The Final Getaway

Sometimes you take the gifts in your life for granted until they're gone and then you learn to appreciate what you had.

That was the sentiment that struck me when my parents announced that they were selling 'The Getaway', our family's summer cottage on Lake Ashlant. My parents purchased the cottage before I was born and most of my summer memories are at the lake, an annual ritual and tradition that lasted well into my young adulthood.

'The Getaway' is a three story summer home nestled on the wooded shore line of Lake Ashlant, about ninety minutes from our year round home in the suburbs of New Haven. Because my mother was a school teacher she was free for the summer and we spent most of the summer months at 'The Getaway'. My father, a well known heart surgeon at Yale New Haven University Hospital, would come and go throughout the summer but the rest of us spent the season at the paradise of Lake Ashlant.

I loved cedar-wood cottage with its wide front apron of property. There's a large screened in porch on the front, a kitchen, wide living area, and a downstairs half bath as well as a small screened in side porch. The second floor consists of two 'bunk rooms', a full bath, and a guest bedroom, as well as a small alcove. The third floor is the master bathroom with its own bathroom and a balcony that overlooks the lake.

Each bunk room contains four bunks – the blue bunk room (to the left at the top of the stairs) was for the boys and the pink bunk room at the end of the hall on the right was for the girls. The girls consisted of my older sister Jodi and my kid sister Marci. Each of us kids was usually allowed to bring along a friend for part, most, or even all of the summer stay. Jodi usually brought Wendy (and on a few occasions Beth) and Marci brought either Catherine or Julie. My pal of choice was Henry and because I was the only boy (and there were four bunks) sometimes I was allowed to bring a second friend, more often than not Patches who got along fairly well with Henry even though they were two completely different personalities.

The lake front includes two docks and a raft and over the years we had all sorts of water crafts – motor boats, canoes, kayaks, sailboats, paddle boats, and even row boats with small engines on them.

My summer memories of the lake is a continuous loop of swimming, fishing, boating, playing cards and board games on the porch, cooking marshmallows on the open outside fire pit, cookouts, corn on the cob, trips to the outdoor movie theater, hikes in the surrounding woods, and a variety of other warm and happy memories that multiplied with each passing year.

As I got older, I promoted into positions of responsibility and trust, whether it was being allowed to water ski, pilot the speed boat, or go out on the lake alone.

My sisters and I knew we were lucky to have The Getaway growing up but I'm not sure if we realized just how special it was to be able to spend entire summers with family (aunts, uncles and cousins were always coming and going) and especially with a select group of friends we were allowed to bring along. It was wonderful getting to know Wendy, Beth, Catherine and Julie away from school and peer group cliques. At the lake, we were equals growing up together experiencing Paradise. My summer getaways worked wonders on my confidence and social skills being around girls like Wendy and Beth.

Of course, you can't stay young forever and as the years went by we grew older and other interests, responsibilities and challenges began to pull us away from The Getaway. We got summer jobs back home as older teenagers and then college took us in different directions. Two months spent at the lake gradually dwindled down to two weeks and my parents began renting the cottage out while reserving the first two weeks in August for our family's use. Our friends went in different directions too and we saw less of them at the lake.

Eventually, Jodi married and moved to Dallas and she only got home every few years to enjoy The Getaway. Marci wed as well and she moved to the Boston area. Marci's in-laws had a summer place in Maine so she ended up going there more often than not and we rarely saw her at The Getaway.

I attended college at UCONN, close enough to sneak a coed to the lake during the off-season for a romantic weekend on occasion but I was disappointing my parents with my behaviors, choices and failures and my relationship with the family became strained as a result. I got in trouble on campus a few times for drunken behavior and my grades weren't all that great. I barely graduated and I had no real plans with my life or pursuing a career which did not go over well with my parents.

I ended up joining the Navy (mostly by default) and I did a four year stint but I wasn't disciplined enough to be a great Sailor and I didn't enjoy my time in uniform mostly because I was constantly bumping heads with the brass. In truth, I was a spoiled rich kid who liked bucking the system.

I left the service and traveled the country for a couple of years, never really settling down or accomplishing much. I was a waiter in Reno, a taxi driver in San Francisco, a dock worker in Seattle, a convenience store clerk in Davenport, and a janitor in Buffalo. I had a series of relationships with a variety of women, none of which lasted very long. My parents were disgusted with my lifestyle and I rarely came home.

Then I got injured working a construction job in Ohio and I had no choice but to drag myself home in defeat to recuperate. My parents rode me unmercifully during my recovery period - begging, nagging, and demanding that I get my life together, settle down and do something worthy, meaningful, productive and successful. My mother wanted me to go back to school for my graduate degree but I was in my thirties and I had no interest in academia.

My father pulled in a few favors with some of his associates and helped me land a Subway sandwich franchise a few towns over from our home town. I hated every aspect of the job but I hung tough for three years before finally jettisoning from that gig. My father bailed me out for the second time by getting me a position in food services at Yale New Haven University Hospital and I actually lasted there even although my parents were less then thrilled that cafeteria work appeared to be my future career.

My mother retired from her private school teaching career and my father was mostly a visiting lecturer at various New England medical universities so they were transitioning into the next phase of their lives. My parents still stayed at The Getaway for two weeks in August and rented the place out for the rest of the summer but they were tired of being landlords and rental agents, responsible for cleaning the place between rentals. They wanted to do something else with their summers (like traveling) so they made the decision to sell The Getaway after forty-two years of ownership.

Although my sisters had moved on with their lives and didn't get to Lake Ashlant much anymore they were still saddened to realize that a piece of our childhood was suddenly ending. Jodi lived too far away to consider purchasing the place and Marci wasn't interested with her husband's camp in Maine keeping them occupied. I was in no position to take over the property – my parents were asking 1.3 million with everything included but the taxes alone were nearly thirty grand a year so even if my parents cut me a deal (or even GAVE me the place) I'd still be hard pressed to afford the property on my meager salary even if I rented it out for most of the summer.

As much as my sisters hated to see The Getaway leave the family I knew they'd go ape-shit if my parents passed the cottage on to me for anything less than the market asking price. My siblings were successful professional women married to successful professional men and I was hardly a sense of pride in the family. I was lower working class scum compared to their upper middle class lifestyles and status. In their eyes, I didn't deserve The Getaway.

It's true that I freeloaded off of my folks when I was laid up after my construction accident. It's also true that I wasn't in any hurry to get a job once I was well enough to return to work and that I let my parents help me out financially during my down times. Even when I went to work at Subway (and then at the hospital) I still struggled to make ends meet and my parents sometimes helped me out with unexpected car repairs, overdue taxes and other delinquent bills so I understood why my sisters saw me as a leech taking advantage of our parents.

On the other hand, since returning to the area after my accident, I took over a lot of The Getaway responsibilities by showing up on Saturdays to make sure the place was clean for the next renters, sending the outgoing renters on their way and greeting the new renters by giving them the tour of the property. I also performed fix up jobs and helped Jim (the local off season care taker) set up the camp in the late spring and get it ready for the winter in the early fall.

I spent more time at The Getaway than any other family member in recent years although my services were mostly as handyman and rental agent and not as a vacationer. It was sentimentally nostalgic going back to The Getaway as an adult but definitely different. I admit I carried a chip on my shoulder every time I was there because I was reminded of how unworthy I was of such a wonderful gift.

The sale of The Getaway was set for early September. Joni and Marci insisted that we have one final family vacation at the lake together and I wasn't about to argue or protest. Whatever issues my family had in adulthood couldn't change the pleasures we experienced at the lake in childhood and it would be nice to stay at The Getaway one more time together.

My non-profit agency CEO sister Jodi was coming in from Dallas with her husband Barry (owner of his own highly successful electronics company) and their three kids, Margaret, Sam and Jenny. Marci (a teacher like our mom) was arriving with her husband Bill (a Boston University Professor) and their three kids, Ronni, Raymond and Roberta.

