Just like at the pool, Kyle could feel her pain. “Cami, I’m... I didn’t mean...” He stopped uncertain where to begin. “I have a gift for you.” He laid a 6 inch by 6 inch box on the table. “I bought it for you the day after the spaghetti dinner. I don’t know why, it... it just reminded me of the best, most perfect memory of my life. I want to feel that way again.”
Camille took the box and opened it slowly, her breath panted shallowly between quivering lips as her fingers caressed the blue butterfly on silk.
“Please Camille, just give me a chance to prove the man in those pictures isn’t me, was never me. I need this, I need to try. I hurt you, when I saw you at the Olympics, I knew I had broken someone beautiful and it broke me. At first, I tried to fill the emptiness with suffering, punish myself by returning to the worst time of my life. I thought I was unworthy of happiness, and then Kris’ death brought me to my senses. I walked away from the people who were hurting me and became a workaholic. I went back to Kent’s dream book and began building all the resorts he designed, all the beautiful places Mina inspired him and encouraged him to create. I want to show them to you and the girls, I want to be there for you, for them. Please, can we start again?”
Trembling, she sighed as she lifted the pashmina out; it was the memory of that day in woven silk tones of turquoise, cobalt, and black.
“Do you like it?” He asked.
" Oh, I do. It’s beautiful.” Her answer was a timid exhale, “It is the one I would pick if I had all the scarves in the world to choose from.”
She put it around her neck, the bright, rich color standing out against the black sweater dress she was wearing. Looking down, her fingertips traced the black outline of the butterfly. When she looked up again, the pain was still there, but the hardness was replaced by something else and he wasn’t sure what it was at first. Camille held out her hand over the table, and Kyle took it.
Her smile was almost shy, as unfallen tears shined in her eyes, “Hi, I’m Camille.”
Kyle realized the thing in her eyes he couldn’t identify was hope.
Six hours later, a scowling Tank was sitting in an office with the CI, a CBI organized crime investigator, and an FBI agent.
“So you’re telling me this Donnie guy has ties to the Italian mafia in New York and Las Vegas, running an illegal sports betting ring across the country, but you have no idea how he ended up dating a woman from Pagosa Cliffs and raping her 16 year old daughter.” Tank could not believe the kind of person Antonia had brought home. Surely she wasn’t that stupid.
“That’s correct, Sheriff. But if we can get him on the juvenile rape, perhaps we can at least put him in prison until we can find the evidence to convict him of some of the many organized crime charges we suspect him of being involved in,” The FBI agent explained.
“The man is suspected in everything from money laundering to murder, human trafficking to wire fraud. We need to get this girl and her mother into protective custody. Are you sure Donatello Valtini has no idea the girl got pregnant?” the CBI agent asked nervously.
“I am not sure but I doubt it, we only found out a week ago. The mother gave me a false last name, I don’t know if she was lying or if he lied to her. The girl is heading to the Spring National Diving Competition in Florida next week,” Tank explained. “She is part of a group being scouted for the next Olympics.”
“Sheriff Tanner, I can’t emphasize enough how dangerous Donnie Valtini is. If the mother’s story about meeting him online is true then he has found a new way to get underage girls. As long as he doesn’t know, she’s reported him, she should be safe until the baby is born and we can get a sample of its DNA. Can you come in tomorrow and we’ll brief you on as much information as you need. If he shows up in Pagosa, you need to hide that girl till we can get there to put her in protective custody. Do not try to arrest him alone. The man is evil.”
The FBI agent didn’t need to tell Tanner that Valtini was evil. Any man who would rape a terrified girl for three nights while her mother slept downstairs was a demon walking. His phone buzzed and he glanced at it. “I’ll get a room and see you in the morning. Excuse me, gentlemen.”
Tank stepped out of the office and walked down the hall to the break room, “Tanner here. You’re not drown, Hightower, that’s a good sign.”
Hightower’s laugh came through the earpiece. “I’m not but you may be.”
“Eh, I expected her to be grumpy, but she never can stay mad at me. Did she have a good time?” Tank asked, needing any kind of good news to lighten his mood.
“Yes, I think she did after she got over the shock... Thanks Tanner.”
“Anytime, Hightower. I’ll call you tomorrow sometime. Bye.” He smiled slightly, thinking at least something went right this week.
“Good news, Sheriff?” the CI asked as he walked past to the coffee pot.
“Yep, finally fixing a 15 year old family feud.”
He had a missed text message.
From Wally: Meet me at my office tomorrow,
you have some explaining to do, Sheriff.
Bring a toe tag with your name on it.
He almost laughed out loud, instead he sent back.
Already in my pocket. Glad you had a good time.
Working Tiana’s case. See you in a few days.
Love you, Wally.
