Unlikely Allies, page 1
copyright 2012 by Tiffany King
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher. The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author
I gripped the handle of my carry-on rolling suitcase, following the anxious herd of passengers trying to disembark the plane. The slow walk down the jetway finally opened up to an obviously busy day at Denver International Airport. I zigzagged my way along, hoping to find a clearing on the other side of a large rambunctious group of teenage guys who must have been some sort of basketball team, judging by their matching jackets and above average height. Finally finding some space, I gathered myself for a moment, trying to calm the butterflies in my stomach. I released my death grip on the suitcase and shook my hand to get some blood back into my solid white knuckles. After adjusting my art bag and hitching it up higher onto my shoulder, I took a deep breath, looking behind me one last time, reluctant to leave behind my only means of escape. This was the first time I had ever traveled alone, and felt a little panicked at the idea of not having the ever sensible presence of my mom along to guide me. Sensible lying presence, I silently reminded myself as I searched for the luggage carousal. In my current frazzled state, I could think of a hundred reasons to turn around and jump on the first flight back to California. Right now, I could be in my garden shed-turned-art studio or at the sandy beach I normally frequented with my lifelong friends. This was supposed to be our summer. The summer we would all spend together before heading off to separate colleges throughout the country. But one lie had wiped away all my summer plans as if they had been written in the sand on that beach I was wishing for.
“But, why do you have to go now?” my best friend Carol had wailed as I methodically packed my bags the day before.
“Because, Car. My whole life's been a lie. She’s lied to me all this time,” I had answered, bitterly nodding my head toward the living room beyond my closed bedroom door where my mom sat.
“But Kim, what about our plans? You know, capturing the sunrises at the beach with our brushes, working at the art supply store and shopping for stuff for our dorm,” Car had said with a slight tremble to her lip.
I stopped my almost maniacal packing to look at the girl who had stuck by me through thick and thin. A friend I had known since we were in daycare, who I discovered the joy of finger paints with, and who talked me into tasting glue when we were four years old.
“Car, I’ll be back in six weeks. My dad asked if I could spend at least that much time with him,” I said, running the foreign word through my head. Dad. I had a dad I knew nothing about, and now he wants to meet me. Suddenly, nothing else mattered. Not broken summer plans or hurt feelings.
The high-pitched octave of a screaming baby brought me back to reality and I headed off to find baggage claim. Spotting several familiar faces from my flight, I figured I must be heading in the right direction. I was already wishing I’d packed less stuff in my art bag though. I tried to lighten the weight on my shoulder by wiggling my fingers up under the straps to help alleviate the pressure.
A long lock of hair fell across my eyes, so I veered out of the flow of walking traffic and dropped my bag to the floor in an aggravated fashion. I gathered my hair together in my hand and coiled it around to make a bun, pulling a pencil from my art bag to secure it into place.
Come on, Kimberly, you can do this, I urged myself, feeling better now that my hair was in its customary style.
Finding the right luggage carousel was a piece of cake considering the amount of people who were stacked around it. The scene reminded me of when my mom and I went “Black Friday” shopping a couple years ago. The electronics counter at Target was swarmed by a mob of people all worked into a frenzy while trying to get one of the door buster flat-screen TVs. Sighing, I stepped back and waited for a break in the crowd as the many weary passengers anxiously waited for their bags to make the journey around the carousel. I couldn’t help smiling when watching the different people claim their luggage, like they had won the lottery or something. As for me, I was okay standing here for a few more minutes, trying to untie the knot that had now formed in my stomach.
“Kimberly?” A gravelly voice asked beside me.
Startled, I whirled around, taking in the tall muscular man before me, searching for some kind of resemblance. “Rick? I mean, Dad?” I said, feeling stupid as I stuttered over the word.
“Rick is fine,” he said, smiling awkwardly through the light beard that covered half his face. “You look just like your mom,” he said gruffly.
“Yeah, so I’ve heard,” I muttered, not quite ready to forgive her for all her lies.
He raised his eyebrows at me like only an adult can do.
“It's nice to meet you,” I said, uncomfortably holding out my hand.
He reached out and shook mine with both his hands. "I'm so glad you decided to come," he said.
"Me too," I said, stepping away when I spied my bag making its way around the carousel. Using my free hand, I struggled to swing the heavy bag off the moving conveyor belt.
“Here, I got it,” Rick said, lifting the bag effortlessly for me. He knocked it lightly with his hiking boot-clad foot to get the wheels to spin in the right direction.
“Thanks,” I said, taking in his rugged clothing for the first time. I knew this was Colorado, but I had expected everyone to be dressed in more summer appropriate clothes like me. Granted, my ankle-length summer dress with full skirt was a little too eccentric for most people, but I had at least expected t-shirts and shorts since it was summertime. Rick, on the other hand, was dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved flannel shirt that was rolled several times past his forearm to reveal a white thermal shirt underneath.
“Ready to hit the road?” he asked, reaching for the handle of my bag. “We've got a long drive ahead of us.”
“We do?” I asked confused. I had assumed since I landed in Denver that he lived somewhere in the metro area. “Where do you live?” I asked.
