Fate By The Lake
Turner Thomas rented out the small cottage for years, usually to staff and Faculty at The Sun Rise School for Boys and, in the summer, to friends and family members (often for free). He didn't rent the place when the kids were teenagers, allowing them and their friends to use the cottage as a safe place hang out but now that the kids were mostly out of the house, he started renting it out again.
Turner usually rented the cottage (named "Polly By The Lake") to males or couples (preferably with kids) but the current renter happened to be a woman, mostly because Turner made an erroneous assumption when he saw the applicant's name ("Stevie Morgan") come through on the e-mail application. It wasn't until the potential renter showed up to see the place at a scheduled time that Turner discovered "Stevie Morgan" was a woman.
"Stevie?" He asked with confusion.
"Oh it's a nickname," the woman explained, probably for the millionth time. "Short for Stephanie but everybody's called me Stevie since I was six so it's sort of kind of my real name now."
"I usually don't rent to women," Turner foolishly remarked.
"That's sex discrimination," She said with a disapproving frown.
"Let me show you the cottage," Turner said, immediately retracting his previous statement.
He walked her off the side porch of his larger house, across the driveway that forked down a slight slope to the smaller college at the north end of the lot.
"Have we met before?" Stevie asked, giving him a long look. "You seem familiar to me."
"I think I would have remembered you," Turner replied.
He meant because of her name, of course, but now that he was seeing her up close he was sure he would have remembered her attractive face and presence as well.
Turner knew she worked in the Human Resources Department at Sun Rise Lake School for Boys from her application. She was well dressed with her brown hair noticeably styled. Her car in the upper driveway was a late model expensive sports car.
He opened the front door to Polly By The Lake, a brown clap-board cottage that was well maintained. The cottage only had five rooms but it could sleep eleven. There was an open main room with a kitchenette at the far end, equipped with modern equipment. There was a large flat screen on the main room wall. There was a sun porch to the left and down the back hall a master bedroom and a second bedroom with eight bunk beds in a communal set up.
"I don't think I'll be using this room much," Stevie noted when she glanced in at all the bunks.
The bathroom was also modernized and Stevie was impressed at how clean, up-to-date and well-kept the cottage was. Turner gave her an overview – renters were entitled to use the beach, dock, raft and crafts during the season.
"I'm really not interested in any of that," Stevie said dismissively. "So, are you willing to rent to this woman?"
She moved in a week later, just as the semester was to begin at the boys' school. Turner's general practice was to leave the renters alone unless there was an issue he needed to deal with as landlord. Occasionally he became friendly with some, taking them out fishing or sharing an evening beer, but he rarely initiated contact or social interaction – especially with women.
He barely saw Stevie during the first few weeks after she moved in. She kept to herself and she wasn't around much, working long hours at the prep school. On weekends, she rarely ventured from the cottage, even when the weather was warm and pleasant.
Turner stuck to his normal routine and he tried not to think about the woman renting his small cottage. There was a reason why he avoided renting to women all these years – it was easier to remain a detached and non-tempted stay-at-home single dad raising his two kids without distraction, interference, or complications. Turner felt it was better to be alone and lonely than to compromise his kids or be side tracked and befuddled by a woman living in Polly By The Lake across the yard.
October arrived. Turner wasn't sure if the renter was avoiding him or just a natural hermit. Turner prepared for the winter season - getting the raft and dock out of the water, carrying the row boat and canoe up to the garage, and riding the speedboat up to the boat ramp to get it onto the trailer to store it for the winter behind the big house.
He was dragging the lawn equipment into the storage shed when Stevie drove into the lower driveway. He decided to walk to the small cottage to say hello and make sure everything was okay - realizing he hadn't spoken with her since she moved in.
"Hope you're not getting claustrophobic in there," he joked.
"I'm fine," Stevie answered flatly as she got out of the car.
"No problems with the cottage?"
"Everything's fine, thanks," she said politely. "I'd let you know if there were any issues."
"Sure," Turner said, suddenly feeling awkward. He glanced out at the lake. "I think this is my favorite time of the year around here," he said.
He nodded affirmatively. "Most of the in-season people are gone," he said. "It's just the locals and the year-rounders. The lake takes on a different feel to it. Much quieter. More peaceful."
"I hadn't really noticed," Stevie admitted as she glanced around, almost as if she was seeing the place for the first time.
"Is it okay if I store the outside furniture for the winter?" He asked, gesturing two the chairs at the corner of the smaller cottage.
"I never use them," she said.
"You have been kind of a recluse," Turner remarked and he realized it was a foolish thing to say as soon as the words came out of his mouth.
She gave him a funny look. "I don't particularly feel sociable," she said with annoyance.
"Me either," Turner responded honestly.
"Is that why you live in that big house all by yourself?"
Turner laughed at the way she said it. "Something like that," he admitted.
"I'm sorry, that was rude," Stevie realized, letting out a sigh and taking a seat in one of the outside chairs she never used.
"How long have you been at the school?" Turner asked, taking a seat in the chair next to her.
"I started when I moved here," she revealed, looking out at the peaceful lake.
"Oh?" Turner seemed surprised. "Where did you come from?"
"St. George's in Newport," she said.
"You left Newport for this place?" He asked.
"I had my reasons," she said mysteriously.
"Sure," Turner said, sensing her defensive tone.
She glanced at him for a moment. "Are landlord around here supposed to be like bartenders?" She asked.
"Huh?" Turner asked with confusion.
"Do you expect me to pour my guts out to you?"
"No, of course not," Turner said, embarrassed.
"My marriage fell apart," Stevie suddenly announced, sounding annoyed that she was telling him even though he hadn't asked. "Twenty-two years of marriage and he tells me he wants out. Who does that?"
"I'm sorry," Turner offered with sympathy.
"What kind of man splits like that?" She wanted to know. "We had our problems but I tried. How was I supposed to know he'd walk out?"
"Maybe he' just needed some time and space," Turner offered although he really knew nothing about these sorts of things.
"He left me for someone else," Stevie said with pain in her voice. "He's not coming back."
Turner realized that there was nothing helpful or soothing he could say.
"My heart was broken when he left," She sighed. "I'm not ashamed to admit that it hurt like hell and I eventually realized that I needed to get out of Newport and all those memories. I figured a change of scenery would do me good. I wasn't really afraid to start over somewhere else. Our daughter is out on her own and when the position here opened up I figured why not?"
"Why not?" Turner agreed with fake enthusiasm.
"I thought life was all about what I was doing and look where that got me," She remarked. "Everything has been a daze since he left."
Turner could see that her eyes had watered up.
"There was no indication, no way of knowing he was that unhappy," she said, sounding amazed. "I couldn't believe how naïve and oblivious I had been."
A single tear slid along her cheek but she didn't bother to wipe it away.
"Look at me," she said with a self-deprecating laugh. "Nearly a year later and I'm still a mess."
"It's been twenty-three years for me and I'm still a mess too," Turner said with a sad smile.
"Your wife left you?" Stevie asked.
"She died," Turner revealed quietly.
"Oh," Stevie said awkwardly. "I'm sorry."
"She was the one love of my life," Turner said, staring off at the lake.
"I don't want to feel this way anymore," Stevie decided. "I don't want to need him or want him. He hurt me and it's over."
"It's easy to find a new life here," Turner told her from experience. "That's what I did."
"I'll try to remember that," She said with a forced smile as she stood. "Thanks for letting me babble…and bubble."
He smiled too as he stood. "Landlords around here aren't supposed to let that happen," he remarked
She chuckled as she headed for the door of the cottage and once she was gone Turner gathered up the lawn chairs and carried them toward the garage.