When I heard my husband, Ben, arrive home from work, I knew something was up. His footsteps on the kitchen floor betrayed him. He never walks that fast. Normally, he sort of lumbers along.
“What’s going on?” I asked when he entered my home office.
“You know that guy Jack I told you about at work?” he said.
“I think so,” I answered, “Is that the guy with the ponytail who drives the red corvette convertible? The one in MLC?”
“Just because a guy finally has the money to buy a decent set of wheels and feels comfortable wearing his hair the way he wants to wear it, why does everyone assume he’s in midlife crisis? I think it’s more like midlife confidence,” he said.
“Anyway, he wants us to join him and his wife for a kayaking weekend. They rented a cabin on a lake up north. I guess they took a class and liked it so much, they went straight out and bought two kayaks.”
“It’s been years since I was in a kayak,” I said. “I don’t know if I even remember how to do it.”
“I told him that and he said no worries. He said he and his wife are like pros now. Besides, we’ll wear our life jackets so we probably won’t drown,” he said.
“That’s comforting. By the way, do you know his wife? What’s she like?” I asked.
“I haven’t met her but she must have a sense of humor – she’s married to Jack. Please, Susie, I think it will be fun,” he said.
“She’s probably looks like a model. I look like a weeble, especially in my bathing suit. I don’t think it’s fair to make people look at that,” I said.
Ben laughed and said, “You look fine and don’t worry about Amy. I’m sure she’s just your average girl next door. Jack always exaggerates everything.”
“Why – what did he say she looked like? Oh, never mind,” I said, ”I guess it’s OK. You’re always saying we should get out more.”
“Great, I’ll let him know we’re in,” he said.
Ben grabbed his cell phone from his pocket and began dialing as he walked out of my office.
I began to feel nervous. I wasn’t so great with new people. I had a hard time getting through a two hour party with strangers let alone a whole weekend. What would we talk about?
Ben seemed so excited about it and we hadn’t really been out much lately, other than the movies. I felt like I owed it to him to do something he wanted to do. Somehow, I would have to get through it.
We reached the cabin about eight o’clock Friday night after driving straight there after work. It turned out to be a rustic little log home on a beautiful wooded lot. The front overlooked the lake – about 10,000 acres of clear blue water according to Ben’s research. Ben grabbed our suitcase from the rear of the car and I grabbed the special bottles of wine we brought as host gifts. We walked up the mulch path to the front door and knocked.
Jack opened the door and grabbed our suitcase from Ben. Amy appeared and gave each of us a big hug.
I felt better already. The stress of the highway seemed to drain away.
I handed her the wine.
“Oh, our favorites. I hope you brought something for you and Ben to drink,” said Amy.
We laughed as we followed her into the house.
Jack didn’t exaggerate. Amy was a beautiful, tall, thin blonde. I could picture her next to Jack in the corvette, long hair blowing in the wind.
“How was the drive up?” Amy asked. But before we could answer, she went on. “No, let me guess. Scenic as hell. Bumper to bumper RVs full of families with kids picking their noses and making faces out the back windows at you. The RV parade was probably interrupted by the occasional group of bikers with big bellies in front and big bitches in back. Am I right?”
We laughed again and looked around at the paneled walls. There was a faded green and blue plaid couch, a pair of stuffed chairs – one gold striped, the other brown tweed – with matching indentations in the seats. The stone fireplace had a moose head mounted over it. Amy waited as we took it all in.
“I think it’s the Martha Stewart Unibomber line. You can buy it at Kmart,” said Amy.
“How about a beer? You must be tired after the long ride up,” said Jack.
“I thought you’d never ask,” said Ben.
“Help yourselves,” said Amy. “We like to make our guest feel at home. The kitchen is right through that door.”
The mismatched furnishings in the kitchen complemented the front room decor. Towels hanging on racks next to the sink welcomed us to “my little house in the woods.” Maybe the unibomber wasn’t such a bad guy after all.
We helped ourselves to a beer.
“Mind bringing us one too?” Amy called out from the front room.
“No problem,” said Ben and he grabbed two more.
