Unlikely Allies, page 2
Rick was waiting for me outside the dressing room holding a heavy jacket, gloves and a hat.
“No way,” I said shaking my head. “We’re not going to Antarctica. That stuff will just go to waste,” I said, drawing the line at spending my hard-earned cash on something I didn’t need.
“Trust me, Kimberly, you’ll thank me by tomorrow,” he said, holding out the black jacket for me to try on.
“Fine,” I grumbled. “But I’m leaving the tag on. If I don’t need it, we can return it.” At least he had a knack for finding the right size, I thought.
“I should. I’ve been doing it for years. A lot of the foster kids come to camp with only a few things to their name. I keep a lot of stuff on hand, but it’s mostly for the younger crowd,” he said, pushing the buggy to an open register.
That certainly put things in perspective. Rick was obviously an all-around great guy, helping those less fortunate. I guess worrying about having the money for some throw rug for my dorm room didn’t seem as important when you looked at things that way.
Together Rick and I piled my new wardrobe onto the conveyor belt. Once the cart was emptied, I reached for my wallet.
“Whoa, what do you think you’re doing?” Rick asked incredulously.
“What?” I asked.
“You didn’t seriously think I’d make you pay?” he asked, shaking his head in obvious bafflement.
“Of course I’m going to pay,” I said.
“Kimmie, I’ve missed your whole life. The least I can do is properly outfit you while you’re visiting me.”
His words touched me. I’d never been a fan of the nickname Kimmie, but coming from him, it made me feel special.
“That’s not your fault,” I reminded him.
“And it’s not yours,” he countered. “Please, let me,” he added.
“Seriously, Rick, you don’t have to,” I said, feeling uncomfortable with the idea of him paying.
“I want to,” he said, handing over his credit card to the girl behind the counter who was watching us with interest.
“Thanks,” I said as a warm tingle spread through me. When I was little, I used to dream about my father showing up and buying me surprises. As I got older, my dreams shifted to just wishing he would show up and want to get to know me. It seemed surreal having Rick standing before me now, doing both.
Once my bags were stowed in the back of the SUV with my luggage, Rick tuned the radio to a country station and we were back on the road. The long twisty roads of the mountain quickly took a toll on me and my eyes began to droop until they eventually closed.
I jerked awake when the vehicle shuddered to a stop. Blinking my eyes in the afternoon sun, I took in the sight of my temporary home. A massive log cabin-looking building dominated the space in front of us. A rustic screened-in patio with multiple seating areas ran the length of the front exterior. I could see smaller log buildings peeking out behind the large structure. There were a few girls that looked to be my age chatting in the screened-in space. Above us stood a large wooden sign with words burned into it welcoming visitors to Camp Unlikely Allies.
“Unlikely Allies?” I asked.
“Figured it was the best name for all the misfits we get here,” he answered affectionately. “Seriously, since everyone comes from such diverse backgrounds, normally it would be unlikely that they would ever think to work together or help each other. My goal here is to teach them that despite differences, we all must all be allies,” he added passionately.
Some of my misgivings at being so far removed from civilization began to dissipate as the magnitude of what Rick was doing here hit me. He was changing the lives of kids. It was such an admirable cause that my whining about missing the beach and my art studio seemed utterly ridiculous.
“It’s a perfect name,” I said, smiling at him.
“Uh, thanks,” he said, looking slightly embarrassed. “Sorry, I sometimes think I get overzealous when I explain the name,” he added, chuckling.
“You just sound proud, which you should be. This is amazing,” I said, taking in my surroundings. I wasn’t a nature buff, but I had to admit, the towering trees overhead with the sun streaming through the breaks in the branches gave the aura of an enchanting hideaway.
“It’s always a work in progress. We just updated the mess hall this winter,” Rick said, indicating the building in front of us. “The girls' dorms over there are only a couple years old,” he added, pointing at two cabins on the right side of the building. “We plan on updating the boys' dorms this winter if my panhandling comes together in the fall,” he joked, pointing toward the two identical cabins on the left.
