Chapter II Part I Welcome Home Kinda part of "Tales of Dead Armadillo" Novel By Esteban Erik Stipnieks all rights reserved
Chapter 2 On common Yet Holy Ground
New Braunfels Mid July 1993
The sound of the four cylinder engine of the 82 lynx was overshadowed by the song blaring from the sound system. U2 as it descended Kerlick from a block shy of the Christian academy to Loop 337. Stephen's voice joining Bono's singing U2's A Sort of Homecoming. In his heart Stephen knew how radically different then he was when he left the town. Stephen was coming home to that sacred stadium he was officially a Unicorn again. The meaning of it lead all kinds of directions. He was being pulled a variety of ways. As he pulled into the parking lot a dream was now a reality an abstraction started becoming real. The song was longer then the drive so Stephen sat there till the song finished.
The weight was too much. The suns set had cut the heat off. The rain was falling to the sky ice melted chilling the air around it and the air itself now cold and dense fell to earth far below. The storm was located near Canyon Lake. At New Braunfels high a tan Ford Escort was approaching the parking lot of the field house. In it Stephen King. He walked out of the car saw Tara and as the two walked passed a ticket booth white brick the air that had fallen at Canyon Lake went by Stephen's eye which which had a tear in it. He was making a journey whose very nature was bitter sweet. His hair growing since camp was flew back in a gust.
Unicorn Stadium for Stephen was a place of myth it was also a place of reality. Memories mingled in Stephen's mind as he approached. He had grown up and the stadium was sacred. He had maintained contact Rafe Bull as he was called. Rafe had become an Eagle Scout but the simple fact was the childhood friendship was fraying. The Blue and White more often failed to be for truth and right. The double standard was real. There others less famous who busted their butts on the field in various sports but the few would have the myth of small town and reality of their personhood meet. The thought of those who were crushed by the double standard in New Braunfels angered Stephen. It was 1993 though the town acted like it was 1973. The place though was still sacred and in his heart, Stephen cherished the ideals. As a senior, he could do something about it. So now, it was to begin. Stephen did not feel ready but he knew he would would never feel ready.
Tara had noticed Stephen had parked in the Athletes parking lot he would later that year get a pass to do so. He walked down the asphalt path that leads by a white brick ticket booth. The gate by the back of the track the field house was open. Tara was on Stephen's wing metaphorically and physically even on the spiritual level tucked in behind and to the right. For Tara she was now making contact with a new school. Stephen King had become her older brother. He was the guide. She now was aware of the emotion her guide that had to his old high school. She could see from his face the mixture of emotions love, grief, relief and fear. She had heard much about the team and its leader. As Stephen got near, he saw Coach Bob who saw him. He smiled and gave a wave to the two.
Coach Bob was sitting on an aluminum bench in front of the training room. His back was comfortably against the white brick wall his Asics gel on the bench. Stephen quickly introduced Tara. Coach Bob noticed the relationship and that she was allowing Stephen to lead. There was something in a paper bag. Coach Bob then said, "I got something for you." Coach Bob reached in to the bag a cloth NB with the cross-country symbol 1990 emerged. He saw the letter,"I know you got a purple letter jacket now sew this on" It Stephen grabbed it realized it was as much of a territorial marking as anything. Coach Bob had little use for letters and the crosscountry team had a pirate reputation. It was boldly out of character and Stephen knew it. Stephen sensed it had a purpose. The letter was still treasured. Tara could see the smile on Stephen's face despite the subtle vibe of cynicism. Coach Bob saw the reluctance and the comprehension of the purpose of the letter written all over Stephen. It confirmed what he had heard from Amanda's dad and that what Leisha Sweetman had indicated. The two years had been long. The freshman naive had been replaced by a senior who was savvy slightly cynical and a much harder for his time in Denton. Even Coach Noel Scott made it clear Stephen had an agenda that was going to be carried out come hell or high water. In a line between the love a Unicorn land and the hatred of the hypocrisy was the knife's edge of truth. The steel had been fired and tempered and honed from Denton to Kerrville. The less then excited acceptance had confirmed fears of Coach Bob. Coach Bob got the impression even Scott feared it and Stephen had tagged Coach Bob as burn out. Stephen never pushed his view it was there it was acknowledged everybody on the team knew Coach Bob's legendary moodiness he was their pirate leader. Their had been hints of how the relationship had shifted. Coach Bob could not deny it now. The letter was an appeal to Unicorn pride. Stephen with his mom as superintendent was at best a force under partial control. There was a degree of distrust in Stephen about the letter and it showed. Stephen knew the purpose of the letter. His face had always been transparent onto his soul. What Coach Bob was unnerved at what he saw.
