Katrina frowned down at the map spread across the hood of her black SUV. She knew it was useless of course. The road she was currently on wasn’t even large enough to be on the map. She had seen the sign for the camp 20 minutes ago but she’d never caught sight of the building. She supposed she should try to look for a place to turn around so she could head back to the sign and try again but really she was starting to get a bit apprehensive about the whole thing.
What if Byron came to visit while she was here? Of course they were both adults and surely they’d get through it. She just didn’t want to feel the humiliating attraction to a man she knew felt nothing for her.
“You lost?” Katrina started. Her head shot up and she frantically searched the trees for the source of the voice. “Over here.” He came rolling out of a stand of trees just on the other side of the road from her SUV. It took them a minute to recognize each other but soon their separate reactions leapt to their faces. “Damn Eddie’s black heart!” swore Byron.
Katrina just stood there looking betrayed and devastated. Of course, Camp Forrester... who else would be running it? She cursed herself for not making the connection sooner. Why would Ed have sent her here knowing he’d be here? Of course, she’d pretended like it didn’t matter on the phone. Hell she’d even sounded happy. How could he know what it would be like for her to spend a week facing Byron’s indifference?
Byron was so caught up in his own anger that it took him several minutes to notice that Katrina was near tears. He hadn’t a clue why she’d be sad about this. But he’d stopped trying to understand women years ago. He did owe her an explanation for his behavior at the banquet.
“Look, about the other night… I know I acted like an immature idiot. It’s just that you mentioned you were looking for someone ‘normal’,” he gestured to his lower body, “and obviously I don’t fit the bill. I just thought I’d save us both a lot of embarrassment by taking off. It was idiotic and childish and I apologize.”
She just looked at him for several minutes, incredulous. Then she grabbed hold of the cane which was leaning against the car next to her and slowly limped her way around. “Guess maybe I’m not so ‘normal’ either.”
Now it was his turn to stare. “Eddie didn’t… I mean I didn’t know…” His shoulders slumped and he looked down at his lap. “I’m an idiot!” He took a moment to compose himself then looked at her again. “I would understand completely if you just wanted to turn around, drive away from here and never look back. The fact of the matter is that we really do need the publicity and I know you’re good or Eddie wouldn’t have sent you.” He sighed, her beautiful face remained impassive. “There’s a wide place in the road about 100 feet up. You can turn around there. If you want to stay just take the left road when you get to the fork. If not, the right will take you back to the highway. I’m going to finish my workout and hit the showers. I hope to see you in my office in an hour so we can talk before the bus arrives. If not… well I really did have a nice time at the banquet until my brains spilled out my ears.” He became aware that he was rambling. “Well, okay I’ll let you go. Goodbye” With that he turned and disappeared once again into the trees.
Katrina sped back down the access road. So that was it? He had walked away over a silly little comment like that? Of all the immature ridiculous things to do just to avoid a little let down! Of course, she could understand his fear all too well. She too knew what rejection was like. Even when men could accept the scar on her face, often one look at her hobbling on the cane often sent them running for the hills. Yes, she understood vulnerability. She sat at the fork in the road now. Maybe he did deserve one more chance. Even though it ended badly, the banquet night was the closest she’d come to a date in years! Her tires veered left. She would give them both a fresh start.
She entered Byron’s office at the appointed time after having been shown to her room by a staff member so she could get settled. The room looked rather large but furniture arrangements still managed to make the setting seem intimate. “Have a seat,” he interrupted her thoughts. She sat in the chair directly across from him noting the wall of bookshelves behind him. So he enjoyed reading as much as she did, it seemed.
“I’m really glad you decided to come back.” Relief was evident on his face and she was oddly touched.
She took a look at the large bank of windows overlooking a spectacular mountain view and imagined herself sitting curled up in this room with a good book taking in that vista. “Yes, I think I am too.” -------------------------------------------------
The week had been going very well and Katrina could hardly believe it was already Wednesday. Even though she had lived with her sister's disability for two decades, she still felt a bit shy at first around the adults who came for the camping week. Soon, with Byron's help, she got to know the counselors and more importantly the campers and now she felt very much at home in this beautiful mountain hideaway.
