Unlikely Allies, page 7
"I see, so you're just a silent observer?" I asked, trying to hide my horror at the scars that marred his skin.
"Exactly," he said, grinning at me. "I'm Quinn," he said, holding out his hand so I could shake it.
"Kimberly," I said, holding out my own hand.
He laughed. "We all know who you are. I'm just relieved you pulled on your big girl panties and showed these lugs you're here to stay," he whispered conspiratorially as the others finally slid into their chairs.
I smiled at him, enchanted with his mature dialect. "Well, Quinn, you just remind me of that if it looks like I'm losing control again."
"Will do, teach," he said before pulling his own chair up to the table.
His words spurred me on as I instructed the now silent class on how to construct the lumpy ball of nothing into something that would inspire them. I forgot that I was talking to a bunch of unruly boys as I lost myself in my craft. Art had always been second nature to me, as natural as breathing. From as young as I could remember, I had used artistic tools to express my feelings, whether in pastels, chalk, watercolor or with just a plain piece of paper and a blunt pencil. I was always able to capture what was in my mind.
The hour flew by as the guys listened to me with rapt attention, trying to work the clay in their hands like I was mindlessly working mine as I talked. I had them line their various projects along the shelves before they exited the room and told them we'd continue the next day.
As the room emptied, I approached the shelves along the back wall to check out their first attempts. I couldn't help smiling when I saw several that looked to be the shape of a woman's breast, typical boys. They'd die if they attended some of the nude art classes I had been to. I wasn't a huge fan of nude art, but needed the exposure for my college applications, no pun intended. Continuing on, I grimaced at several unrecognizable shapes until I stumbled onto one that was the exact replica of a mountain lion. Reaching over, I picked it up and studied the detail in awe as I turned it over in my hands. The person who had created this had true talent. Clay wasn't the easiest material to work with, but somehow he gave the shapeless lump life that most artists spent their lives trying to perfect. Turning it over in my hands, I was shocked to see Trent’s name scrawled across the belly of the lion.
Trent the instigator had done this. The thought seemed crazy considering the way he had acted earlier.
"Hiding out, or contemplating death by clay?" Amy teased, coming into the room.
"Ha, an hour ago, I would have said both, but now...," I said, smiling crookedly at her.
"Hot damn, I mean, hot dog. It went well?" she asked with sparkling eyes.
"Not at first. I literally thought I was in hell, but one of the campers and Rick helped me pull it together," I said, linking my arm through hers as we headed out of the room toward the dining area.
"Really? Who?" she asked.
"Aw, Quinn. That kid is freaking awesome," she said affectionately as she headed to the kitchen to grab the overflowing serving bowls for all the tables.
"He really is," I answered, juggling two heaping bowls of french fries. "He talks like an adult, but looks way younger than the other guys."
"He is," she said, balancing a glass pitcher of lemonade and a stack of glasses in her hands.
"Really?" I asked, heading back to the kitchen for more fries.
"Yeah, he's only twelve. Rick moved him up to the Eagle cabin last year."
"Seriously? The older guys didn't mind?" I asked skeptically.
"Nah, he could shame anyone with his sophisticated speech. Plus, they pretty much treat him like a mascot anyway."
"Is that why Rick moved him to the Eagle cabin?" I asked, confused at the wisdom of pulling Quinn from his own age group.
"Not really," she hem-hawed, looking uncomfortable.
"Amy, seriously, you're not going to hold out on me are you?" I asked, intrigued by her sudden secretiveness.
"I just hate being a gossip on something like this," she said quietly, juggling a platter of corn dogs.
I raised my eyebrows at her since we'd pretty much done nothing but exchange tidbits on everyone since I got here.
"Okay, I was trying to turn over a new leaf, especially when it comes to Quinnie. We all sort of love him here. Anyway, Rick moved him because he has ferocious night terrors and it was freaking out the younger kids."
"Night terrors?" I asked, confused over the term.
