Caleb Knight just wants to be the new high school football coach of the Deep Haven Huskies. After all, he not only played college ball, but he also spent years teaching young men how to play the game.
Until he went to Iraq.
Until he lost his leg.
What if you had a secret that you knew might make others see you as less? Would you hide it? Journey with Caleb as he discovers the strength to reveal his weaknesses…and teaches the girl next door just what it means to let perfect love cast out fears.
Meet Caleb….From My Foolish Heart!
Caleb Knight had been in Deep Haven less than three hours and God had given him his first opportunity to be a hero.
“How many people in there?” The petroleum odor of the asphalt poured through him as he laid his cheek against the soggy ground, peering into the overturned Caravan. The driver hung upside down, his belt securing him. A laceration separated his eyebrow, dripping blood into his scalp, his skin white and pasty. He opened his mouth, but nothing emerged.
Already the rain plastered Caleb’s T-shirt to his body, his jeans turning to paste, stiffening his movements. Good thing he’d finished moving in the last of his boxes and fallen asleep fully clothed in a heap on the sofa or he’d never have reached the accident so fast.
But that crash, practically right outside his front door, could have woken the dead. “Sir, look at me. Who else is with you?” Getting the victim talking and focused aided in preventing shock.
“My wife . . . my . . .”
Good, the man could speak. Shining his flashlight, Caleb located a woman, unconscious—at least he hoped just unconscious—hanging upside down and bleeding from a wound in her scalp. In the seat behind her hung a toddler still strapped in her car seat. He guessed the child at about three years old and when he flicked his light over her, she jerked, then screamed.
The passenger in the front—probably the father—came to life. He clawed at his belt. “Jamie!”
Caleb grabbed his hand. “I’ll get her! Let’s get you free.” Glass glittered in the frame of the door like teeth, and Caleb shucked off his shirt, wrapped it around his hand, and broke the shards free before he reached in past the man, searching for his belt buckle. “Put your arms around me—I’ll try to catch you, but brace yourself.” He unlatched the buckle. The man slumped against him. Caleb hooked his hands around his shoulders and backed out, pulling the man with him.
Thank You, God—he didn’t fall.
The toddler’s screams tore at Caleb as he hobbled away, the man’s arm latched over his shoulder.
“My daughter—my wife!”
“I’ll get them. Stay here.”
He set the man on the curb, glanced down the darkened road, dead and eerie this time of night. Where were the police? Across the street, the other car had begun to flame. He ran over to it, found the driver—a young man the size of a has-been linebacker who reeked like he’d taken the pub home with him—slumped at the wheel. Caleb pressed his finger to his carotid artery but found no pulse.
The flames flickered under the hood, stabbing out like blades around the edges. He tried the door once. It wouldn’t move and he left it.
Where was the fire department?
The rain slickened the pavement, more so for him, but he scrambled back to the Caravan and climbed around to the passenger side. He’d done a few vehicle extractions while in Iraq, but then he’d had tools, of course. He leaned in but the woman’s girth wouldn’t allow him access. He slid his hand across her belly, trying to find the buckle and—
Pregnant. The woman was pregnant. Oh, God, please—
Behind them, the toddler’s frantic howls ate at him. “C’mon!” He stifled a word, even as he tried once more to reach the woman’s belt. When he yanked his arm back, his hand came away wet, sticky.
Caleb pressed his fingers to the woman’s carotid artery. Yes, a pulse. For now. “Ma’am, wake up.”
“It’s on fire—the van’s fire!” The voice of the panicked father raked him out of the passenger window. The gasoline from the other car bled a lethal trail to the Caravan and eye-biting smoke blew into the window on the driver’s side.
Caleb climbed over to the back passenger door, fought with it. Nothing. He put his weight into it. They’d need jaws . . .
The child’s cries turned hysterical and galvanized him. He turned his back to the van, then, with everything inside him, put his elbow through the window.
It shattered, pain spiking up his arm. But he whirled around, sliding over the glass. Flames had already begun to devour the seats, the ceiling fabric, churning acrid smoke into the cab. The toddler thrashed in her seat. He unlatched the first thing he saw—the buckle holding the seat. Catching the car seat, he dragged it out behind him, the toddler still strapped inside.
The father struggled to his feet, and Caleb practically shoved the child into his arms. “Get back!”
“My wife—she’s pregnant—”
Now—finally—sirens. Only the man’s wife didn’t have time, not with the flames now moving across the ceiling.
God, please don’t let her burn! Caleb dove inside again, this time shoving himself against the woman, fighting for a handhold on the buckle. He touched it. It sizzled on his skin, but he depressed it.
The woman fell hard against him, He backed out of the window, grabbed her shoulders. He needed more leverage. He would have braced his foot against the vehicle, but of course, he couldn’t do that—not and keep his balance.
You have to get used to the fact that you can’t do the things you used to.
Collin’s voice in his brain only strengthened Caleb’s grip on the woman. He pulled her through the window, but her belly scraped against the frame, imprisoning her.
She roused fast, hard, her eyes on his. “I’m burning—I’m burning!”
No, he wouldn’t go there.
He found his medic’s tone, the one he’d honed in Iraq. “I’ll get you out.” Preserve life in the living. Yes, that voice he’d listen to.
A fire engine pulled up, firefighters swarming into the scene.
She gripped his upper arms, her eyes wide. “Don’t leave me—pull me out! Pull me out!”
He forced her body through the window even as she screamed.