I was coming to the lake alone, of course – my own fault, my mother lectured me since I was apparently (in her view) unable to maintain a relationship. I wish Henry was still alive so I could have him at the lake with me like the old days. Patches lived in California – I hung out with him for a few months when I was doing my travelling road show in my mid twenties – but it was too far for him to make a return visit to the lake now.

I drove to the lake on Saturday morning pulling Dad's motor boat on the trailer for our pleasure. I made sure the last renters got out okay, did the laundry, made the beds, and got all the kayaks and canoes into the water. I also brought Dad's motor boat to the boat ramp, launched it and moored it to the dock at The Getaway. I didn't want to look like I was trying to stake some claim by being there first when the others arrived so I left the lake for a few hours and when I returned later in the afternoon with some groceries and extra supplies the rest of the family had settled into the cottage like old times.

I began second guessing myself as soon as I drove down the dirt drive from the shore road above and saw my parents' BMW and Marci's Volvo SUV as well as Joni and Barry's rented Mercedes from one of the airport car rental agencies. My fifteen year old beat up Buick looked out of place parked next to those impressive vehicles.

Mom and Dad had the master third floor bedroom, of course. Jodi and Barry took the guest bedroom. Margaret (15), Jenny (11), Ronni (13) and Roberta (11) claimed the girls bunk room. I was bunking with Sam (13) and Raymond (12) in the boy's bunk room while Marci and Bill gladly camped in a tent along the grassy shore of the lake front.

What was most amazing about The Getaway was that it was basically unchanged from our childhood. A new stove and refrigerator in the kitchen but the rest of the cottage looked exactly the same. The bookcases in the two bunkrooms were full of books from our youth. The same games were stacked on the shelves on the front porch. The tire swing was still outside the side porch as well as the two hammocks down by the water's edge. The lawn furniture on the apron by the dock was new but I recognized some of the older pieces lined up along the front of the cottage from our younger days. The furniture inside the cottage was virtually unchanged although there was a computer station in the living area now (still no television though) complete with WI-Fi access.

My siblings greeted me with guarded politeness and masked judgment wondering if I was really on the up and up about letting The Getaway go without a fight. I had little to talk about with the adults – I didn't run in their circles and they didn't care to hear about my food services war stories so I figured I'd spend most of my time with my nieces and nephews pretending I was a kid again. My mother would argue I never grew up anyway!

My sisters looked terrific. Jodi was nearly forty but she kept in great shape, ran marathons, and weighed less now than she did in high school. She still wore her blond hair long and she was well tanned from the Texas sun. Her husband Barry was muscular and browned from the southern sun and his biceps were huge. He was an easy going guy with a Texas drawl and a conservative slant to his politics.

Marci remained a junior version of our older sister although she dyed her blonde hair brown several years ago and now wore it curled and shorter. She kept in great shape by playing tennis, working out, and spending her summers at the camp in Maine. Marci's husband Bill had a scholarly look to him even when away from the BU Campus but he stayed in shape by playing tennis and kayaking in Maine. The six kids looked like versions of ourselves when we were kids vacationing at The Getaway.

Sadly, our parents looked older than they had in the good old days. Dad was 72 now, Mom 70 and while both were still in impressive shape and in good health there was no denying that time was catching up to them. Dad didn't swim anymore and Mom lost interest in riding her bike although she was still a dedicated walker.

I was just getting comfortable with my surroundings when I heard a car coming down the drive. I didn't think we were expecting anybody so I asked aloud who that might be, glancing up the bank from the lake apron to see a beat up blue Honda with dents and scratches pulling to a stop on the grass near the trash cans.

"Wendy, of course," Jodi answered with a laugh.

"You invited Wendy?" I asked with surprise, unaware that any of the friends from the old days would be joining us.

"Why not?" Jodi replied. "We hardly see each other anymore. This is as good a time of any to get together."

I followed Jodi up the path to the driveway and watched with interest as Wendy climbed out of the car. I hadn't seen her since Jodi's wedding. Her familiar black hair was cut to her shoulders and she had put on a few pounds but she still looked great and she beamed when she saw me gawking at her as she hugged Jodi.

"This is Angie," Wendy said when she broke from Jodi's embrace and motioned for the teenaged girl who was walking around the car from the passenger's side of the vehicle.

Angie looked nervous and shy but she was polite and proper as she said hello. Jodi was extra cheerful and warm in welcoming Angie and she called the other girls up from the lake to greet their new friend. I knew that Wendy had divorced several years ago and that she had struggled (which explained the beat up car she was driving but who was I to talk?).

"Well, this is quite the reunion," Wendy smirked, looking back and forth between Jodi and me. "The Final Getaway."

With the full house, Wendy said she and Angie could share the small side porch and suddenly the vacation week took on a whole new perspective and outlook for me. Instead of having to deal with my disappointed parents and holier than thou judgmental siblings on my own, I now had the welcomed distraction of the lovely Wendy, a person I idolized in our younger days.

Barry grilled ribs for dinner and we talked well into the night on our first evening together before eventually turning in for the night, me with the boys in the bunkroom. I hadn't slept in the cottage since my college days.

I went fishing with Dad, Barry and Sam Sunday morning. I also went kayaking with Bill and Raymond. I took the kids on rides on the motor boat. We taught Angie and Margaret how to water ski. The kids went off on their own adventures. The ladies lay around chatting in the sun by the dock. My parents made small day trips with some of the kids. Bill read a book a day.

There were plenty of conversations, political debates, and other discussions but we avoided the more controversial topics like Wendy's divorce, my (lack of) career, Barry's drinking problem (he had a beer in his hand when I got up in the morning), Margaret's eating disorder, Bill's smoking, Raymond's ADHD, and Roberta's gum disease.

The surroundings were as beautiful as ever and the weather was perfect. The lake was basically unchanged from our memories. One of Lake Ashlant's best features was its crystal clear water – you could see the lake bottom even from the raft that was anchored in six and a half feet of water beyond the dock. The kids were good swimmers but Sam could stay under water longer than anyone and he loved challenging the others to race him. He reminded me of Patches who was competitive and a sore loser when we were kids.

Wendy and Jodi spent the first few days catching up on their lives. Gone was the innocence of our youth, replaced by the responsibilities, disappointments and challenges of our adult reality. Wendy's husband was long gone and her twenty year old son was off in the Army.

We talked about Henry who was smarter than all of us combined. He became a Doctor in the Army Medical Corps but tragically he was killed in the Iraq war when his make shift medical station was blown up. Wendy said she lived in fear everyday that her son Patrick would meet the same fate although he was stationed in the relatively safe demilitarized zone in Korea "but you never know," Wendy sighed.

For the most part, the family was going out of its way to be civil, polite and friendly. Both my brothers-in-law were welcoming and inclusive but I knew they talked about me behind my back, the family 'disappointment' who worked a menial job and never married. Even my nieces and nephews gave me funny looks from time to time certainly aware of the family talk (about me) when I wasn't around.

Wendy had been out of our family picture for a long time and was good seeing her again especially since she was nice to me which was a relief. If she was aware of my scandals she didn't seem to care and she was certainly too polite to mention it.

In our younger days, Wendy was known to wear revealing bikinis that barely covered my imagination of her. Now she was wearing conservative one piece skirt-style bathing suits to sun herself but as she approached forty she was just as beautiful as ever. Wendy seemed to be self-conscious about her appearance when she sun bathed, covering her legs with a towel and making sure the high top of her suit didn't dip to reveal even a hint of her breasts.

There was a lot of drinking going on during The Final Getaway. Beers throughout the day and then mixed drinks at cocktail hour and into the night but I noticed that Wendy stuck to iced tea, lemonade, and water. Wendy was as happy and contented as the others who were continuously under some sort of influence. I wasn't drinking much, partly because I didn't want to risk getting into some sort of drunken confrontation with one of my relatives but mostly because I didn't want to be a poor influence in front of the kids. I was already known as the problem Uncle and I didn't want to make things worse by being drunk in front of them too.

