After a catered meal and showers, the Vanderbilt buses got out of town sandwiched in between two Tennessee State Trooper cruisers. The rain continued, but it didn’t seem that bad going back, especially for Joey. The players, who had been so quiet on the trip into town on Friday, sang, laughed, and joked. By 9:30 they entered the parking lot of the field house and most everyone’s jaw dropped.
Thousands of people stood in the rain, some under umbrellas, many drenched and jumping up and down, children and adults waving and carrying wilting poster board signs. Players lowered windows and waved and yelled. Lines of people followed the parking buses. Car horns blared. The fans cheered as the players climbed out and began collecting bags.
Students slapped Joey on the back and children held pens and items to autograph. He signed a few and tried to get in out of the rain. Encouragement, thanks, all manner of praise. Vandy was 3-0. Then the girls appeared. They found Joey. More than one gave him a phone number. He followed Willy trying to escape graciously, but a part of him wanted to stay, to celebrate, and to bask in the glow of the win. He felt invigorated.
The dorm was a madhouse. Someone played a beat on what sounded like a steel garbage can. Others chanted. Dante formed a conga line surrounding their two heroes. Joey and Willy ducked into Downtown’s room and found him sprawling not on the bed but the floor.
“What’s the matter with you? Did you see the game?” Willy asked him before smacking his large rear end.
Downtown didn’t move and only muttered, “Someone shoot me.”
“Why, Downtown?” Joey asked.
“My brother is trying to kill me. We worked out, in the rain, on the field, for two hours. Up and down steps. Pushups and sit-ups. Put me out of my misery.”
Joey left Willy to continue the celebration and drug his bag into his room. Tyler, sitting at the table, looked up from his reading.
“You, you did great,” Tyler said. He pushed his glasses up on his nose.
“Thanks. Really. You watched?”
“I did. I can hardly believe it.”
“Well join the club,” Joey said finally closing the door behind him.
“They took the downstairs phone off the hook. You’ve been getting about a million calls. They brought some messages up here before they finally gave up. I slid them under your door.”
Joey opened the door, picked up the small stack of papers, and examined a few. Many of them were from girls. Some only numbers. He was glad he didn’t have a cell phone.
“I’m just going to sit here and unwind. You care if I turn on the TV?”
“No, go ahead.”
Joey started to watch Sports Center. He knew he’d be on there, and maybe he see how he looked in action. Instead, he flipped around the channels, growing somewhat numb. What had he done today? How could he have scored all those touchdowns? But instead of feeling guilty, he began to have the feeling he wanted to go out and celebrate. He wanted to see what the limelight was all about. But upon realizing what he was considering, the sensation startled him.
He found the ten o’clock local news coming on and stopped.
The mystery of the disappearance of Joe Daily continues in Nashville the anchor said. Neighbors saw a suspicious vehicle and two unknown men on the last day Daily was seen, and now investigators are probing whether he might have been involved in questionable dealings.
Mr. Johnson, Mr. Daily’s neighbor, says that he could never imagine Joe Daily being involved in anything illegal. He’s a good, hardworking man. We’re worried sick that something bad has happened to ’im. For now, the investigation continues.
Joey was jolted back to reality.
A detective was interviewed and explained that nothing in the case added up. Witnesses had seen strange men on the day of the disappearance. What had Joe Daily been up to? Joey heard a voice inside his head say You would never believe it.
The door flew open, and Downtown’s humongous head peered inside.
“We’re going to The Club to throw darts. Wanna go with us?”
Joey thought about it for a moment. He wasn’t tired in the least, and there was probably no hope of sleeping anytime soon. He did want to go.
“Tyler, you want to go with us?” Joey asked.
“No, you go ahead. I’m going to knock out,” Tyler said. He turned his attention to the television.
“You should go with us. Come on. It’ll be fun.”
“No, really. You go on.”
For a moment Joey considered staying behind and maybe sitting around with his roommate. Maybe he could get to know him a little bit or at least break the tension that seemed to hang around them at all times. At the same time, something else tugged at him.
“Let’s do it,” Joey said.
There were eight of them. Downtown, who was like a large child bouncing against the other guys and making one silly observation after another, had made a miraculous recovery. Willy had declined the invitation to go with them, Joey thought probably due to his past troubles that seemed to flank his every move.
The Club catered to the young college crowd not old enough to even drink yet in Tennessee and was filled with that very crowd. The darkness swallowed them when they entered, and they stood in the doorway scanning the tables and letting their eyes adjust.
