There was a small cabin off of the lake where Adam and his younger brother Nate used to fish in the summer. What was left of the pier was covered in moss and marked by a tree that fell right next to the pier a few years back. The pier barely protruded from the lake at all anymore. The thing had been sinking into the lake for years.
The small trolling motor the boys used to pilot the boat hummed against a soundscape of crickets and frogs; Adam used what was left of the mid-afternoon sun to guide them toward the remnants of the pier at the water’s edge.
“There!” Adam shouted pointing to an old lead pole that he was sure marked the once pristine pier that he spent so many summers fishing off of; too many summers now that he thought about it.
“This place smells like a swamp,” Adam’s brother said under his breath.
“No one said you had to like it,” Adam said grabbing the boats’ rope and making a lasso out of the end of it.
“I don’t get any say in this at all, do I?” He asked.
“Nope,” Adam said tossing the lasso around the lead pole and pulling the rope taut. Adam possessed as much glee as his brother, Nate did to be out in the mid-July heat braving the elements. The elements in this case being the swarms of mosquitos that clustered along the water’s edge. Adam knew his way around the lake and the cabin with his nose. Although Adam couldn’t always see the now mainly submerged pier, he knew when they were up against it because the smell of burnt wood from the shore overpowered the dour, stygian smell of the lake.
“I always hated this place,” Nate said as Adam pulled the boat ashore.
“I don’t see how that’s possible,” Adam said. “You never spent any time here.”
“Sure I did,” Nate replied, “but only when you dragged me out here.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t burn this place down before you left for college,” Adam said.
“Arson was never my thing,” Nate said.
Fair enough, Adam thought. Even his little brother couldn’t be guilty of everything. What Nate did get after he left for college was an indictment on three felony counts; something about stealing another school’s mascot and leading police on a high speed chase.
Adam didn’t know what to think of his brother anymore and neither did anyone else. Nate’s actions confused everyone in his family especially the boys’ mother. That was why Adam was out there really. Their mother knew that Adam was the family’s best chance at learning what was driving Nate to act out.
“Come on,” Adam said hopping out of the boat. “This isn’t a mob movie. I’m not going to kill you and torch the cabin.”
“Why are we going back to the cabin?” Nate asked.
“Mom asked me to talk to you,” Adam said. “So we’re going to talk.”
Nate still looked hesitant about getting out of the boat. Adam held his hand out for his brother and eventually Nate got out of the boat.
“You know how I feel about this place,” Nate said as the two men made their way up the beach.
“Do you know anywhere else around here where we could have any privacy?” Adam asked. “Everyone knows you around our place.”
It was only a ten minute boat ride across the lake to the cabin. By the time he set foot on land Adam checked along the tree line for the cabin – or unwanted visitors. As well as he knew the area – and Adam knew it as well as anyone – he still hated being out in the woods alone. He never let his brother see that side of him, that vulnerable side.
Although he couldn’t make out the sight of the dew in front of him he could definitely feel it. The harshest part of summer was wading through the high grass in a humid environment. Thankfully for Adam the sun wasn’t out to make matters worse for him. He tried not to look back at his brother. Adam didn’t want Nate feeling like Adam was babying him. Adam knew how he hated that. Instead, he tried to think up some song he could whistle or something to make things less awkward.
“Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming…” Adam started expecting Nate to pick up the refrain.
“What?” Nate asked.
“Oh, don’t tell me that Ivy League education has compromised your taste in music,” Adam said with a gasp.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“CCNY, man,” Adam said.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Nate said.
“How can you even pretend?” Adam asked. “Mom was obsessed with Neil Young. She was obsessed. Remember when we went and saw Crazy Horse? I was like nine, you must have been what? Five?”
“Four or five,” Nate said.
“Yeah,” Adam said waiting for his brother to catch up. “Don’t pretend you don’t know Ohio, man. That insults my musical intelligence.”
“Didn’t Skynyrd say: a southern man don’t need him around anyhow?”
