Unlikely allies, p.5

Unlikely Allies, page 5


Unlikely Allies

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  "No shit?" he asked.

  "Kidding," I said giggling as the hostess approached us.

  "Two, Mary," he said.

  "How's it going, Rick? We've missed seeing you around lately. You can always tell when it's summer time around here. It gets a lot quieter without our loudmouth boys," she said, shooting me a wink. "Speaking of which, what've you done with my boy?"

  "Mason's up at the camp doing some last-minute stuff before the rowdy bunch arrives tomorrow."

  "I see. I guess I understand that excuse, but you tell him I'm expecting a visit as soon as summer's over. So, who might this lovely lady be?" she asked, setting our menus down at a table next to a huge picturesque window with a breathtaking view of the mountains.

  "This is my daughter," Rick said, throwing his arm across my shoulders.

  "Ahh, so you decided to take my advice and adopt another one of them young'uns," she said, clucking happily as she set our napkin-wrapped silverware on the table.

  I stiffened under Rick's arm. This was going to be everyone's assumption, and for some reason, it struck a sour chord in me. I was robbed of the opportunity of knowing him when I was younger, and it seemed unfair that it would trickle into adulthood, even after I found him.

  "No, Kimberly is my biological daughter," he answered.

  "Well, I'll be. I'm bettin' that's an interesting story," she said, obviously curious.

  "Definitely intriguing," Rick answered glibly, shooting me a smile of reassurance.

  Getting the hint, Mary took our drink orders before bustling away.

  "Small towns," Rick said, noting my silence.

  I nodded my head, pretending I got it, but in reality I didn't. Rick booted up his laptop while we waited for Mary to return with our drinks. He looked as if he wanted to say more, but a blanket of awkwardness covered us. Trying to take my mind off the sudden tension, I opened the sketchpad and rubbed my hand over the clean smooth surface. Opening a new pad was always a special ritual for me, knowing I would forever be changing it. I opened my oversized bag and rummaged around for my box of pencils that I never went anywhere without. The window at our table perfectly framed the view of the mountainside as my hand began the first sketches across the paper. I liked to sketch the overall picture in basic form first, and then go back to fill in all the details. Mary returned to the table with our drinks as I was sketching the broad mountain range.

  "Oh my, you're an artist," she said breathlessly, in a way that didn't match her personality from earlier. Turning toward her, I could see she was enthralled by the way she was intently studying my drawing.

  "Are you an artist?" I asked.

  "Not like this, sweetheart," she said, indicating my sketch. "I like to dabble a little. A long time ago I had crazy ideas of running off to become an artist, but life took over and I didn't rediscover my passion for it until my husband passed away last year."

  "Maybe if I have time before I fly home, I could look at some of your stuff," I said, smiling at her for the first time. My initial impression of her being overly nosy was eclipsed by the instant kinship I felt for a fellow artist. By the way she studied my drawing, it was obvious it really touched her. It just shows you can't always judge a book by its cover, I guess.

  "Really?" she asked with shining eyes.

  "Of course. I can tell by your passion that your work is most likely better than you give yourself credit for. Those that feel passion can create," I said, quoting my art teacher's favorite phrase.

  "Oh sweetie, that would be so wonderful," she said with sudden bright eyes that were fighting to hold tears at bay.

  She took our orders before scurrying off with a new bounce in her step through the large swinging door that separated the dining area from the kitchen. I couldn't help smiling at her happiness. Art was like a drug. It pulled you in and enticed you to forget everything else. Turning back toward our table, I discovered Rick studying me over the top of the laptop.

  "What?" I asked.

  "That was really nice of you," he said, looking at me with pride.

  "It was nothing," I said, ducking my head.

  Once Mary brought our food, Rick and I chatted away as we ate. Nothing heavy, just more lighthearted pop culture banter. Afterward, I finished my sketch while he answered a few more emails. I tore the completed drawing from the pad and placed it on the table as Rick and I were leaving, merely shrugging my shoulders as he looked at me questioningly. Now that I had sketched them once, I would be able to do it again even without the mountains in front of me.