Today the planned activity was a half mile hike along the property's "easy" trail. The hike culminated in a big picnic spread with fun and games for all. "Are you sure you're up for this?" Byron had asked, making a point of not looking at her cane.
Katrina walked on her treadmill at home for a mile or more daily and had done so for many years now. She felt confident that the half mile trek would not be a problem. "I think I'll be fine." she replied confidently. He looked unconvinced. She tapped the brim of his baseball cap with the handle of her cane. "Trust me, I'm a lot tougher than I look!"
The trees and plants and wildlife on the trail seemed to be on full perfect display today and Byron loved watching Katrina delight in the natural beauty of his home. It was not normally his custom to go along on these hikes to the picnic area. He absolutely loved having the place full of lively people enjoying themselves but the few hours of peace and quiet was usually much needed and appreciated by midweek.
Today he had an ulterior motive. He could not get enough of Katrina's company. He'd given her tours, introduced her around to people, showed her camp activities. The fact of the matter was he was running out of legitimate excuses to spend time with her and the hike seemed like a golden opportunity. He had hoped she would want to stay behind so they could have some quiet time together. But since she insisted on taking this hike, he followed like the lovesick pup he was rapidly becoming.
Of course, he also was still a bit worried about her despite her reassurances. Aside from one major hill, this was a fairly level and easy trail if one were on wheels. Probably even easier for a person on two good legs. He was worried though that Katrina might have trouble at some point so he wanted to keep an eye on her.
The picnic was wonderful fun! Everybody ate way too much and had a wonderful time playing adapted sports and relay games. Katrina was delighted by the whole scene but she declined to participate. She spent much of the afternoon trying discretely to rub her throbbing leg and thigh muscles. For some reason she didn’t want anyone to know how much she was hurting. The walk was certainly shorter and infinitely more beautiful than her home workout but the terrain was more bumpy which put extra pressure on her already unstable leg. The rest and several aspirin had not done much to ease the ache. Byron’s pleasant company was very diverting though.
Byron sat across from her watching her as she cheered on a group of relay racers dash by. Her delicate fists shot up in the air as they passed then went back to massaging her leg. He knew she was in pain but he had no idea what to do about it. She obviously didn’t want anyone to notice and would most certainly refuse his offer to rub the muscles for her. He had no other choice but to sit with her and try to take her mind off it with lame jokes.
The sun started to hang pretty low in the sky and finally the inevitable walk back could be postponed no longer. Katrina leaned much more heavily on her cane and moved much more slowly as the group started back. Only Byron lagged behind to keep pace with her. She had no eyes for scenes of nature on the return trip. She kept her head down and concentrated on taking one step after another keeping her mind off how much farther they had to go.
The pain was getting pretty close to unbearable but she was desperate not to admit defeat to Byron. One step on a small stone however nearly sent her sprawling. His strong arms reached out and grabbed her narrow waist and pulled her to him. She landed with a plop on his thin lap. He pushed them both to a nearby fallen log and directed her to sit there.
“Do you think you can walk on it if we rest a minute?” He patted his knee.
She could no longer hide the agony on her face and the pain made her voice tremble. “No I don’t think so. I feel like a complete idiot.” She sounded near tears. “I’m so sorry, I really thought I could do this.”
“It’s okay, it’s not the end of the world.” He rolled back a few inches and patted his lap. “Hop aboard, we’ll have you back at the lodge in no time so we can get you fixed up.”
She looked doubtful. “I’m heavier than I look.”
He laughed, “Honey you could weigh six tons and be wearing spiked underpants. It wouldn’t make any difference. I promise I won’t feel a thing.”
He held out his hand and she used it to stand on her good leg and pivot. She landed in his lap with a second plop. He let out a small yelp and she gasped and almost stood again. He pulled her back down and chucked, “Sorry, I couldn’t resist teasing you. Trust me, you’re fine. Now let’s get you home and comfortable.”
To be continued...