Lake Ashlant (PG-13)

Kerry was engrossed in his work when the phone on his desk rang.
"Thibodeau," he answered.
"Sanders," his sister giggled.
Kerry grinned. "Hey, sis, this is a nice surprise." Then he caught himself. "Nothing's wrong, is there?" He asked with concerned.
"Don't worry, bro, nobody's dead," she laughed.
He sat back in his office chair and let out a breath. "That's always good news."
Mary laughed again. "I have an interesting proposition for you."
"Oh yeah?" He asked. "And what could that be?"
"We're going on vacation! I'm calling to invite you!" She announced proudly.
"You're inviting me on your vacation?"
"Yeah! We're heading to Lake Ashlant on Saturday."
"Lake Ashlant?" Kerry asked, rubbing his eyes. "What for?"
"For vacation, duh!" She laughed. "Please tell me you're not that busy in Derry in the middle of July, you jerk."

"It's July?" He asked and somehow Mary knew he really was surprised. Kerry glanced out the window. "Isn't this sort of last minute?"
"Sorry, I should have called earlier," Mary replied. "But you have plenty of time, right?"

"I don't know."

"You never take time off!" She accused
Kerry sighed. "I suppose I could spare a few days," he said with uncertainty.
"You can bring somebody if you wanted," Mary let him know. "There's plenty of room."
"Ah, there really isn't anybody," Kerry mumbled.
"Oh? What happened to what's her name? Julie? Jackie? Joanie?"

"Jeri."
"Yeah, her."

"She moved on," Kerry revealed with resignation in his voice.
"That's too bad, Ker, sorry to hear that," Mary said sympathetically.
Kerry leaned his arms on his desk and buried his chin in his hand. "What about…..nah, never mind."
"What about who, Kerry?" He could hear the excitement in her voice.
"I was just wondering what Ashlyn was doing these days," he admitted.
"Me too," Mary smiled through the phone. "Why don't you call her?"
Kerry sighed. "She probably doesn't want to hear from me."
"You're her friend," Mary replied. "Call her for god sakes."
"Maybe," Kerry said.
"Listen, make sure you have your cell phone with you when you get to Lake Ashlant," Mary warned. "Call me when you arrive. I'll e-mail you the directions and where to park later today, okay?"
"I'm still not sure if I'm coming, Mary," Kerry said.
"Its summer, you big jerk. Can you please forget about work and enjoy it?"
The line went dead and Kerry looked out the window and realized that his sister was right: it was summer. He had hardly noticed before she called. He scratched his beard as he left his office and walked down the hall to his supervisor's corner office.
"Hey, Bill," Kerry said, knocking on the open door and stepping into the larger office. "Think you can spare me for a few days next week?"
Bill Mattheson looked up with surprise at his best manager. "You're kidding, right?"
Kerry shrugged. "My sister invited me to join her family on vacation for a few days."
"I didn't realize you knew what a vacation was, Kerry," Bill grinned. "Jessica from HR was just telling me the other day that you have more accrued time than anybody here."

"I took a couple of days when my Dad died," Kerry pointed out.

Bill looked at him like he was nuts. "I don't think bereavement counts as vacation time, Kerry."

"Anyway, just a few days," Kerry replied.

"Listen, you've been going non-stop on this McPearson thing for six months straight," Bill said. "Take as much time as you want. We just need to make sure the McPearson proposal is good to go by August 15th."

"No problem there," Kerry replied. "It's almost all done now. Just gotta give Daniels a hand job to grease the skids and we should be fine."
"Great, then we'll see you when you get back," Bill said, standing from behind his large desk and shaking Kerry's hand.
"I'm not leaving until Saturday," Kerry replied.
"Yes, but even that's pretty spontaneous for you!" Bill laughed.
Kerry frowned before returning to his office, scratching his beard some more as he debated whether or not he should give Ashlyn a call. Was there really any point after all this time?

They became friends in high school, meeting when Ashlyn began dating Kerry's pal Burrows but Ash actually liked Kerry better than Dan and when they broke up Kerry and Ashlyn remained friends and hung out, mostly in a platonic sort of way although Kerry knew even then that he was mad about her.

Ashlyn was the free spirit while Kerry was the prim and proper serious type. She loved to run through the rain, he'd look for the umbrella. She was politically left of Karl Marx, pro-anything that was anti-establishment, including feminism, abortion, gay rights and legalization of drugs while Kerry liked to watch and play sports, avoid controversy, and stay silent. Ashlyn was the first to march and demonstrate while Kerry was the first to stay in his room.

Ashlyn went off to discover the world after high school while Kerry stayed close to home and attended Green College. She had her fair share of triumphs and tragedies in the ensuing years and Kerry tried to be there for her when he could, offering her a place to stay when she was between relationships or jobs or apartments or cities and not talking to her parents. He was her rescuer and saver, coming in the middle of the night to swoop her out of some horrible relationship or driving four states to get her and bring her home.

He knew that Ashlyn was taking advantage of their friendship and using his feelings to her advantage but Kerry didn't care. If he couldn't be her lover, he'd be everything else to her. He knew he would outlast all of her romances and flings and escapes and pleasures and still be there waiting for her when she came to her senses.

But Kerry knew he couldn't sit around waiting for her forever and as much as he hated leaving Hillsboro he couldn't say no when he was given an unbelievable job opportunity in Derry New Hampshire and now, three years into the job and just past his thirtieth birthday, Kerry was finally feeling like he had made the transition from Hillsboro even though he didn't have that great of a social life and he worked sixty hour weeks.

There had been a few relationships along with the way, the last one with Jeri who he met at a conference in Boston. They hit it off but the long distance relationship between Boston and Derry was just too much and she dumped him about a month earlier.

And Ashlyn was still out there, orbiting his life with the occasional reentry when things went bad but apparently the latest guy was the real thing and she moved to North Carolina to be with him. It was only recently that Kerry heard through the Hillsboro gossip mill that Ash was back in Blue County, her 'real thing' apparently not so much and while Kerry hadn't talked to her directly, he knew Ashlyn was struggling after the break up.

Kerry wondered if there was any real reason why he should call her. It had been fifteen years since they first met and while he was still mad about her he was beginning to figure out that she would never feel the same way about him so what was the point of continuing to be her doormat lap dog?

Kerry worked until after six as usual, partly to allow the rush hour traffic to thin out and then he made the ten minute trek to his two bedroom condo in a quaint housing park with plenty of green grass and handsome trees. The condo was a big investment and a commitment to the job far from Blue County and Hillsboro where, sadly, his heart mostly still was. The condo offered a pleasant view but Kerry rarely paid attention – he was always to busy or tired to notice.

He warmed up the previous night's left over take out Chinese in the microwave and took a seat in the dining area to read the paper with the ball game on in the background. Once he was done cleaning up from the meal, Kerry flopped on the couch with the game on mute and he held his cell phone in his hand. Should he call Ashlyn or not? He glanced at the painting she had given him a few years back that hung over the television and he smiled as he opened the cell and hit her auto-number.
"Hello?" It was her voice, but Kerry barely recognized it. She sounded down and defeated.
"Ash?"
"Thibs?"
"It is I," he confirmed, trying to sound upbeat
"Hi," she said, her voice almost breaking.
"How's it going?" Kerry asked, kicking his shoes off and staring at the ceiling.
"Not so good," she confessed in a low voice.
"You working?"
"Not right now," she admitted with a resigned sigh. "I just can't."

"Where are you staying?"

"With Rae for a while," she replied.

"Are you okay?" He asked with concern.

