That question plagued her for the rest of the watch. She and Pax talked for the next few minutes; actually, Pax talked and Shadow listened. She tried to focus on what was being said, but Shadow's thoughts were distracted by the frightening idea of allowing someone into her personal space.
Not something you were looking for, was it? Thought it'd be possible to get through the summer without having to make new friends. Pony said that you'd be drop-dead busy with the horses. So how did Scooter manage to get to you?
"She watches you, you know?" Pax's comments cut through her introspection.
"I'm sorry, what?"
"When she thinks no one is looking, she watches you. When she comes into a room, first thing she does is look around to find you."
"Oh. I, um..."
"You probably don't realize it, but Scooter doesn't easily make friends."
"What do you mean? She's nice, and funny, and smart." And cute. "I'm sure everyone wants to be friends with her."
"Maybe, but she doesn't want to be friends with everyone. It's like she stopped reaching out to others, and only let some of us who were already her friends stay close. You're the first person I've seen her befriend in over three years."
"What did I do?" Her forehead furrowed as she tried to think why she would be different than other people.
"Nothing. You're just you, and for some reason, that's enough."
Pax's watch alarm softly beeped. 3:55. "Oh, shift's over. Shadow, if you want to talk later, just let me know. "I've gotta get some shut eye; I don't want to be a grouch tomorrow."
Pax stood and stretched her arms over her head till she heard the familiar pop. "Ahh, that's better. Do you know who has the next shift?"
"Yeah, Doodle and Lemme. Guess we better wake them."
She doesn't know the real me. I'm not the easiest woman to be around. Why would she reach out to that? And why would I want her to?
Shadow knelt down to enter the shelter and crawled in. After removing her shoes, she slid into her now-cold sleeping bag. Damn, I was only gone half an hour. She turned onto her side and burrowed deeper and tried to find any source of warmth.
Confusion overwhelmed her as she moved around and found that she was stuck. The side of her sleeping bag was trapped and she was unable to maneuver to release it. She reached to undo the zipper when a weight pressed down on her arm. Shadow froze, unsure what to do to free herself. Her ability to move continued to diminish as she felt a wall against her backside, and she lost precious inches of space. What the...?
The air in her sleeping bag was becoming uncomfortably warm. She fought to keep the panic from overtaking rational thought. Her legs were trapped by a dead weight placed on them.
"G'night." She heard the muffled voice through her sleeping bag.
Then it hit her. And panic of a different nature coursed through her veins.
She moved slowly, so as not to startle the blond who had decided to use her as a human pillow. The last thing she wanted was to be bit again.
"Scooter, move over a little."
When she received no response, Shadow continued to slowly pry her limbs out of the sleeping woman's hold. But, like a chess game every turn was countered and every bit of progress she gained was lost as the blond moved closer.
Aw, shit. But, after Shadow had unzipped her bag and was able to adjust the temperature, she found that she wasn't altogether uncomfortable. It's kind of nice.
Nice? Where the hell did that come from? Shad, you're losing it.
She decided it was the exhaustion that caused her to stop fighting the embrace. I'll worry about it tomorrow.
Scooter slowly returned from the land of Morpheus. She was warm, she was comfortable, and it was soft.
Soft? Green eyes snapped open as Scooter realized where she was and with whom.
Dark hair poked out of the top of the sleeping bag next to her and Scooter realized that she had an arm and a leg strewn over the sleeping woman. Move, now. Her mind commanded. But, her body resisted and she allowed herself to remain in full contact with the wrangler.
The tall woman was deep in sleep. Scooter could feel, more than hear, the rhythm as Shadow's chest expanded and contracted with each breath. Now what? Scooter nibbled on her bottom lip as she decided what she should do.
Her decision was made for her when Crew came back into the shelter. Scooter closed her eyes and pretended to sleep. Must be six-thirty. A couple more minutes, then I'll 'wake up.'
The legs beneath hers stirred and she felt Shadow melt further into her embrace. As the solid body pressed firmly against her, Scooter found breathing to be an impossible task.
