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Authors: Julie Jarnagin

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BOOK: Canyon Walls
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“And what's the problem?” Cassie asked. “Deciding who's going to touch them to get them down from there?”

He wrapped a hand around her shoulder. At first she tensed, but the moment was so light, she couldn't help but relax under his arm. “This is where you come in. Apparently whoever did this was a Boy Scout or something because none of us can figure out how to get the weird knot he tied undone. Do you mind if we cut the rope?”

“Let me take a look at it first.”

A crowd gathered underneath the flying boxer shorts. Cassie inspected the flagpole. Instead of wrapping the rope around the cleat, someone had tied the rope in a complicated knot around the bracket. The pranksters got extra points for their ingenuity.

Cassie quickly untied the knot. A few campers groaned when she pulled the boxers down, apparently disappointed they weren't going to be left to fly over the camp all night. The boxers were made from patterned materials, one with tiny golfers and another with yellow smiley faces.

“I think we've had enough fun for tonight,” Will announced. “Everyone needs to head to their cabins.”

The group dispersed into smaller groups and headed toward the boys' and girls' sides of the camp. Will spun around with his finger in the air. “Oh. . .and if anyone hears about plans to sneak out, ask them to talk to one of the four who had to work today.”

Cassie picked up a stick at the edge of the grass. She hooked a pair of boxers lying on the ground to the end of it. She held it away from herself toward Will. “Boxers up the flagpole. An oldie but a goody.”

He didn't take the underwear. “It was pretty good, but you're crazy if you think I'm touching those.”

“Hold this,” she said, thrusting the stick in his hand. She marched back into the cafeteria.

When she returned with a black trash bag, Will still stood on the lawn, holding the stick awkwardly away from his body. Cassie opened the bag with a flourish.

“So how did you know how to get the knot untied?” he asked.

Cassie held the bag open and nodded at Will to drop the underwear inside. “My little sister and I were in Girl Scouts together. I got the badge.”

He shook the stick until he heard the boxers hit the bottom of the plastic sack. “I guess the Boy Scout comment was a little sexist. Do you have any other siblings?”

She took a deep breath in through her nose, fighting down the emotions of her sister's snarky e-mail. “Just the one.” One was enough for her to handle. “And I probably shouldn't call her my little sister anymore. She has two kids and a husband.”

“It's okay. My siblings still call me the baby of the family.”

Cassie could have guessed he was the youngest. He stood before her dressed like a teenager in basketball sneakers, long shorts, and a baseball cap. “Let me guess. Your parents were easier on you than your siblings, and you could usually charm your way out of anything.”

“Fair enough,” Will said. “That sounds about right.”

Cassie held the long stick out in front of her and tried to scoop the second pair of boxers onto the end. When the tip dug into the grass, she pushed harder. “And you never take anything too seriously.”

The stick broke free from the ground and sent the boxers flying toward Will. He didn't duck fast enough, and the underwear struck the side of his head. Cassie instantly dropped the stick and clasped her hands over her mouth.

He looked up at her with his eyes wide. “You did that on purpose.”

Her cheeks warmed. “I didn't. I promise. I'm so sorry.”

He playfully kicked the underwear lying on the grass toward her. She ran to keep them from hitting her leg. When Will dropped the last pair in the bag, he tied a knot in the top of it. “I guess I'd better figure out who these belong to.”

“You never told me how many siblings you have,” she said.

“There are five of us, three boys and two girls.”

She envisioned them around the table with the turkey in the Norman Rockwell painting. “Are you all close?”

He stopped to think about it. “You know what, we are close. I work with my brother and my sister. I even talk to my sister in Florida pretty regularly. I feel really blessed to have my family around.”

Cassie couldn't explain why, but Will's words felt like a slug to the stomach. She crossed her arms. “You're really lucky,” she managed out of her mouth. “It sounds perfect.”

Will leaned on the flagpole. “Oh it's definitely not perfect. We can argue with the best of them. And there's Brendan, my middle brother. He left town and never looked back.”

