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The streets were quiet for the holiday as Mack left Bellmont.

East Seventh Street was far. So when he passed under the highway he was glad to stop for a rummy he knew. They talked a long time, mainly of the excellent one. As they warmed themselves over a fire made from old football programs, Mack remembered the names of all the man’s family. Before going, Mack wished him a Merry Christmas and gave him money. It was late when he reached the cantina. He was surprised to see Will there, standing next to a booth.


“Mack! Merry Christmas!” Will embraced his friend.

"And to you, Will."

“Mack, you walked?”

“I did,” Mack said.

“Then you saw Bill.”

Mack did not answer. Will sensed the truth and looked away.

“I know it will go for liquor, but I always give him money, Mack.”

“That’s decent of you, Will.” Mack sat down in the booth. He waved his hand toward the other seat. But Will did not join him.

“Mack, what is it that you want?”

Mack was tired. He did not want to talk about this on Christmas Eve. It felt lousy just to think about. Talking about leaving football would make the leaving worse.

“It won’t help anything,” he said.

“Mack, we need to settle on the order,” Will said.

Mack knew his friend well. Will always thought about the players. Even now the roster was important to him.

“I suppose I could move the running backs around again, Will.”

“You could do that, yes, Mack. You could do that. But I need the order tonight. For here.” Will pulled a plastic card from the back of his pants. “While you make up your mind I could bring you a Doctor Pepper. Or if you are in the mood for a hard drink, the La Crema is an excellent choice.”

Mack took the menu and reached for his reading glasses. He was puzzled.

"I don’t understand,” Mack said.

“I know what you mean, Mack. I myself am skeptical of the Sonoma Coast. But this has a nice finish.”

Mack thought for a moment. “You work here, Will?”

“A coach in waiting must know about real waiting, Mack. So I have waited.” Will pointed to the menu. “The enchiladas are good tonight.”

Mack was quiet. He scanned the menu with the owl optical light he kept in his wallet. Finally he looked up. “I think I’ll have the torta chiso and a Doctor Pepper.” He glanced away as he handed back the menu.

Will smiled. “You are concerned I spend time in the cantina, Mack? It is busy sometimes, yes. But not to worry. A man who thinks about football can think about football anywhere.”

“That’s true, Will.”

“Sometimes I try new blitz packages with the busboys. We put the fear of God into the waitresses, I can tell you, Mack.”

“I’ll bet you do,” Mack said. He looked around him. “Will? Who else do you see here?”

“Oh, just some of the regulars, Mack."

"Who comes here, Will?"

"Well, the Brent, Kirk, and Miss Erin were in yesterday." Will whistled under his breath.

"How's that, Will?"

Will lowered his voice. “Don’t get me wrong, Mack, she’s no Mrs. V. But Miss Erin always makes the football good.”

Mack knew exactly what Will meant. Miss Erin had never made the football bad for him. “I could see that, Will.”

“Sometimes I forget her order. It’s hard to remember things when the girls are so pretty.” Will paused. “Can I tell you a secret, Mack? When I lean down to listen better, even her hair smells pretty.”

Mack smiled. He knew that Will was right. But he did not want to tell his friend that he knew this. “I believe you, Will,” Mack said.

“Mack, let me put in your order. Then I'll come sit with you. It's my last night here. I’ll put the ice in the way you like, and we’ll talk about old times. You can tell me again about Paris and Barcelona. You miss them, don’t you?”

“I do, Will.”

“I understand,” Will said. “Myself, I miss Athens and Rome." He put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Look, I will go get our drinks. Then we will sit and talk. You are in for a surprise, Mack. A Christmas present for us. The Major will be here soon. He likes the flan.”

When Will returned with the drinks, Mack saw that the ice had been put in just right. They could sit in the booth together now and talk for a long time without getting drunk. They would talk about football and cities as they sipped their cold drinks to the sounds of a holiday telenovela. As they talked they would think about Christmas, and about how good a pretty girl could smell when you stood close to her after a football game. They would have many things to talk about as they waited for the Major. It was Christmas Eve, and they would all be happy as they sat together and remembered the good times.