"You're never going to guess who showed up at my office today."
Eric was drying dishes slowly and methodically. Gracie Belle was down for the count. And Tami was up to her elbows in suds, scrubbing the bottom of the chili pot.
"Okay," she said, and waited.
"What, you're not gonna try to guess?"
"You just told me I wouldn't," she pointed out.
"Oh, for the--"
Tami interrupted him. "Don't you give me a hard time for listening to what you're actually saying." She turned the pot upside-down and inspected the surface that had been in contact with the heat.
Eric set down a dry plate and snapped the dish towel in her direction, narrowly missing her hips.
"Hey!" But her protest was pro forma; it was nice to have Eric at home tonight, and even nicer that he wasn't stressed-out for a change. "Anyway, aren't you going to tell me?"
"Billy Riggins," Eric said, drying the last plate and leaning back on the counter.
"Well, you're right, I would not have come up with his name," Tami admitted.
"He wants a coaching job."
"Billy? You think he's coaching material?" Tami scraped the burnt bits off the bottom of the inside of the pot, then rinsed it until the water ran clear. "You said yes, didn't you."
Eric spread his palms. "What was I supposed to do? He's willing to work for free."
"Sometimes free help isn't actually all that helpful," Tami began, but Eric interrupted.
"I think it has something to do with Tim."
Tami put the pot in the dish drainer and dried her hands on the towel Eric was holding. "C'mon," she said, jerking her head toward the living room. He sat at one end of the couch; she sat facing him, knees up and toes tucked under his thigh, and reached for the wine glass she'd left on the coffee table before they started cleaning up.
"You think Billy feels guilty," Tami guessed, and Eric nodded. "Because Tim's in jail and he's out here."
"It was a stupid thing for Tim to do." Eric's eyes were tired. Tami knew he was replaying months of interactions, trying to figure out what he could have done differently to keep Tim on the straight and narrow.
"Chopping the cars or taking the fall?" Tami took a swig of her wine.
"Both," Eric said, with finality.
"You might oughtta visit him," Tami said gently. She'd suggested it before, and Eric had demurred, but this time he looked like he was considering it. She pressed on. "It'd mean a lot to him."
"Yeah, maybe," Eric agreed.
"We've got guidelines on file," Tami said, and when Eric raised an eyebrow, added, "You know kids from East Dillon have wound up in the county lockup before! The sheriff's office puts out guidelines for visitors. I'll bring a copy home for you."
"Thanks." Eric reached for her glass of wine, took it out of her hand, and finished what was left.
Tami looked at him. "TV?" she offered. "Or bed?"
"I'm not sure I can fall asleep yet."
"Bed doesn't have to mean sleep," she pointed out. That got a real smile.
"You raise a fine point," Eric agreed. He stood and offered her his arm, as though inviting her to dance. "Shall we?"
"Absolutely," she said archly, and turned out the light as they left the living room behind.
"Last night's victory over Southlake is good news for the Dillon Panthers," the radio announcer said. Eric turned the dial. Classical music -- a country song -- something Tejano with a lot of accordions -- a commercial for a place that repaired car windshields -- and then the announcer again: "now, I won't deny East Dillon has their work cut out for 'em..." He turned the radio off.
The sun was already blazing over highway 44 at 8:30am. There wasn't much traffic on Saturdays; Eric made it to the facility faster than he expected. The prison's printed guidelines sat on the passenger seat of his car, but he wasn't looking at them. He didn't need the map, and he wasn't going to show up without a shirt or shoes, and he wasn't bringing Tim anything inappropriate. Wasn't bringing him anything at all.
The prison lobby was nondescript: a small waiting area, a tall formica desk with an officer sitting behind it, a metal detector and then another door out to what looked like a dusty field. Cinderblock and concrete. About as fancy as the East Dillon athletic department.
The guy behind the desk was reading a magazine. "Can I help you?" There was no flicker of recognition in his eyes. Probably wasn't local; probably didn't give a damn about football.
"I'm here to see an inmate. Timothy Riggins."
"I'll need to see ID," the officer said, and inspected Eric's driver's license for a minute. When he handed it back, he gestured behind him to the bank of storage lockers. "Any personal items have to go in there. You can't take anything with you." Eric handed over his wallet and his car keys, signed his name in the log book, and watched as the officer wrote his locker number in the space next to his name.
"Right this way," the officer said, leading him to the metal detector. He walked through it and it didn't make a sound: proof he wasn't concealing any metal. The officer pointed to the door which led to the outdoors. "Have a seat at a picnic table; I'll call for the inmate."
The prison lobby had been fiercely air-conditioned, so the heat hit Eric hard. The yard was bright. What trees were there didn't offer much shade -- they were trash trees, cottonwood and pecan. The yard was enclosed by low buildings with small windows. Dorms, maybe.
There were only three people in the yard: one inmate in a white jumpsuit and the woman sitting opposite him at a picnic table holding a little girl in her lap. One year old, Eric guessed. He nodded to them and chose a table too far away to eavesdrop.
A buzzer sounded, a metal door opened with a clang, and out came Tim Riggins. He walked right to where Eric was sitting. Eric rose, offered a hand, and they shook. Tim's grip was firm.
"You didn't have to come out here, Coach," Tim said, but he sat down when Eric did.
"Your brother tell you he was applying for a job at East?"
Tim looked startled. "Uh, no, sir. He might've said something about football, but I thought he was going to try coaching Pop Warner."
"Seems to think I'll be a good influence on him."
