One month later...
Kyle was up and around without his crutches or his cane, even driving himself. The new cabins and new main lodge at the Hidden Springs Resort were almost complete, but he couldn’t bring himself to move out of Camille’s guestroom. He had gotten used to Gracie handing him a cup of coffee in the morning while they teased Willow about joining the Walking Dead cast. He enjoyed the girls venturing all over the job site asking questions about every aspect of his work or sitting on his bed arguing about homework. The only thing he didn’t enjoy was the cool distance that had settled between he and Camille. Once and awhile, when he was sneaking a peak at her, he caught her giving him a glance. It gave him hope and that was a dangerous thing.
Finally one day, Gracie and Willow flopped across his bed. Both eyed him till he closed the spreadsheet he was reviewing.
“What is it, girls?”
Willow had that look of a predatory animal, while Gracie just looked disappointed. Without a word, Willow closed the door while Gracie opened the top drawer of his dresser.
“So Katherine was putting the laundry away and a pair of your socks ended up in Uncle Beau’s socks and when I came to put them away, I found this.” Gracie held out a familiar and worn gray velvet box, open with the blue diamond butterfly wedding set.
“How did you know they were my socks?” was the only thing Kyle could think to say.
Willow groaned and rolled her eyes. “Because DUH! Uncle Beau only has one foot. So when are you popping the question?”
“I... uh... I don’t know. I was planning on doing it when the resort opened but your mom is a little angry at me right now,” he admitted.
“Angry because you got her court file and read it?” Gracie tipped her head questioningly.
“Or angry because you didn’t ask first?” Willow folded her arms judgmentally.
“Both. And I don’t know when or if she’ll forgive me.”
The girls shook their heads in identical gestures of disapproval, then leaned toward each other.
“I told you we should have started sooner.” Willow whispered.
“But we didn’t know if he wanted it. He’s slower than Uncle Beau,” Gracie pointed out.
“It only gives us a month and a half. Can we do it that quick?” Willow sounded doubtful.
“Her therapy has been going well according to Gramma, so we might as well start sooner rather than later,” Gracie responded.
“What are you two up to?” Kyle asked suspiciously.
Then Willow smirked. “We want our baby brother before college.”
“Girls, whatever your scheming the answer is no,” Kyle tried and realized he was failing at sounding firm and fatherly. “We are not going to trick your mom into anything she’s not ready for.”
Gracie held out the open box to him then snapped it shut just as he touched it. “Do you want this to live in this box forever?” She sounded waspish as she slapped the box in his palm.
Willow planted a hand on her hip with a determined look. “Or do you want us to help you put it where it belongs?”
Kyle opened the box and looked the ring he had made for Camille forever ago.
“Help me, girls. I don’t know what else to do.”
“Mom, the team wants to have a full moon campout by Scarlet Lake,” Gracie started.
“Can we go? Please?” Willow begged. “There’s no Friday school, it’s a admin work day and Monday is a holiday.”
“It’s a four day weekend, pleeeessseee. Last year we only got the overnight,” Gracie pled.
Camille looked up from her grade book and evaluation papers, Kyle had never realized how much paperwork was involved with teaching. He kept his face neutral.
“Who’s chaperoning?” Camille asked, looking back down at her grading.
“Welllll, since Mrs. Ballard is kind of in jail. We may have told them... you?” Willow looked at Camille hopefully as Camille gave her a very clear Are-you-kidding look.
“Please mom, Tiana is only here for another week and this will be the last time she gets to go before Tadpole is born.” Gracie had her hand folded in front of her like she was praying.
Kyle almost laughed at their antics, but instead he cleared his throat and said his lines, “Girls, if your mother is too busy then you shouldn’t have sprung this on her at the last minute. Maybe you can all stay at the resort for a night or two when it opens.”
“But T will be gone by then. Please mom,” Gracie begged.
“Please, it’ll be our last team event before summer,” Willow added.
“Willow, Gracie, it isn’t fair to put your mom on the spot like this. If you need another chaperon, I’ll go.” Kyle offered.
“Uhhh yah, no. You’re not a qualified.” Willow pointed out.
“How am I not qualified? I’m a parent and I’ve gone camping before.” Kyle tried to sound offended.
“You don’t have lady bits, Dad, and we need a la-dy chaperon,” Gracie pointed out, then Gracie’s tone tuned disappointed. “We’ll cancel if you don’t want to, mom.”
“No, no. I can chaperon. Who else is coming? Adult wise, I mean.” Camille sounded resigned.
Camille just shook her head, “Fine, but we’re leaving here before 11AM on Friday. I am not putting up camp in the dark this year. Let’s go so we aren’t late for school.” She leveled Kyle with a cool look, “Will you be home for dinner?”
“I was hoping we could go out to the Pagosa Brewery for rib-eye steak, like our last date,” Kyle asked hopefully.
