During August I’m blogging about Our Lady of the Hills Camp near Hendersonville, North Carolina–now owned by Highland Lake Inn. I transplanted the camp to a Florida beach town for my novel, Kicking Eternity. An excerpt appears at the bottom of this post.
The Florida to North Carolina trek took sixteen hours—one for each year I’d been alive—or long enough to read Go Ask Alice, Love Story, and a Mad Magazine cover to cover. I packed my K-Mart steamer trunk with enough T-shirts, shampoo, and books for a summer at Our Lady of the Hills Camp, climbed onto a Greyhound bus, and didn’t look back.
Camp wasn’t boarding school, but some dreams were never going to happen—like my three summers’ running crush on Eddie Falcone. But camp, I decided, was better than boarding school. No homework. And, hey, I could count on a least one Eddie sighting a day.
I unfolded from the bus seat, climbed down the steps into my third year at camp.
The summer blurred by under a canopy of Carolina blue sky and white lace clouds: I slammed my body against the forgiving mat of the trampoline. I stretched out prone on musty canvas with a twenty-two snugged into my shoulder and aimed at targets I rarely nailed. I cajoled girls to hike to the most beautiful waterfall we’d ever see. I corralled them for kickball and hitting the canteen for Cokes.
And somehow, along the way, I was metamorphosing from a counselor-in-training into a counselor. Some of my skills, however, needed work.
Before camp I’d only ridden a horse once—a tethered ride around a Miami backyard at a fifth birthday party. But the I-love-horses chink of my Y chromosome survived. Over three summers of camp I mastered posting in an English saddle, a skill that made my nose tip up just a little higher than it used to. But I’d barely tried cantering or galloping—until today.
The sun deepened to goldenrod and sunk toward the mountains as campers practiced their skits in front of the cabins for evening activity. I and the other C.I.T.s climbed onto horses. I followed Diane, living her first twin-less summer, into the field atop a shiny, black-coated gelding named Smokey. Buttercup strolled behind me carrying Beth.
Diane goaded her horse into a smooth canter and Smokey followed.
Trees flew past the corners of my eyes, dark in the honey-yellow light.
Mountain air slapped my cheeks.
My knees gripped Smokey’s flanks and every time his feet hit the ground I jarred loose from his withers.
Next time I’d stick to trotting.
He careened around the corner of the field, unseating me even further. He ducked his head—a nasty quirk I’d been warned he loved to do.
My body flung forward into the dew-heavy sunset.
I smacked hard against Carolina clay.
Smokey jogged to the center of the field, his nose high and proud.
I lay winded on the grass, adrenalin mainlining though my body, my ankle limp beneath one bell bottomed pants leg.
Amid exclamations, “Thank God you didn’t get kicked or trampled,” “Where does it hurt?” and “Lie still,” a car drove across the field and parked.
Eddie Falcone stepped out.
All my religious training culminated in that moment.
There is a God and He really is kind. I would never doubt again.
After a stop at the infirmary where I was iced, ibuprofened, and splinted in an inflatable boot, Eddie tucked me into his car for the ride to the emergency room.
The sky had deepened to eggplant by the time we weaved our way through the woods.
If I had known that fifteen minute car ride would be the pinnacle of my relationship with Eddie, I wouldn’t have squandered it tracking the heartbeat of pain throbbing in my leg.
Between jaunts of silence, I apologized for taking up his evening. Twice.
“Don’t worry about it. I didn’t have anything else to do.”
How could you not like a guy like that?
The car went back to quiet. Eddie was not the talkative Falcone.
Too soon and not soon enough we arrived at the Pardee Hospital ER where my ankle was pronounced broken in three places.
After the doctor told Mom I’d need surgery to insert a pin tomorrow, he handed me the phone.
I said I was fine, she didn’t need to come from Florida to hold my hand. No way was I going home a month early if I could help it.
Mom, an R.N. in intensive care, was an easy sell. “Okay, honey. I love you. Talk to you after the surgery.”
Eddie left me with a few words and a face that said he felt all kind of awful for me.
I breathed a contented sigh as the mega pain killers and Eddie’s compassion kicked in.
He didn’t need to be concerned.
I don’t remember much till I woke up the next day after surgery with flowers from the camp beside my bed.
