The Lodge rests on the tip of a long point thrust into the blue waters of a large lake. It has been there for a long time. Originally it was a small cottage where a rich man from Florida went fishing with business partners, but over time it has grown to hold a number of cabins that stretch along the shoreline. Guests arrive from all over Canada and the United States by boat, and sometimes by floatplane, because The Lodge is thrust so far into the blue waters there is no road to get there.
During the summer months, you can sit in a crowded lounge and watch boats skip across the lake. The people who run The Lodge know they are coming, as there is little other reason for the boats to be out there. They have radioed ahead and reserved a spot, because the docks, and there are seventy-two of them, are always full.
Once they arrive, the guests dock their boats in front of a store that resembles a train station. It has a long gabled roof with cedar shingles, and a bright wooden sign under the eaves that reads The Lodge. Guests enter the store to confirm their reservations, and while the staff readies their room the men scan the fishing lures and the women buy souvenirs and the children sticky their noses with ice cream. At some point during the day, everyone who visits The Lodge sits on a long bench in front of the store and watches as people walk by, children run by, and boats come slipping into the bay.
The bay, at its widest, is one kilometre wide, and stretches inland further than most visitors to The Lodge have ever been. At its narrowest a child could throw a rock across, which is what a boy named Tyler, aged thirteen, is doing while hopping from lake smoothed boulder to boulder along the shore. He has been here all summer with his father because the owner, Mr. Miller, admires his father's work, and Tyler is by himself instead of with all the other kids, who are swimming and catching frogs and running the brick paths between the cabins, because he's done these things all summer long, and he doesn't feel like joining them today.
In the thick forest behind the cabins, where guests are discouraged to go, there is a girl named Suzan, aged twelve, who is alone. She spends every day here, and everywhere around here, getting her knees dirty and fingers filthy putting worms on hooks for squeamish city boys. She spends long afternoons spotting snakes on rocks in the sun, chasing them into bushes where they rustle among leaves still crisp from the previous fall.
At the end of the afternoon Suzan returns to her boat, where her father pretends to be angry and Suzan pretends to be afraid. Her father picks her up in his arms and carries her to the end of the dock where, despite his daughter's pleas, he counts to three potatoes and throws her to the drink.
When Suzan rises to the surface her father wags a finger. And when she splashes water at his feet her father says, "Why I oughta..." and removes his shirt, his shoes and socks, his dress pants and, in nothing but his underwear, jumps in after her.
They have done this every afternoon since they arrived at The Lodge, almost a week ago. The other guests, sipping drinks and lounging in deck chairs, watch just the same.
Tyler walks along the beach while waves slap at the shore, then trots up a grassy lawn to hide behind the lodge's main building. He peers through the kitchen's back windows as the staff hurry to prepare dinner. Bearded men in dirty aprons bark orders at frantic staff who deliver plates through the door, and Tyler knocks when he spots Will, a tall, athletic man who looks up from his tray and winks.
Tyler likes Will. He likes talking with him about fishing for pike in Mary Anne Cove, about the troubles of the Detroit Tigers in the American League, and he likes riding shotgun when Will drives the water taxi to town and lets him tag along. He's not sure how old Will is but he likes to think that his bright smile will endear him to people and that someday he might make a lot of money.
"Hey big man," Will mouths as he rolls up the sleeve of his golf shirt, curling his right arm in a bicep flex, the muscle tight and shining in the evening light. Tyler laughs and Will smiles, then disappears through the swinging doors.
In the hall, long wooden tables are spread against wide windows with a view of the bay. The dinner is a fancy affair, with guests dressing in clothes they have stashed in their suitcases for just this occasion. Normally Tyler is given a dollar for opening the door as guests arrive, where he greets them with a smile and they nod in his direction. Sometimes the guests bow and say "Thank-Yaw," because they are unused to being treated like royalty this far north, in a land where you are generally expected to fend for yourself.
Their daily swim complete, Suzan and her father walk dripping back to the boat, the dirt cleaned from behind her ears, his clothes wrapped in a wet ball under his arm. Her mother taps a shoe against a cleat, and as Suzan walks by her mother grabs her elbow and runs a brush through her hair, tugging through knots as her daughter winces.
The Saturday night dinner has the air of a feast. Mr. Miller is the master of ceremonies, and the jokes he tells are the ones he tells every week, but because the guests are new, only the staff groans while regrouping in the kitchen. Suzan sits beside her father, who sips from the wine glass placed in front of him, refilled at short intervals by university students who have worked at The Lodge all summer long. When her father laughs, Suzan laughs, mostly at jokes she doesn't understand.