"Yeah, freaky dreams that make him wake up screaming like the hounds of hell are after him. Rick researched it a lot when Quinn first got here last summer and it's not all that rare. Anything can trigger them, but we're all pretty sure his stem from his asshole father. And no, I'm not apologizing for that one because I'm pretty sure Louise would agree with me," she said with venom in her voice.
"What would I agree with?" Louise asked, coming up from behind and startling us both.
"Quinnie’s father," Amy said, grabbing another pitcher of lemonade while I grabbed the cups.
"You mean, the prick asshole," Louise said with the same venom as Amy.
"Yep, that'd be the one," Amy said, shooting me a smile despite the heavy topic.
"Why, what'd he do?" I asked, delivering the stack of cups to the Raven table before heading toward our own table.
"He set him on fire," she said, dropping in a heap in the chair next to me.
"What?" I screeched. Bile rose up my throat as I recalled the scars on the backs of his hands and his words about always being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"Shhhhhhhhh," Amy hissed as several people turned our way.
"Are you serious?" I asked, lowering my voice to a whisper.
She nodded. "He did other bullsnot stuff to him before that, one even sent Quinn to the hospital when he was seven. They took him away and arrested his dad, but when he was released, some pansy dick head judge was convinced he was rehabilitated and gave him back temporary custody. He showed his gratitude by setting Quinnie's bed on fire while he was sleeping."
I looked at her, completely appalled as my eyes filled with tears. What kind of world did we live in that parents did sick-ass stuff like that to their own children? The table around us filled as the other counselors claimed their seats. Their voices floated around me in a haze as I tried to keep from looking at Quinn on the other side of the room, sure that he would know we had been discussing him.
"Kimmie, you okay?" Rick's voice broke through my thoughts.
"Yeah, I'm fine," I said, swallowing the bile that was burning its way through my throat.
"Aren't you hungry?" he asked, looking at my empty plate with concern.
"Um no, I think I just need some fresh air," I said, bolting from the table before I embarrassed myself.
I barely made it to the woods beyond the building before I lost the contents of my stomach. Dry heaves pulsated through me as tears coursed down my cheeks. I was surprised at my reaction, having never been much of a crier. I just always felt it was a wasted emotion that never got me what I wanted anyway. Maybe I was feeling overly emotional from meeting Rick, or putting up with Mason's crap, but something had me feeling overly sensitive.
"Corn dogs not your usual cuisine, beach bunny?" the one person I wished to avoid mocked from behind me.
Forgetting the tears on my cheeks, I turned around, deciding now was the time he was going to take a punch in the nose. The sudden movement coupled with my puke-fest left me lightheaded. I took a staggering step forward before crumbling in an unceremonious heap at his judgmental feet. I wish I could say I'd never felt more embarrassed, but this was just another clip from my weeklong blooper real around Mason. All I could do was sit there and try to clear my head so I could run to the cabin and hide.
"Hey, are you crying?" Mason asked, kneeling beside me, concerned.
"What do you care?" I asked, rubbing my eyes with my knuckles to clear away the rest of the fogginess and tears.
"Did someone say something to upset yo
"You mean besides you?" I said, staggering to my feet. He gripped my arms to help steady me, giving me a sudden sense of déjà vu. Just that morning, he had gripped me the same way. Which, by the way, why did it seem like he was always holding me up? No wonder he thought I was a weakling.
"Yeah, I guess besides me," he said in a voice that almost sounded regretful as he took a step closer to me. "You have clay on your face," he added in a husky voice, swiping his thumb across my cheekbone.
My skin tingled at his soft touch and suddenly I had a hard time catching my breath. The look on his face was intense. Fighting to compose myself, I wanted to go on the defensive, unsure if he was just messing with me again.
"Well, if you must know, Amy told me about Quinn," I said, sick of the feelings he was able to stir up inside me. "So there, now you can tell me how weak I am. I know it. I can't handle a story without bursting into tears and losing my breakfast. You're right, I don't belong here," I added, wrenching my arms from his grasp and stumbling toward my cabin.
