GHOST OF GRAYDON PLACE  --  CHAPTER ONE-1-

 

Tracy welcomed the touch of Mac’s fingers twining through hers, yet she leaned forward in the backseat of the Sterling car so she could see around his broad shoulders, his rangy frame, and get one last look at the Drake campus as Mrs. Sterling braked at a stoplight.

            “Sit back,” Mac invited, his calm blue eyes regarding her fondly.  “Relax.  There’s plenty of room.  If it weren’t for these winter clothes . . . “  He smoothed his gray flannel slacks and pulled his down jacket closer to his lean body in an attempt to make more space: then he flipped the jacket collar up around his ears until the bronze brown fabric blended with his thick mane of carefully cut hair.

            Tracy smiled to herself, admiring Mac as she eased back into the crevice between them and Tom that was barely large enough to accommodate her slim frame.  Wide-set eyes.  High-set cheekbones.  Full mouth.  Mac reminded her of the picture of King Arthur in a storybook that had been her favorite as a child.  All day long she had noticed girls turning to give Mac a second glance.  But now the campus vied with him for her attention.

            “Black and blue.”  Mac winked, eyeing her dark hair and her skirt and blazer.  “May favorite color combinations.”

            She barely heard him.  How she wished she would be coming to Des Moines and enrolling at Drake University next year!  But she didn’t voice her wish; no use risking an argument with Mac in front of Tom and Jill and Jill’s mother.  She and Mac had had enough discussions about whether or not she should accept an engagement ring for Christmas, about whether or not she should plan to be married right after she was graduated from high school in June.  She was in no mood to think about the future problems  and decisions today, not when everything had been so perfect.

            “Hey!” Tom shouted in her left ear and nudged her with his elbow.  “It’s starting to snow.”  He had been holding his tan coat in his lap, and now he slipped it on over his green cords and yellow crew-neck sweater.

            “Ta-da!”  Mac held his hand to his mouth as if it were a megaphone.  “And ace reporter Tom Crendal gives the world another first.” Mac lowered his hand.  “What would we do without you and your astute observations, Tom?”

            “Ha.”  Tom raked his fingers through his black hair, leaving it standing in dark, featherlike tufts that contrasted with his January pale face.  “When I’m a famous journalist working on The New York Times or The Washington Post, you’ll see my byline and say, “Ah, I knew that boy when he was writing for Pebbles at good old Marshalltown High.  Always knew Tom would make good.’”

            Tracy grinned at the boys.  “This is no time for sarcasm.  We all should be congratulating Jill on her number-one rating.  You did a super job, Jill.  I’ll bet you were the best flute player those three judges heard all day.”

            “Sure thing,.”  Tom leaned forward and slapped Jill on the back.  “That superior rating along with your being chosen for All State Band should grab you the Tye music scholarship for next year.”

            Jill half turned where she was sitting in a bucket seat beside her mother.  She smiled her thanks as she pulled her white turtleneck sweater up under her chin, buttoned her red blazer, and then reached down to see if the car heater was blowing warm air.  “I’m keeping my fingers crossed, gang.  No scholarship, no college.”

You’ll get it,” Tom said.  “I’m going to give you a great write-up in Pebbles  That should help get your name in the minds of the people on the scholarship committee.”

“I’ll probably gain ten more pounds waiting for their decision.”  Jill sighed.  I wish I’d inherited Mom’s metabolism.  I gained five pounds from nervous eating, worrying about this contest.”

“Maybe you should have inherited my will power,” her mother said, laughing.  “I’d look like a blimp if I didn’t diet.”

Tracy glanced at Mrs. Sterling in her gray, tailored coat and suit and she couldn’t imagine her looking anything but super sharp.  Even her salt-and-pepper hair was chic.  Had her hair once been as black as Jill’s was now?  Tracy smiled at Jill.  With their dark hair and creamy complexions, Jill and Tom looked enough alike to be siblings instead of a great couple.

Jill quickly changed the subject from dieting.  “Tom when you write that article, -just remember that Tracy deserves a lot of the credit.  Without a good accompanist a soloist is down the tubes.”

“It was fu playing for you, Jill,” Tracy said.  She felt Mac Squeeze her hand and she smiled at him, pleased that he had chosen to spend his Saturday afternoon with her at the music contest, taking time off from his weekend job as museum guide in Iowa City.  She enjoyed playing the piano, but she had no desire to make a career of music as Jill did.  If she went to college, she wanted to go into pre-law.  If.  That was the big word

“It’s snowing harder, kids.”  Mrs. Sterling signaled for a left turn.  “I hope . . . “  Her voice trailed away as she snapped on the radio.  “See if you can tune in a weather report, will you, Jill?”

