Closing the door behind her, Veronica stood for a moment and wondered what on earth she was doing here. It was true that she had dreamed of a vacation in a cabin in the woods all her married life, but it was also true that now she had actually done it, she felt it was almost an anti-climax.
Arthur had always said it was too expensive to rent a cabin, and in any case, he needed to be at the farm and put all his energy there. He had been a good man, but stubborn beyond imagining, and even when he had his first heart attack refused to slow down and take a vacation.
Then last year he had a stroke, and in the hospital, they found that he had cancer too. That time was a blur to Veronica, and Arthur seemed to go downhill so fast. When the end came, it was mercifully quick, but it left her totally unable to cope or to quite take it in.
The funeral, selling the farm, moving into town, all these things had taken her many months, and painful as they were, they had at least given her something to do. When all the practical things were done, and she found herself alone in an apartment in town, she seemed to be left with nothing but time.
It was while she was going through some old papers that she found the flyer for Silver Oaks Cabins, and she remembered all the times she had nagged Arthur to go. Suddenly aware that no one was going to say no to her again, she phoned and booked for late the following June.
It felt thrilling and exciting to be doing something by herself for a change, and she did not even tell her family she had booked it until the week before she was leaving. She wondered if their looks were of concern or if they disapproved, but either way, it was her money, and her time and she would spend them both as she wished.
The excitement and novelty had carried her through the drive, the checking in and the unloading, and now she was here. Veronica looked outside. Even though it was almost July, the weather did not look promising, and there was rain in the forecast. Even so, she pulled on her hiking shoes, wrapped a coat around herself against the possibility of rain and set off for a walk. As she left the cabin, being careful to ensure that the door was locked and the key safe in her inside pocket, she noticed that someone was just arriving at Cabin 23, next door to her own home from home. She was a younger woman, wearing a smart business suit, and Veronica wondered if she was going to a wedding nearby. She nodded an acknowledgment to the woman’s smile and went on to find a trail.
The walk started well. It had been warm and sunny earlier in the month, and the rains of the last few days had made everything just burst into life. Reaching an opening, she found herself gazing down onto a small valley. At the base she could see a stream, running fast with rain water, and even from this height, she could hear the gurgle as it rushed over the river bed. Over to her left, Veronica saw a path leading down to a bridge over the stream, and she decided it would make an excellent place to explore. She was almost on the bridge when the heavens opened, and in no time she was soaking wet even through her coat. Wondering if the adventure had been such a good idea, she headed back along the now wet and slippery path towards the cabins.
As she approached Cabin 22, she was trying to wipe the hair away from her eyes when she suddenly lost her footing, slipped and fell unceremoniously into a puddle. Shocked and thoroughly wet, she felt a moment of panic, but then burst into tears.
“Here sweetie,” a voice said, “let me give you a hand up.”
Veronica looked up and saw her new neighbor standing with her hand outstretched, while her other hand held a big golfing umbrella. She accepted the proffered hand and tried to regain some composure. “I’m so sorry!” she said. “It just seemed suddenly too much for me, sitting in a puddle in the rain! Just the sort of thing Arthur always warned me about.” The thought of her late husband, never far from her mind, was suddenly clear and sharp. She thanked the stranger and hurried off to her cabin to dry off and get changed.
Her plan all along had been to eat in the on-site restaurant, but now the time came to go there, she had second thoughts. She hated eating alone, and the idea of people’s pitting gaze at her single state was frightening to her. Nevertheless, eat she must, so she put on a brave face and set off.
She had found a table, ordered and was sipping her water when she saw her neighbor walk in the restaurant, wearing an expensive looking evening gown. Without quite thinking, she smiled and indicated the empty chair on the other side of the table. The woman smiled back, and come over to her table.
“Do you mind if I join you? Or is this reserved for anyone?”
“Oh please do join me” Veronica replied. “I’m Veronica”
“Tracey” the other lady replied and took a seat.
The waiter came with a menu, and Tracey looked across at Veronica. “I would love some wine, but don’t want to drink alone, would you care to join me?”
