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Authors: Jerry B. Jenkins

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I said, “Hey, that leaves out the Schulers.”

“So does Helena’s condition,” Bev said, “but did she ever come alive with Jenny. And Coach loves her.”

“Godparents?”

“That’s what I was thinking.” Bev’s eyes were afire. “If we hadn’t worked together all these years, I might worry about bringing
a little one into a new marriage. And it still won’t be easy. But it’ll be worth it, don’t you think? Or were you looking
forward to an empty nest? Am I messing everything up, Cal?”

“Course you are! Kid or not, the nest ain’t gonna be empty with you here.”

We talked about it all afternoon, and it seemed Bev couldn’t think a nothing else for days. She was obsessed with Jenny, and
I was getting there. My mind was clouded by the business falling apart, but come Christmas I finally found out what Bev meant
about legal stuff. While she was arranging for the adoption, I was resigning myself to the fact that American Leather was
dying, while still— recklessly, I know—keeping one eye on the ball glove market.

Bev and I drove down to the shore for a Christmas Eve dinner, and she looked beautiful. We’d talked with Jenny on the phone
that day and told her the news. She could move in with Bev by the middle of January, and we would become a family on the twenty-third.
No matter how the business deal came down, I wouldn’t have to work. But that wasn’t me. I told Bev, “I gotta start reading
the want ads.”

“That sounds like a cue for my present,” she said.

“I didn’t bring it,” I said. “It’s under the tree.”

“I meant my present to you,” she said. But she had carried only a small purse. “Is now okay?”

I nodded and she pulled out a business-size envelope. It was from an insurance company and addressed to her. She had crossed
out her name and address and written in, “To my darling Cal, with love forever. Merry Christmas 2001. What’s mine is yours
and what’s yours is ours.”

“What’s this?” I said, studying it in the light of the table candle.

“I don’t know, darling. Maybe you should open it.”

Inside was a memo on the insurance company’s letterhead, regarding Athens City Memorial Hospital, Inc. “Ms. Raschke, enclosed
is your portion of the settlement with the above-named corporation. It has been our pleasure serving you. We wish to remind
you that the details herein are, by binding agreement, confidential. With your acceptance of the enclosed, you absolve the
corporation and its staff, in part and in whole, from any legal liability related to your case. For purposes of public knowledge,
you are stipulating that the corporation admits no guilt or fault in the matter.

“While the award enclosed could never compensate for your pain and suffering or permanent physical damage, we hope that it
in a small way helps allow you to put behind you a difficult season in your life.

“Cordially …”

I looked up at her, afraid to peek at the “enclosed.”

“I, ah, never thought you’d pursue this, Bev. I really didn’t.”

“You know me well, Cal. I wouldn’t have. I listened. I said I wasn’t the type to bring action. I said everybody makes mistakes.
I said there was no way someone did this with intent. They said, ‘You almost died. That colonoscopy almost killed you. And
before they repaired the damage, the poison in your system took away your most natural female ability.’ I told em I understood
but that I would not be making a claim against the hospital.”

“So what’s this?”

“They asked permission to withhold my wishes from the hospital while they pursued their own claim. They said, ‘We’re not about
to pay for the further procedures necessary to keep you alive, which were the result of their error.’ I told em that sounded
fair enough and that I was sure the hospital would waive those costs.”

“This is waiving costs?”

“Cal, their attorneys went in there with a handicap. I was a victim unwilling to file. But with my permission not to reveal
that, as long as they didn’t imply otherwise, they started negotiating with the hospital corporation’s lawyers. They established
the case for malpractice, just to make clear that they knew well what had happened.

“They tell me the corporation’s lawyers advised the hospital to settle. I argued with em, Cal. I told em to get back in there
and tell em it was unnecessary, cause I wasn’t gonna file anyway. They said, ‘You can do what you want with your part of the
money. If it were up to us, we would treat this as a first offer and try to get more.’ I said, ‘Let me see that,’ and they
slid it across the desk. They said I could make a generous donation to the hospital if I wanted to. ‘Give it all back,’ they
said. ‘We don’t care. But we’ll be keeping our portion.’ Cal, you can see I could give half of it back and still have more
than enough.”

I slid the check out from behind the memo and stopped breathing. I’ve been in a high ticket business all my life and I’d never
personally seen so many zeroes on a check. “Bev,” I said, “you can’t take—”

“I didn’t ask for it. They offered it because of what they did to me. I like that hospital and I hope you’ll think about a
generous donation.”

“Beverly, you can’t give this to me. I—”

“I can and I have,” she said, lifting her hands to show she wouldn’t take it back. “There’s nobody I’d trust more with it,
sweetheart. Think of it. Think of the church, the hospital, the bank, the town, the factory, Rachel, Jenny, us.”

“The factory?”

“You been having trouble getting through to that liquidator, right?”

“Yeah, what’s with that?”

“I told him we were going a different direction.”

“We are?”

“Ball gloves, Cal. You know everybody wants to do it. Everybody has a job, morale goes up, we have a new challenge.”

“But it’s bad business, Bev. You don’t pour money down the drain just because you can. We can’t compete with the other manufacturers
anymore.”

“You’ll find a way to make it turn, Cal. It’ll start making a profit sooner or later. And if it doesn’t, who says it’s money
down the drain? People have jobs. Customers have quality. American Leather stays the best equipment manufacturer in the business.
Everybody benefits. It helps the Athens City economy. The town stays alive.”

• • •

Mrs. Raschke coaxed one more trip out of Clifford, and he was able to get down the aisle to give the bride away. Kim was Bev’s
maid of honor. Coach was my best man. Elvis and Rachel were witnesses. Jennifer was junior bridesmaid. Helena hosted the reception.

And the runners-up to the state high school football championship, all fifteen of em, stuffed an entire bag of marshmallows
into the tail pipe of my car.

I didn’t shake the last of them Crusaders till I was nearly outside Mobile.

Epilogue

T
he day after the wedding, Rachel left Elvis at Kim’s to play with Jenny while she took a walk into town by herself. Later
she would visit Coach and Mrs. Schuler in their new home, where Bev used to live.

She reached the high school football stadium and strolled into the end zone near the scoreboard. “Lord,” she said silently,
“when people talk about Athens City’s last chapter, and the Crusaders’ last half, and about Schuler’s last stand, please help
them remember it was You who showed up and showed off.”

BOOK: Hometown Legend
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