Authors: Jerry B. Jenkins
“Am I gonna have to separate you two?” Bev said. “Now hush!” We chuckled, but we also obeyed.
I’m usually pretty good about paying attention in church, cause I need it. But something was bothering me and when I finally
got it surrounded in my brain, I realized it was Kim. She’s a kind of a severe-looking woman, dark-haired and usually serious.
She had a reason. She’s in her late fifties and had raised a couple of boys by herself cause her husband left her years ago.
And I know the church had prayed for her dad, who’d had Alzheimer’s, for about ten years before he finally died.
But still, Kim kept her faith and she and Bev socialized a lot. She came in and met Bev for lunch now and then at the factory
and they often sat together in church. I always tried to get a smile or a laugh out of her, cause that was so rare.
That morning, though, when Bev had teased us, it seemed to me Kim hadn’t been amused. It was just a small thing, but it was
like she was looking the other way and pretending not to hear. Maybe it was just my imagination, but it bothered me enough
that after the service I made sure to greet her.
She nodded. “Calvin.”
“You taught me in Sunday school when I was a tiny kid,” I said. “You can call me Cal.”
“As you wish.”
I was having trouble keeping her eye. “Kim, you okay?”
I threw my arm around her and pulled her close. She was stiff. “C’mon, you’re out of sorts. Tell me what’s up. Kids okay?”
So I wasn’t making it up. “Kim, you mad at me?” She pursed her lips and shrugged, backing away. “Kim! C’mon! You know I’d
never do or say anything to bother you.”
Everybody else was clearing out of the sanctuary. Kim stood there with her arms crossed, looking like she wished she could
join em. “You really want to get into this right now?”
“Course! What is it?”
She studied the floor, then looked around as if to see if anyone else could hear. “You’re a wonderful person, Cal,” she said.
“But sometimes you can be oblivious.”
“Blind to things.”
“I know what it means, Kim. But what am I blind to?”
“Bev,” she said.
“What’s wrong with her?”
“You’re mad at me cause I’m oblivious to Bev, but nothing’s wrong with her?”
Kim looked madder than ever and just shook her head.
“Talk to me, ma’am. I’m listening.”
Finally she looked me in the eye. “Would you just try to be more sensitive to her? Could you do that for me?”
I raised my eyebrows. This wasn’t the first time somebody’d said that. Lee Forest, my famous football turner and the oldest
guy on the line, had told me more than once that I needed to look after Bev more. Lee’s a crusty old guy with good ideas and
loyal as they come, but I’d passed off what he said cause I figured he just didn’t know better. How would he know how I treated
Bev? She never showed me any attitude, and she’d got a couple of raises a year ever since she started working for me. Now
thought I wasn’t treating her right?
“Is she saying things?” I said, knowing that was unlikely. It just wasn’t like Bev. Maybe I
know her as well as I thought.
“Of course not,” Kim said. “She wouldn’t.”
“Well, that’s what I thought. So what’s the problem?”
She motioned me to follow her out and by the time we got to the parking lot, we were among the few left. “You just don’t really
know her, Cal,” Kim said. “And that’s your loss, especially after all the years she’s worked for you.”
I had to admit Bev and I weren’t what you’d call friends. We didn’t go to each other’s homes, didn’t see each other outside
the office or church. But that was the way I thought it ought to be. She worked for me and you’ve got to keep a certain distance,
right? “I feel like I know her well enough.”
“Well, you don’t, and it’s not right.”
“So tell me something I ought to know about her.”
“I shouldn’t have to tell you. You should ask her.”
“Ask her what?”
“Like what she does outside the office, Cal.”
I shook my head. What was this about? I almost caught myself admitting I didn’t care. I figure if Bev wanted me to know what
she did outside work, she’d tell me. “I don’t know that I’d ask her, Kim. Or that she’d tell me.”
“Just as I thought. Why don’t you try?”
I wanted to ask why. I shrugged and Kim gave me that look again.
“All right,” she said, “do you know how much volunteer work she does?”
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” I said.
“But you don’t know.”
“I know she does a lot here at church.”
“That’s not the half of it. She’s on the go almost every night, doing stuff for people.”
