The last few snowflakes drifted to the ground. The nor’eastah, as they called it in New England, had passed; its brutal wake of snow and ice transformed the landscape into a winter wonderland. Downy blankets covered the tree branches, and silver moonlight reflected off the ice-hardened snow. The earth bowed its head in quiet prayer, and the stars awakened from under dark clouds. The wind died to a thick silence that Victoria Rose felt she could almost touch.
She walked along Nagog’s paved road in black high-heeled boots. Cold seeped through the thin soles as salt pellets rolled and crunched under her feet. She’d left Nagog in her late teens, and except for two winters, her visits had been restricted to a few weeks here and there or the summer months. For the past fifty- five years, she’d lived mostly in Southern California’s warmth. There, boots were only an accessory, and there was no need for heavy sweaters underneath a thick, cumbersome jacket. At the moment, a hideous bright blue parka, a loaner from her child- hood friend Molly Jacobs, covered her upper body and made her feel like the Michelin Man.
When Victoria had landed at Boston’s Logan Airport earlier that afternoon, the heavy winds whipped the snow into furious spirals, and she realized she was unprepared to face the cold of her childhood home. When Molly met her at the baggage claim, her friend’s pillow-like body had encased her in a hug and her white hair pressed against Victoria’s chest. “You’re home,” she said, as fellow passengers bumped past them. Molly lifted her head and her blue eyes brimmed with tears. Molly was brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. She was homemade bread cooling on the kitchen windowsill. Warm, doughy hands smooshed Victoria’s angular cheekbones, and Victoria could hear Molly’s thoughts—this day had been too long in coming.
“You’re holding up traffic,” Molly’s husband, Bill, barked as he moved the women away from the escalator.
In the five years since Victoria had seen Bill, his girth had ballooned and the rock-hard fat, so detrimental to an older man’s health, pressed against his pant seams.
“Traffic was awful,” he said. “Billions of taxpayers’ dollars for new tunnels, and the ceiling collapses. They closed the roads and we got stuck in gridlock. I tell ya, no one knows how to build things anymore.”
Victoria slid her arm around his belly, kissed his cheek, and tousled his thin, salt-and-pepper hair. The crinkles around his eyes turned up and reminded her of the little boy who liked to drop spiders in girls’ laps.
Three rose-embroidered suitcases fell onto the conveyor belt, and Bill motioned for the porter. As they walked toward the parking garage, Molly pulled the blue parka from a shopping bag and took Victoria’s red cashmere coat.
“Fashion might work on fifty-degree nights in Malibu, but not here.” She held out the sleeve as if Victoria were one of Molly’s five great-grandchildren. She zipped the front and pulled the hood over Victoria’s head, tying the strings tight. The shiny fabric crushed her short blond waves. Molly stripped the silk scarf from the red coat and wrapped it around Victoria’s neck and mouth.
“Now you’re ready for winter,” she announced.
Victoria continued to walk as she looked at the snow-covered neighborhood illuminated by the moonlight and the metal lan- terns that dotted the street. It was a scene straight from a Thomas Kinkade painting.
The community had been built in the early 1920s by Victoria’s parents and their friends—factory owners and businessmen from the Boston area. Nagog Drive was a quarter-of-a-mile half loop with nine Craftsman bungalows surrounded by thick, knotted oaks, pines, and maples. The five homes across the street from the beach shared a large circular backyard. The other four homes were tucked into the woods along the lake—two on either side of the beach. Every house had a view of the water.
Nagog had been meant as a summer residence, but in 1930, four months after Black Tuesday, the community settled in per-manently. The families banded together, determined to keep their factories open as the American economy fell apart; what one neighbor had, everyone shared. It allowed them a lifestyle of private schooling for their children and protection from the outside world’s strife.
Victoria’s boot slipped on a patch of black ice, and she tightened her stiff muscles to stop the fall. With small steps she skated until her feet found traction against the snow on the side of the road. A broken hip wouldn’t be a good homecoming, she thought.
Throughout the small lakeside community, most of the houses were dark.
The cold tickled her back, and a shiver pulsed up her spine. She pushed her gloved hands deep into her pockets and looked toward Molly and Bill’s place nestled on the side of the beach, behind bare hundred-year-old maples. Smoke plumes rose from the brick chimney and the light was still on in the kitchen. The brown clapboards and snow-covered pitched roof reminded her of the gingerbread houses she’d created with her granddaughter, Annabelle.
It was too dark to see the tree house in the big oak behind their home. An architect had designed it with two rooms and a wrap-around porch. When she was little, Victoria and her girlfriends would play tea party while the boys played cowboys and Indians. On hot summer nights, the porch became their stage as Victoria directed her friends in shows performed for their parents.
