were trying to escape a blow. Lucy stroked his shoulder, which was dry and warm, and seemed still to be giving off the heat of the sun that had fallen on it during the day. The obscure look of terror slowly flowed out of his face and his lips relaxed and he slept steadily again.
The time, she thought. I ought to get up and see what time it is. It must be nearly dawn. But she lay there quietly, feeling somehow that even to be thinking about the hour was a form of betrayal of the boy beside her.
She had no desire to sleep. Sleep, she felt, would subtract from the completeness of the night. She wanted to lie there serenely, conscious of every sound—Jeff’s steady breathing, the peeping of young frogs at the lake’s edge, the call of an owl in the pine forest, the occasional rustle of the wind against the curtains of the bare room, the faraway resonance of an automobile horn on the highway leading to the mountains. She wanted to lie there conscious, above all, of herself. The thought struck her that she felt infinitely more valuable now at three o’clock in the morning than she had felt even so recently as ten the night before or at any other time in her life. Valuable. She smiled at the word.
Examining herself with the critical pleasure of a woman before a mirror, she realized that tonight she felt finally grown-up. She had the feeling that before this a great deal of her life had been devoted to those activities that a child might engage in if the child were anxious to pretend that she was an adult. And there had always been, too, the complementary anxiety that the masquerade would be discovered at any moment. She remembered her mother, dying at the age of sixty, and knowing she was dying, lying in her bed, yellowed and wasted, after a life of pain, trouble, poverty, disappointment, saying, “I can’t believe it. The hardest thing to believe is that I’m an old woman. Somehow, unless I catch sight of myself in a mirror, I still have the same feeling about myself that I had when I was sixteen years old. And even now, when the doctor comes in and pulls a long face, and I know he thinks I’m not going to last through the month, I want to tell him, ‘No, there’s been a misunderstanding. Dying is much too sophisticated for someone who feels sixteen years old.’”
Oliver had been no help, Lucy thought. Secure in his strength and forgiving and even approving of her timidity, he had made all decisions, protected her, kept his troubles to himself, only occasionally scolding her, and even then with a quick, fatherly indulgence, for such mistakes as the lost garage bill. At parties, she remembered, where he seemed always at home, where, at ease, ceremonious, never embarrassed, he was always the center of a group, he would suddenly sense that she was off somewhere in a corner, lost in the social flood, backed to the wall by a bore or desperately pretending to be studying the pictures on the walls or the books on the shelves while hoping that it would soon be time to leave. Then, he would break away from whomever he was talking to and come over to her, smiling and interested, and lead her skillfully back with him, into the middle of things.
She had recognized what he had done through the years and she had been grateful. Now, she thought, perhaps it was wrong to be grateful. Now, she thought, feeling that because what she had done that night was different from anything she had ever done before, everything that came after would also be different, now nobody has to protect me any more.
She wondered what Oliver would do if he found out. Probably, she thought, he would forgive her with the same mannerly, overpowering condescension with which he was no doubt forgiving her for the lost garage bill. Thinking this, she resented him in advance, then could not help being amused at herself for her contrariness.
She remembered a conversation that she and Oliver and Patterson had had about a woman they all knew, who was having an
Carol Durand, Summer Prescott