The Lake House Part 2
Something is wrong
The Santos siblings went to the lake for a relaxing escape, but by the end of their trip it’s a race to escape the vacation home with their lives.
If you missed it, start with Part 1
Dinner finally arrived. The siblings devoured their cold takeout and retired to the living room with another round of drinks. Long shadows sectioned the house, like tiger stripes. The tall windows poured moonlight against the wood floors and empty furniture. Luke flicked a lamp on, illuminating the living room. Aleksa studied the remote that controlled the electric fireplace. She found the power button and flames blazed behind the iron grate.
“To staying strong.” Luca held up his drink from the armchair.
The sisters joined him in the toast. They each took a sip of their drinks, their gaze unfocused, each of them lost in their own heads.
Aleksa thought of her children at home. They were all she had left in life and were so far away. Then, Rianon’s tragedy came to mind. What if Aleksa never made it home? What if she returned and they were gone. She glanced at her sister and guilt rushed in for fearing the scenario that currently haunted her sister. Could Aleksa have these fears? Did that make her a bad sister?
But Rianon wasn’t paying attention to either Aleksa or Luca. She stared at the fireplace, sipping from her glass. Her head buzzed. She shoved her guilt aside. Luca’s toast echoing in her mind. Strength. The way Rianon held her chin up, her shoulders back and her body straight, unbroken despite her misery. Aleksa admired her. She would do anything to help her sister heal.
Rianon sniffed and blinked tears away. She turned away from the fire. Both Aleksa and Luca watched her. She cracked a small smile and wiped the wetness from her eyes. Then she leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. “At first,” she stared into the yellow drink in her hands, “I thought that the fatigue had been my body healing, but that was months ago, you know.” She licked her lips. Luca sat silent beside Aleksa. They both waited for her to continue. “My bones healed and my bruises faded.” Her voice cracked and she cleared her throat. She peered up at them, eyes large and sad. “I’m still so tired.”
Aleksa reached for her hand and squeezed. Rianon sniffed again and sat up.
“I’m sick of crying. Tears won’t bring me to them.” She set her glass on the table beside the armchair and pressed the heel of her palms to her eyes. Then, she straightened her top and ran her hands over her legs before retrieving her glass again. She continued to fidget, like she feared what would happen if she stopped moving.
Luca shifted in his seat on her other side. “You guys wanna play?” He produced a deck from a drawer in the coffee table.
Rianon scooted forward from her seat on the couch. Aleksa watched the cards being dealt, one by one. They flicked from the deck and slid into their appointed piles, each brush of card against card a loud whoosh in her ears. One by one. They’d play cards. Might as well. Aleksa reached for her sister again, this time giving her arm a squeeze. Rianon didn’t take her eyes off the cards. Her face had grown cold and unreadable. Aleksa feared the far off look in her eyes, worrying, not for the first time, that Rianon wished she had died with James and Analee.
“You go first.” Luca gestured to Aleksa and fanned out his hand.
They played Rummy. No need to discuss it, it’s what they always played when cards were brought out. Aleksa struggled to pick out patterns in the cards. The tequila clouded her mind. She picked up a face down card from the deck and discarded the only club in her hand. They each took a couple turns without talking, none of them placing any of their cards on the table.
“Jess asked me to teach him how to play a few weeks ago.” Aleksa eyed the card Rianon had just discarded, hoping Luca wouldn’t pick it up before her turn came around again. “I tried and he almost got it. Maybe this summer he can practice with you guys.”
“Good call teaching him, instead of Shane.” Luca chuckled. “Your husband sucks at Hold-em.”
“Yeah.” She forced a laugh. A perfect opportunity to bring up the betrayal, the separation. It felt unnatural keeping the secret. She had to, for Rianon. Aleksa wondered if she was trying to convince herself as she reached for her glass. In the back of her mind, she feared that sharing would make it too real, would bring on the rush of pain waiting for her. She gulped from the glass. The cards before her blurred. She blinked and chose a discard.
“It’s not your turn.” Luca stopped her from laying down the card. “How drunk are you?” He studied her face with a smirk.
Aleksa replaced the card in her hand with a huff. “Well, I lost my drinking buddy while you were away.”
His smile dropped. A small part of her felt bad, but she tucked it away with her pain.
