Ben and Jerry are thirteen months apart, just like my husband and his older brother. The put the compete in competition. Still.
Cami’s heart froze for a beat. There must be an explanation. Her eyes darted across the screen. There had to be a sign of who requested the map. Nothing. She searched her memory for any reason she might have put her home address into this computer. But she knew where she lived. Did she order something online and use her home for the ship-to address? No.
Almost on autopilot, she typed in the Spencer’s address. While the computer printed out directions and a map, Cami gathered her belongings. She’d think about this later. Her hands shook as she shut the classroom door behind her.
As Cami drove to Fullerton, she forced herself to maintain the speed limit, in spite of nerves screaming to go faster, to get there, to feel safe again with Grant. Weaving through the neighborhood and consulting the computer-generated map kept her mind occupied. As soon as she arrived, she hurried up the wide brick path and rang the doorbell. Scuffling and what sounded like running footsteps sounded inside.
“I got it, I got it!” a voice said.
“I was here first,” another protested.
More footsteps and then Ellen’s voice. “I’ll get it. You two go play out back.” The door finally opened and Ellen greeted Cami.
“I’m so glad you could come.” Ellen ushered Cami into the entryway. A pair of tow-headed boys, about four or five years old, stood beside their mother.
“Thank you for having me. Is Grant here?” The panic she’d fought during the drive threatened to spill out. She could hear it in the tightness of her own voice.
“He’s in back with Joe, they’re putting burgers on the grill.” Ellen stepped closer to Cami with a concerned expression. “You’re pale. Is everything all right?”
Cami took a deep breath and her pulse slowed a bit. She tried to reassure Ellen. And herself. “I’m fine, I had a bit of a scare.”
“It’s a long story. I need to see Grant. Is it this way?” Cami indicated the hallway that led off the entry.
“Yes. These two can show you the way. Boys, this is Miss Henderson.” The taller of the two thrust his right hand in her direction. “Cami, this is Ben and Jerry.”
“Really?” She reflexively shook the offered hand, but looked at Ellen for confirmation.
“Well, actually, this is Benjamin.” Ellen placed a hand on the older boy’s head. “And this one is Jeremiah. I don’t know what we were thinking. They’re only thirteen months apart, sometimes it’s like having twins. And I never even thought of the Ben and Jerry thing until my father-in-law started calling them that. Now we’re trapped in a world of ice-cream jokes.”
The humor struck her and Cami stifled a giggle. If she started laughing, she might not be able to stop before it turned into hysteria. “I’m glad to meet you both,” she said. “Can you show me the way to the back yard?”
The pair raced ahead. “I’ll be right there, I need to toss the salad,” Ellen said as she motioned Cami to follow the boys down the hall. They were already through the French doors at the side of the family room.
She stepped onto the concrete patio and looked for Grant. The boys disappeared around a corner where she could hear voices. She followed and found Grant and Joe sitting at a wooden table under a large green umbrella, with tall, icy glasses in front of them.
“You’re here!” Grant stood up. He hugged her, but suddenly pulled away. “What’s wrong? You’re shaking like Petey when he sees shadows.”
“I …” She glanced at Joe, reticent about blurting out the whole story. There had to be an explanation, she was overlooking something simple.
“What?” Grant still held her arms and looked into her eyes.
“Something strange happened just before I left the rec center. I let myself get all worked up and it’s probably nothing.”
“Did you call the police and Detective Bermudez?”
“The police?” Joe interrupted. “What’s going on?”
“Cami has a stalker,” Grant answered. “What happened?” He turned back to Cami.
“No, I didn’t call the police. I didn’t know what to do. Except get away as soon as possible. I was typing the address here into the classroom computer. You know how sometimes a computer will pop up with previous entries, in case you want to use the same information?” Both men nodded at her. “Well, when I typed the first digit, the three, some other addresses popped up. One of them was mine. My home address. Someone searched for a map and directions to my house on my classroom computer. I panicked and left. But I keep thinking there must be some reason. What am I not seeing?”
