“You made a wrong turn back there.”
“No, I didn’t… I… I ride the waves of the road.”
Jess Merriweather cocked her head to the side and looked at her husband suspiciously.
“You ride the waves of the road, Landry,” she repeated, shaking her head. “Well, I think a shark just came along and bit your head off.” She began to mimic the “Jaws” theme song, as the two children in the backseat started cracking up.
“Now, come on, Jess.” Landry pulled a face. “You’re going to be the big success story here. You’re the big-name coach.”
“Okay,” Jess agreed, “So I’m kind of a big deal. But so are you. You’re out there teaching the children of this world. You’re bringing up our new generation.”
“Okay, Jess. Good save, good save.” Landry paused, then asked in a low voice, “How d’you feel about seeing Vince again?”
“I don’t know. How do you feel about seeing Tyra again?”
Landry didn’t have an answer. He didn’t really know, either.
“Uncle Tim! Uncle Tim!”
Tim Riggins felt himself being turned every which way as he tried to figure out which of his brother’s children were currently calling him. He was surrounded in a sea of overenthusiastic preteens. There was Stephen, age eleven, and the twins, Layla and Bobby, age ten. And there was Connie, age eight, after which Mindy had insisted on getting her tubes tied. Billy had been slightly disappointed; Tim figured that he had some sort of plan to start a small Riggins army, or a large one.
Tyra Collette, technically a Riggins now too but one who’d held on to her maiden name, wobbled out of the car with one hand on her stomach and the other dragging a suitcase behind her.
“Tim! You gonna help me with this? Seriously!”
Tim let his eyes move away from the gaggle of children and moved back over his wife.
“Sorry, Tyra,” he managed, taking the handle out of her hand and beginning to pull it forward.
“Can’t believe I’m coming to this thing anyhow,” she continued, “Relive the good old days of Dillon High, back when you were a jerk and I was useless.”
“You weren’t useless,” Tim responded, but they seemed a bit empty. In his mind, they had both been pretty useless back then. Now, they were nearing thirty, and both had lives far beyond football now.
But it had all started here, and for Tim, seeing Coach Taylor again was something he just had to do. Taylor had been in Philadelphia for the past ten years, and Tim nor Tyra had seen him. Tim had stayed here in town, near Billy and Mindy, living off of his plot of land. Texas Forever.
He couldn’t believe that he had ever dreamed of deserting it for Alaska.
“Let’s just do this,” Tyra told him. “Get to see all the old faces.” She curled up her nose. “I wonder if Miss Garrity will make an appearance.”
“Why would she?” Tim asked, “Lyla didn’t have that much to do with the team.”
“Other than sleeping with it,” Tyra mumbled. Tim moved ahead with the suitcase and didn’t respond.
“I can’t believe they’re throwing this whole thing in my dad’s honor,” Julie Taylor-Saracen said as she took a right turn on the interstate. It was a long drive from Chicago, but there was something about road trips that brought her back to when she and Matt had been first dating. The time they had taken off to the music festival she hadn’t actually had permission to go to, for one.
It seemed funny, now. She had been trying so hard to be rebellious that she hadn’t ever thought about how much she missed her parents now. She saw them every few months, of course, it wasn’t as if they didn’t fly out to Philly as often as they’d come out to Dillon to see Matt’s grandmother before she had passed away, but it wasn’t the same day-in, day-out that she had gotten used to.
It helped to feel like someone was always watching her back, ready to put a hand on her shoulder to steer her in the right direction.
“I can’t wait to see everybody,” Matt said. “I mean… It’s going to be crazy. Everyone there was my life for a long time… Even longer than I thought. And now, I feel like I kind of have to go before them and show them that I, that I made something of myself or something like that.”
“But you did,” Julie spoke up. “You did make something of yourself.”
“Did I? I mean… I feel like everyone else is going to have some huge story, and me, I’m still working at an art gallery.”
“Matt… I don’t think they had a big story when they were at Dillon, they’re not going to have a big story now. The only one who is hot stuff is Vince, and well… You remember how he was. He always thought that he was hot stuff, anyway.”
“Yeah. Although Landry was the one who ended up getting his girl… Who would have figured that?”
“Well… I remember back when I was in high school, I got all mooney for… who was it? Some weird Swedish guy? And made myself look like a complete idiot over it?”
“Mooney? Is that what we’re calling it now?” he teased. “Anyway, who cares about The Swede?” He lapsed back into his old nickname for his rival. “He’s not important these days… Unless you’re planning on running off with him the next time you see him.”
“Yeah, right after I spend the next few years brushing up on my Swedish,” Julie retorted. She leaned in and started to tickle Matt. “You’re ridiculous sometimes. You better be glad that I love you more than anyone in the world.”
“People better eat all of these damned crab cake bites, I swear to God, Tim.” Tyra put her hands on her hips and lifted up the spatula. “Because otherwise I’m going to eat them all and I already look like a damn house.”
“Tyra, come on now,” Tim told her with a smile. He put his hands around her waist as she gave him a warning look.
“I have fire very close to me, Tim. I’m serious.”
“Hey, are those crab cake bites?” called a very familiar voice. Tyra looked up in shock at the face of Landry Clarke. There was a caramel skinned woman following him, guiding along two little girls.
“Landry!” she exclaimed. “Why, as I live and breathe.”
