A Dolphin for One ~~ * ~~ Chapter 1 As the only child of Ray and Dani Ross, Kaileigh sometimes thought about what it might be like tohave someone around for bit of company, maybe some late night whispered conversations when sleepran away and hid under the pine trees-when the Colorado skies turned that skybluepink and forcedevery living creature to rest for the following day. There had even been a few times when she wishedfor a brother to irritate her and steal the glory by cleaning the garage perfectly when she had done allthe work. But that was only sometimes. Most of the time, Kaileigh found herself quite contented in the factthat she was the center of her parents world and shared the spotlight with nobody else. Ray and Dani enjoyed showing their love for the teenage girl and gave her everything they could;there may have been times when the family had to pinch corners or save up for certain things theywanted, but that never bothered Kaileigh. Growing up in the mountains, material possessions neverrated high on her priority list anyhow. Their daughter thought of herself as being practical, able to discern between the wants list and theneeds list. It had actually been half a quarters home schooling class in economics, taught by her momin the upstairs laundry room-makeshift class room that her parents had designed right before she startedkindergarten. Home schooling had never been anything her parents planned in advance. They had, in fact, nevereven thought about it until they bought that house up on the Colorado hilltop in the middle of nowhereand it dawned on them that their daughter could be hurt on the playground several miles away or Godforbid, the brakes on the school bus went out going around those steep inclines. Without even discussing the matter, the couple simply began preparing the class room, bought acase of notebooks-and it was a done deal. The way Dani looked at the situation, she worked at home anyway; her freelance writing had takenoff and the work schedule allowed her to work around her familys needs. Kaileighs education fit injust fine with a schedule like that. * The girls eyes scanned her bedroom, over the plum-colored curtains, past the bookcase and thepair of guitars propped up in the corner. Blue eyes scanned for that one last item to stash inside herduffel bag; cant go camping without a book light! When she caught sight of it sticking out from undera pile of folded laundry on the end of her bed, Kaileigh scooped up the treasure and did her version ofthe Happy Dance. Shed been looking forward to this trip for ages. Even though her parents had planned to go morethan once over the last couple of years, something always forced her parents into postponing theirvacation plans. Each time she heard the bad news, the duffle bag found its way back to the top shelf ofher closet-along with dreams of sleeping under the stars and feeling the breeze blow across her nose. But this time her family was really going on that camping trip, no doubt about it! Shed known it was a for-sure deal when her mom announced that school would consist of two fulldays of non-stop home economics; time to fill plastic zip-top bags with trail mix, jerky and other snackfoods the Ross clan loved. Her dad had already gone to the trouble of crawling under their house; he dragged out the foldingchairs and chest coolers. Once the tents were watertight and all the parts were collected into onecontainer, Ray folded the tents back up and stowed them in their respective bags again. He was one ofthose dads who believed in making sure everything was in working order before leaving the house. *
Dani stood in the door frame of her daughters room, her back firmly planted against the cedar. “So what are you wearing in the morning?” Kaileighs startled jump showed her mom that she had no idea her mom had been standing there;did she catch her performance in the hair brush a few minutes earlier? Pointing to the brass chair in the corner of her room, Kaileigh showed her mom the chosenensemble: jean shorts (otherwise known in the teen circle as jorts), a long sleeve yellow t-shirt withmatching yellow socks, and of course, the pair of hiking boots shed broken in long ago. “Cool,” her mom confirmed. “Might as well haul your stuff out and set it on the couch so Dad canpile it in the trailer. Hes gone now to fill up the propane tanks and top of the tank on the truck; heshoping to roll at daybreak. I might also warn you that he decided to bring his banjo.” Kaileigh stopped cold. “I thought he said I couldnt bring my guitar-what gives?” Dani winked at her daughter and gave a swift nod toward the corner of her room. “Which one doyou like most? Daddy never said I couldnt bring one.” “That one,” her daughter pointed to the acoustic guitar, the one she would be least sad about ifanything happened to.” “Thanks, Mom! Youre the best.” “Its what I do,” Dani waved as she made her way out of the room to sneak their secret into thatoverhead ledge in the trailer. * “Why do you insist on being so loud?” Kaileighs unpainted