Fiction Friday: Curve Ball

I had the fun opportunity to meet Jonathan Santlofer, who writes mysteries based in the art world. I asked for suggestions about what in an artist's studio could be used as a weapon. Jonathan suggested using spray fixative in the eyes to incapacitate an attacker.

Chapter Thirty-Five

Grant held his breath as Kyle came closer. Curled into a fetal position on the cement floor, he hoped he looked injured and helpless. He tensed his muscles and willed his pounding heart not to give him away. He cradled an aerosol can in the crook of his bad arm.

“Mr. Andrews?” Kyle’s voice sounded skeptical, and his footsteps stopped at the bottom of the stairs.

Grant shuddered and let out a soft moan. He kept his eyes nearly shut, watching for Kyle’s feet to appear under his eyelashes.

Kyle took a tentative step closer. Grant forced himself to lie still.

Closer, closer. Another tremor.

“Open your eyes,” Kyle said from above.

Grant erupted with a roar of anger and frustration as he rolled to his knees and swung the can up, spraying chemicals into Kyle’s eyes.

Kyle turned aside and most of the spray missed his eyes. He swiped a fist at Grant who sidestepped but fell back, knocking over Cami’s easel and stand. Paints and brushes clattered. Grant scrambled to get his feet under him and to use the spray can again. But he could hear Kyle on the stairs.

Just as Kyle reached the top, Grant started up. Kyle must have heard or sensed something because he paused in the open door to look around.

Grant saw Cami behind Kyle, a big chunk of wood raised over her head. She lowered the block with a loud grunt as Kyle slammed the door.

A thud spurred Grant to take the stairs two at a time. He barreled through the door, crashing it open.

Cami still held the wood. Kyle was curled on the floor and not moving.

“Thank you, God.” He wrapped her in his arms. She trembled, but didn’t cry. “Where is the phone?”

“He cut the cords.”

Two hours later, Cami sat in an interrogation room at the police station, clutching a foam cup with a hot liquid they called tea. The heat barely penetrated her icy fingers. She repeated to Detective Bermudez the story she’d already told the officer who’d been first on the scene.

“I went home to water my plants and get my mail. When I went into the kitchen, Kyle was there. He’d broken a window down in my studio. He had a knife. He pointed it at me and asked what took me so long. He’d been eighteen for hours by then, he said. He thought I’d be home first thing to celebrate his birthday. He had cupcakes.”

Detective Bermudez stopped scribbling. “Cupcakes?”

“Instead of a birthday cake.” She shrugged. “It was so bizarre, his assumption that I knew what day it was, that I’d be happy to find him in my kitchen.”

“What happened next?”

“He called Grant at the clubhouse. While we waited, he went on about our future, how much he loved me. He was so happy we didn’t have to hide our feelings any more. It seemed to take forever, but Grant finally got there.”

She repeated the scene from her kitchen and what she’d heard from the basement as she waited with the butcher block. “I didn’t know what happened. I wanted to get out of there.”

“Okay, Miss Henderson. We have records of the previous incidents, so that’s all I need from you right now.”

“Where is Grant?”

“Giving his statement. You can wait for him here. Or would you like me to arrange a ride for you?”

“I’ll wait.”

Detective Bermudez smiled. Maybe with compassion. Then he left her alone in the bare room, a formica table and the now cold tea for company.

Another half hour passed before Grant appeared, paint splatters on his face and shoulders, hair falling across his forehead, eyes that lit up when he saw her.

Relief and exhaustion wrestled within her, relief barely winning. She couldn’t hold back the sobs.

“Are you okay?” He wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight. She nodded but didn’t try to talk. They stood in silence for several minutes.

Finally she cleared her throat, speaking into his chest, the words muffled though clear enough.

“I’m so sorry.”

“For what?”

“I should have listened to you. And Mongoose. And everyone else.”

He pushed her away so he could look into her eyes, and gave her shoulders a little shake. “I never want to hear you say that again. This is not your fault, you did not encourage Kyle’s infatuation. Do you understand?”

She gulped and nodded. “But if I’d handled it differently…”

“If I’d called the police when Kyle called me. If you’d gone to his mother. If we’d left town. We could play that game forever. You responded in the way that makes you who you are.”

“I wish I could believe that.”

“Haven’t you figured it out yet? It’s not all about you.”

Tears stung her eyes as his words pierced her heart. “I’m trying to learn that. I know I’ve been selfish and obstinate. I’ve probably driven you away from God too, not just me.”

Grant’s eyes narrowed and the corners of his mouth twitched.

“What?” she asked. Why was he smiling? Couldn’t he see how miserable and sorry she was?

“I never got the chance to tell you.” He sank into the chair and took her hand. “Last night, I- Well, I gave up. I surrendered to God.”

“You mean- ” Did he mean what she thought he did?

“You didn’t drive me away from anyone. You pointed me in the right direction.”

“I don’t know what to say.” It was what she’d been praying for. But in a flash, she saw the truth. As long as Grant wasn’t a believer, she’d been justified in keeping him at a long perspective, like her mural of the Italian countryside seen through terrace arches. Did she have the courage to let him up onto the patio? Or could she even take a few steps closer to him herself?

“I do.” He stood and pulled her into his arms again. “Only God knows what’s in our future. And I’m okay with that if you are. We’ll take it slow.”

Warmth flooded her, flushing her cheeks. Glad he couldn’t see her face, she spoke into his chest. “I’d like that.”

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