“That’s enough. He has beaten us three straight years in the Super Bowl - this will be his last one.”
With that, Benny Bryson checked his plastic pistol one more time.
“Eight Rounds. That should be enough.”
Benny Bryson patted his pistol under the padded sports jacket…smiled at his reflection in the mirror.
“Just doing what any real fan would do.”
His wife and daughter kissed him good by, laughing and teasing him about not wearing any Team Colors at all.
“How are they going to know what a Fan you are without your usual get up? Heck, you look like one of those Fancy Network Announcers.”
Thought Benny Bryson.
She cried as the reporters pounded on the door, not knowing what to do. Her Mother just kept screaming incoherently in the other room. She knew the Police would be here shortly. She was almost numb from the shock, her mother was nearly insane. How are you supposed to handle watching your Father, your Mother’s Husband- walk calmly up to the Podium with a soft confident smile; then shooting the Super Star Quarterback six times.
Watching the Trophy slide from the Quarterback’s hands as he tumbled off the edge of the platform. The last she saw of her Father’s face before he was buried under an avalanche of both Police and members of the winning team- was a smile that could only be described as a satisfied smirk.
Her Mother started screaming at the TV.
“Benny, Benny, Benny…what have you done?”
All she could do is hold her Mother and cry. The Police would be here soon.
For thirty six days, the Super Star Quarterback, all of 24 years old…lay in a coma, on life support. Only modern medicine, a superior fit body, and some inner will, keeping him alive.
Benny Bryson never spoke again. He died from the crush of big bodies stacked on him when he was wrestled to the ground. Reporters from all kinds of Media, hounded the poor Widow, and her daughter (and Benny’s Father, Mother, two brothers and their wives too) trying to find a reason for such an unreasonable act.
The hounding and death threats got so bad that all of the family members agreed to change their family name from Bryson, to an unnamed moniker. The FBI helped all of them with techniques and tips carried over from the Witness Protection Program. It was clear to all the Investigators from every aspect of Law Enforcement that Benny had acted on his own. His family was completely innocent. Benny, was insane when he tried to kill the Super Star Quarter Back. Truly insane.
But the sins of the Father are hard to erase.
His football career was over. He never granted a single interview about what happened. He thanked all of his Fans, the League, and his teammates for all the Cards and Prayers. He read a very simple prepared statement outside the Hospital when he was released. The video of that speech showed Coaches, Doctors, Teammates and his soul surviving family member, his brother Ralph- crying real tears.
All of his muscle had wasted away. He was still stood six foot six inches tall. But almost a year in the Hospital, the 23 surgeries, the untold number of near death experiences in those first 36 days in the Hospital rendered him looking more like a twisted and bent Ichabod Crane then a professional athlete.
That was why so many were crying as they listened to him, for his once magnificent body and physique were gone. Replaced by this limping cane carrying character from Disney. It made hardened tough men cry. But not him.
“I want to thank my Teammates, Coaches, the League my fans, the Doctor’s and Nurses and everyone who sent me cards, flowers, candy and prayers. I thank you all. I forgive Benny Bryson (the audience almost booed, but hesitated to see what else he would say). Benny loved his team so much it drove him crazy.
I hope that all of you, players and fans, learned from Benny’s tragic mindset. We play a GAME. ( A lot of heads bowed at this…ashamed of some of their very own actions when their team lost, or a rival had a good game). I forgive Benny. There is no reason to forgive his family. They didn’t know what he was going to do…or even that he could do it.
(His face drew closed and determined. A look many an opponent had seen just before he shredded their defenses)
You Haters out there- back off. I mean it. You are no fan of mine, nor a fan of Sport, if you blame any member of his family for a stupid act he committed. Leave them alone!
Then he chuckled a bit.
“My brother Ralph says I should play wide receiver now, he already has picked out a nickname: The Shadow. “
Everyone gave a bittersweet laugh out loud. For he was indeed a shadow of his former self.
“But I won’t play any position anymore. Ever. (the words nobody ever wanted to hear from him, but there they were- out in the open)
The Doctor’s assure me, and I can assure you they are correct, I will never play football again. I am lucky I can walk. Even with one of these. (Holding up his cane- even after a year of therapy, you could see that famous right arm, an arm that could throw a football 85 yards in the air, and knock a quarter out of your hand…trembling with exhaustion from just holding up a cane.)
I have been blessed with a wonderful career. Now I have to get on with my life. Please, let me do that. God Bless you all.”
And that, as they say, was that.
