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Authors: Julie Jarnagin

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BOOK: Canyon Walls
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A wad of paper sailed across the room and landed between two girls in the front row. Will cringed and shot a stern look at the fourteen-year-old boy who now had his head bowed with the rest of the campers.

What was he doing here? Piles of work would be waiting for him next week. Letting the youth pastor talk him into spending a week at the camp had seemed like the right thing to do, but now he wasn't sure.

With the word “amen,” Will looked to the small stage. He wasn't the only one giving a week of his time. The leaders, counselors, and musicians were all volunteering despite their busy lives.

Two boys from his cabin whispered as a pastor led the group in a devotional. Will cleared his throat and they quieted, slumping in their seats. It would take more than a few hours to reach them, and he was unsure if he could make any difference in a week.

Things had changed since he had been a camper here. The tabernacle had been nothing more than a concrete slab with wood poles holding up a metal roof. He remembered the time a diamondback rattlesnake interrupted the service. Today the building was enclosed, air-conditioned, and had a sound system and a projector for song lyrics. The rumor was that an anonymous donor, someone who had heard about the camp's financial struggles, had funded the improvements.

A man on a stool onstage played an electric guitar. Everyone stood. Will slipped out of his chair to stand at the back of the room where he could keep an eye on the boys.

Cassie sat in a chair against the wall with her eyes closed and her mouth slightly open. The need to take care of her rushed over him. The feeling caught him off guard as it had when he first saw her standing on the shelf in the cafeteria. She had made it clear she didn't want his help.

When the service ended and campers streamed out the doors, he sat beside her. “There are probably quieter places to take a nap.”

Her eyes jolted open, and she ran her fingers across the bottom edge of her mouth. “I can't believe I fell asleep,” she said, glancing side to side. “It's been a long week.”

He leaned toward her. “It's only Monday.”

She groaned. “Oh no. It
going to be a long week.”

Will put his hands on the back of his head and leaned against the wall. He wouldn't mind a nap.

“But it's worth it,” Cassie said.

He shifted in his seat. “It brings back a lot of memories for me. That's for sure.”

She tilted her head. “What do you mean?”

“From when I was a camper.”

Her face softened. “Here? When?”

“Let's see. . .” Will calculated the math in his head. “My first summer was about fifteen years ago, and I came every summer until high school.”

“What made you stop coming?”

Will waved to one of the boys from his cabin who pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head. “Football camp.”


“What about you?” he asked. “Were you a camper here?”

“Sounds like we were here the same summers,” she said.

He studied her, sure he would have remembered her big brown eyes and wide smile.

“We probably never met. I was part of the camp for the intercity ministry,” she said.


She stiffened. “You sound surprised.”

“I just wouldn't have guessed.”

She shrugged. “After my dad left, I spent my summers with my grandparents in Oklahoma City. Their church offered to pay so I could attend.”

“Where did you grow up?”

“Albuquerque. My sister always stayed home. She couldn't stand to be away from our mom all summer.”

Cassie must have been a brave girl, attending a camp where she didn't know anyone. Most of the campers from his church tended to flock together on the first day of camp. “This place probably felt like a different planet compared to a big city like Albuquerque.”

“Camp was the best part of my year,” she said so quietly he didn't know whether she meant for him to hear.

Will's gaze moved from a group of teenagers lingering in a corner to Cassie. “You really love it here. Don't you?”

“I do.” She stared at him like she was sizing him up until he broke her gaze.


The next morning Cassie dragged herself into the kitchen to find Beth behind the giant griddle. The smell of sausage drifted through the room. “Good morning, sunshine,” Beth, the epitome of a morning person, said.

Usually Cassie arrived to the cafeteria first, but she hadn't slept much that night. All the thoughts and worries she had tried to push out of her mind all day had rushed back. If Will was there to spy, should she confront him? Should she call her boss and see if anything was going on?

“I need coffee and lots of it,” Cassie said. “Have you made the real stuff yet?”

The “real” coffee was brewed in a small pot in Beth's tiny office. Beth ground the coffee beans she kept hidden in a drawer. The huge dispenser of coffee they served to exhausted counselors was less expensive and brewed by the gallon. They let only the most desperate volunteers in on their secret; otherwise it disappeared before Cassie got more than one mug.

“It's in there waiting for you. Rough night?”

It had been too hot for Cassie to sleep under the quilt on her bed. She had stared at the ceiling and resolved to keep a close eye on Will Overman during the week. Even if he wasn't there to take her camp out from under her, she didn't trust men like him. Will had probably never worried about money in his entire life and never stopped to realize the people around him might have had a very different life.

When Cassie came to Sunset Camp as a camper, she arrived as a broken kid, abandoned by her father. During her week at the camp, she learned she had another father, a heavenly Father. It had changed her life, and it still changed lives today.

“Did the missing delivery mess up your menu?” Cassie asked.

Beth poured perfect circles of batter on the griddle with one hand while flipping the pancakes on the back row with a spatula. “It worked out for the best. I switched to pancakes instead of the omelets. The blueberries will be fresher today anyway.”

Cassie was blessed to have such a capable staff working with her. Emory, who was seventy-five years young, still drove down to the canyon several days a week to take care of mowing their grass and help with maintenance.

The morning sunlight streamed in from the tall windows across the east walls. “I'd better get some work done before breakfast.”

“I'll save you something to eat.” A timer behind Beth dinged.

“What about you?” Cassie asked. “Are you having breakfast?”

Beth held up the spatula, batter dripping off the side. “Can't. I'm back on my diet.”

This was her third diet in five weeks. Cassie didn't approve of Beth's crazy diets, but from the look on her face, now wasn't the right time to talk about it. Cassie mentally added it to her list of things to pray about.

