Winter Haven by KM McKenzie - Read Online
Winter Haven
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Summary

Winter Haven is a coming of age story.

In the small, isolated town of Winter Haven, Tyler and her best friends are high school graduates pondering what to do with the rest of their lives.

Cordelia decides to become an actress, while Jennifer struggles with her family's penury. And Tyler falls in love for the first time.

Tyler Martin falls hard for Devon Lecusken when he saves her from drowning; but, she does not realize that love is a two way street, and Devon, for all his promise, is troubled.

Devon Lecusken, Winter Haven's prodigal son, has returned home with all his problems. News of his return spreads quickly. Winter Haven's residents aren't happy to know he's back, considering the tragic circumstances surrounding his last stay in the town.

Tyler Martin, on the cusp of adulthood, and in love for the first time, feels she's the only one who truly knows him, and maybe she's right, but that doesn't mean anything to anyone, not even Devon, a young man who's so tragic he destroyed his own family.

What happens with the good girl falls for the bad boy?

Published: KM McKenzie on
ISBN: 9781458192950
List price: $0.99
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Winter Haven - KM McKenzie

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CHAPTER 1

The lineup of early morning traffic on the highway was the first thing Tyler Martin noticed when she settled on the hill. Her grandfather had mentioned that the view from the hilltop was spectacular in the morning, but she hadn’t gotten the chance to appreciate it until now.

Before today, Tyler’s mind had flooded with the same imagery each time it settled on the town of Winter Haven: old wooden houses divided by trees, water and distance. She lived in one of those houses. She lived in this small town, quiet, hidden and covered under that gloomy sky of boredom.

Winter Haven was a collection of small, populated locales, located near the very tip of northern Vancouver Island, making it virtually isolated from the rest of the world. The only road linking the town to civilization was the narrow, well maintained asphalt road that led all the way to Port Hardy, the last stop on Highway 19, and just about the only part of North Island people thought was worth exploring.

From the hilltop, this high road was suddenly enticing, and she imagined packing her bags and skipping town in one of the trucks moving out of the town. More trucks rumbled out than come in, she had noticed.

Baby steps, baby steps, she thought.

This unmistakable view of freedom had sold her fully on the thought of staying at the cabin, at least until she could figure out what to do with the rest of her life, now that high school was over and so was her gap year.

Though she had been at the cabin for the entirety of the long weekend, this was her first time climbing this high up into the hills.

Tyler closed her eyes, and listened to the rush of the river behind the cabins. She had woken up early every morning to acquaint herself with the woods, alive with the birth of spring. The last of the snow had melted from the trees, leaving them bare and scrawny.

The chirps of small birds and skittering of insects echoed around her. She had always preferred the woods. Sitting here, alone, with her thoughts, she allowed the chilled air of morning to soak through her sweater. Her teeth rattled, and she shivered, breath seeping from her mouth and frosting. It didn’t matter. The sounds of the woodland were enough to make her warm on the inside.

Tyler picked up a handful of small rocks, rubbed them until they were toasty in her palm, and then started throwing them toward the narrow logging road that carved through the trees. She rubbed her arms to warm them, and fixed her eyes on the horizon across the harbor. The sunrise, distant and timid, slowly crawled out over the harbor.

It was captivating.

Tyler! The sound of her name broke her focus, and she shifted, gazing toward the direction of Jennifer Long’s voice. She caressed the last pebble. Coming! she called back, before facing the sun, again, nearly out. It was going to be a bright day in Winter Haven. She threw the rock and watched it land, rolled, and took with it a bevy of small rocks in a mini-landslide that ended on the dirt road.

Smiling, she picked up the pile of branches she had collected earlier, took one last look at the harbor, and then trekked toward her cabin.

When Tyler wandered into the small, cold cabin, Cordelia jumpily faced her. Guess what?

Tyler played the guessing game. What?

Jennifer lounged on the sofa directly in front of Tyler, rolling her eyes.

I think Devon’s back in town, Cordelia blurted out. My father just got back from Victoria and just called me to tell me that he saw him there.

Is this for real? she asked.

Devon Lecusken was a delinquent who had plagued the town in recent history. For some reason, Mrs. Deana Kelly had told her, his parents never could keep him under control. He rode a motorcycle, drank heavily and participated in the sort of activities that had defined him in the minds of the town’s residents.

The Lecusken family was among the wealthiest and most privileged families on Vancouver Island. They were also tied to a series of dramatic conspiracies, one involving the fire to the former Town Hall, renamed the Winter Haven Community Center. She didn’t know the details of the stories exactly, but from what she had gathered from the gossips about the incidents, they had something—perhaps everything—to do with the Lecusken boy.

