Chapter 1

© Copyright 2005 by Diana Mylek

“Emily, God spoke to me.”

This was not surprising. Emily’s sister was a woman of deep faith, and heard from God often. But it was what Lacey claimed to hear that made Emily wonder.

“Are you sure, Lacey? It doesn’t sound very scriptural to me.” Emily eyed her sister skeptically.

“I know His voice, Em. I heard it as clear as I did the time He told me to pray for you, the night of the accident.”

But Emily wasn’t convinced. “He said, “Lacey go buy a bass boat? That was his exact words? Not Lacey go build a brass boat, or Lacey go fill a wheelbarrow…”

“He didn’t say thou shalt or anything like that, but yeah, that’s what I heard.”

“It would seem to me that God knows you well enough to know you have never even been on a boat in your life.” Emily put down the sweater she had been knitting for the past three years. Today she put the finishing touches on it while her sister was saying her morning prayers, and spent the past few minutes admiring her handiwork.

“Not true. Once dad let me go on a ferry with him.”

“Do you even know what a bass boat looks like?”

Lacey shrugged. “I suppose, like a boat only you use it for bass.”

“It’s a fishing boat. I saw it on television at Raymond’s.” This of course, made Emily the authority. “I think it has big nets on the side to catch fish.”

Lacey searched the room for the remote. “It’s Saturday. I know there’s fishing shows on the country music channel.” She flipped channels until she found Fred Smith’s BassFishin’ World. Fred and a celebrity friend were aboard a boat on Dale Hollow Lake comparing lures.

“Hey, look Emily. No worms, just fake things. I could do that,” commented Lacey. “It looks simple enough.”

“You think God is calling you to fish?” Emily made a face.

“No, that’s not what I was praying about, but it looks like fun. Ooh, Em! They caught one and it only took about thirty seconds.”

“That’s fast,” agreed Emily. The men on the screen made it look simple. “Do you think we could do that?”

“Why not?” Asked Lacey. “Guys do it all the time. How hard can it be?”

“So, is that like a bass boat?” Emily asked, squinting her eyes to focus.

“It must be. He’s fishing for bass,” Lacey reasoned. She switched off the set. “So what do you say? Shall we go look?”

“Today?” Emily replied. “Shouldn’t you pray about this a little more before you jump?”

Lacey rolled her eyes and sighed. “God told me. Who am I to doubt His voice? Get your shoes on, little sister. We’re going to find us a bass boat.”

“Hold it a minute, big spender. Number one, these things cost money. Number two, where do we go? I mean, there’s not a boat mall, is there?”

“Oh. Right.” Lacey bit her lip as she thought. “I’m going to use my share of grandpa’s trust money. I’ve never really touched it.”

“But Lacey, he said it was for our future, when we got married.”

Lacey put her hands on her hips and shook her head. “That’s exactly what I’m saying. I’ve been praying for years, Emily that God would help me find someone to share my life with. I’m twenty-seven and my chances are diminishing rapidly. Today I prayed God would tell me what I needed to do to attract a man.”

“He couldn’t tell you to dress nicely, be yourself or trust Him?”

“I am trusting Him. But I needed practical advice, that’s what I prayed about.” Lacey folded her Bible study notes and put them back in her Bible. “He answered me, and I’m going to do what He says.”

Emily shook her head in confusion. “It sounds kind of…weird to me.”

“Yes, like building an ark. But look what happened to Noah for obeying.” Lacey opened the end table drawer and found the phone book. “Here, Emily, see? There’s plenty of places to buy boats. Some of them are in town. Let’s at least look.”

Emily knew better than to argue with her sister once her mind was set. She put the sweater into the box and took it to her room. The study lesson she and her sister had been working on last evening lay on her desk. It was titled, “Fishers of Men.”

The fish weren’t biting this morning, but Stuart wasn’t ready to give in. He cast his line one more time at the rocky cliff that jutted out to the clear, calm water of the lake, let the lure sink, then pulled it slowly along the bottom. It was quiet today, only the lapping of the waves against the shore and the plop of his lure as it hit the water disturbing the absolute silence. It was to these waters Stuart came when his soul was troubled, the only place he felt at peace, the only place he wanted to be when he felt overwhelmed by his grief.

It had been eighteen months since he lost his sister to cancer, a brief but terrifying battle, only a few short months from the diagnosis until her untimely death. But though she fought it valiantly, she was suffering, and the pain wore her down as quickly as the disease, making death a welcome respite from her torment. Stuart begged both God and Katherine—Kate to her friends—not to give in, or admit defeat, but she sank so rapidly that it was over before Stuart found out what was causing her illness. She tried to help him accept that she was leaving him, telling him she was not so much dying as stepping into eternity with the Savior she loved.

