Home > The Summer That Made Us(4)

The Summer That Made Us(4)
Author: Robyn Carr

Maybe Meg was right. Maybe summer at the lake would bring her comfort. It could heal her, Charley thought hopefully. Or give her peace in her last days?

When Meg was going into the hospital for the bone marrow transplant she had said, “This may not work, Charley. But there’s one thing I need you to know. It’s important that you know. I’m not afraid. Either way, I’m not afraid.”

That’s when Charley decided. Whatever Megan wanted, if it was within her power, she’d make sure she had it. And, Charley thought, it wouldn’t hurt me to make peace with the past.

Chapter Two

Megan was thrilled to get a call from Charley right away. “Good news, Meg. The house needs work but it looks like it’s all cosmetic. It’s a wreck—people have definitely broken in and used the place. It’s trashed. And of course the furniture is dirty and rotting—but I can buy furniture and appliances in a flash. I’m going to get an electrician out here to check the wiring first. Also someone to haul trash. Those two things have to be done right away before I come back to the city.”

“Oh, Charley! We’ll repay you every dime!”

“That’s the least of my worries,” she said. Charley had been a minor star and had earned good money and invested wisely. She gulped back the fear that her earning days were over.

“Is it going to be a huge job?” Meg asked.

“Nope. Soap and water, paint, new furniture and appliances, new screening.”

“I wish I could help,” Megan said.

“I’m not going to do it myself,” Charley said with a laugh. “I’m going to hire people.”

“When will it be done? Will it be done soon?”

“It’ll be done by June,” she said. “It’ll probably be done before June but it’s really too cold to stay here right now. We need to wait for summer, Meg. The weather has to be warmer, especially for you. I’ll know more after I talk to a few people. I’ll be home in a few days.”

“Where are you staying?”

“There’s a motel just outside Waseka.”

“Did you look at the lodge?”

“Uh, no. For some strange reason I don’t feel like going to the lodge.”

“I promise you won’t see a familiar face, Charley!” Meg said.

“Just the same,” Charley said. “So, I don’t want you doing anything strenuous, but if you’re feeling good, you might start making a couple of lists. I haven’t looked through the cupboards yet but I’m sure most of the kitchenware is just too old and filthy to work for us. And there are no linens here. None. It looks like most of the pieces of wooden furniture are salvageable after some cleaning and polishing, but the armchairs, sofas and mattresses are out of here.”

“Okay!” Meg said. “I’ll do that! I’ll make lists!”

“Don’t get yourself too excited,” Charley cautioned. “You’re supposed to be resting and meditating and growing healthy cells.”

“I will!” she said. “I am! OMG, this is happening!”

“Oh, brother,” Charley said. “I hope this wasn’t a mistake...”

“It’s not! It’s happiness! Haven’t you heard that joy is good for illness? Joy and laughter and lake houses.”

“Take a nap,” Charley said, signing off.

Meg immediately started making lists and it filled her with optimism. That had to mean something good, she thought. She’d listed about twenty items when she stopped and instead went to the desk in the den and got out her stationery. She wanted to write to a lot of people who would probably either ignore her note or laugh and throw it away, but she was hell-bent.

Dear Hope,

In June we’re opening the lake house. Charley is doing most of the work and we’re going to spend the summer there. As you know, I’ve been somewhat under the weather.

She stopped long enough to laugh. But she thought it would be impolite to write, “As you know, I’m probably dying...”

She pressed on.

I’ve finished my chemo and bone marrow transplant and the only thing to do now is rest, relax, eat healthy food and heal. The lake is the perfect place to do that. We’d love it if you could join us. Just let me know the dates if you’re coming.

Just like old times,


She sent notes to Hope, Krista and Beverly even though Hope lived in Pennsylvania and hadn’t been back to Minnesota in at least five years and the only person Hope really kept in touch with was Grandma Berkey and occasionally Charley. Hope was a snob and loved having a famous cousin. Krista, unfortunately, was in a women’s prison, and the last time Megan heard from her, there was no parole in sight. And Beverly left the family for foster care the year after Bunny drowned. She went to live with a family better equipped to take care of her in the years following her trauma. Bunny had been Beverly’s best friend and they’d been together in that little rowboat when the storm rose up suddenly and Bunny was lost. Her foster family became her family of choice, though she did stay in touch with her mother, Jo. And Megan got Christmas cards with little notes. But the idea of Beverly going to the lake? After what had happened there? It was at best a very slim possibility.

