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Tumbleweeds, p.19
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       Tumbleweeds, p.19

           Leila Meacham
 

  Rufus is getting older. He’ll be eight years old this January. Remember when you and John snatched him from Odell Wolfe for Cathy? Seems like yesterday. You never knew, did you, that I deliberately sent you to your room that night because I was certain you’d sneak out your window to be “in on the action” when John presented that puppy to Cathy. Emma said she’d never seen you so excited—or cold! That sweet dog has been a great comfort to Cathy.

  Trey had crushed the letter in his fist and his whole upper body had felt ready to explode, but again he had not replied and eventually his aunt had come to realize that if she expected him to correspond with her, she’d better lay off the guilt-and-sympathy trip. They spoke by phone seldom and then awkwardly, Aunt Mabel’s conversations carefully modulated to navigate the mines that would put an end to the call and the rare opportunity to hear her only relative’s voice. Afterwards, Trey felt bad that he could not be more the loving nephew she deserved, but her silent, irrevocable disappointment in him erected a barrier he could not surmount.

  Thanksgiving loomed next month. Aunt Mabel assumed he’d come home—“it will be just the two of us, a quiet holiday this year”—but Trey wouldn’t have even considered returning to Kersey, despite his desire to see his aunt and his sadness at hurting her. To avoid prolonging her expectation, he wrote early to say he’d accepted an invitation from a buddy to spend Turkey Day with his family in Mobile, Alabama. Trey composed the note with an ache in his throat, knowing it would be the first of many that would disappoint his aunt. His former life was a thing of the past, and most likely he would never spend a holiday in his old home again.

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Are you hoping for a girl or a boy?” the ultrasound technician asked, spreading gel over the mound of Cathy’s abdomen. She lay on an examination table in her obstetrician’s office in Amarillo, her pants slipped to the top of her thighs in preparation for a three-dimensional sonogram that would determine the gender of her child as well as detect birth defects and other abnormalities. After her first prenatal examination by Dr. Thomas, she’d preferred to consult an obstetrician out of the county. It was the middle of November, and she was in her twentieth week of pregnancy.

  Cathy winced. The gel was cold. “It doesn’t matter, but from all indications, the baby is a girl,” she said.

  “Indications?”

  Cathy grinned despite her nervousness and the discomfort of a full bladder, advised by her obstetrician in order to get a clearer computerized picture of the fetus. “Old wives’ tales,” she said. “I was really nauseous during my first trimester. That’s a sign I’m having a girl, so I’m told, and my face is full and rosy, another sign.” She would not divulge to this member of the medical profession the experiment that Aunt Mabel had insisted on conducting. She’d suspended a ring on a string over Cathy’s abdomen and declared that if it swung back and forth, she was having a boy; in a circular motion, a girl. The ring had twirled like a top.

  The technician looked amused. “I hope you didn’t fall for the one that says if you carry high, you’re having a girl. If you carry low, get ready for a boy. Nobody can ever remember which applies to which, but I will say this: Your baby is going to be a mighty big little girl if those wives’ tales are correct—and a mighty pretty one if she looks like her mama.” She turned on the wand or transducer in her hand, an instrument that would feed the image of the fetus into the computer behind her. “Ready?” she asked.

  “Ready,” Cathy answered, her head turned toward the computer screen to fix her eyes on the first pictures of her unborn child.

  The technician began the slow glide of the wand over Cathy’s stomach and eventually there emerged a fuzzy picture on the screen. The technician pointed to details in the body image, the heart chambers, blood in circulation, and individual organs. “Oh, my…,” Cathy whispered in shocked wonder.

  “Yep. Looks like the signs were wrong,” the technologist said. “Congratulations. You’re going to have a boy.”

  Cathy dressed while she stared dazedly at the set of sonogram pictures she’d been given of the infinitesimal human being carried within her. She’d been expecting—hoping—for a girl who might manage to grow up her first years in Kersey without the instant recognition that she was Trey Don Hall’s daughter. After that, it wouldn’t matter. She and her child would be moving to any city in Texas with a university that offered premed courses. But a boy… Was that TD’s nose on the tiny profile… his brow? Oh, God. What if her son was born in the unmistakable image of his father?