I looked at him curiously, wondering about his "panhandling" comments. I wasn’t sure how much it cost to keep a venture like this floating, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t cheap.
I climbed out of the vehicle and shivered in the cooler temperatures. Rick hadn’t been kidding, it was easily twenty degrees cooler here than when we left the airport.
I rubbed my hands over my arms that had a multilayer of goose bumps already popping up on them.
“The room I stay in is right outside my office,” Rick said as he opened the hatch of the vehicle. “You’ll be sharing the ten-to-twelve-year-old dorm with Amy,” he added, dragging my heavy suitcase from the cargo bay.
Share a cabin? “What?” I asked, not sure I had heard him right. I didn’t have much experience with kids since I was never one to babysit. Mom was the one who was good with kids, not me. I liked them okay, but always found conversations with them stilted since I never knew what to say, and being with them in such close quarters made me want to hightail it back to the airport as if the hounds of hell were nipping at my heels.
My train of thought was derailed when I heard the swing of an ax.
Turning around to find the source of the noise, I felt all the air leave my lungs when I saw a blond-haired, shirtless, oh-my-god-he’s-too-hot-for-words stud cutting wood in the clearing just beyond the boys’ cabins. I watched in awe as his muscles rippled while he swung the ax to cut clean through the small log on the tree stump in front of him. His shirtless back glistened with sweat that slowly trickled beyond the jeans that rode low on his hips. My eyes followed the trail and I felt myself flush at the direction my thoughts were taking. I’d spent half my life around half-dressed surfer boys, but I was pretty sure none of their abs came close to the ones I was openly admiring. The artist in me yearned to grab a sketchpad and immortalize him on paper before the moment disappeared. A pair of dog tags hung down his back so they wouldn't get in the way as he swung the ax. For some reason, the sight of the dog tags made his glistening back even sexier. He exuded hotness and I couldn't help responding.
Rick asked me a question, but stopped when he spotted me ogling the guy in front of me. His face spread into a wide smile. “Mason, son, come meet my daughter,” he said, slinging an arm around my shoulder.
My stomach dropped to my toes. Did he say, son?
I stared in disbelief at Mr. I’m-Too-Sexy-For-My-Own-Good in front of me in disbelief. Mom had neglected to tell me that Rick had a son too. The bile rose in my throat, and I don’t know if I was more embarrassed or angry about ogling my half brother. Would Mom’s half-truths never end?
“Hi,” I said, trying not to sound as stupid as I felt at the moment.
He swept his eyes disdainfully down my frame, taking in my long flowing sundress that was completely inappropriate for the mountain conditions. “You won’t find any waves out here, beach bunny,” he taunted.
“Excuse me?” I said, caught off guard. Was he seriously judging me? He was the show-off, standing around with no shirt on, trying to impress everyone. I opened my mouth to shoot off a catty comeback when Rick intervened.
“Kimmie wasn’t aware we were so high up in the mountains,” he said, offering an explanation I felt was highly unnecessary.
“Kimmie?” Mason said, smirking at me.
“Well, this isn’t awkward,” Rick said, darting his eyes between us. Ordinarily, I would have laughed at his outright bluntness. It was nice to know we shared that trait.
“Sorry,” I said, trying to ease the tension. “I guess Mom forgot to mention I had a half brother, among other things.”
“Oh, we don’t share blood, beach bunny,” Mason said, like the mere idea was distasteful.
“Come again?” I asked, hoping I wasn’t misunderstanding him.
“Mason came here as foster kid when he was ten and pretty much never left,” Rick said, proudly slapping Mason on the back.
