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Authors: Jerry B. Jenkins

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BOOK: Hometown Legend
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She stood straight up and pressed a hand on her abdomen. I closed my eyes and opened em slowly. Bev hadn’t wanted me to hear
or see that, I was sure. I mean, if she didn’t even tell me what she did on her own time, she sure wouldn’t want me to know
about her, you know, female, feminine, women whatever.

“Mr. Sawyer, I’m not feeling well.”

I couldn’t remember her ever leaving work. She’d called in sick now and then, but once she showed up, I never had to worry
she was gonna change her mind and go home. I felt like a jerk sitting there when I could see she was out of sorts, so I got
up and went into her area. “Sit down for a second, Bev. You okay?”

“I don’t know,” she said, looking pale. “I don’t think so.”

“You need to go home?”

“A little dizzy,” she said.

“You want me to call someone?”

“No. Let me see if this passes. I’d like to make it home on my own.”

I looked at my watch, feeling like a clod. “You need me to run you? We can get someone to carry your car home for you later.”

“This is so embarrassing,” she said.

“Nothing to be embarrassed about,” I said. “When you’re ready, you tell me, and I’ll take you home.”

“I don’t want you to miss your meeting. I’ll get Ginny to sit in here for me.”

“I can have you home and be back here in time,” I said. She called Ginny and told her she was feeling under the weather and
needed her to fill in for the rest of the day. “Would you rather she take you home?” I whispered. I wasn’t trying to get out
of anything. I just didn’t want her feeling self-conscious.

Bev shook her head and hung up, then stood slowly. She put both hands on the edge of her desk. I didn’t know where to look
or what to do. “I don’t think she could help me if I fainted,” Bev said.

Fainted? What was I supposed to do if she fainted? She reached for her bag, carefully slung it over her shoulder, took a deep
breath, and moved away from the desk. I could have offered her my arm, but I didn’t want her to feel—oh, face it, I would
have felt conspicuous. I musta been blushing, following her down the hall and out to my car, praying nobody was watching.
It woulda been easy to explain, a course, but you don’t think about that kinda thing at the time.

“You wanna take some medication or something?” I said, opening the passenger door.

“Better not,” she said, hesitating and straightening again. “Since I don’t know what this is.”

For some reason, that made me feel better. I didn’t know what it was either, but I didn’t have to worry it was something I
didn’t want to talk about. I settled behind the wheel while she tried to buckle herself in, but that took two hands and she
kept wanting to press the one against her abdomen. “I don’t think you need that belt for just a coupla miles,” I said.

“I’d feel more comfortable with it,” she said, looking at me, and I knew I was gonna hafta help. I held the receptacle in
place but still she couldn’t turn enough to get the clip into it. I grabbed that, but the belt had caught and tightened, so
I had to let it snap back to the starting position. Now she was holding herself with one hand and keeping the other out of
the way, so it was left to me to lean past her and do the whole seatbelt thing myself.

She held her breath as I did it, and so did I, but there was no way I was gonna avoid incidental contact, if ya know what
I mean. So I just buckled down and buckled her up, didn’t look at her, started the car, and got real serious about the rearview
mirror. It hit me that I had worked with the woman for years and years and had never touched her, even by accident. I figured
she was as embarrassed as I was.

“Thank you,” she said quietly.

I drove slow through town, not wanting to look at Bev to see how she was doing. So instead I looked at all the closed businesses.
I think they made the town look sicker’n Bev was. “Ever had appendicitis?” I said.

“No, and this is in the wrong spot for that.” She was so quiet she hardly sounded like herself. “Must’ve been something I
ate. This is so embarrassing.”

“Think nothing of it.” I was embarrassed enough for the both of us.

I pulled all the way up the drive so I was just a few feet from the front door of her little house. She kept one hand on her
pain and unbuckled the seatbelt with the other, but the thing started sliding across her and then just stopped. She looked
at me. I grabbed the clip and shook it a little until it rolled back into place. Then I sat there like a doofus.

“I hate to ask,” she said, “but could you walk me?”

