The movie scene is based on real life. My husband and I watched Master and Commander and after the ship’s doctor operated on himself, Dave said he was just as manly and strong and macho, then he could barely get up out of his chair. He’d worked outside all day and got stiff and sore. I laughed and knew Grant would say the same thing.
Grant served Cami dinner and they spent the evening watching an old western movie on television. All during the show, she gave Grant sideways glances. Yes, he was still there. His jaw clenched during the action scenes and she had to force herself not to reach out and try to smooth away the tension. Finally, the closing credits rolled and she stood and stretched.
“Someone who can operate on himself,” Cami said, referring to a scene from the movie. “Now that’s a tough guy.”
“Reminds me of myself,” Grant said as he unfolded his stiff right arm and tried to stand. “Ouch. Can you give me a hand?”
Cami’s laughter woke Petey from a doze. He sniffed, relaxing as he confirmed her presence.
“I don’t like the thought of you driving to Paige’s by yourself,” Grant said.
“I’ll be fine. No one knows I’m here or where I’m staying.”
“What are you doing tomorrow?” He extended his right arm over his head and leaned left.
“That luncheon at Ellen’s, remember?”
“Oh, right. Are you coming to see Petey?”
“I thought I’d swing by after. Is that okay?”
When Grant didn’t answer, she looked at him. Here it came, she was sure. How would he say it, that he never wanted to see her again?
But he was grinning and then he winked. “It’s great.”
“You stinker.” She laughed, not sure if she should be relieved or outraged. Gratitude won though. He felt okay with it all enough to tease her.
Cami leaned over the dog and ran her hand along his muzzle. Petey’s soft nose comforted her as much as her nephew Austin’s blankie did him after a bad dream.
“I’ll take good care of him.” Grant read her mind.
She picked up her purse and moved to the front entry. Petey followed. Grant snapped the leash on the dog’s collar and opened the door. Man and beast walked her out.
“Thank you again,” he said.
“For trusting me and sharing your story.”
“It was scary.” She hunted for her keys, thankful for an excuse not to meet his gaze. Was she ready for whatever came next?
He seemed to sense her emotional retreat because he cupped her chin in his left palm and brushed her lips with his thumb. “And I’m proud of you.”
“Thank you.” She wanted to kiss him, to feel his lips on hers. Instead, she grabbed her key chain, clicked the alarm off and climbed into the driver’s seat. “I’ve got to go. Thanks again for dinner. And Petey, and - ”
“Enough of this mutual thanks society we’ve got going here. Call me when you get inside Paige’s. And if I haven’t heard from you in fifteen minutes, I’ll come looking.”
She waved goodbye and backed out. Glancing in her rear view mirror before turning the corner, she saw him watching from the driveway.
The next morning, as Cami drove to the luncheon, she called Grant to check on Petey and got an update. Everything was fine.
She parked in front of the Spencer’s home a little early. Sitting in front of the sprawling ranch house, she wondered what she was doing there. She’d been so preoccupied with Petey that she’d accepted without thinking about it. So, why did Ellen invite her?
A few minutes later, she asked Ellen that question as they walked onto the back patio where they’d had dinner a few nights earlier.
“A couple times a year I invite all the wives and steady girlfriends of the players to lunch or tea. Joe makes friends with the athletes and I do the same with the women. You’re a new friend and I wanted you here.” Ellen threw an arm around Cami’s shoulders and hugged her. That was so sweet. Cami hugged back, and they stepped onto the patio.
Cami helped Ellen arrange centerpieces on tables and light tiki torches scattered amongst the shrubbery. The back yard had been transformed into a tropical oasis. The waterfall sprouted hanging ferns, and bright flowers floated on the pool. Hawaiian music could be heard over the sound of falling water.
“Did you do all this yourself?” Cami asked.
“Most of it. We usually do luau-type parties, so I’ve been collecting decorations for a few years. I rent extra tables and chairs and the linens. My sister is a caterer, and it’s easier to pay her to do the food than try and do it myself. We hire teenagers from church to serve.”
“It’s a set from South Pacific. Just gorgeous.”
The French doors opened and Yvonne West joined them.
Ellen greeted the wife of the Coyote’s General Manager. “Yvonne, so nice to see you. Have you met Camille Henderson?”
“I believe so. Grant Andrews’ latest, isn’t that right?”
Cami flushed and looked for a hole to fall into.
“Yvonne, you make it sound like Grant’s a sailor with a woman in every port. He’s not into the groupies, you know that,” Ellen said.
“Of course. I was only teasing.” Mrs. West accepted Ellen’s rebuke with grace. She extended her hand in Cami’s direction. Cami took it, but the other woman’s refusal to firm her grip into a real handshake told Cami the apology was for Ellen’s benefit.