He stopped me in midstep. "You're not weak. I was an asshole to ever say that. I'm not usually like this," he added, looking frustrated.
"Then why?" I asked, dying to know what it was about me that drew out his inner devil.
"I don't know," he answered, running his fingers through his short blond hair. "I guess because I don't think you belong here."
His words crushed me. "F you," I replied before turning away without another word and stalking off to my cabin.
Slamming the door behind me, I sank onto the cot, filled with rage. Who is he to say I didn't belong here? He may have claimed my dad first, but I wasn't giving up my place in his life just because Mason felt threatened. I would show him I did belong here if it was the last thing I did.
I spent the rest of the lunch hour in the cabin trying to calm down. By the time my next lesson rolled around, I felt I was ready to face the world again. My stomach still growled unhappily, but I was able to quiet it down with a dinner roll Louise let me snag on my way to the arts and crafts room. I was ready to tackle my afternoon classes head-on.
The next two weeks ran much smoother once I set up a routine. For the boys, I stuck to working with clay since they seemed to like molding. With the older girls, I showed them how to roll the clay into marble-sized balls to make the beaded bracelets that adorned my wrists. The first day was spent forming the beads and hollowing them out with skewer sticks. By the third day, the clay was dry enough for them to start painting the beads the colors they liked. They were a quieter group than the boys and definitely easier to work with. I walked around the table as they painted each of their beads, giving out helpful pointers and praise. I discovered that the paper flowers were a big hit with the younger girls. They were enchanted when I showed them how to create the vibrant flowers out of folded tissue paper and green pipe cleaners.
On the last day of the second week, the younger boys filed in for their afternoon class. They were more subdued than the older boys, but I credited that to the fact that they were whipped from their earlier activities. I pulled out the stash of clay and smiled when their eyes lit up with enthusiasm. They enjoyed working with the clay the most, and the time always flew by when they were in the class with me.
"Like this, Kimmie?" one of the younger boys asked, making me sigh. It seemed inevitable that I would be "Kimmie" for the rest of the summer.
"Yes, Dennis, just like that," I said, smiling at his misshaped clay bowl. "It looks wonderful, dude," I said, ruffling his hair before it even registered. I was amazed at the ease I felt with the kids in just a few days. The ineptness I had felt earlier had all but disintegrated.
My affection and praise had him beaming at me as he raced to the shelf to set down his new prized possession before he headed off for his last lesson of the day. I cleaned the tables to get the last remnants of the clay off the tables before my girls showed up for my last class of the day. I couldn't help smiling at my possessiveness over them. In just a few short days I had already come to think of them as mine. Life at camp was definitely better than I would have ever thought, marred only by the silence of one. Since our confrontation the day I discovered the truth about Quinn, Mason and I hadn't shared another word. I kept my distance from him and trained myself to refrain from looking in his direction, no matter how badly I wanted to.
"Kimmie," my girls yelled, bursting through the door in their usual exuberant way. Most of them rushed over to hug me like they hadn't seen me in days. Only Alyssa refrained from the hug-fest.
"Hey, Lyssa, how was archery?" I asked, setting the stack of colored tissue paper on the table.
"Fine," she answered, no longer bristling at my questions.
In the beginning, I thought she would balk at the nickname I had chosen for her, but much to my surprise, she seemed to like it. She never actually told me so, but the first night I overheard her correcting Parker when she called her Alyssa. She had informed her that it was Lyssa from now on. I was proud of myself, thinking I alone had broken through her shell. Of course, she burst that bubble when she continued to snub me.
"At least you're making more progress than the rest of us," Amy said admiringly anytime she was around to see it firsthand.
I was still frustrated I couldn't break through Lyssa's wall completely, but I wasn't giving up.
"Did you show up the boys?" I asked.
She nodded, flashing me a rare grin before ducking her head down to read the open book on her lap. The first day I had tried to engage her with the art project, but saw her instant withdrawal and backed off.