fingertips fumbled around until theyfound the little lastic switch protruding from the back of the alarm clock and mechanically gave it thefamiliar flip. For a blissful three seconds, the teenager fell back into slumber. As if some invisible creature poked her from underneath the bed, Kaileigh bolted straight out ofthe blue gingham comforter, her feet plunking down on the carpet in one fluid motion. She flipped thelong dark hair from her face and grinned. Oh yeah. It was goin down! “Woo hoo! Vacation day, everyone – wakey, wakey!” The smile revealed perfect white teeth,compliments of the local orthodontist. On her last visit, shed chosen the black and neon pink bands toreflect her inner rock-star. Tripping her left foot on the lamp cord, Kaileigh darted right by the White Rabbit boy band postershed proudly displayed on her wall-instead of pausing to stare at Danny Montgomery, as she normallydid before leaving her room Lead vocals and bassist, he and his pop group had earned the covetedGroup of the Year award for three straight years. Every teenager in the nation knew who the guy was. Instead of her normal pause, however, the girl burst out of her room to crane her neck up towardher parent’s upstairs lofted bedroom. “Cmon! The sun is almost up already, you sleepyheads,” she hollered up. No response. “Mom?” Nothing. Kaileigh gave a look of disgust and shook her head; how could they sleep in today, of all days?That look of disgust quickly turned to a childish grin as she began tip-toeing up the staircase. Sheremembered jumping into the center of their bed as a little girl and shouting hiyegi, which meanswake up in the Cherokee language. Each step widened the girls grin as she made her way down the skinny hallway toward their room. But the joke was on Kaileigh, because their room was empty, the bed had been made, and therewas a note waiting on the comforter for her; it simply read, Meet us outside when youre ready. Wehave a surprise for you! If she thought she could have gotten away with jumping down over the side of the lofted bedroomwithout breaking a leg, she probably would have opted for that maneuver. Instead, teenage feet racedback down the staircase and out the front door; once shed firmly planted herself to the porch, her eyesfound the surprise.
“No way!” she shrieked when her eyes fell on the matching neon green and white quads tethered toher dads flatbed trailer. “Aw, ya hear that, Mom? She doesnt want them. Guess well just have to take them back now,” heteased. His daughter raked one hand through her mop of hair and pointed one finger at him as she caughther breath. “Not a chance, Mister! When did you do this? I am always with you!” Ray Ross nodded. “Yea, but you havent been with the Wilsons. I asked Mark to bring them homewith him when he went into town a couple of weeks ago. Theyve been in his garage ever since, andthen last night when I made a fuel run, I swung by and grabbed them. Sneaky, huh?” Her dad wiggledhis eyebrows up and down, flashing that grin of his.” Kaileighs grin turned completely upside down as a vision crept into the back of her mind. “Ewwww...what about-” Her words cut short, Dani knew exactly what was on her mind. “Hes been away at his uncles ranch for a week and a half now. No, he didnt sit on them,” camethe assurance she needed to hear. They were referring to the Wilsons teenage son, who, in Kaileighs opinion, was a total idiot. Shedbeen turned off by the boy several months before, when she and her dad were rebuilding a transmissionfor Mr. Wilson. “Hey, I dont wanna hafta get up,” she called to the Village Idiot. “You wanna hand me that torqueconverter?” Hed just stood there. Blankly staring first at her feet and then at the work bench. He had no cluewhat she was talking about and the girl rolled her blue eyes at him. Puffing a strand of hair from her mouth, she called out a second time. “Yo, its that big round thing. Sitting next to all those shiny metal things on sticks,” she mumbled. He winced, wounded. “Yeah? Well, dont be so smart.” He reached over and put his hand on the torque converter, glancing over at her first to doublecheck that was the right thing. She forced a smile. It was too late when he realized it was actually a two-handed task, his shoulders snapping from theweight. He glanced in her direction to see if shed caught it. She had. Her dads voice brought her back to the quads. “You gonna stand there all day or are we going camping?” Chapter 2 “There is nothing in the whole world like my daddys cheesey-eggs,” Kaileigh reported out loud,rubbing her belly for emphasis. Ray stood at the dish-washing station hed invented the summer before; the bubbles splashed as thestill-hot skillet hit the water, sizzling and popping while her mom refilled coffee mugs. The teen pointed at her own mug. “Dont forget about me!” “Hit me, Mamma, one more time...” Dani sang off-key. Her daughter held up one finger and mouthed the word, NO, shaking her head with closed eyes anda scrunched up nose. “What?” Dani laughed. “Cant a mom sing?” “Not that!”