Victoria shivered, breathing in air that froze her lungs and reminded her of a snowflake’s taste. As children, she and her friends would lie in the snow with wings outlined around their shoulders as they closed their eyes, opened their mouths, and waited for that one special crystal to touch the tip of their warm tongues. Those were the days when it felt like fairies sprinkled golden dust on Victoria’s path so that her feet never had to touch ordinary ground. Days when the sun broke through the clouds, as if an angel’s light reached out from heaven, a sign that everything that sparkled and shined was meant for her.
Time had passed too quickly, Victoria thought. Three generations of Nagog children had played in that tree fort since those days. At seventy-four, how much time did she have—another fifteen or twenty years?
The year of her daughter, Melissa’s, birth, Victoria woke one morning and saw a crease next to her eye. For years, she’d checked daily to ensure that its appearance hadn’t deepened. Thick moisturizing creams were lathered and hundreds of dollars paid to Hollywood salons that promised everlasting youth.
There came a point, after she became a grandmother, when she saw a stranger in the mirror who didn’t match the woman inside. Now her cheeks were smooth, but her eyebrows drooped. Her neck had a thin wattle, and she couldn’t find that first line in the wrinkled fan around her eyes.
Still, she looked better than most women her age. Years of exercise and good nutrition kept her willowy figure firm, and she was proud to say that her abdominals were rock hard. There were teenagers who couldn’t boast the same.
But at this stage of life, what was left? In society’s eyes, living was for the young.
Victoria’s heel broke through the icy snow and her calf sunk into the white drift as she made her way across the beach. With each step she fell deeper, the snow covering her boots as she walked to the picnic table next to the lake. She used her sleeve to hack and push at the white mound until she cleared the seat. The cold stung her backside. Plumes of steam encircled her gloves as she blew to warm her numb fingers.
The full moon reached its highest point, illuminating the expanse of shimmering snow that covered the lake. In her mind, she could see the blue-gray water and the gritty sand the color of maple sugar crystals hidden under the snow.
She’d learned to ice-skate on this lake. Each winter the fathers of the neighborhood would shovel off a large square, and the girls would put on white skates and glide across the ice. Victoria and her friend Sarah would hold hands and spin in circles, laughing as they went faster and faster. The boys chased pucks with hockey sticks while the fathers went farther out on the lake and cut holes in the ice to fish.
Victoria looked to the edge of the beach where the sand met the woods. The raft that had been pulled in from the water for the winter months was covered with snow. Victoria smiled as her memory wandered back to the hours she’d spent on that raft with her childhood friends.
Five bubbles of pink gum grew as the circle of teenage girls in bathing suits lay on their stomachs and blew as hard as they could. Nagog Lake’s waves danced and slapped against the rusted steel drums that held up the wooden platform they floated upon. Muffling giggles, they blew harder, their faces turning red in the bright sunlight. The gum smelled like cotton candy and its aroma filled the air. The sticky material stretched thin and they leaned their heads closer to one another, their eyes wide and smiling as the sides of their bubbles touched. A horsefly buzzed around their heads, and they tried to shake it away without breaking the delicate pink circles.
Victoria closed her lips. From deep within her throat she vibrated the count of three. On three, the girls pressed their faces closer together, trying to pop the bubbles. When the bubbles finally burst against the girls’ cheeks and chins, laughter erupted, and they peeled the candy from their skin.
Victoria pulled a sticky piece from her long, wavy, golden hair. “Bubblegum is one of the world’s best inventions.” When her father had brought her to the World’s Fair last fall, he’d bought her the biggest jar of bubblegum she’d ever seen. She rationed the candy throughout the year, sharing it with her inner circle of friends.
The five girls rolled onto their backs, their heads in a circle, and watched the fluffy clouds sail across the blue sky. Victoria snapped and popped her gum, knowing that her mother couldn’t hear her being unladylike this far out on the lake. She adjusted the strap of her red bathing suit. Unlike the other girls, whose suits covered their stomachs, Victoria had four inches of bare skin above her waist. Though her mother hated the suit, her father had allowed it.
Molly pointed her finger toward the sky. “I see a heart.”
The hot breath of summer air flowed over Victoria’s skin. The day felt like late August instead of the end of May. “You always see hearts,” Victoria said. “It’s because you’re in love with Bill.” Victoria poked Molly’s side and her friend batted Victoria’s hand away.
