Memories of Who We Used to Be
My younger sister Tammy lost her battle to cancer over the winter. She was living in a rented room in a boarding house in Greenville but she died in a nearby Hospice. I was given the news over my cell phone and I was upset with the Hospice nurse who misread Tammy's condition and failed to notify us in time to say our final goodbyes.
I was dazed by Tammy's death and I drove from work to the Hospice as if I was in a nightmarish dream. Tammy's thin ghoulish body was still in the bed and she looked as though she was sleeping despite the blue gray hue to her skin. It was a surreal experience to lose a kid sister. I knew I'd lose my parents at some point but a sibling before fifty? It just didn't seem fair or even real.
I hadn't realized what a great childhood and upbringing we had until I was an adult and heard horror stories and disappointments from other people who didn't think their pasts were so great. I took it for granted that everybody had good parents and a fun neighborhood that exemplified support, involvement, and great friends.
There were a lot of families in the neighborhood I grew up in, the section of Hillsboro called "the flats". Most of the families seemed like mine so I never gave it much thought about it being unusual to have such a great childhood. Once Tammy started having her problems, of course, I came to realize that no matter how great your upbringing happened to be, that wasn't a guarantee that one's adult life would turn out as perfect. I struggled in the months following Tammy's death to reconcile my Pollyanna attitude about my youth with the reality that Tammy's life didn't turn out so great.
I became confused answering the question of how many siblings I had after Tammy died. Should I say 'Well, there used to be three of us but now there are only two'? Or should I say 'I have one live sister and one dead sister?' Would that make people feel awkwardly uncomfortable? It would certainly prompt the obvious question: "Oh? What happened to your sister?"
Tammy didn't have much when she died. My older sister Laura and I cleaned out Tammy's rented room and it only took a few boxes to collect her belongings: family photographs, books and magazines, a bed, some used furniture from tag sales and the Salvation Army, and that was about it. Her life had been reduced to that?
I rented a huge cottage on Sun Rise Lake the summer after Tammy died. The funeral service had been a blur of raw emotions and dazed condolences without much of a chance for family and friends to spend time reminiscing about Tammy in a meaningful way. I thought it would be healing and productive to gather in a peaceful serene place and remember Tammy in a more healthy way.
The family spent plenty of summer days on the public beach at Sun Rise Lake as kids and it felt like the right place to have a mini-reunion to reflect on our loss. I was greeted by the caretaker Marcella who was sitting on the porch steps waiting for my arrival at the beginning of our rent week. We had talked on the phone and corresponded through e-mail. Marcella had sent me several photos of both the interior and exterior of the modernized house and I had driven by it several times during the past few months.
"Marcella?" I guessed as the woman extended her hand.
"Yes, and you must be Dylan Cahillane," she smiled.
Marcella was a few years younger than me – forty, maybe. She had strawberry blond hair and she was wearing a loose fitting blouse and baggy shorts that hid her figure but her legs were tanned and shapely and she had a nice smile.
The "cottage" was more like a house with a remodeled modern kitchen, an open dining area, a well furnished living room area with a flat screen television on the wall, a downstairs bedroom, a wide screened in wrap around porch, and a bathroom on the first floor, and a second bathroom on the second floor along with five bedrooms and a screened in balcony overlooking the lake.
Marcella was full of information and instruction as she provided the walk through.
"This will be my room," I decided when she showed me the biggest bedroom which faced the lake. "I figure I'm paying so why not!?" I smirked.
"You have family coming?" Marcella asked.
"Yes, sort of a Cahillane retreat," I explained. "Our sister died over the winter."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," Marcella replied with sincere sympathy. "I lost my husband a few years ago," she added with a brave smile.
"Oh, wow," I said with surprise, caught off guard by the revelation.
"He grew up in this house," she explained. "We inherited it when his folks died and now I inherited it from him," she said sadly. "I never wanted to be a landlord," she added with slight annoyance in her voice.
"You don't want to live here?" I asked.
"Much too big for me," she insisted. "I'm in the carriage house on the other side of the road," she said, pointing out the window to a small one floor red cottage nestled in some bushy trees across Shore Road. "I have access to the beach though."
"You're welcomed anytime," I smiled.
"I try to keep a low profile and not be a nuisance," Marcella remarked. "I work at the Sun Rise Lake School for Boys up the road, but it's pretty slow in the summer."
"Well, we'll try not to be a nuisance either," I grinned as she started for the stairs. "But my family can be a little crazy sometimes."
"I hope you have a nice time here," Marcella said. "I want people to enjoy it."
I nodded in agreement and we stepped out into the driveway just as Laura and her husband Pete pulled into the driveway. It felt kind of weird to have the owner of the place right across the road but I suppose if there were any problems it would be easy to find her!
Marcella waved her goodbye as she walked past Laura and Pete's car and I couldn't help but notice the sway of her hips even in the baggy shorts she was wearing.
Laura and Pete took the room next to mine and their fourteen year old daughter Mary claimed the smaller room across the hall.
They were moving into the rooms when Tammy's best friend Getsie arrived. I trotted out of the cottage with a huge grin on my face, looking forward to seeing Getsie again and perhaps renewing our friendship of old even though she was a married woman.
We hugged in the driveway as her twin daughters Jenny and Judy piled out of the late model expensive SUV.
"Hello, Dy," Getsie said with a sad and weary smile on her face.
"Hey, Getsie," I replied with relief as I gave her an extra squeeze. "Glad you could make it."
Getsie took the room across from mine while Getsie's twin twelve year old daughters shared the room next to Mary. I helped carry their luggage upstairs which earned a razz from Laura.
"You didn't help us carry our shit," my sister reprimanded as she unpacked her bags in their bedroom.
"Sorry," I mumbled, feeling slightly awkward for giving Getsie extra special treatment.
"You always liked Getsie better than me," Laura protested with a smirk on her face.
"It's true," I joked to Getsie who was sitting on the bed in thought. "You okay?" I asked.
"It's been a tough go of it for a while," Getise sighed. "Tammy and also dealing with Drew has really knocked me on my ass. I could really use this down time to figure out what I want to do with my life."
Drew was Getsie's famed novelist and screen writer husband who provided her a celebrity lifestyle in New York but we rarely saw her and her famous husband together. Drew didn't make it to Tammy's funeral which I thought was rather rude and unsupportive.
Getsie had gone to New York after Green College to begin her career as a book editor. Tammy followed our friend to the Big Apple but by then she had already started going off the deep end and Getsie eventually had to kick Tammy out in order to keep her own life sane.
I never thought Drew was the right guy for Getsie (and still don't). He's twenty years older than her, a pompous and self-absorbed well known celebrity writer who loves the publicity and his star power. There have been rumors of his infidelity for years (not helped by the tabloids that print photos of him with broads other than his wife) but Getsie always puts on a brave front and plays the role of dutiful happy wife.
One time, Getsie got Abby and me into a movie premiere for a film Drew wrote (and the after party) so it was fun having a big deal connection and whenever I saw Drew being interviewed on television I'd say 'Hey! I know that guy!" to whoever was in the room with me! But I still thought he was an asshole who didn't treat Getsie right.
"Well, Sun Rise Lake was always a great escape," I told Getsie as she sat on the bed looking pretty vulnerable and sad. "Maybe it can be this time too.
There was a beep of a car horn signaling the arrival of Cousin Abby who was emotionally close to Tammy in our younger days and she wanted to be part of the weeklong retreat. Her boyfriend Mason was with her and the couple took the downstairs bedroom.
Even though the sign over the outside door read 'The Marcella', we re-dubbed the cottage "Tammy's Place" in our sister's honor. Laura and Getsie made a run to the nearest Stop and Save to stock up on the groceries for the week while the rest of us settled in. The cottage was handsomely decorated with paintings of lakefronts, seascapes and sailboats which gave the house a peaceful feel.
There was a mellowness to our getaway which represented a much needed escape from the real world while remembering our sister, friend, and cousin. My parents had retired to Florida and while they came home for Tammy's service they weren't interested in making a summer return to the lake. Tammy's troubled adult life had been hard on them and they practiced tough love well but I think they felt betrayed by their daughter's behavior and they chose to let her rest in peace instead of joining us in some sort of grief fest. I know we all had issues regarding Tammy and I hoped our gathering at the lake would help us put them behind us for good.
The cottage came with a row boat (with a small engine on it) and a canoe. Pete brought along two kayaks and Getsie had two of those inflatable rubber rafts for the twins. There was a dock and a raft in front of the lake and it didn't take any of us very long to get lost in the relaxation of the vacation mode. We stopped looking at the clock, we kept the television news off, and we walked around in bare feet drinking beers and sipping Long Island ice teas.
