Fiction Friday: Curve Ball

Patrick is based on a couple of different men I know who can charm the money out of your wallet and make you thank them for taking it.


Chapter Thirty-Two

“Camille, please let me talk to you.” With raised brows, his eyes beseeched her.

“I don’t want to see you, Patrick.” Remember what he did. And remember what he’s like, his charm and his smoothness.

“I need to say some things.” He held out his hands, pleading. “Please.”

“Why would I care about what you need?” Petey moved behind her.

“I’m sure you don’t. But I have to say them anyway.” Patrick glanced at the dog, who made a noise deep in his chest.

Cami wasn’t sure if it was a growl or a whimper but it gave her courage. “Say it.” The sooner she could get rid of him, the sooner she could call the police.

“I’m sorry.” He folded his arms and looked at her expectantly.

“Sorry for what?” The words came out high and tight. She cleared her throat. “Sorry for coming here? Sorry for following me the past month in that red car? Or sorry for raping me?”

“Well - ” He looked at the ground before meeting her gaze. “I said I’m sorry, now it’s your turn. And I haven’t really been following you, just trying to pick the right time to talk to you. You’re always with someone, you know?”

“So it’s been you? Behind me everywhere I go for the last month?” She took deep breaths, trying to hang on. She would not fall apart in front of him.

He shrugged. “To talk to you alone, first I had to find you alone. You didn’t make it easy.”

“Everything’s always my fault, isn’t it, Patrick?”

He looked at her, a quizzical grin twisting his mouth. “Not everything.”

“When did you get out of prison?” Maybe he’d leave if she reminded him of what he’d done.

“Three months ago.” He looked past her and into the yard. “Nice place.”

She froze. “What do you want?” The familiar panic rose in her chest and she glanced around, looking for a neighbor. There were three women and some kids in the park across the street. The mothers stood near the monkey bars as their children raced through the swings and around the slides. Cami pulled on Petey’s leash to bring him in front of her.

Patrick continued. “I’ve been in therapy and learning about repentance and making amends and– well, I want to tell you something.”

“What?” Her hands tightened into fists. She could hit him if she had to.

“I forgive you.” He raised his eyebrows, as if waiting for something.

Heat rushed to her face. “You forgive me? For what?” Petey tried to get behind her again but she snapped the leash tight, forcing the dog to stand on her toes.

He shrugged one shoulder. “For ruining my life. For telling people I raped you when you wore that outfit that said you wanted it too. And for the hit-and-run rap.”

Suddenly she was back in that beer-reeking bedroom, fighting her nausea and trying to deny what she knew was happening. “I – You – it was a skirt! Not even a short skirt, just a - ” A darling yellow skirt with swirls of purple and blue. A brand new skirt she’d thrown away the next day.

The blond curl on his forehead fell into his eyes and he brushed it back. “I wanted you to know that I’ve moved on. No hard feelings.”

“You slimy piece of human debris.” She spoke between clenched teeth. Petey looked up at her, alarm in his eyes.

“What are you talking about? Didn’t I just forgive you?”

“Yeah, I guess you did. But how about what you did to me?” Her voice rose. “How about the constant verbal abuse you heaped on me? How about raping me and saying I forced you to do it?” In her peripheral vision, she saw the mothers turn toward them.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No!” The anger and hurt and resentment of the last two years spilled out in that one word. “You hurt me! You owe me and I’m the one who should be forgiving you!” The hair along the ridge of Petey’s spine stood up and he growled for real this time, low and menacing. It fueled her rage. “You stole my innocence and I hate you for that. You’re slime and you have the nerve to say you forgive me? You forgive me?” Her hands shook with rage, jangling Petey’s leash and collar tags.

Patrick’s lips pursed. “Whatever, Cami. I wanted to tell you that I’ve moved on and there are no hard feelings. See you around.”

He turned and crossed the street.

Cami watched his back and started after him. “Wait a minute, you don’t get to leave. Not until you’ve - ” She stopped. What did she want from him? An apology wouldn’t give her back her virtue. And any words he might say would be worthless.

Patrick gave a half wave as he drove away while she was still in the middle of the street. She stamped her foot and cried out, “You jerk!” The mothers at the park began gathering up their belongings and calling their children to come closer.

Petey stood next to her, his tail wagging a little. “You’re a good dog,” she said, reaching down to pat his head. She drew a shaky breath. She’d done it. She talked to the man who raped her and survived.

But she had to get out of here. Tears filled her eyes and she hurried to get in the house before dissolving out in public. Her hands shook so hard she could barely fit the key into the lock. Once inside, she ran up the stairs, peeling off her clothes and tripping over them in her hurry to turn on the water in the bathtub.

Half an hour later the sobs had slowed to ragged gasps every minute or so. The water was chilly, yet still she sat, knees pulled to her chest, arms wrapped around her legs.

Patrick forgave her? She ruined his life? Just like the demo cd earlier, the scene was on an endless repeating cycle. Patrick brushing the hair out of his eyes as he told her he’d moved on. The dryness spreading across her tongue until it stuck to the roof of her mouth. How could he?

The words of the song’s final verse floated on top of the cold water. She turned on the hot tap to drown them out.

