The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Fiction: Bittersweet

He drives his battered '82 Renault up the newly smoothed dirt and gravel road and over the crest of the hill. The Ausauble Club lodge appears before him suddenly, massively. A giant old lodge for the rich and their exploits here in the heart of the Adiron-dacks for over a century, its whitewashed planks and forest green shutters seem to go on forever; a full six stories high in a land where height is not only horrendously expensive but also horrendously useless-and nearly two city blocks long (and over one block deep), the AC lodge seems as proper here as an ocean liner in the middle of the Sahara. Over that hill, it fills his vision and blocks out all else, even the mountains around it, the biggest mountains in this state.

He parks in a place where no one but members can park. No valets chase him away, but he knows others will notice his jalopy and hunt down the owner. Won't take long to spot the owner of such a wreck in this place, either. No matter. He needs only a few minutes to see if employment will be found at this place; after that, he'll be gone and there will be no need to threaten him to move his "car" from the parking circle.

Inside—huge, awesome, super-sturdy construction (truly "built to last"), very rich and catering to the rich, etc.

He gets the job as a trail ranger and activities supervisor. Room and board are provided, one day off per week, plus $500 a week salary-but even though hours of duty are "posted," any day scheduled for work must be kept free for 24 hours. All duty is to the patron, and all whims are expected to be catered fully. If the request is sufficiently difficult, pass word to supervisor for advice on proceedings. "This is a playground for the rich, and the outside world laws and ways do not apply here."

Because it is early April, no patrons are here yet-the resort is opening up and preparing for the first visits. Trails must be cleared, all equipment and materials tested and repaired or replaced, activities planned, routines perfected, new employees indoctrinated and prepped to the level expected by AC patrons. He spends two weeks in intensive training with his manager. In that time, he meets all other workers but befriends no one, as he keeps to himself and rarely speaks more than is absolutely necessary. He is not unfriendly, but he is not extroverted and does not seek company if he can be alone instead. Rumors fly, yet here at the AC questions are not asked twice, so if no answer do not come no one will press for them. "Discreet is the Law."

He spends his free days on the trails, his free nights among the stars and the spirits of the life around him. Nearly a part of the land itself, his thoughts are his own and he does not share them even with Nature, his only obvious "friend."

Off the trail one day, just before the lodge is to open, a trio of workers around his own age gather to play golf and invite him to join them. Tired yet gracious, he accepts. They try to draw conversation from him but he gently shunts them inside, instead listening to them while they play. He plays the game with ease and form that rival the best they've ever seen, yet he does not seem to be even thinking about the game beyond where he is standing on the grass. At the tee, on the green, driving or putting, avoiding traps and roughs, he is an expert among them, they who are quite good amateurs and two of whom who are instructors here at AC. He is gracious and does not flaunt his skill and answers all direct questions and is not really rude in either words or tone; however, they wonder even more about him and his background...

AC opens. Opening week goes well and he fits in nicely, receiving excellent tips and praise from his clients. Asked to join in a game of baccarat, he plays at the level of the much-experienced clientele from the opening hand-and although he never quite manages to win, after he leaves the best player in the group comments that, "That boy is the best player I've ever seen. He let us win, but he was so slick about it I almost didn't catch it except for one tiny slip-up three hands ago." Word of this spreads to other employees.

On one day off he takes out a horse and ends up rescuing a young teenage boy who couldn't quite control his own horse. He goes back out after the rescue, refusing any special thanks for his work, and disappears into the hills. Returning late in the day, he takes the horse back near the main entrance to the AC lodge, and past the tennis courts he sees a quartet of women playing doubles tennis. They are playing with one younger and one older woman on each side-mother-daughter versus mother-daughter. The game is playful and obviously in fun, in good-natured competition. Giving them only a passing glance, he admires the curve of the younger bodies (although the older women are quite attractive as well) but knows his place too well to stop.

