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Escape To The Lake-House
Bringing her car to a screeching halt, Victoria Burns reached out across the passenger seat and pulled out her purse where it had fell, in the small gap that was inconveniently placed between the seat and the door. She fumbled shakily through the purse, cursing the fact that no matter how small the purse was things always got lost inside. It reminded her acutely of watching Mary Poppins fish out unbelievably massive accessories - furniture even – from her small but magical purse. She shook the thought out of her head instantly; she was a kid then, and they were a family. Things weren’t the same anymore and the last thing she needed was a painful reminder of that fact.
Impatiently, Victoria brushed her tumbling blonde hair away from her eyes and emptied the contents of her purse onto her lap and picked up a dented cigarette box. Heatedly, she lit a cigarette and rested her head on the back of the car seat. Her fingers trembled so out of control that she had to be careful not to burn herself or her car.
It was a miracle that she had driven this far in the dark without having a breakdown or accident on the way. That was the thing about Victoria. She knew how to hold out her feelings until the right moment, how to plan out her emotions. But now, she was on the edge and could barely pull herself together. The smoking helped her control her breathing, but even so her breath was cut short and sharp. The smoke slowly engulfed her and the confined air became thick and slightly uncomfortable, though about now nothing could be or feel more unpleasant than her current condition.
She checked her mobile once again. Still no messages. Still no missed calls. It was seven in the evening already and she’d left three hours ago, yet no sign of any concern was to be seen. It was so unlike them, but she knew that she had cruelly pushed them off a high ledge this time and concluded angrily that it would take just a little more time.
Inhaling another gush of smoke, Victoria closed her eyes and mentally rearranged the outside scenery. Pine trees transformed into platanes, the fallen snow took a red tint and became a thick velvety coat of poppy flowers and lavender bushes. A cool spring breeze and a young welcoming sun replaced the cold wind and icy exterior. Home. She was back home. She smiled to herself and to the memory of her hometown and the joys it had brought her. In hope, she opened her eyes and looked out through the window. Heavy snow on treetops toppled down brutally onto the ground a few meters away.
“Damn”, she whispered, and said no more, thought no more, in the fear of tears running down her superficially composed visage.
The night was dawning on her, darkness surrounded her, both literally and figuratively.
Once upon a time, they’d be setting the table now, her brother and father would be watching football reruns from afar and her mum would be on the phone, cooking and setting up the table at the same time. But now, there was no knowing what was going on in the household. The strings that pulled us together had broken loose somewhere along the path and Victoria could not, would not retrace her steps back to them. Too many things had changed below the surface and she felt too betrayed to go back to the ones who loved her most. It was maybe because she was tired of hurting them with words like daggers and scorching unforgiving looks. She needed to find the strength to forgive, to adjust and she needed the courage to apologize and move forward. She needed time and she needed a plan. She needed understanding. They couldn’t provide that, not to her expectations. Her dreams had been stamped out of their lives and sent off far out of her reach.
Her cigarette had died out, as had her hope. She closed her eyes. Drifting
away. She would wait. What else was there to do?
When Victoria woke up, the sun had risen. S***, S***, S***. She grabbed her phone off the dashboard and clicked through. 9 missed calls. 5 voice mail. Mum. Dad. Tyler. And 2 calls and a text from him… A rush of anxiety flowed through her body. He knew. Obviously. Leave it to Tyler to get involved with what was rightfully and strictly her business.
‘I’m on my way. Don’t do anything stupid’. She reread it twice before believing it. Damn it. A month ago she would have been delighted to see him, but now this was not good news. Besides, he had no right to do so. She prayed – something quite selfish seeing as she wasn’t a believer – that this time when she closed her eyes, she would open them up to what she wanted to see; and hoped that someone out there would listen to her plight. She peered through her window and into the mirror.
It was parked in her driveway, tailing hers. Unbelievable. She grabbed her leather jacket, flung the door open and marched to his car door. So much for the wishing… It had never worked anyway.
