Henry couldn't wait to leave his little town, if you count the dogs, cats and fire hydrants maybe a population of 200 for big city and a college dorm. He never played football, rare for small town, but even as a senior he only weighed 110 pounds (without having to diet). Because he was tall and thin it gave him an advantage in wrestling and he became one of the best wrestlers in the state, and earned him a scholarship.
Getting away from home, hitting the big city, and having a good time take their toll. He nearly lost his scholarship due to bad grades. Coach was really worried and cracked down hard right before finals which just barely got him academically legal. Second semester he settled down, the grades came up and he qualified for regionals, but lost in his first round keeping him from going to nationals. As his first year ended he needed to declare a major and work toward graduating the next three years. Joe, his room mate, (also on the team) was premed, and had made the same mistake of partying too much first semester. He was going to take over two classes with low grades during the summer to improve his GPA.
"Medical Schools don't want C students," he'd heard him mumble.
Henry wasn't all that interested in going to medical school, but the same thing applied to Law School, which he decided is what he wanted to be. That would mean retaking his English Composition class that he's barely squeaked out a D- in. The problem would be paying for the summer term out of his own pocket.
Joe came in all excited two days before finals. "I talked to coach, the guy who manages Murphy's (a local sporting goods store) in the mall is an alumni and will hire us for the summer. He'll pay our tuition and room and board for the summer session and half wages for ten weeks."
Mom and Dad weren't too happy about him only being able to spend a weekend with them before going back to school, but Henry thought working in a sporting goods store which was air conditioned was much better than working at the flour mill in the dust and heat alongside his father.
The summer session started. He had class in the morning, worked in the afternoons (eight hours on the weekends) and spent all evening studying. It didn't leave much time to have fun. "Damn," he swore for the millionth time, "why was I so stupid last fall."
The second weekend into the session when walking into the mall he looked in the window of the lingerie store. They had live models on Saturdays posing in negligees and other sleepwear, another reason why he'd rather be in big city instead of back home. Today while admiring the model standing as still as a statue his eyes nearly bulged out and he had to put his hand over his mouth. I know her, he thought nearly blurting it aloud. She's from home.
Walking towards work dodging all the little kids running around and women pushing strollers he pictured her as a senior when he was a freshman four years earlier. She'd changed. Still beautiful, but there was a sadness in her eyes that posing as a living mannequin didn't hide.
Oh my God, Donneta Amberchrombie, who'd have thought she'd be here?
The rest of the day he kept seeing her in his mind's eye: Homecoming Queen, head cheerleader, leading scorer on the girls basketball team, and in the halls walking arm in arm with Billy Williams. They were the school's Barbie and Ken.
Billy was the running back in football, center in basketball, pitcher in baseball, student body president, homecoming king, and signed a letter of intent at University of Texas in Austin on a full scholarship. There was talk in the Dallas and Houston papers that he had the potential for the Heisman trophy and first round draft pick in the pros.
In early April they were parked out in a corn field. Donneta got up in front to drive home. Billy stayed in the back seat. Pulling onto the main road they were hit from behind by a car without its lights on. Billy was thrown hard up against the bucket seats breaking his back in two places and was paralyzed from the waist down.
The whole town pitched in to help Billy's family with the medical bills, other towns close by helped with with fund raisers and in thirty days had enough to buy him an electric wheel chair. At graduation the cheers for Billy as he powered his chair up the ramp was deafening. When Donneta walked up to get hers there was total silence. A week later her parent's house sold, they moved and a family that had lived in that town for three generations never to return.
Billy opened up a jewelry store and started doing custom designs, little towns can't support this kind of business, but he quickly gained a name and did quite well selling his designs to larger jewelry chains and on the internet. At every sporting event boy or girls he was always there cheering on the home team. You couldn't miss him out in front of the bleachers wearing the school colors in his chair.
Hank remembered in the fall two years earlier Billy married a girl from a neighboring town. The wedding drew over a thousand people and was too big for any of the churches, so they held the ceremony in the middle of the football field.
As far as the town was concerned Donneta died that night. Now here she was and Hank couldn't stop thinking about her. Customers came and went, he went through the motions of demonstrating and selling items, but it was done on auto pilot. When it was time to take a break he went to the food court and there she was, sitting alone with a drink and a salad. He bought lunch, found a table where he could see her out of the corner of his eye yet not be too obvious while he looked at her.
Finished eating she came near him to throw out what was on her tray. She looked directly at him, "Hi, Hank. How're your parents?"
He felt like melting into a crack in the floor. Heart racing and the pounding sound muffling his answer he croaked out, "Just fine."
"Tell your Mom she was the best teacher I ever had," then walked away.
"She'll be glad to hear it," he called after her. Every man in the food court watched her leave swaying those shapely hips, then turned to look at him, obviously wondering why she'd taken an interest in him.