Friday Night Lights

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Charlene remained at the cemetery after insisting Roy return to his duties as Sheriff. She’d been pleased with the condition of the small cemetery when she arrived. There was very little green to be found, except for a few long rows of tall cypress trees that had managed to survive through many years of different droughts, as well as several large cedar trees. The ground itself was hard, brown, cracking dirt, but it was free of any weeds and other debris.

She thanked Roy before he left for the flowers she found in the vase between the two matching headstones, headstones Charlene had selected and ordered when she returned twelve years before to bury her mother and was now seeing for the first time. At that time, her father’s grave had been marked by a worn, wooden cross that she and her mother had made and staked themselves. At the time of his death, there had been no money for anything as extravagant as a cemetery headstone.

Roy at first denied the wilted flowers but finally admitted he did come out once in a while to pay his respects. That admission had touched her.

He only agreed to leave her alone once she swore to him she would check into a hotel and get some much-needed sleep.

“Promise me, Charlie, that you won’t leave, that you won’t head back to Dallas without at least letting me know. Don’t just disappear on me this time.”

She had no problem making him that promise. She had no reason to disappear this time, and a huge reason to stay, at least for another day. Twelve years before she’d had a reason to disappear—Andrew.

As she continued to sit on the hard, dry ground, she twirled her set of wedding rings back and forth on her finger as she thought of her dear, sweet Andrew. He had been such a good, loyal husband and provider, and an excellent father to Alexandra. It had broken their hearts when they’d had to say goodbye to him, to bury him two years ago. But he had suffered from cancer for so long. They both knew he was in a better place now. But it didn’t make them miss him any less. She had been a faithful, loyal wife to him as well. Except for that one time, twelve years ago.

Following their high school graduation, she and Roy had enrolled in college—he in the university in Alpine, where he’d received a scholarship to play football; she in a small community college in Odessa, east of Valhorne.

Unable to afford the tuition and room and board at the university, her only option had been to live with a relative—her mother’s spinster cousin—and attend the local community college nearby. That same cousin had tried to persuade her mother for them to join her in Odessa following her Charlene’s dad’s suicide, but her mother had refused to leave Valhorne at the time.

Charlene hated leaving her mother alone to go off to school, but it was her only alternative to staying in Valhorne and working as a full-time waitress. Roy would be living in the athletic dormitory, eliminating the possibility of her moving in with him in Alpine.

The proximity of Odessa to both towns—165 miles from Valhorne and 140 miles from Alpine—made it somewhat convenient to travel to Alpine on weekends to see Roy and attend his home football games, and to return to Valhorne to see her mother other weekends.

She attended classes in the mornings, waited tables at a local country club in the late afternoon and evenings for gas money and other expenses. It was there at the country club where she had met Andrew Billows in September of her sophomore year. He was a club regular, often meeting with business associates for dinner. He was thirty-years-old, and the most charming, most sophisticated man she had ever met. He dressed in expensive, fancy clothes, his hands always smooth and callus-free, his nails clean and well-manicured. He was pleasant looking, though he lacked the rugged good looks of Roy, nor was he as tall or as muscular. He always sat at the same table in her section and consistently left a hefty tip. He was kind to her, made her feel special, often bringing her small gifts, but never flirted with her, not in the way other men did that always made her feel cheap and dirty. He would hang around long after his dinner companions left, making idle conversation with her while she cleared his table and others around him. He regularly invited her to join him for dinner, or a movie, or the local theater. She always refused. Though both fascinated by Andrew and flattered by his attention, she loved Roy.

Then the small gifts turned into larger ones—expensive pieces of jewelry, fancy perfume, delicate scarves—things she had never enjoyed before. When she’d try to refuse the gifts, Andrew would have no part of it, insisting she deserved nice things.

She recalled the one time she had worn the perfume during a weekend in Alpine with Roy. He had commented on it, telling her how beautiful, how sensual she smelled, and that whatever new cologne she was wearing, he hoped she would always wear it around him. She had cried later that night after they had made love and he had fallen asleep in her arms. The guilt overwhelmed her. Though she had not physically cheated on Roy, she knew she had betrayed him by accepting gifts from another man. She never wore that cologne again.

In December of that year, Andrew showed up at the club just as they were closing with what he said was a Christmas gift for her. He handed her a small box and insisted she open it right then. She sensed that there was something different about that gift, and opened it with tremendous anxiety, her hands trembling. Inside the small box she discovered a large, marquise-cut diamond ring, and before she knew what was happening, Andrew was down on his knees proposing. She thought she was in some crazy, Cinderella fantasy. They’d never been on a date, never kissed, yet he was asking her to marry him. He said they were moving the office of his family-owned and run small, independent drilling company to Dallas the first of the year, with hopes of expanding the business up into Oklahoma as well as what they already had in West Texas. He wanted her to go with him. He promised to give her everything she had never had if she would agree to be his wife.

She had declined the offer, of course. How could she marry Andrew or anyone else? She loved Roy; he was the only one she had ever loved or ever wanted. Andrew had refused to accept her no, had insisted she think about it over the Christmas break, and give him her answer when she returned. Then he had taken her in his arms and kissed her. It had been the gentlest kiss she’d ever received. Roy’s kisses were always aggressive, full of heat and passion. Andrew had turned around and walked out of the club following that kiss, leaving her stunned, and her hand tightly clasped around the small box containing a diamond larger than any she had ever imagined wearing on her finger.

She spent Christmas break in Valhorne with her mother and Roy. At night, after Roy would kiss her goodnight, she’d lie in bed, wide-awake, thinking about Andrew’s kiss, and his promises, and the ring hidden away in her top bureau drawer. She’d allowed herself to slip it on her finger only once. The way it had sparkled in the light had taken her breath away.

She’d never been to Dallas but had watched the hit TV show by the same name growing up, and at the time dreamed of what it would be like to live in such an exciting city, in a beautiful home like Southfork, and to wear fancy clothes like Sue Ellen and Pamela. And now she had that chance with Andrew.

That Christmas she received a diamond necklace from Roy. It was a small round diamond solitaire on a short, sterling silver chain. She could still remember the touch of his calloused hands on her skin as he placed it around her neck and the warmth of his breath as he whispered in her ear how much he loved her, how someday he hoped to put a larger diamond on her finger. But he made no offer to take her away from the place she so hated. He talked about his hopes of owning some land along the mountains someday, of building a house on it, maybe even running for Sheriff once he had some experience under his belt. He was interested in working for the border patrol before then, or perhaps police work in Alpine. He’d met several of the local police officers already, and they assured him he’d have no problem getting on with the department after graduation, possibly work up to detective status in short order with a college degree.

When she returned to Odessa the first of January, she accepted Andrew’s proposal. As much as she loved Roy, she had to get away from Valhorne, the people in it, and the horrible memories it held. Andrew was her ticket out of town, her escape, and she took it. She took the easy route, leaving Roy behind with his plans and his dreams that didn’t coincide with her own.

As she now sat on the hard ground of the cemetery, staring at the mountains where Roy had envisioned building their home, she wiped tears from her cheeks. She reached down inside her sweater and pulled out a small diamond solitaire dangling from a long, silver chain. She closed her hand tightly around it and held it against her chest.

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