“Well, I’m not much of a drinker, but that would be wonderful, thank you. And I will pay half towards it, of course.”
“Well, let’s see” Tracey looked over the wine list “They don’t have a great selection here, would you be OK with a New World Merlot?”
“Of course!” Veronica replied, not quite sure what a “new world Merlot” was, but happy to go along for the ride.
It turned out to be a red wine, quite bitter tasting at first, but, once she got over the initial shock, not unpleasant. As they waited for their food to arrive, they chatted about the weather forecast for the rest of the week, which was threatening to be wet more often than not.
“You mentioned someone when we met earlier,” Tracey said. “Arthur was it? Is he your husband? Is he joining you soon?”
“Oh, Arthur was my late husband.” Veronica still shook a little when she had to say those terrible words.
“Oh, I’m so sorry! How insensitive you must think me!” Tracey looked mortified, and it was Veronica’s turn to be apologetic.
“Don’t be silly, you weren’t to know,” Veronica said, taking another sip of the wine. She did not have a lot of experience with alcohol, Arthur had beer when he had anything at all, and her own adventures in that area were mainly a sherry at Christmas or a “port and lemon” on the rare occasions she went with Arthur to the pub.
The food arrived, and they two ladies ate, drank, and talked, and somehow another bottle of wine was ordered. By the end of the meal, they felt like old friends. The second bottle had been emptied, and Tracey suggested having a cognac to round off the meal, and Veronica accepted before she realized that cognac was another name for brandy. As they sipped their drinks, they agreed that breakfast the next morning followed by a brisk walk would be great, and they stood to go back to their cabins.
Veronica was feeling a little light headed after the wine and spirits, but she thought that the short walk back to the cabin would clear her head. In the event, she had a hard time keeping to the path, and Tracey giggled at her and took her arm to guide her home.
Getting to Veronica’s door, Tracey said “Are you going to be OK? Maybe you had a bit too much to drink tonight.”
“Do you think you could help me?” Veronica said as the mechanics of unlocking and opening the door seemed too much for her. Soon they were inside, and Tracey helped Veronica out of her coat and shoes.
Veronica was just saying thank you, when she felt the urgent need to go to the bathroom, where she promptly threw up most of her dinner.
“Oh God I’m so sorry,” Veronica said when she came back into the main room.
If Tracey was shocked by Veronica’s unkempt appearance, she didn’t show it. “No it’s my fault, I shouldn’t have persuaded you to another drink. Listen, you go to bed, and I’ll see you in the morning, but only if you’re up to it, OK?”
With that, she took herself off, and Veronica fell on the bed, fully clothed, and collapsed into unconsciousness. At some point during the night, she woke, took off her clothes, and got into the bed and fell into a sound sleep.
Veronica was aroused by a knocking at the door. She tried to hide under the covers, but it would not go away. Eventually, she wrapped a blanket around herself and went to the door to see what monster was making all that racket.
There stood Tracey, bright eyed and wearing another smartly tailored two piece suit. Slowly, Veronica remembered the suggested breakfast and walk, and let her new friend in.
“My God you look dreadful!” Tracey said.
“I think last night was the most I’ve drunk since, well, ever!” Veronica replied. She suggested that Tracey should go off to breakfast without her, and then went into the bathroom and took a long, hot shower.
She was still showering when Tracey knocked on the door again, and Veronica called for her to wait. Reluctantly she turned off the shower, wrapped a towel around herself and went to open the door.
There stood Trace with a big grin, holding a coffee cup and a croissant.
“Here,” she said, “these are for you, and, “she put the food and drink down and searched in her bag, from which she produced a bottle of water and a small packet of pills. “Now, take a couple of these, they are only aspirin, and they will help with the headache.”
Veronica swallowed the pills, then grabbed some cloths and went back into the bathroom with her coffee. There she brushed her hair, dressed and applied some lipstick. Coming back out she felt almost human again.
“This Journal thing is a cute idea,” Tracey said as Veronica came out of the bathroom. “The one in my room is nearly full, and is fascinating reading, but I see yours is a new one, with just a couple of entries.” She looked Veronica up and down. “There, you look a ton better sweetie,” Tracey reassured her. “Now eat up your food and let’s get out on that walk!”
