Passing The Torch

Tony stood in the kitchen just like he did on most mornings. He was usually the first one up to make sure the coffee got started and the dog was let out. Then he'd rouse the kids while letting his wife Joan sleep in a little extra before making sure she was up too.

This was his routine since becoming a stay-at-home Dad nearly eighteen years earlier. He met Joan at Green College - he was majoring in English and she was a Political Science major. He came from a working family in New Hampshire and she was the product of a well to do family outside of Boston.

They married after graduating from Green and Tony taught high school English while Joan attended Harvard Law School and worked part time in a state senator's office. Joan's well to do parents helped out financially – Joan's Dad was a nationally known heart surgeon at Boston General and her mom was a legislative aide in the Governor's office.

Joan became pregnant with Tommy the same year she was hired by Abbott, Dennis, and Crawford, LTD and that's when the couple decided that Tony would be the stay at home Dad while Joan pursued her career.

Tommy was followed eighteen months later by Marie and while Joan was working her way up in the firm, Tony was changing diapers, setting up play dates, baking cookies, and reading bedtime stories.

Joan became a junior partner when Tommy was in second grade. Tony coached pee wee and little league, brought Marie to her dance classes, attended the school assemblies, cooked dinner, did the laundry, kept the house clean, drove the kids to school (and home again), and was there for the children whenever they needed him for whatever reason.

Joan was named a senior partner in the firm when Tommy was a sophomore in high school and she unsuccessfully ran for state office the same year. Tony attended most of the kids sporting events and other extra-curricular activities and even after all the years in the role he still enjoyed being the stay at home Dad. But then a funny thing happened: the kids didn't come home so much anymore. Tommy discovered girls and was popular at school; Marie discovered boys and could now drive herself to her dance rehearsals and play practices.

Tony still cooked dinner but with Joan's long hours, night time meetings, dinners, conferences and other obligations and the kids' crazy schedules the family rarely sat down together for a meal anymore. Tony realized that he had a lot of extra time on his hands with dwindling responsibilities and obligations. He had played the role of stay at home Dad and loyal spouse well. He was proud of his kids' achievements and his wife's success. Joan was well known in both legal and political circles. She was making an impressive salary and smart investments had strengthened the family's standings so there was no real reason for Tony to go back to work full time.

Tony hadn't taught in nearly twenty years and he wasn't sure if he was interested in resuming that line of work. He had played the dutiful role of escort and date for Joan at her various work related, community and political social events and he found most of the conversations boring and he really didn't relate to Joan's work associates and peers. He enjoyed some of the perks - the firm had season tickets for all four of the professional Boston area sports teams so Tony got to see plenty of games over the years.

Still, Tony felt bored and unimportant now that the kids were getting older and more independent. Joan was absorbed with her career and she didn't have a lot of sympathy or interest in what Tony was going through. For years, he had supported her professional goals and dreams by keeping the home front secure. He had been Joan's biggest cheerleader and most intimate adviser but now he found himself with an increasingly undefined role within the family and marriage.

Tony decided to take on a part time job with Hanson and Butler Funeral Home. He coached little league with Jeff Hanson for a few years and he appreciated Jeff's job offer. It got him out of the house and gave him some independence while still being available when the kids needed him to support them in their various endeavors. He never missed a ball game or dance recital and he was still available for Joan's various social functions.

The hours at the funeral home were flexible and convenient. Tony's responsibilities included parking cars, directing traffic, greeting mourners at the door, acting as a pallbearer, placing flags on those cars in the funeral procession and carrying flowers. He spent more than two grand on new suits, shirts, ties and shoes to look the part and he was a welcomed addition to the staff.

