An Outstanding Man [ - ]
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AN OUTSTANDING MAN
Tony and Sam leave for the awards banquet in Tony’s Jeep, followed by Dr. Graham and Candy in Candy’s 1953 Packard with it’s reverse rear window, an interesting sight indeed. All appears calm on this special evening.
At the banquet Tony and Sam sit with other award recipients and their family members, and of course, Candy’s friend Theresa Fisher, a very attractive, very blond divorcee who keeps edging her chair, little by little, closer to Tony‘s. Samantha sits on the other side of her father. Tony is being polite and pleasant, smiling at Theresa and making small talk but he is nervous about his speech and obviously distracted. He leans close to Sam and whispers in her ear. “I’m a little nervous about what I’m gonna say up there Sam.”
“Why dad?”, she asks. “You had it down pat earlier and it’s a great speech.” She smiles at him reassuringly.
The lesser awards have been presented and it is now time for the main event of the evening, the Outstanding New Teacher Award. Tony has just been given a long and glowing introduction by Dr. Graham and the receptive audience is applauding vigorously. Theresa turns and gives Tony a warm smile and a pat on the arm as Samantha watches, unaware she is frowning. Tony smiles at Theresa then stands to walk to the podium but leans down to say one more thing to Sam.
“OK. Here we go. Pay attention Sam, I’m making a few changes in my speech.”
Samantha looks at him with a puzzled expression as he nods affirmatively at her and heads up the stairs to the microphone.
“Hi folks. Gee, this is just great.” He is interrupted by chants of, “Go Coach. Go Coach.”, started by members of the Wells College baseball team sitting in the back of the ballroom. Before long most of the audience has joined in and the chant has become loud and playful. Tony stares out at the crowd, taking it all in for several seconds, the famous Micelli smile lights up his face. “Go Coach. Go Coach,” they continue. He raises his hands as if to say stop.
OK, I will, I will…if you’ll quiet down. Uh, actually that’s kind of what I want to tell you all….so, ah…thanks for the encouragement but I …uh, ok guys.” Some chanting continues. “Thanks but shhhh.., shhh. This just feels too good to be real and I can’t tell you all how grateful I am to have been taken in and accepted like this by Wells and the whole community. I feel like a real Iowonian?…Iowan?… person from Iowa, now.” Laughter from the crowd. “You folks are the ones that have done all of this, making me feel so welcome and I’ve got to tell you it’s been like a dream come true for me. This last year has been terrific… but I‘m going to put aside this speech I struggled with for days and speak to you instead from my heart, friend to friend“, Tony takes in a deep breath, exhales slowly and continues, “so as great a dream come true that it's been....it hasn’t been my greatest dream, the one that hasn't come true. That would be my dream of making Angela Bower my bride.” Tony looks toward Sam who is now sitting up straight in her seat with rapt attention. “Most of you know Angela, you made her feel welcome here too”, he says to a now hushed crowd. “…and I thank you for that. She’s the reason I came here in the first place.” Again he glances at Sam who gives him a poignant smile, with a tilt of her head .
“It‘s true. Angela was the one who encouraged me to make the move here. She was the one who convinced me I should take this dream job twelve hundred miles from our home because she was sure we could work things out with planes and phones, whatever it took, for the year of my contract…. . Ahem.” He clears his throat before going on. “And when that didn’t work out it was Angela who changed her life and put her business on hold and came out here to live with me.” Tony stops for a moment and looks out over the crowded room. “But, ah… as most of you also know, Angela isn’t here tonight to share this very proud moment with me.”
Some of the guests shift in their seats, feeling a little uncomfortable during what they know to be a difficult and personal moment for Tony. He leans on the podium with both arms now and pushes himself forward, toward the audience. In this more intimate positioning with the crowd, he continues to talk..in slow, measured sentences. “Things were going good for us, at least I thought they were. But, ah…, Angela kept a lot inside so as not to distract me from my job of making our kids winners, winners at baseball and … more importantly, Angela and I both believed, winners at school…winners at life. She‘s a great gal you know and she kept a warm and comfortable home for me to come back to at the end of my busy day…but maybe I didn’t give enough thought to how she was filling her day though …“, he seems to be saying this last remark more to himself than to the crowd but now gathers his thoughts again and goes on, ”…and…she was at every game supporting the team…and me…always supporting me. I guess I didn‘t notice how much was missing from HER life…because she really tried to keep that to herself…until Dr. Graham and the board offered me that fantastic three year contract. Hmmph, he laughs to himself, I was so excited then, remember Sam?” Tony and Sam lock eyes and she continues to smile at him while acknowledging his last statement with a nod. “You were there in my office that day. The day we won the conference championship? So, ah..I didn’t curb my enthusiasm when that contract was handed to me. I just let all my excitement spill out, never stopping to think what it would mean for Angela. We had agreed…together…we agreed on a year. A year for me to give the opportunity of a lifetime,…teaching and coaching at a great school like this…give it a chance. A year to build my resume so I could move back to our home area with a good reference and find a similar job…. but then I practically jumped up and down when Dr. Graham said I was being given a three year contract and, well, Angela just couldn‘t hide her doubt and sense of loss for three whole years more. She was willing to try but…before we ever left my office that day we both knew it wasn‘t going to work.”
Tony stops talking and it is very still in the room. All eyes are on him. And especially Sam’s. She has not taken her teary eyes off of her dad.
“As I said, this award is very gratifying. It means a lot to me and fills a warm spot in my heart. But the largest hole in my heart can only be filled by Angela……so, uh, Dr. Graham, if you and the board could find it in YOUR hearts to rescind my three year contract, I think this acceptance speech is also my resignation speech….I need to go home folks.”
Tony once again turns to look at Sam as the crowd sits in surprised silence. Several moments pass until Sam is able to return Tony’s glance with a very broad smile. As she does she begins to rise from her chair and clap her hands together. The sound of her single clap echo’s in the large room until the scraping of dozens of chairs is heard as others, including the very attractive Theresa Fisher, rise to their feet and join Sam with their own enthusiastic applause. Now the large room resonates with applause as Tony stares out into the crowd and gently says, “Thank you, thank you all…for understanding.”
Tony and Sam, Dr. Graham and several other college trustees are standing in the Dean’s office. Tony is shaking hands and thanking them for their quick action. He has agreed to come back for a few weeks to train his assistant coach to take over until a permanent replacement can be found. It will also give him a chance to pack up the apartment and arrange to have his things shipped back to Connecticut. But not tonight. Tonight Sam is driving him, in his Jeep, to the airport. They’ll just swing by his apartment first to pick up a few things. She will keep her own airline reservation for tomorrow but his friend Rosie has arranged for Tony to leave on a plane tonight…soon. He will be flying to NJ in less than an hour. He has it all figured out in his head. I’ll fly into Newark in less than two hours, he thinks. I’ll get a cab from the Airport to Fairfield and before 11:00 I should be at the front door.…before 11:00 I’ll be seeing Angela.….before 11:00, I’ll be home.
Tony and Sam walk out of the office hand in hand, both smiling.
“So whatta ya think Sam?”
“Are you happy dad?”
“Then I think it’s great.”
“Yeah, it is, isn’t it?”
It is a little before 11:00 pm when the doorbell rings at 3344 Oakhills Drive in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Angela can be heard calling out, “Jonathan, would you please answer the door? Mother? Anybody home?”
She is now coming down the stairs in a pink bathrobe and with a pink towel wrapped around her wet hair. She looks around. “Guess not.”
She reaches for the door handle………