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Authors: Jerry B. Jenkins

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BOOK: Hometown Legend
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As Elvis guzzled his concoction, mother and son glanced at each other with what appeared to be amusement. “Want some eggs?”
the Shermanater said. “Something else free to go with your jersey?”

Elvis ignored him but wasn’t about to pass up the offer. He looked at Tee, as if to ask if it was really all right. She smiled.
“How do you like your eggs?”

“Four at a time,” he said.

Sherman stood grinning at Elvis as if he couldn’t believe his gall, but Tee smacked him in the chest and said, “Scramble a
family.”

While her son headed back to the kitchen, Tee turned and introduced herself. He shook her hand. “Elvis Jackson.”

She seemed to fight a smile as she studied him. “Your folks out of work?” she whispered.

He shook his head. “I’m on my own.”

She grabbed a clean towel and ceremoniously handed it to him. “We close down for football games.”

A job here and dinner every night? He slung the towel over his shoulder. As soon as he’d finished eating he found an apron
and got to work. Tee and Sherman removed theirs, and Sherman clapped Elvis on the shoulder. “Nice to be able to leave early.
Good to have you around.”

When they got to the door, Tee turned, as if unable to keep it in any longer. “Child,” she said, “what kind of mama names
her baby ‘Elvis’?”

He smiled. “What kind of mama names her baby ‘Sherman Naters’?”

Sherman looked pained, but his mother led him out the door, chortling and calling over her shoulder, “Lock it when you leave.”

Elvis scurried about the diner, making sure everything was gathered up. He carried a tub of dirties to the dishwasher and
loaded it. When he looked out from the kitchen, untying his apron, the diner looked tidy. But it also reminded him of an expansive
football field. The tables were defenders he would have to elude on his way to the door. And his balled-up apron made a perfect
football …

14

R
achel taped flyers in any window where she was allowed. When she reached the diner again, she taped one on the outside of
the door and one on the inside, deciding to ask Tee’s approval rather than her permission. Rachel called out for the woman
but all she heard in return was a young man’s voice.

“December 12, 1965! Chicago Bear Gayle Sayers makes football history with six touchdowns in one game!”

The voice grew closer, but Rachel had no time to get back out the door. With number 40’s helmet in her hands, along with the
rest of her flyers, she ducked under a table. And here came the new kid, a ball of red cloth in his hands, acting out a football
game with his own play-by-play.

“Touchdown number one came in the first quarter, an eighty-yard screen pass!” He tossed the apron-ball into the air and caught
it on the run, high-stepping to the other side of the diner.

“Touchdown two was a twenty-one-yard tear through four defenders at lightning speed!” He barreled back in her direction. “Touchdowns
three, four, and five are vintage Elvis, juking—who’s your daddy?—open field improv—oh, you are, Elvis! That’s right!”

As the boy stiff-armed imaginary tacklers and strutted through the diner banging into tables and chairs, he raved, “Gayle
Sayers, in his prime, wishes he could keep up with this wild buck!”

Suddenly he stopped, hands on his knees. “But the sixth… Oh, baby, the sixth and final touchdown is a thing of beauty—an eighty-five-yard
punt return.”

It was all Rachel could do to keep from bursting out laughing as the boy tossed the balled-up cloth into the air again, caught
it, and smashed into tables and chairs. “Oh, he’s got it! Touchdown! Oh, yeah, uh-huh, uh-huh, boom!” He slammed the apron
to the floor and flexed, growling and grunting. When he finally knelt to retrieve the apron, he found himself face to face
with Rachel and flew back on his seat, sliding across the floor.

Rachel felt bad for him. She blurted, “I, uh, was just looking for Tee, and she’s definitely not under here.”

15

H
ow dare she hide there watching him? Elvis felt such a fool! He retied his apron as the girl stood and thrust out her hand.
“I’m Rachel, your FCA prayer warrior.” Elvis shook her hand quickly and reached for his helmet, wishing he could disappear.
She pulled it away. “Uh, no, I keep your game helmet until Friday night. It’s kind of a visual reminder than I need to pray
for you.”

He scowled, trying to punish her with his look. “I do okay on my own.”