Scooter rolled away, her body protesting at the sudden loss of contact. She opened her eyes and saw Crew covering her mouth with her hand trying unsuccessfully to hide the smirk on her face.
"Good morning, Scooter. Sleep well?"
Scooter's blush deepened as she looked away from Crew and toward a still-sleeping Shadow.
"Shut up, Crew." She whispered back, trying to be angry with the woman who was teasing her. But she found she was in too good of a mood to become upset. She settled for sticking her tongue out at the taller lifeguard.
"Promises, promises. Better not let Shadow catch you teasing me like that."
"Like what?" A groggy voice, husky from sleep, came from behind the blond.
"Hey, Shadow, you're up early."
Confused blue eyes slowly focused on the two lifeguards. "Can't you guys be quiet and let me sleep?"
"I'm leaving anyway." Crew took off her sweatshirt and tossed it on her pillow. "I've got breakfast duty. See ya later."
"Hey, Buddy." Pony was standing at the end of the line when Shadow approached her.
"I'm starved. What's for breakfast?"
"Omelets, fried potatoes, fruit, coffee, and orange juice."
"You can tell that from back here?" Shadow indicated their place lined up behind seven other staff members.
"Nah, I scoped it out earlier. I was just waiting for you to join me to eat."
They finally approached the prep table. Each took a Ziplock bag and wrote her name in permanent marker.
"Now what?" Shadow asked as she eyed the bowls of ingredients.
"Take a ladle full of eggs, then add the other ingredients that you want in your omelet."
Shadow scooped raw scrambled eggs, cheese, cooked bacon, ham, and sausage into her bag.
Pony snickered at Shadow's selection.
"What? Can I help it if I like meat?"
"No, but you could think of a few other ingredients," Pony added tomatoes, onions and avocado to her own bag. "Make sure you seal it tight so it won't leak."
They reached the camp stoves, which had pots of boiling water sitting on top. Shadow followed Pony's lead as she dropped her bag into the hot liquid.
Shadow peered at the bags, which were slightly submerged in the water. Camp food is the strangest thing.
"It'll take a few minutes to cook, so let's grab the rest of breakfast and come back to get our eggs."
They returned a few minutes later to find their omelets were finished. Pony pulled the bags from the water with metal tongs.
Shadow sat down and unzipped the bag. Her fork explored the new creation. After finding it cooked through, she pierced a chunk of the omelet and popped it into her mouth. Okay, camp food may be strange, but it sure tastes good.
The after-breakfast staff meeting was brief as the director quickly went over the agenda items for the morning: pack up, clean the site, canoe back, and unpack. She gave the staff two options for the rest of the day. They voted to finish cleaning up the camp, and take the evening off. Open House was the next day, so the camp needed to look ready for over six hundred campers and families to tour the facilities and meet the staff.
Gear was packed. The site was left clean and in better condition than they found it. Once again, the boaters loaded into their canoes and headed back towards their camp.
The wind and water were calm as the flock of boats traveled across the bay. Spike surveyed the group, all of whom seemed comfortable in their canoeing skills. She paddled harder, causing her canoe to speed up. Crew, sitting in the bow, glanced back in question.
Spike gave her a smile that was filled with the promise of trouble as she nodded her head towards the canoe holding two wranglers. Crew smirked back, then matched Spike's stroke. Their rhythmic stroking allowed them to skim quickly across the water.
Scooter had switched boats for the trip home, and watched from a distance as the two blondes paddled furiously to catch Pony and Shadow's boat. She broke into giggles as Spike and Crew came parallel with the wranglers' boat. Glad their gear is wrapped in plastic.
Shadow had been feeling confident as she and Pony paddled their canoe back towards the camp. The morning sun warmed her and with her lifejacket securely around her torso, she felt almost invincible. The next thing she knew she was dripping wet with ice cold water.
