“How did mom breaking her arm fix things for Aunt Mina and Kent?” Gracie demanded.
“That’s kinda messed up,” Willow added.
“Camille fell at the pool, and broke her arm and then was rushed to the hospital. Willamina got a text and rushed out of class. Kent saw her in the parking lot. Her car wouldn’t start and she was almost crying. He drove her to the hospital and stayed with her. He told me that night was the first time they really talked. Willow didn’t want to leave Camille alone in the hospital after what had happened when she had gotten attacked, so Kent left got them food and coffee, whatever Mina needed or wanted. He stayed with Mina at the hospital for three days. Their first kiss was when he drove her home to get some rest and she had made him lunch.”
“Kent had even gotten Mina’s car fixed while I was in the hospital,” Camille put in, “I was hopped up on pain meds but she was the one who was all giddy and giggling. Kent treated her like a princess and she didn’t know how to take it, but it made her happy.”
Kyle nodded, “As they dated, Kent would call me and tell me about her, then he brought her to Manhattan for the holidays, they went to see some Disney Broadway show and proposed to her on the top of the Empire State Building. I was skeptical, then I met her. She was the calmest, kindest, most loving person I ever met and when Kent was around her, he was different; less angry, less aggressive, less aloof. Mina made him a better person and a better architect. She encouraged him to put his dreams down into a design book. That book eventually became the basis of many of the Blue Water Resorts. He even designed the resort I’m building at Hidden Springs, after visiting your great-grandparents for Thanksgiving the first time. He adored them. He adored her, we all did. He took her to Cancun for Spring Break and that’s when I met your mom.”
“Oh we know about how your fling started with mom punching you in the face, and then you took her to do all the things she loved just so you could seduce her,” Willow said judgmentally.
“Willow, it might not be like that,” Gracie scolded, “Uncle Beau doesn’t like you very much, Dad.”
“And that’s partly my fault.” Camille hung her head for a moment, when she looked up at Kyle her eyes were apologetic. “Girls, what happened to Mina jaded a lot of what your uncle believes. He adored Mina. Kyle and I had a very strong attraction to each other for the beginning, we shared interest in the same things so we did them together. If Kris hadn’t done what he did, things would have been a lot different.”
“What does he have to do with it? He didn’t make our dads screw those hoes,” Willow snapped. “I don’t buy his whole ‘I cheated because I was stoned’ story. It’s cliché.”
“Actually Willow, he did,” Camille said firmly. “I want you to listen to Kyle and stop interrupting. This is very hard for him to talk about. You know my side, my very wrong side.”
“What do you mean, mom?” Gracie looked confused.
“We saw the pictures, well as many as we could stand to look at,” Willow shuddered in disgust. “I didn’t see a gun to their heads while they were boob diving.”
“It wasn’t their fault,” Gracie defended, “Dad told me they were drugged.”
“Yah, right. He told me that too… And it was just lucky coincidence that the hoes looked like our moms, that one had mom’s tattoo faked on her?” Willow snarky retort hit home to Kyle’s guilt, she glared at him before rolling her eyes.
“It was a setup, they were set up,” Gracie snapped.
“It’s alright, Gracie,” Kyle started but Camille held up her hand.
“No Kyle, it’s not. Willow, do you remember all the talks I’ve given about date rape drugs? How they affect guys differently but they still affect them?” Her tone was sharp. Both girls nodded slowly. “Kris drugged Kent and Kyle, and you are going to listen because I didn’t then, I didn’t even ask and it hurt us all.”
Kyle swallowed painfully at Camille’s self-recrimination; her voice had an edge of self-loathing that made him want to cringe.
“It wasn’t your fault, Camille. You and Mina didn’t want us to go. Girls, you have to understand, things with your Uncle Kristoph have... had always been difficult. He... he just.” Kyle stopped and struggling with the bitter bile that rose in his throat, it always came when he thought about what Kris did, how he betrayed them.
“My Dad always knew Kris wasn’t his son, our mother had gotten pregnant on a one night stand as revenge for Dad not buying her a house in Thalassa. A resort town near where she grew up. But Dad gave Kris anything he wanted to make up for the fact that mother was horrible to him. She was so beautiful on the outside but she was the ugliest person I’ve ever known. She never let any of us forget Kris wasn’t a real Hightower, it was like it delighted her to see the pain it cause him, us, and Dad. After Dad died, Kent and I did everything we could for Kris, just like Dad had. Mom didn’t even show up at Dad’s funeral, she and Kent never spoke again before his death. She didn’t come to his funeral either. I don’t know if she and Kris ever made up. I didn’t talk to her after Kris’ funeral. She died not too long afterward.”
