Robin’s Place in this chapter is based on a restaurant in Pasadena called Robin’s. It’s still there, but very changed in decor and menu. Still good. Just different.
Sunday afternoon, Cami uncurled her legs from under her on the couch and stretched. She pulled out the elastic scrunchy holding her hair back and tossed it on the coffee table. She shook her head and ran cramped fingers through her hair. After draining her tea, she crumpled the napkin she used as a coaster and dropped it into the bottom of the mug. She gathered the rest of her lunch dishes to carry into the kitchen.
Thankfully, it had been a quiet weekend and she’d taken advantage of it to get caught up on her backlogged design magazines. Now she had a stack of articles pulled out of Paint Décor and an even taller pile to discard.
Grant had arrived yesterday morning, bearing bagels as promised. After telling him about the running shadow she’d seen, Grant crossed the street to examine the trees directly across from her front door. The jogger or stalker or whoever it was hadn’t left any identification or notes behind. By then, she’d decided she had imagined any intimidation and that she’d been frightened by an innocent late-night runner.
Afterwards, they spent an easy morning together and walked Petey around her block twice. Grant also joined her at church again that morning. He attracted a few stares, but most of the people remembered him from his years as a local kid and greeted him casually. He dropped their discussion of the last few days and regained his customary good humor. He was scheduled for shoulder surgery tomorrow.
The doorbell rang, startling her.
“Who is it?”
“Us, Miss Henderson. Kyle and Anthony.”
She unlocked the door and opened it. “Hi, guys. How are you?”
“We’re good,” Kyle said. “We stopped by ‘cause the baseball team is selling cookie dough, and we wondered if you’d like to help us out.” His hopeful eyes met hers.
“We’re trying to buy some more lights for the field,” Anthony added, handing her a brochure.
“What kinds are you selling?” And what kind does Grant like? She looked at the flyer to hide the amusement that thought provoked.
“There’s chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and sugar cookie.” Kyle’s expression turned puzzled.
She leaned against the doorframe, pretending to read about the finest California raisins used in the oatmeal recipe. “How are the SAT studying and vocabulary words going?” she asked, to change the subject.
“Okay, I guess. It’s hard to remember some of the Latin combinations,” Anthony said, his face in a permanent scowl of concentration.
“Well, a means without, ab is away from, and abduc is lead from. So is abduction without something, away from something or leading from something?”
“What do you think?”
“I know abduction means kidnap, so… away from something?”
“Very good.” She handed the flyer back to Kyle. “I’ll take a tub each of the chocolate chip and the sugar cookies. Just a sec, I’ll get my purse.” She left them at the door and went to find her purse in the kitchen. Petey got up from his bed and walked to the living room. He made a low sound in his throat that in another dog would be a growl. “Hush, it’s a couple of the kids,” she said to the dog. “What’s bio mean?” she called as she pulled out her checkbook.
“I know ‘ology’ is ‘study of,’ and biology is life science, so I’m guessing life?” Kyle answered this time.
Cami smiled as she returned to the living room. “Oh.” The boys had come into the living room while she was in the kitchen. She’d figured them for the kind who would wait to be invited. She shrugged. “That’s right, bio means life. You’re going to do fine.” She handed Kyle a check.
Kyle tucked the order form and payment into his backpack. “Thanks, Miss Henderson. I’m not so sure. I’m might ask a teacher or someone for tutoring.”
“I don’t think you need it.”
“Maybe. I want all the help I can get.” He looked around the room. “Tara said you were going to ask Mr. Andrews about the ‘Where Are They Now?’ article.”
“He said he’d be honored.”
“How’s his shoulder?”
“He’s having surgery tomorrow and will start rehab after that. He’s planning to be back with the team in record time.”
Music came from Anthony’s pocket. Cami recognized the tinny notes of Unchained Melody.
“Sorry. It’s Tara.” Turning pink, Anthony pulled his phone out, flipped it open, and stepped onto the porch.
“Can I ask you something?” Kyle fidgeted with the strap of his backpack.
“You may ask. I might not answer,” she said.
“Are you engaged to Grant Andrews?”
“No.” She blew out a breath and her shoulders sagged. “I understand that’s a rumor around school. I don’t know how it got started.”
“Okay. See you.” And he was out the front door, pulling Anthony down the steps behind him.
“Bye,” she said to the door slamming shut. She moved back to the table to take her dishes into the kitchen when she froze. That was odd. She was sure she’d left her hair band on the table with the magazines, but it wasn’t there. She started to shuffle through the articles thinking it must be mixed into the stack.
The phone rang, pulling her away from the search. This time, she remembered to check the caller ID before answering. Grant’s cell number. Her heart echoed the song on Anthony’s phone.
“Hi, yourself. Did you get that paperwork finished?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Good. Come outside onto your front porch.”
Cami moved to the door and looked through the window before stepping out. Grant leaned against the Corvette at the curb. He held a mobile phone to his ear. She caught her breath at the sight of his long legs crossed in front of him, his lean waist, and powerful shoulders.
“I thought you were going to stay home and rest this afternoon,” she said.
“I did. But then I decided to come see you. I’m going under the knife tomorrow. Who knows what the future holds? I want to spend my last evening with you.”
“You make it sound like a life-threatening operation – a heart transplant or something, instead of a simple arthroscopic procedure. You won’t even stay overnight in the hospital.”
“What does a guy have to do to get a little sympathy from you?” He pushed off from the car and began the walk to her porch.
