabe continued up the second stairway. When she entered the room, Anna noticed Chris missing. She assumed he was still upstairs with Sean and walked up to the loft to find him. She knocked lightly on the door not wanting to wake anyone.
It took a moment for Gabe to open the door and when he did he stood there in just his jeans, no shirt. Anna's heart fluttered to her throat and she chastised herself. When will I finally get over this reaction to him? It's been long enough I should be immune by now.
Gabe pointed to the bottom bed of the near bunk. Chris lay sound asleep snoring lightly. A foot, that Anna assumed belonged to Sean, hung over the edge of the top bunk. “It's OK if he sleeps up here,” Gabe assured her. He watched her walk over to the bed, rub Chris' back and turn him over on his side.
“Now he won't snore.” She ran her hand across his head like a little boy. “Although,…I looked forward to sharing a bed. He is always so warm and I don't ever get anyone to warm up my bed for me.”
Gabe's body lurch slightly and he felt taken off guard by his desire to solve that issue for her. “Sorry, I can't help you there,” he looked very off balance.
Smiling, she tried to reassure him, “I wouldn't expect you to.” She said good night and touched his arm as she walked away. He flinched when she touched him and she felt the twinge of his muscles. Once again she reminded herself to keep her distance. If I'm not careful I am going to lose his friendship. One wrong move and all my good intentions will be for naught.
How much longer am I going to be able to keep away from her? It's not like I don't have platonic relationships with women. Why is it so difficult with her?
The sun rose early and bright the next morning. The boys were still sleeping as Gabe quietly shut the door behind him and ventured downstairs to the smell of pancakes, eggs and bacon. A greeting came from his parents, standing next to Anna's parents, and Anna still in her pajamas. He self-consciously ran his fingers through his hair to smooth it down and scratched his short beard. I probably look like a Sasquatch.
“Good morning. Are the boys still sleeping?” Mary asked handing him a plate. He nodded and dished up several pancakes and a few strips of slightly crisp bacon as well as a large helping of fruit salad. He carefully picked out the grapes.
“What have we got planned for today?” Bob asked facing the beautiful view out the large windows lining the front room.
“Well, if anyone is brave enough to face the cold we can go for a horse ride or out on the snowmobiles. The kids will probably want to do both,” Gabe explained. “There are enough horses for twelve of us to go at a time.” Turning to his dad, he answered, “I borrowed the calm ones from Jodie,” before Doug could even ask where the extra horses came from.
Before long the boys and Tom came downstairs looking for breakfast. They piled generous portions on their plates and sat down at the table to eat. Anna excused herself to get dressed while Doug and Jack planned a ride for the afternoon when it warmed up a little. Rose and Mary were washing dishes; a loud “hello” came from the entry.
Gary and Stephanie, Gabe's cousin and her husband arrived with Rose's brother Gene. 'Boisterous' understated Gene. He greeted everyone loudly and enthusiastically. He chided Doug about getting old. He teased Rose about being married to such a layabout. He joked that Sean had grown too tall and needed to play for the NBA. He asked Sean and Chris about their girlfriends and acted shocked when they told him that at age 13, they were too young to be dating. Gene handed each boy a suitcase and asked them to carry the luggage upstairs to the room that would be his.
Running down stairs after depositing Gene's belongings, the boys were ready for a horse ride. By the time Anna came back downstairs, the horses were saddled and the party waited for Gabe. He came down a few minutes later carrying Sean's coat and gloves as well as his own.
The horses were waiting and Gabe assigned rides to each person based on ability and size. Sean had his own horse and Tom had his favorite. Gary and Stephanie were able with horses and were given friskier mounts. Clover and Poppy had “their” horses too. They belonged to Gabe but each girl had a favorite adopted horse. Anna and Chris were given trusted and gentle horses. Gabe's steed, tall and energetic, responded precisely to even the slightest command he gave him.
The ride through the mountains started peaceful and thought provoking, but once the kids adjusted to the horses the fun began. Tom and Sean raced up hills and around boulders; Chris, not as accustomed to being on a horse, proceeded with caution. After about 20 minutes, he felt more confident and took a few more chances.
