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Sunday, March 6, 2016

SLEEPING BAG  BEAUTY
A fun fiction for friends!
By C.J.
 
Camille wanted to tell her mother that "whither she goeth," she would not go.  She did not want to face a new school.   Going to the big high school in the city had been like riding on the New York subway where no one dared to look at each other no matter how close they had to sit.   But an abrupt move under the circumstances was worse.  She now had to go to a school in a dinky town where everyone had grown up together, except her.  It would make her stand out like a sore thumb, a duckling in a brood of chicks, a gold fish in a swarm of sharks.  Her mother had just become a single mom.  Again.  Her stepdad had decided he'd found someone else more beautiful, younger, and richer.  So they moved out of his home in the suburbs and back to the small town where her mother had grown up, back to where her mother had a friend who offered her a job. 




 
The door thudded shut hitting Cam on the backside and shoving her into the classroom.  Someone giggled.  Camille straightened her back and threw her long blonde hair over her shoulder and found a seat while refusing to look at anyone.  Unfortunately, the boy in the next seat over dipped his face low until she couldn't avoid his eyes.

"Hi."
Cam nodded back, but her smile was timid.  She supposed the young man was being nice...then a throat cleared in front of him. 

"Ahem.  Beau, I need a pencil."  The girl looked at Cam like she would like a very sharp pencil to stab her with. 

So began the high school saga of Beau and Jackie, Jackie and Beau, the perfect couple.  Beau continued to be nice, if and when he was out of her clutches, but Jackie had seethed nothing but pure unadulterated hatred from that first day until the graduation caps were thrown in the air.  Cam had been the dirt under her finger nails, the split end on her glossy black locks, the fly in her putrid perfume, the stub to her painted toe nail.  The girl tried and succeeded in making the rest of Cam's  high school years pure misery.

A couple of girls were brave enough to be Cam's casual friends, but they had to sacrifice themselves by becoming Jackie's enemies too.  A few guys had tried to ask her out, but there was no way, no how that Cam would go to any high school event that Jackie might attend.  Even something like going to the movies or bowling meant their paths might cross.  It wasn't worth it.  In fact, Cam would have loved to go to the football, basketball and baseball games Beau played in, but she had to be content to read about them in the newspaper. The only event she chose to go to was her senior prom.  She had  invited Joseph, the boy with Downs Syndrome: she never danced with anyone else not leaving his side all night, not even when Beau had asked her for one dance.

It wasn't as if Jackie struck with her venom when her boyfriend Beau could see.  She was all sugar and as sweet as last year's Cadbury Eggs when he was around.  He somehow never caught on that the nicer he was to her, the more Cam would pay later with his girlfriend's vicious, humiliating remarks once he was out of hearing.  The rumors that Jackie hatched up about her rivaled those in the National Enquirer.  Cam was surprised she'd never been accused of giving birth to an alien.  Nevertheless, he was just as nice the next two years to her as he had been that first day.  She even caught him looking at her sometimes, which probably was one reason Jackie kept burning like a marshmallow flaming black on a stick roasting over a campfire.


They all went to the same church, but it was obvious that Jackie was not happy the one time Cam tried to go to youth group.  Oh well, pretty soon Cam took on a weekend job waitressing.  The closest thing she got to a prayer meeting after that was when families held each other's hands to pray over their meals while Cam waited respectfully for them to finish before she plunked down their plates.  Church no longer could be squeezed into her schedule.  It wasn't that she didn't believe in God, He just wasn't giving her a day off, or a break of any kind for that matter.

At least her sister Joni who was two years younger, had taken to the move like a pollywog in a lazy Texas creek.  She soon was sprouting legs and took to hopping off with her friends while Cam and her mom worked.  Her mother put in long hours doing housekeeping at the small local hospital and  side cleaning jobs as well.  So Cam worked hard on her studies in the quiet house and excelled.  When she wasn't studying, she was working.  Camille had plans for college.  She would have to be satisfied with going to the local junior college at first of course, but could see the university on the horizon. 

That, however, came to a screeching halt when all the parties and poor choices in friends caught up with her sister.  Joni waited until their mom got home from a double shift one night before she told them. "I need you guys to sit down.  There's something I have to tell you."  The way she was twisting her hair, Cam knew it was serious.  "I'm pregnant."  Then she hurried on to say, "Sooo, I need money to go have an abortion." 

"You're what!" He mother screamed getting red in the face after the reality finally set in.

Cam could not breathe, nor speak.  Her sister was only sixteen, and here she was asking for money to go have an abortion?  Her mother had always told them that abortion was wrong, but she now seemed to be wavering. 

After listening to her sister spouting off about how her life was ruined unless she could just go to Planned Parenthood before she was any farther along in the pregnancy, Cam didn't even know she had spoken until she burst out emphatically, "NO! It's not just tissue, but a life, one you've created.  Who's the father anyway?  Does he know?"

At first her sister sealed her lips in a thin white line until her chin started quivering.  "I'm so sorry," she bawled.  "He wants me to have an abortion, but I don't really want one.  I just don't know what to do."  Pretty soon they were all three a mess of sobbing women and wet tissues worse than a bad T.P. job on a cottonwood tree in the rain.   

"I'll raise the baby if I have to, Joni.  I know you can't do it alone."  Cam meant it.

"I don't know, sweetheart," her mother worried.  "I'm working as hard as I know how.  We need to get your sister at least through high school, and you on with your college classes.  I can't see how we can squeeze a baby into the mix.  We'll just have to find an adoption agency."

Joni started wailing louder until she ran out of the room to throw up.  Cam tried to reason it out with her mother.  "This is my niece or nephew we are talking about, your grandchild.  How can we give him or her up?"  A decision never seemed to be made.  No one wanted to talk about it.

It was the worst time of her life graduating that year.  Her sister hid her condition fairly well up until then.  Joni finished her sophomore year and Cam graduated, but all the shine had worn off her dreams.  Soon her mother found another job and moved them back to the city so no one would know about the pregnancy.  Cam began a waitressing job in a fine dinner house which paid good tips.  Joni stayed home growing more sullen and rounder with child every day.  The girl's social life had come to an abrupt halt.  The only fun they had was on their Saturday mornings driving around to garage sales in the nicer neighborhoods.  Slowly but surely they got the necessary baby items to put in the room they shared.  A bassinet was squeezed between their two beds. 