Tara was on the other hand was surprised at the smile on Stephen's face. New Braunfels had been a subject of grief and anger it was a subject of some the hardest runs in training. The thought of the town could drive Stephen like the cracking of a whip. Stephen had remained in contact with the city through his cousin and his anger made him the only athlete Coach P in a track workout told to relax. Only later would Tara realize that love drove the anger to his hometown. That love of the mere letter was an insight to the core of her adopted brother. Stephen's demeanor since he arrived at Unicorn stadium was that of Catholic in the sanctuary of a church. Tara had never seen that. To Ace as he was referred to in Denton the field house was a place of work. Ace at Unicorn stadium Ace seemed to have a reverence for the place. It left Tara briefly confused. It was clear to her that the letter was cherished a symbol of knighthood. As his reluctance told the story to one person, his joy told the other side to another.
Stephen took it to his car, as he did he saw Tom. Tom was goalie for the soccer team and he recognized Stephen. "Good to see you what is the new soccer coach like?" Stephen replied, "You might find him in many ways familiar." Stephen had a sly grin on his face. Tom asked "Why?" Stephen could not resist, "smaller then you but much your personality." Tom was large in stature mellow and encouraging. Tom spoke little as a freshman but emerged as runner far more interested in the team then he was about personal glory. Tom was California cool and on a team of prima donnas, he earned the respect of many. Stephen was happy to see him and realized that the supercharged team would have some cooling capacity. That cooling fin allowed at times the supercharged personalty of team to exist without blowing itself apart like large bomb. Tom saw a bit harder edge in Stephen's persona. Tom did not under-stand the compliment that had just been tossed his direction. Stephen introduced Tara to Tom. Tara commented, “So this is the guy that Allen Boyd reminded you of.” Stephen nodded. Allen Boyd in Denton was the all American. Tara said "Glad to meet the legend." Tom asked, "What did you tell her about me?" Tara cut Stephen off, "He likened one of the nicest people on our cross-country team to you that guy was responsible for much of the team harmony." Tom smiled. Tom asked, “What did you put in your car?” Stephen responded "My accidental letter from our freshman year." Tom caught the strong sense of irony in Stephen's voice mixed with the joy he knew he would be there. The two were walking along the worn asphalt path to the stadium. Tom was intrigued he had seen the evolution of Stephen and his last visit in Spring offered hints of what was to be. Stephen commented, "Coach Bob handing out a letter with the statement sew it on the jacket." Tom was intrigued "You sound cynical." Stephen res-ponded, "I understand why it’s not as if I totally left this town alone." Tom nodded Donna was irritated at the long reach of Stephen. Stephen King would yield some major power being son of. Tom saw something new in Stephen's face.
Amanda Cook's slim blond figure joined them. She recognized Stephen after a long pause (his near shoulder length hair) and had heard the conversation "So are you going to sew it on?" She said referring to the letter. Stephen replied, "I do not even know the Denton high alma matre I just want to bring integrity back into the reality behind ours." Tom was getting the explanation as Stephen talked. The statement was a clear declaration of intent. Amanda had had not brought up the quick trip through First Baptist. Stephen responded as if sensing the comment. Amanda was surprised at his reaction. He knew what was on her mind. "Right theology or close enough to it just wrong approach I attend Fellowship Bible San Antonio." The statement was made knowing it lacked tack. The bluntness in his voice took Tom a back. Stephen had earned the reputation for bloviation. The subject was approached in cut machine gun delivery. Amanda was rattled the tone of the comment was flat matter of fact. Stephen was tempted but reason was strong. He could have done a theological point but he knew better. It was the beginnings of judement.
They were now near the gate walking to the aluminum bench in front of the field house. Stephen introduced Tara to Amanda. He almost cringed sensing the queen bee. He shot a look at Tara knowing her inclination. Tara greeted him with the little sister pissed at her older brother for stating the obvious. Coach Bob sensed the non-verbal apology. Tara was polite sensing her role as a junior and as a new kid in a new town. Stephen visibly reacted with ease when he saw this. Amanda Cook was polite and the group waited a bit. She was alarmed as two powerful people who had entered New Braunfels. She read Tara the football coach's only son. Stephen was visibly narcissistic as a freshman yet...he was far sharper it seemed less about him but a greater set of core values he attuned to Fellowship Bible San Antonio was a bit of a shock. The greater shock would have occurred if she had met the church's pastor and known its story about the affiliation with the Wodani. Stephen knew it was 1993 if the town acknowledged it or not. He felt pity for Amanda she was the star that Bo realized at her core did not want the stardom. She sensed the near pity and slight condescension. Tara quickly gave the impression of holding the force of her personalty in check. Her ability to be the prima donna was there. The bleached blond, tanning bed and face shouting holding back was a signal that was being sent like the WOAI radio transmitter there was obviously a power person her polite attitude and quiet manner was like radio signal hot she would not try to take control of the team.
