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Authors: Julie Jarnagin

Canyon Walls (4 page)

BOOK: Canyon Walls
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He pointed to the plastic bag in her hand. “You're eating carrots. . .instead of ice cream?”

She smiled and held up another sandwich. “No, I have a sweet tooth, but Beth would hate it if I brought her ice cream and she had to turn it down. I didn't want her to feel left out.”

“That was nice.” He took a big bite of the already-melting ice cream.

She shrugged. “She would do it for me.”

The camp was quiet except for the sound of their legs swishing in the water. He couldn't remember the last time he had sat in silence, enjoying the evening. And he couldn't have shared it with a better person. He liked Cassie. Sure, she could be brash and unpredictable, but she was also captivating. “I wanted to tell you thank you,” he said, crumpling the wrapper in one hand.

“For what?”

“For helping me tonight. I was pretty panicked when I knocked on your door.”

Cassie laughed. “You did look white as a ghost.”

He tossed the ball of paper into the trash can behind him. “I'm usually pretty calm under pressure, but I didn't want to call someone's parents and tell them their kid had been eaten by a mountain lion.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Wouldn't be very good for my career either.”

He nudged her with his elbow. “I'm serious. You really helped me out tonight. You're great at what you do.”

“Thanks. I had a pretty good sidekick with me.”

The chain-link gate to the pool squeaked. He turned to see Beth walking toward them.

Cassie pulled her legs out of the water and stood, stretching her arms above her head. “I'm exhausted. It's time to get some rest.”

Cassie looked beautiful with the blue moonlight on her face and her defenses down. Will swallowed hard, trying to extinguish the spark he felt. His last girlfriend called it quits because of his commitment to his business. Experience told Will that acting on his interest in Cassie would lead to heartache for both of them. If he decided to please his dad and pursue purchasing the camp, feelings for Cassie would only make things more complicated.

Five

Cassie held her hand to her nose as she stepped into cabin fourteen. The overwhelming smell of mildew made her empty stomach churn. She had skipped breakfast to get an early start. The small cabin hadn't been used all season because it was in desperate need of repair. She had run the numbers on hiring someone to do the work, but as usual the camp couldn't afford it.

She slid on her work gloves and pulled back the corner of orange carpet, revealing a dusty pad underneath. She groaned as she rolled the heavy mass to the middle of the room.

“Sorry to interrupt, but it looks like you could use some help,” a deep voice said.

She looked up to see Will standing in the open doorway. Clean-shaven and bright-eyed, he didn't look like he had been up half the night.

Cassie pushed a strand of hair off her face with the back of her gloved hand. “That's nice of you, but you have other commitments right now as a counselor.”

“Actually, I wasn't talking about me.” He stepped inside the door and revealed the four offenders from the night before who stood on the front porch. “Their youth pastors had conversations with them about their poor choices and told me you have some volunteers to help out this morning.”

Cassie couldn't deny that it was a good plan. She dug in her toolbox for gloves. “I could use a couple of extra sets of hands in here. We could use a couple of people in the kitchen, too.”

“Awesome,” Whitney said. “I thought I was going to have to work in here.”

Cassie tossed her a pair of the gloves. “The guys can help Beth in the kitchen. She always needs vegetables chopped and trays served. The girls can work with me today.”

“Ah, man,” Cooper said. “We really have to work in the kitchen?”

Will winked at Cassie. “You heard her, guys. Let's go.”

“This stinks,” Seth said.

“I know. I know. She's tough.” Will pointed at the two girls. “We'll see you back with the group later.”

The girls with their polished nails and cute clothes joined Cassie in the middle of the room. “Who's going to get this gross carpet out of here?” Marcy asked.

“I had been wondering that myself until you two showed up,” Cassie said.

Whitney used an elastic band around her wrist to pull her hair into a ponytail, leaving a big loop of hair on the back of her head. “Are you serious? This will take us all day.”

Cassie didn't answer. Instead she pointed the girls to a corner of the carpet. They stared at her like she was going to tell them it was all a big joke and they were really going out for pedicures and facials.

“We're going to gut this cabin,” Cassie said to blank stares. “The three of us, together. Now grab the end of the carpet.”

The girls looked at each other. Their feet stayed glued to the ground. Whitney put her hands on her hips. “I threw my elbow out in tennis this season. I don't think my coach would want me to hurt it again.”

Marcy nodded. “And I've been having some woman issues. I need to ask the nurse for a painkiller.”

Cassie shrugged and concealed the oncoming laughter at their feeble attempts to get out of the job. “Whatever you think is best.”