“He sounds like me,” Cassie said.

“You and your family aren't close?”

“We're probably the opposite of your family. Someone looking at us from the outside would say that when we're together, it seems”—Cassie struggled for the right word—“pleasant. But in reality, there are all these things there, under the surface.”

He opened his eyes wide. “It must be hard.”

She nodded her head as they silently walked down the gravel road dividing the common area from the boys' cabins. Cassie breathed in the sweet night air to calm what was inside her head. She looked up toward her house.

Music and voices drifted out of the windows of the cabins. Will lifted the trash bag in the direction of a cabin. “This is my stop. Home sweet home.”

“Cabin number five,” she said. “Nice.” It was the only one with all new mattresses without the plastic coverings.

“The boys say we're the coolest group. I can't help but agree.”

A roar of laughter came from the cabin. Will walked backward. “I'd better get in there. Who knows what they're up to. I need to do our nightly devotion and get to bed.”

“Good night,” Cassie said, but it came out barely a whisper as he turned and walked away from her.

I hope you're here for the right reasons, Will Overman
.

Six

The two teams of teenage boys broke into huddles. Will was a foot taller than several of his teammates, made up of freshman and sophomore campers.

He gave each boy in his huddle a high five before breaking out of the circle. His team lined up to play defense against the junior and senior boys. When the center hiked the football, Will broke through the middle of the line and ran toward the quarterback, a lanky boy with long hair falling in his eyes.

Will tugged on the handkerchief hanging from the boy's waist, but it didn't budge. He pulled harder, only to see it knotted around his belt loop.

Will's teammates yelled, “Hey, that's not fair. They're trying to cheat.”

The boy shook his hair out of his eyes as Will crouched low to the ground, ready to tackle.

“Uh-oh,” the boy said, chucking the ball into the grass and running.

Will caught him, grabbed him, and fell to the ground, pulling the boy with him. They both landed with a hard
thud
on the grass still wet with dew.

His team cheered, and the boys ran and jumped on top of the two who were lying on the ground. Will pinned the boy down while he unknotted the handkerchief and held it triumphantly in the air.

Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Cassie holding her hand above her brow, blocking the sun as she watched them play.

“Do you want to play another one?” asked the teen who had been tackled to the ground.

Will slapped the shoulder of a boy with a baseball cap. “You guys better take a break after that beating. Besides, it looks like somebody's waiting for me.”

As he walked toward her, he couldn't stop thinking about how adorable she was. Cassie ran her fingers down a smooth ponytail.

“Don't stop on my account,” she said, waving her hands in front of her. “I can wait.”

He leaned in close to her ear. “Don't tell them, but I'm exhausted. I think I broke my back.”

She pursed her lips and locked them with an imaginary key.

“What's up?”

“I wanted to ask if you've heard anything about who started this prank war.”

One innocent prank wasn't exactly what Will would dub a war. “You mean the boxers up the flagpole?”

Cassie's eyes squinted. “You haven't seen the pool?”

Will shook his head.

Her lips pursed. “Come take a look.”

He followed her through the chain-link gate to the pool, which looked like it was full of strawberry Kool-Aid. Will cupped a handful of pink water and let it slip through his fingers. To be honest, it was pretty funny. If he had thought of it, he probably would've tried something like it during his camp years, but he knew better than to say that to Cassie. “I didn't hear a peep about it from the kids.”

“How do a bunch of high-school kids figure out how to dye an entire swimming pool pink?”

Will stood and wiped the sweat from his forehead with his T-shirt. “The Internet.”

Cassie put her hands on her hips. “We're going to have to shut the pool down until we can test it and give it time to clear up.”

“Well, that's the perfect punishment,” Will said. “The other campers won't be happy when they find out the pool is closed. Whoever did it won't hear the end of it.”

“I love that they're having fun,” Cassie said. “I really do, but I'm worried it's going to get out of hand. I just don't want bigger pranks to cost the camp time or money. I've asked the dean to address it tonight at the worship service.”

