The suspense is thickening! I hope…
The police officers were careful not to touch the vehicle, but they searched the area around it. One cop took pictures of the graffiti then went knocking on neighbors’ doors. A second took information for the report.
“Your mechanic was expected to come and take your tire and the spare to fix them. What time?”
“I don’t know. We left here about one o’clock or so. I can call and ask her when she got here.” Cami started toward the house.
“Miss, please don’t enter the residence yet.”
“But I need to call my friend!” She could hear the near hysteria in her own voice.
“Use my cell.” Grant handed her the phone. With shaking fingers, she keyed in Meredith’s home number.
“Oh, Mare.” She couldn’t say any more.
“Are you all right? Did Grant hurt you? I’ll…”
“No, I’m fine.” Cami found her voice. “We’re back at my house. My car… Meredith, when did you come fix the tires?”
“I sent my shop foreman over around three. What’s wrong?”
“Can you call him? The police need to talk to him.”
“The police? Cami, what happened?”
“Someone vandalized my car. They spray painted the word ‘why’ on it.” Her voice shook but she kept talking. “That’s what I want to know. Why would anyone do that?”
“I’ll call Tony right now. We’ll be there in a few minutes.”
True to her word, Meredith and her foreman arrived shortly. After hasty introductions, an officer questioned them. The police had taken Cami’s keys and searched the house. Grant waited with her in the front yard. The officers brought Petey out and he whined joyfully to see Cami again. She called and he ran to her, rear end waggling with delight.
“Oh, Petey.” She buried her face in his neck, fighting the tears that threatened to spill over. The dog squirmed from her grasp and eyed Grant.
When the officer finished questioning Meredith and her foreman, the trio approached Cami and Grant. Cami reached out to Meredith who put an arm around Cami’s shoulders and held her close.
“According to the mechanic, he left at four o’clock and everything was in place. He repaired both tires, put the original on the car, and the spare in the vehicle. None of the neighbors saw or heard anything out of the ordinary. We’ll take fingerprints and that’ll be all for tonight.”
“Will you be able to find out who did this?” Grant asked.
“Most likely it was random vandalism against the SUV. There have been incidents in both San Diego and Orange counties. A dealership in Anaheim had several cars painted and scratched up one night. My guess is the same thing happened here.”
“I… I don’t think so.” Cami spoke up. “I think it was directed at me personally. Some strange things have happened lately. I keep telling myself it’s nothing, but now I’m not sure.”
“What’s happened?” asked the officer.
“Random things. Hang up phone calls. Petey found a baseball mitt in the yard a week or so ago. Someone must have dropped it over the fence. I thought a car was following me a few days ago. Yesterday, I found a stuffed bear on my porch.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this?” Meredith asked.
“When did the calls start?” Grant spoke at the same time.
“I don’t know. And I don’t know.” She answered them both.
Meredith wrapped her in a hug. Grant raised his hand as if he wanted to do the same, but in the end stood there and looked at them.
“This vandalism is consistent with a random act.” The officer’s terseness didn’t help her nerves.
Cami swallowed a sob. “Who did this? Why?” She fought to maintain her composure, everything overwhelmed her and the tears spilled. Meredith led her away from the men and made her sit on the edge of the steps. Grant followed, hands in his pockets.
“You can go now,” Cami said to him. “Meredith is here.”
“I’m not leaving.” He gave her an amazed look. “I’m here to help. What do you need?”
She sighed raggedly. “I can’t think of anything.” She didn’t want to deal with him. Or anything. She wanted to curl up in bed and let sleep obliterate this terrible night.
“Can you go in the kitchen and make some hot tea?” Meredith asked. “A kettle’s on the stove with tea bags in the cupboard above.” Cami needed something warm to hold onto and she nodded, hoping Grant would go.
He disappeared into the house.
“He wants to do something.” Meredith sat beside her. “Except for the coming home part, how was your day?”
Cami pushed her hair behind her ears. “I… I don’t know. Fun, I think. I don’t remember now.”
“Do you really think someone is targeting you?”
“No!” She forced calmness into her voice. “I mean, no. Maybe. I don’t want to believe it, but right now I think I do.”
They sat in silence. Meredith kept an arm around Cami, who forced herself to be still. Petey flopped down on the ground in front of them and sighed.
Grant returned with three steaming mugs. As Cami sipped the hot liquid, the shivers and anxiety subsided.
“What am I going to do? I can’t drive that around town, to my jobs.”
