Distant Shores Page 5


Laughter followed that remark, some of it nervous.

"Our objective here is to help each other. Simple Simon. We have something in common, and that something is a sense of loss. We've reached a certain age and discovered that we've misplaced a vital part of ourselves. For lack of a better word, I call the missing element passion. Our goal is simply to share our feelings with women who understand. Together we can be strong. To begin, let's go around the circle and share one dream each." She turned to the woman seated beside her. "You've been here before, Mina. Why don't you begin?"

Mina, a plump, red-haired older woman dressed in a flowery, polyester housedress, seemed entirely at ease. "I started coming to these meetings about six months ago, when my husband--Bill--was diagnosed with Alzheimer's." She shook her head, made a tsking sound. "It's a horrible thing, losing someone you love by inches. . . . Anyway, I promised my daughter that I'd come to the meetings. I couldn't imagine finding passion, but now, I'm taking driving lessons. It doesn't sound like much to you young gals, but it's given me a new freedom. Next week I'll be going in for my final test. Hopefully I'll drive here on my own next time."

The group applauded, and Mina giggled.

When the room quieted, the next woman began to speak. "My name is Fran. My husband ran off with his secretary. His male secretary. The only passion I have lately seems to center around buying a handgun. Unfortunately, I can't decide which one of us to shoot." She smiled nervously. "That was a joke."

Sarah leaned forward. "What do you love doing, Fran?"

"I loved being a wife." She paused, shrugged. "My friends act like I have a terminal disease. This is the first time I've left the house in weeks. My divorce attorney recommended it, but I don't see how you can help."

"We can all relate to that," Joey said. There was a murmur of assent.

"Think about it, Fran," Sarah said. "What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail? Answer fast. One word. Don't censor yourself."

"Sing." Fran looked surprised by her answer. "I used to sing."

"I belong to a women's choir," Mina said. "We sing at local nursing homes and hospitals. We're always looking for new members."

"Oh, I didn't mean to imply that I was a good singer."

Mina chuckled. "We sing to people who wear hearing aids. Really, join us. We have a lot of fun."

Fran looked uncertain. "I'll think about it."

Several women started talking at once. Many of them, it seemed, had reached for unexpected things, too. Flying, sky-diving, marathon running. The consensus was that anything could be a start.

"That's what we're all about," Sarah said. "Finding your passion isn't just about careers and money. It's about finding your authentic self. The one you've buried beneath other people's needs. Fran, you might be amazed at how much difference a little thing like joining a choir can make." She nodded to the woman beside Fran.

The woman moved her fingers nervously, rubbed her hands together. She was tall and thin, dressed all in black; maybe forty years old. She'd bleached her hair the color of straw; her roots were jet black. "I'm Kim. When my shit-head husband left me for a woman with braces, I started drinking. Believe me, it became a passion. I've been sober now for three months, but I'm thirsty all the time. I have no idea how to replace booze. My mom heard about this group on television and made me promise to come, so here I am."

"What do you do in your spare time?" Sarah asked.

Kim tugged on one of her long, silver earrings. "All I have is spare time. He left me plenty of money. I dyed my hair and got a tattoo--it says, 'Fuck Don.' Those are positive steps forward, don't you think?" She wasn't smiling. In fact, behind all that black eyeliner, her eyes were pools of pain.

"Maybe you could get a job," someone said. "Earn your own money."

"Believe me," Kim snapped, "I earned that money. Besides, what could I do? I left college to get married and raise my daughter, who is now sixteen and thinks I'm dumber than a lug wrench. Volunteer work and husband ego-boosting hasn't qualified me for a whole hell of a lot. I can't see getting dressed in DKNY every day and saying, 'Would you like fries with that?' "

"There must be something that interests you."

Kim sat back. Her fingers played a pianolike rhythm on her black pants. "Nope, nothing. Sorry." She looked up. "Does revenge count?"

The group fell silent. Sarah said, "Maybe if you just listen tonight, you'll stop being so afraid."

"I'm not afraid." Kim reached into her purse and pulled out a pack of Virginia Slims. When she realized what she'd done, she crammed them back into her bag.

Sarah leaned forward. "You're in a desert right now, dying of thirst, but you're afraid to reach for water. Just don't give up, Kim. Sooner or later, you'll get to a point where it's more frightening to do nothing than to do something, and then you'll reach out."

Kim gave Sarah a look of barely veiled contempt. "Can I find that crocheted on a pillow somewhere? Really. Maybe at a Losers 'R' Us outlet store?"

Sarah let the silence continue for a moment, then nodded at the woman beside Kim, who immediately started talking. After her, another spoke, then another and another.

Elizabeth realized suddenly that it was her turn.

Everyone looked at her.

Sit here like a rock, huh, Meg? She'd look like an idiot if she passed. She took a deep breath. "I'm Elizabeth. I'm an ordinary housewife with two grown daughters. Stephanie is almost twenty-one; Jamie is nineteen. I haven't been divorced or widowed or dumped on. Everything that's wrong with my life is my own fault."