The stress on Cassie's pinched face was obviously about more than a couple of pranks. Maybe Will's father was right and the camp was in danger of closing sooner than Will had expected. Right now Will didn't care about business. He just wanted to wrap his arms around Cassie.

“I've been asking some of the counselors to keep an extra eye out tonight,” Cassie said. “Especially since it's the last night of camp.”

His time in the canyon, and with Cassie, was almost over. Tomorrow he'd be back in the real world, and he had some big decisions to make.

❧

The final evening worship service was held in the tabernacle. Cassie attended as she always did. They were usually beautiful services, preparing the teens to go back into the world with all they had learned from their week at camp.

She hung in the back, out of the way. The dean of the camp, a pastor from a church a couple of hours away, had broken the entire camp into small circles throughout the room. The lights were dimmed, and he passed around bowls, pitchers of water, and towels. The pastor read aloud from the book of John about the Lord's Supper. “After that, he poured water into a basin,” he read, “and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

She watched as each counselor in a circle of campers took the feet of the camper beside them and poured the water over their bare feet. The counselor then passed the bowl of water to the next teen, who washed the feet of another camper in the circle.

Cassie, who had never been a crier, had to swallow the huge lump in her throat. Obviously the symbolism wasn't lost on the young campers; many of them were crying and others hugged after their feet had been cleaned.

For a moment she felt she was intruding. It was such an intimate setting with a guitarist playing quietly in the background. As she turned to leave, Will appeared in front of her, his feet bare.

“May I wash your feet?” Will asked.

“Excuse me?”

He held up a towel and a large bowl of water. “May I?”

Cassie let out the breath she had been holding. His eyes were soft and sincere. She wanted to trust him. But how could she? “I was just leaving.”

She started to walk away, but he placed his hand on her arm. “Come on, Cassie. Let me do this.”

“This is for the campers,” she protested.

“Cassie, it's okay,” he said in a soft voice, giving her chills on her neck.

The other adults carried their shoes in their arms. She searched for a way out, but before she could come up with an excuse, she heard herself whisper, “Okay.”

Cassie followed him to a chair against the back wall. She sat down, pulled off her shoes, and slid the socks from her feet. He set the bowl of water on the concrete floor. She reluctantly slipped her feet into the bowl. She looked around to see if anyone was watching. She couldn't bring herself to look at Will. How could she let him do this? It was so unnatural for her. She wasn't comfortable sitting in the chair as Will took a pitcher from the chair beside her and poured the water over her feet. “God bless you,” he said, looking up to her eyes.

“Thank you, Will,” she said, her defenses melting.

❧

The final day of camp was always hectic. Campers gathered e-mail addresses from friends, packed their suitcases, and rolled up their sleeping bags. Many of them had other campers sign their camp T-shirts with permanent markers.

Cassie searched the grounds for any signs of another prank, but everything was in its place. The cafeteria was especially noisy, filled with excited chatter.

Cassie struggled to concentrate as she spent the morning glued to her clipboard, checking off names as friendly youth ministers and church volunteers dragged suitcases out of the cabins and loaded teary-eyed youths into vans. An intense week of growth for a teenager was equivalent to years spent with someone in the real world.

When the final van had driven through the camp and up the steep road out of the canyon, Cassie noticed a silver two-door car parked in front of cabin five, but she didn't stop to investigate.

She and her staff would spend the rest of the day cleaning the camp—the most difficult job being the cabin bathrooms used by teenage boys without their mothers to monitor them. She headed toward the chapel, a one-room A-frame structure.

Many used the chapel for a prayer room or a place for Bible study and meditation. The entire room could seat less than twenty people. The outside had been painted barn red like the other buildings, but the inside was bare pine. The sunlight shone through the stained-glass windows.

Cassie busied herself sweeping and mopping the concrete floor and nailing a loose board back in place. With those tasks completed, she sat on the first pew and surveyed her work. The musty smell had been replaced by the scent of cleaner, but the wooden cross hanging on the wall in front of the room was still dull and needed to be dusted.

“Cassie?”