It wasn't until Monday afternoon (the third day of our vacation) that I finally had some alone time with Wendy. Angie was getting along with the kids so Wendy didn't need to be a mother hen constantly watching over her daughter. Besides, there were seven other adults present to keep an eye on the younger ones. I was flattered when Wendy asked me if I wanted to go kayaking and I happily accepted.

Wendy was wearing a tee shirt over her modest blue one piece skirt bathing suit. I was in my red trunks and a tee shirt as we pushed the kayaks off of the shore.

"So, I guess we're the two losers of the group," Wendy remarked once we paddled far away from the cottage front not to be heard (although voices tended to travel on the lake so you had to be careful).

"You're not a loser," I replied as we floated next to each other on the smooth lake surface, her in a yellow kayak and me in a green one.

"You don't think Jodi and your parents think less of me?" Wendy asked, raising her eyebrows. "I was the good girl from a well known upper middle class family, destined for college, marrying an Ivy Leaguer, getting a good job, and settling down in a nice comfortable existence. You know, like your sisters," she added sarcastically.

"I know only too well," I sighed. "Look what happened to me."

"What's your story?" Wendy asked with interest. "I sort of lost track of you guys after my life turned to shit."

"I guess I didn't want to follow the mold," I replied with a shrug. "My mother was the private school scholar and my father was the successful medical genius. My sisters were the perfect people."

"So you rebelled?"

"Not consciously," I replied. "But I did things my own way. I wasn't interested in being an honor roll geek at UCONN and I had no interest in joining the rat race and doing what my family expected of me once I graduated."

"So you did your own thing?"

"Pretty much," I grinned. "The Navy for a few years after college but then I sort of floated around, saw the country, met different people, did different things."

"Sounds interesting," Wendy smiled.

"It was for a while," I agreed. "But the sands of the hour glass were burying me in stagnation while everybody else was moving on with their successful lives and careers."

"You don't consider yourself a success?"

"I slosh hash at the hospital, Wen," I said sarcastically. "Is that what you expected me to be doing at this stage in our lives?"

"No," Wendy admitted. She gave me a long look. "Did you expect me to be a single mother ringing up groceries at a discount grocer?"

"Not exactly," I confessed. "Actually, I figured you'd be a U.S. Senator by now."

Wendy smiled. "That went out the window when I got knocked up at nineteen and dropped out of college," she said sadly.

"Your parents disapproved?" I guessed as we continued to float next to each other in the kayaks.

Wendy laughed. "Just a little," she said sardonically. "They didn't want me having anything to do with the guy and when I ran off and married him they pretty much disowned me."

"I'm sorry."

"Dad died a while ago," Wendy sighed. "Mom's remarried and lives in Florida."

"But you stayed," I said.

"I don't want to live in Florida," she smirked.

There was nothing more peaceful than Lake Ashlant. Only an occasional sail boat or kayak drifted by and we could hear the screams of children playing on the shore echoing across the lake.

"I had forgotten how wonderful it is here," Wendy grinned.

It felt perfectly natural to be with Wendy again after all these years. We had our past in common and this lake to share one more time. We continued to float on the lake surface letting the bright afternoon summer sun warm us. It was the first tranquil moment I had experienced in a long time.

"I'm glad you came," I said.

"Me too," she said happily.

We kayak'ed to 'Ghost Island' across the lake. Back in the day it was used for sheep grazing but now it was covered with woods and a few trails. Occasionally people camped out on the island or had picnics but it was mostly deserted. There was a small waterfall and a rope swing that we often used in our younger days.

We beached the kayaks in the small inlet where the waterfall was, peeled off our tee shirts and took a dip to cool off from the warm sun and the excursion of paddling across the lake.

The inlet water was over our heads and great for a refreshing dip. We had the place to ourselves, at least for now. We swam a couple of minutes and rinsed off under the waterfall where I felt Wendy bump into me under the falling water.

"Oops, sorry," she giggled, slightly embarrassed and we moved out from under the falling water.

"It's okay," I smiled.

We stared at each other for a moment and then Wendy unexpectedly wrapped her arms around my neck and anchored her legs around my waist.

"It almost feels like we're in the Garden of Eden," she whispered above the roar of the falling falls.

"Don't you have to be naked for that?" I teased.

We bantered about such silly comments when we were younger but we never acted on any of them and I couldn't help but wonder if Wendy wasn't just bantering now. But she left little doubt of her intent when she suddenly leaned in and kissed me. In all the years we had hung out at the lake together nothing like this ever happened between us. I had been alone for a long time and to feel Wendy's lips on mine was amazing.

I brought my hand to her face and I rubbed my fingers along her cool wet cheek and then her lips were on mine again and we kissed in a very tender and confident way. I rubbed my hands through her hair and she pushed her body against mine tight. I moved my hands up and down her back in gentle caresses. It was wonderful but all of a sudden a look of panic crossed Wendy's face and she broke away from our loving embrace.

"Sorry! She was blushing nervously.

"Don't be."

"Jesus," she said. "We survived all those years of hormonal teenage hell and here we are as two desperate lonely washed up adults being stupid?"

"I don't think we're being stupid," I said.

"Yeah?" She worried with doubt.

"Did you ever want to be stupid with me back then?" I asked with interest as we began swimming toward the beached kayaks.

"Why weren't you?" Wendy wondered.

"It was complicated," I admitted with a sigh. "You were my sister's best friend. You were the perfect girl."

"I wasn't perfect," Wendy insisted as we reached the kayaks. "I just pretended to be."

"Perfect personality, perfect behavior, perfect family," I recalled.

"Trust me, my family was far from perfect," she groaned as she climbed into the yellow Kayak. I shoved her off from the shore before climbing into my craft and following her into the lake.

"I thought you were perfect in all respects," I revealed. "I was in awe of you and I was glad we were friends. I didn't want to wreck any of that or cause problems with Jodi and all that. You were the prettiest of all her friends."

"Are we still friends?" Wendy asked.

"We'll always be friends," I assured her. "No matter what else happens between us."

She smiled with approval. "Thanks, Royal," she said. "I didn't mean to freak out. I just had the urge. I've been pretty lonely lately."

"I have too," I said honestly.

"I guess it's only natural that two losers like us would be attracted to each other," Wendy observed.

"I told you you're not a loser," I said pointedly.

"Well, you're not either," she told me.

"Tell it to my family," I muttered.

Wendy laughed and gave me a goofy look. "Who cares what they think?"

"I guess I do," I admitted honestly.

"Do you want to be self-centered and egotistical and full of yourself like Barry and Bill?" Wendy teased. "Is that what you want your life to be? The big house, the great job, the three kids, driving nice cars and being all high and mighty criticizing those less fortunate than you while you sit there with a cocktail in your hand?"
"No," I admitted with a smirk. "Thanks for the reality check."

"Listen, I was deeply hurt when my parents couldn't accept me and my decisions," Wendy revealed. "But I think I've done okay on my own."

I gave her a smile. "You're right."

"And I feel better because of it," she said. "Maybe I married the wrong guy and suffered through a miserable marriage but I have two wonderful children so I have no regrets."

"Good for you," I said.

We were taking our time paddling across the lake, letting the warm summer sun dry us from our swim.

"Everybody has issues, Royal," Wendy remarked. "Who wants that?"

"My issues probably started with my name!" I observed. "That's why I was Roy away from the family."

"You don't feel Royal?" Wendy joked.

"I think the family was disappointed that I didn't act royal," I said.

"You never hung out at the country club," Wendy recalled. "I guess you were never like the rest of them."

"Should I apologize for that?" I wondered.

"No," Wendy assured me.

