The birds knew before the rest of us just how beautiful an afternoon it was going to be.
Earlier, fog had clung to the humid air of a hot July night in central Connecticut, and as dawn crested the hills of the Sleeping Giant state park, I wondered if I should postpone the hike until tomorrow. It wasn't that I was afraid of a little fog, especially not the kind where the light dispersed a golden glow through the leaves and made the song birds seem like newborn phoenixes, ashy shadows flitting here and there in the pleasure of an airy morning.
Today marked the beginning of my ascent back to happiness.
The last three months I'd spent digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole of despair, wondering if I'd done the right thing, if I'd made a mistake, if reporting Jack to the cops was the right thing.
After all, it's one thing to break up with your boyfriend.
It's another level of shame, embarrassment and guilt when you get the starting goalie kicked off the hockey team and expelled from University for the unlawful manufacturing and sale of meth.
"There goes our shot at a national championship," was probably the nicest thing I'd heard from everyone who wasn't my mother or involved with law enforcement.
Spiteful, jealous, vindictive. Whore, bitch, liar.
Don't be friends with Ms. Goody Two-Shoes. Emma will snitch on you for sneaking a bagel out of the dining hall.
It's not like he cheated on you.
He trusted you.
Is getting your fifteen minutes of fame that important to you?
What kind of person does that to someone they love?
Well, I did love him. Just not what he'd done.
And so here I stood, leaning against the hood of my car and wondering if I was ready to start letting go.
The reason I didn't like the fog was because I wanted distractions, didn't want to walk in silence, alone in my thoughts, the way I had been the past three months.
A wood thrush sang the day's praises in the cool shadows of a growing elm. Beside it was parked a newer vehicle, clean and expensive and not the sort of car you drove around anywhere but well-paved highways and city streets. It was a car you bought to go fast. It was a car meant to gleam rather than sit collecting pinecone and drilled sap from looming trees.
At least someone was here, I thought, relief sinking in. More people would surely follow. It was summer and the broad gravel trail leading to lookout tower was easily the most popular in the area. There would be people. There might already be more, folks who took a different path to the top.
"Well, I've come all this way," I muttered. With a baggie of strawberries, my book, and a water bottle secure in my drawstring, I tossed the bag over my shoulders then headed past the car and onto the trailhead.
The birds had been right. After an hour the sun had cut through the fog, leaving behind only stray tangles of mist where pockets of colder air and moss held the night a little more tightly.
As I reached the top I never did spot the other hiker, figuring he or she must've taken one of the unmarked trails through the steep ridges. I did hear a dog somewhere back behind me though. Other people were here, and I knew I wouldn't have the tower to myself for very long.
Of the series of ridges and peaks that composed the so-called 'sleeping giant,' the lookout tower sat on his hip, about 700 feet in elevation. Not exactly Mount Everest. Nevertheless, Mt. Carmel maintained views of Connecticut's skyline and Long Island Sound that were particularly spectacular. Especially when observed from the fourth level of the hollowed stone castle.
It was a sort of hiker's refuge, with a few spots for fires and shelter on the lower floors, while the top had those paneless windows of stone that made me feel like I was a medieval queen surveying her domain.
With my elbows touching either side of the stony frame, I leaned out my favorite window and tried to catch a glimpse of the elusive ocean waters. Today the humidity blurred the skyline, but a breeze swept through to my sweaty neck and I felt a little better.
I had to testify at a hearing in August and still hadn't decided if I was going to transfer to another university. Maybe I should. Give a written statement or videotape and just move far away and out of the country, somewhere safe where I never had to look Jack in the eyes ever again.
When I heard a dog and a couple of women's voices, I moved out of the lookout tower and onto one of the rocky ledges nearby, content to eat strawberries and read and consider my options in peace.
And I did, for maybe two hours, when the passing clouds thickened and I realized just how quiet the beautiful day had grown. A raindrop darkened the letters of my page. Here and there across the rocks fell little speckles, refreshing against the diminishing rays of July sunlight.
Rumbles cut short the chirps and peeps of cardinals and chickadees.
"Crap," I said, throwing the book in the bag and scrambling to stand. Evidently the sun had heated the landscape just enough to produce the fierce, popup thunderstorms this summer'd been known for. "Crap, crap, crap." The hike down'd be about forty-five minutes.
I had about thirty seconds to decide whether or not to sit it out in the tower or make a break for it.
In blinding explosion lightning splintered the tower cornstone.
I ran. I don't know why. The second I could see I just took off.
The further from the peak, the denser the air became, until my lungs filled with humidity and every breath became a struggle between inhale and exhale.
And then the rain arrived. Torrents, sheets, buckets: the kind of downpour that went from teeny, sporadic droplets to a raging waterfall in a matter of seconds. The kind where you laugh and take pride in yourself when you outrun it, the kind where the rain hits the ground so hard and fast it skips seeping into the earth and just becomes a river.
For a moment, I was concerned about the survival of my book.
In the next, tiny flecks of grey stone flipped into the air.
And then the crack, a sharp explosion. Either fear or force sent me backwards into the ground. The tree before me was gone, splintered into a thousand pieces of trunk.
Branches rushed over my head.
I didn't remember anything else.
There was just rain and whistles and the charred scent of pine needles.
YOU ARE READING
After reporting her boyfriend to the police, all Emma wants is to regain her peace of mind, but when a mountain thunderstorm forces her to seek shelter with a handsome man, she finds herself torn between keeping to herself and opening up. She's onl...