Tony felt good about playing an important part in people's lives at a vulnerable moment. He was sympathetic, understanding, personable and friendly while at the same time staying appropriately detached and removed from the emotional situation as families mourned. His basic philosophy was to be seen and not heard (unless spoken to)

Hanson and Butler was housed in a former private mansion. The building was made of stone and featured several interesting design affects, including second floor porch railings, balconies, tall windows, stained glass windows, and a car apron. Inside, the building resembled a museum with pillars, high ceilings, arches, antique furniture and soft carpeting. There were three different viewing parlors on the first floor, along with two waiting and lobby rooms, plus two offices for the directors. The public rarely went on the second floor which was used mostly for storage, a staff kitchen area, a couple of more offices for the staff, and a rec room for relaxing. The mortuary work took place in the cellar.

Joan noticed that Tony wasn't so moody once he began working at the funeral home. He had something to talk about besides what he cooked for supper or who was on the Today show that morning. The couple recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary and while they still loved each other there was no denying that as individuals they had pursued different interests and outlooks. Joan was a professional woman, a well sought after and successful lawyer who was looking at various political opportunities. Tony had given up his professional career and most of his personal interests to be a devoted husband and dedicated stay-at-home Dad, focused on family issues and his children. He tried to follow Joan's career and keep track of all the people in her life but it was hard remembering who was who in her various circles.

The family was able to take exotic vacations and they were financially comfortable but Joan often worked sixty hour weeks and the couple didn't spend a whole lot of quality time together. Tony wasn't about to complain. They reached a mutual understanding years ago and both accepted their marriage as it had played out. They respected, valued, and trusted each other although Tony had to admit that he really wasn't aware of everything Joan was doing when she was away on cases, conferences, political conventions and other road trips.

Tony stood in the kitchen as the kids dragged themselves through the room, grabbing an orange juice and banana on their way out the door with Tony asking a few generic questions about their day and plans.

Then Joan zoomed through, her daily planner in one hand and her cell phone in the other. She kissed Tony on the cheek while grabbing a yogurt and heading out the door. And then the house was quiet, the driveway empty of three different automobiles and Tony found himself alone again, naturally.

Thankfully, on this particular day, Tony had a funeral to work although it struck him as sad that somebody else's tragedy gave him something to do. Tony tried not to think too much about the deceased person when he worked a funeral. When the service was over, Tony helped escort a few people out of the funeral home to the cars in the parking lot and then he stood off to the side and waited for the procession to start.

A woman of about forty exited the funeral home and lit up a cigarette not far from where Tony was standing. She really wasn't dressed for a funeral, wearing tight jeans and a plain green tee-shirt. She glanced at the mansion behind her.

"Pretty impressive place," she commented aloud.

Tony nodded his head in agreement. The woman noticed the iron fence running along the front of yard.

"That's different," she said.

"It's from the bridge down the road they remodeled a couple of years ago," Tony told her. "Mrs. Hanson thought it would look interesting here."

The woman nodded in agreement. "Too bad about Mr. Martindale,"

"I didn't know him," Tony admitted.

"I really didn't either," the woman remarked. "But he was a regular at O'Toole's."

"The tavern?"

"Yeah, I bartender there most nights," she said, taking a deep drag of her cigarette and peering at him. "Mr. Martindale would have a gin and tonic every night on his way home from work."

"Do you go to the funeral of all your customers?" Tony asked.

"No," she laughed. "But Mr. Martindale was a special one. Very friendly. Very interested in what I had to say. Very nice to me. He told me a new joke every time he came in."

"What happened to him?"

"Heart attack," she answered. "He was kind of old."

"Well, sorry for your loss," Tony said in his best Hanson and Butler tone.

She was staring at him with a funny expression on her face. "Excuse me, but have we met before?" she asked.

"I don't think so," Tony replied, throwing her a glance.

She wasn't as tall as Joan. Joan was as tall as Tony and still wore her black hair reasonable long in her early forties. This woman was four inches shorter with cropped brown hair that barely reached the bottom of her neck.

"You ever been in O'Tooles?" She wondered.

"No," he replied.

O'Toole's was a neighborhood sports bar. Joan would never be seen in a place like that. She was upper middle class and when they went out it was to the upscale nightclubs and plush bars.