“That’s false equivalency!” Adam proclaimed. “Lynyrd Skynyrd is not the same as CSNY. Not even close.”
“If you say so,” Nate said putting his head down.
“It’s like you’re a different person,” Adam said trying to make out the vestige of his brother. The sun moved briefly out from behind the shade of the clouds and provided a soft ambience for the brothers’ journey to the cabin. The soft rays of light beamed through the huge forest that surrounded the cabin on all sides. The only part that was even partially exposed was the side of the cabin that faced the lake and there were still a lot of trees obstructing the view from there.
“College does that to you,” Nate said.
“This goes deeper than college,” Adam said. “It’s like you forgot your roots.”
“Like you said: Ivy League education.”
“That was a joke,” Adam said. “No one here is going to pretend that NYU is an Ivy.”
“Mom thought it was a pretty big deal,” Nate said.
“Mom thought it was a big deal when you got arrested too,” Adam said.
Adam couldn’t see what Nate did after that, but he could sure here the silence. He heard the silence for the remaining three quarters of a mile walk to the cabin.
The front of the cabin looked about as well as it could considering what it had been through over the years. There was water damage to the foundation of the house from when the lake flooded five years before. Adam and Nate had been in high school then. Adam remembered going up to what was then his grandfather’s cabin on the weekends and helping his neighbors erect a sandbag wall in an effort to impede the flood’s path, but it was no use.
Thousands of dollars in renovations wiped away most of the flood damage, but their cabin would never be the same. Adam and Nate’s grandfather died a week after the floods. The cabin was registered as the Howard family property when it passed down to their mother, but she didn’t want anything to do with it.
“That old money pit killed my dad,” his mother told him when the lawyer informed Adam and his family that they would inherit the cabin. “Can’t it go to my brother? He is older, after all.”
“You could always just sell it,” the lawyer suggested, but Adam would hear nothing of that.
“I practically grew up there,” Adam explained to the lawyer. “You can’t put a price on my childhood.”
His mother told him that if he liked the cabin so much then he should have it, but Adam was working for the city now and he no longer had the time to even visit the place let alone keep up with maintenance. When Nate got arrested, Adam suggested giving the cabin to his younger brother.
“Who knows if they’ll even let him finish school,” his mother said.
“He should have something positive to come back to,” Adam said. “Nate’s lawyer said he’s going to get jail time.”
“What the hell do we pay that man for?” Adam’s mother asked, but Adam assumed she knew. Three felony counts weren’t something Nate could walk away from. Nate was twenty years old and the police lost a cruiser chasing after him. They were not going to let him walk away from this without paying a price.
“I’ve brought lawyers, guns and money,” Adam said when he showed up to bail Nate out of jail. The desk sergeant looked up at Adam after he said that.
“You can’t have a gun in here,” the officer told Adam.
“Don’t worry,” Adam said. “It’s just a Gatling gun attached to the roof of my car.”
“Don’t joke about that,” Nate’s lawyer whispered in Adam’s ear.
Adam looked up and smiled at the officer.
“Where do I sign?” Adam asked.
Eloise Champlain hated her name. As a rough and tumble tomboy in southern Louisiana she went by Lisa to avoid being made fun of despite the fact her parents insisted on calling her by her full name.
“Eloise Dorothy Champlain,” her mother called out each evening. “Dinner is ready.”
“Eloise Dorothy Champlain,” her brothers would say mocking their mothers’ all-too happy and optimistic demeanor.
“Oh, hush,” her mother shouted at the foursome as they made their way inside. Lisa was the youngest of the bunch and having three older brothers gave her an early preview of what harsh treatment men could hand out if things didn’t go their way.
Lisa remembered being pushed down the stairs in a stroller as a child. This was something she could never tell her parents of course since her father set the tone for the family and he always sided with the boys.
“Chin up,” her mother reminded her. “The world may push you down, but there’s nothing saying you have to stay there.”
