When the door chimed, Jason looked up from his desk watching Tim Riggins look around, a bit confused. “So what brings you to the edge of town?”
“Come on Jay, ya know I’m the kind of guy who lives on the edge,” Tim grinned. He straightened before shrugging, “with the off week and all, I figured, Coach wouldn’t really notice that I was late or whatever,” Tim drew his eyes to Jason, “thought maybe I’d come out to the Strip, grab a quickie,” he smirked, “plus, Saracen’s kind of keeping Coach on his toes.”
Jason found himself returning Tim’s grin, “yeah, rumor has it the team’s leading Saracen down some dangerous paths.”
Tim shrugged. He licked his lips, “ya know, Streeter. I think I took being on the roster with a golden boy for granted.” Tim rubbed his chin, “so’d Buddy get that special delivery yet?”
“Yeah, the boxes are behind my desk,” Jason spun around in his chair. “What the hell could he possibly use with five thousand mini footballs?”
“Good,” Tim sounded relieved. He walked over to the boxes. “Damn, Santiagon in?” Tim seemingly ignored Jason. “Oh, sorry, you know Lyla. She pulled the God card a few times.”
Jason picked up the phone and paged Santiago. “I guess even Buddy Garrity couldn’t resist the urge to shovel a few scoops of dirt into that hole to hell Lyla likes to refer to.” The boys finally made it from the service department, “boys,” Jason instructed, “help Mr. Riggins here load these boxes.”
“All right, man,” Tim put his hands on his hips, “when you sell out of cars Saturday afternoon, come down to the church.” He slapped fists with Jason, “hear there’s a cold snap comin’ over Texas,” Tim backed out of the door with a grin. “Uh,” he ran into Santiago, “watch where you’re goin’ kid,” he waved to Jason.
“What?” Jason narrowed his eyes, yelling after Tim. The door had closed on his question, “what’d he mean?” He asked Santiago.
Santiago shrugged, “don’t know. Lot of rumors flyin’ around. Word has it Coach’s baby probably playing Jesus in the nativity scene.” He shook his head, “I think Riggin’s is making the manger. Only the Charismatic got a woman Jesus and let Tim Riggins make her bed.” He picked up his rag and headed toward the back, “ain’t no doubt this is a one devil town.”
Jason laughed. If that were true, Gracie would end up in the hay, Timmy would end up back at the top of Coach’s list, and Saracen would be behind the scenes again. He and Erin were supposed to go the Christmas Tree farm when he clocked out at noon. Looking at the green paper sheet Lyla had hung up a week or so ago, Jason noted the live nativity started at seven so maybe he could stop by after they dropped the tree off. ________________________________________________________
The sun barely peeked over the west-Texas sky. Tim pulled on the halter of the long horn, every muscle in his body groaning despite the Panther’s only having a walk through last night. It must have been the Jack, “every hail Mary my mama ever said is the only thing saving your ass right now,” he dug his heels on the ridge in the floor of the trailer.
“Come on, now,” Chris hopped beside him. “the donkey’s all ready in the pen you and Billy built,” he smiled at Tim. Edging beside the cow, Chris slapped his back. Tim slipped as the cow lurched forward. “Look alive Rigg’s,” Chris stepped up, steadying Tim.
Tim shrugged off the Pastor’s hand, “aint you got some other project,” he tugged steadily on the halter. The cow slowly followed Tim and Chris across the parking lot.
“Son, I’m kind of partial to you,” he forced a smile at Tim, walking toward the men setting up tables across from the pen. “May be the best example of the Lord’s work, yet.” Tim forced himself to focus on getting the cow in the pen, not throwing up, and not rolling his eyes at the young preacher.
Jason shifted himself in the chair. The gravel had taken some navigation but a man wanting to discuss Dillon’s chance against West Cambria had helped. Probably not being able to dodge old Panther’s stories of the glory days rivaled Herc’s ability to get under Jason’s skin. He appreciated the push, but damn, hearing the same play from the left guard, tight end or third string linebacker who probably didn’t even know the QB checked down to the slot receiver who took the ball thirty-three yards for the six points got really old. “Hey, there, Tab,” he made his way to the fourth grade girls class cookie stand, “how you doing?” Tabby smiled at her three friends, who made themselves busy picking out the best bag of cookies for Jason.
“I’m good, Jason,” she answered in a sing-songy voice. “You want three for two dollars?”
Coach Taylor reached over Jason, taking the bags from Tabby’s friend, “I’ll take these, ma’am.” Jason tried to pick out a dollar, “I got this one,” Coach slugged his shoulder. He opened the bag and pulled out two of the three cookies. It was roughly shaped into a football, a blue background and yellow DP. It did have a cross on each end. Giving the girls a smile, “good cookies, ladies,” he handed one to Jason.
