Fiction Friday: Curve Ball, Chapter 5

My friend Debbie is a faux painter like Cami. She generously and patiently answered my questions, let me follow her around and watch and take notes, and set up an opportunity for me to pick her and her co-worker’s brains. Thanks, Deb!


Curve Ball

Chapter Five

The next week passed quickly. Cami finished the panetteria walls to Janis’s satisfaction, collected her check, and moved on to the insurance company mural. Although she had to be more careful of paint dribbles and spatter and Petey couldn’t come, she enjoyed being in an occupied business again after the solitude of the cafĂ©. The phones ringing, the teasing banter among the employees, and the constant availability of tea helped her forget the continuing hang-up calls at home in the evenings. There had been no more sign of a red station wagon though so Cami convinced herself the calls were a wrong number. A lot of wrong numbers.

By Saturday morning, a week after Grant gave her his house key, Cami felt ready to start thinking about the shades of leather she wanted to paint in his office. She sat on her back stoop in slippers, lounging pants, and a sweatshirt against the early spring damp, with her English Breakfast tea and the cordless phone. She dialed Paige’s cell phone.

“Paige Wagner.” Cami heard a rhythmic whoosh in the background.

“What shades are you doing in Grant’s office?”

“Who. Is. This?” Ahh. The choppy breathing tipped her off. Paige was exercising.

“How many friends do you have that call you on a Saturday morning to discuss colors?”

“Is this Kennie?”

“Very funny.” Cami sipped her tea and grinned at the image of Paige, walking on her treadmill, making notes on her Palm Pilot, and talking on her hands-free phone.

“What are you doing up at the crack of mid-morning?”

“The mural is almost done. I can’t get back in there until Tuesday, so I thought I would work on sample boards for Grant’s office.”

“His desk is a medium cherry wood. I found some great bookcases at a consignment shop in Laguna Niguel. They’ll look great. Do you want to take a drive with me and go see them?”

“If this afternoon is okay. I’ll do some boards now, take them with us and see how close I got.”

“Meet me at the mall. One o’clock?”

“See you then.” Cami set the phone on the step and continued to sip her tea. The sun sat above the trees in the park east of her. Petey headed around the side of the house after trotting around and across the back of the property. Oranges hung from the trees, their scent filling the yard, infusing it with spring and hope. Cami leaned against the house, took a deep breath and let a ripple of contentment wash over her.

A whimper and a flash of brown streaking toward her snatched her back to the present. Petey passed her and went through his pet door at full speed, the plastic flap snapping shut behind him.

“What the…?” Cami stood and looked around the corner into the front yard. Everything appeared normal. She opened the back door and went through the laundry room into the kitchen to find her guard dog sitting in his bed, quivering. “Petey, what’s wrong?” She rubbed behind his ears as he pawed at her. “Stay off. You know you’re too big for me to hold.”

She returned to the door and surveyed the yard again. A frisson of unease swept through her, erasing her earlier contentment like an ocean tide over sand. Grabbing her pepper spray out of the knapsack on the dryer, she opened the back door a crack and leaned around the opening. “Is anyone there?” Her voice cracked. She cleared her throat and tried again. “Hello! Who’s there?”


She inched out the door to stand on the stoop. After a full minute of silence except for a lawn mower down the street, she moved off the steps and across the lawn. Her slippers scuffed over the grass as she approached the side of her property and continued into the front yard where Petey had been scared off.

Gate closed. No toilet paper in the redwood tree. No graffiti across the sidewalk. Everything looked fine. She breathed deeply and her heartbeat slowed to a brisk walk instead of a gallop. She glanced around one more time before returning to the back door. Then she saw it.

But - why would a teddy bear be sitting at her front door? Cami looked around again, still not seeing anyone. She stood and stared into the trees across the street. No one. She gingerly stepped up each of the three stairs to the porch.

Yes, a stuffed bear sat at the door. Cami picked it up and examined it. About twelve inches tall, the bear had light brown fur and wore a sombrero with slits cut into the brim for its ears to poke out of. It was darling. But where did it come from? She didn’t question Petey’s reaction to it. He sounded an alarm if the rubber band on the newspaper snapped as the paper hit the pavement. A strange animal on his front porch would terrify him.