We were getting close to The Getaway. "Time for the country club," I joked.

"You going to be okay?" Wendy asked.

"Sure," I said with a smile. "We're on vacation!"

We beached the kayaks and got involved with the activities going on at the cottage but for the first time in a long time I felt a glimmer of hope when it came to my life. That moment with Wendy under the waterfall was magical and I was beginning to realize that we had much more in common than I ever imagined. In our youth, I was the sidekick tagging along with Wendy and Jodi or being part of the larger friendship group with Henry, Patches, and even Marci and her friends.

Now Wendy and I were basically on our own and wouldn't it be natural if we turned to each other in comfort by using our familiarity of the past as our gateway to the future?

I went fishing with Barry and Sam for a while and when we returned Wendy was sitting on the edge of the auxiliary dock with her feet dipped in the lake reading a paperback book. When I was done helping tie the boat and clean up from the activities, I joined Wendy on the dock.

"Hey," I said, taking a seat next to her.

"Hi," she smiled.

"I'm beginning to think you're my buoy of salvation on this Final Getaway," I said.

"Your respite from the family?" She smirked.

"It didn't matter when we were younger," I told her. "I was oblivious to the facade. I didn't understand that we were different because of the money. I didn't know how fortunate we were to have this place. It wasn't until I got older that I realized there were certain expectations that came from being a part of this clan."

"And you never met those expectations," Wendy replied.

"Ironically, the only thing all of us have in common is this place," I said, gesturing to The Getaway behind us. "And now that we're about to lose it I feel like I'm losing a part of me, the last connection to the past, the last mooring to a happy time in my life when I didn't have any problems or worries. I'll have nothing in common with my family when this place is gone."

"It's hard letting go sometimes," Wendy sighed. "I have wonderful memories of this place too."

"Hey Mom, come swim with us!" It was Angie calling out from the raft with some of the other kids.

"Duty calls," Wendy smiled as she stood and left the dock.

There was too much going on with too many people, obligations and activities to spend any amount of exclusive time with Wendy. She was Angie's mom and Jodi's friend and she also hung out with Marci when not helping out with various cottage chores and other responsibilities and I was doing the guy thing with Barry and Bill and the Uncle thing with the kids and the son thing with my parents and the brother thing with my sisters so I mostly 'shared' Wendy with the rest of the group with little time to spend together on our own.

Sharing the boys' bunk room with Sam and Raymond was fun. If they were still awake when I adjourned from the adult (drinking) time out at the lake front or on the front porch, I'd shoot the breeze with them in the dark of our bunks for a while. It reminded me of my youth with Henry and Patches.

On Tuesday morning, I awoke early (I worked 7-3 at the hospital so I was used to rising early). Early mornings at The Getaway was always my favorite time of day. The fishing was good, the cottage was quiet, and the lake was peaceful and beautiful. Watching the sun rise was relaxing and therapeutic so I quietly made my way downstairs and out into the cool morning air.

I was surprised to see that somebody was already in the lake at this early time and I smiled when I realized that it was Wendy gracefully cutting her way through the still lake surface. I walked to the edge of the lake and sat on the auxiliary dock away from Marci and Bill's tent and watched Wendy swim.

She finally noticed me sitting on the dock and she swam to me, reaching her arm out for me to help her out of the water. She sat next to me on the edge of the dock and smiled.

"Good morning," she grinned.

"Hey," I smiled.

"What are you doing up so early?" She asked.

"It's the best part of the day here," I observed.

"I agree," Wendy said.

"Want to sneak off and have breakfast together?" I asked.

"I really shouldn't leave Angie," Wendy replied.

"There's plenty of people here to watch over her," I said.

Wendy smiled. "Do you think the Ashlant Diner is still in business?"

"Let's go see," I replied.

"I'll be right back."

Wendy left the dock and went up to the cottage to change. I waited for her by the car and she arrived after a few minutes wearing a tee shirt and yellow shorts and sandals, her hair pulled back in a pony tail. We got in my junky car and headed up the driveway onto shore road and we drove the few miles to the village of Ashlant. Sure enough, The Aslant Diner in a shack of a building in a large gravel lot was indeed open and it looked basically the same as when we were kids when we entered the establishment.

We slid into opposite sides of a booth with a window and stared at each other like two teenagers out on a clandestine date. My father sometimes took some of us here when we were kids and later when Jodi got her license we would come here for a burger and shake in the late afternoon.

"This is nice," I grinned.

"Yes, it is," Wendy agreed with a smile

The middle aged waitress came for our orders – waffles and sausage for me, eggs over easy with bacon for Wendy. We both ordered coffee and orange juice too.

"I usually skip breakfast but what the heck, we're on vacation," Wendy smiled.

"You look great, by the way," I let her know.

"Oh, really?" She asked, raising her eyebrows. "Thanks for noticing!"

"I always noticed you," I said.

Wendy blushed slightly but we were saved by the waitress who came with the coffee. We watched her fill the white mugs and leave before I studied Wendy for a moment.

"Who was the guy?" I asked.

"Oh, God," Wendy moaned. "Do we really have to go there?"

"No," I answered. "Not if you don't want to."

"He was a guy I met at some club," Wendy told me. "I don't even remember the name of it. He was bad news from the start but he swept me off my feet and I was crazy about him."

"Was he in college too?" I asked.

"God, no," Wendy groaned. "A trucker. A biker. More tattoos than I could count. Older than me. He seduced me and I forgot everything I was ever taught about conduct, behavior and boundaries."

"You were in love," I guessed.

"It was crazy love," she clarified. "I got pregnant, dropped out of college, ran away from home, and lived in countless dumps."

"I kind of did the same thing," I said. "Except for the pregnant part."

"You had a crazy love?" Wendy asked with interest.

"Maybe not that extreme," I admitted.

The waitress brought our breakfast and we thanked her for her quick service.

"I was pregnant with Angie when I finally realized how screwed up my life was," Wendy continued once the waitress was gone. "He was pushing drugs. He was smacking me around. It was a dangerous situation for me and my kids. So I finally smartened up and left."

"Good for you."

"No," she groaned. "I totally messed up my life because I was young and stupid. My kids deserved better."

"Don't be so hard on yourself," I encouraged her. "You're doing well now."

"Well?" She laughed. "I live in a housing project. You saw my car. I'm barely making minimum wage. I'm pushing forty and I'm alone."

"You're not alone today," I smiled as I took a bite of my waffle.

"I will be when we leave on Saturday," she sighed, feeling sorry for herself for the first time since she arrived at The Getaway.

"You still live in Mornaguin?" I asked.

"Yeah," she sighed.

"I'm in Wallingford," I informed her. "We're pretty close."

She glanced at me with surprise. "So what?" She asked cautiously.

"Maybe we could see each other after The Final Getaway," I suggested hopefully.

Wendy seemed surprised by the idea. "Really?"

I laughed with delight. "Of course!"

"Geez, Royal, thanks for the thought," she said. "I appreciate it."

I shot her a goofy grin. "I'd really like to keep seeing you, Wendy."

She stared at me with fascination. "What do you think the others would think of that?"

"Who cares?" I laughed.

"Now you sound like me!" She observed.

We spent the rest of the meal reviewing vacation at The (final) Getaway. Wendy was happy that Angie was fitting right in and getting along with Jodi's and Marci's kids. I was relieved that there hadn't been any confrontations, scenes or arguments with my siblings or in-laws. Wendy was thrilled to be able to spend some time with Jodi again. I was grateful my parents were keeping a low profile and not riding me about my life. Wendy was enjoying needed quality time with Angie away from home. I was having fun with my nieces and nephews.

"And with you too, of course," I added with a smirk.

I paid the bill and we left the diner feeling excited and happy. I wasn't sure what was happening between us but this moment – combined with the waterfall experience – definitely made things feel different. We stopped when we the car and Wendy spontaneously leaned in and kissed me, giggling at the look on my face when she broke from the smooch.

