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.
“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 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?”
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?”
“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?