“Why did you reopen the camp?”
I blurt it out, surprising even myself. But Franny was expecting it. Or at least a question similar to it. She pauses long enough to take a breath before replying, “Because it was time, Emma. Fifteen years is too long for a place to stay empty.”
“Then why didn’t you do it sooner?”
“I didn’t think I was ready, even though the camp was right here waiting for me.”
“What convinced you that you were?”
This time, there’s no pat answer at the ready. Franny thinks it over, her eyes on the lake, jaw working. Eventually, she says, “I’m about to tell you something, Emma. Something personal that very few people know. You must promise not to tell another soul.”
“I promise,” I say. “I won’t say a word.”
“Emma, I’m dying.”
My heart feels squeezed again. Harder this time. Like it, too, has been scooped up by that osprey.
“Ovarian cancer,” Franny says. “Stage four. The doctors gave me eight months. That was four months ago. I’m sure you can do the math.”
“But there must be something you can do to fight it.”
The implication is clear. She’s worth millions. Certainly someone with that much money can seek out the best treatment. Yet Franny gives a sad shake of her head and says, “It’s too late for all that fuss now. The cancer’s spread too far. Any treatment would only be a way of delaying the inevitable.”
I’m stunned by her calmness, her serene acceptance. I’m the exact opposite. My breath comes in short bursts. Tears burn the corners of my eyes, and I hold back a sniffle. Like Vivian, I now know one of Franny’s secrets. Only it’s not dirty. It’s sad and makes me think of that sundial hidden away in the forest. That last hour truly does kill.
“I’m so sorry, Franny. Truly I am.”
She pats my knee the way my grandmother used to. “Don’t you dare feel sorry for me. I understand how fortunate I am. I’ve lived a long life, Emma. A good one. And that should be enough. It is, really. But there’s one thing in my life that wasn’t fortunate.”
“What happened here,” I say.
“It’s troubled me more than I let Theo and Chet know,” Franny says.
“What do you think happened to them? To Vivian and the others?”
“I don’t know, Emma. I really don’t.”
“You must have some theory. Everyone else does.”
“Theories don’t matter,” Franny says. “It’s no good dwelling on what happened. What’s done is done. Besides, I don’t like being reminded of how much that disappearance cost me in so many ways.”
That’s a sentiment I can understand. Camp Nightingale was forced to close. Franny’s reputation was sullied. The taint of suspicion never entirely left Theo. Then there was the matter of three separate lawsuits filed by Vivian’s, Natalie’s, and Allison’s parents, accusing the camp of negligence. All three were settled immediately, for an undisclosed sum.
“I wanted to have one last summer of things being the way they used to be,” she says. “That’s why I reopened the camp. I thought if I could do that successfully, with a new mission, then it might ease the pain of what happened fifteen years ago. One last glorious summer here. And then I could die a content woman.”
“That’s a nice reason,” I say.
“I think so,” Franny replied. “And it would certainly be a shame if something happened to spoil it.”
The ache in my heart fades to numbness as yet another thing Vivian wrote in her diary commands my thoughts.
She definitely suspects something.
“I’m sure it won’t.” I try to sound chipper when I say it, hoping it hides the sudden unease overcoming me. “Everyone I’ve talked to is having a great time.”
Franny tears her gaze away from the water and looks at me, her green eyes untouched by illness. They’re watchful, probing, as if they can read my thoughts. “And what about you, Emma? Are you enjoying your time here?”
“I am,” I say, unable to stare back. “Very much.”
“Good,” Franny says. “I’m so pleased.”
Her voice contains not a hint of pleasure. It’s as chilly as the slight breeze that gusts across the lake and ripples the water. I pull my robe tight around me, fending off the sudden cold, and look to the Lodge, where Lottie has emerged on the back deck.
“There you are,” she calls down to Franny. “Is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine, Lottie. Emma and I are just chatting about camp.”
“Don’t be too long,” Lottie says. “Your breakfast isn’t getting any warmer.”
“You should go,” I tell Franny. “And I should probably wake the girls in Dogwood.”
“But I haven’t finished my story about Chet and the falcons,” Franny says. “It ends not long after those birds emerged from their eggs. Chet was obsessed with them, as I’ve said. Spent all his free time watching them. I think he truly grew to love those birds. But then something happened that he wasn’t prepared for. Those eyesses got hungry. So the mother falcon did what mother falcons are known to do. She fed them. Chet watched her leave her perch outside our window and fly into the sky, circling, until prey appeared. It was a pigeon. A poor, unsuspecting pigeon probably on its way to Central Park. That mama falcon swooped down and snatched it in midair. She brought it back to the nest by our window, and as Chet watched, she used that sharp, curved beak to tear that pigeon apart and feed it to her babies, piece by piece.”