I’ll Never Tell
Chapter 1 ROUTINE
For Sean Booth, every morning for as long as he could remember began the same way, waking up in a small room crammed into the eaves of the lodge, the cheap blankets he slept under twisted around his ankles, the sound of the breeze rushing in the trees outside his open window.
It was 6:45. It was always 6:45. He didn’t have to check the time; he knew it in his bones. Sean rose immediately. He wasn’t a layabout. He had his routine, and he stuck to it. One minute to take the towel off the end of his bed and wrap it around his naked waist. One more till he was in the shower at the end of the hall, first in freezing water, then letting it get so hot it almost scalded him. He believed in three-minute showers, no more, no less; anything else was wasteful. He scrubbed his short hair with a bar of Dove soap, then passed the bar across his chest and into his crevices. At forty-five, he had more of those now than he used to, but everything else was pretty much the
same as it always was. He turned off the shower, brushed his teeth, and was back in his room at 6:52. He used the worn towel to rub off the water, then put on his faded cargo pants and a long-sleeved T-shirt. Then, because it was Labor Day weekend, and the morning chill would linger until later in the day, one of his two Camp Macaw sweatshirts.
It was 6:58 when his Tretorned feet hit the stairs that brought him down into the lodge’s main room. The smell of scrambled eggs and slightly charred toast greeted him before he hit the last step. He waved to Amy in the kitchen, the only kitchen staff left now that the campers had all gone home. She was still there because of the guests who would be arriving soon.
He pushed open the creaking screen-porch door. The sun was bright, but there was still a touch of frost on the grass. It needed mowing, but he was going to have to wait until the day steamed the moisture away before he could climb onto his ride mower and cut it back.
He walked to the end of the wooden porch and surveyed the open-air courtyard—the tetherball court, the Craft Shop on the other end, the path to Boat Beach and Swimming Beach. The hundred-year-old pines gave it a closed-in feeling, but that never bothered him. This was the only home he’d ever known, the only home he wanted, and the thought of not having this place, of losing his routine and his room upstairs in the lodge was too much to bear. It was too much to—
No. He was getting worked up when nothing had happened yet. Mr. MacAllister had promised he’d be taken care of and, so far, everything Mr. MacAllister had told him had come true. He needed to be patient. Lord knows he knew how to do that.
He lifted his arm and took hold of the frayed bell rope. Even though there was no one left to wake, he jerked it anyway, sounding out the start of the day. He rang it eight times, once for each of them
and one last time for her. The bong wormed into his head; the hearing in his right ear was diminished from having performed this task thousands of times.
But enough of this. He had work to do.
The Mackerels were coming.
I’ll Never Tell
Chapter 2 YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN
When Margaux MacAllister stopped in town at the McDonald’s for a breakfast sandwich she didn’t want and coffee she didn’t need, she knew she was stalling. She could tell herself it was tradition all she wanted to, but something wasn’t a tradition anymore if it had been twenty years since she’d done it, was it?
But her car turned in to the drive-through lane almost automatically, and her stomach rumbled because she’d left the city before she usually woke up, let alone ate, so here she was in the parking lot with the smell of grease clogging the air in her car. As she ate the sandwich, Margaux was hit with what she assumed would be the first swell of déjà vu that would soak the weekend. It was one of the reasons she’d told Mark not to come; she didn’t want to have to translate the past for him or let him see the hold it still had over her. She’d learned long ago that he wasn’t someone who could roll with unfamiliar scenarios. Instead, there was a constant litany of “Who was that again?” and
“How come you didn’t introduce me?” The thought of it exhausted her, so when he’d offered to come along, she told him no. He was annoyed, and hadn’t even turned over to say goodbye when she’d gotten up this morning, but she’d deal with that when she got back. She had enough on her plate as it was.
The view from the McDonald’s parking lot was the same as always. The muddy river, the concrete bridge. The strip of tourist shops along Main Street, the greasy spoon, and the laundromat where they’d go on their days off to wash the damp out of their clothes and fill up on french fries and ice cream.