“We’re all dying, Stuart,” Kate told him in the early stages of her disease when they were both struggling to accept her fate. “What matters most is our destination when we do.”

Though Stuart shared her faith in God, and her hope of eternity, it made it no easier to face life on this earth without Kate, who had sacrificed her own life and happiness to raise him when their parents died in a fire. He was thirteen, she was seventeen, and about to leave for college to study marine biology, her dream since childhood. With the loss of their parents, and then their grandfather only months later, Kate and Stuart were alone, left with the family business they had worked in all their lives. It was Kate who made Kingfisher Cove Marina profitable, Kate who added luxury houseboats, fishing charters, souvenirs, and Kate who was the business. When it was passed to them upon their grandfather’s death, Kate took the small marina from a rag tag bait shop and boat dock to a summer vacation destination. It was she who ran the office and store, and Stuart who maintained the boats, cleaning, preparing and chartering fishing excursions when needed. They were partners as much as family, and they loved their work. The houseboats were always rented before the summer even began, and in the fall, they were filled with fishermen for a reduced rate. The expanded dock held boats all year round, and the store was a gathering place for locals and tourists alike.

Now it was silent. Kate’s laughter no longer floated through the windows as she sold penny candy to the children, or teased a fisherman about his catch. Though Stuart still ran the marina, kept the boats maintained, and reservations still sent vacationers to the lake, it was no longer a place of easy, cheerful conversation, no longer did locals and tourists meet to pass the time. Without Kate, the marina lost its charm, and for Stuart it became a place of silence, of grief, of loneliness, the beginning of his solitary existence.

Eric, his friend since childhood, did his best to help his friend in his grief, saying that Kate would not want her brother to live this way, but Stuart rebuffed him.

“Kate loved this marina and the people to which we rented boats and dock space. I have to keep it going for her, it’s what she wanted.” If his friend told him he was working too hard, giving up his chance for a normal life, Stuart would counter, “This is my life now. I have to accept it.” Though he would have preferred to work alone, he was persuaded to hire an office person, Thelma, who answered phones and took reservations; and a teenager, Adam, who cleaned boats between guests. Thelma, a widow loved Stuart like a son, and Eric’s family considered him one of their own, but even in the midst of these caring people he was not able to shake the sense of aloneness, of abandonment. His sister’s death was still a raw, aching wound that time and prayer had not been able to heal, though he knew it was not normal to grieve for so long. Help, me, Lord, he would pray as he cast his line on the water, to accept my sister’s death and to trust you with the rest of my life. And send me someone, Lord to fill the empty place in my heart, someone that needs to be loved so I won’t feel so alone. I can handle everything else, and someday I will accept that Kate is gone and go on. But I just can’t seem to do it alone.

He threw his line a few more times. The fish were not biting, and the boats needed to be prepared for the upcoming season. Realizing he was wasting time that needed to be spent on maintenance, Stuart reeled in his line and motored back to the dock.

Eric stopped by Kingfisher Cove with the meal his mother had sent for Stuart, but his friend was not anywhere to be found. Knowing that he was probably fishing, Eric took the food inside to the living quarters behind the marina office and left it in the refrigerator. It was near nine, and the sporting good megastore his father owned, Hook’s was already open for business. Stopping to check on Stuart made him late for work, and though he was the boss’ son he was nonetheless expected to be on time and working just as any other member of the staff. Al Hook had opened a bait shop thirty years ago with only a handful of money and his sheer determination to support his growing family. Now his children were grown, and the simple bait shop was a sporting goods mecca, a destination store for hunters, fishermen, anyone who enjoyed the great outdoors. He sold bait, fishing and hunting gear, water sport equipment, camping supplies, and since the beginning of January, just weeks ago, boats. The store was large enough to hold a showroom and even housed a restaurant where the locals and tourists alike could sample lake fish and trade stories of the one that got away.

Eric didn’t bother to leave a note for his friend; leaving Stuart dinner was a weekly occurrence. Getting Stuart to join the Hook family at dinner was a cause for celebration; the only time he left the marina was to go to the family store for supplies, and to eat in the restaurant. Eric prayed for his friend daily, that he would be comforted, that his grief would subside, but Eric himself knew the pain of losing Kate. He loved her too, more than he ever let Stuart or Kate herself know. She was four years older than him, and thought of him as a little brother, but he was devoted to her, even if only as her brother’s friend. When she died, he thought he would never love again, but unlike Stuart he was able to come to terms with Kate’s death, taking comfort from his faith, and the knowledge she was in a much better place.

