Funny thing about miracles, Ted thought on the bus back to Stockbridge Saturday night. They happen more often when you have a great quarterback. It was eerily silent on the dark bus, none of the spent players talking or laughing, none of the coaches reviewing the game. There wasn’t much to talk about or review. The game had started badly and gotten worse. Chris Stanley had been awful, completing only a handful of his passes, and knowing there was no passing game to fear, the Northport Cougars stacked the line against the running game. The final score was a disheartening 14-0, the low point total a testament to the gutsy play of the Stockbridge defense. Paul Green played the game of his life, with fifteen tackles and three quarterback sacks and two fumble recoveries. It just hadn’t been enough. If Bobby had played…but Ted refused to let himself follow that thought all the way to the end. It was finished.
As the bus pulled into the parking lot at
, Ted got off first and stood at the door, thanking each of the players for their effort and dedication, shaking their hands and hugging many of them. Finally his coaches passed by, and he thanked them as well. As they moved on as a group toward the locker room, he stopped Bill Pope. The assistant coach looked much older than Ted remembered. Stockbridge High School
“I know,” Bill said. He smiled a little, almost by way of forgiveness. “We gave ‘em a hell of a run, didn’t we? Not too shabby.” Ted nodded, and found the next words impossibly hard to say.
“I…I’m done, Bill. Thanks for everything…back then, these last years. I owe you a lot.” The older man shook his head and put a beefy hand on Ted’s shoulder. There was a long pause.
“Go get ‘em, son. We’ll mind this store.” He walked away, stopping once and turning to face his former head coach.
“Your dad would have been proud of you.” And he disappeared into the shadows.
Ted went to his car, trying not to think of Bill’s final words. He drove to his apartment in silence, staring straight ahead as he drove past the old school and down the familiar turns of Lincoln Street and Front Street. Parking in front of his building, he saw Maria Varsalone’s red BMW parked in front of him. As he got out, she emerged to greet him. She was dressed impeccably as always, in a long black coat and stylish white hat. She was beautiful, Ted thought, and as she hugged him he made no effort to pull away. He rested his head on her shoulder for a moment, then stepped back. She looked at him with a dazzling smile on her face, which darkened as she noticed the yellowing bruise on his forehead. He dismissed any questions about it with a gesture.
“If you want to get cleaned up and pack, I’ll wait for you down here.” He shook his head.
“Nah. Come on up, it’s chilly out here. I just want to throw a couple of things in a bag and get out of here. I can come back for the rest later.”
“Okay.” She followed him up the stairs and into his tiny apartment. Ted spent a few minutes collecting some clothes, his shaving kit, and a jacket. Maria perched patiently on his couch, smiling at him each time he passed by. Finally he was ready, opening the door so she could go out first. As he passed after her, he noticed his answering machine on the table by the entryway. He hesitated, then pressed the PLAY button.
“Hi.” He knew the voice right away. Jill.
“I know you must be on your way out,” she continued, and it sounded as if she’d been crying. “I’m not calling to ask you to stay, OK? I just…I just wanted to say I’m so proud of you and everything you did these past days. I know how hard it must have been for you.” Her voice broke on the recording, and for a moment Ted thought it was over, but it wasn’t.
“You’re a special man, Ted Gray. Don’t you let them take that away from you down there. Take care of yourself, OK? I…I love you. Goodbye, Ted.”
Ted stood in the doorway for a long moment, looking down the hall stairs to where Maria had just gone, then back at the machine. Then he pressed DELETE and left, closing the door behind him.