While the ice-cream vs. frozen yogurt memory is entirely fictional, it could have been lifted directly from my life. I’m working on voicing my likes and dislikes with more transparency, but it’s tough.
Detective Bermudez clicked his pen as he listened to Cami’s story about finding her home address on the rec center computer.
“On the record, I can’t get excited about this. You could easily have entered your address on that computer for an online catalog or maybe to print out directions for someone and forgotten about it. Unofficially, I believe that didn’t happen.”
Cami sat on the edge of her seat at the kitchen table, hands wrapped around her tea mug. She’d called the police first thing and Detective Bermudez said he was willing to come talk to her before she left for work.
And hearing him say he believed her made her sit up a little straighter. “Thank you.”
“And I know you’ve already considered all the ramifications,” he continued. “It appears your stalker is either a center employee or a student.”
“I was up all night,” she said, “trying to think of some other explanation.”
“It’s not necessarily someone you know. A stalker builds up a rapport in his mind that may or may not be based on an existing relationship.” He slipped the pen into his pocket and stood as he closed the file folder. “You’re doing well at being aware of security and what’s going on around you. Have you called the Victim’s Advocate number I gave you?”
“This is so personal, I’m not sure they can help me.”
“You’d be surprised. They ask questions and have different protocols to follow. Something may trigger a recollection for you that will help. It’s worth a try.”
“I’ll call them.” Cami walked the officer to the door and stepped out onto the front porch. Petey followed close behind.
She indicated the park across the street. “I’m even afraid to sit on my own front porch. Someone could be back in the trees, watching me, and I’d never know. It’s too creepy.”
“Have you seen loiterers? Someone who left when you saw them?”
“Once. But there’ve been other times when I’ve felt I was being watched.”
“I recommend not going there, especially not alone.”
“I won’t. But I have to run Petey somewhere. He’s too big to get enough exercise in my yard.”
“Can you hire a dog walker?”
“I suppose.” But that would be admitting defeat. “Although I enjoy running. And I do feel safe with him.”
“Stay in wide open spaces, where you can see anyone approaching.”
“I will. Thank you for coming.”
A few minutes later, driving down Beach Boulevard, she scolded herself. Concentrate on work – a faux marble on the columns in an entryway. She needed to check her feather collection, make sure she had enough to do the job.
If it wasn’t a student, could it be that new custodian at the center? Or a finish carpenter at that new model home office she painted before Christmas. She had caught him staring a few times. Wait a minute – that’s not work.
Her cell phone rang. Grant would be calling to ask about her meeting with Detective Bermudez.
“Hello?” The phone nearly slipped out of her grasp as she made the turn onto Adams. “Hello!”
“Why did you call the police?” It was the same electronically altered voice that had called about the flowers.
Her mouth opened but no words came out.
“Why do you insist on playing this game, Camille? You know we’re meant to be together. It’s time for you to stop teasing me. I’ll see you soon.”
“Who is this?” she demanded.
She heard a click and the call was over.
“No!” she yelled. “Who are you?” She slammed the phone onto her knee. She pulled to the curb, ignoring the honks behind her. Her heart pounded as her white knuckles gripped the silent phone.
How did she find the list of received calls? She held the phone in front of her with both hands. Think, Cami. With shaking fingers, she finally punched the right combination. No information available, the tiny screen informed her.
She loosened her hold on the phone only when her cramped fingers began to ache in protest.
She scrolled through her directory for the construction company office number and left a voice mail saying she had an emergency and wouldn’t be starting the job today.
Her head grew light and lifted, as if it was about to disconnect from her body and float away. She scrambled out of the car and hurried to the passenger side where she leaned against the vehicle with her head down, her breath coming in ragged gasps.
After a few minutes of forcing herself to breath deeply, her heart rate slowed and her head remained attached. She slowly stood and took a couple of steps away from the car, looking over her shoulder. Were eyes watching her every move?
Cars sped by, a few shoppers rushed down the street. As she stood in the middle of the sidewalk, a pair of women in shorts and running shoes split around her, never breaking their stride or their conversation. She looked up to get her bearings. She was in front of Panino, Janis Shaw’s coffee shop.
Jerking open the car door, she leaned in and grabbed her phone, purse, and keys. Clicking the remote, she set the alarm and dove into the café, thirsty for the security it offered.
“Extra hot large tea, please.” Her hands still shook as she pulled a five from her wallet.
“Her money’s no good here.” The clerk froze at the imperious voice. Janis materialized through a door behind the counter. “It took you long enough, Camille. I’ve been open two weeks.” Like the employees, Janis wore a green apron over black slacks and a crisp white shirt. Except on her, it looked like couture. Not that Cami had any couture, but Paige’s mom did.
She realized Janis still stood behind the counter, eyes wide, waiting for Cami’s response.
