Fourth and Goal
For disclaimers: See Part 1
Mike Sloan paced as he and his NFL Player's Union Representative, James Lichtenberger, waited outside the offices of the review board. "How do you think this is gonna go, Mr. Lichtenberger?" he nervously asked.
You are such a sleaze. "You know how these things go, Mr. Sloan," he replied. You've been here often enough to know that they are getting tired of your crap.
The grimace on Mike's face was unmistakable. He had been warned nine months prior that any more misconduct would not be tolerated. Running his hands through his hair, he sat down next to the rep. "I know they have to make an example out of me, so what do you think is the worst they'll do to me?"
Lichtenberger sighed and rolled his eyes. "I'm going to give it to you straight, Sloan." He turned in his chair and looked directly into Mike's eyes. "Everyone knows that Rockwell slept with your wife. That's something that hasn't died down in all these years, and I doubt it ever will. The review board knows this was personal, so the worst they could do to you is ban you from the NFL permanently." Their disgust was written all over their faces.
Mike was stunned into silence. He rubbed his chin and looked down at the floor. They wouldn't do that. I make too much money for this fucking league. Plus, they would be playing into the hands of the opponents of women playing in the NFL. "No player has ever been banned for accidentally injuring another player. Besides, all the good church folk who don't think women should play with men would jump all over this."
"You don't get it, do you Sloan?" he asked loudly. "This was no accident and you know it. The fan opinion poll suggests that they ban your ass forever, and so do the "good church folk" as you call them."
Mike was taken aback by Lichtenberger's language and tone. "Football is all I know. I can't do anything else," he said dejectedly. I don't know how to do anything else.
"Then you better pray to what ever deity you believe in, because the mood in that room is leaning toward banishment."
"What is she doing here?" JB asked aloud to no one in particular.
"Mama…," Nadina paused and looked at the woman as she approached the entrance, "what do you mean by trouble?"
Johnnie ignored her daughter and walked toward the entrance of the facility.
"JB, what's going on? Who is that woman?" Nadina demanded.
"That's Mike Sloan's wife," he revealed. Damn, this isn't gonna be pretty.
"Why is she here?" Michael asked, his anger rising. "Is her husband still in the limo?" He stood up and followed Johnnie.
Dear Lord… "Michael, wait a moment, dear." Nadina knew her husband was about to lose his temper; one that rivaled her mother's. "JB, do something," she pleaded to the man who was like a son to her.
By the time JB stood up, the door to the rehab center opened and in walked Miriam Sloan…right into the lion's den. She was nearly knocked backwards as she bumped into Johnnie, and looked up into angry eyes. "Thought you'd pull a fast one on me, eh, old woman?" she whispered.
Johnnie leaned down so only Miriam could hear her. "What business do you have here, Free Booty?"
Before she could respond, Michael was walking around Johnnie. "Is that asshole husband of yours in that limo? Tell that fucking coward to get out and come get some!"
Johnnie could hardly believe her ears. He can get down and dirty like everyone else.
The smirk on Miriam's face quickly turned into a soft smile. "No, he's not here. I don't know or care where he is. I left him after what he did to Valeria," she revealed. "I came as soon as I was able. I needed to see her for myself."
"You had to have seen her on TV to know she was being released today. You got a good look at her then, so why come out here?" Johnnie asked, trying hard to rein in her temper. You slinging your wares around here won't do Squirt any good and kicking your trifling ass just won't do in front of all these witnesses.
Nadina walked over to the group. She could sense that something was not quite right with the newcomer. "I don't know if she will be up to having any visitors. Her therapy begins today."
"I only want a few minutes of her time. To let her know that I'm here for her," Miriam said.
"Her family is here for her," JB told her in a not too friendly tone. "I don't think she needs the attention you want to give her."
Miriam looked up at JB. "Hello, Jarrod. How have you been?"
JB folded his arms over his massive chest. "Why are you really here, Miriam?"
Miriam walked over to the water fountain and dampened a tissue. She wiped at a spot just below her eye, removing the enormous amount of foundation and revealing a faded, but still angry looking bruise.
"Damn," JB said.
Nadina gasped. "Oh my goodness, are you alright?"
