Chapter 3
The Summer Of Discontent

After her parents left, Rhonda had followed Chief Sakituya like a zombie to the camp orientation, and had a fireside meal with the rest of the children. She had managed to avoid attention during the 'naming ceremony' that had been conducted that night in which Chief Sakituya gave all the children special Indian names which they proudly learned to recite in English and Blackfoot. She groaned in exasperation as "Hair Like Spider-Web" and "Preens Like Raccoon" had tried to get her to join in. Finally, the evening came to a close and the children were shown to their assigned cabins. She was confused at first, for the slip of paper showed that she was the only person in her cabin. All the other cabins had two bunk beds apiece and four kids assigned to each.

'I... get my own room?' she said, looking at Sakituya, who had accompanied her personally to the cabin.

'No, not quite young Rhonda.' said the Indian chief, a faint smile on his wrinkled lips. 'There is a special one who will share this cabin with you.'

Rhonda felt the wood planks on the cabin threshold buckle slightly, and heard a soft footfall, mingled with a clacking sound. She turned around and screamed. A bear cub, standing on all fours to about three feet high was climbing up the stairs. It paused, looking curiously at Rhonda for a moment before passing into the cabin.

Rhonda stared in disbelief, and realized with sudden awkwardness that she had jumped straight up and was in Sakituya's arms. Sakituya looked at her. 'Hmmm.' he said softly. 'Perhaps your Indian name should be "Leaps Like Gazelle".

She dropped down quickly, after making sure the bear cub was fully inside. 'You want me to share a room with a BEAR?' she squealed.

'He is not just a bear, Rhonda Fatigable.' said Sakituya patiently. 'His name is "Gentle Paw". He is also the mascot of our camp - and my four-legged friend.'

'A BEAR?' she squealed again.

'He will not harm you, young Rhonda.' said Sakituya, holding open the door. 'Unless you attack him - which I would strongly advise you not to do.'

'A BEAR?'

Sakituya sighed. 'Please trust me, Rhonda. You will like him. He is quite playful, and perhaps spending time with him will prove to you that nature is nothing to be afraid of.'

Rhonda sputtered. 'Why do I have to bunk with a bear?' she said. 'If he's your friend, why doesn't he stay in YOUR cabin so I can have the room to myself?'

Sakituya chuckled. 'I have tried. He always comes here to sleep. He says I snore too loud.'

'A BE....' she started, but Sakituya had turned and was walking away.

Rhonda stood, at a loss. All the other cabins were full up. She considered sleeping on the porch instead, but one look at the flat, rough planks told her she wouldn't get a wink. Trembling, Rhonda entered the cabin. Gentle Paw had climbed a small tilted ladder and was curled up in the top bunk, breathing softly. As quietly as she could, she set up her luggage on the other side of the room and took the bottom bunk of the opposite bed. 'Just.... stay there....' she thought, and even the voice in her head sounded like her teeth were chattering. 'Stay on your side and we're cool...'

She got ready for sleep, but shrank into a corner of the bed that was furthest from Gentle Paw and remained there, shivering, starting at every hoot of an owl, at every sound of a rustle from across the room before she fell into an exhausted slumber.

Rhonda came to a hazy awareness the next morning. Still too tired to get up, she dozed fitfully. The blankets felt warm and comfortable and she had one moment of sleepy thought that maybe she was back at home. But she smelled pine trees and heard a wash of bird chatter from all around, and cruel reality crashed in around her. She was still at Kamp Kwitcherbeliakin. She let her feet hang over the edge of the mattress, the cool morning air contrasting pleasantly with the warm blankets.

'Stupid parents...' she thought bitterly. 'Dump me off at this crazy camp and make me sleep in the same room with a BEAR.' She sighed, feeling lonely. 'I wish Grimm was here.' she thought. 'He'd know what to do...' Grimm had always been there to look out for her since their first day in Pre-K. She had gotten used to him always turning up when she needed him, and she always tried to help him with whatever he was doing, desperate to prove she was good enough to be his friend. Now she was stuck here, and there was no way Grimm could help her.