“Open up Freddie!” she fumed, “I swear to god if you don’t ---”. She paused and frowned, and hissed “What the hell?” He wasn’t even in the car! This had gone way too far. She couldn’t believe that he had followed her down here with no warning whatsoever. Raging, she kicked the ground and yelled out things that would have, without a doubt, gotten her grounded at home.
Suddenly, the door to the lake-house opened up and there he stood in his pyjamas, holding a metallic bowl in his right hand.
“Pancakes?” he asked, slightly mocking her, clearly amused at the mere sight of her in such a state.
“What are you doing here? And how on earth did you get the keys to my lake-house?” She was furious, so furious, her legs nearly failed to support her weight.
He had obviously decided to ignore both questions, looking down at her with a bemused smile “Do you want pancakes or not?” A pause. If he thought she was going to reply, he was out of his right mind. “In any case, get inside: you’re going to freeze if you stay outside any longer.”
Victoria scowled, and despite herself advanced angrily towards the door.
Freddie was, by then, back in the kitchen, calmly pouring the creamy mix into an old rusty frying pan. If the paste had once look unappealing, it now looked entirely inedible.
They both stood silently in each others presence. One was trying to find the right words while one was patiently waiting for the other to choose the right moment.
Today, Freddie looked ridiculously untidy, and unusually passive. He had never been neat but had started looking after himself, being tired of his mothers incessant complaints about his disorder. Obviously, today was different. He had also always been quite a chatterbox, always in on the pranks, always had jokes and puns hidden up his sleeve. Out of all Tyler’s friends, he was my mother’s favourite. Victoria, on the other hand, found him hard to stand. In truth, he reminded her too much of how things used to be - what with his incessant cheerfulness (to the extent of becoming extremely annoying).
They had known each other ever since Tyler and Freddie were 5 and Victoria was 4. Their families would spend weeks on end at the Burn’s lake house; so often it had become a tradition. Then came the day that the Burns moved out of the country, shortly followed by the day of Freddie’s parents’ divorce. Inevitably, the days at the lake-house were numbered, nearly forgotten, left behind along with the promises of innocence.
Their last goodbye had been tearful, and both children felt the feeling of loss, thinking then that it was incurable. That was six years ago. It had been easy for Victoria to take in his constant teasing and untidy characteristics with him being a scruffy and scrawny young boy. Now, the teasing and untidiness had grown tiring, and there were times that Victoria asked her self how ANYONE could possibly stand him. Truth is, she knew, that behind his cheerful and easy appearance, he hid secrets and rough times and was determined to treat him harsher than ever before. He was her punching ball.
Come to think about it, Victoria was apparently the only member of her family who hadn’t been the slightest bit welcoming towards him. Though she had noticed his briefly hurt expression whenever she raised an eyebrow at him or cut him off coldly, she had grown used to disregarding other peoples feelings and therefore did the same to Freddie. After a while, she decided to plainly ignore him - to his disappointment. Although she refused to acknowledge it, hurting him hurt her more than she would have liked…
It wasn’t a matter of hatred or dislike. In fact, she herself didn’t know how she felt about him, or why she acted so coldly whenever he was around. Surely, she gathered it would repulse him; yet something pushed him towards her, and he never failed to let her go… despite her protests - t her dismay, they remained unheard.
“Ow!” he exclaimed. Victoria scoffed at him. He had spilt about a quarter of the mix on his dirty t-shirt. Not that it wasn’t dirty before. Seriously, did he not know the basics of human hygiene? The bowl fell to the floor, spilling the remainders onto the unpolished wooden floor.
“At least now I don’t have to think up an excuse not to eat that. Freddie, this is gross! Clean it up.” A grin, on his part, obviously. Unmoved. “Right I’ve had it. What are you doing here? This isn’t your ---”. Once again, she stopped in mid sentence.
Freddie had pulled his band-tshirt over his head and was now standing in front of her, shirtless and peering at her in a confused, thoughtful way. Victoria looked at him now, and examined him closely, as she’d done several times before. It was her way of taking in reality, something she disliked doing but somehow felt compelled to do in his presence.