Anna had been around horses when she was younger, but it had been years since she had been in a saddle. She felt very aware that she was no longer 18 and if she fell it would hurt a lot more now than back when she acted a lot braver and a lot less careful.
Gabe sped after Sean and Tom up a short hill while Chris and Anna lumbered along after them. Tom beat both of them, but Gabe came in a close second. Anna’s horse, Clyde, itched to run too. She hated to restrain him, but didn’t feel up to the task of racing. The gentle rhythmic rocking allowed her to divert her attention to the beautiful scenery.
Gary and Stephanie rode playfully along the trail, racing up hills, but meandering along enjoying the scenery. The girls could out ride any of them, but felt no need to race or show off. Their everyday lives revolved around their horses and the ranch, so this ride was just a fun stroll with friends.
The tall peaks reached almost to the sky. The white summits hid permanent glaciers which survived even the warmest summers. Blue skies with wispy clouds blended seamlessly as they touched the sharp wedges of the mountain tops. The shade of the largest evergreens made their pathway ten degrees cooler than the chilled air around them.
After two hours, they were all chilled through and the party decided to head back to the barn. The snow covered hills were picturesque as they rode along a nearly invisible trail. Luckily, Gabe and Sean had ridden this way so often they knew it well, and Clover and Poppy of course knew it. The horses were eager to get back to their warm beds and full food troughs.
Gabe, Tom, and the girls unsaddled the horses while the rest headed back into the house. Sean and Chris ran upstairs eager to prepare for a D&D session once Tom finished in the barn. Anna headed toward the other adults in the kitchen but a familiar voice stopped her in her tracks. Rana spat out, “I can’t believe she’s here with him. I don’t understand what he sees in her.”
Adam responded, “She’s here with her son, he’s friends with Sean, nothing more.”
Jayne reassured her, “Rose showed us her room. She’s not even sleeping with him. You have nothing to worry about.”
Anna didn’t want to interrupt, but she didn’t appreciate the others discussing her, especially in an unfriendly way. She went back to the front door and shut it loudly calling, “hello” as she entered the living room. The conversation ended abruptly and she smiled as she walked in. They greeted her warmly and she pretended to be surprised to see them. Hypocrites.
In reality, she was surprised to see them. No one had said anything about them coming. “We decided last minute to come up. A late season hurricane ruined our vacation, and we were bored, so we decided to come up here instead. Gabe appreciates when we come, so he isn’t alone,” Jayne explained.
“It’s rustic up here and we enjoy the time away to unwind,” Adam added.
Rustic? With indoor plumbing, heating, satellite, game systems, internet, and plenty of spare bedrooms? I wonder what they’d think of real camping.
Anna headed into the kitchen, motioning for them to join her. Lunch was underway and Anna gratefully allowed the others to carry the conversation. She had spent time with Jayne and Adam twice since the first afternoon she met them at Gabe’s house. Her opinion hadn’t improved, but she acted well, for Gabe’s sake. She wasn’t accustomed to those who valued society or intellectuality above all else. Her life revolved around down to earth people with more pressing issues. It wasn’t that she didn’t like them, but their view of the world took some getting used to. Rana had avoided her like the plague and hadn’t joined them whenever Anna was invited.
In the kitchen plans were being made for a shopping trip in town. The local shops were filled with eclectic treasures. Many of the items were cheap tourist items, but hidden among the “made in china” items are works by local artisans and undiscovered valuables. Rose told Mary about a quilt shop they needed to visit and the fabric options it offered. Rana announced she was staying to rest; she had plans to go out that evening. Matt wandered into the kitchen to agree with Rana, he wouldn’t be able to enjoy the evening properly if he wore himself out wandering around stores.
Anna hadn’t seen Matt since their date a few months earlier. She hadn’t thought about it, but he must have been avoiding her as well. He walked over, said hello and gave her a hug as though they were old friends and she didn’t contradict him. Gabe walked in and Matt quickly removed his arm from around her. “Where did you guys come from?” Gabe asked Matt and Rana.
