The Young Wives Club
“COULD YOUR LIFE be any more perfect?” the short brunette squealed, hugging Laura Landry. They’d run into each other while waiting in line for hot dogs during halftime at Tiger Stadium, where they’d briefly caught up on the last few months of their lives—in between an ongoing debate about whether they should be bad and get the chili.
Laura felt terrible, but she couldn’t for the life of her remember the girl’s name, even though they’d spent all of last year’s gym class complaining to each other about running laps in the humid Louisiana weather. Perhaps it was because Laura had other, more important things to pay attention to back then, like when Brian’s papers were due (she wrote them for him) and how he liked his locker decorated for game days (school colors, but not too over-the-top).
“We miss you at school, but you definitely did the right thing. I mean, Brian’s doing awesome out there! He’s gonna win this one for sure.” The brunette squeezed Laura’s arm encouragingly.
Laura smiled. She knew her husband was amazingly talented—it was why she’d dropped out of school after her junior year and married him, following him to LSU—but it was still reassuring to hear other people say it. “Still half the game to go, don’t jinx it!” she teased, but secretly she knew Brian would pull off the win.
It was LSU’s second home game of the year, playing rival Ole
Miss. Because Brian was a freshman, his coach had been hesitant to start him when they played Auburn, only putting him in at the end of the third quarter. But Brian hadn’t been recruited on a full scholarship for nothing: two touchdowns and zero interceptions later, Coach Perkins had decided Brian deserved to start the next game. At the rate he was going today, he’d be starting every game, for years to come, until two decades from now when he’d retire from the NFL (just like his uncle Bradley, a football legend who was a commentator on ESPN, and the most famous person—make that the only famous person—to come out of Toulouse). And of course Laura would be by his side through it all.
After saying a quick good-bye, Laura made her way back to Brian’s parents, Rob and Janet, in the stands. Rob had made up his own chant for the tenth time that day: “Cracklins, boudin, crawfish pie . . . come on, Tigers, kick it high!” The sea of purple and gold around them cheered. To her left stood a line of beefy frat boys with floppy hair and backward baseball hats, the letters GEAUX TIG S spelled out on their shirtless chests. The E and the R were nowhere to be seen, perhaps a casualty of heavy tailgating.
“Can’t believe all of this is for my baby,” Janet said, fidgeting with her purple and gold Mardi Gras beads. She then let out a roaring “Who dat!” For such a tiny little woman, it was always a mystery where Janet’s booming voice came from.
Laura took a bite of her hot dog and glanced around the stadium, taking it all in—the manicured field edged with ESPN cameras, the coiffed cheerleaders stretching on the sidelines, the deafening roar of nearly a hundred thousand people. It was a far cry from the tiny field with rusted bleachers she grew up with eighty miles away. But this was it. She always knew she belonged in a place like this; it was in her blood. Her mom was originally from Dallas, and as soon as Laura married and moved out of town, her parents had hightailed it to Arlington, Texas, bought a condo, and never looked back. No one in Laura’s family had visited tiny Toulouse in the months since. They weren’t meant to be small-town people.
The crowd roared as halftime ended and the players returned to the field. But Laura had eyes for only one of them. She zeroed in on number seven, enjoying how cute Brian’s butt looked in his spandex, how powerful he seemed as he arranged his players around him. She smiled, appreciating her man. She took a quick picture of the field and posted it on Instagram, tagging it with #blessed and #luckygirl. She still couldn’t believe she was really here, that this was really her life. It had all started on a seemingly ordinary day less than six months ago. . . .
On a scorching spring afternoon right before prom, she and Brian lay sprawled on his dad’s fishing boat in the middle of Darby Lake. They had just rubbed each other down with baby oil, and every page she flipped in her Cosmo was sticky from her fingers.
Brian shifted his body into hers and gently grabbed the magazine out of her hands. “There ain’t nothing you can learn from that article that you don’t already know,” he said, grinning.
Laura lowered her cat-eye sunglasses and blushed.
“But you sure as hell can practice,” he said, glancing down at his swim trunks.
Laura grinned and looked around the lake to see if anyone was nearby, but all she spotted were a few birds pecking around in the water. As she hovered over him in between kisses, she caught her reflection in his Oakleys. She liked the girl she saw—the girl he made her feel like when she was with him. Hot. Fun. Loved. Their lips touched and she slipped her tongue into his mouth. He pulled her closer and kissed her harder. And then he grabbed her hand and guided it down his shorts. As she explored him, she felt something hard, round, and . . . metal?
“What’s this?” Laura asked as she extracted a dainty diamond ring, tied to a string inside his trunks. Brian just sat there, his head propped up on his strong arm. “Brian Hunter Landry. What the hell is this?” Laura’s stomach filled with butterflies. His smile only grew deeper. “Is this for me?”
“No, it’s for my other beautiful girlfriend . . .” he teased. “Yeah,
it’s for you.” He sat up and pulled her in close. “Laura Lynn Hargrave, will you marry me?”
