Chapter 2

© Copyright 2005 by Diana Mylek

This time the women had no trouble finding the sporting goods store.

“See? If men gave better directions we could go anywhere,” Lacey declared. “This place is huge!”

“So is that fish,” commented Emily, pointing to the roof. “Whose idea do you think that was?”

“Scary,” Lacey agreed. “It’s probably the owner’s concept of decorating. I can’t wait to see the inside of the store.”

Both Lacey and Emily were pleasantly surprised, however at the condition of the store. It was clean and neat, organized despite an unbelievably huge inventory that almost without exception catered to men. Entire rooms were devoted to a sporting theme—one for fishing, another for camping, still another for hunting. And in a corner, a small but tastefully decorated area held items of interest to women, books on how to clean and cook fish, and china decorated with fish scenes.

“Very appealing,” Lacey said dryly. “And look, Emily. Here’s coffee tables with dead animals in them.”

Actually, Emily thought the tables were quite striking, and in the right setting would be very tasteful, but she didn’t tell her sister.

“And there’s a restaurant in the middle of all this.” Lacey stopped at the entrance to look at the menu board. “We might as well eat while we’re here. There’s nothing else around for miles.”

“I refuse to eat in a place that sells food and bait under the same roof,” Emily sniffed, wrinkling her nose. “It smells like fish.”

“That’s because it’s the catch of the day,” Lacey informed her, reading the specials on the menu board. “Fresh lake perch. Caught today.”

“Real fish?” Emily winced. “Not store bought?”

Lacey made a face at her sister. “Where do you think stores get them?”

Emily shook her head, frowning. “In the store they seem… clean.”

“Let’s live dangerously.” Lacey signaled to the hostess, and they were led to a round table with barrel seats. The centerpiece of the restaurant was a circular aquarium that held a small shark swimming aimlessly around a coral reef. Booths lined the walls, and at the front of the restaurant was a long counter, filled with laughing men. Not a few of them gave Lacey and Emily inviting looks.

“There’s the other catch of the day,” Emily commented, as one of the men winked at her, but was pleasantly surprised to find more than just fish when she read the menu. She ordered a chef salad, figuring it was a safe bet, and her sister asked for the perch.

“If it smells fishy, you’re eating at another table,” warned Emily.

“Sad, isn’t it?” Lacey observed. “The closest we get to adventure is eating fresh fish in a sporting goods store. This bass boat could change everything for us.”

Emily looked at her sister in alarm. “We’re not actually going to use this thing, are we?”

“Why else would we buy it?” Lacey shrugged. “I mean, sure, I think it will help us attract guys—but what else am I supposed to do? Park it on the street and stand next to it?”

Emily raised her eyebrows. “Why not? You don’t know the first thing about boats.”

Lacey scoffed and sipped her soda. “How hard can it be? You put it in the water and float.”

That seemed reasonable to Emily. “They have a motor to move them, and all we have to do is guide it, right?”


Emily’s pager beeped and she reached for it automatically.

“Ignore it!” Lacey pushed Emily’s purse away. “You know who it is. He can wait.”

“It might be important,” Emily protested.

“It never is,” Lacey said. “He pages you all the time to check on you. Forget him, and let’s enjoy ourselves.”

“He’ll be mad if I don’t call him, Lacey. I hate it when he’s mad.”

“So dump him!” She folded her arms and glared at Emily. “He doesn’t own you. And Em, honest! You deserve so much better.”

Emily disagreed. Who would want a twit like her? She was lucky Raymond paid attention to her at all. And he did care for her, in his own way.

“I’ll call him when we get home,” she sighed.

The meal was good, the fish superb, and though they were tempted to order dessert, Lacey recalled Thelma’s invitation. After paying the check, Lacey and her sister wandered back into the store’s fishing section. It had a trout stream that ran through the middle of the room, and Emily stopped on the bridge to admire the fish.

“I wonder if these are practice fish for beginners,” Emily mused.

Lacey peered over the bridge into the water. “No way, these are probably pets.”

