I was packed up, checked out, and sitting in a wheelchair at the front door when Lucas got there to pick me up. Not that there was all that much to pack up—just the two books, razor, and toothbrush Sabrina had brought over the previous afternoon. I’d never been in a hospital before; it struck me as totally ridiculous that they insisted on rolling me out to the car in a wheelchair. I mean, when I got out on the other end there wasn’t going to be a wheelchair. Not even crutches—not that I needed crutches, there being nothing wrong with my lower extremities. But hospital rules to the nurses are like the Bible to the fundamentalist—once you decided it was OK to break one, you were already on that slippery slope where you might be expected to decide for yourself whether the earth was 4.5 billion or a mere 6,400 years old.
“So, any word on JD?” was my first question, once I was safely buckled in and on the road to White Sands.
“Not a trace. The sheriff is sure he had to see somebody about his hand, but they’ve supposedly checked all the places within fifty miles and turned up nada. There’s a warrant out with the highway patrol, but those are pretty hit or miss in a low-interest case like this.”
“Great. So now I get to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder until he shows back up. Think there’s any chance he won’t?”
“Nope. Going away for good would be the smart thing to do. As far as I know, JD’s never done the smart thing before.”
“Guess I’ll have to think more seriously about that gun.”
“Like you said, a gun can end up doing more harm than good if you’re not going to use it. So if you’re not clear in your mind, I’d say you’ve made the right choice.”
“I’ve been reading George’s collection of books about King Arthur. Think I should switch over to action thrillers where the good guys shoot the bad guys? Maybe I should buy a sword instead.”
Lucas snorted but didn’t answer further.
I thought he was taking me home, but he turned the opposite way at the end of the road and pulled into Peckerwoods’ parking lot. I was pretty proud that I managed to walk up the steps and through the door without wincing.
“Welcome Home, Rick” a big banner on the wall proclaimed. Someone yelled, “He’s here!” and then everybody stood up and clapped and hooted and whistled.
Somebody had left a pair of boxing mitts on my table, along with a trophy. The plaque had been taped over with masking tape, and written on the new label was, “Lightweight Division, 2nd Place.”
I hadn’t felt this loved in years.
Sabrina came out from the back in time to see Lucas pour me a beer, and started in on him. “Good Grief, Lucas. Don’t you know you’re not supposed to mix booze and pain medicine? Here, let me get you some fresh squeezed lemonade.”
“You’re not supposed to mix booze and pain meds if you’re going to drive, operate heavy machinery, or sign any legal papers.” Lucas was a nice guy, but he wasn’t taking shit from a woman not names Ellie. “Doesn’t say anything about watching the Falcons. In fact, it’s recommended.”
“Well . . .” Sabrina obviously wasn’t convinced. “If you’re sure it’s OK. But you’re right. You’re absolutely right. If it makes him goofy, who’s gonna notice?”
Ellie reached in the cooler and pulled out a bottle of champagne. “But if we’re going to celebrate Rick’s homecoming and make him all goofy besides, I think we should go with something more festive than beer.”
“Champagne? That’s really thoughtful, Ellie. But why don’t we save it for the victory celebration when the Falcons clinch the division, a first round bye, and home field for at least one game.”
We needn’t have bothered. Falcons went up by three with 47 seconds left in the game and I thought, “Uh, oh. That’s too much time, guys.” Sure enough. In further confirmation that Drew Brees has sold his soul to the devil in exchange for being a magician on the gridiron, the Saints drove down for the tying field goal, won the toss in overtime, and polished us off in less time than it took to finish a last beer.
“Dag nab it. Piss on Drew Brees, anyway.” As a long-suffering Falcons fan, Ellie wasn’t crushed by losing; otherwise, she’d be flat as a pancake after all the years of frustration. “Oh, well. That just means we get to party next weekend. Yee-haw!” She gave the champagne bottle a little shake and popped the cork, with champagne exploding all over the table and surrounding areas, shrieking in delight all out of proportion to the consolation prize of just being in the playoffs. “We’ll see you again in the Conference Championship, you bums.”
“Let’s just hope somebody else knocks them off,” Lucas offered quietly. They’ve beaten us twice already; I’d rather try somebody new than hope for revenge.”
