"Vegetarians save lives." Coach Eric Taylor is reading aloud the bumper sticker on the Prius in front of him on I-30 E in Arkansas. He and Tami have finished up the school year in Dillon and are heading to Philadelphia. Tami will have one week to get the new house in order before she starts work. Eric will have two before he begins meeting with the assistant coaches and preparing for summering training.
The Taylors' SUV is packed tightly with everything the moving company refused to touch. There's the hunting rifle Eric dusts off once a year for his trip with Buddy and the boys and the shot gun he's kept on the top shelf of their bedroom closet ever since someone threw a brick through their window. ("You can't leave that loaded gun up there!" Tami complained when Gracie turned two. He rolled his eyes and said, "Gracie's not climbing to the top of closet shelves." Tami put her hands on her hips and replied, "She climbed up on top of the kitchen counter to get a glass the other day." He shot back, "Even if Gracie goes without permission into our bedroom, pulls open the closet door, drags a chair over there, piles it with books, stands on the books on her tippy toes, and manages to pull down the shotgun, she still can't physically pull that trigger. Not the way it's designed. Not at her age. Relax, woman." And Tami: "I don't know how you expect me to relax with a loaded shot gun in my closet," then Eric: "Simple. Stop imagining horrors that can't physically occur.").
Also in the bed of the SUV are the many boxes of bullets Eric hasn't used because he doesn't get to the range often enough and the dozens and dozens of candles he all too optimistically bought Tami over the past three years, which have yet to be used up, because they typically only get lit when the couple is having sex (the moving company said they can't ensure against them melting, and refused to move them; Tami doesn't want to part with them, and Eric's not going to say no when they could mean future sex). Also stuffed in boxes in the back are the many toiletries and hair products that Tami discovered had been digested into the depths of the bathroom vanity and the hall closet, but which she insists she still might want to use; the propane Eric could not be convinced simply to give away to the neighbor before they left; a small suitcase full of Eric's favorite dry rub, enough to season a year's worth of steaks ("I don't know if I can get that kind in Pennsylvania, Tami!"), and Julie and Gracie's baby albums, which cannot be insured.
"Vegetarians save lives," he repeats. "We're not even to the east coast yet!"
"You know, there are vegetarians even in Texas. You gave birth to a vegetarian Texan."
"Uh…babe, I think you gave birth to her."
"You know what I meant!"
"You need some sleep, Tami. I told you to get some sleep."
"You know I can't sleep in the car. You've been driving almost the whole time. You're the one who needs a break. Let me take over at the next gas station."
"I don't mind doing man's work, babe." He lifts his sun glasses and squints at the Prius. Then he settles them back over his eyes. "That's just stupid. How do they save lives? By not eating burgers? That's like saying a World War II German saved lives just because he didn't happen to kill any Jews."
"So now you're comparing eating meat to the Holocaust?"
"No!" he insists. "But that's what she thinks." He gestures with irritation toward the Prius.
"I think that's a man, sugar."
He grunts and switches lanes.
"Gore/Lieberman?" Tami says in a raised voice as they pull behind a Toyota Camry. "How old is that car?"
"How old is the driver more like," Eric says, because the car is going precisely the speed limit, maybe even five miles under. He switches lanes again, so that he's back behind the Prius that has pulled far ahead. Then he guns it and gets in front of the Camry. Now they're behind a Ford pick-up.
"Don't touch my truck unless you're naked," Tami reads, her voice dripping with disdain. The bumper sticker bears the silhouette of a nude woman, nude except for the stiletto heels, of course. "Now why would someone put that right on a car in public like that? What if there was a child in this car?
"There is," Eric reminds her. Gracie is slumped sideways in her car seat, her little head against the window.
"Well what if she were awake?"
"Then I'd be damned impressed if she could read that bumper sticker and ask questions, that's what."
"She almost can read it you know. She read Hop on Pop the other day."
"Because I've read it to her six hundred times. I think that's called memorization, babe, not reading."
Tami brushes back a strand of her hair. "I loathe that bumper sticker," she says.
"Why? You're more beautiful than that lady, you know."
She chuckles. "Well I'm more defined."
