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1978. That's the year Janice graduated, so I figured you two musta known each other."

"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 you want."

He closed his eyes. "Yeah, we did," he repeated in a whisper.

"Huh?"

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 it is."

This time Steve nodded. "Believe me," he said, "I know."

He turned and walked into the store. I turned and walked back to The Boat.


***




"What'd he say?" Angie asked as I closed the door.

"He's gonna do it. He wants a ride home, though."

"Where's his car?"

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 okay?"

"Yeah, sure," I said. "Hey, Steve, this is my girlfriend Angie


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