Joey enjoyed the week off from football games. But the life of a college football player goes on, and school continues. Not considering short practices and morning workouts, the players got to be more like real students for a change. And when your team is 5-0 and suddenly 16th in the nation, life is good.
Classes were interesting as well for Joey. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday he had freshman composition, a formality for him since he already had a journalism degree in what he had begun to think of as his past life. He took a philosophy class on those days as well simply because it interested him. His last class of that day was business writing, another easy course for him. And in each of those classes, it seemed that every student took a turn staring at him. He was beginning to grow accustomed to it, but if he thought back at all to who he was, where he had come from, and his actual age, the constant scrutiny creeped him out. He wanted to enjoy the attention, but as of now he couldn’t. Joey decided that if he could stay this age, if things worked out that way, he would consider himself nineteen once more and go for all it was worth. The thought of staying this age though and the possible ramifications frightened him, and much of the time he wondered how he had let it get this far.
His favorite class each week came on Thursday afternoon, Beginning Creative Writing with Miss Kuykendall. It was the lone class that forced him to work. Every day he wrote in a journal, and the class began to devour a text book by the famed John Gardener, plowing through it with such vigor he was having difficulty comprehending, writing responses to the theories, and discussing it for the first hour of class. They were also writing stories which were a bit more difficult than he imagined they would be, especially as he tried to apply Gardener’s principles. The challenging class brought with it something else as well: Miss Kuykendall. Possibly forty, an hourglass figure, intelligent, and a soft yet firm voice that exuded complete mastery of her subject. Joey had to admit he had a crush on Miss Kuykendall.
Therein was the problem. Nineteen- year-old virulent Joey, really fifty year old Joe Daily, his very situation and station in life made him unavailable to the teacher. Being the creative sort, Joey decided to create a character specifically for Miss Kuykendall. He would give that character a story, littered with backstory about how he had become a widower. He would create himself. He would invent Joe Daily. But for now, he would have to admire her from afar.
Friday arrived and most of the football players went home for the weekend. Preparations were already underway for the Missouri game the following week. There would be no Sunday film sessions, and they would each get the chance to go back to their schools and watch high school football. In that setting they were all famous in their own right. Except Joey. He had nowhere to go, no friends at his “old” school, and no one from his life before Vandy that he could visit. Tyler and even Willy had gone home as well. His Friday consisted of alternately writing Miss Kuykendall’s story and dreaming of her.
Joey watched some football on TV Saturday, and by that night he was positively out of his mind. He walked to The Club, threw some darts, and enjoyed his celebrity. By eleven even that had grown old, and he turned to leave. Luan stood before him.
“Hello, sailor,” she said smiling.
“Hi, Luan. I didn’t see you standing there.”
“I thought about coming up behind you and putting my arms around that nice chest,” she said. “What would you have done?”
“I have no idea,” Joey replied. Everything in his radar sounded a warning, and he couldn’t figure out exactly why. He should have relished Luan’s appearance. He had sought another encounter since the first, and yet something seemed altogether dangerous and wrong. “I’m heading home. It’s late, and I’m tired.”
“Joey,” Luan pouted, her lower lip protruding as she put one paw on Joey’s shoulder and stepped even closer. “Why go slouching toward Bethlehem? The night is so young, and so are you.”
Now Joey could feel the cool hand of temptation luring him. His warranted reticence cleared.
“Luan, I’ll see you when I can,” Joey said. He sidestepped her as easily as he did defenders on the football field, easier than he imagined it would be upon deciding to do so. “See ya’ around.”
Several young men watched him leaving as they eyed Luan, probably wondering how in the world he could walk out on her and wondering how they could capitalize on the opening. Joey looked back once as he exited and saw Luan smiling in his direction. At least she wasn’t history. She wasn’t finished by any stretch of the imagination.
