Unlikely allies, p.15

Unlikely Allies, page 15


Unlikely Allies

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  Figuring the beginning was probably the best approach. I told her about discovering that Rick owned a camp and how worried I was about fitting in, how Mason made it his mission to point out my every flaw and mistake.

  "What a jerk," she interrupted, sounding pissed that he dared criticized me.

  "Let me finish," I said, breaking her tirade as I bit into one of the chocolate chip cookies my mom had dropped off for us.

  "Fine," she teased, snatching up two cookies at once.

  Smiling at her loyalty, I filled her in on the rest. Like how Mason and I started to have feelings for each other, how I grew to love teaching the kids about art, and then finally I told her about the accident. I tried to paint a visual picture with my words of what our little cave looked like and the way Mason had held me in his arms at night.

  "He sounds dreamy," she interrupted again.

  "He is," I agreed.

  "So, you don't believe he doesn't have feelings for you, do you?"

  "No, I know he feels the same, but he has to recover from his injuries first, and then we can re-evaluate."

  "You little minx. You think he'll come after you."

  "I hope he does," I said honestly, knowing the risk of calling his bluff. "But still, what if he doesn't come after me?" Panic seized me at the thought.

  "He will. Clearly he knows of your fabulousness," she teased. "So, what are your plans for school?" she added, once again switching gears.

  "Originally, I planned on withdrawing my application from UCLA and going to a community college for a year in Colorado, but I guess I'll hold off on that. I'm planning on doing a dual major so I can get my degree in education."

  "Wow, it’s seriously wigging me out to hear you say you want to work with kids. If I didn't know any better, I'd think your body was abducted by aliens while you were lost in the mountains."

  "I know, right? Believe me, it sort of wigs me out too, but seriously, you should see how some of the kids opened up. They were like sponges as I took them through some of the basic art steps..." My voice trailed off when I noticed her studying me appraisingly. "What?" I asked, paranoid.

  "Nothing, it’s just, I've never heard you talk like this. You sound so inspiring."

  "Well, I guess that's because it's really inspiring. The kids changed the way I look at art."

  "That's great, Kim," she said, giving me hug. "I'm a little sad you might be leaving me behind soon, but I'm glad you have direction," she said, sighing dramatically.

  "You have direction. I thought you were going to major in set design," I said, trying to remember if that was the last major she had mentioned.

  "I'm thinking I should do something more worthwhile like you. Think about it. You’ll be sculpting the minds of young children everywhere, that could be me," she said, holding back a smile.

  "Right," I said, starting to giggle. Carol had six brothers and sisters and though she loved them all, she had vowed that when we went to college, she wouldn't spend more than a day with anyone younger than the age of eighteen for the next ten years. "Of course, that might make your vow a little tough or maybe you plan on teaching college boys," I said, wagging my eyebrows at her suggestively.

  "Hmmm, that's not a bad idea. I'll make every class a nude study," she said, saucily.

  I laughed because it was something I could totally see her doing.

  "So, what are you going to do now?" she asked.

  "Well, I can't go back to work until I'm done with those aluminum torture devices, so I plan on catching up on a few pieces for my portfolio. I want to catch the Rocky Mountains on canvas before the images fade away."

  "What about school?"

  "I guess I'll stay at UCLA for this semester. If Mason doesn't come around by Christmas break, I'm still moving to Colorado," I said, ignoring the dread that filled me at the thought. "I've made up my mind, boy or not, spending time with my dad is important to me."

  "Sounds good, and at least I get you for a semester," she said, giving me a quick hug before darting out my door. "Bye, Ms. H," she said, passing my mom on her way out.

  "So, you're going to UCLA this semester?" she asked nonchalantly, unzipping my suitcase.

  "Eavesdrop much?" I asked.

  "I was on my way in when I heard you tell Car," she said, defensively.

  "Right," I said, sinking back against my pillow.

  "Kim, are we going to be able to move past this?"

  "Past what?" I asked, running my fingers through the fringes of my throw blanket.

  "The hostility and sarcasm. I miss the old you. I miss us."

