I have no personal experience, but apparently there are baseball groupies. And basketball. Chess. Badminton. Folk music. Anyone who is good at something and does it in a public forum is vulnerable to a groupie. It’s a problem when it becomes stalking.
Two days later, Grant stayed in bed after the alarm went off. What was the rush? Just to go to the stadium like yesterday and hear the team doc say Grant’s baseball career might be over? Everything he’d worked so hard for. Gone.
The phone jarred him. Cami he hoped, checking in. He gingerly rolled over to reach for the receiver. Last night’s medication had worn off and he hadn’t taken a new pill yet. “Hello?” He made his voice deep and charming to keep the pain out.
“Hi, Grant!” A female voice. Not Cami’s.
“Can I help you?”
“This is Delia, silly. Calling to see how you’re feeling.”
“Well, thank you, but I’m fine. Never better, in fact.”
“Are you sure? Bill said you might need surgery.”
“‘Might’ is the operative word there. No pun intended.”
She laughed, the piercing tone forcing him to pull the receiver away from his ear. “Well, I wanted to let you know I was thinking of you. And to say that if you need anything, and I mean anything at all,” she paused a half beat before continuing, “feel free to call me, you hear?”
“Well.” She paused. “Cinda tells me you had a date at the team party the other night. Anyone I know?”
“Delia, thanks for the call, but I gotta get going. I’ve a doctor’s appointment and a bunch of other stuff to do.”
“Sure. Don’t forget. Call if you need anything.” Her voice again caressed the “anything.”
“Bye, Delia.” He hung up and a familiar knot formed in his gut. He hated being nice to that woman. She had the scruples of a tomcat mixed with the killer instinct of a lioness stalking her prey. He felt better after coming up with that gender-mixed, feline metaphor. He’d have to share it with Cami. If she was still speaking to him. He recalled some of their last conversation.
“Oh, God.” He said it out loud. How could he have been so stupid? She was right. Comparing his accident to what had happened to her was unconscionable.
He checked the time. He might be able to catch her before she left for work. He grabbed the phone and dialed.
“I’m glad I caught you. I was out of line, can you forgive me?” He propped himself on his good side, trying to get comfortable.
“For picking a fight with you, for comparing our two situations, for being a jerk. And anything else you want to add in there.”
“No, I think you covered it pretty well. Of course, I forgive you.”
“Thanks. What are you up to today?”
“The usual. A final clear coat on the mural, rec center art class, then I’m free. I’ve been neglecting Petey since spending time with a certain ball player. I should run him on the beach or something. How ‘bout you?”
“Doctor appointment first, then I guess I’ll go to the stadium to check in. See who they’re replacing me with and get a feel for whether my job is gone for good or if I can get it back when I’m healed.” He swung his legs over the side of the mattress and curled his toes on top of the hardwood floor.
“Would they really replace you so quickly?”
“In a heartbeat, if they thought it would help.” He stood and walked to the window overlooking the deck leading down to the pool.
“Help who? Surely not you.”
“No, the team or the front office or whoever. It’s all about money and winning. You can’t have one without the other.” A yellow ducky left behind by Jonathan’s kids floated on top of the pool. “How about I meet you for that run on the beach with Petey? Then we can go to the game.”
“We can run, but I need to stay home and work tonight. I’m backed up with sample boards to paint for a new client.”
“I’ll meet you the same place as that Saturday, around four?”
He hung up and headed to the bathroom. As he shaved at the sink, the differences between his two phone conversations sparred for attention. Well, it was actually the differences between the two women. Cami was so different from the others he’d dated; she was strong, yet he sensed her vulnerability. Like one of those fancy, jeweled eggs his mom used to collect. They came in reinforced boxes and the shells were pretty hard. But the insides were delicate and fragile and could break if someone happened to miss a catch in the backyard and the ball hit the outside of the wall holding the egg on an inside shelf.
When they’d played laser tag, Cami’d been so unsure of herself at first. But once the game started, she turned out to be a worthy opponent, taking aim carefully and scoring clean hits. And chasing that kid around the course. He shook his head, trying to suppress a grin at the memory.
But she could also be darned aggravating. Pulling back every time he inched closer. Maybe he should call it off. He stared at himself in the mirror, his half smooth – half whiskered chin a perfect reflection of his indecision.
After her sparsely attended rec center class, Cami hurried home to fetch Petey and then get to the beach on time. She walked briskly to the tide line and looked around for Grant. She waved to get his attention and he jogged over to join her on the firm sand right above the water.
“Hi.” He greeted her with a hug that took her breath away. It was one-armed and gentle due to the sling he wore, but its tenderness took her breath as surely as if he’d squeezed her in a bear hug.
“How was your day?” she asked while she fussed with Petey’s leash to avoid letting Grant see how he flustered her.
