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

Friday, April 15, 2011

Shades of Gray: Chapter Twenty-Four


            The next day at school he brushed off questions about the purple bruise on his head, claiming he had tripped up the stairs at home.  No one believed him, least of all Mike Heather, who eventually stopped prying because he was more interested in talking about the night before.
            “You were fantastic,” he chortled over coffee in the staff room before class.  “I wonder if they’ll still be thinking about that stuff come baseball season.  One fewer parent breathing down my neck about how their kid is the next Nomar Garciaparra and it’ll be worth it.”  He looked at Ted, his eyes narrowing.  “You got out of there pretty fast last night.  Didn’t want to collect the accolades?”
            “Yeah, right,” Ted snorted.  “There must have been some pretty pissed off people, too.  I just feel bad for Bobby, his dad putting him through that.” Ted sipped at his coffee, which was still too hot.
            “Well, we’ll all be there in Northport tomorrow afternoon for the game, along with the rest of town.”  Mike patted Ted on the shoulder, and he winced at the jolt of pain in his battered ribs.
            “Thanks,” he replied weakly
            Ted somehow made it through the day, glad for once that some of the people in the hallways were avoiding him, as it kept his tender body from being jostled.  He saw Jill once, maybe thirty feet down the corridor, but forced himself not to track her down.  He would be leaving tomorrow night, and he didn’t want to jerk her around.  Or change my mind, he thought.   He endured the pep rally that afternoon, far more subdued than it would have been otherwise.  Lurking at the back of the team, he allowed the senior players to take his customary place addressing the crowd, not risking a mixed reaction to him. 
            After the final walkthrough with the team that night, he gathered the players around him on the darkened practice field.  He ignored the fact that many of them were probably still upset.  He ignored the fact that the night air in his lungs made his bruised chest ache.  Looking around at his guys, he smiled.
            “You guys are the Stockbridge Wolves,” he said quietly.  “And tomorrow you’re playing for the state football championship.  You earned that right.  Not one man, all of you.  Don’t let that chance pass you by.  Don’t be anything less than your best tomorrow.  Don’t think about who’s not with us, but how far we’ve come together.”  He paused, closing his eyes.  He smelled the distinct scent of sweat cooling, of filthy mesh practice jerseys.  He could hear the little coughs of boys battling colds, the distant shouts from the parking lot.  Ted wanted to remember every detail.
            “No one believes we can win tomorrow,” he continued, opening his eyes and scanning the shadowy faces pressing close around him.  “Except us.  I do.  I believe it.  Do you?”  There were nods, a few muttered responses.  He waited, silently, and more players began to answer, progressively louder.  After a few moments the scattered words became a yell, and then a prolonged cheering.  Ted found Chris Stanley’s eyes and grinned.  Maybe, just maybe, there would be a miracle in Northport the next night.

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