“Hello, ladies, looking for something special?” Asked a man, probably the same age as Lacey’s father. He was wearing a polo shirt and a nametag shaped like a fish. Lacey read the tag.

“Hi, Al. Your friend Thelma said to tell you she sent us, and to put up better signs so direction challenged women like us can find this place.”

Al smiled as he shook both the women’s hands. “She’s always after me to put up more signs. But I don’t see how anyone can miss this building. The bass on my roof can be seen for miles.”

Lacey laughed. “We saw the bass, but finding our way on the road was another matter. Fortunately for us, Thelma was at the marina where we stopped to ask directions. She told us in language we could understand and invited us over for cookies. She’s my new best friend.”

“That’s Stuart’s place, Kingfisher Cove. Thelma’s his office gal and let me tell you ladies, her cooking is legend in these parts. The desserts we serve in the restaurant are all her recipes. I’ve tried to hire her away from Stuart, but she says he needs her more than I do.”

“Is Stuart her son?” Asked Emily.

“No, he owns the marina. Lost his sister, Kate to cancer last year, and his parents in a fire years ago. Lives there alone now, and doesn’t get out much.”

“I’m sorry,” Emily said, feeling for this poor man who had suffered such loss. Probably an old hermit. She pictured him in an old pair of waders and boots, a pipe in his mouth, stubble on his chin. And he probably talked in two-word sentences. But to lose all his family…Emily hurt for him.

“Yeah, he could sure use a woman’s touch out there again. It’s not the same without Kate.”

Emily looked at the salesman curiously. Was it her imagination, or did this salesman just drop a hint? Honestly! Were women so scarce in this town that they had to be recruited? She looked around the store, and realized she, Lacey, and the waitress were the only women in the building that she could see. Emily made a face at her sister, who returned it and cleared her throat before talking to their sales person.

“I’m looking for a bass, boat, Umm, Al. Mr. Hooks?”

His look of skepticism lasted only a fraction of a second. “For your husband?”

Lacey shook her head and grinned. “For me.”

“I see. You’re a fishing woman.”

“No, not at all. I’ve never fished before,” Lacey confessed. “I just want to buy a bass boat.”

Emily grabbed her sister’s sleeve and whispered, “Don’t tell him that! He’ll think we’re some kind of morons!”

Al leaned against the rail of the bridge. “Sure you want to start out with a bass boat? Would something less sporty, like a pontoon work for you?”

“No, it has to be a bass boat. A pontoon won’t attract…”

Emily kicked her sister.

“Ow, Em.” Lacey pursed her lips and thought for a moment. “I’m working on something important, to me, at least. It has to be a bass boat; that was very clear.”

Al let out a small chuckle. “Do you know what size you want, how much horsepower in the motor, what kind of options as far as fishing is concerned?”

“How about something safe, comfortable and easy to use?” Lacey asked, wincing at how stupid she must sound. Emily rolled her eyes and sighed.

The salesman motioned for the women to follow him to the boat showroom. Just before they entered that room there was a few smaller boats, some without motors. “These are my basic fishing boat, not bass boats. They’re the least expensive, if you’re just looking to fish.”

“Oh, we’re not going to fish,” said Lacey. “I mean…Umm, I want something a bit more…impressive.”

“That ups the stakes a bit,” commented Al. “Let me show you the real bass boats, the ones my customers dream about. I mean love at first sight.”

Lacey brightened. “Now you’re talking. That’s exactly what I’m hoping for.”

Al looked at her out of the corner of his eye, just barely concealing his amusement. “You want something to be envied.”

“I want something the men will salivate over,” Lacey admitted, smiling uneasily.

“It’s not cheap,” Al warned.

“Uh, then how about the next best thing? It doesn’t have to be the top of the line, just look real sharp.”

Al shook his head in confusion. “Do you want a boat to fish in, or something to put in the front yard so people can admire it?”