“Katie, girl,” he promised as if she was listening to him speak, “I’ll help your brother to smile again if it’s the only thing I ever do. I know you don’t want him to live this way, and you are probably stamping your foot and yelling at him to get a grip. I’m doing the best I can, so hang in there. I just know something will happen soon.”

As he ran to his truck, thinking of how furious his father would be when he walked in the store ten minutes late, Eric spotted Stuart’s boat tooling toward the marina. He called out a greeting and left before his friend came close enough to hear.

It was the phone that stopped the women as they prepared to go boat shopping, leaving Lacey angry and disappointed.

“Why, Emily? What is so important that he can’t wait a few hours?”

“He says he needs me now,” Emily explained. “I promised him I would help him with his taxes when he got his W-2 forms in the mail. He’s not good with figures.”

More likely, he’s too cheap to have his taxes done, Lacey thought with disgust. And Emily is cheap labor, anytime he needs to lift a finger. Ever since the accident, he and Emily’s first date, when she had been distracted for a moment and lost control of the car sending them down an embankment and breaking his leg, Raymond used guilt to manipulate her. He spent a week in the hospital, and more time recovering at home, but since then he kept Emily in servitude to him by reminding her that it was Emily’s carelessness and neglect that led to his injury and debilitation. She reasoned that it was only fair that she should take care of his needs; it was her fault alone he was hurt. Lacey thought he was playing the wounded victim much longer than necessary, and though he claimed that he and Emily were a couple, and therefore she belonged to him, Lacey was sure the only one Raymond cared for was himself. Emily was merely an indentured servant; the accident that injured him was her crime. Lacey spent time on her knees praying that her sister would see that she owed him nothing, that her debt to him had long since been paid, but he was nothing if not cunning, knowing just how to make Emily respond. And all Lacey could do was pray; her arguments to her sister fell on deaf ears.

“It’s been almost a year, Emily,” Lacey said to her sister. “The man has skied in Colorado and gone backpacking in Europe. He’s not helpless or an invalid. You owe him nothing.”

But guilt was Emily’s undoing, it had always been. That and chocolate. It was a routine with her—feeling guilty and eating chocolate. Then feeling guilty about eating the chocolate. Regular exercise kept her from putting on the pounds, but guilt was her constant companion as long as she knew Raymond. She alone was responsible for his condition, Emily reminded her sister.

“If not for my carelessness, I would not be in this situation,” Emily explained. “I have to accept that.”

“He’s playing you Em. And it’s time for it to stop. Leave him be today, come shopping with me for the boat. Do something for Emily for a change, not because you feel you have to make up for your past.”

“Not today,” said Emily. “I promised him, and I have to keep my word.”

“Emily, he can do it himself, it has nothing to do with his leg!”

“God expects me to be responsible for my actions.”

Lacey groaned. “God would make him forgive you if Raymond belonged to Him, but he doesn’t, Emily. Another reason you shouldn’t be seeing him.”

“I’m trying to lead him to Christ. I’m the only Christian he knows; the only example of Christianity.”

“He’s smarter than he looks, Emily.” Lacey crossed her arms and glared at her sister. “He knows you want to please God, and uses your faith to get what he wants.”

Emily bit her lip. She knew that her relationship with Raymond was wrong, and was aware that he used her guilt over the accident to manipulate her. But like he said, who else would have her-- a half-witted woman who couldn’t even keep her eyes on the road. She was lucky he kept her; no man would want a woman that didn’t have enough sense to ease the car to a safe stop when she felt the wheel turning too fast. Raymond told her she was fortunate to have him to point out her faults so she could better herself.

“I tell you these things because I care about you,” he claimed, though his comments seemed more cruel than helpful. And because they were true, had no choice but to believe him. Now she was stuck in an unhappy relationship with no other options, and she had to accept her fate, even though her sister told her otherwise.

“You have to believe, Emily that God wants more for your life than this man who treats you so rotten. Somewhere out there is a man who will love and appreciate the person you are, which by the way is bright, funny and compassionate. You have so much to offer the right person, not this…leech that uses you. Trust God, I promise He’ll show you.”

