Oliver of the Adirondacks

by Dashiell Walraven

Chapter 42

No sooner had Thanksgiving come and gone, than it seemed like Christmas in the Pines was upon us once more. The very next weekend, Dad put me, Neal and Garrett to work, getting ready. The Lodge was completely booked, as well as most of the other cabins. Lizzy-B also lent a hand, helping Mom to wash, dry and iron all the bed linens. Dad always chided Mom for doing this, but she insisted it was set us apart from all the other "camps" in the region. We were more like a hotel than a rustic cluster of cabins in the woods.

I agreed with Mom. When she finished making up a room, it looked, felt and smelled like home. The sheets were crisp and fresh, she made sure none of the fluffy towels had threadbare spots, and she always sprayed everything with a lightly scented lavender or rose water. By the time the huge, pine, Christmas tree was set up in the great room, the entire lodge was brimming with a heady mixture of scents. Those, combined with the delicious aromas from Mom's cooking, meant that I will forever associate those smells with Christmas.

Lizzy, who had agreed to chaperone the girls who wanted to bunk together, had a plaintive plea for taking over the bunk room on the first tier, normally occupied by the boys. It seems, not only did she not appreciate the trek up three flights of stairs from the ground floor of the great room, up to the second tier balcony, the height didn't agree with her either.

"You guys okay with taking second tier?" Dad asked. Both Neal and I shrugged. The height didn't bother us at all, but I understood where Lizzy was coming from. The second floor balcony was about half as narrow as the one below it. I think it was designed that way so that if somebody did fall, they'd only drop ten feet, as opposed to the twenty-plus feet to the ground floor below. The railings and balustrades were solidly built and not going to give way, but the height and narrowness of the balcony could easily create a sense of vertigo in someone.

Both Neal and I agreed, the boys would probably enjoy the extra adventure of being in the "way up". Our suspicions were confirmed when Brian Coopersmith, upon arriving and hearing that we were all bedding down on the upper floor, jumped for joy and enthusiastically hugged both of us before racing up the stairs to claim his bunk. I asked him later on that night why he liked that room so much and always chose an upper bunk.

"Because it makes me closer to the sky!" he said, cheerfully,

The usual cast of characters joined us over the next couple of days. When Eddie Parnell arrived, I barely recognized him. Even though he was younger than Neal and I, he had shot up to stand almost level with me. The rest of his body hadn't caught up with him, so he looked very skinny and rangy. My eyes drifted down and caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a very respectable bundle in his trousers and I found myself wondering if that part was still as skinny as the rest of him.

Eddie, for his part, seemed a little stand-offish and aloof. Neal noticed it too. When I told Eddie we were in the upstairs room this year, he rolled his eyes impatiently.

"Seriously?" he grunted.

"Yeah," I explained, "the girls asked for the other room this year and we didn't think it would be a problem."

"Whatever," Eddie mumbled, slung his bag over his shoulder and trudged up the stairs. We followed him with our eyes.

"Sheez," Neal murmured under this breath, "what crawled up his ass?"

"I wonder," I said, confused. Eddie did not seem is usual ebullient, nerdy, gawky self, but certainly still dressed the part. With his wide lapel shirt, curly white-boy-afro, huge ashtray-thick glasses and clingy, polyester bell-bottoms, he looked like he jumped out of seventies action movie. Actually, considering what it looked like he had packed into the front of those skin-tight pants, it might have been a porno movie, (not that we knew anything much about those yet).

Neal stayed down in the great room to greet any other boys coming in to the check-in desk. Up in the bunk room, I helped Brian get settled in, securing his clothes in the cubby next to the bunk he chose. Naturally, it was the one over my bunk, but I didn't mind. I had a soft-spot for Brian. Every time he looked up at me with those amazingly wide eyes and button nose, I felt a surge of affection, like I might have had for a kid brother.

Eddie, on the other hand, just stuffed his bag into the cubby next to his bunk and flopped down onto it, staring out the window. Brian jumped down from his bunk and announced he was going to go to the toilet and then go visit his parents in their room. After he left, I turned to Eddie, who was making a point to not look at me.

"So Eddie, what gives?" I asked. Eddie turned to glare at me for a moment and then turned back to the window.

"Nuffin'" he grunted.

"C'mon," I said, walking over and giving a gentle sock to the shoulder. Eddie recoiled a little and shrugged me off.

"Leave me alone, Oliver."

"Did I do something wrong?"

