(It's not easy being a sports celebrity.)
Beyond the passenger window, the palm scrub ended abruptly and the Atlantic opened like a vast, blue-green desert. Charlie took his eyes off the road long enough to watch a pair of pelicans gliding above the surface of the ocean, side by side. They hovered against the wind for a moment; then one of them dove straight into the water, creating a splash of white foam that vanished before the bird broke the surface again. Was it holding a fish in its beak? He couldn't tell. The other pelican kept flying, without looking back.
My car, Charlie thought as he sailed north on A1A, is my best friend in the world.
This was immediately followed by the thought How pathetic is that?
Still, if you had to have a car for a best friend, you could do worse. Charlie's was a bright red 1974 Volkswagen Bug, built fifteen years before he was even born, and it was in prime condition. Bone leather interior, whitewall tires, and a shiny chrome bumper he kept polished so that the sun glinted off of it. Best of all was the fact that he'd bought the car himself with the money he'd saved up over the past two summers. All those hours in the heat, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes while he brushed primer and paint onto other people's houses, had actually amounted to something. He'd spent almost everything he had on the car, and it felt like a reward—not just for working so hard, but for getting through what he hoped was the worst year of his life.
He pictured himself telling this to Bob Costas on HBO: You know, I was in a low spot when I was fifteen. My mom had just died, and that was rough, really rough. And I thought, I've got to do something, I've got to get focused or I'll go crazy. So I became obsessed with the idea of saving up for a car. I worked hard, saved my money; and a year later, I was sitting behind the wheel.
The interview would move from there to the humongous contract he'd just signed with the Miami Heat.
For now, he felt—and looked—like anything but a pro basketball star. There were paint smears on his T-shirt. His hands stank of linseed oil, and his fingernails were encrusted with glazing compound. His dark hair, he saw when he glanced at himself in the rearview mirror, was sticking up in sweat-glued spikes. He'd been working on the Danforth house since nine o'clock that morning, and his workday was finally over. He ran a grimy finger around the dial on the radio, found a song he liked, and turned it up.
It's not easy being a sports celebrity, he'd tell Costas. There's a lot of pressure that comes with a multimillion-dollar contract. Sometimes I wish I could just go back to being that simple guy driving his VW around St. Augustine, not a care in the world.
As if he didn't have cares. He had plenty. In fact, he was up to his neck in them.
Near the outskirts of town, he came up on the first wave of motels and souvenir shops and tourist traps—places he hardly noticed, being a local. Today, though, he noticed Gatorland because a girl was coming out of the front door, and she was fine. She had strawberry-blond hair and wore a tight yellow shirt and a pair of shorts cut so high, it was practically a bathing-suit bottom. Her legs weren't very tan—she was probably a tourist. Which would make sense, because why else would she be holding a bag from the Gatorland gift shop? They sold nothing but Florida junk in there. Alligator back scratchers. Plastic banks shaped like space shuttles. He imagined pulling up in front of the shop and offering her a personal tour of the town, Charlie Perrin style. What's Charlie Perrin style? she'd ask. And he'd say, It's what you're going to be telling your friends about back in . . . wherever you're from.
A horn blared behind him. He jumped in his seat, then realized he'd slowed down to almost twenty miles an hour. As he accelerated, a blue SUV swung up alongside him. "Learn to drive, asshole!" the man shouted.
Go to hell, Charlie wanted to shout back, and thought about flipping the guy off. Why did people have to be so damn rude? Was it a crime to slow down and check out a girl? Well, sort of. Charlie had no business checking her out, because he already had a great girlfriend—Kate Bryant. Besides, what did he know about seduction? He'd never actually done it with anyone. Though he'd come close with Kate. In fact, he had a feeling it might be happening before the end of the summer.
Still, the truth was that he was about as close to being a world-class ladies' man as he was to being a pro basketball star.
But you've got yourself one great set of wheels.
Another horn blared from behind him, this time because he hadn't floored it the instant a traffic light turned green. A few moments later, as he was about to ease into a parking space in front of the Publix grocery store, a rusty green Buick cut right in front of him and stole the spot. He cursed under his breath and ended up driving to the back of the lot before he was able to park the car. Was it him, or were most people just . . . impossible? Sometimes he thought the best plan was to get rich really fast and then buy an island, build a house on it, and issue special passes, maybe one a year, to girls who wanted to come and visit. He'd written a composition about that very idea for Mr. Metcalf's philosophy class last year, and after reading it, Mr. Metcalf . . .Saints of Augustine. Copyright © by P. Ryan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Saints of Augustine by P E Ryan
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