Authors: Jerry B. Jenkins
Why was he being cruel? “That’s what I believe, Elvis,” she whispered. “I couldn’t go on otherwise.”
“And you’ve got this great dad who’s made everything all right.”
“He’s been more than I could have asked for. I’m sorry if you didn’t have the same.”
“Yeah, well, me too.”
They sat silently and Rachel avoided looking at him. Finally she said, “So, your parents. What—?”
“I gotta go,” Elvis said, standing. He picked up his books and reached for the bag. She moved awkwardly and let him take it.
He hesitated. “I’ll see ya,” he said.
“Elvis,” she said, “I want to be your friend. I really do.”
He pursed his lips and nodded. But he walked away without looking back. As she hurried home, brushing away tears, Rachel realized
she had told him the truth. She was not crying over him. She was crying for him.
had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing at how Coach wanted to talk about everything except what he knew I wanted to
hear. I mean, the man had just seen his wife for the first time in days, and I was dying to know how it went. All he wanted
to talk about was the new offense.
“Calvin,” he said, “I got to hand it to you, son. This passing game fits our boys and the fact that we got only fifteen of
em. I believe we can win us some ball games.”
I nodded, expecting more. “Uh-huh.”
“We could win the conference, Sawyer, and I’m not just saying that. If we stay healthy and get some breaks—”
“Come on, Buster,” I said. “You sound like every coach ever interviewed. Keeping fifteen guys healthy the rest of the season
will be enough of a miracle.”
“Not for me,” he said. “I’m here to win, win it all.”
“Good. But you didn’t drive over here to thank me for the new offense. How’s Helena?”
He shook his head. “I can’t figure her out.”
“Took you thirty years to see that modern football is about passing. So, what, she make you pay for not showing up for a while?”
“Got the cold shoulder. She says, ‘Thought you were never coming back.’ I said, ‘Isn’t that what you wanted?’ She said, ‘Go
ahead, abandon me and blame it on me.’ I told her I’d do whatever she asked.” His voice got thick all of a sudden. “She said,
‘You won’t give up coaching football.’”
“She would ask you to do that?”
Coach nodded. “I told her I’d given it up for twelve years and I would give it up again if that would make her happy.”
My eyes must’ve been bugging out. “Don’t tell me you’re quitting. You couldn’t be, coming over here and bragging me up about
the new offense. You can’t break your contract after you threatened to sue the county if they breached. You said, ‘
could win the league.’ Tell me you’re not here to try to give me this team.”
“Cool your jets, Sawyer. You are without a doubt. I told her I’d quit if that made her happy and I meant it. I was scared
to death she was gonna call me on it.”
“She didn’t pick up on it?”
“She said she wanted me to quit only because I wanted to, and I told her I didn’t want to. She said, ‘I want you to hurt as
bad as I hurt.’ I’ve learned not to argue with her, Cal. I know better’n to start competing over who hurts the worst. I told
her, ‘Helena, I’ll do whatever you want. Quit coaching. Quit coming to see you. Or keep coaching and keep coming to see you.’
“She looked disgusted like she couldn’t stand me, but she just said, ‘I know you’re going to do what you want to do anyway,
so do what you want.’ I said, ‘Well, then, I’ll see you tomorrow.’ And she said, ‘Suit yourself.’
“On my way out I see Mrs. Knuth and she tells me that Helena actually showed her the note I had written her, not knowing that
it was Mrs. Knuth who delivered it to her box. Mrs. Knuth said, ‘Isn’t that nice?’ and Helena told her, ‘He’s a fool.’ But
you know what, Sawyer? She says Helena went back to her room and still had the note with her, slipped it into her pocket on
her way down the hall.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?” I said.
Coach nodded. “Coulda been worse.”
• • •
He was gone by the time Rachel got home, and it was a good thing. Something had happened and she was ready to talk. “I won’t
be seeing Elvis much anymore,” she said. “He was just using me to get his laundry done and get help with his history.”
“You’re not even gonna be friends?”
“I don’t think he wants a friend.”
“Maybe he’s shy. You ought to try to draw him out.”