He smiled at the immediate response.
From Wally: I am beginning to doubt that but I love you too.
Good Luck on the case, she is fine,
we need to talk about her mother.
I think Tonia’s hiding something.
In his usual Friday morning progress meeting, Kyle found he couldn’t concentrate. He was thinking about last night and how Camille looked with in her black sweater dress that was as soft and fluffy as a kitten and the blue pashmina. Camille had not been pleased when he had shown up in Tanner’s place, but after a rocky start, they had settled into a pleasant ‘first’ date.
He had told her about his project at Hidden Springs and other resorts around the world, and she had told him about coaching and the preparations for Nationals. He had asked many questions about Gracie and Willow growing up and laughed at her stories of raising “Trouble and Angel” as everyone had called them when they were little.
He had choked on his coffee as she had told him how when they were 8, they had dragged bully to the bottom of the pool before pulling him out. Standing side by side with identical scowls, Willow threatening to take him to the bottom and leave him if he pushed anyone in or held anyone under ever, ever, ever again. Gracie adding that it would be easy because they were professional swimmers trained by an Olympian and he could barely dog paddle.
They had been so cross when Camille had ‘punished’ them by making them teach him how to swim better and that becoming the bully wasn’t the way to deal out social justice. She had blushingly admitted that she and Mina had done the same thing and received the same punishment when they were 12. He confessed he was proud of them for dealing with the much older and bigger bully, but that Camille had been right to punish them. He had been surprised to learn that they had won their first competition in sixth grade. He was looking forward to getting to know them.
“Kyle... Kyle!” Rand interrupted his thoughts.
“Sorry, what?” His crew was staring at him.
“Are you alright, boss?” Jon asked concerned.
Kyle grinned at them all, “I have something to tell you all. The three of you have been with me for years, and you know what happened with my brothers. This wilderness adventure resort was Kent’s dream. Coming here, I discovered something amazing. I told Mack already but I didn’t want to say anything until I figured out a few things.” He took a deep breath and announced bluntly, “I have a daughter.”
Gasps came from around the table.
“Who’s the mother?” Rand demanded.
“Do you remember Kent’s fiancée?” Kyle asked. “Her sister and I were dating.”
“That was 15 years ago and you’re just finding out?” Jon demanded angrily. He hadn’t been with Hightower construction then, but had heard from Rand why Kyle wasn’t married and might never be. He wondered who in the small town it was.
“It’s complicated.” Mack volunteered for Kyle. “Remember the diver? She’s a coach now. Here in Pagosa Cliffs.”
They looked at him shocked and confused. Rand’s face turned red with rage.
Jon blurted out, “Are you talking about Camille Wallace?”
“What kind of woman keeps that kind of secret from a man,” Rand snarled.
“Rand, remember those pictures. They were more than she showed at the wedding, a F*ing whole 300 more and they were x-rated. I’m not proud of what they showed and I don’t blame her for reacting the way she did,” Kyle explained.
“She still should have called you.” Mack folded his arms across his chest with a scowl, remembering how torn up Kyle had been after Sophia’s abortion and again after Kent and the pregnant Mina’s deaths. He didn’t agree with Camille keeping the girls secret.
“I told you, Mack, she spent four months, holding her maimed, brain-dead sister’s hand before she found out she was pregnant with my daughter and another month and a half waiting for my niece to be born” Kyle said sadly.
“But didn’t she die in that accident?” Rand blurted out. He and Mack had been at the wedding.
“She died the day my niece was born but it didn’t exactly happen the way we thought. She never woke up after the accident. Willamina had burns so bad they removed her legs and one arm and Camille spent months fighting the doctor to keep her sister alive long enough for Kent’s daughter to survive. Camille kept her sister’s body alive until her sister’s baby was born, then she had her baby six weeks later,” Kyle sighed. “She blamed us for her sister’s death. I know it’s going to be hard, but we are trying to move passed it, she promised that I could get to know the girls.”
“This is some Sophia level crap! How much does she want?” Rand growled.
Kyle let out an exasperated breath, thinking he should have known his friends would react this way. “Camille is nothing like Sophia and she doesn’t want anything. She saw those pictures and was very hurt. Rand, remember how you felt when Chelsea cheated on you? Imagine if you had watched it happen. When Kris had drugged us and took the pictures with Kent’s phone, the pictures uploaded to a shared cloud account real time. Cami watched me cheating on her the night after I asked her to be my girlfriend. It broke her,” he admitted.
“We met again when I came out to inspect the site and I was angry at first. It was a week before I saw her again, and it didn’t go well that night either, but the next day we spent hours talking about the wedding and what happened after. She feels terrible that Kent died and I accepted the blame for our part in the bachelor party. We forgave each other and had a date last night. I want you guys to give her a chance, I love her and she is the mother of my daughter and the only mother my niece has known. I don’t want to lose her or them, not again.”
