June, weary of the crowd of mourners, escapes to her old room. No more fake hugs. No more whispered conversations. No more neighbors with casseroles. Just the consolation of darkness and the comfort of silence. Silence short lived. A few minutes after her successful escape someone gently knocks on the bedroom door.
Her hands ball into fists and a shout builds up behind her pursed lips. Just as quickly she slumps against the door and offers an exasperated “who is it?”
“Uncle Ron,” said the soft voice. June quickly opens the door and pulls him in before anyone else tries to sneak in with him. He looks haggard. His blue suit is all rumpled, his tie loosened and skewed to one side. His normally neat red hair tossed and confused.
“Uncle Ron, I’m so sorry…”
“Hush now June Bug, not a single word, there’s something you need to know.”
“But the cabin…”
“Not a single word,” he gently interrupts holding a finger to her lips. “Let’s sit here for a spell,” he said pointing at her quilt covered bed. “Your mom and I spent many a fine summers at the cabin when we were kids, what’s happened won’t change those memories. Sure, now there is something bitter to go with the sweet but you need to know something. Jerry knew.” June stares into her Uncle’s eyes as the ramifications of his pronouncement shakes her grief and gives her comfort.
A few days earlier
“How much further dear?” June asks, squeezing Jerry’s hand while he steers with the other.
“Lets see, we’re just passed Wildbrook so about twenty minutes if I understand your uncle’s directions. Keep an eye out for County Road 3, it should be coming up soon,” Jerry said.
“Wasn’t the ceremony lovely?” June asks.
“It was wonderful. Everything went just like you planned it.”
“Not quite everything. I could strangle Bob, how could he do that! Everyone saw it, I heard them laugh.”
“It’s ok June, he didn’t mean any harm. I think it’s kind of funny myself. besides it will give us something to laugh about when we’re old and grey.”
“But right at the most solemn moment, kneeling for the blessing, everyone bursts out laughing because of that crazy sticker on your shoe.”
“They didn’t burst out laughing, they kind of politely chuckled. And if you want to talk about embarrassing we need to throw your Aunt May into the mix.”
“Fair enough, imagine someone her age trying to line dance. County Road 3, one mile,” June reads from the passing sign.
“Police or ambulance up ahead,” observes Jerry. As they approach the turn a police officer waves them to a stop and gently taps on Jerry’s window. While Jerry cranks down the window the officer glances through the car. “What’s up officer?” Jerry asks.
“Some feller busted out of the county lock up, probably already in Minnesota, but we have to look anyway. Where are you folks heading too?”
“Ron Murdoc’s cabin, its on the other side of Lake Calhoun,” Jerry answers.
“Its our honeymoon,” June adds leaning across Jerry to see the deputy.
“Well, congratulations then. I hope you enjoy your visit. Do me a favor and keep your doors locked until we catch this feller. I doubt that he’s around here but you never know.”
“Is he dangerous? Jerry asks.
“He’s a convicted rapist, back here for retrial. But don’t you worry none, just keep your doors locked and everything will be alright.”
“Thanks officer, we will” Jerry said has he pulls away.
June and Jerry pull up to the cabin as the last glimmers of an orange sun reflects against the calm waters of Lake Calhoun. The scattered clouds glow like a watercolor painting of pinks, purples, orange, and red. The newlyweds watch, Jerry squeezing his bride from behind, as the sun slides beneath the horizon and the colors leak away into the shadows of twilight. June turns in Jerrys arms and kisses him. “Well, Mr. Mallory, what would you like for supper?” June whispers.
“What’s on the menu?” Jerry whispers back and punctuates with a kiss.
“How about we do the foil dinners tonight. You build the fire, I’ll get them ready to go.” June’s eyes squint mischievously as she adds, “and then we can have dessert.”
“Oh, and what’s for dessert?”
“Why, me of course.” she coos.
“In that case, Mrs. Mallory, why don’t we have dessert first?”
June scrapes the last bit of hamburger from the foil and plops it in her mouth. A log crackles as it settles deeper into the coals of the fireplace. “Where did you learn to make these again? They’re delicious and easy. No pots & pans. Just crumple up the foil and you’re done.”