"Blame isn't what we're looking for," Sarah said. "We're interested in what you want from life. Your dreams, Elizabeth."

Elizabeth knew that if she didn't answer, her turn would last forever. "I used to paint." Surprisingly, it hurt to say the words out loud.

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"I work at an art supply store. Picture Perfect on Chadwick," one of the women said. "Come down this Saturday, and I'll help you find everything you need."

Elizabeth had plenty of supplies. Paints and brushes were the least of what an artist needed, and no support network could convince her otherwise. "There's no point, really."

"Don't be afraid," Sarah said. "Buy the paints and see what happens."

"You're lucky," Joey said, her voice wistful. "You actually have a passion. I've been coming to the meetings for months and I still have no clue."

"I wish I could paint," added another woman.

Elizabeth looked at the faces around her. They believed this was helping her. In fact, it was making her feel worse.

"Sure. I could do that," she said just to end her turn. "It'd probably be fun to paint again."

She thought the women were going to start break-dancing.

Except for Kim, who sat there, dressed in her mournful black, staring at Elizabeth through knowing eyes.

FOUR

For the next week, Jack and Sally spent eighteen-hour days following the story. They got to the office early--Jack left home long before the sun had risen--and stayed late. Twice, he'd even slept on the couch in his office.

They'd interviewed dozens of people, tracked down countless leads, and tried to bullshit their way past closed doors.

Innuendo, anecdote, gossip--these they had found in abundance. By all accounts, Drew was a sleazy, not-too-bright young man who had an exceedingly high opinion of himself, an almost total disregard for other people's feelings, and an unshakable belief that society's rules didn't apply to him. In other words, he was a real pain in the ass.

He was also Oregon's brightest collegiate athlete, the best state basketball player in two decades. Speculation was high that he could lead the down-on-their-luck Panthers to their first ever NCAA championship season.

It was hardly surprising that no one in Panther athletics would talk to them--not even to issue a no comment. The basketball coach had been unavailable all week. And no one seemed to have seen the incident with the girl except Sally's sister. In short, they had no proof. No one liked Drew Grayland, it was clear, but no one would say anything on the record.

After another fruitless day, Jack and Sally went to a local steakhouse for dinner. They sat in a back booth where it was dimly lit and quiet.

"What now?" Sally asked.

Jack looked up from the notes spread out across the table. He was surprised to find that the place was almost empty. When they'd come in for dinner, every table had been full. "I think it's time for another drink." He raised a hand, flagged down the waitress.

She hurried over, pulled a pencil out from above her ear. "What can I get for you, Mr. Shore?"

Jack smiled tiredly, wishing--for once--that he hadn't been recognized. He felt like getting drunk. "Dewar's on the rocks."

"Margarita rocks, no salt," Sally said.

The waitress returned a few moments later with the drinks.

Jack sipped his, staring down at the notes again. He'd been staring at them for an hour, trying to glean something he'd missed. Someone to whom he hadn't spoken. But there was no one. He couldn't figure out where in the hell to go from here. All he knew for sure was that he'd failed. Again. This time, he'd taken bright-eyed Sally down with him. "Henry will be back from Australia tomorrow. Maybe you should take the story to him."

"We'll nail this story, Jack. You and me."

Her confidence never seemed to waver. Throughout all the dead ends and no comments, she'd kept believing in Jack. He couldn't remember the last time someone had had such faith in him.

He looked at her. Even now, when things were going so badly, her black eyes shone with optimism. And why not? She was twenty-six years old. Life was just beginning for her; it would be years before she learned the tarry taste of disappointment.

At her age, he'd been the same way. After three stellar years at the UW, and that amazing Heisman win, he'd been a first-round draft pick--to a loser team who needed him desperately. Behind an ineffective line, he'd had to run his ass off just to stay alive, but he'd worked hard and played his heart out. Three years later, the Jets picked him up.

That had been the first of his Golden Years.

In the fourth game of his first New York season, the starting quarterback had gotten hurt, and Jack's moment had come. He threw three touchdown passes in that game. By the end of that season, no one remembered the name of the quarterback he'd replaced. Jumpin' Jack Flash had been born. Crowds chanted his name; cameras flashed wherever he went. He led his team to back-to-back Super Bowl wins. It was the stuff of which legends were made. For years, he'd been a superstar. A hero.

Then he'd been hit.

Game over. Career ended.

"Jack?" Sally's voice pulled him back into the smoky bar. For a second there, he'd been gone. "What happened to you?"

He sighed. Here it comes.

"When I was a little girl--"

Oh, good.

"My dad and I used to watch football together. You were his favorite player. He pointed out every move you made, analyzed every pass you threw. I was eleven when he died--cancer--and when I remember those days, I always think of football. Every day after school, I sat beside his hospital bed. On the weekends we watched the games together. I think it was better than talking." She looked at him. It took her a second to smile. "He always said you were the best quarterback to play the game, and now you're in Portland, Oregon, on the lowest rated newscast in town. What happened?"

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