Dreams really do come true. Keep dreaming!
Without thinking, Ruby instantaneously went into survival mode and jumped up flinging the open journal and pen onto the blanket that fell from her body and now half straddled the couch and the floor. She grabbed her phone and with a quick ‘HANG ON!’ immediately dropped it into the pocket of her oversize sweater and began scanning the adjoining area of the kitchen and living room for some type of weapon to defend herself. There was no time to think if she was possibly overreacting. Alone in a large cabin in the north woods, hundreds of miles from anyone who knew her, she saw a broom nestled along the side of the refrigerator and grabbed it.
She robotically approached the front door where the moose head hooks lined up along the wall looking like they too were on high alert…or maybe just waiting for more coats and scarves.
Oh man! She wondered if she’d remembered to lock the door. Although it was a habit in her normal routine at home, she’d been so busy making trips from the car and then unpacking everything, that now she had a feeling of dread. She glanced down at the deadbolt. At the exact same time, another set of determined knocks descended on the door and with her close proximity she nearly jumped out of her skin and somehow managed to not scream. In her horror, she discovered the deadbolt was not locked. Adjusting the broom to her other arm, she as silently as humanly possible turned the lock while willing herself to stay and sound calm as she called out, “Yes? Who is it?”
A gruff and grizzly sounding voice replied, “Forest Ranger, Mam. I’m a friend of Dave’s…the caretaker.”
Mam? Switching gears in an instant from fear to indignation, she wondered just how old this ranger thought she was.
He continued speaking through the wooden thickness of the door. “Dave asked me to check in on the two cabins he’d rented for the weekend. With this storm, he wasn’t sure anyone would be able to make it. He’s a volunteer for the fire department and got called across the lake to a barn fire. He wasn’t sure how long he’d be there and knew I’d be driving by the resort on my way home. He didn’t say how many people he was expecting, but when I saw only one car and the lights in this cabin, I figured not everyone had made it after all. If there’s anything you need, let me know. The roads are getting bad and I’m kind of anxious to get home while they’re still drivable. This storm is just getting started and it’s going to be a long night.”
Sounding a little more fearful than she intended, she replied, “I’m fine. I mean, we’re fine. Thanks a lot for stopping by. I, I mean, we don’t need anything.” Shaking her head and rolling her eyes, she reprimanded herself for her nervous word tripping.
They each echoed an ‘okay’ and a ‘good night’, and then she heard the crunching of his retreating boots as he walked away from the cabin door and headed back out into the storm. She heaved a huge sigh and leaned her body against the door, in part to steady herself and also feeling like at any minute she might pass out.
Suddenly she became aware of the broom she was white-knuckle holding in her hands. Her weapon of choice in the north woods. The relief she felt was enormous and her body started to relax. Then she began to giggle at the absurdity of the situation and the fun she’d have later retelling this story, especially the part about the broom.
Just as she was thinking how good it felt to laugh, without any warning came what was now almost familiar knocking on the door again. As the strength of the three determined knocks reverberated on the door, the shock of the unexpected vibrations of the wood against her back and the sound of them so near to her made her feet give way. She screamed and dropped the broom.
Almost in chorus, the ranger inquired if she was okay through the door and a muffled cell-phone voice called her name from her sweater pocket. She pulled out the phone and once again repeated her former request, only now in almost a whisper, “Hang on.”
From her crumbled sitting position on the cabin floor, she asked the door knocker what he wanted. Fairly confident from the force of the knock that the knocker was a he, and in fact almost positive, the same he that had just been there minutes before.
Of course, she was right. The same gruff and grizzly voice apologized for scaring her but had only returned to warn her to not leave the cabin tonight or tomorrow until it had stopped snowing and to give the plows a chance to clear the roads. She assured him she was staying put for the night and would not venture out tomorrow either…or at least until the coast was clear.