"I don't know," she answered, broken.

"Would you like to get away for a few days?" He asked hopefully.

"What do you mean?" She asked with confusion.

"Mary's vacationing at Lake Ashlant with her family," Kerry told her. "She invited me to spend a few days. Maybe it would do you some good too?"

There was a long pause. Kerry wasn't sure if she was crying or if she had ended the call.

"Ash?"

"I don't think I'm up for that, Thibs," she finally replied. "I'm a mess."

"Well, you can be a mess there," he said. "And it would give us a chance to spend some time together. We never do anymore."

"You're the one who moved," she huffed.

"So did you," he protested. "To North Carolina!"

"Well, I'm back now," she sighed.

"I've been asking you to come up here and be with me for three years."

"Whatever."

"Come to the lake with me," Kerry urged.

There was another long pause. "Maybe," she finally said.

"Is Rae still in the same house?"

"Yeah."

"I'll be there at ten o'clock on Saturday morning. Be ready."

"Are you sure about this? She asked.

"It's summer," Kerry reasoned. "I'll see you Saturday."

"Maybe," she replied and this time the call did end.

Kerry finished the business he needed to get done at the office before the week ended and he packed a large bag on Friday night, although he wasn't quite sure what to bring on vacation since his last one was with his family at Summer Beach when he was a teen.

It was a glorious New England Summer morning when Kerry piled into his car early to make the two hour trip 'home' to Hillsboro and Blue County. Lake Ashlant was another forty miles southwest of there. He drove past his childhood home like he always did whenever he was in town when he reached Hillsboro. His mother had sold the place after Kerry's father died a few years earlier and she was now living with some guy in Riverside.

Kerry stopped in for a cup of coffee at Johnny C's diner on his way to Rae's place, an old farm house on the outskirts of town. Rae was Ashlyn's childhood friend, married with a couple of kids now. The couple had been working on the farmhouse for a decade but Kerry rarely noticed any changes whenever he visited.

He pulled into the long dirt driveway that led to the house and parked in the dirt on the side lot. A couple of kids were sitting on the side porch and a mangy mutt came to sniff at Kerry's legs as he climbed out of the car. Some chickens were behind the house and two horses were grazing in the pasture.

Rae stepped out of the side door and smiled at Kerry. They always got along well. "Hey, you," she said with encouragement.

"Hey, Rae," Kerry replied, giving her a hug. She was a husky woman with long black hair she wore in a braid.

"You keep coming back," Rae sighed with appreciation.

"Yeah, I never learn," he said sarcastically. "How's our friend?"

"Not well, I'm afraid," Rae sighed. "I'm hoping you can spark some life into her. She's been moping around here for weeks. I'm really worried."

Kerry was surprised to hear such a downbeat prognosis from Ashlyn's biggest supporter and cheerleader.

"Ash! Thibs is here!" Rae called through the screen door.

"We're burning daylight!" Kerry yelled out, quoting John Wayne in the movie The Cowboys.

A few moments later, Ashlyn emerged from the shadows of the house and for a moment Kerry almost didn't recognize her. She looked terrible - drawn, thin, sad, unkempt even. Her formerly Chestnut colored hair was now some sort of weird blonde but it looked like it needed to be dyed again. It was frazzled with split ends and it was cut oddly. Her trademark smile was missing and her eyes were hollow. Instead of luggage, her belongings were cramped in a green trash bag. She was barefooted and her feet were dirty. There were dry paint marks on her legs and she was wearing a dress that looked more like a potato sack which was strange because Ashlyn was usually one of the best dressed women Kerry knew.

"You ready to go?" Kerry asked, tossing Rae a look of disbelief.

"No," Ashlyn replied as she dragged herself to the car.

Rae took Kerry by the arm and held him back. "I've found that it's best just to placate her," she whispered. "Don't argue with her and don't try to sweet talk her. Just let her feel her pain."

"What in hell did this guy do to her?" Kerry asked.

"Broke her heart," Rae replied.

"Bastard," Kerry grumbled.

"And here you are again," Rae remarked, shaking her head. "She doesn't deserve a guy like you, Kerry."

"Sure she does," he sighed, starting for the car.

Ashlyn had tossed her trash bag in the back seat and she was now seated in the passenger's seat.

"Hey, have a great time, sweetie," Rae told her friend through the open window.

"Yeah, right," Ashlyn replied sarcastically in a monotone voice.

Rae threw Kerry an encouraging look of hopefulness mixed with desperation as he nodded and climbed behind the wheel of the car.

"We'll be back in a few days," Kerry remarked as he stared the car. He waved to Rae and her two kids before backing the car out of the driveway and starting for the lake.

Ashlyn didn't say anything for the first five miles of the ride, although she did grab the pine tree air freshener off of the rear view mirror and hurl it out the window.

"It would have been nice if we had time to stop by Johnny C's just like old times," Kerry sighed when he finally couldn't take the silence anymore but Ashlyn didn't reply.

"Have you ever been to Lake Ashland?" Kerry wondered, hoping to make conversation when Ashlyn remained mute. "I always thought they named it after you," he revealed when it became obvious that she wasn't going to talk. "I've only been a couple of times. No need with Sun Rise Lake just up the road but my father took us there a couple of times when we were kids."

Ashlyn stared blankly out the window at the passing scenery and Kerry didn't see much point in continuing the one sided conversation so he stuck a disc of The Proclaimers into the CD, a present from Ash several years earlier. 'I Would Walk 500 Miles' pounded out of the speakers.

Kerry had never seen Ashlyn so despondent and comatose before. There had always been drama in her life but she seemed to get through it with determination and even a stubborn resiliency that showed a great inner strength but Kerry saw none of that in her now. She looked like she had been sapped of all her energy, enthusiasm, spirit, and maybe even her will to get through her pain.

He let her vegetate, stuffing in The Beatles White Album into the CD Player when The Proclaimers were finished, another gift Ashlyn had given Kerry several years earlier. It was still a pleasant ride despite Ashlyn's unresponsive state. Kerry had taken the back roads from Hillsboro through the hills of Western Massachusetts, past woods and farm houses, and rural small towns. It was the first time he found himself relaxing in a long time and a whole four hours had gone by without him thinking about the office, work, or the damn McPearson Project.

They could smell the lake before they could see it and suddenly as Kerry negotiated a curve in the road, Lake Ashlant appeared before them in all its breathtaking beauty. Kerry saw that Lake Ashlant was bigger than Sun Rise Lake, lined with cottages, inns, and houses along its shore. The lake surface was dotted with speed boats, sailboats, canoes, rowboats and water skis, but it was noticeably peaceful, quiet and serene despite the activity. Kerry could smell propane gas and charcoal from various cottages and grills as they slowly drove along the shore road.

Kerry fished out Mary's e-mail from behind the visor and followed her directions until he reached a small dirt road with a sign that read "Hartwell Road" on a tree. He turned onto it and drove past a few cottages until he reached a lot between a cottage and some woods with the sign "Hartwell" on it.

"I guess this is it," Kerry said, recognizing Mary's Volvo station wagon and her husband Bruce's pick up truck parked underneath some trees.

He maneuvered his car off the road and parked it next to Mary's vehicle. Ashlyn barely budged as Kerry climbed out of the car and grabbed his canvas bag and her trash bag from the car. He dug his cell phone from his pocket and called his sister.

"Hello?"

"We're here," Kerry announced.

"Oh great!" Mary exclaimed happily. "See that path behind the cars?"

Kerry glanced around. "Yeah."

"Follow it down to the lake and wait for me," she ordered. "I'll be there in about five minutes."