Her mother was right of course. She was always right. Lisa knew the polite airs that white southern society put forward and she knew she’d have to emulate those “manners” just as her mother had done before her. Lisa’s mother was a fabulous entertainer who kept a clean, well-maintained house. It was all a façade of course. Lisa knew her mother better than anyone else and she knew that her mother was anything but happy.
“Don’t don the bonnet and apron like I did,” Lisa’s mother warned her when she was on her deathbed. “It only leads to misery and strife.”
Although Lisa had no intention of doing so, she nonetheless found herself in the role of housewife after the birth of her first son, Adam. Adam’s father, Jacob ran a tree removal service, which was profitable until the day he died.
Unfortunately for all involved Adam’s father died two years after Adam was born. Jacob was sitting in his truck on the call with a customer when a tree fell the wrong way and crushed him. The customer heard the shouts and pleas that came from Jacob’s mouth for nearly half an hour before emergency crews arrived on the scene, but Jacob was long gone by the time they got there. At least that’s what the customer told Lisa at Jacob’s funeral. Lisa was already pregnant with the couple’s second child.
Lisa formed a strong bond with Adam after the death of his father. She would have to do the work of two people now and Jacob’s life insurance policy couldn’t support them forever. Of course she had to sell the business, but despite the fact the business was profitable she was only able to get a small five figure deal from Jacob’s number two man.
A better man would have looked after her maybe even take care of her and her two year old son. That wasn’t the kind of man Thomas Wilaby was though. He bought the business for fifty thousand dollars, turned around and sold it for five times that a few months later. Lisa wanted to hate Thomas for that, but she didn’t have time. Baby number two was on the way.
Lisa was only twenty-two when she welcomed her second and final child into the world. She was twenty-two and widowed with two children. What man wouldn’t want that? Lisa saw how well her friends fared in the dating game and most of them weren’t single mothers. Lisa decided after Nate was born that she wanted nothing to do with the dating scene. Her life was about her children now and she would dedicate herself to becoming the best mother possible to her two young boys.
Nate couldn’t even look at his mother when Adam brought him home after bailing Nate out of jail. He stared at the floor while his mother made small talk. Adam whispered soft reassurances to their mother and Nate pretended like he didn’t hear them. He had become the family pariah and now Adam was taking him to his grandpa’s cabin upstate to try and figure him out like he was a computer with a yet-to-be diagnosed virus infecting his hard drive.
Nate hated feeling he was a problem in need of a solution. He was sure Adam had a solution already. That was how Adam worked. He figured out the solution before diagnosing the problem then applied the solution regardless of what the problem was.
The drive from the family home in Schenectady to the cabin outside Lake Placid was long; usually ranging from two and a half to three hours on a good day. Nate stared out the window hoping Adam didn’t try and broach the subject of his arrest on the car ride there. He was actually surprised when Adam didn’t bring it up. Adam seemed more interested in learning about Nate’s latest project than his latest personal shortcoming, which surprised Nate a great deal.
Despite most outward appearances, Nate didn’t hate his brother he simply wished Adam would take greater pains to understand him; something he wished both members of his family would put some effort toward. Nate didn’t hold out much hope for his mother. She never sought to understand anyone as far as he could tell. According to his mother, everyone had a role in life and you either lived up to your role or fell short of it.
While Adam asked Nate a seemingly endless amount of questions about Nate’s documentary on the history of needleworking; a project Nate made up simply to gauge how gullible Adam was going to be during their trip, Nate simply stared out the window and wondered how everything had managed to go so wrong in his life.
Occasionally, Nate would glance over at his brother, who seemed at home driving his ‘70’s El Camino, but for Nate this was as much an inward journey as anything else. Nate knew this was his last chance to figure out a way to turn his life around. Now if only he could figure out how.
Nate didn’t know when or where his life went wrong. He had been abnormal for some time, but nothing went so awry as to suggest he would be a convicted felon by the time he turned twenty-one years old. He lied a lot as a kid. When he was in high school someone asked him if he was a pathological liar as if that was the sort of thing one discussed in passing. Normally Nate wouldn’t give such a notion a second thought, but when he did think about it he realized that his lying had taken on some pathological tendencies. That wasn’t the person he wanted to be.