"What's your name?" She inquired. "If you don't mind me asking. You look familiar to me for some reason."

"Oh, I doubt we've met," Tony replied, knowing he didn't run in the same circles as a bartender. "My name is Tony Martino."

Her jaw dropped and she did a double take, staring at him for a long moment with her eyes popping out of her sockets. "You couldn't possibly be Tony 'The Torch' Martino from the Serguci League could you!?"

Tony was stunned. He hadn't been called The Torch in twenty-years and he couldn't believe somebody could possibly remember him from the Serguci League all these years later, ninety miles removed from Hillsboro.

"Actually, I am," he said with amazement.

"Oh My God!" She squealed. "I don't believe this!"

Tony studied her trying to place her. "I'm sorry," he said. "I don't recognize you."

"I'm Heather Perino!" She laughed. "Well, it's Heather Adams now but I'm divorced so I guess I could be Heather Perino again!"

"Sal's sister?" Tony asked with stunned disbelief.

"Yes!" She grinned.

"Wow, unbelievable!" Tony remarked.

Tony was a pretty good baseball player in high school and one of the reasons he picked Green College was because he heard of a nearby amateur baseball league and he thought there would be a good opportunity to hone his baseball skills if he played there. He made the college ball team and did okay with the team but it was the Serguci League in the summer where Tony ('The Torch') got to excel. He played for the Beansboro Beansters for just three seasons while he was at Green College, spending the summers in Greenville working as a minimum wage counselor at a local youth center to be able to pitch in the Serguci League. The eight team league played a 42 game schedule in Hillsboro's historic Beano Field and it was the best three summers of his life.

Sal Perino was the Beanster catcher who became Tony's good friend. Sal went to the local community college for a couple of years and then took a job at the tire warehouse while stilling living at home. That's where Tony bunked when the college dorms weren't available and of course Heather was around too, still in high school when Tony first came to the area.

"How is Sal?" Tony asked.

He'd only been back to Blue County a few times for college reunions and a couple of seminars Joan put together but he hadn't been to Beano Field since the last time he walked off the diamond as a player.

"He's married and got five kids," Heather smiled. "Runs his own tire shop."

"Great," Tony said with approval.

"Whatever happened to the tight-assed rich bitch college broad you were dating back then?" Heather asked.

"I married her," Tony replied.

"Oops!" Heather said, covering her mouth. "Maybe I shouldn't have asked!"

"Tony, let's go!" It was Bill Butler calling from the parking lot.

"Uh-oh, I'm on duty," Tony realized. "I'll see you, Heather."

"Stop by O'Toole's sometime!" She called after him.

Tony performed the rest of his funeral duties without further interruption but he couldn't get Heather Perino out of his thoughts. Seeing her again after so many years opened the flood gate of memories and when he got home he went into the cellar storage area and dug out the old plastic tub he hadn't looked at in two decades. It contained all his Serguci League memorabilia – the newspaper articles, the scorecards, the programs, the plaques, some fan letters, and even his old Beansboro Beanster ball cap.

Tony smiled at the forgotten memories of his glory days, triumphs he wasn't able to share with Joan who had no interest in the game. In fact, some of their biggest fights were about him playing for the Beansters because it kept him in Blue County during the summers while Joan went home and spent time at the family vacation home on a New Hampshire lake. Tony could only make short day visits or a quick overnight here and there as his scheduled allowed and Joan resented him for choosing baseball over their quality time together.

Tony was hurt and offended that Joan wasn't more supportive of his love for the game or proud of his achievements. It was as if that whole part of his life didn't exist and he learned not to discuss it with her. When they graduated from Green College and left Hillsboro behind, Tony buried his memories and achievements of the Serguci League and never talked about it again. He didn't even tell Tommy about his baseball accomplishments when Tommy was playing the game. Tom knew his dad played college ball but he knew nothing about the Beansters and the Serguci League. Seeing Heather again made Tony realized just how much he had sacrificed and given up.

