Two weeks later the long-awaited letter arrived. One week earlier, the Ozark College Rams had put up a brave fight against the Running Rebels, but the better team won. The Ozark Times-Mirror headline stated, “RAMS NEED NOT BE ASHAMED.” In what seemed like four lightning quick quarters, Michael’s football career ended.
Abby was different. For the past two weeks she’d been subdued and withdrawn. Michael, of course, knew the reason, but he wouldn’t budge. Abby was putting the same, not so subtle pressure on him to mold himself to her plans like everyone else in his life. He would play her game, but he would not cave in.
In a short period of time he would have to break the news of his plans to her—to everyone. He owed her that much, as difficult as that would be. He didn’t want to end their relationship, but he couldn’t see a wedding ceremony within the next couple of years as she probably expected.
Maybe she would end it. That would be harsh, but Michael had to be practical about it. It would take him a minimum of three years to complete law school, in New York of all places. He planned to live on tuna fish for most of that time, so frequent trips to Ozark Falls were out of the picture.
Ditto for Abby’s visits to New York City. Abby didn’t have that kind of money and their families would frown upon any unsupervised visits before marriage. Then of course, there was Abby. She already felt like an old maid at twenty for crying out loud. Before long, he was sure that Abby would be in search of another champion.
He didn’t like the thought of their relationship splintering and eventually deteriorating, but he couldn’t see the alternatives. He was sure that he loved her. But Abby was not enough to keep him in Ozark Falls.
On the day the Knight household received the official letter, Kathryn heard Michael come through the front door and beckoned him into the kitchen. She pointed at a stack of letters on the counter and said, “I think something you’ve been waiting for is over there.”
Michael ran over and grabbed the envelope. He tore it open. He was in. He was accepted at NYU Law School. The letter also said there was financial aid available.
Michael looked up at Kathryn, speechless. His face confirmed what she’d intuitively known for months. He would be leaving soon. Tears welled-up in her eyes; both for joy to see her boy get what he wanted so badly for so long, and for the sadness of eventually seeing him go.
Over the last year, as Michael confided his feelings about his future to her, she’d also allowed herself the occasional drift into the fantasy world. There Michael would wake up one day with a desire to attend First Baptist Bible Institute, and to become the youth pastor for David’s church. He and Abby would be married soon and she would help out with the grandkids.
Of course, any such possibility was now out of the window. She had to prepare herself to give Michael full emotional support and backing. This wasn’t going to be easy for him. He was big, strong and mature, but he was still so young. She ran over to him and hugged him tightly.
“This is such a wonderful opportunity for you Michael. I know that you will be successful at whatever you put your mind to. God has given you a brilliant head, and even a bigger heart.”
Michael hugged her back. “Thanks Mom,” was all he could say. But those words said it all. Kathryn was the only person he knew who didn’t want to push him in one direction or the other. She was the only one who seemed to want what was best for him and not for her.
Even Todd hadn’t understood his desire to leave town and make a bigger life for himself. As far as Todd was concerned, he would help his parents expand the restaurant business and then he would take over. He would marry some local gal and settle down nearby. To Todd, New York was like a foreign planet. His only concern seemed to be Michael’s sanity in jeopardizing his relationship with the hottest girl in Ozark Falls.
Michael looked Kathryn in the eye. She knew the question before he asked it. “Why don’t you let me talk to him, honey,” she said.
He hugged her again. He would eventually talk to Jeremiah, but he really needed someone to break the ice. In the meantime, he would have to have the conversation with Abby. That would be tough.
He went up to his room and called Abby. She picked up the telephone, still feeling hurt, but glad as always to hear his voice.
“Hey babe,” Michael said.
“Hey, what’s up? What’s it been, an hour? Can’t get enough of me, can you?”
“Never. Can I come by for a few minutes?”
“Sure. What you got?”
“Tell you when I get there.”
Michael ran out of the house in a blur. He jumped into Harriet and started the truck. He hadn’t taken the time to gather his thoughts. He’d rehearsed this conversation in his mind many times. He couldn’t remember the words at the moment. In life, as in football, sometimes you’ve got to wing it he thought, and then threw the old truck into first gear.