Emily hid her embarrassment under her hand and turned away. “Lacey, maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all…”

Giving up the charade, Lacey looked Al straight in the eyes. “I’m twenty-seven years old, Al, still single and my chances of finding someone are diminishing rapidly. I know my looks won’t hold out forever, and my childbearing years are passing rapidly. I need an edge, some way to make men notice me. I’m ready to do what ever it takes.”

“Oh, Lacey…for Pete’s sake!” moaned Emily, wondering if she could hide under something.

Now Al understood, and grinned widely, his eyes giving away his amusement. “Attracting a man is just like fishing—knowing which bait works best. You’re a pretty girl. Smart too. I would think you’d have ‘em knocking at your door.”

“But I don’t,” explained Lacey. “And I feel like I’ve got to do something drastic to change things in my favor. I prayed, and this was God’s answer. I heard him plain as day.”

“Can’t argue with God,” Al agreed. “I’m a believer myself. Met my wife at church. She caught me breaking into the building one night before service and shot me in the backside with her daddy’s gun. I was in the hospital for a week, and when I got out I married her.”

Lacey laughed. “Because she you were in love, or because she could shoot?”

He winked at her. “All I saw was that cute face with one eye closed as she aimed that gun. It was love at first sight. I’d have asked her to marry me on the spot if she hadn’t been pointing a gun at me.”

“She married you, a burglar?” Lacey asked.

“Best thing that ever happened to me,” Al claimed. “I was a changed man after she shot me.”

Lacey laughed so hard she felt tears in her eyes. “I would LOVE to meet your wife!”

Al led them into the showroom. “I think she’d like to meet you too, miss.”

To call it a room was inappropriate, it was more a warehouse, with boats of all sizes resting on trailers and waiting for customer inquiries. “We just recently added boats to our business,” Al explained. “So I’m new at selling these, but my son, Eric knows much more about them than me. I’ll page him, and tell you what I know until he gets here.

He showed them the bass boats, leading them up a row of ten or more. Lacey listened closely as he described each boat’s features, but she had her eye on one in particular, with green over gray upholstered seats and sparkling paint on the outside. Al’s practiced salesman’s eye noticed her stare, and smiled.

“I had this one outside last week while we moved other boats to fit it in. It stopped traffic.”

Lacey ran her hands along the sides. “This is a bass boat?” She looked at it in wonder. “It’s so…pretty, I can’t imagine fishing in it.”

“Yeah, they’re real nice until they actually get used,” Al chuckled.

“Does the trailer come with it?” Emily asked.

“Of course,” replied Al. “It’s part of the package. You’ll need to be sure you can pull it. What kind of car do you drive?”

“A Cougar,” Lacey said.

“That’s good. You’ll also need a license plate for the trailer.”

Lacey frowned. “Do I have to pass a test to get one?”

Al laughed and patted the side of the boat. “No, not at all. You have to register it, but the only other license you need is one to fish. You’ll have to learn how to pull the boat, though.”

Lacey made a face as she thought out loud. “If I fish, I’ll have to bait my own hook.”

“Lures,” said Al. “I’ll show you them later.”

He helped the women onto the boat and let them explore. Lacey was surer by the minute that this was the boat for her.

“I like it,” she said. “Is this is the best you have? I mean as long as I’m spending big money I want to be sure I get the best results.”

“Oh, you’ll get results, all right,” Al assured her, taking her hand so she could climb back off the boat. “From the first week. Or I’ll buy the boat back.”

“You’re serious?” Asked Lacey. “You don’t think I’m crazy?”

“Got a date for Valentine’s Day?”

“Umm, no…”

He crossed his arms and looked her in the eye. “I’ll make you a deal. If you don’t have a date for Valentine’s Day…if you don’t get date offers from at least five guys by then, I’ll pay for your boat docking at Kingfisher Cove Marina for a year.”

“Five date offers?” Lacey thought for a moment. “You won’t send anyone out to ask me, will you?”

“Nope. On my word as a believer.”

Lacey grinned. “Then let’s do it. This boat.”

Al nodded. “This one, for sure?”

