She saw him through the trees, and she almost turned around. In just eight days, she had come to believe that this wedge of shore, tumbled rock enclosed by thorny juniper and stunted saplings (but lit by the tilting sun at the western side of the lake) was her secret. Each afternoon, it became her refuge—just one brief measure, a piacere, of solitude—from another attenuated day of rehearse, practice, and practice even more; of master classes and Popper études, hour after hour of Saint-Saëns and Debussy; of walking over plush lawns, passing adults who spoke zealously, even angrily, in German and Russian; of waking and going to sleep in a room shared with three other girls.
Not that this life wasn't precisely, incandescently, what she had craved, dreamed about, most of all worked for. How funny that all this discipline and deprivation rewarded Daphne with the headiest freedom she had ever known: freedom, to begin with, from her mother's vigilance and her brother's condescension, from another summer mixing paints and copying keys in her father's hardware store.
During Afternoon Rest, some campers retreated to their rooms to write letters or take naps. When the rooms were too hot to stand, they spread beach towels under the estate's monumental trees—or on the sliver of sandy beach. Others loitered at Le Manoir, though nobody called it that. They called it HQ. There was a games lounge with a moth-eaten billiards table; you could play Monopoly, backgammon, chess. They took turns using the pay phones on the porch.
But Daphne came here: sometimes just to sit, sometimes read, more often to gaze at the water and let herself wonder at ... well, at the hereness of here. To reassure herself that it was real. To be alone.
Except that today she wasn't.
Malachy, first flute, sat on her favorite rock facing the lake. She recognized him right away, because just that day, standing behind him in the lunch line, she happened to notice the distinctive swallowtail of his tame brown hair as it forked to either side of his narrow neck. (His close haircut seemed almost affected; most of the boys had mussed-up manes, Paul McCartney hair.) His posture, typical of flautists, was upright, attentive. He wore his T-shirts tucked into the belted waist of loose khaki shorts. And like his hair, his shirts were defiantly square: no slogans, tie-dyed sunbursts, silhouettes of shaggy rock stars, or sly allusions to other music camps. That day his T-shirt was orange.
"What, not practicing?" she said.
He did not jump, nor did he stand. Waiting till she stood beside him, he looked up and said, "If it isn't the swan herself, come to test the waters."
Daphne's swimsuit was a navy-blue one-piece chosen by her mother. She wore shorts as well, book and towel clasped against her chest, yet she blushed.
"You don't suppose," he said, "that Generalissima has spies in these woods? I've heard there's a flogging room in the cellar of HQ."
"Not kidding," he said.
"Yes you are."
Malachy's prim expression broke. "Pretty martial around here, don't you think? And can you believe all the Iron Curtain accents?"
"What did you expect, the cast of Captain Kangaroo?"
This made him laugh. "Maybe Hogan's Heroes."
"You mean, we should dig a tunnel and escape?"
"We could steal those little mallets Dorian uses to play his glockenspiel." Malachy had swiveled to face her. He sat cross-legged, his calves pale and sparsely freckled, his bare feet long and bony.
He shaded his eyes. "Sit, or I'll go blind. And then I won't be able to see my music, and my brilliant symphonic career will flash before my irradiated eyeballs."
She unrolled her towel and sat, facing him. He had no book or other obvious diversion. Was he there to meet someone? What a perfect place for a private meeting.
"So are you aware," said Malachy, "that Rhonda would pay me a nice reward to drown you here and now?"
Daphne laughed nervously. She and Malachy played together in Chamber One; Rhonda was her counterpart, a cellist in Chamber Two. Openly and cheerfully competitive, she'd announced at their first dinner that anyone assigned the swan solo in the Saint-Saëns was clearly the director's pet. (Daphne might say the same of Malachy, chosen to play "Volière.")
"I just got lucky," said Daphne.
"No false modesty allowed," said Malachy. "They decided our parts based on our auditions. Nothing here happens by accident. You know that."
"I guess." She didn't like talking about the ranking they all deplored yet knew had to be a part of their lives forever if they wanted to succeed. "So are you from one of those musical families where everybody plays something different?"
He smirked. "Like the Jackson Five? There's a picture to savor. No, I'm it. The one who got whatever genetic mutation makes our subspecies behave the way we do. My brother and sister see me as the weirdo. The family fruitcake. Which is a huge relief to them. They get to be the normal ones."
"So maybe I've got it, too. The mutation. Mom plays piano, but Christmas carols. Hymns. She subs for the church organist. Actually, I'm not sure how I got into this place."
"Give it up, Swan. They've got their eye on you here. I saw our taskmistress smile yesterday in the middle of your solo. For about a tenth of a second. I didn't think she had those muscles in her cheeks." Natalya Skovoroda, the conductor of Chamber One, was Ukrainian, with a dense, porridgelike accent. Her face—a prime object, morning after morning, of Daphne's most devoted concentration—was as round and pale as a dinner plate, mesmerizingly smooth for someone who scowled so much. Beneath that scowl, Daphne and her fellow musicians had grown close to one another quickly, like a band of miscellaneous hostages.
Malachy leaned toward Daphne. "You have that cello stripped naked."
"Is that a compliment?" Because he sat almost directly behind her during morning rehearsal, she hardly ever saw his face. It was long and serious, his eyes a frosty blue that made him look all-seeing, older in a way that was spooky but cool. Across his nose—narrow like the rest of him—a scant dash of freckles stood out sharply, distinct as granules of pepper.
A speedboat careened raucously past, skimming the water, passengers shrieking as it bounced up and down. For a moment, they let it capture their attention.
Daphne started to stand up. "I should go wait for a phone. Haven't called home in a couple of days."
"No," he said. "You should stay and listen to one of my limericks."
"I'm working on a suite of limericks about our wardens."
Daphne shifted on her towel. "Well. Sure."
Malachy cleared his throat and sat up even straighter. He cocked his head at a dramatic angle toward the lake, as if posing for a portrait.
A Soviet chick named Nah-tail-ya
Said, "Eef you play flat, I veel flail ya,
But come to my room
Vare I'll bare my bazoom.
Maybe let you peek at holy grail-ya."
Blood rushed to Daphne's face. She felt both thrilled and appalled.
He turned to her, widened his eyes. "Svahn? May vee haff your creeteek?"
She covered her mouth, trying to repress the spasms of laughter. "Oh my gosh, that is so ... obscene!"
"Uh-oh. I've shocked you. See, I told you I'm a weirdo."
"Oh my God."
"Here, I'll give you something just a bit tamer. Appetizer to next week's celebrity recital." Again he struck his pose.
There once was a diva named Esme
With a lengthy and worldly résumé.
Listed way at the end
Was her tendency to bend
Quite far over and trill, "Yes you may."
"You are horrid!" Daphne cried. But she couldn't stop laughing.