A/N: Chapter one.
Note: Instead of actual name brands, I will include names similar to the real thing or it'll just be a general noun, for example an iPod will be an MP3 player. And, this chapter will span about 2 months in about 3,000 words in order for the main plot not to get drowned in the back story.
Chapter One: Monkey Wrench
Camille didn't know how to react; this was surreal to her.
And a baby.
At her doorstep.
Was this a joke?
"Um..." she muttered, peering up and down the street. It was windy, cold, and no one was in sight. "Where'd you come from?"
"A homeless shelter. I-I saw you pull into your driveway not too long ago; I figured you were a nice person. Please; my baby, I—"
"Come in," she cut the woman off abruptly. "It's too cold for you to stand outside."
"Thank you." She stepped past Camille into the safety of her home and stood in the middle of the living room, observing her surroundings. She eyed the woman suspiciously as she looked around as if she had never seen the inside of a house before. "You have a nice house. Did you paint it yourself?"
"Yes." After Camille finally came to terms that she'd be single for awhile and that her house would be hers alone for some time, she had decided to make a few changes. When Paul was running her life, her furniture was beige leather and her accents were black or dark wood and her appliances were sleek and white. Even her walls were eggshell white, giving her old apartment the feeling of not being lived in at all, like a showcase room. Paul loved it that way. She began to abhor it when they broke up.
Her house's exterior was a deep cinnamon trimmed in chocolate brown, and the inside walls were opaque shades of green, blue and yellow, giving it a tropical, relaxed feel in each of her rooms. The furniture was made of tan linen and her refrigerator, microwave and oven were stainless steel. If Paul had ever visited her, he would've been very uncomfortable in such a vibrant setting—or in his words, "juvenile".
Just the thought of her ex made her stomach churn, and she turned her attention to the woman who was still quite astounded with her decorations. The woman looked quite familiar, but Camille didn't know anyone who was homeless or anywhere near it. She was wearing an over-sized SFSU sweatshirt, jeans ripped at the knees, and old brown penny loafers. Her skin was surprisingly healthy looking and the shade of a copper penny, and her eyes were amber brown, similar to her own.
"What's your name?" Camille asked. The woman turned to her, hesitant to reply for a moment, then said, "Rebekah."
"Why aren't you at a women's shelter? They can help you find a job and housing."
"I did go, but their rooms are full. I put my name on the list, but a lot of women were ahead of me." Being the perceptive woman that she was, Camille knew this woman had at least finished high school and spoke clear, perfect English; why she had turned to a life on the streets instead of pursuing a career was beyond her thinking.
"Come with me; I'll show you to the guest room." She padded into the room directly across from her own and turned on the light. There was a twin bed with blue and green bed sheets pushed up against the far wall, a three-cabinet dresser with a mirror and a nightstand with a small lamp on its surface. "I'll allow you to stay here in the guest room until you find somewhere else to go, but I have rules. Understand?" The woman nodded her head and awaited her next words. "First of all, you absolutely cannot sit around here all day and do nothing. If you're still on those drugs, I'll report you to the police; you're endangering your baby with that lifestyle."
Rebekah shook her head violently. "I'm done with that stuff. Ari is my world now; I won't let anything happen to her."
"If you're not going to look for a job, then you should look into going to school. If not that, then...you should just be doing something productive. Now—"
"What do you do for a living?" she asked. "I saw those pretty paintings on the wall."
"I'm a graphic designer. I work from home, so I'll be in and out most days. You can use the guest bathroom to clean yourself and your baby, and you can use the kitchen to cook. But make sure you clean up after yourself. You won't have any guests at any time of the day; I don't know you, so I don't trust you or your friends." Camille knew she was asking for a lot, but this was her house, so they were her rules to enforce.
"Fine. You sound like you've had a house guest before."
"I haven't. I just know I want my house to stay looking the same, regardless of who lives here with me. If you need anything, just let me know," Camille informed her as she pulled the door closed.
"Wait," Rebekah called out. She had laid the baby down on the covers, and now the child was awake, cooing softly as it turned onto its stomach.
"Yes?" she asked.
"What's your name?" Her eyes twinkled with sincere interest.
"Thank you, Camille." And with that, she closed the door.
