Thank you for your interest in Forever in 24 Hours. I hope you enjoy this preview. Please, feel free to give me your honest opinion. I look forward to hearing from you! Lastly, please remember that while the main story line is set, some details may change in the final editing process. Thank you for reading!
Confused by the sudden offer from her Great Aunt Maggie to run away for the weekend, 16 year-old Mara is thrilled and suspicious. Maggie explains she wants one last “hoorah!” before going to live in a nursing home, but Mara senses another motive behind her crazy aunt’s behavior. When on the way to the beautiful mountain escape, Maggie reveals she has something huge to tell Mara. Soon, everything she thought she knew about her Aunt Maggie and her life is turned upside down. Thankfully, she has the beautiful landscape of Lit Moon Lake to help her cope with the truth.
Glancing around Great Aunt Maggie’s dimly lit home, dust swirled around the snow white light peeking through the windows. I could hear Momma in the back going through boxes of Maggie’s old stuff. Box after box, dust clouds began to creep their way into the living room, where I sat.
Maggie is the type of older lady who uses the plastic couch covers, and watches black and white TV shows in the dark, while eating popcorn. She’s an old soul stuck in the ’80’s. I could never lose her in a crowd. She’s always the bigger, taller lady with the teased blonde hair, red lips, and red fingernails. If her hair looked good red, she would have dyed it too.
I’m SO bored, I thought to myself. There were a million other things I could be doing besides collecting dust, along with all of Maggie’s other belongings. Just then, my phone buzzed. I adjusted myself on Maggie’s sticky couch and pulled my phone from my pocket to read the notification. It was a text from Johanna.
Want to come stay the weekend?
As one can imagine, I was elated to have received this message. I had been sitting in the same spot for hours staring at the fake wood paneling, pink carpet, and bright red curtains, for what felt like an eternity.
“Mooooooooooommmmmm!” I yelled.
From the back room and down the hall, walking toward me, I saw my tired mother. She had dust on her ugly Christmas sweater and cobwebs in her grey and black bob cut.
“Whew! What a mess!” Momma said, dusting herself off. “What do you need, honey?”
“Can I stay with Johanna this weekend?”
Momma wiped her hands on a wash cloth nearby and replied with, “Of course. Would you like me to take you or do you want to walk?”
“I think I’ll walk.” I nodded, acting as though I wasn’t in a hurry to get out of there, but I really was.
“Okay. Text me when you’re there and be home by 4 on Sunday, in time for supper. Have fun!” Momma said, pointing her dusty fingers at me, smiling.
I nodded, afraid to say anything else so she didn’t change her mind or add another condition to our agreement. Momma mentioned having to get back to work and disappeared, into the back room of the house, once more.
Just after standing up to leave, I heard a loud thump in the bathroom. Thinking nothing of it, I took a few more steps toward the door. As soon as I was able to see through its diamond shaped windows, I louder thump came from the bathroom. Taking this noise much more seriously, my teenage heart began to pound. If momma’s in the back, who could be in the bathroom? Thoughts and guesses ran through my mind as I turned to face the bathroom behind me. Hearing smaller thumps, I hoped it was something cute, like a puppy. With each step further, the noise grew louder. I reached for the small golden handle, ready to smash a mouse or cuddle a puppy. Before I could pull the door completely open, Aunt Maggie stepped out in her pink bathrobe with a red towel on her head. Along with her came a cloud of perfume, makeup, and hairspray.
“Well! Hello, Darling!” Aunt Maggie said, holding her hand out, with bright red painted nails out for me to kiss, as though she were royalty.
I wasn’t amused. Being 16, nothing really gets to me. I don’t usually get excited over things or sweat the small stuff. I’m sure by the expression on my face, Aunt Maggie knew that I wasn’t in the mood. “I thought you were-”
Before I could finish, Aunt Maggie interrupted, “SHOPPING! You thought I was shopping? On a day like this? No, child. We’re going on a trip!” Maggie let down her blond hair from the towel. It was freshly curled. How it formed perfectly from a wet towel, I’ll never know. Taking off her robe, she had on her favorite bright red jumpsuit. “Oh! One more thing, Darling. I can’t forget my bright red lipstick!”