The line went dead and Kerry shrugged. Ashlyn has crawled out of the car and was glancing around blankly, still silent.

"Come on," Kerry told her. "Follow me."

They walked down the path through the woods, listening to the sounds of the lake in front of them, the small waves lapping the shore, the boats motoring by, the laughter of children in the distance. The path emptied out onto a shore with a dock but there wasn't anybody around. Kerry glanced around, looking for his sister and his family but the cottage to the right looked empty and the house to their left was clearly a year round home and there was an older couple sitting in wooden chairs on the grassy knoll above the lake.

"I don't understand," Kerry remarked with a frown. "What's going on?"

Ashlyn sat on the dock and stuck her bare feet in the lake water, lifting back her head and taking in a huge breath of lake air. Kerry glanced around impatiently and a few minutes later the sound of a motor could be heard from the distance. Kerry stared out at the lake and noticed a silver fiberglass rowboat with an outboard on the back heading toward the dock. There was a woman in the craft sitting on the back bench and steering the motor, her blonde hair blowing in the breeze and as the boat got closer Kerry realized that it was his sister, Mary, wearing a one piece blue bathing suit underneath a white life jacket.

She slowed the boat as it reached the dock and pulled up on the opposite side as to not disturb Ashlyn who was still sitting on the side.

"Where did you come from?" Kerry asked with confusion.

"Out there!" Mary laughed, pointing out toward the lake. "It's great to see you two! Come on, hop in!"

"Where are we going?" Kerry wondered.

"Out to the island!" Mary informed him.

"The island?" Kerry asked with a frown.

Mary pointed toward the middle of the lake. "Out there."

"We're staying on an island!" Kerry asked.

"Yep!" Mary beamed excitedly

"What the hell is on the island?" Kerry wanted to know as he tossed the luggage into the boat and then waited for Ashley to get up from her sitting position on the dock.

"It's a small island with a single cottage on it," Mary said with amusement. "Great get away place. Very isolated. Private. Secluded."

"You're kidding," Kerry replied, caught off guard by the unexpected development.

"Come on!" Mary insisted.

Kerry assisted the silent Ashlyn into the boat. She sat at the bow with her back to Mary and Kerry took the middle bench, facing his sister.

"So, what a great day weather wise, huh!" Mary asked happily as she fired up the motor and slowly started pulling the boat away from the dock as her two passengers put on their life jackets. "It's a quick trip out there," she let them know. "Just enjoy the ride."

Kerry nodded and glanced at Ashlyn to make sure she was okay.

"Rough times, huh?" Mary asked, gesturing toward the front of the boat.

Kerry sighed but didn't say anything.

"Isn't this great?" Mary asked as she sped the boat across the lake surface. "What a fantastic idea!"

Kerry didn't say anything as boat sped along but he had to admit that the lake air was peaceful, the sun warm on his face, and the breeze a gentle relaxant as he watched the scenery around them.

"There it is!" Mary called, pointing over the bow of the boat toward a small island getting bigger as they approached.

Kerry squinted, thinking maybe that was his brother in law Bruce and the kids standing on the dock waiting for their arrival. Mary slowed the engine and maneuvered the boat to a large dock/deck in front of the small island. The deck was at least twenty yards long and ten yards deep, taking up most of the front of the island. There was a sail boat, a large rubber raft, and a yellow canoe around the large wooden structure.

"It's called Little Island," Mary told them as the boat puttered to the dock. "Doctor Hartwell built the cottage about forty years ago. The family still owns it and they rent it out."

"What cottage?" Kerry asked, squinting at the island.

"That's the beauty of the place," Mary grinned. "You can't see the cottage from the lake. It's nestled in the middle of all those woods. "You could run around naked and nobody would know."

She brought the boat to a stop at the dock and Kerry lifted the bags from the boat, tossing them onto the dock as Bruce helped Ashlyn from the bow.

"This is like being in Paradise!" Mary exclaimed as she climbed out of the boat and glanced around at the wide dock with several chairs on it.

"Kerry!" Bruce greeted his brother in law with a slap on the back and a hearty hand shake as Kerry climbed out of the boat. Bruce was wearing a bathing suit, a tee shirt, and a Red Sox ball cap. "Welcome to the island!"

"Uncle Kerry!"

Kerry's ten year old niece Maggie gave him a welcoming hug while her six year old brother Matt stood shyly behind his father who was trying to make small talk with the silent Ashlyn. Ash had been to enough of Kerry's birthday celebrations and other family gatherings over the years to be quite familiar with the family but she didn't say anything as she followed the excited Maggie toward the three sets of wooden stairs that criss-crossed up the embankment in front of them.

"What's wrong with her?" Bruce asked, scratching his moustache.

"She's going through a hard time," Kerry replied.

"Again?" Bruce muttered with annoyance. "That girl is addicted to drama."

"Well she came to the right place to recover," Mary said knowingly. "Come on."

Kerry followed the others up the stairs through the woods to an opening at the top. In the middle of the small clearing was a log cabin type cottage with large bay windows along the front and a huge wooden deck in front of it. Several lawn chairs, a picnic table, and a grill dotted the deck.

"Very nice," Kerry remarked, glancing around.

Maggie had already led Ashlyn into the cottage and the others followed. There was a large open living room with a stone chimney and fire place. Behind the living room was a kitchen and to the right a small bathroom. A small hallway to the left led to several bedrooms and a large screened in porch on the far end that overlooked the lake.

Kerry noticed that there were a couple of bookcases in the living room filled with old paperbacks and other books, a bunch of board games, and a few deck of cards but there was no television, radio, computer, stereo or other electronic devices in the place.

"There's a generator behind the house so we need to be sure to keep the gas tank filled and the generator going if we want electricity to keep the refrigerator food fresh," Bruce revealed.

"There are also instructions about priming the pump in the bathroom to keep the toilet going and the shower working," Mary added.

Bruce and Matt went outside and Mary led Kerry down the hall to where Maggie had brought Ashlyn into one of the bedrooms which was small with a double bed, a dresser and a chair room with one window that offered a view of the island trees behind the cottage.

"Is this going to be okay?" Kerry asked Ashlyn as he set the luggage down but she didn't say anything in response. "You don't mind sharing?"

"Come on, Maggie, let's give Uncle Kerry and Ash some privacy," Mary said, leading her daughter from the room.

Kerry glanced around. The walls were wood. A single bulb hung from a wire above them and there was a small light over the bed and he saw that Ashlyn had rolled into a fetal position on the bed.

"You're not just going to hang out in here are you?" He asked with surprise.

She mumbled something he didn't make out.

"Well, it looks petty nice out there," Kerry replied. "I think I'll go hang out with the family. Join us when you're ready."

He opened his bag on the floor and dug out a bathing suit. Her back was to him and he turned his back to her and changed out of his clothes.

"I'll see you later," he whispered gently before slowly leaving the room, hoping she might join him but there was no movement on her part.

Mary was making sandwiches in the kitchen. "Is she going to be okay?" She asked.

"I don't know," Kerry answered honestly. "But let's give it some time."

"They say this place is magical," Mary replied. "Doctor Hartwell's daughter told us that good things happen on this island."

"I think Ash could use a miracle right about now," Kerry remarked.

"What about you?" Mary asked with interest.

"Well, she's here with me," Kerry sighed. "I guess that's a start."

"There's plenty of soda in the frig and snacks in the cupboards," Mary told him. "I'll bring the sandwiches down to the dock in a few minutes."

"Great," Kerry replied, going to the frig and grabbing a coke. "Thanks for calling, Mary. This is really out of the world."

