Fiction Friday: Curve Ball, Chapter 3

Cami’s friend Paige got her own story in my novel (also unpublished), Shop, Drop, and Roll. It started as a romantic suspense. I rewrote it more as a romantic comedy, but I really like the suspense element in it. If  When I publish a novel, I will revisit Paige’s story and see if there could be a market for it, either suspense or comedic.


Curve Ball

Chapter Three

Saturday morning. Camille stretched an arm out from under the covers to answer the jangling phone.


“Cami, are you up?” Paige.

“What time is it?” Cami rubbed her eyes, trying to remember what day it was.

“Nearly eight. Did I wake you? I’m so sorry!”

“Nhuh. You take pleasure in it.”

“You’re a ray of sunshine.”

“Paige, we’ve been friends forever. But I refused to room with you in college because you’re a morning person and I’m not. Quit playing games and tell me why you called.”

Paige’s sigh scorched the line. “Fine. I want you to drive up here. Since it’s Saturday, I’m only working ‘til noon. We could have lunch and run that beast you call Petey on the beach.”

Cami’s brain processed the words into coherency. “Where do you want to meet?”

“How about Robin’s Place? One o’clock.”

“See you then.” Cami hung up and rolled over. Her eye caught the digital display of the alarm clock at her bedside. She groaned. Besides being an incurable morning person, Paige was also a liar. The clock read 7:05, not “nearly eight.”

Cami knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep any more so she rolled out of bed and headed downstairs. Petey looked up in surprise as she turned on the stove under the teakettle.

“Don’t you start in on me, too,” she told him. “I don’t believe in greeting the day until it’s had a good start.” The dog dropped his head on to the pillow with a grunt of agreement. She knew his philosophy: Why run when you can walk, and why stand when you can lie down. He was named for the apostle Peter, the fisherman. Petey loved to sit and watch the goldfish in her tank. After sleeping, it was his favorite activity.

The phone rang again as Camille finished her first cup of tea.

She answered on the second ring. “Hello.”

No one responded.

“Hello! Hello?” Nothing. She clicked the phone off and sat with it in her hand, staring at the receiver as unease creeped up her spine. Another prank call. Plus the strange mitt Petey had dragged in yesterday. He must have found it in the yard somewhere, but how had it gotten inside the fence?

Her back entry opened at the top of three concrete stairs. It was more of a stoop than a porch, but she liked to sit on the top step with her tea while Petey ran through the trees across the back of the yard. Now she walked to the back door and looked at the area, assessing it in the morning light.

Her home had that rare-in-California commodity – a basement with a separate entrance from the back yard. With its glass door and high windows, the cellar made a wonderful studio, roomy and cool. It was really the reason she bought this house. It had taken every penny of her savings, plus a gift from her parents when they sold their home and moved to the mountains. Southern California real estate prices could be cruel to first-time buyers, and she knew she’d been blessed to get into this perfect house.

Her second favorite features were the porches, front and rear. Front was a wide wooden veranda with a swing and white wicker chairs. She’d painted a rag rug at the door. Several shades of blue, green, and beige combined to make a welcoming statement. Painstakingly designed, it looked like one corner of the rug had been kicked over. Invariably guests would pause to drag their toe across it, trying to flip it back. Their eyes knew it was paint, but their reflexes were stronger.

She shrugged and turned around. Petey had worked hard on the mitt. Wherever it came from, it was now too chewed up and marinated in dog spit to be able to shag fly balls. Even by Grant Andrews, loping across the green field and catching the ball with a last second tip of his glove, like she’d seen yesterday.

She shook her head to rid it of images of Grant. And she double-checked the alarm before getting in the shower.

Promptly at one o’clock, Camille stood in front of Robin’s Café on the pier in Huntington Beach. Petey strained at his leash. He knew he would soon be under a table and eating crumbs Cami “just happened” to drop. The restaurant welcomed dogs as long as they stayed on the patio and were well behaved. Petey fit those conditions. A big dog built like his Labrador Retriever sire, he was mostly black but the lighter brown dabbled on his hips and shoulders gave him unusual markings. His mother had some Pit Bull and Petey inherited his red eyes from her side of the genetic code. Cami liked that people found his appearance intimidating and were discouraged from making “nice dog” comments to her. He looked mean, and she had bought him for protection, but he turned out to be a ringer in the ferocious department.