I had done well in my career as a local internet designer and provider. I had partnered with a long established local communications company fresh out of Green College, caught the right wave at the right time, and became extremely successful in software design and implementation. Sometimes I felt guilty that I did so well while Tammy struggled but the time I offered her a job with the company was disastrous. She stole expensive equipment from our warehouse and pawned it off for money so I had to let her go.
Laura was smarter than me but she settled for love over career aspirations, dropping out of Blue County Community College to marry working man Pete Posnick. Although they struggled in their middle-class survival mode, Pete and Laura were a happily married couple. They raised three kids although Mary was the only one still at home. Pete ran a painting business while Laura was a waitress at Johnny C's Diner.
Cousin Abby was fun. She was a lot like Tammy when we were kids but unlike Tammy who became lost, directionless, and drunk, Abby made a nice little career for herself running an alternative type bakery and deli. Abby met free spirit Mason along the way and even though Abby was forty-two she still had the spontaneous attitude of a teenager. Abby had also tried to help out Tammy when she was down and out but Abs had to fire her cousin after she discovered Tammy was stealing money from the till.
Laura and I were the only ones who stayed in Hillsboro as adults although Tammy came and went several times. Abby's bakery was in Northville twenty miles away, my parents moved south, and Getsie was a New Yorker. Each of us had outgrown our childhood Hillsboro roots to build our new identities and legacies separate from our days of youth but I know deep down we still longed for those innocent days.
While the rest of us were living our lives, starting our families, and enjoying our careers, Tammy would disappear for months and even years at a time. She'd promise to come home for Christmas but then never show up. One of us would get a postcard from somewhere with Tammy's neat penmanship and semi-coherent message which rarely made sense. We felt guilty that we managed to make it in our lives while Tammy lived a frustrated, unhappy, miserable and problematic existence.
I must admit that I really didn't know Tammy very well as an adult. She was a spunky, funny, adventuresome tomboyish girl as a kid who was fun to be around. She loved animals, she was sentimental, she loved the holidays, and she was sensitive to the feelings of others.
But her personality, mood, attitude and outlook changed as she grew older. She became moody, sullen, obnoxious, insensitive, self-centered, chaotic, out of control, and unreliable. She disappointed and hurt all of us at one time or another, over and over again. She had a flare for the dramatics and became a queen at putting on a show worthy of any television soap opera. She'd make dramatic entrances long after she was expected. She'd become hysterical when losing an argument. She could be fouled mouthed and full of insults and the chaos she caused left the rest of us drained, strained, and usually speechless.
There came a time when Tammy couldn't get along with anybody and she had burned all her bridges. My parents wouldn't let her back into their house because they couldn't trust her and I'm convinced one of the reasons they retired to Florida was to escape Tammy's endless insane dog and pony show. Even when she was stricken with the fast moving cancer that killed her, Tammy was hard to engage and difficult to sooth. Toward the end, it was almost easier to hope she would die, as terribly as that sounds, then to have to endure another one of her manic episodes.
Tammy blamed us for her troubles. She resented my success and Laura's happy family. She said Getsie was a gold digger and she called Abby a lesbo hippie flake to her face. Tammy also disowned our parents for their tough love approach to her problems but they refused to give in.
"We had you kids," my father told me once after another one of Tammy's breakdowns. "We did our best. We gave you the tools and the love to lead good lives. Our world can't stop just because Tammy doesn't like the way it spins."
We could see the public beach from our cottage and it made me sentimentally nostalgic every time I saw it. We spent so much time at that beach as kids. My mother would bring us for the day and later, when Laura got her license, she brought us as well. As kids, we built sand castles, dug water holes, frolicked in the water, played Marco Polo, jumped off the raft, and ate ice cream sandwiches bought at the little refreshment shack in the shade of the trees by the swings.
When we became teenagers, we devoted ourselves to tanning, girl (and boy) watching, and discussing life's serious issues: acne, menstrual cycles, romance, sex, clueless adults, dumb teachers, and jerk classmates. I remember many meaningful conversations while lying on a blanket relaxed in the sun with my sisters, Abby and Getsie in their revealing bikinis and me wondering if it was perverted to be turned on by such sightings.
It was easy to lie on the dock at Tammy's Place trading stories about our sister. We would talk affectionately about our innocent and happy tales of childhood and youth when we felt like life would be perfect forever by telling funny stories about Tammy and her knack for getting all of us to laugh but invariably the conversation would turn to the less enjoyable horror stories of Tammy's chaotic adult life.
The married Army guy she ran off with. Showing up at our father's sixtieth birthday party drunk and stoned. The scar on her stomach and when we asked her where it came from she replied 'Oh, some guy knifed me.'
Tammy was probably the prettiest of all the girls. Laura was the oldest so she had a mature prettiness to her. Abby had a sexy look. Getsie was sort of Barbie-doll pretty but Tammy had a natural beauty that made her stand out.
But because of her lifestyle and the abuse she took out on her body, Tammy aged the quickest even though she was the youngest. Her face became lined and drawn. Her body looked famished even before she got sick. There were track marks on her arms, her hair was often unkempt, greasy and matted, and she didn't keep up with her appearance. It was tough on all of us to watch her go downhill so quickly and completely.
Guys who once chased after Tammy lost interest and the losers she ended up with were rift-raft. She'd show up with some guy just out of jail or on the lam from his wife, some drunk or druggie tagging along. It was sad remembering Tammy like that – totally out of it, living a hopelessly miserable life with no chance of redemption unless she agreed to substance abuse treatment but she was never interested in getting clean and sober.
Thankfully, our getaway to the lake wasn't just to bum out about Tammy's sad life and eventual death. We had fun sun bathing, boat riding, canoe paddling, and playing with the kids. We played cards at night on the screened in front porch and we talked about our present lives while reminiscing about the old days.
I'd start each day with a run or bike ride and I usually ended it that way too. I took solo canoe rides if one of the others wasn't interested in joining me. I bumped into Marcella several times, either in the village down the road, or around the cottage. She'd cut along the side of the cottage to take a dip in the lake and she borrowed the canoe a few times to take a paddle. She always had a smile on her face and we exchanged hellos and pleasantries. I suppose we had something in common given that she was a widow and I had lost a sibling.
I'd find myself thinking about Tammy and missing her even more at the lake. She would have loved it here in her younger days. So many regrets. So many words left unspoken. Such sadness.
Tammy was on disability and she moved into her room provided to her by a social-service agency. I'd float her money for living expenses even though I knew she was using it for booze. She had stopped using the hard drugs by then, her veins collapsed, her body savaged, but she couldn't stop drinking even when she was sick. Near the end, she said it was easier to stay numb than to have to die sober.
Dealing with Tammy was always stressful and upsetting. She'd argue about anything and everything, especially if she felt confronted, picked on, judged, or criticized. She didn't let up even as she was dying and our last fight was over me paying for her Hospice care.
"Just let me die in my own god damn bed," she cried.
I couldn't give up on my sister, especially in her final weeks, but Tammy and Laura had been estranged for years and Tammy's approaching demise didn't thaw the deep freeze between them. If anything, it got worse. Laura tried to extend an olive branch during her illness but Tammy refused to let Laura see her. It was Tammy's ultimate head game: screw with Laura even in death.
We all brought our photo albums and collections with us to Tammy's Place. Tammy was in most of the shots and all the way through high school but then her appearances noticeably tailed off as the years went by. Getsie had a few photos of Tammy in New York and our sister looked clearly stoned in most of them. There were a few family holiday group shots through the years and Tammy was in a few of them, but not many. When she was, Tammy looked either drunk or miserable and it was depressing to watch her demise through the years caught on film. It seemed so melodramatic of her, almost as if she purposely posed unhappily in the photographs just to haunt us later.
"This is awful," I groaned as we looked through the albums. "A person's life gradually snuffed out right before our eyes."
Laura's daughter Mary reminded me of Tammy at that age. So full of wonderment and awe and interest, a joy to be around, and she was equally as happy to be with us too. Tammy loved being part of the group back in our youth. We called ourselves 'The Brady Gang' after the Brady Bunch because we considered Abby and Getsie to be our adopted sisters and part of our family too.
Watching Mary play with Getsie's twins during our getaway at the lake reminded me of The Brady Gang because the three girls were so comfortable with each other just as we had been at that age. We came from good families and lived in a fun neighborhood and we didn't realize that it was a uniquely special time that would eventually succumb to age and adulthood. If I could go back and do it over again, I would somehow take better care of – and pay special attention to – Tammy to make sure she didn't repeat the mistakes of adulthood and experience the troubles that changed her life forever, causing her to die alone in a lonely Hospice bed.
My parents were middle class working folk. My father ran a gas station and my mother worked as a teacher's aide. We weren't rich but I never felt poor because they provided for us and made us feel special. When we went to the lake on a day trip, my father would often remark, "Wouldn't it be nice to buy a cottage here?"