"I thought you could use an escape," Mary replied. "You work way too much."

"Looks like Ash could use the escape too," Kerry noted.

"How long are you going to wait for her, Kerry?" His sister asked.

"I don't know," he admitted, knowing that fifteen years was a long time.

What was one more drama after an endless series of ongoing dramas? What would be different this time? An island in summer?

Kerry stepped into the living room, scoping out the books on the bookcase since he neglected to bring some reading material of his own. He saw Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird and decided that was some worthwhile summer reading. He hadn't read it since high school. He took the book and headed down to the dock, claiming one of the deck chairs as his own.

Bruce was in a similar seat with a pair of binoculars in his lap.

"What are those for?" Kerry asked.

"Babe watching," Bruce grinned. "The boats come right by here all the time."

"Don't feed the ducks, Uncle Kerry," Maggie warned him. "They'll poop all over the place if you do."

"And they'll never leave," Bruce complained.

"What's wrong with Ashford?" little Matt wanted to know.

"She's sad, Matt," Kerry explained. "She needs a vacation."

"Well, she came to the right place," Matt responded.

Mary appeared with the sandwiches and they enjoyed a nice lunch by the water's edge. Kerry spent most of the afternoon basking in the warm summer sun, relaxing, and letting go of the McPearson Project while wondering about poor Ashlyn isolating in the cottage. She should be out here with him letting the summer sun reenergize her.

Bruce took the kids out for a boat ride and Mary and Kerry took the canoe out for a spin too. It took Kerry a while to get the hang of it, keeping the balance, paddling correctly, and steering the canoe in the right direction but he found it to be exhilarating and fun.

"It really is nice here," he told his sister as they maneuvered around the island.

"Summer Beach is great but we wanted to try something different," Mary explained. "I saw this place advertised during the winter and thought an island sounded ideal."

"Why'd you call me?"

"I told you, you need to take some time off!" Mary laughed. "You really need to slow down and smell the lake water, Kerry! Plus, I've missed you since you moved away."

"How come you didn't invite Emily or Josh?"

"You know they're both crazy!" Mary groaned. "I'm here for peace and quiet. Who needs them ruining it for us?"

Mary was the oldest and Kerry the second born. Emily was two years behind Kerry, an emotional head case and a self-centered brat who blamed everybody else for her problems while Josh was a drunk at twenty-six, drifting from job to job and relationship to relationship and spending the last three months on Mary and Bruce's pull out basement couch with the dog.

"What if Ashlyn ruins it for us?" Kerry worried.

"She'll be okay," Mary said with confidence. "She just needs to find her way."

"How come you didn't invite Mom?" Kerry asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Don't start with me!" Mary groaned. "She wouldn't have come anyway."

Their mother was already having an affair when their father died and Mary was not about to forgive her for that transgression. Their momther was now living with the guy and none of the children wanted much to do with him, considering him a home wrecker even with their father dead.

"Dad would have loved this," Kerry said as they gently continued to paddle.

"Oh, he was an ocean guy first," Mary insisted.

"He took us to Sun Rise Lake all the time."

"Because the ocean was two hours away!" Mary laughed.

"I miss everything about him," Kerry sighed.

"I miss everything we did together," Mary added. "That's why I wanted to do this. In his memory. He loved the summer and he loved family."

"I'd forgotten what summer's like," Kerry replied, raising his face up to the sun and smiling.

They made their way back to the dock and Kerry took a dip in the lake before sunning himself on the dock.

It was late afternoon when Ashlyn made her first appearance on the dock since disappearing into her room. She was still wearing the same potato sack dress and she sat on the dock with her feet in the water over the side. Matt strolled over to her after a few quiet minutes and sat down next to her.

"I was sad yesterday," the little boy told the big girl. He pointed at a bump on his arm. "A bee stung me."

Ashlyn slowly turned to him and stared as if she was apprehending spoken words for the first time all day.

"But I'm okay now," Matt said proudly. "And you'll be too, I bet."

Kerry saw the first semblance of a smile on Ashlyn's face and he smiled too, feeling the first bit of hope since picking her up at Rae's even though she still hadn't spoken.

Bruce fired up the grill later and cooked some steaks which the family ate at the picnic table along with some potato salad and peas. Kerry took another swim and then played a game of chess with Mary on the dock while Ashlyn sat in one of the lounge chairs watching the sun set when Maggie and Matt weren't trying to converse with her, although Kerry still hadn't heard her speak.

Later, they played Hearts on the picnic table, Mary and Bruce nursing beers while Ashlyn drank the hard stuff. Kerry stuck with coke. It was a bit of a challenge playing with Ashlyn who barely said a word all night but Bruce was full of funny stories and comments and Mary was a competitive card player so it wasn't a boring evening but by the time Mary and Bruce were ready to call it a night, Kerry realized that Ashlyn was pretty well bagged. It was dark with a bright moon and a gentle summer night breeze. Bruce and Mary went to bed but Ashlyn wanted to take a dip.

"I think you're too drunk for that," Kerry advised.

"So what?" Ashlyn protested.

"You don't want to drown," Kerry warned.

"I don't?" Ashlyn asked bitterly.

They walked down the stairs to the dock, Kerry spotting Ashlyn so she wouldn't stumble in her drunkenness and when they reached the water's edge, she puked into the lake.

"God, I'm pathetic," Ashlyn grumbled with disgust.

"You're drunk," Kerry replied.

"No shit, Sherlock," she snapped. "I'm also miserable, depressed, suicidal, anorexic, bulimic and maybe even insane."

"Well, nobody's perfect," Kerry replied.

Ashlyn looked at him with disbelief. "You're a moron!" She realized before pushing him into the lake.

He was laughing when he resurfaced and he saw the hint of a smile on her face too before she turned and stumbled toward the stairs. Kerry pulled himself from the water and found a towel hanging from one of the tree branches, wiping himself off before quietly making his way to the cottage which was dark and silent when he entered.

Ashlyn was already lying in bed when he entered their small bedroom and he changed out of his wet clothes in the dark, putting on a pair of gym shorts and a tee shirt.

"It is okay if I sleep in the same bed with you, right?" He asked cautiously.

"Where else you going to sleep?" She asked, her back to him.

He slipped under the sheet beside her, lying on his back while she lay on her side away from him looking out the window. He noticed that the potato sack was on the floor and he feared maybe she was naked under the sheet so he peeked under and saw that she was wearing panties and a sports bra. He wasn't sure if he was relieved or disappointed.

A long time passed and Kerry was certain that Ashley had fallen asleep.

"I really thought he was the one." Her voice pieced the stillness of the night.

"What happened?" He asked quietly.

"We were talking marriage. Kids. He had a great job down there in Durham. I thought everything was great. I was happy and content. Living the good life."

"What happened?" Kerry repeated.

"He came home one day and said he didn't want to be with me anymore."

"Just like that?" Kerry asked with surprise.

"Just like that," she confirmed.

"No warnings? No signs? No signals?"

"None that I saw," she sighed. "I thought he was joking around at first. He said it in such a matter of fact way that I thought he was setting up for a punch line to a joke or something. Then I realized the joke was on me."

"No explanation? No reason?"

She shook her head. "He packed a bag and told me he'd stay with a friend until I left the apartment."

"What a complete and total asshole," Kerry sighed.

"For the life of me, I still don't know what happened," she admitted. "I think about it all the time. Why did I do wrong? What didn't I do right? Was it something I said? Didn't say? Was I a lousy lay? A boring bitch? A lazy slob? Was I supposed to work? Not work?"

