At the prelims, Junior Diver Will Reylts fell toward the water, tucked and flipping rapidly, straightening at the last moment, his slight over-rotation sent a fan of water away from his feet. Gene did very well but his line wasn’t as clean as it had been in practice after his dives, he ran to the swim lanes. Jorge was next to dive, then Reggie and Paully, the three freshman did very well for it being their first year of high school competition but only Will made it out of the men’s preliminaries to the semi-finals. Riley and Mara were the only other freshman at the women’s individual diving. Tiana, Willow and Gracie made it through the prelims to the semi finals in the top 5 in individual springboard and platform. Synchronized diving was at the end of the week. For the Swimmers, Gene made it through and so did Mara and Amy.
At dinner the second night in Florida, Willow noticed a man watching Tiana. She and Gracie took turns watching him. There were also two guys hanging out in the lobby that were also at the pools earlier in the day. The two security people that had come from Colorado never seemed to notice the stalkers.
“Do you think they work for the guy that hurt her?” Gracie whispered.
Willow shrugged slightly, “I don’t know, but we need to keep her away from them, just in case.”
Tiana squished herself between them, “You’re talking about those three guys that are following me around aren’t you?” They looked at her startled, then nodded.
“We won’t let them hurt you,” Willow promised.
“We need to stick together, all of us. Mom says there is safety in numbers,” Gracie added. “T, you need to tell the others what happened and why my dad hired two security guys to protect us.”
Tiana swallowed and looked down at her hands, Willow squeezed her in a side hug. “Look T, no one else is moving on except Will, and if everybody is working together, that piece of crap won’t be able to snatch you. That’s 6 hours tomorrow and three the day after that you’re alone while we’re diving,” Willow pointed out.
Tiana wiped away her tears, “You... you don’t think they’ll tell anyone? Or call me a slut or anything?”
“T, we’re a team. What does mom always say? What affects one of us affects all of us. We support each other,” Gracie stated confidently. “So when do you want to do this? Tonight or tomorrow morning before we go site-seeing?”
“Tonight, we’ll tell them tonight before I lose my nerve,” Tiana announce tremulously.
They hugged each other, then Willow grinned, “I’ll order in pizza and ice cream from room service. Mr.. uncle... dad... Kyle... said we could.” She scowled at the end.
“Mr uncle dad Kyle?” Gracie giggled, “Wow... way to label the guy who got us the penthouse.”
“Shut up!” Willow snapped, embarrassed. She changed the subject. “I need you to repaint the butterfly on my shoulder and my nails.”
Tiana looked at Willow’s hand clutched in her own, “Gawd Willow, what did you do? Stick your fingertips in a woodchipper?”
“If fingernails were trees, Willow would be a beaver,” Gracie said with a smirk.
Tiana laughed then teased, “That’s why I wax and don’t chew my nails, better not to be one or have one.”
Gracie snorted a laugh but Willow gave her a deadpan look, her voice flat, “You are not my friend.”
A few hours later, Willow, Gracie, and Tiana were forcing Camille into a simple but elegant dress Tiana had picked out of the boutique and putting her through hair and makeup.
“Girls! Just because no one from our team is diving tomorrow does not mean we can take a night off. I have film to watch, I don’t have time for a date.”
“Mom, Tank told us to make sure you and Dad have at least one date and since tomorrow is our only day off, you should go tonight because tomorrow we are going to... Willow, where are we going?” Gracie demanded as she finished Camille’s fingernails.
“The Aquarium and Rain forest arbor- whatever.” Willow answered.
“Coach Wally, your eyes are so amazing. Now look up so I can finish your lashes.” Tiana tipped her head back.
“I feel ridiculous,” Camille complained.
“Mom, you can’t live your life in swimsuits and windsuits. Not and get us a baby brother.” Willow pointed out then she and Gracie gave their mom identical smirks.
Tiana laughed, and added, “Besides who’s going to be tadpole’s best friend if you and Mr K don’t hook back up.”
“Mr Hightower and I are not going to ‘hook up’,” Camille insisted. “He probably doesn’t even like me that way anymore.”
“Phsh! Yah, right mom. He looks at you like.... Like...” Willow started.
“Like William looks at you,” Gracie teased and Tiana laughed.
“G, I will smother you in your sleep,” Willow threatened.
“Enough girls, no one will smother anyone, and there will be no hooking up,” Camille insisted. Then she shook her head, “Maybe I’ll just stay and eat pizza with you girls and the team.”
“Nope, Dad already made reservations.” Gracie held out a cute clutch, just as there was a knock at the door. “And he’s right on time.”
“You look beautiful, Coach Wally,” Tiana smiled.
Camille looked at her carefully, “Are you sure you’re okay with me leaving?”
Tiana nodded, “We’re just gonna hang out. Gracie is going to paint on us, we are going to watch a movie and I promise I’ll send everyone to their rooms by 10PM.”
