Finding Shelter
Chapter 21

Copyright© 2010 by Jay Cantrell

The Humane Society New Year's Eve festivities were a replay of the Chamber of Commerce Holiday Ball – only less stodgy.

Many of the same people were there but they were all relaxed. Some of the costumes were shocking. I had expected the usual suspects – Frankenstein's monster, Marilyn Monroe, a vampire, a mummy.

Instead I saw women dressed as teenaged singers – complete with the schoolgirl miniskirt – and men dressed in only loin clothes and one who seemed to be impersonating the cowboy from the Village People.

Kasey and Carrie each looked beautiful. My little girl was turning into a beautiful young woman – and she was turning into a beautiful young woman very quickly.

Carrie was simply stunning. She had somehow found a way to push her breasts upward and they looked huge. I was glad I carried a sword because I was certain that I would need it before the night was over.

It certain was a shock to my system when it was Carrie and Kasey who would up jealous – and looking to brawl.

It started innocently enough – I guess. The women were off holding court with a slew of new-found friends and admirers. Cody and I were sitting at our table, innocently sipping our ginger ale cocktails and watching the goings on. It was an eclectic mix of people at the event – local politicians and business leaders were side by side with teenaged Humane Society volunteers.

A girl stopped by our table and asked Cody if he would like to dance with her. She and Cody appeared to know one another but he glanced at me for some reason. I shrugged my shoulders because I didn't know if he wanted to dance with the girl or not.

Upon reflection I understand Cody's questioning look. At the time, however, I did not. I am, after all, simply a man. It did not occur to me that an innocent dance with a classmate could have such far-reaching implications. I am certain that Cody didn't either.

He accepted and the two wandered into the next room where some techno-punk-hip hop music was playing. A few minutes later, Cody returned, slightly sweaty but smiling.

That probably would have been the end of it except the girl returned a few minutes later – with a woman I assumed was her mother and asked to join us. She and Cody started to have a conversation about school and a class they shared and the woman, who told me that she was the girl's aunt, and I made small talk.

After a few minutes, Cody and the girl, Shelly, wandered back into the dance area and I was left with Gail, the aunt. It was innocent. She worked as a graphic designer for a local firm that I knew fairly well so we were joking about this and that when Carrie and Kasey came back to the table.

I would guess that Cody and I had been an afterthought for the better part of 45 minutes, with neither of us even garnering a passing glace for the last 15 minutes. I saw Carrie offer a quick whisper to Kasey about something then both turned to look at me – and by extension, Gail.

"Hey," I said cheerfully. "Are the masses sufficiently wowed?"

I turned to Gail and introduced Kasey and Carrie as "my daughter" and "my date."

It was obvious to me that I had made a serious error in judgment as soon as the pair sat down.

"Where is Cody?" Kasey asked while looking around the room.

"He's dancing with Gail's niece," I replied. "Shelly, I think. She goes to school with you guys."

The look on Kasey's face almost made me break out in laughter. At least until I noticed the exact same expression on Carrie's face.

Gail decided it was time to make a strategic withdrawal and left me alone with a pair of thunderclouds on either side of me.

It took only a brief moment for my common sense to kick in. Inwardly, I chuckled. Outwardly, I sighed.

"Why are you two so pissed off?" I asked.

"Why is Cody dancing with another girl?" Kasey asked in a heated tone.

"Because the girl he came with wondered away an hour ago and hasn't paid a moment's notice to him since we got here," I said firmly. "The boy has done nothing wrong. Shelly came over and asked him to go dance. He was gone for a few minutes and came back. Shelly and Gail came over again a few minutes later and he and Shelly went to the other room a little before you two came back."

Carrie and Kasey both were glaring at me when poor dumb Cody came walking back. If the kid had the sense God gave to a goose he would have been neither seen nor heard for 10 more minutes.

Instead he plopped down and wiped the sweat off his brow. It took him a moment to notice that the glares had shifted from me to him. He glanced my way and I just shrugged.

"Why don't you go get everyone a soda, Cody," I suggested. He nodded and very politely asked everyone what they wanted. He simply didn't have a clue in the world.

When he was gone, I turned to the ladies.

"See, he doesn't have a guilty conscience," I said with a laugh. "He danced a couple of dances with a friend and then came back over to his date."

My remark did nothing to mollify my tablemates.

"So you think we should have guilty consciences?" Carrie asked.

"No," I replied. "I don't think anyone has done anything to feel uncomfortable about."

"What about Gail?" Kasey asked. "And Shelly?"

"What about them?" I wondered. "You and Cody obviously know Shelly. I am familiar with the company Gail works for and she is familiar with many of the people who work for me. We were sitting here chatting. Just like you two were doing wherever you were. Listen, Shelly and Gail sat her for 15 or 20 minutes. You two obviously didn't even glance this way during that time. It is not like anyone snuck off to a motel room, for Christ's sake. So knock this shit off or we'll all go home. Or at least Kasey, Cody and I will. Carrie is old enough to decide for herself."

"You introduced me as your date," Carrie said in a voice that was half miffed and half hurt.