“Have you ever printed out a map and directions to give to someone at the center? Another staff or a student, maybe?” Joe asked.
“No. I…” Cami faltered and sidestepped the issue. “I’m pretty security conscious.”
A door slammed and Ellen joined them on the patio. “Joe, you didn’t get Cami a drink?”
“Sorry ‘bout that. Cami, would you like some iced tea or lemonade? Or water?”
“Have you ever ordered something online and had it shipped to your house?” Grant’s brow furrowed.
“No. If I order from the center, I have it shipped there. Even if I order from home, I use the center for deliveries. So I don’t have to worry whether I’ll miss a package. Or about strange deliverymen at my house.”
“What happened?” Ellen asked as Joe returned and handed a glass to Cami. Grant explained about the stalker as she sipped the tart lemonade. Her puckered lips and tongue reassured her that at least her senses still worked. Even if her brain and emotions were not compatible on the color wheel.
“No wonder you’re anxious. And you don’t have any idea who’s behind it?” Ellen asked.
“That’s what’s so frustrating. I know strange things are happening. But they could have innocent explanations.”
“There is no rational reason for the vandalism to your Tahoe. Or for the flower delivery,” Grant said. “You have a stalker. And we have to figure out who it is, before he gets bolder.”
“Grant’s right, Cami,” Joe said. “A few years ago, Daniel Payne, a first-baseman for the Coyotes, had a stalker. It went way beyond the groupie kind of thing Delia’s into. Dan’s was really psycho. She ended up in an institution. But not before terrorizing him and his wife. Part of what was so scary was that she couldn’t be convinced they didn’t have a relationship. She really believed he loved her and was being kept away by his wife and others who were interfering.”
Cami’s neck tightened and an ache started at the back of her head. “I don’t think I want to hear this.”
Joe flushed. “You’re right. I want you to be aware that these people are unstable and you need to call the police or get alarms on your house.”
“I’ve done all those things, and it’s not helping.” She sank down on a wooden Adirondack chair. “Why is this happening to me?”
Grant pulled another chair up and put his good arm around her. “I guess this wouldn’t be a good time to remind you of your own words, would it?”
“That God is working through circumstances to show you His love and concern.”
“I said that?”
“It sounds pretty profound. And a little smugly self-righteous.”
“That about sums you up,” he teased. He looked so smug, like a kid showing off his new bat and ball to his friends on the ball field, that she had to laugh.
She looked at Ellen and Joe who stood nearby. “I’m sorry for bursting in and putting such a damper on the party.”
“You didn’t. If you’re having problems, we want to help. That’s what friends do, isn’t it?” Ellen answered as Joe grabbed a spatula.
“Ohhh, bad word!” He began to take burgers off the grill. “I hope everyone likes their meat well-done.”
Grant stared at Joe. “Bad word? Pick that one up around the club house?”
Ellen laughed. “He’s watching what he says around the boys. The clubhouse language does tend to find its way home.”
“I like ‘Golly gosh darn it’ myself,” Cami said. They all three stared at her in astonishment. “What? I pick things up on job sites too, if I’m not careful.”
Ellen laughed. “Thanks, Cami. That makes me feel better, to know Joe’s not the only one to struggle with his tongue. I’m afraid of being in a house full of men who swear, leave empty chip bags in the living room, and never fill up the ice trays.”
“That’s what an ice maker is for.” Joe set the burgers on the table. “Let’s eat.”
They discussed local news while they ate. The serial rapist had struck in the north county. At least he was getting farther away, but that situation had faded in Cami’s consciousness since her own struggles began.
As they finished their burgers, a sitter arrived to care for the boys. Cami watched Joe and Grant get ready, the words and gestures became shorter and stronger. She’d heard of a game face, but this was the first time she’d watched it happen.
“Are you coming?” Grant asked.
“No, I don’t think – Oh, I don’t know. I don’t really want to but I don’t feel like going home alone either.” She sighed, bleak inside at the prospect of her home under siege.