“And with Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee outside, nobody will bother us,” Willow reminded. There was another knock, “Go mom. Have fun.”
Kyle almost choked on air when Willow opened the door and winked at him. Camille looked breathtaking, draped in fluttering turquoise silk, like a goddess of the sea. The love of his life looked barely old enough to be a mother, let alone the mother of teenagers. The girls had giggled as he had walked a quiet Camille to the elevator, throwing him thumbs up when he glanced back at them and mouthed, ‘Thank you.’ He had told the girls to charge whatever they wanted when they asked to surprise their mom with a dress as a present and asked him to take her out for sushi, her favorite. But now, he felt like he was the one getting the gift. She said nothing on the short drive to the trendy spot.
In the restaurant, Kyle tried to make small talk. “So what are the girls up to this evening?”
“They are having a movie and pizza party in the media room while Carol, Amelia, and Jorge Senior are watching an ‘Orange Is The New Black’ marathon,” Camille fidgeted with the hem of her dress, pulling the ruffles over her lap, she had not realized the slit would show so much of her legs as she sat in a high bar chair at a high table. The skirt kept sliding off her lap and leaving her legs exposed to mid-thigh. It made her feel self conscious.
“Are you nervous?” His eyes shined mischievously as he glanced down at her legs again. They were so strong and well-shaped, he resisted the urge to touch them.
“I am not used to sitting on a perch in a dress, don’t they have any real tables and chairs in this place? Or maybe a booth?” She complained.
“No, but the sushi here is the best on this coast.” He sipped saki from a small cedar cup. “And it has a lovely view.”
She looked out at the ocean, the sun was just setting over the water. “It is lovely.”
“Just beautiful,” he murmured, she didn’t miss the way he said it.
When she looked back, he was looking at her and not the view. She drew a deep breath, leaning forward to pick up the saki carafe, the edge of her butterfly was visible for a moment above the cowl draped silk the color of the Caribbean. She filled and drained her cup with a grimace.
“Don’t do this, Kyle.”
“Do what?” he asked, tasting a bite of salmon uramaki.
Camille pinched a piece of ginger and sashimi tuna in her chopsticks, and pointed at him, “This... you and me... reuniting and living happily ever after. It’s not going to happen, no matter how badly Tank and the girls want it to. I... I can’t... I can’t go through it again.” She stuffed the bite in her mouth to make the point she was done talking. The sushi was excellent, the best she had eaten since moving to Colorado, but the topic of conversation was killing her appetite.
“Why not, Cami? Why can’t we try again to be happy? You don’t have to spend the rest of your life alone,” Kyle started to pick up his saki cup again but then set it back down, his head needed to be clear.
" Please don’t call me Cami. I’m not that girl anymore. We... we had our chance, and now it’s gone. The more I think about it, the more I know it’s true. Can’t you just let it go?” Her eyes were glassy as she turned to look out the window. Around them, happy conversations ebbed and flowed like the waves below. “Can’t we be friends for the girls’ sakes? That’s all I...”
“I won’t give up,” he interrupted. “I won’t let you push me away again.” The intensity of his feelings had darkened his blue eyes to almost black, they shouted at her to feel again and she fought against the urge to fall.
“Stop it,” she hissed, her hazel eyes swirling with all the emotions conflicted in her soul.
Kyle looked at her carefully. “You’re afraid.”
The statement was like an epiphany in his expression, and she was shocked he had read her so easily. She hopped off the high chair, snatched her purse and started to walk out, only to be held up by a group of waiters cheering a young man on as he asked a blushing young woman to marry him. Her screamed out, happy ‘yes!’ hurt Camille’s heart with the memory of Kent proposing to Willamina. She rushed out onto the balcony over the sea to get away from the celebrating patrons and staff of the restaurant. She clutched the rail to keep from jumping over. She just wanted to fall, instead she went down the steps to the sand and stared at the darkening sky, stars glowing in the dark velvet sky above the sea. Cool air chilling her through the silk dress.
Warmth at her back, Kyle’s hands on her biceps easing her back against his chest. His breath burning on her ear, “That could be us someday.”
Gooseflesh played down her body causing her to shudder. “Kyle, I c-can’t love you again.” Her honesty whispered above the waves. “I’m not strong enough....”
“Tank thinks you never stopped loving me,” he responded in a deeply sexy tone, kissing her neck. “I never stopped loving you either. And I won’t give up, not again. Not when there is a single star left in the sky for me to wish on. Not while there is a single drop of water left in the ocean. We belong together.”
She turned to glare at him, but it only had the effect of making her feel lightheaded as she looked into his eyes. All the pain of that night echoed in the emptiness behind her butterfly. “You don’t understand, Kyle,” she whispered, repeating, “I’m not strong enough.”