Tracy looked outside where snow was falling in big, wet flakes that were clinging to the windows and were already beginning to pile up at the sides of the freeway.  But she wasn’t worried.  Mrs. Sterling was a good driver.  She was always taking a carload of kids somewhere and she didn’t let weather and traffic flap her like some people did.  A paper-clip type of person, Tracy thought.  Jill’s mother is the kind who holds things together.

Mac’s presence added to her feeling of well-being.  Dependable.  Calm.  Mac never pushed  himself forward, but he could cope with a bad situation when necessity demanded.  She always felt good with Mac.

Again Tom nudged Tracy with his elbow.  “Look at this.  How’s this for a headline?”

Tracy read from the yellow notepad Tom was holding.  “JILL STERLING IS NUMBER ONE.  She grinned, knowing Tom thought Jill was a number one for many reasons.  They had been dating since their junior year.  It was amazing when she stopped to think about it—Tom with his jumping jack mind that encouraged leaping before looking, and Jill with her pragmatic, over-practical bent.

“JILL STERLING IS NUMBER ONE.”  Mac repeated the potential headline.  “Very creative.”  His resonant bass voice assumed a tone that was half sincere, half teasing.

“Hope it makes the front page, Tom,” Tracy said.  “You and Jill both deserve a front-page spread.”  Suddenly Tracy felt very much out of it.  Next fall Tom would be going to the University of Missouri to study journalism.  Jill was almost certain to be enrolling in music at Drake.  Jill was sometimes pessimistic about her chances, but she usually reached her goals.  Mac would be a senior in archaeology at University of Iowa.  And Tracy Pendelton?  Where would she be?

She wished she were two people.  Then one of her could marry Mac, and the other one could enroll in pre-law at Drake.  Why did people have to make such hard decisions, such impossible decisions? She scowled until the radio announcer intruded into her thoughts.

“An unexpected snowstorm is sweeping across the Mississippi valley and is now covering the eastern half of Iowa.  A traveler’s advisory is in effect for the next twenty-four hours.  I-80 is closed east of Newton.  I-35 is still open north of Des Moines, but it is becoming snow-packed and dangerous.  Iowa motorists are advised to postpone all but emergency travel.”

Nobody said anything for a few moments; then Jill spoke up.  “We only have to go a few miles on I-80, don’t we, Mom?  And Newton is twenty or thirty miles east of here.  We’ll be okay.”

“The snow seems to be building up pretty fast.”  Mac wiped steam from the window with his jacket sleeve and peered intently into the darkness.

“Good old Mac can dig us out if we get stuck,” Tom said.  “He’s a fast study with  a shovel.”

“Archaeologists seldom dig in snow, good buddy.”

“Maybe we should stop at a motel, Mom,” Jill said

“But I have to get back,” Tracy said.  “Since I took this afternoon off I’m supposed to do the late-evening check at the animal shelter tonight. 
If we don’t get back . . .”

“If we don’t get back, someone else can do it for you,” Jill said.  “Be practical.  You act as if those stray dogs and cats actually belong to you, Tracy.”

“I do feel responsible for them.  And really sorry for the, too.”  She sighed; then her voice brightened.  “But we did find homes for five dogs and two cats this week.”

“I suppose you took for of them.”  Jill laughed.  “You’re such a soft touch, I can hardly believe it.”

At first Jill’s words irritated her, but on second thought she guessed Jill was right.  She was a soft touch.  Maybe that’s why she wanted to be a lawyer, so she could help people in trouble.

“I don’t think she’s such a soft touch,” Mac said.  “I’ve been trying to get her to let me adopt a dog for two years now and she won’t do it.”

“We don’t let people adopt pets unless they offer the pet a secure home situation”  Tracy laughed.  “Being mascot for a fraternity house just doesn’t qualify.  Who’s going to take care of the dog during vacations?”

“Spare me,” Mac said.  “We’ve been over it all before.”

Again they drove in silence for a few moments

Tracy chewed on her lower lip as she watched the odometer for another half mile or so.  Then suddenly the car jolted, fishtailed into a skid and stopped.

“What’d we hit?”  Tom rolled down his window and tried to peer out.

Tracy brushed snow from her face, feeling its wet coldness against her cheeks and fingers.  She knew without being told that they had hit a snowdrift. She heard the tires spin and felt the vibration of the floorboard ad Mrs. Sterling raced the motor, urging the car forward.  Then she shifted into reverse and raced the motor again.  The tires screamed in protest. 

hey were stuck.