Kyle looked out the window at the trees for a moment, almost choking on the bitter, caustic memories of his mother.
Gracie squeezed his arm and put a glass of ice water in his hand, “It’s okay, dad.”
Willow still had her arms folded, but Camille had tears running down her face.
Kyle sipped the ice water, before he told them the same things he told Tanner.
“Kris insisted we have a traditional bachelor party in Las Vegas, he had planned the whole thing so we agreed. We didn’t know that it was all a setup to try and get his share of dad’s estate before he turned 25. We knew Kris had a gambling problem, but we didn’t know he owed his Vegas bookie a lot than we had ever paid before. His bookie, a guy named Valtini hired some prostitutes that looked like your mothers. The whole thing happened at a place called The Velvet Rope, a high end gentleman’s club owned by the bookie. We didn’t know the club was a brothel until it was too late. Their plan was to drug us, get some compromising pictures, and Kris gets his money so he could pay them.”
Kyle couldn’t make himself look at anything but the ice cubes in the glass. He didn’t want to look at Camille, he didn’t want to see that pain again. “I don’t remember much after eating dessert, We were watching the strippers dance and they just kept giving us drinks and teasing us, after hours of lap dances and flirting, l... we... we screwed them and your mothers watched because Kris was drunk and just kept taking pictures on Kent’s cellphone, 328 pictures that went to a shared cloud account. All those reasons for both your moms to hate us forever.”
He stopped for a moment, Camille’s quiet sobs broke him. Tears began to run down his face. Gracie hugged him and he held her tightly, his cheek on her dark hair. “I’m sorry girls. Kris was there and calling them Willamina and Camille. Kent believed him, and so did I, whatever they gave us had us hallucinating crazy things,” Kyle choked out. It took him a minute before he could start again, he was so ashamed.
“We woke up in our hotel rooms, showered and hungover but alone. We didn’t remember how we got there or what happened after dinner. I thought it was a dream. As we tried to eat breakfast, Kris’ bookie showed up. That’s when we realized just how bad Kris’ gambling problem really was, I mean Kent had been covering for him between his trust fund checks. A few hundred or a thousand here and there was the usual but this time it was a half million dollars.”
“Omigawd!” Willow blurted out. “That’s the value of the Herefords.”
Kyle looked at her oddly, his eyes still red. “Herefords?”
Willow nodded, “Grandpa Ben had the ranch running two separate herds; Hereford and Simmentals because they P.A.P. well and don’t get dropsy.”
“Pap?” Kyle was confused by the sudden change in topic, he didn’t know anything about cattle.
“Pulmonary Arterial Pressure. P.A.P.. It’s an attitude thing,” Gracie added. “Some breeds of cattle can’t handle the altitude. Above 4000 feet, the thin air makes them sick, makes them miscarry, poor meat development, puts them off their feed. Doesn’t matter how good the pasture is if the steers and cows won’t eat.”
“And the only treatment is to sell them to a lower altitude, if you can find a buyer,” Willow shook her head, “Or rent feedlot space for them till their well enough to sell.”
“What about the bulls?” Kyle asked surprised.
“We rent bulls from the T-Heart Ranch, or artificially inseminate, it’s just easier,” Willow shrugs.
“Now downloading Calf.exe,” Gracie added lamely.
“You girls know a lot about cattle.” Kyle stared at them, he never imagined that his children would know so much about things like that. They both shrugged as if they thought everyone should know this.
“Grandpa Ben made sure we all did,” Camille responded softly.
After a moment, she looked up at him and he read in her eyes, the desire for him to stop and the need for him to go on.
He blew out a breath, and refilled his water, before sitting back down next to Gracie. “Where was I?”
“Uncle Kris blew enough money to restock half the ranch,” Gracie whispered softly.
“Yeah, so we paid the guy, and flew home. On the flight Kent and I talked about getting Kris into some kind of program. The next day we arrived at the wedding and your mom was waiting with a slide show and some of the pictures from the bachelor party and a video of Mina’s accident.”
“We’ve seen Aunt Vi’s video and those pictures.” Willow interrupted bitterly, her face was red, her lips trembled. “I know everything my mother knew before she died.”
