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Tumbleweeds, p.16
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       Tumbleweeds, p.16

           Leila Meacham
 

  “Wait it out. He’ll change his mind. I know he will.”

  “What if he… doesn’t?”

  “He will, John. I know him.”

  John took her by the shoulders. “If he doesn’t, will you consider marrying me, Cathy? I’m sure you know how I feel about you. I love you. I always have. I’ll love your baby like my own. We can have a good life together.”

  She stared up into his handsome face, so like Trey’s they could have been brothers, which they were except for blood. “I know you do, and I love you too much to let you marry me when you and I both know my heart belongs to Trey—whose child belongs to him. He loves me, John. It may take a while, but he’ll come back to me. I’m certain of it. I must be available when he does.”

  No word came from Trey in the next two weeks before Cathy was to leave for Miami. Having no idea where he was staying, none of them had a way to contact him. John suggested that Mabel telephone Sammy Mueller, who assured her that Trey had arrived on campus safe and sound and was staying in the athletic dorm. John and Cathy wrote letters and Mabel sent telegrams and left telephone messages, but all went unanswered. Cathy’s world fell black. She and Trey had been joined at the breast, moved to the same heartbeat. She felt as if she’d been torn from his flesh and left with no organs of her own to sustain life.

  She and Emma—her grandmother’s face reflecting her deep worry and disappointment—sadly discussed her options. Abortion was never even considered, and Cathy had to wonder why Trey, if he had still wanted her and had been so opposed to children, had not demanded that she have one. That would have been like him, but he also knew she would never destroy their child. There was the alternative of putting the baby up for adoption and going on with her life, but that, too, was unthinkable. How could she give away the child conceived out of love for the father?

  John repeated his offer to marry her, but again Cathy refused. “Cathy, do you know what you’re facing? I know it’s the eighties and people don’t look on unmarried pregnant girls like they used to, even on a college campus, but… they will look at you differently. There will still be a stigma. Think of the baby….”

  “I am, John.”

  “You’re sure there’s no chance that you would marry me?” he asked.

  “I’m sure,” she said. “You deserve better, John.”

  “There is none better, Cathy.”

  The day before John was to leave for Florida in his pickup, he telephoned Sammy Mueller.

  “Then you haven’t discussed your decision with your buddy?” the coach asked him.

  “I’ll leave that to you, Coach Mueller.”

  “We were counting on your coming to us as a set.”

  “Trey will do fine as a single.”

  “We’ll see. The game is going to miss you, John.”

  He gave Cathy his new address. “This is where you can reach me, if you need me,” he said. “Don’t hesitate to do so, Cathy. Promise me.”

  She read the slip of paper in dismay. “You’re not—you’re not—”

  “No, Cathy. I’ve changed my mind.”

  He had already applied and been accepted into Loyola University in New Orleans. His binding letter of intent to the University of Miami was forgiven only because he would not be playing football for another college. At Loyola his plan was to apply for the Jesuit Candidacy Program with the hope of becoming an ordained priest.

  PART TWO

  1986–1999

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  At his desk in the Hecht Athletic Center, Frank Medford, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Miami Hurricanes, chewed gum furiously, disappointment burning a path to his belly. A little while ago he’d been informed that John Caldwell had turned down his scholarship to play football for Miami to enter Loyola University in New Orleans with hope of becoming a priest.

  Frank had come close to having cardiac arrest. “He did what?” Frank, a Catholic, had yowled to the bearer of bad tidings. “That son of a bitch! Are you kidding me?”

  When Sammy Mueller, as shocked and disappointed as Frank, had assured him he wasn’t, Frank had pulled his hair and cursed and stomped around the head coach’s office demanding why the hell they hadn’t known of John Caldwell’s religious predilection before.

  “We didn’t think to ask, and he didn’t mention it,” Frank’s boss said, a droop to his normally rosy cheeks. “You got to admit, the kid’s reason to withdraw from the program is one for the books.” He sighed mournfully. “We could have signed the wide receiver from Oklahoma.”