She always thought of the McDonald’s as the gateway to camp because it was where Amanda’s parents would stop to give them their “send-off meal” before dropping them off every summer. From the time she was ten, her parents let her stay with Amanda for a couple of weeks before camp started so she could arrive like the other campers, incognito. They never got to the McDonald’s this early back then, though, so it was burgers and fries they ate, not the Egg McMuffin, hold the egg, she was eating now. And they usually sat at one of the run-down picnic tables on the rough patch of lawn, letting the early summer sun mark their winter skin.
But the view was the same, and the smell was the same, and the way the paper that covered her sandwich crinkled in her hand was so familiar it erased the smattering of red leaves on the maples in front of her, making it wholly a summer view. She could’ve been seventeen again, with everything that meant and everything she’d rather forget.
She finished her sandwich, crumpled up the paper wrapper, and turned her car back on. The radio station that had kept her company from Montreal was a cut-in of static, so she tuned in to the local French FM station—CIMO, it was called—its position on the dial a muscle memory. They were playing Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It.” My God. How many times had she and Amanda danced that stupid
Will Smith dance their last summer together? Too many to count. Amanda was an amazing physical mimic and danced just like him. They’d even sung it that night on their paddle to the Island, their calls of na na na na na na na echoing and repeating off the water.
“Bringing you all the hits,” the announcer said as the song ended. “All the way back from the summer of 1998.”
The tires on Margaux’s car kicked up a cloud of dust as she drove down the long dirt driveway to Camp Macaw. Twenty years had passed, but nothing had changed. She was as stuck in the summer of 1998 as the radio station.
It unfolded like a slide show of her youth. There on the left was the path in the woods, where she and Amanda had shared their first cigarette and then almost got caught by her sister Mary. Mary would’ve told on them, too, which was why you never told her anything.
Now she was driving past the barns where Mary had come diligently every morning at sunup to muck out the stalls and exercise the horses. She spent so much time there that she always smelled faintly like horses. Mary had tried to get Margaux into riding, but Margaux was too afraid. She could fake her way through her lessons so long as they kept to the ground, but when they were about to start jumping, Margaux knew her riding days were over.
Mary had her own stable now, not far from here. She wouldn’t arrive until later, after morning workout, but that was fine. Margaux wasn’t ready for the full earnestness of Mary yet.
She turned in to the parking lot made up of weedy grass and the old rusted-out red truck her parents had abandoned there she couldn’t remember when. She parked next to the truck and pulled out her phone to check her messages. Shit. She should’ve done that back in
Magog when she was at the McDonald’s. She had two texts from Mark but no reception. They had never put in that extra cell tower on the neighboring farm, and so she might as well have been in 1998 as far as technology was concerned. Her parents had opposed the tower; they thought it was better for the campers to have a technology-free zone. Margaux agreed with the philosophy but felt antsy anyway. Mark wouldn’t be happy that she was unreachable for forty-eight hours. She’d better remember to call him from the landline before he freaked out and sent the cops in to check on her.
Someone rapped on her windshield. She shrieked and dropped her phone to the floor.
“Sean! Goddammit, you scared the living daylights out of me.”
He cupped his hand around his right ear, then made a motion for her to roll down her window. She pressed the button. Her window descended neatly into its slot.
“You shouldn’t creep up on people like that.”
“No creeping. I walked right through the parking lot. Didn’t you see me?”
“I was checking something on my phone.”
She reached down and picked it up, wiping the muck from the floor off the screen. She needed to get her car cleaned out, as Mark often, and annoyingly, reminded her. But there she was, making him sound as if he were her enemy. She didn’t know why she did that. She loved him.
“Those don’t work up here,” Sean said. His hands were shoved into the pockets of his cargo pants. His hair was still as red as ever, like a ripe orange, though he wore it close-cropped now. When he was younger, it had been long and curly, and the kids called him Clowney when they thought he wasn’t listening.
“I noticed,” Margaux said.
He shrugged but stayed where he was. She felt trapped. She wanted to get out of the car, but she didn’t particularly feel like a long, winding conversation with Sean. There wasn’t any helping it, though; he was as much of a fixture as the clay tennis court. Her parents had relied on him to keep the roofs from leaking and the docks from sinking, and if he gave her the willies sometimes, well, that was probably just her thirteen-year-old self remembering how he used to stare at her when he thought she wasn’t looking.