"He did this to me the night he hurt Valeria," Miriam revealed, looking at them all and then focusing on Johnnie. "This is why it took me so long to get here. I didn't want to be seen like this."
Johnnie stiffened at her admission. She hated spousal abuse and the abusers with a passion. "If that's the case, why come here at all?" Why bring trouble to my family?
Miriam took a seat and opened her purse so that she could reapply her makeup. "I'm to blame…it's my fault that Mike attacked Valeria."
"I don't understand. Why would your husband attack my daughter?" Michael asked.
"Because, she and I slept together," Miriam said hesitantly. "It was only once a long time ago, and I guess Michael hasn't gotten past it." "She dabbed her eyes. "I just want to let Valeria know how sorry I am for all of this."
"I'll be sure to let her know that when I tell her you stopped by," Johnnie said in an unfriendly manner. "Don't let us keep you from going wherever it is you need to go."
Nadina linked arms with her mother. She felt sorry for the young woman, imagining the beating that she suffered at the hands of her husband. "Maybe my daughter will be able to visit for a few moments." Sensing her mother's displeasure she gave her hand a little squeeze, warning her to behave.
Johnnie rolled her eyes. "C'mon." She looked back at Miriam. "Remember, it's only for a few minutes."
Miriam breathed a sigh of relief and followed Rock's family down the hallway to Rock's room. All I need is a few moments to plead my case.
Johnnie watched as Nadina and Michael led Miriam to Rock's room. As she followed them, she whispered to JB. "He fucked her up."
JB shook his head in sympathy. "Sloan is almost as big as I am. Miriam is such a little thing, she didn't stand a chance. I can only imagine the pain she suffered."
"I hate spousal abuse. Though I feel sorry for her, I don't want her around here causing trouble." My compassion can only go so far. I won't have her messing up my plans. Johnnie slowed her gait when her breath suddenly became short.
"Are you ok, Gram?" JB asked, slowing his pace to match hers.
Johnnie faked a smile and looked up at him. "I'm ok. Just a little tired. With all this that's going on I haven't had much rest."
"Well, you better take care of yourself. Rock will have a fit if you get sick."
"I know, I know," Johnnie sighed.
Caitlin continued to read from her PDA Rock's schedule as Rock covered her ears. Rock's eyes fell upon the swell of Caitlin's breasts; soft, full and supple, protruding from her white top. She watched the rise and fall of Caitlin's chest, expanding and deflating with each breath, allowing her a censored view of the top of Caitlin's breasts. Her eyes followed the curve of Caitlin's neck to pink, full lips. Just one kiss is all I need for right now. Rock's breathing became erratic.
Caitlin was smiling when she looked up but it faded when she saw Rock sweating. She placed the PDA on the nightstand and moved closer to her patient. "Rock, are you ok?" She touched Rock's forehead to check for a fever. Noticing that she was rather warm, Caitlin walked over to the sink to wet a washcloth and then leaned over to dab Rock's face with it. "Are you in any pain?" she asked as she grasped her wrist to check her pulse.
Get it together or you'll scare her away. Trying not to hyperventilate, Rock slowly pulled herself together. "I'm sorry, I guess all the work that we'll be doing today just scared me a bit." Liar, liar, pants on fire. She looked into Caitlin's big grey eyes and could feel herself drowning in them. Rock closed her eyes and inhaled Caitlin's scent. You smell like a fresh, spring rain. She opened her eyes again. "Caitlin, I…"
"Don't say a word," she interrupted, placing a finger gently on Rock's lips. "Please forgive me, but I've wanted to do this for so long." She brushed her lips against Rock's, tenderly kissing her.
"Oh goddess," Rock panted before running her fingers through blonde hair, pulling the owner's head closer so that she could press her lips into Caitlin's.
The kiss was one of longing. Tongues softly probing; one was discovering the other in attempt to savor the moment.
"We can't…," Caitlin gasped as she broke from the kiss.
"Please don't stop. I need you, I need this," Rock begged as she tried to coax Caitlin back into a kiss.
"But you're my patient."
Rock could see her moving closer. "Not yet."
"But, but…," Caitlin's argument was cut off by Rock's eager mouth. Lips parted to give tongues access to each other.