Born two and a half weeks apart, she and Molly lived next door to one another and roomed together at Dana Hall, an exclusive all-girls’ school in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
Molly sat up and watched the boys of the neighborhood playing volleyball on the beach. She pulled at the top of her bathing suit, trying to cover the new curves that had blossomed on her petite body during freshman year, and fluffed the short skirt of her blue suit over her thighs. Victoria watched Molly stare at Bill. The rosy color that naturally tinted her cheeks blushed brighter. When they’d returned from boarding school last week, Bill had noticed the change in Molly’s body, and instead of pulling her black hair the way he had since early childhood, he now stared at her royal-blue eyes and stumbled over his words when he spoke to her.
“Victoria, let me braid your hair,” Sarah said. She sat up in her plain green suit and nudged Victoria to move.
Victoria sat at the edge of the raft and dangled her feet and calves in the cold water. Sarah knelt behind her and gently combed through Victoria’s knotted hair with her piano-player fingers.
Sarah, Victoria’s other roommate, loved to play with Victoria’s hair, and many nights were spent with Sarah brushing Victoria’s long locks. The two were often mistaken for sisters—both tall and thin, with pale skin and blond hair. They shared the same classes and danced in the school ballet. It wasn’t uncommon for them to exchange makeup and clothing, and from a distance it was hard to tell them apart.
“I see a dog in that cloud,” Evelyn said. She rolled over onto her stomach and crossed her tiny feet behind her thighs. Her short blond hair had dried into fairy curls around her forehead.
Sarah finished the braids and leaned her chin onto Victoria’s shoulder as they watched the boys play volleyball. Victoria pulled Sarah’s arms around her and stared across the lake. Bill, Carl, Joseph, and James were as inseparable as the girls.
“Do you think Carl is cute?” Sarah asked.
“He’s annoying,” Victoria said. Carl was the shortest of the boys and she could already tell at sixteen that he would be as bald as his father.
“I think he’s funny,” Sarah said. She tugged on one of Victoria’s braids. “You just don’t like him because he called you Frog Face when we were little.”
“I socked him in the stomach more than once for calling me that name and he doubled over. Who would want a man who’d been beat up by a girl?” Victoria teased.
“I don’t think you could still beat him up,” Sarah said. “And who else am I going to choose? Molly’s in love with Bill, Evelyn with James, and we all know at some point you’ll stop pushing Joseph away. The two of you are meant to be together. Or are you going to let Maryland have Joseph?”
Maryland stared up at the clouds and didn’t respond to Sarah’s words. The boys had never paid her much attention. Considered a plain Jane, everything about her was average. She was shy and quiet, always following along with whatever anyone wanted to do. But she was also the first to give a hug if she saw that you were sad, the first to take a barrette from her hair to replace the one you’d lost.
When they were little, Joseph Anderson had followed Victoria around, saving her from the other boys’ pranks. His blue eyes had been too big for his thin face and he had a cowlick even the best hair oil couldn’t tame. He’d brought her flowers and chocolate candies and the other kids made kissing noises to tease her. He’d been annoying.
But over the last few years he’d grown into his features. As he jumped up to spike the ball, Victoria noticed the definition in his bare chest, sending butterflies to her stomach. “You know there are men outside of Nagog we could marry.”
“But then we might not be together,” Molly said as she moved closer to Sarah and Victoria. She leaned her head on Victoria’s shoulder and dangled her feet in the water.
Victoria squeezed her friends’ hands. “We’ll always be together. And no matter where life takes us, we’ll always come back and spend the summers here.”
“And when we’re old like our parents, we’ll live here with our children,” Molly said.
“Friends forever,” Sarah whispered.
The memory faded. Victoria looked across the lake into the empty night. As a child there’d been a silver dock built as a protective barrier from the deep end of the lake. The marker for adulthood had been the day you were allowed to run down the dock and dive into the water. When you could swim out to the raft you were no longer considered a baby. The dock had been removed years ago.
How did this world of childhood fond memories become the place where her worst nightmares had happened? There were nights when Victoria awoke from dreams with her breath caught in her rib cage and the dry, bitter taste of regret poisoning her mouth. She feared that she’d never find release from her sorrow. Guilt, which started as a small grain of sand in the gut, had grown to a boulder that shackled her movement. Worst of all was the feeling of loss—a black hole that sucked life’s vibrancy into its vacuum.
Tears froze on Victoria’s cheeks and she brushed away the new ones that fell. She should retire to bed, but in her family’s home, the place she’d known her entire life, the silence echoed with voices from the past like a child’s imaginary monster when the lights go out.
It was in that house, nineteen years ago, that she’d said good- bye to Melissa and watched her daughter return to God. And it was here on this beach that she’d cradled her granddaughter, Annabelle, in her arms and screamed for help, knowing her angel had barely any breath left in her body.
On the other side of the beach, a light went on in Joseph’s home. Through the bare trees she could see his body move around the sunroom. Her frozen legs were hard to control as she crunched through the snow; more than once she almost fell before she reached the road. Joseph looked out the window and she waved. He returned the gesture and turned off the light.
