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As always, thank you Mused, for all of your help with this.
Brandon entered his sister’s room and frowned when he saw she was still packing. “Aren’t you ready yet? I want to leave soon.”
Emma turned and made a face at her older brother, then went back to her closet. “Damn tank top is in here somewhere.” She rummaged around, pushing aside turtlenecks and sweaters.
“Better watch it or that pretty face of yours will freeze that way, Em.”
“Yes, Mom, whatever you say,” Emma mumbled from the back of the closet.
“I’m outta here in ten, Em. With or without you. You’ll have to come with Mom and Dad on Saturday if you miss the bus.” Brandon pushed away from the wall and went back to his room to finish his own packing. He knew it would take her forever to pack everything if he didn’t toss an idle threat or two her way. Brandon was pretty sure Emma thought he was serious; though, he wouldn’t really have left her behind.
Brandon was anxious to get up to the cottage. Each year since he had turned eighteen, he’d been allowed to go up a day or two ahead of his parents and open up the place, provided he took his baby sister with him. That was the only drawback, but it was worth it to have those few extra days. The cottage was an amazing place; tiny and cozy, it was a familiar comfort that Brandon and Emma reveled in. They’d been going up ahead of their parents for the last four summers.
It sat high up on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, near the Silver Lake sand dunes, and it had been in the family for three generations. At the bottom of the ancient wooden stairs that led to the water, there was a decent little beach, the result of five years of low water. Before the low water, Brandon and Emma had made do with jumping into the lake from the cement sea wall. Having the sandy beach was great. It was like their private little cove.
Emma laughed to herself as Brandon walked away, and rolled her eyes. Brandon and his threats, he tried to sound so convincing, threatening to leave without her; he said the same thing every year. Her brother was too sweet to do anything like leave her behind. But she humored him anyway and quickly finished packing.
Brandon stuck his head in her room as he walked past. “Ready Em?”
“Yep. You got the money Mom left this morning?”
Brandon patted the back pocket of his jeans. “Yeah. Holy crap, Em, she left us two hundred.”
Emma snorted. “Why? They’ll be up in three days.”
“Who cares? She left a note that said to go shopping and stock up.”
“That doesn’t mean beer and pizza, Ace.” Emma grabbed her suitcase and hauled it off of her bed with a grunt and a groan. Jeez, didn’t think I packed that much.
“Here, I’ll get that. Go find Scooter before he realizes what’s up and hides in the rafters again.”
Emma laughed out loud, as she remembered the scene from a year ago, when she and Brandon had tried rounding up Scooter for the drive north. After one glance at his cat carrier, Scooter had retreated to the basement, hiding himself in the protective cover of the ceiling rafters. Brandon and Emma had spent the better part of the morning coaxing him down. “Did you put the carrier in the car already?” Emma asked her brother.
“Yeah. Bring him out and we’ll put him in.”
“Why don’t you just let me hold him for the ride? You know how he is, Bran; he hates the carrier.”
“It’s up to you, Em. He’s your baby,” Brandon said with a shrug. He hefted her suitcase. “Christ, what’d you pack?”
Chewing on her lower lip, Emma ignored her brother and thought about the Scooter dilemma. She went to the linen closet and grabbed a huge bath towel, then went in search of the over-sized grey tabby. She found Scooter curled up in a furry ball on her parents’ bed. “Hey Scoots. Come here, baby,” she crooned. Emma hoped that by wrapping him in the towel she could avoid being scratched to pieces.
Scooter raised his head and blinked his pretty green eyes at Emma. Why are you holding that towel, Emmie?
“Hey sweetie, how’s my little Scooter?”
I was great ’til you interrupted my nap. What’re you going to do with that towel?
“Time to go, baby. Brandon has the car ready, so I’m just going to wrap you in this towel and carry you out, okay?”
Like hell you are! Scooter jumped up and made a beeline for the bedroom door.
“Scooooterrrr! Get back here!” Emma gave chase down the hall. He was heading for the basement. “Brandon! Shut the basement door!” Damn it, why hadn’t she thought of that beforehand! Emma cursed herself.
Unfortunately for Scooter, Brandon was just coming in through the back door when he heard Emma shout. He slammed the basement door shut, seconds before Scooter came tearing around the corner. “Hah! Caught you!” Brandon bent down and swept the cat up in his arms.
Emma rushed over and wrapped Scooter in the towel. “You little stinker,” Emma scolded him playfully, as he struggled to free himself from her grasp. Wrapped snuggly in the towel, illegal bahis escape was a useless effort for the tabby.