Maggie stepped into the bathroom and applied thick coats of her bright red lipstick in front of her ginormous. Taking a few steps back, I glanced down the hall where mom was still going through boxes. Every now and then, I would hear something fall and break. Evidently, she paid no mind to Maggie’s crazy antics.
Turning my attention back to Maggie, I nervously said, “I’m supposed to stay with Johanna this weekend. Where are you wanting to go?”
“Oh, honey. That’s great. Hey. Listen. Don’t tell your momma any different okay? If she finds out I’m taking you to my special place, she may have a conniption,” She voiced to me while pursing her lips, moving her eyes from the mirror, to me, and back to the mirror.
“What is going on?” I was confused and couldn’t understand quite what was going on at this point. “You want me to go away with you for the weekend? What about mom? What about going through some of your old stuff?”
“Button, your momma will be just fine. She wants to put me in that nursing home and Lord knows it’s gonna happen. Can’t I just have one last fun weekend with my favorite great niece before I’m locked up in that place forever? I don’t care about my stuff. Besides, your momma will be here all weekend going through it. So….. what do you say?” Maggie’s eyes shimmered with hope and excitement.
Skeptical of her promises, I asked, “What kind of special place?”
“Oh, Button. I’m so glad you asked! It’s a beautiful cabin in the Range Mountains. It’s at a beautiful place called Lit Moon Lake. My family used to vacation there when I was a child.” Maggie lowered her voice and moved closer to my face. Her breath smelled like Spearmint gum. “They have all sorts of fun things you teenagers like to do.”
I thought long and hard for a moment. The only thing I do at Johanna’s is watch movies. Nothing exciting every happens at her house. Seeing the gleam in Aunt Maggie’s eyes made me want to see what kind of fun she had in mind. “Okay,” I agree. “Just let me tell mom bye.”
With the news of my agreement, Maggie clapped and jumped up and down saying, “Just don’t mention me, please. If she still thinks I’m out shopping, she knows I’m crazy enough to shop all weekend. She won’t even miss me.”
Still skeptical of Maggie’s whole plan, but having an innate need for adventure, I yelled back to Mom, “BYEEE! I love you! See you Sunday!” Maggie winked at me, and I back at her.
“GOOD BYE, SWEETIE! LOVE YOU TOO!” Mom yelled.
When I twirled around to face the door, Maggie was already standing there, donning her bright red puffy jacket, with the fur on the hood. In her hand was the keys to her red ‘80’s model Mustang, that sat in the garage attached to the house. She jingled them enticingly and smiled. I rolled my eyes and walked past her, through the front door.
Once we found ourselves in the driveway to Maggie’s suburban home, we pulled our jackets tighter around us to fend off the cold. Maggie tried to hide behind me, hunching over, as we walked to the garage. Her attempt to hide from all of her neighbors was obvious. God love Maggie’s heart. She was just a little bigger than I am. More tall and more round, but that’s just who she was. She is my Maggie and I am glad to have her.
Standing before the gigantic garage door, Maggie and I began to giggle. Being mischievous was kinda fun, even with my crazy aunt.
Pointing to the garage door, Maggie instructed, “Turn the handle one-half turn clockwise and lift up.”
Following her instructions, the garage door began to lift and the cold light seeped in to reveal a vehicle covered with a black tarp. I pulled the heavy tarp off the car and sat it in the corner of the garage nearest to me. Maggie threw me the keys and we both jumped into the car excitedly.
I shoved the keys into the ignition and turned them, but nothing happened. Our smiles and excitement faded from both of our faces. Maggie glanced around, taking notice of the untouched red leather interior and the glossy red hood.
“What’s this?” I asked, pointing to the shifter that was located below the elbow rest. It wasn’t as small as the ones I was used to and it had numbers on it.
“OHHH! HA HA HA!” Maggie burst into uncontrollable laughter. “You kids these days. I don’t know how you survive. It’s a GEAR SHIFTER!” She said, slowly so that my fragile teen mind could understand.