"Why did he ask you to move down there with him in the first place?" Kerry asked.

"I thought because he wanted me with him," she said. "I mean, we had been doing the long distance thing for a while and I know relationships change when you finally get together full time after being a part and all that, but what could have possibly changed between us?"

"Maybe he just liked his independence and freedom," Kerry guessed. "Maybe he liked it better alone."

"Yeah, some good time sex and some dinners out when we got together every few months," Ashlyn complained. "But then when it came time to full time commitment, responsibilities, and obligations, he couldn't handle it." She sounded bitter.

"It's really on him, not you, Ash," Kerry said softly.

"You want to know what the most ironic part of the whole thing is?" She asked, still with her back to him.

"What?" He asked, gently placing his chin on the back of her shoulder.

"After living the free spirited life all this time, running around and doing what I wanted, goofing off, hopping from guy to guy, smoking dope and sniffing crack, doing all that stupid stuff while alienating my family and burning my bridges, I finally meet a guy who I think is the one I want to spend the rest of my life with so I get clean and sober, I calm down, I get serious, and I make a commitment to him. I want the happy life with the house with the picket fence and 2.5 kids and Saturday evening barbeques and Sunday morning Church and the PTA and the whole nine yards and after all that he tells me he's not interested anymore. I've never felt so violated, betrayed, and used."

"I'm sorry it happened to you," Kerry remarked quietly.

"Yeah, me too," she sighed.

He put his arms around her waist and hugged her close from behind. She didn't resist but the conversation was over and that's how they fell asleep.

The bed was empty when Kerry woke in the morning and he was surprised that Ashlyn wasn't there. For a moment, he panicked, thinking she might have drunkenly stumbled back to the lake or something in her despair, dramatically flinging herself off the dock to drown herself in her sorrows.

He threw on some shorts and went out into the living room to find Ashlyn sitting there playing checkers with Matt. Maggie was sprawled out on the couch reading a kid's magazine.

"Oh, hey," Kerry said with relief, rubbing his hands through his hair.

Ashlyn nodded but she didn't say anything.

"Pancakes?" Mary called from the kitchen.

"Huh? Oh. Yeah. Sure." Kerry looked around with confusion. "Where's Bruce?"

"Fishing," Mary replied warmly. "Everybody already ate."

"What time is it?" Kerry asked with surprise.

"After nine," Mary reported.

"Wow. I haven't slept in this late since…"

"Never," Ashlyn finished for him.

"Aren't vacations nice?" Mary smiled.

"I love summer," Matt spoke up.

"See what happens when you relax and let go, Kerry?" Mary wanted to know. "Time slows down. Everything becomes calm and unimportant. Summer is when nothing matters."

"Summer afternoon - Summer afternoon... the two most beautiful words in the English language," Ashlyn spoke up, surprising everybody. "Henry James said that. I remember it from English class for some strange reason."

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer's lease hath all too short a date," Kerry offered. "Shakespeare."

"Sonnet XVIII," Ashlyn confirmed.

"I got a fortune cookie once that said 'A life without love is like a year without summer," Mary reported.

"Then followed that beautiful season... Summer...Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood," Ashlyn said. "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow."

"Oh, I can beat all of those," Maggie laughed, jumping off the couch and prancing to the middle of the room where she started to sing and dance:

Summer lovin' had me a blast
Summer lovin' happened so fast
I met a girl crazy for me
I met a boy, cute as can be

Summer days driftin' away
To uh-oh, those summer nights

Tell me more, tell me more
Did you get very far?
Tell me more, tell me more
Like, does he have a car?

She swam by me, she got a cramp
He went by me, got my suit damp
I saved her life, she nearly drowned
He showed up, splashing around

Summer sun, something's begun
But uh-oh, those summer nights

Tell me more, tell me more
Was it love at first sight?
Tell me more, tell me more
Did she put up a fight?

Took her bowlin' in the Arcade
We went strollin', drank lemonade
We made out under the dock
We stayed up until ten o'clock

Summer fling don't mean a thing
But uh-oh, those summer nights

Tell me more, tell me more
But you don't gotta brag
Tell me more, tell me more
'Cause he sounds like a drag

He got friendly, holdin' my hand
Well, she got friendly, down in the sand
He was sweet, just turned eighteen
Well, she was good, you know what I mean?

Summer heat, boy and girl meet
But uh-oh, those summer nights

Tell me more, tell me more
How much dough did he spend?
Tell me more, tell me more
Could she get me a friend?

It turned colder, that's where it ends
So I told her we'd still be friends
Then we made our true love vow
Wonder what she's doin' now

Summer dreams ripped at the seams
But oh, those summer nights

Tell me more, tell me more

Kerry and Ashlyn stared at the girl as she finished her performance.

"Grease," Mary explained. "Maggie did it in her dance class last month."

"Very good!" Kerry laughed.

"Thanks, Uncle Kerry," Maggie beamed.

Mary put a plate of pancakes down on the table and Kerry gladly ate them.

"I'm going to go into town and pick up a few things when Bruce gets back," Mary reported. "Anybody need anything?"

"I do," Ashlyn replied, jumping up from the card table where Matt had just finished beating her at checkers.

Ashlyn walked with Mary outside chatting softly while Kerry finished his pancakes, feeling hopeful now that Ash was beginning to show signs of life. It was another glorious summer day outside Kerry could tell as he watched Mary and Ashlyn chatting adamantly.

"Everything okay?" Kerry asked when Ashlyn came back inside.

"Don't worry about it," Mary told him as she entered behind Ashlyn. "Just never you mind."

Kerry frowned but didn't say anything as he washed his plate in the sink and then went to use the bathroom. When he was done, he went into the bedroom and put on another bathing suit and tee shirt and then he headed down to the dock with his book where the others were already gathered.

He was surprised to find Ashlyn wearing a one piece blue bathing suit, standing in the water up to her chest, soaping herself up and washing her hair in the lake water.

"She said she stank," Matt explained as he sat on the dock watching her.

"No, you said I stank!" Ashlyn called from the water.

"Sorry," Matt replied.

"Ha Ha Ha!" Maggie laughed.

"It's okay to stink on vacation," Kerry replied with a smile as he took a seat in his chair and opened his book, although he kept one eye on Ashlyn as she bathed in the water.

Bruce returned from his fishing expedition without a catch but in a good mood and a few minutes later Mary was manning the boat to head to shore to do some shopping.

Ashlyn helped Matt make a sand castle on the one small stretch of sandy beach on the far side of the dock. The strip was only about ten feet long and maybe five feet deep.

"Don't use up all the sand!" Bruce joked when he saw that Matt and Ashlyn were constructing a huge structure.

"We can dig all the way to China if we have to, Dad!" Matt laughed.

"You'll sink the island!" Kerry warned.

"So, the crisis is over?" Bruce asked Kerry quietly knowing they were out of Ashlyn's ear shot.

"I'm not sure," Kerry admitted with a shrug. "But I hope so."

Mary returned from the shopping later and Ashlyn joined her on the dock.

"Did you get it?" Ashlyn asked.

"Yep," Mary replied happily.

"Get what?" Kerry wondered.

"Never you mind," Mary replied.

Maggie giggled as she followed Mary and Ashlyn up the stairs to the cottage, all three carrying bags from the grocery store. Kerry joined Bruce and Matt on a boat ride across the lake to the Marina to get more gas for the boat and the generator. Kerry enjoyed the sight seeing tour as Bruce showed him his favorite fishing places and some of the more interesting homes along the shore.