Emily grasped the side of the boat to keep from falling off. Her sister had done some strange things in the belief that God had spoken to her, but none so expensive! And on such short notice!

“Lacey, don’t you think you should sleep on this a day or so?” Emily cautioned.

“No way. I’m not getting any younger, Em.” She followed Al to a corner desk where he went over the financial details, taxes and title. He arranged for his “service department” to put a trailer hitch on the back of her car.

“Pulling a boat isn’t as easy as it looks. You’ll need instruction.”

Lacey worried. “Ooh, I hadn’t thought of that. I only thought about keeping it in the water.”

Al shrugged. “My son Eric is the instructor for new boat owners. We’ll throw in free lessons.”

“You will?” Lacey sighed in relief.

He leaned back in his chair as he dialed the phone. “Hey Frank, find Eric. He’s not answering my page. Tell him I need him in the boat showroom, and if he hurries I’ll forget he was ten minutes late for work today.”

A moment later, a younger version of Al appeared in the showroom. He was wearing the same polo shirt and nametag, but his sandy brown hair was quite differently styled, and more abundant than his father’s. He crossed the room quickly, looking a bit puzzled, but his curiosity was directed more at his father than the women sitting in front of the desk.

“This is my son, Eric,” Al said, as he approached, and waited while they all shook hands. To Eric, he said, “This lovely young lady is the new owner of the second to last bass boat, the green one.”

Eric let out a low whistle, looking at her and then at the boat. “She’s a beauty,” he sighed. “I mean the boat,” he added quickly. “Not that you’re not…”

“Thanks…I guess,” replied Lacey. “I can’t wait to give it a try.”

“You’re getting some boat,” Eric assured her. “The best, one I would love to have myself, if I could afford it. My boss is committed to cheap labor.”

“He’s just sore because I beat him to the sale,” laughed Al. “Son, this gal is planning to take this boat on Saturday, but she needs to take our course on how to pull trailers and use the boat.”

“Our what?” Eric gave his father a confused frown.

“Course…on…boat…towing,” Al said slowly, willing his son to understand. “The one you teach to all single women who purchase boats from us.”

“O-oh,” replied Eric just as slowly. “Lessons, right. That would make me the instructor.” He smiled brightly at Lacey, then turned back to his father. “Umm, dad, where do we give lessons? I forgot.”

“At Stuart’s place. The marina,” Al replied as if he needed a reminder.

Eric slapped himself on the forehead and rolled his eyes. “Of course. Stupid me.”

Lacey laughed at his silly expression. “Why do I get the impression I’m the very first student?”

“Probably because you are,” confided Eric. “Dad likes to make things up as he goes along. I suppose I’ll be the guide for your first bass fishing trip also.”

“We certainly can’t send them out of here not knowing how to use their own boat,” Al explained as he stood. “It wouldn’t be proper.”

Lacey stood also, following Al’s instruction and allowed him to lead her and Emily out of the showroom. He took them to the aisles of fishing equipment and turned them over to his son, saying he had a shipment to check on, and that Eric would answer any more questions. He shook both the girls’ hands and disappeared into a back room.

Eric watched his father with an odd expression before turning his attention to the women. “Are you looking for supplies for your boat or fishing equipment?”

“Both,” replied Lacey.

“You like to fish,” he commented.

“Uh, sure, who doesn’t?” Asked Lacey, elbowing her sister.

“I love to fish,” said Emily dutifully.

“No kidding,” replied Eric, his tone doubtful. “What kind of fish do you usually go after?”

“The ones in the lake,” Emily said brightly.

He grinned, and placed a fishing rod in Lacey’s hand. “What kind of bait do you use?”

“Worms,” said Emily.

“Lures,” replied Lacey. “Worms are…too slimy for me.”

“And fishing pole?”

“Yes, I usually use one,” Lacey assured him, holding the fishing rod upside down.

Eric covered his mouth to hide his amusement, and turned the pole around. “I’ll just show you what I use.”