Emily wished fervently that Lacey were right, that God did have something better for her. But her own sister, who trusted God in everything, could not find someone to love and appreciate her—how could Emily expect any better? Lacey liked to say that God is in the details, but so far it seemed like God forgot about Lacey altogether.

Lacey was not so easily discouraged, however. “He’s going to lead me to someone, Emily, you’ll see. I don’t know where or how, but I’m going to trust Him, and do anything He tells me. I want everyone to know that God is real, and I can rely on Him. My job is to be obedient and ready.”

“And that’s why we need to go get that boat, Emily. Today. God’s told me what to do. Please, go with me. I don’t want to do this alone.”

Emily sighed, torn between her sister and her promise to Ray. “Okay, Lacey. Let me go to Raymond’s for a while, then I promise, I’ll be home in time to go look at boats.”

Lacey nodded. “I’ll call my boss and see what he recommends; you know how much he likes to fish. I think he docks a boat on the lake outside town, that big one with the houseboats. He probably knows the best place to find a bass boat. Please, Emily. Just a few hours. For me.”

She didn’t know how she would do it, but Emily vowed to have Raymond’s taxes done and then leave before he made her do anything else. Whether he liked it or not, Lacey needed her too. And she wanted a day away from him, even if he punished her for it later. One day’s peace was worth a week of his nagging.

Raymond’s taxes would not get done today, even if she had wanted to finish. He presented her with his W-2 forms but he had no federal tax forms, and the post office was already closed. Emily felt a small thrill of victory. There was no reason for her to stay, so she put her coat on and fished her keys out of her purse.

“Hold it, where do you think you’re going?” Raymond said as he walked into his living room.

“I’m going shopping with Lacey. I promised.” Emily headed for the door.

“What about the laundry? I don’t have any clean pants, what am I supposed to do for today?”

“Guess you’ll have to wash them,” Emily replied, slipping out the door before he could argue. She hurried to her car, half-wondering if he would follow her, but he didn’t. Instead her pager began beeping before she was out of the parking lot.

Lacey was thrilled that her sister returned home so fast. “I talked to my boss, and he said that the only place to even consider shopping is Hook’s. I guess it’s this huge guy store with fishing, hunting and outdoor stuff. He says they sell boats there too, and all the stuff we’ll need, like fishing poles.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of the place,” Emily said. “How do we get there?”

“I’ve got directions,” Lacey assured her sister. “My boss says we can’t miss it.”

Emily reached for the paper in Lacey’s hand. “That never stopped us before. Let me see where we’re going.”

Lacey showed her sister the map she had drawn, according to her boss’ instructions. “Go south on the interstate to Lakewood, then west to the dam, north on route 127. He said the road winds around the lake, but if we stay on 127 we should be able to see Hook’s as we go around the water.”

“That’s not too complicated,” Emily quipped. “South is down, north is up and go around the lake.”

“Men think we women are so helpless when it comes to directions.” Lacey rolled her eyes. “We’ll be there in thirty minutes.”

An hour later they were hopelessly lost somewhere in or around Lakewood. All they knew was that they were near the lake because they saw frequent signs advertising bait and marinas, and that they had best stop to ask for directions before the car ran out of gas. A sign that said Kingfisher Cove Marina Entrance was just ahead, so they decided to go there and hope it was open in the winter. The actual office was halfway down a steep hill, still a ways from the boat launch at the edge of the water.

“People pull boats down this hill?” Lacey said in wonder. “I would be scared to drive a trailer down here.”

She parked the Cougar at the Marina office, but before they went inside, the women walked to the very bottom of the hill to look at the water. Though the wind was cold, the water was calm, clear and very inviting. Winter had been mild this year, with barely a hint of the usual ice and snow. To look at the lake today, it would seem that spring had already arrived, and soon the waters would be filled with boaters.

“Look how beautiful it is,” Emily sighed. “And Lacey, houseboats. I’ve never seen them before. Doesn’t that look like fun?”

“Expensive fun,” replied Lacey. “I’ve heard it’s almost two thousand dollars to rent one for a week. I can only imagine what it costs to buy one.”

“Maybe, if we like the bass boat, we’ll want to upgrade to something bigger. I think I could live on the lake.”

Lacey smirked. “Without phones, television, the Internet? She glanced at the opposite shore, with its cliffs and hilly terrain. “It’s not like you can float to the mall from here.”

“Oh, right.” Emily dismissed the thought.

Lacey laughed to herself and walked with her sister to the marina office. The door sign said closed, but a woman with short gray hair and a friendly face met them outside as they approached, asking if she could be of service.