This time Rock broke the kiss so that she could taste Caitlin's creamy skin. She licked her way across Caitlin's jaw line and down her neck.
"Rock? Earth to Rock."
"Huh?" Rock asked.
"I asked if you needed anything before I left. Are you ok?" Caitlin asked as she turned off her PDA.
Rock's eyes widened when she saw Caitlin sitting in the chair next to her bed. What just happened here? Aw man, I was daydreaming. Damn it!
Caitlin stood up and walked over to Rock's bedside. "Are you in pain? Is there something I can get for you?" she asked as she took Rock's pulse.
"I'm sorry, I was lost in thought," Rock admitted. If only you knew what I was thinking. She grasped Caitlin's hand, feeling the softness and strength in her fingers. "I'm not in any pain right now."
Caitlin looked at her hand, feeling a tremor travel up her arm and down her spine as Rock's larger hand held her own. Taking her eyes from their hands she looked at Rock. Blue and grey focused on each other as a myriad of thoughts ran through both women's minds. Any further conversation was halted when they heard someone clearing their throat.
Standing in the doorway were Rock's parents along with someone she hadn't seen in years. "Miriam, is that you?" Rock asked, hardly believing her eyes.
Miriam stepped into the room, noticing the way Rock and the strange woman with her were looking at each other. This is not a good thing. "Hello, Valeria."
Rock chuckled. "Since when do you call me that?" When Caitlin removed her hand, she noticed how much she missed the younger woman's warmth.
Miriam smiled, but not too broadly; the bruises were still painful. "Sorry. How are you, Rock?" She moved closer to Rock's bed.
"I'm good, Miriam," she said. Remembering her manners, she introduced her guest to her PT. "This is Caitlin, and she will be helping me get back on my feet."
Miriam sized Caitlin up. So this is my competition. She extended her hand. "Pleased to meet you."
Caitlin could immediately tell this woman didn't like her. She couldn't understand why because she didn't know her from Adam. She accepted her hand. "Likewise." She shuddered at the dead fish-like grip the woman had. "If you'll excuse me, I have things to do to get prepared for your therapy session." Are you one of Rock's lovers?
"Are you sure you have to go, Caitlin?" Johnnie asked, hoping to keep her there until Miriam left. "I'm sure Mrs. Sloan won't be staying long." She narrowed her eyes at Miriam's back.
Caitlin's eyes returned to the woman in recognition, remembering what Dory had told her about Rock and her escapades. She is a former lover. Looking at Miriam again, she noticed how beautiful the woman was. No way would Rock go for someone like me when she has someone like her. Feeling outclassed, she approached the door in an effort to escape. "I'll see you this afternoon, Rock."
Johnnie could see the crestfallen look on Caitlin's face, reinforcing her dislike for Miriam. She stepped in front of her, forcing the young woman to look at her. When she saw the sadness in her eyes, she couldn't control the fury that was building in hers.
Caitlin forced herself to smile. "Shall we dance?" she asked Johnnie when she stepped into her path again.
"Have lunch with me?" Johnnie asked.
"Sure," Caitlin said, her smile broadening.
As she let the smaller woman pass, her eyes zeroed in on Rock's unwanted guest. Free Booty, you have got to go.
"They're ready for you now, Mr. Lichtenberger," the young receptionist said as she stepped from behind the office doors.
Lichtenberger stood up, followed by Sloan. He looked at the player. "Remember, no outbursts no matter what the outcome. Whether it is good news or bad, keep your mouth shut until you get back out to the corridor." They're gonna nail you to the wall, Sloan.
Sloan buttoned his jacket and straightened his tie. Please let this be a slap on the wrists. "I'm ready."
They entered the board room and took the seats across from the panel. The nine members looked at Sloan with disdain; the three women on the panel looked directly at the player.
"Mr. Sloan," NFL Commissioner Mills said, "you have been before this board on numerous occasions for violations of the league rules." He paused, looking directly into Mike Sloan's eyes. "The league can no longer afford to allow you to run rampant, and you must be dealt with. Before we pass down our ruling, is there anything you wish to say?"
