During service, Camille looked around for her girls and their friends, but only saw Gracie and Willow sitting alone behind their youth group.
'They both looked tired, must be slumber party hangover,' Camille thought amused, but she wondered where Sammy and Tammy were.
“Mom’s looking at us,” Gracie whispered under her breath.
“Be chill, if she asks, we say we came to church on our own because Sammy and Tammy went to their dad’s. We’re not lying, because that is the truth,” Willow assured her. “They went to their dad’s.”
“Yah, on Friday.” Gracie scowled, “We’re keeping secrets.”
“And Mom has kept secrets for our whole lives.“Willow pointed out.
“She did it to protect us,” Gracie reminded.
“I know, but it makes me wonder if she knew Kent and Kris died,” Willow said softly.
Gracie shook her head, “I doubt it, and she talks about Kent like he’s still alive. Besides the only time Mom spends on the internet is watching film of other divers and teams. She’s obsessed with the Chinese divers.”
“Well, it’s not like we can ask her or she’ll know we’ve done more than look at those photos,” Willow shudders, “I know we only looked at the first page, but I’ll never be able to not think about him without thinking about that topless girl who looked like mother with her breast in his face.”
“Are you sad about him? I mean we don’t know how he died, but it was two days after the accident so we can guess...” Gracie squeezed her hand.
“If he killed himself, no loss right?” Willow sighed, “Am I sad I never knew him? Maybe. But he picked his strippers over Mother two nights before they were supposed to get married, who does that to someone they love? I mean besides your dad. I just wanted to slap him since mother never got to. We had Grandpa Ben and Uncle Beau, we didn’t need them to have good father figures. And there’s always Tank, he adores us.”
“Do you think Beau asked Katherine to marry him this weekend?” Gracie started as their Gramma sat next to them.
“What are you two gossiping about instead of listening to the sermon?” Dorine demanded quietly, sitting down beside them.
“Did you hear from Uncle Beau about Katherine?” Gracie whispered.
“No, but if he didn’t ask her, I am going to ask her for him. Now hush and pay attention. Oh, and we’re going dress shopping for the dance after church.” Dorine smiled as her granddaughters squirmed excitedly.
Their laughter rolled across Kyle’s skin like the waves of the Caribbean. He had slept in after finishing the bottle of whiskey then begun his errands. The last thing he expected to see on a Sunday afternoon was Camille walking with her grandmother, daughter, and niece in a mall over an hour from Pagosa Cliffs. His daughter, his niece, he reminded himself. They were the only living family he has left besides a few cousins and an uncle he had only ever met at his mother’s funeral.
His luggage was lost by the airline, and the two changes of casual clothes from his carry-on weren’t suitable for the meetings he was having with the development committee next week. Kyle haven’t flown on the company jets more than once or twice a year since Kent died, and then only with clients and investors. He had just about decided it was his company and he would use the jets rather than deal with the hassle to replace a few thousand dollars in tailored shirts and suits.
Camille’s little stunt at the Kent and Mina's wedding had almost ruined Hightower and Sons Construction. It took years to get some of the contractors back, to rebuild their reputation, and to salvage his reputation. Kyle had sold off all, but the resort development branch; Island’s End had been the first big project of Blue Water Resorts, and the last one designed by Kent. Kent had so many ideas for diversifying their father’s company from building hotels and offices. Kyle had made most of them reality. It was the only homage he could offer late his brother.
He followed them upstairs, and watched them looking through party dresses. Dorine Wallace had aged since he saw her the day he closed on Camille’s house but she was still a striking woman.
He remembered she had looked him hard in the eye.
She had asked if he loved Camille and he had let his wounded pride speak for his broken heart. She had shaken her head and tutted at him before saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words but forgiveness can erase them. I have an idea of what was in those pictures, but I also feel like there is much more to the story. Confession is good for the soul, Kyle Hightower, and not all penance can be done through praying the rosary.”
“I don’t know what to do to make her forgive me,” he had confessed after beating his wounded pride down with a bat. Kent had told him that Dorine was the wisest and most honest person he had ever met.
She had looked at him with sad eyes, “Kyle, forgiveness can’t be earned, it has to be given to be accepted, but it isn’t a cure and it doesn’t change the past, only the future.”
He had watched her walk out of the realtor’s office and drive away, without getting Camille’s new number.
“Can I help you?” A stern female voice came from behind Kyle and he turned suddenly, realizing he was surrounded by women’s underwear.
“I... uh... I think I’m lost. I’m... a looking scarf for... for my girlfriend.” He stammered, lying.
“And you’re peeking at the ladies in the formal gowns because?” She scowled at him over her glasses.
“And I didn’t know she was going to be here with her girls. I am trying not to get caught.” He wasn’t lying exactly, he didn’t know Camille was going to be here and he really did not want to face the three of them together, not yet.