“Please forgive me, Miss Henderson.”
The perfunctory words toppled Cami’s already fragile composure. Her eyes filled and she looked away. “Certainly.” She excused herself and escaped into the bathroom where she leaned over the sink to splash cool water on her face.
“What a hateful woman. See if I ever help her with one of her precious literacy programs.” Speaking quietly into the mirror helped. She blotted moisture from her cheeks with one of Ellen’s guest towels and stared at her reflection. Wisps of hair were already curling in the warm humidity of the backyard.
Great. She didn’t need this, especially after the last few days. Stress over Petey, the talk with Grant last night and now this … woman. Cami gripped the edge of the sink and stared at her reflection. You can do it. Go out there, smile, make some small talk, eat lunch. And then get the heck out. After touching up her lipstick, she returned to the battleground, er… party where more guests had arrived.
That was odd. Both Cinda and Delia stood by the pool. Cinda’s husband was a player, but why was Delia here?
“Hi Cami,” Delia said as she walked by.
“Um, hi?” Cami heard the tentative tone and cleared her throat before continuing. “How are you?” But Delia had turned away to continue a conversation with a redhead in a strapless green sundress.
Relieved from the need to make nice, she looked for Ellen. If Cami could keep busy helping with hostess duties, she’d be saved from any more forced socializing.
Ellen emerged from the house with an ice bucket.
“There you are,” Cami said. “What can I do to help?”
“Put this on the table with the drinks.” Ellen gave her a quizzical look.
“Glad to.” Cami smiled brightly as she took the container to where tubs of iced drinks sat.
“Can you believe she still hasn’t hired extra help for this?” Cinda dug around in the bright plastic container, pulling out cans and dropping them back in, not finding what she wanted.
“What do you mean?” Cami asked.
“Every year Ellen has all the women over. And every year we’re fending for ourselves, having to dig through these tubs like dogs looking for bones. All I want is a diet soda. You’d think she’d hire a bartender, Joe makes enough.”
“Well, I like it. It feels comfortable. Just like Joe and Ellen.”
“Oh yes, they’re comfortable all right.” Cinda found what she was looking for and walked off, flinging drops of ice water from her fingertips.
Cami set the ice bucket on the table and rearranged the colorful plastic cups, mixing up the tropical shades into a mosaic of turquoise, purple, yellow, and orange. She also took a moment to dig through the ice and make sure an assortment of drinks was near the top. As she chose a can and popped it open, she looked around at the other guests.
There sure were a lot of designer labels here. More than she’d ever seen in one place. Hmmm. She wondered if there were enough initials on purses to anagram into other words. Lots of F’s, D’s, B’s, and C’s. Not enough vowels to do anything with though. She amused herself for a moment, seeing the scene at a boutique clearance sale. The redhead would sucker punch Delia for a hobo bag. Oh, get real, she sighed. These women didn’t need to worry about sales or outlet shopping.
Ellen stepped outside and asked everyone to find her seat. Place cards were on the tables and Cami found hers between Yvonne West and a young woman she didn’t know. Great. She picked up her place card and thought about switching it, but she’d been seen. Forcing a smile, she replaced it in the pineapple wedge holder and introduced herself to the stranger who had watched her predicament.
“Pleased to meet you,” came the reply. “I’m Melinda Wrightson.” She spoke so softly, Cami had to strain to hear her.
“Are you married to one of the players?” Cami asked.
“Larry Wrightson, the new shortstop. And you?”
“I’m dating the old shortstop.”
The silence echoed louder than the chatter surrounding them.
Cami sipped from her glass. She shouldn’t be here. And why did Ellen seat her next to this woman? Well, she’d eat and leave. She could excuse herself and say she had to get back to Petey. “Thank you,” she said to the teenager who set a plate in front of her.
Mrs. West leaned across Cami to introduce herself to Melinda. They continued to chat as if Cami were a blank spot between them. She tried to pretend fascination with the chicken on her plate.
Yvonne questioned Melinda about her interests and what charities she was involved with.
“None right now,” Melinda said.
“Well, you must.” Her tone brooked no argument. “I have a foundation that promotes children’s literacy. I’d love to have you join us.”
“I’ll have to think about it.” Her voice had a slight drawl that made her sound easy-going, but Cami detected steel beneath the non-committal words.
“Don’t think too long. It’s an important cause.”
Melinda turned her attention to her plate, and Yvonne switched conversational focus to her other side.
“I was warned about her.” Melinda’s voice was low and Cami wasn’t sure she’d heard right.