Tony knew that he shouldn't have any regrets. He loved Joan and he was committed to their marriage. They had two wonderful children together and Tony was proud to be a stay at home dad and have the full experience of being an involved parent. But now here he was with a long forgotten baseball career, an expired teacher's certificate, and a part time job parking cars at funeral details while his kids grew older and his wife became more successful. A part of him wondered if he had sacrificed too much.

Ironically, Heather was his biggest fan back then. She never missed a Beanster game. Oh sure she said she was there for Sal but there was no denying that she had a crush on Tony and he appreciated her enthusiasm and support for his baseball play. Heather loved having Tony stay at her house and she was constantly flirting with him and even tempting him with her scant summer wear but Tony was totally committed to Joan and he never took advantage of Heather's lust and flaunting.

Strange how he started thinking about that part of his life almost non-stop now. Perhaps it was the look in Heather's eyes when she realized who he was at the funeral. Maybe he wanted to feel important again after so many years in Joan's professional shadow, the dutiful house husband who's biggest concern was what to buy at the supermarket each week.

They used to cheer Tony The Torch Martino when he took the mound at Beano Field. They loved watching him play. He was a hero and a celebrity, a kid who could throw a fastball faster than anybody else. He used to be somebody important. He used to be someone special. He used to be noticed and appreciated.

Tony's cell phone went off. It was a text from Marie. 'Hey Dad. Don't forget to pick up my dry cleaning for me '

Then he glanced down at the collected items in the tub and his eye caught one of the headlines: Torch one of the all time greats.

He laughed as he put the cover back on the tub and went to get Marie's dry cleaning. But he kept thinking about Heather and the feeling he enjoyed remembering how she loved to watch him play.

About the only time he and Joan had the time and opportunity to talk was late at night in bed if one of them hadn't fallen asleep before the other made it into the bedroom. Joan usually talked about her latest case or what happened with so-and-so at the office while Tony updated her on the latest news on the kids. He rarely bothered telling her about his day – how many times could he tell her what was on sale at the supermarket that day?

On this night Joan was lying in bed in one of her expensive silky night gowns reviewing a brief when Tony joined her in the bed.

"Do you ever think about our summers in Hillsboro back in college?" he asked.

"You mean your summers in Hillsboro?" Joan clarified. "I couldn't get out of there any faster than I did. There are few places on earth as boring as Hillsboro in the summer."
"There was Sun Rise Lake and the Blue River," Tony said.

"I had my own lake, thank you," Joan reminded him. "A pretty lake with a big house that you rarely showed up at."

"We go every summer," Tony remarked.

"Not back then," she grumbled.

"Hillsboro had Johnny C's Diner and Fontaine's Family Grocery Store and Johnson's Book Store and of course good ole Beano Field."

"I hated that place," Joan replied bitterly. "It was dull as hell. Moving here was the best thing that could have happened to us. Blue County was like living on Pluto."

"I have fond memories," Tony sighed.

"When I think back on those years all I can think about is wanting to leave," she said.

"You liked Green College," Tony pointed out.

"I guess," she agreed reluctantly. "But hardly anything else."

"It's where we met," Tony pouted.

"Yes, Dear, I'm grateful for that much," she said with a tight smile. "And my degree. But nothing else important happened there and we were better off once we left."
"I had a couple of singularly magnificent moments playing ball there," Tony said.

"That was a long time ago, sweetie, and it hardly matters now," Joan remarked. "Nobody remembers or cares how many strike outs you had twenty years ago in games nobody watched."

Joan was never the most emotional person. Her training in law only strengthened her clinical, factual, detached look at the world with a right or wrong, guilt or innocence, yes or no frame of reference and he rarely argued with her when it came to such debates except when it came to the kids. It hurt that she could be so dismissive of his baseball days but he knew there was no point continuing the conversation.

Tony slipped down in the bed and rolled over with his back to her as she continued studying her brief. As far as Joan was concerned, The Torch had been extinguished long ago and sometimes Tony wondered if that applied to their marriage too.

