Wednesday afternoon practice came and Camille struggled not to take her bad temper out on her swimmers and divers, but after two hours, she dismissed them all curtly with the reminder that she expected the divers back at 6AM and the swimmers an hour later at 7AM for before school practice. She made Willow and Gracie dive a half dozen more times before ordering them to the showers. The girls had been unusually off their synchronization today.
On the way out to the Ridgeline Ranch, none of them spoke. Once they got home, Willow threw her backpack on the chair by the door and went straight to the barn. A few minutes later, she was riding her horse out of the corral and toward the Ridgeline Trail the ranch was named after.
Gracie went to her grandmother’s sunroom and began tending their indoor spice and tea garden and her bonsai trees. Gramma Dorine quietly watched as Camille began to make dinner, taking her anger out on vegetables and the heavy oak butcher block island. Her granddaughter wasn’t going to talk so she went in to where her youngest great-granddaughter was misting three different types of mints, tarragon, lavender, cilantro, and basil.
“Do you want to talk, button-nose?”
“Gramma, I haven’t had a button nose since I was 8,” Gracie sighed tiredly.
Dorine hugged her, chin on top of her head, “I know but you’ll always be my lil’ button. Do you want to talk about whatever has all of you in such a snit?”
Gracie’s large blue eyes peered up into her great-grandmother’s rich brown ones. Tears welled up and leaked down her cheeks. “It’s my dad, he’s here. He sent Mom really expensive flowers with a fish in the bottom. He’s so rich. What if he tries to take me away from her? I can’t leave you all. I can’t leave Willow, she doesn’t have anyone else.”
Dorine just held Gracie while she cried, murmuring encouraging and comforting words. She wondered how it happened that the girls had grown up to have their aunt’s personalities instead of their mother’s. She had always found it amusing that personality wise, Gracie was just like Willamina. She was soft and gentle and felt things so deeply. Willow was more like Camille, strong willed, fierce, and stubbornly independent. Her granddaughters’ seemed to have switched children before they were born.
“I promise you, Gracie, I won’t let anyone take you away from us, or Willow either. You are my girls. I will protect you both and your mom with all that I have.” Dorine promised.
“I love you, Gramma,” Gracie whispered in a tiny childlike voice.
“And I love you.” Dorine responded. No one was going to hurt her girls like their mothers had been hurt. Tomorrow she was going to have a little talk with Mr. Kyle Hightower and find out exactly what his intentions were.
On Thursday, Kyle put his best professional foot forward and presented his resort plan to the joint meeting of the city and county development committees. He didn’t really need to do it in the unincorporated area, but his father had taught him that the job was always made easier by having the local community on your side. The environmental impact studies and economic stimulus projections were the most asked about as usual. He was surprised to see Dorine Wallace sitting in the audience. As the meeting dismissed everyone seemed satisfied with his plan to rebuild Hidden Springs into a modern facility with minimal environmental impact.
Camille’s grandmother remained seated until most people had moved out of the meeting room and to where the lunch refreshments waited.
“Mrs. Wallace,” He said politely, “I am sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you. I came today because I need to find some things out,” then she said without preamble, “When can we expect your lawyers?”
He almost groaned, but kept a level voice, “Mrs. Wallace, I won’t be contacting any lawyers, I am not that kind of man.”
“And what kind of men are you and your brothers, Kyle?” She eyed him like she was looking into his soul to see if he had heeded the advice she had given the last time they saw each other at the closing sale of Camille’s house.
“Mrs. Wallace, Kent passed away two days after Willamina’s accident and I am very sorry for what happened to her and why it happened,” he answered.
Her eyes clouded with emotion and he could see the pity in them, but before she could ask anything he continued, “I just want a chance to explain to Camille and meet my daughter and niece. I am not the kind of man those photographs portrayed me as. And I am not the kind of man to take the girls from the only family they have ever known.”
“Then how did you come to be in such an unsavory situation?” Her words and eyes evaluated him for the truth.
“Please understand, I want to tell Camille myself but I will tell you, there were extenuating circumstances and I truly regret everything.”
Dorine could see the sincerity in his eyes. She nodded curtly, then added, “Thank you paying out the Bluewings Go-Fund-Me page.”
He looked at her surprised, until she explained, “I manage the team fundraising. Why did you do it?”
“They are my girls, it is what they love. I could see it in their faces. Camille used to get the same look. I have more than enough money, I can’t think of anything better than spending it on family,” he shrugged.
“I didn’t know you had seen Camille dive,” Dorine stated.
