Rivals, Galen Odgers and Cam Fawst have shared many things. Gifted athletes and favored sons of Eagle River Wisconsin, both have been quarterbacks for the same legendary football team, the Warriors. Each was raised by a strong woman, and both love the same beautiful girl, Kjersten Solheim.
Though they despise each other, they are inexorably linked. But there is a secret about one of them, a secret that a mother took to her grave, that a high school coach swore never to reveal, and one whose consequences continue to reverberate.
Can love survive the ultimate betrayal and the revelation of a decades old secret?
Release Date: June 21, 2016
Genre: New Adult | Contemporary | Sports | Romance
Sandra Odgers O’Halloran dragged the end table to the other side of the bed and studied the effect. She stood with her finger to her lip and debated. It wasn’t right. She pushed the end table back into its previous location. As she pulled her hand away, her finger caught on a rough edge at the base of the table and a splinter plunged into the palm of her hand. Sandra examined her palm and, through pinching and squeezing, worked the long splinter to the surface. She squeezed the narrow wound between her thumb and forefinger. After a moment, she knelt down and, with her good hand felt along the base of the table. Her fingers encountered an edge. To get a better look, she tilted the end table up on its side. There was a thin piece of wood tacked to its base. Sandra went into the kitchen and grabbed the pliers from the tool chest beneath the sink. She popped the tacks out and the piece of wood dropped off, and with it, a narrow manila envelope.
She turned the envelope over in her hands. Nothing was written on it. To the best of her knowledge, no one had moved the end table since her mother’s death six years before. Sandra had no way of knowing exactly how long the envelope had been tacked to the base of the end table. It was mysterious and exciting and Sandra savored the anticipation. Then, slowly, she bent the metal clips vertically and slid the contents of the envelope into her lap.
The first item was a high school picture of Jessica Odgers. Mom’s stuff. What was it doing here? Why had she hidden it? A young Jessica was smiling what she must have believed was a mature, seductive, come hither half smile. Her mass of red blond hair hung long and loose about her shoulders, except for the tiny curls framing her face that Sandra knew sprung up whenever it was warm or humid. Next was a picture of Galen, Sandra’s brother, posing with his prize winning 4H hog. In it, Galen was a tow headed, front toothless ten-year-old proudly holding up his prized blue ribbon. Sandra casually picked out a folded square of tissue paper and a spring of dried lilac spilled out onto the floor, perhaps a piece of a corsage from some long forgotten dance. She tried to scoop it back into the tissue envelope, but the flower had mostly disintegrated in the fall.
Next, there was a thin Kodak packet of pictures. Sandra slid the photos out then sank back on her thighs in disbelief. The first one was of her mother, young and completely naked. Jessica Odgers was on her knees crawling towards the camera wielder in a predatory manner. There was no question that it was Sandra’s mother, her long lines, the half circle of her jutting hip bone, the full white breasts topped with large pink-brown nipples, Jessica’s daughter took it all in.
The next picture was of a still naked Jessica lying on her back on a quilt with her arms tucked under her head, and the backdrop was cracked and faded red boards. The one after that showed Jessica turned sideways and coyly peering over her shoulder. Her rounded buttocks were in full view and by her legs were two stacked bales of hay. The old barn. These pictures were taken in the old barn.In the third picture, Jessica’s head was tossed back and she was laughing. The final picture in the packet was of a naked man, from the neck down. The body was long, with heavily muscled quadriceps and only a slight thickening at the waist. It was clearly the body of an athlete. The shoulders were broad and powerful and the chest was dark with thick, springy hair that trailed down to a large, but relaxed penis.
It was most definitely not the body of Sandra’s father.
Sandra sat, the pictures in her lap, a hollow, nauseous feeling forming in her stomach. After a moment, she rose, the pictures in her hand. She went back into the kitchen, and grabbed some matches out of the jar that stood on top of the fridge. Then, she headed back into the den. There, she knelt down, lit the match, and held it to the packet containing the nude shots. She held onto it until the flame grew unsafe. Then, she tossed the flaming envelope, pictures and all, into the fireplace. For a moment, she watched the flames consume it, then wiped her hands on her faded, dirty Wranglers, and went back to the task of rearranging furniture.
