The summer you chopped off all your hair, I asked your dad what the point of being a novelist was. He said it was to tell the truth.
"Nothing you write is real," I said. "You tell stories about made-up people with made-up problems. You're a professional liar."
"Oh, Kendra," he said. "You know better than that." Then he started typing again, as if that had settled things. As if telling me I already had the answer was any kind of answer at all.
I don't know why he assumed I knew anything. I've been wrong about so much—especially you. But there is one thing about which I am now certain: I was lying to myself about why I decided to finally return to Hidden Lake. Which makes perfect sense in hindsight. After all, novelists are liars.
"It will be a quiet place to work without distraction," I told my agent. "No internet, no cell service. Just me and the lake and a landline for emergencies."
"What about emailing with me and Paula?" Lois said, practicality being one of the reasons I had signed with her three years prior. "I know you need to get down to it if you're going to meet your deadline. But you need to be reachable."
"I can go into town every week and use the Wi-Fi at the coffee shop," I said, sure that this concession would satisfy her.
"And what about the German edition? The translator needs swift responses from you to stay on schedule."
We emailed back and forth a bit, until Lois could see that I was not to be dissuaded, that if I was going to meet my deadline, I needed to see a lake out my window instead of the rusting roof of my apartment building's carport.
Of course, that wasn't the real reason. I see that now.
The email came from your mother in early May, about the time the narcissus were wilting. For her to initiate any kind of communication with me was so bizarre I was sure that something must be wrong even before I read the message.
I'm sorry we didn't get to your grandfather's funeral. We've been out of state. Anyway, please let me know if you have seen or heard from Cami lately or if she has a new number.
It was apparent she didn't know that you and I hadn't talked in eight years. That you had never told your mother about the fight we'd had, the things we'd said to each other, the ambiguous state in which we'd left our friendship. And now a woman who only talked to me when necessary was reaching out, wondering if I knew how to get in touch with you. That was the day I started planning my return to the intoxicating place where I had spent every half-naked summer of my youth—because I was sure that in order to recover you, I needed to recover us.
The drive north was like slipping back through time. I skirted fields of early corn, half mesmerized by the knit-and-purl pattern that sped past my windows. Smells of diesel fuel and manure mingled with the dense green fragrance of life rushing to reproduce before another long winter. The miles receded beneath my tires, and the markers of my progress became the familiar billboards for sporting goods stores and ferry lines to Mackinac Island. The farm with the black cows. The one with the quilt block painted on the side of the barn, faded now. The one with the old bus out back of the house. Every structure, each more ramshackle than the last, piled up in my chest until I felt a physical ache that was not entirely unpleasant.
In all our enchanted summers together on the lake, there had been more good than bad. Sweet silent mornings. Long languid days. Crisp starry nights. Your brother had thrown it all out of whack, like an invasive species unleashed upon what had been a perfectly balanced ecosystem. But he hadn't destroyed it. The good was still there, in sheltered pockets of memory I could access if I concentrated.