"Are you serious?" I asked, lowering my voice to a whisper.
She nodded. "He did other bullsnot stuff to him before that, one even sent Quinn to the hospital when he was seven. They took him away and arrested his dad, but when he was released, some pansy dick head judge was convinced he was rehabilitated and gave him back temporary custody. He showed his gratitude by setting Quinnie's bed on fire while he was sleeping."
I looked at her, completely appalled as my eyes filled with tears. What kind of world did we live in that parents did sick-ass stuff like that to their own children? The table around us filled as the other counselors claimed their seats. Their voices floated around me in a haze as I tried to keep from looking at Quinn on the other side of the room, sure that he would know we had been discussing him.
"Kimmie, you okay?" Rick's voice broke through my thoughts.
"Yeah, I'm fine," I said, swallowing the bile that was burning its way through my throat.
"Aren't you hungry?" he asked, looking at my empty plate with concern.
"Um no, I think I just need some fresh air," I said, bolting from the table before I embarrassed myself.
I barely made it to the woods beyond the building before I lost the contents of my stomach. Dry heaves pulsated through me as tears coursed down my cheeks. I was surprised at my reaction, having never been much of a crier. I just always felt it was a wasted emotion that never got me what I wanted anyway. Maybe I was feeling overly emotional from meeting Rick, or putting up with Mason's crap, but something had me feeling overly sensitive.
"Corn dogs not your usual cuisine, beach bunny?" the one person I wished to avoid mocked from behind me.
Forgetting the tears on my cheeks, I turned around, deciding now was the time he was going to take a punch in the nose. The sudden movement coupled with my puke-fest left me lightheaded. I took a staggering step forward before crumbling in an unceremonious heap at his judgmental feet. I wish I could say I'd never felt more embarrassed, but this was just another clip from my weeklong blooper real around Mason. All I could do was sit there and try to clear my head so I could run to the cabin and hide.
"Hey, are you crying?" Mason asked, kneeling beside me, concerned.
"What do you care?" I asked, rubbing my eyes with my knuckles to clear away the rest of the fogginess and tears.
"Did someone say something to upset yo
u?" he asked in a tone I didn't recognize.
"You mean besides you?" I said, staggering to my feet. He gripped my arms to help steady me, giving me a sudden sense of déjà vu. Just that morning, he had gripped me the same way. Which, by the way, why did it seem like he was always holding me up? No wonder he thought I was a weakling.
"Yeah, I guess besides me," he said in a voice that almost sounded regretful as he took a step closer to me. "You have clay on your face," he added in a husky voice, swiping his thumb across my cheekbone.
My skin tingled at his soft touch and suddenly I had a hard time catching my breath. The look on his face was intense. Fighting to compose myself, I wanted to go on the defensive, unsure if he was just messing with me again.
"Well, if you must know, Amy told me about Quinn," I said, sick of the feelings he was able to stir up inside me. "So there, now you can tell me how weak I am. I know it. I can't handle a story without bursting into tears and losing my breakfast. You're right, I don't belong here," I added, wrenching my arms from his grasp and stumbling toward my cabin.
He stopped me in midstep. "You're not weak. I was an asshole to ever say that. I'm not usually like this," he added, looking frustrated.
"Then why?" I asked, dying to know what it was about me that drew out his inner devil.
"I don't know," he answered, running his fingers through his short blond hair. "I guess because I don't think you belong here."
His words crushed me. "F you," I replied before turning away without another word and stalking off to my cabin.
Slamming the door behind me, I sank onto the cot, filled with rage. Who is he to say I didn't belong here? He may have claimed my dad first, but I wasn't giving up my place in his life just because Mason felt threatened. I would show him I did belong here if it was the last thing I did.
I spent the rest of the lunch hour in the cabin trying to calm down. By the time my next lesson rolled around, I felt I was ready to face the world again. My stomach still growled unhappily, but I was able to quiet it down with a dinner roll Louise let me snag on my way to the arts and crafts room. I was ready to tackle my afternoon classes head-on.
The next two weeks ran much smoother once I set up a routine. For the boys, I stuck to working with clay since they seemed to like molding. With the older girls, I showed them how to roll the clay into marble-sized balls to make the beaded bracelets that adorned my wrists. The first day was spent forming the beads and hollowing them out with skewer sticks. By the third day, the clay was dry enough for them to start painting the beads the colors they liked. They were a quieter group than the boys and definitely easier to work with. I walked around the table as they painted each of their beads, giving out helpful pointers and praise. I discovered that the paper flowers were a big hit with the younger girls. They were enchanted when I showed them how to create the vibrant flowers out of folded tissue paper and green pipe cleaners.
On the last day of the second week, the younger boys filed in for their afternoon class. They were more subdued than the older boys, but I credited that to the fact that they were whipped from their earlier activities. I pulled out the stash of clay and smiled when their eyes lit up with enthusiasm. They enjoyed working with the clay the most, and the time always flew by when they were in the class with me.
"Like this, Kimmie?" one of the younger boys asked, making me sigh. It seemed inevitable that I would be "Kimmie" for the rest of the summer.
"Yes, Dennis, just like that," I said, smiling at his misshaped clay bowl. "It looks wonderful, dude," I said, ruffling his hair before it even registered. I was amazed at the ease I felt with the kids in just a few days. The ineptness I had felt earlier had all but disintegrated.
My affection and praise had him beaming at me as he raced to the shelf to set down his new prized possession before he headed off for his last lesson of the day. I cleaned the tables to get the last remnants of the clay off the tables before my girls showed up for my last class of the day. I couldn't help smiling at my possessiveness over them. In just a few short days I had already come to think of them as mine. Life at camp was definitely better than I would have ever thought, marred only by the silence of one. Since our confrontation the day I discovered the truth about Quinn, Mason and I hadn't shared another word. I kept my distance from him and trained myself to refrain from looking in his direction, no matter how badly I wanted to.