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Kicking Eternity

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Raine pushed the beads on her African bracelet back and forth like the balls on an abacus. Her stomach kneaded, gurgled. She could almost feel sweat dampen her upper lip.

Drew’s forehead creased as he stared at her. Fluorescent tubes hummed overhead in the night air. Shouts and back-slapping ricocheted around the Canteen porch in the sticky-sweet scent of orange blossoms. If she wasn’t fighting to keep her dinner down, she’d tell him where they’d met.

His frown melted into a smile of recognition. “Rainey. Hey. Welcome to Triple S Camp.”

She bristled at the nickname her brothers used to irritate her. “It’s Raine.

“I remember you as Rainey from the skit you did in junior high youth group. You cried all over the place—a pun on your name.”

“That was my total acting career… and ancient history. Better off forgotten. Please.”

“Sure, Rainey, whatever you say.”

“Drew!”

“You remember my name.”

“You weren’t exactly low profile either.” She, like every girl in the youth group, had spent way too much time mooning at the high-school-Drew hunched over his guitar.

Jesse, the camp director, gave a shrill blast on his whistle. “Welcome to New Smyrna Beach Surf and Sailing Camp orientation.”

The noise ratcheted down. Thirty staffers in aquamarine shirts settled onto the benches lining the porch.

Raine swallowed and unclenched her fingers from the camp handbook. She refused to heave like she had at college orientation four years ago. Her thumb ran over the ridges in her palm where the spiral wire had dug into the flesh. Why had she never been to camp like any normal kid?

A guy in surf shorts and flip-flops came up the steps laughing with the girl beside him. Sun-white cords of hair, crimped like he’d worn braids, brushed his thick shoulders. He caught Raine staring. The interest crackling in his blue gaze jolted through her.

She let her chin-length hair fall like a dark curtain between them. A guy was one complication she didn’t need this summer, not when Africa was nearly in her grasp.

Jesse, who’d hired her, dragged a podium across the porch to the snack bar window. He cleared his throat. Out of the corner of her eye, Raine saw the surfer and the girl take seats halfway around the porch.

Jesse read the camp rules and Raine highlighted them with a pink marker. His voice blended with the drone of the crickets. As he launched into the sailing rules, her stomach calmed.

Across the dirt road, yellow floodlights bathed a wall of the dark dining hall. The camp office and cabins flanked the building like dark-skinned children marching in a row all the way to the hulking gym. She had Africa on the brain.

Drew’s elbow jarred her ribs. “Rainey, introduce yourself,” he whispered.

She sprang to her feet. “I’m Raine—” She just stopped herself from saying Rainey. “Zigler. I’ll be teaching Bible.” She shot a glare at Drew and sat down with a thump. Was that a snicker coming from somewhere near the snack bar?

Drew’s knee creaked as he rose. “Drew Martin, Rec Director.”

As the adrenalin ebbed, her attention strayed back to the moonlit village of forest-green structures with tarpaper roofs bleached gray by the Florida sun. This would be her home for the next three months. Please, God, I need some friends.

The surfer stood. “I’m Cal Koomer, teaching art for the third summer in a row. Someday I’m going to get a life.”

Laughter rippled through the counselors. With a grin Cal slouched onto the bench. His eyes traveled over Raine like she was a Wooster custom surfboard he was thinking about buying.

Her breath caught in her throat, and she looked away.

“Aly Logan.” Cal’s friend wore slacks and a button-down blouse. “I’m the college intern in the camp office.”

Wait, wasn’t Aly her roommate’s name?

After Jesse instructed them on navigating the septic system and handed out the night watch rotation, chatter swelled around Raine.

Drew let out a low whistle. “You’re the hotshot Bible teacher fresh out of college?”

“I’ve been teaching Sunday school for years. It’s not a big deal.”

“I thought the Bible was a big deal.”

“Of course I think the Bible is important or I wouldn’t focus my life on it.” Shyness clipped her words. She’d pay money about now to relax and make normal conversation.