Melinda smiled as she swirled the iced tea in her glass. “Larry told me to beware of her. I guess he heard something.”
“Aren’t you interested in literacy?”
“I’m not against it.”
“I’m not a committee-slash-fundraising kind of person. I volunteer in my daughter’s classroom, that’s what I enjoy.”
“Then that’s what you should do.” The gnat of annoyance buzzing around her all morning became a circling vulture and she spoke louder than she’d intended. “Your daughter is more important than any anonymous foundation.”
“It’s hard for me to say no. And I have a feeling Mrs. West isn’t used to hearing that word.”
“It’s a skill you can learn. Like bowling. The more you use it, the better you get at it.”
Melinda smiled. “I’m a terrible bowler.”
“But if you went every week, wouldn’t you get better?” Cami took a bite of mango from the fruit salad.
“I guess.” Melinda shrugged.
“So start saying ‘no’ once in a while, to practice.”
“Very good.” Melinda was sweet. It wasn’t her fault her husband had been given Grant’s job. “Where are you from?”
“Grant told me the triple A team had sent their shortstop up.”
“I’m sorry about his injury. How’s he doing?”
“Really well. Larry better not get too used to the job. Grant intends to be back.”
“Larry knows that. Baseball is very tenuous. Because in spite of being a sport, it’s a business first.”
“I’m still learning that.”
Melinda and Cami continued to chat while finishing their lunch. Teenagers in black slacks, white shirts, and leis served the coconut cream parfaits as Yvonne West aimed her crosshairs at Cami.
“How about you, Miss Henderson. When will you be joining my foundation?”
“I’ve given it a great deal of thought, Mrs. West. But because of my job and other personal commitments, I’m going to have to say not at this time.”
“I work full time.”
“But won’t you be quitting that?”
This woman didn’t get it. “Why would I?” Cami asked.
“Because your first priority should be Grant and his career and how you can best further it.”
“Grant understands I have a career also.”
“Because you’re only a girlfriend and not a wife, it will be overlooked. But if you marry Mr. Andrews, you will be expected to do your part.” Yvonne managed to look down her nose as she buttered her sweet Hawaiian roll. “It’s very important that all members of the Coyote family are committed to charitable work in the community.”
Maybe saying she already did “charity” work would get Yvonne to back off. “I appreciate that, Mrs. West. But I will be giving to the community by teaching art enrichment at the Agua Vida Community Center.”
Yvonne’s face relaxed, the sudden vulnerability softening Cami.
“I truly believe in the good work we do. The ability to read is vital for the basics of life. We ensure that people are able to fill out job applications and take driver’s license tests.”
“I believe in those things too,” Cami said. “But I support them in other ways.”
Yvonne sighed. “It really is important to the front office that everyone in the Coyote organization be active in the community. I may apply that pressure up front, but it exists behind the scenes as well.” She rose from the table and Cami watched her approach Ellen to say good-bye.
“I guess I got off easy.” Melinda watched Yvonne cut a path to the door.
“Did you take notes? I was polite, but I stood my ground.”
“You’re my new hero.”
Cami laughed. “I don’t know about that, but since I just lectured you, I had to stay firm.”
Melinda excused herself as Ellen slid into Yvonne‘s seat. “What did you say to the grand dame of the Coyotes?” she asked, picking up the scattered red napkins.
“That I can’t serve on her literacy foundation.” Cami leaned back and finished her iced tea.
“I’ve never seen her that way, like she was-” Ellen paused, seeming to search for the right word. “Thwarted. She believes passionately in her foundation, but she also enjoys the power it gives her over some of the rookie women. I don’t think she’s used to being denied.”
“And I’m so sorry for seating you next to Melinda,” Ellen said, looking stricken. I was thinking that you were both new to the team this year. It never occurred to me until now that her husband took Grant’s position.”
“It’s okay. I like her. But why did you seat me by Yvonne West? I felt like Daniel tossed into the lions’ den. What did I ever do to you?” She smiled to show she was joking. Mostly. “And Delia?”
Ellen raised her eyebrows. “Where Cinda goes, Delia goes. And someone had to be next to Yvonne.”
“I know she can be overbearing, but you handled her great.”
“I don’t know about that.” Cami set her napkin on her plate. Could she get out of here now? She was anxious to see Petey. And Grant, she had to admit. He’d had a night to think on what she’d said about her past and Patrick. Would he still accept her? Or had he changed his mind?
More women approached to thank Ellen as the luncheon broke up.
Cami busied herself blowing out candles and gathering up soiled linens. Ellen’s caterer sister came outside to ask a question about leftovers. Cami finally said goodbye and escaped back to her Tahoe.