Suzan is wearing a dress and doesn't like the feel of it on her skin. It was a dress her mother picked for her long ago, when they first heard they would be spending their summer vacation here, and she has never liked it.
She likes Julie, though, and she watches as she circles around their table and places a tray next to her. She passes salad plates to her parents and the old couple they've sat with all week, but whose names Suzan can't quite remember, and when she's done and everyone is happy, Julie kneels down beside her.
"You promise to come back next summer?" she asks.
Suzan only met Julie a week ago, when she helped her father guide the boat into the dock. She learned her name during a hunt for salamanders, learned her age, 21, as they dug horseshoes out of the horseshoe pit, and called her a friend for the first time when Julie gave her an elastic before the dock-to-dock swimming race so she could tie her hair into a ponytail. Suzan came in third. She admires Julie's height, her brown hair, the delicacy of her hands. There is something about her smile, her bounce, her verve and her energy. They are qualities that Suzan wishes she could possess for her entire life.
"I'd like to come back every summer," Suzan says, and on hearing this her mother dabs a napkin at the corners of her mouth and leans over.
"We'll see," she says.
Julie winks, and Suzan watches as she hoists the empty tray over her shoulder and pushes through the swinging doors to the kitchen. Suzan picks at her salad, and when her father reaches for a dinner roll, she checks his silver watch as it slips from beneath his shirt cuff. She sits through a few speeches, clinks a glass of ginger ale during a toast, and at the first lull she asks if she can go to the bathroom. When her mother says yes, she sneaks past the bathroom and through the lounge, where men chat next to a fireplace and a stuffed bear, and slips through the exit.
Tyler walks the creaking docks, peering through the gap in the boards to the water below, his stomach dreaming of the dinner it missed. The Saturday night dinners are the best of the week: roast beef, potatoes and salad, and occasionally the staff who have got to know him drop a little wine into his glass. Instead, he listens to the muffled applause from the hall, and knows he is missing his father's speech, the one he gives every Saturday night, because he has heard the speeches every Saturday night all summer long.
It is Tyler's job, when finished his dinner, to walk the docks and ensure that no one is rustling through the boats in everyone's absence. He is normally paid a dollar for keeping the docks secure. If he sees anything suspicious, he is instructed to run to Mr. Miller, but although he is walking the docks just the same, he doesn't feel like asking for money today.
Though he's been low since morning, and bothered by the boredom of waiting, tonight he's excited, for there is a girl he's recently met, and they have a plan. It's mischievous in nature, something he's hidden from everyone, and he feels like he does when he lurks in the shadows of his neighbourhood after the street lights come on. He loves the quiet of a hiding place, and the feeling of walking, if ever so slowly, into the world of adults. He also likes it when a plan comes together, and while he can't quite see how this plan will play out, he knows that, in some way, it will change everything.
What he does see, however, is a sharp ray of light coming from the lodge as a door opens and closes. While an orange sunset murmurs over the lake, a figure in white darts across the grass behind the cabins.
Right on time, Tyler thinks.
Suzan strolls along the thick grass beside the path. The cabins are dark, though occasionally she can see a lamp glowing, a child sleeping, or grown-ups playing cards. Mostly, however, they are empty, with messy beds and clothes scattered, waiting to be tossed into suitcases.
She walks away from the cabins, past the boathouse and the store, to the dock where the wood squeaks under her feet. She steps on the back of her mother's boat, hearing the echo of speeches, the laughter, and the touch of water against the hull. After a rattling of keys she slips through the door, ducks under the bow, and finds her closet in the dark. Her dress falls to the floor and she glances down at the glow of her skin. She feels like she's disobeying an order by changing into blue jeans and a comfortable t-shirt, and while she wants to grow up someday, right now she wants to run, play and laugh, not sit itchy and bored among adults.
Suzan closes the door behind her, and when she's headed for the back deck, she spots a figure through the porthole on the starboard side, heading down the dock to meet her.
It's just as she imagined.
Tyler and Suzan meet under the moonlight, and with a shared glance they walk the length of the dock. Together they shuffle through the grass, then dart from tree to tree behind the cabins and the edge of the lodge grounds, where only counsellors tread.
"Are you ready?" Tyler asks.
"Yes," Suzan says.