She waited on the floor with her head pressed against the door, listening once again to his retreating footsteps. Only this time, she didn’t move until she heard the sound of the truck engine and then the tires slowly crunching and packing down the snow as the truck backed out of the narrow driveway. She attempted to get up from the floor, but her legs felt almost rubbery and her attempt to move them only managed to push the kitchen rug into a bundled disarray. Without her normal tenacity, she abandoned the idea and stayed exactly where she was sitting.
It was then that Ruby remembered and retrieved her phone from her pocket. Taking in several deep breaths and slowly releasing them, she attempted to calm her breathing and her body and her mind, before speaking a word.
It was Ruby’s sister, Lilly.
“OH! MY! GOSH! RUBY! Are you OKAY? I didn’t know if I should hang up and call the police or dial 911 or what to do? Only I couldn’t remember the name of the resort or the town, even though we’d been there as kids and I thought it better to just stay on the line. Seriously. You almost gave me a heart attack. What the heck is going on there? Ruby! I beg you to NEVER do that again. Oh. My. Gosh. I was so scared. Ruby?”
Ruby once again let out a deep breath and then a heavy sigh and then she burst into tears. At first she couldn’t talk and then only through gulping tears. When she had finally cried herself out, she relayed the day’s events to her sister. She shared how she’d originally thought to herself, the day started with great potential and my only hope is to make the absolute most of what I have been given. When she finished sharing all the details of her day and the recent getting-scared-out-of-her-mind events, she realized just how exhausted she’d become and told her sister she needed to stop talking and go to bed. They said their goodnights with repeated promises to talk in the morning.
Barely managing to change into the flannel pajamas she’d pulled from her suitcase, Ruby was so tired by the time she finally crawled into the freshly made bed that when her head sank into the pillow and the soft aroma of lavender surrounded her, she almost couldn’t remember if she’d brushed or flossed her teeth. Just as quickly as she remembered that she had, she was already falling sleeping.
Throughout the night she slept restlessly, periodically waking to the sounds of what had moved from winter storm to blizzard, and the fierce wind that blew seemed to rattle and threaten the cabin walls and windows. Somehow the storm and the previous day’s events seemed to weave themselves effortlessly in and out of her dreams.
Walking in a forest at dusk, she realized that she was all alone. It seemed to not even matter that she was wearing a long pale green nightgown, but when she looked down, was somehow surprised to find she was also wearing winter boots. As she moved along the path through the trees, she could see her reflection in a mirror. She came to a sun-bleached rustic log cabin at an opening in the forest and was suddenly inside. The small one-room interior was empty except for her studio desk and chair from home. On top of the desk was her daily Moleskine journal sitting open and ready. Her laptop and sketch book were both on the floor. Everything seemed void of its normal or expected color, and was instead a greyish hue. It was as if the cabin contents were just illustrations on a page yet to be colored in by the artist. As she scanned the log-walled room, she saw something that didn’t seem to belong. Amidst all the grey there was a colorful calendar hanging in the corner with an extra special date circled three times. The month of September was the only thing distinguishable and longing to know the exact day that was circled, she tried to walk the short distance to see it, but her feet were stuck in place and her legs seemed almost rubbery and unable to move.
All of a sudden a splashing sound caught her attention. Turning to see what it was, she was no longer in the cabin, but standing along the edge of a swimming pool. It was summer. The swimmers and pool loungers seemed oblivious to her. There appeared to be several families enjoying the sunshine and the warm summer weather. It could have been a page out of her childhood. The kids excitedly jumped into the swimming pool on another 90 degree July afternoon…begging Mom and Dad to join them. The splashing continued. She didn’t want to get wet, only when she attempted to step away from the pool, her feet were firmly rooted where they were and she was powerless to move them. Again and again, with all her might she twisted and turned, trying to move, as the sound of laughter and more splashing resonated in her ears.