She shrugged and moved toward the door, then stopped and mimicked Scarlett O’Hara. “A gentleman would walk me home.”

So she was that kind. He just wanted her to remember his anger and forget everything else. “Let me know when you find one,”
he said and headed for the kitchen.

“Elvis?”

He whirled around.
What now?

She smiled. “I just wanted to make sure that was really your name.”

He shook his head, disgusted. “Cute.”

“Well, face it,
Elvis
. You’re stuck with me for the season.” Then, barely audibly, “If you make it that long.”

Why couldn’t she take a hint? Why was she even still standing there?

“If?”

“I know why guys like you show up in Athens City. Hate to break it to you, but Brian—the guy whose jersey you commandeered
today—is a shoo-in for the scholarship. He’s coach’s nephew, you know.”

“I know.”

“Every one of the Schulers has gone to Bama since the days of Bear Bryant.”

How had she turned this around? She was the one who had embarrassed him. Now
she
was trying to put
him
in his place? “Till this year,” he said, through with her.

She hesitated. “So, what should I pray for?”

He shook his head. If he told her, she’d pester him for the whole story. He just wanted her gone. “I don’t care,” he said.
“Pray for green grass.”

16

Y
ou understand I hadn’t really prayed about it. It’s just that when the young woman in the copy center who puts all the material
together for teachers—even one-class wonders like me—seems friendly and talkative, I start thinking God’s trying to tell me
something or give me something, namely her. Don’t ask me why. Maybe Kim telling me to pay more attention to Bev—which I have
been doing for months and not noticing anything different—or maybe hearing Coach talk about his wife with so much love despite
everything she’d put him through. I don’t know. Maybe I was finally getting ready to move on, way past when most people thought
I should’ve been ready.

Probably it was just that this woman was really something to look at. So call me shallow. Her name’s Jacqui and she’s a good
ten years younger’n me. But she’s real pretty with a nice smile and bright eyes, and she’s the type who holds your gaze till
you gotta look away or smile yourself. Well, I’m not gonna do anything half-baked so I make sure the first thing I ask her
is if she’s a Christian. Folks down here know that means more than just whether you call yourself one but also that you’re
a churchgoer and serious about it. Jacqui wasn’t from my church but from another one up the road.

I found myself getting more and more stuff reproduced and having to come to school a little earlier every afternoon for my
geography class at the end of the day. I spent a little time talking with her each day and we learned stuff about each other,
like that she studied library science and wanted to be a librarian in one of those school districts that could afford one.
I can’t think of one in our area, but who knows what Rock Hill might be able to do when they combine our school with theirs?

We got familiar enough to ask sorta personal questions without being too bashful, and I found out she’d never been married,
had a couple of serious guys in the past that didn’t work out, and that some man from her church liked to sit with her but
has never asked her out. I’m thinking if I’m gonna pursue this I got to invite her to my church. I mean, I’m not switching
after all these years and a daughter with another year of high school, and anyway, if there’s competition, I’ve got to divide
and conquer. Won’t break my heart if Mr. Timid finds out Jacqui’s visiting another church cause a fella asked her.

I’m getting to the place where I’m gonna do something about Jacqui, but I haven’t told one soul and I feel like maybe I’m
in over my head. So I go to the most logical person I can think of. Bev takes her break about a half hour before I leave from
the factory for school each day, and then she’s always back a few minutes before I go so she can be sure I’m up to date on
everything. Since I’m not about to all of a sudden start asking her about her personal life, I think maybe if I open up a
little about myself, she’ll open up more too. So that Friday morning when she’s in and out of my office with mail and whatnot,
I say, “Bev, could you do me a favor this afternoon?”

“A favor?” she says, like a big sister. “Between nine o’clock and five o’clock I do what I’m told.”

I knew what she meant and I knew she thought she was funny, but I just tell her, “This is more personal than work.” She sat
up like she was all ears and I said, “Would you mind spending your afternoon break with me, here in my office, so I can pick
your brain?” She hesitated, looking like she had to think about it, so I said, “Course you could get your snack and bring
it with you.”

“Give up personal time for something not work related?” she said. But there was a twinkle in her eye.