Pony had never been one to refuse a challenge, so she engaged in the battle, soaking Crew with paddle after paddle of water. In the spirit of the water fight, Shadow forgot about her fears of swimming and joined in the ruckus. Their boat floated backwards as they focused on drenching the program director. Spike fought back furiously as both boats were rained on.
Having decided that they all were wet enough; the two war ships turned their attention to the other canoeists who were peacefully watching the battle. They each selected another boat on which to pounce.
Most of the staff were good-natured about the attack, though many tried to escape. Few made it back to camp without at least a small amount of moisture imposed upon them.
Silver watched the interaction with amusement. Few staff would dare attack her. Being camp director counts for something. She never heard Crew and Spike's boat approach hers. She looked up just in time to see the tip of their bow enter into her field of vision.
She turned her head and quirked an eyebrow at the two renegade staff. You wouldn't dare. Within seconds Silver was dripping wet from the frenzied attack.
Pony and Shadow turned their attention onto an escaping canoe. Quickening their stroke, they came up next to the metal boat. Water became airborne as the attack began.
Stupid dykes. Spirit seethed. Her eyes flashed with anger as she was soaked to the skin with icy water. The cold temperature did nothing to cool her temper. Instead of returning the playful prank, she and Berry continued paddling towards shore. Payback's a bitch.
"Spoilsport," Pony called as they left Spirit's canoe in their wake.
The rest of the short trip was uneventful as canoes coasted into the shore and up to the docks. Quickly unpacking, the staff returned the equipment and the boats to their appropriate homes.
Silver was still dripping wet as she addressed the staff. "Wranglers, go to the barn area and do whatever you need to be ready for tomorrow's Open House. If you finish before six, come down and help. Everyone else, you have thirty minutes to put your gear away and dry off. We'll meet in the staff room."
The wrangling staff worked hard to get the horses and the barn area ready for Open House. Safety posters hung throughout the area, reminding visitors of the risks related to horses. Pony was amazed at how many people would try to spook the horses, just to see the gentle animals react. Wranglers would be assigned to the equestrian area for the duration of visiting hours as a protection for the horses and their tack.
Pony was bent over, picking rocks and dirt out of the hooves of the last horse. "You wanna go to a movie or something? We could get a group to go to town."
"No, thanks, I'm going to spend the night at Steve's."
"Well, then you don't want to be hanging out with a bunch of us girls. Have fun and tell him hi for me."
Shadow just grinned in response.
The drive to Spokane gave Shadow time to think. The past few years had been busy. School and working at her aunt's ranch had given her very little free time.
Steve had moved to eastern Washington to work on his master's degree. She supported his decision to move six hours away from her, but she still missed the time they used to spend together.
Part of the reason she had agreed to work at the summer camp was that it was close to Steve. Less than an hour's drive and she could be with him on any night off or weekend break. Her shoulders relaxed as she crossed the state line into Washington. Twenty more minutes.
Shadow pulled into Steve's driveway behind his red pickup truck. There's just something women like about a pick-up man. The tune stuck in her brain as she walked up to the door.
The camp was abuzz with renewed energy as staff members made plans for their night off.
"I can't believe we don't have to be back until nine tomorrow morning." Crew pulled a white sweatshirt over her navy blue T-shirt. Clean tan shorts and black Teva sandals completed the outfit. She quickly ran a comb through her short blond hair as she chatted with Scooter.
"I'm glad you invited me to join y'all tonight. It'll be fun." Scooter spoke while applying the lip-gloss. Her sleeveless white button-down shirt and pair of blue jeans complimented her lithe figure and ever-darkening tan. She looked in the mirror as she brushed her hair. Not bad, but it's time for a haircut.
"Yeah, it's a fun group that's going. Pax, Pony, Koko, Lemme, Spike, Doodle, Jo, you, and me. I think Pepper and Silver are going to join us for dinner."
"What about Shadow?" Scooter tried to sound casual.
"Pony said something Shadow going to Steve's."
"Steve? Who's that?"
"Beats me." Crew caught the look of disappointment on Scooter's face. "Hey, it'll still be fun. Come on, you ready to go?"