Since it wasn’t likely any of them would come, Megan decided to reach out to Aunt Jo and Grandma Berkey. Aunt Jo would never go to the lake without an invitation from Louise and no one knew why or how Louise had that kind of power over her sister. They hadn’t been close since Bunny died. And Grandma Berkey was in a nursing home—someone would have to fetch her. With a little guilt and a sigh of resignation Megan thought that Charley would do that if she wanted it badly enough. Or John would. At the moment Meg had some very persuasive powers.

The only one she didn’t send a note to was her mother. She hadn’t even told Louise what they were doing. She’d deal with that later. But she did put stamps on her notes and took them out to the mailbox for the postman to pick up.

She told John what she’d done. “But I don’t think I’ll tell Charley,” she said.

“I can take a leave this summer,” John said. “I want us to be together.”

“Come on the weekends,” she said. “Let me stay with Charley during the week. Go to work. Your patients need you, you need them and you need to live a normal life.” Then she rubbed her cheek against his. “I might not be around forever, my darling. And I want you to carry on. In fact, the only thing I will ever ask of you is that you carry on.”

She put on some classical, cell-fortifying symphony music, reclined on the sofa in the den, took deep meditative breaths and pictured Lake Waseka as she remembered it, when it was at its best. She began to see them all as children, before the last year, six little blondes with bodies like brown sugar, freckled from the sun. Dirty, with calluses on their bare feet from not wearing shoes all summer, flushed and happy, gamy and healthy and strong. Giggling late into the muggy summer nights. Summer after summer. Everything that had nagged or bothered all year long disappeared as it was left behind. It was an escape from the real world. Grandma and the judge covered the expenses, from gas to groceries, so the material burdens were fewer and Lou and Jo were almost equals. This was significant because Aunt Jo worried about money all the time and it made her fretful. At the lake she was carefree. Happy. And there was almost nothing prettier than Aunt Jo when she was happy.

Their mothers became best friends again; there was laughter and what Grandma used to call shenanigans. They were fun. Young men passing in speedboats noticed them. Both Lou and Jo were attractive women. Lou was statuesque and bold and brazen while Jo was small and lovely and buxom and fragile. They were opposites who complemented each other. Lou often groused that Jo was the pretty one but it wasn’t exactly true. Lou could be pretty, too, when she was in a good mood, laughed and smiled. It was only the frown of envy and anger that made her plain.

At night they’d play cards or Scrabble and sometimes turn the radio up and dance—line dances and disco and boogie-woogie. All the little girls would dance, too. It was like having a party with your best friends every day of the summer. Then Lou and Jo would sleep together in Grandma’s big bed just like having a pajama party and whisper and laugh late into the night. There were eight bodies and five beds; when their husbands showed up on weekends they’d pile the kids on top of each other or make them take to the screened-in porch, but that big king-size bed of Grandma’s served them very well when it was just the two of them and the six kids.

Jo giggled more than Lou but Lou gave more advice than Jo. Whatever it was about their mysterious and complex relationship, it worked every summer. Lou would be her hardy self—capable and energetic and take-charge. And Aunt Jo would regress a little when around Lou, becoming her sweet, slightly incompetent self, but she would do whatever Lou suggested, which seemed to please them both tremendously. If you needed snuggling, like if you’d been stung by a bee, Aunt Jo was the one to go to. But if you wanted to try swimming across the lake, it was Lou who would coach and follow in the boat. Lou would teach the girls to dive; Jo would play dress-up with them. Between the two of them, no matter what problems they had all winter at home, every summer at the lake was a huge, raving, laughing, shining success. Before everything went so horribly wrong.

As Meg relaxed, she began to remember the time she fell apart. She lost her mind when she was fifteen. She’d been packing for the lake.

Carl, Meg’s father, stayed in the city to work and came to the lake on weekends. It was okay to ask him to bring something from home now and then, but he hated to be asked by everyone, all the time, week after week. He had a wife and three daughters, after all, and sometimes their requests for things that had to be searched out of closets and drawers frustrated him, made him cranky and not very helpful. So they tried to pack everything they needed for the summer. Meg tried hardest of all.

She could hear Charley and Mother fighting downstairs in the kitchen. As usual. Their voices would rise to screaming now and then; every year older Charley got, the more she swore at Mother. Mother swore, too, then denied she ever used a bad word. Whenever Megan heard them fight she renewed her own vow never to put herself through that useless exercise. Did Charley really think she was going to win against Mother? Did anyone ever win an argument with Louise?

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