Read Burnt Mountain Online

Authors: Anne Rivers Siddons

Tags: #Family Secrets, #Georgia, #Betrayal, #Contemporary, #North Carolina, #Fiction, #Romance, #Family Life, #Literary, #Marriage, #Camps, #General, #Domestic Fiction, #Love Stories

Burnt Mountain (10 page)

BOOK: Burnt Mountain
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“I’m fine,” I said, waving my hand at her. “But I think I’ll go get a Coke. I don’t want to taste egg all day.”

The nausea didn’t quite pass, and I went home early and stretched out on our bed. Flat on my back with a cold, damp cloth
on my head, I decided that I might as well think about Camp Sherwood Forest again. Get it sorted out in my mind once and for
all. Move past it and go on with my life. Physically I had gone past the summers I spent there, but somehow it seemed to me
that when I looked back there was a chasm in my life that had swallowed those years and they simply weren’t available to me.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said to myself. “That’s most of my adolescence.” I had loved Sherwood Forest with all my heart. Not
at the very first… predictably, most of the other girls were indeed Atlanta girls and had known one another since
birth, and my shyness turned me nearly to stone. Even the few who tried to befriend me were met with what my grandmother Caroline
called my ice princess demeanor. But somewhere in that frigid first week I turned out to be, totally to my own surprise, a
really good horseback rider. Accomplishment of any kind is much admired among the young. After that the walls began to crumble.

I had never been around horses much. I didn’t have eight-year-old crushes on them, never, as many of my new acquaintances
did, knew the names of every Kentucky Derby winner back to the first, never lobbied for a pony. I wasn’t afraid of them. I
just didn’t think about them.

But my first time up on one of the campus’s well-groomed and trained horses, I felt as if I had melted into the saddle, was
all a piece with the sleek breathing, living flanks my calves and thighs gripped. I tightened my legs. The horse, a small
roan mare named Lady, moved off in a smart trot. I tightened more, joy beginning to flower in my chest. Lady broke into a
rocking horse canter. I threw back my head and shouted aloud, wordlessly, in ecstasy. Lady picked up her stride. I had sailed
with her over the smooth riding trails for perhaps a half mile before the thudding of hooves behind me penetrated my consciousness
and I turned my head, hair stinging into my face. Luanne, our equestrian counselor, was coming hard behind me on a pinto,
shouting, “Hold on, Thayer! Just hold on! I can get her to stop; just hold on!”

“I don’t want her to stop!” I shouted back, and Lady moved into her full gallop.

I could feel her rev up like an engine between my legs.
The forest whipped by, with occasional flying glimpses of blue from the lake, and we ran until I could feel Lady’s muscles
begin a fine, delicate trembling and I slowed her, and we turned around and walked back to the stables. On the way back we
met two of the mounted counselors who had been pursuing us. After a good scolding for me and a rubdown and water for Lady,
one of them said, “I never saw Lady move like that. Why didn’t you tell us you were a rider?”

“I don’t like to brag,” I said sweetly. Whether or not I have ever wanted to admit it, there is more than a little of my mother
in me.

That night at the campfire, two of the prettiest and snottiest of the Atlanta girls, both a little older than me, came and
sat with me in the circle.

“You’re the best rider I’ve ever seen at Sherwood, and I’ve been coming a long time,” one of them said.

“You looked like the Winged Victory of Samothrace, or something, with your hair flying all over the place,” said the other,
who was known to be literary. “You’re pretty anyway, but on that horse you looked really beautiful.”

I ducked my head and mumbled something. That night, brushing my teeth, I examined my face closely. It had not changed; it
was the face that had been looking back at me for years.

“What is ‘beautiful’?” I whispered to me, mouth full of foam. “How could I be beautiful? Nobody has ever told me that before.”

And then I remembered a little passage with my mother and grandmother the winter past, when I had come in out of
the cold on a January weekend and taken off my cap, shaking my hair free.

“Pretty girl,” my grandmother Caroline said. “You are my pretty, pretty girl.”

