The painting I chose to illustrate this early scene between Lily and Sam in my book, “Something So Right” is “The West Wind” by Tom Thompson, an early 20th century modernist painter who, along with members of the Group of Seven, specialized in painting the Canadian north. I love this painting – the rough, choppy water, the hard granity, the solitary pine. It really is a unique landscape and I think it really captures the landscape of Algonquin and the Canadian Shield.
“So, what’s your expert opinion?” Lily asked. “And more importantly, what’s it going to cost me?”
Sam cast a considering eye on the dock.
“How old is it again?”
“Fifteen or sixteen years. The previous lodge owners said they had it redone about ten years before they sold it.”
That jived with what he was seeing, Sam thought as he walked across the space. The deck boards were weathered and showing their age. The left side of the dock was starting to cant up. Not a lot but an early sign that the heavy underwater cribs that supported it were starting to heave and pull apart. Left unattended, with the lake’s ice pushing and heaving, another few winters would see the dock disintegrate even further.
“What are you looking for in the new space?” he asked, getting a measuring tape and notebook out of his toolbox. “Here. Take this.” Lily took the end of the tape measure and walked to the far end of the dock. Sam stretched the tape taut and wrote down the numbers. Then he gestured for Lily to repeat the process in the other direction.
She knelt and waited until Sam finished measuring the dock’s width.
“What’s on the list?”
“I want it wider, so it feels less like a bowling alley,” she said, ticking off her wish list one by one. “It needs to be built of a wood that doesn’t require refinishing every year. Definitely more space for tying up our fleet of watercraft and boats. Better lighting and maybe a sound system.”
Sam stood and tucked his notebook into his back pocket when she was finished. “You’re planning on using it at night?”
“We already hold corn roasts and bonfires on the beach. Having another space where our guests can gather to relax in the evenings would be nice. Have a glass of wine. Watch the stars. Go swimming. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten how much fun it is? We use to go swimming at night all the time, remember?”
When he didn’t respond, she looked at him in consternation and Sam shrugged. He hated these kinds of questions. Lily loved playing “do you remember?” and invariably cast him as her fail-safe and dependable sidekick. He was proud of the fact that he and Lily had remained friends for so long in spite of the gulf between their upbringings, but it frustrated him beyond belief to be relegated to that role. She never seemed to see him as anything else, despite all his wishes and dreams to the contrary.
Lily frowned. “You don’t remember?” She sounded hurt and Sam felt guilty. Most of his memories of those raucous midnight swims involved teenaged Lily in a sensible swimsuit and the lengths his own teenaged self had gone to hide his wayward reaction. A lot of towels spread hurriedly across the lap and unplanned dives into the lake, that’s what he remembered. But it wasn’t her fault that she didn’t reciprocate his feelings so he tried to moderate his tone.
“I remember,” he said. “After we’d been swimming, we use to lie out on the dock at your parents’ cottage and listen to the sound of the big parties drifting across the water.”
“What else do you remember?”
Wishing I’d had the guts to kiss you. Just once. Or tell you how I really felt about you.
“How loudly you screamed whenever I managed to toss you in,” he said instead, grinning to mask his regret. “I doubt anyone who heard you would ever be able to forget that. Even if they wanted to.”
She socked him in the arm and he made a big show of rubbing it.
“You didn’t get me that often, Hulk. You want to know what I remember?”
“Looking up at the stars.”
“There were a lot of those,” he said. “Frankly, I never got your fascination with them. It’s not like they’re going anywhere.”
“You can’t see the stars in the city,” Lily said, kicking at one of the dock rings with the toe of her work boots. “It’s one of the things I always missed when I was at school all winter. But being able to look up and see the Milky Way, like you could reach out and just grab them? That’s how I knew I wasn’t in Toronto anymore.”
He nodded. “Little Mississing is a long way from Toronto, that’s for sure.”
“That’s just the way I like it.” She paused, looking out at the water. “I could never be myself there, not with everyone knowing who I was. Here, nobody expects me to live up to expectations that I’ll never reach. That’s worth a lot to me, you know.”
Across the water, the late afternoon sun was beginning to sink below the band of pines at the lake’s edge, their dark silhouette broken intermittently by green expanses of lawn and boathouses, docks and cottages. Deep granite faces met the water where it lapped against the lichen covered stone and the setting sun reflected in the waves, glinting gold against the smooth surface.
“I can’t leave,” she said, gesturing at the breathtaking vista. “Because this is the view I need to be happy and I can’t find it anywhere but here.” She smiled, the generous tilt of her lips sending a dart of longing deep inside his chest. He knew exactly what she meant. It seemed to get inside you and make the tamer, softer corners of the world seem lacking. He’d lived here for twenty-nine of his thirty years and in that time, he’d learned that people either loved it or they didn’t. There were no half measures when it came to this picturesque corner of the north.
But as the sun slipped even further, his eyes weren’t drawn to the horizon. He watched Lily as she stood on the dock, glorying in the golden ritual, her russet hair slipping free from its ponytail to frame her face with messy abandon.
This is the view I need to be happy, she’d said.
The irony was exquisite. Because that was what he whispered to himself every time he saw her too.
And there wasn’t a damn thing he could ever do about it.