“She says yes,” Gracie answered for her. “Awww, aren’t they cute? Our parents are trying to date.” Gracie said adoringly to Willow who made fake gagging noises.
“They don’t have to date, they just have to ff...”
“Shut up, Willow! Love is more important.”
“They don’t need love, just lust.”
Gracie began hitting her sister and chased her out of the room ranting about love and hope and beauty while Willow was yelling back she only wanted a baby brother, she didn’t care why they made one.
Camille’s lips made a flat line as she rolled her eyes at her daughters’ antics. Then she gave Kyle a cold glare. “Fine, dinner tonight and Kyle, stop encouraging them.”
“I’m not,” Kyle tried not to grin, but before he could say anything more Camille walked out.
Kyle was at the construction site pacing, waiting on Tanner’s text message. Their date last week had gone okay, not as good as their blind date but they did talk more than they had in weeks. She had even apologized for getting so angry about the court file. She had said she appreciated his concern since they were co-parenting now then changed the subject to Tonia’s conviction.
The courts had returned the money found with Tonia when she was arrested to Tiana, who had replaced double what Tonia had taken from the charities of Pagosa Cliffs. The trial had been harrowing for Tiana but Tonia was sentenced to jail for the next 35 years before she had a chance at parole since the evidence was so overwhelming. Sophia had been sent home to Greece and had her passport privileges revoked in Mexico and the Diplomatic immunity had saved her from jail once again, but two weeks in the custody of Mexico’s prison system had scared her into agreeing to never bother Kyle again.
Kyle phone finally chimed.
Tanner : Katy had a big problem with an open case come up.
She needs me to drive her there and stay with her.
Can you take my place on the camp-out?
Not a problem : Kyle
Tanner : Thanks Hightower, I owe you.
Kyle hands almost shook with excitement. Willow and Gracie’s grand plan was to get Camille to forgive him by pulling the most outlandish prank to “get them together” on him and Camille. Tanner was willing to help because he felt Camille’s stubbornness needed a boot. Katy volunteered to be the excuse. Gramma Doreen said it reminded her of an old movie but she was in. Even Tiana and the rest of the dive team were helping with the girls’ crazy plan. Kyle just prayed it didn’t blow up in his face, he was the one who was going to be alone with Hurricane Camille for three days.
Kyle arrived at the trail leading up to Scarlet Lake a few minutes past noon. Camille looked him skeptically as he pulled a pack from the back of his hummer.
“Sorry, I’m late I had to run to town to get camping gear. Tanner texted me that he couldn’t come, and asked me to come in his place.” Kyle shrugged into a pack that still had tags on it.
Camille narrowed her eyes at him. “I see.” She looked up the trail where the kids were ready to start hiking then back to him. “Kyle, I think the girls are planning to try to get us back together with this trip, don’t get any ideas. I am doing this for the team.”
“Camille, I would never take advantage. Tank texted me this morning and I didn’t want the girls to lose this last experience with Tiana. I am just here to help you watch them, that’s all.”
Behind Camille’s back, Willow and Tiana were giving him a goofy thumbs up while Gracie swatted at them to stop. His expression must have changed because Camille turned to look back at them only to see them huddled around Tiana’s phone.
“Let’s go. If you need to rest your leg, please tell me.” She almost sounded concerned.
“No, I’m good. My PT is over and I am managing five miles a day,” he responded.
She rolled her eyes, “Five miles on a treadmill and three miles up the mountain trail with a heavy pack are two very different things.” She turned up the trail. He had no choice but to follow.
The terrain was rough and his leg had begin to ache, but when they walked out of the trees, Kyle could see why the kids loved this place. The lake was mirror smooth, reflecting a dark red outcropping of rock above. Deep red rocks in the stream and lake made it easy to see how the lake got its name. As they set up tents and placed stones for a fire ring, Kyle was amazed at the efficiency with which Camille directed the kids. The afternoon was spent swimming and sunning after a quick lunch of sandwiches, Ms Milli’s peanut butter oatmeal cookies, and iced tea.
Gracie sat down next to him on a large flat rock. “Hey Dad, are you ready?”
“Your mom suspects something.”
Gracie grinned at him, “Yah! Of course, she does. We’re her daughters and she knows we have an ulterior motive for everything we do. Part of being teenagers, don’t ya know.” She giggled.
He laughed, really laughed and when he looked up Camille was watching he and Gracie. He pretended not to notice and pointed at the mountains. “Did you know there is a place like this in Australia? Only it is so high, the edges of the water stay frozen almost all year round.”
“Will you take us with you sometime?” Gracie asked. Her blue eyes were bright and excited.
“Anything you want, sweetie,” He promised.
After dinner, the moon rose full and giant over the lake. Camille had started yawning after Gracie gave her a cup of cocoa and went to bed. An hour later, the kids broke camp around the sleeping coach. Tank appeared at the trailhead to lead the kids safely back down.
