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

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Shades of Gray - Chapter Two

The Ted Gray story continues.  Keep in mind these are short chapters, designed for ease of online reads of five to ten minutes at a time.  In a physical book many would likely be lumped together.  Enjoy.  Oh, and please add commentary, questions and other discussions in the comments below!  Thanks.


            The sun beat down bright and hard on the practice field.  The fragrance of newly cut grass, fresh earth and sweat-soaked mesh jerseys mingled nostalgically in Ted’s nose as he watched as his first offensive unit run plays against the scout defense under the supervision of his assistants.  This was certainly the best of the three teams he’d coached since taking over for Coach Stuart, and had a real chance to be special.  Besides nose guard Paul Green, quarterback Bobby Craig had all-state talent, and there was a surrounding cast better than any since Ted played a decade ago.  Ted salivated at the prospect of winning the state title as a coach that had eluded him as a player.
            The practice wrapped up in the gathering dusk, sweaty players headed for the locker room and assistant coaches headed to Taylor’s Tavern for a couple of pops.  It was a long-held tradition, one Ted never joined but lacked the energy to put a stop to.  In the doorway to the locker room he ran into Bill Pope, his offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, the same positions he had held under Stuart.    Bill was a short, solid man in his fifties with white temples and an expanding belly.  He’d coached Ted as much as anyone when he played, and now was the closest thing to a mentor and confidant he had on his staff.
            “Bill,” Ted motioned for the older man to join him.  “You’re Math Department, right?”
            “Well,” Bill took his ballcap off and ran a thick hand through his receding hair.  “I do Computer Science these days.  I go to the Math Department meetings, yeah.”
            “Who’s this Jill Ward?  Is that Nat’s sister?” 
            “Yup,” Bill nodded.  “Just joined the faculty this year.  Nat’s off in Chicago, I guess, in stocks or some such damn thing.  Probably making what the whole department makes.  I guess she’s what, a year or two younger than you guys?  Shame about that prick, leaving her with that little girl.  Oughta string up guys like that, Ted.  Anyway, I’m off with the boys.  Film at six tomorrow?”   Ted laughed and patted Bill on the shoulder.  The veteran coach had been in the film room at six in the morning every weekday of every fall for thirty years, through five head coaches, from reels to tape to DVD. 
            “Sure thing, Coach.  See you then.”  Ted waved at Bill and moved into his small office in the locker room, closing the door to the sounds of showering adolescents and the usual shouted insults and laughter.  Grabbing a bottle of water, Ted sat at his desk and tried to remember if he’d ever met Nat Ward’s little sister.  He’d been more teammates than friends with Nat, but he seemed to recall going over to the Wards’ house a couple of times.  He shook his head.  This is one hot September, he thought.  My brains must be fried.  What the hell does it matter?  He drank the water for a moment, trying to think of the Peterfield game this Saturday night.  A pretty weak team, Peterfield.  The Pilgrims.  The Peterfield Pilgrims, red on blue.  Like ink on a blouse.
            “Christ,” Ted muttered, getting up and going to the shelves in his office.  There alongside the gameplan binders and films were dusty yearbooks going back fifteen years.  Resisting the urge to pull his own, instead Ted pulled the one from the next year, 1993.  Thumbing through, he felt a wave of nostalgia at the pictures of kids he’d played with, studied with, dated.  What had ever happened to Emily Sullivan, anyway?  He spent a moment looking at the knockout blonde with the deep blue eyes.  She’d gone to Smith, he knew that much.  Cheerleader and honor student hooked up with the brilliant quarterback, that had been some high school royalty while it lasted.  There had been one night in particular, parked in Mr. Sullivan’s green Subaru wagon out in the Meadows housing development that was still under construction, that Ted remembered with extra fondness.  Ted smiled ruefully, imagining that she was most likely long married, probably with one or two kids by now. 
            Jill Ward.  There she was, staring uncomfortably at the unseen camera, the same fiery red hair, though a few more freckles.  Not as pretty as the girl Ted had seen that afternoon in the teachers’ lounge.  She looked sad, seated beneath an oak tree that Ted recognized from the far end of the school grounds.  Where so many of the other students had filled the space next to their picture with coded memories of friends and events, Jill’s had five short words:

Thanks Nat. 
Ted Gray sucks.

            Ted set down the book, confused and troubled.  He couldn’t remember ever in his life seeing those three words together.  What had he done to this girl to earn such loathing?  As far as he could remember, they’d never even met.  He’d thought her shy that afternoon, but had it been more?  A long-held grudge?  And why did it even bother him, anyway?  When he had been the smartest kid in the class and the big-time jock there had been jealousy, resentment, but he couldn’t recall any evidence of outright hate.  Blowing his breath out through his teeth, Ted snapped the book shut and replaced it on the shelf.  Returning to his seat he pulled the 20th Century America essays from his satchel and began grading.  After a few moments, he was laughing out loud and shaking his head at the dubious grasp of modern history displayed by his students, thoughts of a redheaded mystery temporarily banished from his mind.


  1. Enjoyable chapter, but I'm confused about the part at the end. I'm thinking a school yearbook wouldn't permit a formal printing saying someone sucks. Was the little insult hand-written into the book?

  2. Hmmm...maybe Jill was on yearbook staff and snuck it through...

  3. I agree that "sucks" may not be a word printed in a yearbook and even said in 2002, not sure people used that word then as much as they do now. Just wondering about that.

    Also, this sentence is confusing to me. I had to re-read it a few times. I get what you are saying and think it's great, but perhaps could turn into 2 sentences since it's wordy. "The veteran coach had been in the film room at six in the morning every weekday of every fall for thirty years, through five head coaches, from reels to tape to DVD."

    I am very intrigued still though at where this Ted guy is headed, now with this latest development with the old peer.