When Michael arrived at Abby’s house, Lincoln Snow was in the front yard, examining something beneath the living room window.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Snow.”
“Hey, Michael,” Snow said, still intent on his project. “You may want to go through the side gate. Abby’s out back with the dogs.”
“Thanks,” he replied, and went in search of his girlfriend.
Deborah Snow was an amateur dog breeder and Abby was her de facto assistant. As he came around the side of the house he could see Abby standing beside the huge oak tree in the middle of the yard. She had on faded jeans, a soft brown turtleneck and a tan thick corduroy jacket. Her strawberry blond hair was drawn in a ponytail. She looked absolutely beautiful. She could have been the poster child for America’s Girl Next Door. She seemed to be studying a chart of some kind. He stole up beside her.
“What’s up doc?”
“Hey, you scared me,” she said.
Michael looked around quickly and gave her a quick peck on the lips. I’m going to miss that, he thought. Abby took his hand and led him toward the fence separating her parent’s property from the neighbors.
“Alright, Knight, spill your guts.”
Michael looked into her soft brown eyes. Maybe Todd was right. Abby would be married soon. He really needed his head examined. There was no easy way to say it.
“I’ve been accepted to New York University Law School.”
Abby’s face registered total bewilderment. “New York?” was all she could manage to say.
“I’ve wanted to talk to you about it for a long time . . .”
Abby looked at some trees in her neighbor’s yard. Deep inside she’d known her dad was right. She was wasting time with Michael.
“New York?” she managed to say again.
“I didn’t say New Zealand,” Michael wanted to say. Instead, he reached out to take her hand. “I love you, Abby. I’ll wait for you.”
Abby looked back at him through teary eyes. She threw her arms around his neck.
“Oh Michael, I love you too . . . please don’t go.”
Now he wanted to cry. Maybe he shouldn’t go after all, he thought. He didn’t think he could handle much more of this. He stepped back and held her face in his hands.
“We can make it Abby. We’ll have the summers. It may take a little longer for us, but this is what is inside my heart. You won’t want the man I’ll become if I don’t take this chance.”
Michael’s words hit like a hammer. She knew they were true. She’d only been trying not to hear them all along. She looked into his eyes. He was right. If she loved him, she would have to let him go. If she loved him, she would have to trust. She’d taught this a hundred times in Sunday School.
“Trust in the Lord With all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding” the Bible said. Why was this so hard to apply to your own life?
She hugged Michael again. In a strange way she was relieved that they’d finally had the conversation. She felt like the last wall between them was now removed. What the hay? They would have a few wonderful months before he left. She would go with him and help him settle in.
She wiped her eyes and smiled. “It’s alright babe. You’re still my champion.”
Michael smiled from ear-to-ear. This woman was definitely a keeper. They walked hand-in-hand to the house and said goodbyes. She stood on her front lawn and watched as Harriet chugged her way down her street. The reality of his leaving hit her hard again. She held back tears.
Lincoln Snow was in the garage foraging through an old cabinet. Abby walked in and said, “Hey Dad, you think we can end the silly argument?”
“Yeah, I think I can handle that. I’m so sorry Abby. My comment was—”
“It’s alright Dad. Your thoughts were not that far from the mark.”
Lincoln looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“Michael is going to be attending New York University Law School in the fall.”
“New York?” he repeated.
For Lincoln Snow, a third generation plumber who had never been further away than Wichita, Kansas, Abby might as well have said that Michael was going to Sodom & Gomorrah University. He’d never known of anyone who had voluntarily gone to New York. In his mind, New York City, not money, was the root of all evil. More importantly, where would they find Abby a husband at this late date?
Lincoln didn’t know what further to say. Abby kissed him on the cheek and went into the house. It looked like she was taking the news fairly well. He wondered what the Reverend thought about this New York business. There was no way he’d approve of it. Lincoln went back to his messy cabinet. He would definitely have to discuss it with Jeremiah prior to the deacons’ meeting that evening.