When he awoke he remembered that the house was empty and as he rose from his bed he felt himself lighter than usual. As he stood, he felt the strength in his rested limbs and the mental clarity that comes from deep, uninterrupted sleep. Today, and in the few days ahead, no one would be asking him why or where and he would have all the long daylight hours to wade the creeks and walk the shaded banks of the little river and all of the warm nights to drive along the river road into town and find his friends and maybe even Linda Johnson.
It was a thing so welcome and so perfect that he had not allowed himself to think much about it, even as his parents’ and sisters’ vacation approached, day by day. Something could have happened. They could have insisted at the last minute on his coming along with them to the house at the lake where the days would be divided into neat hours for swimming and for dining and riding the pedal-boats. Or one sister might finally have opted out to stay home with him to be there for summer cheerleader practice which would mean his aunt would again have to come and stay with them at the house and then his schedule would have been just as limited and regimented as always. But now, there would be no questions asked; no bells to answer.
He did not bother with breakfast but took his rod and reel from the garage wall and headed into the woods behind the house and onto the path he had made that ran half a mile up and then down a steep hillside and finally to the banks of Laurel Branch, a rushing stream bounded by mossy banks and completely entunnelled by the arms of the ancient birches, now in full foliage, that stretched from side to side and met in the middle, like the rafters of a cathedral.
When he topped the hill he could hear the gurgle and seething of the stream and he knew then that he would work his way down to the blue hole as quietly as he possibly could to cast again for the great brown trout that had reigned over that pool for as long as he remembered. He had seen the fish many times in the deep pool and every time he spotted it, every time it rose from the dark blue into the sunlit shallow, his heart raced. The fish looked out of place; impossibly large for such a small stream. Like something from another age. Once, years before, when he was only learning to cast, his father had hooked the big trout and brought it thrashing to the surface before it snapped the line and disappeared again into the depths.
It was an arduous trek, down the stream to the blue hole. One had to know each rock and beware of every swift, slick run and to constantly balance against the relentless pull of the current. As he waded above knee deep the frigid water took his breath. Although it was mid-summer, the stream had escaped its underground springs where it rested in the cold earth only two miles above him.
He moved from stone to stone with the assurance of a mountain goat, using his long rod to stabilize himself as he worked down the stream. Even in the heat of the hunt and even as he stretched and exerted himself to land in the right places and avoid being swept under, he thought of Linda Johnson. Who wouldn’t? She was the girl who everyone wanted and who no one could attain. Others mocked her for her reserve, but to him it only increased the attraction. It made sense, he thought. Why settle for anyone but the best, if you have your choice?