She jumped, her heart sticking to the back of her throat. She turned around to see Pastor George standing in the doorway clutching a Bible.

She hurried to his side. “What are you doing here?”

Pastor George had celebrated his eighty-fifth birthday a month earlier. He was the pastor at the church she had attended since she started working at the canyon. His thin white hair was combed back perfectly, and he wore his usual non-Sunday outfit—tan polyester pants and a short-sleeved button-up shirt.

She took his hand. “How did you know I was here in the chapel?”

They sat together on the nearest bench. “I didn't. When I couldn't find you in your office, I thought I would spend some time here in prayer. I love the windows.”

The little chapel was much different than their church in the country. Their church had a small sanctuary and three Sunday school rooms through a small door in the back. Members sat on folding chairs, the windows were small and clear, and the walls were white. On many Sundays, the entire congregation could have fit into the chapel.

Most members of the church were much closer to Pastor George's age than her own. The closest person to her in years—other than Beth—was a man in his forties who lived in a trailer with his ailing mother.

“Thank you for coming out to visit me, but you know I would have come to you if you had called me.”

Pastor George's eyes were the bluest eyes Cassie had ever seen. Barbara, who played the piano for the three-person choir, had once told her they got brighter every year.

“I haven't been down here in almost a year. I wanted to see it,” he spoke slowly. “You may not know this, but I met my late wife, Susan, here when I was seventeen and she was fifteen.”

“You never told me that.”

He folded his hands over his Bible. “She was from a couple towns over. The town doesn't even exist anymore, but I knew the second I saw her that God meant for us to be together.”

Cassie propped her elbow on the back of the pew and rested her head on her hand. “And you were together from that day on?”

Pastor George closed his eyes when he laughed. “Child, I said I knew in that moment. God didn't let her in on the secret until many years later after she graduated from college.”

“God sure takes His time sometimes,” Cassie said.

He nodded. “But He always has a good reason for it, whether or not we understand it.”

Pastor George moved over where the yellow light coming through the window could shine on his face. “Cassie, I have another reason for coming to see you today.”

She sat straighter.

Pastor George placed his cool hand on hers. “I'm having surgery tomorrow.”

Cassie's stomach tightened.

He patted her hand. “Now don't worry.”

She couldn't bear to think of anything happening to Pastor George. She had never expected him to become like family. Maybe it was because he reminded her of her own grandfather, solid and dependable.

“It's not serious, but I won't be at the church to deliver the sermon on Sunday.”

Cassie loved Pastor George's sermons. He preached straight from the Bible. He could make an Old Testament story she had known since she was a teenager feel new again. “I don't understand,” Cassie said. “Someone is going to fill in until you recover?”

Pastor George's eyes were moist. “It's time, Cassie. It's time for us to close the doors of the church so God can do new things.”

Cassie locked her hands together to keep them from trembling. “But I love our church.”

“This has been trying for me, too, but God will provide for you.”

“I don't want to find another church,” she whispered.

“It's time,” he repeated, patting her arm.

He moved to the front of the chapel, and she helped him into one of the pews. When he bowed his head to pray, she needed to escape from the hot air and the walls that were closing in on her. The thought of losing her home church as she faced losing the camp she loved was too much for Cassie to bear.

❧

From the moment Will saw Cassie plodding down the gravel drive, he knew something had upset her. He pulled the silver sports car up beside her and rolled down the window.

Streaks of tears ran down Cassie's face. He jerked the car into
Park
and climbed out of the car as fast as he could. “Cassie, what's wrong?”

She looked away from him and rubbed both hands across her cheeks. “I'm fine. It's nothing.”

He ducked down where he could see her face. “You're not fine. What happened?”

She laughed nervously. “It's no big deal. Just some disappointing news.”

Will waited for more.

Hesitantly, Cassie said, “Pastor George is having surgery. I'm worried about him, and it looks like our little church will be closing. Must sound like a silly thing to cry about.”

Will hadn't realized the little country church was still meeting. He reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “It's not silly at all.”

BOOK: Canyon Walls
12.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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