Petey was afraid of the fog tendrils that would curl through her back yard, snaking around the orange trees. Neighborhood cats intimidated him and he was certain dog-eating monsters lurked around every corner. Cami had grown attached to him before his character defects became evident. So she took comfort in his fearful appearance.

The aroma of freshly grilled burgers nudged Cami to go ahead and take the only table available on the patio. Paige rushed up as Cami settled into a plastic chair on the scarred wooden deck.

“A last minute phone call to a new client about setting up a home office. It was supposed to be one minute, but stretched into ten. I may charge him for our lunch as well as my time.”

“You’ll do no such thing.”

“I know, but it’s fun to talk like a tough businesswoman with a triple digit hourly rate.”

“Instead of what you really are? A scurrying lackey, drowning in student loans.” Cami hooked Petey’s leash to the wrought iron table.

“Now why did I want to see you today? Oh yes, so I can be reminded of my lowly status in life: personal assistant to the world.”

“If you’re just a ‘personal assistant,’ then I’m a paint-by-numbers-on-velvet artist.”

“That reminds me.” Paige made a face. “Another client wants me to sell her great-uncle’s picture. It’s dogs playing poker. Is there a market for those?”

“Where’s the nearest nuclear waste facility?”

“I was thinking about it last night, after dinner,” Paige said.

“Nuclear waste or dogs playing poker?” Cami scrunched her eyes, trying to follow Paige’s thought path.

“No. You and dating.”

“Why do you start every conversation in the middle?” Cami picked up one of the plastic menus listing the daily specials and read it, a barrier against Paige’s strong will.

“I don’t. Only when I’ve been thinking about something for hours and want to share my new insights.”

“And?” Cami sighed in mock frustration. “Now what do you want me to do?”

“I was thinking about you beginning to date again.”

“Paige…” Cami’s voice held a warning note.

“Hear me out. I’m sorry if we came down too hard on you. And you’re right. Of the group, only Kennie is seeing someone. I guess it is a little strange that we’re all nagging you to have a social life. So I confess.” She held up her hands in mock surrender. “We’re crazy about you and want you to be happy. As long as you’re determined to stay single, you’re cutting yourself off from friendships with half the human race. I’m not saying you need to rush out and get married, but you could date and make some friends. There, that’s my lecture.” She leaned back. “What are you having?”

“Not only do you begin conversations in the middle, but you end them the same way. Not that I don’t appreciate you dropping it, and -” Their waitress materialized with ice water and cooed at Petey.

“I’ll have the Southwest grilled chicken salad, dressing on the side, and iced tea, please,” Cami said.

“I’ll have the bacon cheeseburger with fries and a soda,” Paige said to the waitress. “Diet.” The waitress scribbled on her order pad and returned to the kitchen. “Did you want to say something?” Paige continued to Cami.

“Yes. I’ve been thinking, too. And I’ve decided I will make more of an effort to be sociable. I may even date.”

“Wonderful! How do you feel about that?” Paige asked.

“Now you’re my therapist as well as my personal assistant?”

“You can’t afford me as an assistant, but my counsel is free.” Paige sipped her ice water and watched Cami over the rim of her glass. “I’m serious. How does that decision make you feel?”

Robin’s sat right on the beach, famous for its view of the Pacific. Cami looked at the water swelling up and rushing to meet the shore. “Honest? I feel good. I think. And a little excited to see what’s going to happen, what God has in store. And scared. But strong, too. Like I’m done being a victim.”

The wave crested, chasing a young boy away from his buckets and sand toys. He ran to his mother who scooped him up and swung him around, his legs dangling in space. A delighted giggle reached Cami, bouncing in with the breeze. Warmth filled her as she remembered her own dash away from the frightening undertow of life and how safe she felt in the arms of God.

Cami returned her attention to Paige and drew in a sharp breath at the sight of Paige’s tear-filled eyes.

“You don’t know how long I’ve waited to hear you say that. Well, yes you do. Two years, three months, and …” Paige counted on her fingers. “Twelve days.”

“What do you mean?”