  Frank paced himself out and fell wearily into an office chair. He’d had these disappointments before but never one that had so thoroughly shaken him. “This explains why Trey Hall came back to campus early,” he said. “I knew something was gnawing at him. He’s not the same kid who left here after summer conditioning. But why in God’s name didn’t he tell us that John planned to defect?”

  “Apparently, he didn’t know, Frank. You’re going to have to tell him.”

  “He must have had some idea what his buddy was up to. What else would explain why Hall’s been in the Dumpster since he got back?” Frank felt his neck grow hot, still rocked to the soles of his Nikes by the news. John Caldwell was to Trey Don Hall what fuel was to a rocket. They’d been best friends since their pabulum days. Could Trey get airborne without him?

  “Lots of possibilities when it comes to eighteen-year-old boys,” Coach Mueller said. “I want you to have a talk with the kid, find out what’s going on with him and if you think this blow will affect his playing. Without John, Trey might fold on us.”

  His boss had put in words the fear that had now destroyed the high Frank had allowed himself ever since seeing the Kersey film clips of Trey Don Hall and John Caldwell and observing the dynamic duo during summer conditioning. Frank had been in the coaching business a long time and had learned to reserve his opinion of all blue-chip quarterbacks and receivers until they proved themselves when and where it counted. The rookies from the Texas Panhandle—especially Trey Don Hall—gave evidence of becoming one of the rare exceptions to the tried-and-true rule that had spared Frank the kind of grief he was experiencing now.

  When they’d arrived for their first tour of the campus, Trey Don had appeared typical of the tall, good-looking, cocky quarterbacks Frank had seen as his duty to shoot down from their high school pinnacles.

  “I prefer to be called TD,” he had announced when he was introduced to the coaches, his grin inferring the meaning of the initials.

  Frank had drawled, “Around here, you have to earn that moniker before it’s applied. For now, you’re just Trey Don Hall.”

  But there was no just about TD Hall. It was becoming clear that he might live up to the dazzle of his game clips showing him all gold—arm, feet, hips, and brains. The offensive coaches had been impressed by his focus and conduct during summer conditioning when everybody would have bet he’d be out to the clubs in Coconut Grove every night undoing the day’s physical training, John going along to keep Trey out of trouble. His dedication and abstinence from the frivolities he’d indulged in on his first visit to the campus had surprised them, as had his unexpected reappearance on campus within days of his departure back to the Texas Panhandle. Frank had known right away that something had gone wrong at home when the boy had asked if he could pay for his room and board in the athletic dorm for the remaining weeks before his scholarship kicked in. Since his return, he’d lived in monkish isolation—no girls or nightlife—in complete contrast to the outgoing, sociable kid they’d first met. He hung around his room alone, ate his meals apart at the training table, and turned in early. During the day he studied game films, worked out, and practiced throwing passes at moving targets he hit nearly every time. He drew spectators on those days—never members of the coaching staff, since the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) forbade coaches from any interaction with their players that could be construed as “preemptive instruction” before the season began. Bu
t they had watched the perfection of his spirals through binoculars trained on him from office windows and high in bleacher seats and imagined him standing tall in the pocket, effortlessly flicking deep cuts to his wide receiver, John. Their two-man combination was every offensive coordinator’s ultimate fantasy.

  Now one half of that fantasy was over and the other may be, too, if Trey Don Hall’s exceptional skills and supreme confidence in his abilities were inextricably linked to John Caldwell’s. Game films clearly showed their faith in each other and their almost telepathic connection that had powered Kersey High School to win a state championship. Could Trey function as successfully without his teammate?

  “You wanted to see me, Coach Medford?” Trey asked from the open door.

  “I do. Come in and have a seat.” The boy had come from a workout and was still in his gym shorts and jersey. It was another pleasant surprise that Trey Hall consistently lifted weights. Most quarterbacks did not like to pump iron. They thought weights were for the big linemen and linebackers, but the rookie believed that great quarterbacks had to be strong and fast. At six foot three and carrying close to two hundred pounds of conditioned muscle, he was both. Frank felt another jab of anxiety. What if the kid proved a bust?