* The Ross family camping vacation went down in the books as the highlight of their entire life thusfar; between Rays surprise of the quads and her mom remembering to pack everything including acouple of cans of campfire spaghetti sauce, to all the jokes and rounds of Scrabble, Kaileigh knew shewould never forget the past week. On that last night of their trip, the three pitched in to cook dinner together. Campfire spaghetti. With supper eaten and dishes dried and nestled securely back into their proper totes, the Rossfamily retired to their camper table for a rousing game of Monopoly. Mamma always asked the same set of questions before every game they played. “Are we gonna use the ones for ones or for thousands? And do we have to go around once beforewe buy anything?” Dad always answered the same way. “We’ll use them for thousands, and yeah. Go around once.” She smiled to herself; the comfort of familiarity with family was by far the best way to spend hernight. She was also waiting for her mom to ask if they could take out personal loans from the bank. She did. And her dad pretended to think about it before answering that yeah, they could do that. Like healways did. Chapter 3 The Ross family, loaded down with all their camping gear, pulled out from their rented spot infront of the lake after some of the happiest ten days they had ever spent together. No responsibilities, nostress. Nothing to fix, tote, or worry about. It had been the trip of a lifetime and they all agreed thiswould become an event they repeated once a year. Ray looked in the rear view mirror at his daughter. All she saw was his blue eyes peeping back at her as she listened to his every word. “Lets keep the tents in good condition so its not such an ordeal next year,” he teased. “Or at least,lets keep them in a better place than I found them in this time around!” Wincing, Kaileigh found herself pointing a finger at her dad. “Okay, that was not entirely my fault,ya know! You told me to pack em in and I did. How did I know you meant near the basement door andnot at the back of the house? You must be specific with me, Dad,” she teased right back. “And who wasit that misplaced the brackets, anyhow … Mom?” “Whoah! How did I get dragged into this? I only did what I was told to do.” She slipped her handin between the seat and door, fishing a candy bar of bribery to her daughter. “Oh, I totally take Mom’s side on this one, Pops. Totally,” she chirped as she tapped thanks to themaster briber in the front passenger seat. Ray steered the truck, camper and 4-wheelers down the three-mile trail and out the main gates ofthe Rocky Mountain Wonderland Campground, glancing in the rear-view mirror for one last glance atwhat he was leaving behind. He let out a long breath. “Sure wish we werent heading back already. I sure could have stayed another week.” Dani peeled the sun visor down to shield the sunlight from her side of the window and pulled herseat belt into place, agreeing with her husband. “Me, too. I wasnt so sure how Id do for so long outhere, to be honest. But now that its over, I wish it wasnt; I sure did take a few mental notes on stuff tobring-and not to bring-next year, though. For instance, maybe I didnt really need all that much stringafter all.” Before Ray could even open his mouth, Dani raised one hand and grinned. “I intended on hikingand finding tons of flowers to make bouquets out of. I would have needed a lot of string to hold allthose flowers together, wouldnt I?”