  "I miss us too. I just don't know how to let go of the pain you caused. You hid the truth for eighteen years. Why did you even bother to tell us?"

  "I promised myself I would tell you when you were eighteen and an adult."

  "Because you knew by then he wouldn't be able to swoop in and steal partial custody from you," I said, seeing through her answer.

  "Yes," she said, meeting my eyes before sinking on my bed beside me.

  "Do you at least regret not telling us sooner?" I asked.

  "I always said I wouldn't, that I would stand by my decision, but the moment I told Rick, I regretted it deeper than I've ever regretted anything. I'm not proud that I stripped you of a father figure, just as I'm not proud that I stripped him of a daughter. He and I talked about it a lot when you were in the hospital, and the impact of my decision hit me like a two-by-four. He wanted to know about all the things I got to experience: where we were when you took your first step, the first time you lost a tooth, your first day of kindergarten and most recently, the day you got your diploma. I'm sorry I robbed you both of sharing these experiences, so yes, I regret my decision. Not because I'm afraid you'll always hate me, but because of the reasons I listed."

  "I don't hate you, Mom. I just need time," I said, reaching over to give her a hug.

  "I love you, sweetie," she said, kissing the top of my head.

  "I love you too, Mom."

  "I'll let you rest for a while and then maybe we can order out Chinese."

  "Sounds good," I said, sinking down on my bed until I was lying flat.

  She covered me with my blanket like she used to when I was little before leaving me alone with my thoughts.

  The silence of the room assaulted me and the emotions I had worked to keep at bay for the last twenty-four hours bubbled over. Mason's rejection the day before simmered in my heart like an open wound and tears of hurt burned their way down my cheeks. I thought coming home would be better by giving us a little space, but I felt the distance more acutely than I would have thought possible.

  My tears ran down my cheeks hot and fast as my repressed sobs finally broke free. Muffling them with my pillow, I cried until I had nothing left and finally drifted to sleep.

  Chapter 17

  The weeks leading up to the start of term passed in a crazy-busy blur of activity. I pushed Mason to the back of my mind and threw myself into getting ready for dorm life. Mom surprised me by giving me a thousand dollar gift card to Bed Bath and Beyond. I suspected it was a guilt gift, but was grateful for it, regardless. Car and I had a field day spending it, from buying matching comforters for our beds, to completely outfitting our bathroom in deep plum shades. Car's parents kicked in with our appliances so we'd be the envy of the other rooms with our mini fridge, microwave and coffee maker. We'd wanted a hot plate, but all the parents balked at that, claiming we'd forget about it and leave it turned on when sudden inspiration distracted us. We both tried to act hurt over their accusations, but couldn't deny it.

  My biggest surprise arrived the day before I headed off to school. Carol and I were dragging my crap down the hall when our doorbell rang. My heart skipped a beat like it had every time our doorbell rang since I got home.

  "I'll get it," Carol said, dropping the box she was carrying on the hall table. "Well, well, I know who you are," she said to the visitor.

  My heart thudded painfully in my chest and my palms began t
o sweat. He was here.

  Carol swung the door open wide and I had to swallow back my disappointment when I saw Rick and not Mason on the doorstep.

  Shoving my hurt back to its safe place, I dropped my box before throwing myself in his arms. "Dad, what are you doing here? Is Mason okay?" I asked, pulling back. I instantly wanted to bite my tongue. I was supposed to be acting nonchalant here.

  "Mason's fine. He's at home now and goes in for physical therapy every day," he said, giving me a look that spoke volumes.

  "Good, I'm glad," I said, swallowing hard. This is what I had wanted. "But, what are you doing here?" I asked again.

  "You didn't think I was going to miss out on the opportunity of helping my daughter settle into college, did you?"

  "I guess not," I said with a genuine smile. "Are you sure you're ready for the mayhem though?"

  "Bring it on," he said, winking at me.

  "Ahem," Car said behind me.

  "Oh, sorry. Dad this is my friend, Carol or Car. Car, this is my dad, Rick," I said, introducing them.

  "Nice to meet you, Car," Rick said, reaching out to shake her hand.