Dennis Brown and Paulie Padilla showed up they were both football players moonlighting as cross-country runners. Dennis had with him Leisha Sweetman. Behind them followed the figure of Julie Cotten. The season was starting. Paulie made a comment "I heard you were town but you have not been at church." Stephen looked at him "Left the Catholic church a year and a half ago never looked back." The statement was matter of fact carrying just a bit of hostility as if placing a torch to a bridge. Tara stood back watched things. Leisha spouted "Yeah you are one of Keith's kids." Julie looked intrigued as if hearing a revelation. “Keith as Kanaukuk Keith?” came the question. Stephen responded "Yep" with a drawl suddenly thick with the sound of hill country. Julie said "I never know you went to Kuk." Stephen replied with a rebel smile "Never had." Stephen was a child of LLYC the wild brother of Kuk. LLYC had been a link to the hill country he loved. It was a partial link to New Braunfels. In reality it meant Stephen had a romantic spirit tied to mind linked to reality. New Braunfels hung on a precipice of the hill country. Stephen was always just a bit outside the lines. He knew it. Amanda Cook stood watching as if surverying her territory things had changed beyond what she expected. Paulie looked surprised "You left the Catholic church?" Stephen replied "Yep." Paulie was even more surprised. Stephen taken aback was getting ready to explain why. Coach Bob saw the conflict starting and said "Lets not get into arguments about church"
Linda Martinez and her brother arrived together. Her presence made Stephen smile. Raul was already respected as a speed merchant. Linda was nice a stable presence she greeted Stephen she had been one of two freshwoman speed merchants. The girl’s team had become the source of glory for the squad with three seasons of claiming varsity glory. The team never seemed to have enough people and if they were willing to bust their butt, they would be welcomed in pirate cove. Her brother walked as if around an entourage. Dennis watched quietly but the vibe he sent was clear his laid-back persona kept score Stephen figured had taken on the role of the father of the team. Dennis did not like what he saw with Raul. Coach Bob could see the start of a team stabilization system. Stephen noticed and smiled as he read Dennis's critical pose. Thomas,Michael and Jorge showed up. Stephen knew the personalty from his Tejano roots. Coach Bob realized he had talent for once on the boy’s side to compete with the girls. Coach Bob introduced them as people that Stephen had not competed against they were from Jefferson and Roosevelt in San Antonio who wound up moving. Stephen nodded. In the presence of Dennis and Tom Stephen was already acknowledging their leadership of the team. Stephen was quiet and allowed others to dominate the conversation. Coach Bob noticed that Stephen had quickly reverted almost to the role of new kid. Stephen let Bo, Linda, and Dennis talk. He visibly allowed Dennis to lead along with Tom. That was a good sign. Amidst the talent, he realized the explosive potential unity was not going to be easy. Tara like her father was forceful but held in check by new kid syndrome. Coach Bob smiled the good signs were out number the bad signs so far.
Coach Bob gave a speech in it he mentioned in a couple weeks they would have a retreat at Bo’s parent’s house on one of the highland lakes. Leisha had gotten close to Stephen and with Julie watching she said the words "What about Kara being murdered?" Stephen winced as if someone slapped him on a sunburned back. Stephen's face had always been transparent the intensity of the emotion was visible to all. Shock grief and pain flashed instantly on Stephen King's transparent face. Tom realized what the source of the darkness was and looked at his friend "Sorry." Tara saw the reaction and realized how deep the murder had affected Stephen. Stephen was instantly trying to hold back a scream. The comment was blunt "At least Doug's, Karen’s and Rodd’s deaths made sense, Denton is not without guilt however" The tone was flat reflecting pain. Stephen had blamed his antics and the antics of the team for the death of Rodd August of 1991. Karen was a student who Od'd suicide the December of Stephen King's sophmore year. The remark revealed the extent Stephen had kept touch with New Braunfels high and to some extent was only gone in body. Stephen had held the bulk of New Braunfels high responsible that in included himself. Rodd had been Junior was the brain on the Academic Decathlon team that was searching for acceptance he never got. His tenure with the team had been brief and explosive. Rodd had gotten on the team's bad side and faced its brutal condescension. Rodd's brains were blown out before Rodd's senior year. Stephen King was right that the moral blame could have been shared by many at NBHS including his own cruel lips. Bo responded "Whoa Stephen!" A Volatile emotional core had been exposed. Stephen then said, "A suicide at least makes sense." It was now stretching time. It was a great time to change the subject.