“Yes, great idea!” Veronica looked at Tracey’s feet, and the 5-inch heels she was wearing but decided that her friend must know what she was doing, so decided not to say anything. Soon they were walking along the path that, the map said, would lead to the beach.
“This is unbelievable!” Tracey said as they emerged from the forest, climbed the dunes and saw a vast expanse of sand ahead of them. “They were right about coming here to unwind.”
Tracey hadn’t talked directly about her job, but it was clear that she was some kind of financial high-flyer, working in the City of London and living in a penthouse at The Barbican.
Finding a place to sit, Tracey removed her shoes and patterned tights and then smiled up at Veronica. “It’s been ages since I walked barefooted in the sand, not since I was a kid, I’m sure.”
Veronica thought she made an odd sight, walking along the shore in her business suit, but jumping into the puddles like an excited 6-year-old. For herself, she removed her boots and waded in the water, and soon the two of them were giggling and splashing each other.
They had walked maybe a mile along the sand when they spotted a small café on a path leading inland, and Tracey suggested they stop for a cup of tea. “And maybe they will have some nice homemade scones or something yummy like that” she said.
The walk had cleared Veronica’s head, and the mention of food had her feeling suddenly ravenous. They checked the menu, but there were no homemade scones, so Veronica chose the “all day breakfast,” while Tracey just had tea and, because they were sitting outside, lit a cigarette.
“I hate smoking,” Tracey said as she noticed Veronica’s look. “I only took it up to be one of the boys, and now I’m hooked.” Although they had been talking non-stop all the time they had been walking, this seemed the most open thing that Tracey had said.
“So, what is it exactly you do?” Veronica asked.
“I’m an options trader,” Tracey replied. Her face, normally smiling and carefree, took on a dark look, and her eyes narrowed as she continued to talk, “And a fucking good one too, but according to my firm, I’m burnt out. I gave those fucking people 5 years of my life, and then they just throw me out like a piece of trash. What a load of assholes.”
Veronica tried not to look shocked at the casual vulgarity. Up to that moment, she hadn’t heard Tracey complain or swear, had not seen anything but a bright and cheery disposition. She noticed that Tracey’s hand was shaking as she lit another cigarette. “And they don’t even sell booze in this God-forsaken place. Let’s get back to the cabin I’ve got some there.”
Without even waiting to see if Veronica was ready to leave, Tracey got to her feet and started along the road inland. She had got only a few steps before she realized this was a gravel path, and her shoes were still stuffed in her bag. She put them on and stomped off, Veronica following along in her wake, wondering who this person was; it was certainly not the care-free girl who had been playing in the water just a few minutes ago.
Suddenly one of Tracey’s heels broke, she tripped and landed in the sand at the side of the path. When Veronica caught up with her, Tracey was just sitting there gently sobbing. Not knowing quite what to do, Veronica sat next to her, gently put her arm around the crying woman, and started to make soft, loving noises, like she had when one of her children had hurt themselves.
Tracey began to pull away and then relaxed into Veronica’s arms and sobbed uncontrollably on her shoulder. After a while, she calmed down, whipped her eyes and got unsteadily to her feet.
“I’m so sorry sweetie,” Tracey said, almost back to the cheery persona that Veronica had seen on the beach. “It’s all still raw, and I sometimes let the anger get the better of me.”
“It’s OK, I understand,” Veronica said, even though she really didn’t comprehend how someone could change so quickly and dramatically. “Look, you can’t walk like that with one heel broken, let me break the other one off and then at least you’ll be able to get somewhere.” Veronica helped her friend, and then they started off along the path into the forest.
Tracey got tired quickly, and even Veronica was wondering when they would get back to the cabins when they came to the bridge she had reached the night before.
“I got this far yesterday before the rain came down,” Veronica said. “The cabins are just up that hill, not far now!”
“Can we have a break for a minute?” Tracey asked. She stopped in the middle of the bridge, took what remained of her shoes off, and started to rub her feet.