“Your car is a manual?!” I yelled. “How am I supposed to drive this thing?! Why don’t you drive, Aunt Maggie?”
“Oh, no, dear. The coordination between my feet and hands is a little off these days. There’s no time like the present to learn!” Immediately, Maggie let out the e-brake and the car began to roll back.
“Aunt Maggie, what do I do?!” I was in a panic and the street was coming up close in the rear-view mirror.
“The middle pedal down there is your brake. The far left is the clutch. The far right is the gas. Just ease on the brake for right now, and let me close the garage door.”
Taking a deep breath, I eased on the brake and Maggie exited the car to manually close the garage door. All of the excitement made me forget how cold it was out. Looking through all of the knobs on the dash, I found the air and turned it to the red, hoping it meant heat. Maggie quickly hopped back into the car. From the looks of the way the was moving, one might suggest she could audition for a James Bond remake. “Okay, Button. You ready?”
“I’m not sure.” I admitted, clueless to the whole manual thing.
“Now, see how I can wiggle the gear shift?” Maggie asked, tossing it in her hand. “That means the car is in neutral. So if you’ll let it roll back a little further, you can back out into the street.”
Letting off the brake, I could feel the car slowly roll back.
“Now, start turning the wheel, so when we give it some gas, we can take off in the right direction!” Maggie said, assisting me in turning the wheel.
“I know how to drive. I’ve been doing it for a year, you know.”
“Well, that’s nothing compared to the fifty-some years I have under my belt, so shush your mush and get to work.”
We both turned to look out the back window and once the tires hit the street, I turned the wheel so we would face the direction we needed to go.
“Now, hold that brake AND the clutch at the same time and watch this!” Maggie said. After I held them down, she shoved the gear shift as far as she could toward me and then forward. “Now, you’re going to have to ease off the brake and the clutch while adding gas.”
“What?! How do you do that?!” I was very nervous again.
“And that, my darling, is why you teenagers don’t bother with a manual transmission. Come on, give her some gas!” Maggie threw her hands in the air, ready for a ride.
Growing up watching Maggie drive her red Mustang gave me a basis for how to drive it myself. But, it wasn’t as easy as she made it look. I let off the brake a little and the car began to roll back. I freaked out and slammed on the brake again. “I can’t do it! I can’t do it!” I screamed.
“Calm down, child. We are on a flat street. It’s not like you’re going to roll far. Just take your foot off the brake and ease on the gas. When you’ve eased on the gas, let off the clutch slowly. You’ll feel it start to grab.”
“What does that mean?!” My heart was racing.
“I’m not entirely sure, but that’s what the car salesman told me when I bought her.”
“You learned to drive your car from the man you bought it from?!”
“Hey, you’re learning from your crazy great aunt. So, I can’t say much for you either.”
“Touche,” I told her, rolling my eyes. I then did exactly what she said and the car began to roll forward.
“Whooo Hooo! Alright, Button. There’s a stop sign down here. You’re gonna have to push in the clutch and the brake at the same time, so you don’t kill it.”
“If the car is stopped and the clutch isn’t pushed down, the car will quit, die, bite the dust, what have you.”
Coming up to the stop sign, I eased on the clutch and then the brake and came to a stop just beyond the stop sign.
“Not bad! I’d say you’ll be a pro by the time we make it there! Now, when pulling out, do all of that again. You know, letting off the brake and giving it a little gas while letting off of the clutch.”
As soon as I followed her strict orders, the car stalled. “Oh, no. What did I do?” I asked.
“This is normal. I didn’t expect you to take off right in the beginning. You aren’t completely like me, you know.” Maggie nodded her head and advised me to push in the clutch and brake again and to restart the car. The engine roared as though it hadn’t been fired in quite some time and was happy to be set free. “Now, ease off the clutch and brake and give her some gas.”
Again, I followed Maggie’s instructions but didn’t give it enough gas before the clutch was all the way out. So, as one can guess, the car jerked forward a few times and stalled again. Frustrated, I laid my head on the steering wheel and took a deep breath. “Let’s just go home.” I said. But then, a felt a buzzing in my pocket. It was Mom.