“We made them in Boy Scouts. I think it was the first thing I learned to cook that didn’t come from a box or out of the freezer.”
“Well, you did very well Mr. Mallory. Do you want to do the dishes or should I?” June asks holding out the crumpled foil.
Jerry collects the foil from her hand, “I’ll take care of it. There’s a few more things to bring in from the car. Relax and enjoy the fire.” June moves from the table to the couch that faces the fireplace. Pulling her legs up she lays back and lets the warm glow wash over her. Her eyes explore the room as Jerry struggles with the last few pieces of luggage. It is definitely a man’s place. Shotgun shells on the mantle instead of keepsakes. Antlers instead of pictures. Blinds instead of curtains. And over the door an old shotgun rests on pegs made of deer hooves. “There, all done and locked up,” Jerry reports as he settled in next to her. “No need to worry about any escaped prisoners.”
June sits up. “Jerry, what are we going to do if he shows up here? There’s no phone, no cell coverage, how are we going to get help?”
Jerry pulls June closer. “Don’t worry dear, like the officer said, he’s probably a long way from here.”
“But what if he isn’t?” June’s eyes search the room again. “Do you know how to load a shotgun? There’s one over the door and there are shells on the mantle.”
“I don’t think that’s really necessary. Besides…”
“Please, humor me and load it. Just, well, in case. It would make me feel better,” she pleads. Jerry retrieves the shotgun and examines it.
“Single shot 16 gauge,” he said, maneuvering the lever to crack open the breach. Examining the boxes of shells he finds the right size and places one shell in the breach and snaps the shotgun closed.
“Do you know how to work it?” June asks.
“Sure, its safe until you pull back the hammer. After that just pull the trigger.” Jerry rests the loaded weapon next to the bedroom door and pokes at the logs in the fireplace. “Should I put another log on?” he asks.
“How about some more dessert?” June asks with that same mischievous look.
The newlyweds sleep in to the point where breakfast becomes brunch. While Jerry gathers wood and hauls water June stirs up some omelets on the campstove. With bucket in hand Jerry announces, “coons must have gotten in the garbage last night. They picked out every piece of scrap from supper. What a mess.”
“Really?” June said while dropping some grated cheese on the omelets as a finishing touch. “Breakfast is ready Mr. Mallory. Shall we dine on the veranda?”
“Veranda?” Jerry asks out loud. “Oh the porch, sure that sounds great.”
“Well you get settled in and I’ll bring everything out.” June suggests.
About half-way through their meal they hear a car approaching.
“Looks like the deputy is checking up on us,” Jerry said. They watched as the patrol car pulls up and the same young officer from the night before gets out.
“Morning folks. Don’t mean to alarm you or anything, just checking to see if you’re ok,” the deputy announces.
“Have you caught the prisoner?” June asks hopefully.
“Nope, not yet, I’ll be sure and tell you when we do so don’t you worry.” The officer stares at his shoes for a moment. “um, nothing unusual last night I take it?” His cheeks coloring just a bit.
“No it was a quiet night,” Jerry answers. “Some raccoons got in the trash but we didn’t see or hear anything.”
“That’s good, mind if I take a look at the trash?”
June pulls her hands to mouth, “you think that it was the guy and not racoons?”
“Don’t worry none, I just want to check it out. We have bears around here some, it could have been one of them.”
“No problem officer, I’ll come with you.” Jerry offers.
While the two men survey the garbage June clears the breakfast table. A few minutes later they come back around. The officer heads for his car and Jerry for his wife. “Did you see anything?” June asks.
“Not really,” Jerry answers.
“Think we can still do the lake walk today?”
“Sure, let me get a few things locked up, change my shoes, and grab the shotgun.”
“The shotgun? You did see something,” June demands.
“Actually the curious thing is that we didn’t see anything, no trail of scraps, no paw prints. The officer wants me to play it safe and keep the gun close out of an abundance of caution.”