“We’re lost,” Lacey said as she reached the midpoint of the hill, breathing hard from the climb. “We’re trying to find Hook’s Sporting Goods, but I seem to have lost my way on these lake roads.”

“Al needs to get signs with better directions,” sighed the woman. “I tell him constantly how confusing these roads are to people who don’t live here. But you know men—mention directions and they look at you like you’re touched in the head. Al says real men don’t need directions.”

“But real women do,” countered Lacey.

“And even that’s not enough,” Emily agreed. “My sister and I need to be led by the hand.”

“He’s as bad as all the rest,” the woman said. “But you’re not far. Turn left out of here, and go about five minutes till you see a white house with a beautiful flower garden around the porch. Turn left again and stay on that road. You’ll see a big warehouse type building with a huge bass on the roof. You can’t miss the fish.”

“Now that’s directions I can understand,” laughed Lacey. “House with flowers and a big fish.”

“Tell Al Thelma sent you. Or better yet,” she said, winking at Lacey, “Ask for Eric. He’s just the person for you.”

“Thanks, Thelma.” Lacey shook the older woman’s hand. “I appreciate your help, and I’ll badger Al about better signs.”

“If you get lost again, go back to the house with the flower garden.” Thelma smiled as she walked the women to the car. “It’s my place and I brew a mean pot of tea. And I’m making chocolate chip cookies, but I always make more than I can eat.”

Emily didn’t need any more encouragement. “Cookies, Lacey! Homemade!”

“You are so transparent,” Lacey sighed. To Thelma, she said, “Don’t be surprised if we do stop after we go to Hooks. My sister never met chocolate she didn’t like.”

“I’ll expect you then,” Thelma said firmly. “Around here, you’re only a stranger once. We love company.”

Thelma watched them leave, waving as they drove up the steep hill. “Ah, Lord, I hear you,” she chuckled, walking back to the office. “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.”

Stuart looked up from his paperwork as Thelma returned from outside. “I thought you were going home,” he said, setting his pen on the desk.

“I was, but I remembered you’re going to Hook’s this afternoon. Could you get me some butter from the grocery while you’re out? I’m making cookies today, but I forgot to buy butter.”

Stuart wondered why she didn’t stop and buy some herself, but Thelma seldom asked him for anything. “Of course. I’m almost finished anyway.”

She nodded, leaving once more, and silence except for the ticking of the clock and the hum of the beverage coolers surrounded Stuart. How could silence be so loud, he wondered, picking up the pen and returning his attention to the books. The months of January and February were slow at the marina, with only die-hard fishermen going out onto the cold waters of the lake. Even with this mild winter business was stalled, except for families who called to reserve the houseboats ahead of season. This down time was necessary to maintain the houseboats before the busy summer, and Stuart was always busy no matter what the season. The phone rang, a request for a houseboat for Valentine ’s Day. The weather was mild enough to allow it to be taken for the weekend, so Stuart made a reservation with the couple. He wondered if he should advertise the rest of the boats for the same day. Why not? He had no plans for himself on Valentine Day, why not spend it renting out boats to lovers? Or to others, like him and Eric—lonely bachelors who had no one to share the day with, a fishing expedition to help them forget Valentines Day altogether. Kate would have loved the idea of renting out the boats to couples, but she would rebuke Stuart for not finding a date for himself. She was always on the lookout for women to keep company with her brother and Eric, not an easy task in this small lakefront community. Eric teased Kate that she was the only woman worth dating on the whole lake, and took her out a few times to prove it, but things never went any farther than friendship with her. Sometimes Stuart wondered what would have happened between his sister and friend if Kate had lived. Did she notice the way Eric watched her as she talked on the phone, how he followed her around the marina as she went about her daily routine? If so, she never let on, to either Stuart or Eric, and her death closed that chapter of their lives.

Stuart felt the familiar sadness that threatened to envelop him, and tried to shake his morose thoughts. He was nearly done with paperwork, and his stomach reminded him he had not eaten yet that day. Eric had left dinner in the refrigerator for his friend, but he had no desire to eat alone. As soon as he finished, he would get Thelma her butter and then go to Hook’s for dinner. Listening to the same stories of fish lost, times gone by, and the impudence of the younger generation with the regulars who claimed a seat at the restaurant counter was a much better option than staying home with just the silence for company.

HEY! and don't forget to e-mail Diana Mylek to thank her for submitting her piece or if you have a comment! She would really like to hear from you.

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