Dad was a dreamer who wanted to give us things he couldn't afford but we were happy with what we did have – a roof over our heads, a nice neighborhood to grow up in, wonderful friends, and a secure home life. I sometimes found myself looking for cottages for sale on Sun Rise Lake or the more distant Lake Ashlant with the same dream my father had. I even hired a real estate agent who took me to look at available properties but I never had the guts to make an offer on any of them. Renting Tammy's Place from Marcella was probably about as close as I was going to get to the dream.
My brother in law Pete got to play the role of neutral observer throughout most of our adult lives. He met Laura when she was twenty. I was eighteen and Tammy was almost seventeen so he knew all of us before Tammy started displaying her erratic and increasingly out of control behavior. Pete often assumed the role of mediator when I was too burned out or pissed off to deal with Tammy or when Laura tried to make me the middle man during some of her fights with our sister.
Pete was able to maintain his objectivity and try to be the voice of reason during some of the worst of times but even he fell victim to some of Tammy's craziness. She stole his pickup truck one night and later she accused him of accosting her (a charge she later retracted but Pete never really forgave her for that one).
At the lake, Pete was more interested in fishing and entertaining the three kids than he was rehashing some of Tammy's more memorable incidents. My adult nephew Matt stopped by for a couple of days (sleeping on the couch in the living room) and that gave Pete some guy bonding time since I was mostly hanging out with the ladies.
I had always been the guy of the group. There were other boys in the neighborhood who hung out with us but I was the one constant who had a strong relationship with my sisters, as well as my cousin Abby (who lived down the street) and of course Getsie who was the neighborhood sweetheart. By the time Pete came along the Brady Gang was starting to dissolve because of our age and going in our own separate directions.
During our retreat, Laura was the "indoor" cook and Pete was the "outdoor" cook, in charge of anything prepared on the grill. On this particular night we were having hamburgers and when Laura got on one of her rants regarding some affront Tammy had caused years ago it was Pete who put the Red Sox on the radio.
"If we can't properly pay our respects to Tammy with good memories, let's just listen to the ball game," he said, intentionally shaming the rest of us.
"Hey, we re-named the cottage after her," Laura said defensively.
"It's a house not a gravestone," Pete replied.
"She never fit in anyway once she went mental," Laura protested as we sat around the outside picnic table in the dusk.
"She's still family," Pete argued. "Do we really want to be about kicking the dead?"
I began to wonder if renting the cottage had been a mistake. I really thought the mini-reunion would be good for all of us and make us feel happy and grateful but twenty years of Tammy crisis's had programmed us to be cynical, suspect, and jaded. Plus Getsie seemed to be experiencing some sort of mid-life marriage crisis as she was unusually quiet and solemn a lot of the time. Still, it was hard not to be seduced by the peacefulness of the lake with it soothing nature and calm demeanor. It was great to be spending so much time with Getsie after so much time apart. There had been a point in my life when I thought she and I might end up together but that never happened.
Mary and the twins really didn't pay all that much attention to the usually morose Tammy talk. They had fun swimming, jumping off the dock and raft, going for boat rides, running up and down the stone steps that led to the lake, telling late night giggly stories in their bedrooms, and just being kids and their presence reminded the rest of us of what we once had and what we still missed sometimes.
"The ten year old Tammy would have loved it here," I said and nobody argued.
"When the breeze comes off the lake, I pretend its Tammy whispering to us," Getsie said one night as we sat on the porch listening to the lapping waves in the dark.
When one of us said something like that it was easy to be struck with a general feeling of sadness
Tammy's absence at the lake was definitely a missing link but it's not as if she had been around all that much anyway. It was the knowledge that she would never be around again that made the week so difficult.
"What do you think made her go off the deep end?" I asked one evening as we sat on the front porch listening to music and shooting the shit.
We all had our theories over the years, of course, and there was always this need to hash it out again in some sort of useless attempt to figure out what went wrong and absolve ourselves from any responsibility.
Getsie was quick to blame Morris Jackson, some head case Tammy met at Blue County Community College, the guy who got her high for the first time and popped her cherry.
"It was all downhill from there," Getsie said.
Abby thought the death of our grandmother around the same time weirded Tammy out. She had been especially close to Gram and she took her death especially hard. Laura wondered if it had anything to do with Timmy Gray, who had been Laura's first crush. Tammy had the hots for him too and but she was only twelve at the time and Gray barely acknowledged her existence.
"I think that scarred her psyche and later on it played out with the losers she kept ending up with," Laura theorized.
I wondered if Tammy had been one of Mr. Townsley's victims. She denied it whenever it came up but Mr. T had been one of her favorite teachers and she was strangely defensive and protective of him when he was accused of raping a student Tammy's senior year. Maybe it wasn't the jerk Jackson who had deflowered her, but Townsley who probably told poor gullible and naïve Tammy that he loved her and they would get married and all the rest of it. She probably had a secret tryst with the guy and then was too embarrassed and humiliated to fess up to it when he got napped for rape.
"We will never know what evil spirits occupied Tammy's mind," my mother said on the eve of Tammy's funeral. "She was clearly a troubled and tragic person who wasted most of her life making poor choices and refusing to take any responsibility for the mistakes she made."
I was surprised at how cold and harsh my mother sounded that night but I think she and my father were resolved that they were not to blame for what happened to Tammy. Laura and I had turned out well being raised in the same house by the same parents with the same rules and upbringing so how could they be held responsible for what happened to Tammy?
"We treated her as special as anybody," My mother said. "Maybe even more so since she was the baby and our last one."
"I always thought she'd find her way back," I sighed as I thought about Tammy's drop off the deep end. "That she'd come back to the fold."
"She left us," Laura pointed out. "We didn't leave her."
"I never lost faith in this family," I said. "I always felt that we were fundamentally happier than any other family. I know it's a diluted belief from my foolish teens but I never let go of it and I don't understand why Tammy gave up on it."
"It didn't have anything to do with us," Laura said.
But how could it not?" Abby worried. "We were her friends and family. Doesn't it come back on us?
"Who cares?" Laura groaned. "She's gone and there's nothing we can do about it now just like there was nothing we could do about it then."
It was obvious that there was a lot of grief, pain, guilt, and sadness for us to still deal with in the wake of Tammy's death.
### ### ###
I didn't want to spend the entire week torturing myself (and others) over poor tragic Tammy. Life went on (as sad as that was) so I tried to enjoy myself by spending time with Mary and the twins, hanging out with my brother in law Pete who I didn't see a whole lot of in our regular lives, and of course trying to reestablish some sort of kinship with Getsie who hadn't smiled very much since her arrival at the lake.
I probably should have stayed clear of Getsie, a married woman, but we had been friends forever and naturally we flirted with one another over the years. She was the first girl I ever kissed (I was fourteen she was thirteen) and I tagged along with the girls to a movie or Johnny C's for a shake or on the bus to Greenville to hang out over there just so I could be with Getsie who was well read and interesting, not to mention pretty.
Getsie was the only member of the Brady Gang who wasn't a blood relative so there wasn't anything perverted about being physically attracted to her in my mind even if she was like a sister. Ironically, my cousin Abby was the first girl I ever saw naked but she didn't seem to care. We were thirteen at the time and I barged into Tammy's room unannounced where I got to see Abby's bare ass.
Tammy screamed, hiding herself behind the closet door and I'm pretty sure my twelve year old sister was naked too although I didn't see anything. Abby, standing in the middle of the room with no place to hide, turned and looked at me with her hands on her hips and I got a look at her small still forming breasts and her tiny pubs for hair between her legs.
"Ever hear of knocking?" She wanted to know.
"Get out!" A panicked Tammy screamed from the closet
But Abby had a silly smirk on her face as she let me take a look at her nakedness and that moment was my sexual awakening although I wasn't going to take it any further with my cousin for obvious reasons. (I would have ended up off the deep end along with Tammy).
I later wondered what the two of them were doing naked in Tammy's room in the middle of the afternoon. They weren't changing to go swimming or something – it was almost as if they were getting naked together – but I never asked the question and those two never volunteered any information on the subject.
Getsie remained my real interest. She was popular and well liked and she had plenty of dates and boyfriends but we were members of the Brady Gang so I was always special to her. After that first kiss (at Jimmy Rogers's birthday party) Getsie and I tended to flirt more. I felt her breast through a yellow wool sweater she was wearing when we were sixteen and it was the best thing I ever felt in my life. Whenever I saw a yellow sweater on any woman after that, I thought of Getsie.
We tippy-toed around romantic notions while remaining Brady Gang co-conspirators enjoying a uniquely special friendship that was based on mutual respect and admiration. We offered moral support when one of us was involved in a relationship and we consoled each other when things didn't work out. We were best friends (don't tell Tammy) with a secret unspoken understanding that cemented our relationship in a mystical Holy Grail that we figured we would explore when we got older.