Leisha briefly processed what she was seeing. Tara had gone to the other Jr high in Denton. Leisha was ironically feeling separated further from her hometown with the news. Tara and Stephen King were distinct they carried themselves exuding a degree almost of assuredness. As Stephen had been blunt Tara relaxed some. Leisha could see that her class from Denton had taken on a different personalty. Leisha had missed the move to Ryan campus and how only remnants of Strickland and Calhoun remained. The new high school had forged series of class identities that separated her from her past. Briefly the realization hit that she had more in common with Dennis and Amanda then she did with Tara or even Stephen King. She started processing it and was stunned. Her brother had told about it before he graduated that summer. She had not gone to Tara's Jr high but the two were not close. She had heard of Tara doing 160lbs on the stack bench freaking out everybody the two were only dimly aware of each other. It was the first time they met. The force of Tara's personalty while being held in check was visible to her as well. Tara did not want to dominate the team though everything Leisha knew about her said she could. That had surprised Leisha. Tara had cognition of the event of the shootings. Stephen was visibly altered by the event.
The stretching was informal and the team in many respects was feeling other Tom had slid into the role of leader. He, Special and Bo were offering a hand to Stephen inviting them into the circle. Dennis was glad to see Stephen but could almost see the change. Paul stretched on his own. Thomas and Michael were pushing. Raul had an attitude Bo quipped "freshman don't know it all.” Dennis opened his mouth “Yeah but we will teach them” the weight of his stare heavy on Raul. Stephen and Tara had complied with the pecking order and were stretching under Tom’s direction. The group was warmed up and as they started in the direction of Eden Home, the race began.
Across the field, they ran Raul taking the lead full of piss and vinegar. Bo, Paul, and Dennis took the challenge. Aero out of pride was soon in pursuit. Thomas Michael and joined the race. The testosterone was flowing. Stephen was focusing on a pace and had no use to drag race that early on though he had accelerated smoothly by the time they were crossing the band practice field black painted asphalt football field. Simply put he knew better. His long legs were soon at an appropriate stride length and pace as he adjusted them the way his father brought a Piper Comanche into climb mode. A 45 degree turn was made as the group went across the street called Ohio and made their way down it to California. The rain started coming down as they above Panther Canyon then the neighborhood on the other side.
(Ohio st just beyond NBHS photo Esteban Erik Stipnieks all rights reserved)
Stephens stride extended and it was like being with an old friend. Raul, Bo, and Paul were up front. Special was near Stephen and Tom was just ahead Amanda Cook. Coach Bob ran noticing what was happening. Stephen had increased in speed. He also carried a bit more meat on his upper body. The summer had been spent running. He had been a crew member at camp. Raul had natural talent Dennis was not about to let him take super star status if anything the uppity fish needed to be humiliated. Coach Bob knew that in some circles this would be an actual race. He had gotten his dream team he also was realizing the dream would be a best a hairs width away from a nightmare. He had processed Steven's arrival Coach Scott had briefed him right. Coach Bob looked at Stephen to see what kind of shape he was in. His thighs were slightly larger then the freshman he knew. The bad knee was marked by a larger quad above it an internal knee brace. From an exercise science, standpoint weight was not a virtue in distance running. The quad mass reinforced the knee but it also jacked up base metabolism and was additional mass to move. The group strung out What had been begun in earnest and running on top of each other was accepted custom as long as people could pull away at will. Coach Bob was watching the group as they ran traditions remained as they ran close together comfortably. This actually was good training for a race and it happened naturally. Stephen eased off just a hair as they turned down California. He knew better and he adjusted his pace to rate that would allow him to run the three without slowing down further. The rain felt good and the memories were sweeter. The gradual downhill was a point of stride extension. It was cooling as a part of the sensation of running it always had a bit of euphoric high. Each step a promise of hope and a call a romp down memory lane. As they went down that gradual downhill, he could see it the Kohler house. The Kohler house its fraternal twins a symbol of double standard of years before that had established itself like a cancer on the Unicorn. Leaders of institutions in Unicorn land were blind to it. Their antics had been twisted some by his sister for her own desire to play the hero and the victim. There were also elements of truth the story. Stephen did know it. Underage partying and drinking was the rule rather then exception and there were other antics that were common as Rio Grande Cichlids in some sections of Landa Lake.