“I can think of a few other names that would be more fitting than stinker.” Brandon grumbled as he walked away. “C’mon, Em. Everything’s ready.”
Fifteen minutes later, they were on the highway, heading north.
Emma unleashed a barrage of worries about what they may have forgotten back at home.
“Mom and Dad will be home in like,” Brandon glanced at the clock, “six hours. Relax. If we left a light on, or if the house is unlocked, which it isn’t, everything will be fine. Okay? Relax.”
“Did you get the keys to the cottage?” Emma asked, the panic rising in her voice.
Brandon reached down and jangled the key chain hanging from the ignition. “Got ’em.” He reached over and squeezed his sister’s hand, the one that wasn’t busy stroking Scooter’s head. “Take it easy. Look how beautiful it is today. It’s summer, we’re out of school, and we’re heading to the cottage for eight weeks. I’m leaving at the end of summer, Em, so I plan to enjoy this last one. I hope you do the same.” He glanced down at Scooter. “He looks like he’s starting to enjoy himself.”
Oh great, the fucking cottage. Why the fuck can’t they just leave me home? Scooter shook his grey head and hissed at Brandon for touching his Emma. Brandon jerked his hand away and settled it back on the steering wheel. Emma had always been Scooter’s human, from the time she had found him in the field behind the house. He had been a skinny, halfway frozen stray kitten when she’d rescued him from the cold three-and-a-half years ago.
Brandon and Emma made it to the cottage in just under two hours. Their mutual excitement grew as they turned onto the little dirt lane. Passing some of the fourteen other cottages in the group, Brandon turned into their drive and guided the car up the steep incline. He threw the gearshift into park and sighed. Damn, it’s good to be back. He looked at Emma and smiled. She was trying to juggle a sleeping Scooter and open the door at the same time. “Hang on, I’ll get it.” Brandon jumped out and went around to the passenger side to help Emma out.
Scooter woke up as soon as his Emma began to move. He took one look around and jumped out of her arms. He knew where he was, and he wasn’t too pleased to be there. With a yawn and a stretch, he began to sniff around.
“Let’s unlock the joint and take a look around,” Brandon suggested.
Emma nodded and followed her brother to the front door on the north side of the cottage. Brandon opened the outer wooden screen door, unlocked the inner one, and entered. Emma was right behind him. They loved opening up the cottage for their parents. It was something that never grew old for them, the first look. And the first smell, that musty cottage smell was like nothing else. Those initial steps into the cottage were always like stepping back in time.
Emma immediately went around and threw open every window in the cottage, letting in the fresh lake breeze. Not only did the breeze help to air the place out, it also carried the sound of the waves crashing on the beach below. The two windows on either side of the fireplace were always first; they looked west, out over the lake.
Brandon went around and tested the lights. He flipped them all on, then flipped them back off. It was a bright, sunny June day and they really weren’t needed. He began to peel off and fold the sheets that covered the comfortable old rag-tag couch and mismatched chairs. Slowly, the cottage came back to life, after lying silent and still during the long Michigan winter.
“C’mon Emma. Let’s go down and see if the beach is still there,” Brandon said eagerly. He knew there was still a lot to be done inside, but he was dying to see if their little spit of sand was still there.
At the cottage, Brandon and Emma could be kids again. For this, their final summer together, they could forget school, jobs, and life in general. The cottage was far removed from their lives back at home, and reality could be suspended, at least for a little while.
Emma laughed at her brother’s enthusiasm. Sometimes he was just like a big kid, and she loved that about him. “Help me open up the sleeping porch, first, Brandon.” The sleeping porch was located on the south side of the cottage. It was where Brandon always slept. A half-wall, shutters, and a louvered door closed it off from the rest of the cottage.
They cranked open every window and pulled the sheets and blankets off the bed. Brandon unlocked the porch’s screen door and stepped outside; Emma followed right behind. The view was absolutely stunning. Side by side they stood, gazing out at the vast expanse of water. They had never grown tired of watching the lake. Twenty feet in front of them was a crooked split-rail fence, and five feet beyond that was the bluff that dropped nearly straight down to the piled concrete seawall. Their dad, grandfather, and a neighbor had put the seawall down there years ago illegal bahis siteleri in an effort to prevent further erosion. Beyond the edge of the bluff was Lake Michigan. Blue-green near the shore, it blended into a dazzling sapphire further out.
