Author's Note: This story will have seven or eight chapters, but it's already all written, so a chapter will be posted every couple of days. As always, your reviews are welcome and very much appreciated!
Katie was nervous and excited, anxious and exhilarated, scared and thrilled. Adjusting her backpack, she took a lingering look at the two people sitting in the car. Those two people, a man and a woman, had already taken a long walk around the campsite (which turned out to be more like a thorough inspection), asked the staff endless questions (which were borne with enormous patience and grace), and exchanged long hugs and goodbyes with their daughter. That daughter, Katie (Katya to everyone but close family and friends), was more than ready for her parents to drive off, leaving her behind.
She tried to reassure them. 'Don't worry, you guys,' she said, leaning down to meet their eyes over the top of a rolled-down window, 'I'll be fine.'
The man and woman in the car were trying their best to look calm and unflustered, even though it was a momentous occasion for them. It was the first time their only daughter would be away from home on her own for more than a night or two… and with strangers, not trusted and capable loved ones.
'Remember everything we talked about,' the woman said.
'Yeah,' the man agreed, 'be careful – I know what those artsy types were like back when I was in high school, and – .'
Katie rolled her eyes as she cut in. 'Hey, I'm an "artsy type" too, Daddy, remember? Besides, it's not the seventies anymore. We're not exactly free lovin' hippies.'
Her parents laughed, just as Katie had intended them too. But still there was no move from either of them to say that final goodbye. Katie realized she was going to have to adopt the direct approach.
'Okay guys, I love you, but I am starting to look seriously uncool here. All the other parents are gone. The other kids are going to think I'm a big baby. And I need to finish registration.'
As if on cue, Lisa Jacobsen, the camp director, came towards the car. A brisk, petite woman in her forties, she had been watching Katya and her parents out of the corner of her eye for the past half hour, while running around sorting out the million-and-one things that always go wrong on the first day of camp. She had seen this scene many times over – reluctant parents stalling for time before leaving their kids. This was the fourteenth anniversary of the annual camp she ran for arts-inclined teens – and every year this scene was replayed by over-anxious parents. She figured it was time for an intervention.
'Excuse me,' Lisa said to Mac and Harm, 'but I'm going to have to steal Katya away now,' Lisa said. 'Registration is almost over, and we have a full evening of activities planned.'
A grateful Katie waved a final goodbye to her parents, and blew them kisses before turning around and hurrying toward the huge tent where the other teens were already assembled.
Lisa turned to Mac and Harm. 'Hey, I know it's a tall order, but try not to worry. I promise you we'll take good care of her. And if there's any cause for concern at all –'
'Did I remember to give you both our cell numbers?' Mac interjected, anxiously.
'Yes,' Lisa replied, patiently, 'along with your office numbers, your home numbers, your doctor's numbers, your neighbor's number…. You covered all the bases and then some, Mac. Now I've got to go – I'll see you guys in a couple of weeks.'
Mac laughed. 'Thanks Lisa, and we're sorry for being the over-protective parents from hell.'
Lisa smiled, her kind, perceptive brown eyes crinkling at the corners. 'Believe me, I understand completely. I've been there.'
After Lisa left, Mac and Harm sat quietly in the car for a long moment, breathing in the balmy summer air, each lost in their own thoughts.
'We're doing the right thing,' Harm said softly, almost as if he was talking to himself.
'Are we?' Mac responded.
'I don't know,' Harm rejoined, 'but I know one thing – I didn't think it would be this hard to leave her here.'
'It's just two weeks,' Mac reminded him, trying to comfort both her husband and herself. 'She'll be back home before we know it. She needs this – it's time for her to spread her wings a little. And we need it too – I hate to admit it, but we've sheltered her way too much. We used her past experience as an excuse to fuss over her to the point where it's becoming unhealthy. She's sixteen – a bona fide young woman, and other than vacations or visits to Mattie and the Roberts, she's never really been away from home. We need a break from her just as much as she needs one from us.'
'You're right… doesn't make it any easier though. Did you see how happy she was to go?' Harm asked, his voice tinged with laughter.
'Yeah,' Mac responded, laughing as well, 'here we are a couple of basket cases, and she skips off into the sunset without a care in the world.'
She leaned closer to her husband, resting her head on his shoulder and pulling her arm through his, and she sighed. 'I just hope nothing goes wrong here.'
'Nothing will,' Harm responded. 'Lisa and the rest of the staff know what they're doing. The place is pretty secure. It's one the most respected programs of its kind in the country – we're just lucky that Lisa liked Katie's work enough to accept her. We've done all the research we could possibly do, Mac – we've checked and re-checked everything over and over, and now we just have to go home and hope for the best. I think Katie's going to have a great couple of weeks.'
'We, on the other hand, are going to have a terrible couple of weeks, worrying about her nonstop,' Mac responded with another deep sigh. 'Let's get out of here – we don't want her to be known as the girl with the extremely clingy parents.'
Mac was wrong, though. Inside the tent, she and Harm were indeed the topic of conversation – but not for their clinginess.
Carmen Jackson, a willowy blonde with striking green eyes and a winning smile, had barely introduced herself to Katie when she launched into a detailed dissertation on the subject of Katie's parents.
'Oh my gosh, they're gorgeous! Are they actors?'
Katie laughed. 'No – although my dad did do a TV commercial once. He's in the Navy, and my mom's in the Marine Corps.'
'Oh wow, how cool is that?! Your dad is dreamy… and your mom is stunning. Do you have any brothers and sisters?'
'Two brothers – one older and one younger.'
'Ooh – tell me about the older one – do you have a picture?'
Katie laughed, taking her little pink wallet out of her pocket. When she showed Carmen the well-worn family picture tucked into it, the reaction was predictable.
'Oh my gosh, he's so hot! Why isn't he here too?'
'He's not very "arts-inclined". He's in college and he's going to be a surgeon someday. He's really smart,' Katie replied, smiling fondly at the thought of Jack.
'Beauty and brains, huh?' Carmen said, fanning herself with one hand. 'Does he drive?'
'Yes – why?' Katie asked, surprised by the question.
'Because, my new, pretty friend,' Carmen said, pulling an arm through one of Katie's, 'much as I enjoyed looking at your gorgeous parents today, I am hoping you can persuade your gorgeous big brother to come pick you up on the last day of camp!'