By the time labor and delivery were over, all three were in love with the perfect baby girl.  Cam was sure she could raise her by herself if need be.  Joni seemed to be elated.  It was hard to get a good night's sleep, but Eloise was a joy to come home to every day.  At first they fought over getting to hold her.  Then her mother seemed to be too tired.  It wasn't long before Joni started going out with friends.  Pretty soon the care of Eloise fell more and more to Cam.  No matter what, she was worth it.  She just needed Joni to watch her while she was at work, then Cam was willing to take over.  College was far from her thoughts, most of the time. 

Cam tried not to notice when classes started up, but felt a pang to her stomach when college girls came in to eat at the restaurant, laughing together and complaining about their teachers.  She kept telling herself, it was okay because Eloise was worth it.  Her mother needed Cam's financial help too.  The diapers and formula weren't cheap, not to mention vast number of trips and quarters for the laundry.  It all added up.  Then her mother got laid off.  Actually, she hurt her back, but the company doctor denied her claims as work related.  So Cam took more shifts, worked longer hours while her mother stayed home and took over the care of the baby.  Joni was far too busy partying.

The day came when Cam had enough and blew up.  She caught her sister's boyfriend giving Eloise sips of beer while Joni giggled.  She marched her druggie sister downtown where she had her sign over legal guardianship for Eloise to Cam.  Joni was never around hardly anymore anyway leaving Eloise completely in the care of Camille and her mother only occasionally visiting. Still, with her mother unable to work and Joni staying with this new boyfriend, the support was all on Cam's shoulders.

It was a day just like all her days when she drove to work.  Except it wasn't.  There was a small huddle of her co-workers standing in front of the door.

"What's going on?  Aren't they going to unlock the door?"  

Someone pointed at a sign newly posted there.  "Closed until further notice."

"That's it?  Are we even going to get our last paycheck?"  Cam felt like pounding on the door.  Instead, she turned away with the rest saying goodbyes.  She probably would never see her co-workers again.

Driving home, Cam let the tears come and yelled, "Really God?  Is this how you show us Your love, show us that You care for Your own?  We have a baby to take care of, you know!"  Cam's insides were shaking as much as her hands on the steering wheel.  No amount of Christian radio could cheer her up even if turned up full blast. 

Her mother looked grim but said, "Call your old boss and see if he'll hire you back.  We don't have any cushion to be able to wait until you can find work around here.  We can't afford to lose this apartment.  The landlord would throw us out on our ear if we got behind in our rent.  With the recession, no one is hiring.  Believe me, I've searched the papers everyday to find something I could do with this back of mine.  Back home though, things might be better."

So she did.  She was rehired.  It was the hardest thing Cam had ever done kissing those soft pink cheeks on her little Eloise goodbye.  She drove off not knowing when she could return.  It would be all she could do to send back enough money to keep her mother afloat taking every penny she could earn.  Cam threw in a sleeping bag and a small ice chest along with her suitcase into the trunk.  She would have to camp for awhile.  There were a few campgrounds at the lake nearby.  But it would only be temporary, she hoped any way.

She called her mother often to check up on Eloise.  It killed her to miss all the cute little things the baby was learning to do.  Cam was confident though that her mother would take good care of her.  That was a small comfort.  She couldn't drive very often to the city because her car probably wouldn't last making too many trips without breaking down.  She had to keep it running because it was not only her way to work, but her living quarters.  The one splurge she afforded was to join a gym.  That way she could have a place to shower.   

At least Cam enjoyed her job.  She told her mother on the phone, "Mom, the people here make me feel like I've truly come home.  The regular customers remembered me and welcomed me back.  My boss was nice enough to schedule me with all the extra shifts possible." Yet, in spite of her smiling face, no one knew the truth.  She was homeless.


The campgrounds only let a person stay for up to two weeks, so she was always on the move going from one to the other and back again.  It was the other campers' drinking parties that kept her awake at night that made her nervous.  Sleeping in her car was extremely uncomfortable in the back seat and sometimes downright scary.  She had to keep her doors locked and the windows rolled up no matter how hot it was just to feel safe at all.  Whenever she heard footsteps outside her car, she hid deep down inside the sleeping bag.  Once someone had knocked on her window and called for her to come out.  It was the creepy guy in the next camp spot.  He'd been watching her.  The next day Cam bought mace.

After that incident, Cam had been so nervous that by noon she'd spilled coffee twice and dropped a dinner order on the ground in a loud attention-getting crash.  Her boss asked, "Are you okay, darlin'?"

"Sorry, you can dock my pay for that food I threw all over the floor just now."  Her cheeks flamed.

"Don't worry about it.  Everybody has slippery fingers once in awhile." He looked her over knowingly, but only shook his head.

"I can't believe those people still tipped me," she told him later as she swept past with another order.

"You're the best thing this place has going next to my biscuits and gravy.  You could spill their coffee all day sun up to sun down as long as you did it with that million dollar smile you got going, Camie girl."  He laughed, but it stopped her dead in her tracks.  No one had ever said anything about her smile before.

Then HE came in.  She had hoped Edith would take his table, but no, it was hers.  She walked up and handed out the menus.  When he looked up at her their glances locked in a gaze that went down and made her throat almost swell shut.  He swallowed first.  It was Beau, her high school crush.  Cam glanced quickly around the table, but Jackie wasn't with him.  She threw him her nervous fifty cent smile, not the million dollar one, and asked what the table wanted to drink. 

She told her shaking hands, "Don't spill anything.  Don't spill anything."  Miraculously she didn't but she got the whole order mixed up and gave everyone the wrong plate.  His friends just passed the plates around until they landed in the right spots.  One of them said, "Hey, aren't you Camille from high school?" Cam couldn't remember his name, but recognized him.

"Yes."

"Where've you been?  I haven't seen you for awhile," he went on trying to catch her attention.

"I've just come back to town."  She ignored him while refilling their glasses.  "Is everything alright?  Can I get you anything else?"

"Just your phone number, Camille," the guy grinned.  "Ouch!  Why'd you kick me, Beau?"

