A cold breeze skimmed the top of the pond. The water shivered with a ripple across its surface. Meryl stepped out onto her porch and felt the wind's chill caress her cheeks and tousle her ashy brown hair. She knew this winter would be a cold one for Minnesota.
The edge of the pond needed tending, and it was time to fish the red leaves of autumn from the surface.
In the shed, Meryl took the leaf skimmer and some clippers.
The next few weeks would be time-consuming as she prepped her pond before the temperatures dropped and it froze over.
Meryl peaked and spotted Goldie Hawn, Goldie Locks, and Joe Koy. Her three thriving Koi fish swam near her. She knew what they wanted. Opening a plastic garbage pail, Meryl scooped a cup of pellets and sprinkled them into the pond.
The fish slapped the surface greedily. She watched as their mouths comically opened and closed. In her head, Meryl thought, "glub, glub."
Smiling, she began trimming. Like toddler's fingers teasing the surface of the water, the blades tapped with each gust of wind, creating little ripples.
As she tossed the last of the clippings into a bucket, she pushed herself up with her hand on one knee, grimacing as her back protested. The cold weather was rougher with age.
No wonder old people move to Florida, she thought.
As she scooped at the leaves, a car turned down her dusty driveway.
Meryl looked up and spotted an officer behind the wheel as it parked near the front of the house. Cameron Larson got out and nodded kindly towards her as she waved him over.
"Afternoon, Meryl. Gettin' pretty cold out these days!"
"Officer Larson. Company was the last thing I was expecting. I would have put on my pretty boots if I'd known," Meryl flaunted her muddy, worn-down boots.
"Meryl, come on. You can call me Cam. And those boots are lookin' just fine. Character is better than mint, if you ask me," officer Cameron took off his sunglasses, looking less official.
He's sure in better shape than me, Meryl considered as her eyes wandered around his fitted uniform.
"What brings you down my old dusty road, soldier? I haven't cooked anything; surely I haven't ruffled anyone's feathers in town either," Meryl looked puzzled but not ungrateful for the visit.
"Well, Meryl, I wish it were on happier news. That ex of yours, Toni, he's missing," Cam looked down at his boots, shiny and in better condition than Meryls.
"What do you mean 'missing'? Did he flee the country with that floozy of a woman?" Meryl huffed and started poking at the new leaves that landed on her pond.
"No, ma'am. I mean missing. The flooz… erm, Miss Rachel Weber, claims they had a falling out about a month ago. Toni's brother reported him missing 2 weeks ago when he didn't show for a trip to Vegas," Cam was looking at Meryl.
Meryl stared at Cam deeply. Waiting for more information. She blinked and looked down again.
"Well. I don't see him missing a trip to Vegas. What do you think happened?"
"Honestly, we don't know. Between Miss Weber and his brother, there's nothin'. That's why I'm here, Meryl. Has he tried to contact you? Would he try to reconcile the marriage?" Cam took off his hat with concern.
Meryl scowled at the word "marriage." What did marriage mean anyway? Breaking vows. Sneaking around at night. Going on "business trips."
"Look. I'm sure he's found another, younger model to replace me and that poor little girl, Rachel. If he comes around or calls, I'll let you know,"
Cam looked around Meryl's property. The trees whistled and moaned as if they held a secret.
"I just want to be sure you're safe, Meryl. I would hate for somethin' to happen to my friend," Cam put his hat back on. "Please call me if you need anything. Miss Weber said he seemed out of sorts after they broke it off."
Cam walked back to his car and pulled out of her driveway, kicking up dust, as he drove off. Meryl waved absently. She peaked around at the trees.
The week before November, Meryl always took off work. There was much to do before winter; she didn't want to feel strapped for time.
More leaves covered the pond's surface. She saw Goldie Hawn toying with one and Joe Koy hopefully chomping at another. Silly fish, Meryl thought.
With leaf skimmer in hand, Meryl scooped and shook the turning leaves into a pile she would rake up later. The pump would be next.
She had a tank prepped in her house for the fish. But that she would save that for another day. They hated the tank. She understood.
Meryl checked her watch and looked up at the road to her house.
Right on time. She thought, smiling and blushing a little.
Officer Cameron's civilian car turned down the road and stopped in front of her house. He got out with a big bouquet of pansies and snowdrops.
Meryl gave a flirty smile and walked over to Cam. She gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
She walked him into her house for drinks.
They sat in front of the fireplace. Meryl's leg curled up comfortably, and Cam sat as a stranger would in a new home. They sipped on glasses of red wine and joked about high school.
"Do you remember Stephanie… Stephanie, what was her last name," Meryl chuckled.
