Chapter 18

When Eric got back home, Tami was still in the tub. Maybe she'd been slow to get around to her bath. He peeked around the door frame and asked if she wanted company. "Julie won't be back until two," he assured her.

"The water's cold now," she said. "I was just about to get out. Hand me my towel."

He did, and she stood, the water cascading off her body. She wrapped the towel quickly around herself, before he could get too good a look. "Could I have a little space to get out?" she asked.

"Sure," he muttered and stepped back.


"A'ight, a'ight." He left the bathroom, but he was lying in bed when she came out and began to get her clothes out of the dresser.

"Are you planning to watch me get dressed?" she asked.

"You don't have to get dressed," he said. "I just told you, Julie's not coming back until two."

She rolled her eyes, smiled, and then sighed. Her eyes twinkled and moved over him. "You do look good in a suit," she said.

"And I have to go back to Dillon tomorrow morning. Five more days before we can see each other. We've got to store up nuts for the winter."

She laughed. "I don't think it works that way, hon."

He patted the bed beside himself. "Let me dry you off."

"I dried myself off, thank you," she said, but she came and sat on the bed. He turned toward her and hooked a finger into the top of the towel. She grabbed his tie with one hand and tugged him toward her lips. They kissed, tongues tangling, and, ever so slowly, he began to unravel her towel.

Afterwards, the towel lay in a crumpled pile on the floor next to his equally disarrayed coat, pants, and boxers. He still wore his dress shirt, which she'd unbuttoned only halfway. His white t-shirt peeked out from beneath it, but he was without his dark red tie, because Tami was on her back, wrapping and unwrapping the tie lazily and absently around her hands, like a sleepy boxer preparing to fight.

Lying on his back next to her, his head propped up slightly on a pillow, Eric murmured, "Mhmmhm, mhmhmh, mhmhmh, yes, Lord."

She stopped toying with the tie and laughed. "Did you have a good timing praising the Lord at church this morning?"

He angled his neck slightly to look down at her. "I had a better time listening to you praise him just now."

Her laugh was sultry. She rolled onto her side and smacked him with the tie, which he grabbed and, smiling, yanked from her hand.

"Well," she said, "it's not often Julie's out of the house and I get to be really vocal."

He let her have the tie again, and as she draped it around his neck, he said, "I almost forgot you were such a screamer."

She tugged on both ends of the loose tie to urge him to roll on his side toward her. "I do not scream," she insisted. "I project."

He kissed her. "I love you."

"I love you, too."

After a second kiss, he asked, "So…was that a ten?"

"I give it a nine."

He rolled onto his back and threw an arm despondently above his head. "What the hell do I have to do to get a ten?"

She propped herself up over him and smiled. "I don't know, sugar. I told you. I'm going to find out when we're fifty."

He smiled and chuckled. "God I love you. I'm so glad you're not mad anymore." He immediately regretted the words once they were out. Maybe she'd just forgotten she was mad, and now he'd reminded her.

"I'm still disappointed I have to leave my job," she admitted. "I gave notice already."

"Why's that?" Their old house in Dillon wasn't available until winter break. She had awhile.

"It seemed the only fair thing to do, since I know I'll be leaving. If they can go back to the old interview pool…It just seemed fair. I said I'll stay until winter break, if they need me, but they're going to start looking for a replacement now. I'll probably be done soon. Better that than to start getting attached to these kids anyway."


"Did you bring me the Dillon Gazette like I asked?"

She'd wanted to read the Help Wanted ads, but he thought that plan had changed. "I thought you said this morning you weren't looking for a job for a while?"

"Not a full-time job, but they might have calls for volunteers or part-time work. I told you I'd be doing that."

"Yeah," he said. He'd forgotten to pack the newspaper in his weekend bag, though. "Uh…you can look for that on the internet right?"

"I want the paper too. Sometimes they have something that– you forgot, didn't you?"


"Damnit, Eric."

"Sorry. I love you."

"You know one great way to show love?" she asked. "Complete simple tasks your wife asks you to complete."

"Sorry." He gave her his most affected, hang dog look, the one he knew she found to be adorable, unless she was really mad, and then it made her want to choke him. Given that the tie was still around his neck, and given that at the moment she had at least one end in her hand, this could be a quick test of her level of discontent. Fortunately, she laughed and then kissed him.

He kissed back and asked, "Go for two?"

"You already scored two."

"Well…you did."

"That's what I meant, sugar. Because I assumed your goal was to please me."