“Your mom didn’t tell you?” he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders, embarrassed to admit I hadn’t asked her. Now that I was hundreds of miles from her, I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty at the way I had left things at home. Yeah, but she lied to you all your life, my thoughts prodded me. But, maybe she had her reasons, the sensible side of me reasoned. I pushed the thoughts aside, deciding now was not the time to analyze them.
“My camp is roughly four hours away,” he said, leading toward the parking garage.
“Camp?” I mouthed silently to his retreating back as horror washed over me. Did he say camp? Surely, he had a house, because there was nothing about me that screamed camper. Camping to me was staying at a hotel and making s’mores with the small mini microwaves they provided in the room. The outdoors and I had an understanding. As long as a beach was involved, I was good to go, anything else, and I was out.
I struggled to keep up with Rick as his long legs propelled him toward the parking garage. I fought the urge to hightail it back into the airport.
“When you say camp, you mean…?” I gasped, winded from keeping up with him.
“I run a camp for foster kids,” he said, looking at me with surprise. It was glaringly obvious that he thought Mom would have filled me in on the particulars.
“Really?” I asked with surprise coloring my voi
“It’s the closest thing to having kids of my own…” he said. This time it was his voice that trailed off, obviously regretting his choice of words. His movements in front of me seemed more forced. The lies that had robbed me of the father I had always yearned for had obviously impacted him just as much.
My inner turmoil was halted after I smacked into his broad back when he stopped abruptly in front of me. He whipped around to steady me with his hands as torment clouded his features. “I would have visited if I'd known,” he said, gripping my arms lightly.
I nodded my head, fighting back the tears that wanted to come roaring out. For years, I had assumed my father had run for the hills when he’d learned of my existence. As a child, I had been hurt that he wasn’t there, but as I got older, those feelings turned to betrayal that he wasn’t man enough to stick around. My mom never helped matters either. I asked many times over the years about my dad. She would always find ways to side step the question, like claiming it was too painful to talk about, or that she didn't know why he left or where he went. Eventually, I guess I just accepted it and stopped asking. Not that my life had been bad. Mom had always gone above and beyond trying to fill the void. She worked hard to make sure we were always financially secure as she struggled to put herself through night classes to become a teacher. We weren’t wealthy by any means, but I always appreciated the sacrifices she made for me. I’d always regarded her as someone who had persevered even though she’d been handed a raw deal. All her sacrifices now seemed somehow less meaningful. For reasons only she knows, she had decided seventeen years ago to make herself a martyr unnecessarily. Standing before me was living, breathing proof.
“I know,” I said, believing him.
“Okay,” he said, dropping his hands from my arms and resuming his faster-than-humanly-possible pace.
“Um, you think you could slow down a little for those of us who don’t have stilts for legs,” I said, going for sarcasm to cover the awkwardness of the whole situation. I was by no means a social leper, but I was spoiled from the luxury of knowing all the same people my whole life. Meeting new people always made me feel initially uncomfortable anyway, so imagine meeting your father for the first time at seventeen years old.
“Oops, sorry,” he said, sounding as uncomfortable as I felt. He looked over his shoulder at me lagging behind and shortened his stride. “Your mom always lagged behind too,” he added, obviously trying to ease the tension.
“She did?” I asked, struck by curiosity. I hadn't given her a chance to explain anything once she told me about Rick, and that she never told him about me. You would think maybe I would have peppered her with questions, but it was like a steel door had closed, blocking the closeness we had always shared. I felt betrayed all these years by a father I knew nothing about and then she drops a bomb on me. It was like a punch in the face. I was more willing to hear it from an equal victim in the whole situation.
“Yeah," Rick continued. "She’d grudgingly tag along with me when I went hiking when we were in high school.
“Really?” I asked skeptically. Mom’s tolerance for the outdoors fell under the same category as mine. Nonexistent.
He chuckled at my skepticism. “Well, I did say grudgingly. Usually, we had to work out a trade, hiking for a day at the beach.”
“Now that sounds like Mom. Always the negotiator,” I said, feeling the first stirrings of homesickness. Mom and I had always gotten along so well that I never had the typical gripes all my friends had about their parents. Leaving the way I did had left a hole the size of Kansas in my chest. I was still mad she’d lied to me all these years, but I couldn’t erase the heartbroken look on her face when she dropped me off at the airport earlier that morning.
“Yeah, Kate was always the negotiator,” he said, stopping in front of an oversized SUV that looked roughly the size of a small bus. I thought they had stopped making these monstrous vehicles a while back when gas prices began their steady hike up. I shuddered at the idea of filling up the obvious gas-guzzler. I wasn't exactly a total earth-friendly nut like some of my other artistic friends, but I did try to do my share of conserving our natural resources. I’d stick with my cute used Honda Civic my mom helped me buy as an early graduation present.
“So, your mom tells me you’re headed to UCLA in the fall,” Rick said, pulling his “tank” out of the narrow parking spot.