Mike stood, placing his opened fingers on the tabletop. He looked as sincere as he possibly could. Make this good. "It was an accident, pure and simple. I didn't intentionally set out to hurt Ms. Rockwell; I only tried to prevent her from making a touchdown." He paused, looking at each member of the committee. "I know this isn't the first time I've been before this distinguished panel, but believe me when I tell you that I have no animosity against Ms. Rockwell and I only wish her a speedy recovery. I'm truly sorry this accident took place." He took his seat.
Mr. Mills smirked at the half assed job of being sincere Mike tried to pull off. "I do have one more question for you, Mr. Sloan."
Mike sat up in his seat. "What would you like to know?"
"The members and I were wondering where Mrs. Sloan was. She has been with you each time you have been brought before the committee, but this time she wasn't present."
Damn you to hell, Miriam. You will pay for this. "Well sir, with all the publicity my wife and I felt that it would be a good idea if she took the boys to her mother's home."
Yeah, right. "Very well, Mr. Sloan. We the members of this committee have made a decision. This ruling is non- negotiable. Are we clear?" Mr. Mills asked.
"Yes sir," Mike replied.
Mike's eyes widened as the commissioner read the decision, sitting in stony silence. Lichtenberger, though he expected a severe punishment, could not believe what he was hearing.
"So, how have you been, Miriam?" Rock asked, genuinely wanting to hear how the woman had been doing.
Miriam looked at the floor. "I should be asking you the same question." She paused. "Rock, I'm so sorry about all …"
Rock held up her hand to silence the woman. "Miriam, it wasn't your fault so don't blame yourself. What happened out on that field was between Mike and me."
Miriam looked over her shoulder at Rock's family. She could almost feel the daggers Johnnie was shooting from her eyes. Her gaze returned to Rock. "We both know why he went after you like he did. Don't try to defend him."
Rock could see the sorrowful look Miriam's face held and she also noticed something else, but couldn't put her finger on it. "I wasn't defending him. It's just… we were doing some trash talking before the snap. We both said things that we shouldn't have said, given the situation."
"It was years ago," Miriam interjected. "Mike still harbored ill feelings toward you, as well as me. He never could get past that night."
"I know that, now," Rock said. "I never could understand why you stayed with him. He cheated on you at every opportunity."
A rueful smile formed on Miriam's lips. "I stayed for the kids' sake. But enough is enough."
"Still cheating on you, eh?" Rock asked.
"No," she replied, as a lone tear rolled down her cheek.
Rock looked at her and noticed the large amount of make-up the tear held. She focused on a discoloration just below Miriam's eye and she suddenly flew into a rage. "I knew there was something different about you!" she yelled. "Let me see what you're trying to hide."
"Rock, it's nothing…"
"Damn it, Miriam, let me see."
Nadina walked over to the sink and wet a washcloth. She took it over to Miriam. Knowing that her daughter hated domestic violence as much as Johnnie, she tried to defuse the situation. "Now, Vali, I want you to calm down."
Rock waited while Miriam gently cleaned her face. With each passing second she gripped the sheets of her bed tighter, saying nothing. When Miriam looked up and allowed her to see the faded bruise Rock cursed. "When did this happen?"
Johnnie moved closer to the bed. "Squirt, you need to calm yourself like your mother said."
"Answer me, Miriam!" Rock continued her mini- tirade. "When did that bastard beat you?"
Miriam burst into tears and Nadina stood next to her, rubbing her shoulder. "Shh, it's going to be ok."
Realization set for Rock and her anger blossomed. "He beat you the night he hurt me, didn't he?" When Miriam nodded, Rock threw her covers back and tried to swing her legs over the bed.
"What the hell are you doing?" JB demanded.
Rock suddenly remembered that she couldn't go anywhere and even more anger and frustration set in. "Damn it all the hell!" She fell back against the pillows feeling as helpless as a newborn baby.
"Rock, please calm down," Miriam begged. "It's over and done with. I left him."
"Is he in jail?"
"No," she whispered.
"Why the fuck not?" she yelled as she sat up. "That bastard should be under the jail for what he did."
Michael placed his hand on his daughter's shoulder. "Getting worked up about this isn't going to do you any good, Vali. You have to calm down."
"He beat her because of me, Dad," she told him as her eyes welled with tears, only imagining what Miriam endured. "I'm responsible for this."
