Shaking her head that the door had been left unlocked, Camille left her office and walked toward the person sitting alone between the dark water and moonlit windows.
“I’m sorry sir; the pool is off limits during tonight’s... Kyle?” Recognition froze her in her tracks.
“Camille, I... uh... I just needed to get away from the crowd. Everyone seems really excited… about the… the new resort.” Stammering, he stood facing her. He actually seemed nervous as his eyes traveled from her head to her boots and back up again.
She swallowed down her pride and resentment, coolly saying, “Thank you for the flowers and the funds for the Nationals’ trip.” He looked just as she remembered he looked in the moonlight, and she almost shuddered with the way he was looking at her.
“Anything for you and the girls... You look beautiful,” he breathed out. The shape of the dress left little to the imagination. Her butterfly was peeking out from the edge of the scalloped lace and seemed to flutter as she breathed in and out rapidly.
“Thank you.” She whispered, oddly she could not remember why she was mad at him at that moment. He was so handsome and admiring her like he worshiped her.
They stood there staring at each other, so much to say and yet so far past being able to say it. Slowly he stepped toward her, she didn’t retreat. The smell of his cologne and the water, and the glimmering of the moonlight were intoxicating to her, like something from a dream. For a moment, she could feel the thrill she felt when he had dragged her down to the resort pool and demanded she show him what she meant by ‘feeling the fall’. He had watched her diving with such glowing admiration in his eyes, but he hadn’t kissed her that night or the next day. It wasn’t until they had gone to see the butterflies wintering in the rain forest. As if in slow motion, he pulled her towards him. It was happening again.
“Camille.” Whispering her name huskily as his lips settled gently onto hers
The kiss was so tender and tentative at first, like the first time they kissed surrounded by Blue Morpho butterflies. It made all the ice around her heart crack painfully as it struggled to beat again. Bodies pressed tightly together, lips devouring each other, the starving offered a feast. His hands roamed the once familiar territory of her curves like a blind man trying to memorize a Venus. Her arms curling around his neck and shoulders as if they were meant to be there. Fingers in hair. Forgotten feelings from dreams and memories poured like a waterfall into this moment, and pulled them away from reality as a riptide draws an unaware swimmer from shore. To her it felt like falling, to him it felt like flying, to both it felt like passion and love and dying to oneself.
A fiery image flashed in her mind and she tried to jerk away from his embrace, fighting how much she wanted to remain in his arms.
“NO!” she hissed breathlessly, enraged and afraid, then she slapped him hard enough he staggered backwards and fell into the pool. His fingers still tangled in her pinned back hair pulled her and she stumbled with him. The darkness of the water engulfed them with a splash and then silence.
His arms closed around her reflexively as if he meant to protect her from the fall before the dark water engulfed them. She pushed free and kicked powerfully to get away from him. She was a dozen feet away from him when they surfaced in the black pool.
“Dammit, Kyle! Of all the selfish... Arrogant... Insufferable... You kissed me! I can’t believe you’d pull a stupid stunt like that,” She shouted at him as they both clung to the edge of the pool.
“Camille, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean...” He could see her pain behind the anger glaring icily at him.
The overhead lights came on, the splash and Camille’s outburst had brought an audience of two; the sheriff and the town gossip. Camille kicked hard enough to propel her onto the edge of the pool. A chuckling Tank offered Kyle a hand out of the water.
Antonia just stared at the scene like she couldn’t believe it. “What happened?”
“Thomas, I’m going to change and you’re going to drive me home. Kyle, you can go to hell.” And Camille turned so fast, her hair flipped water on them as she stormed back to her office.
Slamming the door, Camille pulled set of spare clothes out of the bottom drawer of her file cabinet and slammed it on her desk. Unzipping the ruined boots she tossed them in the trash. Twisting, she undid the clasps on her dress before yanking it off over her head and adding it to the bag. The she began pulling on the dry hoodie and windsuit pants over her wet underwear. Grumbling, she pulled the bag out of the trash containing her favorite boots and new dress, all of which were sopping wet. In her mind she cursed herself that she had liked the kiss. More than liked it, she struggle to remind herself she hated Kyle Hightower.
Tank and Kyle stared after her, watching her throw clothes on her desk and pull off her boots. They both turned away from the large glass window of her office suddenly. Standing shoulder to shoulder, they didn’t look back.
“Does she realize we can see her?” Kyle asked.
“I think she’s too mad to care. What happened, Hightower?” Tank demanded.
“She slapped me hard enough to knock us both into the pool,” Kyle shrugged sheepishly, resisting the urge to look over his shoulder and see if she was undressed yet. He had felt what she was wearing under her dress and he wanted to see it. She made him feel like a horny teenager, it was ridiculous.
