Christmas at the Lake
She knew she should have waited to drive over the pass to Lake Tahoe, but she just didn’t have that sort of patience. The snow was practically a blizzard now, and she pulled off to the side of the road where men waited to put on chains for motorists. She rolled down the window of her Tesla SUV, the crack just wide enough to slip the man a couple of bills.
“Chains are in the back.”
She rolled the window up again, wiping the snowflakes off her leather seats.
She was so ready for a break that she’d ignored the weather warnings and driven up on her own, purposely leaving her laptop at home. Now, if she didn’t get over the pass soon, she’d be sleeping in the car.
The hatch opened, and two men took out the boxes of chains she had stashed there. It was illegal to travel up this road without them; her brother, Jack, had reminded her of this, and she’d sent her assistant out to purchase a pair for the trip.
A frigid breeze blew through the car as the men closed the hatch, making her shiver a little. She pulled out a scarf from her bag and, wrapping it around herself, cranked up the heat.
The men finished quickly with the chains, but the rest of the drive was not quick at all. She had been listening to Christmas music, trying to get into the mood of the holiday. But as the storm increased in intensity, she switched over to the channel broadcasting road conditions.
“Highway 50 is open for the time being, but is expected to close within the hour. Blizzard conditions are expected to worsen for the next twenty-four hours. Motorists are advised to exit off the pass as soon as safely possible to allow snow clearing crews to plow the roads.”
Her wheels had more traction with the chains, but the going was slow, and the whole car vibrated from the rough mountain road.
She tapped her fingernails against the steering wheel, a nervous habit she had when she was stressed. Now she could only see a few feet in front of her. She knew that just off to her right was a deadly drop-off. She squinted at the windshield, trying desperately to keep her eyes on the tire tracks and red lights of the cars ahead.
She drove like this for over an hour. Shoulders hunched. Neck tight. The radio silent now.
Finally, the road started to descend from the mountain, and, just visible below, the lights of South Lake Tahoe came into view.
She drove through the town, signs for ski and snowmobile rentals winking down at her. Finally, the sign she’d been looking for popped out.
Black Bear Lodge
She held her breath as she turned down the uncleared lane, hoping that the SUV would be able to make it to the other side of the narrow drive.
The chains were what saved her. The car plowed through the snow, which accumulated along the front bumper and blew across the windshield. But the chains held traction all the way to the lodge. She pulled the car into the small parking lot, where just four others were parked, each made nearly unrecognizable by the snow piled on the roofs.
She parked, but left the car, and the heat, running. She pulled off her knee-high boots and replaced them with the snow boots she had bought at the last minute. Then came a puffy, silver jacket, which she zipped all the way to the top.
She looked around. No bellhop.
Sighing, she shut off the car and opened the door. The snow was so deep that it went above her protective boots. She trudged along to the back and retrieved her two large suitcases. Trying to roll the bags through the snow was nearly impossible, so she resorted to simply dragging them along. She was lucky; they were both light, one with clothing, one with gifts for her family. Gift cards and candles could only weigh so much.
As she passed through the lot, she saw that none of the cars were those of her family. They must have not made it over the mountain yet. They wouldn’t have unless they’d been right behind her on the drive. The news had told her that the pass was closed now.
She struggled with the suitcases up the steps to the main entrance of the building, spitting out the snowflakes that landed on her lips. By the time she got up the small flight of stairs, she was covered head to foot in heavy white flakes.
Even though she hurried to get inside, it was impossible not to notice that the lodge was spectacular. Long wood beams jutted upward, supporting the great vaulted ceiling. It was a large home, really, run by an older couple as a bed and breakfast. There were only a few rooms, and it was this privacy her dad had wanted when he’d had her book the vacation for everyone. In a day or two, when the storm ebbed, she would be joined by him, her two brothers, their wives, and one niece.
Secretly, she was happy to have a little time on her own before family descended upon her. They always had more questions than she felt like answering.
When was she going to settle down?
Has she been dating?
Work wasn’t everything, you know …
She sighed, her breath blowing out of her mouth like smoke from a cigarette.
Every light in the place was lit, casting a warm glow over the snowy landscape. She didn’t knock, and instead walked right in. Immediately, a gust of warm air washed over her.
“Hello?” she called.
She hadn’t seen them, but two men sat in front of a huge fireplace at the far end of the room. They turned at her voice.
“Hi,” one of them said, getting up and walking toward her.
“Hi,” she said. “Am I in the right place? Black Bear, right?”
“This is it.” He opened his arms.
The front room was huge, even bigger than it looked from outside. A staircase descended from the second floor, curving down toward a ten-foot-tall Christmas tree, its star soaring high above. It was decorated with what looked like family heirloom ornaments. Her own mother had built a collection over the years, and it looked like the owners here had done the same. The tree was a sparkling wonder that seemed to never end. Its scent filled the room, and she took a deep breath in.
“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” the man said.
“Mmm. How do I check in?” she asked, stomping the snow off her boots onto the mat.
“That’ll be Mary and Edward. They’re the ones who run this place. But I think they might’ve gone to bed already. It’s pretty late.”
She hadn’t noticed the time. It was already past ten.
“Mary left a note for you on the table. Can I help you with your bags?”
“Sure,” she said, leaving them where they stood.
She walked over to the entry table and picked up the note.
She sighed. “Can you help me upstairs, too?”
“Sure.” He outstretched one hand. “My name’s Adam. Over there is my brother Jake.”
Jake sent a wave in her direction.
She took Adam’s hand. “Lexi. Thanks for your help.”
For the first time, she got a good look at him. He was tall and broad, his brown hair cut short. Green eyes, too; her favorite. To her, he looked like he might be good for a fun night. Or maybe a few fun nights.