"Stop defending him," Miriam said harshly. "That's Mike's problem, he always comes up with an excuse when he messes up. In his eyes it's always someone else's fault."
"She's right, Squirt," Johnnie agreed. "He is responsible for hurting the both of you."
"I didn't come here to stir up trouble for you, Rock. Definitely not to get you upset," Miriam said as she wiped her tear stained cheeks. "I only wanted to see for myself that you were ok." And hopefully build a relationship with you.
Regaining her composure, she looked at Miriam. "What are you going to do now?"
"I don't know," she whispered. "I can't go to my mother's. He would surely find us there. As a matter of fact, my mother says he calls her every day and he even showed up on her doorstep in the middle of the night once." If you even suggest that I stay here with you, I will jump on it in a heartbeat. Rock, I need someone like you in my life.
"New York is a good place to get lost in," Johnnie advised, hoping that Miriam would take the hint and leave. "Anyone who wants to be lost forever usually goes there." I have got to get rid of you, Free Booty.
"Do you know anyone there, Miriam?" Rock asked.
Rock continued to feel she was to blame for Miriam's beating. We can't send her to New York all alone. He won't even think to look for her in Charlotte. "Mike won't come here. You and the boys should find a place to stay."
YES! "Rock, I can't do that. It would be putting you in possible danger. There's no telling what Mike would do." Though I'm sure you could handle anything he threw at you, and the boys and I would be safe under your protection.
Rock looked at her legs. "What more can he do to me?"
Damn you, Free Booty. "Squirt, don't think like that. Caitlin is going to help you regain the use of your legs," Johnnie said. "You'll be as good as new in no time." She smiled at her granddaughter. "You have to keep the faith. The Great Spirit will take care of you."
"I know, Gram," Rock agreed, smiling as she thought of Caitlin. Get back to business, numb nut. You have to help your friend. "Miriam, you find somewhere for you and the kids to stay. Once you do, come back and let me know where you'll be."
Miriam nodded. "I guess I should get started then." She stood up and walked toward the door, looking back over her shoulder at Rock. "Thank you."
They watched as Miriam walked through the door. Johnnie shook her head and started pacing the room. "Squirt, I don't like this. She may be more trouble than she's worth."
"Gram, he beat her because of me."
"He beat her because he's a coward," Johnnie said, trying to control her anger. That slut just played you, Squirt. This won't end well at all, I can just feel it. "You can't blame yourself for that."
"You don't understand, Gram. He walked in on me fucking his wife!"
"So that gives him the right to beat the hell out of her?" Johnnie demanded, rubbing the back of her neck. "You have enough to deal with, you don't need this."
"I can't just turn my back on her. She needs help."
You know she's right. You would do all you could to help a stranger. She looked at Rock. "Fine, we'll help her." I will definitely keep an eye on you, Free Booty.
"Now that we have that settled, maybe we should order lunch," Nadina suggested.
"Sorry, but I have a date," Johnnie said as she walked toward the door.
"With who?" Rock asked.
"I forgot to tell you, but then you were busy with your friend," Johnnie said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "I'm going out to lunch with Caitlin."
"Oh, I was hoping she would have lunch with us…so we could talk about my therapy." So we can spend more time getting to know each other is more like it.
Johnnie laughed at the pout she saw on her granddaughter's face. Yeah, right. "Sorry, kiddo, you;ll have to talk about therapy later. I got a date to keep." She walked out of the room with a smile on her face.
You lucky devil. Rock sighed as she watched her grandmother walk out.
"I'll have the 32 ounce rib-eye steak, baked potato and side salad," Caitlin told the young waitress. "Make sure the tea is sweet and this glass," she tapped the glass to her right, "never gets empty."
Johnnie stared at the small woman over the top of her menu. Good gods, girl. Where are you gonna put all that food? She snapped from her reverie when the waitress cleared her throat as she waited for Johnnie's order. "I'll take the rib and shrimp platter, fries and I'll need a different glass."
"What's wrong with your glass, Gram?" Caitlin asked.
Johnnie smiled. "I need a glass from the bar, filled with Absolut and cranberry juice. Since I'm not driving, you can make sure that my glass never gets empty."
Both Caitlin and the waitress laughed. "Gram, you are just too funny," Caitlin said.