### ### ###

It took Tony nearly a week to muster the courage to stop by O'Toole's. He knew there was no reason to look up Heather other than to sooth his bruised ego, hear her talk about how great he was as a ball player, and to remember the good old days, something Joan had no interest in considering. As far as Joan was concerned, their life together really didn't begin until they graduated college and left Greenville even though they dated for more than two years while at Green College.

Joan had a seminar that was going to keep her out late and the kids were doing their own thing so Tony took a ride. He must have passed O'Toole's seven times before he finally pulled the mini-van to the curb in front of the tavern. It was ironic that Joan drove her BMW and Tommy had a late model Jeep and Marie a two year old Honda but Tony still piddled around in the mini-van they bought when Marie was six!

O'Toole's sat on a corner of a working class neighborhood at the far end of the suburb bedroom community town where Tony and Joan had settled down. It looked attractive enough with a brick front and a green awning and Tony could hear the sounds of voices inside even before he reached the door. He sucked in his breath and entered the bar.

O'Toole's had seven television screens on the walls with various sporting events playing on the screens. Loud music was blaring. There were booths and tables and in the back were several pool tables and an air hockey table. Sports photos, banners and other décor filled the establishment.

The bar ran along the far side of the wall and it was easy to spot Heather behind it. Tony stepped to the bar and took a seat in one of the stools closest to the front of the tavern.

"Torch!" Heather's eyes lit up when she saw him at the bar. "Hey everybody!" She yelled. "This here's one of the greatest amateur baseball pitchers ever!"

There was little danger of anybody Tony actually knew being in this place. One every blue moon he'd bump into a former student who remembered him from his brief teaching career but that happened less and less these days. There was the occasional little league coach or Dad who would say hi to him around town but O'Toole's was pretty far off that beaten track.

"Whatta havin'?" Heather asked.

"Bud, draft," Tony replied, happy to see Heather after thinking about her so much recently.

She was wearing skin tight jeans again and a red O'Toole's tee shirt.

"I didn't think you'd come," Heather confessed as she put the glass of beer in front of him.

"Me either," Tony admitted.

"But I'm glad you did," she smiled.

"Me too," he grinned.

"So, you married the tight ass," Heather recalled.

Tony nodded affirmatively as he took a sip from the glass.

"Still married to the tight ass?"

He nodded again.

"Damn!" She smirked.

"She's a big deal lawyer with a prestigious Boston firm," Tony revealed.

"I can see how that happened!" Heather laughed. "And you?"

"I taught for a couple of years but mostly I've been a stay at home dad raising the kids."

"You're shitting me," Heather remarked with surprise.

Tony chucked as he took another sip of beer. "No joke," he assured her.

"You've got kids?"

"Two," he confirmed. "But they're starting to realize they don't need me anymore."

"I got a twenty year old who's convinced she doesn't need me anymore!" Heather groaned.

"How'd you end up out here, so far from Hillsboro?" Tony wondered.

"Oh, my stupid ex dragged us out here," Heather said with annoyance. "Some idiotic hair brained business scheme that went belly up after a few years. He ended up losing everything and had to get a job as a factory worker. We split up about five years ago but I hung around 'cause the kid didn't want to leave her friends."

"I can't believe you have a twenty year old," Tony said. "You're younger than me and my oldest is only eighteen."

"Yeah, well I was pregnant the last time I saw you pitch," she said. "I was nineteen."

"Don't you miss Hillsboro?"

"Sometimes," Heather admitted. "But I'm always going back." She stared at him. "Do you miss it?"

"I do now," Tony confessed.
"That's where lightning struck for you," Heather remarked.
"I didn't do anything that unique or even unprecedented," he insisted.

"Right. Except for winning fourteen games for a team that only won fourteen games!" She laughed.

"I got lucky."

"You brought energy, enthusiasm, excitement, joy and heart to Beano Field," Heather remarked.

She had to tend to the other customers at the bar and the waitresses placing orders so their conversation was interrupted several times but Heather kept finding her way back to Tony sitting at the end of the bar.

