Unlikely allies, p.6

Unlikely Allies, page 6


Unlikely Allies

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  Lucky me, I couldn't help thinking. For some reason, the thought bothered me more than necessary. "They get the nice guy and I get the asshole," I mumbled to myself.

  "What, sweetums?" Louise asked, heading out the door with her arms filled with linens.

  "Oh, nothing. I was just contemplating the irony of my current situation."

  "Situation?" she asked, raising her eyebrows questioningly.

  "Just stupid stuff," I answered, feeling dumb for even saying anything. It was one of my character flaws that I let words randomly come out of my mouth. My mom had teased me about it for years, saying I needed some kind of sensor on my lips. I was just one of those people who could never hide what I was feeling. What you see is basically what you get. I wasn't a fan of confrontations, but I was always the first to stick up for the underdog in almost any situation. Mom liked to call me her 'open book,' and even gave me a cute charm for my sixteenth birthday that was a sterling silver book that was open.

  "Mmm, I'm sure those problems start with an M and end with an N," she said, clicking her tongue. "Don't you worry yourself about him honey. Your father is over the high-flying moon that you're here. Mason just wants to make sure your dad doesn't get hurt. Those two have a bond like peanut butter and chocolate. It's always been that way. Mason came here our first year open, a sullen kid, pissed at the world that he had wound up in foster care. Your father took him under his wing and showed him he may have been dealt a man-sized bad deal, but he could man up and rise above it. By the time summer ended, there was no separating those two. You just give him time, he'll realize soon enough you're not here to hurt your dad," she said, shifting her load one last time before sauntering off.

  Her words didn't have the reassuring effect on me that I know she was aiming for. Instead, I was hurt and jealous over the supposed bond my father shared with some belligerent guy who wasn't even blood related. I knew any outsider looking in would think I was a total bitch for feeling this way, and maybe I was, or maybe if Mason was halfway decent, I'd be more willing to accept it, but he was such a dick.

  Sick of him once again dominating my thoughts, I moved on, opening the appropriate bin in the stockroom and pulling out five packages of white socks. There weren't any grocery bags around that I could find, so I stacked the slippery packages into my arms as best as I could, using my chin to try to keep them in place. As I headed back out into the hallway and through the dining hall, I was so intent on keeping the stack of socks from falling that I missed the obstacle coming through the door.

  "Oof," I gasped, dropping the packages to the floor.

  "Watch it, beach bunny," Mason said, bracing my upper arms with his hands to steady me before I could fall over.

  "You watch it," I lashed back, trying to regain my footing. Why was it any time I was fumbling around like an idiot, he always managed to be around to see it. It was like I sent out some kind of incompetent radar signal or something. My traitorous heart betrayed me again, racing from our close proximity. I hated him. He ridiculed me, made me feel small, and yet, all I seemed to be able to do was think about how good he smelled. It should be against the law to be so freaking handsome and smell good at the same time. God could have at least cursed him with gross BO just to keep that ego in check.

  His hands burned through the light long-sleeved shirt I was wearing. Glancing down, I was surprised he was still touching me. I looked back up at him, confused when his hands tightened their hold on my arms. His eyes were unreadable as he stared intently into mine.

  "What?" I asked, confused about the feelings he was evoking inside me. My body seemed to have a mind of its own as I swayed closer to him.

  His eyes darkened and moved to my lips that were inches from his own. My heart raced. Though it was completely crazy and utterly ridiculous, I wanted him to kiss me more than I had ever wanted to be kissed before. Our eyes met again and I felt drunk, trying to interpret what was happening.

  "Nothing," he finally answered, abruptly letting go of me.

  I stumbled into the doorframe, not realizing he had been practically holding me up. He looked like he was about to reach back out to help me, but thought better of it and stuffed his hands into his low slung jeans instead.

  "Aren't you afraid you'll break a nail lifting those heavy packages?" he mocked, breaking the spell I had been under like a cold bucket of water being dropped on my head.

