Magic Lake (PG-13)

Being taken in by the Flynn family probably kept Colin out of Reform School, the foster care system, or juvenile detention. Mike Flynn, the assistant principal at Hillsboro High, rescued Colin like a pound puppy during the waning days of junior year when it became obvious the teetering teen had no where else to go.

It was summer now and Mike kept Colin busy by hiring him as part of his summer painting business (where he could keep an eye on him) and although Colin felt like he was under house arrest living with the Flynn family it beat the alternative so he mostly went with the flow.

The Flynn's were off for a week long vacation at Lake Simon in Vermont and Colin had no choice but to tag along. There was no way Mike was going to leave his ward home alone in Hillsboro and that's why Colin was seated in the back of the Flynn's ten year old SUV with Mike's children Bob and Joanne in the middle seat, along with Mrs. Flynn who was riding shotgun for Mike in the front.

Bob was twelve and Joanne was ten, two energetic, humorous and well behaved kids, both with blonde hair and glasses, smiles and dimples. Colin was surprised that Mike and his wife were so trusting of him being around their children. Mrs. Flynn was also blonde (Mike was a redhead) with a sunny and upbeat disposition but she was strict when it came to Colin's presence in the house. As long as the long-term guest followed the rules and did was expected, he was welcomed but Mrs. Flynn made it clear that any violation of trust would mean his departure from the family.

It was a two hour ride to Lake Simon and by the time Mike pulled the SUV into the driveway of the old oddly shaped cottage, Colin was dying for a cigarette. The family climbed out of the van and Colin immediately lit up a smoke as he walked away from the others who were stretching and taking in the lake atmosphere. He was allowed to smoke outside only, away from the others.

The cottage had originally been a dormitory for a long extinct boy's camp. It was three sided with a kitchen and two living rooms on either side in the main section that faced the lake front. Two side wings were on either side housing four bedrooms and a bathroom in each. It was essentially a duplex cottage with a shared kitchen. The building was painted a sort of puke green and white and there was a long porch along the lake front as well as a dock and raft in the water.

The Flynn family vacationed with the Alexander family every summer at this cottage. Mrs. Alexander was Mrs. Flynn's college roommate and long time friend. She was married and the couple had two children (Cindy and Barb) who were Bobby and Joanne's age as well as an older daughter named Bethany who was six months younger than Colin.

"Bethie used to get stuck watching after us kids but now we're getting older so I don't think that's her job anymore," Bob told Colin before the vacation began when explaining what the vacation was all about.

The Alexander family had already arrived (as evidenced by the late model luxury SUV parked in the driveway) and the family came out of the front door in a group to welcome the Flynn contingent. Bob and Joanne greeted Cindy and Barb as old friends while the adults shook hands and gave each other hugs. Colin noticed an older girl who had to be Bethany. She wore her brown hair long – almost to her waist and she was definitely in fine shape and form but she didn't seem very happy as she stood off from the others with her arms folded across her chest as if she was pouting.

Just what the two families needed: another brooding, moody, depressed teenager!

Mike called for Colin to join the others. The teen took one last drag on his cigarette before tossing it to the ground and stomping it into the dirt. Mike introduced Colin to The Alexander family. Mr. Alexander was big and balding and he seemed like a mismatch for his attractive and petite wife with her fancy hair style and fashionable clothes. Colin could tell that the couple was giving him the suspicious eye.

The two younger Alexander children were miniatures of their older sister, both with equally as long hair although Cindy's was blonde and Barb's was black. The two younger girls didn't seem all that interested in Colin's presence and were much more eager to run off and play with Bob and Joanne. Bethany didn't say a word when Colin was introduced so Colin didn't bother saying anything back. He knew she didn't think much of him and that she had probably been warned to stay away from him.

Colin helped Mike drag the luggage and supplies into the cottage. The only entrance was through the kitchen which had two stoves and two refrigerators along with a long picnic table in the middle of the room and dozens of cupboards. There were two large windows overlooking the blue lake and a door to the porch. There were also doors on either side of the room, each leading to the individual living spaces. The Alexander clan had already taken the wing to the right (facing the lake) so Mike and Colin dragged their stuff into the wing on the left.

Their "living room" had a huge window and sliding glass door overlooking the lake with an entrance to the porch. The large room featured a couple of overstuffed couches, chairs, and several bookcases stuffed with books and games. There were a couple of card tables, a fire place, and old lake landscape paintings hanging on the wall.

There was a hall off the back of the living room. Mike and his wife had the larger ("master") bedroom and Bob and Joanne lay claim to the same two rooms they occupied in the past leaving Colin a smaller room at the end of the hall. The entire cottage had a rustic feel to it with walls that didn't reach the ceiling, knot holes in some of the panels, and bare light fixtures that hung long from the roof beams. The place smelled of lake water, dead grass, and musk.

Colin's room had one squeaky old bed with a metal frame, a dresser with a drawer missing, a small closet with no door, a ratty chair, and a lopsided table. The one window looked out to the Alexander wing of the structure across the front yard. Colin tossed his bag on the closet floor and sat on the bunk, lighting up another cigarette while staring out the window. He knew the rules were no smoking in the house but he didn't feel like walking outside.

Colin noticed Bethany in the room directly across from his so he moved away from the window she wouldn't see him. She pulled down the shade and Colin peeked back out. There was a breeze blowing and it occasionally caught the shade which Bethany had neglected to pull all the way down and there was one time when the shade blew in far enough for Colin to see what was clearly a bare ass. Bethany was changing with her back to the window giving Colin the perfect moon shot. He took a long drag on his cigarette without reacting, blowing the smoke through the window to keep the smell out of the room.

Mrs. Flynn and Mrs. Alexander left the cottage to do the food shopping for the week and Colin ventured out of his room and out of the cottage to scope out the lake front. He was standing on the porch when Bethany stepped out from the Alexander living room door on the opposite end of the long porch. She was wearing a modest one piece red bathing suit with a white robe like thing over it. She barely looked at Colin as she stared at the beach below where the other kids were playing.