Well, that was a relief. Not because I was just gawking at him, but because I had the strong desire to jump off a cliff at the idea of actually being related to such an arrogant ass. Still, I have to admit, I felt a little uncharacteristically jealous over the bond they seemed to share that was never an option for me. I knew that was irrational considering we were all practically adults, but I kind of felt like a kid with my nose pressed to the window of a candy store while all the other kids got to pick out a treat.
“Little old to be a camper, aren’t you—or do they go by maturity level around here?” I asked in a sugarcoated voice.
Rick swept his gaze between Mason and me, obviously catching the hostility that seemed to vibrate between us. “Mason is the best counselor/all-around-handyman I could ever ask for.”
“Yep, see beach bunny, some of us actually work for a living,” Mason said before sauntering off to resume his work.
I was left sputtering in his wake as he sank his ax into the tree stump and pulled his t-shirt off the nearby branch where it was hanging.
“Okay, so, that wasn’t the way I expected that to go,” Rick said, puzzled by the way we had reacted.
“Sorry, I’m just not used to being around arrogant guys,” I said, passing the buck off on Mason.
“Well, he’s usually not like that. He’s usually very courteous to girls,” Rick said, scratching the light hair that covered his face.
“I guess I bring out the worse in him,” I said, feeling bad for spoiling the moment for Rick. This wasn’t exactly the first impression I wanted to make.
He nodded, still looking confused and a little bit hurt. I followed meekly behind him, suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of homesickness. What the hell was I doing here? This wasn’t my element. I knew nothing about the people I would be spending the next six weeks of my life with. I’d already alienated myself with one, and followed that by disappointing the father I had known all of five hours. I felt like an epic failure.
“This will be your dorm,” Rick said, pushing open the heavy wooden door open with his foot. I dragged my suitcase up the two shallow wooden steps and crossed through the doorway to take in my surroundings. The interior was as rough and rugged as the exterior. Six sets of bunk beds lined three of the walls. Tall unfinished wardrobes stood between each set while two more flanked the wall by the door we had entered. Two solitary twin beds sat in the center of the room.
“Bathroom is there,” Rick said, pointing to the narrow space between a set of the bunk beds and wardrobes. “The girls get the bunks and counselors get these beds,” Rick added, placing my suitcases on one of the twin beds.
I looked around, unsure of my role in the scheme of things. “Um, I’m really not all that good around kids,” I said, deciding to come clean before I was entrusted with a cabin full of girls.
“I’m sure you’ll be a natural,” Rick said, patting my back. “There’s still a few days before the campers arrive. We’ll run you through some basic courses before they get here, CPR, first aid and a few survival classes that I make all the counselors take each year. It’s imperative to know the basic survival tips for the region you’ll be camping in,” he added before heading out the door.
I watched his retreating back for a minute before I sank down on my bunk in disbelief. CPR, first aid and survival? The responsibility he was placing on me was nerve-racking. Trying to collect myself, I pulled out my iPhone so Carol could talk me through the crisis. I was dismayed to find no signal after sliding my finger across to unlock the screen. “Seriously, no service?” I muttered to myself as my only means of sanity disintegrated before my eyes.
I was literally in my own personal hell.
“Talking to yourself after being here less than fifteen minutes means you’re either a few cards shy of a full deck, or you just figured out you’re in BFN,” a tall willowy said while stepping into the cabin. “Hi, I’m Amy," she said, smiling at me mischievously as she tucked a long lock of her blonde hair behind her ear.
“I’m Kimberly,” I said, reaching out to shake her hand. “BFN?”
“Yeah, you know, Bum Fock Nowhere,” she said laughing.
“Fock?” I asked.
She laughed harder. “Sorry, I promised Louise I wouldn’t swear anymore,” she said, plopping down on the bunk opposite of me. “I normally swear like a frat boy, but Louise promised to help me find bargain furniture in the fall for my apartment off campus if I stopped. Key word being bargain,” she emphasized making air quotes with her fingers. “Since my funds are limited. Thank goodness I’ll be eligible for student loans, otherwise I’d be shi… oops, I mean SOL,” she corrected herself laughing. “I’m still trying to get the hang of this no-cussing gig. It’s almost like I’m learning the English language for the first time.”
