Shutter Speed, SnapShot, Book 0.5

She likes picking up her camera because it allows her to see things through a different lens.

Like when she lost her job recently and instead of focusing on what she’s forced to leave behind, she zooms in on the new options opening up in front of her. Or when a dangerous looking silver fox comes rolling up her path on a FatBoy, and her digital output shows a deep loneliness, matching her own, in his ice-blue eyes.

But when she’s working on making her dreams come true, she inadvertently captures something in her viewfinder she can’t un-see.

He wasn’t supposed to be here, but he can’t seem to escape his old life. Stuck in an old trailer in the mountains, he walks a fine line between ruse and reality. With the arrival of a young-looking pixie—who turns out to be a full grown, hot-blooded woman—his balance is thrown.

He tries to avoid her, but with the little pixel peeper snapping everything in sight, she unintentionally risks his exposure.

And his focus needs to be sharp to keep her from danger.

“Are you gonn​a be all right?”

My uncle Al is stuffing the last of his bags in the trunk of his old Cadillac DeVille. He’s had that car since he retired almost twenty years ago, and I have some fond memories in the backseat of that boat. My black Beetle looks ridiculously small parked next to it, but at least it’s economical.

“I’ll be fine,” I assure him again. “Besides, if I have questions or run into trouble, I can always call.”

“Just make sure to empty the bins every night,” he reminds me, concern marking his face. “There’ve been some bear sightings up on the mountain, and as much as most campers get excited about it, they’d still prefer not to find one on their campground.”

“Good thing you left behind a whole box of shotgun shells then, right? Don’t worry,” I hurry to promise. “I’ll practice loading and shooting today.” Uncle Al rolls his eyes up to the heavens.

“Just don’t shoot any campers, please,” he begs.

“Just with my camera,” I quip before turning serious. “Look, I don’t want you to worry about anything, okay? You just take care of getting Ginnie settled in.”

My uncle’s second wife has Alzheimer’s. The decline has sped up in the past few months, but my uncle had hoped to be able to finish out the summer here. Ever since he took early retirement from the police force at fifty-five, they’d come up to McPhee Reservoir and looked after one of the campgrounds during the summer season. They have a big trailer with all the amenities hauled up the mountain in early May of each year, which they need, because other than water and electrical hookups, the campground doesn’t have much on offer. A few outhouses in strategic places and a bathhouse with two shower stalls are about the extent of it. Oh, and an old-fashioned phone booth, something I don’t consider a luxury since cell phone reception is spotty at best here.

Unfortunately, only three weeks into their stay, and already Ginnie had wandered off a handful of times. Uncle Al had to call in the help of some early season campers to find her. The last time she ended up to her waist in the reservoir, not knowing how she got there. That was the last straw. He drove her back home to Flagstaff, called me, and offered me the most exciting opportunity I’ve had in forever.

It took me only a day to pull up stakes and one more to drive here from Glenwood Springs. Uncle Al had left his wife in the care of a trusted neighbor, for a few days, and was waiting for me when I pulled in. Yesterday, he took me around the grounds in his golf cart, showing me the ropes, and today he’s heading back.

His big burly arms tightly wrap around me in a hug. Still one of the best huggers I know, my uncle. The first time I realized that was the day we buried my mom, his younger sister. I’d been twelve at the time and had never felt the lack of a father more than in that moment. He just wrapped me up against his barrel chest. In that moment, I felt safer than ever before. Mom had been a single mother, and I didn’t even know who my father had been. Apparently neither did she. My uncle and aunt, who didn’t have kids of their own, took me in. Despite the fact I was hell on wheels as a teenager, they loved me to distraction. I was heartbroken when Aunt Kate died only five years later from a massive aneurism. I’d been seventeen. It had been just him and me for a few years then and we looked after each other. Then Uncle Al met Ginnie and I’d started feeling like a fifth wheel. Within a year, I moved away, determined to find my own place in the world. The grand total left of my family was Uncle Al, and I’d already depended on him for too long. I’d been twenty-two, that was seventeen years ago. Nestled against his familiar chest, his arms banding around me, it’s like time never passed. I’m still that scared twelve-year-old, afraid to face the world alone.

Swallowing hard to stave off the threatening tears, I slowly pull from his hold.

“Are you sure?” he asks again, his sharp gaze not missing the watery state of my eyes.

“I promise,” I say with much more confidence than I feel.

“Just remember, the people on site forty-nine are private. They’ve pre-paid for the entire summer and prefer to be self-sufficient. They even take care of their own garbage, so you don’t have to worry about that. A trailer came in last week on twenty-three. He seems the quiet sort. He’s paid up until the end of July, with the option of staying longer.” He repeats what he told me twice before as I nudge him toward the car door.

“Uncle Al, I promise, I remember all of it. I even have it written down, remember?” He’d instructed me to take notes, reminding me in a not so subtle way that, despite my always present good intentions, I have a tendency to get lost in what I’m doing and forget. I give him a kiss on his stubbly cheek and close the door for him. “Drive safe!” I yell after him as he backs out with such speed, he almost knocks over the garbage bin on the other side of the path.