“Oh, yeah, I’m sorry.” She forced a smile. “I’ve been busy”
“I heard. Grant Andrews. Nice work.” Janis looked at her with something new in her expression. Respect? Admiration? Cami shook her head; she must be imagining things.
“Umm, yes. Well… thanks for the drink,” she said, still on auto-pilot.
“You’re welcome.” Janis smiled. “I get regular compliments on the walls in here. You ever need a reference, send them to me.”
“Okay. Thanks again.” That woman could change moods faster than a hummingbird on a nectar quest.
Cami sat on an overstuffed couch and sipped from the mug. Cupping her hands around it, she soaked up the warmth. The shaking finally subsided, responding to the heat of the tea and the safety of the shop.
She stared at the hateful phone but finally punched in a familiar number and put it to her ear again. She took a deep breath as he answered.
“Hi. It’s me.” She coughed to cover the half sob.
“Good morning.” His voice was warm. “Did you call the police?”
“I talked to Detective Bermudez.”
“What did he say?” Her shoulders fell and she felt cold in spite of the hot tea. She wanted Grant’s warmth. No, she needed him. “I’m scared,” she said. “Please, I don’t know what to do.”
“A phone call. On my cell. Just now.”
“Where are you?” She heard rustling noises, like he was already moving toward her.
“A coffee shop on Beach called Panino.”
“Don’t leave. Stay where people can see you. I’m on my way.”
Cami leaned back into the enfolding softness of the sofa. The trembling slowed and finally ceased as she relaxed.
What was happening? Oh God. She started to pray but didn’t know what to say next. And that was the problem, she saw with a flash of clarity. If she knew who the stalker was, she’d know how to respond. But ignorance crippled her. Like now, on the phone. But of course, it wasn’t that simple. He wouldn’t give her his name. Or he would have when she asked the last time he called.
Why couldn’t she act? Why didn’t she speak up? She sipped her tea, the paper cup rattling against her teeth. Why did she have such trouble speaking up when she needed to? Like with Patrick. The thought floated into her brain and touched down on the edge of her consciousness. She tried to swat it away, but it kept coming back, like a mosquito determined to feed.
It was a question she had asked herself continually in the weeks after the rape.
Had she brought it on herself by not saying “no” forcefully enough? Was she so nice and too concerned with hurting his feelings that she hadn’t made it clear to Patrick that he had to stop? Wanting to please others at the cost of her own happiness had been a struggle since childhood.
One time, she’d been about fourteen, and had won an art competition at school. Her family all attended the show and had been so proud of her. Dad wanted to take them out for dessert and he asked where she wanted to go. Her favorite place was a little ice-cream shop in downtown Agua Vida. She opened her mouth to say, “Scoop Deck,” but had seen her brother’s pleading eyes. “Penguins is fine,” slipped out of her mouth before she could stop it. Penguins had been the frozen yogurt place Boyd’s current crush worked. She wanted ice cream, but had ended up eating frozen yogurt at her own celebration.
During therapy after the rape, she learned if she didn’t value her own likes, why would anyone else. She’d gotten much better about speaking up, but sometimes old habits came back like a tennis ball served to Serena Williams.
The mosquito of doubt swooped in again. Was her “No, Patrick. Stop!” loud and clear? Or did she say, “Please, Patrick,” and he misunderstood?
No. She shook her head, certainty flooding her heart. She said, “Stop,” and he didn’t. He raped her. She knew that then and she knew it now. And even though she might always regret not saying it louder or more often, it didn’t change the fact that she had said it. And Patrick had ignored it.
She put her thumb on the mosquito and pressed firmly.
The terror and adrenaline rush from earlier dissolved into a deep-rooted weariness that began in her bones. Stretching her feet out, her eyelids fluttered.
The shop door opened and she jerked straight up. A woman in workout clothes hurried to the counter and ordered a tall mocha with extra whipped cream. Cami eased back into the couch again and fought to stay awake. She watched the employees take orders, brew coffee, and check the containers of sugar and half-and-half. She timed the drinks to keep alert.
After the staff had served seven lattes and five mochas, Grant arrived. She started shaking again as soon as he walked in the door.
“Are you okay?” He wrapped his arms around her. She nodded, too overcome to trust her voice. “Are you sure?”
When she didn’t answer, he continued to hold her. She nestled her head into the hollow between his neck and shoulder. He seemed to sense that all she needed was his presence.
After a long while, she raised her head. “Am I hurting you?”
“Good. Oh-” She remembered. “You’re supposed to be at therapy, aren’t you?”
“I moved my appointment to later.” He settled himself on the couch. “Can you tell me about it?”
She took a deep breath. “I got a phone call when I was on my way to a new job. It was that same weird voice from after I got the flowers. He asked why I called the police and why I keep teasing him. And he said he was going to put an end to this game, and it’s time for us to be together. He must -” Her voice faltered. “He must be watching me all the time.”
