Fiction Friday: Curve Ball

I read a lot of books and did quite a bit of research so Cami’s situation and response were authentic. I’m still not sure I got it right.


Chapter Twenty-Five

Cami felt Grant’s grip on her shoulder tighten. “Because of what he did to you?” he asked, his voice deepening.

“No.” She relaxed into the embrace. Could she do this? She’d never told the whole story except to her therapist. And then she’d been plagued by nightmares for weeks. But Grant had been loving and kind and patient. He deserved to know the whole truth. And if it changed his feelings about her- well, she’d have to take that risk.

“After college I moved back to Agua Vida and tried to figure out what to do. An art degree isn’t a ticket to lots of job offers. So to put some food on the table, I took a couple of jobs doing walls for friends, they referred me to their friends, and pretty soon I had a business. I met Patrick on a job. He was the staff architect for a contractor in Agua Vida and he designed a remodel of an old Victorian into a bed and breakfast. I painted some murals in a couple of the rooms. And beautiful borders of roses with-”

Grant nudged her and she forced herself to leave the Victorian hearts and flowers.

“Anyway, he asked me out to lunch one day. I thought it was business. You’ve seen how I look at work. And he’s-” She paused again. How to describe Patrick was always a conundrum, now more than ever. “Well, he’s not as tall as you. And everyone thinks he’s gorgeous.” She didn’t say he made Tom Cruise look like another frat boy.

Grant shifted, jostling her a little. “You don’t have to be tactful. Just say he’s Mr. Perfect. It’s okay.”

“He’s attractive on the outside,” she admitted. “And I couldn’t believe he was interested in me – the frizzy-haired painter at the job sites.”

“I can believe it.” Grant hugged her close again. “You’re gorgeous when you work, paint in your hair and on your nose.”

Dismay struggled with hope. If he thought she was attractive in work clothes, would he ever act on that attraction like Patrick?

She searched for something to say, but Grant spoke first. “Enough fishing for compliments,” he said. “Did you start dating after the lunch?”

“Yes.” Talking about Patrick’s looks was hard enough. Talking about him, his temperament and personality was the hard part. She sent up a Help Me prayer. “And as we got more exclusive, Patrick got more possessive. He didn’t like me spending time with my girl friends, and if I talked to another man, even for work, he went crazy. And he said it was my fault, that I dressed too provocatively and flirted. But I didn’t, I swear I didn’t.” Her voice rose with passion. Grant had to believe her.

“I know.” He sounded sincere. “Sweatshirts and jeans are your style.” He patted her shoulder and she drew a ragged breath.

“I learned in counseling that it wasn’t about my clothes at all, it was a control thing. But when you’re in that sort of relationship, the abuser twists things.” She dug in her pocket for the packet of tissues she always carried to wipe up paint smears. Her nose was starting to run, she must be allergic to something here. Yes, something like male tenderness, a cynical voice inside said.

“Did anyone else see what was going on?”

“Paige was going crazy, trying to warn me. Our singles group was watching a video series on relationships. I had bruises from her elbowing me in the ribs whenever control issues were mentioned.”

“Then what happened?”

She closed her eyes. “We went to a good-bye party for one of his co-workers.” She paused as her memory banks took over. She could almost hear Celine Dion belting out The Power of Love from the stereo system. And smell the beer mixed with pepperoni.

“Patrick starting drinking. I didn’t want to drive home with him so I asked around for a ride. A guy I knew from a job offered to take me home. When I told Patrick I was leaving, he cried and apologized and begged me not to go. He gave me his car keys and said I could drive myself, but just please don’t leave with anyone else. So I told my friend that I wouldn’t need a lift after all. I went into the room where the coats were and Patrick followed me.” She shuddered and her eyes filled with tears. This was too hard. “Grant, I can’t.”

He squeezed her shoulder again. “I won’t hurt you.”

“I haven’t trusted my feelings for a long time. Because I thought Patrick was harmless. I thought everything wrong in that relationship was my fault. I was stupid about everything.”

"You're not stupid. Why would you think that?”

“I didn’t know what an abusive relationship looked like, much less that I was in one. I learned about enabling later. I guess I should have paid more attention in that college Psych class.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

“And I was naive. I didn’t know nice girls get hurt, too.” She swallowed a sob.

“What happened when Patrick followed you into the room?” His voice had become quiet and his body still.

Tears rolled down her face. “He pushed me down on the bed and-” She took a breath to steady her voice. “He kept telling me it was my fault, that my skirt was too short and my blouse was too tight, that I was forcing him to do it. By the time I realized what was happening, he’d… raped me.” She breathed in and counted to five like she’d been taught. The breaths were shaky but even. Her words seemed to echo in the silence.

As they sat, the sun cast shadows on the wall in front of them. She watched the dust motes hover in the light. Was Grant going to tell her to leave? What would she do with Petey? She held her breath. What if he told her he couldn’t care for someone so careless? He didn’t seem to be that kind of man, but one thing she’d learned was that people didn’t always behave how you thought they would. Or should. She reached in her pocket for another tissue to blow her nose.

Grant didn’t move, except to shift his arm and hold her closer. His hand cupped her elbow.

“I wish I’d been there for you.”

She shook her head. “I was so ashamed. And frightened I would get pregnant or a disease. I couldn’t tell anyone what happened, not my parents, not Paige. I believed him that it was my fault.”

“What did you do?”

“Patrick passed out, and I ran out of the house and drove myself home.” There, she’d told the whole story. And with only three sodden tissues clutched in her hands.

“That’s not the end,” Grant said. “I mean, what did you do about Patrick? Did you call the police?”