If there was no guilt in life or fear in death, then why did Patrick and this stalker get to her? Where was the power of Christ, helping her to stand firm?

Before seeing Patrick, she’d been sure she was okay. She trusted God and placed her hope in Jesus. She really did.

Another thought floated in. Why did she drive that massive hulk that took up two parking spots? And why did she hide behind alarms at home? A convoy of SUVs and all the security alarms and Secret Service agents in the world wouldn’t have kept her safe from Patrick. She’d gone into that bedroom. No one dragged her.

She shivered and begged the hot water to warm her.

Like an extra lock on the door, driving the Tahoe was not absolutely necessary, but the peace of mind was priceless. An SUV was helping God to keep her safe.

But did He need her help? She thought back to Pastor Mike’s Sunday morning sermon on Job. God asked Job some questions. Now she applied them to herself. Had she ever counted the grains of sand on a beach? Had she helped set the stars in the sky or tie the cords of Orion’s belt? Had she been there when He laid the foundation for the Earth?

Ummm… no. She closed her eyes in embarrassment at the image of herself telling God, “a little more to the right,” on the day he put the moon in its orbit.

Her eyes snapped open. When she had trusted God alone and hadn’t helped Him, she’d been betrayed.

Now the truth was out. She was angry with God for what she saw as His failure to keep her safe that night with a drunken Patrick. She had tried to fight him off. She yelled, but he covered her mouth before covering her body. He took every defense from her until all she could do was stop thinking and disconnect. And where had God been that night? Not fighting Patrick for her, that’s for sure.

The song said no power of hell, no scheme of man could ever pluck her from His hand.

What about Patrick’s power? He had physically overwhelmed her.

And how about the schemes of her unknown stalker? Another Bible passage came to mind: Romans 8:28. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Her soul cried out, what possible good could come out of a sexual assault?

Well, one result of the incident was her super-vigilance for the safety of her students. She never let a young person leave with someone other than their designated carpool driver. She insisted on groups of three for projects and field trips, never letting kids pair off. Had she prevented something traumatic from happening to someone else? If so, was her trauma worth it?

And what about the definition of “good.” Something good for her should make her happy, shouldn’t it? Wait, Pastor Mike once used an illustration with …pancakes? Something about the ingredients, eggs, flour, and vegetable oil were all gross to eat alone, but stir them together and you get… waffles! That was it, not pancakes. Could the rape have been the spiritual equivalent of waffles? The rape hadn’t been good, but God had used it to give her a tender heart and compassionate spirit.

A memory from high school bubbled up: A girl…what was her name? Jenny? Ginny? A girl who did wear mini skirts and flirted with all the guys. There had been a rumor about her in their junior year, that she’d been raped. Cami flushed with embarrassment at the memory. She’d thought Jenny asked for it. She’d even said it out loud to friends.

Oh God. She leaned back and ducked her head under the water. She’d never be able to wash away the shame of her harsh attitude back then. She sat back up. “Forgive me, Father.” Her voice echoed against the white tiles. She was changed because of her own experiences. From a judgmental and self-righteous snot into … into what? Hopefully into someone who truly did have compassion and kindness.

Other scenes flashed across the screen behind her eyes. Yelling at Paige, “Leave me alone! You can’t understand what I’m feeling so there’s nothing you can do.” How prideful that sounded now. She’d made her own needs and hurts more important than anyone’s.

Her final words to Patrick echoed: I’m the one who should be forgiving you.

The dripping faucet slowed along with her breathing. She should forgive him. She knew it. But could she? God, I don’t know how to forgive him. Tell me. The silence stretched.

She heard the refrigerator cycle on down below. Petey chased something in his dreams, his paws rubbing on the throw rug next to the tub.

She lifted her head and examined the cracked tile above the corner of the tub. She really needed to get that fixed before water and moisture damaged the studs or sheetrock.

She reached out with a toe to open the drain. Gravity pulled the water out and the weight of it all pressed her down. Maybe she should give up. The burdens were so heavy and she was so tired.

Minutes passed as water drained. If it wasn’t so cold sitting here wet, she’d stay in this porcelain cocoon. Then a shiver blew over her. Bad idea.

The sucking sound of the last of the water draining prodded her. She had to move, get out, get warm again. Standing took all the strength she could summon.

But once up it was easier to get out of the tub. Then a little easier to grab a towel. Maybe some of the past went down the drain along with the water.

The burden on her shoulders lightened. A little. She could feel it there, but it was definitely not as weighty. After two years carrying anger and betrayal, its presence had been so familiar and comfortable. Who would she be without the anger and bitterness? Without the fear? Could she be a forgiver? Not by herself.

She dressed in khakis and a yellow blouse, her usual job-bidding outfit. She surveyed herself in the mirror. Being new on the inside meant she should look different on the outside, too. She pawed through her closet, getting to the things in the back. Things she hadn’t worn in years. Two years, to be exact.

There it was. A simple polo shirt in a delicate mint shade. She always felt pretty in that top. She’d quit wearing it because Patrick didn’t like it. She slipped off the yellow blouse and pulled the green one over her head. After a glance in the mirror, she nodded once.

She watered the African violets on her windowsill and fed Petey who would stay home. Since it had been Patrick following her to talk, home was safe now.