  Our next stop was Costco for supplies. As Rick loaded up an oversized flatbed cart with paper goods, I browsed the book section. I found several of the titles Rick had mentioned during the ride in, along with a couple I thought he might like to read. I paid for the books separately and didn't show them to him until we were back in the car.

  "These look great," Rick said enthusiastically, flipping one of them over to peruse the synopsis.

  "I thought you'd like them. I know there's no teams to pick sides for, but figured you'd still read them," I teased.

  "You're hilarious," he said, grinning at me sheepishly.

  I dozed on our drive back up the mountains, waking to see the sun setting as Rick turned down the dirt path toward the camp.

  "I had fun today," I said, yawning as he put the car in park.

  "I did too. I'm really glad you decided to come up this summer. I'm sorry we haven't had more time alone. I forgot how time-consuming the camp can be," he said, sounding regretful.

  "It's fine. I'm actually having fun," I said, not mentioning the not-so-fun parts with Mason.

  Chapter 5

  The next morning I wasn't as confident.

  “What am I even doing here?” I mumbled, knowing the campers were due to descend on the camp anytime. “I know nothing about kids, and it’s obvious I’m a terrible example,” I added, freaking out about the responsibility that I would be handed in mere minutes.

  “Kim, don’t be ridiculous, you’ll be a natural. Look at how much everyone already likes you here. It usually takes years to earn their respect,” Amy said, tidying up the cabin.

  “Girl, you’re crazy. Even without Mason pointing out my flaws, I know I’m a mess.”

  “Mason’s just being a complete douche, but everyone else admires your never-give-up attitude. You’ve got freaking nerves of steel, because believe me, I would have knocked his teeth down his throat by now,” Amy said, taking a big swing at the air.

  “Ugh, don’t think I haven’t been tempted. I wanted to get along with him for Rick’s sake, but I’m seriously wishing a pack of wolves would drag him off.”

  “We could dip a cot in honey and drag it out to the woods with him tied to it and see if you’d luck out with bears showing up,” Amy said loyally.

  “Gruesome. You may like horror movies more than you think. Hey, are you sure I can handle this,” I asked, switching gears as I heard the bus pulling in on the gravel road outside.

  “I’m positive,” she said, giving me a quick hug of reassurance. “For the most part, they just want love. Sure, you’ll have the occasional kid with a chip the size of Canada on their shoulders, but we'll figure it out. You’ll be fine,” she added, seeing my panic.

  I squared my shoulders after standing up and followed Amy as she headed for the door. It was too late to turn back now. We stepped out into what I had now liked to call the deceptive sunshine because it was never as warm as it looked outside. It looked like an endless stream of kids tumbling off the bus. The noise level was deafening as the campers all tried talking over each other.

  Rick stood on the bottom step of the bus with a megaphone in hand. “All right, campers,” he bellowed into the megaphone, getting their attention. “Girls, age ten to twelve, you’re with Amy and Kimberly, my daughter, in cabin Raven,” he said, pointing to where Amy and I were standing in the doorway. “Girls, thirteen to fifteen, you’re with Liz and Courtney in cabin Sparrow,” he said, pointing to the cabin next
door. “Boys, ten to twelve, you’re with Travis and Ryan in cabin Blue Jay, and boys thirteen to fifteen, you’re in cabin Eagle with Mason and John. Gather your belongings and head to your cabins. We’ll meet back out here at ten for orientation.”

  Amy and I stepped to the side as our group of campers approached the cabin. The majority of them were first years, so they squealed over the thought of sleeping in bunk beds. There were a couple squabbles over who would get the top bunk, but Amy quickly diffused the situation by letting the eldest pick first. Soon the banging of the wardrobes filled the cabin as belongings were unpacked and stored in their temporary homes.

  I followed Amy’s lead and assisted the girls in sorting through their stuff. I noticed Amy was taking an inventory of who had what, listing missing appropriate attire onto a sheet of paper.

  “I’m going to go to the supply room and get some of this stuff,” she said, holding up the list once everything was unpacked.

  “You’re leaving me alone?”