"You're so cute," she told me as she kissed me again. "Thanks for breakfast."

The rest of the gang was up by the time we returned to The Getaway. Bill and Marci were leaving for a hike on a nearby trail. Barry and Jodi were out on a boat ride. My mother had made the kids breakfast.

Wendy and I watched after the kids for most of the morning, sitting in the chairs on the apron with my mother while the kids goofed off, swam, sunbathed, and skylarked.

"Just like when we were their age," Wendy smiled.

"Ah, to be young again," I sighed.

Barry and Jodi finally returned from their prolonged boat ride. Jodi and Wendy took Margaret, Jenny, Ronni, Roberta and Angie shopping for the afternoon so Barry and I took Sam and Raymond fishing on the motor boat, along with my father, leaving my mother alone to read peacefully on the shore waiting for Bill and Marci to return from their hike.

The fishing excursion was a male bonding experience for all of us. My father and I were both aware that an era was coming to a close and that this was going to be one of the last times we were going to be fishing on Lake Ashlant together. That put us in a mellow mood and we mostly reminisced to Barry, Sam and Raymond about some of greatest fishing stories from times gone by, back when I was an accepted member of the family before disappointing everybody. The magic of the lake was allowing my Dad and me to have a nice time again and that felt great.

The girls were back from their shopping trip when we returned from fishing. Wendy and I embarked on another kayak adventure, heading for Ghost Island again. We beached our kayaks near the falls.

"Do you think Ghost pond is still there?" I asked Wendy.

"Let's go see," she smiled.

Ghost pond was a small pool of water on one of the hills of the island. A trail led up from the waterfall into the wood section of the island and sure enough we arrived on the shore of the small pool nestled in the pines, completely hidden from view from the lake.

"Wanna take a swim?" I asked.

Wendy frowned, gesturing to her body. She hadn't changed from the one piece dress-shorts she had worn shopping.

I grinned mischievously. "So what?"

"You want to skinny dip!?" She realized aghast.

"There's no one around," I dared. "Most people don't even know this is here."

"Just like Eden," Wendy smiled as she began to unbutton the front of her dress-shorts.

I was surprised she was game. Despite some of the revealing bikinis she wore as a teenager Wendy had always been a modest person who never skinny dipped or let down her guard in front of me.

The dress-shorts fell to the ground and then she was unfastening her bra which fell to the ground too. Her breasts were full and round with just a few hints of stretch marks from age. She shimmied out of her panties to reveal her dark pubic hair and then she turned and effortlessly waded into the ghost pond allowing me to preview her lovely backside that sagged just a little.

She glanced over her shoulder waiting for me. "Well?"

I pulled off my t-shirt and tossed aside my bathing suit and she watched as I walked to join her in the knee deep water.

"Paradise," I agreed before diving into the water and swimming further out.

Wendy waded into the water until the pond surface covered most of her breasts. I was standing next to her and I pulled her close to me. She kissed me warmly while running her hands down my chest and I was pleasantly surprised when she reached around under the water and rubbed my ass.

She laughed when she felt me jump and she kissed me harder. I could feel my manhood rubbing against her in the water and Wendy must have too because she broke away from our kissing embrace and began to swim. I understood why she might be nervous about the situation and I gladly swam with her, feeling like a kid again.

We knew the longer we skinny dipped the increased risk we took about being spotted so we wordlessly swam back to the shore where we left our clothes and wequietly got dressed.

"Why are you smiling?" Wendy asked as she watched me watch her get dressed.

I shrugged. "This is nice," I decided.

She nodded in agreement and when we were finished dressing she leaned in and gave me an appreciative kiss. "Thanks for the memory," she said.

The first of many, I hoped.

We walked back down the trail to the kayaks and paddled back to The Getaway without saying much.

"My first summer fling," Wendy whispered while winking at me as we beached the kayaks in front of The Getaway.

Barry grilled hamburgers, hot dogs and kielbasa for the group supper. Wendy made a salad and Jodi threw together a Macaroni salad. Most of us ate at the large picnic table outside the cottage although the kids always seemed to be coming and going. I know the family was aware that Wendy had I had been spending some extra time together kayaking and having breakfast that morning but if they suspected anything was going on between us nobody said anything. Wendy and I both played it cool, acting as if we were just enjoying the vacation time. It would be natural that we would pair up for activities and adventures since the rest of the adults had partners.

I wanted to hold Wendy's hand and cuddle when we sat in front of the fire pit later watching the kids make s'mores. I wanted to kiss her under the bright moonlight and take a midnight skinny dip with her. I wanted to crawl into bed and snuggle with her but all of that was impossible since we were rarely alone, Wendy slept with Angie, and I was bunking with Sam and Raymond.

So we played it stealthly as we went about our activities and routines, perhaps grabbing the other's hand and giving it a squeeze when it was dark or nobody was looking or sneaking a kiss when we were out in the kayaks or out behind the cottage.

The week was almost half over and all of us were beginning to realize that The Final Getaway was beginning to wane. Barry and Bill didn't have the sentimental nostalgia for the place like their wives did and while the kids were having a great time they had no emotional tie to the cottage knowing it was only a one shot deal.

But for my sisters, parents, Wendy and me, a certain sense of sadness began to hang over us and as much as we wanted to stay in the moment and enjoy the positive surroundings, every time we looked at the cottage we knew that soon it would no longer belong to us.

That's when it occurred to me that there would be no family drama this week. Nobody was going to criticize my life choices, mistakes or current situation. Nobody was going to ride me to make changes or confront me about the past because this week we were all in the past, remembering the glory days of The Getaway, of happy family vacations, of important friendships (and friends who were no longer with us). Suddenly all the stress was off of me – I didn't have to worry about any scenes. I could just be a son, a brother, an uncle and a friend in the final days of the getaway.

Most of the time for the rest of the stay we spent telling favorite stories of Getaways past.

It had been a day of revelation, healing and hope for me. From breakfast with Wendy to our ghost pond skinny dip and I was feeling like we had a future together. The serenity of the final days of The Getaway and reflective times with my family was making me feel relaxed and at ease.

I couldn't sleep that night after the s'mores and drinks by the fire pit. I shot the breeze with Sam and Raymond in the bunk room but I was still wide awake when they fell asleep and I slipped out of the room and down the stairs of the quiet and dimmed cottage, assuming everybody else had turned in.

I went outside and walked down the darkened path, heading for the auxiliary dock as to not disturb Bill and Marci in their tent.

"Hey there."

A voice from the dark scared the shit out of me and it wasn't until I glanced at the hammock nestled in the trees that I realized that Wendy was in it.

"Do you think that thing can still hold more than one?" I asked. (We used to pile onto the hammocks as kids to see how many we could fit on before flipping it over and dumping all of us onto the ground).

"Let's find out," she answered playfully.

I climbed onto the hammock and nestled close to Wendy under the stars with the gentle lap of the moon-driven lake waves soothing us. Wendy planted her mouth on mine and I gladly kissed her in return. I welcomed her tongue between my lips as my hands searched her body.

I always wondered what it might be like to make love in a hammock under the stars. Wendy must have too because she was gently tugging my shorts down my legs as she kept her mouth sealed to mine exploring the inside of my mouth and teeth with her tongue.

I began kissing her harder when I felt the night air on my exposed lower extremities (all three of them) and I managed to work her shorts down her legs too before tugging her panties down to reveal her womanhood in the dark. Wendy was quietly panting and moaning as we continued to make out.

The hammock began to swing as our physical activity increased and it was hard to get comfortable with the rope squares pressing against various parts of our bodies as we continued to cuddle, huddle, hug, embrace and mate. It felt like we were floating in air in ecstasy as we slowly and quietly made love suspended above the ground and under the stars, the hammock swinging back and forth in rhythm to our thrusts and pushes.