There was a grassy knoll on an incline between the cottage and small strip of sandy beach, with a few trees and bushes scattered on the property. Several old metal lawn chairs and a picnic table were also in the front lawn. A yellow canoe was beached on the sand and a metal row boat with a small engine on the back was moored on the dock. Mike was standing on the dock chatting with Mr. Alexander while the four kids skylarked about.

Colin glanced at Bethany who refused to look at him so he went back into the cottage to look for a book to read. He was a baseball fan so when he saw Halberstam's 'Summer of '49' among the paperbacks piled on one of the bookcases he grabbed it and returned to the porch, taking a seat in a white straw chair with a pillow on it.

"I'm surprised you even know how to read," Bethany snottily remarked as she skipped off the porch.

'Hey, I saw your ass, stuck-up!' Colin wanted to call out but he let it go as he watched her walk down to the beach to join the others. He was disappointed that she was apparently going to treat him the way most others treated him – as a moron psychopath criminal creep loser.

The two mothers returned with the groceries and Colin helped drag the dozens of bags into the joint kitchen. The women bought enough food to supply a small army from apples to Zucchini and everything in between – soda, snacks, hot dogs, hamburger, steak, shrimp, chicken, cereal, milk, juice, lemonade, chips, potato salad, potatoes, spaghetti, tomato sauce, canned and fresh fruits and veggies, condiments, cookies, donuts, bread, rolls, and plenty of booze which was placed in a locked cabinet over one of the refrigerators.

Colin returned to the porch and his book and Bob stopped by to check in. As the only other guy (not counting the Dads) present, Colin knew that Bob was his only real ally, even if he was only twelve, a clean cut kid who wasn't going to smoke and couldn't relate to Colin's past.

Bob sat on the rail and peered at Colin. "What are you doing up here?" He wanted to know.

"Reading," Colin replied, holding up the book.

"But Bethie's down there," Bob grin, motioning to the dock where the teenaged girl was sunny herself.

"I don't think she likes me," Colin decided.

"She's kind of moody," Bob acknowledged. "Cindy told me that Bethie broke up with her boyfriend recently so there's been a lot of drama going on with her."

"I don't think that's it," Colin replied.

"Geez, it's not as if you killed somebody," Bob sighed. "How come nobody's willing to give you a chance?"

"It's just the way it is, kid," Colin philosophized. "Once people have a perception of you that's pretty much who you are."

"Well, I think you're okay," Bob said.

"Thanks," Colin replied with appreciation.

Bob went back to the lake and Colin went back to his book. A while later, Colin heard a loud splash followed by a scream and he looked up in time to see Bethany emerging from below the surface of the lake, having just jumped in from the dock.

"Oh my God, the water's freezing!" She yelled as she scampered from the lake. "Are we in Canada!?"

The three younger kids laughed and called her a wimp as they ran into the water, yelling and screaming and splashing.

"Fine, I can last longer than you saps!" Bethany insisted, turning and diving back into the water.

"No you can't!" Barb teased.

Bethany grabbed her sister and lifted her out of the water and Colin stole a peek at Bethany's cleavage even though the suit was modest and her chest wasn't that big as she bent over dropping Barb into the water.

"Oh yeah?" Bethany laughed as she raised her hands over her head in victory.

The others giggled and all four engaged in a splashing war and Colin smiled as he watched, glad to see the group having fun even if he wasn't part of it. That was pretty much the story of his life – the outsider always looking in, never part of the inner circle of any given crowd. He was used to it but it didn't make it any easier.

Colin spent the rest of the afternoon reading his book in his chair. Bob, Mike and Mrs. Flynn made an effort to check in with him as the day progressed. Mrs. Flynn brought him lemonade and Bob dropped a half a bag of Oreos in his lap, but the Alexander clan stayed clear of that side of the long porch.

It wasn't until it was time for the communal dinner at the long picnic table in the joint kitchen that the others were forced to interact with Colin while eating burgers and dogs cooked on the grill by the two fathers. Mike sat at one end of the table and Mr. Alexander at the other, both with their wives to their right and the kids filled in the rest of the spaces. The three Alexander children sat in age order to their mother's right while Colin sat next to Mrs. Flynn on the opposite side and end of the table, followed by Joanne and Bob. That pretty much became the assigned seating for the rest of the vacation, Colin safely distanced from the Alexander kids with Bethany the furthest from him as if she was being protected or segregated.

The table conversation was friendly and interesting but Colin stayed silent unless specifically drawn in to the discussion by Mike or his wife who would occasionally ask him a question. It was clear that the Alexander family was on guard with the stranger among them and Colin didn't want to offend them even if he was offended by their attitude.

Later, after dinner and the clean up, Mike started a bonfire in the fire pit located in the yard and the kids roasted marshmallows over the fire. Colin wasn't interested but Mrs. Flynn forced him to partake, so he sat on a chair far from the others and mostly watched the festivities while he smoked a few cigarettes. It was interesting to watch their faces shine in the orange shadows of the fire and he listened in on some of the conversation. Cindy took herself much too seriously, Barb was funny, Mr. Alexander (or "Mr. A" as Bob and Joanne called him) was a bit of a bore, Mrs. Alexander seemed uptight, and Bethany didn't seem to be all that happy. Bob and Joanne always enjoyed themselves and Mike and his wife were relaxed in the vacation setting, although Colin hadn't quite figured out how Mrs. Flynn and Mrs. Alexander stayed friends because they seemed so different in personality and outlooks.

Colin stepped close to the fire at one point to get rid of his cigarette butt.

"Gross," Bethany complained, brushing away the cigarette smoke from her face.

"I don't want to be dying from your stupid second hand cigarette smoke!"

'Hey, I saw your ass, stuck-up!' Colin thought to himself.

"You shouldn't be smoking," Joanne agreed, but her tone was more out of compassion than annoyance like Bethany. "It can kill you!"

Colin didn't say anything as he stuck another cigarette in his mouth and dug his lighter from his shorts pocket. He brought the flame close to his face, shielding it from the night breeze with a cupped hand and Bob burst out in laughter at Colin's quiet defiance. Colin took a long drag of his cigarette and stared at Bethany for an endless moment.

"Why don't you go sit where you were, Colin?" Mrs. Flynn suggested diplomatically.