The Carters began packing up their stuff, ready to take me back to my humble abode. I confess, I was ready, this being the longest I’d been out of bed since my encounter with JD.
“I’ll run him home.” Sabrina interrupted my progress toward my recliner. “Guess that’s the least I can do, having gotten him into this fine mess to start with.”
My aches and pains faded as my head spun with possibilities. Although I knew it wasn’t going to be like that. But what, I couldn’t guess.
Turns out, none of my guesses would have been close anyway.
Sabrina pulled into my driveway, turned the car off, and took my hands in hers. “Rick, I’m going away for a little while.”
“Wh—where are you going?” Not the question I wanted to ask, but the first one out of my mouth.
“I’ve got an old girlfriend in Sumter who owns a little cabin up in the mountains. She’s offered it to me as long as I want to use it, since they don’t hardly ever go up there during the winter. Mama’s already agreed to keep the kids however long I need, and I’ve got vacation coming from Peckerwoods’.”
“Um, that’s great, Sabrina. I’m glad you get the chance to do that.”
“No you’re not. You’ve got disappointment written all over your face. Guess I’m just destined to disappoint you.” She took a deep breath and when she let it out, it was half sigh, half sob. “But the truth is, I’ve got to get this all straight in my head. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be any good anyway.”
“I don’t really understand. But I’ll support you any way I can.” Sounded lame, even to me. I put on my best grin. “And I’m NOT letting you out of the engagement, so you can just forget about it.”
She smiled and tousled my hair before taking my hands again. “Honestly, I don’t really understand it either. But if JD walked through my door, I don’t know if I’d tell him to get the hell out of my life or not. And that’s totally messed up, I know. Totally fucked up. And I’m totally fucked up, too.”
Tears welled up in her eyes. “What I’d really like most of anything in the world is to be rid of the sorry bastard. In here.” She patted her heart. “But it’s like cancer. Might be in remission for a while, but it always comes back.”
“Come on, I’ve got something that’ll help. Guaranteed.”
I took her hand as we walked around the house and down the path to the wheel. I hadn’t told her about it when I’d described my search for George; hadn’t seemed like a relevant detail. But she listened patiently while I explained how it worked.
“It’s really just a meditation tool, but it’s pretty powerful. You clear your mind of everything as best you can. Then you concentrate on just one thing while you walk the wheel. Surprising how often the answer you’re looking for is right there in your own head, if only you stop and listen.”
“Sounds pretty far-fetched. I guess I’m not all that big on new-fangled ideas.” She laughed, an honest laugh. “But none of the old-fangled stuff has seemed to work. What the heck. Let’s give it a try.”
And so we did. I held Sabrina breaking free of JD in my mind to give her some extra energy, not that I believed in all that, but I did it anyway. Not sure what she held in hers but she walked slowly and deliberately, finishing long after I had.
When she got to where I was waiting, tears were streaming down her face big-time. I hadn’t thought of Sabrina as a crier, but every time we were alone together, it seems like that was the outcome. But it didn’t bother me, although I don’t have a lot of patience with people who cry over every little thing—this didn’t seem like every little thing.
I started to say something but she shook her head. So we walked back in silence, not touching this time.
At her car she stared into my eyes, then put her arms around me and her head on my shoulder. We stood like that for a long time, gently rocking. It was fine with me; I’d miraculously gotten over my tiredness.
Finally she stepped back and did the staring thing again. “Will you kiss me goodbye, Rick? That’ll give me something nice to hold in my mind when I need the lift.”
Our kiss this time had more desperation than promise in it. But that just made it all that much more poignant.
She started up her car, then rolled down the window. Adeline had done that very thing right on this same spot not all that long ago to thank me for not taking advantage of her; I wondered, irreverently and totally inappropriately, if Sabrina was going to do the same.
“You have fun with your voodoo lady while I’m gone. Maybe when I get back, I’ll finally be ready to run her ass off.”
Oh great. Permission to keep up my relationship with Chai. Exactly what I needed. I held up one hand in a subdued wave that felt way too final until Sabrina turned out of my driveway and was gone.