On Sunday morning Joey donned sweat pants and a t-shirt, stretched in the lobby, and began running around the campus intent on going to the football field for some sprints. His rest had been recuperative, rejuvenating, and he needed to burn some energy. Oh how good it felt to be nineteen and vital.
Of course, he saw Al, on the same bench, waiting it seemed on Joey’s arrival.
“The world is abuzz, my dear boy,” Al said, seeming positively radiant.
“That it is, Al.”
“Do you find it ironic as I do that we, by happenstance, so often meet on Sunday?”
“It is a strange coincidence,” Joey said. He placed his foot on the bench beside Al and stretched.
“I sense,” Al said, changing the subject, “that there is a certain young lady absolutely smitten by you. She’s a beauty too.”
Joey knew at once Al was referring to Luan.
“I think the girls are intrigued,” Joey said.
“Joey! Intrigued? My goodness, man, they are atwitter. Sex appeal. That’s what it is. You’ll make a mint in commercials in due time. If you have due time.”
“Al, that’s something we need to talk about. I-“
“Joey, you have time. It’s been only fifty days. What has happened in fifty days pales in comparison to what’s in store for you. I’d dare say Vandy as well.”
“I may find a girl yet, Al. I’m so much older though.”
“Luan is older than you, Joey. She’s quite, how should I say it, striking?”
So Al did know her name and much more about her. Joey was even more certain now of their connection.
“If I have to go back, you know, to being Joe Daily again, I may finally go after someone my own age. I even have my eye on someone.”
“Joey, when did you meet Michelle?”
Joey’s mind raced back at once, and despite his belief that Al could not read his thoughts and regardless of his attempt at hiding the thoughts of he and Michelle’s life together, the scene of their early courtship bombarded his brain. Across the grassy courtyard in college. Freshman year. She couldn’t take her eyes off him. For the first time in his life, he ignored every misgiving and walked directly to her. She held her books to her chest like a shield but her smile still failed to hide her interest. Those lips. The soft curve of her neck. The way her finger traced along the spiral on her notebook as she listened to him. Her hand as she shook his in introduction. They were nineteen.
Long ago, he thought. Long ago in a time when it seemed the end would never arrive. A time when life was young.
“What if Luan turns out to be like her? What if you met another Michelle?”
“I don’t know, Al.”
“You never know until you try.”
“What I’d really like is to have Michelle back again. That’s what I’d like, Al.”
“Joey,” Al began as if suddenly he was in a great hurry. “One hundred days. It’s so fast isn’t it. You need a bit more time. Immerse yourself. A bit more time might demonstrate what a wonderful life this can be. No?”
“It might at that,” Joey said.
“You’ve done the figuring, certainly,” Al said. “A smart lad such as yourself. You’ve considered this season, I’m sure.”
“Maybe I’ve thought a bit about it.” Joey tried to be cagey and realized at once he was probably outmanned.
“In the Bible. You do read the Bible?”
“I’ve been known to read the Bible,” Joey said.
“In the Good Book. So many times the number forty, rears its head. Poor Moses, in his small, slouching manner, bowed down to God literally if not metaphorically, wandered in the desert for forty years. It rained on Noah’s parade for forty days and forty nights. Did you know that Jonah preached in Ninevah for forty days? And who could forget our friend, and what a friend we have in Jesus, who spent forty days in the wilderness? How about another forty days?”
Joey wished he had done his homework. When would that place him? What day would it be?
“Time is of the essence,” Al said standing and beginning to walk away. “Going once.”
“Add forty. The decision on our deal will be final.”
Al stopped and his countenance changed at once. His expression, now absolute steel drawn in a tight mask of what might have been anger and contempt, peered into Joey’s soul. He took one step back toward Joey and stopped. Then as quickly as it had gone, his smile reappeared.
“At midnight,” Al said. “Midnight. We make it official.”
Al turned and walked away, whistling an unknown tune once more, and watching creation amid the arrival of fall in the campus trees. Joey watched as Al turned the corner and disappeared. Only then did he allow himself to shiver.