A muscular young man paddleboards with his faithful black Lab braced for action at his feet. Maggie had seen him lifting weights at the community center when she attends Zumba class. She envies his four-legged devoted companion, knowing they must depend on each other for love and devotion. She fingers the gold heart necklace she’s worn for many years as a reminder of a love she had once found long ago.
Off in the distance, a young couple bounces on a wave runner that glides through the water, kicking up a spray of angel wings behind them. Maggie stares at the driver and swears it is her old boyfriend, Matt. Wet from the lake water, his black curly hair glistens in the sunlight, and his smile spreads across teeth too large for his mouth. The couple wave to a passing speedboat. Yes, she is certain it’s Matt. The girl straddling the wave runner behind him, her arms around his waist, looks familiar also.
Pontoons blaring with music and crowded with families drinking sodas and beer cruise the shore. A lone fisherman tosses his line off the pier in hopes of bringing home some Sunnies for dinner. Closer to her blanket, three young children run into the water, splash and scream, then run out of the water, only to repeat the process over and over again. Maggie rubs the back of the sleeping baby lying next to her on the blanket. She wonders if Gracie will love the sun and water as much as the squealing children on the beach.
Thinking back over the first three months of Gracie’s life, Maggie couldn’t help but smile. She did it. She escaped the insecurities occupying the dark crevasses of her mind that resulted in three bad relationships with men she thought she loved. Maggie shutters at the memories.
Nick was her first love and live in. The attraction sparked when she started working at the pub on the beach. She had felt his black pearl eyes following her around as she waited on tables. He introduced himself, and after a few weeks of spending every moment together, they decided to share the rent on a small beach cabin. She suffered through his dominating personality and control over her every action. The fighting and temper tantrums resulted in his fist nearly missing her cheekbone and thrusting through the living room wall. The potential for physical abuse woke her up, so she moved out.
Eric entered her life as a dark raven trying to escape a protective upbringing by his psychotic mother. Maggie was attracted to and loved his barbaric sense of humor and morbid view on everything from cemeteries to serial killers. When his put downs and insults eventually weakened her self-esteem to suicidal thoughts, she finally freed herself from his talons.
Matt was closest to becoming her ‘til-death-do-us-part partner. Dull moments were non-existent while dating Matt. They waterskied after making love on a beach surrounded by cattails; they rode bicycles on gravel through a wildlife preserve; they hunted ducks at 6:00 in the morning after staying up all night watching the stars shift across the sky. Matt’s wanderlust turned into wander lusting after any pretty girl who walked across his path. Maggie had caught him kissing the redheaded bank teller behind the pavilion when she thought he was working the nightshift. She wondered how many other girls he had pledged his love with a gold heart necklace.
Lonely and lost, Maggie focused on her job at the pub. Driven, she worked her way up from being a waitress to bartending. The tips increased proportionally to how many times she batted her eyelashes. The flirting worked to put extra money in her purse, but the drunken bikers soon discovered she was as cold as the frozen lake in winter.
As the bartender in the most popular pub on the beach, Maggie saved enough money to become a partner when the other partner left to open a restaurant in The Cities. She enjoyed the rowdy excitement of summer in the bar when daylight hung around until 10:00 at night; she craved the attention when she wore her long strapless sun dresses to work; she even loved the long cold winters when cross country skiers hurried in for a hot buttered rum.
Maggie convinced herself she was happy and had everything she ever desired. But she wasn’t, and she didn’t. The pit of her stomach ached when she walked through the door to her silent living room each night after listening to the loud music and clucking laughter at the pub all day. She loved and lost three very different men in her life, and she convinced herself that no one would control or influence her ever again, except herself.
The pub consumed all of Maggie’s time, and she eventually tired of the late nights and smoky tavern. She had accumulated a decent savings account from tips and profit sharing from the business, so she pondered the idea of adopting a baby. She knew she had the money to support another little human being, she just wasn’t sure of the life-long commitment it required. But down deep inside she longed for love again; unconditional love with no strings attached.
On a quiet afternoon in the middle of the week, while she was waiting on tables at the pub, she overheard a conversation between two young women. Two words stabbed her in the heart, “abortion” and “adoption.” They rolled around in her head that night, “abortion,” “adoption.” If only she knew these two women, she would console them, stating that she would adopt the baby; she could love her baby.
The small resort town didn’t have an adoption agency, but she inquired at the hospital about a potential adoption. She ensured her desires of adopting a baby were known there and around town.
