Authors: Jennifer Rivard Yarrington
Tags: #dpgroup.org, #Fluffer Nutter
Jennifer Rivard Yarrington
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Lake Superior, USA
Photo by Christine Hafeman
Jennifer Rivard Yarrington
All rights reserved.
Unauthorized duplication or distribution strictly prohibited.
This book is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
This book is dedicated to my husband, Al, who suffered a stroke in 2011 and now lives with permanent disability. Because of his commitment to our marriage and family in spite of his limitations, I was inspired to write a love story about a couple who faced the challenges of living with disability.
First of all, I'm so thankful to the Lord for inspiring this book and giving me a love for writing!
A special thank you to my husband and children, who suffered through countless hours of “momlessness” while I wrote this book, including the five straight days when I wrote the basic story while we were housebound during a blizzard.
Thank you to all of my family and friends who read the story and gave me insight, tips and constructive criticism - Suzanne Hemond, Marie Rivard (my mom!), Piper Fountain, Annie Kitching, Leslie Rabideau, Tracey Weidner, Mary Jo Thayer, Kendra Kennedy, Fraser MacDonald, Robert Hall, Susan M. Schafer. I'm sure there are many others, so if I forgot to mention your name here, it's only because I have a such a wealth of friends who are willing to help me.
Thank you to Dr. Lisa Ludwig, MD, my good friend who sat and talked with me over coffee and answered questions specifically about the medical accuracy of the story.
Thanks to my favorite band, One Direction for your inspiring song, “Strong,” from the Midnight Memories album. I love all your music! I chose the title of my book before I even heard “Strong,” but the song worked so well with the theme of the book, I decided to include it.
Hello! Welcome to Eagle Canyon's Christmas Lights Tour.”
My smile has been permanently pasted on for the past three hours, accompanied by my sugar-coated holiday voice. I greet the remainder of the passengers piling onto our tour trolley. I'm thankful that my four-hour shift will be finished after this tour around the small village of Eagle Canyon. The tour lasts a good 30 to 40 minutes, even though you can drive from one end of Eagle Canyon to the other in less than a minute.
I am about to close the doors when I notice a young man standing at the bottom of the steps. He is cautiously eyeing the first gigantic step up onto trolley. Inside my head, I impatiently urge him to hurry. A moment later, however, I notice his two forearm crutches and the fact that he is slowly realizing he can't get himself onto the trolley. Well, not gracefully anyway. He stumbles back, gives me a small half smile and says, “It's fine, just go ahead without me.”
No!” I quickly reply. “If you head to the middle of the trolley, Sam can lower the wheelchair ramp for you.”
, I continue in my mind,
you have a nice smile
He looks up at me with the most breathtaking eyes I've ever seen. “Thanks,” he says quietly.
Did he just
He makes his way to the lift and Sam swiftly brings him up to the level of the trolley. Once he arrives on the main deck, I wave him up to the one remaining seat, directly in front of me. Again, I'm greeted with his copper-brown eyes and that adorable half smile. I give him another small smile of my own and launch into my tour narration.
“Good evening, folks. I'm Katherine, your tour guide for this cold and windy Eagle Canyon night. Sam and I will be taking you for a ride around our fabulous little town. You'll see the main shopping district, the museum, the myriads of Christmas lights, the Canyon River Bridge, and of course, Eagle Canyon Sound, which boasts the highest bluff in Michigan.”
And that's about all that Eagle Canyon can really boast about, a high cliff and a spectacular view. Canyon River Bridge is somewhat impressive as well, all 500 feet of it. It spans the “canyon” created by the river as it flows out to Lake Superior. It's not quite as high as the Cut River Bridge in the Eastern Upper Peninsula, but at 135 feet above the river, it's still a fairly remarkable structure.
Oddly enough, Eagle Canyon has become a tourist hotspot over the past twenty years. Sam Calkins likes to think it's all because of his trolley tours, but it's more likely that, in addition to some of the best snorkeling in Lake Superior, Eagle Canyon offers proximity to the Porcupine Mountains, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the best ski hills in the region. Apparently, there are enough diversions to attract a steady stream of tourists from May to September, and again for the months of November and December. During those months, Eagle Canyon becomes a thriving tourist destination. Occasionally, we'll see an influx of skiers in January and February, depending on the snowpack. In the off-season, however, we are just another small town of a few thousand people.