"That last year you had still hasn't been matched," Heather informed him.

"Well, that was a long time ago and it hardly matters now," Tony said, repeating what Joan had said to him. "Nobody remembers or cares."

"Of course they do," Heather argued. "That's what records and seasons are all about."

"Well, The Torch is out," Tony sighed. "I'm a 43 year old washed up stay at home Dad with a tight assed wife who never cared that I played in the first place."

"Man," was all Heather could say in response.

"Haven't thrown a pitch in twenty-one years," he added.

"You still look like you could," Heather offered.

"We have a family membership at the gym," he explained.

"The Torch I remember had a cocky stride and a confident look about him," Heather remarked. "What happened?"

"Such things fade with time, age and marriage," Tony replied.

"I bet if I walked into The Bullpen Tavern back home right now and yelled out 'The Torch' half the place would know who I was talking about," Heather said.

"The mention of a long-ago pitcher decades removed would be old news," Tony countered.
"You were a magical pitcher that summer," Heather said. "Real fans don't forget that kind of stuff."
"That's the problem with small town sports," Tony replied.

He finished his beer and tossed a five and a one on the bar.

"You're leaving already?" Heather asked with disappointment.

"You're working," he said as he hopped off the stool. "It's hard talking."

"Tony, wait," Heather said with desperate urgency in her voice. She grabbed a cocktail napkin and scratched down her address and phone number, handing it to him across the bar. "Sounds like both of us have plenty of free time during the day," she said. "Call or stop by anytime." She gave him a knowing look. "I work four to one, Fridays through Tuesdays."

"What about your daughter?" He asked tentatively.

"She lives with her boyfriend in Quincy," Heather answered. "I'm by myself."

Tony nodded his understanding of her intent and he left the bar clutching the napkin in his hand. Nobody drove the mini-van except for him so he didn't worry about the implications of the napkin which he stuffed into the unused ashtray. He drove home remembering the smile on Heather's face when she talked about The Torch of the Beansboro Beansters.

Tony was still the first one home. The kids had an 11 o'clock curfew on school nights, one a.m. on weekends. Only God knew when Joan would make it home from her various commitments. Tony tried to stay awake waiting for his wife but there were some nights when he'd fall sleep in bed in front of the television and never hear her come in. Such was the case on this night as Tony thought about his younger athletic days.
He had been an excellent athlete, the kind of kid Little League coaches wanted because of his ability to dominate on the mound. He was a pitcher with guile and velocity even at a young age. Since bumping to Heather at the funeral, Tony had thought fondly on those forgotten days of glory.
He was a stand out pitcher in high school but he competed against other small schools so he knew his limitations. Green College was one of the few lower division colleges to offer him a partial athletic scholarship and he ended up as the third pitcher on the depth chart sophomore year but he had also pitched in ten games with the Beansters the previous summer, winning six of them. He had a tough fastball with pinpoint control plus a nasty curveball and a willingness to pitch inside. He liked to have fun and he pitched with a relaxed and easy motion. Green College turned out to be an average team and while Tony pitched well during his four years with the squad he wasn't recognized as anything terrific.

It was in the Serguci League where Tony earned the affectionate nick-name 'The Torch' and he quickly became a fan favorite. The Beansters were a perennially bad team with only one league championship in the previous thirty years but the fans still came to Beano Field to watch him play. Tony went 9-4 in his second season in the league but it was his last season in a Beanster uniform that proved to be the memorably magical one.

Serguci League teams generally pitched a three man starting rotation so starting pitchers got 14 starts over the 42 game campaign. The Torch won his first six games before getting a no-decision and then five more in six additional starts to go 11-0 in thirteen appearances. The Manager used him in relief a few times in close games and gave him a couple of extra starts which allowed him to go 14-0 with a save in sixteen starts and three relief appearances. Even more remarkable about his final record was that the team didn't win any games without him on the mound. The Beansters went 14-28 that season.

