"I see. I guess I understand that excuse, but you tell him I'm expecting a visit as soon as summer's over. So, who might this lovely lady be?" she asked, setting our menus down at a table next to a huge picturesque window with a breathtaking view of the mountains.
"This is my daughter," Rick said, throwing his arm across my shoulders.
"Ahh, so you decided to take my advice and adopt another one of them young'uns," she said, clucking happily as she set our napkin-wrapped silverware on the table.
I stiffened under Rick's arm. This was going to be everyone's assumption, and for some reason, it struck a sour chord in me. I was robbed of the opportunity of knowing him when I was younger, and it seemed unfair that it would trickle into adulthood, even after I found him.
"No, Kimberly is my biological daughter," he answered.
"Well, I'll be. I'm bettin' that's an interesting story," she said, obviously curious.
"Definitely intriguing," Rick answered glibly, shooting me a smile of reassurance.
Getting the hint, Mary took our drink orders before bustling away.
"Small towns," Rick said, noting my silence.
I nodded my head, pretending I got it, but in reality I didn't. Rick booted up his laptop while we waited for Mary to return with our drinks. He looked as if he wanted to say more, but a blanket of awkwardness covered us. Trying to take my mind off the sudden tension, I opened the sketchpad and rubbed my hand over the clean smooth surface. Opening a new pad was always a special ritual for me, knowing I would forever be changing it. I opened my oversized bag and rummaged around for my box of pencils that I never went anywhere without. The window at our table perfectly framed the view of the mountainside as my hand began the first sketches across the paper. I liked to sketch the overall picture in basic form first, and then go back to fill in all the details. Mary returned to the table with our drinks as I was sketching the broad mountain range.
"Oh my, you're an artist," she said breathlessly, in a way that didn't match her personality from earlier. Turning toward her, I could see she was enthralled by the way she was intently studying my drawing.
"Are you an artist?" I asked.
"Not like this, sweetheart," she said, indicating my sketch. "I like to dabble a little. A long time ago I had crazy ideas of running off to become an artist, but life took over and I didn't rediscover my passion for it until my husband passed away last year."
"Maybe if I have time before I fly home, I could look at some of your stuff," I said, smiling at her for the first time. My initial impression of her being overly nosy was eclipsed by the instant kinship I felt for a fellow artist. By the way she studied my drawing, it was obvious it really touched her. It just shows you can't always judge a book by its cover, I guess.
"Really?" she asked with shining eyes.
"Of course. I can tell by your passion that your work is most likely better than you give yourself credit for. Those that feel passion can create," I said, quoting my art teacher's favorite phrase.
"Oh sweetie, that would be so wonderful," she said with sudden bright eyes that were fighting to hold tears at bay.
She took our orders before scurrying off with a new bounce in her step through the large swinging door that separated the dining area from the kitchen. I couldn't help smiling at her happiness. Art was like a drug. It pulled you in and enticed you to forget everything else. Turning back toward our table, I discovered Rick studying me over the top of the laptop.
"What?" I asked.
"That was really nice of you," he said, looking at me with pride.
"It was nothing," I said, ducking my head.
Once Mary brought our food, Rick and I chatted away as we ate. Nothing heavy, just more lighthearted pop culture banter. Afterward, I finished my sketch while he answered a few more emails. I tore the completed drawing from the pad and placed it on the table as Rick and I were leaving, merely shrugging my shoulders as he looked at me questioningly. Now that I had sketched them once, I would be able to do it again even without the mountains in front of me.
Our next stop was Costco for supplies. As Rick loaded up an oversized flatbed cart with paper goods, I browsed the book section. I found several of the titles Rick had mentioned during the ride in, along with a couple I thought he might like to read. I paid for the books separately and didn't show them to him until we were back in the car.
"These look great," Rick said enthusiastically, flipping one of them over to peruse the synopsis.
"I thought you'd like them. I know there's no teams to pick sides for, but figured you'd still read them," I teased.
"You're hilarious," he said, grinning at me sheepishly.
I dozed on our drive back up the mountains, waking to see the sun setting as Rick turned down the dirt path toward the camp.
"I had fun today," I said, yawning as he put the car in park.
"I did too. I'm really glad you decided to come up this summer. I'm sorry we haven't had more time alone. I forgot how time-consuming the camp can be," he said, sounding regretful.
"It's fine. I'm actually having fun," I said, not mentioning the not-so-fun parts with Mason.