As each day passed, Rebekah stayed true to her promise to obey Camille's rules, and eventually, they had created an equilibrium between themselves. Rebekah had found a job at a coffee shop near Ocean Beach in the mornings and afternoons, and had put Ari in a day care rather than ask Camille to watch her child. The days Rebekah cooked, she made enough for two and shared it with Camille and vice versa. At first, Camille was hesitant to interact with her outside of asking her about work, but eventually, a friendship had started to develop, and pretty soon, they were having animated conversations that lasted hours at a time.
The few times Rebekah needed Camille to watch Ari while she showered or had her hands full, she stood up rather than sit on the bed or the couch next to the baby girl and studied her features carefully.
Her eyes were hazel and almond-shaped, her skin was a pretty shade of caramel and her hair was dark brown and curly. Camille could tell that the child was biracial. Regardless of his race, why wasn't he taking care of his child and the mother? Why was she on the street, doing who knows what to fill her cravings for drugs with a baby on her hip? The thought of an irresponsible man made her seethe inside; her father was quite the opposite and had trained her brothers to be good fathers to the children they created. That would be the next thing for them to discuss—finding the father.
Several months passed, and Camille had found herself getting accustomed to waking up and finding her guests in the kitchen, Rebekah cooking breakfast and Ari in her high chair. At night, she could see Rebekah with Ari curled up in her arms in the guest room, singing lullabies in a calm whisper until she fell asleep. The noises Camille once thought she would not be able to handle had become commonplace, and when her home was too quiet, she found different ways to make noise, whether it be the radio, the TV or her singing old R&B songs to herself.
Some days, she asked herself why she allowed Rebekah and her baby to stay with her, why she didn't turn them to the streets. She thought she could do it when she heard the knock on her door and it was obvious that the woman had been using drugs. Perhaps her heart had softened because of the baby.
One day in the fall, Rebekah had had an unusual request for Camille; she needed her to watch Ari until she got off work. Her co-worker had called in sick at the last minute, and her boss had asked her to fill in that night.
Camille wanted to say no.
She wanted to make an excuse, saying she had a date, but Rebekah knew she wasn't dating material.
She wanted to take the child back to her day care provider so that she wouldn't have to watch Ari for eight hours.
But Deena asked her and no one else, so she obliged.
Camille set up her pen in the living room and dropped her toys inside, and turned on the TV. She had almost forgotten that Ari was there until she started crying for a bottle some time later. Being the inexperienced woman that she was, she followed the instructions on the formula can very closely and waited patiently for the microwave to heat it as she stood there with Ari on her hip.
She decided it wasn't going to kill her to watch over the baby girl.
The baby was safe with her.
Camille decided to lie flat on her back on the couch and let Ari suck on her bottle on her stomach. This was the most time she had ever spent with the infant, and it had been beyond bearable. Ari was quiet and didn't demand too much of her attention as she played with her stuffed animals and wooden blocks. It was only when she was hungry or tired that she looked up to her and started to whine.
When the loud knock jolted her from sleep, Camille had finally realized that she had fallen asleep with Ari on her chest. Frazzled, she glanced down at her watch; it read 1:54 AM. Maybe Rebekah was in her room sleeping, and didn't bother to take Ari since she had fallen asleep, as well.
Ari began to stir when the knocks became firmer and louder, and Camille carried her to the door. Upon opening it, she realized that the two men at her door were wearing police uniforms and their faces were placid and calm as ever.
That was never a good sign.
"Sorry to wake you ma'am, but there's been an incident, and the woman involved wrote this address down as her place of residence. Are you Camille Jones?"
Ari turned to look at the officers, her wide eyes unblinking. They paid the baby no mind. "Yes," she replied, her heart thudding loudly in her chest. "Has something happened to Rebekah?" She already knew the answer, but she wanted to be sure. It could've been her father, her mother, her siblings, or her cousins.
"You'd better come with us to the precinct. We need to explain the situation."
"I don't have a car seat for the baby. It's in her mother's car."
"You'll have to hold the child until we get there. I'm sorry, but we have to go immediately, Ms. Jones."
Sighing, she told them, "I have to get my coat," as she disappeared into her room, setting Ari down on her bed as she yanked the first coat her hand landed on out of her closet. She grabbed a packed diaper bag from Rebekah's room and the baby's coat and followed the two officers to their car. The silence in the car was deafening with the exception of an occasional interception from another dispatched unit in the area. Camille immediately began to think of the worst as they pulled in front of the station and she got out of the car and followed them inside.
