Distant Shores Page 6


It was what they all asked, sooner or later. How did you lose it all? He always gave the same answer. "You know I blew out my knee."

She leaned forward, gazed at him earnestly. "There's more to it, isn't there?"

It felt dangerous suddenly, this moment; a slow, conscious skate toward the edge of intimacy. He knew better, of course. Every man his age did, but he'd been lonely for a long, long time, and just now that burden seemed heavier than before. "It started in the hospital."

Amazingly, he told her all of it, how he'd gotten addicted to his pain medications and blown his shot on Monday Night Football.

It came back to him like a handful of broken glass, all sharp edges and reflected light. He knew that if he held it too tightly, his hand would bleed, but he couldn't stop himself.

He'd tried so hard to pretend that losing football didn't matter, but the game had been his life. Without it, his days and nights had unfurled like scenes in a silent black-and-white movie. He'd anesthetized himself with pills and booze. His excesses had become legendary. He went from golden boy to party animal. There were huge chunks of time he couldn't even remember.

But he remembered The Accident. It had been late, or early, depending on your perspective, on a cold and snowy night. He shouldn't have been driving, not after a long night spent drinking at the Village Vanguard. But hindsight was twenty-twenty. What he remembered most was the screeching scream of tires and the smell of burning rubber.

"I didn't hurt anyone," he said softly, but that wasn't the point. "My agent kept it out of the papers, but my career was over anyway. After a stint in rehab, the only job I could get was for a local station in Albuquerque. It's been a long, slow climb back."

He looked at Sally and knew that something had changed between them. For the first time, she was seeing beyond Jackson Shore, Football Legend, to the man he was inside.

He tried to look away. Couldn't.

She touched his arm. "This story is going to make both of our careers."

Her touch was like an electrical spark.

He forced himself to look down at the papers spread out between them. He tried to read. Words drifted up to him, meaningless and unconnected. Then he noticed something. "The campus is closing today for winter break."

"I know."

He had to do something. Anything was better than sitting here, suddenly aching for a woman he couldn't have. "What do you say we go back, drive around? The administrators and staff will be gone. Maybe someone will talk when the wardens aren't around."

"It's worth a shot."

Jack paid the bill; then they left.

Back on campus, they tried all their usual places, looked for all their previous sources. They made themselves impossible to ignore, easy to find.

Nothing.

Finally, they pulled into the parking lot and sat in the car beneath a bright streetlamp. A silvery rain beaded the windshield.

"I guess that's that," he said at last, reaching for the keys. A glance at the dash clock revealed that it was one in the morning. In a few hours, he'd have to show up for work again.

A knock at the window shocked the hell out of both of them.

Jack rolled down the window. There, sidled close to the door, was a uniformed campus police officer, a man they'd tried to interview earlier. Sally immediately reached for a notepad and flipped to a blank sheet.

"You're lookin' for the dirt on Drew Grayland?" the officer whispered.

"Yeah. We heard he got picked up for drunk driving last Saturday night."

"Nothin' new in that. These athletes get away with murder. I'm sick of it. I've got daughters, you know?"

"Can you confirm that Drew was arrested on Saturday night?"

The officer laughed. "Arrested? I doubt it."

"What's your name?"

"Mark Lundberg."

"Can we quote you on the record?"

The officer shook his head. "I got two kids to feed. I can't take on this fight. But I can't stand by and do nothin' anymore. Here." He slipped a manila envelope through the open window.

Jack glanced down at the envelope. There were no markings on it of any kind. When he looked back outside, Lundberg was gone.

Jack opened the envelope and withdrew the papers, scanning them. "Oh, my God . . ."

"What is it?" Sally asked, her voice spiking up in anticipation.

"Incident reports. Four women have accused Drew of date rape."

"And he's never been arrested?"

He turned to look at her. "Never."

Elizabeth checked her to do list for the final time.

Mail packages

Pick up dry cleaning

Stop mail

Stop milk delivery

Change batteries in smoke detectors

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Confirm seats

Everything was done. By this time tomorrow, she'd be at her dad's house, with her daughters and family around her, celebrating an old-fashioned Christmas.

After one last obsessive-compulsive pass through the house, she grabbed her purse and headed for the car.

But as she stepped out onto the porch, light spilled down from the quilted gray sky in flashlight-bright beams. It was what the locals called a "sunbreak." Her yard looked magical in this light, like a long-forgotten corner of some enchanted forest.

She stared at the cement pavers that ran like Gretel's white rocks to the edge of the property. They seemed to invite her to come forward.

Instead, she went to her car.

She made it to Portland in good time. For once, it wasn't raining, and the downtown streets were quiet. She supposed it was a sad reflection of the times. In years past--especially in the dot.com years--these streets had been crowded with holiday shoppers. Last year she'd had to wait almost an hour in the Meier and Frank wrapping area; this year, there'd been no line at all.