Their worry soon lessens as they hike around Lake Calhoun. The calm of the timber soothing the fears of heart. All afternoon they explore and hike around the lake. After they return to the cabin Jerry starts the fire. Once it is ready he begins to grill some steaks while June makes up a salad and fries some potatoes. After supper they sit on a rise above the lake not far from the cabin and watch the sunset. “More onions next time,” Jerry suggests.
“Ok,” June returns. Leaning back against Jerry she continues, “This is wonderful, quiet, pretty, alone, much better than some crowded resort in the Caribbean.” They stay on the rise overlooking the lake long after the sun has set, planning and dreaming of the future ahead of them.
Sometime in the dark of the night they wake with a start. Someone is banging on the door. “This is the deputy, I hate to bother you, but I have news,” the voice calls through the door.
“Did you hear a car?” June whispers.
“No, but I was sound asleep” Jerry whispers back.
“Are you alright in there? Let me in.” the voice pounds.
“Yeah, hold on just a moment,” Jerry calls back. They both hurriedly dress. While Jerry fumbles with the lantern June rushes to the door and unlocks it. Once the lock clicks the door violently swings open knocking June to the floor. A figure rushes into the room and quickly locks the door behind him. While June scurries away from the stranger Jerry comes out of the bedroom with the lamp and the shotgun. “You’re the escapee,” Jerry says quietly.
“Let me guess it was my orange halloween costume that gave it away,” the prisoner snarls.
Jerry sets the lamp on the mantle while keeping the shotgun trained on the man. “Well I think I have the upper hand here,” Jerry said nodding towards the gun. “Why don’t you just sit down and tell me your name.”
“No” the prisoner snarled back as he steps to his left while bringing up his right arm. A sliver of steel reflects back at Jerry. “I stole this filet knife off of a fisherman. Its nice and sharp and I know that I can get to you before you can get a shot off.”
“Maybe,” Jerry responds as he pulls back on the hammer, “maybe not.” Jerry mirrors the rapist’s steps in order to keep his distance.
“And after I’ve stuck you, well, I’ve been in prison a long time. Your woman is going to cook me up some eggs and then we’ll have a little fun.”
“We could feed you now, couldn’t we June?” Jerry asks glancing around the room to check her location while the two men continued their slow circle. “That was you last night. You got into our trash can, right?”
“Yeah, I would have broken up your little party then but I didn’t have a weapon yet.”
“I bet you’re hungry, sure we can’t fix you up something. Eggs, steak, chicken?” Jerry suggests.
The prisoner didn’t answer, he just continued his slow circle. Once Jerry figures that June is directly behind he stops. “Ok, enough circling, sit down or I’ll pull this trigger.” Without hesitation the prisoner rushes Jerry. But instead of trying to get a shot off Jerry runs straight at him. The prisoner slashes with the knife which Jerry parries with the butt of the gun, knocking it to the floor. The prisoner, desperate to gain an advantage, grabs the shotgun with both hands and tries to wrench it away. But Jerry’s grip is like a pit bull. Instead of trying to twist it away Jerry bulls his way forward until the prisoner is pinned against the far wall, the shotgun wedged between them. “I love you June!” Jerry yells without taking his eyes off of the prisoner. Suddenly the room flashes and roars as if lightning has struck. June covers her ears and screams as the odor of spent gunpowder stings her nose.
“Jerry knew,” Uncle Ron continues. “He knew the shotgun would probably explode instead of firing because I told him it would. I found that shotgun in the woods ages ago. I cleaned it up and left it above the door as a decoration. But the years had eroded the barrel and weakened the steel. I meant to have the firing pin taken out but I never did,” Uncle Ron said shaking his head. “I warned him about it when I gave him the directions to the cabin.”
“But I made him load it,” June whispers.
“He did that to make you feel safe. That’s how much he loved you. In the end the only way to protect you was to try to kill the rapist by getting close and pulling the trigger. It was the only sure way to protect you, to love you.”
“He knew,” June softly agrees.
Uncle Ron squeezes her a little tighter and whispers, “He loved you June Bug. His death was not an accident; it was because he loved you.”
June lays her head on her Uncle’s shoulder and closes her eyes. “I know,” she breaths.
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12–13, NASB95)