“Course!” I said, as if I hadn’t considered anything else. I jogged around the car and offered my hand. She’s a smallish woman,
but she had trouble getting leverage. She seemed even unsteadier once she was standing. What I shoulda done, I knew, was put
my left arm around her waist and let her hold my right hand with hers, but I couldn’t get that coordinated soon enough. I
just offered her my elbow and we slowly made our way to her door. She hung on like she was really hurting.

“Key?” I said.

“Haven’t locked my door in twenty years.” She reached to open it. I didn’t know whether to help her in or what. “Think I’m
okay from here,” she said, giving me her car keys.

“Call if you need anything at all, ’kay?”

She thanked me and shut the door. I shoulda offered to call the doctor for her, taken her to Emergency, something.

19

I
got back to the factory just in time to pull in behind Lee Forest. “I’d like to trade for your hours,” he said, looking at
his watch.

I held the door for him. “No, you wouldn’t.”

The three other older workers—Dave, Carl, and Belle— were waiting near Bev’s area, chatting with Ginny. They kidded Lee the
way he had me—“Glad you could make it,” and all that. Ginny was full of whispered questions about Bev as I pointed the others
into my office. Ginny had thought to add folding chairs.

“I’ll let her tell you,” I said. “Meanwhile, get a couple guys from maintenance to run her car home for her. They can use
mine as a second car.” I gave her both sets of keys and joined the others in my office.

The four people across from me represented the oldest long-term workers American Leather had ever had. Carl reminded me he
remembered when my wife was born. Past that, he and the other two were with Lee just for moral support. As usual, he did the
talking.

“Mr. Sawyer, we ain’t the kinda people who have a problem with young people being our boss.”

“I know and I appreciate that.”

“We go back as far as Estes himself, and it’d be easy to criticize anybody who came after him.”

“Used to do that myself,” I said. Every time he had a problem, a question, or an issue, he started the same way. My mind wandered
as I sat taking in the signs of a lifetime of leatherwork in the arms and hands before me. Belle had mostly run the cutting
machines and done lacing and inflating and molding. But the men had been turners in their younger days, using a straight or
curved metal rod to help muscle the balls rightside out before the finishing process, and their biceps and forearms were massive
and rocklike. Their fingers were orange, their knuckles big and bony, and nobody but their peers would dream of arm-wrestling
em.

They were all in less strenuous jobs now, running the sewing machines or inserting bladders. But they were still eight-hour-a-day
piece workers. They had seen the place humming and been there when the records were set that now faded on banners in the rafters.

“I know you can’t do nothing bout the past,” Lee said. “What’s done is done, and no matter what anybody says, we know you
held out long as you could before letting anybody go. But you know well as we do that we’re down to where you just can’t cut
anymore and stay in business.”

“Well, that’s my problem, Mr. Forest,” I said. “If more trimming can be done, I’ll find it.”

“I’m—we’re not trying to tell you your business, but we been around long enough to know when you’re at the limit.”

“Getting close anyway,” I admitted.

“It’s down to just Wilson and us manufacturing state-side, ain’t it?” he said.

“Yeah.”

“How long before they go overseas?”

I shrugged. “They’re fighting it tooth and nail like we are.”

“We need something new,” Lee said.

“Baseball gloves, I know,” I said.

“That got to you, did it? Well, bless Bev’s little heart.” He paused. “You know, sir, you and her …”

“I’m studying ball gloves,” I said.

“That’s all we ask,” he said, and the others smiled. “Glove leather is softer, easier to work with. More steps, but we can
learn it. We can do it better’n anybody in the world, just like with the footballs, and we’d love the chance to prove it.”

“Not thinking about retiring?”

Lee threw his head back and clapped both palms on his knees. “Retirement’s for old people.”

We chatted a few more minutes and I wasn’t sure I was doing more than paying homage to loyal people. But they seemed happier
after getting a little a my time. I didn’t promise anything, but I saw in their eyes that they’d give it all they had if I
was to add ball gloves to the line.

We were saying our good-byes when Ginny interrupted. “Sir, Alejandro is on your line and I think you’d better take it.”

“I rang the doorbell and then I knocked, wanting to give Miz Beverly her car keys,” the young man reported. “I thought maybe
she was in the bathroom or asleep and couldn’t get to the door. Stu said to just put the keys inside the door where she could
find them, but when I pushed it open, I saw her on the floor.”