Her eyes flew open, as she became suddenly aware that something warm and wet was washing over her toes and she heard a low, snuffling breath that spread warmly across her feet....

Chief Sakituya heard a shrill cry and hurried to Rhonda's cabin. The door was swinging on its hinges as if it has been blasted open. Gentle Paw was shuffling out the door with a clumsy gait like a puppy, looking confused. Sakituya heard a rustle of leaves and looked up at a large tree that was next to the cabin. Rhonda was scrambling up into the lower branches.

'You should not scream, Rhonda.' said Chief Sakituya, calling up to her. 'It frightens him.'

'Your crazy bear tried to eat me!' Rhonda shouted down to him.

Sakituya shook his head. 'Please, young one.' he said. 'He meant you no harm. If he was going to attack you, he would have done it in the night while you were sleeping.'

'Was that supposed to calm me down?' she said sarcastically, feeling bolder now that she was up out of the bear's reach.

'I say again, you have nothing to fear from Gentle Paw.' said Sakituya. Gentle Paw was snuffling gently at Sakituya's fingers. The Indian chief looked down at him, and the bear made some high pitched yowling noises.

'Hey! What's he saying about me?' Rhonda yelled down to him.

Sakituya looked up at Rhonda in surprise. Somehow, she had known that Gentle Paw was talking to him, and more - she knew he was saying something about her. Everyone else who heard his growls thought that it was simply that - growling. He smiled. 'Gentle Paw says, your Indian name should be "Toes Taste like Berries".

Rhonda sputtered. 'Oh yeah?' she said. 'Well... tell him his Indian name should be "Fuzzy-Faced Jerk!"

At his side, Gentle Paw shook gently with a series of short, gasping growls.

'I heard that!' said Rhonda, now shaking a fist and looking angry. 'So now he's laughing at me, huh? Well, right back at'cha Clyde!'

Sakituya continued to look at her, his expression now curious. 'Breakfast will be served in the main hall soon.' he said. 'I will take Gentle Paw with me. Please be ready in twenty minutes.'

‘Yeah,' said Rhonda sulkily. 'Just keep Chewbacca there on a short leash...'

It was not until Chief Sakituya moved away with Gentle Paw following behind him that Rhonda would climb back down. The Indian chief looked back at the cabin as Rhonda disappeared into it. Gentle Paw growled quietly as they walked. 'I know, my friend.' he said. 'She is a strange one, this Rhonda. She fears nature as if it were a striking snake. But nature cleaves to her as if she were its firstborn daughter. No one else has ever understood your voice.'

Gentle Paw let out a sonorous breath.

'I like her too.' said Sakituya. 'There is more to her than meets the eye, I think. If you are agreeable, I think you should continue to share your cabin with her. Just be patient and try not to frighten her. I hope that one day she will also call you 'friend'.

Gentle Paw growled softly.

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Grimm looked out at a panorama of trees and small mountains that lay beneath them like a vast, green blanket pocked with the sapphire blue of many lakes and ponds. The fresh, clean smell of the woodlands penetrated his senses. He deliberately slowed the cycle, admiring the view as they scudded over the treetops.

'I gotta say Rhonda,' he said looking back at her, 'this place doesn't look so bad from up here.' He had spent many years listening to her horror stories about Kamp Kwitcherbeliakin, making it sound like a place where boogeymen and hobgoblins lurked behind every tree, waiting to jump out and start poking unwary victims in their eyes.

'Just wait 'till we're on the ground.' said Rhonda, and Grimm felt her arms shuddering as she held him. 'Trust me, this place is nothing but bad road.'

'Couldn't be better for flying.' he answered, weaving around a cliffside.

'Bad road, bad road, bad road....!' she chanted over and over again.

