Drew came howling into the garage laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe. Annie loved the sound of it and thought about how she needed to find a way to elicit that reaction in him more often somehow. He didn’t do it nearly enough. She, herself, was prone to mischief and practical jokes and she loved to laugh but Drew and Isabel were cut from the same cloth and it was of a far more serious fabric than hers. It was a classic example of how opposites attract.
“What is so funny, Andrew Anela?” she asked with a grin, appreciating the way his laughter made her feel.
He raised an eyebrow at the use of his full name.
“You know I hate that, Ann.” he said irritably.
“So much for that,” she thought dryly as his good humor disappeared quicker than it had arrived.
“You are not going to believe this, but John is at the lake house and Izzy is in Boston.” He burst out laughing again, as the look on Annie’s face turned from mild skepticism to total disbelief.
Her jaw dropped and she opened her mouth and closed it again, trying to speak. Drew nearly fell on the floor as she struggled to compose herself. She sat down weakly on the couch and he relayed the story he had just heard after a phone call from his sister revealed that she was standing in the airport, crying while John was likely wandering around the perimeter of the lake house looking for the spare key Isabel had given to Annie for safekeeping.
“I really tried, Ann. But I couldn’t help it. When she told me what she’d done, I held my breath but it just didn’t work. I could not keep from laughing. I am a terrible brother... a really, really terrible brother,” he said with little to no conviction. He was so funny, she couldn’t find it in her to be angry with him and after a few minutes of listening, she joined him.
“Oh Drew, now seriously this is not funny!” she slapped at him. “Izzy must be so upset!” I’m going to call her now. Where is she?”
Annie picked up the phone and dialed the number for the hotel where Isabel was staying. She asked to speak to the manager and ordered room service, complete with coffee and dessert and had it sent up to her room, before asking him to transfer her call. She listened to Isabel relay her tale of how she had planned to surprise John with a night in Boston and the weekend in the Adirondacks at their favorite campground. In a torrent of words, she poured it all out to Annie who was laughing so hard she was snorting; how she had packed and set out just this morning, intending to stay the night at the hotel by herself, pick him up at the airport in the morning and then stay one more night in the city with him. She had planned a romantic dinner for two and they would spend an evening walking the Freedom Trail. They had always loved doing that together.
“The holiday lights are already twinkling over the cobblestone streets, Annie! They make such a romantic backdrop,” she wailed dramatically and Annie held her tongue as tears of laughter streamed down her cheeks on the other end. She forgave herself though, because she had an idea, and it was one she knew would make Izzy very happy.
It was so like Isabel to do something this impulsive and Annie loved her all the more for it. She spent an hour on the phone with her, detailing her brilliant idea and lightening her friend’s heart.
“After all, Izzy... what is a brother with a pilot’s license good for if not for getting us from one place to the next a little more quickly?” she offered generously, wishing she had thought of this to begin with.
Drew had already left to bring the key to John and see if he was alright, and she knew it would be a long night for both of them. Annie hung up the phone, and gathered her thoughts before picking up the receiver again and dialing the number for Linear Air. She needed to talk to Peter. It wasn’t really that late yet and she knew he would help them. She had visited Hanscom Air Force base last fall just to see him and had brought Isabel with her, guessing the two of them would hit it off nicely. She had judged that correctly. Izzy and Peter had become fast friends, and Annie knew she stopped to see him whenever she was in Boston. She relayed the whole story to Peter and he chuckled softly on the other end.
“You know, Annie… I wish I knew why the stars never quite seem to align for those two,” he thought out loud.
Miles away, in a city she loved, Isabel ate a late lunch alone in her hotel room, thanks to the generosity of her friend. Afterward, she lay down on the soft down pillow and fell into an exhausted sleep, wondering the very same thing with a yawn.
* * *
She had worked tirelessly into the night, drawing from memory and praying that it served her well. She hoped it hadn't failed her in the two years since she'd seen it last. It was extremely unusual, and it was branded as permanently to her spirit, as it was to his body. When he finally walked in the door and found the house empty of her, he wandered to the easel in the corner and saw the image of the wolf tattoo on his chest staring back at him from her latest canvas. Bits of chalk and charcoal were still in the tray alongside her finest paint brushes. He touched them gingerly and wiped the dust off on his pants absentmindedly. He looked up from her work and his gaze took in the water rolling gently onshore. He felt his loneliness wash over him in waves, as he opened the sliding screen and stepped out to the porch. Closing his eyes, he could still see her in that rocking chair, just as he had that starry night so long ago.
She had remembered perfectly... and so had he.
* * *
Annie raced toward the lake house, praying both men would still be there when she arrived. She wasn’t in the mood to go looking for them. Her little sports car handled well and she pushed the speedometer a little, hoping the darkness would cover her, just this once. She’d gotten more than a few speeding tickets in her time, but tonight, she would not have had the patience to deal with it. The long, traffic free backroads to the cottage were made for speed. It was one of the reasons she’d ended up loving the wide open space Isabel had found out here and she pressed the gas pedal to the floor. She could fly in her car, just as Drew could in a Cessna, and it gave her such a sense of freedom.
She pulled onto the old familiar gravel road, relieved to see his truck still parked out front. There was a small light glowing in its interior and she could see Drew’s dark form, tapping out a song on his steering wheel, head bobbing to the beat, totally oblivious to the outside world. John must be in the house… good. She’d have a few minutes to tell Drew what she was planning to do before they went inside to greet the man they had known for half their lives but hadn’t seen in such a long, long time.
Drew was startled to see her when she tapped on the glass, but he quickly recovered and smiled that slow, lazy smile she’d come to love. He was chewing on a toothpick, a habit she despised but had gotten used to over the years. He’d been doing it since they were kids and she’d long since stopped trying to change him. Rolling the window down, he told her he had seen John through the glass door at the front of the house and was giving him a little time alone before approaching him. It was strange, knowing that John had been through things he could never share with them and wouldn’t, even if he could. He knew him so well, and yet so little at the same time.
Annie climbed into the passenger seat next to him and told him everything she intended to do. He admired the way she always took charge of a situation and made things right. When she was done talking he paused for just an instant, searching her face for permission and then, deciding to throw caution to the wind he took her hand and brought it to his lips, meeting her eyes, as he kissed it.
“You, my dear.. are a genius.”
Annie shivered but did not pull away for several minutes. Neither one said a word. Together, they walked silently up the steps and into the house, to find John standing on the porch, one hand on the back of the rocking chair, staring off out over the water. The screen door was wide open and he was gulping for air, leaning against the porch railing and holding on as if his life depended on it. The door closed behind them with a loud click, and they both flinched, but John didn’t even look up. His dark silhouette was bowed in profile against the moonlight soaked water beyond and he was fighting to regain his composure. Annie let go of Drew’s hand and brought it up to her heart, recognizing in that profound moment, just how much this man loved his wife.