The Rules of Cozy Cottage
"There it is!" I said, rolling down the car window and sticking my head out.
Even though I was a grown woman—a married mom now in her thirties— there was nothing like seeing my family's summer cottage again. I smiled as Cozy Cottage came into view. It looked as though it had been lifted from a storybook: an old, shingled cottage sitting on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, an American flag flapping in the breeze. The cool wind coming off the lake whistled, the grass on the dunes swayed, the leaves rustled in the aspen trees and the needles of the tall pines surrounding the cottage quivered.
My heart raced, and all the years fell away. I instantly felt as excited as the little girl who knew she'd be spending her entire summer here. I waved at my parents.
"We're here!" I called. "We're here!"
I could hear them whooping and hollering from the screened porch. Their happy voices echoed back, enveloping the car.
"Welcome, campers, to Cozy Cottage!"
Our SUV pulled to a stop at the end of the long, gravel drive leading to the summer cottage. My seven-year-old son, Evan, bounded out of the SUV before it had even come to a complete stop.
"Grandma! Grampa!" he squealed, leaving his car door open and sprinting up the labyrinth of warped, wooden steps to the porch. My mom and dad were rocking on a barn-red glider, but they leaped off it, faces beaming, waving little American flags, "Yankee Doodle" blaring from a vintage stereo. They pulled Evan into their arms and rained his head with kisses.
I laughed and turned to my husband, Nate, who was rolling his eyes. "Please," I said softly. "Don't."
"We're not campers," he admonished in the professorial tone he used to intimidate college freshmen. "It's so juvenile, Adeleine."
"You know they've done it forever," I said, reaching over to pat his arm. "Let's just have fun. It's summer. It's July Fourth vacation. It's our only time away from all the stress of life."
Nate didn't agree or nod, but instead walked around to the trunk to retrieve suitcases.
I hated when he didn't respond to my comments—which had been more frequent of late—but now wasn't the time to tell him this. We hadn't seen my folks since Christmas, and I just wanted our visit to be pleasant.
"Adie Lou," my mom and dad cooed at the same time as I headed toward them. They pulled me into their arms and hugged me tightly. "Our Yankee Doodle Dandy is home!"
"I love you, too," I said. And I meant it. My parents were more than a little corny, but I loved them more than anything.
Nate caught up, lugging a big suitcase and an oversize cooler up the steps. "Jonathan," Nate said formally to my father, extending his hand, before turning to my mother. "Josephine."
Everything Nate did was formal. It was one of the first things that attracted me to him in college. He opened doors, and wore sweaters with leather patches on the elbows. He took me to the theater and read books to me. He told me I could be and do anything, and treated me as an equal. He was unlike any beer-guzzling fraternity boy my sorority sisters typically dated.
And his seriousness and manners gave him an air of authority that made me feel safe, things that now just felt distant and cold.
"Nathaniel," my dad said just as seriously, before busting into a laugh. "Smile, Nate! This is Cozy Cottage. Not Cranky Cottage."
"Yeah, Dad!" Evan added, before turning to his grandparents and jumping excitedly. "Are we ready?"
Nate smiled, but it came across as more of a smirk.
"Ready for what?" my dad teased, deciding to ignore Nate's response and focus on Evan instead.
"Ready to recite the rules!" Evan said, his eyes as blue and wide as the expanse of Lake Michigan behind him.
"It's the only time I've seen you pay attention to rules," I teased him. My dad tucked his flag into his shirt pocket, reached into the woven Nantucket basket hanging from the front door and then turned as if he were a magician, his hands behind his back.
"Ta-da!" my dad said, producing five sparklers. He handed one to each of us, forcing the last one into Nate's hand. He then pulled a long fireplace lighter from the basket and lit them. Evan giggled even harder at the shimmering sparks.