“I don’t want her spoiled,” my mother had snapped, and I didn’t pay much attention to my grandmother, anyway. Weren’t grandmothers
supposed to say things like that?

Now, though, in the cloudy, underwater camp mirror, something happened to my face. It was as if a light had been turned on
behind it and my features seemed to rearrange themselves and slide into a different pattern. I didn’t know if it was beautiful
or simply strange, but it was different. That frightened me, and I went to bed and stared longer that night out into the star-pricked
blackness visible over the line of evergreens out our windows. Whatever else I was, I was also a maybe-pretty girl who could
ride a horse, as Luanne said, like greased lightning.

That one moment and that first summer at Sherwood Forest got me through the next four years at Paley and countless weekends
at home. My mother was rarely in a good mood for many of those weekends; Lily had forsworn the Hamilton boys and moved on
to Lytton town boys, finally settling on an almost perfectly square high school fullback named Goose Willis. Nothing about
him was gooselike; he had practically no neck at all, the little he did rising stubbly from enormous shoulders. He had a handsome
face, but I thought he looked like a photo from a movie magazine pasted on a square butter box. It was not, however, Goose’s
looks that upset my mother but his lineage. His eminently respectable mother worked
as a teller at the Lytton Banking Company and went to our church, but it was widely put about that she had never married Goose’s
father, who had disappeared before the unfortunate gosling was even hatched.

“I won’t have it,” my mother said over and over to Lily.

“Then I’ll run away and marry him,” Lily said calmly, and just before my last summer at Sherwood Forest, when I was seventeen
and a counselor myself, she did just that. If my mother thought that event was the summer of her discontent, she had another
thought coming.

That was the summer I met Nick Abrams.

Sherwood Forest had given me two real ambitions, where before there had been none. The first was related to my love of the
stories, myths, and legends I heard about the campfire at night. Added to the delight of the myths my father had read to me
in my early childhood, the sense of sheer story became an abiding joy. I knew that somehow I would make it a part of my entire
life, though I did not yet know how.

The second was to be a Sherwood Forest counselor. Counselors at Sherwood Forest who oversaw our lives for two short summer
months became demigoddesses to me. They were assured, competent, affectionate, and mostly very pretty. Or at least, they were
to me. They had a kind of glamour, lent them by their exalted status and the lives they led. I had by that time become a world-class
eavesdropper. I listened to them shamelessly when they talked among themselves, in the dining hall at mealtime and at night
after they had tucked us into our double-decker bunks and pulled up the heavy, woolen blankets. I would pull my blanket almost
completely over my head, breathing in its delicious smell of damp and smoke and pine needles. Even now that smell is nectar
to me. My husband teased me a great deal about my favorite scent being that of a wet blanket.

From under that blanket I heard the stories of very special lives: best friends, spend-the-night parties, boyfriends and semi-boyfriends
and discarded boyfriends, dates and proms and evening dresses, whispered tittering tales of the backseats of cars and nighttime
swimming pools and something mysterious and miraculous called the pill.

I thought that if I could only become a Camp Sherwood Forest counselor, that life would be mine, too. The fact that throughout
my early teen years I knew practically no boys except the forbidden students at the Hamilton school meant little to me. If
I became a counselor, the boys would appear. They did, after all, at Sherwood Forest: We all knew that the young male counselors
from Silverlake across the lake spent many evenings with our own counselors in the recreation hall and often behind it, in
the dark and silent woods surrounding the lake. If I was a counselor at Camp Sherwood Forest, there would be no one to tell
me, as my mother did, that I was too immature to date and there were no boys of proper lineage in our immediate vicinity.
When, the spring after my seventeenth birthday, the camp wrote asking me if I would consider being their counselor in charge
of fireside evenings, I had had only four or five dates in my life and those had been an agony of shyness and social ineptitude.
I finally figured my mother was right and accepted no more invitations. I got few, anyway.

