“I hope you don’t mind. I showed myself in.”
“No, no, I guess not,” Joe said, disoriented. He sat up on the couch, looking up at the tall man standing in front of him. He was dressed the same as he was when Joe first met him. His tan face made him look like a game show host.
“Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Shall we?” Al walked to the nearby dining area, grabbed a chair, and sat it in front of Joe before moving the table somewhat. He produced a sheet of paper. “You sign right here,” he said pointing to the bottom line on the paper as Joe tried to rub his eyes free of the short sleep, “and you become the greatest college football player to ever play the game.”
“I’m not even in school much less on the team. Practice starts Monday.”
“Oh, Joe,” Al said smiling. “You don’t give me nearly enough credit.”
“They might know me.”
“You’re already enrolled in classes. Made great grades and the ACT was a breeze. Twelve hours is plenty for a freshman. You went to school at McMinn, but you didn’t even play. You’ll walk on. Your uncle paid for school.”
Joe’s head was spinning. Was this a dream? It had to be.
“It’s been so long,” Joe said. He craned his neck to see the paper, but Al moved it out of the way. “I won’t remember the moves. I don’t know if I could play.”
“Joe, the way you’ll play will be by instinct. It will come so naturally you won’t believe it. You can do it all. Don’t you feel it? You feel like an All-American already, don’t you.”
In fact, Joe did feel it already. Something was happening. He shook his head and tried to think. What about work? What about his current life? Now the change was noticeable, as if his skin grew tight. The ringing in his ears, brought on either by age or the constant roar of the presses in the plant, began to disappear, replaced by an eerie silence. He heard the movement of cloth on cloth as he repositioned his legs. Even his right ear that had been fading for the last decade detected Al’s lips sliding over teeth as he smiled.
“The house is paid for,” Al said. He was so convincing? It all fell into place so easily. “Why would you worry about this life? Your new one awaits. Go look in the mirror. Go on.”
Joe rose and walked to the guest bathroom, flicked on the light, and realized at once the face in the mirror was unrecognizable. He had a full head of Leonardo DiCaprio hair only more blonde, curly and thick. His cheek bones sat high, his face taut and perfectly sallow, while one side of his full lips curled in a distinctive and not altogether unattractive quirk, the only distinguishing Cain-like mark on his otherwise perfect appearance. His neck muscles fell onto thick, high shoulder muscles. How could this be?
“Al, how can this be?” Joe said walking back to the living room. Al leaned back, his arms crossed across his chest.
“You ask too many questions. Look, your bag is packed and ready.”
A suitcase on rollers with a pull handle sat beside the door.
“I can’t give my life away, just like this. It’s all too sudden.”
Al breathed deeply and stood again as Joe sat on the edge of the couch, placing his hands on his knees and then rubbing them up his muscular legs.
“My God, you drive a hard bargain,” Al said. “Can I say that, Joe?” Al laughed before continuing. “One hundred days. We’ll try it for one hundred days. At that point, you’ll make the deal: go back to work like it never happened or continue on with your amazing season. You know I can do it. I think my work thus far proves that.”
One hundred days. He could live the life he had always dreamed of and Vandy could at least have him for that long. He could try this thing out for one hundred days. What could it hurt?
“One hundred days.” Joe looked to the bag and back to Al. “What is my end of the deal, exactly?”
“It doesn’t really matter does it? You’re under no obligation to do anything in return unless you accept in one hundred days.”
For the first time in so many years, Joe felt it: the unmistakable pull of an invisible longing, the rending of what seemed right with what seemed wrong, and the inevitable decision to experiment and stick in a toe to test the waters. But there was a division. Oh yes, there was something about this that was so very wrong, and the voice in Joe’s head screamed for him to snap out of this impossible dream, this ridiculous musing that had been held at bay for so, so many years. What was his crime though? What was it really? Who was holding him responsible for this decision and who had been that authority in charge when Michelle was in peril?
“A limo awaits. I think freshmen are moving into the dorms. You need to introduce yourself to Coach Michaels tomorrow. You have a big day ahead.”
Joe couldn’t move. He wanted to go and he wanted to stay at the same time.
“Go ahead. Enjoy.”
Joe walked across the room, grabbed the handle of the bag, and opened the door. Sure enough, a black limo with tinted windows sat in front of the house. He didn’t even bother to lock the door as he left the house.