“Ever since that night, you’ve been a walking heartache. I’ve learned that a sexual assault isn’t something you ‘snap out of,’ but I was afraid you would give up and stay behind alarms for the rest of your life. It’s safe there, I know.” Paige leaned across the table and touched Cami’s arm. “But it’s not where God created you to be. You have so many gifts to offer. You deserve to have a family of your own, not just nephews and students. I’m glad to see you taking these first steps from behind your security gate.”

“I barely said I would consider dating. I’m not looking to get married. Or even to have a boyfriend.”

“I’m so happy you’re joining the world of us singles. It’s a jungle out here, but we’re glad to have you.”

Their meals arrived and they spent the next half hour eating and chatting about the good time last night. And where Paige could find a furniture refinisher willing to tackle an antique buffet.

Later they crossed from Robin’s patio to the Leashed Dogs Only beach and made their way to the firm sand at the water’s edge. After a brisk walk to warm up, they broke into a jog with Petey loping easily beside them. Cami liked to run without talking and Paige fell into an easy rhythm at her side. A mile down the beach they turned around and began to walk back, weaving through Frisbee tosses and sand castles under construction.

“I really have to do that more often.” Paige still breathed hard, though she had easily kept Cami’s pace.

“Start turning down some of your social engagements, that’ll give you more time.”

“Ha ha. Sometimes I wonder exactly why I’m working so many hours. I know it will put me closer to my professional goals. But will I be happier?”

“That’s a very mid-life kind of question for someone still in her twenties.”

“It’s beginning to seem fruitless. I work hard, make my clients happy, they refer me to their friends, so I work still harder and get even more referrals. And at the end of the week, I’m too tired to do anything except sleep so I can do it all over again. I’m nagging you to date, when I don’t even have time for a social life. Ironic, huh?”

“Have you thought about-” Cami’s words were cut off when Petey jerked his leash out of her hand and bounded down the sand after a Frisbee a man tossed to a young boy. At the same moment, Paige grabbed her arm.

“Cami, I have to tell you something and you’re going to hate me. But please don’t.”

Cami ignored her and tried to call the dog back.

“Petey! Come! Come here!” He continued down the beach, seeming suddenly and completely deaf.

The child missed the plastic disc and it landed in the ebbing tide. Petey charged after it, bringing it back to the sand and his mistress. He gave a vigorous shake to rid himself of excess water and stood in front of Cami, wagging his tail.

Cami didn’t know whether to be amused or exasperated. She took the Frisbee and looked for the child he had stolen it from.

“We go seven years without seeing each other, and now you’re teaching your dog to steal my nephew’s toys? Really, Camille, I wouldn’t have expected such behavior from you.”

Cami turned and her heart froze. Grant Andrews stood before her. His smile seemed genuine. And only a little wary.

“Hi, Grant.” Paige extended her hand toward him.

Grant shook it. “Paige. Good to see you again.” He indicated the youngster next to him. “This is my nephew, Trent.”

“Hi, Trent. This is my friend, Camille, and you already met her dog, Petey.”

Paige and Grant were sure casual, for running into each other for the first time in ages. Or was it the first time?

She forced her attention to the child in front of her. “I’m sorry, Trent. Petey loves to carry things around and chew on them. Yesterday he found a baseball mitt somewhere and dragged it into the house so he could drool all over it. It was really gross.”

Trent laughed. “That’s okay. He didn’t chew up the flyer. Can I throw it to him?”

“If you don’t mind that it’ll get all slobbery.”

“I don’t care.” Trent ran a few steps away from the adults and called to Petey who obediently followed. Trent sent the disc flying down the beach and the dog chased it.

“Cami told me about running into you yesterday, Grant,” Paige said. “And now here you are again today. Amazing.”

Oh no. Cami had told Paige that she might start dating again. And Grant had already asked her out once. Coincidence? Cami looked at Paige who returned the gaze, her eyes wide and guileless.

“Do you two know each other?” Cami asked. “I mean besides from high school?”

“Kind of.” Grant shrugged. “You know how when you learn a new word or meet someone and then all of a sudden wherever you go, there’s that word or that person? I mentioned to a friend that I was looking for someone to set up my home office and Paige’s name came up. His wife plays golf with someone who knows someone. I think. I kind of lost track...”