"Hmph," Eddie said gruffly, "Just bug off already."

I stood there and blinked at him, not knowing what else to say. Eddie turned entirely away from me, facing the wall and closed his eyes. I had been thoroughly dismissed, it made me feel really bad, and kind of angry.

"Fine." I said, turning on my heel and exiting the bunk room, "Suit yourself."

Returning downstairs, the holiday atmosphere was a welcome relief from Eddie's dark mood. Everybody was smiling, milling about, signing in, and picking up keys to their cabins or their rooms, if they were staying in the lodge. Mom had her usual vast platters of cookies and goodies scattered about, with urns of coffee, hot chocolate, mulled cider and eggnog. Pretty soon, presents would start piling up under the enormous tree, ready for the bacchanalia that was Christmas morning. I found Eddie's father and tugged at his arm. He turned around and greeted me warmly with an expansive hug.

"Oh hey, Oliver!" he beamed, "Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas," I smiled back at him.

"How are you?" He inquired, "My GOD you've grown!" Eddies father was one of those bigger-than-life people with a huge personality, he'd talk about the weather at the top of his lungs.

"So has Eddie," I observed, "he is almost as tall as me."

"I know!" he said, "So you've seen him already?"

"Yes," I said, then lowering my voice, "So what's with Eddie? He seems kinda down." Eddie's Dad's face darkened somewhat. His eyes shifted left and right, he took my elbow and walked me out of earshot of others.

"Uhm, hey, Listen, Oliver," he said, conspiratorially, "Eddie has had a rough go of it at school. Seems he got into it with one of the football players at the start of the school year."

"Holy Cow!" I exclaimed, "What happened?"

"I'm not sure, to be honest," he shrugged, "Eddie won't say. I will tell you though, Eddie ended up worse for the experience."

"Did he get beat up?" I asked.

"Yes," he nodded, "the dental bill alone was staggering. That guy knocked out most of Eddie's front teeth, and nearly broke his jaw."

"What the...?" I breathed.

"No shit, right?" Eddie's father nodded.

"I hope that guy got in trouble."

"He was expelled, ultimately," he nodded some more, "but now the whole football team is gunning for him. He's not eating well, he's sullen all the time, and I think he's scared for his life. I tried to get him to take Karate or something so he could defend himself, but he just doesn't want to listen."

I shook my head silently, stunned.

"I guess that explains it," I said, "I'm really sorry about that, I know what it's like to be bullied."

"Yes you do, so that was one of the reasons I dragged him here," he said, scratching at the corner of his ridiculous mustache, "Maybe you could talk to him?"

"He didn't seem particularly interested in talking to me,"

"Well, if he does, maybe you could mention about how important it is to stand up and defend himself," he said, "Sometimes the only thing those bullies respect is somebody standing up to them." I nodded, remembering my experiences with Peter Gilbert. "But then," he added, "I don't have to tell YOU that."

"Huh?" I asked him, blinking.

"Well, you know," he said, with a big smile, "You kicked your bully's ass pretty hard, didn't you?" Ah, I thought, so my reputation precedes me. It didn't seem worth it to explain that Peter had, more than anything, been a victim of his own clumsiness, twice, so I just let it go.

"I'll see if he'll talk to me." I assured him. Eddie's father smiled broadly at me and clapped me on the shoulder.

"I'd appreciate it Oliver, I really would."

Sitting back down next to Neal at the registration desk, I helped more people get signed in and showed them to their rooms. Neal, remained at the desk, his asthma not letting him take repeated excursions up and down the stairs. I understood, and managed to get most everyone squared away before it was time to sit down to dinner. Eddie sat with his family for the buffet style supper, whereas Lizzy, Neal and I sat among the kids on the floor, setting our meals on one of the many ottomans, and helping the younger ones with cutting food or cleaning up messes.

After the meal had been cleared, guitars came out and the first of many evening sing-a-longs began. We strummed our way through the fun stuff like "Jingle Bells", "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and all of the kids' favorites. Gradually, the songs wound down and got quieter until Dad doused the lights. In the candlelight and the softly blinking lights from the tree, a lone guitar began strumming the chords to "Edelweiss" from the movie "Sound of Music". All our voices rose and fell together as we sang the familiar tune. We modulated very naturally into "Silent Night", during which, one of the little girls pointed to the windows along the veranda.

"Hey look!" she exclaimed in her tiny voice, "It's snowing!"

And so it was.

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