"Leave her alone, Tom.  She's busy," he growled at his friend.  But when she looked at Beau again, he was staring at her looking so hot that she could have melted.  He was even more handsome, older of course, and leaner, as in hard muscles from work.  It had been a couple of years since she'd seen him.  His hair was so bronzed by the sun that it looked blonde.  His tan made it appear that he spent his days outside, probably from working on his dad's ranch. She drove by it every night on her way to the campgrounds outside of town.  Sometimes she thought she'd caught a glimpse of him in the old place in the lamplight, but wasn't sure.  His parents lived in a nice new farmhouse set further back from the road.  Then she blinked.

"Leave her alone, Beau," his buddy mimicked him and elbowed him hard,  "or I'll tell Jackie."

That was all she needed to hear and turned tail knocking off the pile of the extra napkins one of them had ordered for his messy plate of ribs.  She left them on the ground like magnolia petals fallen on a lawn.  Later she asked Edith to give them their ticket.

Cam tried to ignore them as they left jostling each other, but Beau paused by her stiff back, up close, too close, to say, "It's nice to have you back in town, Cam."  He left, but forgot to take his warm breath with him where it still lingered on her neck like a feather touch.  Her heart was thudding.  He was the only one she missed from high school, but he wasn't hers to miss.

That night, the creepy guy was waiting for her in her campsite so she kept driving.  All the other campgrounds were full.  Cam didn't know where she'd go.  Once her boss had found her sleeping in her car behind the restaurant and told her firmly to find someplace else.  The cops patrolled the area, he'd said, and would complain to him if they found her there.  Another time she'd tried a rest stop ten miles out of town on the highway, but with people walking by her car all night long, she couldn't relax and sleep.  She was always on creep alert and could feel the hair stand up on her neck sometimes before she'd dive down into her sleeping bag.  It was worse when the parking lot was deserted.  Then she'd felt totally vulnerable.  Cam was exhausted. 

As she drove back towards town, she saw Beau's place.  It was quiet.  His truck was parked up close to his house.  She slowed down.  Did she dare pull off?  Cam knew she'd be safe here.  She turned off her lights after finding a stretch of tall weeds next to the road.  That's when she killed her engine, locked her doors and climbed into the backseat.  She just needed to sleep a little while, then she could go park in front of the gym before dawn and wait for it to open.

Cam had just nestled down when she heard a truck pull in, a heavy door slam shut, and a familiar voice telling someone, "Thanks for the ride, guys."  It was Beau.  She bit her lip and pulled her sleeping bag over her head.  "Don't see me parked here.  Please don't see me parked here," she silently groaned. 

But a few minutes later, a flashlight shone in her window, and he hollered, "Hey, what are you doing on my property?"  Would he go away?  No, he was pounding hard on her window.  There was no way out of it.  She unzipped her sleeping bag part way, pulled herself up to a sitting position and threw her hair over her shoulder and out of her eyes.  The look on his face was shock if she ever saw it.  She was pretty sure she looked more like a treed opossum herself.  Cam waved a small finger roll.  Could it get more humiliating than this?  Busted for being homeless in Beau's own driveway.  If he ever told Jackie, that woman would make Cam's life so miserable that she would have no other choice but to leave town.  Her life was over as she knew it.

"Cam?"  Then he motioned for her to open her door.  She crawled over and unlocked it.  "What are you doing here?  Were you waiting to talk to me or something?"  Then he shown his light over the rest of her car's interior, her suitcase, her bag with her shampoo and towels sticking out, her ice chest and sack of groceries.  She was busted big time.  She saw realization hit him as he took a deep breath and just said, "Oh."

"I can go.  I just needed to rest a few minutes.  Some weirdo was in my campsite, and it scared me, and so I was driving around and decided to pull off here for a few minutes, but I'm leaving right now, and I'm sorry, really sorry."  After babbling she completed her inglorious picture by climbing back over into the front seat and buckling herself up.

"No wait.  Cam, please?  Come in for a few minutes.  Get a drink of water or something."

She shook her head and searched her purse for her keys but she couldn't see them because of her tears hiding under her veil of messy bed head hair, except she had no bed, only a sleeping bag in the back of her car.  Suddenly, Cam laid her head on the stirring wheel and caught a sob.  Okay, so total and complete self denigration was happening here tonight in front of Beau Weston.

Suddenly, he climbed in the back seat, reached over and unlocked her front door and then opened it. 
"Get out, Cam.  You're coming inside with me." 

She was sure he was going to call the sheriff.  "Please Beau," she whispered.  "I won't let it happen again.  Please don't call the cops."

The quiet night was broken by a loud bark of a laugh.  "You think I would turn you in?  Are you crazy?  I want to help you, Cam."

He took her arm and half pulled her up onto his porch and into his house throwing the lights on.  She was a mess in her shorts and tee, trying not to remember her messy hair.  She crossed her arms around herself feeling extremely exposed.   He motioned for her to take a seat at the table before going to bend over looking in his frig. 


"Do you want a glass of milk, or a can of soda?  I can make you coffee if you'd rather."

"Coffee sounds good."  She was shivering not from cold, but nerves. 

After it began dripping, he came and sat across from her.  "So, Cam, how long have you been living in your car?"

"Since I've been back, what, a month and a half or so."

He looked at her askance.

Suddenly she was angry.  "Do you think I want to live like that?"  She motioned around his living room.  "Don't you think I'd rather have a nice house to live in and a real bed?"  She pointed to the frig, "And a refrigerator?"  "How about a real bathroom with a private shower or tub?"  Then she glowered at him, "Not all of us have a mom and dad to give us a house, you know.  Welcome to how the other half has to live sometimes."

"Don't you make enough at the restaurant to get a place?  I can loan, shoot, I'll give you the money to get settled in somewhere."

She sighed burying her face in her hands.  "I work hard.  I make okay money, but I'm supporting my mom and my baby girl right now.  Mom got injured and laid off.  Then the restaurant I worked at  shut down without notice, so I got my old job back here.  There's just not enough to stretch to cover two households, mine and theirs."  The tears were dripping off her nose, at least she hoped they were tears.  She grabbed a napkin and blew her nose.  Total and complete humiliation.

He put his hand on her wrist. "Cam, there are plenty of good people who can help you, who would love to help you.  My mom, I bet, would be happy to put you up in a guest room."