“She dove for me when I met her in Cancun, she loved it so much. The way she talked about falling toward the...”
“Dorine, do stop hoarding the guest of honor,” a purring voice interrupted.
Dorine sighed inside but smiled and introduced the town gossip, “Kyle Hightower, Antonia Ballad.”
“Mrs. Ballard, it is a pleasure.” Kyle said politely as he shook her hand but every fiber of his being screamed shark.
The heavily made-up woman laughed girlishly, “Oh please, call me Tonia, and it’s just Miss.”
His mind reminded him of something, “Your daughter Tatiana is on the dive time with Gracie and Willow.”
“Oh yes, but I have to tell you I was very young when she was born. So, you’re friends with the Wallaces?” Tonia smiled and fluttered her eyelashes.
He glanced at Dorine and her expression cool as she answered, “Kyle is an old friend of the family.”
“Oh? Just an old friend of the family, nothing more? How quaint,” Tonia shifted to present more of her cleavage.
“Tonia, don’t you have to get back to the High School for afternoon classes?” Dorine asked obviously annoyed.
“Well, you know me just doing my civic duty to learn about all sorts of things that might affect our little community.” She leaned in and smiled vampishly, “I do hope to see more of you around, Kyle. We don’t get many handsome millionaires in our little town. You should definitely come to our community dance tomorrow night.” Then she breezed out in a very Scarlet O’Hara kind of way.
“Okay, then,” Kyle murmured, “Remind me to avoid her at all cost.”
Dorine laughed at his tone, “That would be hard, she’s on almost every community and school committee we have; it’s the easiest way to gather the latest gossip. You’ll get used to Antonia. She is very active in entertaining guests to our community and keeping everyone informed about everything.”
Kyle groaned aloud, “And here I thought I’d be safe from sharks in the mountains.”
Dorine smirked, “We have hurricanes here too. And as much as they love fish and flowers, it doesn’t lessen their fury.”
“She didn’t throw them away?” He asked surprised.
“No, she didn’t. I’ll see you tomorrow night, Kyle. You need to be patient with Camille. She knows she needs to talk to you, but she is struggling to let go of her pain. It was the thing that kept her going through the worst 6 months of her life, and many times since,” Dorine advised. “It is time my great-granddaughters got to know you too. They have lived in the shadow of their mothers’ betrayal for too long.”
He looked down at the plans for the resort, “Part of that is my fault, after I saw you, I threw myself into work. I should have tried harder to find Camille, to make her understand. But those pictures... I was too embarrassed and ashamed of what happened.”
“Pride goeth before the fall, dear boy. And sadly, my granddaughter is still falling too.”
Camille turned left and right in front of the mirror then went back to her closet. She didn’t have anything else to wear that she hadn’t worn several times before.
“Mom, Tank’s here,” Willow yelled down the hall, “We’re going with Gramma, bye.”
“See ya, Mom,” Gracie called out and the front door slammed.
Camille groaned internally and walked out to the living room. Tank was waiting for her in a light charcoal suit with and rich blue shirt. He always looked so put together on their monthly ‘dates’.
The halter-neck, cocktail-length jade sheath fit her well, but didn’t offer very much coverage for her cleavage, the edge of her butterfly tattoo was peeking out from under the scalloped lace. A fluffy black shrug that clung to her shoulders was cute but also offered little in the way of modesty. Pulling on the lace neckline nervously, she couldn’t hide that her famous tattoo was visible through it. The corset style waist making her look even more of an hourglass than she was. She must have been crazy to let her girls and grandmother insist this was the dress for her.
Tank smirked at her discomfort, “Why Coach Wallace, you look absolutely and stunningly scandalous.”
“Shut up, Sheriff Tanner, or you’ll be working your own murder scene,” Camille grumped.
Tank laughed, “Well, if the gossip wasn’t thick as gravy before tonight, it will be afterwards.” He held the door for her.
“Nice boots,” He smirked. The black velvet lace up boots stopped just above her knees and below the hem of her dress. He had gotten them for her for Christmas and she had worn them on their last three dates.
“It’s too cold for strappy heels in the snow.... Why do we do this?” she bemoaned once he got in and started the engine.
“Because we live in a county surrounded by desperate divorcees, and we are the two most wanted who don’t want to be wanted,” he reminded. “Our one date a month keeps the predators at bay.”
“Gramma says we need to quit using each other as a windbreaks and start looking for a spark,” she said as she watched the scenery go past.
“And what do you want, Wally? What would make you happy?” Tank asked, navigating the twisting roads.