When we returned to the front room, Amy was stretched out on the couch, her back up against one arm, her long legs reaching the other. Jack was sitting in one of the stuffed chairs. Ben passed out the beers and offered me the other stuffed chair. Then he ducked back into the kitchen and brought out one of the metal chairs with a yellow vinyl seat. He placed it next to Jack, sat down and the two of them immediately began to discuss work.
“Hope you don’t mind if I made myself comfortable,” said Amy. “After that ride, my back is killing me. Susie, Jack tells me you’re a nurse. I figured you would have started fussing over me if I didn’t try and relieve this back pain. I know how you angel-of-mercy types think.”
“Definitely,” I said. “You need to feel better before we get in those kayaks tomorrow.”
“It would feel much better if you gave it a little rub. I bet you nurses are great at back massages, “said Amy.
No one besides Ben had ever asked me for a back rub before. I felt a little awkward, but I started rubbing her back.
“Will you marry me?” asked Amy.
I laughed and kept massaging. As I massaged, I thought I was being silly to think this was weird. It was actually quite sweet that she would trust me like this.
“So what have you two wild and crazies been up to lately?” asked Amy.
“We’ve seen some good flicks,” I said, “An Angel’s Tale was really moving.”
“Yeah, Johnny Depp may get an Oscar for that one,” said Amy, “What a performance.”
“The ending had me in tears,” I said, “Do you believe how… ”
“Whoa,” interrupted Amy,” Don’t tell me the ending. I haven’t seen it yet.”
“Oh, sorry.” I just assumed by the way she was talking about Johnny Depp’s performance, she had seen it.
“I just read the movie reviews. ET magazine. Very rarely see an actual movie. Name a movie and I’ll tell you the plot, the director, and the stars,” said Amy.
So I took her up on the challenge and listed the last five movies Ben and I had seen. Amy didn’t miss one.
“You’re amazing,” I said. “I can barely remember them and I’ve seen them.”
“So, Amy, what do you do for a living, if you don’t mind me asking,” I said.
“Not at all. I’m a consultant,” said Amy.
I wasn’t sure what to ask next. That didn’t narrow it down much.
“Oh,” I said, “What kind of consultant?”
“I usually focus on the financial sector although I occasional stray into manufacturing,” Said Amy.
Once again, not sure what to ask. This is why I suck at parties.
“That sounds a lot more important than being an ICU nurse,” I said.
“Well, I guess my decisions do affect a lot more people than you would find in the average ICU,” she said, “However, nurses do serve an important function. What on earth would the doctors do without them? I bet you are an awesome nurse, Susie. If I ever have the misfortune to end up in the ICU, I hope you are the one to wipe my butt and clean up my vomit because I know you wouldn’t make me feel like I was a pain in the ass.”
“I would certainly try not to. But we do other things, you know,” I stammered.
“Oh, I’m sure you do,” said Amy. “But I’ll bet dealing with those nasty bodily functions is a real challenge. My hat goes off to you. It takes a special calling to do that work.”
“Thanks,” I said.
Suddenly Jack spoke up.
“I think we better hit the sack if we are going to get any kayaking done tomorrow. I was talking to the next-door neighbor earlier and he said it’s best to get on the lake early before the power boats get out there. The operators get all liquored up and play dodge ‘em boats with the kayaks and canoes.”
So, with that, we found our respective bedrooms.
As Ben and I undressed, Ben asked, “Are you enjoying yourself?”
“Sure, Amy’s seems nice and she’s funny. I’m glad we came.”
We all got up about seven the next morning. We ate the bagels Amy had brought from Costco. We drank coffee from the Keurig machine Amy and Jack packed.
“The kayaks are next to the cabin,” said Jack. “Go change and we’ll meet you outside.”
Shortly Jack and Amy appeared in neon colored, body-hugging, high-tech-looking life jackets.
“Oh, that reminds me, “said Ben, “I left our life jackets in the car.”
“PFDs,” said Jack.
“Huh?” said Ben.
“PFDs. Personal Flotation Devices. When you pay this much for them, you call them PFDs.”
“In that case, I’m going to get our life jackets out of the car,” said Ben.
We put on our life jackets making it a bit difficult to move our arms, not having the ergonomically designed fit made especially for kayakers like Amy and Jack’s.
Then we each grabbed an end of a kayak and carried it down to the lake.
“How about girls vs. guys?” suggested Amy, “That way we’ll have an expert in each boat.”
