Chapter II

175 29 65
                                                  

The edges of the sky were a dusky cornflower blue and its ceiling was a dark navy by the time Vanessa pulled into the lake house's drive. The drive was long and winding, banked by trees and interspersed with occasional glimpses of the lake. Gravel crunched under the tires. Cool wind blew in from the water, and Vanessa rolled down the windows to invite it in. The air smelled like algae and fresh mud.

Soon the lake house appeared around a bend. In the dark, it was a foreboding figure. It was two stories, made of wood and brick, with wide windows and a large front porch. The headlight beams glanced off the first story windows as Vanessa pulled in and parked.

"We're here," she announced.

Jac'lyn was the first one out of the car, stretching and bouncing on the balls of her feet. Cora and Maisie followed, while the boys grumbled and stirred.

Vanessa popped the trunk. Each piece of luggage was passed to its respective owners. Then she spun the key ring on her finger and squinted in the dark at the porch. From the letter's Polaroids, she could identify the shadowy forms as rocking chairs and a porch swing. The guys got out of the back of the minivan so that she could lock it, and Dylan yawned and clung to Oscar. Their height difference made it so that Oscar could easily rest his chin on Dylan's head.

"There should be three bedrooms," said Vanessa, "so we'll each have to share."

The couples murmured their agreement, and Cora nodded at Vanessa as if to say, I don't care.

The porch steps creaked as they ascended, and the screen door whined on its hinges. The lock was sticky, but the front door itself opened without a sound. Jac'lyn turned her phone flashlight on and illuminated a dusty but well-furnished living room. There was a kitchen with appliances straight out of the '80s and warm wood decor that made Vanessa nostalgic for her grandparents' house. The kitchen window over the sink promised a good lake view during the day. There was a dusty dining room with chests of fine china, a cramped laundry room with clunky appliances, a small bathroom with an even tinier shower, and a bedroom with a queen-sized bed.

Dylan immediately flopped on the bed, and everyone else laughed as Maisie squealed, "Ew, Dylan! Who knows how long those sheets have been on that bed! You probably just got a face full of dust."

"Too tired to care," he mumbled into the floral comforter. Then he turned his face to the side and sneezed, which sent the group into gales of laughter.

"Guess this is ours," Oscar said with mock resignation, sitting down on the edge of the bed and patting his boyfriend on the head.

The stairs creaked as the group ascended to the second floor. It was draftier up here than on the ground floor. There was another bathroom, plus a little office with several bookshelves and a long-dead plant on the windowsill, and two more bedrooms. Another staircase, this time smaller, led up to a chilly attic full of old boxes and furniture that nobody wanted to disturb, so they closed the attic door.

One of the bedrooms was smaller and had a full-sized bed instead of a queen, so Jac'lyn and Maisie took it. That left Vanessa and Cora to share the last bedroom. Vanessa found the light switch and was relieved to find that it worked. Faint yellow light illuminated the queen-sized bed, dresser-mirror combo, armoire, and bedside table.

Cora sat down on the edge of bed and brushed it with her fingertips. "It's less dusty than I thought it would be. Do you know if there's a vacuum in this house?"

Vanessa shook her head. "Your guess is as good as mine."

Cora ran her fingers through her straight black bob, then stood up and grabbed her suitcase. "I call dibs on the bathroom."

After she left, Vanessa went to one of the windows and drew back the curtains. The light glinting off the inside of the window reflected herself back at her. Her reflection looked as tired as she felt, purple smudges under her eyes that made her look paler than she was and a frizzy mess of long brown hair. Beyond her reflection, the woods were a formless black mass, blacker than tar. She closed the curtains.

Cora came back soon, in a faded Led Zeppelin t-shirt and gray pajama shorts decorated with cacti. Vanessa gathered her things and stepped out into the hall, where she ran into Jac'lyn and Maisie. They were in their pajamas, too. Jac'lyn had pulled her unruly dark curls up into a tight bun, while Maisie left her long blonde hair down and combed out straight.

"Do you know if the kitchen's stocked?" Jac'lyn asked, tugging absentmindedly at the hem of her t-shirt. It was one of her favorites, reading in all-caps, BISEXUAL AND STILL NOT INTO YOU.

Vanessa shook her head. "No idea. Do you need food?"

Jac'lyn glanced at Maisie.

"I'm good," Maisie said quickly. "I have granola bars and stuff in my bag, but I figured if there's food here..."

"We're gonna go check," Jac'lyn said.

The stairs creaked as they descended, and Vanessa found the bathroom and locked the door. It was even more apparent in here that she was exhausted, her face wan and the whites of her eyes bloodshot, so she avoided looking in the mirror. The bathroom was retro; the walls and floor were layered in warm beige tile, and it sported a dark lime-yellow ceramic sink and bathtub combo. The bathtub and window curtains were a dark gray-beige. Not what she would've picked, but it was clean and smelled fresh, almost citrusy.

When she got back to the room, Cora had already claimed the left side of the bed, crawled under the covers, and plugged her phone in. Vanessa turned the overhead light off and took the other side of the bed. It was surprisingly comfortable; she'd expected it to be lumpy, but she sunk nicely into the mattress.

"Good night, Ness," Cora said, turning off the bedside table lamp.

Somewhere beyond their door, the house creaked and settled in the night.

Somewhere beyond their door, the house creaked and settled in the night

Oops! This image does not follow our content guidelines. To continue publishing, please remove it or upload a different image.

Chapter II word count: 1,048 words

Total word count: 2,257 words

The Lake HouseWhere stories live. Discover now