Wild Ice

By: Rachelle Vaughn

After she signed and initialed every document he’d shoved in front of her, Mr. Templeton assured Lauren that everything was in order. Then, after she’d gotten up to leave, he had opened his mouth as if to say something else but then decided against it and closed it again. Lauren couldn’t get rid of that niggling feeling like Mr. Templeton wasn’t telling her everything. Oh, well, it didn’t matter. At least she’d gotten the keys to the cottage. At one point, she was worried he’d lost those amongst the rubble on his desk too.

Lauren chuckled about the funny little man and smiled at the key hanging safely from her keychain in the ignition. When she received the letter from Mr. Templeton saying she’d inherited the cottage in Hayley’s Point, just outside of Red Valley California, the news couldn’t have come at a better time. A few months ago, her job at the South Oakdale branch of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife had been “dissolved” due to lack of funding, and then to top everything off, she was publically humiliated by her fiancé—make that ex-fiancé—and her plans for the future had been dissolved as well. After enduring months of the entire town talking about her, moving to Hayley’s Point was a no-brainer.

Fortunately, Lauren wasn’t leaving much behind in Oregon. She had no friends to speak of and her parents were distracted by their work as South Oakdale’s most renowned psychologists. Lauren had been psychoanalyzed by her mother for weeks and it was definitely time for a change. There would be plenty of time to figure out her next move later. She just wanted to enjoy the next few months before her parents expected her to rejoin the rest of society.

Lauren took a deep breath and guided her thoughts back to the present. After the year she’d had, she was determined to live in the moment. No more coulda, woulda, shoulda. No regrets. She promised herself she’d spend the summer flying by the seat of her pants. No looking back. There had been a sufficient amount of time moping and feeling sorry for herself and this summer was going to be all about getting her life back on track. The cottage would be a perfect place to regroup and gather her bearings and that’s exactly what she needed to do.

More than anything, it felt good to be out on her own for the first time. Eighteen years under her mother’s watchful eye followed by a tiny dorm room shared with a sloppy roommate, and then after that a cramped apartment with her ex, left Lauren itching for some independence and some space.

Even though the circumstances were unfortunate, it was good to be back in Hayley’s Point nonetheless. Lauren’s mom, great Aunt Cora’s niece, wanted nothing to do with “that ratty old cottage.” Lauren scoffed at the harsh, inaccurate description. The cottage wasn’t ratty at all. At least not from what she remembered. It was cozy and welcoming and secluded, and the perfect place to gather one’s thoughts.

Lauren wasn’t worried about the cottage being isolated. In fact, she was looking forward to it. She’d always been more of a loner than the social butterfly her mother had wanted her to be anyway. And she was definitely more comfortable behind a pair of binoculars or with her nose buried in a field guide.

Growing up, Lauren and her older brother Scott came to the cottage to visit their Aunt Cora every summer for as long as Lauren could remember. Just like now, Lauren didn’t have many friends to keep her in Oregon during the summer and she had enjoyed spending the summers at the refuge. Girls and cars quickly caught Scott’s attention and replaced his interest in birds. Once they reached high school, Scott soon lost interest in nature altogether and Lauren continued going to the cottage without him. Lauren worried she’d grow out of her love of the wetlands, but luckily that never happened. If anything, she grew to like nature even more and in high school she even started thinking about making a career out of it. Everyone thought her pursuit of ornithology was an impractical pipe dream, especially her extremely practical parents. Everyone doubted Lauren’s career choice. Everyone except Aunt Cora. She was the only one who encouraged Lauren to follow her dreams no matter how unrealistic they might sound to everyone else.

Lauren didn’t understand her parents’ doubt. Being an ornithologist wasn’t so insignificant. Sure, the demand for them wasn’t equal to the demand for, say doctors, lawyers and psychologists—especially in the city—but that didn’t hinder Lauren’s motivation. She loved being a part of nature and couldn’t imagine being stuck in a cubicle all day or a stuffy office listening to people drone on about their problems. Besides, the refuges needed people like her to protect and maintain them.

The cottage on Blue Heron Lane had been Lauren’s own personal refuge during the summer. A place where she could spend the warm days at her own pace, brush up on her bird identification, and lay under the stars and make wishes as they streaked across the night sky. Except now there wouldn’t be any more slumber parties in the living room, hikes along the many trails that snaked around the property, or weenie roasts in the backyard. Aunt Cora wouldn’t be there to draw sketches of Lauren and her brother. She wouldn’t be in the kitchen whipping up her world famous blackberry cobbler. And she wouldn’t be there to answer Lauren’s questions about birds, boys and life in general.