There were four of us, my sweet Sven, Burt, Claudette and myself, staring into the yellow, orange and blue flames.
A car came down the road.
It pulled onto the grass out front and stopped.
A door shut in the distance.
"Hi," says Jack rustling through the leaves behind us.
We turned around.
"What's going on?"
He pulled up a metal lawn chair and opened a beer.
And then there were five of us staring into the yellow, orange and blue flames.
September is a wonderful time of the year to be at the cottage.
The jet skis are parked inside.
The lake is still.
Firecracker season is over.
And it is time for sweatshirts.
No more pretending you aren't fat and sucking it all in.
I dug out a cold one from the cooler that was parked next to the boathouse, returned to the swinging bench and clunked down next to Claudette with her red-orange short hair, with that blonde stripe in her bangs that swooped just over her left penciled in eyebrow.
We continued to rock, because it is impossible not to.
Our kids were all grown up.
They'd done it together.
As we'd grown old together.
They were all moved out and not around to drive us nuts anymore.
Life was perfect.
No more changing all those diapers.
No more following tow-headed toddlers around the living room.
No more, "Mom, I have to build a bridge out of popsicle sticks for school tomorrow. It's our whole grade," on Sunday at six P.M., when there is not one popsicle stick in your house and the Dime Store is closed.
No more teenagers rolling their eyes at you, crossing their arms or slamming their bedroom doors.
Now, they were all adults, and they were all still alive.
They all had their own real live adult problems.
"I thought after they turned eighteen it was supposed to be easier," says Claudette. "This is bullshit."
"Guess you were wrong," I said.
It was the dawning of our awakening.
Our stepping into a world that others ahead of us already knew.
We had joined that club.
We knew the well-kept secret of the universe.
There it was staring us right in the face.
Life is really nothing more than, tit for tat.
"We should go skinny dipping," says Burt, getting out of his chair.
"Um. No," we said.
"Oh, come on," he says as he places another split log onto his perfect teepee with precision.
That is why he is known as the fire master.
Claudette and I looked at each other.
"No way," she says. "It's freezing."
"Too cold," I echoed. And pulled my knees up to my chest, on the swinging bench.
"Get a life," he says.
And then my sweet Sven stood up and then those two wandered up to the cottage.
The screen door creaked open and then it slammed shut.
A few minutes later the screen door creaked open again and then that screen door slammed shut, again.
We three at the campfire turned around.
Sven and Burt were on the cottage deck, wearing nothing but towels tied around their waists.
Claudette and I whistled.
We yelled encouraging cat calls as they walked toward the lake, passing us on our left, as Jack's ruddy complexion disappeared under the collar of his sweatshirt.
Which is difficult.
Sweatshirts don't have collars.
Our men stood on the pier looking out at the lake gathering up some courage.
And just as the giant red ball of a sun was disappearing quickly behind the bluffs, the way it always does in September, on a count of, "One.... two.... three...."
And it's gone.
On the count of one...two...three, together, Burt and Sven dropped their towels.
The Johnson Brothers, were born.
One lonely ray of a single street light on the corner, shone from behind the cottage, and it bounced off their perfect, pearly white asses.
We at the campfire, burst out laughing.
Jack snorted and uncrossed his arms to wipe his brow.
The Johnson Brothers took the ladder, all three steps, step by step, into the deep cold sea, since it is not conducive to diving off the end of the pier, as Travis and his neck brace will tell you.
They moaned and they groaned with high pitched whining as their almighty man hoods, shriveled into nothing, under the cold, wet, black, blanket.
"Those guys are freaks," says Jack, arms back and folded across his Bucky Badgered chest.
Claudette carelessly tossed another log onto the fire, annihilating Burt's teepee.
She poked around in there with a long sharp stick.
Coals glowed, black and orange.
"Sven and Burt might be a little loaded," I said.
"No doubt," Claudette says.
And then, The Johnson Brothers put on a show. The best one I have ever seen under the moonlight at the cottage.
They frolicked about.
Handstands, cartwheels and their now very famous and some say legendary, synchronized porpoise, white butte dives.
The moon shone off those perfectly timed Blanc cheeks out there, for everyone to see.
Over and over.
"Are you girls ever sorry you married them?" says Jack.
"Sometimes," we said. "But not right now."
It was a perfect September evening with the lake all to us.
The only sound was the crackle of the fire and the splashing Johnson Brothers, who eventually climbed up the ladder and retrieved their towels, without a care in the world.
That is when we heard the first clap.
"I don't know!" Claudette says.
And that is when we discovered that the entire lawn of the next-door neighbors' yard on the other side of the boathouse was covered with family and friends on blankets and in chairs, all waiting for the big show next door to end, so that they could shoot off their fireworks.