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Kim Roberts knew what her daughter was capable of. Cassie Clark on the other hand always seemed like a sweet and well-mannered young lady, and the last thing she wanted was for Maddy to drag Cassie into one of her little adventures. Kim's daughter had an independent streak a mile wide, and that mixed with her above average intelligence for a ten-year-old, made her a force to be reckoned with sometimes. But, when it came to being stubborn, Kim saw where Maddy got it and she didn't have to look any further than the closest mirror. A month after Maddy was born, her father skipped out on them. Kim's parents begged her to move back to Illinois and live with them, but she refused. She told them she could take care of herself and her baby. Things hadn't always been easy, there had been so many moves, so many towns, big and small, but they had made it this far together and she felt that they'd finally found a place where they belonged.
She turned down the path as Jenica had instructed. They followed the ruts until they became too deep.
"I guess we hike from here," she said.
When they'd covered about half the distance from the Jeep to the grove of trees, Cam broke the silence. "Kimberly, I've intended to thank you for being so good to Cassie. She adores you. She doesn't have a lot of feminine influences in her life outside of her school teachers, so it means a lot to me."
"Your daughter is a sweetheart. I love her dearly," she said.
A warm smile parted his lips and he bowed his head slightly but his eyes never left hers. "Thank you," he said softly. "I'm fond of Maddy too, you know. She's a firecracker. She says some of the funniest things."
"She always keepsthings interesting," she replied.
The grove was in full view now and three high school aged kids were toting large black trash bags, filling them with styrofoam tombstones.
"I don't see any short people, Kimberly."
They approached the boys who stopped what they were doing when they noticed them.
"Hello, Mr. Clark. Hi Ma'am," said one of the boys.
"Jason, is my daughter and another little girl out here?" Cam asked.
The boy looked puzzled. "No."
Another young man in a letterman's jacket said, "I helped Cassie get back on the wagon after we were done making the little girls scream like ... like little girls."
"Yeah, I was talking with my girlfriend and Cassie was giving me a hard time, teasing me for having a girlfriend," said the third boy. "There wasn't a one of them left after the tractor took off."
"Okay, thanks guys," said Cam. They turned and started walking back to the jeep. Behind them, the boys fired up a pair of all terrain vehicles. A few seconds later, they passed them on their way back to the road.
Suddenly Cam stopped and Kimberly turned to see a crooked smile on his face. "I was thinking about what one of the boys said about my daughter teasing him about having girlfriend, and that started me thinking. I bet I know what is going on here." He paused and Kimberly watched as his cheeks turned pink. "I think maybe our daughters are trying to play matchmaker. Cassie has told me on several occasions that I should ask you out."
Without thinking, Kim said, "Why didn't you?"
Cam laughed. "I don't know. I mean, should I?"
"Only if you want to," she said. Before he could reply, she changed the subject. "So you think they're back at the feed store waiting for us?"
"I would bet they are. Or maybe they've gone back to your house."
As they were walking Cam said, "Cassie has told me I should spend some time alone with you. I think, 'You'll fall madly in love with her', were her very words. I guess all of this should have occurred to me sooner."
Despite her uneasiness about where her daughter was at that moment, Kimberly found herself giggling a little as she thought about it. It sure did seem that the girls were up to something, but she doubted it was Cassie's idea. This had all the distinguishing marks of a Madeline Roberts scheme. She glanced over at Cam who returned the look, a little color still in his cheeks.
They paused when they reached the jeep and looked at each other over the hood. Cam's blond hair was a little shaggy and was windblown from the ride. He was drumming his hands nervously on the sheet metal.
"Okay," he said finally. "I guess the girls called my bluff. I should have asked you out the first time I met you because I wanted to ... I don't know why it is that I'm so indecisive when it comes to stuff like this. But the fact is, that even if you turn me down, I would be a fool not to ask--"
"Yes," she interrupted, "You name the time and place, and I'll be ready. I want to go out with you, too."
"Damn. That was easy enough."
"Now, let's go find our daughters," Kimberly said as she climbed behind the wheel. Cam hopped in and she turned the key, and nothing happened. She took a deep breath, fought the urge to tear into a vulgar tirade and gave it another turn. Again nothing.
"She's old but she's usually really reliable," Kim said, gently patting the steering wheel with an open palm. She tried again and the jeep sputtered but refused to turn over.
"Oh dammit! I can't believe this."
She tried it three more times before Cam crawled out and went around to the front. Kim popped the hood. A moment later, he stuck his head around the side and said, "I'll be honest with you, I don't know much about engines. I have no idea what the problem is."
She grabbed a flashlight from the glove box, got out and kicked the ground in frustration. It was at least a two-mile walk back to the feed store.
"How long do you think we've got before its dark?" she asked.
Cam looked at the setting sun. "I'd guess about twenty minutes, maybe less. I'd call someone but I left my phone on the seat of my car."
"I think I'm the only person over the age of fourteen in the U.S. that doesn't own a cell phone," she said adding, "But I answer the phone all day at work, and I just don't want one near me if I don't have to have one."
They started walking down the rough path and all Kimberly could think was that this had all the makings of a bad horror movie--two little girls missing, parents in the woods with a car that won't start, the sun going down, and it's Halloween.
It would get worse.