Colin blew a smoke ring from his oval shaped mouth and returned to his chair without saying a word but the tension could be felt all around the fire. The rest of the evening played out without incident and eventually the group made their way into the cottage.

"Did you take your meds?" Mrs. Flynn asked Colin as he headed for his bedroom.

"Yes, of course," he sighed, knowing that was the question she asked him twice a day.

"Well, good night then," Mrs. Flynn said cheerfully.

Colin nodded and went into his room, closing the door behind him and propping the chair against the door handle in a defensive posture. It was a paranoid habit from the old days that he still found himself doing. He was also disappointed that there weren't any wall electrical outlets so he could plug in a nightlight for added security and peace of mind.

Colin never slept much anyway. He suffered from nightmares, flashbacks, body memories and dissociation (often at night) and sleep often felt like a curse. That's why he was sitting in the window long into the night looking at the stars and moon above while smoking cigarettes and listening to the quietness of the night.

The lights on the Alexander side of the cottage had gone dark long ago. It was now after one in the morning and from the angle Colin was sitting at, he could see the kitchen part of the building. He was surprised when he saw a dim light go on in there and he decided to check out who might be up at this hour of the night.

Colin removed the chair from the door and quietly walked down the hall and through the Flynn living room to the shared kitchen. He wasn't expecting to see Bethany standing by the Alexander refrigerator. The locked liquor cabinet above the refrigerator was open (there was a butter knife on the counter) and Bethany was taking a swig from a quart bottle of brandy. She was dressed in yellow summer pajamas that highlighted her tanned legs.

"I thought they locked that up to keep me away, not you," Colin observed.

Bethany jumped, spitting out some of the brandy having been spooked and she frightfully stepped back before quickly recovering when she saw that it was Colin who had caught her in the act.

"What are you doing here?" She asked angrily, glaring at the intruder.

"And here I thought you were the smart one," Colin remarked.

"I get all A's and I'm on the honor roll," she bragged.

'Hey, I saw your ass, stuck-up!' Colin thought to himself. "I'm not talking about book smarts," he said instead.

"You think you're smarter than me?" She asked with disgust.

"When it comes to this stuff, yeah," Colin replied with authority.

"I'm just fooling around," she insisted as she sheepishly put the top back on the bottle and shoved it back in the cupboard. "Vacation craziness."

"Drinking out of a bottle alone in the middle of the night is not a good sign," Colin advised.

"You smoke!" She accused.

"My last vice," he admitted.

"I heard you're crazy," she snapped.

'Hey, I saw your ass, stuck-up!' Colin thought to himself.

"Are you going to tell on me?" She worried.

"As if they'd believe a crazy person like me," Colin replied as he left the room.

### ### ###

Colin joined the others in the kitchen for breakfast. Bethany refused to look at him as usual and Colin could tell by the look Mrs. Flynn was giving him that she wanted to know if he had taken his meds (he had).

Mike was out on the dock with Mr. A firing up the motor on the boat for the first time and when the engine backfired loudly, Colin literally leaped out of his seat, causing the younger children to giggle.

Colin looked stricken and sweat broke out on his forehead.

"It was just the boat," an understanding Mrs. Flynn explained.

"I need a cigarette," a breathless Colin mumbled as he hurried from the kitchen and the others looked at him with bemused indifference.

When Colin calmed down and finished his cigarette, he took a seat on the porch and returned to his reading. The Dads took the younger kids out for a fishing boat ride and the two moms were sitting in the shade underneath a tree on the lake front. Colin had lost track of where Bethany was, not that he really cared anyway. He decided to take advantage of the quiet time to take a quick uninterrupted dip so he went down to the dock and stripped out of his tee shirt.

Bethany was sitting on a tree branch not far from the dock listening to her music on her IPoD when Colin stepped onto the dock and peeled off his shirt. She did a double take when she saw the number of marks on his back – they almost looked like whip marks like in the old slave movies she'd seen. There were also other marks and divots on his skin and when he turned to face her (though he didn't see her), Bethany noticed more scars and marks, including a round one near his side and she wondered if he had been shot.

Colin shallow-dived off the end of the dock and swam out to the raft and back five times before climbing out of the water and sitting on the dock edge to let the sun dry his skin. Bethany was still in the tree and she wondered how such a young person could have such a marked up body.

After a while, Colin stood and put his tee shirt on. He picked up his pack of flip-top Marlboro's and took a cigarette out, lighting it with his lighter before walking back to the cottage, never noticing Bethany in the tree above him.

The two dads returned with the boat full of kids shortly before lunch and the gang gathered for sandwiches in the kitchen, Colin staying quiet, distant and removed through the meal and while Bethany had been previously disgusted, annoyed and judgmental of the stranger who had crashed the vacation with his smelly cigarettes, now she was feeling more curious and intrigued than anything else.

Later, Bethany found Colin back in his usual chair on the porch, reading. He had finished 'Summer of '49' and now had his face buried in an old baseball analogy he had found among the stacks of books called 'Baseball, I Gave You The Best Years of My Life'.

Bethany sat on the porch rail in front of Colin and stared at him. He tried to ignore her (like she ignored him) but after a few moments he realized she wasn't going away so he glanced up and gave her the eye.

"Are you here to ridicule me and be unkind?" He asked sarcastically. "I know you consider yourself to be so civilized compared to crazy, ignorant and stupid me."

"I never said that," she said defensively.

"You didn't have to," he countered.

"You're the one who's perfected his skills of detachment and impersonalization to an art form," she challenged.

"You're the one who thinks she's better than me," he pointed out.

"I never said that either," she complained with annoyance. "God, I hate it that everybody thinks they know me."

"I know the feeling," Colin remarked with a sigh.

She studied him for a moment. "Okay, so maybe I was a little judgmental at first," she admitted.

"You said I'm crazy," he pointed out.

"Actually, I said other people say you're crazy," Bethany clarified.

"You said I was too dumb to read."

She sighed. "Look, I can't help my breeding, my social class, my upbringing, my attitudes….."

"Your breeding!?" Colin laughed.