After connecting with the proper agencies, Maggie was approved to adopt, and she prepared herself for motherhood. It was an open adoption so she met and spent time with the single young lady, Jill, who accepted Maggie as the nurturing mother of her child. They became friends. Jill never shared with her the name of the father, but assured her that he had signed a waiver releasing himself of his fatherly rights. When Gracie entered the world, Maggie’s life changed. At last she had found someone she could love unconditionally, and someone who would love her in return.
Gracie’s cries startle Maggie back to the present. While consoling the baby she hears a violent explosion and sees bright yellow flames flash at the dock. The sunbathers stand up and stare. Children scream and cling to their mothers’ hands. A voice yelled, “Oh my god . . . the wave runner . . . with the two riders . . . slammed into the fuel pump at the marina!” Maggie couldn’t tell if the riders had escaped the inferno by jumping off the watercraft, but her gut told her the worst had happened. The horrific sounds of screams, yelling, crying, and finally sirens all ring in her head as smoke billows around the water and boat slips.
Maggie picks up Gracie and holds her close, grateful that they are safe on the beach. The muscular man from the paddleboard hurries over to stand by Maggie, his black Lab obedient by his side. He introduces himself as Adam, and his dog, Dutch. They both feel helpless as the firemen work on extinguishing the fire. The paramedics finally arrive and strap the couple to boards, their charred bodies unrecognizable. The sirens start again as the ambulance speeds down Main Street to the hospital.
Maggie feels an uneasiness in her stomach even though she realizes how fortunate she and Gracie are. The wave runner could have come up on the beach and injured many people, including them. Her anxiety increases, so she excuses herself from Adam, gathers up her towels and baby bag, straps Gracie in her stroller, and hikes up the street to the hospital. She asks the front desk about the couple who had just been admitted, and since the nurse couldn’t divulge any private information, she simply reiterates the severity of the burns. Maggie feels compelled to sit in the lobby and wait just in case she overhears any news.
A middle-aged couple rushes into the hospital, obviously distraught. Maggie studies their faces as they approach the front desk and are quickly ushered down the hall to emergency. As she watches them disappear, she searches her memory and realizes they are Jill’s parents. She shakes her head in disbelief when she remembers seeing their photograph sitting in the living room when she visited Gracie’s birth mother. They are Gracie’s grandparents.
The sliding doors open, and a trim woman with long black curly hair hurries to the receptionist and announces who she is. Maggie knows this woman very well. She is Matt’s mother. The receptionist guides her back to emergency. The hospital doors open again, and the pastor from the church downtown enters the hospital. He’s carrying a Bible in both hands near his heart. Saddened by what she just witnessed, Maggie reaches for her gold heart necklace, but fingers her bare neck instead. Her necklace is gone.
Maggie ties a bonnet over Gracie’s black hair sprouting with curls, secures her in the stroller, and hurries outside, the humid air engulfing them. Adam and Dutch are standing on the lawn outside the hospital, waiting for Maggie. Upset by the events in the hospital waiting room, Maggie buries her head in his shoulder as uncontrollable sobs shake her body. Adam says, “Let’s go get a cup of coffee.”
They walk to a dog-friendly coffee shop on the beach. Once settled at a table on the deck, Maggie feeds Gracie while she and Adam talk about their past. A television catches their attention as the screen flickers inside the coffee shop. The local news begins its broadcast by flashing two photos and headlines that read, “Tragedy at the Lake.” An announcer states, “Matt Schultz and Jill Pederson were killed today in a freak accident when they lost control of their wave runner. It slammed into the fuel station on the marina. Burns covered 90% of their bodies, and they were pronounced dead on arrival at St. Mary’s Hospital.”
Still in shock, Maggie shares her life story with Adam . . . how she and Matt were lovers . . . how his infidelities broke her heart . . . how she made the decision to adopt Jill’s baby . . . how Jill and she became friends. Adam listens with compassion; unable to express his concern and newfound desire for this woman and her baby he just met on the beach.
They decide to go for a walk on the beach. Contented, Gracie has fallen asleep, so they push her in the stroller along the concrete path that borders the sand. Workmen in orange vests are cleaning up the disaster at the marina.
Dutch spies a duck and escapes down to the water’s edge. Adam chases after him, secures his leash, and walks back to the path to join Maggie and Gracie. Just before he reaches the path, he stops, stoops down, and picks up a shiny object from the sand. When he catches up to Maggie, he hands her his discovery, obviously pleased with his treasure. “Look what I found. It’s a gold heart necklace. It would look great on you.”
Maggie can’t believe Adam found the gold necklace that Matt had given her. Without saying a word, she accepts the heart and vows to give it to Gracie someday when she tells her about her father, Matt. She also silently promises Gracie that she will soon meet her grandparents.
Maggie thanks Adam and kisses him, realizing he could be the lost love she has been searching for.