The saleslady eyed him skeptically, “Come with me.”
Leading him over to a long glass case of beautiful silk scarves, “These are our latest shipment of pashminas; do you know what color she would like?”
There was every color of the rainbow and every shade of every color. He usually had professional designers handle the color for the resorts, and a personal shopper who bought all his suits. Then he had an idea, “Do you have one the color of a Blue Morpho Butterfly? Those are her favorite.”
The sales lady’s eyebrow went up for a moment, then she pulled out several from a drawer that were a deep shade of brilliant blue, “Forgive me for my earlier rudeness, sir. Sometimes we get creepers trying to peek into the dressing rooms at the ladies.”
Kyle smiled, “I understand. I build resorts and we have to make the women’s restrooms and changing rooms more secure just for that reason.”
He found one exactly the color he wanted, then a glimmer of blue and brown caught his eye, a warm rich brown with a large blue butterfly woven. The pattern was intricate and beautiful but Camille hated brown. “This one would be perfect but brown is her least favorite color.”
The sales lady placed another on the counter, the rich turquoise blue watercolor reminded him of the surface of a pool and deep royal blue and black butterflies and filigree patterned edges with a larger one at each end. The pashmina reminded him of the tattoo that rested over Camille’s heart.
“This one is perfect,” he murmured appreciatively.
“Anything else, sir?”
He looked over to where Camille and the girls were shopping. “Can you put it with my order in the men’s department? I am having some shirts and a suit being tailored under Hightower.”
“Of course Mr. Hightower, but don’t you want to know how much it is?” She looked in the direction he was, and they watched the group wander back out into the mall.
“It doesn't matter. She’s worth it,” he said softly, looking back down at the pashmina.
After talking to Tank, he knew he owed her so much more than words could ever express. She had saved his niece when the doctors would have let her die with her mother, and had his daughter instead of the abortion most women in her position would have had chosen. His mind wrinkled in disgust that he had ever thought he loved someone like Sophia, who aborted their child to keep her waif model figure. Camille was as different from Sophia as a butterfly was from a dead stick, and she had returned to his life with two lives to replace the two that were lost.
Wednesday morning was the first dive team before school practice since they won the state championship and it showed. The divers were all over the place. Camille stalked the edge of the pool, watching them taking turns. She blew the whistle signaling ALL OUT, and the team sat down poolside. Frustration was not even on the same planet as the emotion she felt, but somehow she managed to keep her voice calm, actually, it was frigid.
“Punch the surface, watch your tucks, this is not Splashtown USA. I know I gave you had a few days off but the water won’t forgive you if you get lax and neither will the judges at Nationals. Gene, Paully, you’re both under-rotating everything and splashing the boards. Will, you’re over-rotating on your twist and going into the water almost 45 degrees past plane. Reggie, you’re supposed to face the boards on that dive. The Judges don’t want to see your pretty face; they want to see the long line of your sides. Willow? What were those? Mara, Gracie, Jorge, Tiana, and Riley, this is NOT free swim Saturday. All of you are going to be here after the swim team practice for 2 more hours today and every day until you can show me the team that won State. Now, get showered and get to class!”
“Yes, Coach Wally,” they chorused dejectedly.
The ten divers that made up her team trudged toward the locker rooms as their coach glared after them.
“What’s up with your mom?” Riley whispered to Gracie and Willow.
“She’s on a rampage about more that the dives,” Tiana added.
“Well, we did suck today,” Willow grumped, turning on the water, she threw her swimsuit at the wall with enough force that it stuck before sliding down with a plop.
Gracie just sat down, miserably, “I didn’t think she would take getting flowers and a gift from my dad so badly.”
“Wait! What?” Tiana exclaimed, “Your dad? Spill it.”
Leveling her sister with a glare to shut up, Willow came to Gracie’s defense because Tiana and her mom, their English teacher, were the biggest gossips in the school and community. “Forget it, T. Nothing to tell.”
Tiana huffed and left the showers. As soon as her hair dryer clicked on, Mara and Riley turned to them, “Are you guys okay?”
Gracie toweled her hair like she hated it then looked up. “Remember how we told you our dads were scum of the earth, charming but still scum?” Both nodded.
“Well, that might not be the case,” Willow sighed. “My dad’s dead, and as far as we can find out, Gracie’s dad doesn’t even date. He’s not a playboy at all."
"So we don't know how Mom has all those pictures from their bachelor party." Gracie scowled.
“You found out who they were?” Riley sounds shocked.
“Yeah, we found out, but you can’t tell anyone, especially not T,” Willow insisted.
“I’ll keep my mouth shut,” Mara promised.
“Me too,” Riley nodded.
