“Oh F* me,” Kyle breathed out in the lull of the crowd noise as he watched the woman he had once loved and the daughters he never knew he had doing a handstand on a diving platform 30 feet about the undulating water. He feared what this dive could mean if it went wrong.
Tanner, not understanding his exclamation, chuckled, “Back off Mr. Big Time Developer, that’s my future family up there.”
Kyle’s fists clenched as they tumbled toward the water, breaking the surface with barely a splash. The crowd roared, and Kyle sagged with relief. Tanner looked at him oddly as the team and several of the other students jumped into the pool.
“You okay, Hightower?”
“Two somersaults and a half twist into a pike is one of the more difficult armstand dives to do.” Kyle explained, surprised he could still remember. He watched Cami and the girls burst the surface, surrounded by the jubilant team.
The PA was announcing, “And that folks is how we will win the Nationals! Let’s hear it for our Pagosa Cliffs Bluewings! We will have an open swim for the next hour - enjoy and thanks for coming out.”
Tank grinned at him, “Damn, Kyle, I wouldn’t have taken you for a diver. You’re a pretty big guy.”
“Scuba diving is the extent of my diving. I dated a diver once; her sister landed that dive wrong the first time. Poor girl got a concussion and hurt her rotator cuff. After we broke up, I thought it couldn’t be that hard and jumped off a 10M platform. I never realized how hard water could be,” Kyle explained, shaking his head at his own foolishness.
“I did the same thing, dislocated my shoulder,” Tank chuckled. “I thought Wally was going to kill me.”
“So you and Coach Wallace?” Kyle asked, afraid of the answer. He was really beginning to like the affable sheriff.
“More rumor and wishful thinking, she’s a strong woman but she’s been hurt bad. I’ve never met a lady so gun-shy. All she cares about are those girls and her students. But she helped me through a hard time after I left the NFL and moved back here. She even got me back on my feet enough to go to Irene’s wedding. She’s the best friend I ever had,” Tank shrugged, adding, “Maybe someday.”
“Do you know who the twin’s father is?” Kyle figured if the girls knew his name, maybe she had mentioned it to Tanner. “Is he in their lives?”
Tank looked at him oddly, evaluating him. “That’s her story to tell but she’s never told anyone their names.”
Kyle just nodded, watching Camille stalk up and down the side of the pool, watching the kids swimming.
Tank looked back and forth between the multi-millionaire developer and the coach, then to the girls who were diving and drew a deep breath. He knew without a doubt this man’s connection to the former Olympian and her two daughters. Soon Camille was whistling the “All out” Signal. Depressed students began slogging to the changing rooms.
Willow and Gracie ran back and did identical last dives then taunted their mom before rushing to the changing room. Tank stood up and led Mr. Hightower toward her. He wanted to be there if this became more that volatile. Tank knew Camille’s side of the past she shared with the developer, but from his reactions and expression, Tank realized that Kyle Hightower had never seen his daughter or niece before today.
“Good job, Coach.“Tanner’s voice had her turning to give him a smile.
“Thanks Sher...” Who she saw standing over his shoulder had her blood freezing. His name came out as a shocked exclamation. “Kyle!”
“Camille.” His eyes and voice were as hard as arctic ice as he stepped past Sheriff Tanner. “Do you have something to tell me?”
“No.” She said harshly, her chin coming up.
“No?” Kyle laughed bitterly. “You’ve had my twins for 15 years, and you never called me,” he accused.
“They aren’t your twins,” she hissed, “Excuse me.”
He caught her arm as she pushed past him, “Liar, they look just like my family and I don’t remember you having another boyfriend.”
She yanked her arm away, “Liar? You’re calling me a liar? I never lied to you about anything, Kyle Hightower. Unlike you, lying to someone’s face it isn’t a skill I have. I am a person of my word,” she snapped.
“Person of your word? Those are my children.”
“Withholding information to protect someone isn’t lying. And actually, only one of them is yours. The other belongs to your good-for-nothing whore-mongering brother.” She smirked at his shock and used her next words to twist the knife in his back a little more, “How is the charming bast*ard? Did he ever find another virgin to seduce and marry? Or did Kris beat him to them all?”
Kyle had never hit a woman in his life, but his arm jerked as his fist clenched.
Suddenly the looming form of Sheriff Tanner was between them, “You need to back off, Hightower. I won’t warn you again. Camille, I think you owe this man an explanation about his daughter and niece.”
“I don’t owe him or his brother anything. Not after what they did!” She turned and stormed off toward the changing rooms.
“This isn’t over, Camille,” Kyle called after her.
She turned and he saw the same hard look she had given him the last time he saw her, “A picture is worth a thousand words, Kyle.” Then she was gone.
Kyle turned to the sheriff, “I need to see Willamina Wallace.”
“That would be difficult, Mr Hightower. She’s been dead since the day Willow was born.”
Tank watched Kyle almost collapse against a wall, leaning against it hunched over, hands on his knees. Tank remembered when he looked like that and exactly how it felt. The man in front of him was breaking. Tank decided it would be more merciful to get him away to talk to him rather than wait on Camille to come back for round two.
“Let’s go, Hightower. I’ll drive you out to Hidden Springs.”
Silently, Kyle rode in the sheriff’s SUV without a word. His mind was struggling to process that one of those two girls belonged to two dead people and the other belonged to him. When they got to the lodge style main house of Hidden Springs, Kyle just sat in a chair while Tanner poured him a whiskey. He hadn’t wanted a drink since the year after Kris’ accident but he wanted this one, and the next one too.
He raised an eyebrow at the Sheriff. “Do you always carry a bottle, Sheriff?”