“No. I -” Why couldn’t the phone ring and save her from having to tell the rest of it?

“Please, Cami,” he said. “How can I help if I don’t know it all?”

She swayed a little, spent by the emotion but forced herself to keep talking. “I spent the first hour in the bathtub. Then I went to bed. And I stayed there for a week. My family thought I was stressed and overworked. Patrick called a few times, but I said I was too sick to talk to him. He got a ride to come pick up his car. He sent flowers and a big stuffed animal.” That was why she hated roses. She’d pulled all the bushes out of her yard when she first moved into her house. “I put the flowers in the garbage disposal and threw the bear away. My mom figured it out.”

“She did?” He sounded puzzled.

“She came to my apartment and said she knew everything. She didn’t, but she guessed a lot of it. She drove me to the police station and I made a report. Then she took me to the doctor for a pregnancy test and blood work and cultures to check for diseases.”

“Good for her. And for you.”

“It was my word against his. And without enough evidence to prosecute, the D.A. filed it in the abyss. I decided to move away, make a fresh start somewhere else. Before I did, Patrick was involved in a hit and run accident. He’d been drinking again and he killed a young mom and her little girl. I wanted to die too, when I heard that. A woman my age and her two year-old daughter, dead because of me.” Her voice rose on the final word.

“Because of you?” He shifted on the couch to face her again. She searched his eyes for any signs of disgust or revulsion, but saw only puzzlement.

“He had me convinced that all the problems in the world, but especially his, were my fault. And I was messed up enough to buy it, to think the stress of the rape charge drove him to drink. I started seeing a counselor who helped a lot. ” As hard as all that had been to learn, those therapy sessions had been sliding-into-first-easy compared to this. Now she faced a major league pitcher with a yardstick and was trying to hit it out of the park. Grant would never think of her the same.

“I’m crazy about you,” he said, then paused to look in her eyes. “But I’m pretty sure you don’t control other people’s foolish decisions, like drinking and driving. Or Madonna’s movie career.”

She tried to smile at the joke and achieved a small one that pulled at her damp cheeks. “One of the biggest lessons I took away is that the world doesn’t revolve around me. Human nature is pretty ego-centric, and we think others are more interested in us than they are.”

“I see that a lot in my world,” he said. "Athletes aren't known for their humbleness."

“I had a student once at the center, a pretty girl. She got a hair cut and she wrote an essay about her feelings that day. She asked me to proof read it. She didn’t like how her bangs turned out and she said people in other cars were laughing at her as she drove home.”

“You’re kidding.”

“That’s extreme, but it’s an example of how people, especially teenage girls think.”

“What happened after the hit and run?”

“The police found him when he tried to get his car repaired. He was so arrogant, to think he’d get away with it. He was sentenced to fifteen years.” She spread her hands on her knees, stretching out her fingers. “He’s not out yet. So, I’m sure he’s not the stalker, but it would be so convenient if he were. At least I’d know who it is.”

“You decided not to move away?”

“I’d be letting him win. And I couldn’t think of a place far away enough from the memories.” She paused as she remembered returning to work and finding a new apartment. There was gossip and some whispering at church, but after a couple of weeks everyone seemed to move on and find other things more interesting. “I stayed in counseling for a while. A few guys asked me out, but I was afraid they would try to continue what Patrick started. I insisted on only group dates, so I was safe in a crowd.”

“Then you met me?”

She smiled. “Something like that.”

“You said you learned about being self-centered. What else?”

She breathed deeply. “I learned God is in control. That’s why I can talk to you about trusting him for the healing of your shoulder. I really do believe that He works out everything for our good. Like Romans 8:28 says.” And not to trust anyone with my safety. But she couldn’t say that one out loud.

He hugged her close. “I’m proud of you.” He loosened his grip and rubbed her arm. “Thank you for telling me.”

“No, thank you.”

“For what?”

“Not asking me to leave.”

“Why would I do that?” He sounded bewildered.

“Because you didn’t want to see me anymore. You might think I was… damaged goods and …” She couldn’t finish the thought.

“Cami, what happened was not your fault. You didn’t bring it on yourself and I would never blame you. Do you understand?”

“My head does but my heart is afraid.”

“You’ve been living behind alarms and pepper spray for too long. You see danger everywhere because you want to be justified in retreating from life.”

“I don’t -” But he was right.

“What can I do to convince you that I’m sticking around?”

“Maybe you have.” She smiled as her heart lightened. “I’ve spent two years being on guard and I’ve forgotten what a nice guy is like.”

“So no more thinking I don’t want you here. In fact, I still wish you would stay with me, but I’d never force you to do that. Or anything else.” His voice grew stronger as he spoke.

“Thank you.” It came out as a whisper.

“The bathroom's down the hall.”

“What?” That was a weird way to change the subject.

"I think you're gorgeous, but you probably want to go splash cold water on your face or something."

Oh, not a subject change, just a hint. "I've been crying for an hour, there is no way I look like anything except a boiled shrimp.” She wiped her cheeks dry. “Puffy eyes, splotchy skin, runny nose. That is not a pretty sight."

“It is to me." He looked deeply in her eyes and what she saw there convinced her against all reason. "Now, I’m grilling chicken breasts and vegetables for our dinner. And tossing a green salad. Do you want potatoes or rice?”

“Rice, please.” Her voice was a little louder, but still tentative.

“Come keep me company in the kitchen after you do the splashing thing.” He stood and pulled her up from the couch. He continued to wrap his left arm around her a moment longer, then nudged up her chin so he could look into her eyes. He kissed her forehead before letting go and heading into the other room.

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