Her heart, already pounding hard, stopped in her chest, and she started to cry. “Um, you better get your ass down on one knee.” She laughed through the tears. “I’m already gonna have to edit out parts of this proposal when we tell people, so you sure as hell better do some of it the right way.”
“You’re really gonna make me do this, huh?” he said, taking off his purple baseball cap and lowering his two-hundred-pound body into a kneel on the floor of the boat.
Laura nodded, wiping away the tears. She’d fantasized about him proposing to her ever since he gave her a heart-shaped promise ring on her Sweet Sixteen, but the moment still took her by surprise. She’d imagined everything would feel like it was happening in slow motion, but in fact it was the opposite: it was all going way too fast. Her head spun as he placed the ring on her finger.
“Time to celebrate!” Brian had shouted, grabbing his new fiancée’s bare waist with one hand while untying her hot pink string bikini top with the other.
“GET ’ER DONE!” Her father-in-law’s loud chant, resounding in her ear, brought Laura back to reality.
The second half of the game was starting, and Brian and his team went swiftly into action. He swung out to the right on a quarterback sweep, and she watched him react quickly as a line of blockers formed in front of him. He collided with a mammoth defensive lineman, but there was no way for him to prepare for the safety coming in low from his blind side, plowing into his left knee. Brian flailed through the air, landing hard on the ground as the crowd collectively gasped.
“Brian!” Laura screamed, standing up quickly on weak legs. She had seen him get hit plenty of times on the field, but never so violently.
“My baby!” Janet cried out at the same time.
They watched as a trainer rushed to the field and kneeled down next to Brian, who was still lying on the ground, his face twisted in pain. After a few minutes, the trainer waved over another player and
they propped Brian up between them, slowly helping him rise to his feet. Even from a distance, it was obvious: Brian couldn’t put any weight on his knee.
Laura watched in horror as her future limped to the sideline, disappearing off into the distance, amid a smattering of shell-shocked applause.
• • •
“HOW ARE YOU still so sexy even when you’re lying in a hospital bed?” Laura whispered into Brian’s ear. It wasn’t entirely the truth. After two days in the hospital, he still hadn’t showered, and his blond hair was curly with dried-up sweat and grease. But at this point, she’d say anything to make him smile. She put her hands delicately on his cheeks, feeling the roughness of his stubble. “You feeling okay, baby?”
Brian just sat there, staring intently at the old TV mounted on the wall. Laura resisted the urge to walk over and turn it off. Whenever SportsCenter was on, she might as well be wearing a cloak of invisibility.
“Do you need any more painkillers?” she prompted, feeling as though his pain was hers.
“Dammit, Laura—I don’t need any more painkillers!” Brian snapped, finally taking his eyes off of the screen. “I need my knee to work again.” His eyes lowered for a moment before returning to the TV.
Her stomach twisted at his tone of voice, but she reminded herself that he was upset at the situation, not her. “It will. I’m sure you’ll play again in no time,” she said soothingly, even though she couldn’t get the hushed words the doctors had used in the hallway out of her brain: “He’ll be lucky to walk after this.”
Brian glanced up at the ceiling, looking almost as if he was going to cry. She had never seen him shed a tear, even on their wedding day when she was bawling, the mascara running down her cheeks.
“What did the coach say?” she asked. A few of the coaches and trainers had come by to check on Brian earlier that day, along with
some of his teammates.
“Nothing much,” he said in a flat tone. “He says they’ll honor my scholarship, but I don’t know what the point is if I can’t play.”
“It’s so great they’re supporting you,” she said brightly.
He didn’t answer. She could tell he wanted to be alone, and for some reason that made her sadder than the thought of him in pain. “I’m just gonna leave you right here for a minute,” Laura said, forcing a smile and turning toward the door. As soon as she walked out of the room, a flood of tears streamed from her eyes, tears she didn’t want Brian to see. She had to be strong for him. That was something she had learned from her mom—she was her dad’s rock, and Laura always wanted to emulate that in her own marriage.
Making her way into the dimly lit hospital cafeteria, she spotted Rob and Janet tucked into a table in the corner. “Mind if I join y’all?”
Rob was eating a ham and cheese sandwich that looked almost as sad as his mood. Janet was knitting, her go-to stress relief. Sophomore year, when Brian was learning to drive—and showing reckless abandon around stop signs—Janet would sit in the passenger seat, knitting furiously so she didn’t have to look at the road. Needless to say, everyone got scarves that year for Christmas.
“Oh, Laura, this ain’t good. This ain’t good.” Rob cleared his throat. The noise echoed throughout the quiet room.
“It’ll be fine,” Laura said adamantly, leaning back in the uncomfortable metal seat. “He’ll be fine.”
“I know my baby,” Janet said, looking up from the pile of blue yarn in her lap. “You tell him he can’t play football, and all hell’s gonna break loose.” She frowned and then went back to knitting.
“He’ll play again,” Laura said firmly, picking up one of their used napkins and shredding it into tiny pieces. “He will.”
She wasn’t sure who she was trying to convince.