“The best,” Jason agreed taking a bite. Rolling away, he squirted some water into his mouth, offering it to Coach Taylor. “Thanks,” he washed down the cookie. Coach took the water bottle, “maybe a little dry.”
Coach stopped and looked over the busy parking lot. A group of men were setting up a large number of chairs yards from a pen with live animals. He glanced at his watch; “I hope Tami gets here with Gracie. Julie talked us into letting Tim Riggins borrow her for that play or whatever it is.” He laughed watching Smash bob and weave away from a group of young boys, holding one of those mini-footballs. That kid might be OK after all, Eric thought.
“I heard something about that,” Jason smiled. “Kind of hard having a nativity without Jesus. Even if he is a girl.” He began rolling in the general direction of the table set up for the Panther’s toy drive. “I’m glad Santiago made it. Buddy let him off at one but he was pretty torn up over the girl Jesus thing.”
Coach Taylor smirked, “way I see it, Tim Riggins can be up at 6 AM, spend all day in the parking lot of a church, anything is possible.”
“Yeah,” Jason mumbled, “power of Lyla Garrity reigns supreme.”
“What was that?” Coach turned his attention back to Jason.
He shook his head, sheepishly, “praise Jesus,” Jason raised his hands, “Amen. Hallelujah.”
“Speaking of stooges,” he nudged Jason, “looks like there’s a whole table full right here.” Coach sort of pushed Jason with one handle, eating another cooking with the others, “boys,” he looked over at what they’d collected, “this actually looks pretty good. These filled up with footballs or toys?” He gestured toward what he counted loosely has eighteen boxes.
“Coach, you know the Smash wouldn’t let these boys play like that. Smash’s fan club dropped off three Wiis. The boys and I figured we keep one for the lounge. Might make Matty hit Dolia a little faster. Giving one out of three to charity’s good, aint it?” Smash leaned against the table, admiring the box Mrs. Clark had dropped off from the police department.
“No, Sir,” Mama Smash overheard the conversation. “You and your little quarterback friend want a Wii, work for it.” She put her purse behind the table ready to start delegating. “Brian, Landry, and Bradley go through boxes 1-5, Write down everything. Do it right, gentlemen. The Mayor is coming to pick these up in an hour,” Corinna’s eyes fell on Brian willing him to argue.
“I agree,” Coach Taylor stepped back. “Mrs. William’s I don’t think there is a better person to supervise these boys,” he put his hands on his hips.
Chris walked to the table putting his arm around Coach’s shoulder, “thank you for letting the guys do this, Sir
“No problem, Pastor?” Coach nodded at Chris’ nametag. Riggins choked on the Coke he was chugging, drawing a glare from Eric.
“Some of them are getting started on their community service,” Jason smiled at Chris. He set his sunglasses on top of his head, reaching for a mini football. The printing company did a nice job, especially in the time Buddy had given them. Jason shivered a bit, reaching back for his jacket. Chris noticed Jason trying to shrug the windbreaker on and helped him, “thanks,” he acknowledged.
Tim stepped in front of the table, “come on Streeter, only coaches get to ride us.” Tim reached over and pulled Jason’s collar out, straightening it. He pursed his lips as if trying to one up Chris. Tim leaned back, his eyes following Lyla as she moved from table to table. His attention was drawn back to the Toy Drive with loud whispers.
“Mr. Street,” a young boy began tentatively. Jason looked up, “Mr. Street could you sign my ball?” He asked extending a mini football with a number of scrawling over it.
Jason took the ball from the boy, “sure, thing,” he smiled. “Riggs, you gotta marker?” Tim reached behind him and handed Jason a Sharpie. “Check it out, Coach,” Jason held up the ball. “Your star running back, future Heisman, number one pick in 2011,” he grinned at Smash, “not to mention what he’s gonna do in the NFL still has to print his name. They let rally girls in Whitmore, Williams?”
“Funny, Street,” Smash folded a child’s Cowboy jersey, handing it to Matt. “I just want to make sure nobody doubted the Smash’s name was authentic.”
Jason stuck his tongue out, concentrating on writing his name. He turned it around and the kid smiled. Handing the ball to the Coach, Jason rolled his eyes at Smash.
“There ya go, Son,” Coach returned the ball. “Keep working hard--.”
“That’s right, Man,” Smash looked up setting another jersey in the pile, work hard another few years you can be handin’ the ball off to Riggins. He’ll still be in the backfield.” Smash smirked toward Tim, “high school got eligibility stuff, Coach?”