"She doesn't know me."

"Yes, she does.  She's the one who told me you were back in town and encouraged me to go see you at the restaurant.  To tell you the truth, that's why I was there."

Cam looked up, "Really?"

He got up, poured two cups of coffee and brought them over.  "Cream or sugar?"

"Cream."

Then he scratched the back of his neck and looked away, "So, tell me about your little girl.  It must be hard to be away from her."

That tiny bit of sympathy was almost enough to set her crying again, so she took a deep shaky breath.  "Yes, it's the hardest thing in the world.  I'm missing so much already.  She's a year and a half old.  My sister had her about four months after we moved away."

"Your sister?"  He almost croaked.  "Then, she's not yours?"

"Yes, she is mine.  I'm her legal guardian.  My little sister Joni isn't...she's not..."

He had sat down and taken her hand, rubbing his thumb over her hand.  It felt really nice.  No one had touched her in a long, long time, not since those baby arms she craved so deeply.

"What's her name?"

"Eloise."

"That's pretty."

It got quiet between them.  "Listen," she finally said after she pulled her hand away and took her last sip of coffee.  I'm sure that guy has left by now.  I can go back to my campsite."

"NO!  I mean, it's late.  You can sleep on the couch.  I'll talk to my mom in the morning."

"It wouldn't look right," Cam said while sure that her cheeks were flaming.  "Besides, Jackie wouldn't like it."

"Jackie?  She doesn't have any say over my house."

"But she's your girlfriend.  I happen to know that she'd be very upset if she found out I was even sitting here talking to you."

"She's not my girlfriend, not anymore.  Yeah, friends told me later how awful she treated you during high school.  I'm really sorry.  I wish I'd realized how bad she was back then.  By the time we graduated, I was starting to get the full picture, not just the idealized one I had of her.  So we split up after that. She was pretty angry that I broke up with her, spitting mad, but I guess you know what that's like.   Actually..." he got a pained look and swallowed hard,  "She attacked me with a knife.  I didn't see it coming.  I ended up in the hospital for well over a week.  She just isn't very balanced and slipped over the edge I guess, lost control or something, I don't know.  She had to go be locked up in mental health after that.  I guess they diagnosed her as bi-polar.  Anyway, I still don't think she's doing so well. She's too skinny.  I think she might be anorexic or something too."

"Wow, I had no idea.  I'm really sorry.  It's just that your friend made it sound like you two were still together back at the restaurant."

"He didn't know.  Sometimes people just assume we're still together.  Not many know what really happened.  It isn't something I like to talk about, but I guess I just spilled my guts to you," and he grinned sheepishly.

"Well, you have all the dirt on me, I guess you could say.  I'm homeless Camille, the least likely to succeed from our graduating class."

"Don't say that.  You were a great student, but life's been harder on you than most.  You can't hang your head for working so hard to support your mom and little girl.  I admire you for that."

Cam snorted.  "It didn't look like admiration on your face when you shone your light into my backseat tonight." 

Then he laughed with her.  "I don't think I've ever been so surprised in my life to find the beautiful Camille sleeping in her car on my property. You're Sleeping Bag Beauty.  No, it doesn't get more shocking than that!"

"You looked like a you'd seen a zombie."

"You looked like a deer in the headlights."

"You looked like you'd just sucked on a sucker dipped in Louisiana Hot Sauce."

"You looked like a raccoon treed by an old hound dog."

They laughed until it was like a warm blanket covering them both, wrapped up together. Then Camille got quiet thinking about the strangeness of the whole night.

Finally, he said, "Well, I'll find you a pillow and blanket.  You are welcome to take a shower or something tonight or in the morning.  There's clean towels under the sink."  I'll be out of here by 6:30 in the morning and will try not to wake you."

When he came back with the bedding, he said softly, "Good night, Sleeping Bag Beauty."  He shook his head.  "You can't imagine what I thought when I saw you emerge out of that bag."  Then he looked into her eyes, and it happened again.  It was another one of those moments that made it hard to swallow with the heart thumping so wildly.  He grazed her cheek with his knuckle.  "I'm just glad the Lord sent you here so I can help keep you safe, Camille.  When I saw how you were camping in your car, I was sick to my stomach.  I will take care of you, Cam.  You can be sure of that."

"Thank you."  At least her lips moved, but she wasn't sure if any sound came out.

When Beau got up the next morning, he paused in his bedroom doorway.  Drenched in the early morning light, Camille was still drowning in a deep, deep sleep.  He drank in her dark lashes against her cheeks, the rippling golden hair that covered part of her face on down to, well he made himself stop.  Desire hit him like a freight train.  It was crazy!  He'd always admired Cam in school and wondered at the loner.  As beautiful as she was, she kept carefully to herself.  He could only look from afar then.  Beau took a deep breath.  He forced himself to leave, but he was certain he couldn't keep her at his house again, not the way he was feeling right now. 

True to his word, he told his mother about Camille.  But unexpectedly she laughed and said, "It almost sounds like Boaz and Ruth."

"What?  I don't know what you are talking about."

"Just read your Bible, son.  I've always liked that girl, and I certainly don't want her to live in her car one more night.  I'll talk to your dad, but in the meanwhile, I'm getting the guest room ready.  Then I'll walk over to your place."

"Don't wait too long.  I have a feeling she'll be more skittish than a filly and take off as soon as she's awake."

"Let me take care of it.  As strange as it may be for a mother to say to her son that even if it might have looked wrong, you did the right thing taking her in last night, son.  You redeemed her from a bad situation."


"Thanks.  Well, I'll see you at lunch.  Is Dad out in the barn?"

"Yes, as usual, and maybe you can tell him what I'm considering.  Ask him to come see me right away if he has a problem with it.  If not, I'll go soon to invite her to stay here.  Don't worry about a thing, Beau, or should I say, Boaz.  I have a good feeling about this."

"Thanks, mom." He kissed her on the cheek then taking his coffee, he went to find his dad, grateful once again for his Christian family.  But he couldn't help wondering, "Boaz?"

His dad was unfazed by the turn of events.  "Sure thing, Son.  Our Lord said, "I was a stranger and you took me in.'  If your mother thinks it's the right thing to do, I'm satisfied."