"Can we make flowers again today, Kimmie?" Parker asked.
"Sure, we're going to make ones with more sheets today. You up for the challenge?"
"Heck yeah," she squealed, hurrying off to the table to join her friends.
"Okay girls, we're going to do the same flowers as last week, but today I'm going to show you how to make ones like this," I said, holding up the sample flower I had made that was roughly the size of a Frisbee. "You'll be using twelve sheets of tissue paper, so pick your favorite colors. The key to the bigger flowers like these is to keep your folds smaller and more concise."
"Ohhhhhh, I want that one," Frances, one of the younger girls, declared, eyeing it.
I laughed. "I'll show you how I made it and yours will be even better than mine," I promised. I glanced around the table and saw all of them watching me with rapt attention, including Lyssa. It was a unique feeling to have younger kids eating up what I had to say, and made me second-guess my career choices. Maybe I had a future in teaching.
Amy joined me after the last rotation of the day as I was putting supplies away. "So guess what? We're having an after-hours campfire tonight," she declared, dramatically sitting on top of the table I was cleaning off. She lifted her butt as I swiped the rag where she was sitting.
"Um, has it been approved through the boss?" I asked, not keen on the idea of breaking the rules when I was just beginning to fit in.
"Duh, it was his idea. He said it's a treat for all of us, since everything has been running so smoothly. He said he and Louise will check on the campers while we party it up, baby!"
I raised my eyebrows at her.
"Okay, so I may be paraphrasing, but you get the gist. We're off babysitting duty for the night, sweets," she said enthusiastically, hoping off the table to give me a one-armed hug.
"Sooo, are all the counselors coming?" I asked nonchalantly as I turned out the light before we headed out the door.
"Yes, Miss Avoidance, everyone will be there," she said, making her point clear. "And you are going, even if I have to kick your askish all the way from our cabin."
"Whatever," I sighed. I had been avoiding Mason like the plague, but knew I would eventually have to face him. I wasn't the kind of girl that normally hid from anyone, let alone a sarcastic ass. I was disgusted at myself for letting him dictate my life.
"Don't worry, my sista from another motha, I got your back," she teased, nudging me with her hip.
"Right, like I don't see your ploy."
"What?" she asked, feigning innocence.
"Um, let's see he's tall, has long auburn hair, eyes that could only be described as bedroom eyes and oh yeah, grins like a goon anytime you're around."
"Travis and I are just friends," she protested for the hundredth time over the last few days.
"Right, and I'm married to Channing Tatum," I teased.
"How can you be sure he doesn't just think of me as a friend?" she asked in a voice filled with insecurity.
"Because, Silly Nilly, those sexy eyes of his light up the instant you enter a room," I said.
"How come I don't see it?"
"Because some meek spirit from the Victorian era takes over your body anytime he's around. I swear, you become a shy, blushing girl who's hardly recognizable. I was tempted to do a séance last night after your body was taken over yet again."
"Gahhhhhh, I know. I don't know what is wrong with me."
"Face it, you're smitten," I teased.
"Smitten?" she said, making a face like it was sour word.
"I figured your inner Victorian spirit would relate better to that term," I said, dancing out of the way as she took a swing at me.
"Shut it," she said, laughing with me.
"Hey, at least you know Travis likes you," I said sourly.
"So you say," she said, still not ready to accept it. "Besides, I still think Mason is harboring a secret desire to do the nasty to you," she quipped, racing to the cabin when I swung at her this time.
"As if," I muttered to myself. More like, has the desire to pitch me off a cliff.
Dinner was the usual noisy affair as the campers compared their days and caught up. I was in my customary seat, sandwiched between Rick and Amy, with Travis and Mason sitting directly across the round table from us. Mealtime had become my own personal hell anyway. If I wasn't working to avoid meeting Mason's continuous glare, I had to watch Travis's starry-eyed gazes at Amy, and her blushing shy metamorphosis. I mean, seriously?