“I should. I’ve been doing it for years. A lot of the foster kids come to camp with only a few things to their name. I keep a lot of stuff on hand, but it’s mostly for the younger crowd,” he said, pushing the buggy to an open register.
That certainly put things in perspective. Rick was obviously an all-around great guy, helping those less fortunate. I guess worrying about having the money for some throw rug for my dorm room didn’t seem as important when you looked at things that way.
Together Rick and I piled my new wardrobe onto the conveyor belt. Once the cart was emptied, I reached for my wallet.
“Whoa, what do you think you’re doing?” Rick asked incredulously.
“What?” I asked.
“You didn’t seriously think I’d make you pay?” he asked, shaking his head in obvious bafflement.
“Of course I’m going to pay,” I said.
“Kimmie, I’ve missed your whole life. The least I can do is properly outfit you while you’re visiting me.”
His words touched me. I’d never been a fan of the nickname Kimmie, but coming from him, it made me feel special.
“That’s not your fault,” I reminded him.
“And it’s not yours,” he countered. “Please, let me,” he added.
“Seriously, Rick, you don’t have to,” I said, feeling uncomfortable with the idea of him paying.
“I want to,” he said, handing over his credit card to the girl behind the counter who was watching us with interest.
“Thanks,” I said as a warm tingle spread through me. When I was little, I used to dream about my father showing up and buying me surprises. As I got older, my dreams shifted to just wishing he would show up and want to get to know me. It seemed surreal having Rick standing before me now, doing both.
Once my bags were stowed in the back of the SUV with my luggage, Rick tuned the radio to a country station and we were back on the road. The long twisty roads of the mountain quickly took a toll on me and my eyes began to droop until they eventually closed.
I jerked awake when the vehicle shuddered to a stop. Blinking my eyes in the afternoon sun, I took in the sight of my temporary home. A massive log cabin-looking building dominated the space in front of us. A rustic screened-in patio with multiple seating areas ran the length of the front exterior. I could see smaller log buildings peeking out behind the large structure. There were a few girls that looked to be my age chatting in the screened-in space. Above us stood a large wooden sign with words burned into it welcoming visitors to Camp Unlikely Allies.
“Unlikely Allies?” I asked.
“Figured it was the best name for all the misfits we get here,” he answered affectionately. “Seriously, since everyone comes from such diverse backgrounds, normally it would be unlikely that they would ever think to work together or help each other. My goal here is to teach them that despite differences, we all must all be allies,” he added passionately.
Some of my misgivings at being so far removed from civilization began to dissipate as the magnitude of what Rick was doing here hit me. He was changing the lives of kids. It was such an admirable cause that my whining about missing the beach and my art studio seemed utterly ridiculous.
“It’s a perfect name,” I said, smiling at him.
“Uh, thanks,” he said, looking slightly embarrassed. “Sorry, I sometimes think I get overzealous when I explain the name,” he added, chuckling.
“You just sound proud, which you should be. This is amazing,” I said, taking in my surroundings. I wasn’t a nature buff, but I had to admit, the towering trees overhead with the sun streaming through the breaks in the branches gave the aura of an enchanting hideaway.
“It’s always a work in progress. We just updated the mess hall this winter,” Rick said, indicating the building in front of us. “The girls' dorms over there are only a couple years old,” he added, pointing at two cabins on the right side of the building. “We plan on updating the boys' dorms this winter if my panhandling comes together in the fall,” he joked, pointing toward the two identical cabins on the left.
I looked at him curiously, wondering about his "panhandling" comments. I wasn’t sure how much it cost to keep a venture like this floating, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t cheap.
I climbed out of the vehicle and shivered in the cooler temperatures. Rick hadn’t been kidding, it was easily twenty degrees cooler here than when we left the airport.
I rubbed my hands over my arms that had a multilayer of goose bumps already popping up on them.
“The room I stay in is right outside my office,” Rick said as he opened the hatch of the vehicle. “You’ll be sharing the ten-to-twelve-year-old dorm with Amy,” he added, dragging my heavy suitcase from the cargo bay.
Share a cabin? “What?” I asked, not sure I had heard him right. I didn’t have much experience with kids since I was never one to babysit. Mom was the one who was good with kids, not me. I liked them okay, but always found conversations with them stilted since I never knew what to say, and being with them in such close quarters made me want to hightail it back to the airport as if the hounds of hell were nipping at my heels.
My train of thought was derailed when I heard the swing of an ax.
Turning around to find the source of the noise, I felt all the air leave my lungs when I saw a blond-haired, shirtless, oh-my-god-he’s-too-hot-for-words stud cutting wood in the clearing just beyond the boys’ cabins. I watched in awe as his muscles rippled while he swung the ax to cut clean through the small log on the tree stump in front of him. His shirtless back glistened with sweat that slowly trickled beyond the jeans that rode low on his hips. My eyes followed the trail and I felt myself flush at the direction my thoughts were taking. I’d spent half my life around half-dressed surfer boys, but I was pretty sure none of their abs came close to the ones I was openly admiring. The artist in me yearned to grab a sketchpad and immortalize him on paper before the moment disappeared. A pair of dog tags hung down his back so they wouldn't get in the way as he swung the ax. For some reason, the sight of the dog tags made his glistening back even sexier. He exuded hotness and I couldn't help responding.