“Not so good. I had an MRI and it shows a partial tear of the rotator cuff, like we thought.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Are you still in pain? Should you be running or working out?”
“I figured I could walk while you and Petey run circles around me.” He started off down the beach at a brisk pace and Cami had to hurry to make the first circuit around him. She stopped after two.
“This is ridiculous. We look like some bizarre performance art of a gyroscope or a perpetual motion machine.” She fell into step beside him, pulling Petey into a heel position on her left side.
“How about I’m a planet and you and Petey are moons orbiting me?”
“I don’t think so.” In spite of herself, a smile teased the corner of her lips.
“Darn. I always wanted to be the center of someone’s universe. Besides my mom’s.”
“I like your mom.”
“So do I. I wish she’d learn when to back off and quit being a mom.”
Cami adjusted the leash to give Petey a bit more room. He was unsteady on the shifting sands and kept nudging her knee with his cold nose. “What are your options?”
“Declare myself sovereign of the universe?”
“No, Your Majesty. About your shoulder.”
“Ah. Well, I can leave it alone, but I’d have to quit playing ball. So, I’m gonna have an operation. It looks like a clean tear, according to the MRI.” He kicked a sand clump and walked through the scattering grains. “It’ll be arthroscopic surgery, a pretty simple procedure. Hopefully just a few months of rehab. But my season’s over.”
“I’m so sorry.” She glanced at him, but he was staring straight ahead. “It’s not a death sentence, so to speak.”
“You’re right.” He still didn’t meet her gaze.
“Are you angry?”
“Are we back to our discussion?” They split apart and walked on either side of some half-buried rocks.
“Cami, I don’t want to argue with you. You have your beliefs, and that’s fine for you, I think differently.”
“That’s what I don’t understand though. God gave you a wonderful gift, this athletic ability, and….”
“And I’m not grateful?”
“I guess that’s part of it.” She walked in silence for a few seconds. If Grant not only didn’t share her faith, but also couldn’t even comprehend how important it was to her, maybe this relationship should end, before her heart got in too deep. She opened her mouth to voice the thought, but before she could form the words she heard a call from behind her.
“Grant!” They both turned to see who had called his name.
“Delia, the lioness on the prowl.”
Cami had to strain to hear the words. She almost missed the exasperation in his voice.
“What a surprise! I was having coffee with Cinda up at the café and I looked out the window at all the joggers and I thought I recognized you. I had to come down here and be sure. And here you are. Have we met?” The last comment was directed to Cami.
“Delia, this is Camille Henderson, an old friend of mine.” Grant made the introduction. Cami tried to extend her hand for a greeting, but Petey chose that moment to lunge after a gull that wheeled in the air above them.
“My sister Cinda mentioned she met you at the team party.” Delia watched Cami’s struggle with the tangled leash. “Do you need some help? You seem a little twisted.”
“No, thanks. Petey, heel!” Cami yanked on the leash and Petey finally sat with a sigh. She patted him on the head as thanks, then brushed some hair out of her eyes in time to see Delia stumble in the loose sand. She shifted her weight forward so she could clutch Grant’s good arm for support.
The vision of Delia in her shorts and high-heeled sandals, red fingernails wrapped around Grant’s good arm itched at Cami’s irritation. She gave into it and gave it a good scratch. “Delia, you caught us at a bad time,” she said. “Grant and I were discussing some private matters. Would you mind finding your own way back to the boardwalk?”
“Oh. Grant?” Delia looked at him, as if for confirmation that he wanted her to leave.
Grant grinned. Uh oh. Cami opened her mouth to take back the words of dismissal, but he was already speaking.
“That would be great, Delia. It was good to see you. Tell Bill and Cinda hello for me.” He shook her off his arm and proffered his hand for Petey’s leash as he and Cami continued down the shore, leaving a torpedoed Delia in their wake.
“Oh, no. What have I done? I have to go back and apologize.” Manners tapped a rhythm of second-guesses on her conscience.
“Don’t you dare.” He stared straight ahead as they walked. “She’ll only take that as encouragement to come back and keep hanging around. She doesn’t get hints. You have to spell everything out for her. Thank you!”
“But that was rude, and I’m never rude.”
“You were honest and assertive and refused to let a pushy person force her will on you. I’ve never seen you like that.” He glanced at her, finally meeting her eyes. “I like it.”
“You do?” The butterflies in her stomach did back flips, then settled down.
“Yes. But I don’t want to talk about Delia any more. I want to spend some time with you before I have to get to the game.” He continued to hold the leash in his good hand, and started to put his other arm around her. He flinched and wiggled his fingers to get a tighter grip as Petey lunged after that same taunting gull. The lead snapped out of Grant’s hand and the dog charged down the beach.