I snuggled him over a little closer so his head rested on my hip. “Okay Buddy. I’ve narrowed down the reunion to a few choices. Here is exhibit A for your consideration.” I clicked on the link to the ocean front condo with a flourish and went over the highlights with him.
He shook his head sleepily. “I need to see them all before I choose.”
“Good call,” I concurred and went through the other homes I had narrowed down. Our get-togethers for the last several years had always been at the same old cabin, but the steep stairs were getting too hard on my mom’s knees. And since my dad had met with their financial advisor and realized they were a little more flush with cash than they thought, he was ready to upgrade. When it was determined we could have a new locale, the family’s requests came pouring in. Something near the water. And a hot tub. Not too far a drive. Room to park the RV. Master bedroom on the main floor for my mom. A pool table or foosball for the older kids. Enough bedrooms for everyone. We normally divvied up the responsibilities for the reunion between the different families and I had chosen the task of finding the perfect place; let my siblings take care of the food and activities while they were there. I wanted to get my job done and then just relax at the house.
On the third house, Ethan suddenly bolted upright and then squirmed his way onto my lap so that his face completely blocked the screen. “Show me all the pictures,” he demanded, all the sleepiness suddenly vanished from his voice.
“Yes sir.” I laughingly complied, wondering what had suddenly gotten into him. I edged him off my lap and then scrolled through the pictures of the lake house. Even though the other homes I had discovered were tempting, this particular house was probably my favorite. Not only did it manage to satisfy nearly all the demands of my family, but the house was beautiful. It sat near the shore of Lake Othello and had been built about 100 years ago. It was Craftsman style and had gorgeous heavy beams and handcrafted glass original to the home. A front porch under deep eaves looked over the lake and an imposing stone fireplace dominated the large gathering room. But according to the website, the new owners had completely renovated everything with new wiring, plumbing (hot water on demand!), state of the art kitchen appliances and bigger bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs. There was a gentle slope from the home down to the private dock on the lake where we had use of the home’s two rowboats. There were no motorized boats allowed on the lake. The whole place looked idyllic.
“We need to go here,” Ethan announced, jabbing his finger at the picture of the lake house and leaving a fingerprint on my screen.
“But honey, there’re still two more houses to look at. You said you wanted to see them all.”
“No, I don’t want to see anymore,” Ethan said, curling back onto his side of the normally empty king bed. “That’s the right one.”
I rubbed my hand over his spiky hair as he settled down to sleep. And then started composing an email to the family telling them I’d found our vacation house.
Ethan, Hannah and I made the last bend in the driveway and the house finally stood before us, surrounded by evergreens with the lake sparkling behind. Hannah crowded up behind my seat to get a better view and oohed and aahed the way only a nine year old girl can. And Ethan started bouncing up and down as much as his booster would allow. Seeing the house made me feel rejuvenated, especially after enduring the traffic to get out here. From the cars parked out front, I could tell we were the last to arrive; my folks, my sister Karen and her husband Spencer and three kids, as well as my brother Rich, his wife Stacy and two teenage boys were already here.
I was happy we had chosen a new locale for our get-togethers. I had gotten divorced nearly two years ago, but Mike and I had one of our biggest blow-ups at the old cabin and it overshadowed a lot of the good memories for me. Being a single mom was exhausting and it would be nice to bask in some extended family love and support for a week. As soon as I put on the brake, both kids were out of the car and running inside. “Hey, who’s going to help me with the suitcases?” I yelled after them.
Alerted by my kids, Rich and my dad immediately came tromping down the wide plank front steps and volunteered to help. My dad enveloped me in a giant bear hug. “Dana, it’s so good to see you! How was the drive?” Both my dad and Rich chatted me up as I pulled our luggage out of the trunk and helped me into the home.
The view from the driveway whetted my appetite, but I knew upon entering the house that Ethan had made a great choice when he had demanded this home. I joined my dad and Rich in the kitchen where they had been assigned dinner duty. I had just missed the other adults who were off exploring the beach. I lazily turned back and forth on a stool at the breakfast bar while the two men took stock of the kitchen. The kids were running wild in and out of the house, trying to see everything at once. Hannah and Ethan made a pass through the kitchen and I managed to grab Ethan and cuddle him to me before he could escape back outside again.
“Is it all you were hoping for?” I asked.
“It’s different but all the important stuff is still here,” he explained ready to bolt out the door.
I snuggled him onto my lap. “What important stuff is here? Are you talking about the hot tub or the theater room?”
“No.” Ethan may have been stuck temporarily in my arms, but he was raring to run off some of the energy he had stored up on the drive. “I mean the important stuff in my bedroom is still here.”
“Ethan, we’ve been here all of ten minutes. I don’t even know which bedroom you’re going to be in. Your stuff is still in the front hall.”
“I mean the stuff my before-you-mom gave me.”
I froze as he spoke. Before-you-mom? I put Ethan’s wriggly body on the floor, but held on to his shoulder.
Was this something my ex had told him? It didn’t really make sense, but it was the only thing I could think of. “What mom are you talking about Ethan?” I tried to make my voice calm, but was starting to seeth inside.
Mike had had a serious girlfriend right after we broke up. A girlfriend that I suspected was not a woman he met on the rebound, but rather a catalyst for us breaking it up. That relationship didn’t work out and since then Mike had entertained a string of short-term women. Leave it to Mike to introduce his girlfriend as a new mom or something. Or at least not correct Ethan when he called her that. And what kind of stuff had she given him?
“Honey, do you mean your after-me-mom?”
“No, silly. I said my before-you-Mom.”
I frowned at Ethan, cognizant that my brother and father had stopped putting groceries away and were looking wide eyed at my son.
“You know,” Ethan continued, “the mom I lived with before I came to live with you. The one who died a long time ago. This is my old house. My old bedroom’s still here. I used to live here with my family before.”
I had no idea where Ethan could have come up with an idea like that. My grip on his shoulder fell slack.
A trio of cousins ran through the kitchen at that point and Ethan joined them on the way out the door. He shouted a goodbye before I could come up with any kind of response.
“Well, that was a little creepy,” Rich said, breaking the awkward silence left in Ethan’s wake.
“It’s probably some story Mike told him and he got confused is all,” I said groping for an explanation. The truth is, Ethan’s words had left me feeling disturbed and the whole home was suddenly feeling much eerier than idyllic. I plopped down on the bar stool, feeling rather weak.
“It’s Mike who’s creepy if he’s telling stories about before-you-moms,” my dad chimed in.
Check back tomorrow for more!