Losing Sight of the Target

an excerpt

Chapter One

"Your macular degeneration is worse."

Those were the worst words Justin Isaksen had ever heard in his life. He clenched his hands on his thighs, not wanting to throw a punch at the doctor. It wasn't the man's fault he was destroying Justin's life, though he probably did understand what that particular diagnosis meant for Justin.

"How long?" Justin inquired, managing to keep his voice even.

Dr. Sanjaee shrugged. "I can't give you a definite date or time, Justin. I just know it's happening and eventually you'll be blind. Unfortunately, I can tell you that this will be the last Olympics you'll be able to participate in. The rate at which your eyesight has deteriorated from your last visit tells me it's one of the faster degenerations I've dealt with."

"But I can still compete this year, right?"

That was the most important thing at the moment. He would deal with what was going to happen after the Games. He couldn't let the diagnosis get to him. He'd just gotten on the team and had another month to train before he left for Sochi.

"Yes, you can compete this year, but you definitely won't be able to when the next Games comes along. By then, your vision will be completely gone."

"Thanks for not sparing my feelings, Doc," he muttered.

Sanjaee met his gaze. "Do you want me to do that? I can lie to you and tell you that with all the advancements being made, we might be able to reverse your disease. And that would be true, but it won't happen in time to help you. I don't believe in giving people false hope. You need to start learning how to deal with what your life is going to be like in the future."

"But not yet. I have a gold medal to win." After standing, he offered his hand to the doctor. "Thank you, Doctor. I'm sure I'll be back in here before I leave for Russia."

"Yes. If you make the team, you'll be back in here to get your vaccinations." Sanjaee shook his hand. "You'll be able to deal with it, Justin. You're physically and mentally strong. Give yourself a week or two to adjust to the news."

"I will," he promised before leaving the office.

Justin knew Sanjaee would fax the information to the Olympic committee and he wasn't sure what that would mean to his chances to get on the team. He wasn't overly worried because, while his sight had gotten worse, he was still winning his races.

As a biathlete, his eyesight was an important part of his sport, but he hadn't noticed any difficulty in his shooting and hitting the targets. It was his peripheral vision that had been getting worse, which was why he'd gone to the doctor in the first place.

He nodded at the receptionist as he walked out, heading to the street. Justin stood on the sidewalk, glancing up and down the road. He'd avoided drinking while he was in training, but if ever there was a day to indulge in some numbing alcohol, this was the day.

His phone vibrated in his pocket, and after pulling it out, he checked the number. It was his coach, who'd stayed behind in Utah to train with the others on the team. Norman must have received Sanjaee's report.

"Hello," he said, knowing Coach would just keep calling until he answered.

Norman didn't even wait for him to tell him the diagnosis. "This doesn't change this year. We go ahead like we planned. You can decide what you want to do after the Games."

"We both know what I'll do, Norman. I'll be retiring after the Games. Shit! Can you believe it? I should be able to go to three or four Games, but no, I'll only get one chance to win a gold medal." He let his head drop and stared at the cement under his feet.

"Then you fucking win it." Norman wasn't the type of guy who dwelt on what might have been. If he was, he'd never have gone on to become a world-renowned coach after a car accident damaged his leg so badly he couldn't ski competitively any more.

Justin straightened his shoulders. He really didn't have a cause to whine. He would at least get to compete. Norman's accident happened two months before the world championships, and he'd never gotten an opportunity to prove how good he was.

"You're right. I'll train like a son of a bitch and I'll win the fucking medal."

"When will you be back?"

He had the feeling that Norman was already re-working Justin's training schedule to accommodate his diagnosis. "I'm on a flight leaving tomorrow afternoon. I should be back at the training facility by six."

"All right. Text me when you land, and I'll meet you at your room. We'll have a strategy meeting then." Norman hung up without saying good-bye.

After tucking his phone in his jacket pocket, Justin looked around, deciding to go back to his hotel and lick his wounds. He didn't have any friends in San Francisco and wasn't interested in going out to meet anyone either. Though maybe he should take advantage of being away from the team and out from under the scrutiny of the media to find a little company for the night.

Even while he had the thought, Justin knew he wouldn't do that. He wasn't in the mood to try to pick someone up. Not with the depressing future he had to look forward to. As he stepped to the curb to flag down a cab, he decided to have dinner at the hotel, then just go up to his room and try to find a way to deal with the bombshell the doctor had dropped in his lap.

Once he got back to where he was staying, he wandered into the bar off the lobby. He double-checked with the bartender that he could order something to eat before taking a seat at one of the booths in the corner. He wasn't looking for any kind of company.

Justin studied the menu and there wasn't anything there that was on his training regime. Shrugging, he ordered a hamburger with fries along with a double shot of whiskey on the rocks. If there was ever a time he had the right to say "fuck it," today was that day.

When the waitress brought him his drink, he didn't allow himself to think about how it wasn't the smartest thing for him to do. At that moment, he didn't care. His future had derailed from the path he'd planned for from the instant he'd first put on cross-country skis and shot a rifle.

Competing in the Olympics had been his goal from the beginning, and while he would be able to achieve that this year, he wouldn't be able to attend any more as a participant. So he wouldn't be going to any because what would be the point? It wasn't like he'd even be able to watch the events.

He slammed the shot back and ordered another one. By the time his food arrived, he'd had three whiskeys and was working on his fourth.

"Don't you think you should take it easy?"

Justin glanced up to see an older man standing next to his booth. "I'm not interested."

The man snorted in amusement. "Do you think I'm a rent boy? I think I'm flattered."

"It doesn't matter what you're selling. I'm not interested. I just want to eat and drink for a while." Justin gestured toward his burger and whiskey.

Without asking permission, the man slid into the booth across from Justin, then held out his hand. "I'm Caesar Gikas."

Justin's mother had instilled manners into her son that even four drinks couldn't get him to ignore. He shook Caesar's hand and said, "Justin Isaksen."

"So, Justin, you're just looking to get drunk?" Caesar made a point of checking his watch. "Isn't it a little early in the day to do that or is this your usual routine?"

Frowning, Justin stared at him. "How the hell is it any of your business when I decide to drink?"

To emphasize the fact that Caesar had no control over him, he picked up his glass and took a big swig from it. Banging it on the table, he glared at Caesar.

"Normally, I would say it isn't any of my business, but I think you're dealing with other issues and I don't think getting drunk will help you." Caesar motioned the waitress over. "I'd like a cup of coffee for myself and several glasses of water for my friend here."

Justin shook his head. "Now wait a minute. I don't know who the fuck you think you are, but you can't just take over. You're not my father or my coach."

"Ah, you're an athlete. I thought so when I saw you walk in. You have that very fit look about you." Caesar unbuttoned his suit coat, slipping it off to lay it carefully on the bench next to him.

"Just make yourself at home," Justin muttered before taking a bite of his burger. He moaned as the juices hit his tongue. Fuck! It had been a long time since he'd eaten anything as fattening as this. He closed his eyes as he chewed, then moaned again.

A cleared throat had him looking over at Caesar, who stared at him in what seemed like fascination. Justin grabbed a napkin to wipe his chin.

"Do I have anything on my face?"

Caesar cleared his throat again while shaking his head. "No. I've never seen someone enjoy a burger quite that much."

There was a flare of lust in Caesar's eyes, and Justin felt a matching heat rise in his groin. His jeans were suddenly too tight, making him fight the urge to reach down and adjust himself. He took another bite and kept his enjoyment to himself.