Tim gave a little laugh. "You were a good influence on me."
"Not good enough," Eric said, without thinking, and then felt like an ass when Tim's spine straightened and the humor went out of his face. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded, son."
But it obviously wasn't.
"What've they got you doing in here?"
"Retreading tires," Tim said. "It was either that or make wax, but since I'd been working at Riggins' Rigs..."
"Doesn't sound so bad."
"Mostly it's just boring as hell." Tim pushed his hair out of his eyes. "And it's hard to look forward to getting out when I know everybody outside probably thinks I belong in here."
"Billy ever bring Mindy and the baby to see you?"
Tim shook his head. "I told him not to. I don't think Mindy wants to bring the baby here anyway."
"It's a hell of a thing you did," Eric said abruptly. He hadn't meant to say it, but the words just slipped out.
"I do not believe for a minute that you ran that chop shop without your brother's involvement."
Tim looked at him steadily. "It was all me, Coach."
"Billy and Mindy had better appreciate what you did for them."
There was a moment of silence, then Tim's shoulders relaxed just a tiny bit. "They do," he said. "I know they do."
"Good," Eric said. The baby at the other table was crying and the woman was getting ready to leave. He guessed they hadn't let her bring a bottle through for the kid, which was ridiculous. What the hell was she going to do with a bottle of milk?
"Listen, are you thinking at all about what you're going to do when you get out of here?"
Now Tim's gaze dropped. "Not really," he admitted.
"I'll tell you what you do: you come to our house for dinner," Eric said, "and after you help with the dishes, you talk to my wife about what comes next."
"Sir?" Tim looked wary, but Eric was pretty sure he saw a flicker of hope in Tim's eyes.
"She's a guidance counselor," Eric said. "She'll have ideas. That's what she does. And she'll want to see you."
"Yessir," Tim said.
"When do you get out again?"
"Ten more weeks."
"Ten weeks and a day from now, you get your butt to our place."
The metal door opened with a clang and a corrections officer stepped into the yard. "Time," he yelled, and Eric and Tim both stood. The other guy who'd been at the table with the woman and the baby was already gone.
"You take care of yourself," Eric said, and offered his hand again. Tim clasped it, hard, and then turned and walked away.
They didn't get Saturdays off from work. Which was fine with Tim, because it wasn't like he had anything to do. The guards didn't let them watch anything good on tv -- they just had local channels, no satellite dish, which meant no college gameday.
The prison library sucked. There was only one computer and there was always a line to get to it, plus they didn't let inmates check their own email accounts, which meant Tim never wrote back to Becky because he couldn't stand the thought of some C.O. reading what he had to say.
And there wasn't any privacy in the dorm. All the guys in minimum security were in dormitory housing -- one big room full of low beds with plain white sheets, with a raised area at one end where an officer was always on duty. Somebody was watching even when they were asleep. That had bugged him at first, but he got used to it. You got used to a lot of things.
Tim knew the names of the guys who had the bunks near him, but he'd made it pretty obvious from the start that he didn't want to make any friends. He just wanted to keep his head down and do his damn time.
At least the auto shop smelled like an auto shop, which was comforting. Familiar. Motor oil and grease, overlaid with melting rubber. Tim put on his heavy apron, picked up a dead tire, and sat down at a work station with sandpaper to start buffing its rough places smooth.
Next would come the rubber adhesive, which stank. Then centering the strips of new rubber. Then putting the whole thing in a sealing machine which would steam-heat the rubber until it melted together. Then picking up another dead tire and another piece of sandpaper. Repeat until lunchtime. Repeat until dinner. Try to do enough push-ups during their exercise hour to tire himself out. Sleep, and do it again.
"Hey," one of the guys called over. His last name was Coates, but everybody called him Diesel. "Your visit go okay?"
"Yeah, it was fine," Tim said, scuffing away.
"That wasn't your brother this time, was it?"
"Nah." Tim inspected the tire, then ran his fingertips over the place he'd been sanding. Diesel was obviously waiting for him to say something else, but he didn't want to.
"Okay," Diesel said, after a minute, and turned back to gluing strips of new rubber on his own fucked-up tire.
Tim remembered the sound of the whistle, remembered running sprints on the football field at West Dillon, remembered what it felt like when the ball just spiraled into his hands.
Mostly he remembered what it felt like to have a coach. To have somebody who'd be disappointed when he fucked up, who'd clap him on the back when he did something right. Didn't matter what Billy said; it had never been like that with him. Billy was too much like Tim was. And now he was somebody's father, and Tim was in jail.
Tim thought about his piece of land. Remembered the way it smelled, the way the sun set over the ridge. He didn't usually let himself think about it, but seeing Coach had kinda messed him up. His emotions were raw all over again.
He wasn't sure if they were going to let him keep the land, now that they knew he'd bought it with dirty money. He hadn't wanted to ask, and he sure as hell wasn't going to send Billy to find out. But even if he still had the land, then what? There wasn't enough money in Riggins Rigs to support both Riggins boys. Not if Tim ever wanted to build a place of his own.
Lyla didn't seem interested in ever coming back to Texas, at least not to be with him. She had grander dreams: marrying rich, owning a department store in Dallas, something he couldn't figure ever wanting.
He wasn't sure what he did want. But seeing Coach Taylor made him feel like whatever it was, if he ever figured it out, he might be able to try for it afterall.
"It was my coach," Tim said, too quietly for Diesel to hear him. "I got a visit from Coach."