They sat quietly for a minute before Jon spoke, “What about that Ballard woman? Do you still think she is going to try to stop the project? We haven’t heard anything.”
Kyle shrugged, “Her daughter is on the swim team and they are going to Nationals next week, but after that, I expect, if she was serious then we’ll hear something.”
Rand spoke up, “Speaking of desperate husband-hunters, Sophia is single again.”
Kyle scowled, “Keep the gates locked.”
Mack started laughing as Rand and Jon chuckled. Kyle just gave them a smirk; there was no way he was letting Sophia interfere with his chance to get Camille back or the chance to know his daughter and niece.
On several evenings the last week as they drove home to Ridgeline Ranch, Tiana had asked questions about techniques and the feeling of the dive. At first Camille had struggled to explain, but Willow and Gracie helped. Tuesday night ago had found them jumping on the trampoline in the porch light, helping the junior diver master an inverted, to move forward facing the water and flip backwards toward the diving board. Finally, Doreen had called the freezing group in for hot chocolate.
After talking with Tiana the night before, on Wednesday, Camille took time from training aside. She listened as her team each described the fall of their dives and described how it felt to her doing the same dive. Gene, Riley, and Mara benefited most. They seemed to bloom after they spent an afternoon in the gym jumping on trampolines before heading to the pool. They had driven home laughing and eating onion rings and burgers. Camille lay in bed Wednesday night thinking about having different members of her team each coming for a week over the summer while they got ready for Summer Regionals. Thursday practices had shown the same potential and improvements.
Friday afternoon had Camille pacing up and down edge of the water, watching the divers practicing. Her team falling in flipping, twisting movements, only to hit the water like the points of a spear, flat hands punching a hole in the surface, curved feet helping pull the splash under with them. All of them were doing the dives at highly competitive levels, some of the college divers she had competed against weren’t this good, even Tiana was diving above the potential she had showed leading up to State.
Saturday morning was the last practice till Monday, second to last before Florida. Camille smiled proudly as Gracie and Willow did every dive they knew in perfect synchronization. The coach realized diving came so naturally to Willow and Gracie, and how they understood her teaching almost intuitively, but that it was difficult for others. Tiana’s tragedy and the resulting situation of her living with them were making Camille a better instructor. Saturday morning’s practice showed Camille what she knew, her team was ready.
Camille had let the team ‘play’ after regular practice, she watched them all trying to dive synchronized with random partners, only to surface laughing. It became a game of who could dive together. Will and Willow almost got it on the third try to much cheering by the swimmers until Gracie had shouted, “I ship it!” Causing much laughter and teasing. Willow spent several minutes looking sunburned and fuming, grumpily vowing revenge on her sister. They had all worked very hard in the last month and were excited about leaving on Tuesday to the Spring National Swim and Dive Competition in Florida.
Camille had booked the trip for two days of practices and sightseeing before the prelims began on Thursday. Spring break had been set for this week in the hopes the swim and dive team would be going, the whole community was excited and Jorge’s dad and brother were coming to ‘live stream’ the event over the internet so the community could watch from home. They were up against bigger programs with multiple coaches and trainers each and with huge budgets provided by boosters, but that didn’t matter because her team had heart and talent and a community that loved and supported them. This was their third year at high School Nationals but it would not be their last. This year they were coming to win. By the end of next week, everyone would know who the Pagosa Cliffs Blue Wings were.
Laughing at the girls as they sang made-up words to some Megan Trainor song, Camille stopped at the local bakery to pick up their order of cupcakes. She waited as Willow and Tiana picked out flavors, and Gracie talked animatedly with the owner Milli about a cake decorating contest she was flying out to compete in. Perusing over the professional cake artist sketch books had given Gracie as many ideas as Pinterest. Tiana’s current nails looked like they had come off the cupcakes in the display case. Finally it was time to go and take Tiana to her mother’s for the weekend.
There was no one home when they got to Tiana’s house. While Camille called her mother, Tiana started to put the dishes left everywhere in the sink.
“I can stay here if she’s going to be gone, I did it all the time,” Tiana told Willow and Gracie. “It looks like I need to clean up mum’s room and the rest of the house anyway.”
Camille came in and glanced around. “Leave it, Tiana. Your mom is an adult and can do her own chores. You need a calm and distressing weekend before Nationals. Your mom said she would be back by the time we left on Tuesday morning so you will see her then. She still wants to be a chaperon.”
Camille herded them out to her car, smiling and joking about how much fun they were going to have and how beautiful Florida was and the whole time fuming about what a neglectful mother Tonia Ballard was.