Wild Ice

By: Rachelle Vaughn

Everything inside the cottage looked the same as it always had. The only difference was how empty it was without Aunt Cora. It looked like she had just stepped out for a moment and would return as soon as she captured a white-faced ibis on film. Her reading glasses still sat on the beat-up coffee table next to a dainty floral teacup. Her old slippers, so worn they had a hole in one toe, lay on the floor next to the sofa.

Lauren wished with all her heart that Aunt Cora could be here. She wanted to tell her about what happened with Daniel and to listen to her aunt’s trusted advice and words of wisdom. No one else understood her like Cora. Regret welled up and twisted its cold fingers around Lauren’s heart. She had plenty of excuses but no one was around to hear them.

She sighed and set the cat carrier down in the middle of the room. “You can come on out now, Marsh,” she said as she opened the metal door. “We’re home.”

She made soothing sounds and tried to coax him out, but no matter what she said, the cat wasn’t having any of it. Only after Lauren stepped aside did Marsh finally scurry out like his tail was on fire. All she saw of him was a flash of mottled fur before he disappeared under the bed. For as old as he was, Marsh was surprisingly fast and agile. Aunt Cora had had the moody old cat for as long as Lauren could remember. In fact, she didn’t remember him ever being a kitten.

Lauren chuckled as he tucked his tail out of sight. “We’ll have plenty of time to make friends later,” she told him.

She put the carrier aside and set the paperwork Mr. Templeton had given her—the deed to the cottage and her aunt’s diary—on the coffee table to read later. She found Marsh’s food dishes, washed them out and filled them up with fresh water and food. Next, she went into the kitchen to open the window and begin airing out the house. A hummingbird feeder hung outside the little window in the kitchen and hummingbirds buzzed around it and zoomed away when they found it empty.

Lauren frowned. In all the time she’d spent here, she’d never once seen any of the birdfeeders empty. That was something she’d fix just as soon as she had a chance to run in to town for supplies.

Immediately, the warbling song of a house finch caught Lauren’s attention. She grabbed the binoculars from her suitcase and hurried outside. The minute she stepped through the door, she was once again surrounded with the sounds of the refuge. No wonder Aunt Cora chose this place to live. It was a birder’s paradise.

The house finch was perched in a nearby tree and Lauren focused her binoculars on the small bird. It was a female and her plumage was brown instead of the pink-red that was found on the males. It wasn’t fair that most of the males got all the good outfits!

Before long, the finch flew off and Lauren noticed two empty bird feeders sitting like lonely ghosts in the backyard. Birds landed, looked forlornly at the lack of seed, and flew away disappointed. A white-crowned sparrow kicked around the bark like a chicken looking for grub.

Lauren made a mental note to add birdseed to her grocery list. No bird would be disappointed as long as she lived here. No siree. Every winged creature would leave the cottage with a full belly and a song on their beak. Squirrels too. Lauren never understood squirrel-proof feeders. The cute little critters deserved a snack too. She’d add peanuts to the list just for them.

Around the side of the cottage was an aviary where Aunt Cora used to take care of wounded birds. As well as an advocate for the wetlands, she’d been a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Growing up, Lauren thought of her aunt as a Snow White of the wetlands, singing to the wildlife and caring for them, minus the twelve dwarfs of course. Aunt Cora’s prince never came into her life, though. She never married and died alone. It was the one thing Lauren didn’t envy her aunt.

As much as Daniel’s escapades had left Lauren with a bad taste in her mouth, she was still hopeful when it came to the romance department. Everyone needed a companion. Someone to watch sunsets with and drink morning coffee with. Someone to snuggle with in the middle of the night and share adventures with during the day…

Lauren thought she’d found her Prince Charming, but he turned out to be a toad. A promiscuous, cowardly toad. Daniel was charming enough, he always had been, but Lauren had been foolish to think he could ever settle down with just one woman. Was a happily ever after too much to wish for these days?

Well, even if Aunt Cora had never found the love of her life, at least she had her birds, Lauren mused. It was impossible to feel alone with so much wildlife around. This place definitely was food for the soul.

Being an ornithologist had been the only constant, fulfilling thing in Lauren’s life and she would have happily chucked it out the window in the name of love. That love had turned out to be a fraud and any long term plans she’d made based on that deception had crumbled away on that day three months ago.

No, she told herself. She wouldn’t dwell on the past. Not right now at least. There was too much to do here. The cottage needed a good scrubbing inside and out, she needed to shop for supplies, and there was yard work to do.