The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. Mark Twain

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Shades of Gray: Chapter Sixteen

The plot proverbially thickens.


            The festivity in the Wolves’ locker room was raucous and wild.  The win over Warlick had catapulted Stockbridge into the state title game for the first time in eleven years, and set up a rematch with Northport, who had beaten Dunbar Academy the night before in the other semifinal.  Loud party music filled the room, and half-dressed teenagers high-fived and chest-bumped, yelling and cheering.  Once again Bobby Craig was the conquering hero, and he held court in his usual corner like a young Unitas.
            When the celebration grew unnaturally still it happened in a rolling wave, young men suddenly clutching towels to their groins in stunned silence.  They parted before the slight figure penetrating their midst, the clicking of her heels on the wet tile the only remaining sound.  She was young, perhaps twenty-eight, but light-years beyond the experience of the boys ogling her.  Compared to the girls they were used to coaxing to second base, this was a woman the likes of which they only knew from magazines or the wonders of the internet.  Adolescent eyes bulged from their sockets as she passed, tight gray pants clinging to her sculpted backside, jacket open over a white blouse that covered high, perfect breasts.  Her face was tanned and flawless, and her long, full hair cascaded behind her like a black waterfall.  She paused in the middle of a sea of teenage testosterone, already at peak arousal from their victory short minutes before.  Standing with her hips angled, she smiled, a bright flash of blinding white.
            “Where can I find Coach Gray?” she asked in a gravelly, nightclub jazz-singer voice.
            “Over here.”  Curious about the sudden silence in the locker room, Ted had emerged and was standing in the threshold of his office, Bill Pope and Terry McAllister behind him.  His assistants were only doing a marginally better job at hiding their ogling than were their players.
            “Hello, Maria,” Ted said, his own voice husky and strained from the efforts of the afternoon.  He looked around at his bewildered players, surrounding her in a half-naked leer, and almost smiled.
            “Teddy bear,” she beamed.  “Nice win.”
            “Thanks.”  He made a waving motion with his hands at his players to disperse, and turned to Terry.  “I thought we locked that door after games.  How the hell did she get in here?”  Gray-haired Terry shrugged.
            “Ah dunno.  But who all is gonna tell her she cain’t go somewheah?”
            Ted ignored that and moved across the floor to where the slim beauty stood.   
            “I never thought I’d see you here,” he murmured.
            “Long time no Maria,” she cooed, and leaned in to kiss him.  There was a hushed gasp from the boys, who hadn’t gone far in the cramped room, and a few hoots of approval.  Ted broke quickly away from the embrace and sighed, suddenly deeply tired.
            “Let’s get out of here,” he muttered, looking over his shoulder at the crowd of eyes behind him, and he could only imagine what rumors were being born.  He quickly strode over to his office, grabbing his coat.  On his way back out he glanced at Bill Pope.
            “Find Jill, dammit.  Tell her not to worry…or get pissed.  I’ll fill you in later, OK?”  The older man nodded, still drinking in the scenery that had wandered into their locker room on four-inch heels.  Ted hurried back to the intruder and escorted her back up the stairs and out into the small atrium at the back side of the school.
            “Jesus, Maria,” he hissed.  “What the hell was that back there?  No,” he raised a hand.  “Never mind.  It doesn’t matter.  What are you doing here, anyway?  Five years without a call, and then you just show up?”  She slid an arm around his waist, and for an instant it was achingly familiar.  Maria Theresa Varsalone was more than just an ideal physical female specimen.  She was also probably the smartest person Ted had ever met other than her father.  Dr. Michael Varsalone had been Ted’s professor of Constitutional Law at Columbia and his mentor.  Both Varsalones had made impassioned pleas for him to remain at law school when he decided to leave.  Dr. V because he had seen Ted as one of the most gifted minds he’d ever taught, and saw his departure as a colossal waste of academic and political potential.  Maria because Ted’s dropping out included the breaking of their engagement.
            “Teddy,” she began.  “Father is going to win his race.”  Ted nodded.
            “I know.”  Dr. Varsalone was running for Congress in the 15th District in Manhattan as a progressive Democrat.  “I noticed it in the news.  Tell him good luck, will you?”
            Maria laughed, a throaty sound that brought an avalanche of memories crushing down on Ted. 
            “Silly man.  Father doesn’t want your luck.  He wants you.  For his DC office after he wins on Tuesday.  That’s why I’m here.  He told me not to come back without Ted Gray.”  It was Ted’s turn to chuckle.
            “Very funny, Maria.  What are you talking about?  With all the top-notch lawyers he’s taught over the years, with all that to choose from, why the hell would he want me?”
            Maria had never removed her arm from Ted’s waist, and now she looped the other one around him as well.
            “You’re the most talented mind he’s ever had at Columbia.  The most honest and insightful.  He wants you, Ted.  Come to DC.  Oh, and there are other…bonuses, too.”  She pressed her lips against his again, and it was painfully comfortable, her taste, her scent…
            “Maria.”  Ted pulled away, a very small part of him reluctantly.  “I – I can’t.  There’s a lot going on here, and…it’s very tempting, but…”  She interrupted him with a finger on his lips.
            “Of course.  It’s a big decision, I know.  I’ll be back next week and we’ll talk after you win that title game.  I’ll bring a ticket for DC for you.  While you’re thinking Teddy bear, remember that you’re one of those men made for Rome, not the provinces.  See you in a week.”
            And she was gone, the faint smell of her perfume lingering in the air and on his skin. 
            Christ, Ted thought.  Jill.    

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