Distant Shores Page 8


She remembered another time in this backyard, back when she'd been a little girl. It had been after her mother's funeral. The moment she'd realized that Mama was really gone. Forever.

She'd been sitting in the grass, a kindergartner catching fireflies in a mason jar, listening to the distant buzz of adult conversation. It had been spring--April--and the night air smelled of the honeysuckle and jasmine her mama loved. When everyone had gone home, her father had finally come to her and squatted down. You want to sleep in my room tonight, sugar beet?

That was what he'd said to her. Nothing about Mama or grief or the endless sadness that was to come. Just one simple sentence that was the end of one life and the beginning of another.

She remembered how wrecked he'd looked, and how it had frightened her. She'd known loss from the moment they'd told her that Mama had gone to Heaven, but it was then, from Daddy, that she'd learned about fear.

As she stared ahead, watching the silvery ghost of a little girl looking at yellow-bright lights in a glass jar, she said, "The moon looked just like this that night."

"What night?"

"Mama's funeral," she said softly, hearing her father's sharply indrawn breath when she mentioned the taboo subject. "I sat out in the backyard all day. I think everyone in the county came out to give me a hug and a kiss."

Daddy planted his big, splayed hands on his pants and pushed to a stand. In the pale blue moonlight, he looked thinner than usual. "I think I'll call it a night." He leaned down, pushed the hair from her eyes in a gesture as familiar as her own reflection, and kissed her forehead. " 'Night, Birdie."

She shouldn't have mentioned Mama. It had always been the surest way to get rid of her father. He was at the screen door by the time she found the courage to say softly, "You never talk about her."

He stopped. The door screeched open. She thought she heard him sigh. "No, I don't."

She knew the end of a conversation when she heard it. The finality in his voice was unmistakable. As usual, she gave in gracefully, knowing how much it hurt him to remember Mama. "Good night, Daddy. Tell Anita I'll see her in the morning."

"Some wounds run deep, Birdie." When he spoke, his voice was as soft as she'd ever heard it. "You'd best remember that."

Then the door banged shut, and she was alone.

FIVE

The girl who had come forward--Andrea Kinnear--lived with two roommates in a small 1930s brick Tudor near the university. A messy brown yard led up to a porch that was littered with empty planter boxes and mismatched chairs. The only holiday decoration was a colorful snowman stuck to the front window. A stack of empty Rainier beer cans formed a pyramid beside the door.

Jack paused at the gate. "Wait here," he said to Kirk, his cameraman, and Sally. "Let me introduce myself first."

Then he faced the house. He'd never done anything like this before, an on-camera interview with the victim of a violent crime, and he was nervous.

Alleged victim.

That was the kind of distinction that mattered in the news biz. Pros like Dan Rather and Bob Costas probably didn't even have to remind themselves of it.

Jack was out of his league here, no doubt about it. But he'd go down in flames before he'd let this story out of his hands. As the old saying went, another reporter would have to pry the notes from Jack's cold, dead fingers.

He walked down the cracked, moss-furred concrete pavers and climbed onto the splintered porch. Sally and Kirk followed him at a respectful distance.

He knocked at the door.

A few moments passed, so many that he started to worry that Andrea had changed her mind. He glanced back at Sally, who shrugged.

Then the door opened. A small, pale young woman with carrot-red hair stood in the opening. She wore a cotton twill skirt, white blouse, and navy blazer.

"Hello, Mr. Shore." She cleared her throat, then added, "I'm Andrea."

"It's nice to meet you, Andrea. Please, call me Jack. And this is my associate, Sally Maloney."

Sally stepped forward. "Hello, Andrea. We spoke on the phone."

"It's nice to meet you."

Andrea stepped back into the house. "Come in."

Jack motioned to the cameraman, who immediately started toward the house.

Andrea led them to a small living room that was crowded with garage-sale furniture. Papers and coffee mugs covered every table. She turned to Jack. "Where would you like me to sit?"

Kirk answered, "How about that chair by the window?"

Andrea sat down, though her body remained stiffly upright, her hands clasped tightly together.

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Jack sat down opposite her, on a faded denim ottoman. While the camera was being set up, he looked through his notes for the thousandth time; then he put them aside. "I'm just going to ask you some very straightforward questions, okay? I won't ambush you or anything like that." He frowned. She looked . . . fragile suddenly. "Are you sure you're okay with this?"

Great reporter, Jack. Way to go for the kill.

"It's just . . . humiliating."

Sally moved in close, touched Jack's shoulder, then drew back. It was the signal; they were rolling film now. Jack knew he could stop, introduce her for the camera and officially begin the interview, but he didn't want to interrupt what he'd already started. Instead, he leaned toward her and said, "You have nothing to be ashamed of, Andrea."