She opened the Tahoe and got in without making her usual walk around to check behind the back seats and then pointed it north. As she merged onto the freeway, the cd played that song again. This time, she sang along.

Five miles down the road Cami realized she had slowed below the speed limit while still in the fast lane. Drivers glared as they passed her on the right.

"Sorry, sorry," she muttered as she glanced over her shoulder and changed lanes.

Wait a minute. That white 4x4 pickup had been back at the Huntington Beach parking lot. She remembered thinking that white must be the new black, every third vehicle in the lot had been white. And the license plate, 4WHT 89, echoed that idea.

Well, the pickup's driver could have been at the beach for an early morning jog, as she had been. And was now on his way to work.

Without signaling, she left I-5 and took the frontage road. A glance in her rearview mirror showed only a blue Corolla. Maybe she was paranoid.

Or maybe not. A white pickup exited the freeway just ahead and was now in front of her.

With tinted windows shielding the driver, she saw only two silhouettes, but couldn’t guess at gender, size, or hair color.

She slowed to stay behind the truck. Not sure the driver was aware of her presence, she decided to turn the tables and follow it for a while.

The vehicle proceeded down Coast Drive, with three cars between them. They must be aware of her behind them. If they had been following her, that is. They would have seen her abrupt exit and done the same at the next off-ramp. The frontage road was in full view of the freeway, so even though the truck hadn’t been able to follow, they wouldn’t have lost sight of her.

She wanted to know if this pickup had really been following her. Or was it a coincidence? Enough with all the flukes in her life. She was tired of trying to find reasonable explanations. It was time for answers.

She gave the Tahoe a little gas and passed the first car in front. The pickup slowed and turned right into a McDonald’s. She still couldn’t see anyone inside. Passing the restaurant, she continued down Coast, one eye watching her rear view mirror.

Yep. The truck left the parking lot and was behind her again. She gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles.

“I don’t know what’s going on but I’m going to find out.” Cami signaled and made a careful right on Ocean Front. Wait a second. She was only blocks from Kennie’s office. In a building with an alley behind it and a three-story parking structure. A plan began to form. She slid her hand into the pocket of the door and found her pepper spray. Could she do it? Did she have the nerve to confront this sicko? She had to. Or she’d spend the rest of her life looking over her shoulder.

She slowed a bit, allowing the truck to keep her in sight. Another right on Seaview Centre Drive. After waiting for a UPS driver to put his truck in gear and unblock the driveway, she turned left into the alley behind Kennie’s office. Without checking to make sure the 4x4 was behind her, she made another left into the parking lot. After pausing to grab a ticket from the automated dispenser she wanted to floor it but forced herself to drive slowly.

After a long twisting curve, Cami arrived at the top floor. She pulled into a spot, put the Tahoe in park while grabbing her pepper spray and opening the door, almost in one motion. She jumped out and ran back in the direction she’d come from, glancing around. Did she want witnesses or not? It didn’t matter, there was no time to wait for anyone to appear.

A vehicle approached, the engine downshifted as it started up the ramp. She ducked between two cars as the truck came into sight. It slowed; the driver must have seen her SUV. The pickup stopped behind her car, effectively blocking her in. If she’d still been inside. Being outside the car, knowing she could run if she wanted to, gave her confidence. She could do this.

The truck waited, engine idling. She still couldn’t see in. Breathing a prayer for nerve and safety, she strode to the truck and pounded her fist on the driver’s side window.

“Who are you? Why are you doing this to me?”

The door flung open, and Cami’s arms fell to her sides as the driver stepped out.


“Miss Henderson, I’m sorry, please don’t be mad.”

The passenger door opened as well and Tara joined them.

“We’re sorry, Miss Henderson. We didn’t mean to upset you.”

“What…” She couldn’t find her voice, couldn’t process coherent thoughts. Closing her eyes, she fought the queasiness swirling up inside. She drew a deep breath and forced herself to speak again.

“Why are you following me?”

“We were worried about you.”

“We thought something was wrong.” The explanations tumbled over each other.

“You’ve been acting so strange, we wanted to make sure you were okay.” Tara’s voice won. “We didn’t mean for you to see us. We thought…”

“What?” Cami’s breath came more evenly now.

“We thought we’d keep an eye on you, be around to help if you needed us. Pretty stupid, I guess,” Tara said.

“Why the sneaking around? You scared me to death. I thought someone was… Well, never mind. Why would you think you could follow without me seeing you?”

“They do it in movies all the time. But it’s a lot harder in real life.” Anthony sounded more like himself, a little irony in his voice.

“I appreciate your concern, but please don’t do this again. My heart can’t take it.” A little humor might diffuse the tension. “Not to mention my gas mileage and tire wear and tear.”

“We’re really sorry, Miss Henderson.” The pair moved back to the truck and climbed in. Anthony rolled his window down.

“Will you be at the art center this afternoon?” he called.

“Yes, I’ll see you there.” Cami raised her hand in farewell. Anthony began to roll his window up. Cami heard Tara’s voice just before the window cut off the sound.

“Geez, she is jumpy. Kyle was right.”

Cami banged on the door once more. Anthony looked at her, puzzlement etched on his face. He rolled down the window again.