People liked to talk about Devon, even if he represented a painful period for the town. Each time his name came up, her father reacted the same way, with anger. She had asked him why, once. He had dismissed her, saying, the boy’s just bad news.

Tyler didn’t know how to take the news that he might be back in town.

I am dead serious, Cordelia answered.

Just like that, Devon Lecusken was a hot topic again. Cordelia had met Devon once at his home. Cordelia’s family owned a small boating and recreation business and had been invited to eat dinner with the Lecuskens. She reiterated this tale, annoying both Tyler and Jennifer.

Tyler listened politely, and then thanked her lucky stars when Jennifer declared, Okay, I’m ready to get out of here.

Devon Lecusken’s name froze in the cold air, left behind as they packed their belongings, readying to head back to the town.

I have places to go, Jennifer yelled, beeping the car’s horn excessively, while Tyler walked toward it with her small bundle. She’d left a few things behind, her way of making the cabin feel like home, an excuse to return.

Hurry up, please. I have places to go, Jennifer yelled, beeping the car’s horn excessively, while Tyler walked forward with her small bundle. She’d left a few things behind, her way of making the cabin feel like home, an excuse to return.

Tyler glimpsed the sun behind the tall trees, taking note of the windy conditions by tugging on her sweater. She thought it’d be a warmer day, but since it was hardly sunny or hot in Winter Haven, especially not in May, she quickly dismissed the weather.

Hurry! Jennifer yelled.

While the car bumped down the dirt road carved through the trees, Tyler allowed her eyes to savor the landscape. The woods were decorated with cabins, some large, others small, some lived in by local residents in Winter Haven, and others mostly owned by residents as far down as Victoria as well as the mainland. In the summertime, the cabins were mostly occupied and in the winter, they were usually empty. It’s often hard to determine who's in what cabin because thick layers of conifer, cedar and spruce trees separated each cabin, part of the attraction: privacy. The nice views of the harbor and inlet didn’t hurt either.

Tyler wanted to stay at the cabin for longer, but the long weekend was over and her parents had been going crazy since her absence, and were now demanding her return. She hadn’t minded that her mother called her two, three times a day, but when Jennifer and Cordelia began teasing her about how much her parents babied her, she felt embarrassed. In the fall, she would celebrate her nineteenth birthday, a minor accomplishment, but also her second year of adulthood.

Cordelia had managed to sneak some expensive wine up for the weekend, and she and Jennifer had spent Saturday night and Sunday partially or completely drunk. Tyler had stayed clear of the liquor. She wasn’t much of a drinker. Sober in case of an emergency. The designated adult. There was also the technicality that she was not of drinking age. It bothered her that she was like this, but she couldn’t break free of her habits, despite Cordelia’s best attempt to corrupt her. At one point, Cordelia and Jennifer actually held her down and tried to pour wine down her throat. She managed to escape, spitting out the taste of the bitter liquid. Yuck!

To get Cordelia and Jennifer off her case, she had promised them that she’d drink like a sailor when her nineteenth birthday came. She felt braver for saying it, and it was something to look forward to, and there wasn’t much to look forward to in North Island, except the Winter Haven Ball and the town festival at the end of July; and of course, Labor Day weekend, which she and her parents often spent in Victoria.

After that, it’d be the fall. What then?

Oh, poor sweet Tyler, what’s with the worried look? Jennifer teased, after noticing her facial expression, twisted and marred with concern.

You’ve been really condescending toward me all weekend. Sweet? Tyler complained. This term of endearment had gotten on her nerves. Jennifer turned her whole body from where she sat in the passenger seat.

"Well, you are sweet. What is that a lie?"

Tyler took too long to answer, and she didn’t know why.

Describe yourself in three words that are not synonyms for sweet?

Sadly, Tyler couldn’t think of many words to describe herself, and she simply shuffled about in the backseat.

Jennifer chuckled.

Tyler fell quiet, letting her eyes wash over the trees. Okay, she wasn’t edgy or brainy, that was Jennifer. She wasn’t the pretty one—that was Cordelia, who, despite her fuller body, had much more confidence and charm than she did. I’m just plain Tyler Martin, daughter of Irvin and Laura Martin. 

Jennifer glanced back toward her. I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings.

Tyler waved her off.

See, you’re our sweet Tyler, she said and faced the road again.

