The breeze carried a chill off the lake that night as I lay under the main lodge’s veranda. The slight prickling of my skin was a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of the day.
I’d snuck out of the cabin under the not-so-watchful eye of my older sister, so that I could watch the sky. The radio had been talking about some Russian satellite that was now circling the world, and, as my father claimed, pointing missiles down on all of us innocent Americans. The idea of it filled me with a mixture of wonder and dread which I hadn’t experienced before, but I had resolved that if the sky was going to fall on my head I would at least see it coming.
After about an hour of straining my neck and shivering in my jacket, I thought of returning to the cabin, but the exhilaration of a boy’s first unsupervised freedom chased that notion from my mind. So, I climbed under the veranda where I could huddle between some small boulders out of the wind and still get a descent view.
Above me I could hear the music from the party where my parents and most of the other adults at the resort were celebrating the last night here; away from their children at last. I clamped up suddenly when I heard the patio doors open and the music grow louder. Strong, purposeful, footsteps crossed over the slats above me to the banister.
Gathering up the few remaining slivers of courage I could find, I crept beneath the under-hang of a nearby pine and looked up. To my relief, I didn’t see my father but a well dressed man lighting up a cigarette. The look of sudden calm that flowed over him as he inhaled deeply made me again question my mother’s assertion that cigarettes were bad for me. He reminded me a bit of Clark Gable, minus the thin moustache and ears sticking out too far. He didn’t make any indication that I’d been spotted, so I allowed my heart to slow from a gallop to a trot.
I heard the doors close, and a woman approached the railing and took a deep breath with one hand lightly over her chest. Now, this woman looked like a mix between Ginger Rogers and Judy Garland, but I could have just been imagining it.
The man took another draw from his cigarette and looked over to the woman.
“Enjoying the dance?” he asked casually.
“Oh, you know…”she replied taking another deep breath. “Wanted to get some air.”
A sudden desire to switch places with the man sprang to mind along with the nagging notion that leaving behind my heretofore despised glasses had been a mistake.
“Nice night for it.” The man said.
She took one more deep breath, the rising flesh above her bust line causing an odd flutter in my stomach, before leaning her back on the railing and turning to face the man. “Um, I hate to ask, but do you have another of those?”
“I thought you wanted to get some air.”
She shrugged lazily. “I decided the air could use a little something. I’m sorry. You don’t know me. I shouldn’t impose.”
“Here.” he said offering his open cigarette case, and lighting the one she took.
“Franklin St.Croix.” he stated with suave confidence.
“That’s an impressive name.” she said before blowing out a shaft of white.
“It gets me by.”
“Much better than mine. Claire Honeywell. It’s ridiculous.”
“Oh,” Franklin drawled with a smirk, “it’s not an unattractive name.”
Claire put a hand to her cheek. “Oh sir, you flatter me.” She then let out a sweet, little, laugh.
“But, Franklin St.Croix.” she continued. “That has an air of class and sophistication to it. Just look at you. Standing on a balcony in your white tuxedo, offering a lady a cigarette. Very debonair.”
“Thank you.” he smiled back. “Your dress is quite charming.”
“Oh, this thing?” Claire said as she ran her hands down the sides of her black and dark green cocktail dress. “I needed something to bring for the dance, so I pulled this old bridesmaid outfit from of the back of my closet. Just a reminder of life’s little disappointments.”
Franklin raised his eyebrows. “Always the bridesmaid…”
Claire cocked her head to one side. “Actually, once the bride, but my maid of honor thought she could do the job better.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“You didn’t, I did. Don’t worry about it. My cousin and I were always competing.”
“Wow. I don’t know what to say.”
“Nothing is required.” Claire said kindly, as she leaned over the rail and tapped out her ash. “I decided I was better off in the end not being a house wife. Besides, I liked the bridesmaid dresses I chose. My mother wanted me to use her gown which was simply a disaster in lace.”
She stood back up and peered at Franklin. “I’m sorry I must be boring you.”
“No, it’s fine.” Franklin waved a hand. “I’m surprised. You’re a lot more open than most women I meet.”
“I have been told I talk too much.”
Franklin shrugged and leaned on the railing, the wood creaking slightly as it birthed their combined weight. “I enjoy conversation. I grew tired of woman who are seen and not heard a long time ago.”
Claire smiled. “I don’t mind being open with a stranger. Especially after they are so kind as to share a cigarette. Besides the resort closes tomorrow and we’ll go our separate ways. When would we ever see each other again for me to be embarrassed?”
The wind picked up for a moment blowing Claire’s hair off her bare shoulders.
“Here,” Franklin said, taking off his jacket, “you must be cold.”
“Oh, I couldn’t.”
“Thank you.” she said as he helped her into the jacket and she surreptitiously smelled the collar. “I hope your date doesn’t mind.”
“I’m here alone.”
