A Summer Place
by Stewart Walthal
"So what you got planned for summer vacation, Alvin?"
He looked up from his paper work, and sighed. "Don't know, Dooley. I haven't really thought about it much."
Dooley eased a pile of folders away from the edge of the desk and half-sat on the corner. "That does not sound good, my friend, not good at all. Summer vacation is something to be looked forward to with a little more gusto than 'I haven't thought about it much'. Does the idea bore you?"
Alvin leaned back in his chair and looked up at his friend. "No, it doesn't bore me. I mean, I enjoy the time away from work for sure but… You know…"
"Sure, I know." He nodded sagely. "Having the same vacation plans year after year, does not lend itself to excitement, my friend. You really need to take a vacation from your usual vacation."
"What?" He scowled. "You mean there's some place even more expensive than Gigaroon?"
"Nah!" Dooley waved a hand. "If you are trying to impress people that is probably the best place… perfect climate, perfect accommodations, perfect service… All the beautiful people swear by the place."
"So, what are you saying? You know some place better?"
Dooley stood. "Depending on whose standards you're talking about, fella." He straightened up the pile of folders. "I know a place… Well, let's just say that it doesn't have all the perfectly programmed activities that Gigaroon offers and it might be just the change-of-pace you need to get the blood pumping again."
"All right, I'll bite. What do you have in mind?"
Dooley grinned. "It's a small out of the way place called the Four Winds. It's quite and quaint and as different from Gigaroon as you can possibly imagine."
Straightening himself again, Alvin looked a little suspicious. "So, if this place is so marvelous, why haven't I ever heard of it?"
"With the publicity of places like Gigaroon and the like, who'd even want to hear about a small, old fashioned place like this? It is most definitely not for everyone." He ticked off on his fingers. "A quiet setting. A minimum of people pandering to your every need. Fewer crowds – I think the place only has twenty-four guests, max! And the most relaxing setting imaginable."
Elbows propped on his desk, Alvin shook his head. "It sounds good but… well, it has started getting more and more crowded at Gigaroon. Takes longer to get places, longer to get things… But they've really got the best of everything there."
"Yes," Dooley nodded, "they've got everything so perfectly well planned, don't you know. You hardly have to think there. They've got all the good times already lined up for you." He shook his head. "Aren't you a little tired of that sort of thing by now?"
"Well, I…" Alvin shrugged.
"See? You can't even get excited about your vacation!"
"Okay." He leaned back again. "So tell me a little more about this place."
Dooley grinned and moved the folders back out of the way of his posterior. "They've got this cute little lake, you see, and this pretty white cottage affair with a wide porch and columns. There's a large lawn for activities on and a small forest behind the cottage."
"And you stayed there already?"
"Yeah, twice! And each summer was completely different! None of that same ol same ol' like you get other places." He shook his head. "You'll really love the place."
Fingers tapping the arms of his chair, Alvin thought a moment. "Well, if you think I'll enjoy it…"
"Buddy," Dooley winked, "I can almost guarantee it."
Dooley laughed and went back to his own desk.
"Isn't there any other way to this place?" Alvin was gripping the bar on the seat in front of them as the bus jostled and bounced along the rutted dirt path some generous persons might actually call a road.
Dooley grinned, gripping the bar as well. "You wanted a degree of isolation, didn't you? Don't worry, it'll be over soon."
Another bump, more severe, dislodged the hat Alvin was wearing. He had to remove one hand from the bar in front to hold the flat straw article in place on his head.
Other passengers, he noted, were having the same problems as the driver whistled a merry tune and drove on seemingly oblivious to the riot he was creating behind him.
"And this get up," Alvin moaned. "Is this really necessary?" He pulled at his collar. "I think they put too much starch in this thing."
"Come on, Alvin." Dooley's grin returned. "Stop thinking of this place like your other vacation spots. It is a completely different class of people here and you really don't want to stand out like a sore thumb. Look around." He nodded to the front of the bus. "See? Everyone else is wearing the same sort of attire. No slobs in this lot."
"But I feel like I'm dressed up for a wedding…" another bump jostled the bus, the frame seemed to creak under the pressure, "… or a funeral."
"Relax, kiddo. I felt the same way first time I came. After a while, the style of clothing will seem completely natural. And since everyone else is wearing the same, you soon won't even notice it."
Alvin glanced up at Dooley's hat, askew on his head. "And I never wear hats!"
Dooley just laughed.
The trees grew thicker along the path and the bus was soon driving through the shade as the bumping seemed to lessen in intensity. After another turn, Alvin could see a white building come into view ahead. He might have taken in the quaint features like the gilded trim on the columns, the railings around the porch, or the bric-a-brac curlicues in wood at each corner of both porch and house, but he was too busy being thankful that the erratic journey was drawing to a close.