Lately, Jennifer’s condescension had picked up. She was always on edge, almost bitter, with her sharp words, expressed from a semi-ironic tone. Jennifer’s intent was mockery, cruel or not. She had always been somewhat sneering, but and the weekend had been a mix of high and lows, happy, chatty Jennifer, switching to snarky Jennifer at the tip of a hat. When Tyler met Cordelia’s eyes in the window, they traded raised brows, and but Cordelia didn’t input, staying out of the argument between she and Jennifer. At some point, Cordelia started talking about the new car she was getting soon.

Cordelia stopped by the gas station next to the main road, and as soon as she stepped out of the car, she was flirting with the mechanic, a potbellied guy named Mike Hornsby who was a senior when they were freshmen in high school.

Tyler admired Cordelia’s bravery, but Jennifer just rolled her eyes, mumbling that Cordelia was wasting time. Cordelia’s free-spirited. Tyler envied her a little. It wasn’t just because of her money. Cordelia had an open-minded approach to life that neither she nor Jennifer had. Jennifer once told Tyler that, Life is Cordelia.

If there was such a thing as a it girl in Winter Haven.

Cordelia felt made for the spotlight, and behaved as if life was a movie set. Nothing about her behavior seemed natural. He poses, fake pout, pushing toward the mechanic’s cheek, and even her laugher, a short, giggly sound that belonged on Barbie, instead of a real woman.

Is she posing? Jennifer asked.

It looks like it, Tyler said.

Jennifer sighed. Oh god!

Tyler laughed. Too bad the modeling agencies had turned Cordelia down; well, they recommended she put some pounds on and try plus-size modeling. She had refused, and though she had dieted some, she eventually gained the weight back, and declared that she wanted to be an actor instead. By no means was Cordelia overweight. In her words, and Tyler accepted it as the truth, I am no bigger than Marilyn Monroe or Jane Russell. This she had concluded a while back when they were watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

After watching the film, Cordelia had gone away to Vancouver and returned with golden-honey blonde hair that got blonder by the day; although, she swore she wasn’t bleaching it. I’m really a natural blonde, she had answered when Jennifer started calling her Suicide blonde.

At least I should have been born blonde, she had chuckled afterward.

Cordelia climbed back into the car in a deliberate lady-like manner, and blew a kiss to a blushing Mike Hornsby before starting the car and driving off.

Jennifer rolled her eyes. I see Mike has put on some weight. Remember when he used to be cute?

Yeah, Tyler said. She had a bit of crush on him back in first year of high school.

It’s a shame what Winter Haven does to people who don’t get out, Jennifer said.

Being in Winter Haven is sort of depressing, Tyler agreed.

Oh come on guys, Cordelia started disappointedly. Mike still looks good.

In a ‘I’m aging poorly’ sort of way, sure, Jennifer said, making quotes with her fingers.

Or, in a ‘I want free gas’ sort of way, Tyler chipped in, teasing Cordelia.

I did not get free gas. I paid for my gas. Unlike you, I have money, you know.

Cordelia’s words came out all wrong, and even though Tyler was certain Cordelia didn’t mean it in a bad way, her eyes darted to Jennifer, suddenly scowling like the Hulk ready to rip through his clothes and turn out the green monster.

I was wondering how long it would take you to go there, Jennifer quipped, folding her arms at her chest. I didn’t expect anything else.

You know that’s not how I meant it, Cordelia pleaded. Tyler, you can back me up, right?

Yeah, whatever, Jennifer said. I’m done talking.

Cordelia’s face grew hard, and tightly drawn. Cordelia studied Jennifer from the mirror, perhaps trying to figure out what else she could say. Whatever response she had, she avoided, put the car in drive, and kept her eyes on the road instead.

Quiet tension filled the car. It emerged each time Cordelia’s wealth, or Jennifer’s poverty came up. Unlike Cordelia’s family who lived in a palatial home, Jennifer’s family lived in a modest, government-assisted home in the poorer section of town. Jennifer was the second eldest of four, with an older brother named James, a younger sister named Jasmine, and a yet younger brother named Jason. Jennifer’s mother used to work for Cordelia’s family. The girls met when Jennifer’s mother brought her to work at the Milroy household.

Jennifer spent a lot of time complaining loudly about the way the Milroy family treated their workers. Once in the tenth grade, she and Cordelia got into a major argument about the late nights her mother spent at the home. Jennifer was upset that the Milroys forced her mother to cook supper virtually every night, and at the expense of cooking for her own family. And of course, the responsibility of cooking fell to Jennifer herself, since her dad, a truck driver, was rarely home, and her older brother was never burdened with any household chores, due to his golden boy status. He had won a scholarship to study at one of the top universities.