I couldn’t help grinning at the overflow of information she’d thrown my way in less than one minute. I had all kinds of questions for her, but decided to stick with the easiest.
“So, who is Louise?”
“Louise is the chef and camp assistant extraordinaire. She keeps me in line. She’s been after me for years to clean up my mouth, but hell, when you’ve been bounced around as much as I have, you’re bound to be exposed to some colorful language. Oops, don’t tell her I said the H word. I’m pretty sure she’d count that as a curse word,” she said giggling.
"Oh, I love your bracelets," she said, switching gears and taking in the vibrant clay bead bracelets that lined my right wrist.
"Thanks. I made them. Here, you can have these," I said, pulling off two of my favorite ones.
"Shut up," she shrieked, throwing her arms around my neck. "You seriously made these?"
"Wow, you have some serious mad skills."
I couldn’t help laughing. Her bubbly personality sucked me in right away.
“Did you say years?” I asked, returning back to our original topic.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. I’ve been coming to Camp-I-Wish-This-Was-My-Home since I was ten. I was devastated the summer I turned sixteen and knew I was too old to be a camper anymore, but Louise contacted my foster home at the time and asked if I’d be interested in being a camp counselor. I jumped at the idea. My foster home at the time was a total drag. This’ll be my third summer as a counselor,” she added proudly.
“Wow, you must seriously like this place,” I said, looking around doubtfully at the sparse living conditions.
“Like? Dude, I love this place. Rick, or I guess I should say, your dad, which BTW, how totally awesome is it that Rick is your dad?” she said, wistfully switching gears. “All of us used to wish that he’d take us under his wing, like Mason. Have you met Mason, BTW? OMG, is he the yummiest nugget you’ve ever seen?” she rattled off in one breath.
My head spun trying to keep up with her. “Yeah, I met him. He’s a complete ass if you ask me.
“What? Are you sure you met Mason? Tall, blond, eye-candy galore, sweetest-guy-you’ll-ever-meet, Mason,” she added, looking at me skeptically for the first time.
“Yeah, that would be him. You don’t think his whole I-could-be a Greek-god act is a bit arrogant and annoying?” I asked.
“Kim, trust me, Mason is the least arrogant person you’ll find. He works his cute little hiney off around here. Rick’s always telling him
“How did Rick save him?” I asked just as an old-fashioned bell rang outside.
“Oops, it’s dinnertime,” Amy said, leaping to her feet in one fluid movement. “You’re going to love the food here,” she added, reaching out her hand to help me off the bed.
I snatched one of my new hoodies out of the bag as I followed behind her. My head was spinning at all the information she’d thrown my way. I envied her easygoing attitude, when by the sound of it, she’d had a tough childhood. It made me feel ashamed of the way I had reacted with my mom. All the lies aside, at least I had a mom growing up, which is obviously more than some of these kids can say.
The mess hall was filled with oversized round tables that easily sat at least fifteen people each. The far corner housed a kitchen with no separating walls. I watched as everyone pitched in to carry large serving dishes from one of the long counters that ran the length of the kitchen. They were joking and laughing as they deposited the dishes in the center of one of the round tables in the middle of the room. Rick was on the far side of the kitchen making a large pitcher of lemonade. He smiled at me when he spotted us standing in the doorway.
“Looks like we missed all the work,” Amy giggled, grabbing up a handful of napkin-rolled silverware that was on a low table near the door.
“Like you didn’t do that on purpose,” a dark-haired guy teased as he tugged on a lock of her hair.
“Hey, that’s not true. I made a conscious effort to at least entertain the idea of helping out in the kitchen,” Amy said, going for a serious voice. “I hate anything to do with cooking,” she said out of the corner of her mouth for my ears only.