Thank you all for such kind reviews throughout this short story! As always, it means so much. I've really enjoyed exploring these missing scenes. So much of me wants to add more, but I don't know where the line of 'dragging it out' falls xD I hope you enjoy the final chapter!
"It is my honor to present to you our Teacher of the Year, Professor Tony Micelli!"
Everyone in the auditorium rose to their feet as they applauded and cheered. Dr. Graham handed Tony his award as he stepped away from the podium. Tony took his place, clutching the award in his hands with misty eyes, and began his speech.
"When I was accepted into the Majors with the St. Louis Cardinals, I was sure no moment could top the thrill and honor I felt. But now, really this entire past year, I'm realizing that was an achievement only for myself. Well, and maybe the other guys on the team when I helped them win. The fulfillment I've felt here at Wells is like no other. To feel like I might have made a difference in a young person's life is immeasurable. Deciding to go finish my education later in my life came with a good deal of questions. Was I doing the right thing? Was it too late for me? My first gig out of school was as a driving instructor. No one wanted me. Suddenly four years of school seemed like a waste. And then I was blessed with my position here, not only able to teach but also to return to the field. This has truly been my dream job. I owe a lot of people gratitude. I especially couldn't have done any of this without… well… the support of my family, and everyone I've met here. You all welcomed me into your fine school and community and made me feel at home. Saying thank you isn't enough, but I'm afraid it's all I've got at the moment. So, thank you so much for this award. Thank you."
Dr. Graham shook Tony's hand again. Tony looked out to Samantha in the crowd, proud as ever of her father as she cheered louder than anyone. He smiled, bringing his free hand to his eyes to stop any of the tears that threatened to fall. He then scanned the entire crowd, overwhelmed and overjoyed by the adoration being given to him by students, teachers, and parents alike. Yet, he only cared about seeing one person's face next to Sam's, and he knew it was a hopeless attempt to keep looking for her.
Tony returned home after dropping Samantha off at the inn. The banquet had been just as exuberating as the tribute. His hand was sore from all the handshakes he'd received. It was a night to remember, that was for sure.
As soon as he'd heard about the award, he'd cleared a place for it on the bookcase. Setting it up on its stand, he stood back and admired it. This was hardly his first trophy, but it was the first one that meant something. He'd achieved something great and he was proud.
But he was alone.
He thought back to one of the last trophies he'd won. A bowling tournament, he remembered, the same night Angela lost the prestigious award for which she'd been nominated. Half the fun of winning had been coming home and celebrating with the family (until he realized Angela's fate). Even through her disappointment Angela had at least tried to offer him a genuine congratulations. Sam was still his number one cheerleader, but she had her own life and responsibilities to return to. Her life was back east as well. Everyone he loved was there.
He loved the friends he'd made around here, too, of course, but tonight he realized how differently they saw him than the people back in Fairfield and Brooklyn. This award was because he'd proved his worth to them all. They hired him because their former coach had failed. They wanted a winner, and Tony had succeeded. None of them knew or particularly cared where he came from outside of his baseball days. They hadn't been there to cheer him on throughout his days at college. They weren't there to push him when he almost didn't fill out the application. That had been Angela. She'd been there for all of the bad days, the late-night cram sessions, the overwhelming moments when he questioned if he should throw in the towel. Through all the bad times, she was there. It didn't feel right that she was missing his moment of glory.
It didn't take long to come to a decision. He needed to tell her. He needed to hear her voice and hope they could ignore what had become of their relationship for five minutes while he told her about the ceremony. He needed to know she was still proud of him no matter what their circumstance was. When it came down to it, a room full of applause meant nothing if Angela wasn't there to share it. Receiver in hand, he dialed.
He held his breath as it rang. Two rings… three rings…
And then he hung up.
He glanced back at the award and then around the empty apartment. Absolute silence. He couldn't so much as detect the low hum of electricity. No sounds came from outside nor from the neighbors, only Angela's voice ringing in his ears.
There was no one to talk to about anything. Not his award, not weekend plans, not the weather. For the first time, it hit him how alone he was. Tonight, he could go back to Samantha's room and beg her to keep him company. Then what? The people here were good friends, but none of them family.
None of them Angela.
Grabbing his keys, he took the plaque down from the shelf and tucked it under his arm.
He knew where he needed to be. After a quick stop at Dr. Graham's, he'd be on his way.
No more games.