So Camille came to live with his parents.  She was usually there for breakfast and sometimes lunch.  He was almost tongue-tied when he saw her though.  As she became more rested and relaxed, her guard came down. and her beauty grew until she was practically radiant.  He couldn't keep his eyes off her.


The next week his phone rang when he was out working cattle near the chutes.  It was Jackie's mother.  He could hardly stand the woman, the way she treated her daughter, always finding fault, picking at her about her looks.  He wanted to ignored it, but picked it up at the last ring.

"Beau, I need you to come see Jackie right now," she ordered.  We're having a problem over here trying to do an intervention.  We have to get her into treatment for her anorexia, but she's refusing.  I know you can get her to do just about anything.  We need you to take her there, please!  It will only be a couple hours drive to the facility."  Then the woman started sobbing.  He'd never ever known her to cry before.  "She's dying, Beau. We need you."

He sighed but sucked it up and said, "Okay, I'm coming."  He went back to the house and told his mother. 

"I...she...we need prayer.  Jackie needs me, I guess."

"Be careful, Beau.  You know how we don't want you to go back there."

"Yeah, I know, but this is how it is."

As he left, he passed Cam coming into the kitchen.

"Hi, Beau," her beautiful eyes were wide open.  He knew then that she had overheard him mention Jackie.  But he could only touch the rim of his cowboy hat in response.  He had to leave.  His face was grim and his mind was whirling.  It wasn't a sure fire thing that even he could get Jackie to seek the help she needed.  They needed a miracle.  The way he had been able to rescue Camille was a piece of cake compared to the intimidating Jackie.  What was he supposed to do, give her a pat down to make sure she didn't have any knives on her?   It was one of those times only God could handle, so he prayed.

Cam felt sick to her stomach.  Somehow Jackie had her claws back into the cowboy.  All the unformed hopes burst like a child's soap bubble.  Now more than ever, she felt guilty for all his parents had done for her opening their arms and home to her.  Jackie still had the power to make it all turn into one ugly mess.  Cam practically could see a twister coming down out of the dark clouds in her mind.  She was about to be devastated, flattened, smashed to smithereens. 


A few days later, it did get worse, just not in the way she expected.  She felt her phone vibrate in her pocket at work, but did not look at the message until her break time.  It was her mother which worried her because Cam was the one who usually called.  Something must be wrong. 

"Hi, mom.  Is everything alright?"

"Yes, and no.  I'll just tell it to you straight.  I'm getting remarried and I need you to come get Eloise.  He doesn't want her here."

"Mom?  This is your third marriage.  Are you sure?  And who wouldn't want such a sweet thing?  He must not be a very nice person."  Cam could feel anger surge through her from the soles of her feet until it prickled her scalp.  She didn't know where her mom found these losers.

"Camille, it's not for you to say.  Besides, at my age it isn't easy to keep up with a toddler."  Then her mother started crying, "You know I love her, don't you Camie?  But you are her legal guardian, not me.  You are the one who promised to raise her if Joni couldn't, not me."

Cam was struck dumb.  What could she do? "You know if I come take Eloise, I can't send you money any more, right?"

"That's fine.  Joe has a good job.  He's union.  In fact, he's been helping out ever since he moved in here."

Now Cam really felt the fireworks.  "What!  I've been sending you money to help support not only you and Eloise, but your boyfriend who makes good money?"  She suddenly looked up and saw the cook and kitchen help staring stock still at her.  Cam turned and walked out the back door.  She hissed more quietly still seething.  "I've been living in my car, mom, homeless for goodness sakes, to take care of you."  Oh no, the tears were coming.  "Never mind.  I'll be right there, mom, as soon as I can."

Her boss only nodded and said, "Go on, get out of here.  We'll cover for you."  Evidently he had overheard enough of the conversation to know what she had to do.  Now she had a two hour drive there and back to figure out what she would do exactly.  First though, she had to go talk to Mr. and Mrs. Weston, Beau's parents.

They were in the middle of lunch.  Beau was there which made Cam cringe.  She'd been avoiding him since the Jackie thing, whatever that was.  "Can I talk with you a minute please, Mrs. Weston?"

"Betty, I've told you we don't stand on formalities here. I'm just Betty."  The woman always smiled at Camille as if she was something special, which Cam certainly didn't feel the least bit right now.

Once back out on the porch with the door shut, Betty said, "You're back from work already, darling?  Is something wrong?"

"My mother just called.  I have to go right now and get my niece.  It's a family situation, and she can't keep her any longer.  I promise, I'll look for an apartment as soon as I get back and will be out of your way as soon as possible.  You've been more than kind, but I will need to get on my own two feet from now on."

"Nonsense.  You just bring that baby girl right back here.  I'll watch her for you.  There's no need to run off.  I've been wanting some grandbabies to spoil so I guess God's just putting her in my lap instead.  Glory be, this will be fun!"

Cam stared at the woman as if she was crazy.  "But she's a toddler."

"How wonderful.  I'll start baby-proofing the house immediately.  I'll need a baby gate for the stairs, and covers for the sockets.  Oh, and I'll make Beau go with you in his truck so he can haul her crib back and everything else she has."  She walked off calling, "Beau..."

Camille put her face in her hands.  What else could she do but accept such overwhelming kindness, at least for now.  But she would get on her own, find a daycare, and take care of her precious Eloise all by herself. The last thing she wanted was to be riding off in Beau's truck with him.  Betty had a point though that she would probably need a truck to haul the crib at least.  Cam wondered if Beau would consider loaning his truck to her?

"Ready?"  Beau was slurping back his soda in one hand while holding an egg salad sandwich in the other.

"Maybe I could just borrow your truck so you wouldn't miss the rest of your day's work.  I'd feel terrible about it."

"Are you kidding?  I can't wait to meet our little girl!"

Cam looked at him like he was crazy.  "Our little girl?"

"Sure thing.  My mom's already acting like Eloise is the newest grandchild.  My sister's kids live too far away for her to spoil.  In fact, I haven't seen my mom this excited since she found a lottery ticket on the ground a while back, scratched it off and won 100 dollars.  She thinks she just hit the jackpot!"

Just the smell of his food in the cab of the truck made her stomach growl.  She didn't have time to eat lunch before they left.  Without even asking, he pulled off the highway and found a fast food place.  "What do you want?"