“We came to visit you,” Rana purred. “The hurricane spoiled our vacation and so we decided to come brave the cold instead.” She pouted a little when she spoke, as though the storm was created just to interfere in her plans and the loss of a week in the sun and surf was a great tragedy.
“Just the two of you or did Jayne, Adam, and Michael come along?” Gabe asked. He spoke unusually reserved, not as ready for fun as she expected.
“All of us. Jayne is putting the baby down, Adam is reading, and Michael will be up later. He doesn’t have his boy for the weekend so he has him today and can’t get away until this evening,” Matt answered.
Rose informed her son of their shopping plans for the afternoon and he eagerly accepted the plan. “We were planning on hitting a few clubs, Gabe, and were sure you’d want to go out with us tonight,” Rana announced, sure that Gabe would choose her plan over his mother’s.
“I can do both,” he answered with a smile, “I’m not as old as I look.”
A herd of children came into the kitchen lead by Chris who announced the question, “We’re starving, what’s for lunch?”
“Macaroni and cheese with fruit on the side,” Rose told him, “Wash up all of you and then wait at the table and we’ll bring it out in a minute.”
The kids left in the general direction of the bathroom and Anna followed to make sure that at least most of the hands made it in the water. She balanced Ryan on her knee so he could reach the sink when Mary walked in to help. “Who are these friends?” she asked Anna.
“He’s known Matt since they were little boys. Adam and Jayne are friends from college. I’m not sure where Rana is from, but she’s best friends with Jayne,…”
“And is after Gabe from the looks of it,” Mary interrupted.
“And is after Gabe. She doesn’t like me, she’s never around when I am,” Anna responded. “They are always invited. Like they said, plans went south so they knew they were welcome here.”
Anna set Ryan down and sent him off to go find lunch. Mary looked at her daughter, about to say something, she thought better of it and simply turned and walked away. “Let’s go see if Rose needs help dishing up bowls for all the monkeys”
The adults scattered throughout the downstairs to eat their chicken salad while Anna, Mary, Jayne and Rose sat with the kids at the table. Gabe, Matt, Bob, and Doug were discussing football prospects and the others listened in.
It only took a few minutes before the kids had devoured their lunches and were ready to head out to play in the tree house out behind the barn. When Sean was 4, he and Gabe along with Gabe’s dad, Doug, had planned and built an amazing tree house. It had 3 levels, each one short enough for Gabe to just barely stand, his head brushed the ceiling. There were ropes, ladders, dumb waiters, and climbing holds attached on all sides of the structure so that the kids could get from story to story any way they chose.
Sean drew and painted on the walls of his own personal escape. In the summer he spent evenings out under the stars, sometimes he invited his dad, sometimes only kids were allowed. No matter how old the kid, a visit to the cabin wasn’t complete without some play time in the tree house, even the grown up “kids.”
Coats were found and shoes tied and the race outside began. Little Ryan was told he needed a nap, but his eyes filled with tears and his lower lip protruded. He looked so sad to be left out that Adam allowed him to go out for a few minutes. He would go out to get him in a little while. With tears drying on his cheeks his put his own shoes on, slipping them on the wrong feet as little kids usually do. His dad zipped up his jacket and off he ran after the others.
The quiet in the house felt a little unnerving to those who were used to the hustle and bustle of small people. The table was cleared and dishes washed. The chicken was prepared and left to marinate for dinner. A board game started in the far corner on the coffee table; Doug found a corner to read and Adam debated the merits of a new immigration proposal with an unsuspecting Bob.
Gabe stood and stretched, he figured he would go check on the kids. It wasn’t too cold outside and the sun shone, but they had been out there for about 45 minutes. He had barely opened the door when Chris came speeding around the corner of the house at a dead run, out of breath. He waved at Gabe to come and finally got out the words, “Sean fell.”
Gabe stood and stretched, he figured he would go check on the kids. It wasn’t too cold outside and the sun was shining, but they had been out there for about 45 minutes. He had barely opened the door when Chris came speeding around the corner of the house at a dead run, out of breath. He waved at Gabe to come and finally got out the words, “Sean fell.”