Looking to Maggie, she mouthed the words, “Don’t tell her I’m here.”
“Hello.” I said, nervously.
“Oh. Hi, honey. I was calling to see if you made it to Johanna’s house.”
Maggie shook her head up and down. I continued, “Uh, ummm, yeah. Yeah, Mom. I’m here.”
“Oh, good. I was beginning to get worried. I’ve just been making some calls to Aunt Maggie’s doctors. I wanted to update them since they told her to go on bed rest a month ago. Of course, she never listened to them, but I wanted to let them know she will no longer be here.”
Maggie overheard Mom and mouthed silently to me, “Hence, the nursing home,” and sighed. She threw her arms in the air demonstrating disappointment.
“Oh, right. Okay. Um, love you, Mom.”
“I won’t keep you. I know you girls will have fun gossiping and doing your nails, or whatever you girls do. If you need me, call me. Love you, baby.”
“Love you, Mom,” I said, ending the call.
“Whew!” Aunt Maggie sighed. “Now that was a close one!”
“You’re telling me! Now, how do I start this thing again?”
“Now, that’s the spirit! Ease off the clutch and give her enough gas to begin to roll.”
The car began to roll forward, causing Maggie to get excited. “That’s it, baby! Now, let that clutch fly!”
Removing my foot from the clutch and pressing harder on the gas, the car began to roar and speed up.
“Now you get to learn the art of changing gears. Which, if you’ll just hold down the clutch, I’ll do it for you.”
“Please! I think I’ve had enough of this car for one day.” I said, cruising down 4th street at a slow but steady rate.
“Okay. When you hear the car get loud and that red hand over there gets near 3, push in the clutch while the car is rolling and I’ll put her in second gear. Be sure to let off the gas while pushing in the clutch.”
As soon as I let off the gas and pushed in the clutch, Maggie forced the gear shift into second gear and the car made a loud grinding sound. “I want to SCREAM, MAGGIE!” I yelled. The car slowed down and I applied the gas once more, so it wouldn’t stall again.
“Trust me, Button. This is gonna be the hardest part of your weekend. If you can do this, you can do anything. Besides, you teenagers give up too easily.”
Frustrated, I growled under my breath and mashed down the clutch as hard as I could. “Don’t forget to let off the gas completely!” Maggie yelled.
Sure enough, the car glided into second gear. Then Maggie yelled, “Now, floor it!”
“We’re cruising now, Aunt Maggie!” I said, giggling and excited. However, my few moments of excitement turned into worry when I saw the gas gauge indicating low fuel.
I looked over to Maggie, who was smiling while watching all of the houses go by. “Maggie?” I said under my breath, trying not to disturb her from the winter wonderland she had escaped to.
“Oh. Sorry. I was just daydreaming,” Maggie said glancing out the window and back to me. “What do you need, Dear?”
“Umm… We are almost out of gas.”
Maggie and I were lucky that it was later in the evening when we made our escape. In my town, because it gets dark early, no one ventures out past four p.m. You could say that I live in a community of older folks who moved up this way to retire. I say that because most of Aunt Maggie’s neighbors are retired. A few blocks down, the same can be said for my neck of the woods.
“Stop right here,” Maggie said, motioning to Steve’s Stop and Go Mart. “They’re the only ones around here that do not put water in their gas.”
I had no clue what Maggie was talking about, but I held the clutch in as she shifted the car down, until we came to a rolling stop beside the gas pump. Aunt Maggie put the car in neutral and pulled the e-brake back. “Now shut the car off,” she instructed.
I turned the key and unbuckled. My new-found freedom left me when I realized that I was only 16 and had no way to pay for the gas we needed.
Realizing my dilemma, Maggie shouted, “Oh! Right! You’ll have to use my credit card. I’m all out of cash.” She searched through the house she carried inside her purse and produced none other than a bright red leather wallet. Searching through all of her cards like files in a filing cabinet, she pulled her final selection. “This one ought to do it. Fill her up to the top.”