“A single man at a family resort?”
“Well…with friends. We head back to Portland in the morning.”
“Portland? That’s a long trip.”
Franklin shook his head. “And I am not looking forward to it.
”What about you? How many miles do you have before sleep?”
Claire pointed out across the lake. “It’s hard to see right now, but, you know that house up on the hill? That’s where I live.”
“Yes, I own this whole place.”
Claire took another long pull on her cigarette as she watched an array of expressions cross Franklin’s face.
“I grew up here. My father left the land to me. I had the lodge and cabins built because what good is all this beauty if I have no one to share it with?”
Franklin nodded. “You run all this yourself?”
“Mostly. Except for Mr. Calor, the staff coordinator.”
“The man who teaches the basket weaving course?”
“Did you take it? How did you do?”
“I think I made some very nice kindling.”
“Oh lord, that’s precious!” Claire giggled this time, and Franklin joined in with a chortle.
“I didn’t see you in class.”
“No, we started teaching sailing this year. I must have fallen in the water three times.”
"Three times? I’m impressed.”
“Yes, but I eventually found my sea legs…See anything interesting down there?”
Franklin looked up. “Just admiring the railing. Nice…sturdy…posts.”
Claire grinned and swayed her hips from side to side demurely. “And they aren’t bad for dancing either.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to--”
“I don’t mind.”
They stood watching each other for a long moment. The cigarettes had burnt down; Franklin lit another and offered one to Claire but she declined.
At last Claire spoke up. “So what do you do in Portland.”
Franklin paused. “I’m a poet.”
“You are? I knew you had to be an artistic type with a name like yours. Tell me some poetry.”
“Hmm…” Franklin stared up at the sky then at their surroundings. He rubbed his chin and then started, “Wednesday morn’ a sparrow pecks at my window sill. But the early bird does not disturb as the world is quiet and still.”
“Wow!” Claire said and folded her hands over her heart in a mocking swoon. “You really aren’t a poet are you?”
Franklin winced a little. “I’m a lawyer.”
“Ooooh a liar.”
Whether or not he caught Claire’s play on words didn’t show. “I don’t do criminal proceedings just corporate suits.”
“So instead of helping people get away with murder, you help businesses get away with theft.”
Franklin leaned back onto the railing. “You really don’t pull your punches do you, Claire.”
Claire stood up straight and prim. “Mr. St.Croix, mother always said, if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. Also, don’t smoke and don’t talk to strange men.”
Franklin smiled. “A woman worth ignoring.”
“You know, that was my notion as well.”
Claire tapped her lips and looked Franklin up and down. “Let me see. Intelligent, handsome, good with money, bad with poetry. How ever did you end up out way out here?”
“One of the guys from the office and his wife dragged me out here. Said I really needed to get out of the city. They said I might meet someone interesting.”
“And have you?”
Franklin shrugged. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“Indecisive, lies about his job, immodest, and terrible at arts and crafts…What more could a girl want?”
Franklin frowned slightly. “Something other than a lawyer.”
Claire cocked her head to the side again while allowing the question to go unspoken.
“Haven’t had much luck since college. Had a few girlfriends then. Got them with the bad poetry. After that, most women I’ve met have either been working for me or my clients or simply interested in the money a lawyer can bring in rather than the lawyer himself.”
“Mr. St.Croix, I have no interest in your money.”
Franklin's mood lightened. “That’s good to know.”
“But, if you try writing me poetry I will run away screaming.”
Franklin chuckled. “I’ll make a note of it.”
Again they just stood there watching each other, not saying anything.
“Ms. Honeywell, do you have plans for lunch tomorrow?”
“No. But, I thought you had a train to catch.”
“Oh, the evening is running late. I think I may oversleep.”
Claire smiled brightly. “How inconvenient.”
“It’s a damn shame.”
Franklin moved closer and wrapped an arm around Claire’s waist. The door opened again and the music grew louder.
“Excuse me, ma’am.” a male voice called. “There’s a problem in the kitchen.”
Claire closed her eyes and sighed. “Can it wait?”
“No, go ahead.” Franklin said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Claire leaned forward and whispered something in Franklin’s ear before walking off. Franklin watched her go and after the door closed he looked back out over the lake.
“You’re Peter Welling’s boy, right?” Franklin said.
I was so startled that I fell over. Franklin didn’t even look at me, just flicked ash from his cigarette and took a draw causing the bud to flair a bright red.
“Uh, yes, sir.” I called back.
“Get to bed before I send him after you.”
“Yes, sir.” I said and headed back to the cabin.
I wasn’t really sure what I had seen that night, at least not then; not until I was older. The sky hadn’t fallen. But my perception of adults had. Girls were still alien at the point, but women were something to look forward to. However, I knew with perfectly clarity from that night on what I was going to do with my life.
Today, I make the best damn cigarette commercials in the world.