"You know what I mean," she groaned. "I'm just tired of all the expectations. My boyfriend expected me to be perfect and play the Barbie doll role version of his girlfriend. My parents don't want me around someone like you because of the image they have of me. Hell, even you got all bent out of shape because I took a little nip of brandy so you had your own expectations of me on the first day you met me."

"You were chugging it out of the bottle," Colin said.

"Okay, alright," she said, waving her hand dismissively. "The point is I just want to break the mold once in a while. Step out of the pre-conceived notions people have of me once or twice. Do something outside the box for a change. Is that asking too much?"

"I saw your ass." Colin said it aloud this time.

"Excuse me?" She said nervously, her face turning white. "What did you say?"

"Yesterday, when you were changing," he said. "The wind blew up the shade and I saw your naked ass through the window." He shrugged. "I guess that petty much blows all expectations out of the water."

She was at a loss for words. She didn't know how to respond. Her jaw dropped and she look flushed and beyond embarrassed.

"I…..I….I…" Then she jumped off the railing and hurried off the porch and Colin regretted telling her but he felt she should know.

He lit up a cigarette and took a long toke before returning to his book, convinced that Bethany would never speak to him again. She avoided him for most of the afternoon but whenever he glanced up from his book he'd notice her looking at him from her spot on the dock or in one of the deck chairs on the lawn.

Mr. A grilled steak and chicken for supper and the gang ate at the long table in the community kitchen. Whenever Colin stole a peek at Bethany at the other end of the table she pretended she didn't notice. Later, the others went for ice cream but Colin wasn't interested and Bethany surprised her parents when she said she'd stay behind too. It was obvious that Mr. and Mrs. Alexander didn't approve but they didn't want to cause a scene.

Colin was in his usual chair on the porch reading in the evening light when Bethany came out of her side of the cottage wearing denim shorts and a long tee shirt. She sat in the chair next to him and put the heels of her feet up on the rail.

"Are you going to tell me your story?" She asked after a while of quietness.

"My story?" He asked with uncertainty.

"Why did the Flynn's take you in?"

"I had no where else to go."

"Why?"

He shrugged.

"What happened to your family?"

"Doesn't matter," he replied.

"Your story must be pretty terrible then," she theorized.

"I wasn't sure I would survive it," he admitted.

"Are you better now?"

"I'm surviving," he answered. "There is no magic solution to free me from my past."

"I always thought this place was magical," Bethany said.

"I got ridiculed and ostracized even here," Colin said. "Nothing magical about that."

Bethany sighed. "I hope you'll give me another chance," she said. "I know my parents are a lost cause but I'm determined not to be as stuck up and pious as they love to be."

Colin glanced at her and smirked. "Any girl who chugs brandy in the middle of the night must have some potential!"

She rolled her eyes but didn't respond to that remark. "I really admire Mike and Jessica for being willing to help you out," she said instead.

"Yeah, they sure did take a chance, didn't they?"

"Did they?" Bethany asked, her eyebrows raised

"I was on the edge of darkness," Colin told her.

"Life can still be a fairy tale if you let it," Bethany advised.

"I'm just a loser," Colin warned.

"I don't believe that," Bethany said. "Everybody can turn over a new leaf. People can change. Mike and Jessica obviously believe that or they wouldn't have brought you into their home or especially here knowing what my parents would think."

Colin glanced out at the lake and sucked in some of the evening lake air. "Do you really think there's magic here?"

"Yes," she whispered. She studied him for a long moment. "What happened to you?"

"Nothing," he lied.

"The marks on your body?"

He shrugged.

"Please?"

"You don't need to know," he told her. "I mostly dissociate and shut down," Colin said quietly. "There's plenty of shame and embarrassment. I've got PTSD and a host of other emotional problems. I'm on happy pills."

"You don't seem very happy to me," Bethany teased and she heard him honestly laugh for the first time.

"Well, you didn't look all that happy when I first got here either," he noted.

She shrugged. "I was feeling sorry for myself," she admitted.

"About what?"

"Nothing important," she decided. "I really hope you'll come out of your protective shell a little bit more while you're here."

He nodded and reached for another cigarette.

"Please don't smoke," Bethany requested. "It's such a nasty habit."

"I need at least one distraction to keep me from going completely nuts," Colin explained.

"Peeping into windows isn't distracting enough for you?" She frowned.

"I wasn't peeping," he replied honestly. "I was having a cigarette at my window. It's not my fault the wind blew."

The cigarette was hanging from his lip now but he wasn't lighting it.

"I dated Ashton for nearly two years and he never saw what you saw," Bethany revealed after some awkward quiet moments.

"I guess this place is magical after all," Colin replied straight faced.

She blushed for a second but she kept staring at him until they were interrupted by the return of their families.

### ### ###

It was dark, except for the moonlight and the stars in the sky. Colin sat in his room smoking his cigarette staring out the window at the sleeping Alexander side of the cottage, specifically at Bethany's window. The shade was up and the window was open for the breeze but there was no sign of her and Colin felt lonely missing her. He wondered how she looked asleep.

Sleep never occupied his body. He'd occasionally drift off to sleep until some nightmare raced through his mind and he'd bolt awake soaked in sweat. Sometimes he'd scream out, yelling obscenities or punching at air. One time he knocked Mike on his ass when his host charged into the room on one of the first night's Colin stayed with the Flynn family. Colin made sure he always blocked the door with the chair after that incident, something he used to do to keep his own old man out.

Colin sat at the window waiting for the dawn to come. It was something he did most mornings. On this day, as soon as he saw the sky lighten, he left his room and silently drifted through the sleeping cottage, tip toeing out onto the porch to watch the sun rise out of the lake as he sat on the porch steps smoking a cigarette. He'd try not to smoke in front of Bethany but his nasty habit wasn't something he was able to totally give up yet. He glanced across the surface of the lake until it disappeared into the morning fog that would lift once the sun came over the trees on the far side of the lake. A flock of ducks paddled in front of him and he said nothing while blowing smoke rings from his O-shaped mouth.

Eventually, the cottage started to show signs of life. Mr. A came out from the Alexander side of the cottage and was surprised to see Colin already out on the porch. He said nothing as he grabbed his fishing pole and headed for the dock and Colin knew he wasn't invited.