  "So, what's with your boy hurting my girl here?" Carol shocked me by saying.

  "Car," I hissed, kicking at her foot.

  Rick raised his eyebrows at her question and started to answer it, but I interrupted him. "We don't need to talk about it," I said with steel in my voice as I gave Carol the evil eye.

  She shrugged her shoulders in her typical so-sue-me kind of attitude.

  Rick watched our silent exchange, looking confused about whether he should say something.

  "It's fine. Car just shares my gift of diarrhea of the mouth," I said, leading him into the family room. "Did Mom know you were coming?" I asked.

  "Yeah, I told her I wanted it to be a surprise. Figured you could use me for manual labor."

  "Great idea, my dad is sooooooo old, he'd be more of a hindrance," Carol piped in.

  "Car," I said, trying to chastise her, but wound up having to agree with her. I loved her parents dearly, but they were older than most of the parents we knew. Poor Carol had put up with jokes about them looking more like her grandparents than actual parents for years.

  "They're just a little older," I explained to Rick.

  "I see. Well, I'm glad I can be of service. I rented an Expedition since your mom told me you'd have to take several vehicles."

  "That's awesome, though I'm sure Ms. Go Green might feel differently," Car teased.

  "Go Green?" Rick asked.

  "Seriously, Car, you need a gag," I said, sighing. "I'm just a little picky on environmentally-friendly vehicles," I added, grabbing the box I had set down.

  "Uh-huh, I'm guessing my vehicle back home doesn't meet those standards?" he joked, grabbing the box from me.

  "Um, no, not really," I admitted.

  He laughed. "It's practical for the mountains, but I see your point."

  Carol laughed at his words and followed him outside with her box. Conversation after that was left to short phrases as I dragged the rest of the stuff we had accumulated to the entryway. The majority of Carol's stuff was already at my house since we had been stowing our purchases in my room. Space at her house was limited at best, even with her and her two older siblings off at school.

  Carol left when we were almost done so she could help her mom with dinner.

  Rick and I finished loading up the back of the Expedition, which I had to admit had a ton of space once you laid all the seats down. Rick filled me in on what was happening at the camp while we worked. He was careful to skirt around mentioning Mason and I was thankful for it. I hadn't cried over Mason since my first night home, but being around Rick brought the raw feelings back to the surface.

  "So, Amy's gearing up for Red Rocks," he said, closing the hatch of the vehicle as my mom pulled into the driveway.

  "Where's she staying?" I asked.

  "In a small apartment off campus. Her scholarship money and loans are enough to pay the bills and her classes. We're all pitching in for the rest."

  "That's great. I know how much she wanted to go to college."

  "She misses you," he said before turning to greet my mom. "Kate," he said, giving her hug.

  "It's good to see you, Rick," she said warmly.

  I headed to my room, leaving them to chat.

  My room looked bare without all the boxes and bags that had cluttered it the last few weeks. Sitting on the edge of my bed, I thought about my conversation with Rick. I felt bad I hadn't called or returned Amy's text messages since I got home. I had pushed her away, afraid that talking to her would make me miss Mason more. I now realized it was selfish of me to do so. I valued her friendship and I wasn't doing a very good job showing it.

  I pulled my cell out of my pocket and scrolled through my messages until I got to the one she had sent.

  Hey girl I hear you're college bound. I typed.

  Who is this??? She answered.

  Hahaha kidding :) She texted back.

  Sorry I haven't called.

  I understand chica. I know something went down between you and Greeky but figured you didn't want to talk about it.

  Yeah sort of.

  That's okay. I'm here if you need a friend.

  Thanks I value your friendship a lot.

  Aww back atcha Twinsie.

  I heart you. I texted smiling.

  I heart you too <3 Don't be a stranger.

  I won't. I typed.

  Tossing my phone on my bed, I headed to my bathroom to shower since moving stuff translated to sweaty ickiness.

  The evening passed much too quickly for my liking as Rick treated Mom and me to dinner out at my favorite Mexican restaurant. During dinner, Rick entertained us with stories of previous years at the camp. Mom and I were in stitches at some of the fiascos, or as he put it, fires he had to put out. The evening was bittersweet as I got a glimpse into what our life might have been like.