He found another pole and explained why he liked the reel, turning and clicking it as if he were going to cast. Then he invited her to do the same.

Lacey blushed and smiled gratefully at the way he spared her embarrassment. He obviously knew she was clueless but didn’t reveal her lack of knowledge; instead he kept talking as if she was just another customer.

“What I usually do for my female fishermen, or fisher-women, is to sell all the things they need to get started as a package.” He moved down the aisle, gathering poles, reels, lures, line and various other necessities, placing the smaller items in a basket, and handing the larger items to the women. He explained each piece and why it was important; then when they had all they needed, he directed them to another part of the store that held safety equipment.

“The law says you have to have life vests for each person on board. I recommend these ski vests, they’re the best flotation devices around. You couldn’t sink if you tried. And they zip, so they’re easy to use.”

“We both swim,” Emily informed him.

“Good, but in an emergency, these are your safest option. And I recommend you carry a cell phone when you’re out on the water, some way to have contact with land.”

“I have one,” said Lacey. “I’ll take those vests.”

“And it wouldn’t hurt to take a safe boating course taught by certified instructors.” He carried the vests for them. “I can teach you what I know, but you would be better off with proper instruction.”

“We aren’t inconveniencing you by asking you to instruct us, are we?” Lacey asked.

“Not at all,” Eric assured her. “Saturday is a workday for me. I’d much rather be paid for spending it on the lake with you than here at the store.” He didn’t add that he’d like to spend time anywhere with her, he found her captivating, her earnest effort to memorize everything he told her charming.

“Saturday will be perfect for me and Emily too,” Lacey told him. “Should I meet you here?”

“Yes. Do you have a trailer hitch on your car?”

“No, but your father said he would put one on for me.”

Eric laughed. “He’s a man of many surprises. Bring your car here around nine on Saturday morning and we’ll take care of it. Then I’ll teach you how to drive pulling a trailer before we head to the lake.”

“Is it hard?” Lacey asked, handing him her credit card.

“No, not really,” Eric answered. He began ringing her purchase. “The trickiest part is backing the trailer into the water.”

“We’re going to put the boat in the water?” Emily asked.

Eric frowned good-naturedly. “You are going to use this boat, aren’t you?”

Lacey blushed. “Of course. I just need to get used to driving around town with it.”

He smiled at her. What a novice! He wondered why she was buying the boat, maybe trying to impress someone, a boyfriend perhaps? He certainly hoped not. “Does your boyfriend have a boat?”

“No, I mean, I don’t have a…the boat’s for me. I’ll be using it myself.”

This was encouraging. “I’ll teach you how to handle the boat on the water, and then maybe we can do some fishing on company time,” he said with a grin, sending a thrill through Lacey.

She managed not to show her delight. “I would be very grateful.”

He bagged her purchase and handed the fishing poles to her. “Dress warm. It’s been an unusually mild January, but it’ll be cold out on the water.”

“I will. Thanks, Eric. I’m really looking forward to this.”

The two of them smiled at each other for a moment before Emily gently pushed her sister out the door, whispering, “I think you just hooked your first fish, if you get my drift.”

“Why didn’t we think of this before?” wondered Lacey, staring at the fish on the roof of the store.

“And why didn’t we just buy fishing poles and save ourselves a fortune?” asked Emily.

“The boat was a perfect idea. It’s working already,” sighed Lacey, putting her purchases in the trunk.

The beeper in Emily’s purse sounded again. “I need to find a phone,” she said, looking around.

Lacey frowned and opened the car door. “You’ll have to call him later. We promised we’d stop at Thelma’s on the way home.”

Emily wrung her hands nervously. “He told me to get a cell phone. It would be so much easier if I had one.”

“Easier for him to bug you. Forget about him for now, you can’t do anything about it anyway.”

But worry formed a knot in her stomach. “Maybe I can call him from Thelma’s.”

“Em! He can live without you for a few hours!” Lacey ordered her in the car and left before she could protest, but Emily vowed to get a cell phone as soon as she could.