At the station, she parked in the visitor's section of the underground lot and went upstairs to the lobby.

"Hi, Eleanor," she said to the nose-ringed receptionist. "Happy holidays."

"Hey, Miz Shore. I don't celebrate Christmas--too commercialized--but thanks anyway. Same to you."

Elizabeth restrained a smile. She had never been that passionate and questioning, even in her youth. While some of her sorority sisters had spent long nights in the B&O Espresso on Capitol Hill, arguing about the political upheaval in Iran, she'd quietly immersed herself in painting.

In retrospect, she wished she'd rebelled a little more. A nose-ring-wearing, tattooed past would probably have done a woman like her a world of good.

She went upstairs and found Jack's office empty. Glancing worriedly at her watch, she hurried down to the studio, checked in, and slipped into the darkened room. There were fewer people in here than usual--probably a skeleton crew because of the holidays.

Jack was behind the big desk on set. In full makeup, with the lights bright on his face, he looked movie-star handsome. As usual. It was unfair, she thought suddenly, that he'd held on to his youth while hers seemed to be sliding south.

". . . In this exclusive report," he was saying, "Channel 6 has uncovered a number of sexual misconduct allegations made against Panther center, Drew Grayland. In the past two years, four different women have made rape or sexual misconduct reports against Mr. Grayland. Campus officials did not turn these reports over to the Portland police, according to Police Chief Stephen Landis. Olympic University athletic director, Bill Seagel, had no comment today when apprised of the allegations, except to say that to his knowledge no criminal charges had been filed against Grayland. Coach Rivers confirmed that his star center will start against UCLA next week. This story is one we are continuing to follow; we'll bring you live updates as information becomes available."

Jack smiled at the female anchor beside him. They spoke for a second or two, then Jack took off his microphone and stood up. As he crossed the room, he noticed Elizabeth and grinned broadly. He grabbed her hand and led her back to his office, laughing as he kicked the door shut behind them.

"Can you believe it, Birdie? I did it." He laughed. "This is the story I've been working on for the past week. With any luck, the networks will pick it up." He swept her into his arms and lifted her off her feet.

She laughed along with him. No one did success like her husband. It had always been that way. In the good times, Jack was a rushing torrent of water that swept you away.

He loosened his hold, and she slid back down to the floor.

They stared at each other; their smiles slowly faded. After a long, awkward moment, she said, "Are you ready to go?" She glanced down at her watch. "Our plane leaves in two hours."

Jack frowned. "We leave tomorrow."

Son of a bitch. He'd done it again.

She was proud of her control when she said simply, "No. We leave today. December twenty-second."

"Shit."

"Your bags are in the car, don't worry. I packed everything. All you have to do is drive us to the airport."

The door to his office smacked open. A young woman in a gray knit dress and knee-length boots ran into the room. "You're not going to believe this," she said, rushing forward. She got halfway across the room before she realized that Jack wasn't alone. She stopped, smiled pleasantly at Elizabeth. "I'm sorry to interrupt. But this is big news. I'm Sally."

Elizabeth's smile was cinched tight. She was too angry with her husband to be sociable. "Hello, Sally. I believe we met at the station's Labor Day picnic."

"Oh . . . yeah."

Clearly, I made an impression.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, Jack, but I knew you'd want to see this." She handed Jack a sheet of paper. "Three more women filed complaints against Grayland."

"Have they arrested him?"

"Not yet. Coach Rivers said--and I quote: 'In this great land of ours, a man is innocent until proven guilty.' "

"In other words, Drew plays until they shut the prison door on him."

"Exactly. But here's the really great news: I just took a call from one of the girls. She'll talk to you. On camera."

"Meet me in the lobby in thirty minutes. We'll come up with a game plan."

"You got it." With a hurried nod to Elizabeth, Sally left the room. The door banged shut behind her.

Elizabeth looked at her husband. "Let me guess. You're not coming with me."

He took her in his arms. "Come on, baby," he murmured against her ear, "you know how much I need this. Like air."

And your needs are always important, aren't they, Jack?

It pissed her off that she couldn't say it aloud. At what age would she finally learn to speak her mind?

"I'll make it up to you," he promised. "And I'll be at your dad's before Christmas Eve."

His voice was as soft as silk, seductive. She knew he had no doubt at all that he'd get his way. Her acquiescence on all things was expected, a support beam of their sagging marriage.

They were close enough to kiss, but she couldn't imagine any more distance between them. "Mean it, Jackson," she said.

"I do."

The two words reminded her of all their years together. She wondered if he'd chosen them specifically. "Okay, honey. I'll go on ahead."

He kissed her hard and let her go. She stumbled backward, off-balance.

"I love you, Birdie."

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