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.
“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 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.