I muffled Wendy's passionate moans with my mouth aware of the still of the night with Bill and Marci's tent not all that far away knowing sounds tended to be magnified in the night air. We didn't need anybody in the cottage hearing our purrs of love as we entangled each other in the swinging hammock until nearly forty years of summer getaways exploded in one magical moment under the stars, leaving both of us seeing stars.

When it was over, we clung together in satisfied joy until the sweat from our lovemaking began to chill us in the night air. We carefully climbed out of the hammock, quietly dressed, kissed each other goodnight, and then I watched as Wendy disappeared into the darkness as she headed for the cottage. Making love to her was an amazing experience and I stood beneath the moon for the longest time remembering how wonderful it felt.

I slipped into the cottage and back into the bunk room but I couldn't sleep. I lay in my bunk listening to the gentle breathing of Sam and Raymond while remember the touch and sounds of Wendy. Had I come full circle from the sweet innocence of my youthful getaways to the joy and satisfaction of adult completeness in the same place?

When I awoke in the morning I realized that I had slept way longer than usual. Sam and Raymond had already abandoned their berths and I heard laughter outside. I staggered to the bathroom to wash up, threw on a fresh pair of shorts and a tee shirt and headed downstairs to find Jodi sitting at the table checking her laptop.

"Are you okay?" She asked, staring at me with an amused look on her face.

"I'm fine," I assured her with a grin.

"You look like a kid on Christmas morning," she observed.

"That's exactly how I feel," I smiled.

I grabbed a banana and a cup of coffee and meandered down to the lake front apron. Wendy was sitting with Marci and my mother enjoying the sun. Some of the kids were hanging out nearby.

"Good afternoon," Marci said humorously, noting my late unusually late arrival (it was really only about ten in the morning).

"Hello," I greeted warmly as I took a seat.

Wendy had a contented look on her face as she observed me. I was struck at how beautiful she looked. Today her hair was down, flowing out from underneath a straw sun hat. Her fingernails and toenails were polished orange. She was wearing an attractive modest one piece flowered bathing suit and she was barefooted. We exchanged knowing looks but didn't say anything

"We've been swimming already," Marci announced proudly.

"Great," I grinned, unable to take my eyes off of Wendy.

There was conversation amongst the three ladies with an occasional interruption from some of the kids but I didn't say much sitting contently in my chair listening to the talk and staring at Wendy with a look of total wonderment on my face.

The motor boat returned with Barry, Bill, Dad, Sam and Raymond onboard from a morning fishing excursion.

"You missed out," Sam told me. "We caught four fish!"

"Sorry I missed it," I smiled even though I wasn't really.

Jodi had come down from the cottage by then and joined in the conversing. The guys took seats with us too and we enjoyed a flash to the past reconnection of quality family time telling stories and remembering our absent friends like Henry, Patches, Beth, Catherine and Julie, all of whom had spent quality time with us at The Getaway.

We watched the various sailboats, kayaks and canoes float by. An occasional water skier too. The Getaway was the most tranquil place I knew.

I had gotten to know Angie some as the week unfolded. She shadowed her mom when she wasn't preoccupied with the other kids and I had been part of some group card and board games that included her on various evenings. She was quiet and shy but when she spoke she was intelligent and humorous and I liked her personality. She was as pretty as her mom and she seemed to like me well enough which would be important if Wendy and I had any hopes of having a successful relationship beyond The Getaway.

It was Wendy's idea to take the older girls out to lunch as a break from the constant activity around the cottage. Angie, Margaret and Ronni piled into the back of my father's BMW (we might as well drive in style) and Wendy and I took the trio to a tasty lunch at a fashionable restaurant a few towns down the road.

It was a snapshot of what my life could have been had I gone in another direction in my earlier years – driving a nice car with a wonderful woman next to me, three kids in the back. What was so wrong with that?

The lunch was pleasant and the girls were thrilled to receive the special treatment, Angie tickled to be with her mom in the company of others, Margaret and Ronni happy to be away from their parents and hanging out with their uncle who was different while getting to know Angie's mom a little better too. We had some interesting conversations and I liked playing the role of cool uncle and hip friend. I could only hope that Angie would like me well enough to accept me into her life if Wendy and I really made a go of it.

We returned to The Getaway and resumed our normal afternoon routine, me and Wendy finally getting a chance for some alone one-one-one time with another kayak ride.

"Maybe I'm not such a loser after all," Wendy decided once we were out in the middle of the lake. "Last night was as good as it gets."

I paddled my kayak against hers, leaned over and gave her a soft kiss.

"Careful, somebody could be watching us through the binoculars," Wendy warned (that was one of the common activities from the dock).

I reached out and took her hand. "Thank you for trusting me," I said.

"I never saw any of this coming," she admitted. "I needed a break from my life and I hadn't seen Jodi and the rest of you guys in forever. I loved our summers at The Getaway and I wanted the chance to share the farewell."

"I always liked you," I blurted out.

"I always liked you too," she revealed.

I leaned over and kissed her again. "You're the best thing that's happened to me in a long time."

"This Getaway has been better than I could have imagined," Wendy said. "Maybe we're not quite such the losers after all," Wendy noted, returning my kiss.

"We haven't talked about what happened in the hammock," I worried. "Are you okay with it?"

""It was special," she assured me with another kiss.

"No regrets?" I prayed.

"Of course not," She replied. "It was the ultimate getaway."

I sat back in my kayak and looked at her with interest. "All those years together here," I said. "Did you ever think we'd end up doing that together?"

"Not in a hammock," she teased. Then she turned serious for a moment. "We're different people now, Royal. Whatever is happening between us now is different from what could have, would have, might have but never did happen back when we were younger."

"Okay," I said hopefully.

There was a pause in our conversation as we leisurely paddled the kayaks across the lake surface.

"Do you think it's the magic?" Wendy asked.

"The magic?" I asked with confusion.

"The magic of the lake," she said. "The intoxication of the getaway."

"No, I think it's the magic of you," I replied knowingly.

"Maybe it's the magic of you," Wendy smiled.

I glanced around at our surroundings. "It is beautiful here though, isn't it?" I asked.

"Definitely," Wendy said happily.

"I'm going to miss it," I confessed, starting to feel sad again at the realization that this really was our final getaway.

"Me too," Wendy sighed.

We eventually paddled our way back to the cottage. If the others were finally noticing that Wendy and I were spending an unusual amount of time together they didn't say anything. Hopefully they were even okay with it! I joined Jodi and Marci for a late afternoon grocery store run to restock supplies. I figured it would be a (and rare) opportunity for some quality alone sibling time. It didn't take my sisters long to cut to the chase.

"So, is something going on between you and Wendy?" Jodi asked as she drove. "My long time good friend?"

"Well, I've been friends with her for a long time too," I said lamely.

"Yeah, but are you two something…..more now?" Marci wanted to know.

"I don't know what you mean," I lied.

"Come on Royal, be honest," Jodi groaned.

I knew I couldn't deny their suspicions and suddenly I felt awkward and embarrassed. "Maybe," I mumbled.

Jodi and Marci exchanged glances as they sat in the front with me in the rear seat.

"Wow," Jodi finally said with surprise.

"Yeah, wow," Marci agreed, glancing at me over her shoulder.

"Is there a problem?" I needed to know.

My sisters exchanged looks and for a moment they didn't seem sure what to say.

"I guess not," Jodi finally realized.

"We're just surprised," Marci said.

"Why?" I asked. "Is there something wrong with two consenting adults who've known each other a long time to spend time together?"

"She's got a kid, Royal," Jodi reminded me.

"A nice kid," I agreed.

"The two of you look pretty 'comfy' together," Marci smirked.

"Comfy? I asked sheepishly.

"'That's a good thing," Jodi said.

"You two okay with this?" I asked.

"Why should we care?" Marci laughed. "It's your life."