By the time they got back to the island, the three girls were seated on the dock, Ashlyn in one of the lounge chairs still in her bathing suit (with shorts over it) with a big yellow sun hat on her head reading a magazine and looking half way cheerful. Maggie was giggling again as the guys got out of the boat.

"What's so funny, Mags?" Her father asked.

"Oh, nothing," Maggie replied, giggling some more.

Kerry helped Bruce bring one of the gas cans to the generator area behind the cottage and then Bruce fired up the grill again and cooked some burgers for a late lunch. Maggie was still giggling as the family sat around the picnic table.

"What are you giggling about?" Bruce wanted to know.

"Nothing," Maggie replied and now Matt was giggling too although he had no idea why.

"What's going on?" Bruce asked Mary.

"Nothing, really," Mary replied with a smile.

"Hey, Uncle Kerry, why don't you take Ashlyn's hat off?" Maggie asked with a laugh.

"Why would I want to do that?" Kerry asked as he chewed on his burger.

"Oh, I don't know," Maggie said with a shrug.

Kerry glanced at Ashlyn. "Why would I want to do that?"

"Oh, I don't know," Ashlyn smiled.

"You didn't shave your head did you?" Kerry asked, semi-joking although he wouldn't put something like that past her.

"Don't be silly," Mary said, rolling her eyes.

Matt stood up on the picnic table seat, reached over and pulled Ashlyn's hat off before anybody could stop him.

"Matthew! That's not nice!" His mother scolded.

"It's okay," Ashlyn replied.

Kerry was surprised to see that Ashlyn's hair was back to its normal chestnut color and that somebody (presumed to be Mary) had trimmed it too.

"Wow!" Kerry said with a surprised smile. "You look great!"

"Thanks," Ashlyn replied sheepishly. "I know I kind of let myself go lately. The last hair color choice was definitely a bad idea. I was trying to be a southern belle."

"Mom said you could see your roots," Maggie remarked.

"Maggie!" Mary cringed with embarrassment.

"Ashlyn has a tree?" Matt asked in confusion.

"Not that sort of roots, stupid," Maggie said.

"I'm not stupid!" Matt protested.

"Both of you hush!" Mary ordered.

The group finished their lunch and Kerry kept smiling at Ashlyn who actually smiled back.

The family spent the rest of the day down on the dock. Kerry took a dip in the cool water, sunned himself on the dock, read some more of his book, and chatted with Ash, Mary and Bruce as the day wore on. Later in the day, Ashlyn said she wanted to try out the large rubber raft so Kerry dragged it out from its secure place wedged between some trees and put it in the water. He climbed into the raft first and Ashlyn climbed in after him, sitting 'nut to butt' as Bruce said they called it in the Navy with Ash sitting in front of Kerry but close enough to him that her buns were almost in his groin. Using one of the canoe paddles, Kerry leisurely maneuvered the raft about thirty feet from the island although they needed to be careful in case some stupid motorboat didn't see them and ran them over!

Once they were out far enough from the shore, Kerry stopped paddling and Ashlyn lay her head against his chest. They let the raft float on the smooth lake surface and it felt like they were in a different world. Ashlyn closed her eyes and took in the warm summer sun and the sounds of the lake and the soothing rocking feel of the water underneath them.

"This is really nice," Ashlyn said after a while.

"Yeah," Kerry happily agreed, resisting the urge to stroke her hair although he did wrap his arms around her waist and take hold of her hands that were set in her lap.

"So what happened to that girl you were seeing?" Ashlyn asked.

"It didn't work out," Kerry answered.

"How come?"

"She lives in Boston. It was hard getting together."

"I know how that feels," Ashlyn deadpanned. "You don't seem to be all that broken up about it."

Kerry shrugged. "These things happen."

"You never seem to be all that broken up about any of your failed relationships."

"I can think of one," Kerry replied mysteriously.

It would have been easy to fall asleep in the drifting raft with its comfortable peacefulness but Kerry didn't want to wake up five miles from the island so he started to slowly paddle the raft back towards the dock although neither of them really shifted their position. Mary was all smiles when the raft made it to the dock and she helped Ashlyn out of the craft while Kerry rolled off it and into the water to cool down from the hot sun.

They sat around the dock watching the sun slowly sink in the western sky while reading and chatting. Bruce showed Maggie how to bait a worm and Matt threw some bread at the ducks even though he wasn't supposed to.

The group enjoyed a late dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, sitting at the picnic table outside while dusk settled. After clean up and putting the kids to bed, it was another few games of Hearts although this time Ashlyn didn't drink and she actually joined in the conversation taking place around the table. Before the night was over, Ash was smiling and even laughing a few times and Kerry felt like it was old times again.

Bruce liked to rise early in the morning for fishing so he was the first to call it a night. Mary hung out a while longer, talking about how great of a vacation she was having.

"I didn't even turn on the car radio when I went shopping today," she said. "I like being isolated like this, not knowing what's going on in the real world, no news, no tragedies to worry about. It's great being totally oblivious. Bruce told me to get the Sunday papers but I didn't. Who cares?"

"But how are the Red Sox doing?" Kerry joked.

"Josh could be burning our house down right now and I wouldn't know or care!" Mary laughed. "Goodnight, you two," she added as she headed for her room.

Kerry and Ashlyn stayed outside for a while longer, watching the stars and moon in the beautiful sky above. They walked down to the dock to take one last look at the lake before turning in.

"How come every time my life turns to shit you turn up with the pooper scooper?" Ashlyn asked.

"That's what friends are for," Kerry replied, taking her hand in his as they stood at the edge of the dock in the dark listening to the quiet laps of the waves. "Do you want to go for a swim tonight?" He asked. "You're not drunk this time."

"I already changed out of my bathing suit," she replied, motioning to the shorts and tee shirt she was wearing.

"Who needs a suit?" He asked with a grin.

She elbowed him in the ribs and giggled but then she sighed. "We were at a party one night at some river somewhere and everybody started stripping and jumping into the water. I started to too but then Rich grabbed my arm and said nobody but him gets to see me naked."

"A little possessive maybe?" Kerry wondered.

"I think that was my first warning sign," Ashlyn agreed. "He was a little controlling. He even controlled how our relationship ended."

"I'm sorry," Kerry replied.

"I don't know why I keep thinking of him," Ashlyn sighed. "Rae keeps telling me that I need to forget about him."

"I find myself forgetting about everything when I'm here," Kerry told her.

"I guess I'm starting too," Ashlyn agreed as she headed for the steps leading back to the cottage.

Kerry waited until he was sure she was gone before he stripped out of his clothes and dove naked into the lake for a midnight skinny dip although he sure did wish she had joined him.

Ashlyn was already in bed when Kerry returned to the cottage, dried and dressed from his skinny dip. He slipped into the bed beside her.

"Your hair's wet," Ashlyn realized.

"I went for a swim."

"You should never swim alone, especially at night," Ashlyn cautioned.

"Yeah," he agreed.

"Good night, Kerry," Ashlyn said quietly after a few moments.

"'Night, Ash," he replied.

He was alone in the bed when he woke in the morning and he was surprised that he had slept in again. The Island sure was peaceful and relaxing and he hadn't slept like this in a long time.

Kerry rolled out of bed and found that the cottage was empty. He glanced at the clock in the kitchen and was stunned to see that it was nearly ten o'clock. It was hard to keep track of time on the island not that it matter much. He used the bathroom and then grabbed a banana and headed down to the dock where the others had already gathered for another glorious summer day of sun and blue skies.