  "Not as afraid as I am that those steroids you're on are shrinking that already small brain you’re sporting—among other things," I said saucily, trying to hide my hurt as I headed back out the door.

  "Care to check, princess?" he chuckled behind me.

  As much as I wanted to turn around and kick him where he had just invited me, I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction that I’m sure my flushed red face would provide.

  "Aw, if only I hadn’t left my magnifying glass back in the cabin, so I’m going to have to say no," I answered cheekily, hurrying down the path before he could counter.

  "What took so long?" Amy asked as she opened the door to let me in.

  "One guess, and here's a hint, it starts with 'D' and ends with 'head.'" I said, tossing the packages of socks onto the bed. "I seriously don't know what his deal is," I added, slumping down on my bed.

  "You need a hint?" she teased.

  "You're wrong." Amy was convinced that he had the hots for me and was just acting like some schoolboy with a crush.

  "Oh yeah, that would be so hard to believe because you’re not gorgeous or anything,” she teased. “I guarantee he’s thinking the same thing you are."

  “And what am I thinking?” I asked.

  “Uh, that you wanna jump his bones.”

  "Please," I sputtered. "He's sooo not my type," I lied.

  "So, you expect me to believe that broad-shouldered, blond-haired, blued-eyed Greek Adonis replicas aren't your type? Right, I believe you—NOT."

  "I'm serious..." I started to continue until I realized our conversation was being greedily eaten up by the preteen campers in the cabin. "Oh great," I muttered as they all giggled. Amy burst out laughing.

  "Not funny," I said, hitting her head with the pillow I clutched in my hand. How mortifying would it be for Mason to hear that I had the hots for him?

  "Don't worry, Kimbe," Amy said, calling me by the newly-coined nickname she made up for me.

  "Right, why should I worry, now that ten impressionable girls, who are all about swoonworthy stuff, think I have the hots for my half/step/foster whatever the hell he is, brother?" I hissed.

  Amy laughed as I continued to fume. I debated hitting her with the pillow again, but knew it wouldn't have the effect I was aiming for.

  Maybe she sensed how close I was to the edge because she raised her hands. "I'm serious, Kimbe, it's all good," she said, turning to the girls whose noise level had increased as they mooned over my supposed love life. "Girls, tell Kimbe what the rules of the cabin are."

  A petite girl with sparkling brown eyes and mousy brown hair stepped forward, still giggling. "This is the circle of trust," she said in a high-pitched voice as she swept her arms out to indicate the other girls.

  "Circle of trust, huh?" I questioned.

  "Yeah, what happens in Raven, stays in Raven," Parker piped in, giggling again.

  That’s a relief. The last thing I needed was for Mason to have one more thing he could hold over my head. He was arrogant enough as it was. If he thought I actually liked him, he'd be unbearable. Luckily, I hate him, I thought to myself. Sure you do, a small voice at the back of my head taunted me.

  Chapter 6

  The rest of the morning flew by with one activity after another. Rick began the day by covering the camp rules, like never venturing beyond the camp without a partner, staying within the confines of the camp once the sun set and no visiting the cabins of the opposite sex.

  "The trails here are marked relatively well, except for the expert trails we have set up for the older campers’ survival classes. You have to be in
your last year to take the two expert trails. I have this set up for your own safety. Got me guys?" he asked, looking at a group of teenage boys who were grumbling about not being babies. I heard one of them brag that he could do the hardest trail with his eyes closed.

  "Right, of course, tumbling down the mountain doesn't count as a completion," Mason teased him as he nudged him with his shoulder.

  Mason's teasing started a chain reaction as the older guys became rowdy as they wrestled around.

  Rick put two of his fingers in his mouth and blew out a shrill whistle that rang out around us. The guys stopped wrestling and straightened up their clothes, but I saw the original instigator nudge Mason one last time, earning him a stern look from Rick.

