Caretaking

Solly Moran got off the bus in front of the General Store in the small village of Pineville not far from Pine Lake. He was expecting to be picked up by his pal Ian O'Connell who was at the lake working for his grandfather. Solly received permission from his parents to spend a few weeks with Ian at the lake, his first venture away from home since Boy Scout camp four years earlier.

Lugging his duffel bag with him, Solly took a seat on a bench on the porch of the General Store to avoid the summer sun while patiently waiting for Ian's arrival. He was looking forward to some independence and freedom without parental guidance, curfews, and other restrictions, even if Ian was working.

A sedan finally showed up although Solly was confused because it wasn't Ian's familiar sports car. In fact, the vehicle looked an awfully lot like Ian's sister Isabelle's, but what would she be doing at the lake so far from home?

Solly watched the car skid to a stop in front of the General Store and - lo and behold - out popped Isabelle.

"Hiya Solly!" She grinned.

She was a year older than him and Ian, and while Solly was friendly with her over the years he was also intimidated and even afraid of her. Isabelle was physically bigger than Solly and Ian in earlier years - even now she was about 5'9", her skin browned from the summer sun, with long smooth legs, shapely hips and a modest sized bust to compliment her long black hair.

Solly was surprised to see her even though he was definitely excited and pleased by her unexpected presence.

"Isabelle," he exclaimed, grabbing his duffel bag and stepping off the porch. "I didn't know you were here."

"Well, it is a family business," she said.

"Where's Ian?" Solly asked with confusion.

"He left," Isabelle announced.

'No, seriously," Solly laughed. "Where is he?"

"I am being serious," Isabelle assured him. "He left. I'm filling in for him. Come on," she said, motioning toward the car.

"What do you mean he left?" A dumbstruck Solly asked, standing frozen on the sidewalk. "I came to hang out with him."

"He got a better offer," Isabelle grinned.

"Come on," an annoyed Solly said. "What's going on?"

"Maura called from North Carolina," Isabelle explained. "Invited him down there for a while."

"Well, when's he coming back?" Solly frowned.

"Beats me," Isabelle shrugged. "You can hang out with me in the meantime."

"I'm not sure if my parents would approve of that," Solly remarked.

"Who's going to tell them?" Isabelle laughed.

Solly stared at her with uncertainty. "This isn't what I expected."

"The next bus doesn't come until tomorrow," Isabelle informed him. "You're stuck here at least until then."

Solly let out a sigh. "Why didn't Ian text me?"

"Service sucks out here," Isabelle replied. "Plus I told him not to."

"Why would you do that?"

"I don't want to be out here alone!" Isabelle laughed. "Come on, get in the car. Everything's cool."

She was already in the car by the time Solly decided he didn't have any choice but to do what she asked. He tossed the duffel bag in the back seat and climb into the passenger's seat. Isabelle already had the car moving before he even closed the door.

"So how are things in Hillsboro?" Isabelle wanted to know.

"Fine," he said. "The same. Why?" He asked, giving her a look. "How long have you been here?"

"A week," she said. "But time kind of stops out here."

"I still don't know what you're doing here," Solly remarked.

"It's a do nothing job, Solly," she explained. "Easy money. Plus a welcomed getaway from my parents."

"Why didn't you bring Abby or Francine or one of your other friends?"

"I didn't want them here," she replied. Then she threw him a look. "I wanted you here!"

They had driven a few miles along a winding road. Pine Lake came into view - a relatively small body of water with cottages and cabins along the shore, but then they came around a bend in the road and there - on a crest of a hill - was the abandoned Pinewood Resort Hotel with a chained link fence surrounding it. Numerous "Posted," "No Trespassing," "Private Property," and "Keep Out" signs were affixed to the fencing.

"Jesus," Solly said as Isabelle slowed the car.

"The Giant White Elephant," Isabelle announced as she turned the car into a small dirt driveway next to the abandoned hotel that led to an open green yard and a small cottage near the lake front.

Solly was staring over his shoulder at the forgotten hotel that looked lonely and sad in its emptiness. "It looks like it belongs in 'The Shining'," Sully said.

Isabelle turned the car so it was pointed toward the back of the hotel, also protected by a chained link fence and numerous keep out signs. "It was built in 1924," Isabelle said. "Grand ball room. Huge dining room. Forty luxurious rooms. It was a real hopping place for many years - big bands and other acts, a nice vacation getaway during its heyday."

"Those days obviously ended," Sully said.

"It closed for good about twenty years ago," Isabelle report. "My grandfather is in a protracted legal battle with some of his partners. They bought it with the intention of rehabbing it and opening it again but then the economy tanked and there was talk of razing it because of the prime real estate value of this land. Building condos or maybe a nursing home or something. My grandfather is afraid one of his less than scrupulous partners might try to torch the place for the insurance money which is why the family has been serving as caretakers for the past few years. Ian volunteered for the summer but now I'm stuck with the gig since he took off."

"What exactly does the job involve?" Solly wondered as he and Isabelle climbed out of the car, Solly continuing to stare at the old hotel in intrigued fascination even after he had retrieved his duffel bag from the backseat.

"Keeping an eye on The White Elephant, mostly," Isabelle replied.

"That's it?" Solly asked.

"There are a lot of renters on the lake so in the summer people are always coming and going," Isabelle explained. "There's a lot of curiosity about this place naturally so people like to check it out and explore." She pointed to the old aging dock at the water's edge. "It's posted from there too but people still pull up in their boats. Taking photos is fine but trying to get close to the building is a no-no. The Sheriff comes by once a day or so but we're here as a deterrent and to shoo people away when they're nosing around."

"You're right," Solly replied. "It is a nothing job."

"I hope you like to read and work on your sun tan," Isabelle laughed, pointing to the lawn chairs on the grass. "That's mostly what I do. We also go inside the hotel every few days to make sure there's no damage or entry. There's no power or water in there so you can only do it during the day. At night, you just listen for any noise or look for flashlight beams." Isabelle started for the cottage. "Come on," she said. "I'll show you our digs."

Solly followed Isabelle into the small caretaker's cottage – a one story structure with a living space, a kitchenette, and one large bedroom with a bathroom off of it. There was also a sun porch on the side of the cottage.

"The bedroom used to be two smaller rooms but it was too claustrophobic so somebody knocked a wall out," Isabelle explained.

The bedroom had two doorways and three beds in it – a queen size against one wall and a bunkbed on the other wall. There was a dresser and desk and two small closets. It was obvious that Isabelle was using the queen bed so Solly tossed his duffel bag on the bottom bunk, not sure how he felt about sharing a room with Ian's sister.

"My grandfather bought this place a while back," Isabelle continued as she left the bedroom. "I'm sure it will go with the hotel if they end up knocking that down."

"Too bad," Solly said. "I'd hate to see The White Elephant taken down."

"I think it's becoming an albatross," Isabelle replied. "It would be great to save it for history's sake but maybe it's time has passed and the property would be better served with something different on it."

"I suppose," Solly reluctantly agreed.

"Anyway, I get food every few days at the country store. There's basic cable on the television but no internet and as I said before the cell service is spotty at best," Isabelle said as she stepped out onto the sunporch which had several chairs, couches and tables on it. "I don't mind. I like being off the grid for a while. It's been nice to be away from all the stupid politics and other insane news. I haven't turned the television on since I've been here or opened the computer."

"You're not bored?"

"Sometimes slowing down is a good thing," Isabelle decided as she plopped into one of the chairs and put her feet up against the screen sill, gazing out at the lake.

Taking in the impressive and peaceful view in front of him, Solly had to admit that she had a point.