Cami surveyed the neighborhood again. Everything looked absolutely-one-hundred-percent-spring-Saturday normal. Kids in the playground across the street, couples walking through the trees, skateboarders careening around obstacles. She rubbed the bear’s velvety ears sticking through its hat as she continued searching the street. Finally she shrugged and went inside.

By four o’clock that afternoon, the teddy bear and where it came from had been relegated to the mid-recesses of Cami’s mind. After checking the alarm system, she had spent the rest of her morning layering paint and tissue paper and more paint on half a dozen sheets of foam board. She had laid them carefully across the back of the Tahoe, letting them dry as she drove north to meet Paige.

Paige had pulled her through a consignment shop, showing Cami the bookcases she had chosen. Then Paige insisted on a tour of several other antique stores, to evaluate what else was available before returning to the shop where they started.

“What do you think?” Paige looked at Cami with raised eyebrows.

Cami sat on the floor with several of the sample boards, holding the different colors up next to the bookcase, finding the best harmonizing shade. “I have to find the right color to paint the wall next to it. They need to complement each other, not match exactly.”

Paige picked up one of the boards. “Oooh, burnt sienna, I love you. Your name goes with your eyes.” She set it back down. “There, is that enough of a compliment? Or should I talk about its personality? Will it be insulted if it thinks I only like it for its looks?”

“Ha. Ha. Ha.” Cami looked at her friend. “Did I complain when you dragged me to three different stores to look at bookcases? Bookcases that were all the same wood, with the same number of shelves, and the same size? No, I did not. Now it’s your turn.”

“Fine.” Paige leaned against the wall and slid her back down it to sit beside Cami. “But you’re going to owe me.”

“We’ll be even.” Cami placed another board on the reject pile and held up the two finalists. “Anyway, I’m done. For now.”

“Which one’s the winner?”

“It’ll be one of these. I want to see them both in the room before I make a final decision.”

“Let’s go now.” Paige stood and gathered up the boards.

“Go where? Wait a minute.” Cami scrambled to her feet and tried to take the boards away from Paige. “They have to be stacked with plastic between them. Here.” Cami reached for a nearly invisible stack of acetate sheets, expertly sliding one between each of the painted squares.

“To Grant’s. You have the key, right?”

“You’re crazy, we can’t go there.”

“Of course we can.”

“What if he’s there?”

“We’ll knock first.” Paige grabbed the stacked samples and headed for the door, leaving Cami to gather the two finalists and her purse. She hurried after her friend, wondering how Paige always made her do what she didn’t want to do.

Grant drove around the corner and stomped on the brake. Cami’s Tahoe sat in front of his house. What the…. A honk behind him nudged his foot on to the gas pedal. He pulled into his driveway and sat.

What to do? She had obviously come to do something in the office. And since he wasn’t home, she’d used the key and gone in. So how could he enter his own home without terrifying her? She was so skittish, she’d probably be in the office with a paintbrush in one hand and brass knuckles in the other.

He considered calling his home number from his mobile phone. The answering machine would pick up. But what would he say? “Hey Grant, it’s Grant. I’m home now and coming in.” And the machine was in the kitchen anyway, not the office. She probably wouldn’t even hear the message. Well, he’d have to go in and make plenty of noise, warn her he was coming.

He pressed the button on the garage door opener and pulled inside. He put the ‘vette into Park and stepped on the gas twice, winding up the engine a little. He slammed the door, too. He unlocked the door from the garage into the laundry room, took a deep breath and stuck his head inside.

“Orca!” he called. “Here kitty.” The cat wouldn’t come without a strong incentive. “I got tuna,” he called. He eased himself into the small room, listening. And was rewarded with a female voice from down the hall.


“Hi. Is someone here?”

“It’s us.” Paige’s head popped into view. “Cami and I are in your office. Come see.”

He tossed keys and a cap on to the counter and followed the laughter to his office.

“Hi.” Cami sat on the floor across from the door, smiling at him. Paige stood spread-eagled next to the wall Cami would be painting. In each hand, she held a two foot square piece of something against the wall. “These are the colors we’re deciding between. What do you think?”

“Hmmm. Umbrian brown or cordovan?” He stood near Cami, assessing the samples.

“You’re making that up,” Paige said.

“I told you I helped the kitchen designer. I’m probably the only Coyote who knows the difference between Dune, Delta Sand, and Butter Cream.”

“That last one is cake frosting,” Paige said.

He laughed. “It’s also countertop colors.”