  She was now convinced that Trey was not coming for her. Their baby—a son—would be no lure. In November, looking over the baby-care magazines in Affiliated Foods, her eye had caught the title of an inside feature on the cover of Today’s Psychology: “Why Certain Men Reject Their Children.” She had gone immediately to the page listed and found an article written by a psychiatrist that explained Trey’s puzzling rejection of her. A study had led to the discovery that certain males orphaned as children cannot tolerate sharing the love of a mate with their offspring. The introduction of a child into a household where such a man must have the undivided attention and loyalty of his partner will most likely result in rejection of the one who has, in his mind, violated and betrayed the trust of the union.

  The article went on to state that men diagnosed with this rare emotional disorder who were deserted by parents in their formative years and who had found mates who loved them in the way they needed and desired to be loved were particularly exigent to sever the relationship. “Their feeling of irrevocable abandonment by someone to whom they felt enduringly secure and safe and exclusive is not unlike the emotion experienced at the time they became conscious that their parents had forsaken them.”

  Cathy recalled that the only time she’d seen Trey in the presence of an infant had occurred one day when she’d stopped by Affiliated Foods while he was working. A young mother with a baby in her arms had wheeled her cart up to the checkout stand where Trey was sacking groceries, and Cathy had offered to hold the child while she placed her items on the belt. Cathy had cradled the baby—a tiny newborn girl swaddled in pink—in her arm as naturally as if she had been born to her, and she’d given Trey a smile. “Nice,” she’d said.

  He’d ignored her smile and meaning, and she’d noted a clenching of his jaw muscles and an increased concentration on his business. She’d felt slightly rebuffed but figured he thought her attention to the baby was holding up the grocery line. It was November, and the store was crowded with Thanksgiving shoppers. Now she realized those tightened jaws had been her first clue to how he’d feel about having a child in their lives.

  She had bought the magazine and gone at once to show the article to Mabel. “Was Trey aware that he’d been abandoned when he came to live with you and your husband?” she’d asked.

  “Oh, my dear, yes,” Mabel said. “He was only four but old enough to know he had no father and that his mother was not coming back for him. He came to us skinny as a newborn lamb with hardly enough clothes to keep him covered, not even a winter jacket, and nothing whatsoever to play with. His uncle and I fattened him up, bought him a smashing wardrobe and more toys than he could say grace over. He’d been neglected and probably abused, but he stood at the living room window day after day waiting for his mama to come home, and I’ve tried not to think of the nights I heard him crying for her in his sleep. Every year he expected her to return at Christmas and to remember his birthday, but she never did. Thank goodness, he had John for a friend. It was that period more than any other that forged their bond.”

  Deeper research had borne out the article’s study, categorizing Trey’s irrational aversion as a form of narcissism. It had even helped her to understand his complete rejection of John. They’d lived as give-and-take brothers. Despite the differences in their nature and temperament, they had made an equal and complementing pair, but this latest behavior of Trey’s had tipped the scales—at least in Trey’s eyes. He could not continue a frie
ndship in which he’d proved himself to be less a person—a man—than John.

  Cathy had been staggered by an overwhelming sadness, but her findings had supplied the answers she’d been searching for. She imagined Trey alone and lost on the campus of Miami, looking for another pair of arms to hold him exclusively as she had, going from girl to girl, searching for that light in the darkness that would shine only for him and him alone. She was no longer that light. She was now free to do what she must do.

  In the waiting room of the obstetrician’s office, Emma’s eyes popped when she saw the copies of the sonogram images. “Would you look at that!” she said of the child’s genitals, the joy in her tone giving away the private wish—which Cathy had long perceived—that her great-grandchild would be a boy. Cathy’s silence caused her to look up from the pictures. “Sweetheart, you’re not… disappointed, are you?”