“Yeah,” I said. “Totally up to you.”

“I’ll be here. Can I bring you something?”

“Coffee,” I said.

“With sugar,” she said, making a note. “Caffeine alone wouldn’t give enough of a rush.”

I figured the mystery got to her. She wasn’t gonna say no if she didn’t know what it was about, and I thought I noticed a
little pep in her step the rest of the day. That afternoon she put the answering machine on, came in with our coffees, and
shut the door. I leaned back in my chair and put my feet up on the corner of the desk as she sat.

“Need a little advice,” I said, and I told her all about Jacqui. The whole time Bev sat there sipping and peeking at me over
the top of her cup. When I quit talking I took a big gulp and waited.

“That’s it?” she said.

I nodded.

“You wanna know if you should be brave and ask this exciting young woman to join you at church and see where it goes from
there.”

“I knew you’d understand.”

“I understand all right,” she said. “Finally admitting you’re lonely? You just hit the big four-oh, you’re seeing the end
of the road with your daughter at home, and you’re realizing what’s ahead?”

“Guess I’m growing up,” I said.

“Seems to me like you’re not. You’re regressing, or at least stuck.”

“Really?” I sat up and put my feet on the floor.

“Listen to yourself, sir. You’re like a teenager all goo-goo over a pretty girl. She sounds nice, but she’s too young for
you. She’s gonna want a family, she’s—”

“Bev! I’m not talking about marrying her. I just wanna get to know her.”

“For what?”

“Well, yeah, okay. I wouldn’t mind being in love again.” I blushed, but Bev was too nice to tease me about it.

“You act like you’re out of choices,” she said. “It’s not like she’s the only eligible woman in town.”

“Yeah, but—”

She sat forward and put her cup on my desk. “Yeah, but nothing, Boss. You haven’t even dated. Find yourself a—”

“It’s not like people haven’t tried to set me up.”

“You don’t need that. Women round here know you. They know your history, your character. Find yourself somebody your own age
who won’t want to be out and about in twenty years when you’d rather sit on the front porch and read the paper.”

“I hope that’s not me at sixty, Bev.”

“I’m just saying …”

Well, I had asked. I had thought she would be excited for me, tell me to go for it. Now what was I supposed to do? What if
I showed up at church with Jacqui after getting Bev’s advice?

“Thanks,” I said, with maybe not enough enthusiasm.

“For nothing, eh?”

“No, I appreciate it.”

“Wasn’t what you wanted to hear.”

“No, but if I wasn’t prepared to think about it, I shouldn’t have asked.”

She nodded. “You got another minute?”

“Course.”

“Still open to ideas to save the business, keep people on the payroll?”

“Always,” I said. “You know that.”

“You want to know what Lee Forest and the people on the line are saying? Most of it’s critical or crazy or at least impractical.
But some of the old-timers have it in their heads that there might be another market segment we could compete in.”

“Market segment?” I said. “Lee is using management lingo now?”

She admitted he hadn’t used exactly that term. “But he and some of the others believe they can do more than make footballs.
They’d be willing to learn new procedures and see part of the plant retooled.”

“To do what?”

“Manufacture baseball gloves.”

I sat back. “I like that they’re thinking,” I said. “But think of the cost of new equipment, of training, not to mention trying
to compete in a new market. How can I lay off dozens of people and then announce a new kind of operation a few months later?”

“I’m just telling you what I’m hearing,” she said.

“You know most of the companies with the ball glove accounts are having their manufacturing done overseas.”

She shrugged. “What else is new?”

“Better get me an appointment with Les.”

“And his cronies? Those four with seniority tend to hang together.”

“Sure.”

She stood. “Well, I figure you’re on your way to school to ask for a date.”

“What, you think I don’t take you seriously? Tell you what, I won’t do anything today, and that’ll give me the weekend to
really think about it.”

• • •

I gotta admit Bev kept me from doing something stupid. I go to school, excited cause I’m gonna see Jacqui but kinda relieved
I’ve decided not to make any bold move yet. I’m also thinking how much fun practice has been this week.

BOOK: Hometown Legend
8.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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