"Just a taco."

He ordered a taco and a quesadilla and a drink for her. 

"Thanks.  I guess I am hungry."

"Listen, Camille, I'm not sure you understood about the other day when I rushed off to see Jackie.  She's in a bad way, and her mother asked me to take her to a treatment facility.  We're not together again or anything, if that makes any difference."

They were still parked waiting for their order to come, and he was turned looking at her in that way he had.  She could no more escape his gaze than if she was a starving person and he was holding out a hamburger to her.  Well, it was a taco, but the same thing. 

He reached for her hand.  "Listen, I want you to know that I feel something for you, Cam.  I think you are pretty special..."  He was interrupted by the lady with the bag of food.

"I've always had a crush on you, I'll have to admit."  Then her cheeks flamed like a hot sunset in July.  Now why did she go and blurt that out?

He was sitting there grinning as big as a happy dog with its tongue hanging out in the back of a pickup, that is until the car behind them in the drive-thru honked.  Beau pulled on out but kept her hand intertwined with his. She didn't know how she was going to eat one-handed but didn't care.  Cam's heart was full and over-flowing.  Beau liked her, a lot, even with a baby, but not half as much as she liked him.  Being around him all this time in his parents house had made her admiration rise more everyday.  And her longing. And not just a longing for him as a man, but for a Christian home like his.   His only flaw had been his weakness for Jackie, but that was behind him now evidently.

When he reached to adjust the radio, she went ahead and started eating.  Cam didn't know when she'd been so happy. They sang along with the radio all the rest of the way being slap silly.  Before they reached the city limits though, Beau pulled off at a rest stop.  After washing her hands, and before she could climb back in his truck, he grabbed her about the waist and searched her eyes for permission.  When she finally closed them, His hands threaded through her hair and she felt the softest, most gentle brush on her lips.  Cam had never been kissed before, but it was beyond what she had ever imagined.  It was like flying and falling all at the same time. 

When he finally sighed and said, "Get in on my side.  You are too far away over there."  Nothing had ever felt so right in her life, like she had found the place she belonged, right here beside Beau Weston.

The closer they came to her mother's apartment, the  more she started to feel panicky.  How was she going to take care of Eloise?  Especially when she worked the night shifts.  That's where the money was in tips.  She couldn't expect Betty to watch her forever and day cares were just that, day time care.  It was hard to take a deep breath.  Her heart was pounding.

"Are you alright?"

"I think so.  It's just a lot of responsibility to take on the full care of a child.  It's a little scary to think about."

'Just like I said when I found out you were homeless, people will help you, Cam.  Don't feel like you're all alone."

She smiled but was sure he couldn't know all it took to take care of a baby.  What if Eloise got sick?  What if she missed her Nana?  What if times a million things.

As soon as they pulled in her mother's apartment parking lot, every other thought dissipated in her anticipation in seeing Eloise.  Would she even remember her?

"Come on!"  Cam didn't wait for him to get out but scooted out the other side of the cab in her hurry.

As soon as her mother opened the door with Eloise on her hip, the baby squealed and reached out her arms for Cam.

Camille took her in a tight hug, stroking her soft hair and sucking up the sweet smell of baby shampoo.  Oh, how she had missed this!  Then she remembered herself.

"Mom, this is Beau Weston.  His family is the one I told you about who took me in."

Her mother wiped her hands on her pants and then shook the hand Beau extended, "I'm Julia.  It's nice to meet you, Beau.  I can't tell you how thankful I am that your parents offered my girls a place to stay."

A man yelled from the other room, "Can't a guy get dinner around here?"

A pain flashed across her mother's face before she replaced it with a forced smile.  "Come on in and I'll introduce you."  But she didn't invite them to supper.

Unfortunately, the introductions proved that the first impression was right.  The man was rude.  That's all there was to it.  Eloise buried her face into Cam's shoulder.  It was enough to convince Camille that she was doing the right thing, no doubt about it.

"Well, we have a long ride back, so I'll start loading up her stuff." Beau took charge of the uncomfortable situation. The man, Camille already forgotten his name, did not even offer to help move the crib.  Her mom did though while Cam held onto Eloise. 

"Does Joni ever come by?" she asked her mom as they carried things out to the truck.

"Sometimes.  I think she broke up with her last boyfriend though.  I don't know what I can do about that girl.  She'll be the death of me yet."

"Have you ever thought of  Teen Challenge for her?" Beau asked.  "It's a good program for girls like her."

"I'll look into it," was all her mom said.





It only took a couple more loads of Eloise's clothes, toys, car seat and other things before the truck was packed and ready.  Cam's mother had tears pouring down her face.  "This is so hard, Cam.  You have no idea."

Cam had an idea though, and it wasn't kind.  But just as she'd learned with her sister, you can't control how other people wanted to live their lives.  However, she could control how little Eloise would grow up.  She was her guardian, which reminded her.

"Mom, I need all her paperwork, her guardianship papers, her shot records and all that."

Her mother went back into the house one more time and came back with a manila folder.  "It's all in there sweet heart."

"Tell your Nana bye-bye, Eloise," Cam said gently. The little girl practically lunged out of her arms to give her mother a hug.  Then, Cam buckled her into her car seat.  The little girl did not so much as whimper.  This was it.  All responsibility was now on Cam's shoulders alone.  And it was heavy, but sweet.

Eloise chatted happily, but in a lull, Cam looked back to find her fast asleep clutching her soft baby doll.  Her little girl had grown up so much already in the couple of months since she'd been gone.  Her speech had blossomed into what sounded like fairy speech, sounds and words which floated in and out of each other in a magical circle.

"Hey," Beau looked over at her.  "Are you alright?  This is pretty serious stuff, but I must admit that little munchkin is as cute as they get.  I'm not sorry to be taking her away from that guy back there."

"My mother never had good taste in men.  I don't get it.  She's been such a good mother, but gets desperate when it comes to men.  It's like she gets attached to the first one on two good legs who looks twice at her."


Beau just squeezed her hand.  "Listen, I don't want you to worry about anything.  Between you, my folks and me, we've got this thing covered, okay?"

His tone made tears well up in Cam's eyes.  "Thanks.  It means a lot."  Cam looked off in the distance unseeing.  She had no idea how on earth she was in a truck with Beau Weston, of all people, with her niece heading to live with his parents.  It was beyond imagination.