I nodded nervously. Fortunately, I knew how to pump gas, even though I had only done it once or twice before. Stepping out into the cold, the air hit me like a brick wall. My breath produced white clouds that faded away a few seconds after they were produced. If no one knew any better, it could have looked as though I was a heavy smoker. Stepping up to the pump on the passenger’s side of the bright red car, I slid Maggie’s card in the slot. To my surprise, a huge “DENIED” showed up on the screen.
“Turn it around, silly! It can’t read the strip if it’s turned the wrong way!” Maggie giggled, shaking her head.
Taking a deep breath, I swiped the card again, the right way. After a few moments of the word “PROCESSING…” blinking, it told me to “BEGIN FUELING”. I unscrewed the gas cap and placed the nozzle inside, choosing premium fuel, according to Aunt Maggie’s specific request.
While fueling, Maggie rolled down her window again and stuck her head out this time. “You can go get us something to drink and snacks for the road, if you are up for it?”
“Is it legal for me to use your card?” I’m only 16 and do NOT want to go to jail.
“Mara, honey. You have my permission to use it. If you didn’t then you would be in trouble.” Maggie motioned her arm outward, out the window, to express her obvious knowledge on the subject.
Nodding my head side to side, I figured it would be nice to have some chips and soda for the road. “Anything you want in particular?” I asked her.
“Diet Coke and a Pay Day for me, please.”
As I put on the gas cap, I reflected on the fact that I never understood Maggie’s need for diet anything. She always ate what she wanted. From pizza and burgers, to tacos and enchiladas, Great Aunt Maggie always paired her food with a Diet Coke. Deciding it was none of my concern how she ate or drank, unless it affected me, I trudged into the store.
Behind the counter was a scrawny old man wearing a cap with the name of a construction company on it. His red and black plaid shirt gave him the appearance of a lumberjack. He gave me a blank stare while I searched the shelves for our favorite goodies. I thought by now he would ask if I needed anything, but Momma once told me that he fought off a couple of robbers by hand. So, he could just be paranoid.
I laid my items on the counter. A few bottles of soda, a few bags of chips, and a few candy bars cluttered his otherwise pristine counter. “Will this be all?” he asked.
“That’s it.” I said, getting nervous by his suspicion of me.
“Your total is eleven dollars and seventy-two cents.”
I pulled Maggie’s card out of my pocket and handed it to him. From front to back, he examined it closely. “Are you Maggie Rae?” he asked.
“Um.. No. That’s my Great Aunt. She’s in the car. She sent me in to get a few things.” My hands started to sweat from nervousness.
He darted his eyes out the windows, trying to see if I was being honest. “I don’t see anyone in that car, Sugar. I’m sorry. I can’t use it without permission from your aunt.”
Just then, my phone began to ring. It was Aunt Maggie!
“Hello? Where are you?” I asked, shaking.
“Hey, Button, I’m sorry. I just had to run to the bathroom right quick. Let me talk to that dingle berry of a cashier.”
Confused, I handed the phone to the cashier, who seemed just as confused as I was. But with a few eye rolls and glances at the card, he handed it back to me. I hung up with Maggie and he finished the transaction. “I’m sorry for any inconvenience, young lady,” he said, staring at me for a few seconds, awkwardly. “You have a great night and stay warm,” he said, while handing me the receipt.
Delighted that the transaction went through and in a hurry to leave, I quickly blurted, “You too,” and ran out the door with the merchandise.
“Whoo hooo! You did it, Button! I was losing hope there for a minute!” Maggie wailed from the passenger seat of the car.
I plopped myself back into the driver’s seat and gave Maggie a stern stare.
“We don’t have time for that, Button,” She said. “Let’s get on the road before we really get caught!”
After opening my soda and my favorite chips, Maggie worked the gear shift and we rolled on down the road.
Once we hit the highway, Maggie said I wouldn’t have to change gears for a while, so we cruised in fifth and munched on our snacks.
“So, where are we going?” I asked, feeling pieces of chips sprinkle the breast of my shirt.
“Lit Moon Lake, the most beautiful place on earth,” Maggie said, with her mouth full.