  “They’re fine,” she said, indicating the girls who were already clustered into groups. “They basically entertain themselves. We just make sure no one gets hurt and no fights erupt.”

  “Okay,” I said, folding my legs up under me on my bed. “If you come back and I’m tied up or something, you’ll know I lost control,” I mumbled as she headed for the door.

  I could hear her laughing even after she walked out the door.

  Sweeping my eyes around the room, I was relieved that Amy’s words proved to be true. Everyone seemed happy enough, chatting and exchanging stories about their current homes. It was a little heartbreaking, listening to their game to see who had been placed in the most foster homes. I may have been missing a father figure my entire life, but my mom had always provided the most stable home possible. It was sad to know that so many kids weren’t afforded the same luxury.

  One of the campers I noticed was sitting alone on her bunk, not talking to anyone else. I jumped off my bed and walked over to introduce myself. “Hey, I’m Kim,” I said, holding out my hand.

  She looked at my hand disdainfully, like it was a snake.

  Ignoring the snub, I sat on the bed next to her. “Is this your first year here?” I asked, thinking she just felt out of place.

  “You think I’m ten?” she asked disgustedly.

  “Uh, well no. I just…Well, I just thought since you weren’t chatting with anyone you must be new and might need help fitting in.”

  “Really, so if I’m not acting like a total ditz like them, I must need you to swoop in to save me?” she asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

  “No, I just figured you might need a little help…” I said, letting my voice trail off before I made matters worse. I looked at the door wistfully, wishing Amy would hurry up.

  “Don’t worry about the poor orphan, okay? I’ve been taking care of myself for years,” she said, dragging a book out of her battered bag. She looked at me pointedly.

  I climbed off her bunk, getting the hint. With one last sarcastic look, she flopped on her side, facing the wall with her book in hand.

  Real smooth, Kim, I thought as I headed back to my bed.

  The other girls seemed oblivious to the loner as they became more vocal. The noise level in the cabin swelled as they tried to outdo each other’s stories. I fought the urge to cover my ears or try my old fifth-grade teacher's method and declare it quiet time. The beginning of a headache began to pound in my temples.

  “Shut it!” Amy hollered, stepping into the cabin.

  Silence enveloped the cabin like a blanket.

  “You know my rules. We can all have fun chatting, gossiping and talking about boys, but when your voices hit screaming decibels, what does it mean?” she said, dropping the bags she had carried so she could put her hands on her hips.

  “Majorly grumpy counselors,” one of the girls piped in, giggling.

  “That’s right, and do we like majorly grumpy counselors?” she asked, finally cracking a smile.

  “NO,” they all chorused, laughing at the same time.

  “What’s the matter?” Amy asked, plopping on the bed as she took in my stressed look.

  “Um, nothing, if putting my foot in my mouth is what we're supposed to do,” I said, indicating the sullen figure lying on her bunk and facing the wall.

  “Oh, that's Alyssa. I should've warned you about her,” Amy whispered. “This is her third summer coming here. She’s what we call a “hard-knock camper.” She just can’t seem to catch a break. I think she’s been placed a handful of times in the last few years. Her father is a deadbeat fricker, but the judge in her town just doesn’t get it. Her dad will clean up his act, petition the court for custody and then proceed to drink himself into a stupor weeks after he gets her. She’s been bounced around more than a ping pong ball. She’s tough around the edges, but underneath, you can tell she just wants what everyone else wants, to be loved. I came close to getting under her tough shell last year, but it was just as camp was ending,” Amy whispered, sounding frustrated.

  “Well, I’ll leave her to your capable hands. I’ve already alienated myself with her,” I said sighing as I stood up to help one of the girls put her bag on top of the wardrobe.

  “Thanks,” she said shyly, looking at me like she still had something to say.

  “Did you need anything else?” I asked as she nervously twirled one of her long locks of blonde hair around her finger.

  “Um, I uh, was just wondering, is it true Rick’s really your dad?” she stuttered out.

  “Yep, he is,” I answered, noticing the noise in the cabin had evaporated.

  “Lucky,” she said, looking at me with wide blue eyes.