“Can you make a choice, please? My arms are aching.”

“What do you think?” he asked Cami.

“I’m leaning toward the cordovan. We looked at the bookcases this afternoon and I wanted to see the colors on the wall.”

“Cordovan it is,” he said.

“Thank you.” Paige dropped her arms with a whoosh and a sigh.

Cami took the boards from Paige and a pen from the desk top and wrote on the back of each board.

“I hate to say I was going to order a pizza again,” Grant said. “But if you can stay, I’ll order out. Chinese tonight? Or Mexican.”

Cami looked up. “I can’t.” She must have realized how abrupt she sounded because she hurried on. “I mean, it would be nice. But I really do need to go home. I want to try a new pounding brush I bought and I need to practice with it before I start in here.”

He didn’t want to let her get away. Not without knowing when he’d see her again. “You’re not going to paint all day tomorrow, too. Are you?”

“Of course not. I have church in the morning.”

He smiled. “How about if I visit your church? And we can do something after?”

“Paige?” Cami asked.

“I’d love to, but I’ve got to go to my folk’s church tomorrow. Command performance.”

Cami’s expression grew guarded. “I don’t know.” She looked at Paige who seemed to be busy examining the flooring in the office.

“Come on, it’ll be fun. The season starts Tuesday and I’ll be busy for the next six months. Hopefully.”

“You will?” Why did she seem pleased at the thought of his hectic pace in the next weeks?

“Yep. After Tuesday, goofing off will be a luxury I won’t have time for.”

“Well…” She seemed to be weakening, so he forged ahead.

“We could get a quick lunch and I have somewhere I want to take you.”

She still hesitated. “I’m uncomfortable riding with someone I don’t know very well without knowing where I’m going. It’s a security thing.”

He considered for a moment. “How about if you drive? I’ll be the passenger and navigate.”

She chewed her bottom lip. “I guess that would be all right.”

“Great.” Just like last week, he wanted to hurry out of the room before she changed her mind.

Paige seemed to have the same thought. “I need to get going. Are you two all set?”

Cami looked at him and smiled. “I’ll see you at church tomorrow morning.”

The sun reflected off the white clapboard building behind Cami. Someone’s idea of a little chapel on the beach, it looked like it would be more at home on the windswept Maine coast. Cami spent a few minutes visiting with some acquaintances from the singles class while she waited for Grant out front.

“Hi, Miss Henderson.”

Cami looked over her shoulder. Kyle and some other students approached.

“Hi, guys. How was youth group today?”

“Great.” Kyle answered for them all. “We’re planning a lock-in in a couple of weeks. We’re going to spend all night doing stuff, then come back here to the gym for pizza and movies. We’ll play broom hockey, maybe go bowling.” He paused as he looked around. “It’s an outreach kind of thing, where we invite unchurched kids. I was thinking of asking some of the guys from the baseball team. What do you think?”

“Good idea. Speaking of the team, how did you enjoy the clinic with Grant Andrews last week?”

“Awesome!” This time a different student spoke up. “He really knows technique,” Jared said. “I’ve been playing since first grade T-Ball and no one ever told me I needed to change my grip for a bunt as I grew up. I practiced drag bunts all week.”

Expressions of shock and shyness appeared on the kid’s face. Grant had arrived.

A gentle touch on her arm warmed her as he greeted Kyle and the others.

“We were talking about the clinic the other day,” Cami said.

“Yeah, Mr. Andrews. Thanks again for coming,” Kyle said. He shuffled from foot to foot, looking uncomfortable.

“You’re very welcome,” Grant answered. “Are you ready to go in?” he asked Cami.

She nodded and they hurried inside to find seats in an oak pew near the middle of the sanctuary.

Cami settled into her spot next to Grant. He carried a Bible, and had no trouble finding the passage the pastor used for his sermon text, First Samuel, chapter seventeen, the story of David and Goliath.

Pastor Mike gave some background to the familiar story. The Philistines had been taunting the Israelites and mocking their God. Then David stepped forward to show the heathen that God would not be ridiculed.

Cami drifted back to the conversation with Grant the week before. She was troubled by his confession that he had only gone to church because his mother made him. Her relationship with God was vital and she didn’t want to diminish it by becoming involved with a man who didn’t share her beliefs. But the last guy she dated claimed to be a man of strong faith and values and he….