“Analee was a whiz at cards.” Rianons spoke.
Aleksa nodded her agreement. Luca hadn’t chosen the card she wanted and she snatched it. Just one more to finally play.
“I didn’t know that.” Luca’s shoulders dropped. He stared at his cards, his jaw clenched as he mulled over Rianon’s words. He’d been in jail with his second drug charge, had only gotten out a few weeks before the car accident. He’d miss so much of their lives. Aleksa couldn’t image the guilt. He laid down three eights and then discarded.
Rianon laid down a straight: ten, jack, queen, then discarded her last card, winning the first round. Luca stood without a word. The sound of drawers opening and closing sounded from the kitchen and then he returned with a notepad and pen.
“Playing until two-fifty sound good?” His voice lifted at the end, a bit more cheer in his voice, but he didn’t meet his sisters’ eyes. With his gaze on the paper, he listed their names and recorded the points for the hand. Rianon agreed as Aleksa gathered the cards and shuffled.
After several hands, empty glasses and playing cards littered the coffee table. They didn’t talk about much. Nothing about Rianon’s family or Aleksa’s. The sisters agreed without speaking that Luca’s jail time was off limits. Instead, they talked of those past summers. Snippets of memories at the Lake House. The same words slipped past their lips, “Don’t quite remember, but‒” So many emotions and pieces of memories, but nothing solid, nothing they could rely on.
No mention of their final visit. Not even fragments of that night came to mind.
Aleksa watched her sister leave the living room with hands filled with glasses. She should help Rianon clean up. She would, but it was so cold. Aleksa yanked the blanket on her lap over her shoulders. Shivering, she couldn’t shake the urge to look over her shoulder to find the person watching her. Someone or something was there, even though she’d find nothing but wallpaper and furniture. She stared into the darkness, torn between wanting to actually see something, but terrified of what she would find.
Rianon returned to her spot beside Aleksa, and, as the clock had ticked further into the next day, Aleksa’s eyes had begun to droop. Luca turned on the television above the fireplace and laid his head on the arm of the chair. He appeared so small, curled up in the chair, like he was six again, not thirty-six. They had turned off the electric fireplace and only the television’s bright screen lit the room. As canned laughter punctuated a joke, Aleksa laid her head on Rianon’s shoulder, who, in turn, rested on her and, within minutes, they had all fallen asleep.
While the Santos children slept, the walls around them creaked and shifted. No wind blew outside, but the house sighed and stretched, like waking up from a long slumber. The siblings frowned in their sleep. The whole trip had put Aleksa on edge instead of the relaxing vacation she had anticipated and, now, a nightmare deepened the furrow in her brow.
Outside, water splashed on the rocky lake shore outside the house. The lake glimmered, blue and crystal clear, every bit as gorgeous as terrifying. In her nightmare, Aleksa trembled at the sight of the water from her view in the attic. The sleeping versions of herself, in the living room, shifted, the danger lurking just out of sight.
The water lapped at the pebbles, clutching to the earth, each time reaching further inland. It scrambled to get closer. It just needed to touch the toe of a widow or cling to the skin of a swim-suited addict. Any of the siblings would do. They all had escaped last time. The shore had remained barren for so long.
In her dream, Aleksa watched the lake from the attic. Inky darkness surrounded her with only the moonlight sparkling off the approaching water to light the night. She tucked her knees against her chest, too afraid to move. She couldn’t take her eyes off the water for she feared what it would do if she looked away. Behind her, harsh whispers let her know she wasn’t alone. They approached just as the water advanced on the house.
Outside, the water splashed on the edge of the rocky shore. It sprayed the Adirondack chairs that sat six feet away, right before the front yard turned to grass. The water crawled its way closer. Just needed to get to the house. It could feel the visitors inside. It had been so long. If only it could get inside the house.
In her dream, Aleksa called for her parents. She was eight years old again. Her knobby elbows squeezed her legs, knees up to her chin, her bare feet cold on the attic floor. In a blink, she was at the foot of the first floors staircase. She needed her Daddy. She wanted her Mommy, but the scream stuck in her throat. She stared at the wet floor, her mouth hanging open but silent.
Outside, the water splashed on the grassy lawn, soaking into the soil. It tasted the foreign dirt from the siblings’ shoes, licked at the remnants of another place. It had been waiting so long, too long.