Range Valley, where I live, is a beautiful mountain town that is just outside of the Range Mountains. The Range Mountains have been compared to The Great Smoky Mountains, but on a smaller scale. Yet, it still has dinner theaters, skiing and snowboarding, fine dining, shopping, a night life, countless family friendly activities, and best of all, Lit Moon Lake. I always wanted to visit there one day.
My town, the town of Range Valley has coffee shops, a shopping mall, a movie theater, and a few restaurants. For most of my life, this town has been quiet, except for tourists coming through to visit Lit Moon Lake.
“Why on earth are we going there?”
“Well, for one, it’s close. For two, it’s special to me and while I’m in the nursing home I won’t be able to visit there. So, for my last “hoorah!”, before being locked away, I wanted to see my favorite place on earth.”
I didn’t really know how to respond to that. Suddenly, I felt a great remorse for Aunt Maggie. It must be tough giving up all of your belongings and moving to a facility you can’t leave. Not knowing what to say, I just kept driving, following the road by the beams of the headlights.
“I’m gonna be okay, Button. You know that. Right?” Maggie laid her hand on mine, which was rested on the unfamiliar gear shift.
“I’m gonna miss you,” I said, trying not to avoid the negative mood.
“Oh, honey bunny. I’m going to be just a few miles away. Your momma says I’ll be better off there, but I guess we will see.”
“Why can’t you just stay with us?”
“Mara, pretty soon I’m going to be a big burden. That’s something I will never be to you and your momma.” Her eyes were serious.
“You would never be a burden. You have helped us through the years, through mom’s divorce from Carl and the death of Grandma Rose. It wouldn’t hurt for us to be there for you.” I felt a tear stream down my cheek at the thought of losing one of my closest family members. Aunt Maggie isn’t just a great aunt. She’s the sister I never had, the best friend I never had, and the best grandmother figure I’ve ever had.
“Whether you want me to or not, I’m not. That’s all there is to it. If you want to come see me while I’m in the hell hole, you’re more than welcome. If not, I understand why a teenager like you wouldn’t want to be in a place like that.”
“What do you mean? Of course I will come visit you!” My excitement from the surprise of her response jolted me enough to raise my hand from the steering wheel, causing the car to veer into the left lane. Quickly, Maggie grabbed the wheel and guided the car back into the right side lane.
“Calm your horses, Button. If you get too excited, I may as well make a spot in the nursing home for you too!” Maggie laughed.
“At least we will have this weekend together. I’m glad that I can spend it with you.” I said, hoping this weekend would never end.
“Me too. Me too.”
– – – – –
A few more miles down the road and after Maggie and I played a few rounds of terrible karaoke, singing along to the radio, the highest peak of the Range Mountains, Mount Point, came into view.
“There it is. That’s where we’re going,” Maggie said, pointing her long red nails in the direction of the mountain.
“Isn’t it covered in snow? Your car will never make it up there.”
“They keep the roads scraped, silly. But first, we have to stop for a burger. I’m starving. Take the next exit.”
Following her orders, I took the next exit off of the busy highway. The car slowed and I made a right, following the signs to the nearest burger joint.
“Is this good enough?” I asked, considering the broken down condition of the facility.
“This will do. I’m starving. Aren’t you starving?!” Aunt Maggie said, rubbing her stomach.
“Not really, but I’ll eat.” I shrugged.
“Oh, that’s right. I forgot. You teenagers don’t eat, or the girls don’t anyway.” Maggie rolled her eyes while I pulled up to the speaker in the drive through to order. She carefully examined the menu and then asked, “What do you want?”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.” My patience was growing thin. I had hoped we would be to the cabin by now.
“Okay. Order 5 cheeseburgers with ketchup only, two orders of fries, and two medium Diet Cokes.”
“Got it,” I told her, even though I knew she ordered for me too. Aunt Maggie was always the type to get her way, most of all, with people. She wasn’t pushy, she just had a way with words.
I ordered our food and pulled up to the window to pay. The cashier gave me a fishy look when I took the card from Aunt Maggie and gave it to him. But, he didn’t seem to care too much. At least not like the last cashier. All he said was, “I don’t know where you’re going to put all of this food, little girl.” Then he quickly handed me our food and we were once again on our way.