Grant cleared his throat. “Borrow my car. I can take yours to a body shop tomorrow.”
“I appreciate the offer, but I can’t.” Cami shook her head. “If it wasn’t random, I couldn’t risk any damage to your Corvette.”
“I have a second car. A Volvo wagon. Boring, but inconspicuous. I’ll drive the ‘Vette home, and bring the Volvo back first thing in the morning. Then I’ll bring your car to the shop and someone can drop me off at the stadium for practice.”
“That is sweet, but I couldn’t.”
He appealed to Meredith. “Talk sense into her, please.”
“Cami, it’s a good plan. If this was deliberate, then driving a different car for a few days is smart. And if it wasn’t, then this is a simple way to have transportation until the Tahoe is ready.”
She opened her mouth to refuse once again until she saw Grant’s expression. Concern furrowed his brow and his eyes bored into hers. She sent a prayer heavenward. God, what should I do?
“Thank you,” she heard herself say.
Grant moved toward his car. “I’ll be here about seven o’clock. Is that early enough for you to get to work on time?”
“Yes.” She took a sip of her tea, now lukewarm, and let Meredith lead her into the house as Grant drove away. Cami stood at the door, watching the taillights disappear.
The trees in the park across the street cast moon shadows over the swings and slide. Was one of the shadows moving? She looked closer, leaning into her gaze. Everything was still. Must be an overactive imagination. She shrugged and followed Meredith into the kitchen.
“I’m sorry I told you to go with him today.” Meredith rinsed out her mug and placed it in the dishwasher.
“You were right, it’s too soon. You’re not ready.”
“It wasn’t his fault.” Hearing her own doubts voiced by her friend triggered a defense of him. She opened her mouth to continue but closed it. An urge to scream with helplessness weighed her down, followed by a wave of weariness.
“I know it’s not his fault,” Meredith said. “But with all this weird stuff going on, maybe you should back off.”
“I don’t want to.” Cami almost looked over her shoulder to see who had spoken.
“Really?” Meredith’s skepticism was plain.
“I’m sure.” And she was.
The next morning, Cami dressed in her paint-stained jeans and a clean top. Her hands wouldn’t stop shaking and she couldn’t button the denim shirt that completed her usual work outfit. She had laced up her formerly white Keds when Grant pulled up in a tan Volvo. Inconspicuous, as promised.
“Good morning,” Grant said as she met him on the front porch. “I’ve brought bagels and schmears. I figured you probably didn’t eat anything.”
“You’re right. I’ve got a rock in my stomach.”
“Let me toast one and you try to eat as much as you can.”
“Come on in the kitchen.” Cami led him through the living room. Petey’s tail thumped against the floor as he recognized Grant.
“Hey, boy. What went on here yesterday when we were gone? Did you throw a wild party?”
Petey agreed with a sigh. Grant scratched the dog’s stomach a moment then rose to look for the toaster. Cami sat at the small table and pointed out the utensils.
Grant sliced the bagels and started them toasting. He turned the stove on under the kettle and turned back to her. “Did you sleep?”
“Not much. An hour, maybe two. Meredith stayed with me for awhile.”
“What time do you get off work?”
“I finish at the shop by three. But Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I teach at the rec center.”
“I have to be at the ball park at noon. I’ll probably be there the rest of the day. I’ll take your car to the shop first thing though.”
“Tomorrow is the season opener.” He opened two tea bags and set them inside the mugs he’d taken from the cupboard. “My family is going to be there. I’d like you to come, too.”
“That’s a special day. You should spend it with them.”
He turned and faced her. “Haven’t you realized I think you’re special, too? I’m only sorry it’s taken us eight years to get reacquainted. And that it has to be at the beginning of my busiest time of work.”
Her eyes filled and she twisted away, trying to dash them off before Grant noticed. He seemed to sense her dismay and turned to the bagels. She forced herself to speak, to explain.
“Grant. I’m sorry. The tears aren’t because….” Her voice cracked. She took a deep breath and started again. “I’m amazed at how comfortable I am with you in such a short time. But I haven’t dated much in the last couple of years. I need to take things slowly. I do want to continue to see you as often as we can when you’re in town.”
The toaster popped and he plucked the two halves out then spread them with cream cheese.
“I’ve spent eight years waiting. And now that I’ve found you, I’m in a hurry to get to know everything about you. But I’ll be on the road a lot. So we’ve got six months to take things slowly. When I’m in town though, I’d like to see you.”