A couple boring days later I went “home” to camp on crutches with a high-tech, waterproof cast—made of fiberglass like Dad used to coat the hull of the Annie Lee. Who knew Hendersonville squirreled away fifty camps in her hills and had become an epicenter for broken limbs? I couldn’t have picked a better place to break a bone.
The rest of the summer unspooled with me hobbling around camp, inhaling the scent of mountain laurel that grew beside the pool and slipping into the summer-cold water every chance I got.
I painted ceramic mugs with my cabin, our voices drifting out the screens beneath the lodge. We moon-bathed and shared secrets on the flat rock of the camp’s makeshift golf course. We sailed sunfish in puffs of air on Madonna Lake. And we cried our way through Where Have All the Flowers Gone at the final campfire of the summer.
I crutched up the aisle of the Greyhound bus and rode to a new town, new high school, and still-new stepdad.
Starting eleventh grade with a broken leg, neon orange jeans, and one Kelly green Converse earned me bounteous offers to carry my books and enough notoriety to win vice president of the senior class and a berth on the homecoming court.
As with most hard knocks in life, I didn’t have to look far to see God’s kindnesses.
And if my boarding school dream got divinely upgraded, then maybe one day I’d splat in the sunset in front of somebody cooler than Eddie Falcone.
Sign up to get my blogs in your e-mail at right!
Type your e-mail address in the box, then click on “Subscribe.”
Enter during August to win a paperback copy of Kicking Eternity here. [Excerpt below.]
Stuck in sleepy New Smyrna Beach one last summer, Raine socks away her camp pay checks, worries about her druggy brother, and ignores trouble: Cal Koomer. She’s a plane ticket away from teaching orphans in Africa, and not even Cal’s surfer six-pack and the chinks she spies in his rebel armor will derail her.
The artist in Cal begs to paint Raine’s ivory skin, high cheek bones, and internal sparklers behind her eyes, but falling for her would caterwaul him into his parents’ life. No thanks. The girl was self-righteous waiting to happen. Mom served sanctimony like vegetables, three servings a day, and he had a gut full.
Rec Director Drew taunts her with “Rainey” and calls her an enabler. He is so infernally there like a horsefly—till he buzzes back to his ex.
Raine’s brother tweaks. Her dream of Africa dies small deaths. Will she figure out what to fight for and what to free before it’s too late?
For anyone who’s ever wrestled with their dreams.
Click on the covers for info on my books.
Kicking Eternity excerpt:
A clear shot to the steps off the porch opened up and she darted for them. Someone stepped in her way and she barreled into him.
A thick hand clamped onto her arm. “Whoa, girl!” Cal.
“I’m sorry. What a klutz—”
“Are you okay? Break anything? Need a blood transfusion? Mouth to mouth?”
A nervous laugh tumbled out of her lips. “I’m fine. Fine. Really. You can let go now.”
“I think you look a little rocky.” He grinned at her before he dropped his hand.
Her skin tingled where his grip had been. The citrus scent of Cal’s still-damp hair filled her nostrils. She took a small step back, her leg bumped a bench.
Aly shot a glance at Cal. “There he is.” She spun away, her waist-length ponytail arcing behind her.
Cal swatted Aly’s shoulder blade. “Stay out of trouble.”
Aly waved him off and charged toward a guy who could have modeled for Ocean Pacific.
Cal shook his head. “Aly can spot a user at a hundred yards.”
“A user?” Did he mean heroin, crack, crystal meth, or something else altogether?
“Never mind. Let me guess, you were homeschooled.” His tone said she didn’t have a clue about how the rest of the world lived.
She had way more than a clue, but she let it slide. “How did you know?”
“Jesse’s my brother. Awesome source of info on the new hires.”
She peered across the porch at the camp director. Cal and Jesse sported similar Roman noses.
People filtered off the porch. A group stood under the gazebo debating whether affection for Twilight would impair one’s spiritual life.
Several yards away, Aly pulled the clip from her hair and shook it free. Ocean Pacific’s eyes locked on the strands.
Raine needed to say something, anything. Or escape. She glanced over her shoulder at Drew, but he still talked with his assistant. She turned toward the steps. “See you around.”
“I’ll walk you to your cabin.”
She drew in a shaky breath. What was his agenda? She didn’t want to deal with his disdain when she was a breath from total freak-out.