The bus, thankfully, pulled to a stop in front of the large white cottage and the dust clouds stirred up by their passage drifted past the vehicle and out toward the small lake before them.
"All right, folks, we made it." The driver got up and motioned to the passengers before he stepped down and opened the doors.
The people further along toward the front were rising to make their way off the death-trap while Alvin rested his forehead on a hand that still gripped the bar in front of him.
"Didn't I tell you?" Dooley lightly punched his shoulder. "Isn't like some other world here? No hustle, no racing around, no crowds…"
"Yeah," Alvin said, his head still down, eyes closed, "it's the most marvelous thing I've ever seen. But then, being alive after that ride is just short of a miracle."
Laughing, Dooley pounded him on the back. "Come on, fella. It wasn't that bad. Oh, come on," he nudged his friend, "it's our turn to get off the bus."
Alvin peeked up to see the last of the other passengers exiting. He sighed and struggled to find his feet. Once found, he shuffled them toward the exit. The step down was a bit clumsy but reaching firm and unmoving ground was a genuine treat.
Dooley squeezed past him to the activity at the side of the bus. The driver had opened a large compartment and was removing all the baggage of the passengers from the storage area beneath the seats. Dooley returned to his side shortly with two leather bags.
"Here ya go." He handed one to Alvin, and stepped past. "Come on, let's get signed in." He grinned and left up the short grassy slope to the white building, laden with white gingerbread. Alvin followed.
Shaded by so many trees, the whiteness of the building was intense. The paint must be fairly fresh, he thought, to be so bright. If the sun had been shining full on, it would have been too painful to look at it.
He followed Dooley up the four wooden steps to the porch over which a small sign hung proclaiming "The Four Winds". Alvin hoped it did not presage any buffeting weather coming in the near future. Dooley held the screen door open for him and let it slam shut after they entered the spacious lobby. Dark hardwood floors glistened with fresh polish and the dark muted throw rugs stood along the busy passageways as well as along the registration counter.
Setting his bag down as they took up the rear position in the short line, Alvin worked his shoulders to get the kinks out and looked around the place. A built-in bookcase formed the wall to his left and the adjacent doorway opened onto a large dining room filled with a large, polished table with rounded corners and about a dozen chairs.
To the right was a smaller doorway leading into a room he could not see well from his current angle but it seemed to have plenty of windows with the curtains pulled back to allow the room to fill with light. Adjacent to the doorway was the foot of a stairway leading up to the rooms on the upper floors.
As he was looking in that direction, a young woman, bag in hand, stopped at the foot of the stairs and turned to wait for her friend – or mother? – to finish signing the register. Her dress was of the palest pink, billowing out from several petticoats underneath, trimmed in white lace and on her head was a small bonnet in a slightly deeper pink than her dress.
Her gaze found his and she blushed slightly before looking away.
Dooley noticed the look and poked his friend in the ribs. "Not bad, huh?"
Alvin felt his cheeks growing warm. He looked back toward the stair but could only saw the hem of a pale pink dress as she disappeared from his view at the upper landing.
He poked Dooley's back.
Alvin nodded toward the dining room. "It doesn't look like they have enough room for two dozen people at the table. Are you sure that many people are going to be here?"
"Sure." Dooley nodded. His grin broadened as he inclined his head to the side. "You will find that most of the people won't be eating inside anyway. It's much too nice to eat indoors when there is so much lawn to spread out on. A lot of people will eat on the porch or in the gazebo."
"Gazebo? I didn't see…"
"Oh, it's out back. I can show you around as soon as we get settled in our rooms."
Soon, their turn at the counter came. The tall gray-haired woman behind the counter with a very starched collar, flipped through a small pile of cards until she found their reservations. She handed Dooley a pen to sign the guestbook while she turned to an array of boxes behind her to locate their keys.
"Mister Wilson is in two-oh-three," she handed a brass key to Dooley, "and Mister Hanford is in two-oh-four." She handed a similar key to Alvin. "And we hope you enjoy your stay at the Four Winds." Her smile was perfunctory.
Alvin's smile was probably less than that but he nodded and took the pen from Dooley, signing on a line of the book. He looked at the upper lines to see if he could discern the young woman's name but there were only three names above Dooley's, all male. Hers must have been at the bottom of the previous page but he did not flip it back to look.
"Let's go!" Dooley moved quickly to the stairs and waited for his friend to catch up. "Let's get settled in and take a look around, okay?"
Alvin sighed and started up the stair, his luggage in hand.
What sort of vacation was this going to be, he wondered.