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|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
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September 2000: Boston
Reaching for her nightgown, Maggie winced at the pain lancing up her side, praying it was only a pulled muscle. She'd have to get it looked at in the morning; the possibility that the rib had opened up again, with the Nationals barely four months away, was too grim to consider. She took two aspirin, eased into bed, opened Foucault's History of Sexuality. Harvard was full of students who did things better than anyone else; when she sat for her psychology exam, she'd be just another junior.
She turned on her cassette player. She never tired of the slow music for their long program, thinking of it as lovemaking set to music.
The Rachmaninoff had been Hunter Rill's idea. She'd opposed it at first, declaring it a pairs cliché, but he'd persisted, and he'd been right. Probably no other coach exploited the sensual undercurrent of skating as well as Rill; Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini wouldn't do for a brother-sister team, but for Clay and Maggie, radiating a palpable sexual attraction, it was perfect.
She flipped through the textbook with mounting boredom before letting it slip to the floor; Rachmaninoff had more to say about sexuality, and in a language she understood. She turned off the light. The twinge in her side as she slipped her hands behind her head assuaged her guilt at not letting Clay talk her into Lofton Weeks's annual bacchanal.
When she was seventeen, and still skating as a junior, she'd been thrilled to be invited; it told the skating world that the man who'd been synonymous with American figure skating for almost fifty years had anointed Clay Bartlett andMaggie Campbell prospects, which was worth points every time they competed. When she was eighteen it was exhilarating to sip champagne and grow giddy at the thought of their first season campaigning as seniors. By nineteen it was starting to pall. At twenty, one half of the United States pairs silver medal team had gone home early. Now Maggie, at twenty-one, was pleased she hadn't even pretended.
The drunks and the skaters with eating disorders would be throwing up in the bathrooms. Association officials and judges would buttonhole her about their program, or their costumes, or the color of her lipstick. Red-faced, middle-aged skating fanatics would try to fondle her, while their wives showed off their cleavages and ogled Clay. Thirty seconds after some coach had deposited the four hundredth unwelcome kiss, she'd hear him telling someone she used drugs or slept with girls. Lofton Weeks would flatter and cajole until she'd want to scream. She'd made the right decision: she needed a quiet night at home.
The concerto was coming to the movement she loved best, their music, almost unbearably lush. She shut her eyes, letting the strings pulse through her, hearing the melody as the sound track to their triumph in Denver six weeks before.
That night had confirmed Maggie Campbell and Clayton Bartlett as the heirs presumptive to the National title. It had been even more satisfying than the evening the previous January, when they'd won the silver at the Nationals. They'd skated well enough to take the gold, but understood that the association, and hence the judges, thought it was still Schuyler and Drummond's. That was the way of skating, so they'd kept quiet, waited, and worked. The win in Denver said their time had arrived.
Stepping onto the ice, they'd known what they had to do, and they'd done it. They'd owned the crowd from their opening lift, a Hunter Rill invention culminating with Maggie standing on Clay's chest-high left palm, his right hand bracing her calf. The roar, as she thrust out her arms and revolved, her head ten feet above the ice, was deafening.
Elements that had seemed a gamble when Rill put the program together, like the throw triple Salchow with less than a minute to go, hadn't seemed chancey at all when the time camejust a bit of work that had to be done. They'd have won even if they'd doubled it; that had been the safe choice, but they were skating to win, not to avoid losing. At Clay's whispered, "Triple?" she'd nodded; two seconds later he'd thrown her twelve feet through the air, spinning. When she'd landed, she'd known they'd won.
Their unison had been perfect. They had entered their jumps and spins together, revolved as one, exited with legs and arms at identical angles, identical points on the compass, moving as synchronously as parts of a watch. Going in, some had said the Lantsberg twins might be their match, but they'd lacked the unison. Not by much, but enough.
They were the only pair in the world with a triple flip. They landed side-by-side triple flips and triple toe loops seconds apart, and once again the crowd noise swamped the music, but they knew it so well that they never lost a beat.
When Clay fixed his pivot and lowered her into the death spiral, it was as though eyes, not arms, connected them. He winked at her as she swept around him, her curls sweeping the ice. They finished with Clay kneeling, she leaning back across his leg, his right hand cradling her neck. Their kiss was the only unscripted element in the four minutes and twenty-eight seconds, and it sent the crowd into a frenzy.