She dragged her thoughts back to the pulpit. Pastor Mike stood over six feet tall, with a full head of dark hair. He was distantly related to a Chicago mobster of the 1930’s whom he declined to name. His favorite joke involved getting his cousin Guido to take care of problem parishioners. He had a sense of humor that most of his flock appreciated, and the few that didn’t soon left for duller pastures.

After the service, Cami and Grant paused to shake Pastor Mike’s hand. She introduced Grant who complimented the sermon. “I never thought about Goliath as a symbol of something huge in my own life. And that we all have a Goliath to struggle with.”

“Don’t think about it too hard,” Pastor Mike said. “I could be wrong and Goliath was just a big man who fell hard when he mocked a great God.”

Grant grinned. “How long have you been the pastor here? I remember a short dweeby guy.”

“A dweeb?” Pastor Mike roared with laughter. “I’ve never heard Doctor Lawrence described quite that way.”

Grant grimaced. “I guess that’s not a Christian-like description.”

“But accurate. I’ve been here five years in June.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Grant said. “And if it’s okay, I’ll think about your message and try to apply it to my life.”

Pastor Mike shrugged. “Suit yourself.” The wink he gave Cami told her he knew exactly what he was doing. “The biggest lesson for me in today’s Scripture is that as humans, we usually measure our opponents against our own strength. Whether we’re dealing with rude bosses or a smoking habit or a brain tumor. We think we can’t stand up to our problems. And we can’t, if we try to slug it out on our own. But when we compare the obstacle to God and His resources, there’s no contest.”

“That’s an interesting thought.” Grant seemed to consider Pastor Mike’s words.

“If I would only listen to myself, I could get rid of these ten pounds that sneaked up on my gut when I wasn’t looking.”

Grant laughed as they said good-bye to Pastor Mike and made their way to the parking lot. Walking to their cars, Grant held Cami’s elbow but she pulled away, conscious of the stares of many people following them. Including Kyle and his friends.

“Should we leave from here? Or I can drop my car off at your house. You’re the driver, so what would you like?” Grant didn’t seem to notice her retreat as he patted his pockets searching for keys.

“Let’s go to my house. I forgot to feed Petey this morning, so I really need to give him something before we take off. You can follow me.” She gave the interior of the Tahoe a quick glance through the rear window before climbing in.

“Lead the way.” Grant waved, clicked off his alarm and folded himself into the ‘Vette parked next to her.

She pulled into her driveway a few minutes later as Grant stopped at the curb in front.

“I’ll be right back,” she called to him, punching in her security code.

“Take your time,” he called through the open passenger window.

Cami entered her house and called to Petey. The dog’s tail thumped as she entered the kitchen. He still chewed on that mitt. Never mind trying to figure out where it came from, get ready to buy a new one for the kid that will soon be knocking on the door. She scooped some dry food into a dish from the bin under the sink. Petey dropped the mitt and headed for the kibble.

Cami stuck her head out the front door to call to Grant who now leaned against his car.

“Do you mind if I take another minute to change?”

“Fine with me. But we have a problem. You have a flat.”

“What?” Cami hurried out of the house to look at her SUV. Sure enough, the left rear tire sat level on the pavement. “How did that happen?”

“Maybe you picked up a nail. Sometimes that’ll happen, but it won’t deflate right away. I can change it if you’d like.”

“I guess so…”

“Is it open? I’ll get started while you finish inside.”

“Just a sec.” Cami retrieved her keys and tossed them to him. “The spare is mounted under the rear.”

“Okay.” Grant leaned down at the back of the vehicle while Cami returned inside.

Ten minutes later, she had changed from church clothes into a pair of cropped khaki pants and a lime green top. She wasn’t sure how to dress since Grant hadn’t told her exactly where they were going, but thought the outfit versatile enough for whatever the day held. She checked the mirror for confirmation. Her hair had started the day behaving itself on her shoulders, but now it looked like it was considering a rebellion. She pulled it back into a pony tail, secured it with a rubber band and shrugged. At least it wasn’t frizzy like after a full day at work. She picked up her purse from the table.

“We’ve got another problem.” Grant now sat on her front porch steps.

“I’m afraid to ask.”

“Your spare is flat, too.”

“You’re kidding me.” Is this a joke or a plot, she wondered. Second date curse? In the music business, Kennie called it the sophomore slump. Maybe there was a sports or baseball term for it too.

