That's the year Janice graduated, so I figured you two musta known each
"I didn't know her too well. Kinda casual. She mostly hung out
with a different crowd than me. His smile grew. "You play ball?"
"Yeah. Junior Varsity team. I play wingback."
"Hey, man, I saw you play yesterday. Fast sucker! You guys looked
pretty good out there. How'd the varsity team do tonight? I wasn't...
I didn't get to the game." The smile left his face.
"Lost, man. 35 to 27. They're not having that good a season."
His smile returned as quickly as it had vanished. "I know what you
mean. Ain't been much to brag about 'round here since we won the league
in '78. I can't believe Coach Payton is still around."
"You're not kidding."
It was true. Eighteen years later, and Coach Payton was still in
charge of the varsity squad, despite the fact that he'd failed to win a
championship since that '78 season. Two things are sacred in a small
town: high school football and loyalty. That's why all-league news
stories from 1978 still decorated the locker room walls, and that's why
Coach Payton was still Coach Payton.
I was smiling now. I was growing more confident that I was going
to get the beer I wanted after all. "You guys sure kicked some ass back
then. You and Pete Martin."
Steve's smile didn't leave, but his blank eyes suddenly turned
sad. "Yeah... we did."
The new look in his eyes made me worry that I might lose my
chance. "Anyways... Steve. I was wondering if maybe you could buy some
beer for me and my girlfriend. Um, I mean, if it's cool with you, and
all. I can give you five extra bucks to buy something for yourself if
He closed his eyes. "Yeah, we did," he repeated in a whisper.
He shook his head. "Nothing. Hey, yeah, I'll buy for you guys.
Don't gotta give me any money, though, but can you give me a ride home?
My wife and I got in a little, uh. argument tonight, so I took a walk to
blow off some steam. But, man, it's too cold to walk back. You know
how it is."
I thought of Angie's hissy fit in the car and nodded. "No problem,
man." I handed him twenty bucks. "We just need a twelve of Coors
Light. I prefer something stronger, you know, but I got the woman with
me." I cocked my thumb back toward The Boat and smiled. "You know how
This time Steve nodded. "Believe me," he said, "I know."
He turned and walked into the store. I turned and walked back to
"He's gonna do it. He wants a ride home, though."
I shrugged. "I don't know, Ang... I didn't ask. Guess he walked
here and doesn't want to walk back. It's cold as hell out there." I
didn't mention the fight with his wife.
"Whatever," said the Alicia Silverstone-wannabe. "God, I hope this
doesn't get back to my mom."
The leftover heat from our trip to the store was nearly gone from
the inside of the car, so I fired The Boat up and cranked the defroster
into high. Angie remained silent as I fiddled with the radio dial. I
settled on a classic rock station, keeping the volume low, as Steve
climbed into the backseat with a medium-sized paper bag in hand. He
handed my change to me over the seat.
"They were out of Coors Light, so I got you guys some Bud. That
"Yeah, sure," I said. "Hey, Steve, this is my girlfriend Angie