Comment: Rogan this one falls into your summer challenge. Sorry it's a little short of the 2000 word count. Hope you like. Jeff
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It had been twenty two years ago when my wife Jan and I first started coming to the lake. Aside from the addition of the new dock at the south end, things looked pretty much the same. The cabin we originally rented and had eventually purchased, had more than paid for itself. We would rent it out in the late summer and often made enough money to pay the mortgage on it for the rest of the year.
Late spring and early summer was ours though. We would spend the weeks leading up to summer taking walks around the lake and fishing from the dock in the early mornings. And the romantic lunches, oh yes, let’s not forget those.
Jan would always make a fresh batch of her fried chicken the day before, then let it chill in the icebox, just the way I liked it. She would always pick some of the hundreds of Sunflowers she loved to grow and bring them with us. She said “the heart of summer is in these flowers”. And I believed it. They were nearly as beautiful as Jan herself, and the yellow of the flower was so bright you could hardly look at it. Over the years, I had grown to love them nearly as much as she did.
We would spend hours laid out on the blanket under the giant oak where I had carved our names so many years ago. Each year I would carve another notch in the tree as Jan looked on. The gentle breeze blew, telling us that summer was just days away.
The lake held magic for Jan and I. Those days at the lake each year, grew our love. Like seedlings, newly sprouted from the ground, you could actually see our love getting larger each day. Making love by night as the frogs and crickets sang their tune. It was our special place, a place meant just for us, we didn’t need to say it, we just knew.
This year had been different though. Jan had been so sick in the weeks leading up to our trip, I had said to her that we may not be able to go. She wouldn’t hear of it. She said “nothing will stand in my way and summer wouldn’t start without our trip to the lake.” So that was that, if I had learned one thing about Jan, it was that when she made up her mind there was no changing it.
I waited for the day and when it came, just a month before the start of summer, I packed the car full of all the things we would need and helped Jan get ready for the trip. Her medication nearly filled a box of its own. I was still a little worried because of the unusually high temperatures, Jan didn’t look up for the trip, but we headed out anyway and got to the lake a little after six.
I must admit I was tired, I decided I would just help Jan get inside and unpack the car in the morning. I wasn’t as young as I used to be either, mind you. Never the less, we managed to get inside and get the bed made. Jan had a long ride in the car and we both needed our rest.
Morning came with the sun shining off the lake and both of us looking a lot more alive. We had pancakes for breakfast and then Jan spent the early afternoon watching from the porch as I faithfully planted the seeds for her beloved Sunflowers. It was a joy watching her and even though my back strained a little, I could tell how happy it made her to see the seeds going into the soil, so I pressed on.
We spent the next few weeks leading up to summer in our typical way. Although Jan didn’t get around as well as she used to, we made the best of things. We still managed to spend some time fishing and stealing kisses out on the front porch of the cabin. I would read books to her while she rocked in the old wooden chair. Sometimes we just sat and listened to the wind and held each others hand. I felt our love grow too, although perhaps it was a little different this time. It grew not in the fast and furious manner of the new seedling, but rather in the slow and strong growth of the giant oak. Never the less, it grew, and as we stared out onto the lake, those nights we spent on the front porch, we felt it.
We had mutually agreed that we would refrain from our romantic picnic lunches. As I said, Jan wasn‘t getting around as easily these days and that made the trip over to the giant oaks a little more difficult. We agreed we‘d save the picnic until the day summer arrived. That would be our last big bang for this year. We would have a wonderful lunch and make the trip over to the giant oak and spread out our blanket. I tried to convince Jan that we should make a trip into town to buy some of the ready made fried chicken, but once again, she would have none of it. She spent the last day of spring frying up a wonderful batch of her chicken and upon finishing it, it went straight into the icebox.
Jan looked tired after finishing the chicken and I suggested she go to bed early, so she would be rested for tomorrows big day. She didn’t argue and instead took a glass of ice tea and headed into bed. I wasn’t far behind her taking just a moment, or two to sit on the porch and watch spring slip away from the lake. Tomorrow would be another summer.
I awoke the next morning with a smile. I looked forward to our romantic lunch out by the lake and thought I would get an early start. Jan stirred a little as I left the bed.
“Where are you going so early?” She asked.
“I’m off to get started on our picnic, summer’s in just a few hours you know.” I said.
She smiled at me and blew me a kiss as she pulled the covers back up close to her neck. I blew a kiss back, but she had already drifted back to sleep. I stepped quietly out onto the front porch and began loading the picnic supplies in the car. I put in a few extra sodas in the cooler just in case it turned out to be another hot day. I loaded her fried chicken last and closed the cooler then threw in the big blanket we had spent so many afternoons lying on.
Last but not least, I began to chop down the huge Sunflowers that Jan loved so much. This year had been the best crop I could remember. It seemed there were hundreds of them and they were huge. I cut down as many as I could fit in the hatchback and filled half the back seat as well. I was going to make this a lunch to remember.
I drove down the little dirt road that led to the far side of the lake. The giant oaks seemed to wave hello as I rounded the corner. I set up the blanket and the cooler, finding rocks to hold down the corners of the blankets. Pulling the flowers from the car I spread them all around the edge of the blanket. The beauty of the yellow was striking against the meadow grass and the plaid blanket.
Jan would be pleased. Turning the car around I headed back up the road to bring Jan to show her what I had done. As I approached the front porch, I could see Jan sitting, dressed and waiting in the rocker on the front porch. As I sprang from the car and moved to the steps, carrying one single sunflower, I stopped. Jan was dressed and ready to go, but her hand hung strangely from her shoulder. Her head had slumped forward and she wasn’t moving.
As I ran to her side I began to panic, my first instinct was to call the paramedics, call anybody, then I remembered her wishes. She had told me on more than one occasion that when the disease took her, she didn’t want to be hooked up to a bunch of tubes. She wanted to be at rest.
Tears filled my eyes as I hugged her lifeless body. I sat with my head in her lap for a long moment crying and thinking of myself, alone in the world, alone without Jan. It was then I looked down, to where the Sunflower lay in the dust. My mind drifted to the giant oak and the blanket I had laid there just moments ago.
I drove Jan to the giant oaks that day, I laid her down on the blanket shaded from the late morning sun. As the last few hours of spring gave way to summer, I carved one last notch in the giant oak tree, Jan lay peacefully among the flowers. I sat beside Jan holding her hand for a long while, enjoying some of her chicken, enjoying the lake, but most of all...enjoying our last summer.
It wasn't my fault...I fell asleep and missed my stop.