Stuart closed the marina office and brought the butter to Thelma’s. As he entered her kitchen he was warmed by the heat from her oven and enticed by the smell of baking cookies. Thelma took the butter from him and put it in the refrigerator.

“Funny thing,” she remarked as she closed the door, “I had butter after all.”

Stuart gave her a look but said nothing.

“Don’t just stand there, have some cookies,” Thelma said.

“Thanks,” replied Stuart. “But I’ll just eat one and run. Eric’s got some parts on order for me, and I want to get started on the job today.”

“It can wait another hour,” Thelma insisted. “You’ve already worked hard today. Relax. Eat.”

“I sat at the desk all day,” countered Stuart. “If I get any more relaxed I’ll fall asleep.”

Thelma laughed as if it was the funniest thing she had ever heard, slapping her thigh and wiping at her eyes.

Stuart frowned and crossed his arms. “You’re up to something, Thelma.”

“Me? No…Is that a car door?” Thelma hurried to the window. “Guess I’m hearing things.”

Stuart eyed her suspiciously. “Expecting company?”

“Just some friends. Why don’t you stay and meet them? I think you might like the girls, they’re about your age.”

“I really need to get started on that boat. Then I’m going to turn in early tonight.”

Thelma pulled out a chair. “You have no social life, other than visiting with your customers at the marina or the old geezers at Hooks, Stuart. You need to get out more. It’s not good for you to be so alone.”

He agreed, but answered bitterly, “Apparently, it’s what God intended for me, or I wouldn’t have lost my entire family.”

“You still have us, Stuart. The Hooks consider you family; they love you. So do I.”

Ignoring the chair, Stuart moved to the door. “Thanks for your concern, Thelma, but I wouldn’t be good company right now. I’ve got all I can handle, getting the boats ready for summer. I don’t have time to socialize.”

Thelma wasn’t easily discouraged. She spent hours with both him and Kate, and knew the depth of Stuart’s grief and loneliness.

“He’s going to need someone when I’m gone,” Kate had told Thelma as she lay dying. “I tried to find him someone myself, but I’m running out of time. I’ll have to trust God to find him a wife after I’m…”

“Don’t you worry,” Thelma interrupted. “I’ll take care of him.”

But Thelma was not as successful as she had planned, and after Kate’s death Stuart retreated from the world, in a haze of pain and grief. The cheerful, pleasant person he was before Kate’s illness and death disappeared; replaced by a sad, quiet man who spent time alone, burying himself in his work. Though his faith was a comfort to him, he was still shaken and peppered God with unanswerable questions. How could God take the people he loved and leave him to go on alone? Would he ever find relief from his loneliness and grief? He tried to accept his lot in life; to make the best of what God had given him, but he kept going with the business not out of gratefulness, but in respect to Kate’s wishes. She loved this lake and the marina. Her customers were like family to her, many returning every year. She insisted that Stuart keep Kingfisher Cove going for the ones who counted on this place for yearly vacations, and for the regulars who docked their boats over the winter. She cared for them, even after her death, through Stuart. He kept many pictures of her and the customers on the wall of the marina store; she and the guests and the fish they caught. There were many pictures of Kate alone, holding fish; she was an expert fisherman, and even led charters. The men loved her; she was one of them. No one could ever replace her.

Stuart excused himself and left for Hooks. Thelma truly cared for him, and maybe someday he would find someone who cared for him in another way, but for now he had to concentrate on his work at the marina, the boats, and the season ahead. Who would want him anyway, a man so crippled by grief that he cut himself off from the rest of the world? What could he offer anyone but a shell of the man he once was?

As he left Thelma’s, a red Cougar turned into her driveway. Must be her company, he mused. I hope they like chocolate.

“Hey!” Called Eric, seeing Stuart enter the restaurant. “Listen to this, Stu—I sold a boat today to a woman today, she was…really something. Anyway, she bought a bass boat, and I’m going to bring her to your place and show her how to use it.”