"Well, the joke's gonna be on you when all that food gets here. Where are you gonna put all that? I couldn't handle a 32 ounce steak in one sitting on my best day."
Caitlin blushed. "I usually eat a lot when I'm nervous or upset."
Johnnie grasped Caitlin's hand. "So which is it?"
"What do you mean?" Caitlin asked, with a look of total confusion on her face.
"I may be an old woman, Smurfling, but I know when someone's upset," Johnnie said softly.
Caitlin removed her hand from underneath Johnnie's and began to play with her napkin. "I'm not upset, Gram. I'm just nervous about Rock's rehab."
"That may be true," Johnnie stated, resting on her elbow, "but I saw the way you looked just before you left Squirt's room, right after meeting that Sloan woman." She paused to study her friend.
Caitlin picked up her glass and took a sip. Goddess, Gram, you look at me as if you know my thoughts. "I was just hoping that having her lover present wouldn't distract from her therapy."
"She isn't Squirt's lover," Johnnie quickly revealed. Is that what you really thought, that Squirt was involved with someone? "She's just a mistake from her past, which is one of the reasons I wanted to talk with you."
Leaning forward, Caitlin listened intently.
"She's the reason Sloan and Squirt have this animosity between them. Squirt slept with her, and he caught them," Johnnie said quietly. "I think she's here because she's trying to get back at her husband. I don't trust her any further than I can throw this building."
"So, they only slept together once? There's no relationship?" Caitlin felt some of the weight lift off her shoulders. "But she's here, so there must be something between them." It was more of a statement than a question.
"She's here, yes, but not because Squirt wanted her here," Johnnie revealed. "I'm going to be keeping a sharp eye on her, because she is definitely up to something." She paused. "I want you to do something for me."
"Anything Gram, you know that." Caitlin smiled as she grasped the older woman's hand.
"Don't let that woman run you off or scare you away," Johnnie requested. "She's not the one for my granddaughter." She noticed the look on Caitlin's face and knew she could no longer hide what she knew about the night she saw her sneak into Rock's hospital room. "The first night Squirt was in the hospital, the woman that is for her came into her room. I was going to beat her to death for sneaking in, but I was told to be still and watch." She paused, noticing a hint of recognition form on Caitlin's face. "The woman came in and whispered something to Squirt. When she touched her, Squirt leaned into her touch and spoke Spanish."
Caitlin's eyes widened in horror. Oh my goddess, she knows I was in Rock's room. "It's not how it looks, I just wanted to…"
Holding up her hand to silence the nervous young woman, she continued. "She called her "mi amor" which means "my love". In all my years of watching that child grow up into a young woman, I have never known her to tell any woman she loved them."
Caitlin was stricken mute. She could not believe what the woman she loved like a grandmother was telling her. She has to be mistaken. "But Gram…"
A wistful smile formed on Johnnie's face. "You remind me so much of my Alma. I always had to hush her up to finish my point as well." Once Caitlin reluctantly sat back in her seat, Johnnie continued. "She felt you in her sleep, Smurfling. There's a connection there and you both know it."
"May I speak now?" Caitlin asked. Johnnie nodded and she sat erect in her chair. "I just wanted to see if she was ok. I was at the game when she was hit, and I was afraid for her."
"That may have been the case on the first night, but the following nights were a different story." She studied Caitlin's body language and could see the embarrassment all over her. "Caitlin, please don't feel bad about this. You've done nothing wrong," Johnnie assured her. "I was a detective for a long time, and though I'm a lot older my skills are as sharp as ever. I can read people, and I feel there's something very good waiting for you and my granddaughter."
"Hey, everybody listen up!" a male voice boomed over the sports bar and grill.
Caitlin was grateful for the interruption and Johnnie was irritated. She had more she wanted to share with the young woman and didn't want to get sidetracked. They both turned their attention to the man standing behind the bar, next to the plasma screen.
"They're about to announce the decision about Sloan's NFL career," he announced to the lunch crowd. A hush fell over the entire place as the NFL channel's announcer appeared on the screen.
She looked as the blonde head whipped around to watch the announcement. We will finish this later. I promise. Johnnie's eyes were then riveted to the screen.
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