  “No, of course not. I… was surprised, that’s all. I’d had my expectations set on having a girl and now I have to change gears. All I want is for my baby to be born healthy,” she said, and not to be in any way like his father.

  She wrote immediately to John to tell him the news, and he answered by return mail. “A boy!” his letter began, the exclamation mark punctuating his pleasure. “Have you thought of a name? Could I be called Uncle John, because I plan to love him as if he’s related to me… as I still love and feel related to his father, and in your heart, Cathy, I’m sure you do, too. We must forgive Trey. He’s his own worst enemy. He’ll never know anything is missing in his life until he has it all, and by then, it will probably be too late.”

  Cathy folded the letter and slipped it into the family Bible as she had all the others from John. Forgive Trey? She did not know if that was possible. It was enough that she did not hate him, but how could she hate him as long as love for him still burned in her heart—as long as memories of the two of them before that last afternoon in Aunt Mabel’s parlor were like flames she could not snuff out? “Time heals everything,” people said, but Cathy imagined time no more able to diminish her pain than the daily swipe of an eagle’s wing could reduce the size of a mountain.

  That day, the local paper had featured a picture of Trey—a rookie—released by the Miami Herald, firing a pass to a wide receiver during the fourth quarter of a game already in the bag for the Hurricanes. LOCAL STAR SHINES IN MIAMI’S GALAXY read the headline above a shot of Trey in his flawless passing pose, his features familiar behind his face guard. Cathy had caught sight of the photo as she turned the pages looking for grocery coupons and stared at it, dazed to the point of dizziness, stunned by the rush of warmth between her thighs.

  Bennie frowned when she told him the results of the sonogram, his unspoken concern the same as hers. A thoughtless remark had already been thrown out at Bennie’s by a male member of the Bobcat Booster Club speculating that maybe Kersey had another quarterback in the making. “Sure hope so,” his coffee-drinking buddy had agreed. “The boy will have an uphill climb if he doesn’t have that going for him.”

  Bennie said with a lilt of hope in his voice, “Maybe the boy will have the fine blond hair and blue eyes of his pretty mother.”

  “Maybe,” she said, but her son’s likeness to Trey wouldn’t matter. Trey wouldn’t matter, for when John came home for the Thanksgiving holidays she would ask him to marry her and be the father of her child.

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Other than an occasional letter from his aunt and sundry throwaway junk mail, Trey’s mailbox remained empty. There were days when he did not even bother to check it. Gil Baker at Texas Tech and Cissie Jane Fielding at the University of Texas would have loved to start a correspondence with him (Bebe Baldwin, Cissie’s roommate—never!), but they’d only make hay out of Cathy and he wasn’t interested in Gil’s braggadocio or Cissie’s meaningless prattle. Trey would bet John received lots of mail—from Cathy, Bebe, Gil, Miss Emma, Aunt Mabel, Father Richard, some of their teammates, and girls from their class. They’d all been crazy about John more than him because John was a gentle tease whereas his kidding could have a sharp edge. Everybody had felt safe with John. Apparently no one from his hometown had asked for his address. Trey felt a warm sense of injustice at the snub. If only they knew! He was lonely to hear from someone from Kersey in whose estimation he had not foundered—at least as a football player—and he decided to write to Coach Turner.

  Miami had opened its 1986 season as the third-ranked team in the country and had climbed to number two after winning its first three games. Trey relished relating to his former high school coach how the starting quarterback was teaching him things that only a great player of the game could know and share. “I’m learning what he said he learned by sitting on the bench watching guys like Jim Kelly, Mark Richt, and Bernie Kosar,” Trey wrote.

  I’m learning to wait my turn and watch somebody else play, and there’s none better to watch than this guy. It’s a humbling experience, but it’s teaching me humility and how to be patient, the most important attribute a quarterback can foster in himself, I’m learning—that and to continue to work hard to be prepared so that when the time comes, I’ll be ready. I’ve been assured my time will come. They run a system here you trained me for, Coach, so whatever success I may have in the future, I owe its start to you. I’m in the hands now of other great coaches, but none are greater than you, and for all your own patience and hard work with me I thank you with all my heart.