"It was. Is. Always."

She snuggled up and whispered in his ear. "Is it?"


She bit down lightly on his earlobe. "Really?"


She slid her hand to his thigh and began stroking lightly. "Are you sure about that?"

"Uh-huh. Tami, baby, yes…"

Her nibble on his ear became a kiss and then a whisper, "Good, because I need a backrub." She abruptly removed her hand and her mouth and rolled onto her stomach. "Shoulders and upper back," she demanded.

He sighed, but he complied. It was at least ten minutes (she would claim four, but he was certain it was ten), before he tried anything. Unfortunately, his attempts were interrupted by the sound of the front door opening and Julie shouting hello, followed by Tami doing an abrupt push up and shouting, "Shit!"

Eric grabbed his boxers and pants and yanked them on while Tami ran for the bedroom door they hadn't shut and slammed it closed.

"Where are you guys?" Julie hollered.

"It's two already?" Eric asked, zipping up. Instead of buckling the loose belt attached to his pants, he pulled it completely free and tossed it on the bed. He slid the tie from his neck, finished unbuttoning his dress shirt, and threw it also on top of the bed.

"Guys?" Julie asked.

Eric walked out of the bedroom in his dress pants and T-shirt and shut the door behind himself, leaving Tami to dress. He glanced at the hall clock as Julie approached the hallway from the living room. Ten minutes to two. "We were napping," he said, and continued down the hallway past her to the kitchen. He was hungry. Neither he nor Tami had eaten lunch. He began to fix himself and Tami sandwiches. "Where did you eat?" he asked when Julie came in and leaned back against the counter.

"Bill's Barbecue."

"Don't guess you brought us anything?" He slathered peanut butter onto a piece of bread.

"Figured you guys would have eaten by now." She opened the fridge and pulled out a Diet Coke. "I've got homework. I'll be in my room if you need me.

"Okay," he said, "but it's family time tonight, you know. I got to go back to Dillon tomorrow."

Her sigh was a little too pronounced. "I know."

Later, over the lunch table, Eric asked Tami, "Did JoAnn Street ever mention an Angela to you?" He'd been thinking of that desk, and the name carved inside the drawer.

"Their daughter?" she asked.


"Who died before Jason was born?"

He'd deduced he truth, although he'd kept telling himself it was probably a hand-me-down from a cousin. He knew it didn't make sense. He knew the dead daughter scenario, the keepsake scenario, made the most sense, but he hadn't wanted to feel whatever that scenario might make him feel, so he'd gone with the cousin hand-me-down assumption instead. "Why did you never mention her to me?" he asked.

"It…I don't know. She told me years ago you know, after we first moved to Dillon. It didn't come up."

"They gave me her desk to use."

"What?" she asked, putting her fork down. "Seriously?"

He nodded. "It doesn't feel right."

"Then work at the kitchen table. Or on the bed."

"I will." He was staring at his plate. He'd lost his appetite.

"It was a long time ago," she said. "I think they've healed, as much as you ever can from something like that."

He had his head in his hand now. "Julie's my baby," he said.

"Oh, hon." She came to where he was sitting, slid on his lap, and wrapped her arms around him.

"And sometimes I think she hates me."

"She doesn't hate you," Tami insisted. "She's 12. She doesn't hate you. Trust me."

"You think she'll get used to Dillon? She didn't like it last time we lived there." He'd convinced himself she had, that her recent grumbling had been merely contrariness, but he wasn't so sure she had liked it all that much, when he thought back on it. She'd had a friend or two, but not many. She'd been teased for being a know-it-all, until she'd finally learned not to show off her mind. Some of that was a natural growth process - Julie did have to learn to reign the arrogance in, but some of it had been the consequence of living in a small town instead of a larger suburban or urban area.

"She'll be fine, hon. Junior high will be different. Bigger. They have gifted classes, just like here. It'll be fine."

"You didn't like it much either, did you?"

"I was fine there, hon." When they'd lived there, she'd volunteered to counsel at a women's center, kept herself busy. She hadn't gotten involved much in the community, and she'd probably be expected to do that now that he was more than an assistant junior high coach, the QB Panthers coach… "I'll be fine."

"A'ight. " He held her a little closer. "I can't wait to y'all move up there. I missed you this week."

She kissed him. "Me too, babe."

Coach Taylor closed his eyes and sighed. Change was coming, and it would always keep coming, but through it all, he'd have Tami.