In her dream, her father strode to her side. He knelt before her, eyes wide and terrified. His mouth moved, but Aleksa couldn’t hear his words over the rush of water in her ears. She knew what he said, though, the memory scraping its way to the surface.
Where’s your mother?
Outside, the water splashed on the grassy lawn, the spray moistening the wooden porch steps. So long, but the time had come. The water was here.
Aleksa gasped awake. She sat up and winced with a new knot in her neck. She scoured the dark room. Luca must’ve turned off the tv after she had fallen asleep. The curtains were drawn, so not even moonlight shone into the room. It was still so late and so early at the same time. What had woken her? She tried to remember the dream she’d been having and a shiver rolled through her body. The dream slipped away, leaving only emotions: terror and delight.
Aleksa hugged herself and rubbed her palms against her arms to warm the ice in her blood. She wanted to be in her bed at home with Shane. No. Old habit. At home in bed with her children. She wanted to smell Jess’s musky head after a long day of playing at school and cuddle Nora until her heat forced Aleksa to kick all the blankets away.
If not at home, then at least in bed at the Lake House. Her head pounded with the start of a hangover and her tongue stuck to the dry roof of her mouth. Curling up on the couch again sounded cramped and uncomfortable. She glanced at Rianon’s slumped body. No room, to say the least.
Aleksa kicked her feet over the side of the couch. She’d go to the kitchen for a glass of water, then sleep in the master bedroom. Even though her parents weren’t with them anymore the thought of crawling into their bed after her vague nightmare still comforted her. She’d also be far away from the attic.
Aleksa frowned. Her nightmare of the attic fluttered in her memory before disappearing again like a wisp of smoke.
Rubbing hazy sleep from her eyes, she walked towards the kitchen.
“Jesus!” Her heart leaped to her throat as she caught sight of a figure standing before the side doors.
A woman dressed in a full length pale pink nightgown gazed out at the lake through the doors’ windows. Her shoulders raised and her back stiffened at the sound of Aleksa’s voice.
Aleksa’s mouth hung open and blood pumped loudly in her ears. Where had the woman come from? What did she want? Aleksa reached behind her, toward the couch, in search of Rianon. A foot, leg, arm, anything to shake her awake. Aleksa swatted at air as she took calculated steps back, eyes glued to the woman standing before the doors.
“Ri!” she hissed, a hoarse whisper when she wanted to scream. She cleared her throat. “Ri! Luca!” Cold sweat coated Aleksa’s body and her breath caught in her throat as the woman turned around.
Empty eyes peered into Aleksa’s, nothing but dark endless holes, but they dragged her in. The woman raised a long slender finger to her pale lips. Shhhh.
“Ri! Luca!” Aleksa screeched and her hand found her sister’s socked foot. She snatched it and shook with all her strength.
“The hell?” Luca mumbled and rubbed his eyes.
Mouth agape in a silent scream, Aleksa remained transfixed on the woman. The intruder’s thin hair had been soaked and hung in front of her face. The soft plunk of water dripping from her night clothes gathered puddles on the floor.
The woman leaped toward her, hands reach out, mouth twisted with rage. Her eyes bored into Aleksa. Water slashed at Aleksa’s bare arms, the cold of it burning like fire. The woman’s bony grasp squeezed Aleksa’s shoulder. She screamed and slapped at the painful grip.
“What’s wrong?” Rianon’s voice rang in her ears.
Aleksa swatted the hand on her shoulder again.
“Hey!” Rianon yelled, her voice close to Aleksa’s ear. “What’s wrong with you?”
Let me go! Let me go! Fingers pressed against her skin. Visions of water flashed through her mind and she remembered. The nightmare. The water was coming for them.
The arms squeezed tighter around Aleksa, but they weren’t the icy limbs of the woman. Dry fabric rubbed against her skin, a cotton sweatshirt, like the one Rianon wore. She stopped fighting back. Her sister held her and stared back with wide, terrified eyes.
“What is it?” Rianon repeated her question.
Aleksa’s gaze snapped to the side doors. No one was there. Luca stood behind them, beside the coffee table now, like he had been rushing to them, but didn’t actually know what to do. Aleksa scoured the room, but found only the three of them, no one else.
Enjoying this tale? Continue reading Part 3
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