  Say hello to the guys for me and keep me posted with news of you and the team.

  Sincerely,

  Trey

  Trey reread the letter and, satisfied with its contents, posted it. He waited four days for the letter to arrive, imagining Coach Turner’s pleasure when he slit open the envelope with the return address of his All-State quarterback. He gave it another four days before he started haunting his mailbox for a reply. None came. Frustrated, puzzled, he wrote again out of fear that his first letter had gone astray. Again, no response. Worried that something had happened to Coach Turner, he telephoned his aunt to express his concern.

  “Oh, Trey, I’m sorry I didn’t let you know,” Mabel said. “How thoughtless of me.”

  “Know what?”

  “Tara died about a month ago.”

  “What?”

  “Of a burst appendix. Of course, it was quite sudden. The Turners are bereft. That’s why you haven’t heard from Ron.”

  “I’ll… I’ll send him a condolence card, and when you see him, tell him I’m… thinking about him.”

  “I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear that, Trey, and I know he’d appreciate the card.”

  The card and another letter went unanswered. Trey tried to mitigate the feeling he’d been dropped from his coach’s A-list. A daughter’s death took a long time to get over, but considering how close he and Coach had been, Tara’s loss didn’t explain why he couldn’t at least drop him a line like he’d asked him to. Trey finally had to accept that Coach had not replied to his letters because of his bad treatment of Cathy. Coach had really liked her. She’d been his top student in history class, and it had been easy to see he wished his daughter were more like her. His father’s sympathy had overridden his affection for his All-State quarterback, and he no longer thought of him as a son.

  If only the man knew the truth.

  At the first of November, Trey was astounded to draw an envelope from his box with the return address of Loyola University, only the second one he’d received from John. Apprehensive, he ripped it open with no intent to reply, but he read the enclosed letter hungry to hear John’s voice talking to him from the page, because he wrote like he spoke. In his dry style Trey expected John to admonish and further plead with him to rescue Cathy from her demeaning existence, but he did not. Instead, the letter provoked another kind of dread.

  Dear Trey,

  I am writing from my room in Buddig Hall, a residence dorm that is the tallest building on the Loyola campus. I live in a two-bedroom suite that’s supposed to be shared with three
other guys, but right now there are only two of us, another candidate like myself, and we each have a room to ourselves. I love the place. The food is great. You buy meal plans that offer high-quality, nutritious meals with no grocery shopping, cooking, or dishes to do. It beats washing up after Pop’s chili and goulash any day. We’re in walking distance to everything—the student center, dining hall, library—and so I decided to sell my pickup for money to tide me over until my scholarship comes through. It hurt me to let Old Red go, because of the memories, and I have a feeling it’s headed off with someone—a Cajun who runs a fishing camp—who might not treat it with the respect I did, but I needed the cash.

  I’ve enrolled in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and plan to go for a double major in philosophy and Spanish. Jesuits are required to write and speak Spanish fluently, so I thought, Why not? Giving up the major and the career I thought I’d pursue was hard, too, but I don’t believe I’d have made it in the business world. To live the life I want to live, I need to live the life of Saint Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, and in corporate America that would be as impossible as trying to breed a lion from a lamb.

  I thought I ought to write and let you know that while I’ll never understand why you ditched Cathy, your decision had nothing to do with my decampment to Loyola rather than Miami. Ever since that day in November, TD, when I went back to the Church, I’ve felt a call to make my life count for something beyond playing football for the NFL or making money in the business world. In my heart I knew that even if I was successful in accomplishing both, they would not bring me the peace I crave. Here at Loyola, going through the candidacy program, I am finding my way to that peace. Unless they kick me out, it’s the place I belong.

  I’ve been following the good fortunes of the Hurricanes and watch every televised game. The camera catches you every so often on the sidelines, and it’s good to see my buddy wearing the orange and green and white. I can see from your face how eager you are to play, and all I can say is, “Wait’ll next year, Miami!”

 
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