  “Why haven’t you been here before?” one of the older girls asked, looking doubtful.

  I looked around at the eleven pairs of eyes that were now focused on me like I was ready to disclose the location of Katy Perry’s house. I debated sidestepping their question, but instead, answered honestly. “I didn’t find out about him until last Thursday,” I said.

  “What? Your mom never told you who your father was?” the same skeptical girl from before asked. “What a ho-bag,” she added.

  “She had her reasons,” I said, feeling the need to defend my mom since she wasn’t able to.

  “No excuse is a legit one,” the girl said, sinking onto one of the bunk beds with her arms crossed.

  “True, no excuse is acceptable,” I said, agreeing with her.

  “But how cool is it that Rick is your father?” one of the other girls squealed, like Rick was a movie star or something.

  I laughed. “He seems like a cool guy,” I said as the girls started chattering about how awesome it would be for a parental figure to come out and claim them.

  I turned back to my bed to help Amy sort through the clothes and my eyes skirted over to the bunk in the corner. I saw Alyssa had flipped over in her bed and was studying me critically. I smiled at her to show I cared and she answered by flipping me off before flopping back over.

  Amy giggled. “That’s Alyssa for you,” she said when I grimaced. “Parker, come get your stack of clothes,” she added.

  “Any hoodies?" the girl who had asked me about Rick asked, looking hopefully through the large stack. “Sweet,” she said, pulling one from the bottom of the stack. “And it’s pink too. Thanks, Amy,” she said, throwing her arms around Amy.

  I looked at Amy smiling.

  “Yeah, that’s Parker," she said, seeing my questioning look. "She was found abandoned in a park when she was a baby. Someone at the state thought it would be cute to call her Parker. She’s what we call a ‘lifer.’ She’s been in the system for ten years. Her foster mom is a ‘user,'” she added.

  “Like drugs?” I asked, appalled she’d been left with a druggie.

  “That would be better because at least the state would move her. No, her foster mom uses the foster care system. She takes in as many foster kids as the state allows and then refuses to spend any of t
he money the state pays her on the kids, which is why Parker shows up each summer without any adequate clothes.”

  “How come she never got adopted if she was a baby when she was abandoned?” I asked, feeling my heart clench as I studied the petite blonde-haired beauty laughing with her friends. How was it possible no one wanted her?

  “She was a drug baby,” Amy said, assembling the next stack of clothes.

  “So?” I said, not getting why that would matter. I knew enough from the nutrition class I took in high school that taking drugs during pregnancy could affect the fetus, but that shouldn’t have prevented a loving family from adopting her.

  “She was born with bad kidneys and urinary tract system. She needed a kidney transplant when she was three. Being in and out of hospitals half her life doesn’t bode well for adoption,” Amy said with malice in her voice.

  “That’s awful,” I said, fighting sudden tears. What the hell was wrong with people?

  “Yeah, sometimes you get a raw deal,” Amy said in a lackluster voice that made me wonder again what her story was.

  “Oh shitz, I forgot the socks. Do you mind running over to the mess hall and grabbing four or five packages?” she asked in a more normal tone as she continued to sort through the clothes.

  “Sure. Are they in the supply closet next to the kitchen or the one by Rick’s office?” I asked, heading for the door.

  “By the office. Everything's labeled so you shouldn’t have any problems. Louise runs it with an iron fist.”

  “Sounds good,” I said, heading for the door.

  I followed the short path toward the mess hall, listening to the multiple voices ringing out around the camp. There was an exceptionally loud ruckus coming from around the building as I neared the back entrance. Peering around the corner, I was taken aback by the sight before my eyes. I shouldn't have been surprised to see Mason once again with his shirt off, he was just that type. The "I'm hot and I know it" kind of guy. The beach is filled with them. What surprised me though was the easy rapport he seemed to have with the half a dozen teenagers he was playing basketball with. I watched him give pointers to both sides as they battled three on three. By the hero worship in most of their eyes, it was glaringly obvious that he was well liked. I guess I'm the only lucky one that gets to deal with his douche bag attitude.

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