He walked up and looked at her, standing awkwardly a moment before opening his arms and taking her into a hug.
“How are you, Tyra? You look great. Congratulations.” He let go and shuffled back.
“Well… Thank you. I’m, well I’m good.” She gestured over to the rest of the extended Riggins clan. “You know pretty much everyone here… But I don’t know you guys.” She looked at Jess and the two girls with a friendly nod.
“Well, this is my wife, Jess, and these are my girls, Merry and Natalie.”
“They’re beautiful,” Tyra told him. “I’m so happy for you, Landry… What have you been up to, otherwise?”
“I’m a high school Physics teacher. Exciting, I know. Don’t gasp all at once.”
“I’m not surprised,” Tyra said, “Well, you were always a good teacher, though. I know that you taught me a lot of things.”
“Were all of them good?” Landry asked. Jess leaned in and snapped her fingers.
“Sorry, Miss Thing,” she cut in, “But I’ve got him on a leash.”
“Don’t worry – I understand. You two are good together.”
“I know we are.”
Vince Howard tilted back his head and yawned. It had been a long drive, but he had felt that he owed it to Coach to try and make it. After all, where would he be today if it weren’t for Coach Taylor? He probably would have ended up following in his old man’s footsteps.
He sucked in a breath the way he always did when thoughts of his father came knocking. It was never a good thing to have to look back on what had happened. But it had been years ago. He had to learn how to move on.
The man had fallen apart after Vince no longer played for him. After Vince hit it big, but didn’t contact his father or invite him to his games. After he changed his phone number so the man couldn’t contact him.
It was all Vince could do to protect himself, and to protect his mother, too. He needed to wash away all thoughts of the man. Listening to him seemed to always get him into deeper and deeper trouble, and once Vince talked to him, he would end up listening.
And then his father had driven drunk into a telephone pole, and that was the end.
But he wouldn’t think about that today. He would think about the people he was going to see again. The people who had helped to make him what he was today.
God, he hoped he didn’t have to give some kind of damn speech.
“I am so glad we could get a sitter… Have I mentioned that enough?” Becky Sproles-Cafferty brushed a piece of hair out of her face. “If the baby had been with us on that ride, I would have ended myself by the side of the road.”
“I wouldn’t have let you become roadkill,” Luke promised.
“Yeah, ‘cause then you would have to deal with the baby all on your own,” Becky told him with a smirk. “You can fly combat missions and all of that stuff… But I don’t see you changing any diapers unless you have to.”
They had been married for three years, now, and the baby was a recent addition. There had been a lot of feelings involved when they had started talking about it, and Becky had been afraid that it would stir up the parts of the past she didn’t want to think about. But whatever she had done before, and the reasons for it, this baby was someone else, now. Someone who needed her. And it felt right.
“What do you think they’ll think of us?” Becky asked, a moment later. “I remember all the trouble Mrs. Taylor got into on my account… Maybe she doesn’t even want to see me again.”
Luke reached out and tipped up her chin.
“Impossible,” he told her. “There’s no one in the world who wouldn’t want to see you… and hell, I get to see you every day so that makes me luckier than all of them!”
Becky’s face flushed. She was ready.
It was a stroke of chance or of disaster that led to the Taylors arriving late to their own party. They’d gotten up, helped Gracie Belle get dressed, and rushed to the airport, only to find that Tami had completely forgotten her ID. She’d rushed back to get it and they had missed the flight.
It had been three hours of waiting at the airport, with Eric pacing to and fro.
“Maybe we just shouldn’t go, if we’re going to be late. We would be disappointing everybody…”
“We’d disappoint them if we didn’t come at all!” Tami argued. “What you need to do is stop complaining and get it together. We need to be the couple we always were – the ones we still are. We can’t show any cracks in the armor.”
“I don’t know that it’s that serious. It’s just a little reunion thing. It’s probably not even going to have everyone there.”
“Eric. Eric, trust me. Everyone is going to be there, because this is how it’s done in Texas. This isn’t some Philly bash like we’ve gotten used to – this is going to be the real deal.”
Eric sighed. It would be weird going back to Dillon, seeing all of those old faces. It wasn’t that they were bad memories – in fact, they had been some of the best days of his whole life. But it was going to stir up a lot, remind him of who he had been back when he was the big fish and Tami had just been along for the ride. Now, it was different – she was someone important in her own right, and he wasn’t the hallowed coach anymore. Sometimes, that made things so much easier. No more “For Sale” signs on his lawn, for one.
To be in the public eye again, to have them look at him like he knew all of the answers… that was terrifying.
What the hell was he going to do? Other than Matt, who of course happened to be his son-in-law, he hadn’t seen any of them in years.
He took a deep breath.
“All right, Tami. Let’s do this thing… Let’s do it.”
When he walked through the front door, for a moment he thought that everyone had gone home and gotten tired of waiting. That was the way that he was reading the silence – the silence that was eerie, almost. Unsettling.
He saw the top of Vince’s head first, nodding upwards as they all walked forward.
As one. In a sort of weird army formation, because to be in their lines would be impossible with so many different generations criss-crossing in this place, but that seemed to be what they were trying to do.
Matt Saracen mimed tipping his hat.
“Welcome home, Coach,” he said.
Eric Taylor had never been so close to breaking down in tears in his entire life.
Home. He was home.