  "I had fun tonight," I told them, giving them a hug goodnight as they continued to talk late into the night.

  "Night, Kimmie," Rick said, standing.

  "Night, Dad," I said, heading toward my room.

  "I can't believe she lets you call her that," I heard Mom say.

  "Oh sheesh, between Car and Mom, nothing's sacred," I muttered to myself.

  My last morning at home passed in a whirlwind of activity as I rushed around like a maniac, grabbing stray art supplies that seemed to be strewn throughout the house. Finally, after many false starts, we were on the road, headed for the campus. The three-hour drive passed quickly as Mom and I talked about mundane things, trying to hold our tears at bay over our impending separation.

  The campus was buzzing when we arrived and we wound up circling the block several times until we found spaces. Rick squeezed into the closest space while Mom and I parked a block away.

  Carol showed up with her mom and dad in tow, and we made quick work of unloading all the vehicles. Before I knew it, Carol and I were standing alone in our dorm room with tears in our eyes.

  "Well, we're college girls," Carol said dramatically, sweeping her arms out and twirling around.

  "Yeah, I guess we are," I said, not sharing her excitement.

  "Come on Gloomy Gus, we're here. Let's go grab something to eat and we'll deal with this mess later," she said, indicating the multiple boxes and bags scattered across the room.

  "Fine, but you're doing your share when we get back," I said, knowing her well.

  "Me?" she said, laying on the innocence.

  Carol and I walked around the campus to get a better lay of the land before classes started on Monday.

  "What time is freshman orientation tomorrow?" Carol asked, sipping her large iced caramel latte.

  "Two in the afternoon, I think. Why?"

  "Just wondering since the campus seems pretty empty."

  "That's what I was thinking. I guess not everyone is as dedicated as us," I joked.

  "You mean, dweebie,
right? Come on, let’s go get dinner, maybe we'll meet some people."

  "By 'people', you mean 'boys'," I said, linking my arm through hers. "How can you be hungry anyway? You just downed an iced caramel latte."

  "Hello, have we met?"

  "Oops, that's right. I forgot I was talking to the bottomless pit," I quipped as she dragged me into the Terrace Food Court.

  "Wow, pick your poison," I said, taking in all the fast food places. "Sheesh, this food court is better than the one at the mall," I joked, heading for the Panda Express.

  "I'm going to make the rounds to see what I want," Carol said, dumping her empty cup in the trashcan.

  "Okay," I said, placing my order with the girl behind the counter.

  Carol still wasn't back by the time I paid for my food, so I picked a table for us. I was halfway done with my food when I saw her headed my way, dragging two very willing guys behind her. I held back a sigh at their twin like appearances in khaki shorts and girly-colored polo shirts. Why guys suddenly thought it was hot to wear pink and lavender was beyond me.

  "Kim, this is Chris and his friend Steven," she said, making quick introductions while I glared at her.

  "Hi," I said, holding out my hand, reluctantly.

  Chris shook it firmly before turning his attention back to Carol, making it clear who he was interested in.

  I turned to his friend to shake his hand. He grasped mine longer than necessary, making a production of running his thumb over my pulse point. I jerked my hand back, frowning at him.

  "Sorry, there's only room at the table for two," I said, rudely.

  "That's okay. We can get a bigger..." Carol started to say, but abruptly shut her mouth when she saw my thunderous expression.

  "No problem," Chris said, looking at me like I had sprouted an extra head. "Here, let me program my number in your phone and maybe we can get together after your orientation," he said, reaching for his phone.

  "Okay," Carol said, obviously already infatuated.

  Taking a moment to appraise Chris, I guess I couldn't blame her. He was easily more than six feet tall with a mess of brown locks that fell across his forehead. His lean physique made him a prime candidate for most shirtless activities that most girls would dream about. Judging by the look on Car's face, she was already in dreamland. With Carol standing next to him with her long golden legs, highlighted by a mid-thigh skirt and a full chest, enhanced by the peasant shirt that tied just over her chest, they looked like they were posing for some clothing line.

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