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by Sarah Addison Allen

Genre: General Mainstream Fiction, Mainstream

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Chapter 2

Lost Lake

Suley, Georgia

One day earlier

Every year since her husband George died, the fat man with tight skin and fake hair showed up on the first day of summer and offered to buy Lost Lake from Eby. He would hoist himself from behind the wheel of his Mercedes, something that seemed to take more and more effort with the passage of time, then he would stare at the lake, his greedy thoughts mentally cutting down trees and building luxurious lakefront houses. Eby would watch as his fingers twitched and his knees shook, and there were times when she could actually feel the earth start to tremble, as if the sheer power of his will was going to develop the property right in front of her eyes.

When he was through staring, Eby always invited him inside and offered him iced mint tea and butter cookies, the ones Lisette made that looked like big shirt buttons. Something special to ease his disappointment, because Eby always said no. He wasn’t used to people saying no, and Eby felt sorry for him, the way she’d always felt sorry for those who had everything and it still wasn’t enough.

This year, though, Eby didn’t offer him any refreshments.

When he drove away later that morning, Eby put her hand to her chest, where there was a sensation of tiny wings fluttering just under her skin. She finally did it. She finally agreed to sell the property to him. She’d never felt quite this way before. She was usually so sure of things. Now she felt . . . anxious. When his car disappeared through the trees, her eyes went to the picture- postcard swamp of a lake in front of her, flanked by cypress trees and loblolly pines, the area so quiet and so removed she could hear the water softly knocking against the aging dock.

This old cabin resort she and her husband George had bought after their honeymoon was slowly going downhill. Money was tight, and there was always a cabin in need of repair. Most distressingly, for the first time since buying the place, there hadn’t been a single guest over the winter. They’d always had reservations in the winter. Being so close to the Florida border, snowbirds used to flock here from the north, woolen caps still on their heads, road salt still stuck to their tires. But the regular guests had aged along with everything else. Many of them were gone now. Some couldn’t drive anymore. Some had simply grown fond of their comfortable chairs by warm windows and didn’t want to leave home.

This was the right decision. It had to be.

A small beautiful woman in her sixties came to stand beside Eby in the doorway of the main house— a two- story clapboard structure with a roof that leaked, hallways that led no- where, and stairways that narrowed into tight squeezes as you reached the top, like in a child’s play house. The old house and the rental cabins had come with the lake, and one of the main reasons Eby and George had bought the place was because there had been so much to do. It had been a fitting metaphor at the time— repairing, rebuilding, reinventing.

Eby could feel Lisette’s anger like a burst of heat. The force of it made the fi ne silver hair around Eby’s face move, as if by wind. Eby sighed. Lisette had to have known this was going to happen sooner or later, but Eby could tell she was going to be difficult about it anyway.

Lisette opened the small notebook she had on a length of butcher’s twine around her neck. She wrote something, then showed it to Eby: You should have consulted me about this! How long have you been planning to sell? Why did you not confide in me?

“You can’t be that surprised, Lisette. Not after the winter we had. And I’ve been thinking of traveling again. You know that,” Eby said. She had been dreaming of Eu rope lately, of Paris and its dark streets. In her dreams, she had lost George but was following a large orange one- eyed cat to him. He was waiting around the next corner for her. Always just around the next corner. “How about we go back to Paris? Wouldn’t that be nice?” Eby asked, trying to make her decision sound like an adventure. “Your mother is almost ninety. You should see her again. Mend that fence.”

Lisette was, and always had been, as combustible as an unlit match. Eby usually knew how to work around her tirades, to soothe her before she had time to get riled up. But mentioning Lisette’s mother, Eby realized belatedly, had been a bad idea.

I do not want to travel. And I do NOT want to go back to Paris. Lisette underlined the word NOT twice. I want to stay. Does that not matter?

“Of course it matters,” Eby said calmly. She felt that fl utter under her skin again and wanted to touch it, but she didn’t dare, not in front of Lisette. “Maybe the new development will have a club house with a restaurant. Maybe you can be in charge of the kitchen there. Or maybe you can buy a house on the lake, when they’re built.”

Lisette stared at her for a few long moments before writing, You will not be here?


But you do not want to leave the lake any more than I do! This is our home!

Eby stepped back and closed the front door before any more cold, air- conditioned air could escape. The electric bill was high enough already. The door frame was swollen, and she had to push the door shut with her shoulder. “Of course I don’t want to leave. But I can’t just watch this place disappear, like almost everyone who used to come here has disappeared. It’s falling apart, and I can’t save it. It’s best to leave now, before we lose everything and we’re forced out. It’s best to go when there’s a choice.”

Your choice. Not mine, Lisette wrote. After she showed Eby, she angrily ripped the notes out of the pad and put the small pieces of paper in her pocket. Later she would undoubtedly burn them on the stove or tear them up and toss them into the lake. Written words were considered dangerous things by Lisette.