“Why don’t you go to my house?” he asked. “I’ll meet you there after the game and follow you home. You can call Detective Bermudez in the morning.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” Ellen offered.
Cami considered, but Joe was the starting pitcher and Ellen would want to be there. “No, I’ll be fine,” she said. “You go to the game and cheer for me.”
Grant’s cell phone rang, interrupting their goodbyes.
“Hello. Oh yes, Kyle, the interview.” He moved the phone to his other ear as he shrugged into a jacket. “I’m on my way out the door. Can I call you back later?” Grant made arrangements to talk at a different time while Cami and the Spencers walked to the driveway. Joe and Ellen drove off as Grant disconnected his call. He accompanied Cami to her car.
“You still have my house key, right?” he asked as she moved around him to check behind the seats of the SUV.
“Right here.” She held up her key ring and climbed into the Tahoe. “I’ll be fine, and I’ll see you when you get there.” She closed the door then remembered something. Rolling the window down, she leaned out to catch Grant before he got into the Corvette. “You didn’t tell me what your therapist said today.”
He smiled. “I’m ‘making progress.’ That’s all he ever says.”
“Well, it beats the alternative.”
“I guess. Text me when you get in the house, so I know you made it okay.”
She nodded and waved as she drove away.
Grant parked in the stadium players’ lot and punched in the phone buttons to call Kyle back. He didn’t need to be there quite as early as Joe, so he’d take a few minutes for the interview now. “Kyle. It’s Grant Andrews.”
“Hi, Mr. Andrews. Thanks for calling me back.”
“No problem. What do you need to know?”
“I have a list of questions that we’re asking all the alumni.”
“Okay, shoot.” Grant eased himself down into the seat of his sports car and prepared to talk for a while. “I hope I’m not too boring.”
“First of all, when did you graduate?”
“Eight years ago. I went from Woodrow Wilson to UC Irvine. After I finished there, I went to the Coyotes triple A team for two years.”
“Did you know Miss Henderson when you were in college?”
“No. We were casual friends in high school. Different colleges, different careers. We didn’t see each other again till I did the clinic for your team.”
“Has she changed a lot?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Grant paused. “Umm. Kyle, what does that have to do with the article?”
“Oh, sorry, Mr. Andrews. Just curious, I guess.”
Kyle didn’t ask another question. Finally, Grant cleared his throat and took the lead. “Anything else?”
“A couple. What would you say to current students considering a career in professional sports?”
“That’s a great question. First, it’s intensely competitive. Talent isn’t enough any more. You also need determination, perseverance, a little bit of luck, and the most important thing is an education.”
“Did Miss Henderson tell you to say that?” The kid sounded suspicious.
Grant chuckled. “No, it’s true. Professional sports is an industry first of all. And you need to know the fundamentals of business if you want to succeed, stuff like accounting and marketing. Not to mention anatomy and physiology.”
“Come on, Mr. Andrews, do you really use that?”
“You’d be surprised. I used the business courses when my agent negotiated my contract with the Coyotes. I knew collective bargaining was coming and we were able to add a clause that saved management some money up front, but is better for me in the long run.”
“What if you have to retire because of your injury?”
“I’ll be fine. Because I knew what was worth fighting for in my contract.”
“What was your major in college?”
“What would you recommend our students major in?”
“First of all, it should be something you enjoy. The odds of having any kind of pro career are very long. Go into it with the goal of getting an education first. Sports medicine is good, if you’re good at science. Marketing and business degrees are always useful too.”
“Thanks, Mr. Andrews. That’s a good start for the article. Tell Miss Henderson ‘hi’ for me.”
“Glad to help.” Grant disconnected. Time to get to work. For the first time he could remember, the prospect depressed him. He headed into the stadium.
He greeted the security guard and after chatting a few minutes, made his way to the locker room. He paused before entering, squared his shoulders and pasted a smile on his face.
The phone in his pocket beeped. Kyle with another question? No, it was a text message. “I’m here. See U.”
He pushed through the door, his cheeks already sore form forcing them to hold his grin in place.