This is America. There were a few stories about him over the next few weeks. But knew stories, new tragedies, and new young bucks took over the Sports and News items. He became a legend, a myth, a forgotten part of Football Lore. He liked it that way.
She never knew where she got the courage. After Mom moved to Italy with Giuseppe - almost five years after her dad was crushed to death under a pile of big angry men- she was happy for her Mom. Pepi, as she called him, was the best thing to ever happen to her Mother after the event. Nobody in her family called it anything other than “the event”, because any other name would bring back all kinds of pain. Pain she still carried.
Her Father was a good man, a great Dad, and a Murderer. Try and wrap your head around that if you can- she couldn’t. She loved her Father. She hated the man who shot the Super Star Quarterback with every ounce of her being. He didn’t have to live with the pain, only her and her mother, the Quarterback, and her family did. It wasn’t fair.
Ten years had gone by since the event. Even now, once in a while, a story would come up about it. The year the Quarterback was inducted to the Hall of Fame on a Unanimous First Ballot, that year was hell. Everyone saw the footage again. Except for the Quarterback. The Super Star Quarterback made everyone laugh with what had to be the most Ironic Touché ever uttered.
An insensitive and glory hungry young TV Reporter named Jane Warrett asked him at one of the many festive dinners during Hall of Fame week, if he had ever watched the Tape of him being shot?
The Superstar Quarter back laughed. (Which caught more than a few people off guard)
“No. I don’t have to. I was there.”
Jane turned beat red. Embarrassed...as she should have been. The retweets of that short answer and his laugh, reached three billion.
But that was Five Years ago…and other stories were more interesting. So the event faded from most folks every day thoughts. Not hers. The event had torn her family apart. So far, only her mother had found a way out. There was no Giuseppe on her Horizon. She had stopped dating long long ago. Once they found out who her Father was, or recognized her from those first few crushing interviews at her home…it was over. So she just stopped.
The name changed helped. And time. But not on the inside.
She don’t know where she got the courage. But she couldn’t heal, couldn’t move on, couldn’t live…her father wasn’t the only one to die that day- if she didn’t at least try. She had to face her fears head on. She didn’t know if it was courage, or guilt, but she used whichever it was to finally go to him - in person- to apologize. It was her only hope.
She parked her car at the end of the driveway. It was a long half mile walk to the small house, not much more than a cabin really, where he lived- alone. She thought if he saw the car coming up the drive, he might just lock everything up and pretend he wasn’t there. Something she had heard from reliable sources- might happen. It was true. He never granted a single interview in the entire decade since the event. He hated reporters. If they did manage to find his cabin- well the local Sheriff and Town’s folks made it their business to make those nosy city folk mind their own.
He was grateful to them for that.
She figured if walked up to the cabin, he would see her coming, a lone woman. Plain looking, thirty years old, in a worn winter coat, boots, with a scarf around her head. It wasn’t winter yet, but one more page on the calendar and it would be. It was clear, crisp, cold. Like most Montana morning in late Fall. She could hear the frost crunching its crisp crackle as blades of grass splintered like pines in deep cold.
She kept her eye on the porch of the small house. Maybe, just maybe, a lone woman in drab clothes would arouse curiosity and not fear. She continued walking towards the cabin, as light smoke curled out of the chimney. She focused on the door, willing him to open it. It must have worked. For the door opened.
He was just finishing cooking up some bacon. He reached up over the stove to get salt and pepper for his eggs when he glanced out the window to see a woman walking towards his house. He turned the stove off. Grabbed his cane and a warm jacket off the pegs by the front door. He had no fear. Fear of death had deserted him long ago. He was merely curious why anyone would walk his driveway.
Heck you couldn’t walk to his house- town was fifteen miles away. So she must have parked by the gate and walked the entire half mile to his house. That could only mean one of two things: she wanted to have him see her coming. Or she was using the time to gather her thoughts. He was right about both.
He opened the door, closed it gently behind him and leaned on his cane.
Then he waited.
She almost ran out of courage and turned around. He hadn’t put on a single pound since she saw him speak outside the hospital that day. He had to lean on his cane just to wait for her to finish the last hundred yards to his porch. It made her want to cry. She remembered what his body used to look like, and what it could do before…before…before the event. She squared her shoulders without changing her pace.
She had to go on. She had to talk to him. She had to.
He saw her straighten her shoulders and keep walking towards him. He recognized that moment’s hesitation. He had done almost the same thing many times - squaring his shoulders to go through just one more surgery. One more rehab session. One more heroic effort to walk again.