She heard Lofton Weeks, immaculate in his black dinner jacket, working the officials afterward: "The most elegant American pairs team in forty years. The best in the world, getting better every time out." Weeks always talked that way about skaters he hoped to sign to his professional tour, but she'd heard others echo the claim, so she dared to think it might be true.
She drifted off, as she often did, to music; her life moved to music.
Somewhere, dimly, an alarm sounded. Too soon, she thought, much too soon, and she reached to shut it off before remembering she hadn't set it. One eye opened on the glowing clock face.
One-thirty. Before she'd fully digested it she realized it had been the phone she'd heard. Distantly she heard her mother's muffled voice. Mumbling, then louder: "What? No! Is he . . ."
When she heard footsteps approach the door she knew, even before the door opened and her mother whispered, "Maggie? Maggie, it's Mother. There's been an accident."
Her heart raced, her stomach knotted. She bolted upright and switched on the lamp. "What happened?"
"It's Clay . . . he's been hurt."
Something squeezed her throat. "Hurt?" she whispered. "How badly? What's wrong?"
"That was Alex Bartlett. They're at the hospital. Apparently Clay was in a car accident."
"Is he all right?"
"He's banged up, but he's not in any danger."
"Thank God." Maggie sprang from the bed. "I've got to go. Which hospital?"
Maggie pulled on clothes. "How did it happen?" she called from her closet.
"They're not sure. Apparently the driver lost control of the car coming off Storrow Drive. It went into a light pole."
Maggie stepped out of the closet. Her mother had settled on the bed. Her brother, owlish in his thick glasses, blinked nervously in the doorway.
"I don't understandwhat do you mean, the driver lost control? Wasn't Clay driving? Was another car involved?"
"Clay wasn't driving. It was his car, but he wasn't driv-ing."
"Then who . . . ?"
Maggie ran out the door.
Clay's right eye fluttered open as she approached. "Hi, kiddo," he whispered. "Pretty, aren't I?"
His left eye, puffy and blue black, was swollen almost shut. A bandage covered one ear, another curved under his chin.
She went to him, fighting the impulse to shudder. "How do you feel?" His left hand was lying on top of the blanket; she picked it up and squeezed.
He squeezed back, his smile fading as stitches pulled. "Like I had an argument with a windshield, and lost."
"But why weren't you driving?" Seeing his downcast eyes, she cocked her head skeptically. "Too much to drink?"
He nodded sheepishly. "After being in training so long, it went right to my head."
"I told you to watch it."
"I know, I know. But Lofton was all worked up over our win in Denver, and I had a couple of glasses of champagne with him while he told me how much money he's going to make us when we turn pro. Some of the groupies kept bringing me beer, and of course Hunter was throwing back the vodka and wouldn't take ?no' for an answer."
She ran her finger down the line of his jaw. "Why do I suspect he didn't hear ?no' for an answer?"
When Clay Bartlett grinned he looked like a naughty twelve-year-old. "Once a year, Mag."
He could always disarm the schoolmarm in her. She rolled her eyes, sighing. "I know; I'm not blaming you." The smile faded as she remembered: "But why Doe Rawlings? How did she come to be driving?"
"By midnight I was ready to go, only I knew I shouldn't drive. I was in the lobby, calling a cab, when Doe came out. She also wanted to leave, but she'd come with Hunter, and he wouldn't be ready for hours, so she suggested driv-ing me home, dropping me off, and I could come by for the car in the morning. It made sense at the time."
He frowned. "I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, I was trying to figure out how we came to be wrapped around a pole."
"Your parents say the police estimate she was doing at least seventy when she went into the turn, that's how."
The open eye fluttered. He seemed to shrink, his pale face lost against the whiteness of the pillow. "Christ, I had no idea. Why? I mean . . ." He swallowed. "Why?" he whispered.
"Because she was drunk, that's why."
His lips thinned. Shaking his head, almost angrily, he snapped, "No, she wasn't. She hadn't had a drink all night."
"Do you know that?"
He looked away, at the wall. "No, but she said she hadn't, and she seemed fine in the lobby."
"Well, she flunked the Breathalyzer."
He tried to sit up. "Oh, Lord." Grimacing, he flopped back against the pillow. "I can't believe it."