Even at two o'clock in the morning, the station was busy. There were a few prostitutes sitting by the front desk in cuffs, a few drunken teenagers talking to one another, and a woman sitting alone with a black eye. Rebekah was nowhere to be found.
"We can go straight to the back, Ms. Jones." The taller police officer with green eyes continued on while the other stayed behind. They passed by a few doors and stopped in front of one that read "Chief David Adams" on the glass window. He opened the door for her and let her inside.
Chief Adams was sitting behind his desk looking at some grisly photos until he heard his door close. He looked up at Camille with his dark eyes, holding a straight face like the other two cops. Maybe it was a requirement to be able to lack emotion when delivering bad news as a cop. The room smelled of burned cigarettes and stale coffee.
"Ms. Jones?" he asked.
"Yes." She sat down in the hard wooden chair, holding Ari close to her. "Has something happened to Rebekah?"
The older man nodded his head, blinking slowly. "Yes. I hate to tell you, but she's dead."
Camille felt her blood turn to ice as her jaw slackened.
Dead. As in, never coming back. She was lying somewhere on a cold metal table, rotting away slowly while her daughter sat in her lap, playing with the wooden toggles on her coat. "Dead? H-How? She was fine when she left this afternoon."
"She was murdered, stabbed to death by some junkie."
Camille covered her mouth with her hand, trying to fight back tears. "She told me she had given up drugs to take care of Ari."
"They usually stay clean for a good while, then they relapse and that last time is what kills them. But not in this case. I'm sorry." He stood up and handed her a box of tissues. She took a few and dabbed at her puffy eyes. "Are you her sister?"
"No," she replied quietly. "She came to me in the middle of the night and I took her in."
"That was very kind of you, considering she was addicted to heroine. Is that her baby in your arms?" he pointed at Ari.
"Yes. I was watching her until she came home."
"If Rebekah had no next of kin, then the baby will be entered into the system and placed under the state's care. She'll be safe, no matter where she goes," he informed her.
Camille nodded in understanding, the shock of the whole situation still locking her muscles in place. Rebekah was gone. Murdered. Stabbed. And Ari was all alone with no father—or any family for that matter— to take care of her.
"Will they take her away tonight?" she asked.
"No. You'll have to request that a social worker come to your house and pick up the child; it's too early in the morning for anyone to place her somewhere. You also have the option of becoming her legal guardian until she's the age of 18; Rebekah had filled out a form to ensure that before she died. So you can go home and think about it and come to a decision based on what you feel is best for the baby." He got to his feet as she did and opened the door for her. "If the child is already familiar with you, then she wouldn't have to adjust to a stranger. We'll be asking for you to come in tomorrow and confirm her identity."
"Thank you. Good night." She walked down the hall slowly, studying the curve of Ari's little nose. Rebekah was gone. She couldn't believe it. She refused to believe it. Tomorrow, she would face the reality of the situation when she confirmed that she was, in fact, dead.
The same two police officers dropped her off at home and she let herself inside, putting the now sleeping Ari on her bed before heading into the kitchen to sit down. There was no way she could sleep with so much on her mind.
Keep Ari? Let Ari go? Have peace and quiet again? Or get used to Ari's constant screams and giggles? To become her mother? Or to leave her to a stranger?
Sighing, she placed her head flat on her table's surface, closing her eyes, wishing all of this could go away.
Bring Rebekah back, give Ari to her mother, life returns to normal she thought, running her hands through her thick, curly hair.
Suddenly, the phone rang, causing her to jump at the loud sound. Who could be calling that late? It couldn't have been Chief Adams already.
She waited for the answer machine to pick it up: "Hey Camille, it's Paul. I know it's late where you are, and I know it's been some time since we last spoke, but I wanted to let you know that I'm moving back into the Bay Area and I'd like to tie up some loose ends between us. Your father told me you moved, so maybe we can meet at the tea place you like on Market Street. I'll be flying in from Atlanta tomorrow afternoon; maybe we can meet up some time after, 5:45 sound okay? Alright, hope to see you soon."
Uh oh. The ex is back! And Camille was just getting her life back together.
Sorry if the story seems to be rushed at this point; but the story is centered on Camille and her time with the baby while dealing with her ex, as well as with some new friends and possible boyfriend. Ahem! So, the next chapter will begin to get into the complications of the story and introduce new characters hopefully.
Rest in peace Rebekah. I didn't want to kill her off so soon, but the plot must advance without her. However, her role is not completely over yet...you'll see.