“Well, that’s good.”
“Did you know she spent as much time in my guest room as she did at her own home the last six years of my dad’s life?”
I felt stupid. I’d had no idea. “She was helping out?”
Kim was through with me. She got into her car and rolled down her window. “That’s the understatement of the year, Cal. She
saw me one day at the grocery store and noticed I was crying. She’d been praying for my dad, but she didn’t know how bad he
was. She came home with me that day and just started doing stuff without asking. Did a lot of shopping for me, talking with
Dad, keeping an eye on him in the night. You never knew any of that?”
Bev worked in my office and I hadn’t known she was doing night duty half the time with Kim’s father. I didn’t know what to
say. “Who was watching her cats?”
Kim looked at me twice. “Her cats?”
“If she was at your place so much, I mean—”
“Does she talk about her cats, Cal?”
“She used to.”
“But not for years, right?”
I shrugged. “I guess. I wouldn’t ask after her cats. I’m not a cat guy.”
“Bev’s cats have been dead for years.” I tried to look surprised but I don’t think I convinced her. “Nobody expects you to
care about her cats,” Kim said. “But it seems you’d know something like that.”
“Not if she doesn’t tell me.”
“She probably didn’t think you cared. She was right.” She started her car.
“Would you just tell me one thing, Kim? Is this something you’ve noticed, or does Bev feel like I don’t really know her?”
“I told you, if you knew her at all you’d know she’d never say a word. She thinks the world of you.”
“Well, the feeling is mutual.”
“Calvin,” she said, “you just proved that’s not true.”
divided my time between figuring out how to keep the company running and working through plans with Coach. Finally, one August
morning, it’s time. I’ve got a printout from the school office that tells who’s coming out for football—way more than we could
keep, of course, but that’s what that scholarship and a returning legend’ll do for ya. I recognize most of the names, cept
the newcomers, and I figure I’ll get a bead on them today, the first day of tryouts. Just like Coach Schuler, he announces
it for early in the morning the first eligible day, Thursday the sixteenth. People think it’s cause he wants to see who’s
committed and ready to work, but I know he just can’t wait.
I wake up in a bed damp from sweat and know that even after my shower, I’m gonna have that humid shine all day. Coach and
I meet at Sweet Tee’s Diner for early morning coffee. The owner, Sherman Naters’s ma, Tee, is a big woman with a soft heart
and a smile from the waist up. I’m wondering where she is. Shazzam, her on-again-off-again boyfriend, is holding down the
fort and he’s got the TV going full blast with some Hollywood entertainment show that’s reminding everybody this was the day
The King died at Graceland in 1977.
Shazzam, who always looks like he’s got about a week’s worth a beard and wears a full camouflage jumper and rubber boots,
pulls from his bald head a grimy cap with fishing lures hanging from it and puts it over his heart. “I say he’s still alive,
boys! I seen him, I have!”
He pours us some tea and tells us Tee is setting up a little stand at tryouts. He becomes solemn all of a sudden. “An honor
to have you back, Coach Schuler, sir. You’ll remember I played for you, in a manner of speaking, when you was first head coach
Somebody hollers for Shazzam to change the channel, and he finds Sports Center. Next thing you know, our story comes on and
the place goes nuts. There’s a woman with a microphone strolling in the end zone under our scoreboard, telling our history
and showing pictures of Buster in his fedora. Shazzam shushes everybody and turns it up.
The reporter, all serious, looks into the camera and says, “Athens City, Alabama, once the high school football capital of
the south, sixteen state championships since 1923. Legendary University of Alabama coach Paul Bear Bryant once called it the
mother lode of all-American football players.
“Nearly a hundred students try out for the Athens City Crusaders football team each year in hopes of landing the Jack F. Schuler
Scholarship to the University of Alabama. None of those scholarship winners has ever won so much as a spot on the bench at
Alabama, but as the town pays for the scholarship, the high school standouts get a free college education nonetheless.
“The scholarship is named in honor of the quarterback who was killed in the state championship game in 1988. Football in this
town has seen better days. They haven’t had a winning season since that infamous game, and county cutbacks have doomed the
school for closure at the end of this academic year.