Tanner chuckled, then answered. “Old man Kemper always had a bottle under the stairs; I’ve known where it was since I was 6. He and my grandpa used to play checkers every Monday night.” Tanner sighed heavily as he sipped the amber liquid. He never had more than one. Never.
Kyle could feel the big man sizing him up, when the sheriff spoke there was a familiar resignation to his voice. It was sound of someone whose own mistakes had put him through hell and back.
“I think I need to tell you a few things about Camille and the girls. She told me a little about you and your brother and her sister. How she and her sister saw a bunch of pictures online from his bachelor party the night Mina found out she was pregnant, the next morning there was an accident. Mina was burned up really badly, basically brain dead, but they managed to keep her body alive till Willow was seven months along. Camille declined returning to the Olympics dive team after you and she broke up.”
“But I saw her there,” Kyle admitted.
Tanner held but his hand, “Just hear me out. When a spot opened up on the team and she turned it down to sit with Mina. She began doing hydro-rehab at the hospital to have something to do and help offset the cost of Mina’s care. She was pregnant with Grace the whole time didn’t know till she fainted one day about a month before Willow was born. So there she was, dead sister, premie niece in the NICU, daughter on the way, living with her elderly aunt, and broke in more ways than just her bank account. It cost Camille and Beau and their family almost every cent they had to get Willow to her birthday. They were going to have to sell the Ridgline.” Tanner sipped a bit more of his drink, like many former alcoholics, he knew ‘one and done’ was the code he drank by so he had to make it last.
“But good fortune blessed her. The Dive team coach had held her a spot, so Cam went back for one more Olympics, to get the sponsor money. She was the only American to make the finals and she got Bronzes again. Afterwards she did every magazine cover, cereal ad, TV commercial, and diving expo they asked of her. The Famous Blue Butterfly was everywhere. One day a reporter asked about her sister and the rumor Camille had daughters. Cam said she cracked from the stress of keeping what had transpired a secret and she started crying. Whatever she told the reporter, the lady never said anything about that in the article, and then Cam retired from public life. After her aunt died, Cam moved back here and started working for the school as a science teacher and swim instructor, five years ago they made her a coach. This is the third year she’s taken the kids to state, first year to Nationals. Next year’s entire varsity swim and dive team already have colleges picked.”
“That’s impressive, but Cami’s always had a gift for teaching,” Kyle murmured. “I just...”
“Hold on, Hightower, I ain’t done. A year ago last February, there was a bear mauling cows. Beau and Grandpa Ben went after it. They killed it, but turns out there were two. Ben was killed killing the second bear, and Beau was mauled and lost his leg. So Camille took on the ranch too. She’s had a really rough time since the beginning. Right now she’s taking care of the girls, the team, teaching, and helping Beau with the ranch.”
Kyle almost balked at the idea of one person doing so much alone, but his next statement, worried Kyle more.
“I care about her deeply, but not in the way most folks around here think. We mainly date to keep from being chased by others. She’s my best friend and I won’t let you hurt her, but I can see you still love her. You want to tell me what happened between you two from your side?” Tank asked politely but Kyle could sense that if he were not completely honest, the sheriff would become a mountain between him and Camille.
Kyle drained his glass and poured himself another, “Fifteen years ago, my middle brother Kent was going to marry Willamina. He called me and asked me if he could come to the resort we were re-building in Cancun after a hurricane. Dad had just died and the construction had stalled for a year, I was trying to get it finished and re-opened. I met him and Mina for lunch and I could see right away what it was between them. He loved her more than his own life, and he was her everything.” Kyle swallowed against the bitter taste in his mouth. His brother had loved Mina like a dying man loves air. He had always wondered if Kent would have been able to forgive himself for that night, Kyle knew he hadn’t. Nothing his therapist had said could convince him that he wasn’t at least partly responsible.
“Our parents had a real bad marriage, really really bad. Especially after our youngest brother Kristoph was born. Dad always knew Kris wasn’t his but he took care of him anyway, gave Kris anything he wanted to make up for the fact that mom had gotten pregnant on a one night stand as revenge for him not buying her a house in Thalassa. She was so beautiful on the outside and the ugliest person I’ve ever known. We all look like her except for our eyes; we all got our father’s eyes. She never let any of us forget Kris wasn’t a real Hightower.” The bitterness he felt toward his mother was stronger than the whiskey.
“After dad died, Kent and I did everything we could for Kris. Mom didn’t even show up at the funeral, she and Kent never spoke again. So to see Kent, the most cynic of the three of us, in love was like walking on the moon, just not something that happened. But she wasn’t anything like mom, she was genuinely sweet and she calmed Kent in a way I’d never seen. She made all of us feel loved. Anyway, Kent and Mina decided to stay in Cozumel for a couple of days while he dealt with a management problem at the resort there, and they asked if I could look after her sister, who was at the Cancun build.”
He chuckled ruefully. “They hadn’t told her to expect me and Cami actually punched me in the face, thinking I had broken into their suite. Once I got her to believe I was Kent’s brother, I no longer feared for my life.”
Tank chuckled, “She has a heck of a left hook, and kicks harder than an angry cow.”
Kyle raised an eyebrow until the sheriff explained. “She teaches self-defense at the community center with me twice a month. She and a friend were assaulted in college and she is a big advocate for teaching young women how to defend themselves.”
“Cami told me a little about it and how she put them in jail. She was very brave.” Kyle admits, and draws a long slow breath, explaining, “Those were the best three days of my life, the first weekend we met, and honestly I think Mina planned the whole thing. She had a talent for playing matchmaker. Two months of texting and phone calls later, we saw each other at the rehearsal dinner and it was like no time had passed. Then Cami saw some pictures and everything went wrong.”