As I reach for the office doorknob, I freeze. Drew is staring
at the table with tears pouring down his face. I hesitate,
giving him time to collect himself. What does it take to make an
M.D. cry? My father has watched his patients die for forty
years, and now they're dropping like cornstalks to a scythe. I
know he grieves, but I can't remember him crying. The one
exception was my wife, but that's another story. Maybe Drew
thinks he's alone here, that I slipped out with all the others.
Since he shows no sign of stopping, I walk out and lay my hand
on his thickly muscled shoulder.
"You okay, man?"
He doesn't reply, but I feel him shudder.
He dries his eyes with a swipe of his sleeve, then stands.
"Guess we'd better let Theresa lock up."
"Yeah. I'll walk out with you."
Side by side, we walk through the front atrium of St.
Stephen's, just as we did thousands of times when we attended
this school in the sixties and seventies. A large trophy cabinet
stands against the wall to my left. Inside it, behind a wooden
Louisville Slugger with thirteen names signed on it in Magic
Marker, hangs a large photograph of Drew Elliott during the
defining moment of this institution. Just fourteen years old, he
is standing at the plate under the lights of Smith-Wills Stadium
in Jackson, hitting what would be the winning home run of the
1977 AAAA state baseball championship. No matter how remarkable
our academic accomplishments -- and they were many -- it was
this prize that put our tiny "single A" school on the map. In
Mississippi, as in the rest of the South, sport overshadows
"Long time ago," he says. "Eternity."
I'm standing on second base in the photo, waiting to sprint
for the tying run. "Not so long."
He gives me a lost look, and then we pass through the
entrance and pause under the overhang, prepping for a quick dash
through the rain to our cars.
"Kate babysat for you guys, didn't she?" I comment, trying to
get him to focus on the mundane.
"Yeah. The past two summers. Not anymore, though. She
graduates -- was supposed to graduate -- in six weeks. She was
too busy for babysitting."
"She seemed like a great kid."
Drew nods. "She was. Even these days, when so many students
are overachievers, she stood out from the crowd."
I could point out that it's often the best and brightest who
are taken while the rest of us are left to carry on, but Drew
knows that. He's watched more people die than I ever will.
His Volvo is parked about thirty yards away, behind my Saab.
I pat him on the back as I did in high school, then assume a
tight end's stance. "Run for it?"
Instead of playing along with me, he looks me full in the
face and speaks in a voice I haven't heard from him in years.
"Can I talk to you for a minute?"
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