Of course, he was the managing editor now. And the production editor. And the photography editor, the society editor, the layout editor. Lake News wasn't the Boston Post. Not by a long shot, and there were times when that bothered him.
This, however, wasn't one.
His paddle remained stowed, and the loons continued to call. Then came a pause, and John dared mimic the sound. One of the loons said something in return, and in that brief, heady instant, he felt part of the team. In the next instant, with a resumption of the birds' duet, he was excluded again, a species apart.
But not cold. He realized he was no longer cold. The fog was burning off under a brightening sun. By the time patches of blue showed through the mist, John guessed it was nearly nine. He straightened his legs and, easing back, braced his elbows on the gunwales. Turning his face to the sun, he closed his eyes, took a contented breath, and listened to silence, water, and loon.
After a time, when the sun began to heat his eyelids and the weight of responsibility grew too heavy to ignore, he pushed himself up. For a few last minutes he continued to watch and absorb the whatever-it-was that these birds gave him. Then smoothly and silently, if reluctantly, he retrieved his paddle from the floorboards and headed home.
The beauty of a beard was that it eliminated the need to shave. John kept his cropped close, which meant occasional touch-ups, but none of the daily scrape-and-bleed agony that he used to endure. Same thing with a necktie. No need for one here. Or for a pressed shirt. Or for anything but denim down below. He didn't even have to worry about matching socks, since it was either bare feet and Birks in summer or work boots in winter, and then he could wear whatever socks he wanted and no one would see.
He still felt the novelty of showering, dressing, and hitting the road in ten minutes flat, and what a road. No traffic. No other cars. No horns. No cops. No speed limit. The road he drove now was framed by trees just shy of their peak of fall color. It wove in and out in a rough tracing of the lake and was cracked by years of frost heaves. Most other roads in town were the same. They imposed speed limits all on their own, and Lake Henry liked it that way. The town didn't cater to tourists as many of the surrounding lake towns did. There was no inn. There were no chic little shops. Despite a perennial brouhaha in the state legislature, there was no public access to the shore. Anyone who went out on the lake was either a resident, a friend of a resident, or a trespasser.
At that particular moment in time, with summer residents gone and only year-rounders left, the town's population was 1,721. Eleven babies were due, which would raise the count. Twelve citizens were terminally old or terminally ill, which would lower it. There were twenty-eight kids currently in college. Whether they would return was a toss-up. In John's day they left and never came back, but that was starting to change.
He made what he intended to be a brief stop at the general store, but got to talking national politics with Charlie Owens, who owned the store; and then Charlie's wife, Annette, told him that Stu and Amanda Watson's college junior, Hillary, was home for a quick day after a last minute decision to spend the semester abroad. Since Hillary had interned for John two summers before, he had a personal stake in her success, so he detoured to her house to get the story, take her picture, and wish her luck.
Back in the center of town, he turned in at the post office and continued on to the thin yellow Victorian that stood between it and the lake. Climbing from the truck -- a Chevy Tahoe, one of the perks of the job -- he reached across the seat for his briefcase, shouldered its strap, and scooped up the day's editions of four different newspapers, a bag of doughnuts, and his thermos. With the bag clutched in his teeth he sifted through his key ring as he crossed the dirt drive to the Victorian's side door.
Copyright © 1999 by Barbara Delinsky
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