“Chicks. Two o’clock. Throwing darts. Come on, Joey,” Downtown said.
“I dunno,” Joey replied.
“Come on. Girls,” Downtown said pushing him in that direction. “You know you want to.”
“Kevin, I don’t know. Really-“
“I came out for the football team. It’s the least you could do.”
“You came out for Willy, and your brother. You go talk ’em up.”
“They won’t give me the time of day,” Kevin said. “I need a wingman of your stature.”
Downtown prodded and pushed until they stood directly behind the girls. One of them, a little blonde wearing tight jeans and a loose halter top, stood with her hand on her hip and seemed to be demonstrating a cheer move for her friend, a brunette wearing a small skirt. Downtown was right. They probably wouldn’t give them the time of day. Joey realized he was thinking like Joe Daily. They might not give Downtown the time of day, but they probably would Joey.
What Downtown lacked in sex appeal, he made up for in charisma and charm.
“Hello, ladies,” he began. “I see we have a fine game of darts taking place at this board.”
“Yes, we do,” the brunette said glancing back at Downtown for one quick second. The blonde didn’t even acknowledge them.
“We could make this a foursome,” Kevin continued. He was persistent; you had to give him that.
“We’re kind of with those guys over there,” brunette said again. She motioned to a table nearby, and sure enough Downtown and Joey’s arrival had drawn the attention of four tanned and preppy young men. Their eyes burned into the conversation at the dart board.
It was time to go nuclear.
“Ladies, I hate to bother you, but I’d like for you to meet someone.”
Brunette turned and gave Downtown a look of disdain. She was well versed in rejecting advances from men not on the upper echelon of alpha. She let out an audible sigh. Blonde continued averting her eyes from the conversation.
“I’d like for you to meet Joey Goodman.”
The girls turned to Joey and stopped. Now this had not been discussed in their pre-approved game plan. They seemed to size him up.
“Hi girls,” Joey said. He wondered if the words had sounded out loud as strange and creepy as they sounded inside his head.
“Hi Joey,” brunette said. She smiled. Apparently the words had not sounded creepy.
“You go to Vanderbilt?” blonde asked.
“I do. I’m a freshman.”
“He plays football,” Kevin continued. The brunette was definitely into Joey, and it appeared as if that would leave the blonde. Kevin seemed to be fine with that. But more work had to be done. “If you saw the game today, he beat Ole Miss.”
“No, he did. He really did. How many touchdowns?”
“I think seven.”
“Seven touchdowns. He’s great.”
The girls had not seen the game. They did seem impressed though, and in a turn of events that had never happened to Joey in real life, brunette reached out and stroked his right bicep with her index finger as she locked onto his eyes. The sensation was beyond electric. A shiver went up Joey’s spine.
“Are these guys bothering you?” asked one of the young men from the table. The other three stood behind him.
“Kevin, we’re fine,” brunette said to him. How many guys at Vanderbilt were named Kevin?
“’Cause they look like they’re bothering you,” the new Kevin continued.
“This is Joey Goodman,” she said.
“And Kevin,” Downtown said, “Kevin Brown.” The big man looked to the blonde who half smiled and looked away. This wingman thing might not be going according to plan after all.
“Wait. Joey? Joey Goodman?” the new Kevin asked. Joey nodded. “Good God. I saw you today. This is the guy.”
The others knew already and had broken into grins.
“I can’t believe it. You ran all over them. You’re going to win the Heisman.”
“No, I’m serious. I’ve never seen anyone play like you,” new Kevin continued. He turned Joey around, and now the brunette lost her smile and grasped Joey’s arm a bit harder and spun him back toward her. The young man twisted Joey back around and continued. “I have to know. Do you plan a move when you see these guys coming, or does it just happen?”
“Joey, we can-“ brunette began and new Kevin cut her off once more.
“You make these moves-“
“I don’t think much, I-“ Joey said, and then brunette spun him back to her more forcefully. The tug of war was flattering but Joey was beginning to grow disoriented.
That’s when she stepped between them.
She didn’t look like a normal co-ed. She was a woman. Dressed to kill. And if it could be put into words, she looked dangerous. The conversation stopped altogether, and a quiet settled over the group. Even Downtown retreated.
“Hi, Joey. I’m Luan.” She extended her hand, fingers slightly down and Joey took it. The handshake was not firm, it was feminine. And warm. Her perfume overwhelmed all the other smells in the room and massaged Joey’s senses. Her hand was so, so, so soft. He couldn’t look away from her eyes, blue and radiant as if they had starlight beams extending from the center in a mesmerizing, and hypnotic glow.