The Fair 1985
~ Ben ~
It was the kind of night when you held hands with your girl, rather than tossing an arm over her shoulders, because you were uncomfortably aware of the big sweat patches that extended all the way down to your belt. The evening breeze was heavy and sluggish with humidity, newly spun cotton candy, and buttered popcorn. Now and then, the heavy air would pick up a hot breath of animal smells emanating from the stock pens. And everything was sticky, especially the bodies of small, sun burned, black fingernailed children. The animals tied up in the fluorescently lit “Cow Palace,” were drooping and soggy despite the flashing lights and the cacophony of sound that rudely interrupted the surrounding opaque silence of a fallow field in the Midwestern night.
Years later, Ben could still hear it, the manically cheerful music of the Ferris wheel, the melodic wailing of some local country band from the beer tent, the dull hum of voices speaking, the lowing and bleating of the discontented animals, and, occasionally, a mother’s shrill cry for a child that had wandered off. He could still smell it and taste it, and it was right there when he closed his eyes. And then it would flood him and he would ache with the tight sunbaked skin feeling of childhood summers.
There was one such Saturday night that stood out as brilliantly lit among Ben’s memories as the Vegas strip in the quiet, indigo emptiness of the desert night. He remembered being ticked because his mother had saddled him with Timmy Johansson for the evening, and that meant that Ben had to leave the fair by eleven to get the kid home on time. Timmy wasn’t a bad kid. It’s just that he tried way too hard. His mom knew the kid had problems. She was the one who made Timmy go out for football, the year that Eagle River made it to the State Championships. Galen’s year.
That night, it turned out to be a good thing that Timmy came along. At least he was someone for Ben to talk to, someone easily impressed. Galen was in one of his moods. So, there they were, doing the fair thing: Ben, Galen the mute, and Timmy, shirt buttoned all the way up his neck, don’t-look-over-at-the-beer-tent Johansson.
It must have been around ten o’clock and all three boys were about faired out. They had taken to wandering around the stock barns with no real purpose, blowing time, when they heard cheering and applause from over near the game booths. There was a pause and then the same again. A good sized crowd had formed around one of the booths. They walked over to check out what was going on. Ben couldn’t see anything at first, but the three worked their way through the crowd. Ben was tall and so it wasn’t long before he had a decent view.
The crowd had formed a semi-circle around one of those games where one throws a football through a ring. The size of the prize you win is determined by how many times consecutively a person can throw it through the ring. The area in front of the booth was all clear, except for one figure which was alternately illuminated and then shadowed by the rapidly changing Ferris wheel lights. The man stood a good thirty feet from his target. At first, Ben couldn’t make out who it was. The guy was tall and strong. His shoulders were turned sideways. He stepped, reached back, and threw. The football sailed through the hole. The crowd went nuts. Their hero stood still, basking in their praise while some kid ran the ball back to him. Just then, a light from the Ferris wheel flashed across the man’s face, illuminating him. But Ben already knew who it was; he had kept stats at too many football games throughout high school not to recognize that particular throwing style.
Timmy, who had followed Ben through the crowd, tugged at his arm. “Hey, isn’t that Cam Fawst?”
Ben spun, searching for Galen, but he had already lost him somewhere in the crowd.
“You know him, right?” Insisted Timmy. He pushed at Ben’s shoulder. “Hey, Ben, what’s up?”
“Yeah, that’s Cam.” Where was Galen?
“Could you introduce me to him? He’s the Coyotes’ quarterback! I watched him on TV. I can’t believe that he’s actually here!”
Ben watched again as Cam turned, stepped, and hurled the football. It spiraled tightly, powerfully through the hole in the board. The crowd cheered wildly again. Once more, the kid jogged the ball back to Cam.
“That’s twelve, Cam,” someone shouted.
“Don’t miss this one, Cam.”