Nate couldn’t escape who he was. Luckily, Nate was able to avoid getting into any legal trouble until he got to college. That was when his driver’s license got revoked. He didn’t dare tell his mother. She was the only one in the family that still held out hope for him. His brother gave up on him long ago. Nate never knew what Adam’s problem was. Adam told him once that they were simply from two different worlds, but that didn’t make any sense to Nate. The two had grown up together how could they be from different worlds?
When the two brothers arrived in Lake Placid their first stop was the boat launch. The large steely contraption required the better part of an hour to get off of Adam’s boat trailer.
“I’m surprised that little El Camino was able to haul that thing up here,” Nate said as Adam fired up the motor and guided it toward the pier.
“Get in,” Adam said.
“I thought you said we were going to get something to eat,” Nate said. And with one glance Adam told Nate everything he needed to know about their situation; Nate had no bargaining power in this arrangement.
“Just get in the boat, Nate.”
Adam nervously moved his hands in the pockets of his nearly ten year old jeans while he walked with his brother down a small, country road bereft of the usual traffic signs and even street names in some places. He was starting to wish he hadn’t worn his dense red flannel shirt and had chosen one of his yellow or white shirts instead. White would have been too clean for what he was doing though.
The red gravel road connected the piers at the water’s edge to each cabin along the lakefront. Adam could feel loose pieces of gravel moving around in his sandals.
“Hold on a sec,” Adam said to Nate. Adam stopped and emptied out the gravel from his sandals. He looked at Nate who had taken the clean route with his clothing that Adam should have taken; white t-shirt, jeans with a belt, and boots. Smart. But, how did he know to wear boots?
“Did you know we were coming out here?” Adam asked as he resumed walking.
“I just got out of jail,” Nate said. “You really think I had time to plan for this?”
“Fair point,” Adam said looking down the road.
“I don’t remember the cabin being this far from the lake,” Nate said.
“It probably feels farther cause it’s so hot out,” Adam suggested. “Plus, they drained the pond that sat between the two roads. Remember the kids who used to come down here and fish in the pond thinking we stocked the thing?”
“Yeah,” Nate said smiling for the first time. “They were always surprised they didn’t catch anything.”
“I remember when Uncle Jim would put a fish on the hook and cast his pole into the pond before the kids would show up,” Adam said. “He’d pull it out in the middle of the day and say ‘look what I caught’ like he hadn’t put it there to begin with.”
“I don’t know why he did that,” Nate said.
“He wanted to keep them off the lake,” Adam said. “That way they weren’t taking away fish he could catch.”
“Jim was always kind of a dick,” Nate said.
“Kind of?” Adam asked.
Adam was just glad to see Nate smiling for once. He seemed so down all the times Adam had seen him since he went away to school.
“How come you never left?” Nate asked. “I mean you got a decent job and all that, but there’s more out there for you than that in the world.”
“Who would take care of mom?” Adam asked.
“Mom can take care of herself,” Nate said.
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Adam said. “She puts on a nice face, but she’s been struggling since we were in high school.”
“If that’s true she never said anything to me.”
“She didn’t want you to worry,” Adam said.
“Why is she always so worried about me?” Nate asked. “I can take care of myself.”
“I beg to differ,” Adam said. “If you could take care of yourself I wouldn’t have had to come bail you out of jail.”
“One time,” Nate said sighing.
“No,” Adam said. “It’s not just this one time. I wanted to leave you in there, you know that?”
“That doesn’t surprise me.”
“You don’t think,” Adam said. “It’s always about you. You never think about how your actions are going to reflect on other people.”
“Sorry I wasn’t thinking about you while I was off living on my own.”
“You didn’t think about me, mom or anyone else.”
Nate shook his head.
“It’s always about reputation with you,” Nate said.