"It's supposed to hit ninety today," Bruce was saying as Kerry said his good mornings and took a seat in his usual chair.

Ashlyn was using the raft as a mattress as she sat in it on the dock reading a book she lifted from the bookcase in the living room. Kerry flipped open his book and started reading too and it was a good half hour later when he realized that it was Monday morning and for a moment he wondered what was going on at work and if anybody needed him and if he was missing any important phone calls or meetings. But then he realized that none of that crap mattered because it was summer, he was on vacation, and on the island there was nothing to worry about.

"Hey, you want to go for a canoe ride?" Ashlyn asked.

"Sure!" Kerry said welcomingly.

The two climbed into the yellow canoe with Ashlyn in the bow.

"That canoe looks like a giant banana," Matt observed from his spot on the deck.

Kerry and Ashlyn paddled the craft out into the lake and made their way to the far shore, staying close enough to the shore line to avoid motorboats and water skiers and jet skis. They took a leisurely ride, close enough to the shore to heard conversations of people sitting on docks. Occasionally people would wave to them and they would wave back.

"This is nice," Ashlyn said, glancing at him over her shoulder as they gently paddled along.

"Yes, it is," Kerry agreed smiling back at her.

She was wearing a blue one piece bathing suit with small gym shorts underneath and the way she was sitting on the canoe bench Kerry couldn't help but notice the curves of her hips and the tightness of her buns.

"You don't really have an eating disorder do you?" Kerry asked with concern.

He could hear her audibly sigh. "Bruce and Mary are good cooks," she said after a long pause. "I'm eating here."

He let it go, satisfied that the summer island was helping her bounce back physically as well as mentally.

She turned around again and looked at him, lifting up her sunglasses to squint at him. "As Matt would say, I'm okay now," she smiled.

"Glad to hear it," Kerry replied. "I smell barbeque," he said, changing the subject and indeed there was smoke pouring from somebody's grill along the shore.

"Maybe we should head back," Ashlyn suggested. "We're going to miss lunch."

By the time they paddled all the way back to the island, the others had eaten but Ashlyn warmed up some of the left over spaghetti for her and Kerry and they ate it in the coolness of the cottage. When they were done, they returned to the dock to soak up the afternoon sun.

Kerry and Ashlyn ended up sitting together inside the raft on the dock.

"Vacation is a word that barely exists in my vocabulary these days," Kerry admitted as they basked in the warm summer sun. "It's been a long time since summer vacations have been part of my life."

"We still go to Summer Beach every year," Mary said from her nearby chair.

'Hell, Derry is only about a half hour from there and I never go," Kerry sighed. "What's wrong with me?"

"You got sucked up into the rat race," Bruce theorized.

"Maybe I'm just dull," Kerry grumbled.

"Na, you just lost perspective and screwed up your priorities," Ashlyn replied.

"I can't remember the last time I did nothing," Kerry admitted. "Sleeping in? Reading a book? Working on my tan? Paddling a canoe? Wow!"

"Congratulations!" Ashlyn laughed.

Dark clouds began to fill the western sky and the rest of the afternoon was watching the storm form and brew. By five o'clock, the entire sky was gray and threatening, the wind had picked up and the lake began to churn.

Bruce and Kerry secured the boats and the lose gear while Mary and Ashlyn made sure the cottage was ready to take on any potential storm. They continued sitting on the dock, daring the storm to strike and it wasn't until the first lightning bolts flashed across the skies that they abandoned the dock, heading for the cottage just as the skies opened and the rain poured down while the wind began to gust.

They occupied themselves by playing board games in front of the living room window while watching the storm outside.

"This is better than television," Matt said when a branch went flying by.

They had beans and hot dogs for supper and it was still storming when the kids went to bed, the lightening dancing across the sky and lighting up the night. The adults played Hearts through the storm and then, almost instantaneously, the rains stopped, the thunder silenced and the lightning ceased. They went outside to survey the island for damage and to make sure all the boats were still there and they could feel the heat left behind from the storm hanging in the air.

"That was pretty neat," Bruce remarked and the others agreed.

Bruce and Mary turned in and Ashlyn soon followed but Kerry decided to continue his new nightly tradition of a midnight solo skinny dip even if he wasn't supposed to swim alone.

Ashlyn was already asleep by the time Kerry slipped into the bed beside her.

"Good night, Sleeping beauty," he whispered.

Kerry was smiling when he woke up the next morning, feeling relaxed and happy. Ashlyn had already gotten up and he glanced out the window to see that it was warm and sunny summer day.

The kids were laughing and splashing around in the water trying to catch water creatures under the dock when Kerry made his way to the water after using the bathroom and having a bowl of cereal. Mary and Ashlyn had already manned their chairs and were basking in the sun with their books and bottles of water. Bruce was tiding up from last night's storm.

"Glad you could join us," Ashlyn giggled as Kerry dropped into his chair.

"Shut up!" Kerry grinned in reply.

"So, have any plans for today?" Mary smiled.

"I plan on doing nothing!" Kerry laughed.

"Congratulations," Ashlyn remarked. "You've finally figured out what vacation is supposed to be!"

But he didn't exactly do nothing. He took a few dips in the water, giving the kids piggy-back rides in the process. He went for a boat ride with Bruce and Matty and he watched as Mary and Ashlyn gave the sailboat a whirl. He and Maggie walked all around the shore of the island just to see if they could do it (they had to swim part of the way). He had lunch (macaroni salad and deli meat). He took another canoe ride with Ashlyn. He napped in the sun. He spied through the binoculars at babes on passing boats. He read about 150 pages of his book. He joked around with Ashlyn, talked sports with Bruce, and debated politics with Mary.

It wasn't until the end of the day that Kerry realized that he hadn't thought about work or the McPearson Project even once!

They made homemade pizza for supper and after some board games with the kids and the adults played Hearts once again until Bruce and Mary turned in for the night.

"You haven't been drinking the last few days," Kerry observed as he and Ashlyn walked down to the dock to take in the moon and the stars once again.

"Don't need too," Ashlyn replied. "I've been on a natural high."

"I'm glad," Kerry replied.

"Thank you for bringing me here," she said, taking his hand in his. "I think you may have saved my life."

He gave her a hug and kissed her forehead. "Maybe summer and this island had something to do with that too," he suggested.

"Good night, Kerry," she said before she headed for the stairs.

He wanted to invite her to skinny dip with him but he didn't. Assuming she was gone, Kerry stepped out of his clothes and stood naked on the dock, not knowing that Ashlyn had stopped half way up the stairs and turned to watch, admiring his naked backside in the moonlight before he dove into the water. She stayed in the shadows watching until he climbed back onto the dock, getting a view of his full monty as he walked to where a towel hung from one of the tree branches. She sighed softly before heading to the cottage.

Ashlyn pretended she was asleep when Kerry slipped into the bed beside her a while later and she went to sleep thinking about what she had just seen.

Ashlyn was surprised when she awoke in the morning and Kerry wasn't beside her. That was a first. She had always gotten up first to avoid the awkwardness, not sure what to say or do waking up next to him or having to dress (or undress) in front of him.

On this morning he had beaten her out of bed and she missed having him next to her. It had been comforting and therapeutic sleeping with him these past several nights without the worry or pressure of sex but strangely she was finding herself thinking about sex with him a little bit more. She had resisted the temptation to skinny dip with him that night he teased her about it and every night thereafter knowing that was what he was doing down there. And last night she had peeked to see what he looked like naked and she found herself excited when he saw his slender rear and his frontage even if he was suffering from lake water 'shrinkage'!