Grimm sighed and dipped the cycle lower, seeing in the distance a clearer patch among the dense trees. The GPS panel showed their location plotted in comparison to Kamp Kwitcherbeliakin, and they were almost on top of it. He saw cabins and other log buildings spread out beneath them, and several bays in a nearby lakeside which docked a number of canoes and other boats. It looked as if several sections divided into smaller camps were laid around the circular rim of the lake, but the largest cluster of cabins was unmistakable as the main camping area.

'We're here.' he said simply. 'Open your eyes Rhonda, you'll have to look sooner or later.'

Rhonda looked down at the camp as they descended. Grimm circled around and they lowered until they were parallel with the main road leading into the camp. At about twenty feet up, the tires rotated back to a vertical position and they lowered slowly to the ground, the flaps and the nacelles rotating back up.

'Touchdown!' Grimm shouted, and Rhonda felt a sudden lurch and heard a crunching of gravel and the sound of the tires spinning. She saw two familiar, and hated posts with a sign arched between them, reading Kamp Kwitcherbeliakin.

They came to a smooth stop in front of a large building which looked like a main hall. Grimm turned off the bike, and the faint hum of the turbines faded to silence. Taking off their helmets, they looked around for a few moments. A hawk screech sounded faintly in the distance. Otherwise there was no sound, and no indication that anyone was there besides themselves.

'Someone... not get the memo?' said Rhonda, turning her head back and forth as she surveyed the empty camp.

Grimm was getting off the bike, and kickstands snapped down to keep it level. 'We're early.' he said, glancing at his watch. 'No need to panic. The trip didn't take as long as I thought. Jade's earned herself another cake.' he looked proudly at the bike and ran a gloved hand across the windshield.

Rhonda swung her legs across the seat and dismounted, moaning and twisting her back, popping sounds snapped through the still air. 'Glad you enjoyed the trip.' she muttered.

'Rhonda Fatigable?' came a low, soothing voice. Rhonda whirled and saw Chief Sakituya coming out from the hall. He looked the same, except his face was slightly more lined, and there were grey hairs at the roots near his scalp. But he was still dressed the same as she remembered, with a reddish-brown poncho, animal skin breeches over a pair of brown jeans, and moccasins on his feet. His ever-present staff was still in his hand, the feathers and beads rattling as he stepped forward. 'I heard you were coming.' he said softly, a strange look in his eyes. 'You were expected to return much sooner. It has been far too long, young Rhonda.'

Rhonda looked away from him and muttered. 'Not nearly long enough....'

'And you must be Grimm Probable.' said the Indian chief, stopping in front of Grimm and putting out his hand. 'Many is the time that Rhonda has shrieked your name when she was last here.'

Grimm smiled faintly and shook his hand. 'Chief Sakituya.' he said. 'I've heard a lot about your camp. I hope none of it's true.'

Sakituya chuckled. 'A thousand people will describe something that is true a thousand different ways.' he said. 'You will see the camp and decide for yourself what is true.'

'There someplace I can store this?' he said, pointing to his bike. 'I don't want to leave it out in the open.'

Sakituya nodded. 'Yes, I can see why. Most unusual. Silent, swift and guarded, not unlike yourself, young Grimm. If it were not for the eyes of the eagles who noted your approach I might not have been aware of your arrival. We have a storage cabin which will suit it well and protect it from the elements.'

As they were wheeling the bike towards the cabin, Rhonda finally spoke again. 'Not seeing any kids....' she said, her voice a low mumble. Rueful had popped his head out of Rhonda's backpack and was looking around the camp, his whiskers twitching.

'This is a summer camp, young Rhonda.' said Sakituya. 'Not many come here during the fall. The leaves have not yet turned, but only a few holidays remain between now and the time when the quiet of the winter snows will bring sleep to the forest. For the most part, the camp remains quiet in these months, and people come here who wish to find peace.'