“Say that to my face, Williams,” Tim stood taller and turned toward the table.
Jason reached out for Tim, “Riggins,” he warned.
“Tim, it’s about time for you to go and get ready for the play,” Chris tried to distract the boy. “Is Mrs. Taylor bringing the baby?”
Brian and Tim stared each other down before Corrina pulled on Smash’s arm, “you leave that boy alone, Brian. Get those things separated, keep your big head to yourself.” Smash pursed his lip before reading the tag for Landry.
As the tension eased, Eric gave Tim one final glare before answering the Pastor, “yeah, she was supposed to be leaving about six. That means Julie will be ready at quarter after. They’ll pick Tyra up at 6:30 and be here by ten til.” He pulled his ball cap down, “you know how women are.”
“Yes, Pastor Chris,” Lyla walked up, tucking her clipboard under her arm, “tell me, Sir, how are women?” She smiled at Coach, linking arms with Chris. Eric gave her a sheepish grin. “Tim, the stylist is ready for us,” she said. “Come on, I’ll walk with you.”
Jason cleared his throat, “Lyla,” he nodded hello. “Stylist?” He laughed as Tim slowly stood beside Lyla. “This isn’t April fools.”
Tim pursed his lips, following her. Pivoting as he shoved his hands in his pockets, Tim smirked, “be jealous, Street. Wait ‘til this performance hits YouTube,” he raised his eyebrows, smirking.
Eric and Jason sat in the front row of chairs. A few FFA members were standing beside Jason trying to herd the lambs. The live nativity was about to start. Eric kept looking back for Tami, Julie, and Tyra. He kept mumbling, glancing at his watch. After a few minutes, Eric glared as Tami slid into the empty seat beside him. Julie and Tyra ducked in beside him. “Did you give the baby to the preacher?” Eric whispered to Tami.
“Yes, babe,” Tami kissed his, rubbing his arm. “We’ll talk about it later,” she shrugged in Julie’s direction who was purposefully distracting herself. She adjusted herself as the lights dimmed.
Jason looked behind him as Chris’ voice played over the PA system. He read along, as the shepherds and angels came onto the makeshift stage. Chris continued to read the story of Jesus’ birth from Matthew, a buzz made its way from the back of the crowd to the front as Joseph and Mary came forward. Jason heard Tyra audibly gasp. He felt his own face flush as Tim playing Joseph and Lyla, the virgin Mary stood on stage. Tim was leading a donkey and Jason noticed Mrs. Taylor reaching across Julie and squeezing Tyra’s forearm as she leaned forward unable to control the laughter. The whole idea seemed surreal. Tyra’s laughter infected Jason. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to reign it in as well as Tyra. Coughing failed to disguise it as Jason bit the mini football. He swiped at his nose snot becoming unstoppable.
Tami kept hissing at the kids much to no avail. Finally, it was time for a song. Tyra slid down, linking arms with Jason as he pressed his face into her arm, trying not to laugh so loud. He let the ball drop as the lights brightened again, a spotlight on the manger. Jason looked up as the mini-football rolled to the front The crowd cooed over the baby, Tim kicked the ball, Jason and Tyra laughed even harder, if that was physically possible. Eric snapped a few pictures with his disposable camera. Tami elbowed Tyra who gripped Jason’s arm and tried to catch her breath. A few minutes later, the band started playing “Joy to the World,” the crowd standing.
Lyla and Tim filed back down the aisle, cradling Gracie who was smiling. Tyra had to sit back down, her side cramping from lack of oxygen, “we are going to hell,” she coughed.
Every time he’d begun to get in control Tyra would mumble something like this or he thought about the serious look on Santiago’s face at the shop discussing a girl Jesus and could only imagine his disdain with the casting of Joseph. The thought made him collapse into laughter again. As Tim yanked at the halter, the donkey stopped beside Eric. “Coach,” Tyra loudly whispered, “coach. Smack the ass.” This comment drew chuckles from surrounding rows.
Tami glared at Tyra, “you and I have a date this week. 6 AM in the stadium. Beside the steps.”
“Worth it,” she managed to answer. “Totally worth it.” When she wasn’t pouting, Julie found Tyra and her mother’s banter amusing. This time was it was priceless. She held her tongue, though; Julie had no desire to run steps.
Lyla handed Gracie back over to Tami, “she was beautiful,” she gave Mrs. Taylor a half hug.