Mrs. Flynn stepped out from the Flynn side of the cottage a little later dressed in a robe with a mug of coffee in her hand.

"I took my meds," Colin said before she could ask the question.

She nodded and took a sip of coffee. "How are you sleeping?"

"I'm not," Colin admitted. "But that's okay."

"It's easy to forget about time here," Mrs. Flynn said.

Bob emerged from the cottage with his father. Both grabbed their fishing poles and joined Mr. A at the dock after Colin declined their invitation to join them.

"You don't have to isolate the entire time you're here, Colin," Mrs. Flynn advised.

"I'm not," Colin insisted. "I'm actually having a good time."

"I'm glad," Mrs. Flynn smiled, taking another sip from her mug. "I was encouraged when Bethie was willing to stay behind last night."

The tone of her voice caused Colin to glance over his shoulder at her. Mrs. Flynn was grinning and Colin made a face.

"I'm sure her parents are getting ulcers," he said.

Mrs. Flynn laughed. "Oh, don't worry about them," she said. "Their bark is worse than their bite."

The three Alexander sisters eventually appeared, along with Joanne and the four girls took seats on the various chairs on the porch. Bethany was putting her hair into a ponytail and then she helped Cindy put hers into braids.

The three younger girls ran off to play. Mrs. Flynn went inside to help Mrs. A with breakfast and Bethany strolled across the porch, sitting on the rail above the steps where Colin was seated.

"The Franklin family used to stay at the cottage," Bethany said, pointing to the old red cottage to their left. "There was a boy named Matty who was around my age. I used to flirt with him. He taught me how to fish. We'd go out on canoe rides. But his parents divorced when we were twelve and they sold the cottage and they stopped coming. I always wondered what became of poor Matty."

"I bet he still thinks about you," Colin offered.

Bethany smiled sadly. "Did you have a girlfriend when you were twelve?"

Colin shook his head no. "It wasn't safe to have a girlfriend," he remarked.

"Bethany, dear, could you come in and help us?"

It was Mrs. A standing in the kitchen doorway on the Alexander side of the cottage.

"Sure, Mom!" Bethany called. "I'll see you around," she whispered to Colin as she jumped off the rail and headed for the house.

Colin dug out a cigarette from his flip box and lit it up wondering about Matty Franklin and the good times he must have had during his summer youth at Lake Simon with Bethany Alexander next door.

Colin never had normal dates with normal girls. There was too much craziness, chaos, violence and drunkenness in whatever rat hole he was living in to try to be a normal teenager. His alcoholic father frequently brought rift raft home and a few of those unseedy characters made improper advances toward him. He remembered waking up one night with his shorts down around his knees with some woman tugging on his privates – she was so drunk she had gotten into the wrong bed.

After breakfast, most of the others went down to the lake front. Colin sat in his chair on the porch with his book eying Bethany who was sprawled out on the dock with her sisters and Joanne. Bob and the two fathers had gone out fishing in the boat. It had only been a few days but the tans were becoming noticeable on the vacationers, especially on Bethany. Colin couldn't help but watch when Cindy rubbed sunscreen on Bethany's back. Colin reached for a cigarette, exhaling the first puff with emphasis before he closed his eyes and sighed.

From the dock, Bethany turned her head toward the cottage. She was sure she could feel Colin's eyes on her even from that distance and she couldn't help but smile to herself.

### ### ###

"Would it be okay if Colin and I took the canoe out this afternoon?"

It was lunch a few hours later and the group was seated at the kitchen table. Bethany had asked the question. "I haven't been out in the canoe yet and Colin's never done it," she rationalized.

Although her parents didn't look all that thrilled with the idea, there was little they could say against it especially since Mike and his wife thought it was a great idea to get Colin off the porch and doing something for a change.

So Colin put on a pair of bathing trunks and a tee shirt and joined Bethany at the canoe at the small beach. She was wearing shorts over her modest one piece bathing suit with a pink Boston Red Sox ball cap and expensive sun glasses. Mrs. A insisted that both wear the life jackets that were in the bottom of the canoe.

Bethany gave Colin a quick lesson on canoe balance and paddling techniques before they pulled the craft into the water. Bethany sat in the front with her back to Colin and he piloted from the rear of the canoe. It took him a while to get the hang of paddling, switching from side to side, using the paddle as a brake or to turn the canoe but after a while, with some tutoring from the experienced Bethany, Colin became a pretty good canoeing novice!

"No cigarettes?" Bethany asked when she realized Colin hadn't toked up since they began the adventure, glancing at him over her shoulder.

He shook his head no but didn't say anything.

They were in the middle of the lake and Bethany stopped paddling. She turned sideways on her seat and stared at him. "Okay," she said. "I'm a captive audience. Start talking."

"About what?" Colin asked.

"Tell me something about you," she moaned. "I've pumped what little information Bobby has out of him and it's not helpful. Jessica says it's not her place to say anything and that I should talk to you so here I am, talking to you."

"You know, I'm fine now, so you don't have to worry about it," he said.

"How many happy pills are you on?" Bethany wanted to know.

"Enough to keep me from going nuts," he replied.

She gave him a frustrated look.

"They're for anxiety and mood balance," Colin sighed. "No biggie."

"What happened to make you anxious and moody?"

"Nothing."

"I guess you don't like me very much," Bethany pouted.

"I like you fine," he said.

"Then how come you won't tell me anything?" Bethany asked.

"There's nothing to tell."

"The marks all over your body say everything," she countered, pointing to some scars on his legs. "Joanne said you didn't even want to come," Bethany added. "What's wrong with a vacation at a beautiful magical lake?"

"I'm glad I came." Colin's eyes caught hers. "I've seen a lot."

She blushed. "But you're not doing anything fun," she protested. "Sitting up there on that stupid porch reading your baseball books. All I ever see is smoke coming out over the rail."

"I'm having fun," he said with a deadpanned delivery.

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, you're just a bundle of laughs."

He didn't reply but she kept staring at him.

"Can't you just please talk to me?" Bethany finally asked in frustration.

"Why?"

