Ted sat quietly alongside Maria in the tan leather seats of her luxury BMW. There was a stony silence as she drove and he stared out the window, watching the last familiar buildings of Stockbridge slip by the window and into the darkness. Maria guided the car onto the highway, shifting smoothly into fifth gear. She began to speak over the gentle hum of the engine.
“Shame about the game,” she murmured sympathetically. Ted did not respond, but kept looking out into the night. “What I don’t understand is why you just gave away your biggest advantage.”
“What?” that got his attention.
“That stud you had at quarterback. Would you have won if he had played?”
“I think so,” Ted replied. “Yeah, we probably would have, the way our defense played. But…”
“So you chose not to play him,” Maria interrupted him. “When no one would have faulted you if you found a way to keep him eligible. Hell, the entire town was begging you to play him, from what I hear.” She shook her head. “What were you thinking?”
“That it was the right thing to do?” Ted turned in his seat to face her. She laughed.
“That’s so cute. Just like my father.”
“Just like your…?”
“The whole naïve fair play thing. He sees it like you do, which is nice in the classroom but not in the real world, Ted. During the campaign we found out that his opponent had cheated on his wife, and we had the goods to prove it. Father wouldn’t hear of it, said it had nothing to do with the issues.” She rolled her eyes. “But you can’t give up an edge like that in the big leagues. There’s too much at stake. So we leaked it anyway.” There was a touch of pleasure in her voice, a deliberate, daredevil courting of disaster that frightened Ted.
Dr. Varsalone know?” he asked.
“No,” giggled Maria. “We did it for him, and it ruined that other poor bastard. We probably would have won anyway, but that sealed it.” She seemed very self-satisfied, and she took her eyes off the road to glance at Ted. “We got you out of there just in time, honey, or you would have gotten too old and set in your ways.” She reached over and put her hand on his knee. “But you can still be taught.” Ted looked at her hand and then up at Maria’s glowing face. Had she always been like this?
“Hey, where are the tickets out of
?” he inquired casually. Boston
“In my purse,” she indicated the leather handbag between the seats. Ted saw the two paper envelopes jutting out, and he took them. He stared at the one with his name on it.
Gray/Theodore Boston 22:55 09NOV02 Washington DC 00:45 10NOV02
The print on the ticket began to swim before his eyes in the dim light, and in his head, he heard Jill Ward’s voice. I’m so proud of you…don’t let them take that away… But again in his life, he was giving it away for free, willingly heading down the path away from integrity. And again, too, he was leaving someone behind.
“No,” he whispered. “Not like this.” He looked at Maria. “Stop the car.” She returned his gaze with a fleeting, confused look.
“What? Ted, are you kidding? This is the interstate.”
“I know. Stop the car,” he repeated. She pulled over onto the shoulder.
“Are you sick? What’s wrong?”
As the BMW slowed to a stop, Ted grabbed his bag and jacket and got out.
“Ted!” shouted Maria. “What the fuck are you doing?” He turned and leaned back into the open door. There was a harsh glare from the dome light in the car, but she was still beautiful. God, she was beautiful, and perfect, and everything he didn’t want. He tore the plane ticket neatly in half and then again into quarters, dropping the pieces into the seat he had just vacated. He pulled on his jacket in the chill of the late evening, and smiled at her.
“Goodbye, Maria. Tell your father I’m sorry. But there's someplace I'd rather be.” He closed the door, stifling her protest, and headed off on foot down the side of the four-lane southbound highway. The lights of the oncoming traffic flashed brightly in his eyes, illuminating his uneven breath. He could feel the taillights of Maria’s rented BMW receding behind him, could imagine her stunned surprise. He knew that before long she would make the transition from hurt and rejected to haughty and pissed, and after a few moments he could hear the engine gun and the vehicle screech out into the highway. He turned, briefly, to watch it disappear into the distance until he couldn’t distinguish it from the other cars. For the second time in his life he had walked away from Maria Varsalone. But this time he wasn’t running away. He was running home.
Jill, he thought. I’m coming.