It was the pinging sound of something hitting the windows that finally woke her. At first in her drowsy still-dreamy state, she thought someone was throwing pebbles or stones at the windows. Once she had gotten her bearings that she wasn’t in her bedroom at home, she realized the forecast of freezing rain had come true. She refused to look at the clock to see the exact time, but the darkness inside her cabin bedroom was enough to tell her it was still the middle of the night or at least far too early to get up. With no place to go and no reason to get out of bed, she straightened her sleep-twisted sheets and blankets and then burrowed under the heavenly warmth of them. Reaching over, she pulled the extra bed pillow to her body and hugged it close. As her mind quieted, she realized she’d been dreaming and she began to play back on rewind whatever details she could remember. Soon her body relaxed and her breathing softened and she returned to her dreams.
It was snowing and she was driving. She was alone in the car. In her hands was a piece of paper and she knew without reading it that whatever was written on it was very important. Everything for as far as she could see was an almost blinding snow white, making it difficult to see the road. She needed to concentrate, but was somehow distracted. The car was loaded with suitcases and boxes of food and all kinds of books. In the front seat next to her was her kitchen broom from home. It was cold, so very cold. A strong wind was blowing. Realizing her driver’s side car window was open, she turned to close it, but it was stuck. Using both hands to pull it out of the door proved to be a big mistake. She lost hold of the paper. The fact that her hands were no longer on the steering wheel seemed to not even phase her. Panic set in as she realized that the paper that had just blown out the car window was her to-do list for the entire week. More of her things blew out the window. It seemed futile to go on. She started to cry.
The red glowing numbers of the clock next to her bed displayed 7:37 and she realized she had slept or been in bed nearly 10 hours. She sat up and could see through the cabin windows that a heavy snow was still coming down. There was a glistening almost shiny coating on the snow covered landscape that surrounded the cabin and also the trees. The trees seemed burdened with branches bent to the point of collapse from the weight of the heavy snow and ice and now more snow. She could see that the power lines were lined with ice-covered snow too. And although the early morning rain would have condensed the height of the snow, from the amount that seemed to have buried her car, it appeared more than a foot of snow had fallen in the time since she arrived yesterday. All evidence of her many trips back and forth from the car, as well as the boot prints from last night’s visitor were gone.
If any part of her had been still foggy with sleep, the thought of last night’s visitor was like a jolt of intravenous caffeine. As she replayed the events in her mind, it would have been easy to imagine that it was only a dream or perhaps her overactive writer’s imagination had been playing tricks with her. At least that was until she walked out into the kitchen and living room area of the cabin.
Normally Ruby liked to clean up before heading to bed at night. She loved waking to a neat house. The scene that greeted her this morning, the leftover remains from her memorable first night, were anything but neat. Her blanket was strewn between couch and floor and her journals and bags and creative supplies were just as she left them in her haste to protect herself, scattered on the floor and cushions of the couch. Her mug of now cold cocoa was still on the end table next to the couch, thankfully upright, but somewhat solid looking and undrinkable. The kitchen rug was crumpled in a pile by the door and lying next to it was the innocent looking broom. The fireplace screen was in place, but only ashes remained from her great Girl Scout fire.
Immediately Ruby went into action. She shook out and folded the blanket, and then proceeded to tidy up the rest of the cabin. Before long, her weekend home was back to its neat appearance and she felt happily safe and rested and content.
She decided to take a quick shower. But, after only a few minutes, the water turned cold, leaving her no choice but to rinse her hair in what had quickly gone from cold to freezing cold water. Shivering as she dried off, it made her laugh to think of her world record ‘quick’ shower time, no more than a 3-minute, maybe 4-minute shower at the most.
She dressed in her favorite black leggings and well-worn sage green turtleneck and the oversize sweater that was beginning to feel like her only weekend friend. With her feet in cozy socks and slippers, she towel dried her hair and then feeling somewhat decadent used another fresh towel to twist into a turban on her head.
Next she turned on her cell phone and the first message that popped up was a text from Lilly. Lilly’s typical texts were generally of novel length, and today her overflowing words seemed to be even more welcome, or maybe comforting was the more appropriate word. Lilly and her husband Jack were two of Ruby’s favorite people on the planet. She often thought to herself that she would easily have chosen them for friends, if they weren’t already family. The text explained that – It was another gorgeous day, and they were anxious to get going as they had planned breakfast at a favorite spot. Lilly would call her sometime later that day.