Though Cordelia could do nothing about the work conditions of Mrs. Long, she was a Milroy and therefore subjected to Jennifer’s verbal abuse and rants. Cordelia cried that day in the tenth grade, and so did Jennifer. They made up one day later. Tyler wondered for how long the three of them could remain friends. Increasingly, they grew apart. The friendship was on borrowed time. Jennifer’s attitude had deteriorated so badly, even she was losing her patience with her. Jennifer wasn’t always so angry.

Much of her rage went into her studies and textbooks, but lately, she’d found another source to take them—Tyler or Cordelia, usually Cordelia Milroy. Cordelia had a fun-loving, carefree mentality toward life, the same life that overwhelmed Jennifer Long. The life that had made her tiny frame and small features that much frailer. It had given her dark round circles around her eyes and forced her into anorexia among other things. Jennifer had convinced herself that if she didn’t make something of herself through education, then she’d get stuck in misery forever, Just like my lame duck parents, she often yelled.

Cordelia could slack off rather easily and not worry about her future. Jennifer long had only her future on her mind. Jennifer studied as if there was nothing else to do; always going after scholarships and bursaries to help her pay tuition fees at the University of Victoria. She wanted to follow in her brother, Jamie’s footsteps, but Jamie could venture away and not bother with the family. She had to take care of the family.

Jennifer’s work was her social life, also. It took a lot of convincing to get her to join Cordelia and Tyler on their excursion at the cabin. Since the semester at college was over, she had added hours to her work schedule which meant she had no free time for anything. It made her angrier, but she insisted she had no other options.

Are you dropping me off first? Jennifer asked Cordelia when the car was driving through the town square.

Weren’t we going to the mall? Cordelia asked.

I have to work today, Jennifer replied flatly. She grabbed her bag aggressively from the seat of the car. I told you that before, Cordelia. Geez!

Cordelia said nothing and maneuvered the car accordingly. Jennifer got out of the car right before the ravine, and with a lousy gesture of the hand, made her way toward the passage that led toward the housing complex where she lived. All the houses in the large dirt yard looked exactly alike, built as government subsidized houses. Cordelia waited for her to disappear under the trees before she drove away.

What now? Cordelia asked, facing Tyler when they were on the road again.

Now? I don’t know, Tyler said, rubbing her eyes, suddenly tired, a drastic shift in mood from the morning. I don’t want to go home yet. I guess we go to the mall.

That’s my girl, Cordelia said happily and sped up the car.

#

Cordelia and Tyler searched out a few stores in the small building, the only mall in Winter Haven, really. They got to clothing store, where they, Cordelia rather, recognized their former classmate, Kevin Banks. He was working at the counter.

Cordelia, he said, greeting her, but it was a lazy greeting. He didn’t seem too happy to see them.

Well, I didn’t expect to see you here, Cordelia said, leaning over the counter with a cardigan sweater folded under her arms.

I’m working here actually, he said, rubbing the nametag attached to his shirt and grinned. Kevin was lanky, with some blemishes on his blotchy skin, but he wasn’t ugly. He was one of a handful of boys in Tyler’s Psychology class and he barely showed up for much of it. She bet he didn’t recognize her, even if the student body was very small. She didn’t speak to anyone in school and he wouldn’t have cared.

Since when? Cordelia fired at him.

He rolled his eyes to the back of his head as if searching the content of his memory. For about four to five months now actually.

Wow. So what are you doing, now that school’s over?

I’m taking a year off to work, make some money.

Wait, weren’t you to go away to Florida on a baseball scholarship or something?

Kevin drew in his breath and made a painful facial expression. That didn’t work out. I broke my arm, had some surgeries; hasn’t been the same since. Long story.

Sorry to hear that, Cordelia said, tone genuine.

It’s okay, he replied with a humble smile.

Tyler immediately felt sorry for Kevin Banks, and her mind immediately recalled Mike Hornsby at the gas station, and even Jennifer. She knew as well as he did that his chances of leaving Winter Haven had just drastically diminished. Winter Haven was the type of town one stayed in his whole life if he wasn't too ambitious.

Only the overly ambitious left, and when they did, they never returned. There was a well known actress who was born in Winter Haven but who had refused to return, even though she had been asked to come back many times for a special honorary key to the town.

Though she was born in Winter Haven, her family had moved to Vancouver when she was young, and she cited only Vancouver as the city of her childhood. In an effort to get her to return, Mayor Sweeny had ordered the construction of a mural with her face on it. She had yet to show interest in returning. Tyler understood her to some extent, so even when the local media slammed her for refusing to come by, Tyler had thought that she didn’t blame her. Winter Haven was simply that place that no one cared existed. Once the Lecuskens were gone and their famous and wealthy friends stopped dropping by, there was nothing else of glamour to keep people interested. 