She took off her sweater and leaned back against the door to her room. “Daddy, we don’t talk about the bad times too much,
“The bad times?”
Her shoulders slumped. “Yes,” she said, as if I’d just said the stupidest thing she could imagine. “I’m sure you remember.”
“God brought us through it,” I said.
“We just concentrate on that, don’t we?”
“Try to stay positive, sure.”
“But Daddy, it wasn’t easy. I had awful days and lots of them.”
I nodded. “So did I. Still do sometimes.”
“We should talk about those, because sometimes I think we’re pretending there’s only one way to remember Mama, and it’s just
the good stuff.”
I stood and stretched. What had brought this on? “Your mother was the finest—”
“See, Daddy? I know that! And I’m not trying to remember anything bad about her. But we’re so used to saying that God brought
us through and that we’re gonna see her in heaven again someday—”
“And we are.”
“I know, but let me finish! We say all that so much that it makes me forget what I went through.”
“I’d rather not remember, honey.”
“Me either, but that’s just it! It isn’t real. I mean, I know it’s true about God and Jesus and heaven, but who can believe
us when we talk about Mama dying and act like it was the best thing that ever happened to us?”
“The best th—?”
“You know what I mean! Sure, we’d rather she was still with us, but we act like it’s okay because we’ll all be together again
“I believe that, Rachel.”
Suddenly she was sobbing. I reached for her, but she covered her eyes with one hand and held up the other to keep me away.
“I believe it, Daddy! But I was so young! I understood my mom had died and yet I didn’t really understand, and sometimes I
still can’t! It was like someone had sucked the air out of the world and I couldn’t breathe. I kept expecting to see her,
and lots of times I thought I did. I dreamt about her. And I wanted to talk to her about how hard it was!”
“I did the best I could, Rach—”
“Daddy, you’re the best and I love you and I don’t know what else you could have done. But I remember years,
of a blackness inside me, a hole I couldn’t climb out of. And I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was my fault.”
“I know it doesn’t make sense, but I didn’t know it then, and I couldn’t talk to you about it. But if I had been a better
girl, if I had obeyed more or been more quiet or more helpful or—”
She finally let me embrace her. “Daddy, I know. I wasn’t responsible and there was nothing I could have done, but when you’re
that young you don’t know. I said the right things enough times that I believed them. I know Mama is better off. I know she’s
with Jesus. I know I’m lucky to have a dad who loves me. But I don’t think other people realized what we were going through.
It’s not their fault either, but I don’t want to pretend it wasn’t awful.”
I was rocked. She’d always been such a good kid that I thought she was tougher than I was, that she had dealt with things
better than me. Maybe I hadn’t handled her the way I should have. I wanted to ask her what had brought this on from walking
with Elvis Jackson. But she was through talking.
achel awoke at 5:30 in the morning and wrote a note to Elvis Jackson.
“It hurt me to feel awkward around you yesterday, and I could tell you were uncomfortable too. Can’t we talk? Doesn’t our
argument seem petty now? I want to be your friend, but that takes two. Though it hurt, you struck a nerve when you implied
I was unrealistic about my mother. You’re right. I’ve hidden the truth. I don’t know what happened to your parents and I don’t
need to know unless you want to tell me. But it’s clear you have not glossed over your pain. It’s made you angry, but my dad
tells me that most people’s strength is also their weakness.
“Well, that must work both ways, because if what you’ve pushed down inside you and won’t talk about has made you angry, it’s
also made you driven and persistent. I can’t see your eyes when you run with the football, but I imagine that the look on
your face when you’re refusing to be caught and tackled is the same as when you refused to tell me about your parents and
when you accused me of pretending I wasn’t suffering. I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll tell you the truth about what it’s been
like for me if you’ll promise to do the same.
“You can take your time. For all I know you haven’t ever been able to tell anyone. You were young, and if your relatives wouldn’t
take you in, they don’t seem like the type of people you’d open up to. And since you kept getting passed to different foster
families, well, obviously that wasn’t the right kind of atmosphere where you could talk with people. And you said you ran
from the last family, so …
“What do you say, Elvis? I’ll be in the courtyard at lunch. If you don’t want to join me, it’s okay. And like I said, I’ll
do the talking this time. You’ll learn you can talk to me. It’ll be just between us, and I won’t ask you again to tell me
what you’re feeling. I don’t know if this makes any sense, but I sure hope I see you at lunch.”