Stuart took a seat at the counter, and Eric sat next to him. “A woman bought a bass boat? For who?”

Eric slapped the counter and laughed. “For herself! Dad said she told him that God said to buy a bass boat, so she did!”

“Just like that?”

“Yep.” Eric shook his head in wonder. “She tried to make it sound like she fished all the time, but she didn’t have a clue. Didn’t even know how to hold a fishing rod, she had it upside down.” He chuckled at the memory. “I’m going to take her out on the lake Saturday, show her how to fish and use the boat.”

“Aren’t you the gentleman.” Stuart signaled to the waitress, who brought him a cup of coffee.

“Dad told her I was the boating instructor, the one who teaches single women how to use their new boats.”

Stuart smiled slightly. “Like you’ve ever had a woman buy a boat before. Your dad is such a character.”

“I don’t mind this time.” Eric rested his head on his hand and sighed. “She was so…pretty, the same color hair as Kate, and she was courageous too.”

“Because she bought a boat?”

Eric shook his head. “Because she trusted God enough to act. I wish I could do that.”

“You would, Eric. Anything God tells you.” Stuart didn’t doubt his friend’s faith for a moment. Even when Kate was dying, Eric held fast to his confession, and refused to blame God for her loss. He told Kate that he envied her, going to be with the Savior before him. Kate confided to her brother that Eric helped her immensely as she faced death; he made Heaven real to her, and showed her that it was a goal, a prize to be sought. She tried to impart this same message to Stuart, but he was too entrenched in losing her to see Heaven as a reward. She may be happy there, but all he could think about was how much he would miss her.

“Why don’t you join me,” Eric suggested, getting his friend’s attention again. “She’s got a friend, I think it’s her sister, and she’s real cute. We could make a day of it.”

Stuart frowned and shook his head. “I need to work on the boats, get them ready for summer.”

“One day’s not going to make a difference,” Eric insisted. “You need to get away once in a while.”

“Thank you Thelma,” Stuart teased. He did need to get away, but the thought of being stuck on a boat for hours with a couple of strangers who didn’t know the first thing about fishing or boats…Eric was looking at him so earnestly that he couldn’t turn him down, at least not yet.

“I’ll see,” was all he could promise.

“Good, because I might need you to cover my back if things don’t go smooth.”

“She did want your help, didn’t she?” Stuart asked. It seemed odd that a woman would allow a perfect stranger to take her out on the lake alone.

“Yes, she was pretty psyched about the boat, and I think she realizes she can trust me. Dad wouldn’t have suggested it if he didn’t think it also.”

Stuart agreed. “She must have impressed him if he’s sending his baby son out alone with her.”

“Yeah,” laughed Eric. “Boat instructor! I didn’t get it at first, then I saw my dad rolling his eyes and winking at me. I almost laughed out loud!”

“He’s so subtle,” said Stuart with a grin.

“She realized it too,” replied Eric. “But she wasn’t mad. I gotta tell you…she’s a good-looking woman with a bass boat. If she learns to fish I’m might just ask her to marry me.”

“All you need is a pick-up truck and a hound dog and your life will be complete.” Stuart downed his cup of coffee and signaled for another one.

“I wonder if she’s seeing anyone…” Eric’s voice was wishful. “A woman with a boat like that could have any man she wants.”

“Maybe if you’re real nice to her she’ll let you kiss…the boat.” Stuart laughed out loud, the first time since Kate fell ill.

Eric looked at his friend sharply. “Better watch it, Stu. Your face might freeze like that.”

“I hope it does. I’m tired of being sad.” But suddenly he didn’t feel like laughing anymore.

“She never wanted you to mope, you know,” Eric reminded him. “If she were here now, she’d smack you on the head and tell you to quit whining.”

“Well, she’s not,” snapped Stuart. “She never will be.” He stood up and threw a dollar on the counter.

“You’ll see her again, Stuart. “Hang on to your beliefs.”

Stuart shot him a look. “I believe, Eric. I know I’ll see her again. But it doesn’t make it any easier to live without her now.”