I froze. “Was she, is she … ?”

“Stu went in with me and she looked okay, but her breathing was real shallow and her heartbeat was weak. We called the hospital.”

“Good!”

“She’s there now.”

“Memorial?”

“Yes, sir. We’re on our way back to work.”

Why hadn’t I seen her all the way inside and helped her lie down? How long might she have been on that floor if they hadn’t
found her? I told Ginny to call the school and tell em I might miss my class and to tell Coach Schuler I might be late for
practice.

I jogged out to the parking lot, but course my car was gone. I spun around, and Ginny was at the door. “You let them use your
car, sir.” It was bad enough being an idiot. I hated that it showed. Luckily, here came Stu and Alejandro.

Twenty minutes later I slid to the curb at Memorial. Bev had already been assigned a room, and by the time I got there she
was looking better. I wouldn’t say perky, but she was okay enough to start apologizing. “You didn’t have to come,” she said.

I wished I hadn’t. The sickening alcohol and cleaning supply smells were already starting to overwhelm me. Any time I got
close to a place like that it reminded me of Estelle’s awful final year. But I couldn’t just bolt.

“What’re they telling you?” I said. “They drew blood and are running some tests. They might have to use a scope. They’re guessing
some kind of infection, bladder or intestinal, something.”

“Serious?”

“They don’t think so. See? Not worth any fuss.”

After what I’d gone through with Estelle, I stayed away from hospitals as much as I could. Even when Rachel was a tomboy and
needed patching, I was in and out of there too fast for memories to start kicking in. I had panicked when it looked liked
something could be seriously wrong with Bev, but now I just wanted out of there. I guess she could tell.

“You go on now, Calvin. I’ll get back to work as soon as they’ll let me.”

I stood in the doorway, lightheaded and miserable. “Take your time and take care of yourself,” I said, trying to cover my
restlessness.

I don’t guess I succeeded. She waved at me with the back of her hand, shooing me out. I was grateful.

• • •

The players didn’t say anything about Jackson running laps all during practice. I can tell you he didn’t just put in his time,
half running, half walking like most would have. He jogged at a pretty good clip, and every once in a while he would sprint
a hundred yards or so. Then he would run the stairs. Nobody told him to do that. Coach pretended not to notice, but I know
he did.

He spent most of his time hollering at the kids and talking about what he’d seen in the game film. I had watched it with him
and was amazed that it looked even worse than I remembered in the live game. I couldn’t even talk with him about it, it made
him so mad. He got angrier every day, and I hate to say it, but we didn’t see any progress on the practice field.

“I’m worried about myself,” he told me as we left practice. “I don’t even want to talk to this team anymore.”

“There’s plenty to say.”

“It’s just that the more I study that film, the more I see how far we’ve got to go.”

“So tell em that.”

He shook his head.

“Coming Wednesday night?” I said.

“Nah.”

“You don’t care?”

“I don’t, Calvin.”

“But if the kids somehow pull this off and the school stays open—”

“Ain’t gonna happen and you know it.”

He was right.

“Anyway,” he said, “I’m seeing the wife tonight.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“Me too.”

I didn’t know whether to ask, so I did. “No progress there either?”

He shook his head and I left it alone.

• • •

I had learned to go to public functions separate from Rachel. She never seemed to mind being seen with me, but I knew not
to push it. We were already pretty close for a dad and a teenager, but she was energetic and had her own mind and didn’t need
to have me with her all the time. I was as scared as any other dad that maybe I only thought I knew my little girl, but we’d
had the talk—you know what I mean—and I trusted her. I know parents always think their kids are perfect, but if she was fooling
around while also going to church and praying and reading her Bible and living like a Christian, well, she’d have more to
answer to than me. I don’t wanna be blind or naive, but, no, I’d’ve known.

Rachel and her friends had decorated the gym with a huge flag behind a small platform that had enough chairs for the school
board. In front of that was a small wood lectern facing a couple hundred folding chairs, and the whole place was decked out
with saving-the-school banners and posters.

BOOK: Hometown Legend
10.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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