"Baker! I do. She followed Mr. Lawernce around everywhere. She sure hasn't changed. She married that man, Cody Thorne. He's 10 years older than her!"
"She chased her dreams. Accomplished more than most of us can say. At least she's happy," Meryl took another sip and watched the flames dance behind the grate.
"I can't believe it's been 50 years. And we're still here," Cam looked around. "You've got it pretty good. You at least got to keep the place."
"Not without a fight. Toni tried to keep it, saying he bought the place. I had to remind him that we bought it, and he lost it when he took a 'business trip' with that… that…."
Meryl laughed so hard she felt her side cramp up. Cam joined in.
"I guess I could have been worse off. I felt something was coming when the fertility tests came back. The way Toni looked at me when he realized I couldn't have a kid. Damaged goods," Meryl sighed. "I never really thought about having kids-Toni, on the other hand. I think Toni could only feel like he'd succeeded if he had kids. Now he's dating kids," she rolled her eyes and stood up.
Meryl walked to the kitchen and poured more wine into her glass, took a sip, poured a little more, then took the bottle with her to the couch.
She tilted the bottle towards Cam, who held up his hand.
"No, Ma'am. Early shift tomorrow," Cam looked at his watch and stood up. "Thank you for dinner, Meryl. Let's do it again sometime. before the snow falls."
"You bet," Meryl winked in a tipsy manner. She felt 23 again.
Meryl walked Cam to the door. He turned and kissed her squarely on the lips. She didn't resist. He pulled away and smiled.
"I'll see you around," he said and walked into the cold night.
Meryl walked, closed the screen door, and watched Cam drive away. The cold wind threatened to invade her house, so she closed the door.
Walking back to her wine bottle, Meryl decided she might as well enjoy the time off work and filled her cup.
As she walked back to the comfort of the fireplace, she heard a crunch of a branch outside. Her head turned towards the patio door and stared out towards the dark forest. Shadows danced among the trees against her floodlights.
Probably a damned raccoon, she thought as she walked to the glass door.
She felt the cold seep through the glass as she looked into the darkness of the trees. Her eyes wavered with the alcohol. Blinking hard, she locked the door and went back to the fireplace.
Meryl woke up with a jolt. Her phone reminder blinked: "Koi Dai!" As her head spun with the wine flu, Meryl pulled herself out of bed. She downed a glass of water and looked at the large tank peaking at her from her library. Toni's old "work from home" office during the winter.
Now it was the home for her Koi during winter.
She pulled on her boots and her jacket. Noticing the sprinkle of snow, she put her gloves on. As she walked to the shed, she noticed the door was cracked open.
Strange, she thought, must've been the wind blown the thing open, as she pulled a large storage container and a net from the shed for her fish.
As she scooped Goldie Hawn up, she checked glanced over at the thermometer, 35 degrees. Perfect timing.
Goldie Hawn protested but seemed to calm down once she was in the tank with warmer water and food. The same for Joe and Locks.
They swam happily and ate as Meryl went back outside.
The snow began to pile up, and Meryl needed to get the pump out of the pond. Small sheets of ice floated around the surface. She struggled to pull the pump free as her gloves lost grip.
Frustrated, she tugged. She felt a hand on her grab her shoulder and pull at her.
Her heart leaped as she turned and saw Cam smiling at her efforts. Meryl breathed with relief, letting out a puff of smoke in the cold air.
"I didn't even hear you come down the road!"
"Sorry 'bout that, Mer. I didn't want to miss an opportunity," Cam chuckled.
"One to see you look like a fool up close!"
Meryl swung at Cam's arm, and he caught it, pulling her in with a hug.
Crouching down, Cam pulled the pump out and put it away in her shed.
"Are you here for dinner?" Meryl asked.
"Nope. Just stopping by on my rounds. Say, Meryl. You seem kinda jumpy. You okay?"
"Yeah. I guess I got in my head when you mentioned Toni had gone missing. You heard anything yet?"
"Naw. I think they've filed it away as a lost cause. Why? Has he contacted you? You Okay?" Cam asked, concerned.
"I'm okay," Meryl looked out into the forest.
Cam stared out into the trees, then back at Meryl.
"Meryl. If something is bothering you, you can tell me," Cam held out a hand.
Meryl took it, and they embraced in a kiss as the snow began to fall harder. Cam pulled away and headed back to his car.
The thermometer read 28 degrees as Meryl walked to her porch and watched Cam drive away.
The first layers of ice began to form on the pond's surface.
With a smile, Meryl looked away from Cam's retreating car and glared at the frozen pond.
"Jealous, Toni?" she whispered.