Cassie left the kitchen and walked through the dining area. A narrow hallway led to a wing of the building that housed their camp offices. A glass door at the end of the hall opened to the outside. After pouring herself a mug of coffee in Beth's office, Cassie walked into her own small office. Paper, binders, and receipts were stacked in neat piles on every open surface, including the windowsill. Books sat in the two straight-backed chairs across from the desk. Beside the door was a basket of loose slips of paper. Cassie had spent months going through every bill, checkbook, or ledger she could find to organize all the camp's paperwork.

While the old computer sputtered, Cassie stared out the window at the creek running through the canyon. As she waited for her e-mail to open, she wrapped her hands around the mug and took a sip of her still-steaming coffee.

A dinging noise indicated she had new e-mails. As she scrolled through the list, she stopped when she saw Marvin Hartley's name. Her boss rarely sent her e-mails. Mr. Hartley was the director over all the denomination's camps in the state. He had once told her that e-mail was too impersonal; although one wouldn't say that Mr. Hartley was very personable face-to-face. At the time, she thought he didn't know how to use the fancy computer in his office, but when she received a handwritten note a few weeks later, she decided he was just old-fashioned.

Her foot bounced as she waited for the box to open.

Dear Miss Langley:

I will be in the area next Monday, and I would like to sit down and discuss some of the issues of the camp. Please respond to let me know if this day will work with your schedule.


Marvin Hartley

Cassie reread the message three times. She repeated the words
the issues
over and over in her head.

She rarely saw her boss. He had news, and she prayed it would be good.

When her predecessor left the camp, Mr. Hartley had told Cassie her move from the job of assistant director to the position of director was temporary. Was her time as interim director coming to an end?

There was a knock on her door. Cassie minimized the message even though no one, except maybe Beth, would suspect the benign note could be a warning.

“Cassie, are you in here?”


Cassie stood and opened the door. “Do you need more rope?”

Will looked as if he had been awake for hours.

He scratched the back of his head. “No rope. I heard a rumor, and I wanted to investigate it.”

Cassie picked a strand of her cat's yellow fur off her army green pants and pretended not to notice Will's dimples. “Okay,” she said, bracing herself. “What's the rumor?”

“The word on the street is you have secret coffee hidden somewhere.”

Cassie's mouth dropped open. “Where did you hear that?”

Will leaned his arm on the doorframe. “I have my sources, and I smell the distinct scent of gourmet coffee brewing.”

She crossed one hiking boot over the other. “There's coffee for everyone in the cafeteria on the table with the juice and water. Anyone is welcome to it.”

Will smiled a toothy grin and leaned in toward her. He smelled like soap and mint mouthwash. “I tested that coffee, and it's not the good stuff. I think the legend of the secret coffee is true, but you're hiding it.”

Cassie averted her eyes from his gaze. “What makes you think I have anything to hide?”

“Maybe you don't trust me with your special coffee.”

Beth's head popped through the door beside Will's shoulder. “Hey, guys. Am I interrupting?”

“No. Will was going to get coffee from our wonderful drink table.”

“Actually, we have some great coffee in my office,” Beth said, pointing to her office door. “Right through there. Help yourself.”

Will put his hand on Beth's shoulder but never took his eyes from Cassie. “Thank you. I'll do that.”


The tiny concession stand made the July afternoon feel even hotter. Cassie ripped open a box of candy. During break time, campers swam, hiked, or took part in the most popular activity—hanging out in front of the snack bar to flirt. Seeing the campers try to grow up too fast frustrated Cassie. The girls wore too much makeup, and the boys competed for their attention. Cassie wanted them to focus on Bible studies, prayer time, and making friends, but she couldn't do anything but keep a close eye on them.

Cassie and Beth gathered their most useful information behind the bar while taking money and handing out sweets. If the campers noticed the adults a few feet away, they must have assumed they were there only to provide sour straws and giant pickles.

Cassie warned the counselors about plans for sneaking out of the cabins, and she often thwarted young hand-holding couples from wandering into the woods out of the watchful eye of the leaders.

Cassie unloaded a case of sodas into the refrigerator. “Why did you give Will our coffee?” she asked Beth.

Beth took a roll of gray tape from the top of the old refrigerator. “Have you ever heard the saying ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer'?”

“I guess you're right.” Cassie wiped the back of her hand across her forehead.

Beth bit a piece of tape off with her teeth and stuck it to the falling corner of a piece of poster board that listed snack prices. “But I have to say, he is charming. He complimented my french bread at lunch.”

Cassie dusted the rough counter with a damp rag. “Are you sure you're not interested in him?”

“No. Why?” Beth asked. “You don't like him, do you?”

Cassie kept wiping. “He probably spends more time and money on his looks than I do.”

Of course, that wasn't saying much. Today her hair was in its usual ponytail, and she was wearing one of her many pairs of cargo pants. She didn't know how any woman could go through an entire workday without pockets. But that morning she had put on a white V-neck top instead of her usual camp T-shirt.

Beth put the last few Kit Kats into a box. “I sure could use one of these right now.”

Cassie wanted one, too, but it would be cruel to eat it in front of Beth. Beth hated exercise but constantly began and ended the latest fad diet. It was grapefruit one week, only bacon and eggs the next, and once she went a week and a half eating only cabbage soup. Cassie envied her friend's curves. Beth had hips and a butt, and her shirts fit just right. Cassie was built like her mother, naturally petite and thin, and way too boyish.

The bell in the yard clanged, and a group of girls in chandelier earrings and pink fingernails made their way to the snack bar. Cassie asked the girl with a short, spiky haircut which flavor of sucker she wanted, keeping her eyes on Will, who moved toward them, talking to another counselor. Her stomach tightened, but she put on a smile.

BOOK: Canyon Walls
4.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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