'So what are you still doing here?' Rhonda said, still sounding suspicious and sulky, looking around as if she were expecting to be attacked.

'This camp is more than just a business for me.' said the Indian chief. 'It is also my home. I dwell here and maintain the camp during the months when we do not have many guests.'

'That explains a lot.' Rhonda muttered. Sakituya looked at Rueful, who was running in circles around Rhonda's neck like a slithering fur stole.

'I see you have a new friend.' he said, smiling. 'He seems most eager to explore.'

Rhonda sighed. 'Knock yourself out, Rueful.' she said. At once, Rueful leaped down and shot across the grounds like a furry bolt of lightning.

Sakituya unlocked the chained double-doors of a larger cabin and swung them open with a low creaking sound. Inside were some tools, some boxes, ropes and tackle, but there was room for the bike in the center of the structure. Grimm and Rhonda pushed in the bike and after closing and locking the doors, Sakituya gave Grimm the key. 'A gesture of good faith.' he said, smiling. 'I sense that trust does not come easily to you, young Grimm. Perhaps this will set your mind at ease. I trust you to return this to me when your task here is complete.'

'Thanks....' said Grimm, taking the key and looking curiously at the Indian chief. 'Speaking of which, we were supposed to meet an expert here, a man named Maze.'

Sakituya nodded, and Grimm thought he saw a flash in Sakituya's eyes at the mention of his name, but it was gone so quickly he wasn't sure of it. 'Yes, I know Maze.' he said, his voice sounding a bit weary. 'He has been here many times, searching the forest for relics and artwork made by the ancient Blackfoot. He has not arrived yet though. He is coming by the main roads.' He smiled faintly. 'Not everyone has a flying motorcycle. Feel free to enjoy the peace of this camp while we await his arrival. Though there are others here who are looking forward to seeing you again.'

Rhonda froze. 'Oh no...' she said. 'Not....him!!!'

There was a low, rumbling snuffle from the hall, and from the main door, a large grizzly bear emerged. He was hulking and heavy-set, with long claws and a squarish head. His light brown fur was long and matted, but soft looking, and hung in feathering clumps from his paws and around his head. His eyes were low and drooping, making him appear as if he were on the verge of falling asleep, though they sparkled as he turned his gaze on Rhonda. Despite his large size, he gave an impression of harmlessness that was almost comical.

Sakituya smiled. 'Ever since he heard you were coming, Gentle Paw has been very excited.' he said. 'He still keeps your bed well tended, and will not let anyone else use it.'

Gentle Paw shambled forward, looking almost like he was smiling as he approached. With a shrill cry, Rhonda flew straight up in a leap of nearly six feet into the overhanging branches of a tree.

Grimm, Sakituya and Gentle Paw all stared up at her. At last, Sakituya smiled and shrugged. 'Ah, memories.' he said softly.

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Grimm sat on one of the log benches near the outskirts of the camp, watching as Rhonda skittered from cabin to cabin, trying to stay ahead of Gentle Paw, who was peering at her from around corners as if they were playing hide-and-seek. Grimm wasn't sure why Rhonda was so afraid of him - he seemed genuinely harmless and playful, always letting Rhonda stay comfortably out of his reach. Even Rueful seemed to like him, circling in and out between his legs like they were tree trunks.

'Traitor!' she yelled at Rueful from her perch in another tree branch. 'Defend your mistress or suffer my wrath! C'mon! You don't want to suffer the wrath, do ya?' Both Rueful and Gentle Paw looked at each other and shrugged.

Grimm took out his communicator. 'Jade.' he said. 'You reading me?'

Jade's face appeared on the screen, though the image was patchy and bolts of static lanced through it every so often. 'Connections spotty GP.' she said. There aren't many decent relays out there, and the mountains are blocking a lot of the signal.'

'Just touching base. We've got a while before the expert arrives. I thought I'd let you know the bike's working fine.'

Her face broke into an eager grin. 'Spankin!' she said. 'There's all sorts of applications for the MRTs now we've established they work....'