“Hi,” Joey said. “I’m-“
Joey started to say his name and realized that Luan had already spoken it. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Instead, he muttered, “I’m glad to meet you.”
Luan pulled Joey away from the crowd and waved goodbye to the group as she led him like a puppy on a leash. Still holding his hand she led him across the club, cutting through the dance floor, and then to a dark corner where a table sat. She eased him into a high swivel-chair, and instead of sitting in the adjacent seat, she pushed up against him. She was soft and warm, and her smell engulfed him in something resembling the pheromones of a queen bee.
“Kids these days,” she said and laughed, leaning her head back exposing her soft neck, the taut sinewy lines of feline muscle rising to her beautiful face, her pouty lips, and round, even teeth.
“Um, you must have seen the game.”
“I see every game, Joey. I’m the head cheerleader.”
“Oh, that’s good. I can see that. I mean-“
“I know what you mean,” she said. Still she looked him in the eye. She hadn’t looked away since she intercepted him. “I like the strong, shy type. You’ve got something though. You get my motor running.”
“Really?” Joey was reeling. He looked around the dance floor, but Luan turned his face back to her.
This was new territory for Joey. Part of him wanted to slink away, to become Joe Daily again, to go back to the easy existence and a reality that he had grown familiar with over the last fifty years. Another part of him, the part that was winning right at the moment, wanted to stay. Forever.
“Got a girl, Joey?”
“I had a girl. I don’t anymore,” Joey said. For him, the spell was broken. The memories that had been pushed down into his depths rose up once more. His existence, though altered now, could never be changed. “I-“
“I don’t have a guy either, Joey.” Luan moved back a bit, and in the same motion she swiveled beside him. “You have such big shoulders.”
Luan placed each hand on a shoulder and squeezed. The feeling was something approaching heaven.
“I have a busy day tomorrow, Luan. Can we talk sometime?”
Joey intended the comment to disrupt Luan’s seduction, but there was enough testosterone coursing through his veins he was determined not to sever all lifelines.
“I have an apartment,” she said, mashing her ample bosom against his back. “All by my lonesome.”
So coy, so demure now.
“I’ll see you then,” Joey said. He stepped forward to escape. “I mean, I’ll see you around. We’ll talk.”
“We will, Joey. I hope we will. I’d really like that.”
Einstein must have been correct, because when Joey managed to drag Downtown away and back to the dorm the clock in his room said 3:00 proving time was relative. Joey slept as soon as he fell into bed and when he woke, he ate and then began the walk to the field house at almost noon. The now deserted campus sat recovering from last night’s win. The rain had stopped and blue skies bathed the drying buildings and trees, still green awaiting the arrival of fall.
Joey saw Al, sitting on a bench, and he went to him. Joey waved but said nothing.
“Nice game. What will happen to this campus if you beat somebody really good?”
“I hope we find out.”
“Keep playing the way you are and I’d say it’s a certainty we’ll find out.” Al began to walk with Joey toward the field house. “Now things begin to get really crazy.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, when people sense a star is born, they want a piece of the action. You’re about to have more fun than you ever dreamed of having.”
Joey wondered what that might entail. His idea of fun had been sitting at home watching a movie with Michelle. Playing Canasta on the kitchen table. Maybe walking in the park and watching fireworks on the Fourth of July. Hardly what Al could consider fun he was certain.
“Joey. Joey Goodman.” The voice came from behind them. A man approached in a nice suit and shoes that clicked as he ran toward them. He carried a briefcase.
“I’m Lenny Kniles. I’m a talent agent. I want to give you my card, and-“
Al intercepted the card and slipped it in his shirt pocket in one motion while at the same time stepping in between Joey and the agent.
“Lenny. Why don’t you give him a call at the end of the season?”
“You think he’s a hot commodity now, wait until the end of the season. He’ll be so hot, he’ll have everyone howling all around him.”
Lenny said nothing for a moment and when he began to speak again, Al lifted his finger and shooed him away, sending the man walking backward as if he was nothing more than a toy boat on a tranquil pond.
“Weird,” Joey said.
“Not at all,” Al said walking once more beside Joey. “Happens all the time. You just have to know the right people, my boy. Have fun. I’ll see you around.”
Joey stopped outside the field house and watched Al walk away whistling.