Back in the old days she was always sleeping around with somebody and Kerry was her one constant, her port in the storm, the one guy she could rely on and trust without having to worry about sex getting in the way. Now, on the island, she wondered if sex was the one thing left between them that they needed to explore.

There was no sight of Kerry when Ashlyn came out of the bedroom. Mary was sitting on the living room couch with Matt reading a child's story.

"Where is everybody?" Ashlyn asked.

"They went fishing," Mary replied.

"Even Thibs?" Ashlyn asked with surprise.

"Yeah, he promised Maggie he'd join them at least once," Mary laughed.

"Maggie says the lake is beautiful at dawn," Matt explained.

"I'll have to try it sometime," Ashlyn smiled as she went to the kitchen to find something to eat.

Mary, Ashlyn and Matt were on the dock when the boat returned with Bruce, Kerry and Maggie.

"Look what we caught!" Maggie was laughing, holding up an impressive sized fish.

"I thought you usually threw them back," Mary said to Bruce.

"Maggie caught it, she gets to keep it," Bruce replied.

"Ah, didn't you catch anything?" Ashlyn teased Kerry.

"Not yet," Kerry smirked as he climbed out of the boat.

Another day in Paradise on a sunny and warm New England summer's day. More swimming. More sunning. More canoeing. Another lunch at the picnic table. Another afternoon nap. More reading. Who could ask for anything more?

Kerry and Ashlyn were sitting on the dock together later in the afternoon sun when Mary came down from the cottage with the kids behind her.

"We're going to see a movie and then have dinner in town," she announced. "You guys want to come?"

Kerry glanced at Ashlyn who shook her head no. Bruce came down the stairs a minute later and helped the kids into the boat.

"We should be back by seven or so," Mary let her brother know before she climbed into the boat. "You guys don't mind staying here alone?" There was a twinkle in her as she said it.

"We'll be okay," Kerry replied.

Kerry and Ashlyn watched as Bruce puttered the boat away from the dock and then the craft picked up speed and soon disappeared from view.

"Wow, this is the first time in days we've actually been alone," Kerry realized, glancing at Ashley. "Feels kind of weird, actually."

"What do you want to do?" Ashlyn asked.

"I guess the same thing we've been doing since we got here," Kerry replied with a shrug.

"We're alone on an island, Thibs," Ashlyn reminded him.

"Yeah?" Kerry asked, not sure what she meant.

"What did Mary say when we first got here?" Ashlyn asked. "You could run around naked and nobody would see?"

"As if you'd really run around naked," Kerry laughed, rolling his eyes.

"Is that a dare?" She smirked and Kerry was taken aback by her unexpected remark.

"A challenge?" he replied, feeling slightly nervous all of a sudden.

She stood and reached up with her arms on each of her shoulders and effortless pulled down the straps of her one piece bathing suit, letting it fall down her body to the deck all in one smooth motion.

Kerry's jaw dropped and his eyes went wide as she stood in front of him naked, running her fingertips over her suddenly erect nipples as she looked into his eyes with an unusual seductive grin before she turned and ran up the stairs toward the cottage with a noticeable sway to her hips.

Kerry didn't take his eyes of her wonderful bare butt as he pursued her up the stairs, stripping out of his bathing suit and tee shirt as he followed. She was waiting for him at the top of the stairs, protected from view by the island trees and she looked approvingly at him as he too stood before her naked.

"I watched you last night," she revealed.

"What?" He asked.

"Skinny dipping. I saw you naked," she giggled.

"Why didn't you join me?"

"I wasn't ready," she admitted.

"Are you ready now?"

"We'll skinny dip tonight," she promised.

"I look forward to it," he smiled.

"Finally, after all this time," Ashlyn remarked as they both stood naked staring at each other.

"Are you really sure about this?" Kerry asked nervously. "I don't want to wreck things between us."

"We're not going to wreck anything, Thibs," she assured him, reaching out for his hand.

"You're beautiful," he told her.

"You lie," she groaned. "I'm thinner than Twiggy."

She took his hand and led him into the cottage and down the hall but she took them past the bedrooms and out onto the screened in side porch. They could see the lake but nobody could see them. She pushed Kerry into a straw chair and then straddled him, sitting in his lap and wrapping her arms around his neck.

"Is this really Paradise?" he asked, looking into her eyes.

"That is what I've been told," she replied with anticipation.

"Are we really going to do this?" He asked nervously.

"Don't you want to?"

"More than anything," he told her.

She looked beyond him at the lake behind him. "It really is so serine here."

He leaned in and gave one of her nipples a long lick. "Ash," he sighed with desperation.
Ashlyn arched her back and he began to nibble on the erected nipple, using one hand to message the free breast while his other hand wrapped around her ass and he gently patted it.

"I never thought this would happen between us," he whispered.

"Why not?" She asked.

"I didn't think you'd ever be interested," he admitted.

"It just took me a while to find my way," she told him. "I think it was always you all along. I was just always looking beyond."

"I'm not looking for a one time only freebie, Ash," he told her. "If we're going to do this, it's got to mean something."

"It means something," she replied.

She reached down and took him in her hand, slowly guiding him toward her entrance. "Make love to me, Thibs," she pleaded. "I need to feel you."

He wanted to cry when he felt himself inside of her finally after fifteen years of waiting and wanting and hoping and dreaming and fantasizing and being disappointed and ignored time and time again. But now it was real and Kerry began his thrusts, lifting his hips off the chair as Ashlyn rode him and soon she was on the edge.

"Oh, wow, this didn't take long," she giggled with satisfaction. "I guess I really did want you."

"I'm glad."

He dropped his hand from her breast and ran it down her stomach toward her crotch. Ashlyn gushed with pleasure knowing that she was lost. She arched her back and moaned and as she came as suddenly as one of the lake waves hitting the island shore she screamed out his name and he wondered if they could hear her voice echoing across the lake. He continued to stroke inside her while kissing her breasts and rubbing her ass until her breathing returned to normal and his member slipped out of her.

"Sorry it was so quick," he sighed.

"Don't be," she told him, kissing him passionately. "I needed the release."

He lifted her off his lap and stood her, standing next to her and giving her a naked hug. Their bodies were clammy and sweaty.

"Oh, Thibs, you don't know what this means to me," Ashlyn said.

"It means more to me," he replied

"Let's go to the bed," she whispered.

Kerry swooped her up in his arms, surprising her, and he carried her from the porch, dropping her on the bed and holding himself over her, staring at her beauty one more time.

"I waited so long to see you like this," he said happily.

"Like what?" She teased.

"Naked and mine," he answered with a grin.

Ashlyn lifted her hips, signaling that she wanted him to enter her again and she grabbed him by the shaft and led him into her once again. Once he was inside, she started moving with him and his strokes quickly brought her to yet another orgasm and this time she burst out in tears, clinging to him for dear life.

"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you," she sobbed. "Thank you for loving me."

"I've always loved you, Ash."

"I know," she sobbed. "But I treated you like shit so many times."

"You weren't ready," he said as he collapsed onto the bed next to her and he hugged her close to him.

"You were the only one who accepted me the way I was," she said, wiping the tears from her face. "The only one who loved me unconditionally. No matter where I was or what I did, I always knew you would be there waiting for me."

"I don't want to wait anymore, Ash," he told her.

"You don't have to," she promised. "I'm tired of running."

They lay on the bed on their backs naked next to each other staring up at the ceiling listening to the lake outside the window.

"I like summer," Kerry said with a smile.

"Me too," Ashlyn laughed, rolling over and climbing on top of him while giving him a kiss. "I love summer."