"Much more defined. And you can touch my truck naked or clothed. Any time you like."
"Touch your truck? Is that a euphemism?"
Eric slams on the breaks and nearly rear-ends the pick-up. He mutters and switches lanes. Neither can see any reason for the pick-up's sudden slow down, except that the driver is looking at his phone. "He's got to text and drive?" Eric asks.
"He's probably looking at porn," Tami mutters. She pulls down the sun visor and checks her make-up in the mirror, sighs, and flips it back up. "I'm tired of being on the road. Why did it have to take so long just to get out of Texas?"
"It only took you forty-two years, babe." He smiles and sticks out his tongue at her.
"Watch out. I might bite that."
"Yeah?" he leans over and steals a kiss.
She breaks away. "That's worse than texting."
"But better than porn." He puts a hand on her knee and she smiles and covers it with her own hand.
"We need to stop soon," she says. "I need a little nourishment."
He squeezes her knee again. "I don't want to stop yet. It'll wake Gracie up. Let's take advantage of this nap. You know, it's a chance to just drive and talk and connect."
"Connect?" she asks, her eyebrow going up over her sunglasses. "You want to connect with me, sugar?"
"Of course I do."
"I bet you do." She laughs lightly and looks out the window. "I bet you want to connect with me after we check into the hotel and Gracie goes to sleep for the night. I get the impression you're laying the groundwork for that connection."
"Well what's wrong with that?"
She turns back to look at him. "She's going to be in the same room as us. In the bed right next to us."
"We can connect…quietly."
Tami laughs again. "I'll think about it. It depends how well you connect on the rest of this drive."
"A'ight." He takes his hand off her knee and puts it back on the wheel. "Tell me what you're most looking forward to in Philadelphia."
She talks for the next half hour. He says about ten words throughout it all.
It took them seven hours just to get out of Texas. It's nearing rush hour, and traffic is a little thick. Eric slams on his brakes again because he's just been suddenly cut off. Tami lurches forward and, instinctively, he puts out an arm to protect her. When she's back against her seat, he mutters a curse under his breath.
"Oh, and look," he says. "He's got a Jesus fish on his car. Cutting me off with his Jesus fish."
Tami shakes her head. "That's why I would never put one of those things on my car."
"There will never be a bumper sticker of any kind on my truck," he says, which is what he calls the SUV. Tami once tried to convince him to get a minivan. The argument lasted about sixty seconds before she threw in the towel. Eric's made his compromises over the years, but Tami knows when to let go. She's usually right, but she let go on the move to Philadelphia and turned out to be wrong…he changed his mind. Of course, maybe she had to let go for him to change his mind. That's the odd thing with Eric sometimes, she thinks. He's got to know she's willing to give before he does.
She hopes the culture shock in Phili won't be too severe for him – or for herself, for that matter. She hopes he likes working with the Pioneers. He put his feelers out right after the Lions won state, and he had three contract offers within a month. She was proud of the way they flowed in. None of them were anywhere near as good as what the Panthers were offering, however – they were all two years instead of five, and they all expected him to teach to earn what he would have earned in in Dillon without a teaching load. He'll be teaching Algebra I at Pemberton. He's got some serious catching up to do on the topic. ("You didn't even so much as minor in math," Tami said. "Yeah," he replied, "but they're desperate for math teachers at these city schools. And I aced Algebra and Algebra II." She shook her head, "And then never looked at either of them ever again in your life." Eric frowned. "Are you tryin' to bring me down, babe? You're supposed to build me up. That's your job, you know." She turned and kissed him. "You're right. You'll be an excellent Algebra teacher. And you'll be ready to teach Gracie when she's in sixth grade, because that's when she'll be taking it probably.")
Gracie makes a grunting, grumbling sound in the back seat.
"See, Jesus fish man woke her up," Eric said. "It were better for him that millstone be cast around his neck and he be tossed into the depths of the sea."
"Wow, you were actually listening to the scripture reading on Sunday?"
"I listen. I'm very attentive. I'm reverent, baby."
"I'm huuuuuuuuungry!" Gracie whines.
"Dinner it is," Eric says, and takes the next exit.
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