“She slapped you? So violent,” Tonia gasped, wide eyed peek around their broad shoulders toward the office where Camille was changing. Kyle saw Tank roll his eyes at her opinion.
“I deserved it,” Kyle responded regretfully. “We didn’t exactly part on good terms the last two times I saw her.”
Tank chuckled and dropped his chin as he shook his head, “You must be suicidal to alone with her this close to a pool, Hightower. You’re lucky she didn’t drag you to the bottom and drown you. Tonia, can you grab Mr. Hightower a towel from the locker rooms?”
Tonia nodded and hurried away on rapidly clicking heels.
“So now that the town gossip is gone, why did she slap you?” Tank murmured in a low voice.
Kyle answered just as softly, “I kissed her and she kissed me back, then she jerked away and smack, we were both falling into the pool.”
Tank’s amusement rumbled in his chest, “You got some balls, Hightower. Since you’re already wet, do you want to drive her home?”
Kyle looked at him shocked by the suggestion, then laughed, “Ahhh, no. I may have suicidal moments, but I want to live.”
Tank was still chuckling when Camille stormed out of her office in a Team Bluewings hoodie and nylon jogging pants which clung to her wet curves. “Let’s go, Thomas.” She refused to even look at Kyle.
As she walked past Tonia, the other woman asked, “What do I do with him?”
With an exasperated glare, Camille snapped, “I don’t care, Tonia. Drown him or screw him, your choice. He likes it girl on top.” And then Hurricane Camille was gone, dragging Tank after her.
Kyle couldn’t help the smug smile as he rubbed his wet hair with the towel that she remembered.
Tonia critically eyed Kyle as he pulled off his wet shirt and twisted in his hand, he was a very fit man for a 30 something; a fact not hidden by the carpet of curly dark hair that covered his chest. His towel tousled dark hair gave him a boyish appearance. She could see why any woman would be drawn to him, even Ice Cold Coach Wallace. Her mind immediately began dreaming up scenarios to attach her to this man, he could be her fourth husband with a little persuasion.
“I had no idea Coach Wallace was so volatile. I am so sorry Mr. Hightower, I hope her behavior doesn’t reflect negatively on our community,” she purred as Kyle buttoned up his damp shirt.
“She’s always been passionate about expressing things,” Kyle muttered then realized he should not have said that to this person. “Uh, anyway I deserved it. Can we not share this incident with anyone, Ms Ballad? I acted and spoke inappropriately and got what I deserved. It is a little embarrassing.” Kyle tried to sound properly regretful, but he could almost see the gears turning in the mind of the woman in front of him.
“Oh, of course, Mr. Hightower. Mum’s the word. I assure you, you have nothing to be embarrassed about. Famous athletes tend to be overemotional.” Tonia smiled coyly, but Kyle didn’t know if he believed her assurance that she would keep tonight to herself.
“I have to get back to the party, chaperoning a dance is a constant job. Are you coming, Mr. Hightower?” Tonia couldn’t help thinking of the recording her daughter had made and Gracie’s admission that this man was her father, and that would make him Willow’s uncle and Willow thinking Camille had lied to them about their fathers.
“I am still a little damp; I think I will head home. Thank you for your hospitality tonight, Ms Ballard.” He thanked her charmingly as he held the towel out to her and she nodded primly before leading him out. If he tried to charm her maybe she would keep tonight’s drama under wraps. “Perhaps I will see you again soon, Antonia?”
She smiled and preened when her name rolled off his lips. “Oh I am sure, Kyle.”
Tonia sent a quick text to her daughter as she watched while he walked across the parking lot. She was sure she could get close to him now that Camille had made her rejection clear. Such a man needed a woman to guide him.
Tiana appeared a moment later, “Yes, mother?”
“Do you still want to be swim team captain, darling?”
“Mother, you know Willow beat me out for team captain, and nationals is in a few weeks, they won’t replace her now unless she gets thrown off the team,” Tiana huffed.
Tonia air-kissed her daughter’s cheek, so not to leave a smudge of lipstick, before assuring her. “Just leave everything to mummy.”
Camille didn’t speak the entire drive out to the Ridgeline Ranch. She got out without even saying goodbye and stormed into the house, leaving the bag containing her wet dress and boot in the backseat. Sighing Tank picked it up, he was going to have to do this the hard way. There is what’s right and deep inside he prayed it wasn’t going to cost him his best friend to do it. He cared for Camille but there was someone back in her life that cared for her more.