Ruby texted a quick reply ‘Good morning and look forward to talking to you later’ text and set her phone down on the table.
Reading the word breakfast had made her realize she too was famished. She first got started by making a pot of coffee, as always savoring the fragrant well-loved aroma after opening the canister from home. Once the coffee pot was fully engaged in making its gurgling dripping noises, she opened the fridge and cupboards to take inventory of everything she had. She made a mental note to be sure to add to her gratitude journal later the wisdom in bringing food from home and getting some groceries in town before coming to the resort.
In the fridge were the eggs, milk, and butter. On the counter were all her baked items: the cookies, the rolls, and the brownies, as well as the bread she had bought at the store. Then she remembered the cooler she’d brought. Not surprisingly the ice was still relatively solid and she was thrilled she’d packed half & half for her coffee, a package of still partially frozen steaks, some grated mild cheddar cheese, a rotisserie chicken, three Honeycrisp Apples, one large navel orange, and a pound of bacon. She hadn’t brought any vegetables, unless she counted the jar of pickles that were packed at the last minute. It wasn’t like she would never be able to get to the store, but in case she couldn’t, she had plenty of food to last her the whole weekend and well into the next week.
Soon the comforting aromas of bacon frying and toasting bread filled the morning cabin. In no time, she had also fried two eggs and was sitting on the couch she’d pulled to sit directly in front of the large picture window. Propping her feet onto the window ledge, she gave thanks for the meal before her, as well as her ability to cook it, and then proceeded to dive into her breakfast. Just like in her summer visits of long ago, her appetite while here always surprised her. Was it the fresh air or the north woods schedule? Whatever it was, she was fairly certain she had never had a better breakfast.
She got up to heat up one of the caramel rolls, and then with her now second mug of coffee in hand, she stood at the window and looked out at the pristine winter wonderland. Almost like a well-choreographed scene, she watched the snow as it began to taper off and then stop all together. For as far as she could see, there was snow. Unbroken pure fields and banks and a lake of snow. She was spellbound by the beauty of the snow-covered bushes and trees that lined her cabin view. There were no tracks or foot prints or animal markings, at least not yet. The sky was still a grey cloudy white and she imagined the sun was somewhere behind all of it. On a day like today with no visible sun, so different from the summer days here and already knowing her answer, she quizzed herself, “Sunrise or sunset, which is more beautiful?”
Captivated by the beauty, she wished she was sharing it with her friends. Having promised to share every single moment of the weekend with everyone who hadn’t been able to make it, she set down her coffee and picked up her cell phone, and snapped several photos from the window. Of course not surprisingly, none of them matched being able to see it in person, but still the photos were lovely and they would help cement the memory of the weekend for her too.
Two of her friends hadn’t checked in yet. The remaining six, including Ruby were all accounted for and checked off the list. It had been a long time since she had gone anywhere for a weekend or even a retreat alone. In the crazy schedule that had become her life, she couldn’t help thinking she’d been given a gift of time with herself. She could sketch. She could write. She decided she would do all that and also planned to get lost in the highly recommended book she had brought along just in case she had time to read. And then she laughed out loud as she thought of all the eating she could do, especially since she alone had packed almost enough for everyone.
Moving to the other side of the cabin window, her eyes caught her journal sticking out of her bag and it reminded her of the colorful calendar with the circled date from her dream. Ah September, one of her absolutely favorite months of the year. Suddenly a stream of long ago memories came flooding back to her. A man she’d barely known, but had longed to know better, and a random memory of how, with gusto, he tackled the steak set in front of him. More than thirty years had passed since that one shared meal and yet the memory of it could somehow still tug at her heart. She felt as though she would never fully understand what she had missed out on that Friday in September.
Hand over heart gratitude to all of my Chapter Two sentence contributors (in order of bolded appearance, they are): Diane H., Allison, Rick, Laurie, Joan, Jan, Diane S., and Hilary.