That little shrug told him that this woman, just like he had, was facing her fears. He wondered what they could be. A part of him was attracted to her in a “we have much in common” sort of way. Another part admired her grit to walk through that wall of fear, not knowing what was on the other side. On this side was just the trying.
He got a crooked smile on his face.
She saw it.
Her face echoed a crooked smile back.
It was the beginning.
“Do I know you?”
“No. We have never met, but you know my Father.”
There, she had been as blunt as she could be. Quarterbacks are not stupid, she knew he would put two and two together quickly. He did.
A part of him recognized the pain he had buried all those years ago. That part revealed to him that her pain was still with her. He had moved on a long time ago, he meant what he said at the Hospital that day. She hadn’t moved on. The pain in her eyes was fresh, alive, and well. If she hadn’t stopped at the bottom step, he would have held her.
“ I knew he had a daughter. What is your name?”
For the first time in a decade, she said her real name, the one her Father had given her as he held her tiny fingers in his hand thirty years ago:
“My name is Patricia Bryson.”
“Nice to meet you Patricia, would you like some breakfast? I was just making bacon and eggs.”
Whatever she expected the Super Star Quarterback to say- it wasn’t: “Would you like some breakfast?” It made hope grow capital letters in her heart. Maybe he would forgive her, or help her forgive herself.
“I would love breakfast. (blushing a bit) But I have to tell you I put catsup on my bacon.”
His laugh she would remember forever. It was so honest. So open. So childlike in glee. It shattered her fears of telling him everything into so many tiny splinters that she could brush them aside with a smile.
“This I have got to see! Come in.”
He stepped to one side, bowed, and waved her in with his cane. A stark reminder to her that the event was real. Her smile slipped a bit as she went by him. He caught that look.
“It wasn’t your fault. In any way. Your father made a mistake. Not you.”
She never knew how she got into his arms. As thin and frail as his body was now, the inner strength was still there. She had never felt safer in a Man’s arms than she did at that moment. She was safe. For the first time in ten years…she cried.
There they stood, a thin frail tall man, holding onto an ordinary looking thirty year old woman. Both needing the comfort of each other as strength to go on poured in. His shirt was soaked. Her heart was calm now. She could feel his heart beating a strong calming regular beat back- she let her head nestle against his chest. His hand stroking her hair down to the nape of her neck, rising back up again to just above her ear, and stroking downwards again, reminded her of waves lapping the shore of some tropical paradise.
She nestled in closer.
She did have breakfast with him. She did put catsup on her bacon, much to his delight. The laughter and teasing as she tried to get him to “just try it” bending them both double at times. (He didn’t try it. Not then. Not ever…not once in their long future together. But he did laugh every time she tried to get him to “just try it.” )
The talk grew serious. Deep. Caring. Ten years of weights lifted from her shoulders. He realized later just how much pain people can go through without being shot. Over time, she healed -not without scars- just as he had.
Breakfast led to that first talk. Lunch led to the second. Dinner led to the bedroom. Afterwords, hot tea and crackers led to a long cuddle in front of the dying fireplace.
A couple of days later Sheriff Mundy drove up to the Cabin. When he saw the tall thin man come out on the porch with his arm over the shoulder of a young woman with eyes that were brilliantly alive with joy, he smiled from ear to ear.
“can I help you Sheriff?”
“Dunno. Do you know who’s car that is at the end of your driveway? It has been sitting there for three days. “
The young woman’s hand shot to her mouth. Both to cover her laugh, and her embarrassment. The tall thin man hugged her closer, a laugh bubbling up out of his mouth.
She managed to chuckle out a reply.
“Er..uh…um…it’s mine Officer. I kinda forgot about it.”
“For three days?”
The Sheriff’s one eyebrow went up in a rather impressive arch.
The tall thin man answered for her. All three of them broke down into thigh slapping peels of laughter at it.
“We have been busy.”
When he could finally speak again, the Sheriff choked out a reply that sent them all nearly to their knees.
“I just bet you have.”
The Sheriff was a kind man. He had seen things in his life that most folks shouldn’t have. He knew what real love looked like. Heck, he was staring at it. So he did what any neighbor would do:
“Well throw me the keys. I will move it up to the house for you all. You can just go back inside and get…busy.”
Even while laughing hysterically, the tall thin mans arms remembered the old days. The keys flew from his hand like a laser guided missile to land in the palm of the Sheriff’s hand.
“Nice throw, Slim.”
The couple walked back into the small house, a cabin really, now magically , a home.
The Sheriff road back to town with a grin as wide as Big Sky country.