The trolley lurches forward and I have a few moments to spare before the first point of interest. I look around at the crowd and scan the demographics. It's the usual: families with small children bundled up to their eyeballs, holding steaming cups of hot cocoa, old couples snuggling up together, and even a few foreign tourists with gigantic cameras. But my eyes land on the guy with the crutches and the big brown eyes right in front of me. Not only does he have marvelous, full eyelashes, but his hair is thick, wavy, and the most amazing brown I've ever seen. The word
doesn't even do it justice. It's like a creamy dark chocolate.
I wonder why he's all by himself. I occasionally see a loner, but he's a young guy, and I know he doesn't go to our little community college. So that means he's visiting, and I can't imagine that he would be traveling by himself. I continue to contemplate who he is and where he came from. He turns to catch me staring, which I don't even realize I'm doing.
Thankfully, the first point of interest comes into view. I start with a bit of a tremble in my voice as I shake off my embarrassment, “If you look to your right, you will see Eagle Canyon Sound. Cartier Lighthouse guards the entrance to the sound. It is occupied year-round by the Cartier family, whose roots go back to the original French settlers who moved into this area. The scenic inlet of water is surrounded by some of the highest cliffs in Michigan. At over two hundred feet high, that last bluff on the end is the highest cliff in Michigan. As you look along the bluffs, you probably already noticed Eagle Canyon's annual Christmas lights display.”
I hear a collective gasp as everyone admires the handiwork of Eagle Canyon's finest. The display is pretty impressive. There are about ten children created out of timed LED lights, with sections of the lights flashing to make it look like the kids are moving. Above them, about 15 delicate, blinking snowflakes seem to drift down as the kids play in the snow. But the most impressive portion of the display is the child who seems to be sledding down the side of the bluff on his toboggan.
While everyone else is staring at the lights, I risk another glance at
. As I'm marveling once again at his wavy hair, he catches me staring, again. He gives me another half smile with that cute dimple.
I manage to finish the tour with no other gawking incidents. Once everyone is deposited back at the city park, I gather my things and get ready to go home. I hop off the bottom step of the trolley. The mystery guy is standing next to the Coke machine at the small trolley staging area, which is also the gift shop, the bait shop, and a concession stand during peak tourist months.
“Hey!” I smile. “Do you need a ride somewhere? I can give you a lift.”
No, thanks,” he speaks quietly. “My sister is coming to pick me up when she and her husband are done with dinner.” Just then his phone rings and I hear a woman's voice from the other end saying, “Dinner was very late. Can you walk here to meet us? We're at the Westchester Restaurant and Ballroom.”
Feeling a little awkward about having overheard their conversation, but knowing the Westchester is over two miles down the road, I decide to interject in a loud whisper, “It's too far to walk.”
He cuts his sister off and says, “There's a girl here. Says she can give me a ride.”
Once again, I feel like I'm eavesdropping when I hear his sister practically squeal, “A
? Okay, honey, see you…” He hangs up the phone before his sister can even finish, and he hastily shoves the phone back in his pocket.
Katherine,” he finishes.
Oh, right. You remember from the tour. But you can call me Kate.”
Hi, Kate. Chase Nichols,” he half-smiles and takes my outstretched hand. “So, is it really too far to walk, or did you just think it was too far for
I shake my head and narrow my eyes, “What?”
person walk from here to the Westchester? Do you think I can't do it just because I have these?” He picks up one of his crutches and waves it dramatically. I can tell he's not really offended, but trying to make light of the obvious.
No!” I say somewhat sharply. “It
on this road, but it's over two miles away, it's dark outside, and in case you haven't noticed, it's getting to be quite cold. Besides, there are sections of the road that aren't well lit, so it's not really safe.”
I don't think I have to worry about getting mugged. I can move pretty fast on these things.” He assures me.
It's not muggers that you have to worry about. There have been some mountain lion sightings nearby. I wouldn't chance it.”
Ha! All right, you convinced me,” he quips. “I just assumed you were feeling awkward about
and you didn't want to be responsible for the guy on crutches who falls off a cliff in your little town. Besides, I noticed you kind of staring at me on the trolley.”