"Are you okay?"  He kept glancing over at her.

"Yeah, it's just a strange mixture of happy, scared, and a little sad about my mom, is all.  I still can't believe how your mom has offered to watch Eloise for me.  Are you sure she knows what she's getting into?"

"Sure, she'll take to it like fish to water, birds to the air, like lips to kisses."  With that he raised her hand to kiss it."

Cam sucked in her breath.  He was enough to make a girl faint.  It reminded her of his kiss back at the rest stop.  It hadn't seemed even real until now, now that he had just kissed her hand.

Finally in the quiet ride, Cam got her nerve up to ask about Jackie and the knife incident.  "You mention about being stabbed a while ago.  What happened exactly?"

He rubbed his neck. 

Camille quickly added, "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

"No, it's important for you to hear from me.  Not many people know about this.  Jackie got more and more difficult after we graduated. She either was extremely, insanely happy with grand ideas or was really depressed and sleeping all the time.   I didn't get it.  I hadn't been around anyone with mental health issues before.  Then she started scaring me with her spending sprees, even brazen advances out of character for even her, sometimes cursing when she'd been a good Christian up till then, it made me realize that this wasn't what I'd signed up for.  I knew she'd always been more emotional than most girls, but I'd tried to reason that away.  Finally, one day I'd made up my mind that we'd never work, that I wasn't happy being with her and almost dreaded seeing her.  That's when I knew it was time. 
 


"The day I went over to her house to tell her, she was in the kitchen cooking dinner for her mom who was working.  She was going on and on about how she was going to be a reality cooking show star, about how she wanted to become this master chef.  It was a little weird.  I could hardly get her attention.  But when I told her I was breaking up with her, she started screaming at me, throwing things.  The next thing I knew, she lunged at me with the knife.  She got me good, but at least missed my heart and lungs.  I started bleeding heavily and was in kind of a shock.  I don't know what would of happened if her mom hadn't come home from work right then and called 9-1-1." 

"I guess the paramedics found me passed out on the floor.  I heard later that it took one fireman every thing he had to restrain Jackie who was going totally crazy by then, while the other first responders worked on me to stop the blood loss.  As soon as we got to the hospital they took me into surgery.  I guess they took Jackie down to the police station, but she had totally lost it by then.  So, she ended up in lockdown at mental health.  I got infection from the leakage where she stabbed me in the bowels.  It was pretty miserable any way you look at it."

"It sounds awful!"

"It was.  Well, she was charged, but they dealt with it mostly through mental health.  She's on meds now, if she takes them.  As soon as she starts on an upswing in her feelings, she thinks she doesn't need them anymore and quits taking them.  Her mom says it's a constant battle.  Somewhere in that head of hers is the nice girl I had fallen in love with in high school, but it's behind closed doors now.  Now on top of all that, her anorexia that she'd had during high school, which I had no idea about either, began threatening her health.  She's skin and bones but still feels fat, so she starves herself.  She was close to dying.  That's when her mother called and asked for my help.  It was another difficult time.  She was weeping and begging me not to take her the whole time we were driving clinging on me.  I made her mom come with us because there was no way that I was going to be alone with her in the truck.  What a mess, huh?"

Cam had tears on her cheeks.  As much as Jackie had made her life miserable, even robbing her of a couple of years of what should have been happy high school memories, now sounded like a nightmare.  She just said, "You never know what other people battle, I guess.  It sounds like it was horrific to go through for you though.  Do you have any lasting damages?"

"Ahh, nobody has to have their spleen, I guess.  It wasn't fun, I'll admit.  As painful as that was physically, the memory of her coming at me is worse.  I was totally unprepared for that.  Sometimes I get this fight or flight surge of adrenaline when it flashes back on me.  Even seeing my mom in the kitchen with a knife chopping onions is enough to put me on edge.  I have to just remember that she was really sick.  Mental illness is not something she chose.  It's just something she has.  It kinda crept up on her so nobody had figured it out until it became drastic like that.   Evidently, the older you get with bi-polar the bigger and longer the swings from one extreme to the other."

"That's why when my mom told me you were back in town, I was anxious to see you.  I had looked at you feeling guilty about it all during those last two years of high school, but couldn't really act on it as long as I was attached to Jackie. Sometimes even then, I wanted to break up with her so I could ask you out.  I always thought you were the most beautiful girl on campus, and I wasn't supposed to think like that since I already had a girlfriend, you know.  I guess I was always a little too afraid to face the big ugly scene I knew it would be if I did break it off."

"I saw you looking at me sometimes.  I always wondered what you were thinking.  Thanks for being nice to me though.  It meant a lot even though I didn't dare show it at the time.  I guess Jackie controlled both of our lives."

"Pretty sad, huh.  At least that's behind us now.  If you ever see her again and she's mean to you, just tell me.  I'll protect you now, okay?  That's a promise."

"It's probably not out of the realm of possibility, I suppose.  I don't imagine she's over you.  She's probably still a little obsessed."

Beau scowled, "I'm afraid you're right.  She seemed to get her hopes up when I was taking her to the treatment facility.  No matter how many times I told her we weren't going to get back together, it was like she couldn't hear me.  I even pulled over and made her mom sit between us finally."

"That must have been a hard drive.   Kinda like this one, another lady in distress to rescue."


"Nothing like this time.  I feel blessed to be with you, Cam.  You're like water on dry ground, a cool breeze on a hot day, like fresh strawberry pie with whipped cream after a nice steak dinner.  Wait a minute, that last comment didn't come out right."

They both laughed.  It's okay if you compare me to food.  It must mean that you're getting hungry.  It's past supper time."

"You wouldn't mind stopping?"

"Not at all.  Eloise needs to wake up or she won't sleep tonight."

It felt a little like they were a married couple going into the restaurant with Beau carrying Eloise with her head on his shoulder on one side while holding Cam's hand on the other." 

He put the toddler in a high chair and buckled the strap.  A waitress came and gave her a packet of crackers.  "This will tide the baby girl over maybe until we bring out the food, if that's okay with you."

"Thank you."

"You two certainly have a pretty little girl," the waitress smiled.