'MRTs?' said Grimm.

'Magnetic Repulsion Thrusters.' said Jade. 'It's not officially an invention until it has an acronym...'

'Keep it close to the vest, Jade.' he said quietly. 'Right now we're the only ones on earth who have this technology, and I think we should keep it that way until further notice.'

'Just keep me in bundt cake, and it's a deal.' she said. 'How's Rhonda holding up?'

'Same as always.' he said, looking on as Rhonda ran screaming past the bench with Gentle Paw in slow, leisurely pursuit. 'We'll touch base again before we set out.'

'Just so you know GP, once you're in the forest the communicator won't work.' she said. There's some radio equipment in the camp that's letting me slice in through the interference, but beyond that, the whole forest is an electromagnetic dead zone.'

'Gotcha.' he said. 'You rock, etc. etc.' then he shut off the communicator as Rhonda hid behind him.

'Why are you just sitting there?' Rhonda wailed. 'Your GF is in mortal peril!'

Grimm rolled his eyes. 'No peril here, Rhonda.' he said. 'All I see is a bear who looks nearly domesticated.' He stood and walked up to Gentle Paw, who had stopped about four feet away from them and was looking at them curiously with Rueful perched on the hump of his broad back. Grimm held out his hand and Gentle Paw sniffed him, licking his fingers once before sitting back on his haunches. He let out a series of guttural snorts, looking from side to side around Grimm to where Rhonda stood cringing behind him.

'None of your business!' said Rhonda suddenly, and Grimm saw the skin of her face flushing a brilliant red.

'You understand him?' said Grimm, surprised. 'What did he say?'

'Nothing!' said Rhonda, trying unconvincingly to look nonchalant. 'He said nothing!'

But Grimm couldn't help wondering. When Rhonda had first bought Rueful from Smarty-Mart, he was amazed at the nearly telepathic rapport she seemed to have developed with him. And now, despite her reticence, she seemed to understand Gentle Paw a lot better than she was letting on.

His attention was drawn away to something across the clearing. Near a copse of trees, there was one tall, bare pole with a wooden box nailed to it. Inside the box was a phone, with a receiver and cord mounted on the side of a rough, grey square. He pointed at it. 'Is that...' he started, but Rhonda cut him off.

'Yeah, that's it.' she said.

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Rhonda stood on the edge of a clearing where the only public telephone in the camp was nailed to a log pole inside a wooden box. '...and they've got a BEAR in the same cabin with me!' she was squealing into the mouthpiece. 'Come on, Mom! You've gotta get me out of this death-trap! Just take me home - please?' She paused, listening to muffled sounds through the receiver. 'Overreacting?' Rhonda wailed. She jumped up and down, stamping her feet and shaking her free hand wildly in the air. 'I am NOT overreacting!!! Hey, don't you dare hang up on me - hello? HELLO??'

She put the phone back on its hook and sighed. She wanted to go on ranting, but there was no point without her parents listening. She had been calling them constantly, almost every hour, during every break between activities. They had been patient at first, but became much less so with each call. She turned and looked around at the other kids who were laughing and playing. Shaking her head, she checked the activity book Sakituya had given her and started a slow, morose walk to the crafts camp, her head hanging low.

From the shade inside one of the cabins, Sakituya looked at her. Gentle Paw made a quivering growl, almost like a question mark.

'Her parents were wise to bring her here.' he said to Gentle Paw. 'She may fear nature, and the unknown. But I sense something within her. We simply need to help her find something that she is good at.'

Later at Crafts Camp, a number of children fled from the cabin, screaming in terror as smoke billowed from the doorway. Rhonda came out soon after, her face covered with soot and her hair matted and tangled as if she had jammed her finger in a light socket. The Camp Counselor assigned to the Crafts building looked down at her, his eyebrow raised.

'What?' said Rhonda, looking confused and helpless. 'You said it was a wood BURNING kit....'