Cal fell into step with her on the dirt road leading past the cabins. “So, Raine Zigler, where does the homeschooling path lead?”
“Where do you think I’m going?”
“Testy, are we?”
She softened her voice. “Where am I going?”
“Homeschool, college, camp Bible teacher—the natural next step is Christian school teacher. Marriage to a guy with a similar pedigree, babies, homeschooling. The circle of life is complete.”
“Actually, I’m going to Africa.”
He stopped. Fine white lines spoked the corners of his eyes as he stared at her.
“I’ve wanted to be a missionary to Africa my whole life.”
Cal’s jaw went rigid under a day’s shadow of beard. “Hardcore Christian.”
Her heart knocked a staccato rhythm in her chest, but she couldn’t look away. “Meaning?”
“I live in the same world you do. I’m challenged every day.”
Cal’s laugh rang hollow. “Right.”
“Fine. Think what you want.” She started to turn, but his gaze seared through her. Maybe he could see. She certainly felt untried at the moment.
“Come out to the beach with me and Aly some night after campfire.”
She broke away from his gaze and headed toward her cabin. She glanced back at him. “Aly, your girlfriend?” The words flew out of her mouth before she could rein them in.
“A sibling I inherited through marriage. Jesse is married to her sister.”
Adrenaline mainlined through her body. For sure he thought she was into him. “What’s your road?”
“I was king of the monkey bars in second grade. I’d balance one foot on each of the highest bars—until the teacher made me get down. That was pretty much the high point of my life. Been trying to get back there ever since.”
She stopped in front of her cabin.“Figuratively?”
“Well, yeah. I want to be Harry Morgan.”
“Owner of Pink Taco Restaurants. Under thirty. Dates starlets. I want to have my picture in People. Top of the monkey bars.”
She paused on the first step and looked at him. Am I supposed to know this guy?
Raine moved up the steps feeling as ignorant as Cal thought she was.
Yellow porch light warmed his cheeks but left his eyes in shadow.
“I-I’d like to hear about Triple S from someone who knows the camp.”
Cal shrugged. “That would be me. Been coming here most of my life.”
“Is it easy to get to know people?”
“Homeschooling leave you short on friends?”
She gave a dry laugh. “I spent my childhood with my nose pressed against the living room window watching the other kids catch the school bus.” She sat on the top step, eye level with Cal. “Commuting three hours a day to college wasn’t a whole lot better.”
“You could do worse for a place to dive into life. I’ve ditched most of the rules and religion I grew up with. But I still love this place. The people.”
“How did you snag a job at a Christian camp feeling the way you do about faith?”
“Nepotism is alive and well at the Triple S. Jesse, no doubt, thinks camp will boomerang me back to God.”
“Would you talk a camper out of his faith?”
“Jesse should’ve had you interview me.”
“What’s the point of wrecking a kid’s faith? Maybe I was happier when I swallowed everything I was taught. I don’t know.” He laughed. “You, on the other hand, have the primo resume. Wannabe missionary. And I bet Jesse got you for cheap fresh out of college. Mom would do cartwheels around the yard if I ever brought home a girl like you.”
“You say that like I’m the last girl on the planet you’d bring home.”
“Pretty much.” He held up his hands. “Don’t get me wrong. You’re beautiful—high cheekbones, ivory skin, internal sparklers behind your eyes. Just not my type. Naïve. Über.”
She sling-shotted from euphoria to irritation. “I don’t know whether to be awed you noticed all that in two minutes under fluorescent light—”
“I’m an artist. It’s what I do.”
“Don’t spoil it—or should I be insulted that you’ve smacked a naïve label on me.”
“Look, there’s no way a girl who was homeschooled can survive in the real world.” He shifted position, and she could see his grin. “Educating you this summer could be a public service.”
“I can hardly wait.”
“Oooh. The Bible teacher does sarcasm.” He waved and stepped away from the cabin. “A public service, I’m telling you.” Cal’s voice trailed off as he moved away.
Raine slipped inside. She inhaled the metallic scent of old screen and watched Cal disappear around the corner of the last cabin.
He was a spinning vat of colors. Part of her wanted to jump in and twirl around. Part of her wanted to sprint for the gate out of camp.
He’d called her beautiful.