In their motel room the evening before the championship game, Joey grew bored after finishing his remaining homework. He didn’t want to watch the sports channels, knowing that all he would see and hear were constant analysis of the game tomorrow. He had grown weary of watching his and Willy’s highlights.
Willy’s long frame stretched out the length of the bed with bedside lamp illuminating a book he held on his chest.
“What are you reading?”
“Run For Your Life by Tim D. Smith,” Willy said. “It’s great. It’s really sad, but I can’t put it down. I keep thinking Josh is going to make it after all. I think he and I are both in love with Tully.”
“Well, good,” Joey said. He looked around the room and then walked to look out the window down to the parking lot.
“Why don’t you kick back a while?”
“I’m bored, Willy. Let’s go walk around or something before curfew.”
“I’m good,” Willy said.
Joey flipped through the flyers on the desk in the room, and among the restaurant coupons he found a calendar. He was studying it when Willy spoke again.
“What did you find?”
“So what are you doing?”
“Counting days until the championship series,” Joey said. He couldn’t tell Willy the entire truth, that he was counting the days he had been Joey Goodman.
“You’re making me a nervous wreck with all your fidgeting. I can’t even read.”
“Geesh, Willy,” Joey said. “Maybe I’m making myself nervous as well.”
If Joey’s calculations were correct, and they should have been because he went back and added them up a second time, at midnight on the day of the national championship game his time would be up. A decision would have to have been made at that point. If Vandy didn’t make the playoff or if they didn’t win the first game of that playoff and get the chance to play for the title, the decision would not affect Vandy.
“I know everyone keeps saying that tomorrow doesn’t matter. I mean, if we keep it close it doesn’t matter.”
Willy looked up from his reading.
“But I don’t care, Willy. I want to win.”
“We’re going to win.”
“I am so sick and tired of Vanderbilt always being a team that never wins. We might even have a good season sometimes. Might make a bowl game. I want to win EVERY game.”
A soft knocking on the door broke the spell of the conversation causing both of them to look in that direction. Joey raised his eyebrows and initially thought it might be Michaels or one of the coaches.
When he opened the door, Luan stood propped against the framing. She wore a loose, black Vanderbilt long sleeve t-shirt that clung in all the right places and gold, shiny, skin-tight pants. Her right knee was cocked in a way that made her look like she was modeling for a Special K commercial and she appeared to be chewing on a cuticle on her right index finger. Her hair flowed down around her shoulders in luxurious curls, and she smelled wonderful.
“Care if I come in?”
“It’s almost curfew,” Joey said then thought further. “I suppose a moment wouldn’t hurt anything.”
Willy was craning his head to see when they walked into sight, and he settled his head back into his pillow and smiled.
“Hi Willy,” Luan cooed as she glanced around the room. “Good book?”
“Excellent,” Willy said. “What’s that perfume?”
“Love Spell,” Luan said. “Think it’s working?”
Luan smiled and moved beside Joey where she could trace an outline of some hieroglyphic on his right bicep. Joey stepped away, pulled a chair out from the desk, and sat down. His position might make it more difficult to dodge Luan, but it had bought him time and space for now.
“What are you boys up to this evening? The night is still young here in Hotlanta.”
“We were just about ready to knock out for the night,” Joey said. “Right Willy?”
Luan moved closer to Joey and then plopped down into his lap. Looking to Willy she said, “Sounds interesting.”
“Joey, it’s not that early. If you want-“
“Willy, you were saying not a moment ago that we needed our rest for tomorrow and we might need to get some shuteye,” Joey said as he pushed Luan up and off his lap, almost picking her up into the air in the process. Her hair cascaded out and settled as if she was riding a roller coaster.
Willy finally put the book down and sat up.
“Right, I was,” Willy said. He walked over to Luan, took her elbow, and began walking her to the door as her scent wafted along behind her like a lure. “Luan, we’ll see you tomorrow. Maybe at the Fan Fare.”
Luan walked the last few paces to the door on her own accord, opened it, and looked back over her shoulder past Willy to Joey. She smiled once more.
“I love it when a man plays hard to get. See ya’ ’round, good man.”