“Kyle Hightower is my dad and his brother Kent was Willow’s, he died only days after her mother’s accident,” Gracie scowled at her locker as she dressed, “We can’t find anything more online about what happened.”
“Oh crap, the developer?” Mara sounded shocked. She knew him. Her parent’s landscaping design company had already been hired to design the grounds in local plants and annuals. Mr. Hightower seemed like a really nice guy, nothing like the playboy Gracie and Willow described him as. “Maybe, he’s changed?” She offered tentatively.
“Yeah. Maybe,” Gracie didn’t sound convinced.
“And Mom found out yesterday that Sammy and Tammy weren’t home when we crashed at their place Saturday night and we’re grounded. The only reason we get to go to the dance Friday night is because Gramma already bought our dresses,” Willow slammed her locker.
“We lied to her and got caught,” Gracie said miserably.
“Only half lied,” Willow snapped, “She assumed Tammy and Sammy would be there, we never said they would be.”
“Still lying,” Gracie snarked back.
“Do you wanna go?!?” Willow growled, “You know what, forget it. My dad’s dead and yours isn’t, so just drop it.” Willow huffed out of the changing room without a look back.
Gracie just sat miserably in front of her locker.”She thinks mom lied to us. She said she was okay with her dad being dead but she isn’t, she isn’t okay. She won’t talk to me and I don’t know what to say.”
Riley rubbed her back and Mara held her hand. “Give her time,” Riley suggested, “When my dad died after Christmas, it was really hard. It still is.”
“But your dad died in Afghanistan protecting a village and his unit, you knew him. Willow never knew Kent and... And I think he killed himself after her mother’s accident.” Gracie finished in a whisper. “He didn’t even wait for her to be born.”
“Oh, that’s rough,” Mara said. “Look, all we can do till she wants to talk is wait. Come on, we’re gonna be late for class.”
Together they walked out of the changing room while Tiana was still fixing her hair and makeup. None of them saw her walk over and take her phone out of her locker, smirking as she looked at the display. She was a junior, the highest upper classman on the team and her mom said it was time she was made team captain.
Camille sat in her office staring at the Cobalt Vanda Orchids, pale cornflower-colored Hydrangea, and white Calla Lilies that had been waiting for her in the school office after lunch. A blue fighting fish was swimming around in the crystal bowl vase like a Morpho butterfly in the water. The arrangement was beautiful and very expensive, over $600 according to Google. So expensive that she only knew of one person that had the money and would buy them for her.
The note simply read, ‘Please call me, we need to talk.’
She was so tempted to throw them at the wall but she couldn’t bring herself to destroy such beautiful things. Her mood had gone from grumpy to arctic blizzard in a matter of moments.
“Those are nice. From your secret admirer?” Tank asked, standing in her office door.
She glowered at him and he laughed, “Guess they are from Hightower. He and I had a very interesting chat Saturday evening.”
“By interesting, I hope you mean you locked him in a cell and beat him with a rubber hose after water boarding him for a few hours,” she snarled.
Tank chuckled, “Remind me to never get on your bad side, Wally.”
“What am I going to do, Tank? The girls want to talk to the Hightowers.” She groaned, glaring at the offending bouquet again.
“After talking to him, I think you need to talk to him first and the sooner the better. The girls already know who he is,” Tank explained concerned, “There are things you need to discuss before the girls find them out. He isn’t the person you think he is.”
Camille couldn’t hide the look of betrayal, “You can’t be serious, Thomas. I told you what happened.”
“Camille, sometimes bad things happen to good people, sometime they get betrayed by a person they trusted for reason that are beyond that person’s control. You really need to talk to Kyle. What happened between you two... let’s just say there were extenuating circumstances.”
“Extenuating circumstances?” She almost yelled at him, “He F*ed a stripper who looked just like me after I sent him a text message telling him I could see them... that we could see them. His brother broke my sister’s heart only hours before she died.”
“I know what happened from both sides...” he started.
“Then tell me and I’ll think about it,” She interrupted angrily; her soul heaved with the pain she had tried to ignore for years.
“It isn’t my testimony to give. As your friend Wally, I think you need to call him. The sooner, the better.” Tank turned and walked away without giving her a chance to retort.
Turning her eyes back to the blue beta flitting around beneath the flowers, she was reminded of the time she and Kyle had been scuba diving and a blue tang fish had taken a particular interest in her tattoo. They had laughed about it as Kyle drove the boat back to shore. Why did she have so many good memories that had been tainted by that one night? She resisted the urge to go crazy and headed to her afternoon 8th grade swim fitness. She missed the science classes she used to teach, but since she had taken over the pool, her swim classes had become much more popular that regular P.E.. She hated herself a little for pausing to look at the arrangement, and put her walls back up again.