"Yeah, let me just grab my wallet."
The Old Spaghetti Factory in Spokane was one of Scooter's favorite restaurants. Stories and memories were shared over heaps of spaghetti with meat sauce. A dinner salad, warm cheese bread and a raspberry Italian soda rounded out the lifeguard's meal.
Despite the constant laughter and bantering, Scooter felt a shadow of emptiness. Shadow. I know I can't expect her to always be around on breaks. And who is Steve? A boyfriend, a fiancÈe? She never mentioned anyone special in her life. But, we've never discussed that topic. A small wave of jealousy swept through her as she realized that there was someone else with whom Shadow would rather spend her time.
"Where'd you go?" Pax's hand on her arm brought Scooter out of her thoughts.
"Sorry, just thinking."
"You doing okay? Do you need to go back to camp?"
"No, of course not." She slurped the last of her Italian soda. "I'm fine." Scooter shook off her feeling of melancholy and focused on listening to the group's discussions.
She laughed as Jojo and Pepper recalled the time that Spike first tried out a funyak. Kyla, the camp administrator had assured Spike that nobody had ever flipped the sturdy plastic kayaks. Spike scooted off the dock into the boat and immediately capsized. The first thing that shot out of the water was Spike's hand, holding her now-dead beeper. Within a couple of days the beeper had dried out and was functioning, but Spike never again tried to funyak. The program director blushed as some of her more memorable stories were retold to the staff.
Better than telling about when I accidentally spilled Dr Pepper all over Kyla's laptop. Scooter cringed remembering how calm Kyla had been. It would have been easier if she had just gotten angry. Spike sighed and wished that 'story time' would go away.
But it continued as Jo recalled the time Spike's bangs were completely cut off by a hairdresser at Super Cuts. Super Chops was more like it.
Scooter found that she was enjoying the reminiscing. Thoughts of Shadow and Steve were put on the back burner as Scooter laughed and told a few of her own stories.
Shadow rang the bell and waited. Within seconds the door swung open and six-foot four inches of Steve dominated the doorway. He picked her up in a firm hug causing her feet to leave the floor as he lifted her skyward. She inhaled and caught the scent of his favorite cologne.
"Mel! I didn't expect to see you so soon. God, you look great." He kissed her forehead and she leaned into the affectionate embrace.
"You look great, too. Are you home alone? Shadow listened for the usual noise, but found the house to be silent.
"Just for a couple hours and then everyone will be back. So, how's camp?"
They sat together on the loveseat as she told him about the horses, the canoeing, the camping, and ... Scooter. He listened patiently as she described the petite blond who had managed to get past Shadow's defenses and form a friendship. Shadow spoke more in twenty minutes than she had over the course of the entire week. Finally she paused, worn out from her monologue.
"You want to go get something to eat? I'm starving." Shadow's stomach growled to emphasis her point.
"Sure, you have a preference?"
"Whatever, doesn't matter to me."
"Great, let's take the Harley and cruise Spokane." He winked, teasing her as he handed over the red helmet. "But, " he warned, "I'm driving this time."
Scooter couldn't believe her eyes. If I didn' have bad luck, I'd have no luck at all. The wrangler and a tall handsome man had just been seated three booths from her group. She nudged Pony, who smiled when she saw Shadow and Steve. Excusing herself, Pony walked to the other table and gave Steve a quick hug. After pointing animatedly at her large group, she managed to drag Shadow and Steve over to say hello.
Scooter tried to act pleased at the prospect of meeting this 'Steve.' He's important in Shadow's life, so get over it and be nice. She was the first to be introduced.
"Steve, I'd like you to meet Scooter."
He firmly shook the lifeguard's hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Mel told me all about you." His straight white teeth glistened in the perfect smile as he grinned at her.
She half-heartedly returned his gesture as she glanced at Shadow, who was nervously awaiting her response. Sell it, Scooter. Be nice for her sake.
"Scooter, this is my big brother, Steve."
Her... brother. Scooter's smile widened. "Steve, it is so nice to meet you."
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