Then water. He heard it more than felt it, the rush killing the fire, spitting into the Caravan, drenching him as he slipped, hit the ground.
He nearly cried out as his knee twisted. He struggled to push the woman away, wrenching his leg even more out of whack.
“We have survivors over here—”
He pushed up, lifting himself onto his good knee. Turned to the woman.
An EMT knelt beside her, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. “We need a stretcher over here!” She glanced at Caleb, at the way he held himself, probably at the angry rumpled skin up his rib cage, his arm and shoulder. “Where are you injured, sir?”
He didn’t even know where to begin to answer, but that wasn’t really her question. “I wasn’t in the accident. I’m fine.”
Confusion swept across her face; then she turned away, gesturing at two firemen who appeared with a litter to carry the woman to the curb.
Caleb made it to his feet and followed them, limping.
The EMT gave him another stray glance. “You sure you’re okay, sir?”
“What took you guys so long?” Behind him, water had killed the fire, the generator for the jaws of life growling into the night as it gnawed open the door of the dead driver.
She frowned at him. “We’re volunteers. Seven minutes isn’t a terrible response time, considering that most of us were in our pajamas. You got a complaint, talk to the chief.”
She gestured to a firefighter, the one with the black hat, and Caleb took a breath, hobbled over to the man. One look told him that volunteer was the operative word. Paunchy, with a day’s beard growth and tired eyes, the man looked like someone had dragged him out of his feather bed where he’d been hibernating.
He glanced at Caleb. “You okay, sir?”
“No, I’m not—I want to know why it took you guys seven minutes to get here.”
The man pursed his lips and turned away to supervise the removal of the other victim. “Joe, what do you see?”
The firefighter turned, appearing undone by the accident. “It’s Zach Miller.” He shook his head.
What looked like real pain flashed across the chief’s face. He turned back to Caleb. “Are you new in town?”
His question swiped the anger from Caleb. “Uh . . . yeah. I’m the new football coach. Just got here tonight.”
The chief stared at him, his eyes narrowing for a second. “Then you should probably know that kid in the car was one of the best defensive tackles in the state a couple years back. And now all his parents and the town are going to remember about him is that he died nearly killing three people.”
Caleb had no words for that.
An officer wearing a rain slicker sidled up to them. “Pastor, you want me to talk to the parents?”
The chief shook his head. “I know Marci and Pete. I’ll tell them.”
Pastor? Caleb gave the man a long look. He could appreciate a preacher who ministered with action as well as words.
Caleb turned, watching the EMTs trundle the woman, now sedated, into the ambulance, the lights splashing red and yellow light across the nightmare. “I’m sorry about the kid.” He didn’t look at the pastor.
“I hate this intersection. In the winter, or whenever it rains, that hill becomes a sheet of ice. It’s killed more people than I want to think about.” The chief blew out a breath. “Listen—you probably saved three lives tonight. But if you have a complaint, feel free to get involved. Come down to the station, join the crew.” He took off his glove, held out his hand. “Dan Matthews.”
Caleb met his grip, nonplussed by the chief’s offer. Maybe the darkness hid him more than he suspected. “Caleb Knight.”
“Nice to meet you, Coach.”
Coach. Yes, that had a ring to it Caleb craved. “I would love to, but . . . ” That part of his life was over, despite his desire to save lives, invest in people. “I don’t think so.”
“Shame. We could use someone with your instincts.”
Caleb backed away, to the curb.
The blonde EMT shut the back of the rig. “You should get that leg looked at.”
Yeah, he should do that.
But, frankly, he spent way too much time looking at his leg. Or perhaps trying not to. That was the battle, wasn’t it?
The rain began to slack as he limped home. He hadn’t realized how smack in the center of town he lived—on the corner a half-block up the hill from the highway intersection, with a view of the lake, and within walking distance to the library, grocery store, gas station, and coffee shop. And, on the other side of the highway, a quaint downtown that overlooked Lake Superior.
Maybe here he could find a new life. A fresh start. A place where people saw Caleb Knight, not his scars.
The porch light sprayed out over the backyard of the house next door, although the lights upstairs had flicked off since he’d moved the last box in.
Maybe the neighbor, too, had voices in his head that kept him thrashing away the night hours.
Your life is different now, but you’ll get used to it.
There’s no shame.
You’re a hero for your country.
Your disability can be a good thing, if you let it.
Sure it could. Although it had opened his eyes to God’s grace, to second chances, and set his eyes on being the man he should have been. The man he would be.
But it didn’t make it any easier to sleep. Not when the sounds and smells of the desert, the taste of fear and his own tinny blood, could crawl back to haunt him. Hence his addiction to late-night talk shows. They filed his brain with sounds that couldn’t hurt.
Hopefully he could get an Internet connection, pick up The Bean.
Caleb steadied himself on the porch rail as he climbed the steps. He stopped to rest, to breathe deep. He had to get inside before someone saw him.
Then again, it had to be after midnight Who would see the new football coach limping to his house?
He opened his door.
Closing it, he braced himself on the side table. Ten more steps. He could do ten more steps.
No . . . he couldn’t, not with the heat in his leg nearly making him howl. He turned around, leaned his back against the door, and collapsed to the floor. Fighting with his cuff, he tried to pull up his pants leg. Shoot, he couldn’t get at it . . .
So he unbuckled his belt and peeled down his jeans. Then, with hands that shook, he reached down and rolled off the elastic sock that connected his transtibial amputation to his artificial leg.
(excerpted with permission, Susan May Warren, My Foolish Heart)