  “I’m afraid I have some bad news, Trey.”

  Trey lowered himself into the proffered chair apprehensively. “It’s not my aunt, is it?”

  “No, not your aunt. It’s John Caldwell. He’s not coming to Miami.”

  Frank had deliberately dropped the news without preliminaries. How Trey reacted to it would reveal if he’d known of John’s decision and maybe gotten used to the idea of suiting up solo.

  But clearly Frank had thrown a grenade into the kid’s lap. Trey’s face washed of color. “What?” he said. “What do you mean he’s not coming to Miami?”

  “I mean he’s changed his mind about joining our ranks this fall. He’s declined his scholarship.”

  “But he can’t do that, can he? Legally, I mean.”

  “He can if he doesn’t play football for another college or university for a year.”

  “Not play football…”

  Clearly another shock. “You know any reason why he’d pull out on us?”

  “No… I… thought he’d probably get married, live off campus, but never give up coming to Miami, playing football. The girl he’s… marrying has a scholarship here, too.”

  “Well, he certainly isn’t getting married,” Frank said, “at least not to a woman. He’s going to Loyola University in New Orleans to become a priest.”

  Trey gazed at Frank like someone who’d taken a bullet to the chest, shot by a friend. It was several seconds before Trey reacted to its impact. He pushed back his chair and stumbled to his feet. “No, he wouldn’t—he couldn’t! God, John—! ” He swung away from Frank’s desk and covered his face with his hands, hunching forward as if taking blows. He held the position a few minutes before he turned back, wiping angrily at his tears.

  “I’ll be honest with you,” Frank said. “I feel like crying myself. John Caldwell could have been the best wide receiver in college football. Did you have any inkling he’d do this?” He took a box of Kleenex from a drawer he kept on hand for his sneezing fits during allergy season and offered it across the desk. Trey snapped a tissue from the box and swiped his eyes.

  “No… not now. Like I said, I… guessed he’d be getting married.”

  Ah, Frank thought, so that probably explained it. John Caldwell and his girl had had a blowup. But, my God, at eighteen to renounce everything going for him because of a girl to enter the priesthood and become a celibate? “Well, look,” he said, leaning forward. “It’s not too late to get him back here. We’ll track him down and you can have a talk with him, convince him to get his butt back here—”

  “No.”

  Taken aback at the immediate response, Frank said, “Why not?”

  “Because I wouldn’t be able to change his mind.”

  Frank knew boys. Trey was keeping the lid on something he had no intention of sharing with him, a painful secret he thought too private to discuss. But there was nothing too personal Frank hadn’t heard. He adopted his fatherly pose. “TD, what happened when you returned home? I know something did because you turned around and came back to us a different person and now John’s taken off to join the priesthood. I appreciate that it’s hard to talk about, but whatever it is, I might be able to help. You told us that you two have had a dream to come to Miami since junior high. When you were recruited, you never even considered another school. So what happened to change all that? If it’s only a girl that’s involved, then, by all that’s holy, we’ve got to talk to John. He’s too young to make this kind of decision right now. He can take his vows later. Lots of priests do.”

  The boy’s eyes were now dry, though grief lurked in their darkness. He pushed himself out of his chair. “I’ve got to go,” he said.

  Startled—it was for Frank to decide when a recruit left his office—he said, “Very well, but all may not be lost. John might come back to us next year when he gets a taste of what his vows will entail. I once thought of becoming a priest until I spent a little time in what’s called the discernment period. I didn’t last. Poverty, chastity, obedience—those are the vows. I can see John dealing with two out of three, but chastity—?”

  A twitch of the boy’s facial muscle indicated Frank had hit a nerve. “Discernment period?”

  “The preliminary time a candidate for a religious order is required to go through to determine if he’s cut out for the priestly life.”