Looking on from a distance, Sakituya sighed and shook his head.

In a knot-tying class, several children laughed as Rhonda hopped around, tangled from head to foot with several cords of rope in which she had been trying to tie a square knot. One of her hops took her too near the campfire, and one end of a trailing rope was set alight. She spun and stomped wildly, trying to put it out, but wound up setting fire to all of the racks that the other children's neat square knots were tied to.

The assembly retreated, screaming, until the fire died down; leaving Rhonda standing in the midst, dusted with soot and her hair tangled. She smiled and waved uncomfortably to the glaring counselor.

Looking on from a distance, Sakituya sighed and shook his head.

In the Dutch Oven class, the counselors looked on in stunned amazement and the rest of the class fled screaming from the cabin as the pot of water Rhonda was trying to bring to a boil caught fire and burned to cinders. She waved sheepishly at them, digging her toe on the floor.

Looking on from a distance, Sakituya sighed and shook his head.

At the docks, dressed in her swimsuit and wearing floaties on her arms, Rhonda gingerly put her toe onto the prow of a canoe that she and her waiting instructor were to take out onto the lake. She drew back in alarm as the canoe burst into flames and sank on the spot. The counselor watched as the burning canoe disappeared beneath the waves, his mouth hanging open in disbelief.

'Aw, come on fate - now you're just being ridiculous!' said Rhonda in frustration, staring at the smoking ripple on the lake surface.

Looking on from a distance, Sakituya sighed and shook his head.

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Later that night as the children slept, the counselors met with Sakituya in the main hall to discuss the events of the day and to finalize plans for the next day. They sat in a ring around a small blaze in a fire pit in the center of the large structure while smoke trailed up through a hole in the roof. Sakituya sat at the lead, a babble of talk flying between them.

'I still don't understand how the canoe caught fire, Chief.' said one of the counselors, shrugging. 'I soaked it with water before she got in just in case....'

'I never thought I'd meet someone who could actually burn water....' said another.

'Maybe her Indian name should be "Firebringer"....' said another, and nearly everyone nodded and chuckled.

Sakituya held up his hand to stop the chatter as the other counselors described their disastrous attempts to guide Rhonda through the camp activities. 'I am hearing many complaints, but no solutions.' he said firmly. 'And even fewer kind words.'

The counselors fell silent. Finally after several moments, one of them spoke again. 'A whole week, and all she's managed is to set fire to nearly everything she's touched, even the lake.' he said. 'The other children are afraid to include her in the games because they think she'll accidentally destroy something else. Since the day she arrived, she's done little but complain and say how miserable she is.' he said. 'She keeps saying that she wants to go home.' he paused, his voice low and hesitant. 'She may be right. Maybe she doesn't belong here.'

'You are mistaken, I think.' said the Indian Chief, shaking his head slowly. 'I would look on it as a failure, not simply for myself, but for all of us, if we cannot help this girl find a place here and make her welcome.'

'But if staying here makes her unhappy, aren't we just making things worse for her?' said another counselor, shaking his head.

Sakituya sighed. 'Many times, it is the troubled child who we end up remembering most fondly, and who becomes the most remarkable as they grow. Continue in patience. That is all I will say for now.'

The counselors all looked doubtful, but they knew that Sakituya's mind was made up and it was no good saying any more. They turned their attention to finalizing plans for the next day's events.

Some distance away in her cabin, Rhonda cringed in a corner of her bed, shaking from head to foot, her eyes wide and looking in the direction of the upper bunk across the room where Gentle Paw lay sleeping soundly. She bit her lip in sadness and frustration. She had tried phoning her parents before bed, but they had refused to take her call....