"I just want to know something real about you," she answered. "Instead of all the rumor, gossip, innuendo, and my parents' paranoia."

He looked at her with his deep eyes. "What would you like to know," he finally asked, very quietly.

"Where's you family?" Bethany asked. "How'd you end up with the Flynns?"

Colin placed the paddle across his knees and stared out across the lake. He could see their cottage far off in the distance. "I don't remember my mother," he said. "She died when I was young. She was young too. My father picked her up in bar. She was either a call girl or a stripper. I never got the whole story."

He could see that Bethany was shocked but she hid it well.

"So, your father raised you?"

"I wouldn't go that far," Colin replied.

"He wasn't a good father?" Bethany guessed.

"He was already in his late forties when I was born," Colin revealed. "He was divorced with a couple of kids he never saw, but he was stuck with me. He was a Vietnam War vet with all sorts of psychological and PTSD problems. He was an alcoholic who couldn't keep a job. I've lost count of the number of schools I've been in and towns I've lived in."

"I'm really sorry, Colin," Bethany said with sympathy.

"A lot of times, in one of his drunken rages, or Vietnam flashbacks, he'd go nuts," Colin continued quietly. "He'd think I was a Cong or something. He nearly strangled me to death one night. Another time he knocked me down the stairs."

"That's where all the marks and injuries came from?"

"Yeah, plus he'd beat me if he was pissed or drunk or whatever," Colin told her. "I never knew what to expect from day to day. It was always red alert time when he was around."

Bethany glanced across the lake toward the cottage. "My parents," she sighed. "They think they know so much. And they think they have to protect me from the real world. That I'm never going to be exposed to your story. That I'm never going to meet somebody who's gone through what you've gone through."

"It doesn't get much more unreal then what I've been through," Colin remarked.

"They want to pretend that everything is perfect and shield me from reality," she complained. "That somehow I shouldn't be around you because of what happened to you and the life you lived."

"Well, can you blame them?" Colin asked.

"It's not your fault," Bethany said.

"I don't belong," he informed her. "I'm different. I'm an outsider. I'm damaged goods."

"Is that why you sit up there on the porch all the time?" She asked with surprise. "Because you think you shouldn't be around the rest of us?"

"I have issues of my own," Colin warned.

"Who doesn't?" Bethany asked. "Where's your father now?"

"In the VA Hospital, dying," Colin told her. "Cancer. Probably from exposure to Agent Orange all those years ago. That's when Mike got involved. I'd been living on my own for a while, mostly in the old man's car. The cops busted me and Mike intervened. Now I'm in therapy, counseling, treatment, whatever you want to call it."

They were both quiet for a long moment. "Thanks for telling me, Colin," Bethany finally said.

"I could really use a cigarette," he admitted.

"Let's head back," she suggested.

She turned around in the canoe and they both began paddling for the cottage on the shore. When they were about fifty yards away, a speed boat raced by, making huge waves.

"Oh no, turn into the wake," Bethany yelled, but before they could maneuver the canoe it was struck broadside by the boat waves and suddenly Bethany was screaming as the craft pitched and dumped both occupants into the lake.

Bethany was laughing when she surfaced. "I saved my sunglasses!" She exclaimed, holding her expensive shades in her hands.

Colin was spitting out water as he held on to the side of the capsized canoe.

A moment later, Mike and Mr. A. arrived in the motorized row boat to tow the canoe to shore.

"I've seen that red boat speeding recklessly all week," Mr. A grumbled. "Somebody needs to tell that guy to slow down."

Mike helped the two spilled teens into the boat and they brought the canoe to the shore while the other kids laughed on the dock.

"That was pretty funny!" Bob greeted them when they moored the boat and dragged the canoe to shore.

"Well, we were getting hot in the sun anyway," Bethany laughed. "It felt good to go for a swim!"

"I need a cigarette," the soaked and dripping Colin said, heading for the porch.

"Come back when you're done!" Bethany said, shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand as she watched Colin leave, still chuckling at their little adventure. "We can dry in the sun!"

Colin stood on the porch smoking his cig while watching Bethany who was now sitting at the end of the dock with her legs hanging over the edge letting her toes tickle the lake surface. She leaned back on her arms and let the sun warm her face and dry her wet clothes.

Colin felt unburdened having told her some of his story although there was no need to go into graphic details about some of the more gruesome episodes. He thought he'd be ashamed and embarrassed and that Bethany would be turned off and frightened by what he had revealed so he was surprised that she had invited him back to the dock to sit with her. He figured he'd be banished to the porch forever after telling her his truth.

Did he have a right to leave the porch? Was he entitled to socialize and interact with the others instead of isolating on his own? Would Bethany's parents freak out if they saw him with their daughter? Only one way to find out.

Colin rubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray and made his way to the dock.

"It is a magical place, isn't it?" Bethany asked without even looking to see if it was him.

"Yes," Colin answered, peeling off his wet shirt and sitting on the side of the dock so his back was to her side as she sat on the very edge facing the lake.

Bethany was moving her feet back and forth in the water. She glanced at Colin and saw some of the welts, faded bruises, scars and other marks on his bare back.

"The old man had a bum leg," Colin said, feeling her eyes on him. "He used a cane which was also his first weapon of choice on me."

Bethany slowly extended her hand and she rubbed one of her fingers along one of the welted scars. "I wish I had the magic to take them away," she whispered.

He looked at her but he didn't say anything and they both realized that they were blushing.

"As much as I complain about and get annoyed with my parents, I realize how lucky I am to have them," Bethany admitted. "I should have no complaints after hearing your story."

"We do the best with what we're given," Colin replied.

Bethany was about to respond but the other children returned from whatever adventure they were on and joined the older teens on the dock.

Bethany stood to greet them but Barb gave her a push and she screamed as she fell into the lake, bringing laughs from the other kids. Then Bob and Joanne both pushed Colin until he plunged into the waters too.

"We were drying off, you saps!" Bethany protested.

The kids laughed hysterically and then they dove and cannon-balled their way off the dock into the water, playing and skylarking with glee. Bethany began to goof around as she played with the younger children but Colin mostly stood in the water by the dock and watched, not knowing how to have fun himself until Bethany started whispering into the ears of the others and the five ganged up on the unsuspecting Colin whom they promptly dunked and harassed with giggles and laughter.