She smiled. “He has to have driven here using only one arm. I have lots of sympathy for those guys.”
He climbed the steps, but still spoke into his phone. “How ‘bout if I drove here using my knees, no hands at all?”
“Really? Knees only? I’m impressed.”
“You should be.” He stood in front of her. “Cornering is murder. I think my legs are gonna need rehab as well as my shoulder.”
She laughed and turned her phone off. “Come on in.” He followed her into the house while holstering his phone.
“What are you doing for dinner?” he asked.
“Nothing. What do you have in mind?”
“A drive to Huntington Beach, a bite at Robin’s Place, then maybe a stroll on the sand. We’ll revisit the parking lot where you left me in the metaphorical dust for the second time.”
“Why do you want to do that?” That was sweet of him, to plan an evening, especially his last night out before surgery. But did she feel pampered or trapped?
“I’m trying to be romantic and charming. I thought women liked that kind of thing.”
“Well?” he asked.
“‘Grant, what a wonderful idea. I’d love to spend your last evening before going under the knife at a romantic beachfront restaurant.’ That’s ‘well, what.’” Something crept into his voice. Injured pride? Irritation?
“I’m sorry. Of course, I’d love to go to dinner.” She explained her seeming reluctance, hoping to ease the hurt in his eyes. “I can’t get used to the idea that you want to spend time with me.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
She worried her lip, trying to decide how to say this. “I still see myself as a mousy spinster, afraid of life beyond her front door. I said I’m not a victim anymore, but sometimes I still revert to that scared girl who almost gave up on life. And I wonder what you see in her.”
“I see a strong woman who’s been very hurt by some men in her life. And that makes me want to never disappoint her.”
She smiled. “Thank you.”
“Grant, I would love to spend your last evening before going under the knife at a romantic beachfront restaurant. But don’t you have to fast before surgery?”
“Nothing to eat or drink after ten P.M., so I’ve got plenty of time. How soon can you be ready?”
“Fifteen minutes. If I can find the hair scrunchy I left with these magazines. I was looking for it when you got here.” She moved to the table and started looking under dishes and papers again. “It must have fallen into the cushions or under the couch or something. Oh, well. It’ll turn up. I’ll be right back.” She started up the stairs as Grant sat down.
Twelve minutes later Cami descended to find Petey stretched out on the couch with his nose on Grant’s knee.
“What’s this?” She put her hands on her hips.
“We’re waiting patiently. We’ve been talking about him keeping a better watch on things around here. He’s let too much get by him and he’s got to be more vigilant. I explained that and I think he understands what’s expected.”
She walked over and ruffled Petey’s fur behind his ears. “I’m glad to hear it. He growled a little at Kyle and Anthony earlier, but he didn’t bark or do anything to tell me someone was here. The door bell ringing was the first clue I had.”
“Why did they come by?”
“They were selling cookie dough to raise money for new lights at the ball field.”
“And you let them in?” His eyes bored into hers, his brow furrowed.
“Well, not really. They just came in.”
“And Petey growled? This dog, your big chicken, actually snarled?”
“It was more of a gravelly kind of rumble than a real growl. He didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Cami, you have to be careful. You shouldn’t let anyone in.”
“Then I guess you better leave.” How dare he tell her what to do or not do.
“You know what I mean.” His voice was quiet but intense.
“I’ve been living alone here for several years.” She could hear the shrill tone so she took a deep breath. “I have a highly developed sense of my own vulnerability. I’m not about to let just anyone in. But this was Kyle. And Anthony. Two of my students.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Some psycho is following and watching you every day and every moment. Ever thought about a roommate?”
“I used to have one and I hated it. When someone else lives in your home, they have a right to invite friends and family over. I couldn’t handle having strangers and other people in my house. I almost clobbered my last roommate’s brother with a frying pan in the middle of the night. We decided that I was better off living alone and she moved out. I’ve been happy and safe ever since.”
“Will you at least promise not to let anyone else in? Humor me.”
“All I can guarantee right now is that I’ll think about it.”
“Please do.” He patted Petey’s head and nudged the dog’s nose off his knee. “Get up buddy, we’ve got to go.” Petey lumbered off the couch and into the kitchen. A grunt came from that direction as he settled on his bed. “Ready?” Grant asked.
“Yes.” She hesitated as she picked up her purse. She looked inside it instead of at him. “Grant, I enjoy being with you and I think we have something. But…” her voice trailed off.
“Is this another chorus of ‘We’re too different’?”
“I’m wondering if the timing is wrong. Some nut is following me and you’re hurt and dealing with a stalled career and rehab. Are we crazy to do this?” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she wanted to pull them back. What if he agreed?
“We’re crazy all right. But not for wanting a relationship. There will always be a reason to delay. If we weren’t dealing with a stalker and an injury, it would be something else. Maybe something worse.”
“But what could be worse?”
“Are you serious?” He paused before continuing. “Instead of a treatable injury, I might have a life threatening illness. And this whacko could have kidnapped you instead of sending flowers. Things can always be worse.”
“Are you the same guy who was angry at God a few days ago, sure you’d never play ball again?”
He shrugged. “I guess some of your optimism and trust in the Big Guy has gotten through to me.”
“I hope so.” She closed her purse and moved to the entryway. “I promise I won’t let anyone in. Unless I know them and feel safe with them in my home.”
He leaned past her to open the door with his good arm. “Thank you. And I promise not to question your decisions. Now, let’s go eat.”