Lunch is trout almondine and arugula salad, washed down with a crisp Riesling. The first glass of wine calms my nerves. The second lets me lower my guard. By the third, when Franny asks me about my job, my personal life, my family, I answer honestly—hate it, still single, parents retired to Boca Raton.
“Everything was delicious,” I say when we finish a dessert of lemon tart so tasty I’m tempted to lick the plate.
“I’m so pleased,” Franny says. “The trout came from Lake Midnight, you know.”
The mention of the lake startles me. Franny notices my surprise and says, “We can still think fondly of a place where bad things have occurred. At least, I can. And I do.”
It’s understandable that Franny feels this way in spite of everything that happened. It is, after all, her family’s property. Four thousand acres of wilderness at the southern base of the Adirondacks, all preserved by her grandfather after he spent a lifetime deforesting land five times that size. I suppose Buchanan Harris thought saving those four thousand acres made up for it. Perhaps it did, even though that preservation also came at a cost to the environment. Disappointed he couldn’t find a tract of land that contained a large body of water, Franny’s grandfather decided to create one himself. He dammed the tributary of a nearby river, slamming the gates shut with the push of a button at the stroke of midnight on a rainy New Year’s Eve in 1902. Within days, what was once a quiet valley became a lake.
The story of Lake Midnight. It was told to every new arrival at Camp Nightingale.
“It hasn’t changed one bit,” Franny continues. “The Lodge is still there, of course. My home away from home. I was just there this past weekend, which is how I happened upon the trout. I caught them myself. The boys hate that I go so often. Especially when it’s just Lottie and myself. Theo worries that there’s no one around to help if something terrible befalls us.”
Hearing about Franny’s sons gives me another uneasy jolt.
Theodore and Chester Harris-White. Such unbearably WASPish names. Like their mother, they prefer their nicknames—Theo and Chet. The youngest, Chet, is hazy in my memory. He was just a boy when I was at Camp Nightingale, no more than ten. The product of a surprise, late-in-life adoption. I can’t recall ever speaking to him, although I must have at some point. I simply remember getting occasional glimpses of him running barefoot down the Lodge’s sloped back lawn to the edge of the lake.
Theo was also adopted. Years before Chet.
I remember a lot about him. Maybe too much.
“How are they?” I ask, even though I have no right to know. I do it only because Franny gives me an expectant look, clearly waiting for me to inquire about them.
“They’re both well. Theo is spending the year in Africa, working with Doctors Without Borders. Chet will be getting his master’s from Yale in the spring. He’s engaged to a lovely girl.” She pauses, allowing the information to settle over me. The silence speaks volumes. It tells me that her family is thriving, in spite of what I did to them. “I thought you might already know all this. I’ve heard the Camp Nightingale grapevine is still fully intact.”
“I’m not really in touch with anyone from there anymore,” I admit.
Not that the girls I knew at camp didn’t try. When Facebook became the rage, I received friend requests from several former campers. I ignored them all, seeing no point in staying in touch. We had nothing in common other than spending two weeks in the same place at the same unfortunate time. That didn’t stop me from being included in a Facebook group of Camp Nightingale alumni. I muted all posts years ago.
“Perhaps we can change that,” Franny says.
“I suppose it’s time I reveal why I’ve asked you here today,” she says, adding a tactful “Although I do enjoy your company very much.”
“I’ll admit I’m curious,” I say, which is the understatement of the year.
“I’m going to reopen Camp Nightingale,” Franny announces.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
The words tumble forth, unplanned. They contain a derisive edge. Cold and almost cruel.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “That came out wrong.”
Franny reaches across the table, gives my hand a squeeze, and says, “Don’t feel bad at all. You’re not the first person to have that reaction. And even I can admit it’s not the most logical idea. But I feel like it’s the right time. The camp has been quiet long enough.”
Fifteen years. That’s how long it’s been. It feels like a lifetime ago. It also feels like yesterday.
The camp closed early that summer, shutting down after only two weeks and throwing lots of families’ schedules into chaos. It couldn’t be helped. Not after what happened. My parents vacillated between sympathy and annoyance after they picked me up a day later than everyone else. Last to arrive, last to leave. I remember sitting in our Volvo, staring out the back window as the camp receded. Even at thirteen, I knew it would never reopen.
A different camp could have survived the scrutiny. But Camp Nightingale wasn’t just any summer camp. It was the summer camp if you lived in Manhattan and had a bit of money. The place where generations of young women from well-to-do families spent their summers swimming, sailing, gossiping. My mother went there. So did my aunt. At my school, it was known as Camp Rich Bitch. We said it with scorn, trying to hide both our jealousy and our disappointment that our parents couldn’t quite afford to send us there. Except, in my case, for one summer.