The day was fairly calm. A light breeze blew from the southwest. Brandon judged the waves as being one to two feet, at most. “Let’s go, Em.” As he turned and headed for the stairs, Emma playfully ran ahead of him and took off down the steps. Brandon started to panic. “No, Em! Wait! I need to check the steps for rot! Fucking hell!” He took off at a dead run.
Brandon pulled up short when he got to the steps, expecting to see his little sister sprawled down there on the jagged concrete seawall. But there she was, down on the little sandy beach, laughing up at him. She waved.
A third of the way down Brandon found a rotten board. His anger grew as he yanked the board out, nails and all. How she managed to miss it, he didn’t know. When his foot went completely through another board halfway down, he exploded. “Emma!” he roared. He flew down the remaining steps, paying no heed to his own safety.
Emma pranced over to Brandon. “What? What’s the matter?” Without waiting for an answer, she danced away. “Look, Bran, the beach is still here.” She turned in circles, her arms spread wide.
A little of the anger left Brandon, but only a little. He tossed the rotten boards near Emma’s bare feet. “That’s what’s the matter, Emma. You could have fallen down the steps if you’d landed on one of those just right. You’re damn lucky you missed them,” he snapped. His pounding heart was just beginning to return to normal.
Emma heard the anger in Brandon’s voice. She hated it when he was mad at her, though she knew why. “But, I was careful, Brandon.” She knew it was a lie, and knew her brother did, too. She hadn’t been careful at all.
“No, you weren’t, Emma,” he responded harshly. “You’re fortunate you’re not lying on the seawall with a fucking broken neck.”
Emma saw his jaw muscle working and knew just how angry her brother was. She’d been so anxious to get down to the beach she’d forgotten to let Brandon go first and check for loose and rotted boards. Some years the steps were fine, other years he’d find one or two that needed replacing. She whispered, “I’m sorry, Bran,” then looked down at the sand separating their feet. Her long, dark hair fell forward, shielding her from his scorching gaze.
Brandon looked out over Lake Michigan, trying to will himself to be calm. He looked back at Emma. She didn’t know, couldn’t have known, why he was so upset with her. “Be more careful, Emma, please,” he implored.
Emma nodded. “I will, I promise. I should have waited, but I forgot. Honestly, I did forget.” She was relieved when Brandon began to smile; he was scary when he was angry. She gave his waist a big squeeze.
“Okay, okay, no need to get mushy,” Brandon grumbled, his anger rapidly dissipating.
Emma laughed at him and pulled away. “Now, look at our beach, would you?” she demanded and laughed again.
The beach was not where Brandon wanted to look, but he pulled his eyes off the small, eager girl standing in front of him and pretended to inspect the beach for her. He still wasn’t over his fright, but he covered it up as best he could. “I think it’s a bit wider than last year. Looks like the water’s gone down further. That’ll play hell with the freighters,” Brandon predicted. “There’s a few large pieces of driftwood that we need to take care of, but otherwise, it looks good.”
“Oooh, look at this one!” Emma bent down and picked up a small piece of the wood. She held it up. “It looks like a bird. I’m keeping it.” They walked around a few minutes longer, then Emma continued, “We better get back up there. We still have to go shopping, strip and remake the beds, bring in wood for the fireplace.” June mornings at the cottage tended to be chilly, and there was no furnace.
“The western windows are a mess, too,” Brandon added. They were every year, as they received the brunt of the harsh winter weather and brutal spring rains. There was so much to do before their parents got there, but the hard work was worth it to Brandon and Emma.
They retreated back up the stairs; Emma was more cautious on her return trip. Brandon made a mental note to try and convince their dad to replace the entire stairway. In the meantime, he would fix the two bad boards he’d found.
They unloaded Brandon’s car first, so they’d have room in the trunk for groceries. Emma hated grocery shopping, so they got that out of the way immediately. Unfortunately, they hadn’t eaten anything prior to hitting the store.
“What does Mom always say about going shopping on an empty stomach?” Brandon asked his sister, as things flew off the shelves and into their cart.
“To not to.” Which was exactly what they were doing.
“I want hot dogs for the fire tonight. We’re doing hot dogs, right?”
“Of course, it’s a tradition canlı bahis siteleri on our first night. C’mon, let’s go get the buns.” Emma turned with the cart and began to walk away.
Brandon couldn’t help but look down and admire her little buns. They were perfect and round; he longed to give one a squeeze. He reluctantly tore his eyes away and felt guilty as hell for checking out his sister’s ass.
