Mari reclined in the grass with her head propped up on her hands while she studied the stars. The entire day was nonstop fun. With Reese’s departure delayed and his assurance he didn’t mind, Raoul and Mari got their camping trip.
The hike up was hilarious. She and Allie spent half of it lamenting the delayed maturity of men as Raoul and Reese clowned around. They spent the other half joining in the antics. It didn’t take long to pitch camp, and playfully barking orders at Reese made it all the more fun. They canoed on the lake before enjoying a lazy swim. When the sun slipped away and the moon came out, they gathered around the fire for dinner and S’mores followed by stories.
Mari was utterly content. She could watch the stars until she drifted off to sleep right there.
Reese’s smile partially blocked her view of the night sky. “Comfortable?”
“Come look at the stars,” she encouraged with a matching smile.
Stretching out beside her, he mimicked her pose.
“I talked to Blake this morning,” she said telling him something she was certain he knew.
“He was happy to hear from you.”
Her smile widened. “It’s still kinda hard to believe sometimes, you know? That I can just pick up the phone and talk to him. It’s real, though, and we’re slowly getting to know each other. It made me think. The other night you said you chose to stay with him. You never did say why.”
He didn’t immediately respond.
“I’m getting to know him for myself,” she continued with her eyes still on the sky, “and I’m enjoying that. You’ve been close to him for a long time though. I want to see him through your eyes.”
More silence. Just when Mari started to plead her case further, he spoke.
“Where I grew up, there were a lot of examples of guys that weren’t so great. That made it easier to spot ones that were. Blake stood out like that. He was fair. He kept his word. The times we worked together, he was focused and willing to pull his weight. When it came to work, that was really all I needed. When things would get slow sometimes, I found he could be funny. The first time he told a joke, I just looked at him in disbelief.”
She giggled at the image he painted.
“When I was 19, my mom was hit by a car.”
Mari’s laughter died a quick death.
“Hit and run. I was on my way to work when they called. I called Blake to tell him I was on the way to the hospital. She broke her leg, had a concussion, and needed stitches. Blake showed up and told me to let him know if I needed anything else. I didn’t think about it at the time. I just thanked him for coming and he left.”
He freed one hand to rub it over his head. “She had insurance, but it wasn’t much. I asked about the bill, knowing it was going to set us back, but it was already taken care of.”
“Blake,” Mari whispered with a smile.
“He was there when you needed him.”
“The support he gave us then was more than any boss would be expected to give. He didn’t hesitate to do it, didn’t wait around for me to ask for help. He just saw what needed to be done and he did it. I could make money anywhere. Having somebody I could trust to have my back if I needed it? That was harder to find. That day, he stopped being just somebody I worked for.”
“I think that would have changed things for anybody.”
“The man you’re getting to know is the same man I know. He’s open with you. He can be him without needing to be anything else to you. It’ll come.”
“Thanks. For that and for sharing. That was personal for you, but it gave me exactly what I was looking for.”
She couldn’t reconcile that Blake was the man Tyler was accusing him of being. The sounds of the night filled the silence between them. With Tyler visiting his father, she trusted nothing would happen with Blake and that gave her time to get to know him without pressure. More and more, she was beginning to wonder if Tyler was wrong. There could be another explanation.
The man lying beside her had the answers. He was too close to Blake not to know one way or the other. He would never tell her, though, and to ask would give him questions of his own. She sighed.
“So,” she prompted to distract herself. “How would you rate your first camping trip so far?”
“It’s been pretty fun. There’s this woman, though. Man, tough camp leader.”
She pulled one arm from behind her head to push him. He chuckled softly as he rocked with her touch. “There are a lot of beautiful places out here and I can see why you and Raoul bring in so much business. You’re both naturals.”
“Okay, now you’re just trying to make me squirm,” she teased. She couldn’t quite hide the flush of pleasure.
“Hey, you asked for my opinion. I was just giving you my answer.”
“Thanks.” She turned onto her side and pushed up on her arm to stare at him. “Today has been absolutely perfect. Thank you for telling Allie I wasn’t strong-arming you.”
“Much. I told her you weren’t strong-arming me much.”
Her head tipped back with her laughter. “Get some rest. Your tough camp leader has plans for the morning.”
Reese sat up with a sharp salute. “Ma’am, yes ma’am.”
She was still laughing when she pushed to her feet and headed to her tent.