I’ll Never Tell by Catherine McKenzie
July 22, 1998—9:00 p.m.
We only started the lantern ceremony my second-to-last year at Camp Macaw. Yet it’s buried in my summer memories like the smell of the smoke from the weekly campfire, the game we played that made it sound as if we were caught in a rainstorm, or the call-and-response of capture the flag as we bounded through the woods. Pine and mud, sand and sunscreen.
It was a simple but effective idea: make a sky lantern out of tissue paper, candles, and wire, and then write a wish on its fragile walls. You could add your real heart’s desire because within hours, the lanterns would be lit and released into the sky, floating up and away and landing on some faraway shore.
The ceremony began at dusk a few days before the end of the July session. On that last night, I held the lantern I’d built earlier away from my body so I didn’t crush it as I walked to the Swimming Beach along with the rest of camp. Pebbles collected in my sandals, and my best friend, Margaux, giggled when I lifted my foot and gave it a good shake.
“Rock fall warning,” she said.
“Rock, paper, scissors.”
“Rock around the clock.”
“Will you hush, you two?” Ryan said with a touch of annoyance, glancing at us over his shoulder. He was Margaux’s older brother, twenty to our seventeen, a genuine adult, and the object of my penciled-in wish.
She stuck out her tongue at him, then rearranged her face in mock seriousness. As junior counselors, we were supposed to be setting an example. Mostly, we took this responsibility to heart, but we also worried our wishes wouldn’t come true if we made too much noise on the way to the beach. There were rules, after all. Did the Patron Saint of Wishes care about the giddy thoughts of girls? We weren’t ready to take the risk.
There were 150 of us altogether, campers and staff, holding multicolored paper lanterns—a kaleidoscope of hopes and dreams. We snaked onto the beach, our unusual silence, instead of the usual mix of French and English voices, a warning that something was coming, something important, something forever. The lake was flat the way it often was at sunset, its brackish scent so familiar we didn’t smell it anymore. Ryan led us out onto the floating docks that swayed beneath our feet. There was a wisp of wind, and the rising moon was full, a flashlight on the mirrored water. Two hundred feet away, a small fleet of sailboats rocked gently on their moorings, their halyards pinging out an off-key melody.
Someone ahead of me tripped on the edge of one of the docks. Her cargo splashed into the water.
The shhh! of twenty counselors rippled through the night. The girl, ten, buried her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking. She won’t get her wish tonight, I thought as I tightened my grip on the stays of my own lantern, even though I knew my own hope wouldn’t come true—that the flutter in my heart was more wishful thinking than anticipation.
And yet . . .
The docks were arranged in a squared-off U; if you walked around the perimeter, you ended up back on the beach. At the halfway point, on the larger lifeguard dock, Ryan took a fire starter out of his pocket. The flick, flick of the flame lit up his handsome face. Every summer camp there ever was has a boy like Ryan, who leads the boys and has his pick of the girls. Back when Camp Macaw was started, in the 1950s, Ryan would’ve been holding a Zippo, a cigarette dangling from his lip. But it was 1998; we wore Tevas and board shorts, and the boys kept their hair shaggy.
A fire starter would have to do.
Ryan worked quickly. We were supposed to release our lanterns as close together as possible for maximum effect. As I neared him, I turned mine around, making sure my wish was pressed against my sweatshirt because Ryan was the kind of guy who might lift it out of my hands to see what I wanted. He’d done it the summer before, in the middle of my crush. I hadn’t dared write his name then. Instead I put down something silly about staying up on a windsurfer. He’d offered me lessons, but he didn’t mean it. I was only another admirer then, one of many.
Not this summer though. I’d been bold and written down what—who—I wanted. But instead of trying to read it, he leaned in close and said, “See you on the Island later?”
All I could do was nod as my heart jumped in my chest like a frog caught on a hot road. He flicked the lighter. He lit the candle, and I held the lantern close to me for a moment, feeling the heat seep through the thin paper. I moved forward on the dock, waiting for it to start tugging in my hands. When it did, I lifted it up and let it go, watching it join the others as I rounded the docks and stepped back onto the solid ground.
When all the lanterns were headed skyward, Margaux started singing “Fire’s Burning” in her sweet alto voice. We sang both the English and French versions in a round, again and again, our voices rising and falling like the boats.
When our lanterns were a distant haze in the sky, Margaux and I walked over to Boat Beach. We carried a canoe between us down to the water, adjusted our headlamps, and climbed in.
And then we paddled to the Island.
TWENTY YEARS LATER
Chapter 1 Routine Sean
Chapter 2 You Can’t Go Home Again Margaux
Chapter 3 Back in Black Ryan
Chapter 4 The One They Always Forget Liddie
Chapter 5 Second to Last Margaux
Chapter 6 I Had No Idea Kate
Chapter 7 The Island—Part One Sean
Chapter 8 We Are Gathered Here Today Ryan
Chapter 9 High Jump Mary
Chapter 10 Leftovers Margaux
Chapter 11 John Deere Sean
Chapter 12 Runaway Liddie
Chapter 13 Storm Coming Ryan
Chapter 14 Fuss Mary
Chapter 15 Anger Management Issues Margaux
Chapter 16 Something’s Cooking Kate
Chapter 17 Dinner Bell Ryan
Chapter 18 Hangovers and Other Miraculous Cures Margaux
Chapter 19 Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary Mary
Chapter 20 I Spy With My Little Eye Kate
Chapter 21 Hanging Around, Downtown By Myself Ryan
Chapter 22 Crafting Sean
Chapter 23 Bingo Liddie
Chapter 24 Head-On Margaux
Chapter 25 Frozen Kate
Chapter 26 Rescue Operation Ryan
Chapter 27 Feeling Small Liddie
Chapter 28 Supplies Mary
Chapter 29 Origins Sean
Chapter 30 Huddle Up Margaux
Chapter 31 The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants Ryan
Chapter 32 Past Due Kate
Chapter 33 Flatline Liddie
Chapter 34 Other Voices, Other Rooms Margaux
Chapter 35 Hay Bales Mary
Chapter 36 Thanks for the Memories Ryan
Chapter 37 In a Flatbed Ford Kate
Chapter 38 Family Ties Liddie
Chapter 39 I Ache to Remember Sean
Chapter 40 We Gather Here Today Margaux
Chapter 41 Remembrance Day Mary
Chapter 42 Another Mark on the Board Kate
Chapter 43 Rumination Liddie
Chapter 44 Rage Against the Dying of the Light Ryan
Chapter 45 The Island—Part Two Sean
Chapter 46 Paper Houses Margaux
Chapter 47 The Secret Garden Mary
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