He grinned at Kyle, who handed over his keys, “Good luck Hightower, I still got your toetag.”
Kyle laughed quietly, “You might need a bunch of them come morning.”
The sheriff nodded and waved the giggling kids ahead.
Kyle and Camille were now alone. He watched the moonlight play across her face as she slept. His leg ached but is was the good kind of pain after a long day of work and play. He crawled into his tent and curled up next to Camille asleep on his large air mattress. She turned in his arms and snuggled into his shoulder, murmuring his name in her sleep. He closed his eyes enjoying the feel of lying by her, knowing he was going to catch hell come morning.
Gramma Doreen was sitting in Tank’s SUV with Katy when the group made the trail head. Gracie and Willow rushed up to her and hugged her as she laughed, “You two could sell the devil matchsticks.” Then she looked at Tank. “Is everything ready, Thomas?”
Tank grinned, his teeth pearly white in the moonlit night. “Yes, Gramma. By Monday night, either they’ll have made amends or you’ll be bailing your granddaughter out of jail.”
Doreen laughed again then announced, “Whose riding to the other camp with Gramma in Mr Hightower’s lovely hummer?”
A chorus of me - me followed. She pointed at two before tossing William the keys to Camille’s jeep. “Young man, I am trusting you with Coach Wally’s car.”
He grinned, “Ma’am yes, ma’am.”
As the kids loaded up Doreen grinned at them all again, and said smugly, “The things I agree to just to get a few more grandbabes. Guess it’s a good thing for you youngins, I’m your substitute coach.”
Tiana added just as conspiratorially, “Oh, they know they’re all getting extra laps, Gramma. But it’s okay, Tadpole needs a swim buddy. ”
Tank’s laugh boomed through the trees with the teens’. Happily they moved to the campground a few miles down the mountain, carousing and eating smores until 2 AM.
Ice Cold Coach Wally was in for a surprise come morning.
Kyle woke the moment Camille stirred but he played opossum. He didn’t want the comfortable feeling of lying with her to end but his anxiety was making it very hard to lay still and breathe the long slow breaths of someone who was supposed to be deeply sleeping. He was grateful for the darkness inside the tent.
Camille laid very still for several minutes, then she crawled carefully out of the tent. Outside, she let out an exasperated groan. The kids had taken the entire camp and left during the night. Only the cooler, and the bear bag remained tied up in a tree. Her mind raged like a tornatic vortex, she was going to maim her daughters. Her dive team was going to swim laps till they believed that had swum around the world!
“Kyle, Kyle wake up.” Camille demanded.
Kyle rolled over with a groan and pretended to be deeply asleep.
Camille stomped to the trail and jogged down to the parking area. The cars were all gone, even Kyle’s hummer. A note tacked onto the trail sign had her fuming as she read it. She turned to start back up the trail when something caught her eye. A navy bandanna laid on a boulder, she picked it up and examined the red, white, and blue bullhead logo. On a sheriff’s department postie folded inside were two words in a familiar lefty script. STAY PUT.
“I’m going to drown you, Thomas Tanner!” she shouted into the empty forest, the postie note torn to bits in a fit of temper. Camille knew her girls couldn’t have managed this alone, now she knew who their co-conspirator was. Best friend or not, he was so dead. Her rage carried her back up the trail to Scarlet Lake.
Kyle was lying awake and heard her muttering when she got back to camp. He waited then made a show of yawning and waking, but the wincing he made as he crawled out of his tent was real. His leg was punishing him for overdoing it yesterday.
“What the hell?” He blurted out, turning around. “Where is everyone?”
“They left us,” Camille growled, thrusting a piece of paper at him.
He read aloud.“Enjoy your weekend getaway, see you Monday. Love, Willow and Gracie. P.S. We know we’re grounded.” Groaning, he rubbed his face, “I can’t believe they actually did this.”
“How did Tank contact you?” She demanded suspiciously.
“He texted me.” Kyle limped over to his backpack and pulled out his phone. “I’ll call Mack to come get us... Damn, I don’t have any bars.”
“Kyle, Gawd doesn’t even have bars here.” Camille read the message and sighed exasperatedly, holding out a Houston Texans bandanna to him. “Tank was in on it, Kyle. He helped the girls abandon us here.” She pinched the bridge of her nose like she was getting a headache. “Well, it’s 22 miles to the pavement. We better get started.”
He looked at her shocked, shaking his head. “Camille, I can barely walk this morning. There is no way I am hiking 22 miles and you can’t go alone, it isn’t safe.”
“Well, what are we going to do?” Camille demanded angrily.
He limped over to the fire ring and sat down with a groan. “I’m sorry but we’re stuck till they come back, I guess.”
Camille threw her hands in the air and went over to the tree that held their supplies. A few minutes later, she was making fried eggs and bacon over a small camp stove, grumbling unhappily.