They met with the team before practice on Tuesday. Gibson had his players all gathered in the gym, and the boys took up four rows of bleachers. They were in their pads and practice uniforms already, and the rank sweat-and-mildew smell of them threatened to take Wayne back years.
For the past five minutes Gibson had been pacing back and forth on the basketball court, lecturing about teamwork and the importance of coming together. Wayne and Louis were sitting behind him on the court, side by side on a couple of steel folding chairs. The coach had yet to introduce them — he seemed to be saving that — and Wayne could feel the eyes of the team on him. All except Justin’s. His grandson was staring at his feet as the coach went on and on.
“Men,” Gibson was saying, “football is different. This isn’t golf or tuba blowing or even basketball. For most of you seniors Friday night will probably be the last time you ever put on a helmet. The last time you ever play this great game for real.”
Even as the coach gave his speech Wayne knew that he’d been lied to. That there would come a time when that kid would spin around on his heels, pointing to Wayne and Louis as he finally explained to the team what had happened here at this school in the autumn of ’70. How a team with only 13 players had somehow managed to finish out the season. And of course Wayne would then be expected to say something. He’d already spotted the piece of paper clutched in Louis’ hand, but it was too late for Wayne to walk away from this. His mind was racing, trying to call back those days, trying to summon some way to make them sound honorable and heroic to Justin and the others — but in truth there was nothing that he could remember, really. It was as if that past belonged to some other man entirely.
And so in the end Wayne quit trying, resigning himself to the fact that at some point soon he was going to make a fool of himself. But not yet. For now he still had some minutes of peace left, and he closed his eyes to enjoy them, letting his mind go to the place where it sometimes did when sleep wouldn’t come at night. To the memory that always helped him beat back those flashes of Linda.
He is a little boy, and 1970 is a decade away. His father and grandfather are hunting quail in the tall, open pinewoods, and Wayne is following along after them when their setters lock onto point. A covey has already been scattered, and so they are hunting the singles now. Father and grandfather will take turns at the flushing and shooting.
It was on one small moment that Wayne’s thoughts always lingered. A moment he would never allow himself to think beyond. His father has laid down his old Browning and placed Wayne on his shoulders — and there the boy sits watching as his grandfather kicks his way through the wiregrass, shotgun at ready. The eruption surely will come, but for now it still hasn’t. Not yet, not yet.