  “He’s cut out for it,” Trey said, and turned toward the door.

  “Before you go, Hall, be honest with me.” Annoyed at the feeling the kid had gotten the upper hand, Frank’s tone was insistent. “Is John’s defection going to affect what we brought you here to do?”

  Trey wadded the tissue and lobbed it into the trash can by Frank’s desk. Minutes ago, he’d looked like any vulnerable eighteen-year-old boy. Now he’d taken on the stature of a full-fledged, bitter man. “No, Coach. Football’s all I’ve got left.”

  BACK IN HIS ROOM, Trey dropped down hard on his bed and pushed his fingers through his hair. John, going into the priesthood? Good God! He should have seen something like this coming. Ever since last November he’d watched John gravitate toward his Catholic leanings, but he could never have dreamed that John would go to these lengths to redeem himself—certainly not now. Where would that leave Cathy? He was supposed to have married her with nobody the wiser about her pregnancy. How could John go off and leave Cathy in her condition unless… unless…

  Trey stood and wrenched open the bureau drawer containing Cathy’s letters, five of them, unopened, and one received from John a week ago, also unread. He tore it open, and the neatly written, one-page letter confirmed his suspicion.

  Dear TD,

  I’m writing to ask you—beg you—to come home and do your duty to Cathy and your baby. She’s going to keep it because she says she can’t give away a child born out of her love for you. For the same reason, she’s not going to marry me. I begged her to, TD. I love her, too. I always have, and not as a brother, either. She refused because she says she can’t marry anyone else when her heart belongs to you. She’s convinced you feel the same and will come back for her and you can be married before school starts. You’ve done a lot of things that I don’t understand, TD, but this one has really stumped me. What’s got you so set against becoming a father? Married to a girl like Cathy, I’d think having a family with her would be the most wonderful thing in the world. Won’t you please come home and marry her, and we can all go to Miami just as we planned?

  We miss you, buddy.

  John

  Trey balled the letter in his fist, tears streaming. He doesn’t know… hasn’t even guessed… Cathy, either. If she had, she’d marry John, not wait for me.

  He sat down again and clasped his head, reliving, as he’d done many times, the moment of Cathy’s annou
ncement, feeling again the swamp of shock and anger and disbelief and… abandonment. It had taken only seconds for the certainty to hit his heart—like lightning striking a power source—that he’d never, could never, feel the same for her again. She’d destroyed the one essential element that had bound him to her.

  He still remembered the feel of her tanned skin when he took her arm and shoved her out onto the porch and out of his life. He’d braced himself against the locked door, his lungs on fire, and heard her small fists pummel the wood and his name cried over and over. “Trey… Trey…!” she’d cried, his fallen little angel, storming heaven’s gates to open to her once again, but he was deaf to all but the voice of Dr. Thomas delivering his verdict in his office in May.

  “What are you trying to say, Doc?”

  “Your semen analysis shows that your sperm cells are abnormally shaped and cannot swim.”

  “And that means?”

  “It means that you are presently sterile….”

  Each blow on the door had driven a spike through his heart, but she was guilty of the one sin he could never get past. She had betrayed him with his best friend. He would rather have died than to think of Cathy in John’s arms—the two of them copulating—and in only a week of their split. Fairly or unfairly, he’d trusted her to remain faithful to him even in the storm. She should have known it would blow over. She knew him better than he knew himself. She should have perceived that something had gone horribly wrong with him to break up with her. She should have trusted his love enough to consider his actions might have something to do with her welfare.

  Her pleas had finally stopped. He’d heard her move away from the door and off the porch, her footsteps hesitant and slow, sounding like fallen leaves brushing stone, rifled by the wind. Tears had scalded his eyes. John would marry her, he’d thought, seeing the irony in the whole miserable mess. He had loved her since the sixth grade, same as Trey. He’d kidded himself in believing John thought of her as a sister. He’d marry her and raise the kid who at the moment she thought was Trey Don Hall’s.

 
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