I headed off to Green College a year ahead of Getsie. She followed (not me necessary) and we hung out some but I met Susanna whose family business I would merge with after graduation and that pretty much ended my flirtations and future fantasies with Getsie although I remained fond of her and we spent time together as part of the Brady Gang.
I married the owner's daughter Susanna and she helped me get the new business off the ground and rolling but after ten years of marriage she decided she wanted to do something else with her life so she left me with no apologies or regrets.
"It's just time, Dylan, that's all," was the last thing she said to me as she left our house for the final time.
I may have run to Getsie for consolation if she wasn't in New York living with the famous Drew Adams. All I had left by then were the memories of who we used to be. The Brady Gang was all but over as we were living our own lives and I think the last time we were all together as a five some was for Laura's baby shower for Mary. With Getsie living in New York and Tammy off on her waif tour it was hard to get all of us together anyway - at least until Tammy died.
But I often thought of Getsie in my loneliness as a divorced guy wondering if she had been the one for me. It was slightly awkward once she married Drew because I knew then that any hope there was for us was over. In a way, though, it freed us to remain good friends without any of the hang ups or sexual tension and I sensed that I had become her closet confidant. She'd call me for advice or to rant about Drew's latest book tour or movie deal that took him away from home and it felt good that she relied on and trusted me so much. Maybe if we had slept together when we were younger we could have checked that off the box but I don't suppose it mattered much now.
Having Getsie to myself (I mean without Drew around) at the lake retreat was spiritually uplifting for me. It was like we were fourteen again having a good time without worries or pressure even if she wasn't as cheerful as she used to be. The twins liked me and having Abby and Laura around for the Brady Gang reunion was fulfilling too even if Tammy remained the missing link.
I'd wake up early in the morning and go for a run or bike ride before the cars were out on shore road. One morning I came back from a ride. It was still insanely early and I was surprised to see somebody in the lake swimming in front of our cottage. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was Getsie so I strolled down to the dock as she swam back in from a few laps around the raft. It was only then that I realized that her robe was on the dock and as she swam closer in the clear lake water I realized she was skinny dipping given that I could see her lovely buns through the water.
Getsie reached the dock and remained on her stomach floating in the water as she looked up at me, her soaked blonde hair matted to her head.
"You caught me," she smiled and it was all I could do not to rip off my clothes and jump into the water with her.
It was a dream delayed come true - a butt-naked Getsie although she did a good job making sure her small breasts and other attributes remained hidden as she semi-hugged the dock post.
"How's the water?" I asked, trying to play it cool, as if I saw her naked ass every day.
"Refreshing," she answered readily. "I like coming out here when everybody is still asleep. I feel like I'm all alone in the world."
"I feel like that all the time."
"You know what I mean," she said.
"How come Drew didn't come?" I asked.
"He was supposed to but he called and said he couldn't make it," Getsie said. "Big surprise," she added sarcastically.
"Sorry," I shrugged.
"Hey, with the perks comes the sacrifices and disappointments," Getsie said as she took a sip of the lake water into her mouth and then spit it out like a kid playing in the lake. "I have a beautiful house on Long Island. I drive a new car. I have the twins who make me complete. When Drew's around, he's terrific. But with the fame and celebrity and screenplays and novels and fame comes the traveling, and working, and on location rewrites so if I want the perks I need to accept the sacrifices too."
"I guess," I said.
"I left the Brady Gang when I moved to New York, Dylan," Getsie reminded me. "There's no going back, even if I wanted to. Tammy's dead and the memories of who we used to be kind of died with her."
"I miss us," I admitted.
"Me too," she said. "But it is what it is."
"Thanks for coming," I said. "It's been great seeing you again."
"You've never seen me like this before," she smirked. "Now let me get out of the water before the rest of the gang wakes up. Get my robe for me."
I picked the robe up off the dock as she swam toward the shore. I walked with her along the dock checking out her bare rear one more time and I met her at the shore as she stood and revealed her glorious front side to me as she stepped out of the water. The lake water tripped from her small but pert breasts with their hard nipples from the cold water. The water dripped down her front and between her legs before falling into the lake beneath her.
We exchanged knowing smiles as I wrapped the robe around her. I wasn't supposed to see another man's wife naked but I was glad I finally saw Getsie. She was as amazing as I imagined, even at forty-three.
"Tammy wanted me to stay in Hillsboro and marry you," Getsie revealed. "I've often wondered what would have happened if I had."
"Me too," I smiled.
"See you around," she said as she walked past me and headed for the cottage.
I turned and watched her go, knowing she was walking out of my life for good. She belonged in New York with her husband.
### ### ###
After breakfast, I returned to the dock. I wanted to take the canoe out to clear my head after the image of Getsie but when I got there I saw that Marcella was already sitting in the craft about to launch from the dock.
"Oh, did you want to use this?" She asked when she saw me standing on the dock gawking at her.
"Maybe we could share?" I suggested, not wanting to deprive her use of the canoe.
"Oh?" She asked with surprise. "Sure, I guess," she finally decided.
I was in my bathing trunks and a tee shirt so I walked into the water and carefully climbed into the canoe, not wanting to capsize the craft. Marcella turned around on her seat to man the front of the canoe while I anchored from the back. She was wearing a different pair of baggy shorts and a long tee shirt. Her strawberry blonde hair was pulled back in a pony tail underneath a worn out Boston Red Sox ball cap.
We didn't say anything as we paddled the green canoe away from the dock. This was certainly something different - taking a canoe ride with the landlord!
"So, what happened to your sister?" Marcella asked once we were a good distance from the shore.
"Cancer," I reported.
"Did she suffer long?"
"Most of her adult life," I sighed.
I glanced back at the cottage we dubbed Tammy's Place. "You have a lovely house here," I said.
"It all happened so fast," Marcella said. "I got a job at the boys school fresh out of college and that's where I met David. He was on the faculty there. We moved into the bungalow across from his parents. They used to rent it out but they wanted us near by. It was a wonderful life. Then one brutal winter his parents went to visit family in Northern Vermont. They got lost and disorientated in a storm and wound up freezing to death when they got stranded out in the middle of nowhere."
"Holy cow," I said.
"Yeah, it was pretty awful," Marcella said. "Anyway, the three kids inherited the house but his siblings weren't interested in it so we bought them out. David couldn't bring himself to live in the house though so we fixed it up and began renting it out."
"It's a nice place," I said.
"Then a few years later David was diagnosised with brain cancer and we went through a year of hell," she sighed. "I was so lost without him after he died. I cried all the time. I couldn't function. I'm sure you know what its like," she said. "Having lost your sister."
"Tammy had her problems before she got sick," I revealed. "I'm sure it was different for you, losing a life love."
"Do you have a life love?" Marcella wondered.
"Not anymore," I admitted.
She pointed to the small land mass not the far off. "Let's paddle over to Unicorn Island," she suggested.
She smiled. "That's what the locals call it. Legend is there was once a unicorn colony on the island, a magical place to visit."
"David used to swim out here with his siblings when he was a kid," Marcella told me.
I glanced over my shoulder at the cottage that seemed so far off now. "That's a long way!"
"When you grow up here you have all sorts of adventures," she said.
"Where'd you grow up?"
"Small town in the central part of the state," Marcella answered. "Came out here to go to Green College and never left."
"I went to Green too," I said.
"Oh, a fellow Greenie Alum," Marcella said. "I knew there was a reason I liked you!"
I was flattered by that comment. "I grew up in Hillsboro," I said. "We came here on day trips all the time growing up but I never heard this place called Unicorn Island".
"It's officially called Little Island," Marcella explained. "There used to be a house on it but it burned down a long time ago. You can still see the foundation and chimney. Apparently, a farmer used to bring goats out here to graze so it's also called Goat Island, but I like Unicorn Island better. It's more mystic."
"Yeah," I agreed.
The canoe reached the shore of the Island and we maneuvered it into a small cove but there was no dock or landing. There was a sandy hill with a rope somebody had tied to a tree on top of the bank. We tied the canoe to a low hanging tree branch, climbed out of the canoe and scaled the bank using the rope.
Marcella went first and I tried not to stare at her backside that was above my head. The bank was about fifteen feet high and it wasn't hard to get to the landing above. The Island was mostly woods and brush but there was a path that cut along the outside of the island and we followed it.
"It's still hard to imagine David's dead," Marcella admitted as we walked. "He had so many stories about this lake and his memories made him come so alive when he'd tell the various tales and legends along with his own experiences. I was so traumatized by the loss that I had to go see a grief counselor for a while." She glanced over her shoulder at me. "But don't worry, I'm not crazy," she grinned.