“We’re in a self-employed women’s networking group,” Paige explained. “We had a dinner meeting last night.” She turned to Cami, her eyes pleading. “Then I had a voice mail when I got home.”

“It was weird. Seeing you yesterday,” Grant said to Cami. “Then calling someone I thought was a stranger and she turns out to be another Woody High refugee.”

“I returned his call this morning, after I talked to you.”

“And Paige said that you two were having lunch here today.” Grant smiled.

“So you were looking for me?” Her stomach tightened and the constriction crept up to her throat.

“Not at all.” Grant shook his head. “This is a huge beach. I knew the chances we’d run into each other again were slim to none. Trent and I already had plans to spend the day together. Paige just gave me the idea to bring him here.” A quizzical look flashed across his face. “Is something wrong?”

Cami looked out to sea. Huntington Beach did stretch for miles in both directions. And coming here with hopes of coincidentally running into someone was naïve. Her head told her so, but her emotions waved red flags. Lots of them. An urge to scream at Paige for setting her up battled with wanting to appear calm in front of Grant. He stood, eyebrows raised, seeming in no hurry for her response.

“You should have told me,” Cami finally said to Paige.

“You’re right.” At least she had the grace to look away. “But I did try-”

“How did the clinic go yesterday, Grant?” Cami turned away from Paige. “And what did you think of the team? And how about the Coyotes? How’re your chances this season? The paper said you open against the Padres, and then you’re on the road in Dallas and -”

“Whoa, girl. Take a breath!” Paige broke in.

“Was it Seattle? Or Milwaukee? I’m sure it was somewhere around there. How is it being on the road so much?” Cami continued before running out of breath. Great, she was either a blathering idiot or an uptight shrew.

Grant laughed from deep in his chest. “The teams are good. Both the high school squad and mine. Do you two live around here?”

Paige answered. “Cami’s from Agua Vida. I live here. We were heading back to our cars.”

“We’ll walk with you,” Grant said. He whistled for Trent and Petey to join them. Grant and Paige continued to chat as they strolled along the beach. Cami walked and kept her mouth firmly closed.

When they finally arrived at her car, she popped the back of the Tahoe to get out an old towel. As she rubbed Petey down, she hoped Grant and Trent would get bored and say goodbye. She motioned for the dog to jump into the back of the SUV. He obeyed, then looked at her expectantly. Reaching into the storage compartment at the side of the cargo bay, she fished out a treat. He snapped it out of her hand, she shut the hatch and finally turned around to the others.

“Trent, thanks for letting Petey play with you,” Cami said, moving to the driver’s door. Maybe she could make it out of here after all. “I better get him home and bathed before he stinks up the inside of my car. Grant, it was good to see you again. Paige, we’ll talk later.” Cami gave her friend a meaningful look. Boy, will we talk later.

Paige responded with a tight lipped sigh that said she knew exactly what Cami was up to. “What are you doing later? We could-”

Cami shut her door, pretending she hadn’t heard. In ten seconds flat, she was safely out of the parking space and watching Paige and Grant in her rear view mirror.

Grant stared after Cami for the second time in as many days. “Was it something I said?”

“No,” Paige answered. “Something I said.”

“Well, cut it out.”

Paige grinned. “Yes, sir.”

“Uncle Grant?” Trent tugged at his leg.

“What is it, buddy?”

“That car wants out.”

Grant hadn’t noticed the red station wagon trying to exit past the three of them. He waved an apology and moved aside, shepherding Paige and Trent out of the way. The man behind the wheel gunned the engine and laid rubber as he sped off.

“Gee, I hope we didn’t hold him up,” Paige said, staring after the car.

“Everyone’s in a hurry, I guess. So, when can you come take a look at my office?”

“How about in an hour or two?”

“Now who’s in a hurry?”

She laughed. “I was trying to ask Cami if she wanted to hang out some more, but she didn’t give me a chance. So I’m available and might as well work.”

“Call her. See if she wants to meet you at my place.”


He shrugged. “What can I say? I’m used to seeing the back of her head.”

Trent tugged again, motioning for Grant to lean over. The boy whispered in his ear. “I need the bathroom.”

“I’ll see you in a while, Paige,” Grant said. “We gotta go.” He scooped the youngster onto his shoulder and jogged towards the pier.

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