The plot is thickening!
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.”
“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?