“Camille, you’re the strongest woman I have ever known. How can you say you’re not strong enough to love me again?” His eyes bored into hers, demanding her absolute truth.
She confessed her brokenness, “I’m not strong enough to lose you again.”
“You won’t,” he promised, his lips touched hers tenderly.
She felt herself falling, just like the very first time he had kissed her. The perfect bliss of a perfect moment between blue sky and blue mirror before the water’s embrace. She wasn’t diving. She was liquefying, instinctively melting into his kiss, against his body. The fleeting thought of being glad to be out of sight of the windows as she surrendered to his touch. A thundering beat distracted her from her feelings of ecstasy. Something in her chest was pounding its way free of the ice that had encased it for all these years. Beneath her blue butterfly tattoo, her heart fluttered back to life. Kyle had carried it back to her, just like she dreamed he would.
As soon as the pizzas were set up and the movie started, the team huddled on the media where the adults wouldn’t hear.
Gracie stood up and spoke first, “Look we didn’t really have you guys in to watch a movie. You all know my dad is Mr Hightower, and the reason we flew on his plane and are staying here is because something happened to the team funds. And those two big guys who go everywhere with us are private security because of something bad that happened.”
Everyone started talking at once but Willow whistled and they stopped, she snapped at them, “Look, every cent we raised is gone but more importantly, Tiana is in danger. Like serious, she could be after tomorrow, we are going to be tied up diving and we need your help to keep her safe.”
“There is safety in numbers and she can’t be alone.” Gracie finished.
Tiana stood up, she was shaking as she spoke, “Look, I know I haven’t always been the nicest person, and I’m really sorry. But there’s something.. I mean ... my mum, she... My mum isn’t the person you all think she is. She’s not nice and she stole the money from the team. I am so sorry. I don’t know why she did it, but she hasn’t called me back in days. She’s the reason, I’m living with Gracie and Willow and Coach Wally. I... I was raped. And... and I’m pregnant. And... and Sheriff Tanner thinks I am in danger from the guy who did it.”
“OMIGAWD, Tiana! I mean... woah... that’s... wow, that’s terrible,” Amy blurted.
Will looked angry, “Who is it? I will beat the F* outta the dickhead!”
“Me too,” Jorge and Paully said at the same time.
Mara jumped up and paced back and forth angrily, ” Oh...oh... it’s on... you tell us who and we’ll drown him. Or feed him to the bears, or put him in one of grandpa’s big smulch shedders, I saw that on CSI. No one will ever find...”
“Easy Mara,” Gene said slowly, “T, why aren’t you with your mom? Why isn’t she here? I mean if she took the money, maybe she needed it for something important.” His mom and her mom were on three community charity committees together, they were close friends or so he thought. He really wanted to believe Ms Ballard was a nice lady.
Tiana hesitated, and Gracie took her hand, nodding encouragingly. Tiana answered slowly, “Because one of my mom’s weekend guests was the one who did it. And they think mom knew he hurt me.”
“Did they arrest him?” Riley asked timidly.
“No. He isn’t in jail yet because he lied about his name and they haven’t found him.” Tiana shook her head.
“Are you going to be alright, T?” Will asked in soft voice, he was the only other junior on the team. “Can you... will you be able to go to school next year? Can you still dive?”
“She can do everything she’s doing now after the baby comes, ” Gracie said confidently, “And she has us,” Willow added, to a chorus of murmured agreement.
“But why are you telling us now?” Paully asked suspiciously. The geeky springboard diver always had questions about motives.
“Because there are three guys we have seen watching Tiana and we don’t know who they are and we don’t want to leave her alone when we’re in the diving cue,” Gracie answered first.
“Our pool times overlap and we need help to keep her safe,” Willow continued. “The security guys can’t go into the changing rooms or competitor areas like....”
“Like we can,” Mara finished for her. “Cool, we got your back, T.”
All of the divers voiced agreement. Everyone hugged her or patted her arm, surrounding her.
“Thank you,” Tiana had tears leaking down her cheek. “I mean thank you guys so much.”
Will spoke with a confidence that seemed much older than his 16 years. “We’re the Blue Wings, and if someone messes with one of us, they mess with all of us.”
As the movie played, they talked about the strategy or keeping Tiana safe. By the time it ended, Paully had made a flow chart of when and where everyone would be with Tiana. The team had a plan. They would keep their teammate and their little tadpole safe. They talked excitedly about what it would be like for them to help Tiana with the baby and began a pool for when it would be born, and even fought over the name. Tiana went to bed that night feeling loved and wanted. Her friends, her teammates; they were her family now. She said a small prayer that her father’s family would be as understanding and another that her mum would just call her and let her know she was okay. Tiana had accepted that her mum was probably running from the police but she still worried about her and where she was. She loved her mum even if it felt like the feeling wasn’t mutual sometimes. She cried into her pillow.
“Please Mum, please call. I miss you.”