He had changed from the last time she’d seen him. In the space of a month, he seemed even more masculine, probably because of his unshaved appearance. He was a blonde, like she was, though slightly darker. She remembered him being tanned (His father was from South America), but now he had grown slightly paler; probably due to the many years spent within these borders; though his ethnicity was still quite apparent. He was tall, about a head taller than her, and built like any other Senior American Football player, yet something set him apart from the others. He was, as her new friends had put it, the runt of the pack. Clearly, there wasn’t anything runty about him, at least not anymore. Victoria shook her head (a little indiscreetly, causing him to let out a low but deep chuckle) and tried to shake the thoughts of him out of her head. So, he was shirtless. So, he was more brawny than scrawny. So, she had never thought of him like that before… So what?
Victoria hastily regained her cut-off breath and resumed her furious state.
“Did Tyler send you here?” she fumed.
“Vicky, it doesn’t matter who sent me.” Vicky? No one called her that anymore.
“The matter here is about what you’re doing here, eight hours away from where you’re supposed to be. Participating in the great escape?”, his face became serious again, “Besides, they’re worried about you. They all are.”
“So he did send you. I can’t believe this! Can’t I get any privacy around here? Sure, it would have been expected for Mum or Dad to take part in this, but Tyler?!”
“Vicky…” he ventured.
“Don’t ‘Vicky’ me! This is unbelievable! Not only do they bribe me into moving here, in this cold dump, but they can’t even give me the space to breathe!? They have to send a ‘saviour’ to come get me, to come bring me back!? Do you really think that you can do that? That you, of all people, can come parading here, feeling like a hero, and save me? Well Freddie, you are so wrong!”
A short sharp breath on his part, and Victoria knew she was starting to get to him. “I don’t think that. You know, and I know that you’ve made it quite clear that you don’t need anyone.” he spoke out his words steadily, but she noticed small breaks in his voice.
In a way, she wished she could close her eyes, open them and see it wasn’t him she was yelling at. It was. He was there with her and would have to bear with her too. She knew a part of him still fancied her, from back from when they were in their early teens, and despite herself she felt the need to make him crack, to hurt him, to punish him. She knew she didn’t deserve anyone’s love.
Victoria reached for the cigarettes in her bag and lit one up, staring him straight in the eye, as if to warn him of what was to come. She blew purposefully into his face, causing him to close his blue eyes; his breathe cut short.
“Don’t be like that Vicky… It’s not like you…” he implored quietly, the despair clearly written in his expression.
She let out a short, cold laugh. “I told you not to call me that, didn’t I? No one calls me that anymore…” She smiled and drew herself closer to him, close enough to reach towards his lips. He pulled back, steering away from her touch.
“Don’t you get it?” she licked her lips, “I don’t care what you think.” She pulled off her cigarette and blew the dense smoke into the space between them, pulling out his patience and tearing out his hope.
“You know what’s wrong with you? You’re hiding.”, the accusing tone in his words made her flinch. “You’re running away, hiding away from reality and everything else that surrounds it. Everything. You’ve lost all notion of rationality. You used to be so bright, so illuminating, and I’ve tried so hard to figure you out, to help you out of your problems, but you push me away every time. We were friends, and I’d still think we were, were it not for the fact that the feeling has to be mutual. Clearly it isn’t. I came here to talk to you Vicky, but I’m starting to ask myself why I even bothered driving eight hours too once again attempt to see you out of your worries.”
His words were becoming harsher, and he needed a minute to regain posture. Freddie turned away, and stared out of the kitchen window. Looking down at his torso, he realised he was still shirtless. He walked over to his rucksack propped on the counter and pulled out his jersey, fit it on, not bothering to button it up. Victoria followed his steps with her eyes, desperately wishing he’d give up.
“Vicky,” but he persisted, “truth is, you’ve messed up so much that you have no where else to turn to, nothing else to mess up. You’re so angry about the way your life has turned out (which isn’t terrible at all!), about the fact that not everything went your way that you’ve closed yourself off to the world!”
“That’s not true.”, she winced, but spoke defensively.
“Jesus, Vicky!” he took in an exasperate tone and Victoria stiffened up. The conversation had taken a whole different turn and she wasn’t too pleased about it. “Your own parents don’t know what to do about you. You’ve disappointed them, broken them - almost beyond repair!”