"When Tammy died, my mother made us have a sit down with the Minister to talk about our feelings and deal with the grief," I said.
"Did it help?"
"I think I had a harder time dealing with my wife leaving me than with Tammy's death," I confessed. "I'm still depressed about that but with Tammy mostly I just feel sad and guilty because I was almost relieved when she finally died."
"I doubt I'll ever totally get over not having David," Marcella said softly.
"How can you?" I said. ""But it will get better I'm sure. I keep the memories of Tammy in my heart and this vacation retreat is supposed to be a chance for all of us to heal, grieve, and move on. I guess the only thing we can do is live our lives as best we can."
We reached an opening that faced out to the other side of the lake. Somebody had made a make shift bench and we took a seat on it to take in the scenery.
"What do you do at the school?" I asked.
"I worked my way up to the Admissions Office," she said. "I'm the Assistant Director now. Lots of travelling but staying busy keeps me sane."
"Yeah, I worked twelve hour days after Susanna left me."
"What do you do?"
"Computer software and communication platforms," I said. "If you use a local service, it's probably ours – Blue ."
"Oh, yeah, I've seen that," Marcella replied.
It was very peaceful sitting on the bench looking out at the lake in front of us. It was a different angle and perspective than from the cottage and because we were enveloped by trees on a small island we presently had to ourselves it gave me a feeling of serenity that I hadn't felt since arriving at the lake. I didn't have to grieve Tammy or fret about Getsie. There was a break from the laughing playing goofy girls running all around the place. I didn't have to listen to Laura's ongoing rants about our sister. I wouldn't mind spending the rest of the vacation here on Unicorn Island.
I glanced at Marcella seated next to me and I noticed that tears were running down her cheeks.
"You okay?" I asked, surprised by the sight.
"God, I'm sorry," she said, wiping the tears from her cheeks. "It's just that I miss David so much." She sighed. "I don't know how I'm surviving without him."
"You're surviving because what choice do you have?" I said, bold enough to put my arm around her shoulder and give her a supportive squeeze. "You're strong enough to get through this."
"I just feel so alone sometimes," she groaned, trying to stop the tears from freefalling. "My boss made me take the rest of the week off. Said I needed some R and R. But I don't know what to do with myself without work when there's no David at home. Hell, I didn't know what to say when you suggested we share the canoe. I feel like I'm betraying David or something."
"I'm sure he would want you to be happy," I told her. "And it's just a canoe ride."
She looked into my eyes and stared for a long moment. "Is it?" She asked.
I shrugged. "I suppose it can be whatever we want it to be," I said.
This was a little weird. I hadn't dated much since Susanna left. There was the Tammy drama that kept me occupied plus I felt out of the loop socializing with women my age. It meant scrolling through on line dating services or hanging out at The Bullpen Tavern with other middle aged lonely hearts and that was just too much work and effort. I took the office administrator from work out a few times but nothing clicked between us. A couple of pals tried hooking me up with divorced women they knew but it was usually awkward and one time only. I was fantasizing about Getsie more than I should have and Abby hung out with me during some of my lonely times but she was my cousin! Sitting here with Marcella on a secluded island was the first time I felt my heartstrings yearn just a little bit in a long time. But we were both damaged goods and I wasn't sure if either of us really had a chance at being good at this.
"You should join the Brady Gang," I decided.
"The Brady Gang?" Marcella asked, wiping the tears away again and unconsciously wiping some of her snot onto her forearm.
"That's who's staying at the cottage," I explained, giving her a brief history of the five of us. "You could be the fill in Tammy," I smirked when I was done with the capsulated story of our lives.
"Like the new Darrin on Bewitched?" She joked.
"Why don't you hang out with us for the rest of our stay?" I suggested. "You'll love the kids and maybe the company will be good for you."
"I have been isolating a lot," Marcella admitted. "My friends drag me out sometimes but I've been too sad to be any fun."
"You don't have to have fun with us," I joked. "Just be with us."
"Now I'm feeling guilty for charging you so much to rent the cottage," she admitted sheepishly.
"Hey, it's worth the price," I smiled. "It turns out that this week is going to be pretty nice after all even with all the death and grief."
We walked back to the canoe, detouring onto another path so Marcella could show me the remains of the long ago cottage. She told me that she and David used to paddle here in the canoe for a picnic lunch sometimes.
"This is my first time back since he got sick," She admitted, her eyes glistening.
I said nothing, letting her have her memories for a few minutes.
"I miss what we had," she sighed after a long pause.
"You'll always have the memories of who you used to be," I said.
"Maybe there'll be some new memories," Marcella said hopefully.
We used the rope to get down the bank to the canoe waiting for us in the shallow water by the shore. We paddled back toward the cottage and came across Laura and Pete along the way. They were moored in the row boat, fishing.
"Hey," I said when we slowed the canoe near the boat. "This is Marcella," I said, gesturing with the paddle to my canoe mate. "She owns our cottage. She lives in the small bungalow across the road. She's going to hang out with us, if that's okay."
"Sure," Laura smiled, glad to finally see me socializing with a woman.
"I made her an honorary member of the Brady Gang," I explained.
"Great," Laura said. "I'm the leader of the gang," she told Marcella with a smile. "This is my husband, Pete."
Pete tipped his fishing cap from where he sat in the back of the boat. "Hello, my lady," he said cheerfully.
We said our farewells and paddled back to the dock. Mary and the twins were soaking rays on the raft and Getsie and Abby were sitting on the dock, surprised to see a woman in the canoe as I returned.
"This is Marcella," I said once we moored the canoe. "This is Getsie and that's my cousin Abby," I told Marcella as we climbed out of the canoe.
The three women exchanged pleasantries. The last time I introduced a woman to the gang I married her!
Laura and Pete returned from fishing and Mason finally rolled out of bed. He was the thinnest guy I'd ever seen with his long red hair pulled back in a ponytail. He spent most of the week wearing tattered dungaree cut offs and nothing else. The girls swam in from the raft and also met Marcella who they thought was "cool".
Marcella spent the rest of the day hanging out with us. She wasn't offended that we re-named the Cottage 'Tammy's Place'.
"David named it 'Marcella's Place' for me but it never felt right," she admitted.
Laura made a ton of sandwiches for lunch and we ate them on the front porch. Marcella gave us a history of the cottage, showing us a couple of photos from the early 1900s when the original house looked like nothing more than a shack. She knew the names of all the families that owned the property through the years. Her in-laws bought the place in the late 1950s and winterized it into a year round home.
"Maybe we passed David in the village and never even realized it," I said when she told us a few more stories about her late husband's childhood at the cottage.
"I think he was a bus boy at the Lakefront Diner when he was a young teenager," Marcella recalled. "Then he got a good job in the maintenance department at the school."
We shared a couple of funny Tammy stories with Marcella and it felt good to be speaking of our sister in a warm happy way instead of focusing on all her problems and screw ups.
Later, Marcella and I took the kayaks out for a long spin. She pointed out various cottages along the shore and told me stories about them. We paddled as far as the Sun Rise Lake School for Boys campus that overlooked the lake on a huge hill and she pointed to the building she worked in before we turned around and made our way back to Tammy's Place.
Marcella stayed for supper – steak tips on the grill with potato salad and a tossed salad - and she joined us for after dinner drinks while watching the sun set. She fit right in as an honorary member of the Brady Gang, getting along with all of us and adapting to our routines. Laura was the expert on politics, Pete was the sports and car encyclopedia, Getsie knew all about arts and entertainment, Abby was an expert on food, and the three girls were up to snuff on all the cultural news. Marcella was able to provide the girls with tidbits on the boys of Sun Rise Lake School for Boys which they lapped up with giggles and questions.
All in all, it was a surprisingly unexpected and enjoyable day, from Getsie's skinny dip to getting to know a new woman. I walked Marcella across Shore Road to her small cottage which was light and airy with the night breeze blowing through the open windows. Marcella invited me inside and she gave me a brief tour of the surprisingly small cottage. She showed me the various photographs of David in various stages of his life. He was a good looking guy and the photos of him inside of Tammy's Place before it was remodeled were intriguing.
"Would you like something to drink?" Marcella asked and I was amused that she hadn't grown tired of me after spending the entire day together.
"A beer would be great," I smiled.
Marcella disappeared into the kitchen and returned a moment later with two beer bottles in her hands. But she looked sad as she sat on the couch and I took a seat next to her.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"I've never brought a man in here after David died," she sighed. "It feels….awkward, I guess."
"I sold the house Susanna and I lived in not long after she left," I said. "I figured I needed to start over and that there were too many memories of us in that place."
"I could never leave here," Marcella admitted.
"I don't blame you," I said. "I used to fantasize about buying a cottage on this lake. I even looked at a couple."
"There's a few for sale now," she said.
"Yeah, I've seen them when I ride my bike or jog in the morning."
