3

All too soon, it was time for the family to return to Willow Creek.  The several weeks they’d spent in Granite Falls had been wonderful.  With the exception of the unsettling incident with Bryan the bear, Aubrey had enjoyed their getaway very much and had to admit that he felt more than a little sad about leaving.  It would be nice to return to his comfortable bed at home, his big bathtub and his own familiar kitchen, but he was going to miss this lovely lake house and his daily walks in the forest and snuggling by the fire with Zach in the evenings. 

On their last night in Granite Falls, Aubrey and Zach watched the fading sunlight from the very same log bench where they’d viewed the sunset on their first night there.   For a long time, they didn’t speak.  They just sat side by side, enjoying the quiet beauty of their surroundings.  Aubrey felt safe and content with Zach beside him.  It was one of those perfect moments, he thought; the kind a person might wish to capture forever so that he could go back to it and remember that happiness and security whenever he needed to be comforted. 

After a while, when the sun had dipped below the horizon and the sky began to grow darker, Aubrey finally felt like he could speak.

“Thank you for this,” he said softly to his husband. “For finding this place for us, and bringing us here.  For bringing me here.  It was exactly what I wanted, you know.”

“I just wanted to make you happy,” Zach said.

“You did, darling.  You always do.”

“I’m glad.”

“It’s going to be so hard to leave tomorrow,” Aubrey said.  He couldn’t quite keep the wistfulness from his tone.  “I wish we could stay longer. I’d love to stay for the entire summer.”

“I know you would, but Sky and I have to go back to work,” Zach said.  “I really wouldn’t like the idea of leaving you here.”

“Zida and the kids would stay, too.”

“You wouldn’t be trying to twist my arm, would you?”

“No.”

Zach was half laughing and half scolding as he said, “You can’t always get your way, Aubrey James.  You know that, right?”

“I know,” Aubrey said. “I’m not really trying to.  It’s just so nice, and being here makes me feel peaceful.”

“I can’t argue with that,” Zach said. “The other side of the coin, though, is that this place is too far from town.  Without me or Sky you’d be the only one here who can drive, and what if something happened?”

“To me, you mean?”

Obviously, I mean you, “ Zach said. “Do you have any idea how worried I’d be if you were out here without me?  You wouldn’t do that to me, would you?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize this was about you.” Aubrey offered him a teasing smile. ‘Of course I’ll come back to town with you, then. I wouldn’t like you to be worried.”

“I’m glad you can see this from my point of view,” Zach said.  His expression became more serious as he added, “You know, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t mind if you stayed, but if little Stardust decides to be unpredictable–”

“It’s all right,” Aubrey said, and reached for Zach’s hand. “To be honest, I’m a little worried about that, too.  As much as I love this place, I think at this point it probably is better to be at home.  And besides, I don’t think I’d enjoy being here half as much if you weren’t with me.”

“We can come back again,” Zach said. “Maybe even next summer, if we think we can manage travelling with the baby.”

“Let’s just wait and see, okay?”

“Okay,” Zach agreed.  He was silent for a couple of minutes, but then ventured, “I think it’s getting a little cold out.  Do you want to go back to the house now?”

Aubrey smiled. “Do you remember what I said before we came here?  About what should happen if we were sitting by the lake after the sun went down?”

“Cuddling?”

“Cuddling.”

Zach returned his husband’s smile with evident fondness. “We can do that, sweetheart.  We can definitely do that.”

I like people for their hardnesses: the spikes that individually obtrude out of their backs in defense from vultures and hawks. But I love people for their softnesses: the iridescent feathers that they collect one by one and brush across their face when no one is looking, presented briefly, casually at the top of thick sycamores.
—  Aubrey