We drove up the snowy, winding road towards the cozy A-frame cabin. It had only been a year since we had last been, but it felt like ages. I felt so much older. I didn't think we would ever make it off the meandering road. But, despite my Vertigo kicking in, and the beginning signs of a hangry episode, the bare trees and perfectly powdered rooves transported me into a Rockwell painting. I sipped on thick, pipping hot cocoa while Eleanor searched the radio for a station that wasn't playing Mariah Carey every hour.
"El. Can we please stop at the next exit? I'm starving."
"Lou! We ate breakfast before we left South Haven. We only have three more hours, you know."
"Three more?" I huff, intensely chewing all the flavor from my gum. "I don't remember Muskoka being this far away."
"It's only been five hours!" She laughed. "Okay. We can make one more stop for fries but after that, we're home-stretch focused. M'kay?"
"Sorry if I'm cranky. I just want to make it in time for sunset," she smiled with her red cheeks.
We pulled off in Toronto for Wendy's fries, and I remember thinking I could never be happier as El sang along to "Sleigh Ride" while I sipped on a chocolate Frosty. I was so wrong.
When we finally made it to our cabin tucked away in the woods, I immediately felt at home, as if a blanket of peace and calm was wrapped around my shoulders. We had been staying there for the past few New Year's vacations as a little gift from our old friend Charlie who we met on a yoga retreat. It's one of those places where time stands still. It smelled the same as I had remembered. Dusty books. Leather. A faint scent of cinnamon I can never locate, and distinct pine needles. The sun was just about to set; the sky looked all milky with specks of purple. Eleanore was setting up her tripod outside the cabin to take photographs for her senior portfolio.
"Can you stand over here? I need to test the lighting."
I run over, my feet sinking into the crunchy snow, and adjust my toque.
"Riiiight here," whispered El as she adjusted my position. She knelt down beside me.
"Are you okay?" I asked, looking down at her.
"I'm almost perfect," she smiled. Eleanor pulled out a ring from her coat pocket and my tummy fluttered. "I'd be better if you said you'd marry me."
"Oh my God. Yes!" I pulled her up to me as the camera flashed. I had completely forgotten it was there as she put the silver band on my ring finger and kissed me.
"Do you like it?"
"I-I'm shocked. I love it. I love you!"
"I love you too, Lou," she hugged me tight. "But can we take that again?" El laughed.
"You're crazy. Okay!"
That night we roasted marshmallows and drank apple cider, cuddled in front of the fire pit. Her blond hair was all messy and her freckly cheeks were especially pink. "I love you so much. I'm so glad we're here," I exhaled.
"Me too. There's actually another surprise I have for you," she nudged.
"Another one? You're joking!"
"Take a guess."
"What did you buy me the cabin?"
"Wait. What? No, you didn't."
"But I did. I bought us the cabin."
"No! I don't believe it."
"Look!" El handed me a key. A gold key with an 'S' hanging from the key chain.
My hands were shaking as I held the key. Our key. "When?"
"I closed on it about a month ago. I bought it off Charlie. It's been in the works for a while, and I really didn't think he could keep the secret but I guess he did," she laughed a sigh of relief.
"He did. Oh, El. I just can't believe it. It's ours? Like really ours?"
"Yes. We can do whatever we want with it. We can stay any time we want and we never have to leave."
"Never ever," she said.
At that moment, I was the happiest I have ever been and probably ever will be.
Every time we go back to the cabin, I remember that night. I remember everything about it, from the car ride to the ring, to the moment it became ours--The Sanders' Cabin. When our furry dog runs along the lake and El takes photographs of the geese, I smile and all of my troubles melt away like the ice in Spring. I know how lucky we are to have a place where time stands still and there is a perpetual smell of cinnamon. I never complain about the winding roads or ask to stop for fries. Well, not every time.