"We don't..."  but Beau squeezed her hand under the table and slightly shook his head.  She didn't have to explain.  So she relaxed.  It was a pleasant dinner.  Eloise was hungry enough to be on good behavior with food to keep her happy. 

Cam tried to take the tab, but Beau wouldn't let her.  "This is my treat.  Our first date."

She giggled.  She, Camille Foster, giggled.  She didn't remember the last time she had felt so giddy.

"First you tell me over a bag of fast food tacos that you feel something for me, then my first kiss ever was in front of the restrooms at a rest stop, and now our first date is with a baby in a high chair.  You are so romantic, Beau Weston."


"Is that a challenge, Miss Camille, to prove to you that I can be romantic?"  His eyes twinkled.

"I don't know if I could handle any more," and she giggled again. 

"Wait a minute, did you say that was your first kiss ever?"

Cam blushed but nodded.

"Sweet!"  Beau grinned.  "That makes it even better."

Her boss was nice giving her the early shifts so she could be home every evening with Eloise.  She wouldn't make as much, but it was worth it.

One dinner a few days later found everyone else around the table somber while Eloise chatted away.  Already her little girl was speaking better and coming out of her shell.  Cam listened as Beau talked with his dad.

"If we can't get those contracts with the government renewed for grazing, we'll have to find somewhere else to lease then."

"That'll eat up our profits big time.  It could even run us out of the cattle business, to be frank with you son."

Cam noticed that Betty had wiped a tear away.  It was very serious.


"We have to keep trying then for grazing rights on government land.  Our family has had those agreements for over a hundred years.  It isn't right that the government has so much land under their control.  How do they think cattlemen can exist.  There's no way we can buy up enough land to run our herds on.  Do we have any neighbors who have already given up on raising beef?"

"That's an idea.  I know old Stefan has quit pretty much.  I just thought it was because he was getting up in years and didn't have any sons to take over his ranch.  I'll call him after we eat."

"Maybe we can pray, pray right now," Betty offered.

So, Cam and even little Eloise who reached out her sticky fingers held hands while Mr. Weston prayed.  "Lord, we know that you said you own the cattle on a thousand hills.  If it is your will that we continue herding cows, would you mind lending us a few of those hills.  We're feeling a little needy right now, and so we turn to you trusting that you'll provide what we need.  In Jesus name, Amen."

"Amen," they all echoed while Eloise exclaimed, "Men!"

Cam loved living with the Westons, not to mention having Beau around.  Betty was teaching her how to make a house a home.  She loved doing chores for her like bringing in the eggs.  Eloise loved it too.  Camille couldn't think of a better place to raise kids.  Beau was even teaching her to ride horses, one of her dreams come true.  He even managed to take her on a few romantic dates, nice dinners and drives around the lake going on past the campgrounds where she used to sleep.



A congressman was working out a compromise for the area cattle ranchers to have at least part of the previous grazing rights granted, but in the meanwhile, the Westons  were able to lease acres of range from their neighbor as well.  It was enough to keep them in business, a little while longer at least.

It was the next day after that good news when  Beau asked her to walk with him after supper.  It was a cool night with a slight breeze.

"Are you warm enough?"  He put his arm around her as they walked.

"Now I am."

He kissed her.

"You're quiet," he said.  "What are you thinking about?"

"I'm just glad I'm not trying to camp in my car with the cold weather coming.  I certainly couldn't live like that with Eloise.  It makes me want to pinch myself that God sent you and your family to look after us.  It hardly seems real."

"Did you ever wonder why my mom sometimes calls me Boaz?"

"I did, thinking maybe Beau was short for Boaz, but that's kind of a crazy name.  Isn't that a name in the Bible?"

"Yeah, my mom kept telling me to read it, and I just finally just got around to it.  It's in the book of Ruth."

"Ruth, as in "Wither thou goeth I will go," Ruth?

"Yep, that's the one.  Well, Boaz was her redeemer-protector.  Let me see if I can tell it.  Naomi's sons and husband died where they had left to escape famine in Israel.  Ruth, her widowed daughter-in-law, was a foreigner who followed her back to her home.  When they arrived,  Naomi told her old friends to call her "Bitter," because she left full, but came back empty.  Except that wasn't true because she had Ruth to look out for her.  Ruth went out gleaning in the fields in order to get enough grain to subsist on.  Boaz looked out and noticed this beautiful woman in his field one day and asked about her.  He told his overseer to leave her extra and to protect her so no one would bother her, you know, as a woman.  In the meanwhile, when Naomi found out that she was working in Boaz's field, she told Ruth to do a kind of peculiar thing.  She told her to go to where he was in the field at the threshing floor in the middle of the night and to uncover Boaz' feet."

"That's pretty weird,"  Cam said.



He'd led her out to the yard but brought a Bible with him that she hadn't noticed before.  I want to read you this part.  It says that, "It happened in the middle of the night that the man was startled and bent forward; and behold, a woman was lying at his feet.  He asked, 'Who are you?'  And she answered, 'I am Ruth your maid...So she lay at his feet until morning and rose before one could recognize another; and he said, 'Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.'"  Does that make you think of anything?

She laughed, "Just a little bit, like us the night you found me."

"Well, if the boot fits, I think I'm maybe supposed to wear it.  This is why my mom started calling me Boaz since I found you in the middle of the night on my property, and God was calling me to help protect you, provide for you.  This is what else Boaz said, '...my daughter, do not fear.  I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence.'  That's you, Camille."

Cam was speechless.  Finally she said, "I guess I'd better read that."  She looked up at him and found his eyes full of intensity.  He took both of her hands.

"Cam, I know this is all a lot of change in your life, but I want you to pray with me about if I'm to really be the one to redeem you, to protect you, to provide for you always, you and Eloise.  I think I'm falling in love with you, Camille.  I watched you from afar four years ago, but now I don't want to ever keep my distance.  I want you, Cam."


"That's what's in my heart too.  You've become more than my high school crush.  You know, I think I'm ready to start calling you my Boaz, Beau-as my redeemer-protector.  I was a foreigner in high school, and yet you were kind to me.  Since you found me once I came back, you have protected me.  You've held my very heart in your hands."

"Just so we're agreed on Scripture, you know," and he grinned right before he kissed her but good.

"So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her."
Ruth 4:13

 

















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