“What’s wrong?”

“What was that you said, Tara? About Kyle?”

Tara shrugged. “He’s the one who mentioned how frazzled you seemed and suggested we all watch out for you. Maybe trade turns following, so we would know where you were if something happened.”

Cami felt the blood drain from her face and she gripped the edge of the truck door.

“Miss Henderson, are you okay?” Anthony made a move toward her.

She waved him off. “I’m fine, thanks. I think the stress caught up with me. You two go ahead, I’ll see you later.” She forced her feet to move though it felt like slogging through mud to return to her own car. She climbed in and after a moment the white truck pulled into an empty spot, backed out and left. Tires whined as Anthony retraced his path to the entrance.

Cami buried her face in her hands as the sobs shook her body.

Kyle. It was Kyle.


Fiction Friday: Curve Ball

Chapter Thirty-One

As the sand flew by under Cami’s feet, her mind returned to last night’s conversation with Mongoose. A part of her soared with gratitude that the whole Andrews family cared enough to call him. But some resentment stirred also. She was used to her solitary life and didn’t like others questioning her decisions. Wasn’t she showing faith and trust? She’d been intimidated enough to abandon her home for Paige’s but that was it. She wouldn’t be bullied into suspecting innocent students of stalking, too.

Grant made it clear he wanted to talk some more today. He’d let her off easy last night because of the rotten day she’d had. She turned at the tide pools and slowed to a cooling off walk as she headed back to her Tahoe in the parking lot.

A familiar silhouette appeared down the beach. She could see Petey straining at the leash. Grant shifted it and a bag to his left hand as they waited.

“Good morning,” she said to Grant, while patting Petey. “Hi buddy. How’d you know where I was?”

Grant answered for the dog. “Paige told us you’d gone for a run.” He hefted the sack. “Have you eaten?”

“I’m starving. What did you bring?”

“Juice, granola bars, and string cheese. All portable.”

“Perfect. Do you want to sit in my car?”

“Let’s go down to the sand. You’ll be more comfortable if Petey’s not trying to sit on your lap in the front seat.”

They reversed, walking in the direction she’d come from, the dog still pulling at the leash. Cami held him back and offered to take the bag from Grant.

“I’m okay.” He slung the bag over his good shoulder, and then paused. “On second thought, here.” He handed her the food and sprinted across the parking lot, returning with a blanket.

“No sling?” she asked as he spread the denim patchwork quilt over the chilly sand.

“I’m trying it a few hours at a time.” They settled themselves as Petey flopped down next to Cami, inching his head onto her knee. Grant handed her a stick of cheese and a foil-wrapped granola bar. With his teeth, he pulled the orange strip off the lid of a juice bottle then passed it to her.


She took a gulp. “Thanks.” The silence lengthened. Was he waiting for her to say something?

Grant broke the quiet. “I want to talk to you about two things that happened last night.”

Another lecture. She swirled the plastic bottle, watching the waves of orange coat the inside. “What?” she asked.

“Before I tell you my news, we should discuss Mongoose some more. He called after I got home.”

She set her jaw to hide the dismay rushing in like the tide at their feet. She placed the juice bottle on the sand, twisting it down a little, making sure it was stable. Then she pulled a long string of cheese out of its plastic casing, making sure she could keep her voice even before she started to speak. “It was nice of him to come by, but I - ”

Grant interrupted. “He’s a professional, he does this kind of work all the time. If he says you’re in danger, we have to listen to him. I’m more concerned now than I was before he talked to you.”


“Just the fact he paid attention to your story is enough to scare me more than any doctor I’ve seen this spring.”

Resentment simmered. So Mongoose was one more person to guard against. Not only a rapist and a stalker, now this… this PSYOPS was trying to run her life too. Her anger won the battle and she stood. “I didn’t ask for his advice. I didn’t ask your father to call him. And I don’t have to listen to him.” She looked at Grant, expecting to see his usual expression of concern and tenderness. The raw anger there instead shocked her into silence.

“You’re right,” he said, his voice tight. He got to his feet, too. “I’ll drop Petey’s things off at your house later today.” He turned and strode down the beach.

Cami opened her mouth to call after him, but shut it without saying anything. Fine, let him be mad. He might stop nagging. She gathered up the scattered plastic and foil wrappers from their snack and folded the blanket, shaking out the sand with crisp snaps of her wrists. “Come on, Petey.” She pulled the dog toward the parking lot. “We don’t need him or his meddling family. And especially their smug friend.” She walked a little faster now, her steps keeping pace with the building anger. Some people were so arrogant.

“What kind of name is Mongoose, anyway? Makes him sound like a rodent. And what do rats know about profiling?” she muttered, as she reached her Tahoe.

She put Petey in the SUV, and then noticed Grant sitting in the Volvo in the next aisle. He was gripping the steering wheel and it looked like he was talking to himself. She turned around and climbed into the car.

Within a few minutes she pulled into traffic. In her rear view mirror, she watched Grant leave the parking lot, but he turned in the opposite direction.

Fine, let him be that way. How childish to strut away from her like that.

Okay. She squared her shoulders. Time to get to work. She needed to look at some model homes and submit a bid for finishing some of the rooms.