I assumed since she and Jack had just completed their kayaking class, she was referring to them when she said “expert.”
“Fine with us,” I said.
We carefully climbed into the boats from the shore since there was no beach. The water was about 15 feet deep. Amy was a bit shaky and almost dumped the boat but I managed to hold it steady.
We started rowing and the men quickly took the lead. Amy did not seem to be able to get into the rhythm. As I rowed one way, Amy would row the other, essentially stalling us in water. I tried to match Amy’s rhythm but it was so erratic, it was impossible to do. Suddenly, Amy stopped paddling.
“Ow,” she screamed, “I think I tore my rotator cuff.”
She lifted her right arm into the air and screamed again.
“I don’t think I can row anymore, “she said, “Do you think you can get us back?”
I said she thought I could since we hadn’t gone very far. I yelled to the guys that we were turning around and headed back to the shore.
The men stayed out on the water for another couple of hours. When they returned, Amy was sitting on the porch with a bag of ice on her shoulder. I had driven to the little market in the nearby town to pick it up.
That evening, Amy apologized in advance for not being about to help with dinner.
“I was going to make marinated skirt steak, a mixed green salad and Idaho potatoes with sour cream and chives. Then I was going to make gourmet s’mores for dessert. Instead of Hershey bars, you use dark chocolate. I bought the candy bars at Costco,” said Amy.
“Well, I can put together the dinner together with help from the boys,“ I said, “It’s not a problem. Just rest that arm.”
I looked in the refrigerator for the steaks so I could begin the marinade. The refrigerator was empty except for two bottles of beer and a few bottles of water.
“Hey, Amy,” I called from the kitchen, “Did you guys forget to bring the steak in from the car?”
“Oh no,” said Amy, “I thought we could just pick them up in town.”
I looked around the kitchen and noticed, aside from the dark chocolate candy bars, 90% cacao, there were no other ingredients.
“Did you plan to pick up the other ingredients as well? “ I asked.
“Yeah. I thought a nice little tourist town like that would have a fairly gourmet selection of food,” said Amy.
“Well I guess I better get shopping,” I said.
So Ben and I headed into town.
I prepared the dinner as best I could with the ingredients that could be found. As it turned out, the tiny little market was not as well-equipped as Amy had imagined.
“This doesn’t taste like skirt steak,” said Amy.
“It’s not,” I said, “I had to buy chuck instead. It was all they had.”
‘Well you did a great job, considering,” said Amy.
“What’s in the marinade? Don’t get me wrong, yours is good. I was just imagining it to be like the one we have at Cuisine, our favorite restaurant.” said Amy.
“What does Cuisine use?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m not really sure but it is awesome. Isn’t it Jack?” said Amy.
Jack didn’t respond.
Then Jack asked if anyone would like more wine. We had gone through the bottle we bought at the market. He was holding one of the host gift bottles.
“But I thought we could save those for a special occasion,” said Amy, “Those are so expensive. How about we go outside and make the s’mores?”
“Actually, I am pretty full,” I said. After we clean up, I think we’ll take a short walk and hit the sack early.”
“Ho but you must taste the s’mores,” said Amy. “I promise, they will be the highlight of the whole dinner. That chocolate is to die for. “
So we all went outside to the fire pit. Jack and Ben started a fire with some of the paper bags from the grocery store, some twigs and a log. When it was going good, we made s’mores.
“These are good,” I said.
“See, I told you,” said Amy, “ I love to cook for my friends. I hope you enjoyed the dinner. And I now count you two among my friends. I hope we can get together again soon. This has been so much fun despite my little mishap. Don’t you agree?”
Ben and I said we agreed and thanked them for their hospitality.
That evening, before bed, Ben asked me, once again, if I was having fun.
“You know, I am,” I said.
The next morning, we got up early and packed up their car.
“We want to get on the road before the back to work rush,” said Ben, “Thanks for having us.”
“I am glad you could make it up. We need to do this again. We’ll hope Amy doesn’t get injured next time,” said Jack.
Amy and Jack stood on porch as Ben and I backed out of the driveway. Amy .smiling brightly and lifting her right arm, enthusiastically waved good-bye.
“It looks like her arm is feeling better,” I said, “ I’m so glad. She’s such a lovely person.”