Colin broke the surface after being submerged a few times, amazed that the others were willing to goof off with him. Plenty of splashing and general horsing around ensued, including races to the raft, diving competitions and judging, and other activities until they were too tired to continue. All six lay sprawled out on the raft, the sun drying their bodies until the adults called them in for supper. As he swam ashore with the others, Colin couldn't remember the last time he had so much fun.

Dinner was more lively and animated than usual and Colin even volunteered a few comments and remarks without being cued or prompted. Later in the evening, Mrs. Flynn invited him to play cards with the adults and Bethany joined in too, playing Hearts for a few hours on the porch long after the younger children had gone to bed. Even Bethany's parents seemed to reluctantly warm up to (or at least accept) Colin's presence.

One of the conversations was about previous family vacations and there were plenty of happy reflections. Mrs. A. then naively asked Colin about his earlier vacations.

"I never went on vacation," he said as he studied his cards. "This is my first one."

There was an awkward pause before Mike remarked "Well, that makes this one memorable."

Later, Colin sat in his bedroom window smoking a cigarette and staring out into the night as was his custom. Something had changed since coming to Lake Simon and he wondered if maybe Bethany was right: maybe there was magic here.

Colin left his room and slipped out of the cottage into the warm summer night. He lit a cigarette and smoked it as he stood on the dock staring up at the moon and the stars.

"Why am I not surprised to find you out here?"

Colin turned to see Bethany standing in the dark looking like an angel in her long white nightgown.

"Couldn't sleep?" She guessed.

"I never sleep," he said, feeling her eyes on him.

"Too many bad dreams?"

He nodded affirmatively.

"There's no where else I'd rather be then right here, right now," Bethany confessed as she glanced around at her magical surroundings.

He could hear her breathing even though he was standing nearly ten feet away from her.

"What were you thinking about?" Bethany asked.

"Magic," he replied.

"Are you okay?" She wondered.

"I'm fine," he assured her. "Don't worry about me." He stared at her for a long moment. "What are you doing out here?"

"Oh, I sneak out late at night every once in a while," she giggled. "I love the lake when it's asleep like this."

"It's peaceful," Colin concurred.

"Yes, it is," she agreed. She chewed on her lip for a moment. "I haven't been able to get you out my head all day," she confessed.

He didn't say anything.

"I'm really glad you told me some of your story," she said.

"The magic won't last forever, Bethany," he sighed. "In a few days I'll be back to my unmagical life."

"I know," she said. "But I always feel like I'm in suspended animation when I'm in the magic of the lake." Bethany gazed out over the water with a dreamy look on her face.

"You should probably get back," Colin said. "It wouldn't go over well if you were seen out here with me at this hour."

"Everybody's asleep," Bethany assured him as she stepped closer and tried to read his face. "Do I make you nervous?"

"Yes," he admitted.

She giggled and placed her hands on his chest, bringing her face close before pressing her lips to his. Colin felt his heart pounding and his brain shorted out. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do as Bethany kissed him.

"You taste like cigarettes," she said while making a face when she pulled back for a brief moment and he looked at her with wide eyes.

"Sorry," he said.

"I told you its magical here," she whispered in his ear.

Bethany took him by the hand and led him to the cove in front of the abandoned old Franklin cottage next door. The beach there was more secluded, hidden by tall grass and overhanging trees. Colin stopped walking and Bethany took a few more steps, stopping a few feet beyond while but keeping her back to him.

"What did you think?" She wanted to know.

"About what?" He asked with confusion.

"When you saw me that first day? Through the window," she added with embarrassment.

"I thought I saw magic," he replied.

She smiled over her shoulder, looking incredibly shy. Then she lifted her arms up and pulled her nightgown off over her head, leaving her naked with her back still to him. The whiteness of her rump clashed with her tanned skin and Colin swallowed nervously as he eyed her lovely fanny.

"Matty Franklin dared me to skinny dip with him that last summer he was here, but I was too chicken," Bethany revealed. "So I bribed Cindy to do it with me the next summer but it wasn't the same."

Colin chuckled but he stopped when Bethany turned to face him, revealing her total self to him. Her breasts were small but round and noticeable and there was but a small strip of pubic hair between her legs.

"I'm not chicken with you, Colin," she whispered. "Would you skinny dip with me?"

She turned and slowly walked into the lake and Colin knew he had no choice in the matter. He stripped out of his clothes while she watched from where she treaded water as he delicately stepped into the water and swam out to her. When he reached her, Colin placed his hand on her hip while her eyes stared into his. He brought his lips to hers and she moaned softly while stroking his hair, inhaling as his mouth covered hers.

Bethany shivered when she felt his hand move up between her small breasts and she whimpered softly when he squeezed one. He cupped his hands on her rear end to keep her from sinking in the lake.

"Colin…" she moaned.

Bethany broke from him and swam to the shore and he swam after her, watching her lovely rear as she walked onto the beach. He assumed she was going to grab her discarded nightgown and run home, frightened to have gone this far so he was surprised when she turned and looked at him with a wide smile on her face.

"I love the magic of this place," she giggled before turning and running naked into the dark.

Colin couldn't argue with that.

### ### ###

The magic lasted for the rest of the vacation. Colin abandoned the porch and spent his time interacting with the rest of the group. He knocked his cigarette intake down to two or three smokes a day and he participated in all the activities – fishing with Mike, Mr. A and Bob, sitting on the dock with the rest of the kids, taking canoe rides with Bethany, going for ice cream with the group, playing cards at night, and for the first time in his life Colin forgot about some of his woes. Was he actually happy?

Mrs. Flynn didn't bother asking Colin if he was taking his meds and Mrs. A stopped giving him suspicious looks every time he was within ten feet of Bethany. One evening, in fact, the two older couples went out for dinner, trusting Bethany and Colin enough to leave them alone to take care of the younger kids. There hadn't been any more make out sessions or skinny dipping adventures between the two teens but there was a magical understanding that had bonded the two together and the lake really was magical for them.

