Clive Cluff noticed Mrs. McAdams loading her minivan with the help of her two daughters on a Thursday morning of a summer's day. He had just returned from working an overnight stocking shelves at the Greenville Stop and Save and he walked across the street to check on his neighbors.
"You guys going somewhere?" He asked.
"Lake Ashlant," twelve year old Ally mumbled indifferently.
"Just taking a break for a few days," Mrs. McAdams explained.
"I wish I could take a break," Clive said lightly.
"Come with us!" Eleven year old Ellie said with excitement.
Clive laughed. "I'm sure it's a girls-only getaway."
"We could use a man's presence," Ally remarked with a sarcastic tone.
Mrs. McAdams ignored Ally's attitude as she continued loading the back of the minivan. Clive Cluff was a good kid. He had been mowing her lawn and shoveling the snow for her since her husband Dean left and she had watched Clive grow up but he was a nineteen year old college student and inviting him to the lake would be inappropriate even if she was friends with Clive's parents.
"We wouldn't mind, Mom," Sweet Ellie said innocently.
"It's like having an older brother when he's around," Ally agreed.
"Or an Uncle," Ellie added.
"Don't you have class?" Mrs. McAdams asked Clive. "It's very impressive that you're taking summer college classes."
"No classes until Monday," Clive replied. "Although I have a big paper due Monday." He pondered that reality for a moment. "Sure would be peaceful writing it by a lake."
"What about work?" Mrs. McAdams asked, finished loading the minivan now and closing the rear hatch.
"I could call in," Clive said. "I have time coming."
"You should say yes, Mom," Ally sternly advised.
"For protection," Ellie seconded. "Since we don't have a dog."
Mrs. McAdams let out a sigh. It would be crazy for her to agree. "There's only two bedrooms," she reasoned.
"I'm sure there's a couch," Clive shrugged.
"Please?" Ellie begged.
Mrs. McAdams had been playing it by the book since Dean left. A single mom raising two kids and working a full time job with no personal or social life other than Friday night pizza out with her parents and Sunday afternoon dinner at her parents' house.
Didn't she deserve a little bit of companionship? Something different for a change? Mrs. McAdams glanced at Clive and then at her two girls - Ellie innocent and naive, Ally bitter and resentful.
"Okay," Mrs. McAdams said quietly even though she knew it was a foolish choice.
"Wow, Mom!" Ally said with surprise.
"This is going to be fun!" Ellie laughed. "We have a fourth for vacation. Even numbers!"
"Give me a few minutes," an excited Clive requested as he turned and hurried across the street.
Mrs. McAdams knew she had made a horrible decision but after all she had been through she really didn't care. Besides, maybe having Clive around would act as a buffer between her and Ally – mother and daughter had been butting heads lately, Ally quickly approaching that troubling age, made worse by her father's absence.
Clive returned carrying an overnight bag with a backpack over his shoulder containing his Chromebook laptop and some of his college work. He had changed into jean cutoffs and a Greenville Giants tee shirt with sandals.
The girls climbed into the back of the minivan with their Iphones and Ipads and earbuds while Clive manned the front passenger seat.
Mrs. McAdams slipped behind the wheel. She was wearing khaki shorts, a white blouse, dark sunglasses, and her long brown hair was pulled back behind a white visor. She seriously considered chickening out and asking Clive to get out but she knew she had already sealed her fate.
She started the minivan and backed out of the driveway hoping nobody noticed who was in the van with her and her girls.
"What did you tell your parents?" Mrs. McAdams wondered once they were on the highway.
"I'll text them now," Clive replied, pulling his phone out of his pocket. "I'll just tell them I'm taking a break with friends."
Mrs. McAdams nodded her head in agreement.
The girls were mostly engrossed in their electronics in the backseat although Ellie would periodically comment about something she saw out the window and Ally would complain about how long it took to get to the lake (about an hour and a half).
Clive updated Mrs. McAdams on his college studies and the job at Stop and Save and how his parents and sister were doing and Mrs. McAdams mostly listened, well aware that the less she said the better.
Clive asked Mrs. McAdams how her job as a receptionist at Blue County Medical Group/Clinic was going and she said fine even though the truth was she hated her job but heartless Dean left her no choice but to work a forty-hour week to pay the bills with her parents' help.
A co-worker had given her the use of his family cottage for a few days at a reduced cost, otherwise there would have been no vacation at all this year.
Mrs. McAdams finally steered the minivan off the interstate but it was another half hour through side roads before they arrived in Lake Ashlant.
Mrs. McAdams pulled the car into the parking lot of the local grocery store to buy food for the vacation stay. The girls fought over a shopping cart and they rushed ahead while Mrs. McAdams and Clive surveyed the various shelfs.
"Maybe if anybody asks, you're my brother," Mrs. McAdams suggested when they were out of the girls' earshot.
"Sure," Clive agreed, well aware of their twelve year age difference and how it might look with the two of them together.
"You're helping out with your nieces," Mrs. McAdams explained.
"I get it," Clive let her know.
Mrs. McAdams let the girls buy whatever snacks they wanted in an effort to keep Ally from bitching while making sure there was enough actual food to feed the four vacationers for the four day stay.
Clive handed Mrs. McAdams a twenty and a ten at the cash register to help with the costs and Mrs. McAdams used her debit card to pay for the groceries.
The four loaded the groceries into the minivan and Mrs. McAdams used the GPS to locate the cottage on the far side of the fair-sized lake.
She drove the minivan onto a dirt road that led to a row of cottages and houses along the lake front.
"Is that it?" Ellie asked with excitement when they saw a large modern attractive house.
"No," Mrs. McAdams replied and her heart dropped when she saw the mailbox with "Anders" written on it, knowing that was her co-worker's family cottage, a run down, beat up, outdated throwback to the 1930s with little work done to it since.
"What a dump," Ally growled as Mrs. McAdams drove the minivan down the hill to the lot beside the old cottage.
"I'm sure it will be fine," Clive said with encouragement as Mrs. McAdams parked the minivan
"I sure wish we had had the wrong cottage," Mrs. McAdams sighed in a rare moment of defeat.
"What color is it supposed to be?" Ally wondered, glaring at the cottage and its faded paint.
Mrs. McAdams gave Clive a pleading look.
"The color of happiness," Clive answered Ally.