“I’m starting to think you really don’t want to take me anywhere today.”

“It seems that way, doesn’t it? But I’m looking forward to whatever you had planned.”

“Me, too. What should we do?”

Cami thought for a moment, then straightened her back and made a decision. “I refuse to be dictated to by an inanimate piece of vulcanized rubber. Let me call my friend, Meredith, from our networking group. She has a garage and can get someone over here to fix the tires. And if you’ll tell me where we’re going, I’ll let her know, too. That will take care of my security issues and I’ll ride with you in your car.”

“How about if I talk to her directly? That way she’ll know where you are and she can tell you if she doesn’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Deal.” Cami went into the house and brought out her portable phone. She pushed speed dial number six. Meredith answered on the second ring. After explaining the tire situation, Cami handed the phone to Grant, then went into the house to get a sweater. She froze as she opened the closet behind the front door.

Grant could lie to Meredith.

She stared into the closet, not seeing her white cardigan. The decision to go with him felt right. She didn’t usually trust her own emotions, but Grant’s easy acceptance of the car troubles reassured her that he wasn’t planning to kidnap her. He had been nothing but kind. And if he did lie, at least Meredith would know who she’d been seen with last. She smiled and reached for the sweater. A few days ago, the thought that a man could be lying would have sent her locking all the doors and setting alarms. Now, she’d convinced herself to trust him.

When Cami returned to the porch, Grant stood talking to Meredith as if they’d been friends for years.

“Okay, I’ll let you know how it goes. And be sure your guy checks the other tires. Maybe even the fluid levels, too…. Yes, here she is.” Grant handed the phone to Cami.

“I think it’s a great idea for a Sunday afternoon,” Meredith said. “I’ll call you tonight, to make sure you got home fine. Just enjoy your afternoon and your car will be ready when you get back. Put the key on top of the front driver’s side tire.”

“Thanks, Mare. I appreciate it.” Cami turned to go inside and spoke quietly into the receiver. “How about a hint where we’re going?”

Meredith laughed. “And ruin the fun? No way.”

“Traitor.” Cami disconnected and set the phone on the table inside, shut the door and set the alarm. A moment later she reached inside the Tahoe’s front wheel well to leave her key. “I’m ready.”

After a few minutes on the southbound freeway, Grant exited and turned the car into a parking lot with a sign announcing Welcome to Fairway FunLand! Miniature Golf, Arcade, Laser Tag, Pizza.

“An arcade?” This was not what she had expected. A late lunch and a movie, maybe. Or a drive down the coast. But an arcade?

“Actually, we’re here for the laser tag.” He held the door and they entered the lobby, a large room full of computer-style games, but with some old pinball machines as well. A bank of Skee Ball alleys stood against one wall with a counter opposite. Teenagers in red polo shirts and baseball caps were selling pizza slices and helping coupon-clutching children choose their prizes.

“Grant! If I’d known you were coming, I’d have gotten dolled up.” A short, round woman approached, wearing the same uniform as the employees.

Grant turned and enveloped her in a bear hug.

“I like you the way you are, natural and unspoiled.” He released her and turned toward Cami.

The woman slipped her arm through his. “Promises, promises. One of these days I’m going to get tired of waiting for you to propose, and I’ll accept one of the other men who keep begging me to marry them.”

“Don’t you dare. I’d have to fight them all and I’m extremely busy right now.”

“Who did you bring to see me?” She extended her hand to Cami.

“Anita, I’d like you to meet Camille Henderson. Cami and I went to high school together and we’re getting reacquainted. I thought I better introduce her to my heritage. And to my favorite older woman.”

“You’re incorrigible.” Anita elbowed Grant in the side. “Nice to meet you, Cami. I hope you can putt and shoot, otherwise you’re in trouble.”

“Shoot?” Cami shook Anita’s hand and glanced at Grant with raised eyebrows.

“My great-grandfather built this place. ‘Course then it was just a miniature golf course. My grandfather ran it after that and added the pinball arcade. Since Dad wasn’t interested, Gramps sold out to Anita and her husband when I was in junior high. They put in the laser tag and pizza ovens.”

“Since Jacob passed on, I’ve been running it myself.” Anita looked at Grant fondly. “But I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up. Aging is a high price to pay for maturity. I finally think I know what I’m doing, but I’m too decrepit to enjoy it.”