I had to bite my tongue from saying something snide or laughing out loud because the 'it's your life' mantra didn't seem to apply in the past when I was raked over the coals for various missteps.

"But is this just a getaway fling?" Jodi asked with concern as she continued to drive. "What happens when we leave on Saturday?"

"I don't know," I admitted with a sigh. "I'd like to keep seeing her though."

"Really?" Jodi asked hopefully.

"You'd be okay with that?" I asked with surprise.

"I think the two of you need each other," Jodi answered

"Yeah?" I smirked.

Jodi pulled the car into the parking lot of the small local IGA. "Yeah," she said. She glanced at me in the rear view mirror. "But I swear to God, Royal, if you treat her badly I'll hunt you down."

"I would never treat her badly," I vowed with confidence.

"She's already been through hell with that asshole she married," Jodi warned as she climbed out of the car.

"I'm not an asshole," I said defensively as I left the vehicle too.

"Not anymore," Marci agreed with a laugh as she got of the car.

Jodi and I laughed too and suddenly it felt like the old days again when we got along and liked each other and didn't worry about status and spouses and careers and expectations. We goofed around while shopping, chatting and being silly as we moved through the aisles loading up the cart to take us to the end of the vacation. Feeding fifteen people three times a day was like feeding an Army!

We headed back to The Getaway bearing gifts of substance (and snacks), talking about some of our favorite Getaway memories during the ride. Jodi told us that she and Barry thought about purchasing the cottage to keep it in the family but it just didn't make sense living so far away

"It wouldn't be fair to Mom and Dad to ask them to keep it just for our own selfishness," Marci said. "Sometimes you just have to let go of things from your life."

I cringed at the thought of not having The Getaway in the family but I knew selling the property was the right thing to do. "You can't sell memories," I remarked.

"That's true," Jodi smiled.

We arrived at the cottage and carried the groceries into the kitchen. Jodi and Mari unloaded the bags while Wendy and I took a quick walk on a nearby trail with Margaret and Angie. By the time we got back to the cottage, Barry and Bill had the steaks grilling. The Gang of Fifteen ate at the picnic table outside the cottage and after we picked up I once again found myself sitting with Wendy on the apron front by the lake Barry was giving some of the kids a motor boat ride and Wendy and are were away fromm the others.

"I feel like there is no where else I would rather be than here right now," Wendy told me happily.

"Me too," I grinned.

Wendy informed me that Angie and the girls had taken the mattress and blankets off the spare bunk in the boys' bunk room and spread it out on the floor of the girls' bunk room so Angie could sleep with the girls instead of sharing the small pull out couch on the side porch with her mother.

"Do you think I can sneak down for a late night visit?" I smirked.

"If you're quiet," Wendy smiled.

I could hardly wait for everybody to go to bed!

I played a game of chess with Raymond on the front porch and then a game of Scrabble with Angie, Margaret and Ronni. By the time we finished, the other kids were in bed and the adults were making their way upstairs too (Marci and Bill to their tent). I joined Sam and Raymond in the boy's bunk room and once I was pretty sure they (and the rest of the cottage) was asleep, I slipped out of my bunk and sneaked downstairs to the side porch.

"You awake?" I whispered into the dark as I tip-toed onto the porch.

"Couldn't sleep," Wendy giggled from the shadows.

I cuddled next to her under the covers on the springy old couch and Wendy rested her head on my chest. I could hear her peaceful relaxed breathing above the sounds of the outside breeze and lake laps as I lay holding her and I felt her heartbeat too. I knew this was the moment I wished would never end. We began making out and after a while Wendy had rolled on top of me and I had tugged her jammie shorts down her thighs and we made quiet love careful not to make any noise that would disturb the sleeping family elsewhere in the cottage.

When we were done and had held each other with passion and warmth, I slipped my shorts back on and tip toed back to the boys bunk room so I would be seen soundly asleep with Sam and Raymond awoke in the morning. .

It had been a long time since I had a sense of romance in my life. My last serious relationship ended several years earlier and I had been mostly on my own in recent times, too full of self-pity to really focus on my social life. I had some female acquaintances at work and occasionally I 'hooked up' with one of them when we were both in the mood but there was nothing deep or committed about those unions.

"It's just sex, Roy," Cathy reminded me one night when I got a little bit too mushy for her comfort.

I knew it just wasn't sex with Wendy though. I felt a deep and spiritual connection with her because of our shared past and now that we had spent some time together (and made (secret) love a few times) I was convinced that there was something special between us that might include a future beyond The Getaway. I was tired of just sex and of my lonely apartment at night. I liked how it felt being around Wendy and Angie and I had discovered that I was ready to get serious about my life and my future, even if I was just a hospital cafeteria worker.

We ended up down at the lakefront after breakfast on another glorious August summer day. The kids were laughing having a good time and the adults were rested and relaxed, contented with their surroundings. We were now down to our last two days at the lake but nobody wanted to think about that.

"I'm really glad we came," I overheard Angie tell her mom. "This is a lot of fun!"

This was as close to Paradise as I could hope to be.

Wendy and I were seated on the auxiliary dock with our feet dangling in the water.

"I always loved this place," Wendy said warmly. "It's amazing how being here brings such serenity. I haven't felt this calm and together since the last time I was here and that was a long time ago."

"A lot has changed since those days," I remarked.

"Strange how the atmosphere here erases everything in between," Wendy noted.

"When you can find a place that allows you to forget your unhappy past I guess you're pretty lucky," I agreed.

We listened to the water slapping the shoreline as we stared out at the beauty of the lake.

"It's a great sharing this experience with someone who appreciates the tranquility of the gift," I said.

"I'm enjoying the escape from my day to day life," Wendy said. "Being here has been a calming experience that has recharged me. I wish I could enjoy this feeling every day."

"I guess we'll have to remember to bring it with us this time," I said. "I kind of forgot about this place once I thought I outgrew it."

"We never outgrow it," Wendy replied. "That's why losing it now is especially sad."

Sam and Raymond appeared with squirt rifles and a huge water fight ensued with several of the kids and adults partaking! It was fun being a kid again and letting go of all my past resentments, failures and disappointments. I hadn't laughed the way I did squirting the water rifles in a long time.

Wendy and I went for a canoe ride (this time) after lunch. It was the perfect afternoon to be on the lake - hot, clear and beautiful.
We eventually ended up back at the water fall at ghost island and cooled off by taking a swim, ending up kissing by the falls once again. The kisses were passionate and meaningful and when I managed to tug the bottom of Wendy's swimming shorts down her legs, she responded by doing the same to me, leaving the both of us bare-assed under the water. We explored each another's bodies with her hands and the cool water served as an amazing stimulant and I felt a sensation I had never felt before when we made love in the water.

The experience was something I will never forget and when we were done we clung to each other for a long time in the water, forever grateful for one of the most memorable times of our lives!

"I haven't made love more than once in the last three years," Wendy sighed with fulfillment. "I can't believe I've done it three times in less than three days!"

I couldn't tell if the moisture on her face was lake water or tears. I gently kissed her and held her close.

"This is the best summer at the lake ever," I told her.

We retrieved our bottoms that had floated away during our love making, put them back on and swam to the canoe. We padded away from Ghost Island toward The Getaway and we passed close to the old Dawson cottage a few cottages down from our place.

"I bet the summer of Lucy Dawson was your best summer at the lake ever," Wendy said knowingly.

Lucy Dawson hung out with us some. She was Jodi and Wendy's age and they knew her pretty well but for some reason Lucy was interested in me and I surrendered my virginity to her when I was sixteen against a tree in the woods behind her cottage. It was awkward and spazy and not a whole lot of enjoyment for me (I wasn't very good at it) and I would have pretended it never happened but for some reason Lucy gossiped the event to Jodi and Wendy. I was shocked and humiliated to be outted like that especially because Lucy wasn't very tactful about it and that made me feel dirty and shamed.