Stephen hated the carnage that had resulted as a part of a double standard with a passion. He was far enough a head of Cook to do the turn he wanted he uttered "Going wide knee ease." She had been pissed off by his antics as a freshman passing her on 800s then losing his cojones and slowing her down. He had learned and was attempting to make an effort at getting along. The left turn was made. Stephen drifted a bit wide in doing so he eased stress on his knee. The straight away on Eden home while rolling was intimidating. The wide shoulder started out as asphalt then a large chunk of gravel finally grass to the Eden Home sign. Amanda had finally pulled away and Tara was behind him. Linda was beside Stephen then ahead. The work of the run continued. They crested a hill and were greeted by Bo, and Paulie continuing the tradition of encouragement to teammates as they began the return leg high fives and brief words of encouragement. Another daytime heating shower dying in the fading sun had drifted over the runners. The rain had weakened the grip of the raw heat. Stephen made note to look for the remnants of 1990's dead Armadillo it was gone they made the circle and were back. The dead armadillo that had emblazoned itself on the Team T-shirt was gone. The rain kept coming down now it was time to accelerate as they went up hill. Coach Bob barked "Way to go Stephen catch her if you can!" Stephen sped up trying to close the gap knowing he was going to push things. The gap started disappearing on the hill. The hill then down slowly reeling in feet per minute closure yards away passed the Kohler house again up California. The minute it was in view only showed it as a place marker a reminder of where they were in the run. As the turn on Ohio was made though the fire was burning in his legs, close enough. "On the turning Away" roared through Stephen's head and in his heart to Rodd and Erin he called their deaths would not be in vain. Position in the team was dependent on speed and with position came ability to set an agenda. Finally 10 yards out of Panther Canyon frontage he made the pass. He was hurting but as he crossed into the parking he extended his stride and increased his rate the final bit it would go. He was closing on Tom. Tom greeted him as they made to the football field of Unicorn Stadium.
Coach Bob was behind him. Tom smiled seeing dedication. The large barrel of Exceed was ready with large cups. It had been kept dry in the pouring rain. Stephen filled up and drank a cup. Coach Bob arrived. The crew was in the mat room of the field house drinking slowly cooling off. The warm down was stabilized as the team walked and talked in the mat room. Special was surprised. The team was tired it was a start. Stephen was about to leave he looked at Coach Bob knee rehab tomorrow. Coach Bob had been researching things so he looked at his crew "Side stitches come from when your abdominals are not in proper condition so we will start dong crunches and you do use upper body when you climb hills so we are going to start off with five push ups. They all placed their feet against the wall of the field house and cranked out 10 crunches and the 5 pushups. Coach Bob made it clear he would add more.
Kimber Wilkins her father was now a coach at Judson recognized Tara West. Tara's dad had replaced him. Kimber had processed Stephen's arrival. It was all kind of making sense. Kimber introduced herself to Tara. Her dad was commuting from New Braunfels. Tara was surprised by Kimber's friendliness she quickly figured out that Kimber was a sister. Kimber recognized a relative by the blood of Christ in Tara that was in awkward position. Kimber almost knew Stephen's intellect was in working order and he was passionate about stuff that irritated her and possibly, in him there answers to problems she recognized. Between Tara and Kimber and an alliance was made within then team. The maturity of Kimber and the mutual recognition of faith and purpose would effect the team that year in radical ways. The coach's daughter society was alive and well. Kimber in her own way had made a decision that would propel the team to greatness.
Coach Bob drove home pondering what he had seen. Lots of talent on both sides of the team he was tired from running those three miles. There were some behind Stephen but they were not that far behind and the watch he wore told the story everybody had run the three miles in under 28 minutes not a bad starting point. He got near River Road and turned right. His wife and two kids greeted him. The shower was hot and refreshing. The question was asked what he thought, "I am excited and I am scared." He knew he would have to mow in a couple days.
Stephen made it home his knee was hurting. The right knee was swelling as Stephen grabbed for a couple Advil. That night he prayed. As he slept microns by microns, the fetal tissue that never dissolved was shrunk. The deformed left kneecap lacking a V shape became a bit more V shaped. The changes were supernatural. The knee would take some Advil but for the season Stephen was aligned with purposes beyond him, it would not balloon for several months. The knee would be the subject to a miracle. Stephen was in submission to the one whose presence his friend was spending with eternity with. Stephen was not on the team to be served but rather to serve.
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