“I don’t like being embarrassed,” Adam said walking up to the cabin.
“And you think I do?” Nate asked.
“It doesn’t seem to bug you,” Adam said grabbing the keys to the cabin out of his pocket and unlocking the front door.
Adam didn’t wait for a reply before walking into the house. He was tired and thirsty. Adam turned on the lights to the screened in porch and walked into the living room.
“Got any beer in the fridge?” Nate asked.
“You’re on probation, Nate. That means absolute sobriety.”
“You think my probation officer is going to come looking for me out here?” Nate asked.
“I have no idea,” Adam said. “I’ve never been in a spot like the one you’re in.”
“Exactly, so let me get a beer and relax before tearing into me again.”
Adam sat down on the big lay-z-boy recliner in the living room. Nate opened the fridge in the kitchen.
“Grab me one while you’re in there,” Adam said.
“Who the hell drinks Coors?” Nate asked grabbing two beers out of the fridge.
“Last tenant I guess. We rent this place out during the summer.”
Nate placed Adam’s beer on the coffee table in front of him before plopping himself down on the couch.
“I didn’t expect it to be so clean,” Nate said taking a big gulp from the frosty beer.
“Got to keep it clean,” Adam said. “Nobody wants to rent a place that looks like there’s still someone living in it.”
“Do you stay up here in the winter?” Nate asked.
“Most of the time,” Adam answered. “You know I hate living in one place for too long.”
“I do, which is why I’m surprised you’re still living with mom.”
“We move around a fair amount,” Adam said. “I take a couple vacations each year, you know?”
“I get the postcards,” Nate said.
“I’m glad they’re not going straight in the trash can,” Adam said sitting up the chair.
The two men looked at each other. How had it come to this? Adam thought. The two of them were sitting in their grandpa’s old cabin drinking a couple of beers. That’s what brothers were supposed to do as they grew older, but now they were doing so right before one of them went off to jail.
Adam didn’t know what to say to his brother. He didn’t really know what he could say. He wanted to yell at him. He wanted Nate to know how disappointed everyone was in him, but in that moment he couldn’t bring himself to do it. The two men sat in relative silence until Nate finally looked at Adam though Adam did his best to look away.
“I’m sorry,” Nate said. “I don’t want to be in this position any more than you or mom.”
“Yeah,” Adam said. “But you are and this time there’s no getting out of it.”
“I suppose that is the rub,” Nate said.
“The rub?” Adam asked. “No one’s going to look at us the same again.”
“I said I’m sorry.”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it anymore, Nate.”
“What do you want me to do? What…what can I do, really?”
“Knock the adolescent shit off, man. You’re supposed to be a grown ass man.”
After sighs from both men the two sat in silence once again. The silence cut deeper than the mens’ words at this point. Adam could no longer look at his brother. The shame bled from his body like a wound suffered in the heat of battle. He didn’t know how to look at his brother anymore both figuratively and literally.
Lisa found her sons’ lawyer on the internet. She felt like she should have at least looked in the yellow pages or something, but she didn’t keep the phone books that phone companies sent out anymore. Besides, she didn’t know the first thing about what to look for in a lawyer. Should she try to find someone who thought they could get her son off? That was her first instinct, but she happened upon a man who gave her an honest quote for his services and what seemed like a realistic outcome considering the circumstances. She decided that finding a lawyer who would be straight with her was worth more than any empty promises other lawyers could provide.
Lisa knew her son was guilty of what he was being charged with, but she hoped a good lawyer could help limit his time in jail. Juan Nunes was the “honest lawyer” Lisa hired to represent her son. He was an imposing man that much was certain. Standing six foot five inches tall and weighing over two hundred pounds, Nunes smiled frequently and nodded each time Lisa said anything.
“Most cases never go to trial,” Nunes reassured Lisa. “Even if they do threaten us with an expedited trial we can push back in court by saying that the prosecution isn’t negotiating in good faith. Most judges want cases before them settled.”
“How is that going to help us?” Lisa asked.