The girls looked at each other and turned to leave.

“But you know, when I said that you were going to help me, one of those guys you hang out with rolled his eyes.”

Whitney spun around. “Which one?”

“Does it matter? I'm pretty sure they think you girls are too weak to help me out. I guess I'll go get the guys and let you two work in the kitchen for the day.”

The girls glared at each other. Whitney marched to the center of the room and wrapped her arms around the huge roll of dirty carpet. Marcy's shoulders fell as she bent over to help her. Together they dragged it toward the door.

With the carpet finally on the front porch of the cabin, the girls stood a little taller with their hands on their hips. They surveyed what they had done, both covered in dust and sweat.

“Time to demolish the bathroom,” Cassie said.

The girls scrunched their button noses but didn't question her. They deserved a treat for being good sports. Their faces beamed when Cassie held up a sledgehammer.

The girls didn't grumble as they pulled the two toilets out of the cabin and didn't run when a mouse scurried across the now-bare concrete floor.

After the trio had carried the rest of the junk to the dumpster and ripped out part of the bathroom, Beth brought them each a sandwich, chips, and a thermos of lemonade for lunch. The girls found a spot on the grass outside the cabin while Cassie and Beth sat on the railing of the porch. Cassie took a gulp of lemonade.

“It looked like you and Mr. Big Shot hit it off last night,” Beth said.

Cassie shielded her eyes from the sun. “I don't know. I mean, sometimes Will's a decent guy, and then I remember he might be trying to take our camp. I can't let my guard down.”

Beth's eyebrows arched.

“You know what I mean. I know I'll be the one who loses in all of this.” Cassie dug through her bag of food. “Did you bring dessert?”

Beth held up a napkin with two chocolate chip cookies.

“You're the best,” Cassie said.

Beth nodded toward the two girls, who were now lying on their backs staring up at the cloudless sky. “I didn't want the two fugitives to get them.”

Cassie closed her eyes as she bit into a cookie. “They aren't such bad kids,” she said with a mouthful.

“Yeah, the guys have actually been pretty fun to have around today. They've nicknamed me the Dining Room Diva,” Beth said, beaming.

“The Dining Room Diva,” Cassie said. “I like it.” Cassie paused and glanced at the girls.

“Those two actually surprised me today. I think they surprised themselves, too.” Like she'd told Beth, they were good girls, just too willing to please cute young boys.

After sending the pair back to their group and running to her house for a quick shower, Cassie walked to her office on leaden legs. Her old office chair never looked so good. She dropped into the seat and rubbed her palms across her achy thighs. She had worked the girls harder than she had realized. Eager to stay in her office and rest for a few minutes, she opened her e-mail.

Her sister's name was in the list of e-mail senders. They rarely spoke, only having information about their lives relayed by their mother with excruciating pride. Melissa constantly sent her forwards, which Cassie automatically deleted. They usually had subject lines like “A Poem of Friendship” or “Please Keep This Going.” But today the subject line read, “Hey, Sis!” Cassie opened it.

Hi.

Mom says you're busy with work. The girls are doing great. Gracie already knows all of her letters, and Ashley rolled over before any of the children in our playgroup. Thanks for sending the books for Gracie's birthday. Daniel got a big new account at work last week. A promotion is on the horizon. I'm as busy as ever, heading up the new children's fair at our church.

I attached an article I read from one of my e-newsletters. I thought you might find it helpful.

Talk to you soon.

Melissa

Cassie blinked. Despite the incessant bragging about her perfect family, she liked hearing about her nieces' achievements—as long as it didn't include one of her sister's usual digs. But there was no mention of Cassie's messy house, and Melissa didn't point out that she was single. It was nice.

She clicked on the icon of a paper clip, opening the attachment on the e-mail. Had she underestimated her sister all these years? Maybe her sensitivity—okay, defensiveness—toward anything involving her sister contributed to their strained relationship.

She enlarged the screen to see the headline of the article, which read, “Women in Their 20s: Sabotaging Happiness?” Cassie leaned closer to the screen, hoping she had misread the headline. She read the second line, “Are women today ruining their chances for a happy home life and a family by putting their careers above their roles as wives and mothers?”

She turned away from the computer. Her chest tingled with her vibrating heart. Is that what her sister thought of her, that she didn't want to be happy?

Cassie needed a distraction. So she did the one thing that helped her forget her problems. She worked. She usually made a point to stay out of the kitchen, but today she wasn't worried about being in the way. Cassie wasn't known for her culinary skills, but she liked to get her hands dirty.