"I didn't want to presume anything," I replied. "I don't know how you consider yourself. I didn't know if it would piss you off if I called my girlfriend, my housemate, my whatever. I decided to stick with the facts. You are my date this evening. At least I think you are."

"Of course I am," she said quickly. "It just seemed to me that you did that so Gail didn't get the impression that we are serious. So you didn't close the door on anything."

"The door was never open," I said. "You two are imagining things that simply aren't true. Maybe I should start acting as though you only came with me so you could get an in with the community."

"That's ridiculous," Carrie said.

"It is ridiculous," I confirmed. "That is my point. You're acting as if Gail and I had an assignation instead of few minutes of conversation."

I turned to Kasey.

"And you're acting as though Cody is supposed to sit here with me – a person who you know has very limited social skills – while you play Queen of the Ball," I said. "You're both being silly and childish."

Both Kasey and Carrie sat back with shocked looks on their faces.

"Now," I continued, "the point of this evening was for everyone to have fun. You two appeared to be having a good time making the rounds. I was having a good time sitting here joking with Gail about people we knew. Cody was having a good time talking about classes and dancing with Shelly. We all know who we came with and I assume we all know who we're leaving with. So quit being so jealous. Or if you can't stop being jealous at least make an effort to include your date in what you're doing."

I could see Cody coming back with a tray of drinks so I stood up to help him.

He sat down in his seat and started to talk to Kasey about some of the other people from their school that he had seen while getting sodas. He was so guileless that I had to turn to Carrie and wink.

I could see she was still angry but she could tell that Cody didn't believe for a second that he or anyone had behaved badly. In the end, she broke out in giggles.

"For the record, I am – at the very least – your girlfriend," she whispered in my ear.

"Duly noted," I replied in a soft tone. "I honestly was trying not to offend you. Gail asked who I was here with and I immediately pointed you out. Shelly volunteers here and she asked her aunt to accompany her tonight. I didn't want you to get upset if I described you as something that made you uncomfortable. Face it, I was in a no-win situation."

Carrie actually seemed to relax – at least she smiled at me.

"Get used to it," she whispered. "At least you didn't describe me as your sex-toy or hump-bunny."

"I'd already told her about all that before you two got back," I answered.

I noticed Kasey had scooted her chair closer to Cody. I think the fact he just played the whole thing off as a non-issue had taken him completely off the radar. He either completely ignored the look of jealousy on Kasey's face or her didn't recognize it for what it was. Either way, he was off the hook before he was even on the hook. There is also the slight possibility that he was a hell of a lot smarter than I gave him credit for.

He and Kasey wandered back into the area set up for dancing. Carrie kept urging me to go with her there, too. But I had a couple of problems. First off, the music they were playing grated on my ears. It was only 8:30 p.m. so I hoped the thumping bass would change to something softer before too long.

My second problem was my costume. The uniform was heavy wool. Having been raised in the spun cotton and linen era, my body simply could not handle have wool against it. So I had on sweatpants and a long-sleeve shirt beneath my costume. I honestly thought that if I spent much time moving around or in proximity to a group of people that I might spontaneously combust. So I promised to dance with Carrie just as soon as the music slowed down. But I made it a point to tell her that I wouldn't be upset if she danced with others.

"Yes you would be," she chided.

"Hey, I saw your group of hangers-on," I stated. "A couple of them stood beside you for 10 minutes or more and still couldn't tell me if you had eyes."

"That puffed up toad and his son," Carrie replied.

"That is Drake Cameron and his son, Dane," I offered. "As I'm sure he let you know, he is the district attorney."

"Oh yes," she told me. "More than once did he mention that. I asked him pretty pointedly why he didn't fight extradition back to Malden. He really had no answers. I asked him why Lemons wasn't charged with assault here, too. Because the bruises on my ribs came from where we stopped here. He had no answers for that either."

I chuckled.

"See, I'm sure he left this part out," I said. "Cameron is the Interim Assistant District Attorney. Both the DA and ADA quit a few months back after a dispute with the county commission over something or another. Cameron is essentially a low-grade ambulance chaser who got appointed over the wishes of, well, just about everybody. No one who works for him will do what he says or tell him anything because he doesn't have the power to do anything to them. There is a special election in January to elect his successor. But the old DA pretty much convinced everyone to stay out of the race. So Cameron and some woman I've never met or heard of are the only two running. It should be an interesting couple of years for law and order in this county."

"Great, another Malden," Carrie huffed.

"Not really," I said. "Cameron is a douche. Make no mistake about it. But I think he really tries. Once he is duly elected and can hire and fire as he pleases, it might get better. That's the problem with attorneys. Very few of them are able to delay gratification. They are an extremely short-sighted lot. They don't look at anything past what they can get now."

"I agree with you on that one," Carrie said. "It could be interesting."

"Or it could be a disaster," I mentioned.

About that time Kasey and Cody returned so our conversation turned more mundane – after I got one more dig in.

"You're lucky Cody is an easy-going kind of guy," I told Kasey when they sat down. Cody just looked at me blankly but Kasey's gaze was less-than-hostile but more-than-perturbed. "Dane Cameron might have ended up on his butt wondering how he got there if Cody was possessive."

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