The moment I hear the familiar creak of that old front door, I am free. A weekend at the lake house is always the best therapy. Better than shopping or God forbid, laying on some quack’s couch, dredging up pain and suffering from my childhood. I love it most when I have it all to myself, but as is often the case my siblings will arrive later like Gladiators entering The Colosseum, chests puffed out, eyes sizing up the competition.
Neither one of them really wants this old lake house now that Dad is gone, but they will fight to the death for it simply because they know what it means to me. They were always jealous of the evenings Dad and I would sit on the front steps, Dad playing his guitar while I made up silly lyrics, belting them out until we both laughed so hard we had to pause to catch our breath.
I still can’t believe he’s gone. I went through the motions at his funeral, shaking hands with hundreds of strangers. When you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, people pay their respects, but Dad would’ve hated all this attention.
I heard the whispers.
“He was such a good man. He’ll definitely be missed.”
“He was always so happy. What could have made him take his own life?”
That was the million dollar question.
The hugs and condolences were suffocating. Like my father, I am more comfortable in the shadows, leaving the spotlight to my siblings who welcome it. Sabrina, hair pulled back into an austere ballerina bun, dabbed her eyes with a monogrammed handkerchief as she gave the eulogy, pausing to hold back a sob when she mentioned the only solace in Dad’s death was that he would now join our mother in heaven. Mom had died of a heart attack two years ago, and Dad had never been the same. They belonged together, and now they would be once more.
Fredrick stood by her side, a pillar of strength in his Armani suit. Every so often, he put his arm around her in a show of support. They were always close. When we were kids I always seemed to be on the outskirts of whatever they had going on, hovering like a drone, taking it all in but never participating. The youngest always gets left out, but this was different. They had a special connection, the kind with silent stares that carried secrets meant only for them. I tried so hard to join their camaraderie though it seemed pointless. So, I mostly stayed to myself while taking it all in from the sidelines. I wanted to be included, but I never could figure out how to break through the perimeter.
The last time we had all been together at the lake house, Mom was still alive. She had unloaded groceries, while the scent of the traditional oatmeal raisin cookies filled the house like a scene from some 50’s sitcom. That was our life at the lake, miles from reality.
“It doesn’t feel like home until the house smells like fresh baked cookies.”
I helped her bake those cookies every summer, and every summer she said the same thing. Mom always ate the first one before Fredrick and Sabrina swooped in, grabbing cookies before they even had time to cool. Mom would give me a knowing look, and place a few on a plate for me.
“They don’t mean to leave you out, you know. You should make more of an effort to connect with them.”
How often had I heard that phrase over the years? It made me nauseous, much like the smell of fresh baked cookies did since Mom died. Dad had left before sunrise to go fishing. Sabrina, Fredrick, and I heard the cookie sheet hit the floor like cymbals dramatically accenting a symphony.
We called 911, but she was gone before the paramedics arrived.
I wonder what she would think now if she was still with us. Would she be pleased we were all gathering at the lake house? I would tell her how, ironically, it was hers and dad’s passing that finally helped me connect with my siblings. It would warm her heart to know we rallied around dad, a circle of support. Sadly, it wasn’t enough. He literally drowned in his own misery. Fredrick found him in the bathtub.
We called 911, but he was gone before the paramedics arrived.
I hear Sabrina’s BMW pull up to the driveway. Fredrick grabs their overnight bags as I greet them at the door with a glass of Cabernet.
Sabrina yells, “Just what I need! What a dreadful day!”
Fredrick chuckles,“What was truly dreadful was Aunt Mildred’s bad breath every time she leaned in to tell me how sorry she felt for us kids.”
I raise my glass. “And then there were three. I can’t believe we actually pulled it off.”
Fredrick beams at Sabrina. “Yours was truly an academy award winning performance. I can’t believe you held it together when mom and dad’s estate attorney asked if we would feel strong enough to deal with the financials as soon as Monday. It was all I could do not to hotfoot it over there once dad was in the ground.”
“And you, littlest sister, I never knew you had it in you. Your plan was bulletproof. Cheers to you!”
I take a long sip of wine, savoring the moment. I’ve never felt more connected to my brother and sister. I know they feel it too.
I jump up when the kitchen timer goes off. They both look at me expectantly, and I smile back at them.
“Cookies are ready! Who wants the first one?”