Tony was only one of ten pitchers in the history of the league (founded in 1948) to have an undefeated season in at least 10 starts. He was the only pitcher in the history of the league to win all of his team's games. It was stuff legends were made of but Joan wasn't around for any of that season because she didn't "do" baseball.

The season ended on Labor Day and Joan had been back on campus for a few days – enough time to see Tony make his final appearances – but she declined to attend any of them, too busy with other activities, interests and concerns. Heather was there for every single game that season and that realization was one of the reasons Tony showed up at her apartment a few days after she gave him the cocktail napkin with her home address on it.

It was lunch time on a Thursday. Heather lived within walking distance of O'Toole's in a small apartment building with small apartments. Tony had to buzz to get in so he pressed the outside bell.

"Who is it?" It was Heather's voice heard through the intercom.

"The Torch." It was the first time he called himself that in twenty-one years.

The door buzzed open and Tony stepped inside not quite sure what to expect or even why he was being so brazen, a married man dropping in on an available woman, someone he had known as a teenager two decades earlier.

Heather appeared at the top of the stairs that led up from the foray.

"Up here," she said in an excited whisper.

Tony hopped up the carpeted stairs two at a time and he met the smiling Heather at the top of the landing. She was wearing skin tight jeans cut offs and a racy halter top that barely hid her breasts.

"I didn't think you'd come," Heather said.

"Me either," Tony admitted.

"But I'm glad you did," she smiled.

"Me too," he grinned.

"Come on."

Heather led him down the hall and into her apartment which was only three rooms – a combined kitchenette and dining area, a living room and a bedroom, plus the bathroom. It was clean and attractively decorated but small and cluttered.

"Claudia and I used to share the bed," Heather said.

"Claudia's your daughter," Tony guessed.

Heather nodded. "Have you had lunch yet?" She wanted to know.

"No, but that's okay," Tony replied.

"Don't be silly," Heather said as she directed him to the couch in the living room in the cove of the bay window overlooking the street below. "I just made macaroni salad. Give me a minute."

She went into the kitchenette which Tony could see because of the open design of the apartment.

"I've been thinking about that last magical season," Tony confessed as he took a seat on the couch.

"Oh yeah?" Heather called as she dished up two bowls of the salad.

"You saw all the games."

"Of course," she laughed as she brought the two bowls into the living room area.


She rolled her eyes and laughed. "Why do you think, Tony?" She went back to the kitchenette to grab a couple of beers from the frig.

"How come you never said anything?"

"You were dating the tight-ass," she said with a shrug as she returned with the beers. "I was knocked up with Claudia. What was I supposed to say?"

"Thanks for being there," he said with appreciation, twenty-one years belatedly.
"It was definitely something special," Heather said happily as she sat on the couch next to him and began to eat from her bowl. "You owned the league that year."
"I couldn't believe it was happening," Tony admitted as he ate too.

"I was full of giddy euphoric amazement every time I went to Beano Field," Heather smiled. "Sal refused to talk about it because he didn't want to jinx it and I wasn't sure if my puking was because I was pregnant or stressed out watching you pitch! Everybody was talking about it."

"Except Joan," Tony sighed.

"Oh, yes, Joan," Heather frowned. "I couldn't believe it when Sal told me you weren't playing that next summer."

"She wouldn't let me stay one more season," Tony revealed. "She was starting law school that September and we needed to get settled in back here."

"You had a chance to set the all time record for most consecutive wins without a defeat by a pitcher," Heather pouted. "That would have been fantastic."
"Nice story but it was over before it began," Tony sighed. "Joan didn't care about any of that stuff."

"I did," Heather let him know. "It was huge. She should have been thrilled for you and pumped to see you play."

"She wasn't in the slightest," Tony said, still hurt all these years later.

"That sucks," Heather complained. "If she loved you she should have supported you."
"I had to let it all go," Tony said. "I had to leave all that stuff behind and move on with my life."

"Does it bother you?" Heather asked as she slugged down some of her beer. "That you never got the chance?"