“The longer you push out a proceeding the more likely you are to receive favorable terms in a plea agreement,” Nunes said. “The prosecutor’s office is obsessed with clearance rates and if they have a case that seems open and shut yet they can’t shut it they’ll usually come up with a reasonable offer.”
“I know nothing about all this,” Lisa admitted.
“That’s why you have me,” Nunes said, smiling in what Lisa was coming to believe was his typical fashion.
The way Nunes described it to her, Lisa felt like Nate might very well be able to finish college before he ever had to make a plea in his case.
“Two years to work out a plea wouldn’t be uncommon,” Nunes told her.
“I guess there’s that then,” Lisa said finally returning Nunes’ pleasantries.
One of Lisa’s chief concerns was that Nate lose hope when he was in jail and if he was still in college when that happened then he might decide to drop out of school. She wanted him to at least have a college degree to fall back on. Finding work as a convicted felon, Nunes told her, was anything but a cakewalk.
“It’s going to be tough,” Nunes said. “That much I can’t sugarcoat. Recidivism rates do go down when an offender has steady employment though.”
“Oh, God,” Lisa says. “Do we really have to call him that?”
“What’s that?” Nunes asked.
“An offender,” Lisa said. “It’s not like he raped or killed somebody.”
“When you’re a convicted felon,” Nunes explained, “that becomes what we call a distinction without a difference.”
“A what?” Lisa asked.
“The stigma is largely the same,” Nunes said. “When you’re a convicted felon people automatically assume the worst about you.”
“Boy, you sure do paint a rosy picture,” Lisa said.
“It’s not my job to make you feel good about this,” Nunes confessed. “I need to get you ready for what’s to come and the future, at least in the short term, will be particularly unpleasant.”
Nate sat on the couch in the living room of his family’s cottage tapping his feet anxiously on the wood flooring and staring at his now empty beer bottle sitting in front of him on the coffee room table.
“What now?” Adam asked.
“I don’t know,” Nate said, his eyes remaining focused on the bottle in front of him.
“Do you know what you’re going to do?” Adam asked.
“No clue,” was all Nate could mutter. He wanted to go to sleep in the guest bedroom down the hallway from the cabin’s master suite. That guest bedroom was where he stayed when he came up to visit his grandpa as a kid. Nate thought he might be comfortable in there if it was possible for him to be comfortable anywhere.
“I don’t know what you’re going to do,” Adam said.
Nate laughed once he realized that his brother had simply rephrased his previous question to him into a statement.
“Do you remember that grey wolf painting that hung on the wall across from our beds in the guest bedroom?” Nate asked.
“The thing we had to cover up before you’d even enter the room?” Adam asked. “Of course I remember.”
“Grandpa came out to distract me when we came up here so you could run in and cover it up before I went inside,” Nate said. “I used to pretend like I didn’t notice, but I always wondered why you two did that. I mean, why not make me face my fear?”
“Because sometimes facing your fear is more trouble than it’s worth,” Adam said.
“Do you still believe that?” Nate asked.
“Honestly,” Adam said looking out the window at the setting sun off on the horizon, “I never gave it a whole lot of thought.”
“Think about it now,” Nate said. “What do you think?”
“Now,” Adam said, “I don’t think you have a choice. Staring at the painting in the daylight is one thing, trying to sleep at night with the wolf staring back at you is another.”
“You were scared of that painting too, weren’t you?” Nate asked.
“Terrified,” Adam admitted, “but like all good brothers I let you take the blame for it.”
“Now we’ve both got to face it in a way,” Nate said.
“And I have no idea how I’ll sleep at night.”
Adam finished the rest of his beer and walked back to the guest bedroom. Nate shook his head and walked into his grandpa’s old bedroom. He remembered there used to be an old Colt .45 in the bedside table. Nate approached the table slowly almost like he was afraid of it. When he opened the drawer there sat the gun staring back at him. Adam may have been able to face his fear, but Nate knew he didn’t have a chance.