“If there was ever a glimmer of hope for this town, it comes in the name of coach Buster Schuler. The legendary coach who
retired after the death of his son is now returning for Athens City’s last year. When a legend comes out of retirement, the
football world takes notice.”
I look to see what Buster thinks of it all, and he’s gone, like I shoulda figured. I find him waiting in the car.
We head over to the field and pull up behind the packed stands. Coach tells me to go on ahead and make sure the guys are ready
to pay attention and follow instructions and he’ll be along in a minute. Well, I knew that. I’d never seen him a second late
to anything, and he’d already waited long enough for this moment. I want to say something profound or clap him on the knee
or pray for him or whatever, but he already has his eyes closed and is rubbing his forehead. His clipboard and whistle are
on the back seat, so I just leave him.
I pass by Rachel and Josie handing out flyers for a meeting in the gym a few weeks later, something designed to somehow keep
the school alive and keep the kids from having to go to Rock Hill next year. Josie says, “I don’t know why so many people
come just to watch tryouts.”
Rachel says, “One word: scholarship.”
Josie says, “Two words: no life.”
I spot Bev in the stands by herself and wonder why she’s here. Neither of us had ever mentioned the scolding I got from Kim,
and I’m glad she’s nowhere to be seen this morning. I don’t wanna suspect everything Bev does, just because of Kim’s crazy
ideas, but course Bev doesn’t have a relative on the field, at least that I can think of. I tell myself she’s just showing
support to her boss. And the town. And the school. Course. That’s it.
Tee Naters has a folding table and a bunch of pitchers of her famous tea set up under a sign that offers it for a dollar a
glass. Rachel makes a beeline for her, passing people who appear to be trying to move as absolutely little as possible. Hardly
a head is hatless, and the men’s caps have heavy sweat rings.
Tee is watching her son on the field. “Show em what you got, baby! Let the bone roll!”
So she’s done her homework. She’s trying to earn points with Schuler, wherever he is.
Rachel greets Tee and asks if she can put a stack of pamphlets in the diner. Tee’s warm smile fades. “Sweetheart, it’s a dead
end, and I don’t want my customers to have a daily reminder of it.”
“Aw, come on, Tee, you’ve been here forever. This town’s given you a lot. What’re you gonna give back?”
Tee cocks her head and pours Rachel a free glass of tea. Rachel purses her lips. “Thanks.”
I amble across the track to the field where the players show curious interest in me. But we all know who they’re looking and
waiting for. Stocky, olive-skinned Sherman Naters looks up and waves to his mother. “Hi, Mama!”
Yash Upshaw, the lanky black receiver I’d coach personally if we were employing a passing game instead of the wishbone, says
to Naters, “She dress you this morning too?”
Sherman pushes a ball into Yash’s gut. “I’ll see you when we do tackling drills, huh?”
Abel Gordon, the biggest kid on the team at about three hundred pounds, lumbers by and grabs Sherman and Yash in headlocks.
“None of y’all gonna be laughing when I win that scholarship, boys!”
Brian Schuler, the coach’s squinty-eyed nephew and returning quarterback, says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, Abel! Before you throw
it out, give me a little puffy puff on whatever’s making you hallucinate!” Brian carries himself with the confidence of a
senior. He licks his fingers and snaps off a long pass.
Suddenly the crowd falls silent. The players stop, and everyone looks to the tunnel. Buster moves from the shadows into the
brilliant morning sunlight and stops, fighting a smile, just surveying the field. I can’t believe the difference in the man.
It’s as if he’s grown three inches taller and ten years younger. The shoulders are back, the chest out, the whistle in place
around his neck over the tie, and those perfect teeth are showing out from under the shadow cast by the brim of his hat.
Cheerleaders stand still in their practice outfits, people quit moving in the stands, and players hurry into a makeshift line.
I stand there at attention, finally accepting that this is really happening and almost as excited as Coach Schuler.
Buster approaches the players, then suddenly turns to address the crowd, removing his hat and holding it with his clipboard.
“I want to thank y’all for your time and your spirit. But right now, I want anybody not wearing a jockstrap to get off my
field! Don’t want anybody out here but my dawgs!” Nobody moves. “I said get off my field now!”