He is noticed, however, and is recognized as the savior from earlier that day. The younger women bound to the fence and call to him, asking him if he is indeed the one who saved that boy. He is, he admits. One young woman says the boy was her younger brother, and she is grateful that the man on the horse was there to help. Forced to be sociable, he is pleasant without saying more than he must. However, he is struck by her exceptional features—often the rich are beautiful because they can afford the best, including bloodlines, but this one is a gem. He finds he cannot turn himself away, even using the horse as an excuse, and her game is delayed while she engages him in small talk.

Brashly, she invites him to dine with her tonight. Although such socializing is not condoned by the AC management, it is not forbidden either, since the first rule is to cater to the patron. He accepts; fortunately he has time to return the horse and clean himself up, borrowing a suit from the AC wardrobe (kept for occasions such as this, or some other event where employees might need to be dressed well but outside of AC uniform). The dinner goes well, very well, and he finds himself out on the front porch of the lodge late that night, pointing out and naming stars for her. They end the night without any explicit romance, but both know that their relationship will henceforth be unusual. She recognizes the spark in him that rich young men lack, and he enjoys the company of one so naturally beautiful and vibrant-like the Nature he surrounds himself with so often, so easily, so casually, so...desperately.

The summer passes quickly, and she convinces her family to let her spend her time here, with only short trips home or to other countries for previous obligations. As August ends, and the leaves begin to turn in the High Peaks, she must return to college and leave the AC lodge. Perhaps she will return when she gets a few days' vacation time? Will he be here?

Maybe. His life is not so set as hers, he follows no structure she would understand, and he makes no promises. He has enjoyed this time with her, acting as a personal guide in all her adven-tures. Certainly the summer was made infinitely better by her friendship. He might even call this time the best of his life so far.

Pushing the edge, she bluntly asks him why he has never told her whether he loves her. She has told him how she fell for him in just a few days, yet he has never told her if he cares for her. They have been intimate countless times, without limit, yet she can never tell what he is really thinking about her.

He understands her, and while he should speak carefully there is no time for him to do anything but speak directly now. He is a hired hand for her, he is her summer plaything, and their worlds are so fundamentally different that it would do no good for him to love her. He would pine for her the rest of his life; "to love something so perfect would forever ruin my future, it would taint my experiences forevermore." To protect himself, he cannot love her. She will hurt a while, then find someone more like what she wants for her future, for the future she has been bred and raised to face, and she will forget him as a youthful fancy. No, no matter how much he has enjoyed her company he cannot love her; he can only appreciate his time with her and be grateful for that time.

Although she is crushed by this, and horrified by his callousness, in time she will recognize his wisdom. They will part on hard, painful words but she will not malign him to his supervisors. Instead, her family will give him golden references and note his skill at countless other activities and spheres of knowledge—none of which was mentioned in his job title.

When the lodge closes in late October, to re-open in early December as a winter resort, he takes his old Renault out of storage and takes one last look at the AC lodge that held so much for him. Surrounded by-and covered in-fallen leaves of a rainbow's colors, and backlit by the golden hazy sunlight of late fall, with a light mist slipping from the grass into the pine—rich air, the lodge has not changed one bit in appearance. He knows many things have happened there this year but it is all just another addition to the psychic history of this place. So many bittersweet memories there, though, of the girl he secretly loved-the past still haunts him in the winds and the skies, and so he steps into his battered old car. The Ausauble Club disappears into the hills behind the Renault as it backs down the road to the town of Saint Huberts and down old Route 9, heading for another place, far away, never to return.

Decades will pass before she returns, now a mother herself of two children, and when she looks upon the lodge she will remember him...the golf greens, the stables, the lodge porch, the mountain trails and the smell of dark rich dirt and roots and pine and a dozen types of fern she can still name...and the tennis court where she first met him. It all comes back—but as her children call her back from the haze of memories, she shrugs it away and works to make new memories of this place, replacing the old and taking the bitter taste from her mind.

Over it all, the lodge stands, unchanged, unchanging.

Copyright ©1997 Sean Pearson

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