“Stop it”, she urged, through clenched teeth. She had intended it to be a menace, but it came out sounding more like a plead, a sad desperate plead.
“The truth hurts doesn’t it, Vicky? Is that why you’ve decided to evade it?”
“SHUT UP!”, tears welled up in her eyes, causing her to feel even angrier. A strange sensation of loss swept through her body and she forgot to remind Freddie not to call her Vicky.
“You’re a different girl. You don’t open up to anyone. You don’t smile truly. You hardly laugh. So you moved, it’s not the end of the world! Not everything revolves around you and your stupid little wishes!”
“Get out!” Victoria fumed, “I don’t even know why Tyler sent you! As if I’d ever listen to you! You’re more messed up than I’ll ever be!”
“You know what?”, he was yelling now, “Tyler didn’t send me! Your mom didn’t send you and either did your dad! I came here on my own initiative. Don’t you understand? I don’t want you to lose more than you already have! You’re a hurricane, Vicky! You destroy everything that stands in your path, regardless of their feelings for you! People are on the edge of giving up on you, yet I still found a light in you. I have hope for you. I know what you used to be like, and it hurts me to see you turn out this way… I miss the old Vicky! Yeah, I’ve messed up in the past, but there’s one thing that differentiates us: I haven’t given up on myself! You’ve taken a different turn, hiding behind your newly found nasty attitude and relying on your good looks to get you out of sticky situations. God damn it Vicky! When are you going to notice the people who are ready to let you in? We’re all right here for you! I’m right here!”
He took a deep breath in, and stared her down. This time he was doing the staring, longing to pick up her fallen pieces while lashing out his anger, all in one same look. They both stood exposed, fragile, all shields stripped.
Victoria couldn’t face the truth in his words, she couldn’t face him, she couldn’t face their newfound connection.
Her voice trembled as she tried in vain to restrain her tears, “Are you done, Freddie?” His look sufficed as an answer. “Good. Get. Out. Now.”, she chocked out her words, between heavy breaths.
He didn’t move. What, was he deaf? “I said…” she fumed, trying to hold back her anger, “Get. Out. Of. My. House!”. Her fists clenched and she felt the blood pulsating through her hands and throat.
To her amazement, Freddie still remained unmoved. Giving up, she turned her back to him and headed out towards the veranda.
The sun had finally appeared from behind the tall snowed-in pine trees. Its’ reflection glistened in the fresh snow and lit up the lake. For the first time since she moved back, she saw beauty.
Once again, she closed her eyes in the hope of opening them and having her wishes come true. Freddie had affected her in ways she would never have dreamed about, a mix of delight and sadness invaded her mind. He had spoken nothing but the truth; he was the first person to ever do so. She didn’t know where she stood, and felt terribly lost, in need for guidance.
“Hope,” she whispered, immediately wincing at the naivety of her ritual.
Once again she would open her eyes and find nothing but the reality around her. Everything would remain unchanged, broken and unresolved. Still, she decided to enjoy the hopes of another reality for a while longer. It was her own personal therapy. Her tranquiliser. She let the scent of winter invade her nostrils and take her far away. To the platane trees and lavender bushes. She was in the midst of returning to her sunny, peaceful home when a new unknown warmth pulled her back and encircled her. A new scent invaded her body.
“Don’t you understand?” hushed a honey-covered voice into her ear, “I just can’t leave you like that…” The warm grip tightened around her waist, in a comforting way. She turned around and opened her eyes. Blue eyes gazed down at her, telling her of the tale of hope, protection and love; all in an instant. A smile spread across her soft face and she wrapped her arms around him.
Now, there was no need for her to close her eyes and wish for what she desired. What she desired had his arms wrapped around her, he was standing right before her eyes. Freddie leaned in and brushed his lips against hers. A question mark. Victoria leaned forward and kissed him softly, careless about her tears that were now rolling down his cheeks. An answer. Unison. She looked past him and spotted her parent’s 4x4 in the small driveway.
Smiling to herself, Victoria wondered if this, after all, was what she had wanted all along.
“Hope, Freddie, Hope” she whispered.