Grant had said he wanted to talk to her about two things that happened last night. Wonder what the other one was. She shrugged. It must not have been important. Quit thinking about Grant. Think about work.

She should clean up a little. And be dressed in something other than workout or paint-stained clothes to make proposals. And probably not take Petey.

Her knuckles turned white on the steering wheel. How dare Grant think he could treat her like this, like a possession instead of a thinking person? Stop it, Camille.

She headed toward Agua Vida and her cottage. She’d only stay long enough to clean up. But Petey could stay home while she looked at the new job. Then she’d get him and go back to Paige’s. As much as she hated to admit it, she did find the idea of going home alone to an empty house unappealing. So maybe Grant was right about this one thing. She’d stay with Paige a little while longer.

As she turned the corner onto Sierra Vista, she must have been going a little fast. The stack of file folders, sample boards, and catalogs shifted in the passenger seat. She glanced over and the corner of a demo cd from Kennie caught her eye. She fumbled with it as she started up the freeway onramp. She gave the Tahoe a little more gas and merged, ignoring the angry looks from other drivers. Kennie wanted an opinion about this group she was thinking of signing. Since Cami was nearly tone deaf, the rationale was that if she liked them, they must be good.

The only class Cami ever came close to failing was glee club in the seventh grade. Her teacher finally accepted an extra credit report on the life and death of Glenn Miller that edged her final grade up to passing. Kennie knew the story and liked to use it to back up her trust in Cami’s ability to pick groups and songs with commercial possibilities.

The first track started slow, an instrumental intro, then the verse. Oh yes, In Christ Alone. They sang this in church sometimes. The melody was familiar even if the arrangement was a little different. She listened, relaxing into the seat and stretching her shoulders. The words about Christ alone being her hope, her light, her strength washed over her.

Did she really find her hope in Jesus alone? Check. Through the dark time after the rape, she never complained or asked any “why me?” questions. Paige begged her to open up, and accused her of hiding her true feelings. But Cami had dealt with the emotions during her follow-up counseling.

And did she find her strength in God? Check again.

She was doing better than she thought. Correction: better than Grant and Paige thought.

This was a good song. She pushed the repeat button on the cd player.

Twenty minutes later she pulled into her driveway. A corner of her consciousness noted the red station wagon parked across the street, so she turned to get a good look at it as she let Petey out of the back of the Tahoe.

The driver’s side door of the wagon opened and a man got out and headed across the street. Toward her. What was he doing here? She gripped Petey’s leash. Could she make it to the front door? Should she jump back in the Tahoe? Could she run him over?

God, help me. It’s Patrick.


Fiction Friday: Curve Ball


Grant’s house is based on my friend Kathy’s home in Fullerton, California. It’s in an average neighborhood, not especially fancy nor humble. But inside … it’s gorgeous. The view from the family room is amazing, looking at the pool and then down to a golf course nestled in the hills below.


Chapter Thirty

“Let me show you the view,” Grant said to Mongoose as they all rose and stretched. The two men moved to the terrace as Cami, her gaze vacant, rubbed Petey’s ears.

“Give it to me straight,” Grant said, as soon as the French doors closed behind them. “Is this guy dangerous?”

Mongoose nodded once. “Yeah. He is.”

A knot formed in Grant’s gut. “How can I get her to see it, too?”

“She’s listening, she’s not acknowledging it yet.” Mongoose leaned against the railing and looked out over the golf course. “We’ve got her attention and she’ll come around.”

Grant joined him and pretended to scan the horizon. “Are you sure?” Grant wanted to grasp at Mongoose, beg him for reassurance.

“As sure as I am that you’re a goner.”

“Is it that obvious?”

“Only to a professional like myself. And your parents. And the stalker.”

The knot tightened again. “You’re right.” Grant said. “I am a goner, but what can I do to protect her?”

Mongoose clapped a hand on his shoulder and directed him back to the doors. “Let’s go figure it out.”

They returned inside to find Cami holding her purse and ready to bolt.

“Thank you, Mongoose,” she said. “It was nice of you to drop what you were doing and come so quickly when Cap asked.” She then thanked Dad and hugged Mom good-bye. Everyone took the hint and got ready to leave too.

Mongoose stopped at the door, shook his hand and looked at him, hard and right in the eyes. “I’ll be in touch.”

Grant nodded his thanks, closed the door behind them and turned to Cami. “Let me drive you to Paige’s,” Grant said.

She didn’t answer, just shook her head.

Her earlier outburst seemed to have drained her. Well, it had been a long day. The luncheon at Ellen’s, the dead bird, then Mongoose’s questions all left her with dark circles under her eyes. She seemed to be shrinking under the burdens she carried. He had never seen her so … he searched for the right word. She was tired, yes, but it was more… defeated. He wanted to put his arms around her and hold her close, to tell her it would be okay. But he was getting better at reading her. She was brittle right now and barely holding herself together.

“Cami.” Grant touched her hand to stop the rummaging for her keys. She continued looking down. Her shoulders sagged as she sat, waiting for him to continue.

“I want to drive you.” No way was he letting her drive anywhere by herself.

“No.” For someone who looked so exhausted, her voice had steel.