Rachel would pass Elvis in the hall after first hour and hand him the note. Paying attention in calculus was impossible. What
if he went a different way to avoid her? What if he wouldn’t look at her, like yesterday? Well, if it came to that, she knew
where his locker was. She could stick the note through the vents and hope he saw it in time to decide what he wanted to do
Rachel’s heart thundered as she headed for second hour, the note folded small in her palm. She spotted Elvis from a distance
and thought he saw her too, but as they got closer, he flushed and she couldn’t catch his eye. He was fumbling with his books.
Scared as she was, Rachel was not going to let the moment pass. She angled toward him and stood in his path. When he stopped,
forcing a smile, she thrust out her note—just as he handed her one. Both notes dropped to the floor. They both knelt to grab
them and banged knees. She said, “This reminds me of when we met.”
He laughed. “Don’t remind me. Gotta go.”
“Oh!” she said, realizing she had picked up her own note. They traded and she ran to second period. She felt like a junior
higher, using her textbook to hide the note as she unfolded it at her desk.
When she saw the simple printing, she pressed a hand to her neck and a sob rose in her throat. “Dear Rachel: I’m sorry about
what I said. Will you forgive me? I just want to be friends too and you don’t have to feel any pressure. Let me know. Love
(as a friend) Elvis P. Jackson.”
Rachel put the note away, only to slip it out again twice more before the end of class. Each time she unfolded it she was
overcome with a feeling that Elvis was in some ways stuck at the age when he’d lost his parents.
She knew nothing would be longer than her classes before lunch. Elvis would come, she knew it. But lunch break was so short.
She wanted to say enough but not too much. Above all she wanted to give him a glimpse of her real self and get him used to
telling the truth about his deepest feelings. She pressed her fingers above her eyes and realized this would be new to her
• • •
Though Elvis had quickly become one of the stars of the football team, Rachel noticed he didn’t seem to have any friends.
She had eaten lunch with him a few times, finding him by himself eating a snack, never a meal. Though he worked at Tee’s,
and Rachel knew he wasn’t paying rent, he had apparently decided not to spend his money on lunch either. Once she asked him
how he could get enough fuel and energy for football practice with just a bag of chips for lunch. He’d smiled. “I can’t,”
he’d said, “without this,” and he held up his carton of chocolate milk.
“Yech!” she said. “Corn chips and chocolate milk?”
“Two chocolate milks,” he said, and though he grinned as if he enjoyed repulsing her, she knew he had to be self-conscious.
“Lunch of champions,” he added. Rachel tried not to look disgusted. She wondered how he could look so healthy and strong and
clear-skinned. “I make up for all this after work every night,” he said. “Tee fixes me whatever I want, and I always want
the same. Rare steak and mashed potatoes.” Rachel had wondered what he did for breakfast, but it was none of her business.
Today, as she sat in the courtyard with her lunch and an open book in front of her, Rachel couldn’t eat. She couldn’t read
either. Josie came out from the cafeteria and invited her in. “Tomorrow,” Rachel said. “Thanks anyway.”
Rachel laughed it off. If Elvis showed up soon, Josie would see why she was unavailable. And here he came.
Rachel smiled and waved, but that seemed to embarrass him. He carried one chocolate milk, and she guessed he had already eaten
his chips and drunk the other carton. “Do me a favor, would you?” she said, as he sat across from her in the grass. “Throw
this sandwich away for me? I had too big a breakfast, and I’m not gonna eat it.”
“Unless you want it. I hate to waste it.”
“If you’re gonna throw it out,” he said.
He unwrapped it while she pretended to finish reading. She had made the sandwich from leftover chicken, lettuce, and a little
butter and mayonnaise. He seemed to shudder with the first big bite, and he ate fast. “I can hear you,” she whispered.
“Sorry,” he said, his mouth full. He took a gulp of milk. “Great. This is great!”