“I don’t know anymore. I like what we have,” she answered softly. “You’re my best friend.”
“I am your best friend. And that is why I am going to ask this even though I know it will piss you off. Did you talk to him?” Tank could tell from the way her posture shifted and her fist clenched what her answer was so he spoke first. “Cam, a man has a right to know his child. I know he hurt you and you did what you thought was best, but there are things you don’t know, things that will change what you think about that night and those pictures.”
“Nothing could change what I saw, or how I felt seeing them,” she snapped then rubbed her forehead. “Can we change the subject, Thomas? I just want to have a nice, quiet evening chaperoning the Valentine’s dance.”
He reached over and took her hand, squeezing it gently, “Okay, but if you wanted quiet you’re headed to the wrong place and definitely wearing the wrong thing.”
“Turn around. Take me home so I can change.” She demanded miserably.
“Oh hell no, I am showing up with an ice queen turned hottie vixen. I can’t wait for tomorrow morning at the cafe,” he grinned and she groaned, face palming.
“Gawd, Thomas! You’re worse than Tonia Ballad.”
“Who do you think my number one informant is,” he winked and she had to laugh with him.
The school parking lot was full because the romantic boardwalk-themed carnival and dance were open to the community and all grades from pre-school to senior. The 4H club was offering to babysit the youngest of children while the parents and older siblings enjoyed the dance and Student Council offered carnival in the two gymnasiums. Food served in the cafeteria was raising money for the Mathletes and Destination Imagination clubs. Clusters of students walked around, giggling and chatting. Several people stopped talking to stare at the Coach and the Sheriff as they came in the cafeteria. Only Tank’s hand at her back and the fact she didn’t drive herself kept Camille from turning around and going home.
“I need to go to my office,” Camille murmured to Tank.
He leaned down and whispered in her ear, “If you change out of that dress and into one of your dreadful windsuits, I will arrest you for vandalism and public indecency, Coach Wally.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” She looked up at him, shocked.
“It would be a public disservice to let you change out of that dress. Give the lonely men of Pagosa Cliffs a treat. Seeing you in a sexy dress is rarer than a full solar eclipse,” he teased.
“You do realize, I will abandon you to the desperate divorcees of the county as soon as they start playing music,” she threatened with a smirk.
Tank shrugged, and then winked outlandishly, “Not my fault, I got the moves like Jagger and the body of Tatum.”
Several heads turned toward them when Camille couldn’t stop the loud giggle that burst out. “Magic Mike? Really?” she murmured, shaking her head just as Antonia Ballard headed their way.
“Coach Wally, is that you? My oh my, you look like a girl. However long did you have to starve yourself to fit into that dress,” Tonia drawled in her fake charm.
“Good evening, Antonia. You look lovely too,” Camille said.
“Did you see that the Bluewings Go-Fund-Me page is completely paid up? An anonymous donor, how mysterious, maybe it was your old family friend?” Tonia purred.
Camille really hated it when Tonia got that smug tone, it meant she was trying to get some information out of someone, but her statement had Camille curious. “Which old family friend?”
“Why, that lovely Kyle Hightower. I saw him talking with your grandmother at the community meeting about his new resort yesterday... Didn’t she tell you? He’s here somewhere, I am sure you’d like to thank him personally, wouldn’t you?” Tonia asked a little too innocently.
Camille plastered on her best practiced smile, “Oh, of course, Tonia. Can I trust you to keep Tank company for a few minutes? I was just about to run to my office for a moment.”
“Checking on that lovely bouquet? I mean who could resist those orchids and that adorable little blue fish. It must have cost a fortune and Kyle seems...”
“Tonia, would you like to get to dance? I can’t think of anyone I would like better to keep me company until Camille gets back. And I need to limber up for the dance contest. Are you dancing this year?” Tank made conversation smoothly, as he guided Tonia toward the music coming from the smaller gymnasium.
Camille walked toward her office vibrating with rage, but smiling as if she hadn’t a care in the world. She nodded and made passing greetings to several people before slipping into the hall that lead to the pool gym. Her boot heels clicking on the marble as she tried not to stomp.
In her office, she stood staring at the flowers and the deep blue beta fluttering around the crystal bowl. Looking out the glass at the diving board across the pool, she resisted the call of the water and the fall from the 10M platform. Closing her eyes, she breathed out slowly, calming herself. When she opened them, she noticed a shadow sitting, silhouetted by the moonlight shining on the water. Someone was in the dark pool gym.