"I can't even take my wedding ring off," she said, holding up her hand for me to see. "It's just too hard to let go."
"Maybe in time," I said.
"I know he's dead," she sighed. "But on some level I still haven't accepted that he's really gone."
"The love you had for him will never go away," I offered.
"He's a memory I'll cherish forever," Marcella vowed.
"Good for you," I said, patting her on the knee.
She gave me a somewhat bewildered look. "Everybody kept telling me that it was time to move on but I never could. Everybody wanted me to pretend nothing bad happened because they didn't know how to get me through such deep grief. I pretty much abandoned everybody in my life. Today was the first day I honestly let go and just let things happen."
"Sometimes that's just how it happens," I let her know.
"I really appreciate you just letting me be me, Dylan," Marcella told me. "I told you before that I wasn't crazy but maybe I really am."
"No, you're the sanest person I know," I smirked. "In fact, you might be too normal for the Brady Gang!"
"What's so normal about a forty year old widow held up in her cottage all the time?" Marcella wanted to know.
"Come over for breakfast tomorrow," I said, as I finished the beer that had been in my hand the whole time.
"Okay," she agreed, taking the bottle from me and getting off the couch to bring it into the kitchen.
I was standing when she returned to the room.
"I should probably head back across the street," I said.
"Okay," she said.
"Thanks for a great day, Marcella. It was one of the best ones I've had in a long time," I said.
I noticed that her eyes were a deep brown, soft and amazing. She was gazing into mine and I wondered if I should give her a kiss goodnight. Ah, it was probably too soon for that.
"I had a really good time too," she said happily. "Thank you."
"Sure," I said, starting for the door.
But she stopped me by grabbing my arm. I turned and she was on me, giving me a kiss good night. It caught me by surprise but I welcomed it by kissing her back.
"Good night," she whispered.
"Good night," I said with warm contentment before heading for the door.
Laura and the girls had already turned in. Mason and Pete were watching a movie in the living room but Abby and Getsie were waiting for me on the front porch when I got back from Marcella's. They had silly smirks on their faces and I wondered if there was just a hint of envious jealousy in Getsie's eyes as she gave me the look over.
"What happened over there?" Abby asked with genuine interest.
"We just had a nightcap is all," I said as I took a seat between them.
"Oh." Abby sounded disappointed.
"But the vacation isn't over yet," I added with a smirk.
Abby laughed and she and Getsie offered their (positive) insights and observations about Marcella while I told them a little bit about her from my perspective.
"We haven't seen you looking this hopeful since Susanna left," Abby remarked. "Maybe this is finally your big break."
"Wouldn't that be nice?" I commented.
Abby went to join Mason to watch the end of the movie leaving Getsie and me behind on the porch.
"I kind of feel the way I did when you first met Susanna," Getsie admitted.
"Really?" I asked with surprise. "I didn't know you cared about it that much. You were seeing that lacrosse player guy."
"I know," she said. "I mean I wasn't going to say anything but when it looked like things between the two of you were getting serious I felt a little cheated."
"You never told me you were interested in me," I reminded her.
"You never did either," she defended.
"I didn't want to wreck things between us," I admitted.
"Yeah," she sighed.
"I felt a little cheated when you married Drew," I confessed.
"It was too late by then," Getsie told me. "The door to the past had closed for both of us. I realized that when Susanna left you. The timing was all wrong."
"I just met Marcella," I said. "Who knows if there's anything there. She's still in love with her dead husband."
"You're not dead," Getsie reminded me.
"I've felt dead for a while," I revealed.
"Maybe it's time to live again," Getsie said. "Tammy blew it big time but that doesn't mean you have too."
We sat in the darkness of the porch staring out at the lake in front of us. The others had gone to bed and the cottage was dark and silent.
"I was thinking of taking a midnight dip before bed," Getsie said.
"Smells like it might rain," I observed.
"Who cares?" Getsie asked quietly. "You want to join me?"
"Yes," I said. "For about thirty years now."
We stood from our chairs. She took my hand and led me off the porch. We carefully navigated the darkness to the beach front which was masked by shadows caused by the overcast night sky. It was still very quiet and peaceful. Getsie removed her silky blouse and tossed aside her bra, giving me another chance to see her small but sexy breasts. She stepped out of her shorts and panties and stood naked in the shadows, waiting for me.
I gladly peeled off my tee shirt and shorts, followed by my briefs and Getsie looked with approval at my revelation.
"I've never cheated on Drew," Getsie said softly. "Even though he's had countless women since I married him."
"I'm sorry," I said.
"When you marry someone famous who writes about sex and makes movies with sex in it I guess you can't expect him to be pure," she sighed as she turned and slowly walked into the lake.
I followed her backside into the lake and we silently swam out to the raft, using it for cover. Getsie was waiting for me on the other side of the floatation. She had her back to the edge of the float and was holding on to it with her hands up over her head.
"Let's do this for Tammy," she whispered. "She always thought we belonged together."
"We should have listened to her," I said sadly as I swam close to Getsie. "What about your husband?"
"This is about me," Getsie replied.
I wrapped my arms around her waist and kissed her as she scissored her legs around my hips. I dropped one of my arms underneath the water to find her sweetness, rubbing her pleasure as her hips pushed forward and the warmth of her inner body clashed with the cool lake water.
We continued to make out as Getsie held on to the raft and I removed my finger, replacing it with my member as she kept her legs wrapped around me and I put my hands on her ass to keep her anchored against me. The water was over her head so I could only use my hips to pump into her while she used the float to stabilize the two of us.
Getsie's breathing became labored as her hips bucked and I pushed myself in and out until she peaked and although I felt guilty as sin it was still worth it. We were making love as a symbolic farewell to the memories of who we used to be. We were having sex in the water in testimony and homage to my dead sister who believed we belonged together and just for this brief magic moment frozen in time, we were together.
I held Getsie close as her body relaxed and her breathing returned to normal. Then she kissed me with emotional passion and I couldn't tell if the water on her face was lake water or tear drops.
"God help us both," Getsie whispered when she broke the kiss and looked in my eyes.
She turned around in the water and rested her head against the ladder of the raft. I pressed against her from behind, rubbing myself against her backside and kissing her damp neck from the lake water. I wrapped my arms around her waist and I sunk down as I kissed her shoulders, her back, her spine, and then underwater to plant kisses on her tailbone and finally the crack of her ass.
Getsie turned her body to face me while I was still underwater and I planted a kiss on her flower before breaking the surface and kissing her on the mouth again.
Getsie lifted herself up on the bottom run of the ladder so her breasts were out of the water, looking into my eyes as I ran my hands along her ribs before letting my fingers brush across her nipples then up to caress her beautiful face before running my hand though her dripping hair. I dropped that hand down to rub her stomach and then back up to her breasts and nipples.
She moaned sadly and then kissed me before she dove over my head into the water and began to swim ashore. I followed her and when we reached the dock she turned to face me.
"In an alternate universe, we would be married," she said. "Tammy would still be alive. I would be teaching high school English at St. Anne's Catholic School. And the Brady Gang would still be together. All of us happy."
"For a moment, tonight, I was very happy," I said, resting my forehead against hers as we stood in the thigh deep lake water.
I put my hand on her ass and pushed her close to me. "Thank you," I whispered. "For the final memory of what we could have been."
"Marcella would be a fool to let you get away," Getsie announced, giving me one last kiss before turning and walking out of the water. I watched her dress and then disappear into the shadows before falling back into the water and doing the backstroke until I turned and began swimming. I didn't stop until I reached Unicorn Island.
### ### ###
I slept in the next morning. The swim to Unicorn Island wasn't so bad – but coming back was a little bit more of a strain as I was tired from all the physical activity of the day. I realized that swimming across the lake stark naked in the middle of the night probably wasn't the smartest thing to do but I wanted to be like young Dave, sort of as some weird proof to Marcella that I too was worthy.
I swam to get away from Getsie and to try to figure out if I was the biggest slime bucket bastard in the world or the stop gap Knight in (no) Armor offering Getsie something she longed to have, find, or get back. I had no illusions that our lake lovemaking would change anything between us. It was just a frozen moment in time to pretend and to forget.
My sister Laura came into my bedroom, opened the window shades, and sat on the side of my bed. I could hear the pouring rain outside and it made me want to stay in bed all day. The rain reflected the mood I suddenly found myself in: dark and gray. My kid sister was dead. I just made love to another man's wife who I could never have. I was attracted to a woman who was still mourning her dead husband. Maybe this whole retreat idea had been a stupid one.
"Marcella is downstairs having breakfast," Laura reported.
"Oh, yeah, I invited her," I sheepishly remembered.
"Are you going to join her?" Laura smirked.
"Sure, I'll be right down," I said.