When the door closed, Joey walked back into the room and sat on the edge of his bed, smiling and shaking his head.
“She smelled so good.”
“I thought you were going to leave me hanging. What were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t doing the thinking. She had me under a spell,” Willy said. “What is it with you and her? She’s been after you for weeks now.”
“It’s a long story,” Joey said, standing and walking nearer to the window to look down into the parking lot. “Maybe I’ll tell you sometime.”
“Okay. Whatever,” Willy said, and at that moment a soft knock sounded once more.
“Oh man, if it’s her again, I don’t need to let her gain entry. She might attack.”
“I’ll get it.” Willy got up and opened the door.
Instead of Luan, he found Miss Kuykendall standing hesitantly holding a covered dish, as well as her purse and a plastic shopping dangling below.
“Can I help you?” Willy asked.
“Is this Joey Goodman’s room? I hope it’s not too late.”
“It is,” Willy said stepping to the side. “Joey, you’ve got a visitor.”
Joey saw who it was and his face lit up.
“Jamie! Hey, come in.”
“I made you a little something. I hope you’re not on some strict diet or pregame regimen. It’s a snack. I wanted to tell you thanks for the tickets and good luck.”
“Thank you so much. Really.” Joey put the container on the table and turned around to speak to his guest. “So you’re staying here in town?”
“Close by,” Jamie said. “I brought my sister with me. We’ll be cheering as loud as we can tomorrow.”
“So are you going back to your hotel? What are your plans?”
“We had dinner. Probably TV and some grading. Just us two old maids.”
“Willy, what time is it?”
As if anticipating the question, Willy said, “You have an hour-and-a-half.”
“We can go walk around if you’d like. I mean, if you’re not doing anything. I’ve got some time before my coach turns into a pumpkin.”
“Sure,” Jamie said.
They took the elevator to the lobby where fans were milling around dressed in team colors, either crimson or the black and gold. The crimson fans busied themselves saying “roll tide” to each other, and the Vandy fans tried to ignore them. Joey tried to cover his face somewhat and looked to the ground as they strode out into the cold December evening. Away from the building they found a seat beside a large, lighted fountain that changed colors ever so often.
Joey asked Jamie about her teaching career and then about her own writing. He discovered she was single and that she was thirty-eight. She had a dog named Rowdy who was neurotic. They discussed her aversion to macaroni and cheese. Jamie’s sister had been a brat until she was twenty years old. She could still be a drama queen but nowadays fought it bravely.
“You know all about me. Now what about you?”
“There’s nothing to know,” Joey said. He didn’t want to lie to Jamie any more than he already had or that he would have to in order to maintain his secret. It was so wrong in so many ways.
“Do you have a dog?”
“I had a dog named Kevin who loved peanut butter and was a real sweetheart. He died of old age.”
“You must have had him your whole life.”
Even the simplest instance of unrevised and truthful history was littered with landmines. Kevin came into his life when he was thirty-five. How could he pull this off without lying with every breath?
“I don’t like talking about me. I haven’t ever done anything worthy of mention until I got to play for Vandy. Sometimes I think I won’t ever be able to do anything that permits me to look back with pride.”
“You’ve got plenty of time,” Jamie said.
“You never know,” Joey said. He looked away from Jamie, possibly in shame but he couldn’t be certain.
“Joey, you have an old soul.”
“I’ve heard that before. What does that mean exactly? I mean, what do I do that leads you to believe that?”
“I could see it in your writing. People refer to different things depending on where they’re from. It’s the same way with writing. A person’s perspective is often revealed in the way they refer to items and situations, often depending on their age. You write older than you are.”
The conversation drifted away, leaving Joey to struggle for some avenue to continue his nearness to Jamie. Trying to convince her to become involved with him would not only put her in an awful situation but might also be unethical. Joey was pretty sure she wouldn’t let things progress that far. So they discussed football and they discussed school. Joey’s time continued to fly.
“Einstein was right. Time is relative,” Joey said.
Jamie stood. “See? Old soul.”
Joey told her goodnight and they parted ways as Joey wondered if he would ever see her again. He made curfew. Then, he tossed and turned in bed all night trying to figure out if Vanderbilt would ever be able to defeat the Crimson Tide.