“Three balls of the stuff, though?” She opened her mouth to say something smart, but only laughed. “Yeah, like I said … mental notesfor next year.” Thirty minutes later, Kaileigh fished through her bag to find the MP3 player her parents had givenher a few weeks before to show their appreciation for how shed helped them with the firewood haulingand post-hole digging. Not oblivious of the fact that mountain life could be tough, especially when theyasked her to do as much as they did, an occasional spoiling of their daughter was something they bothenjoyed when they manage fitting it in. Kaileighs parents still would have gotten the gift for her,though, even if firewood chopping hadnt been involved. While the adults talked between themselves, the teenager in the back of the truck slid down intoher seat, lying on her back to enjoy her music. The tires rolling and vibrating over the mountainousroads lulled Kaileigh to sleep halfway into the fifth song. Hearing her daughter’s familiar light snore, Dani pulled her cell phone out and pulled up thecamera function, switched it to the proper mode for snapping a photo in the cab of the truck. Snappingthe shot, she turned the phone toward her husband. “Isnt she the most perfect kid in the world?” Ray grinned. He had always been so proud of his daughter. She could chop wood with him, rebuildan engine and change brakes with the best of them–and still cleaned up mighty well for Sundaymorning. Yes, indeed, his daughter was perfect in his eyes. “Think I should email a copy of it to her when we stop for lunch?” Laughing at how wife and daughter enjoyed their electronic games, such as texting one anotherwhen they were in the same vehicle, he just shook his head. “Yeah, shed like that. She might get a shotof you when you least expect it, but she would probably do that anyhow,” he added. “I seem toremember a few pictures floating around of a certain daddy who was sleeping.” “Ok, in my own defense, we had to do it!” “Why cant you two just let me sleep in peace? Do you always have to decorate me and takepictures of it? She grinned, looked out the window, and remembered the last time she and her daughter haddecorated him in his sleep. Ray had relaxed himself into a nap in the living room, so she and Kaileighlined up small stuffed animals on his chest and even placed a toothbrush across his cheek so lightly thathe hadnt felt it. Theyd taken the photo, removed the evidence, and nobody was any the wiser until thephotos came back from the developer. The couple rode in silence for a while, just enjoying the beautiful scenery the Colorado Rockieshad to offer during the autumn months. The leaves on aspen trees turned into the most glorious goldentones, and against their white bark trunks, it was one of Danis favorite parts of living in the Rockies. Ray squinted past the tops of the mountains and commented that theyd probably broken camp justin time, judging from the dark clouds rolling in. “Im gonna stop at the next town we come to so we can clean off the windshield. These wipers arepretty well shot and if it starts to rain halfway home, all its gonna do is smear,” Ray mentioned to hiswife. “Why cant I remember to get wipers any time were in town?” “For the same reason I cant remember that were supposed to keep the baking soda changed in thefridge every six months, I guess.” Her husband nodded his head and tossed in a chuckle. “Yeah–or the water filter in the fridge.” Dani opened her purse for a scrap of paper and a pen. “You think I aughtta make a little shoppinglist now, while were still thinking about all this stuff?” “Nah,: came the reply. “Well remember.” They looked at each other and nodded. “Sure we will,” they affirmed in unison. Just as both sets of eyes moved back toward the dirt road, Dani reached out to grab the panic bar,bracing her feet against the floor of the cab. “Ray!” Hed seen them just a smidgen too late; a family of deer had made the split-second decision to
cross the road at that specific point, pausing to glance up for a moment at the machinery making timetoward them. The first reaction that ran through Rays mind was to stop the truck, followed by his stomping onthe brakes. Rather than bringing the truck to a halt, the opposite reaction occurred as he sent the entiretrain of Ross camping gear skidding across the old gravel road. As the 4-door blue truck tires began tolose their grasp against the loose mountain roadway, Rays grip on the steering wheel tightened. Dani had been working a word-search puzzle and tossed the book to the floorboard; she turned herhead toward the back seat, where her daughter had been suddenly jerked awake from her mid-morningnap. “Kaileigh, buckle up, Honey!” Dani shouted through frightened eyes. Just as her mother returned her gaze back to the road, she realized the fact that, the entire Rosscrew would be tossed over the edge of the mountain pass, and in that same instant, the family felt theheavy jerk of their camper and quads pull them in a series of terrifying fish tailing for what seemed likean eternity. Dust kicked up and thundered through their open windows, blinding Rays vision. Having no sighton the road, he once again stomped on the brakes. They tires were no longer on the road. The Ross family was airborne.