"I wished that never happened," I revealed to Wendy as we slowly paddled past the former Dawson camp.

"Really?" Wendy asked, looking at me over her shoulder with surprise from her perch in the front of the canoe. "I thought it was a big deal."

"It was a traumatic event," I replied. "I had tree bark embedded in my rear for days."

Wendy couldn't help but giggle. "Lucy did seem kind of trampy," she admitted. "She was the first girl I knew who bragged about her sex life. I thought it was tacky myself."

"I couldn't believe she told you guys," I said with embarrassment all these years later. I stared at Wendy who was still looking back at me. "It meant nothing to me," I said. "But this week means everything to me."

Wendy smiled as she turned to face front again and we paddled to the auxiliary dock of The Getaway.

We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out on the apron enjoying the late afternoon. It was decided that the tradition of the outdoor movie theater should be experienced one last time so after supper we loaded up two cars with the seven kids. Wendy and I drove Angie, Martha and Ronni in my parents' car while Barry and Jodi took Sam, Jenny, Raymond and Roberta in theirs.

The Lake Ashlant Drive-in was one of the last of the old time movie drive in theaters (although the old metal window speakers on the posts were gone, replaced with the technology to use car radios). But the old concrete snack bar was still there and I couldn't remember the last time I had been to an outdoor movie although I was pretty sure it was right here, maybe when I was seventeen or eighteen, maybe even with Jodi and Wendy (although I think it was actually with Marci and Julie and maybe Patches).

None of the kids had ever been to an outdoor before so they had themselves quite the adventure although Roberta and Jenny fell asleep before the second feature was over. I had a good time sharing the front seat with Wendy and it almost felt as if we were on a date.

We returned to The Getaway late at night. Bill and Marci had waited up for us but my parents had long since gone to bed. It didn't take long for the cottage to go quiet and when even time had passed I safely snuck down to the side porch where Wendy was waiting for me. We didn't make love but it was nice just to cuddle and sleep together for a few hours until I sneaked back to the bunk room before dawn to maintain the illusion.

Marci kept saying our 'last day' and 'our last time' as Friday unfolded. She was becoming increasingly sentimental and fatalistic as the day progressed sensing the end of an era but the rest of us were trying to stay positive and upbeat enjoying the sunny day (although clouds started coming in as the day went on).

Most of us were kicked back and laid back taking in the lake experience one more time. We swam, boated, fished and hung out, had lunch as a group, and then spent the afternoon watching dark and ominous clouds filling the sky. Distant thunder could be heard later and when lightning began to flash and the wind picked up around four o'clock we made sure all the small crafts were out of the water, lose items were secured, and that the motor boat was snuggly tied to the dock.

The rain came in downpours soon after and we escaped to the cottage for cover, watching the lake dark and angry, the trees bending in the wind and the lightning dancing across the sky accompanied by loud booms of thunder. Marci interpreted the storm as a sign from God that our time in Paradise was over while the rest of us saw it as Mother Nature showing her strength and power.

We sat on the front porch talking and watching the impressive fury while others sought refuge inside the cottage but by six o'clock the worse of the storm had passed and we were able to venture outside and enjoy the evening as the sun fought to come out and we grilled chicken on the outside grill for "our last supper" as Marci put it.

My father broke out an expensive couple of bottles of champagne to mark the occasion, offering a sincere and emotional farewell toast and thanking all of us for "exceptional" times and memories at "our summer abode". Marci was a blubbering mess by then.

Nobody wanted to go to bed knowing that when we awoke in the morning it would all be over. We shared some of our favorite lake and cottage stories, memories, experiences and treasures into the late hours but eventually everybody ended up heading for their beds.

I lay in my bunk telling Sam and Raymond a few last tales from my summer youth. They were good kids and I enjoyed my time with them this week. I hoped they saw me as a good guy and not as the disappointment they heard about previously. When I was sure the boys (and the rest of the cottage) was asleep, I ducked out of my bunk and headed down to the side cottage ("for the last time" as Marci would lament), pulling off my shorts before slipping under the covers to find a naked Wendy waiting for me.

She was teary eyed and sentimental as we held each other tight and reminisced one last time about the week and the years passed. I'm sure Wendy was wondering if this was the last time we would be together but I kept assuring her that we were now officially together and that I would be coming to her project apartment as soon as we got home. I'm not sure if she truly believed me.

We made quiet love with the breeze blowing through the screens and we fell asleep in each others arms and although I had the urge and temptation to stay in bed with Wendy long after everybody arose I silently slipped out from under the covers, put my shorts back on and made my way back to my bunk just as dawn was breaking in the eastern sky.

My parents left first. They didn't want to be in the way during the clean up so they said their final goodbyes, took a few mementos from the cottage and headed home, leaving behind forty-two summers of their lives behind. They were surprisingly mellow and unemotional about their final farewell, even though Marci was once again a blubbering mess.

The rest of us pitched in to clean up the cottage one last time. I made a dump run (sure were a lot of beer cans and booze bottles) and by the time I got back the others had pretty much gotten the place ready for the final sale. The sheets were washed, the beds were made, the floors were swept, the room were vacuumed, the lake front was tidy, all the crafts were out of the water and up by the cottage, and all of our personal belongings were out of the cottage.

I took a group photo of us kids from the boys bunk room, Wendy took a photo of the lake, Jodi took a painting that hung in the living room all of our lives, and a teary eyed Marci took a written history of Lake Ashlant that included information on each camp site. The kids took some of their favorite books from the bookshelves.

Barry and Jodi had a plane to catch so they left next, exchanging hugs and hand shakes and warm farewells as only God knew when they'd be back from Texas again. I gave Sam the high five, Angie and Margaret exchanged e-mail and twitter accounts and they promised to facebook friend request each other.

Marci was such an emotional mess that Bill decided they should head out too so there were more hugs, embraces and goodbyes. I gave Raymond a colored rock from the lake I had painted when I was twelve and Angie and Ronni exchanged e-mail and twitter accounts and promised to facebook friend request each other!

It felt strange to realize that it was just me, Wendy and Angie left at The Final Getaway now. I drove my car to the boat ramp and Wendy and Angie drove me back to the cottage so I could ride the boat back to the boat ramp and the waiting trailer. They volunteered to stick around and help which I appreciated.

"Just give me a minute," I sighed as I walked through the cottage one last time to say goodbye. The real estate agent would be taking over from here and once I closed and locked the door I would forever be locked out of the cottage I grew up in.

I walked through each room making sure everything was properly in its place. I stood in the doorway of the side porch for an extra minute staring at the couch where Wendy and I made love. I strolled onto the front porch and took one last look at the lake through the front screen and then walked one last time through the cottage to the side door. I slowly closed it and that's when I knew The Final Getaway was finished forever.

Wendy smiled sadly at me and I shrugged my shoulders.

"Oh well," I said half-jokingly. "That's that."

"We'll meet you at the boat ramp," Wendy said bravely before escorting Angie to her car.

I slowly walked down the path to the lake for the final time. Standing on the dock, I turned and looked at the cottage and smiled. "So long, old friend," I said aloud before I untied the boat, fired up the engine and drove the boat to the boat ramp where Wendy and Angie were waiting for me, her junky car parked not far from my junky car.

Was that some sort of symbolic statement!?

Once the boat was on the trailer there was nothing left to do. Angie returned to the car and Wendy stood looking at me, wondering if this was going to be our final farewell.

I handed her my cell phone. "Punch in your number," I told her.

She smiled and did what I asked.

"Don't you want my email and twitter account and are you going to face book friend request me?" I grinned.

"Yes to everything," she said, her voice choking up.

"Why don't I come over for dinner tonight?" I suggested.

Her eyes went wide and then they became teary. "You're really willing to keep the Final Getaway going?"

"I'll never getaway from you," I smiled as I gave her a hug.