  "Mason is right. The trails are labeled from easy to hard for a reason. Falling off the mountain may seem like a far-fetched idea, but the conditions along the trails can become dangerous from weather conditions and erosion. Even expert guides have been known to get injured on these trails. So, once again, the two expert trails are for our fifteen-year-old campers only, and only after they have completed every other trail with an average score of an eight or better.

  "Score?" I whispered to Amy.

  "Yeah, Rick came up with a checklist of certain things he expects the campers to accomplish with each trail they take. It rates you by aptness, speed and general knowledge of your surroundings. Most of the girls really don't care and never make it to the harder trails, but to the guys, it's like the Holy Grail or something," she whispered loudly to me, earning us a glare from Mason.

  Without thinking, I stuck my tongue out at him, earning giggles from Parker and the blonde camper, Grace, who had asked me about Rick earlier.

  "That’s mature," Amy teased, smiling at me.

  "I can't help it, he brings out the worst in me," I grumbled, slouching down on the rough bench underneath me. I refrained from wiggling around. With my luck lately, I’d find a way to get a splinter in my ass for sure.

  Rick closed up the opening comments by handing out schedules for the campers. I grabbed one of them and saw that I was scheduled to do arts and crafts in one-hour blocks. I had one session before lunch and three afterward.

  "I'm off to row with the munchkins," Amy quipped, pointing toward the canoes by the lake.

  "You teach rowing?" I asked, surprised. I somehow expected that to be Mason's forte.

  "When it's cooler, like it is this summer, I do rowing. When it's warmer, I do swim lessons. By the way the weather seems to be acting this summer, I don't see a whole lot of opportunities for getting in the water."

  "That's cool. I would have expected rowing to be more Mason's kind of thing," I admitted.

  "LOL, I could see that. God knows the guy has the pecks and arms for it, but he teaches archery and is a guide," she said before loping off for the lake.

  I made my way to the mess hall where the art room was located. Anxiety began to set in as I went through a mental checklist, reviewing everything I had spent the previous day setting up to my liking. At least I had an impressive amount of supplies at my disposal and had planned different projects that would take several days to complete.

  My first group arrived as I was pulling out the necessary supplies for the day. It was the older boys, definitely the most intimidating group I would have. They were only three years younger than me, and it was obvious I was being blatantly checked out. I expected to hear some kind of innuendos, but at least they were remaining respectful, even though I could feel all their eyes watching every move I made. I couldn't help wondering if that was due to Rick.

  "Okay, so today I thought we’d work with clay," I said, indicating the chunks of burnt orange-colored clay I had set on each table. "I've worked with this kind of clay before and it's pretty cool because it doesn't require baking to set..." My words were cut off when one of the boys chucked a rolled-up ball of the clay at his friend across the room. I knew I needed to say something, but it seemed awkward getting onto someone so close to my age. I was debating the best approach in my head to let him know I was in charge when another blob of clay flew across the room, nearly pegging me in the cheek. Before I could get a word out, an all-out clay war erupted among the rowdy boys who were all trying to tag each other. A boy across the room picked up one of the folding chairs to use as a shield and another climbed on top of the table for more accuracy. I ducked under the table, out of the line of fire after a small piece pelted me in the forehead. I knew I'd suck at this, I thought to myself as the shrieking and whooping hit painful decibels.

  A loud piercing whistle broke up the noise of the room and I peeked out from under my hiding place. Rick was standing in the doorway, looking anything but happy. "What the blazing hell is going on in here?" he asked to the now silent room.

  "Dude, Trent totally started it..." a short shaggy-haired kid said, pointing to the tall kid on the far side of the room.

  "What the F, Paul, I thought you had my back," Trent shouted, glaring at Paul.

  "This is NOT the kind of behavior I'm looking for from you guys. I'm all for screwing around, but when supplies and furniture are compromised, that's not cool. Folks spend their hard-earned money to make sure this camp is functional and you show your respect by climbing on it like it’s playground equipment," Rick said in a stern "don't mess with me" kind of voice.