They were in the checkout line when a familiar voice from behind spoke up, “Hey, guys. When did you get here?”
Emma turned around and nearly gasped. She recovered quickly, though, and hastily stuffed the tabloid she’d been browsing into the slot beside the counter. Adam Gerhardt, from three cottages down, stood two feet from her. Though he was Brandon’s friend, Emma had crushed on him for years.
Brandon stuck out his hand and gripped Adam’s. “Hey Adam, we just got here this morning. What’s going on? When did you get here?”
“This morning, too. I’m just here for a long weekend. Have to head back to work on Monday.” Adam turned and looked at Emma with a smile. “How’s Emmie?”
Emma tried not to blush, but she figured she probably did it anyway. “Good. I’m good.”
Adam’s smile widened at her awkwardness. She was such a sweet little thing, he’d wanted to fuck her for years, but he knew Brandon would’ve killed him if he tried. He turned back to his friend. “Your last e-mail said that you’re heading to law school in August. That still happening?”
“Oh yeah, definitely,” Brandon nodded. “I still can’t believe University of Chicago Law accepted me.”
“Why? You had the highest GPA of your entire graduating class,” Emma reminded him.
“No shit!” Adam laughed. He knew Brandon was pretty smart, but he didn’t know he was that smart. “Congratulations!” Adam pounded him on the back.
“Thanks,” Brandon muttered, embarrassed. He changed the subject. “We’re doing a fire out in the pit tonight, so come on down, if you want.”
“Your parents up yet?”
“Nope. Just Em and me. They’ll be here on Saturday.”
“Great. See you tonight, then. Gotta run and get some stuff for my mom.” He winked at Emma. “Bye Em.”
With a smile, Emma nodded and turned towards Brandon. She wanted to hide behind her brother; she was so shy around Adam.
“He’s got the hots for you, and I don’t like it,” Brandon grumbled as he tossed food onto the conveyor. He was already regretting the invite.
“What!” Emma squeaked. “Brandon! He does not.”
The hotdogs were slammed to the belt. “Like hell. Didn’t you see him looking at you?”
“N-no, I didn’t. He talked to you the whole time.”
Brandon forced a laugh. “He might have been talking to me, but he couldn’t take his eyes off you.”
Emma’s eyes widened. “Really?” She began to smile.
Brandon didn’t like the look on her face. “Stay away from him, Em. He’ll eat you up and spit you out without a thought.”
“I thought you were friends.” Emma’s smile turned to a frown.
Brandon fished a hundred out of his wallet and handed it over to the checkout girl. Generous to a fault, their mom always gave them way too much money. He glared at Emma. “Just stay away from him, okay? He’ll cause you nothing but grief. I’ve seen him do it before.” Frustrated, Brandon took the change and stuffed it in his pocket. “C’mon. Just forget Adam for now. We can talk about it later.”
The rest of the afternoon flew by. Emma and Brandon had the cottage pretty well put together by dinnertime. Brandon even found the time to replace the rotted steps. During the process, he found a third step that was just beginning to decay, so he ripped that one out and replaced it, too.
“I’m going to start the fire, Emma,” Brandon called, as he went out through the sleeping porch. He’d just made his bed with fresh linens and he couldn’t wait to crawl in between the sheets. The first night was always the best. Laying there listening to the waves never failed to lull him into peaceful dreams. He never slept better than when he was up at the cottage.
When he went out to light the fire, Brandon found Scooter napping in the fading June sunlight. He was in his favorite spot, the corner of the double swing. Brandon had washed it down earlier and put the cushions in place.
Brandon had the fire going in no time. He sat next to Scooter in the swing. “Hey buddy.” He reached out and scratched the cat between his ears. Brandon smiled when he heard Scooter start to purr. Scooter was only nice to him as long as Emma wasn’t around. Brandon thought that was kind of odd, but Scooter was an odd cat. Possessive of Emma, Scooter hissed and growled at anyone that went near her.
Emma joined Brandon a few minutes later. She carried a tray loaded with the roasting forks, hotdogs, buns, chopped onion, ketchup, and mustard. Setting the tray on the picnic table, she smiled over at her brother. “Help yourself.”
Several of Brandon and Emma’s friends showed up that first night. Adam, who was the first to arrive and the last to leave, stayed by Emma’s side nearly the entire evening. That was something that didn’t go unnoticed by Brandon. While he chatted with his friends, he kept on eye on the two, but, to his relief, he didn’t see Adam try anything with Emma.
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