I wasn’t sure if he meant where I would put all of the food in the car, since it was so fancy, or if he thought I was going to eat all of it.
I had never tried to eat and drive at the same time, so I opted for fries and a drink. With a full belly and the time being much later in the night, my nerves started to set in. “Mom is not going to be happy about this, if she finds out, Maggie,” I said, one hand on the wheel and the other full of fries.
“What your mom doesn’t know won’t hurt her, Button. Besides, I get to spend some time with my favorite great niece!”
The night had grown so dark that Maggie’s face was only illuminated by the lights on the dash and the headlights. I knew I was out too late and NOT where I told my mom I would be. I wanted more answers from Maggie. I took a deep breath and went for it. “Cut the crap. You could have taken any of your old buddies. Why me?! What’s so special about me!”
Maggie nearly choked on her food, when she internalized my outburst. “I thought you would enjoy this time with me.”
“Maggie, I’m clearly temporarily running away to be with my crazy great aunt who is running from the nursing home!”
“First of all, pre-Madonna, I am NOT running away from the nursing home. I am simply taking a detour, BUT I WILL make it there. Second of all, you will be back home on Sunday by the time your mother told you to be. I don’t know why you’re freaking out. All is well. Be happy and lets have fun!” Maggie rolled her window down enough to smoke and lit a cigarette. The excitement of the discussion and her full stomach set her cravings in full swing.
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. I am NO pre-Madonna, but I guess I should lighten up a bit. Running away with my aunt is much better than running away alone.
“Besides, we need to talk,” Maggie said, breathing out enough smoke for a freight train.
My heart sank. I knew it. She was bringing me all the way out here to lay something on me. Something big. “Why couldn’t you just tell me at home?”
“It’s not that simple, Button. Your mom will be the most affected by this. I figured I would lay it on you, and if I survived long enough, I’d lay it on her, eventually. And I really did want to get away before being locked away. I wonder if they’ll let me smoke, have my nail polish, and red lipstick.”
“Oh, no. You are NOT changing the subject on me now, Maggie. Tell me. What’s all this about?!” I struggled to keep the Mustang in the road.
Maggie shook her head. Her arm was resting on the window. She took a draw from her cigarette and placed her hand back next to the opening in the window. Blowing the smoke from her lungs, I could see she was about to cave. “I will explain everything when we are there. Don’t get too caught up in the secret, Button. This is also our last outing together. Please, just enjoy it with me. I promise, I will tell you everything.”
I caved. I didn’t want to argue with my favorite person in the world. I did want to have fun this weekend. I was already breaking the rules. I mine as well have fun doing it. Plus, if I was in a terrible mood, Aunt Maggie may not tell me what she brought me out all this way to tell me. My strategy, from here on out, is to stay calm, listen, and have fun. If anything bad comes my way, I will handle it when it gets here.
“Okay,” I told her, nodding in agreement.
“That’s my sweet snooker puss!” she said, tugging at my cheek. “Now, take the next exit. We are almost there!”
Following her directions once more, I took the next exit. When I came to the stop sign, I noticed by the light of the moon that we were sitting at the foot of a large mountain.
“Take a left right here and then the next right. It’s gonna be a steep climb, so we gotta keep ole’ girl here in a low gear, so she doesn’t give out on us.”
“Got it,” I said, even though I had no clue what she was talking about. My mind was distracted by the sheer beauty of the sky and the reflection of the moon on the frozen snow. We passed under the bridge and made a right.
“This road takes us almost straight up the mountain. It’s the quickest way to the cabin,” Maggie said, her voice beaming with more and more excitement the closer we got to our destination.
I kept my eyes on the moonlit road, but I also tossed them around to soak in the scenery. Thick woods covered both sides of the paved mountainous pathway. About a mile away and a few hundred feet higher, I could see the glow from what looked like a small town.
“That’s Lit Moon Lake. That’s where we’re going.” There was an unprecedented amount of satisfaction in Maggie’s voice.