Grant let go of her hand and thrust his arm into the sling. “Okay then. Let me grab my toothbrush.” He forced his voice not to show any simmering anger, but the abrupt movements as he tugged on his sleeve to smooth it inside the sling betrayed him.

“What?” She sounded exhausted.

Was it worth it? Adding to her stress? Yeah, it is. “You’re not driving alone,” he said. “I’ll go with you and sleep on Paige’s couch.”

“Grant….” The steel disintegrated as she closed her eyes, retreating into herself as he watched. What could he do that wouldn’t make things worse?

He reached for her hand again. “Cami.” Something stopped him from blurting out the words that would drive her even further inward.

He dropped into the chair next to hers, still holding her hand. He held it gently, turned it over and stroked her palm.

“I should apologize for being so insistent, but I’m scared too.”

“Of what?”

“Of seeing you get hurt. Of losing you.”

“How would you lose me?”

How honest should he be? “This guy started out in love with you, but he’s become possessive to the point that he doesn’t want to share you. Especially with me. I know he doesn’t plan to hurt you, but things happen, plans go wrong. You could be hurt. Or worse.”

“You really think so?”

“Yes, I do. But even more than losing you physically, I’m afraid of losing you emotionally. And I’m scared this will cause you to retreat from life even more than you have already. And that you’ll back away from me in the process.” He searched her eyes and was gratified to see them fill with tears. As long as he could touch her emotions, they still connected. “We were all so shocked by the bird, and then talking to Mongoose, that we haven’t had a chance to discuss it all. You don’t believe it could be Kyle. Why are you so sure?”

“I just know it.” She looked down, not meeting his gaze.

“Can I play devil’s advocate?”

She shrugged.

Maybe he could get her to see the truth herself, rather than forcing it on her. “Let’s do a round of ‘what if.’ What if it is Kyle? How would you feel about being wrong?”

Her hand immediately tensed in his. He ducked his head to look at her face and was unprepared for the anguish he saw.

“Cami?” He let go of her hand so he could tilt her chin up as her tears welled again. “What is it?”


“Please tell me. I can tell there’s something I’m missing, help me to see it.”

“I don’t even know if I can put it into words.” Silence filled the space between them as he waited. “How would I feel about being wrong? I would be wrong!” After being so withdrawn, her vehemence surprised him. “I’ve spent years being so careful about who I made friends with, who I dated, and I second-guessed the motives of everyone I met. Except the kids. I always accepted them unconditionally.” Tears spilled onto her cheeks and she let go of his hand to dash them away.

“Really?” He had to ask. “Unconditionally? You never think about them doing drugs or having sex or being SUV vandals?” He had to poke gently there.

“I know those things happen, I’m not naïve. But-” She paused and finally looked up. “Don’t you remember what it was like to grow up in Agua Vida? It’s Mayberry in the middle of Orange County. Our kids are different.”

“You are putting your head in a paint bucket if you think AV kids aren’t into the same things as the kids in Huntington Beach or Newport.” His voice grew heated and she set her jaw.

“If I’m wrong about Kyle,” she said, “it means I have to rethink everything I’ve done and believed for the last two years. What else have I been wrong about? Patrick? Was he really as awful as I thought? And what about you? Are you as wonderful as you seem? This would change not just everything in my life, but me too, in my innermost core. And I don’t know if I can.”

He wanted to stand and cheer. She thought he was wonderful. “If you can what? Change yourself?” He kept his voice casual; the full force of his concern would scare her off.

“I don’t know if I’d be able to trust my own judgment again. If being so careful all these years didn’t protect me, how can I be safe again?”

It was obvious where her logic became fuzzy, but she wouldn’t appreciate having it pointed out. “You’re going to be angry at me, but I think…” She was telling him to do as she said, not as she did. Could he get her to see it herself?

“What?” Her voice rose, reminding him to throw softballs.

He got up and walked to the counter and began cutting the cooled figasa into strips. “Aren’t you always saying that your trust is in God?”

“Yes, and I know what you’re going to say. I do trust God, yet I’ve always felt that He gave me a mind and an intellect and judgment and that I should use them. So I have, but now I find out I’ve been wrong.”

“But there’s a difference between using the resources God has given you to the best of your ability, and doing it all yourself.”


“I’m saying, maybe you need to follow your own advice. What was it? ‘Let go and let God.’”

“I’m tired.” Her head drooped until her chin touched her chest.

His arm throbbed in rhythm with the irritation. “Cami, wake up and smell the herbal tea. You’re in trouble. In every way – physically, spiritually, emotionally. And I’m paying the price too. Because I care about you.”

She stared at the ground. He’d gone too far, but she had to hear it. They sat in silence except for the whisper of Petey’s tail against the floor.

“How about if I follow you to Paige’s?” he finally said. “I’ll make sure you get there, then I’ll come back here.”

“Fine.” Her resigned tone hurt him deeper than any words could.

An hour later, Grant walked back into his house after following Cami to Paige’s. They’d driven the speed limit, observing all stop signs on the way. She’d been subdued when he said good-bye, only nodding acknowledgement that he’d call in the morning.

The phone rang as he tossed his keys onto the counter. It better be Cami, apologizing for being so stubborn. A male voice surprised him. “Hi, Grant.”

“Joe? Is that you?”