Veronica stood watching Tracey and then broached the subject that she had been fretting over since their stop at the café. “So, not wanting to make you angry or hurt or anything, but your job…” She wasn’t really sure what the question was, just that there was something that seemed odd.
Tracey gave a half smile. “I’m sorry about earlier, it’s just that I recently realized that I’ve wasted so much time. I wanted a big city career, and that is what I got. I worked hard, and there was always the next promotion and a bigger bonus to aim for. But after a while, it all seemed sort of pointless, and much as I tried, I think the Bank saw that in me too.
“They ‘let me go’ 2 months ago, and I’ve been angry ever since. Well, angry and relieved too in a way, I would never have found the courage to leave on my own. But I’ve been feeling adrift and not knowing what to do next. I thought the Bank job would be the pinnacle of my achievements, but when I got there, all I could see was years and years of doing the same thing, over and over. It didn’t fulfill me, but then, what did I really want to do?
“Just a week ago I was just looking on Instagram, and pictures of this place came up, so I thought, why not take a break? I called and got a last minute booking, and left before I had a chance to have second thoughts. Then when I got here the first person I saw was you, sitting in a puddle in the rain. You made me smile and feel sad all at the same time, and I started to feel the ice inside melting.” Tracey let out a long sigh. “You know, I came from a small town, and my parents wanted me to stay, but I thought that it was too stifling to live in a close knit community like that. But now, I wonder…” She left the sentence unfinished, the regret unspoken.
There was silence for a while, and then Veronica started talking about her husband, how they had had a good life together, but that she had always wanted something different, something ‘other’, without quite knowing what it was. She talked about her new home, and about feeling being adrift too. Then she mentioned an idea that had been percolating in her head for a while, unspoken to anyone. She stared to talk about her idea of doing something in the line of catering, while also saying that she had no idea about how the business side of it would work. “I guess it’s just a pipe dream of mine, I’m too old to be starting up something all by myself.” Veronica said wistfully.
The two women stood side by side for a long time in silence, just watching the water flow under the bridge and the patterns the sun made as it filtered through the trees. Then without a word they set off up the path to the cottages.
The next morning Veronica was already up and dressed when Tracey tapped on the door of her cottage and suggested they went to breakfast together. “And,” Tracey said, “I’ve been doing some research; I have an idea I want to talk about.”
Over bacon and eggs Tracey explained that she’d been investigating businesses in the town Veronica lived in, and found a store for sale on the high street. She set up her Notepad and showed Veronica that she had been working on a business plan, budget and cash-flow forecast for a business hub and café.
“We could call it VeeTee’s after our initials” Tracey said. “I’d look after the business said, and you could run the café.” She looked excited, just like the girl that had been on the beach splashing in the water.
“Wait, what? Us? Are you suggesting we go into business together?” Veronica was struggling to get her head around the plans that had suddenly appeared in front of her, when she thought it was going to be another day with nothing much to do.
“Absolutely” Tracey smiled as she replied. “Sorry, I’ve been up most of the night going over this, but I didn’t mean to spring it on you. Your talk about catering sparked a thought in my mind too. I AM good at running a business, but I need someone with the creativity that you obviously have to spark my ideas. Of course you’ll need time to think about it, but I really do think we could make a go of this.”
Veronica paused before responding. In her head, she could hear her Arthur saying “you be careful of those City types, they can’t be trusted.” She thought she knew what her children would say too, that she didn’t know this person, and that she should not get involved. All her sensible instincts were telling to run, not walk, from this obviously crazy woman. And yet…
“What sort of food do you think we should serve?” Veronica asked. “And would we be open all day, or just during business hours?”
Cabin 22 Journal.
I have dreamt of coming here many times, but the actual experience was totally different than I expected. Wonderful place, great walks, wonderful restaurant, altogether one of the best vacations I remember taking. Do take the walk down to the sea, along the beach and back over the bridge, it really is magical. I feel like my life has been on pause for the last many years, and now I am ready to move forward again.
I am a strong and resourceful woman, and I can do anything I set my mind to.