When he disappears into the trees, I turn to the picnic table to grab my camera and swing around to take in my new domainthrough the viewfinder. The caretaker’s site is up on a bit of a rise, so you have a good view of the entire campground and the reservoir beyond. On the north side is a small park, with some outdoor grills and picnic tables, right by the boat launch with a small dock for fishing. I’m not able to see a lot of the actual sites, because most of them are at least partially under the cover of trees. But I can see a little of the massive trailer on forty-nine, even though I can see the two tents I know are pitched behind it, along with the silver SUV Uncle Al pointed out. That’s the last site and the only one to the right of the dock, with only the woods beyond. Most of the sites have their own water access, especially now with spring run-off making for higher water levels. My uncle keeps track of anyone who comes in with a boat on registration and is adamant about making sure all boats are accounted for at sundown. That’s going to be one of my least favorite jobs, since at this time in June; the bugs are legion at dusk. I’m seriously thinking about buying myself one of those mosquito nets and wrapping myself in it. As it is, I’ll have to settle for my uncle’s fishing cap, which has a little net that drops down to cover my face and neck. I look like a Duck Dynasty widow, but at least I won’t get my face chewed off. The rest of my body is a different matter.

The rumble of a motorcycle has me swing my head around. That’s got to be number twenty-three. Uncle Al mentioned the Harley Fat Boy, which means as much to me as I’m sure a Michael Kors bag means to him. Not that I like MK bags–I’m more of a Roots satchel kind of girl myself—but I know of them. Without a helmet, the rider’s silver gray hair flaps in the wind. Pretty long for an older guy, but you see all sorts here in the mountains. I expect him to ride straight to his site, but instead he turns up this way. Damn, he looks dangerous with the tats running from under the sleeves of his T-shirt, all the way down to his knuckles. Through my camera, I can study each of his features close up. Not quite as old as I initially thought—even though his short beard is as gray as his hair, his face is hardly that of a senior. His eyes are covered with reflective shades, but they do nothing to hide the focus of his stare. I don’t even notice I’ve lowered the camera from my face until he rolls up right in front of me, just inches from my toes.

“Nice Fat Boy,” I blurt out nervously, hoping that really is the name of the motorcycle, or else I might have just insulted a sizable biker. He’s not a small man, but there’s no way he could be mistaken for fat. There’s only the slightest hint of some thickening at the waist, and his chest and shoulders are bulky, but with muscle, not fat. The altogether package is fucking intimidating. Over six feet, which is a long way to look up when you’ve barely cleared five feet yourself, and right now he’s standing up to his full height, bulky arms with colorful tattoos firmly folding in front of him. From what I can remember from psych classes in college, this does not make for open and inviting body langue. Yikes.

“Your grandfather around?” His voice is not what I expected. Sure, it’s raw and rather gruff, but much softer than I would’ve thought. Almost like someone who is out of breath, yet his breathing seems deep and steady. The question has me bristle up, though. For forever people dismissed me based on my diminutive size and youthful appearance. Drives me nuts.

“Uncle,” I correct him sharply, before snapping my mouth shut instantly. Temper, temper, I can hear Aunt Kate tut-tutting in my mind. Something she used to say whenever a teenage tantrum took over. Which was only all the time.
I watch as he slowly unfolds his arms and plucks his shades from his strong nose. The clear, ice blue eyes take me by surprise, and my breath hitches at the intensity I see in his scrutiny of my face. “Hmmm,” he growls in that strange raspy voice. “Took you for a kid.”

I shove my fists in my sides and pull myself up to my full height, such as it is. “Yeah,” I say with a forced smile, not quite able to keep the snark out. “I get that a lot. I’m almost forty, FYI. Hardly a kid.”

“I’ll say.” I barely hear his response. I’m too aware of my skin starting to tingle with his leisurely perusal of my attributes. Or lack thereof.

“Anyway, my uncle left. You just missed him.” I persist smiling as I vaguely wave at the road, where he disappeared earlier. “Is there anything you need? I’m taking over for the summer.” At that bit of news, the man’s full dark eyebrows shoot up.


It’s a struggle; let me tell you. I’m told I smile all the time, but already this man has me fighting to keep the curve of my mouth up. Better make introductions first, before I decide to use his trailer for target practice.

“Isla Ferris,” I say, offering my hand, which he eyes suspiciously like I’m going to infect him with Ebola or something. At this point, I probably would, given the opportunity.

“Ben,” he grunts when his eyes finally find their way back to my face. A little hesitant, as if he still doesn’t trust my hand is not a weapon of mass destruction, he wraps his big rough mitt around it, swallowing it whole. I’m not sure what it is exactly, that has my stomach doing flip-flops, but we’ll blame it on indigestion.

“Site twenty-three, right? Gustafson is you?” I carefully retrieve my hand from his paw as he nods sharply in confirmation. I see conversation with this man will be riveting.

“Running out of firewood,” he says with an absolute minimum of words needed to get his message across. My uncle mentioned that he would drive the golf cart down with the occasional load from the pile along the edge of the forest.

“No problem. I’ll just load some up and bring it right down.” I’m still hanging onto my smile, like the good sport that I am.

“Tomorrow is fine,” he says. Without another word, he swings his leg over the bike, kicks back the stand, and starts the thing up. I swear the ground vibrates underneath me as I’m left to stare after his broad back.

Well now. There’s a challenge if I ever met one.

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