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Rhonda stood in the doorway of her old cabin, looking in. She had found herself drawn to the small log house despite herself. Curious, perhaps, to see if anything had changed. But the one-room cabin was almost just as she remembered. Two desks, two chairs, and two bunk beds. One thing was different though - Gentle Paw's bunk bed was bowed, with the mattress looking more like a shallow bowl. The top bunk had been removed and there was only the one mattress in a squashed and distorted frame. The other bunk looked neat but dusty, as if it hadn't been used in many years.

She lowered her head sadly, but her reverie was broken as she heard a low snort behind her. She backed into the cabin fearfully as Gentle Paw squeezed his furry, hulking body through the door. Rhonda tried to scream, but her voice came out as a feeble whisper. Gentle Paw just stared at her, his head cocked to the side. Then he nodded.

'What?' said Rhonda. 'What?' She considered trying to bolt past him, but to get to the door she would have to get right next to him. Gentle Paw nodded again, and waved one massive paw toward the bed.

Rhonda backed away from him until she reached the bunk. Gentle Paw looked at her expectantly. Finally, she sank down onto the mattress and swung up her legs. Gentle Paw perked up, capering in a small circle and growling like a dog who was given a treat. Then he climbed into the squashed pile that was the other bunk bed and curled up, the mattress springs making dull metallic creaks as his huge body settled down.

Rhonda bit her quivering lip. 'What is with that stupid bear?' she thought. 'Can't he sleep unless he's got me terrified in the same room?'

She waited until she heard Gentle Paw breathing softly, then as silently as she could; she sneaked out of the cabin and broke into a run. She came to a panting stop at the docks, and sat down on a log bench, which overlooked the lake. She buried her face in her hands.

'This place isn't that bad.' came a soft voice behind her. 'So not the drama.' Grimm stood behind, looking at her. His face was concerned, for he could tell she was on the verge of tears.

'Why can't what-ziz-face just get here so we can get this over with?' Rhonda said.

Grimm kept his voice matter-of-fact and as business like as he could, trying to give her comfort through normalcy. 'He'll be here soon enough.' he said.

Silence fell, except for an occasional frog chirp and the lapping of waves. 'I just... hate this place.' she said at last. 'My life was nothing but misery here.'

'I know.' said Grimm. 'The poison ivy, the bear cub, the fact that your parents stopped taking your calls...'

'All that was rough, GP.' said Rhonda softly, looking out over the lake. 'But I've been holding out on you for years. I never told you the worst part.'

Grimm stared down at her. She was huddled up with her arms folded, her back hunched and her legs together in the way she always held herself when she knew she was about to say something serious. Grimm raised an eyebrow. Over the years, his problem had always been trying to get her to stop talking about her experience at Kwitcherbeliakin. Hearing her say she'd been hiding something from him was a surprise. 'The worst part?' he said, genuinely curious.

She nodded softly. 'Spending the whole summer away from you.' she said, her voice almost a whisper.

Grimm was stunned. He wasn't much for affectionate displays, and here Rhonda had hit him with a declaration that almost demanded one. He was touched of course. He knew Rhonda really liked him, and when they'd started dating he had noted a burning light in her eyes as if a lifetime wish had come true.

'Come on Rhonda....' he said, sitting down and laying an awkward hand on her shoulder. At once she laid both her hands on his, holding him there and leaning her head against his shoulder. 'Don't... get all schmaltzy on me.' he said, not knowing what else to say.

'I like schmaltzy.' she whispered.

Grimm held her. Tweaking the good guys - getting into their heads and pulling their strings until they were so worked up they couldn't see straight - that was what he was comfortable with and what came naturally to him. But this was different, trying to set someone's mind at ease. He trailed off, wondering if he'd said the wrong thing, and decided to cut his losses by saying nothing more.

Rhonda just held his hand in silence.

From across the camp, Sakituya stared at them as they embraced, two tiny dots at the distant water's edge. He sighed, and then he heard the soft sound of footsteps. He turned, and saw a tall figure looming behind him.

'Sakituya.' came a deep, cold voice. 'I apologize for my lateness.'

Chapter 4
The Paw That Refreshes

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