“Yeah, she sure was, Mrs. T,” Tim agreed, adjusting his headscarf. “As for you two. Maybe we could find a place in one of those Roman jails,” he glared at Tyra and Jason. “It’ll be your turn next year Streeter?” Tim asked.
This caught Lyla’s attention. Jason shot Tim a fierce look and he seemed to realize Lyla was yet to find out about the miracle in Jason Street’s apartment. “What?” She looked between the two boys and Tyra who was staring into a compact, trying to wipe the mascara from her cheeks with a Wet One Mrs. Taylor begrudgingly offered her. Tim shook his head and shrugged. Lyla studied Jason whose face also was passive.
The Panthers gradually made their way to the front. Landry shook his head, bending down to kiss Tyra. “Could you help me a little bit?” She asked exasperated. He turned a chair around and took her chin and gently wiping at her face. Tim watched the interaction. Landry was so gently with her. “Jase,” Tyra looked over in Jason’s direction, “hey, Jason?”
“Yeah?” He bent forward leaning around Julie.
“Is it cold out here or is it just me?” Tyra asked, dropping her jaw so her skin was tighter, easier to clean
He paused before answering, not sure of Tyra’s intentions, “uh,” he shrugged, “it’s darker so it’s probably a little colder.”
Tyra shook her head, “I don’t think that’s it. It’s a deep chill.” She looked at Landry and raised her eyebrows. He shrugged as well. Looking in Lyla’s direction, Tyra continued, “it’s almost like hell froze over or something,” she smirked.
Lyla narrowed her eyebrows, “get over it Tyra. Anyone in Christ has a new life. The old one is gone and the new has come. I’d think maybe someone like you might want to try it.”
Tyra stood up, Landry taking her arm, “someone like me?” She shot a glare at Tim, “I’m not the cheating cheerleader bitch in love with the town bad boy but dating---.”
“Told you there’d be a cold snap in Texas,” Tim nodded at Jason. He tried to interrupt this brewing tension. A smile pulled at his lips as he heard kids start squealing. Everyone turned to see what the commotion was about. Four large snow machines were churning out piercing ice crystals.
“Eeek,” Tyra squealed grabbing Landry’s hand, pulling him toward the snow. That girl had her moments. One minute she was wanting to fight like a grown ass woman, next second she was making snow angels with fourth graders. Julie followed Tyra and Landry leaving Tim, Jason, and Lyla.
“Wow,” Jason looked up at the two, “this is quite a production.” The set was elaborate, not to mention live animals and an almost symphony playing classical Christmas hymns. “Are all these volunteers?”
Lyla nodded, “mostly. The music ministry has four staff members. They have a traditional choir leader, contemporary worship leader, the drama minister goes under that committee. But like all of the musicians and play participants are volunteer.”
“I built the manger,” Tim interjected.
“That was the rumor,” Jason smirked. “I can’t believe Dillon, Texas kept the stars of the show under wrap,” he shook his head, “I feel like I’m on Punk’d.”
Tim laughed, “I told ya, Streeter.” He looked over at Lyla who rolling her eyes, “come on Garrity, it is kind of funny.”
Lyla pursed her lips, “I don’t think poking fun at the Christmas Story is right, Tim,” she spat, sitting down on a bale of hay. The parking lot was beginning to be completely covered with snow and the men were working to move to snow blowers closer to the stage. Kids were going wild. The sight made a grin pull at Lyla’s lips. She turned her attention back to the boys. Tim’s blue jeans and boots stuck out under his makeshift Bethlehemian costume. It was basically a feed sack with arm and neck holes
Jason felt cold snow smack him in the back of the head, “hey,” he spun around looking for the culprit. It wasn’t hard when Tim Riggins had lifted his feed sack up, shoving in hands in his pockets, trying to look innocent. “Riggins,” he growled.
“Come on Jay,” Tim stepped toward Jason and Lyla. He gently tossed a snowball at Lyla who shivered at the cold ice crystals. “It’s Christmas. I’m dressed in some stinking feed sack meant to be a robe, pretending to be Jesus’ stepfather, standing next to Lyla Garrity---“
Jason interrupted him, holding out his hands, “and it’s snowing.”
Lyla arched her eyebrows at Tim. The irony of the situation was too much for even her. Joining the boys in the laughter, she shook her head, “in Texas.” Laughing, Lyla added, “it’s snowing in Dillon freaking Texas.” Lyla bent down and made three large snow balls, firing the first at Tim, then Jason, and handed the last one to Jason.
Jason laughed, throwing the snow in Tim’s direction. It burst, hitting his back. Tim was chucking snowballs at both of them. It almost felt like old times when Texas Forever meant more. Maybe hell had frozen over, just a little.