Kyle sighed, it hurt him to hear the accusation in her tone. “I’m sorry, Willow.”
“Sorry? You should be sorry.” Willow’s words stabbed him in his heart.
“Willow... let him finish,” Camille cut her off.
Kyle swallowed hard, Gracie squeezed his hand, her eyes, the mirror of his, encouraging him to continue.
“Things went to hell after that, everyone talking, some people who had met Mina were crying. Kent was on his knees throwing up. I got him out of there, just stuffed him in the limo that was supposed to take he and Mina to the airport for their honeymoon. I sent Kris with him. By the time I got to the hotel after sending everyone home, Kent was so drunk he had passed out and Kris just took off. The next morning, I found Kent sitting on his bed with a gun. I don’t even know where he got it from but I took it away from him. After breakfast, we decided that we needed to figure out what your moms saw, so we logged into the cloud account, and it was so bad. I figured out that Kris had set us up, because he wasn’t in the pictures. Kent was beside himself with guilt and grief. Then Kris came in and made some snarky comment about how we both dodged a bullet. I lost it and confronted Kris, but Kent just walked out. Kris confessed to everything, we were still arguing, and I told him I never wanted to see him again then we heard the gunshot.”
Kyle had to stop, he needed a drink, something stronger than the water in his glass. Camille looked ashen. “He said that morning he couldn’t live without her but I thought he was just grieving. I didn’t think he’d really kill himself. I did CPR till the paramedics arrived but he was declared DOA at the hospital. After Kent’s funeral, Kris took off. I didn’t hear from him again. Two years later, he killed himself drunk driving after something happened with his girlfriend. They were both gambling and owed money, both alcoholics. He knew his problems had killed our brother but he never stopped. I straightened out my own life, got therapy, rebuilt Hightower Construction as Blue Water Resorts. I bought land with a natural hot springs in Colorado, met you all, and here we are. ”
“So that’s it? Kent just offed himself! Didn’t he even care about me?” Willow was outraged, tears streamed down her face as she huffed. In another room, a cell phone started ringing.
“Willow, it was my fault,” Camille embraced her, “I let them think you and Mina had died in the accident.” Willow tried to push away but Camille held her tightly, continuing “Sweetie, I didn’t even know if you would both be alive when I got back from the wedding. The doctors told me, she was gone, she’d never wake up, would be on life support for the rest of her life. They wanted to pull the plug, but I made them keep her alive so you could live.”
“But why didn’t you call them?” Willow cried, “I’m alone now. I shouldn’t even be here.”
Gracie rushed to her adopted sister and cousin, hugging her, pulling her from the arms of the only mother Willow ever knew. “Don’t say that, sissy, please don’t say that. You’re not alone, never ever alone as long as I breathe. I love you, mom loves you, dad loves you.”
Willow tried to pull away, but Gracie clung to her until they collapsed onto their knees on the floor, crying together. “It’s not fair. You have a family and everything and I have nothing.”
“Everything I have, you have. You’re my sister.” Gracie exclaimed desperately.
“Please Willow, don’t say that.” Camille begged, but Willow slapped her hand away.
“Don’t touch me, don’t talk to me. If you had been such a bi *tch, my dad would still be alive.” Willow screeched over Gracie’s sobs.
“Willow, it isn’t your mom’s fault, she didn’t know what happened. All she saw where those pic...”
“Shut up, Kyle! If you both hadn’t gone with your loser brother, none of this would have happened,” Willow surged to her feet, dragging Gracie up with her. Her eyes were hard and hate-filled. “I hate Uncle Kris, I’m glad he’s dead! And if Kent blew his brains out then... then he was a coward and... and I’m glad he’s d-dead.. t-too!”
“Willow!” Camille gasped out, she was mortified but she held on to her adopted daughter. “You don’t mean that.”
Willow, sandwiched between Camille and Gracie, was struggling to get out of her sister and mother’s embrace when Sheridan came in the room.
“Uh Boss, you need to take this.” His voice urgent.
“Not now.” Kyle snapped then he turned back to his family, ” Willow, honey please calm down.”
“But Boss, it’s Sheriff Tanner. He says it’s important. There’s been a car accident, someone named Doreen.”
Everyone froze, staring wide-eyed at the professional bodyguard. Kyle took the phone, “Hightower here.”