Spring Break

at the Lake House

Chapter One

 

by Ann Carol Ulrich
© 2017 (all rights reserved)

An sample chapter from the 7th Annette Vetter Adventure

          "OH, MOM! Can't they get someone else?" Seated at the breakfast table with her plate of scrambled eggs and a blueberry muffin, Annette reached for the butter dish.

Helen Vetter, dressed in her bathrobe, sat with her cup of coffee and let out a sigh. "I really have to fill in for the nurses who deserve some vacation time," she lamented.

Terry, who had just finished eating his breakfast, pushed his chair back at the kitchen table and stood up to carry his dishes to the sink. "Mom, it was your idea going to the lake."

Annette, perturbed, stared into her glass of orange juice. "We were actually supposed to go see Aunt Marie and Uncle Joe at Christmas," she reminded her mother. "But you had to work then, too, I remember."

Ruby emerged from the stairway in the dining room, dressed in a white skirt and scoop-necked aqua sweater with short sleeves. Her blond hair had been brushed back into a ponytail with a matching aqua ribbon. She smiled and said, "Good morning."

"Good morning, Ruby," said Mrs. Vetter. "You look very pretty in that outfit."

"Thank you." Ruby walked to the stove to dish up her plate and glanced at Annette. "Why are you pouting, Annette?"

Terry, 17, carefully dumped his dirty dishes into the sink. "Mom's not going to the lake house," he told his little sister.

Thirteen-year-old Ruby's blue eyes widened in disbelief as she faced Mrs. Vetter. "Oh, no! We're not going?"

"Of course you're going," Mrs. Vetter reassured her. She took a sip of her coffee. "You and Annette can still go to the Parkers', and Penny too."

"Terry's not going either?" Ruby glanced at her tall blond brother.

"I have to stay and work," he said with an apologetic smile. "I have two jobs now, what with helping Tim and his father at the Duncan farm, and now mending fence at the Randts'."

Annette picked up her fork and let out a big sigh. "I was hoping we could all go as a family," she said as she stabbed at her egg.

"Someone needs to stay home and take care of the livestock," Terry reminded her.

"Just the cow," said Annette.

"Don't forget the dog and cat," he added, wiping his hands with a kitchen towel.

Ruby brought her plate over to the table and sat next to Annette. "That reminds me . . . Mr. Brown said he's getting in an order of baby chicks at his store in a couple of weeks."

"That's good news," said Mrs. Vetter with a smile.

"I'm still sad about the chickens." Ruby hung her head.

Annette reached over and patted her little sister on the shoulder. "We'll start over with a fresh flock of birds," she said. In March, a fox had invaded the chicken house one night and killed all of the birds. Ruby had been devastated. She had taken on the chore of feeding the chickens, cleaning the coop and collecting the eggs and was turning into quite the little poultry farmer. Having been through it a couple of times herself, Annette knew how Ruby felt now, and yet having fresh stock now and then was probably a good thing.

"Anyway," said Mrs. Vetter, cupping her hands around her coffee mug, "I thought that tomorrow morning, we'd all drive up to Minocqua and spend the night at the lake house, and then on Sunday Terry and I can drive back home. At least we can have a family gathering for one night. How does that sound?"

"Groovy!" Ruby perked up immediately and dove into her eggs with her fork.

"Yeah, I'm quite sure I can get the day off tomorrow," said Terry. "Mr. Randt wants me to finish the fence before we have to go back to school after the break. I'm sure I can do it."

"Maybe Tim can take care of the cows," said Annette, "and then you and Mom will be back Sunday night."

"Then it's settled." Mrs. Vetter smiled.

Annette bit into her toast. She would have preferred to have her mother take a week's vacation in Minocqua with them, but when she had changed her work schedule to part-time -- after taking in Ruby and Terry -- the agreement had been that she'd be available to fill in for vacations at the hospital.

"What kind of chickens are you gonna get?" Terry asked as he put away the pitcher of fresh cow's milk in the refrigerator.

"Kay Randt says Orpingtons would be good," said Ruby. "I kind of want a mixture of them."

A half-grown tabby cat suddenly appeared outside at the kitchen window. It meowed at them and Terry said, "Clyde wants her breakfast."