"I thought you were going to pine over Getsie the whole time so I'm glad you've met someone new," Laura said, surprising me with her insight.
"Have I been that pathetic?" I wondered.
"Since you were fourteen," Laura confirmed.
"Tammy thought we should get married."
"That was about the only thing she got right," Laura replied.
"You thought so too?" I asked with surprise.
"Once you met Susanna it didn't matter anymore," she shrugged.
"But it's too late now with Getsie," I sighed.
"It's way too late now," Laura agreed. "But why don't you see if Marcella is worth that much angst?"
I cleaned up and got dressed and when I came down the stairs Mary and the twins had big news - they brought me to the front porch and pointed to the lake front. The raft was gone!
"Somebody stole it!" Mary laughed.
"No, it's down the shore," Pete said from where he sat in one of the porch chairs reading the paper. "I saw it when I went to the village this morning. I'll go tow it back when the rain stops. You kids must have been jumping on it too hard yesterday and moved the anchor off the cement block."
"We weren't jumping on it," Mary said with a frown.
"Yeah, right," Pete mumbled.
I wasn't about to volunteer that it was possible that a naked Getsie and I may have rocked the raft of its mooring at midnight while making love. Instead, I walked into the kitchen where I found a smiling Getsie sitting at the eating table next to Marcella chatting away over cups of coffee and Abby's pancakes. Getsie threw me a knowing look and it was clear she had no regrets about the previous night which took some of the stress and guilt off of me. Actually, she looked rather amused about the situation.
"We were just discussing your love life," Getsie smirked.
"Oh?" I asked nervously.
"When you were fourteen," Laura clarified from her seat at the table.
"I didn't have a love life when I was fourteen," I said as I took a seat next to Laura.
"That's what we were discussing!" Abby laughed.
"Very funny," I grumbled.
"Sounds like you didn't need a love life as a member of the Brady Gang," Marcella remarked. "You were surrounded by four girls all the time."
"Yeah, I was pretty lucky," I admitted with a smile.
Abby put a plate of pancakes in front of me. "Yes, you were!"
I was thinking I was pretty lucky now too, being surrounded by the remaining members of the Brady Gang and a possible new entry in the form of Marcella.
"We told Marcella some of the stories," Getsie smiled.
"Sounds like you were everybody's Knight in Shining Armor," Marcella noted.
"It wasn't anything that heroic," I said truthfully. "I was just around a lot is all."
"Well, we always appreciated that," Getise said.
Laura joined in with Abby and Getsie to razz me a little more, but it was all in good fun and I didn't mind the ribbing. If teenager Tammy had been there, she would have joined in the fun and we all would have been having a good time. Marcella seemed to be fitting in easily and nicely and I was glad that the others were accepting her as a possibility.
We continued joking around and telling Brady Gang stories as we ate. After we cleaned up, we wondered what we should do while it rained. The kids were fine with their various electrical gadgets and The Disney Channel on the television. Pete disappeared to dig for fishing worms in the rain and Mason was still asleep, so Getsie, Abby, Marcella and I sat down for a marathon game of Scrabble while Laura caught up with her Face book page and cruising the various political pages on her lap top. We'd hear her mumbling with annoyance when she came across something she didn't like - she had always been the most political among us.
Marcella was a pretty good Scrabble player and the game was hotly contested with Getsie pulling out a win. Abby won the rematch and suddenly it was almost lunch and the rain had let up enough for Mason and Pete to go tug the raft back. I wasn't sure what to make of Getsie's good humor and terrific mood. It was almost as if she had been freed from her own shackles and while I knew she was going back to New York and that nothing had changed it would be tough to argue against something having changed - not necessarily between us, but just in her general outlook about herself. It was as if she had been reminded that she was a sexual and sensual woman, that she was desirable, and that our tryst in the lake had been a jump start for her to start feeling good about herself again. I don't know what awaited her in New York or if she would approach her marriage in a new light, but I was happy to see her looking spunky again and I was glad that I played in a role in her new outlook.
"Well, that's a memory we'll always have," Getsie giggled in a whisper as we watched the raft being dragged back to its mooring while the three girls stood on the beach cheering.
I nodded in agreement before she left the porch and I turned my attention to Marcella, wondering if I should feel guilty for having sex with another woman after having met her. The sun never really came out but the rains didn't return and the girls were free to run about and have fun outside. The rest of us were also able to do some outdoor activities. Abby and Mason took off without telling us where they were going, Pete and Laura took the boat out to try out Pete's freshly captured worms with the fish, and Getsie kept an eye on the girls, leaving Marcella and I on our own.
Marcella had a bike so she joined me on a ride around the lake on Shore Road. We stopped for a piece of pie at the Lake Front Diner in the village
"I had a dream about David last night," Marcella informed me as we drank our coffee that came with the pie.
"Oh?" I asked. "Well, you have been thinking of him a lot lately."
"We were on Unicorn Island and he kept telling me it was okay," Marcella revealed.
"What was okay?" I wondered.
"I'm not exactly sure," Marcella admitted. "He really didn't say. I don't remember what the context of the dream was. All I remember is the part with him telling me everything was going to be okay."
"Well, that must be reassuring," I said. "In some abstract way anyway."
"I guess," she said. "I felt better when I woke up."
"I like the Brady Gang," she said.
"Laura and I both live in Hillsboro," I pointed out. "It's only a few miles down the road, really."
"Fifteen, to be exact," Marcella smiled. "We get a lot of day students from there," she added as an explanation.
I nodded. "Blue has a lot of clients in this area," I said.
"That's good," Marcella smiled.
"So, it's not as if we're going away when the vacation ends tomorrow," I said. "Just Getsie and the twins. Back to New York."
"I have a feeling that's a good thing," Marcella mysteriously observed.
"Probably," I agreed, hoping Marcella wasn't able to read me as easily as Laura could on this subject.
Marcella gave me a long look. "Where's your ex these days?" She wondered.
"I really don't know," I admitted. "She left a brief message of condolence on the answering machine when Tammy died. Last I heard she was working for some company out near Utica somewhere."
I shook my head no. "Susanna had her tubes tied when she was twenty-five," I sighed. "Her career was more important."
"That's very sad," Marcella said.
I nodded my head in agreement. "What about you?"
"Three miscarriages," Marcella sighed. "Guess it wasn't meant to be."
"Me too," she said. "Maybe all those boys at the school are supposed to be my kids in a way," she added with a brave smile.
"I feel that way about my nieces and nephew," I said.
"I haven't been with anybody since David," Marcella blurted out. "I haven't been drunk either. Even with David dead and buried, I still hadn't broken free of my role as wife. I couldn't have fun being a widow. "
"Everybody has their own time table with grief," I said.
"Some of my girl friends wanted me to just go out and have sex, like I was back in college or something and had never met David. I'm too old to be struggling through casual sex."
Was that what Getsie and I had experienced the night before? I'd like to think it was a culmination of our years of mutual sexual frustration for the other with some deep meaning for the two of us but with her heading back to New York was it just a matter of getting laid?
"Why did you kiss me the other night?" I asked.
"I'd forgotten what it's like to kiss someone," she sighed.
"It felt nice," I said.
Kissing Marcella was peaceful and serene, warm and welcoming. Making out with Getsie felt much more passionate and animalistic as we coupled in the water.
"You seem different to me today than you did before," Marcella observed. "Like you've been revived in some way. There's even a rosy tint to your cheeks."
"Maybe you caused it," I offered.
She didn't reply as she looked at me, not quite suspiciously but more of a fascinated kind of stare.
"I think this vacation retreat has sort of re-energized me," I told her. "I wondered if things would ever be normal again but now it sort of feels like it might."
"I've forgotten what normal is," Marcella admitted. "I want to be the girl who hasn't been hurt, damaged or turned fragile. It's hard to put up the act when your heart is broken. Nobody wants to offend or upset the widow."
"You just need to get your social confidence back," I said.
"I'm not sure if I want to," Marcella admitted. "I don't want to lose my memories of David even for a short time."
"You won't," I promised.
"Are you going to try to be my Knight in Shining Armor?" Marcella wanted to know, looking at me through squinted eyes. "Like you used to be with the Brady Gang?"
"You look like you could use some rescuing,' I remarked.
"Well, I don't," she replied somewhat defensively. "I wish you weren't so nice," she mumbled.
"Why?" I grinned.
"Because then I wouldn't have to feel so guilty about all of this," she sighed.
"Who said you have to feel guilty?"
"I think I read it in the 'How To Grieve Handbook'," she said sarcastically.
"I have the 'Going It Alone, Living After Your Wife Leaves You' manual," I said. "I don't like it."
"I don't like it that I'll never see David again," Marcella said, her voice breaking as she jumped from the booth and hurried out of the diner.