The tall figure turned into the half-light cast by the carousel. “It’s in the bag,” that familiar deep, confident, sardonic voice announced over the manically cheerful tune shrieking out from the carousel.
“No one has ever gotten thirteen, the whole fair, Mom,” Ben heard some little kid squeal. “Look how far back he is.”
“Hush, Toby. You’ll wreck his concentration,” a feminine voice ordered.
Ben watched Cam critically. He turned and threw. The ball spiraled through the air once more. So controlled, so smooth. But Cam still threw with this arm, not his shoulder. Ben had wondered whether the coaching Cam received in Milwaukee would correct that technical flaw. But, no. It was still there. But, if you were really critical, if you examined his throwing style as a potential NFL player, then you would have to admit that he didn’t use his shoulder the way the great ones did, the Johnny Unitases, the Dan Marinos. Still, Cam was impressive. And he remained Eagle River’s favorite son.
Once again, Ben searched the crowd for Galen, but there was still no sign of him. Is Kjersten here? Ben’s stomach twisted. God, he hoped not. It was way too soon for Galen.
Then, as he stared into the front rows of the crowd, the frenetic flash of the Ferris wheel lights reflected off moonlight bright long hair. He could just make out the familiar long, slender frame. God no! She’s here. Galen can’t deal with her right now, too!
Desperately now, Ben searched for his friend. He moved away from the awestruck Timmy and began to shoulder his way back through the crowd.
“Hey, watch it, kid,” a rather large farmer growled at him. In his haste, Ben had jostled the farmer’s lady.
“Sorry,” Ben shouted over his shoulder.
“That’s Oscar Happe’s boy, isn’t it?” Ben heard the farmer’s wife ask.
“Rude little bastard,” the farmer responded.
Perfect. But Ben had no time. Later, he would go back and apologize, but after he got Galen out of there. As he pushed through, the crowd began to thin. There, at the very edge of the huddled masses, stood Galen. At six feet four inches, Galen easily observed the scene over the heads of most of those assembled. His hands were jammed into the pockets of the faded Wranglers that clung to his long, muscled legs. Idly, or was it with restrained hostility, he kicked the toes of his battered and scuffed Roper boots into the dirt.
He looked in Ben’s direction, but he didn’t notice Ben. Galen’s eyes seemed focused inward rather than outward. His face nakedly revealed pain and shattered dreams.
“Galen? Kjersten’s here.”
“Yeah, Ben. I know, and I’m okay.” Now Galen’s face was emotionless.
“Let’s get out of here, Galen. I’ve had enough of this hick fair.” To be honest, Ben felt more comfortable seeing him this way. This was the face that most everyone else saw. Ben knew that he was probably the only one outside of Galen’s family who ever saw him that other way. Galen had been through a lot with his mother dying last year and then the break up. No question. No one knew that better than Ben did. It was just that Galen hid it so well most of the time that Ben could forget or pretend, for a while at least. Then, he was the old Galen, the one he’d grown up with, not this new bitter and haunted person.
An “Aw,” reverberated through the crowd. Clearly, Cam had finally missed.
“Galen Odgers, is that you out there?” Sal, the rotund bar owner’s mellow baritone called out.
“Yeah, Sal. It’s me.” Galen answered as he raised his eyebrows at Ben.
What amazing timing. Ben tugged his friend’s arm. “Let’s get outta here.”
“What you doin’ out there, boy? Come on up here. You show Cam how a real football player throws.”
Sal’s great bulk parted the crowd like Moses did the seas, the round, glowing end of his thick cigar preceding him. He strode up to Galen, threw a great hairy forearm around Galen’s neck and dragged him through the crowd.
“Galen,” Sal chuckled, then cleared his throat of chunky cigar sputum. “You get up here and show Eagle River what you got.”
“Sal, I’m not up for this.”
“Hey Cam,” Sal shouted out, ignoring Galen’s protest. “I got a challenger here for you. Bet ya this high school string bean can out throw a college star. Galen here is a real ball player. You see that ring over there, Galen? Cam tossed that pigskin there through it thirteen times from where he’s standing. I got a twenty that says you can make it to fourteen.” Sal moved back towards the football toss, dragging Galen with him.