But I left that summer with wings in my heart, sure that my life was about to change.

I was right about that.

At the end of my first week as fireside counselor I decided to end the evening early. I was still feeling my way through the
world of story, and I had given them too much to digest. I started out with “Theseus and the Minotaur,” progressed to “The
Trojan Horse,” and finished up with “Leda and the Swan.” Hands sprang up like wildfire when I finished that one.

“But what did the swan do to that lady?” was the first question, and I could not answer it. Somehow it never had occurred
to me to ask my father. I loved the myth for its grace and yearning and beauty, the lovely young nymph, the air full of fluttering
pure white wings. What was truly going on had never entered my mind.

I was silent for a moment. What had I let myself in for? From across the fire, in the darkness beyond its leaping red heart,
came a deep masculine voice with laughter in it.

“The swan was Zeus in disguise, and he diddled old Leda right and proper,” it said. “Didn’t anybody ever tell you that Zeus
was a serial rapist?”

All the young campers gasped. I knew that the question was directed at me. I stared stonily in the direction of the voice,
hoping my stare was as effective as my mother’s. In truth I had no idea that Zeus as the swan had raped Leda. I barely knew
what rape was.

The other male counselors from Silverlake, who had come over to sit in on the last of the campfire as they often did, laughed
uproariously. I swept them with the Look. Tonight
was the first night they had come, but I recognized most of them from previous years. I felt my face and neck flame.

“Tell her about it, Abrams!” one of them called, and another shouted, “You girls better look out for them swans. You see a
single feather, you run tell your counselor. Maybe she’ll have it figured out by then!”

“Bedtime,” I said crisply. “Lights-out in twenty minutes. Everybody back to the cabins.”

They muttered mutinously, as they always did, but they got up and headed for their cabins. I stayed behind to put out the
fire, my face still burning. I had emptied the pails of water kept there for fire extinguishing and was about to stamp on
the embers when a voice directly behind me said, “I’m sorry. That was a cheap shot. If any of them tell the directors, I’ll
probably get canned. Unless you’re going to tell them?”

It was the deep voice from the other side of the campfire. I did not turn around. I did not want its owner to know that I
was still blushing.

“You’d be right to do it,” the voice went on, and I did turn around then.

He was all-over brown. In the dying firelight he looked a molten copper brown, from the tangled hair that flopped over his
forehead, to his deep-shadowed eyes under strong brows, to his bare feet on the grass. His straight nose was peeling in strips,
exposing patches of tender pink underneath, and when he smiled I could see that there was a chip out of one of his front teeth.
It looked like a recent accident; somehow I could not imagine that a Silverlake counselor’s parents would let him go around
with a chipped tooth. He
wore a white tee shirt with the Silverlake emblem on it, and he had broad, bony shoulders and big feet and a sprinkling of
freckles across his cheekbones. In the dying firelight he looked half-Indian, a Plains Indian perhaps, with the slanted eyes
and the all-over brown, but his accent was purely and thickly southern as sorghum syrup.

“I’m Nick Abrams,” he said. “I guess you can tell I’m from Silverlake by the cool threads. Who are you?”

“I’m Thayer Wentworth,” I said, feeling the heat spread up my face again. “Are you always that brown?”

“Almost always,” he said. “I live on the Georgia coast. Lots of sun on the coast. Are you always that red?”

I felt the anguished shyness rise in my throat for a moment and then surprised myself by laughing.

“Almost always,” I said.

We stood silent for a moment, he studying my face, I looking everywhere but at his.

Then he said, “If you’re going back up to the cabins, I’ll walk you.”

“Thank you,” I said, still not moving.

He took my hand and tugged it lightly, and I followed him out of the smoking fire pit and up the pine needle-slicked hill
toward the log cabins, where the din of young girls going to bed was rising. We did not speak again until we reached the silver-weathered
front door, and then he said, “See you tomorrow,” and I said, “Yeah, see you.”

Only then did he drop my hand.


BOOK: Burnt Mountain
6.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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