Mrs. A had cooked a giant pot of goulash and after everybody ate supper and cleaned up, they played games in the yard – One, Two Three Green Light, Freeze Tag, and hide n go seek until it got dark and then they went into the cottage and sat around and told stories (there was no television or DVD player!). Bethany sat with Colin on the couch and the two older teens gave out advice and insight whenever the younger kids asked a question about what they should do in given situations.

But summer vacations don't last forever and Bethany and Colin knew that the magic of their summer at the lake was about to end. Colin wasn't ready to say goodbye to the magic that had given him hope for the first time in his life. He was used to surviving and being miserable but this experience was different and he didn't want it to end.

There was certain sadness on the last night at the lake. Mrs. A and Mrs. Flynn had already started the clean up and the kids had begun their packing. Mike tried to put a positive spin on their last night by taking the kids for a long walk around the lake but there was a pall in the air for all of them, especially for Bethany and Colin.

"I don't want to say goodbye!" Bethany moaned when they returned from their walk.

She was standing with Colin on the dock watching some ducks paddle by in the evening dusk. "I like it here where every day blends into one," Bethany smiled. "I want the magic to stay alive."

"I don't know what I am supposed to do," Colin admitted. "Why does a good thing have to end?"
"The hardest part will be going back to the same bunch of guys that are never right for me," Bethany sighed. "I always feel misunderstood and fake with the guys I've dated and now that I've found someone who makes me feel at ease and myself, I'm about to lose it."

"You're the only one who saw something in me," Colin revealed.

"I saw the magic," she said knowingly, giving him a long look. "Promise me you won't forget the magic."

"I won't," Colin told her.

She leaned up and kissed him before running to the cottage.

Bethany and Colin joined the adults for one last session of cards. Even the older couples were sad to see the vacation coming to an end and they tried to be humorous and upbeat to mask their disappointment, even kidding with Bethany and Colin about their 'little romance' as Mrs. Flynn put it.

"It wasn't like that," A red faced Colin insisted.

"It was much more magical," Bethany smiled.

Later, Colin sat in his room staring out the window, only without a cigarette this time. It was dark but there was no doubt that was Bethany across the way climbing out of her bedroom window and tip toeing across the yard to his side of the building.

"What are you doing?" Colin whispered when she reached his window.

She was wearing shorts and a tee shirt.

"Listen, we're not going to be able to have a proper goodbye in the morning with everybody around," Bethany said, wiping a tear from her eye.

"You've been crying?" Colin asked.

"Of course!" She groaned. "What do you think?"

"You're really sad to be leaving the lake, huh?"

"I'm really sad to be leaving you, you jerk!"

He looked at her through the window knowing that he would never experience something this special and wonderful again. He climbed out of the window took her by the arms, pushing her gently against the wall of the cottage. Bethany wrapped her arms around his neck and his went around her waist. Their lips met and Colin was stunned when Bethany opened her mouth and shoved her tongue into his mouth. She kissed him hard until she finally pulled back, tears in her eyes.

"Remember me," she told him.

"I will," he whispered.

She stumbled and almost lost her balance as she started to head back to her side of the cottage. Colin reached out and grabbed her by the back of the shorts to keep her from falling and the material pulled away, once again revealing her tush to him.

"Boy, you just can't get enough of my butt, can you!?" Bethany giggled when she regained her balance.

"Goodbye," he said sadly when she turned to face him.

She smiled bravely and gave him a wave before she turned and ran back to her window.

### ### ###

They had to be out of the cottage by nine a.m. for the next renters so there was no time for one final communal breakfast in the cleaned kitchen. All the food had been packed up or thrown out and Mike returned from the early morning dump run. Now he, Bob and Colin were loading up the mini-van with the luggage and Mr. A was doing the same with his family's stuff.

Barb and Cindy were mingling about with Bob and Joanne but Colin hadn't seen Bethany since their middle of the night farewell and he feared the Flynn's would leave before she made an appearance.

"Okay, it's almost nine, we're burning daylight!" Mr. A called.

Barb and Cindy got into the vehicle and Mr. A patiently waited for his wife and oldest daughter while Bob and Joanne got into the Flynn mini-van. Mrs. Flynn gave Colin an understanding sad smile before she climbed into the passenger seat.

"Ready?" Mike asked Colin as he stood next to the open driver's door.

Colin nodded and started to climb into the van when he heard Bethany's voice. She emerged from the cottage with her mother who closed the door behind them and Colin recognized the song Bethany was singing as she headed for their car all smiles. It was 'Do You Believe In Magic?' by the Loving Spoonful.

Do you believe in magic, in a young girl's heart?

How the music can free her, whenever it starts

And it's magic, if the music is groovy

It makes you feel happy like an old-timemovie

I'll tell you about the magic and it'll free your soul

But it's like tryin' to tell a stranger 'bout rock and roll
If you believe in magic, don't bother to choose

If it's jug band music or rhythm and blues Just go and listen, it'll start with a smile

It won't wipe off your face, no matter how hard you try

Your feet start tapping and you can't seem to find How you got there, so just blow your mind
If you believe in magic, come along with me

We'll dance until mornin' 'til there's just you and me

And maybe, if the music is right I'll meet you tomorrow, sort of late at night

And we'll go dancing, baby, then you'll see

How the magic's in the music and the music's in me
Yeah, do you believe in magic? Yeah, believe in the magic of a young girl's soul Believe in the magic of rock and roll Believe in the magic that can set you free Oh, talkin' 'bout magic
(Do you believe like I believe?) Do you believe in magic? (Do you believe like I believe?) Do you believe, believer? (Do you believe like I believe?) Do you believe in magic? (Do you believe like I believe?)

"Is she crazy?" Bob asked as they watched Bethany sing and dance her way to the car.

"Not at all," Mrs. Flynn replied with a smile, glancing back at Colin who was sitting in the way back of the van.

"Not at all," Colin agreed watching until Bethany disappeared into the Alexander SUV. "She's got the magic."

"Something tells me you might have it too," Mike observed as he climbed into the van and started the engine.

They could still hear Bethany singing as they drove out of the yard.