“Just wanted to say hi and see how you’re feeling. We need you on this road trip. How’s therapy going?”

Joe’s warmth reminded Grant he missed his friend. Which was weird. Was it only how long since he’d thought Joe was annoying? Days? A week?

“Pretty good,” Grant answered. “The doc says I’m making excellent progress. Right on schedule, maybe even a little ahead.”

“That’s good news.” Joe paused and Grant sat on the couch. “Ellen said Cami may have left the luncheon a little beat up.”

“So much has happened since then. I’m sure she’s not thinking about it anymore.”

“What’s going on?”

Grant recapped the events of the last few days. He rolled his shoulders as he talked, tension draining out of his body as the words left his mouth. He’d been so concerned about Cami, the impact on him had accumulated. He needed to talk about it, too. “I just got back from following Cami home when you called,” Grant finished.

“Well, there you go,” Joe said.

“There I go where?”

“That’s your answer.”

Grant sighed. “English please.”

“You’ve been wondering why you were injured, what was God doing. If you were healthy, you’d be here in Seattle with me, instead of Orange County where you can help Cami.”

Grant tossed the idea against the wall of his brain to see if it would stick. It did.

“You there?” Joe asked after a moment.

“Let me get this straight. God made that runner take me out so I fell and tore my shoulder?”

“He knew Cami was going to need you. And the only way you’d be in town was if you were injured. He’s very efficient.”

“Couldn’t He have called? Or rented a billboard? This way is painful.”

“It got your attention, didn’t it?”

“It sure did.” Grant forced a chuckle. “How’s your arm holding out?” They talked a few minutes about the upcoming game before hanging up. Joe promised to stay in touch while on the road.

Grant slipped out of his sling and leaned against the wall, preparing mentally as well as physically for his exercises. As he walked his arm up the wall, his mind percolated with possibilities and what-ifs. Would God really cause an injury to keep him nearby? What would have happened to Cami if he hadn’t been in town this week?

She might have been home the day Petey was poisoned. And if she had been there, she could have been hurt too. Or if she wasn’t there, she might not have returned in time to save Petey’s life. If Grant weren’t here, where would Petey be? Not sharing this house with him and Orca, that’s for sure. And for that matter, where would Cami be? Probably still living at home, in denial and in danger.

He sagged against the wall, letting his arm dangle, the soreness in his shoulder working its way out. Along with the tenderness, doubt and defiance seeped away as he stood motionless, still leaning against the wall, head down and all his weight on the bad arm.

The emptiness pushed down, driving him into a black void that invited him in. He stood on the edge, peering over the side.

What was down there? A life without God. Being in control, doing things his own way, no “higher power” to answer to. The abyss beckoned. He closed his eyes.

After a moment, they snapped opened, his decision made.

“Okay, God,” he said. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired of second guessing you. Hear that? You’re in charge from now on.” He turned and slid down the wall until he sat on the floor. He looked up, eyeing the ceiling. A cobweb sagged in a corner. At a time like this, should he be noticing what the cleaning woman missed?

“What’s next?” he said. “Isn’t there supposed to be a party going on?” He remembered hearing about the angels rejoicing when someone repents. Was that what he’d done? He’d watched enough televangelists to know he should be euphoric, pain free, and with a perfectly working shoulder. He wiggled his arm a bit and shrugged at the twinge.

Petey padded over, dropped to the floor and laid his head on Grant’s thigh. He rubbed the furrow between the dog’s eyes and minutes passed. He did feel a bit different. A new peace surrounded him. What had Joe said, that God was efficient? Grant chuckled. Maybe this injury had kept him in town so he’d release the grip he’d had on his life.

“It was a ‘two birds’ kind of thing,” he said. Petey jumped to his feet. “Take it easy, not a real bird. It’s a metaphor.” The dog gave him a baleful glare. Grant stared back until Petey sighed and flopped down again. They continued sitting in companionable silence.

Grant closed his eyes. The thought of Someone else calling the pitches felt good. He was tired of struggling, tired of watching his back for the younger, stronger players. And tired of fighting Cami. At first, it felt like he’d been fighting for her, but now…

“What are we going to do about that woman, Petey?” The dog sighed and his tail quavered. “I can’t keep forcing her. She doesn’t want to listen, she doesn’t want to see the truth.”

The phone rang and Grant jumped. He shifted Petey’s head and reached for the receiver on the nearby table. “Hello?”

“Grant. Mongoose.”

“Yes?” The monosyllabic military habits had been ingrained into Grant’s psyche since birth.

“Tell Miss Henderson to get out of town for a while.”

His earlier frustration erupted. “Did you meet the Camille Henderson that was here? She won’t listen to me!”

“Try.” Mongoose rang off, leaving Grant unnerved. Now what?


Fiction Friday: Curve Ball

The plot is thickening!

Curve Ball
Chapter Twenty-Nine

Mongoose settled back into his chair. The sun had dropped below the horizon behind the house. Cami looked past Mongoose and, through the windows, watched the gray shadows lengthen. Sighing, she faced him. Better get this over with.