Beth didn't comment when Cassie looped the apron strap over her head. “What can I do for you, boss?” she asked Beth.

Beth's green eyes danced. “Oh, I get to be the boss for the rest of the day? I have some ideas.”

Cassie scrubbed her hands with soap and water. “I'm serious. I'm here to help. What do you need me to do?”

Beth looked her up and down. “I need all of these onions chopped, but I don't have time to take you to the emergency room tonight.”

A timer rang, and Cassie turned it off. “You've seen me use a chain saw. I didn't hurt myself then.”

Beth took a huge pan of lemon bars out of the oven. “Yes, but do you remember the incident with the spork?”

Beth would never let her live down the time she made herself bleed with a plastic spoon with little fork tines on the end. At a picnic, the spork had snapped in half as she tried to eat a slice of watermelon. The plate on her lap had slid onto the ground, and the sharp plastic scraped her leg.

“I would hardly call it an incident. I didn't bleed much, and it was a plastic utensil.”

“My point exactly,” Beth said.

Cassie pulled a knife from a drawer, and Beth took two steps backward with her back against the oven, her eyes wide with feigned terror.

“Don't worry. I'm fine,” Cassie said. Her voice grew serious. “I need you to let me do this.”

Beth threw her hands up in the air. “Be my guest.”

It took Cassie a few minutes to find the cutting board. She set up shop on an empty corner of counter space. Before long, her eyes burned from the onions. Tears ran down her cheeks and dripped onto her shirt. She looked up at the ceiling, trying to get the stinging to subside. She wiped her face with the bottom of her apron.

Her eyes stung, and she couldn't see what she was chopping. She felt the edge of the blade sink into the tip of her finger. She whimpered.

Beth ran over, and when her eyes looked down toward the red blood, she screamed. Beth pulled her over to the utility sink and turned on the faucet. The cold water blasted against the gash.

“I'm okay. I'm okay,” Cassie said. “It's not that bad.”

Beth pulled Cassie's hand out of the water and examined it, but again, blood came through the skin. “I knew I shouldn't have let you have the knife, especially while you're so upset.”

Cassie pulled her bleeding finger away from Beth. “What do you mean?”

Beth wrapped a dishrag around her finger. “You know I love you, but you've been acting kind of out of it these last few days.”

Cassie let her head drop. “I thought I was hiding it pretty well.”

Beth took a butterfly bandage out of the old metal first-aid box bolted to the wall. “I think you're going to get by without stitches, but you should know you can't hide that kind of thing from me, not that you've been doing a very good job at it.”

Cassie was too tired to protest as Beth squeezed antibacterial ointment on the wound and pulled the bandage around it. Cassie squirmed. “I know. I don't know what's going on with me. My sister has always driven me crazy. I knew when I took this job it was meant to be temporary and the camp was struggling. None of this is new.”

Beth dipped her chin to her throat. “You know that I'm worried about you.”

Cassie slid the onion she had been chopping from the cutting board to the trash can. “I'll be fine. I'm just a little stressed out. I'll be fine.”

“You already said that,” Beth said with a grin.

“I know. If I say it enough times, it will be true.”

❧

After dinner Cassie mopped the floor and helped Beth with the dishes. It felt good to lose herself in the rhythms of work. Cassie sent Beth home early and put the last load of dishes through the industrial dishwasher. She turned out lights in the dining area and rolled the mop into the storage closet. The cafeteria door slammed, and she poked her head out of the closet. “Beth?”

Will stepped into the light of the kitchen and pointed to the mop. “I see you got a promotion.”

She dusted off the front of her shirt and pants. “Funny.”

“How were the girls today?” Will asked.

“Great. We had fun.”

“If that was fun, I would love to see your idea of hard work.”

He lifted his arm and scratched the back of his head. “It seems like I'm asking you for help a lot, doesn't it?”

“What now?”

He chuckled. “Don't worry. It's not serious.”

The closet door closed behind her with a
click
. “What is it? What happened?”

He rubbed the stubble appearing on his chin. “There is a boy walking around camp without any underwear.”

“Someone lost his underwear,” she said.

“No,” he said. “It's more like he had his underwear stolen.”

Not knowing what else to say, she said, “Like some sort of animal came in and took them?”

“Not unless there are bears around here that take boxers and string them up on the flagpole,” Will said with a stern expression.

A laugh burst out of Cassie's lips. She walked to the window. Sure enough, a strand of boxers, one tied to another, fluttered in the breeze. She loved that things really hadn't changed much from when she was a camper.

BOOK: Canyon Walls
6.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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