She tried to smile. It was heartbreaking to see. "How about stupidity? I didn't even get to know him. I saw him across the room and knew who he was--everyone knew him. I was a cheerleader in high school--Corvallis--and I used to watch him play. He always seemed so . . . perfect. I knew girls came up to him all the time, and I wasn't pretty enough or cool enough, but that night I'd had a few drinks and I was brave. I thought: maybe, you know? So, I went up to him and started a conversation. At first, he was so nice. He really looked at me, like I was someone who mattered. When he went over to the keg for a beer, he brought me back one, and when other girls came up to him, he blew them off and stayed with me. The way he smiled at me . . . touched me when he talked . . . it made me feel so special." Her voice cracked. She fingered the gold cross that hung from a delicate chain around her throat.

Jack thought: You are special, and you shouldn't need a boy to prove it. It was what he hoped someone would have said to his own daughters.

She let go of the cross, let her hand fall to her lap. Her gaze followed. "After a while, the party started breaking up. Drew--"

"Grayland?"

"Yes. He was telling me a funny story about last week's practice, and when I looked around, I saw that only a few people were still in the room. There was a couple standing by the television, making out. Another few guys were at the keg. Drew leaned over and kissed me. It was so . . . gentlemanly. When he asked me to come up to his room, I said yes." As the admission leaked out, she paled. Her lower lip trembled; she bit down on it. "I shouldn't have done that."

This time Jack couldn't help himself. She was so damned young. "You're nineteen, Andrea. Don't judge yourself too harshly. Trusting someone isn't a crime."

Her gaze found his. It was surprisingly steady. "What he did to me was a crime, though."

"What . . . did he do?" He winced at his own hesitation, hoping they could edit it out.

"At first we were just lying on the bed, kissing, but he started getting aggressive. He held me down so I couldn't move, and his kisses . . . I couldn't breathe. I started pushing him away, but that made him laugh. He grabbed me, hard. I started yelling at him, screaming for him to get off me."

Jack could see how hard she was trying not to cry.

"He hit me once in the face. No one's ever hit me before. It isn't like the movies. It hurt so much I couldn't even cry. And then he was ripping my clothes off, yanking my underwear down. I heard them rip. Then . . . then . . ." When she looked up, her eyes were glazed with tears. "He raped me."

Jack pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to her.

"Thank you," she whispered, wiping her eyes. It was a moment before she went on. "I don't even remember leaving the house. My roommate took me to the emergency room, but we had to wait forever. I finally gave up and went home."

"You didn't see a doctor that night?"

"No. What was the point? I watch lots of lawyer shows on television. I knew people would say I asked for it. I went to his room and followed him onto the bed."

Jack realized that his hands had balled into fists. He softened his voice; it seemed grotesque suddenly, asking these intimate questions for a bit on the six o'clock news. "Did you tell anyone beside your roommate? Your parents, maybe?"

She made a little sound, maybe a sob. "I couldn't. I guess I'll have to tell them tonight. But I went to the campus police the next day. I knew they wouldn't do anything, but I wanted to make sure they knew what he'd done to me."

"What happened?"

"An officer listened to my story, then excused himself and left the room. About fifteen minutes later Bill Seagel came in. He's the Panther athletic director. He laid it all out for me. How I had no proof, no doctor's report, no witnesses. How I could have walked into a wall to get my black eye, and how I'd been drinking. He told me nothing would happen to Drew if I came forward, but my college years would be ruined. So I shut up about it."

"Why did you come forward now?"

"I saw your report on the news." She looked up again. "I wasn't the only one, and they knew that. Those assholes knew it. I didn't want him to be able to hurt anyone else."

"So you went to the Portland police."

"It probably won't do any good, you know. I waited too long and did everything wrong. But I feel better. At least I'm not afraid anymore, and I'm not just lying there, taking it. Do you think I did the right thing?"

Jack knew he shouldn't answer. This interview wouldn't be much good if he ruined his credibility by showing that he cared.

But she was sitting there, staring at him through eyes that were heartbreakingly sad. And she was so damned young.

"I have a daughter who is just your age. My Jamie. I pray every day that she is safe at college. But if anything . . . bad ever happened to her, I'd hope she could be as brave as you've been today. You did the right thing."

Was that his voice, all soft and throaty? They'd have to redub his answer for sure. He sounded like he was going to cry, for God's sake.

"Thank you for that."

"Thank you for the interview."

After that, an awkwardness drifted between them. He noticed suddenly how close he was to her. Their on-air intimacy cracked apart, broke as quickly as it had formed. After that, everything felt uncomfortable. Jack didn't know what to say and Sally remained silent as they all went their separate ways. Kirk was the first to leave, then Jack and Sally said good-bye to Andrea and walked back to their car.

Jack didn't realize until much later, when he and Sally were driving toward the station, how shaken he was. How pissed off. "God damn Drew Grayland," he said, thumping his palm against the steering wheel for emphasis.

"How are we supposed to stay detached on something like this? I kept thinking about my little sister. She's a freshman, you know. I warned her about strangers, but what do you say about friends?"

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