“You’ll outlive us all,” Grant said. He turned to Cami. “I’ve always loved this place and I try to come often when I’m in town. I haven’t been here since spring training though, so I’m a little rusty. Have you ever played laser tag?”

“Golf is my game. I’m the family champion.”

“We’ll play both, to be fair.”

“And if we both win our chosen events?”

“We come back for a rematch.” He smiled. “Deal?”

“Deal. What are the rules for laser tag?”

“Anita, I think we’ll be needing some weapons.” He blew on the tips of his fingers and walked to the counter with a bow-legged gait. Cami laughed and followed.

Anita wished them well and hurried off to the prize counter where two boys stood, both with fistfuls of tickets and determined expressions on their faces. The employee held one Star Wars Darth Vader action figure and wailed for Anita.

At the laser tag sign-in, Grant gave her a quick lesson. “First, we choose code names. I’m always Slugger. What name do you want?”

She hesitated. “I’m not good at thinking up clever names like this.”

“Let’s brainstorm. What are your hobbies?”

She wrinkled her brow, thinking. “Petey.”

“Do you have a mentor at work? A favorite super-hero? Or an artist you admire?”

“Hmmm.” She considered. “I’ve always liked Mary Cassatt.”

“Perfect. You can be Hammer.”

“How did you get Hammer from Mary Cassatt?”

“Her initials.”

“I’m still lost.”

“Remember M.C. Hammer? Singer slash rapper slash dancer in the ‘90’s?”

“I get it.” She laughed. “I actually like it.”

They gave their names to the teenager behind the counter who handed them each a plastic tag with a metal slug embedded in one end.

“What is this?” Cami asked, as they joined the line waiting near a doorway that looked like it belonged in a medieval castle.

“Your name is coded into it. When we get inside, we’ll choose our equipment and this will transfer your name to your weapon so the computer can track your shots and hits.”

“Is the computer named HAL? Or Big Brother?”

“We call it The One Behind the Curtain. To Be The C, for short.”

Cami tried to smile, but a tickle of unease raced up her spine. “How does this work?”

“The staff will explain. Basically, you strap on a harness with laser activated points on the chest, back, and shoulders. When you get hit, the harness will vibrate and your weapon will be useless for a few seconds.”

Cami looked around, assessing the other players. A mixture of teens and younger kids with a sprinkling of adults. “What about when I hit you?”

“Me? The Slugger?” He shook his head. “No, no, no. You won’t be hitting me.”

She faced him. “You’re awfully confident.”

“I’m The Slugger.”

She laughed. “Well, hypothetically, what happens when I hit you? Or someone else.”

“You hear a tone and the computer scores a hit for you.”

The clerk who assigned their code names opened the wooden doors and the crowd surged into a large room. Ultraviolet lights cast a purple glow on faces and many of the other players seemed to disappear, leaving their heads and hands floating in the dark.

“We should have worn black. We’re major targets,” Grant murmured.

The group waited while the end of the line entered. A boy about ten or eleven caught Cami’s eye. He grinned in anticipation and pointed at Grant. “I’m gonna get him,” the child mouthed.

She returned his smile and pointed back. “I’m gonna get you.” The nervousness dancing in her stomach composed itself.

They all listened to a safety lecture and dutifully repeated the rules together.

“I will not run. I will not lie down or kneel. I will not trip anyone. I will play fair.”

Another door opened and they entered the armory. Cami and Grant moved to the back of the room where he helped her put on a harness and showed her where to latch it. Excited laughter echoed around the room. Cami lifted the laser gun, testing its weight and maneuverability.

“It’s point and shoot, like an arcade.” Grant finished his own fastening and grinned at her, his teeth and eyes purple in the light.

The absurdity struck her and Cami laughed. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into this. I’m about a million years older than all the other players.”

“You’ll love it. And you’re not the oldest one here.”

She checked to see and did find other adults. Some were obviously parents, but nearby a trio of middle-aged women were struggling into their harnesses. Cami reached out to help one of them find the latch that remained barely out of touch over her shoulder.

“Thanks.” The woman finished the final snaps as the last door opened. Kids hopped in anticipation and a dusty haze floated overhead.

“See you in twenty minutes, Hammer.” Grant stood to one side, grinning and waiting for her to go through the door.

She met his eyes, took a deep breath, gulped, and stepped into the darkness.

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