"Clyde!" Ruby got up and ran to the back door. A moment later, the teen-aged gray kitten strolled in and made her way to her feed dish in the corner by the coat rack. Annette's collie, Ginger, who had been resting at her feet underneath the kitchen table, got up and went to greet his feline friend, his tail swishing gently.

"And if you get a rooster, you'll have your own baby chicks." Annette grinned as Ruby sat back down.

"Can I get a dozen chicks?" Ruby asked their mother.

"Yes, I think a dozen is a good number," agreed Mrs. Vetter and drank more of her coffee.

"How many eggs will a dozen hens lay?" asked Terry.

"Each hen lays one egg a day, as a rule," said Annette. She finished her breakfast, then cleared her place.

Terry did the math in his head. "That means . . . wow, you'll have a dozen eggs a day."

"Seven dozen in a week," chimed in Ruby with a smile.

"That's a lot of eggs to eat," mumbled Terry.

"We can sell some of them," Annette suggested.

"Really?" Ruby brightened.

Mrs. Vetter nodded. "You might make a small profit after we pay for their feed."

"Oh yeah . . ." Ruby took a drink of milk.

Annette glanced at the clock, then ran upstairs to get ready for school. Because it was Good Friday, they only had half a day of classes. She was looking forward to spending the next week up in Minocqua. Even though she had envisioned her entire family staying at the lake house with Uncle Joe and Aunt Marie and their daughter, Fern, Annette hoped it would still be fun.

Penny came by promptly at her usual time. Annette -- dressed in a lavender empire dress with three-quarter length sleeves and a square neck -- grabbed her jacket and headed out the door with Terry, who had changed from his green winter coat to a lighter jacket. Ruby was still eating and Mrs. Vetter stood at the sink, washing the breakfast dishes. Ruby's bus came later to take her to the junior high.

"What a gorgeous day it turned out to be," said Penny on the back porch as they came out to join her in their walk to the bus stop. Penny had on a short beige skirt and white boots. Her long dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she sighed with pleasure as her green eyes took in the blue sky and surrounding woods that were just starting to bud out after the long, cold winter.

"I thought spring would never come," said Annette as they walked down the Vetters' driveway.

"And spring break begins today, after school lets out," Terry reminded them, as if they needed to be reminded.

"It's also Good Friday," said Penny. "Annette, I'm so excited about going to Minocqua! Did your mom say when we're leaving?"

Annette quickly explained the change in plans, how Mrs. Vetter had decided to fill in for some other nurses at the hospital and wouldn't be staying up at the lake with them. "But she and Terry are going to drive us up north tomorrow morning. They'll stay the night, then drive back on Sunday."

"Oh, that's a shame," said Penny. "And Terry's not going to stay with us either?"

"No, your dad needs me," said Terry, "Plus I agreed to help the Randts out with their fences."

"Oh, that's right." Penny grinned. "Pete said he had to mend fence during spring break."

Annette stopped at the end of the driveway and pulled an envelope out of her purse to stick in the mailbox.

"Been writing letters again, Annette?" asked Penny.

"Yup. I finally answered Mandy's letter." Annette stuffed the envelope addressed to Gunnison, Colorado, into the box, then shut the door. "Mandy wants to come visit us this summer."

"Cool," said Penny. "That trip we took to Colorado last August was unforgettable."

Terry, who had lived several years in Colorado Springs, smiled as they walked on down the road toward Tower Drive. "I don't miss it that much," he disclosed.

The girls stared at him. "You mean, you like Wisconsin better?" asked Annette.

"Well, let's put it this way," said Terry. "Ravensville is a lot less hectic than living in the big city."

"Sounds like your brother is a small-town kind of guy," Penny said with a laugh.

"Well, Mandy certainly doesn't live in a city," said Annette, remembering the Cochetopa Hills and the Mitchell ranch that she and Penny had visited last summer.

"Don't you miss your friends?" Annette asked her brother as they walked.

He shrugged. "Oh, I suppose . . . a little. But now I've found my family . . . my roots . . . and I really dig it here."

Annette was pleased to hear him say it. She knew that her life had certainly changed for the better when her half-brother had found her and revealed who he was at Christmastime. Her mother being able to accept Terry and his sister, Ruby, into their little family had been the best thing that had ever happened in her life. It had been a dream come true.

