If a guy knew he would end up back in his hometown, he might never have left. Seb Brewster has finally surrendered to the forces of Deep Haven, returning to the town who loved him, where he had his glory days as the state-champion quarterback of the Deep Haven Huskies. And maybe he can resurrect them, if he can win the job of football coach away from Caleb Knight. But really, what he’d like to do is win back the heart of the girl he never forgot…and the real reason the Seb-a-nator is back in town.
But are the glory days worth resurrecting? God just might have something better for him if Seb has the courage…
Seb Brewster just wanted to sneak back into town before anyone noticed.
He needed time to paste on his game face.
The sun had just begun to peek over the lake, denting the sky with gold as he coaxed his Dodge Neon over the last hill and into the hamlet of Deep Haven. Opening the window, he tapped the brakes, cruised to thirty, and drank in the piney tang of the air after a storm, the sound of gulls crying over lost opportunity.
Cars lined the streets, and as he veered away from the Main Street cutoff, he noted a band shell set up in the harbor park. Today’s lineup was sure to feature JayJ and his band of blues musicians, probably still plunking out the same tunes they had when they’d slapped together sounds in his garage over a decade ago. Seb lasted about two practices at the trap set before football overtook his life.
A few early morning power walkers pushed athletic strollers or followed obedient city dogs on leashes, and a couple of teenagers in shorts and Lake Superior sweatshirts skipped stones into the hungry water. One-two, three, four . . . he’d made it to fifteen once.
Back in his glory days.
The sweet breath of coming home stirred inside him and nearly slid his compact into an empty parking space in front of the Footstep of Heaven bookstore, daring him to dash down the street to World’s Best Donuts, grab a fresh donut.
What if Lucy still worked there?
Maybe she had finally forgiven him.
He sighed and kept going, through the one stoplight, past the grocery store, the auto parts lot—aka, junkyard—the forest service building, and finally, just at the town limits, turned left at Dugan’s Trailer Park.
His buoyant spirit deflated as he passed the rows of trailers lined up like railroad cars. A few displayed the efforts of beautification—a potted clump of geraniums, a bed of nasturtium and day lilies. A free-standing swing and a turtle-shaped sandbox with a collection of Tonka trucks, their yellow tin glinting in the hazy morning sun, suggested small children still lived in the neighborhood.
As he drove farther up the hill, the nostalgia died in the clutter of weeds and a rusty white pine that loomed over a single-wide green trailer with dented screens in the two-by-two windows. A blackened plastic Christmas wreath hung on the door. A sorry reminder of his mother’s last Christmas before she left.
Seb pulled up next to a dented Impala. A splotch of oil blackened the gravel under it, and he had to arc his leg out to avoid stepping into the grease. By the end of the week, he’d probably be lying in the puddle, changing out the oil pan.
The birds chirruped as if remembering him, and the old porch creaked appropriately, but no sounds of life drifted from the trailer’s screened door—no bacon sizzling on the stove, no canned laughter from the television. He peered inside for a moment, gathering his breath against the cigarette odor that would saturate his clothes. Once upon a time, the smell would cause him to fling open the door, search the rooms for his father, home from the road.
Later, the smell told him whether he should stick around or take off for Coach Presley’s place. Seb had awakened most Saturday mornings on the coach’s front room sofa, his stomach aching at the smell of pancakes.
He eased open the door. It caught and he had to wrestle it the rest of the way, as if forcing himself back into his old life.
Perhaps, indeed, that’s exactly what he was doing.
Dishes marinated in the sink, a swarm of flies lifting as if in greeting. Spaghetti hardened in a bowl on the built-in dining nook table. No television at all—maybe it had broken, although he hadn’t seen it on the porch. Instead dust layered the television stand, the deer lamp on the side table. The brown carpet hadn’t been vacuumed this side of the last election.
He eased down the skinny hallway, past the bathroom, then his old bedroom-turned-closet for his father’s hunting equipment. The Marlin 336 lay on the bed—great storage, Dad—and against the wall leaned the Ruger rifle, with what looked like a new scope.
Seb sucked a breath, then pushed open the master bedroom door, half-hoping he wouldn’t find him, a skin-and-bones man, his teeth saggy and yellow, his skin bled of color, his hair long and tangled over his face, life shucked from him one drink at a time.
But there he lay, fully clothed in a pair of greasy jeans and a T-shirt, his mouth open as if surprised that he might find himself in his own bed.
Seb walked up to him. Nudged his knee. “Dad. Hey.”
“Dad, c’mon. Wake up.” He shook him again, harder, his heart just a little in his throat.
The man roused. Groaned.
“Dad, it’s me, Seb. I’m home.”
An eye flickered open. Then the other. For a long, suffocating moment, he simply stared at Seb, those green eyes unfocused, or simply climbing out of some place Seb didn’t want to know about. Seb fought the urge to drop and bury his head on his father’s bony knees and weep. It’s me, Dad. Seb. And . . .
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I meant to be more.
But he pushed his hands into his jean pockets, fisted them.
Finally, his father broke through the fog and blinked at Seb. He wiped his mouth, then reached out his hand, gripped Seb’s wrist. “It’s about time you got here, kid.”
About time. Yes, maybe.
“Do you need anything?”
A smirk tweaked his father’s face. He followed it with a harrumph. “How about some breakfast?”
His father’s grip fell away and he rolled back into slumber. At least the old man had made it home. Hopefully without hurting anyone.
Seb nodded, slipping into a rhythm, seventeen again, arriving home from practice to find his father passed out on the sofa, the bathroom floor, the bed. He’d fix himself eggs and watch the NFL channel until midnight, plotting his future. Back then, he’d planned on playing for the University of Minnesota. If he got lucky, if he did well at Combine, he’d get picked up by the Packers or even the Bears. He wanted to stay close, in case his mother came home, in case she saw him in the papers.
Maybe she’d even want season tickets. He’d get her a box seat, of course.
Seb missed that, perhaps, the most—looking up out of a huddle when he was fifteen, already varsity quarterback, and seeing her, bundled for winter in the stands. Sometimes the only one.
But even his touchdowns hadn’t kept her home.
As he reached the door, he heard his father rouse again. Seb stopped, swallowed hard, turned back to face what remained of his family.
“Welcome home, Son.”
“Yeah. Thanks, Dad. I’ll get those eggs for you.”