Grant nodded. “What did Detective Bermudez say?”
“He believed me that someone used the rec center computer to look up a map to my home. But it would be too easy for me to have done it myself and not remember. He said I should think about someone at the center who might be doing it. Another staff member. Or even a student. But I’m sure it’s not a kid.”
“Why not?” His voice tightened.
“I don’t think my students are capable of this kind of intensity unless there’s a video game involved. And no adolescent would give me more than a passing thought except as an old maid.”
“Cami,” he said, “for someone who works with teenagers, you have some strange ideas about them. Don’t you remember what it’s like?”
“Not academically. I mean socially. The loneliness, feeling that you’re the only one going through adolescence, no one’s ever had it as tough.” He scooted away a little and squared himself and looked her in the eyes. “The isolation. That makes a teen vulnerable so when they think they’ve made a connection with someone, it becomes all-consuming.”
“I know what you’re saying, but I really don’t see any of my students as abnormally disconnected or alienated.”
“You need to call the police again.”
“The visit this morning seems to have pushed this guy over the edge. He was definitely mad about seeing Detective Bermudez at my house. He said I was teasing him. If he sees the police again, it’ll really set him off.”
“Like Joe said last night, the danger is that this guy truly believes there’s a relationship. You have to keep convincing him there isn’t. And the best way to do that is to keep the police informed of what’s going on.”
“I know you’re right.” She closed her eyes.
He reached for her hand. “So far, this guy’s been throwing brush-back pitches. I’m afraid he’s going to get serious with some fastballs. And another thing, this means he’s also got your cell phone number, not just your home number and address.”
“Oh, no!” Her voice caught in her throat. “How did he get it?”
“Who have you given it to?”
“Only my close friends and some clients.”
Grant stood. “Let’s go. We’ll leave your car here and I’ll drive you to the police station to make a report.”
Cami drained her cup of the cold dregs and shuddered as the bitterness slid down her throat. Grant smiled and held out his hand. She took it as he braced himself and hauled her up from the overstuffed comfort of the couch.
“How’s your arm?” she asked.
“Fine. I did my exercises already. I’m down to only half a pain pill, and just at night. Do you need to call your new job?”
“I’ll get your bag out of the Tahoe.”
Cami handed him her keys. “I need the back pack, I’ve got my purse.”
“Wait right here.” Grant held the door open for an influx of customers, then ducked out and walked to her car.
“Hi, Miss Henderson.”
Cami whirled around.
“Oh, hi Anthony. You startled me.”
“Sorry about that. Aren’t you going to work?”
“Not today. I have a … situation I need to take care of.”
“Anthony!” Janis’s voice summoned him and he rolled his eyes.
“I’m borrowing Kyle’s SAT study books.”
Cami smiled. “You be nice,” she admonished.
Anthony’s eyes widened. “Who, me?”
“Yes, you.” She saw Grant enter the shop, holding her backpack in his good hand. His eyes settled on her, then moved to the teenager, and a frown furrowed his brow.
“I’ve got to go, Anthony. I’ll see you later,” Cami said.
“Hi, Mr. Andrews,” Anthony said.
“Good morning.” Grant’s cool eyes appraised the young man. “And what’s your name?”
“Anthony Collins. I’m one of Miss Henderson’s art students. And a friend of Kyle Shaw’s. He called you last night for the interview.”
“Oh, right.” Grant slung the backpack over his shoulder so he could shake Anthony’s hand. His gaze moved to Cami. “Ready?”
“Yes. Bye, Anthony.”
“See ya’.” Anthony gave a casual wave and moved to the counter as Cami and Grant left the shop. He guided her to the corner and pushed the button for the crosswalk light.
“I’m across the street there.” He motioned to the Volvo wagon a short way down the block. “Who was that kid?”
“You heard him, one of my art students and a friend of Kyle’s. They came by my house selling cookie dough for a fundraiser a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure you’ve seen him, either at your baseball clinic or at church.”
“He doesn’t seem familiar.” Grant opened the car door and Cami slid in. “I guess I’ll have to start paying more attention to who’s hanging around you.”
“Anthony is harmless, just a nice kid. And besides, he’s dating Tara Mendosa.”
“Well, if he’s not, then she’s spending an awful lot of time and money on a prom dress for no reason.”
“Okay, I guess he passes.”
“Thank you, sir.” She touched his arm. “And thank you so much for coming. I panicked and I didn’t know what to do or who to call. You were the only one I could think of.”
He reached for her hand. “I’m glad you did. It means a lot that you would ask for my help. I like feeling that you need me.”
“I do need you.” Wow. Where did that come from? But it was true. She needed Grant, his strength, and his unfailing encouragement. Breathing a quick prayer of thanks that he was in her life, she fastened her seat belt as Grant pulled into traffic and headed to the police station.