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

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Shades of Gray: Chapter Twenty-Three

Things get worse.


            It had been relatively warm that morning for early November, and Ted had walked to school.  On his way home after the hearing, however, the weather had changed dramatically.  It was maybe twenty degrees, with the first few snowflakes of the year dancing on the swirling gusts of arctic air.  Ted lifted the collar of his heavy coat against the wind and hunched forward, shivering.  He was almost to his apartment building when he passed the entrance to the Riverbank Tavern, the favorite watering hole for locals.  It was nearly ten, and light, warmth, and noise poured from the bar as the front door opened, and three figures stumbled out into the night.  One Ted recognized as Mitch Summer. 
            Mitch had graduated with Ted eleven years before, and had flunked off the football team their senior year.  A construction worker in town, Mitch was a heavyset man with a ruddy complexion made even more crimson by drink and now the cold.  With him were two locals with familiar faces Ted did not know by name.  They staggered suddenly out onto the sidewalk, and Mitch lumbered into Ted blindly, bumping him hard.  Ted took a couple of steps back and raised a hand by way of apology.  Not interested in a conversation with the drunks, he started to continue on the hundred feet or so to the front door of his building.
            “Hey!” bellowed Mitch.  “What the fuck, man?”  He shoved Ted with both hands in his back, sending him nearly sprawling against the concrete curb.  Ted caught himself and stood back up.  He glanced over his shoulder.
            “Sorry, Mitch.  Didn’t mean to get in your way.  See you around.”
            “It’s Gray!” Mitch Summer yelled in recognition.  Ted paused long enough to nod, then headed back down the sidewalk.  “What, too good to talk to us, you pansy-ass bitch?”  Ted heard a few quick footsteps behind him and turned just in time to catch a fist with his jaw.  He spun around from the ferocity of the blow, and tasted the warm blood in his mouth.  Turning around he felt another, connect on his temple, forcing him to the ground.  There was a ringing in his ears as Ted pushed against the ground to get up when he felt a punishing kick in his ribs, and then another.  He could hear the voices of the men he did not know, jeering at first, but then confused.  They sounded far away.
            “Mitch, man, what the fuck?” they asked in slurred tones. 
            “Knock it off, man, let’s go!”  The blows stopped, and Ted lay quietly on the sidewalk, blood dripping through his clenched teeth.  The voice that came from behind his right ear was guttural and angry, and stank of whiskey.  He tried to get up, to fight back, the rage and shame burning in his heart, but there was a knee in his back and a hand on the back of his neck holding him down.
            “Fuck you, Ted Gray, you stuck-up prick,” Mitch Summer rasped.  “So much goddamn better than everybody else.  I always hated your guts, you faggot.”  He spit on Ted’s cheek, hot and wet.  “But you’re just a loser like the rest of us, ain’tcha?”  Ted felt the fingers clench the hair on the back of his head and rap his forehead hard into the asphalt once.  The world swam as he fought to stay conscious.  The pressure on his back was gone and he rolled over, but his assailants had left.  He stared up at the night sky, shocked at the visceral frenzy of the attack.  He clambered to one knee, then unsteadily to his feet.  There was a sharp twinge in his side, and he sucked in his breath at the pain, wondering if the ribs were broken or just bruised.  He touched his head and felt a huge egg emerging there. 
            Staggering the last few yards to his apartment, Ted slowly climbed the stairs, gasping at the pain on each step.  Once inside, he gingerly took off his coat and found an icepack for his head.  Swallowing a handful of Advil, he sank gently into his couch.  He knew Mitch Summer was bad news, but the depth of his hate was a surprise to Ted.  He was just drunk, he thought.  Just bad timing.  It was a bad lie, but all he could manage at the moment.  Ted picked up the phone to call Jill, but somehow dialed Maria Varsalone’s number instead.  After few rings her voice mail picked up.
            “Maria,” he said.  “I’ll meet you Saturday night after the game.  We’ll go to Washington together.”  He hung up.
            I have to get out of this town.

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