Behind Joseph’s dark house was a path that led to a secluded beach where the two of them had once shared the most intimate of moments. Images from the past played like a movie in her mind, with big band music as the sound track.
Under the thin tablecloth, cool sand had formed curved beds for their half-naked teenage bodies. Beyond the trees she could see the party lights on the patio and hear the music. Had anyone noticed they’d slipped away?
“I love you, Victoria,” Joseph whispered in her ear.
Though he’d once driven her crazy as he followed her around, now her heart craved him when they were apart. The past year of school had been torture—months went by with only letters to fill the distance between them. She’d thought they’d marry as soon as she graduated, but now he was going to war, and it would be years before she could touch him again.
Joseph swirled his tongue in delicious patterns over her neck. Warm sensations flowed through her veins like powerful energy currents and pooled between her hips. Every cell in her body burst with happiness as his hands moved over her thighs. She tried not to jump when he touched the soft, warm mound, but lightning struck her body.
He pulled away.
No one had explained sex to Victoria. Her heart was split between fear and her desire to seal their relationship before he left for the war.
“Please, it’s okay.” She caressed the dimple in his cheek; her
finger fit the indent like a puzzle piece. The little boy with the thin face had grown into a man with chiseled cheekbones and broad shoulders.
He gently covered her body with his as he kissed her—her heart skipped as her body begged with a need she didn’t under- stand. Pain stabbed through her lower abdomen. Her body tightened and she pulled back from his kiss, biting her bottom lip and focusing on the sensation in her mouth.
His hand swept her jaw and he nuzzled her neck. His warm breath tickled her ear, sending shivers across her arms. “Relax. I’ll wait.”
He drew hearts on her cheeks and placed kisses on her forehead. His fingers combed through her hair. Her muscles unwound. She felt the thickness of his body entwined with hers. The lake’s small waves lapped against the shore and he moved in slow circles to its rhythm. Joseph’s masculine fingers stroked her sides. Her eyes widened at the pleasurable sparks firing in her belly.
Giggles broke free. “I’m sorry I’m laughing. It feels wonderful,” she said.
“You’re beautiful,” he said.
His tongue teased her lips as she began to move with him. Deep hunger grabbed her. Her nails dug into his back. Her thighs tightened around his waist. Explosive, joyous waves shook every muscle. Sunlight blazed through her. Her body went limp, the world went dark, and she floated in peace.
Joseph moaned. “Victoria,” he called out through quick breaths.
She felt him move deeper within her. Their lips pressed, merging together. His orgasm flowed through her, pleasure not of her flesh but of his.
He rolled onto his back and she laid her head against his chest.
The breeze tickled her skin. She touched her body, so different to her now: a pleasurable world to discover.
“Again,” she’d said, tracing his stomach. “Again.”
Victoria shivered as the wind picked up. She closed her eyes and placed her hands across her heart. Her toes felt like icicles and burned with pain. Part of her wanted to walk that path behind Joseph’s house and turn back time to when he belonged to her and not to his wife.
She stared at the quaint neighborhood with its gabled snow- covered roofs, bay windows, columned porches, and decks. The community didn’t seem real. Purity, innocence, and old-fashioned values were safe here, as if a protective bubble hovered over the circle of homes and kept them isolated from the outside world.
Most of her childhood friends had moved to Boston during their working years, but they visited Nagog on the weekends, stayed during the summer months, and celebrated every holiday together. When they retired, they returned, as promised, to live once again in the Nagog homes that had been passed down to them. Victoria had been the only one to walk away and live another life.
In the eyes of many in the community, she’d fallen from grace—and no one had pushed her. As Lucifer had done, she’d made choices that barred her from Heaven.
Had she come home to let her demons take her into death or had she returned to Nagog to find the whisper of wind that swirled between the trees and floated over the lake—the call of a little girl who once believed in magic? In this place where the past had been kept alive, she was afraid to pray for forgiveness. But the truth was that Nagog and her childhood friends were all she had left.
**About author, Marci Nault: In 2008 Marci Nault asked the questions, “What do I want from this life? If I wasn’t afraid, and didn’t play by the rules, how would I live?” Her answer was a life-list of 101 Dreams Come True that led her on a journey of self-discovery and adventure. Having completed almost ninety of her life dreams including publishing her novel The Lake House, Marci knows what it means to take risks, go after her deepest desires, live beyond fear, and to fall in love with life, the world and herself.
**Click HERE to visit Marci’s website!
Lauren Clark (@LaurenClark_Bks) says
Isabella – Love Marci’s cover and the excerpt from her book! Thanks for sharing it. xx, Lauren