“I’m opening the door,” she said. He stepped back. She decided to leave her window down to air her car out. The sun was bright but not yet hot. She breathed in the scent of the pines, the dust, the tang of rusted metal. This was what home smelled like.
“Those are some bright shoes,” Sean said.
“What? Oh, these. Yeah, they’re ridiculous.” Her feet were encased in the new running shoes she’d bought the day before. She was in the middle of a marathon training sequence, and she needed to break in these shoes before her race in three weeks. She’d waited too long, and when she finally made it to the store, all they had left in her size was a pair of bright pink shoes with orange accents. “I was hoping they’d get covered in mud so I wouldn’t have to look at the color,” she said.
“Not much mud this summer.”
He reached into the back seat and took hold of her overnight bag. It was made of battered leather, something she’d inherited from her maternal grandfather years ago.
“I got that.”
“Nah. You know. Mr. MacAllister would want me to take care of you, like always.”
“You can call him Pete. He told you to enough times.”
“Doesn’t feel right.”
Margaux held her tongue. Sean’s serflike attitude toward her parents
was something she’d never understood, but it wasn’t going to change now. She let him carry her bag and lead the way out of the parking lot.
“I’m putting you, Kate, and Liddie in the French Teacher’s Cabin, if that’s all right? Unless you wanted to stay in the house . . .”
“No, that’s fine.”
They walked through a row of tall, fragrant pines to the tennis court. The gray clay was washed out and faded from the lack of rain. Margaux’s slide show started again. Up behind the court was the Staff Cabin, hidden in the woods, where she’d spent too many nights drinking and smoking and talking shit. On its other side lay the Maintenance Cabin, where the teenage boys who worked on the maintenance staff lived, a hotbed of hormones. She’d lost her virginity there to Simon Vauclair the summer she was sixteen. She’d whispered the details to Amanda afterward, breathless and a bit startled by the whole thing. Amanda had nodded knowingly even though Margaux knew for a fact that Amanda was still a virgin because she was saving it for Ryan. Margaux also knew for a fact that saving it for Ryan was a lost cause, because her brother was never going to give Amanda the time of day.
Saving it for Ryan. It sounded like the title of a cheesy B movie. But then, the first movie Margaux had gone to see after everything had happened was Saving Private Ryan, and she’d cried and cried. She couldn’t explain why. Maybe Amanda would’ve understood.
It was too late to ask her now.
“Is that all right?” Sean asked. “The cabin?”
“I said it was fine.”
“Just checking. Chillax.”
“Chillax? Honestly, Sean, are you ever going to grow up?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
They were on the road. Her parents’ house loomed behind her, though she didn’t turn to look at it. It was the last place she’d seen them, before they’d died in the spring.
“It’s just . . . camp,” she said. “Why are you still here?”
“I’m carrying your bag.”
“No, I mean here here. At camp. Living here.”
“This is my home.”
“But it isn’t.”
Sean dropped her bag onto the road, releasing a small cloud of dust. “Why are you being like this? I didn’t do anything to you.”
Margaux knew she was in the wrong, acting like a jerk. Already this day was wearing her down. The house, her parents’ empty house, was tugging at her, reaching out and making her into the person she used to be. Her summer self. That girl wasn’t who she wanted to be anymore, but sometimes you don’t get to choose who you are.
“I’m sorry, Sean. It’s this place.”
“You can’t blame a place for how you behave.”
He rocked back and forth on his heels. A lifetime of summers in the sun made him look every one of his forty-five years.
“Your parents were good to me, you know.”
“I admire them for that.”
“Only for that?”
She finally looked over her shoulder. Their house was a 1950s rancher; it never fit in with the white clapboard lodge and the dark-green cabins that were scattered over the two hundred acres of lakefront property.
“Is that what you want?”
“The house? You want to stay here and live in their house?”
The blare of a car stereo being played much more loudly than it needed to be cut off Sean’s words. They exchanged a glance, but they didn’t need to speak to know.
Ryan had arrived.