I quickly paid the bill and went outside to find Marcella standing by the bikes which we had left by a couple of trees around the corner.
"You okay?" I asked gently.
"I'm sorry," she said, trying to collect her emotions. "It's still hard sometimes."
"It's okay," I replied, instinctively taking her in my arms in a simple gesture of understanding, comfort and support.
I was surprised when Marcella's quiet sobs broke out into loud wailing.
"I know," I murmured into her ear. "Just feel what you have to feel."
"I so loved him, you know," she cried into my chest.
"I know," I remarked as I held her.
When Marcella was able to get her emotions under control, I cupped her face in my hand and looked into her eyes. "I know this has been hard on you."
"It hasn't been easy," she agreed sadly, once again wiping the tears from her eyes and the snot from her nose.
"You're doing okay," I said.
"Why am I still so upset about this?" She wanted to know. "Just when I think I'm finally moving on, I fall apart all over again."
"Cut yourself some slack," I suggested. "You're only human. This takes work and it takes time."
"You probably want to run so fast and so far away from me it isn't funny," she groaned. "I'm such a mess."
"You won't be forever," I said.
"But I'll always be a widow, won't I?' She seemed to realize.
I hugged her tightly. "You're a survivor," I said. "You do whatever it takes to get through the day. And then the week. And then the month. And eventually it will be another year. And another year after that one."
"I'm tired of my lonely bedroom," She confessed. "I'm tired of sleeping alone with no lover and especially no husband. I miss the cuddling, the snuggling, and the way he used to hold me in his arms when we slept."
"I once thought my new found freedom would be wonderfully liberating," I revealed with some embarrassment. "A new start. A chance to experience new women, new love, even casual sex. But that didn't last long and mostly I've been lonely and empty."
"I still feel abandoned," Marcella said. "I know David didn't want to die and that he wouldn't have left me if he had a choice. I know it's irrational to resent him and be mad at him but sometimes I am."
I rubbed her back and then I leaned in and kissed her, softly and gently as my hands cupped her cheeks.
"This makes me feel guilty," she sighed, breaking away from the long kiss. "Like I shouldn't be doing this."
"Let's just ride back to the cottage," I said easily.
"You're so casually laid-back," an amazed Marcella noted. "Nothing gets you upset. You're so patient. Or maybe you're just a fool."
"Maybe," I shrugged with a grin.
"God, I'm so confused," Marcella groaned as she mounted her bike.
"You're always going to have the memories of who you used to be," I told her as we began to navigate our bikes along the side of Shore Road. "Nobody will ever be able to take that away from you."
Marcella had pulled herself together by the time we returned to Tammy's Place. It was late afternoon and the vacation retreat was beginning to whine down. A new vacationing family would be coming tomorrow and 'Tammy's Place' would officially revert back to 'Marcella's'. It was a mellow evening by the lake with all sorts of final rituals and farewells as the girls kept saying 'Oh, this is the last time we'll have dinner here…..' and that sort of stuff.
The Brady Gang was drinking wine like it was water and Pete went out for one more fishing excursion, taking the girls with him for the final experience. Mason, who I had hardly seen or spoken to all week, joined the Brady Gang on the front porch to shoot the breeze. Marcella was also with us and it was a relaxing way to spend our final night at Tammy's Place.
We had watched beautiful sunrises and sunsets all week but the sky was still cloud covered although it was warm and the rains had stopped long ago. We were pretty much lit from too much wine by the time Pete returned at dark with the girls. Marcella had told me she hadn't gotten drunk since her husband died but she didn't seem to be feeling much pain on this night.
The girls went to bed and a frisky Abby and Mason decided to go for a skinny dip, giggling like two high school kids as they disappeared into the darkness. Pete tried to be funny by turning on the bright outside lights and we caught a glimpse of the naked Abby standing on the dock flashing us the finger which made us all laugh. Laura made Pete turn the lights off.
I was a little nervous that somebody was going to suggest we join them but Laura had always been a bit of a prude and she and Pete soon disappeared into the house. Getsie had clearly drank to much but she kept our secret as she stumbled off to bed without saying or doing anything stupid, leaving Marcella and I sitting on the porch listening to Abby and Mason's giggling and splashing in the dark distance.
Marcella and I were sure to talk about anything and everything other than skinny dipping and we tried to act indifferent when Mason and Abby returned from their little frolic, thankfully dressed. They vanished into the house too and just like that Marcella and I were alone.
"I should probably head home," Marcella announced. "I haven't drunk this much since Uncle Sean's Irish wake!"
"I'll walk you," I said, feeling no pain myself.
We left the porch by the side entrance and I escorted Marcella through the dark, across Shore Road, and up the walk to her smaller cottage. She stopped at the step and turned to face me.
"I've had too much to drink," she realized. "I should probably just say goodnight and go inside."
"Okay," I agreed.
"I'd much rather wake up to a lazy morning sun after a night of love-making, our legs entwined, your shoulder touching mine, a picture of contentment," she confessed.
"Do you want to know a secret?" I asked.
"Yes, please," she answered, almost sounding like a little kid.
"I'm glad you are so authentically honest and truthful while still remaining true to yourself," I said.
"I appreciate you respecting me enough not to take advantage of my vulnerability," she replied. "Even though I want to drag you into the house with me."
"Have a good night," I told her warmly. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Okay," she said, stepping into me and giving me a kiss on my cheek. "Thanks, Dylan. You're really too nice to be real."
I watched her disappear inside before I turned and slowly returned to my last night at Tammy's Place.
### ### ###
We were all hung over when we got up early the next morning to watch our last sunrise at Tammy's Place before leaving. It was a whirlwind of activity – packing up our stuff and dragging our belongs to the cars, cleaning up the cottage so it was restored to the way we found it, and dragging the kayaks, rubber rafts, fishing equipment, and beach gear up from the dock area.
The Brady Gang tried to make light of our final few hours lakeside, joking around and working together to get the job done but it was hard not to admit that a great week of bonding, grieving, and healing was coming to a close.
Marcella made her appearance a few minutes before checkout time.
"I brought everybody a present," she announced once we had dragged the last of the trash to the dumpster at the end of the next driveway.
She held out a sign that read 'Tammy's Place' that looked much like the 'Marcella' sign presently hanging above the door.
"I like Tammy's Place better," Marcella smiled and we were all moved by her gesture, giving her hugs and high fives and appreciative thanks.
"Can I have the old sign?" I asked.
Marcella smiled and handed me the plaque. We took some final group shots (Marcella included) and then it was time to say farewell. Getsie and the twins were the first to leave after some group hugs. I walked Getsie to her expensive SUV and she hovered at the door for a moment, giving me a hug.
"I have no regrets," she whispered into my ear as I felt her warm breath on my neck.
"Me either," I said, holding her tight. "I shall always remember the lake!"
She smiled before giving me a quick peck on the lips and climbing into the car. I waved as the SUV pulled out the driveway and just like that Getsie was gone from my life.
Abby and Mason made their exit next. I shook Mason's hand and gave Abby a meaningful hug.
"So, you got to see me naked again," she teased. Mason was in the car already and wasn't interested in our farewell conversation.
"The high light of the week!" I grinned.
She punched me on the arm. "Don't you know it," she laughed before giving me a wink and climbing into the car.
I waved as my cousin and her boyfriend drove off and that left Pete, Laura and Mary as the last of the vacationers. Pete's pick up was loaded to the gills with their belongings and Mary was squashed in the back of the truck cab like a sardine. I shook Pete's hand and thanked him for everything he did and then I gave my sister a hug. It was only then that Laura burst into tears, realizing that the week at Tammy's Place was to honor and remember our dead sister and the finality of it all finally hit her.
I held her and let her cry until she pulled herself together and climbed into the truck. I waved goodbye as the truck disappeared down Shore Road and now it was just me and Marcella left at Tammy's Place.
"I have a lot to do before the Robinsons get here," Marcella said. "You should get going so I can get to work."
"Okay," I agreed.
I gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek, thanking her for her company, her friendship, her honesty, and for allowing Tammy's Place to live on in infamy.
"I had a great week too," she said with a brave smile.
I climbed into my car as Marcella watched. I waved as I drove out of the driveway but, instead of turning right onto Shore Road to head for Hillsboro, I drove the car across the road and parked it in Marcella's driveway. She had a perplexed look on her face as I strolled back across the road.
"What are you doing?" She asked with confusion.
"Helping you with the chores before the Robinsons get here," I grinned.
Her eyes welted up and she fell into me as I reached her.
"I really can't get over you," she said as we held onto each other. "As much as I try."
"Don't you think its time we start making memories of who we want to be instead of who we used to be?" I asked.
"Yes," she whispered.
I kept my arm wrapped around Marcella's waist as we walked into Tammy's Place to wash the sheets and make the beds for the Robinsons.