"She lied, Clay."
Maggie watched him trying to puzzle it out. "But why? We could have waited for a cab."
"Because she's a selfish bitch!" The rage broke over her. "Because she's Doe Rawlings, that's why." Maggie wished the brittle, hard words back as soon as she heard them bouncing off the antiseptic walls.
He blanched. Contrite, Maggie took a deep breath, willing her voice to remain calm. She began fussing with the sheet, tucking in a loose edge. "Don't you see? She'd decided she wanted to drive your car, and so what if she was drunk? She wanted to speed, and the hell with the consequences." Her mouth formed a tight crease. "What Doe wants, Doe gets. Hasn't it always been that way?"
"I suppose." His face was pale against the white pillow.
She pushed the hair off his forehead. It fell back; it always did. "Well, when I see her . . ."
His hand grabbed hers. "Don't, Maggie. Don't say anything."
She looked at him in amazement. "Don't say anything? She could have killed you."
"But she didn't." His head sank into the pillow. "Lookthink how she must feel: My car's wrecked, I'm beat up, and she's probably going to be cited for drunk driving. She's had a tough life; let's not add to her troubles. It won't help anything for you to get into it with her, and think how it would make practices."
"I've never found her presence one of the brighter parts of practice."
"Please, Magdon't make me argue, not with my head feeling like this. Let's just forget it, okay?"
Her lips tightened, but she nodded, sighing. "Okay, it's up to you. But she's a selfish, thoughtless prima donna, and somebody ought to tell her."
He put his arm across his forehead. "Let it be somebody else, all right? We have to skate on the same ice."
"I said I won't say anything." She touched the bandage on his wrist. "What happened here?"
He held it overhead, studying it uncertainly. "I don't know; there was a lot of glass aroundI suppose I cut it getting out. They put stitches in."
She shivered again. "Does it hurt?"
He waggled his fingers cautiously, shaking his head. "No, not really. More numb than anything else, like the rest of me." His eyelids drooped.
Maggie patted him. "Sleep now. I'll come back later." She kissed his forehead. He was out before she had her coat on.
As soon as she walked into the room the next morning she knew something was wrong. Clay, paler than before, wore an expression poised between fear and wonder. Two men, one in a lab coat, were standing by the bed. The man in a suit was rubbing his chin and nodding at something the other man was saying. Lettie Bartlett, smiling unconvincingly, was straightening her son's sheet, while Alex Bartlett was saying to the two men, "Are you sure? You can't be sure. Who else should we call in?"
"What is it?" Maggie looked from Clay, to his parents, to the strangers, back to Clay. "What's wrong?"
It was Clay who answered. "It's my right hand, Mag; it seems there's been some nerve damage. That's why it was numb."
"I don't understand." Maggie pushed between the two men, coming to stand by the bed. "What does that mean, ?nerve damage'? What's it mean, Clay?"
"It may mean looking for a tin cup, my girl." He forced a grin. "Maybe I'll qualify for handicapped parking. Think what that's worth in Boston."
"What?" Maggie thought he must be joking, then saw the tears tracking his mother's cheeks. She looked at the two strangers, willing agreement. "That's ridiculous. You're going to be fine. You just have a cut. You'll be fine in a few days. He will be, won't he? Won't he?"
Lettie Bartlett put her arm around Maggie, snuffling. "Shh, shh. They don't know anything for sure. It's just a . . . tentative finding, isn't that right, Doctor?"
The man in the lab coat nodded. "Of course. We've got to do a lot more tests, and then there's physical therapy once the injury heals. We don't know how much function he might recover. Why, I've seen"
"But our skating . . . we've got to train . . . how soon . . . ?" Maggie clutched at Mrs. Bartlett; dimly, from down the corridor, she heard children chanting a nursery rhyme. She thought she might be losing her mind. "Tell them, Aunt Lettietell them they've got to get him well right away. We've got to skate!"
"Skate, miss?" The second man, the one in a suit, looked at her reassuringly. "He'll be skating in a couple of days, if that's your worry."
Maggie sighed, suddenly weightless. Mrs. Bartlett's arm slid from her hands. "Thank God." She reached for Clay. "I was so"
"There's nothing wrong with his legs," the man continued, "he just won't be picking anything up for a while."