“I’d like that, too.”
“Will you come to the game tomorrow? I’ll be leaving Friday for ten days.”
“I don’t know…” her voice trailed off. “I need to get to work.”
“Here.” Grant handed her a bagel. “Eat this on the way. I’ll call you tonight and you can let me know. I’d love you to be there. But if you’d rather not, I understand. My family usually goes out for dinner after the game. I need to make an appearance at the team opening party. But I only have to stay a short time. Then we could meet up with everyone. Or not. Whatever you’re comfortable with.”
Cami took a bite of the bagel. Crunchy, chewy, and creamy filled her mouth. She swallowed. “I’ll think about it.” She tore off a piece and offered it to Petey before heading out to the borrowed Volvo.
She led their two-car convoy to the coffee shop, parking behind the café on Pacific Coast Highway, the thoroughfare connecting all the little beach towns. She waved good-bye at Grant in the Tahoe. He honked before returning her wave and driving past.
Painting kept her hands busy all day but her mind replayed Grant’s words. Had he really waited eight years for her?
At two o’clock, she started cleaning brushes and the Three Musketeers of Woodrow Wilson High arrived at the shop.
“Hey, Miss Henderson.” Kyle leaned against the counter, watching her snap lids on the plastic tubs of mixed glazes and tints.
“Hi. How was school?”
He shrugged. “Okay.”
Anthony and Tara joined them. “It’s looking great in here, Miss Henderson,” Tara said.
“It’s coming along. I hope to finish tomorrow.” Cami surveyed the swirls and whorls in the plaster walls and leaned in for a closer look. “I need to dry brush some of these raised areas.”
Tara ran her hand over the wall behind the counter. “It’s so beautiful. It really looks old.”
“That’s the idea.” Cami smiled.
“I wonder…” Tara’s voice trailed off.
“We’ve got to come up with some ideas to pitch at the school newspaper meeting later. I wonder if something about your painting would be interesting?”
“I doubt it. What are some of your other ideas?”
“That’s the problem.” Anthony joined the conversation. “We don’t have any.”
“I had a few,” Tara protested.
“ ‘Fashion tips’ is not an article. It’s just … well, tips,” Anthony said. “And the prom article is only going to be interesting to girls.”
Tara appealed to Cami. “I suggested a profile of all we do to get ready for prom. Choosing a dress, coordinating flowers, getting your hair done. What do you think?”
“It’s been too long since I went to a prom,” Cami said. “And I don’t do anything with my hair except wash it and put it in a ponytail to keep it out of the paint. I’m no help.”
“Can you give us any ideas at all?” Anthony asked.
“Have you looked at the Agua Vida Courier? What kind of stories are they doing?” Cami asked.
“How about a series on where the cafeteria gets its meat and produce?” Kyle asked.
“Every year, every paper in every school in every district in the state tries that one,” said Tara. “Let’s do something original.”
Cami saw Anthony open his mouth then close it.
“Anthony, did you have an idea?” she asked.
“Well, maybe,” he said. “I thought of something like a ‘Roaming Reporter’ feature thing. You know, where we ask kids at random for their thoughts. We could do it on gas guzzling SUV’s and get reactions about smog and the environment.”
Cami’s hands stopped shaping brush tips and she gave Anthony her full attention.
“That’s an interesting idea. What made you think of it?”
“I was watching the news last week and they did a story about a car dealer in Anaheim who had some SUV’s vandalized.”
“What do the rest of you think?” Cami watched the expressions on the others.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Tara said. All the faces were guileless.
“Hmmm. Well, I should probably tell you my Tahoe was vandalized yesterday so I don’t think I’m the right one to ask if that’s a good idea or not.”
“Not your beautiful Tahoe!” A chorus rose in outrage.
Cami held up a hand to stop the torrent.
“It happened when I was out last night. The car was in my driveway but no one saw anything. The police think it was a random act of vandalism against SUVs in general.”
They looked so crestfallen, she had to smile. “It’ll be okay. The Tahoe’s in the body shop.”
“So SUV vandalism is topical,” Anthony said.
“It is to me. Whether the readership of the school paper will think so, I don’t know. You should ask your advisor.”
The kids left a great deal more quietly than they’d arrived. Through the front window, Cami watched them pile into the Jeep. Anthony drove, looking for cross traffic before leaving the parking lot. She never thought about a student being behind the vandalism, but now she watched them and wondered.