Yellow flecks danced in his eyes. “Just checking.”

His teasing buzzed annoyance through her. “After camp, I’ll be teaching Bible in an orphanage a couple hours outside Entebbe, Uganda.”

Drew’s golden brows stretched into McDonald’s arches.

Well now, that was better.

The sun-browned kid thwacked Drew’s arm and pushed his Dakine surf cap up on his forehead. “Boss-man, dude—”

Drew turned to talk to his assistant.

Raine twisted the colored beads in her rawhide bracelet. She felt ten again, sitting alone on the edge of Aqua Park Pool while everyone else swam with friends. Her palms sweated. Insects circled between the lights and the rafters. She had to get away from here.

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?”

“Untried.”

“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.”

“Who?”

“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?

“Never mind.

Raine moved up the steps feeling as ignorant as Cal thought she was.

“Later.”

“Wait.”

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.”

“Well?”

“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.

Cal shook his head and chuckled to himself as he strode away. Educating Raine was going to be serious fun.

He crossed the athletic field. Tomorrow the rectangle would fill up with sound and children and color. The anticipation he’d felt as a kid welled up in him.

A breeze ruffled the pines beside the gym in the moonlight. Cal’s eyes caught a flash of blond hair, a couple making out in the shadows near the gym doors. Aly. Nobody else had hair that long. And likely Garner Fritz, the guy she’d bee-lined toward on the Canteen porch.

Aly had gone out with a long succession of guys, trying to find one to plug into the place her father left empty. It didn’t take a psychologist to figure that out.

He picked up a rock, tossed it in his hand. Aly’s love language was touch. He’d heard Dad preach on the topic back when he used to listen. Cal made a point of touching Aly in a platonic way whenever they were together, but it hadn’t kept her from going out with jerks like Gar Fritz. He tossed the stone again and fired it at the side of the gym. It smacked against the bark siding ten feet from the couple. Aly and Gar sprang apart a heartbeat before Cal ducked out of sight.

Maybe that would help.

Raine dropped a pair of shorts into the scarred dresser drawer. The screen door squeaked open, then slapped shut against the doorframe. Aly breezed into the room looking like a Barbie whose hair had been bunched into a clip by a small child. A smudge of lipstick clung to one corner of her mouth.

Raine smiled at her. “Hey.”

“Oh, it’s you.” Aly blew her breath out and ran an appraising look over Raine. Her gaze stopped on the crook of Raine’s arm.

Raine scooped a quilt over her scar. She forced a smile into her voice. “Which bunk do you want?”

“I’ll take the top.” She snagged Raine’s dog-eared Bible off the upper bunk and tossed it onto the plastic mattress below. “How did I score the Bible teacher?”

Raine gritted her teeth. “I’m not ‘the Bible teacher.’ I’m Raine.” She would make friends this summer. With Aly. “I’ve got three older brothers, a psychotic Great Dane named Antoine, and my favorite show is Lost.”

A wry smile broke out on Aly’s face. “Lost. Isn’t that what you call people like me?”

“Are you?”

Aly nibbled off the rest of her lipstick. “In my sister’s opinion.”

“And in yours?”

“I know exactly where I’m going and how to get there. I’m half-way to a BA in marketing and I will own my own business before I’m twenty-five.”

Raine started to answer, but Aly cut her off. “This is where you tell me I’m going to hell.”

God, give me patience. “Look, I don’t know where all your drama is coming from, but I’m not the enemy. I could use a friend. If you don’t want to talk about God, fine.”

“Maybe I don’t need another friend.” But Aly’s voice had lost its hard edge.

“Let’s say we’ll try to get along since we’re stuck in the same room for the summer.”

Aly eyed her for a long moment. “Done.” She reached a slim-boned hand out to Raine.

Raine’s fingers tightened around Aly’s.

“So, you have the hots for Cal, huh?”

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