Suddenly, there was chaos. People shouted out to Galen and Sal’s voice continued to boom out, taking odds.
Ben stood stock still. If you know a guy as well as Ben knew Galen, had grown up with a guy, you understood how he felt about things, about people, about Kjersten and Cam, in particular. Feeling anxious, he jostled his way back to the front of the crowd.
Meanwhile, Galen had taken Cam’s place. He stood silently, facing the target. He had to be nervous, what with the whole town and Cam and Kjersten there. Please God, don’t let him screw up. Please. Ben crossed his fingers. Galen drew his arm back and threw, quickly. Too quickly. Yes! It went through. One. The ball was run back to him. Again, he just drew back and blasted it. Two. Yes! Then, another. One more. On and on. The relief washed over Ben. Galen was keeping it together. He was sweet. Ben started to get excited, to get into it with the crowd.
Ben hadn’t seen his best friend play ball for most of Galen’s senior year. Ben had been away at college. He had heard that Galen was a real talent, but this self-composed, accurate quarterback was a far cry from the long limbed, loose cannon he remembered from a year before. Galen’s weight was balanced delicately, dancer-like on the balls of his battered, old, laced up work boots. His facial features were relaxed while his eyes were focused on that white ring in the distance. He seemed not to hear the voices shouting his name all around him. He appeared equally oblivious to Cam, who stood just off to his right side, and to the din and the flashing lights of the surrounding fair. Effortlessly, Galen tossed that football through the hoop, pausing only long enough for the boy to run the football back to him. Unlike Cam, who had reveled in the adoration, working the crowd, Galen was lost in the job at hand and he was really, really good.
As one, the crowd shouted the number of the throw out loud, drowning out the sounds of men betting and the fair noises: “Ten… Eleven… Twelve.”
The tension built with each successful throw. The crowd sucked in air as one, exhaled in relief as one.
“Thirteen.” Galen had tied Cam.
Unable to resist, Ben searched for Kjersten again. In the shadows by Cam, Ben could just make out her profile. Maliciously, he wished that he could see her face as she watched her old boyfriend show up her new one.
Hysteria was building.
“Seventeen...Eighteen...Nineteen...Twenty... Oh,” the crowd groaned as one. Galen had finally missed. The football had bounced just off the edge of the ring. Then, everyone went nuts. Galen stood still as the crowd swarmed around him. Ben saw Sal give him a few congratulatory smacks on the back. Then, Ben lost sight of Galen in the mass of people congratulating him. Gritting his teeth, Ben forced his way closer in. When he finally caught sight of Galen again, Cam had already cornered Galen.
Suddenly, Ben was fourteen-years-old and too chicken to help Galen out when Cam decided to make trouble for him. Cam wasn’t really a bully. He had never really cared enough about other people to waste his time trying to dominate them. Besides, he’d always enjoyed the kind of hero worship that other boys give to superior athletes. But things were different between Cam and Galen. There’d always been something strange between those two, a heavy, dark feeling of which schoolboys should not have been capable.
Ben observed that Kjersten was on Cam’s arm. Long-limbed and slender and fragile, she passed under the lights, completely visible for the first time. The high cheekbones, the full lips, and the elegant neck were the same. Shouldn’t people look different when everything changes so much? But Kjersten was the same, albeit a thinner, more serious looking girl. She still wore her hair long and straight down her shoulders. She still moved with that particular step, seeming to dance forward, like the sprinter that she had once been. Her face was serene, still, and classically beautiful.
Ben watched as Cam held out his hand to Galen. “I’m glad that you’re keeping the standard up at old Eagle River High. I was worried that the Warriors would slack off with me gone.”
Galen stared at the proffered hand and then, slowly, hesitantly, reached out and took it. From his vantage point, Ben saw that both men were putting a good deal more than cordiality into their grips. Their hands remained interlocked, their eyes meeting, the smile thinning from Cam’s lips, neither one giving in. Then, as if by mutual agreement, they released. A draw.