I grimaced as he came within an inch of the bumper of the sleek sports car next to us. “Um, yeah,” I said, waiting for the grinding sound of metal on metal that never came. I sighed with relief when he pulled out of the parking garage after what seemed to me like several near misses. “I was accepted into their art program.”
“That’s what Kate said. That’s a tough program, isn’t it? You must be pretty talented,” he added, flashing me a smile for the first time
I flushed at the praise. It seemed surreal to be talking about my college plans with my dad. “I guess it’s because I’ve been doing it for years,” I said, trying not to brag.
“Talent is talent,” he said. “You should be proud of what you’ve accomplished. I’m hoping to see some of your talent this summer,” he added.
“Sure,” I said, liking the idea of being able to draw the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Maybe living so far from town wasn’t as bad as I first imagined it would be. I’d even give hiking a shot, so I might have a chance at seeing some wildlife. My specialty was murals, but I’d wanted to broaden my portfolio for a while. I felt lighthearted at the thought. I wouldn’t be spending the summer in my art studio or on the beach, but lounging around in the mountains might not be all that bad either.
The drive continued on in awkward fashion as Rick and I did our best, considering the situation, to get to know each other. He would pepper me with several questions in a row about my childhood, wait for me to respond and then fall silent again. I wasn’t doing much better. Back home, I had a whole list of things I wanted to know about him, but now that I was sitting here, my brain was freezing up on me. The conversation loosened up when he asked about my past birthdays. He chuckled as I explained Mom’s almost manic behavior each time my birthday would roll around. How she would flutter around like a bee on acid the weeks leading up to my parties, only to drop into a heap of exhaustion once the party ended. As I chatted, I tried to keep my apprehension at bay as civilization slowly faded away behind us. Shopping malls, restaurants, and even gas stations became few and far between the closer we got to the massive snow-covered mountains in front of us.
“Wow, there’s still snow on the mountains,” I exclaimed.
“It’s been a rough winter and an even rougher spring. Just last week we had a storm blow in that dropped a foot of snow. It's melted since then, but it's definitely been an uncharacteristically cold start to the summer," he said.
“But, it’s June," I protested.
“Guess Mother Nature didn’t get that memo,” he said.
“I’m surprised it hasn’t melted,” I said, recalling the warmer temperatures outside when we left the terminal.
“It’s a tad bit colder up where you see the snow. That's even higher than were we’re headed, but it’s still been pretty chilly at camp for the past couple of weeks,” he said, which explained his warm clothing. “You bring anything warmer?” he added, taking in my sandal-clad feet and long dress.
“Um, no, but I’m sure I’ll be fine,” I said, figuring it couldn’t be much colder than California weather during the winter. For the most part, I wore sandals year round.
He chuckled as he veered off the highway and pulled into the first shopping plaza I’d seen for the last twenty minutes.
“I think we need to get you some proper duds,” he said, opening his door as I looked at him questioningly.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” I tried to argue as he led me to the women’s section of the store.
“Trust me, you need these,” he said, propelling me toward the jeans. “The average temperature during the day has been
“Get out,” I said, not quite believing him.
“Believe me, you’ll freeze your a…” he cut off.
“I’ve heard the word ass before, Rick."
I turned to him, liking the sound of his sudden laughter. “No doubt. I just try to keep swearing to a minimum around the campers. It’s become a habit to correct myself.”
“How many campers do you have?” I asked, noticing the half-dozen or so God-awful flannel shirts he had tossed into the buggy. Even in colder weather, I usually wore oversized cable-knit sweaters and thick leggings under my long skirts. I put half of the flannel shirts back and picked out several hooded sweatshirts instead since I didn't see any sweaters to speak of.
“I cap it at fifty, twenty-five boys and twenty-five girls.”
“Wow, fifty? Your place must be huge.”
“Just under fifty acres,” he said, smiling at my shock. “I plan to acquire another ten acres next year.”
“How much do you charge for camp?” I asked, amazed at his enterprise.
“We’re nonprofit. The campers pay nothing. The state kicks in a few bucks, but I panhandle for the rest,” he teased.
I smiled, conjuring up a mental picture of him begging for loose change on the corner somewhere.
“I’d better go try these on,” I said, grabbing the overflowing stack of jeans and leggings I had added to the cart.
“Sounds good. I’ll pick up a few more necessities for you, and then we should be good to go.”
“More?” I asked, mentally calculating the bill in my head. I saw half the money I had saved for dorm room shopping disappearing.
“Just a few things,” he said, disappearing around the corner with the cart.
The first couple pairs of jeans fit perfectly, but I decided to only get one pair since I wasn't a huge fan of jeans anyway. I figured I could supplement the rest of my wardrobe with leggings I could wear under the long skirts I had packed, and if I was a little frugal, I could salvage some of my savings. Of course, the thought of trying to make it in the mountains with one pair of jeans and a couple pairs of leggings for six weeks was stupid. Sighing in resignation, I tried on the remaining jeans and picked the three pairs I liked the best. Maybe if I begged Chuck at the art supply store for extra hours he might throw me a bone. I still had four weeks to earn extra money once I was back home.