“It’s… beautiful,” I said, still trying to focus on the road and take in the beauty before me. As we got closer, I could see the lake surrounded by cabins along its beach. Then, behind the cabins, was the Range Mountains. A bright green aurora gleamed in the sky above the lake. Lights around the lake illuminated the circumference of the body of water and its beaches.
“This is it! We’re here!” Aunt Maggie shouted. “Stop at this first cabin. It’s the office where you need to check in.
I pulled in front of the cabin and pulled the e-brake while Maggie put the car in neutral. “Can’t we just leave it in first and let it die right here?” I asked.
“If you wouldn’t do that to me, you aren’t doing it to my precious car!” Maggie said. “I don’t want my transmission ruined.”
Lost in Maggie’s car-talk again, I just dropped it, huffing. “So, what now?”
“Walk in and ask for cabin number 12. Pay with my credit card.” She handed me the card and her license.
“What’s the license for?”
“They need a license on file if you rent anything on the property, so they can be sure they get their property back. I thought you may want to go horseback riding, rent a golf cart, or paddle boat.”
I gave Maggie a smart look. There was no way I was riding horses on a snowy mountain or paddle boating on a frozen lake. For the sake of arguing, I took the cards and exited the vehicle.
Stepping up the three steps into the office, I could feel the warmth radiating from the cabin. Once inside, I was consumed with the suffocating heat from the wood stove. Behind the counter, I spotted an older gentleman in coveralls. The wall behind him was filled with keys, to the cabins I guessed.
“How can I help you, ma’am?”
“I’m here to stay in cabin number 12, please.”
“Oh. You’re Maggie’s niece. She told me you would be coming. I’m glad to see you’ve made it safety. She said you would have her license and credit card for payment.”
“Yes. Here they are.”
He gently took them from my hand and placed them on the wooden counter. The fingers of his gloves were missing, exposing his fleshly digits as they punched the keys on the keyboard one at a time. “Here you go. There’s a road that runs behind all the cabins. Follow it until you reach number 12. Enjoy your stay.”
Grabbing the cards and shoving them in my pocket, I ran back out the Mustang. What I found was nothing short of hilarious. Maggie must not have seen me watching her, because she was dancing so much she shook the whole car. And the music was so loud, I was afraid she would wake the customers in the nearby cabins.
I quickly swung the car door open and plopped myself in the driver’s seat to turn down the music.
“What?! I was having fun!”
I smiled, amused at her joy. I then dangled the #12 cabin keys in front of her face. “You ready?” I asked.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” she said with a deep breath. “Let’s go.”
I pulled around the front office and followed the fork in the road to the right. This path took me behind all the cabins around the lake.
“There it is!” Maggie cried. “There’s my number 12!” It seemed as though she was jumping up and down in her seat.
I pulled right beside the cabin and shut off the car. “Now I know why they call it Lit Moon Lake,” I said, admiring the beautiful glow of my surroundings. It was like the lake had its own spotlight, the moon. All of the cabins were situated in a circle on the edges of the lake, facing inward. The mountains around the lake created a crater appearance, leaving this beautiful oasis isolated and seemingly desolate.
“That’s not the only reason they call it Lit Moon Lake. Back in my day, EVERYONE was lit at Lit Moon Lake. Ha!” Maggie laughed uncontrollably at her alcohol pun.
“I bet you had a lot of great times here. It seems like a warm and inviting place.”
“You bet, Button. I met my first love here. Right on this very beach. It was the summer of 1969. I’ll never forget….” Maggie seemed to stare off into the distance and become consumed by the memories of her past.
“Maggie?” I said, nudging her with my elbow.
“Oh! Yes, Button. Sorry. We have a lot to talk about. A LOT! But right now, we need to get into the cabin and warm ourselves by the fresh fire Mr. Dave built.” Maggie opened her door. Before exiting the car, she put her purse from the back seat onto her shoulder saying, “Toss me those keys and lets head inside.”
Again, thank you for reading! I hope to have this book published by the end of January. I can’t wait to see what you think!
“Toss me those keys and let’s head inside”.