“Your name is Galen, right?” Cam continued, that bright “for the fans” smile accentuating the hungry lines of his jaw. “Galen Otter, or Oller?” Of course Cam knew Galen’s name, but thankfully, Galen didn’t take the bait.
“I remember now. You were that weedy sophomore backup quarterback.” Cam chuckled familiarly. “You always brought me towels and water all through my senior year.” He punctuated his comment with a friendly nudge at Galen’s shoulder. But Cam’s eyes were sharp and focused on Galen. “I remember you had a big case of hero worship.”
Unfazed by the clumsy jab, Galen stared straight back at him. “Too bad you didn’t play much last year, Fawst.”
Cam quit smiling. “Things are different in college. Players run faster and hit harder. It takes anyone a while to adjust. You’ll see what it’s like if you get that opportunity. Throwing a football through a hoop is a cute trick but it won’t get you far in a college football game.” Cam paused, regaining his composure. “You decided where you’re gonna go next year? I’m sure that there are a lot of division three schools who would give you a shot.”
Galen didn’t take the bait.
“Well, see ya.” Cam was tired of the games.
“Hi Galen,” Kjersten’s voice was soft but carried through the darkness like a knife.
Galen nodded his head curtly towards the girl, acknowledging her, but didn’t turn to look at her. “Kjersten.”
Cam assessed them, looking back and forth between them. “That’s right, you two know each other.” He tossed an arm possessively over Kjersten’s shoulder and pulled her tightly to him, staring at Galen all the while. “Here’s my good luck, Galen. You need to get yourself one of these,” Cam chuckled at his own coarse joke. Kjersten’s face remained determinedly impassive, her body, stiff.
“Hey Cam,” Sal’s cigar roughened voice cut through the weighted silence. The large bulk of the bartender appeared at Galen’s side. “You gonna be around town for a couple of days?”
“I’d planned to stay through the weekend,” Cam answered.
“Would you mind stoppin’ by the bar during the Brewers and Twins game? You know what big Coyote fans we are. The guys would be thrilled if you would just come in and shoot the shit.”
“Thanks, kid.” Sal was pleased. With satisfaction, he twisted the cigar between his teeth. “Galen, you comin’ by, too?”
“I don’t know, Sal. There’s a lot of work I gotta do at the farm. It’s tough to get away.”
No longer the center of attention, Cam turned away. “Come on, babe. Let’s get out of here. I’ve had enough of this small town bullshit,” Ben heard him mutter to Kjersten.
Suddenly, a hot, sweaty hand grasped Ben’s forearm. “Hey Ben, I’ve been looking all over for you. I thought that you’d ditched me.” It was Timmy. “Do you know how late it is already? My mom must be having a stroke. I haven’t called her in over two hours and it’s almost eleven. We’ve got to go soon or I’m gonna be late for curfew.”
“Yeah, let’s go.” Galen broke abruptly away and strode off, his long legs eating up the ground, leaving Ben and Timmy in the dust. They followed and tried to keep up at first and then fell behind. A stalk of corn from last year’s crop, suddenly jammed into the arch of Ben’s foot.
“Shoot.” Ben knelt down, pulled off his decrepit sneaker, and rubbed the abraded skin. He looked up as Galen swung open the door of his beat up, old pickup and hopped in. Ben cringed at the brutal clang of rusted metal on metal when he slammed the ancient door shut.
Timmy waited while Ben adjusted his shoe. “Is he okay? Galen’s not pissed with me, is he? I didn’t mean to act like a dorky little kid. It’s just that my mom worried. Do you think he’s pissed?”
“Don’t worry about it, Timmy. Galen’s not pissed with you or me. He’s just dealing with some stuff.”
As Ben straightened up, Galen started the engine. The ancient Ford was moving their way. It pulled abreast of them. “Come on, Ben. Let’s go,” Galen said impatiently.
Timmy hopped in and Ben followed a moment later. Galen shifted the truck into gear and swung it around. They spun off in a cloud of dust.