Knocking at the door, he waited for her, but when she didn’t answer, he went straight in. She wasn’t in the kitchen so he walked down the hall. He could hear her shower running and her crying. He could only shake his head as he went out and put her clothes on the drying rack in the laundry room. He really hoped her favorite date-night boots weren’t ruined. Then he went back and sat on her bed to wait for her. He was looking at the picture she kept on her nightstand of her and Mina at their first Olympics.
“I think we need to talk,” Tank opened when she came out wrapped in a towel.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” she snapped and walked into her large closet, he could hear her rummaging around.
“Yes, there is. You still love him,” Tank called out.
A moment later she was standing in the door, eyes blazing cold enough to freeze a normal man’s blood in his veins, but Tank just tipped his head as he looked at her. “Your shirt is wrong side out.”
Camille looked down and made an exasperated sound. “Close your eyes. And I do not love Kyle Hightower.”
He chuckled and obeyed, but kept talking, “I know you still love him, or you wouldn’t have reacted the way you did. And I know he still loves you. You need to talk to him.”
“If you say ‘Like what we have’, I will turn you over my knee and spank you,” he taunted.
“You did that one New Year’s Eve, I didn’t like it,” she scowled as she sat on the end of the bed and brushed out her hair. “I love you, not him.”
He chuckled, “That was 5 years ago, beautiful, and we were both drunker that two skunks swimming in a Johnnie Walker barrel. We’ve kept each other company, what? A half a dozen times and we’ve always been 4 sheets to the wind. Come here and kiss me sober like you kissed him tonight and I’ll believe you love me and not him.”
“Thommmaasssss. Do we have to do this tonight? I’m tired and cold,” she whined.
Suddenly, he pulled her against him and kissed her, it felt weird, unnatural, and empty. Thomas was an exceptional kisser but it just wasn’t right and they both knew it. They had known it for a long time, they had no spark. He leaned back looking down at her tears, his fingertips gently brushing them away.
“You don’t want to love him but you do, that’s why we will never be. I love you Camille as my best friend and that’s all we will ever be, best friends. I know he broke your heart, beautiful, but there are some things he told me about that night and after. Things you need to know and I don’t want you to talk until I’m done. And I am telling you straight forward, I am on his side about this.”
The next morning, Camille was at the pool just as the sun colored the horizon rose and gold. The lights in the water creating an eerie turquoise glow in the darkened room, which danced and fluttered across the exposed beams of the ceiling four stories above. Ghosts of light and water that had been her life’s companion from the first time she jumped into a pool at 4 years old. She just stood there with her toes on the edge of the platform, staring down at the water. For the first time since forever she didn’t want to jump, she was afraid of the fall. She could still feel Kyle’s lips on hers, it made her frozen heart hurt as if her butterfly’s wings were sledge hammers beating against her chest, trying to revive something she thought long dead.
Tank’s revelation that all she believed was truth based on a terrible deception and she wasn’t the only one betrayed. It was all so tragic and senseless. Her sister was dead, driving to the airport when she should have been at home in bed the day before her wedding. They were supposed to go get mani-pedis and massages during her lunch, an hour of pampering replaced by an afternoon of waiting to find out if emergency surgery would be enough to save her baby. The result of the drastic medical procedure was a nearly brain dead, horribly scarred incubator for her niece to grow in.
Kent was dead, guilt and grief over something he didn’t remember doing, something caused by his youngest brother’s addictive compulsions and weaknesses. It led him to do something that could not be undone. The result; his suicide left Willow truly orphaned.
How could she ever explain it all to the girls? Would Willow forgive her the misunderstanding that had lead Camille to let the Hightowers believe Mina was dead and as a result had killed Kent too?
Kyle had spent his life alone while she had struggled to raise the girls, but at least she had her family. He had no one. For the first time, she felt guilt. Guilt for never hearing him out when it happened tore at her. Guilt for violently protesting Gramma Dorine’s insistence she call him pressed down on her like a weight. The worst guilt was that she while had hoarded her daughter’s and niece’s first smiles, first steps, first words, first everything while he had buried his brothers and struggled to save his father’s legacy. She wasn’t a bad person, she was just so hurt. She was still hurt and as Tank pointed out, she no longer knew how to live without that pain.
Camille thought about the day in Mexico when Kyle had taken her to see the butterflies, how they had fluttered and danced around them. How one had crawled so gently on her cheek, she had looked up and realized he had the same colored eyes as the Blue Morpho Butterflies swarming around them. The same color as the butterfly tattooed over her heart, the heart a misunderstanding of betrayal had crush and left frozen for 15 years.
She remembered the strange nightmare she had where her butterfly had torn itself free from her skin and carried her heart to him. She realized now she had never gotten it back and she had acted heartless toward the man who still held it. She didn’t know how to make things right. All around her the condensation from the warm pool wept with her. Water was her life, and it seemed in this moment to share her pain.