Did he just accuse me of staring? Well, I
staring, but not at his crutches. I'm not sure what to say, so I finally admit, “I was looking at your hair.”
My hair???” He seems amused.
Yes,” I say a little defensively. “You have really nice hair.”
I begin walking toward the parking lot to escape the awkward silence.
“So, I'm driving you to the Westchester, then? My truck is over here.” I approach my Ford F-150. It's not the most beautiful thing in the lot, and certainly not the newest, but it's reliable, warm, and it can definitely handle all the roads in Eagle Canyon. I flick the auto start button. I can't wait to get the heat running as the temperature is dropping rapidly.
However, I stop just short of my truck as I notice that the step into the cab is fairly high – about as high as the trolley's first step. I turn toward Chase. “Um, is this all right? I mean, can you get up into the truck?” I'm embarrassed once I've said it.
He laughs and, thankfully, he doesn't seem the least bit offended. He's already made it to the truck and he's swung the door wide open. “The trolley didn't have one of these.” He hoists himself up with one hand using the handle just inside the door.
Would you mind driving me back to my cabin instead? I'm pretty tired, and it's not far. It's just a little bit past the Westchester, on Brickstone-”
Brickstone Road, Canyon Crest cabins, right? That's where all the tourists stay.”
Who says I'm a tourist?” He teases.
do, because I know every single person between the ages of 18 and 25 in this entire county. And you are not one of them.” I tease right back. “But, sure, I can take you back to your cabin.”
I start the truck and wait a few minutes for the heat to start flowing. I take off my gloves and start to warm my hands in front of the heat. “I need to thaw my fingers before I can drive,” I laugh.
“You really need to invest in some better gloves,” he smirks as he looks at my $5 knit cheapies. He takes my right hand and starts rubbing it between his hands. Feeling a little uncomfortable, I'm tempted to pull away. After all, I just met the guy an hour ago. But his hands are warm and firm. He drops my right and gestures for me to give him my left hand. “I can't believe you
here and you don't have warmer gloves!”
have warmer ones. I just happen to like this design,” I say, gesturing to my purple paisley gloves. “But I guess I should wear warmer ones when I come to work. Um, thanks,” I go on, feeling a little flustered. “For the hand warming.”
I quickly change the subject, “How about if I give you another quick tour of the town?” I ask. “I know you said you're tired, but it won't take long. There are some really cool things that aren't on the trolley tour.”
“Sure, I'll text my sister to let her know.” Chase pulls out his cell and sends a quick message.
I drive up the winding road toward the highest bluff. We pass behind the light display with all the children playing in the snow. We creep a little higher up and make a sharp left, and then another quick right. I love the way my truck handles these hills. A few yards further, and I pull into a tiny opening between the trees. I pull my gloves on again and flick the locks open. I look at Chase and tell him, “The path is a little steep, but it's smooth. Will that be okay?”
Chase twists his lips a little and I think I might have insulted him. I really have no idea, but he seems to move just fine, crutches and all. I decide that, after this, I'm just going to keep my mouth shut.
Yeah, it's perfect,” he smiles reassuringly.
We make our way to the top of the path, and then I stop and just stand still. I don't say anything. The view from the bluff doesn't need any explanation. There's a waning full moon, which lights up the entire sound. We can see for miles out past the lighthouse into Lake Superior. It is exceptionally calm this evening, which is a good thing. The wind up here can make everything feel a lot colder than it already is. In the distance, we spot a freighter all aglow, Christmas lights lacing its outline.
“What do you think?” I ask softly. My voice seems to insult the pristine silence surrounding us.
It's stunning,” he finally breathes.
Better than the trolley tour, huh? That old thing can barely make the small hills in town, let alone this steep climb. Besides, we can't have tourists falling off the bluff trying to get the best possible Instagram picture.”
Chase laughs. It's a deep, smooth sound. I smile a little, too.
“Is there a name for this place?” He asks.
I blush a little bit and quietly tell him, “It's called Lovers' Lookout. You can imagine what people do up here in the summer. Luckily most people don't want to brave the subzero temperatures just to make out.”