“There’s no ‘typical’ stalker,” Mongoose began. “There are some characteristics that are fairly common, but there is no single profile. Some stalkers are obsessed with a celebrity. You hear about those in the news.” He paused and looked her in the eye. “But most harassers know their victim. Some of what I’m going to tell you is supposition, what I’ve surmised from talking to you.”

Cami nodded. “Okay,” she said, intrigued in spite of herself.

“Kyle is of above average intelligence, but a bit of a loner.”

“No, that’s wrong.” Relief washed over her. This was going to be over quickly.


“Kyle has lots of friends.”

“Name three.”

“Anthony Collins. And Tara. And …” her voice trailed off. “He’s on the baseball team, he must have other friends.” Think. Who did Kyle hang out with at church?

“Is Kyle the center of that group with Anthony and Tara? Or is he just alongside them?”

“Well…” She searched her memory for images of Kyle at school or church. “Kyle and Anthony have been friends for as long as I’ve known them. Tara is Anthony’s girlfriend, so I suppose mostly Kyle is just there.” A picture of the youth group Burger Bash last year flashed into her mind.

“What?” How did Mongoose know she’d thought of something?

“I’m remembering the three of them at a picnic. Tara and Anthony sat on a blanket with Kyle on a bench a few feet away. I saw Tara whispering in Anthony’s ear and looking at Kyle who was sitting and staring into space.”

“You can be in a crowd and still be an outsider. As I was saying, a bit of a loner. Also, he’s insecure, has self-esteem issues.”

“He’s a teenager.” So far, all the so-called evidence could point to anyone.

“To a larger degree than the average young adult.”

Cami shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Time to call up the pinch hitter.” Mongoose smiled at Grant. “I’m going to take a couple shots in the dark.”

“Have you always talked in clichés?” Grant spoke for the first time in this interchange.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” Cap said.

The room erupted in laughter. Even Mongoose leaned back again and roared. Cami wiped her eyes and continued to giggle as the others subsided. The brief hilarity broke the tension pressing on her, making her feel that she wanted nothing more than to sleep until the World Series began.

“Good one, Cap. You got me.” Mongoose ran his hand over the back of his neck and looked at Cami. “You ready to hear my ideas?”

“Yes, sir.” She forced her mouth into a straight line and willed her amusement to stay bottled up.

“You’ve known Kyle for a long time, years you said. You’ve always been nice to him, friendly like you are to all your students. But when the fall semester started, he began reacting differently.”

“Different in what way?” Cami asked. “As far as I can recall, he’s been the same as always.”

“When you point out something he’s done right, say an excellent hit or a nice drawing, instead of accepting the compliment, he obsesses over it. He’ll come up to you after and ask if you really meant what you said, that his was the best still life sketch or whatever that assignment was.”

Cami’s breath expelled but no new air came in. She was suspended in space as another memory surfaced.

Kyle had stopped her after church one day and asked if she really liked his pencil drawing of the beach. She said she could see the sand swirling in the wind. His face glowed as he left.

“How did you know that?” She forced her lungs to expand and her tongue to form words.

He ignored her. “One day, he asked for some extra tutoring help and you couldn’t do it. Maybe you had an appointment, a legitimate reason for declining. But he took it personally, and withdrew emotionally for a while. Then gifts started showing up. Some candy one day, a little clay figurine the next.”

The jellybeans in her backpack jumped up and down, getting her attention. Trying to keep a stoic expression on her face, Cami racked her brain. When had they appeared?

“And at home,” Mongoose continued, his eyes intent on hers. “Flowers, maybe. Then the harassment started. Phone calls. A feeling you were being followed or someone was watching you. Things escalated. Your home was vandalized. Your dog threatened.”

“You told him!” Cami looked past Mongoose to glare at Grant’s dad. Cap shook his head.

“No, Cami.” Mongoose reached out and placed a beefy hand on her knee. “Cap only told me you were being harassed. I know how these things play out.”

Cami stared at him. Grant put an arm around her shoulders and hugged her close as Mongoose withdrew his hand.

“I’m so sorry,” Grant murmured.

“I have to go.” She brushed him off and started to rise, but her legs decided they weren’t ready. She sat back down, bewildered by what was happening. Petey rose from his corner across the room, and placed his chin where Mongoose’s hand rested a moment ago. Petey looked into her eyes, his face a picture of concern. She rubbed his ears, feeling the velvety softness, and forced herself to be calm.

“You can’t go,” Grant said. “It’s not safe.”

A flash of irritation surged through her.

“What do you mean I can’t go? I am going. Why are you forcing me to sit here and listen to this? I thought you cared for me.”

Grant looked as stunned as if her words had physically struck him.

“I do.” His voice was quiet, but his eyes flamed.

Cami forced herself to breathe in and out a couple of times.

“This is bizarre. I’m sitting here listening to you tell me that one of my friends is crazy. And evil.”

“It’s hard to hear and process.” Mongoose stood. “Maybe we should finish this tomorrow, it’s getting late.”

Cami looked out the window again. Night had fallen. The darkness outside seemed palpable, pressing on the windows, forcing its presence into her heart.

“Maybe we should.” She grasped at the convenient excuse to stop. And she’d heard all she intended to. This Mongoose guy didn’t know her and she was letting him tell her things that couldn’t be true. They couldn’t be. But whom was she convincing? Herself or the others?