So, of course, poor Kevin. She remembered that his scholarship had been announced to the entire town and he had vowed to remember Winter Haven, and now he would never get his opportunity to go to the big times and make the town proud.

Cordelia rose from the counter she was leaning against when Samantha Olsen dropped her things on it. Hi girls, she said in the annoyingly cheerful tone they were used to, and absolutely hated. Tyler smiled back, but Cordelia’s face fell flat, the blood draining. Samantha was a bit of a big deal around town. Her biggest claim to fame was being a beauty queen, or runner-up in the Miss BC pageant. Her fiancé was from Winter Haven, and Samantha occasionally dropped by to brag about her life as a TV reporter.

Apparently, Winter Haven was nothing more than a summer get away from her fancy life in Vancouver. The truth was that she was nothing more than a weather girl. But, the bottom-line was that Samantha wasn’t very kind to Cordelia, and showed it in a snobby way.

Oh, Cordelia, are you still doing that acting thing? Her tone was nasty.

Yes! Cordelia snapped at her.

That’s sweet.

Tyler swore she could see steam rising from Cordelia’s nostrils. Cordelia used to admire Samantha Olsen until she had described her body as big during an event two summers ago.

I guess you guys are coming to the North Island Ball this summer, huh?

Tyler and Cordelia traded glances.

I guess, Cordelia answered flatly.

"I am attending this year. My boyfriend and I are doing it for charity, of course. I was worried there wouldn’t be anyone interesting there. But, I am sure you girls will make it interesting. Cordelia, I can’t wait to see what you’ll wear."

Samantha Olsen was phony. Tyler didn’t like her much, either.

Here you go, Samantha, Kevin said, handing Samantha her things in a shopping bag. She beamed at them. Gotta go girls. See you later.

Bitch! Cordelia uttered as soon as Samantha scurried out the store. She then turned back to Kevin with a big smile on her face.

I guess you’re coming to the Ball, right Kevin? The Ball was just about the only exciting thing in North Island, and the only good thing to look forward to in the summertime. It was the last remnant of Winter Haven's glamorous past.

The Winter Haven Ball? He gestured to a fellow co-worker who had come from the back.

It’s called the North Island Ball now. And it’s held in Port Hardy. And I believe that’d be it, Cordelia spoke flirtatiously.

Isn’t that for rich people?

Shut up, it’s not. Besides, my friends and I are going. If you’re lucky you could be my date.

That would be cool, Cordelia, Kevin said and stepped out from around the counter as his co-worker took his place. But I’ll have to look into it.

Fifteen minutes, The older man flashed his hands three times at him.

He nodded.

Tyler and Cordelia followed him to the back of the store where he told them to wait for him as he was going to grab some cash for lunch. They decided to wait outside for him. He showed up a few minutes later. Cordelia grabbed his arm and they headed off.

Some sushi, Cordelia was saying once they had seated themselves in the food court. I think I have to diet. I’m auditioning for this part in Vancouver in a few weeks and I don’t want what happened to me in that audition two weeks ago to happen. The girls were so skinny.

I’ll take anything vegetarian, Tyler responded.

Are you mocking me? Cordelia asked studying her. Since when did you become a vegetarian?

I’m not. I’m just trying to eat healthier. You know we’re out of high school now and from here on we’re on our own, Tyler explained.

Cordelia wasn’t listening, but handling her phone. She then leaned into Kevin. After a short deliberation of her trying to convince Kevin that it was the gentlemanly thing to offer to get lunch, he reluctantly gave in and got up to get the meals.

You know Cordie, I didn’t know you two were together.

We’re not, Cordelia said, touching up her make-up.

Really? You sure act like a couple.

I need a date, Tyler. I need a date to the Ball. I wasn’t going, but that witch of Bitchwick made me change my mind.

Tyler scoffed. But Kevin?

What’s wrong with him? Cordelia looked mortified.

Nothing, Tyler exclaimed quickly. I’m just surprised. Since when do you date poor dudes?

I’m not shallow you know, Cordelia said flatly. It’s not as if we’re marrying anyway.

So you’re just messing around.

Kevin may still get his scholarship to play baseball, you know.

Tyler’s brows furrowed. What had this to do with anything? And that was sort of doubtful.

I need a date okay, Cordelia said, and then exhaled loudly. You can go dateless, but not me.

"Wow! I see. So I’m a –what now? What makes you think that