  Brushing dust off the knees of my skirt, I stood up, embarrassed to be caught looking like an imbecile.

  "Kimberly, can I see you out here for a moment," Rick asked, sounding slightly disappointed.

  "Um, sure, Rick," I said, feeling defensive from the look on his face. I tried to tell him I wasn't good at this sort of thing. This was not my fault, I couldn't help thinking as I closed the door smartly behind us.

  I looked up defiantly, ready to tell him this whole thing was his fault for entrusting a complete novice with the job. My insolence, however, deflated like a balloon as he just stood there in silence, studying me.

  "I'm sorry," I said, cracking under the pressure. "The situation just got out of control. I'm not used to telling kids near my age what to do," I added as I scuffed the toe of my shoe against the doorjamb.

  "I know I shoved you into this position. I wanted you to learn to love the camp as much as I do in the short amount of time you will be here. I can see now I was unfair in assuming you'd want to be a part of this," he said, sweeping his hands out to indicate the space surrounding us. "I can make arrangements and get your position replaced, but you might have to still camp out in one of the cabins if you don't mind," he added.

  My stomach dropped. He doesn't think I have it in me to do this, I thought despairingly. Only day one and I had shattered his faith in me and stomped on his dreams. All I could think about were my complaints that now seemed insignificant when I looked into his hurt eyes.

  "I can do this, Rick," I said with more bravado than I had felt since my plane had landed days ago. I would show him I had it in me or die trying, a silent voice mocked me.

  "Are you sure? I'd understand if you wanted an out. I know I kind of sprang all of this on you."

  "I'm positive," I said, meaning it for the first time.

  "Fantastic," he said, clapping his hands together enthusiastically. "Now go in there and show them who's boss," he added, indicating the closed door behind me.

  "Um, right. How do I do that?" I asked as he burst out laughing.

  "Be firm. They respect an authoritative tone."

  "Right," I said doubtfully.

  He laughed again. "You got this," he said, winking at me before strolling away.

  Obviously, it made him happy that I didn’t want to give up. Now I just had to prove to both of us that I wasn’t going to disappoint him again. I twisted the doorknob and stepped back into the craft room. Several catcalls followed my entrance. Taking a deep breath, I turned to face the offenders.

  “Shut it!” I demanded. They looked surprised at first and then grinned at me.

  “Is that funny? I’ll tell you what, em
barrass me like that again in front of Rick, and I’ll make sure every girl here knows you wet the bed at night. And I can be awfully convincing.”

  You could hear a pin drop for a moment as I stared directly into their eyes. I knew they were waiting for me to flinch, but I maintained an unreadable poker face, all the while, trying to hide my shaking legs under my skirt.

  “Works for me,” one of the boys finally answered, cracking first.

  "Teach found herself some balls out there in the hall," a voice in the back called out.

  "I want all the clay picked up in the next two minutes with a piece roughly this size in front of each of you," I said in a deadly serious voice as I held up a piece of clay the size of a softball. "Time starts now, or you can choose to ignore me and spend an extra rotation this afternoon with me instead of archery or canoeing."

  Without hesitation, everyone jumped from their chairs and began picking up the mess of clay that was scattered about the room. I watched as they exchanged stares, trying to appear cool and unconcerned. "It's your pick. Of course, I have cute origami flowers picked out for the afternoon class that you might be interested in," I added, digging it in a little further.

  "Hell no am I making some pansy-ass flower," Trent said, dropping down to the ground so he could pick up the offending balls of clay.

  I turned away again, letting out a deep breath. It worked, I could do this, I thought gleefully.

  "Nice job, teach," a small skinny boy said quietly beside me.

  "They're a good lot, but just need a firm hand," he said wisely.

  I fought the urge to laugh at his adult like choice of phrasing.

  "I see. What about you?"

  "I'm the good boy who’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said, running his finger over some angry looking scars that ran up the back of his left hand disappearing under the cuff of his worn flannel shirt.

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