"So tell me more about your cousin," Penny prodded, smiling at Annette. "What is Fern like?"

Annette shifted her books and purse to her other side. "It's been a while since I've seen my relatives in Minocqua," she said. "Fern's 17. Aunt Marie is my mom's sister, and Uncle Joe is an ex-Marine."

"He is?" Terry's eyebrows lifted.

"Yes," said Annette. "He enlisted during World War II."

"Gosh," said Terry. "Was he career military?"

"

"No, I don't think so," said Annette. "Uncle Joe and Aunt Marie run a resort up on Lake Minocqua. They've had it for years, and the lake house is kind of a lodge, where they live year round, but take in guests during the tourist season."

"You've stayed at the lake house before?" asked Terry.

"Oh, sure," said Annette, "not since I was Ruby's age, though. I have another cousin . . . David. He's Fern's older brother. He's in the Marines now and I think he's still over in Vietnam."

Terry was silent as they walked. Annette knew her brother was probably thinking about his stepdad, who was Missing in Action over in Vietnam, and was presumed dead.

"Let's not talk about Vietnam," suggested Penny. "It's way too pretty a day to be thinking of that horrible place."

"Ruby's getting baby chicks," said Annette to quickly change the subject. They discussed safer topics as they walked the rest of the way to the bus stop, where several rural kids were waiting. Then, within minutes, the school bus drove up and they boarded.

Penny led Terry and Annette to the rear of the bus, where Pete Randt sat. Annette and Terry took the empty seat in front of him, and Penny joined Pete in his seat.

"Hey, I heard you're gonna take Band next year," Pete said to Penny.

Annette turned in her seat and faced them. "Pen, is that right?"

"Yeah," said Penny. "My piano teacher said I should be taking Band or Orchestra."

"What instrument are you gonna play?" Terry asked.

"Piano's her instrument," said Pete, "but she's gonna be in percussion."

"Drums?" Annette scrunched up her face. "Isn't that what Tim plays?"

"Well, yeah." Penny blushed. "But Mrs. Frye said they'll probably use me on piano, as well as cymbals, bells . . . and other stuff."

"She'll probably be in the jazz band for sure," said Pete. He turned to her with a smile. "I wouldn't have gotten a First if Penny hadn't accompanied me during Solos & Ensembles this winter."

Penny rolled her eyes and turned away, embarrassed. "It had nothing to do with me."

"It had everything to do with you," insisted Pete. "You're a terrific accompanyer . . . accomp-pianist . . . aw, whatever it is you're called."

"Piano player will do," said Penny. "But that's all I did . . . you practiced hard to earn that First, Pete. I'm proud of you."

"Are you taking any electives next year?" Pete asked Annette.

Surprised that the conversation had turned to her, Annette blinked. "Nothing as exciting as Band," she replied. "Probably typing . . . and some art. Mom thinks I should take more science."

"Any ideas about where you're headed?" Terry asked Annette.

"What do you mean?"

"You know . . . what you wanna do after high school."

"Uh . . . not really," Annette admitted.

"What about you, Terry?" Penny asked. "You're gonna be a senior next year."

"Yeah, do you think you'll be headed for college?" asked Pete.

Terry scratched his head. "Gosh . . . maybe."

"Terry's real smart," Annette bragged. "Unlike me!"

Penny giggled.

"Now that's not fair," said Pete. "Annette, I think you should go to investigative school and become a detective."

Annette made a face and giggled.

"No, it's true," said Penny, her green eyes widening. "Annette, I'll bet Detective Brennan at the Ravensville Police Department would help you get into the police academy."

"Me?" Annette looked around and noticed some other kids on the bus were staring at her. She lowered her voice. "That's ridiculous."

"No, it isn't," said Terry. "There are lots of women cops."

"And detectives," added Penny. "You have talent when it comes to solving mysteries."

Annette sat back and rode in silence as the conversation drifted in another direction. The reminder of life after high school brought up her feelings of insecurity where Tim Duncan was concerned. Since Tim had become her boyfriend on Valentines Day, they had been seeing more of each other, mostly at the Duncans' house playing pool, going for walks in the woods, or an occasional visit to the drive-in. But Annette knew that Tim would be leaving for college in less than six months now, and she worried about their budding relationship coming to an end.

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