Eric patted his friend on the back and bid him to sit on the seat again. “I know, Stu. We all miss her.” He ordered a hamburger and fries for the both of them and opened a catalog of boating supplies. They spent the rest of the afternoon talking business.

Thelma opened the door before the women were out of the car. “You made it!” She exclaimed, greeting them as old friends. “Come in, I just pulled a batch of cookies out of the oven.”

“I can smell them from out here,” Emily sighed, following her nose into the kitchen. “Ooh, Thelma it smells wonderful.”

“I was hoping you would come,” Thelma said, inviting the girls to sit and placing a platter of cookies in front of them. “You just missed Stuart. He stopped by, but had to go get parts for the boats.”

“Speaking of boats,” Lacey said, “You’re looking a the newest owner of a bass boat, top of the line, sparkling green, a fisherman’s dream.”

“Sounds like Al’s words to me,” commented Thelma. “He’s quite a salesman.”

Lacey bit into a cookie and sighed. “These are great. Al told me that I would be quite in demand with the men, now that I’m a boat owner. He said that if I didn’t get a date for Valentine’s Day, or at least five offers, he’d pay my dock space at your marina for a year.”

Thelma hooted. “He’s right! No man can resist a woman with a boat.”

“His son Eric is going to take me out on the lake in it on Saturday,” Lacey said. “Show me how to use it.”

“Is that so?” Thelma mused. “Are you going along also, young lady?” she said to Emily.

“I’m Emily. Yes, I can’t let her go out alone on the lake with a stranger. He said he’d teach us how to fish.”

“City girls, huh?” Thelma asked. “What made you buy the boat?”

“God told me to,” answered Lacey. “I’m tired of being single, I want to find someone, and settle down, have children. I’m getting desperate! I needed something that would attract men to me, since I don’t seem to be doing it on looks alone.”

Emily agreed. “Scare them with your looks, maybe.”

“My sister is my biggest source of encouragement,” confided Lacey.

Thelma rose to get another pan of cookies out of the oven. “That boat ought to get you plenty of attention. But they’ll all want to fish.”

“I can live with that,” replied Lacey. “At this point, I’m willing to let them do anything—I mean with my boat.”

“And what about you, Emily?” asked Thelma. “Are you hoping to attract anyone?”

Emily shook her head. “I’ve got a…well, he doesn’t like to be called my boyfriend. I guess I’m in a relationship.”

Thelma frowned. “You’re not sure?”

Lacey answered before Emily could. “He snaps his fingers and she goes running. He’s not her boyfriend; he’s just a guy who takes advantage of her kind and trusting nature.”

“Lacey!” snapped Emily. “I’m sure Thelma’s not interested!”

Lacey ignored her sister. “She’s a lovely person, but he’s got her thinking she owes him. They were in a car accident last year, and he broke his leg. Now he makes her do all kinds of things for him, out of guilt.”

“He needs me,” Emily insisted. “It’s my fault he was injured.”

Lacey sighed and turned to Thelma. “It breaks my heart to see Emily waste her time on a man who uses her. He doesn’t deserve someone like her.”

“No one else will have me,” Emily said to herself, but Thelma heard every word, thanks to her new hearing aid battery. She appraised the lovely young woman with soft blonde hair and troubled eyes. When she was about the same age, Thelma was trapped in a bad marriage to an abusive man. If Thelma guessed right, Emily was a victim of abuse, or on her way to becoming one. He had already filled her head with hurtful things, and now she believed him. The best thing for her to do was to get away from him, so she could see that she was indeed capable of being loved, not the worthless person he told her she was. And Thelma knew just the person to help her, someone who would cherish a kind-hearted woman…someone who was hurting also, whose heart needed mending…

“What time will you be going out on the lake?” Thelma asked.

“Around ten, I would guess,” Lacey replied. “First I’m having a trailer hitch put on my car at Hook’s, then Eric will bring me out on the water.”

The wheels in Thelma’s head were already spinning.

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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