"I thought I had forgotten about it," Tony said. "But when we ran into each other it all came flooding back as if it happened yesterday."
"It should be a wonderful feeling what you did," Heather said. "You were such a wonderful person and a good pitcher. What you accomplished was historic. She should have cared and given you that satisfaction."

"You did," he said.

"Yes I did," she stated strongly. "I cared about a lot of things back then."

"I remember a headline in the Greenville News and Dispatch," Tony recalled. "It said 'Who is Tony Martino and When Will He Lose?'"

"I remember kids lining up for your autograph," Heather giggled.

"I never thought something like that would happen to me," he said.

"Everybody was excited about it," Heather said. "They got a kick out of what was going on. The radio station was talking about it, the paper was writing about it, and everybody who followed the league was eating it up. Everybody was cheering for you."

"I remember getting the extra start and I beat the Lions and I was 13-0."

"That's when I got really nervous," Heather giggled. "I figured it had to be bad luck!"

"Suddenly it was the last game of the season and Bisby gave me the start to see if I could get to 14," Tony said.

"Against the best team in the league!" Heather remembered.

"Yeah, but they had already clinched so it really didn't mean anything."

"Labor Day night," Heather smiled. "Place was packed for the fireworks after the game."

"But Joan didn't come," Tony sighed.

"Fuck her," an angry Heather barked.

"And I win 1-0 on an unearned run," Tony laughed. "I was on exhaust fumes after six innings but the guys picked me up and the bullpen kept Greenville off the board and I finished 14-0."

"I cried when the game ended," Heather revealed.

"It was the greatest moment of my baseball life," Tony smiled contently. "It was an amazing season."
"I was so proud of you," Heather beamed. "So happy for you."

Tony looked at her with true appreciation and emotion. He had waited years to hear Joan say that but she never did.
"Maybe its best it ended that way," Tony said with a sigh.

"You had a chance for more records," Heather reminded him.

"Yeah, but it would have been anti-climatic if I had gone out and lost the first game the next season," Tony laughed. "Maybe it's better not knowing if I would have broken the record."

"I don't like not knowings," Heather frowned. "You left Hillsboro never to be heard from again. I wondered what became of you. I wished you'd come back and pitch again for the Beansters and that…." Her voice broke and she stopped talking, looking away.

Tony smiled, remembering the teenage Heather who frequently made semi-passes at him when he stayed at the house. The Perino home was crazy. Small, overcrowded, some crisis going on every day, no privacy, constant fighting and yelling, siblings squabbling, parents arguing, dogs barking and Tony loved every minute of it.

When he accompanied Joan home to her parents' house from college everything was formal, organized, calm and neat. There was a maid, the house was perfect, and the parents almost robotic. It was a bore. Even the lake house didn't have a grain of sand inside the premises. The first time Tony was in the Perino house he stepped in a bowl of cereal somebody left on the floor!

Tony glanced at Heather as they sat on the couch and he remembered how emotionally available she was back then. She was his biggest fan - funny, friendly, engaged, interesting and fun to be around. He'd hear her screaming and cheering in the stands. He'd hear her yelling at the umpire or the other players. She was alive!

Tony wished Joan was more like that. She was always so cerebral in their college days. That's what initially attracted him to her. She was intelligent, political, studious, interesting to talk to and Tony was amazed that a girl that was so refined and classy was smitten with a jock him. But when Joan refused to watch him pitch for the Beansters he felt like he wasn't good enough for her. And now, all these years later, Tony still didn't feel like he was good enough or important enough for Joan's world. He was the stay at home House Dad - Mr. Mom - while Joan was out enjoying her professional life.

And here he was sitting on a couch next to Heather Perino who thought he was the greatest pitcher to ever play in the Serguci League. Maybe he should have stayed that fourth summer and pitched for the Beansters, spending another summer with the Perinos. Joan would have cancelled the wedding, of course, and Heather was pregnant with another guy's kid so none of it would have worked out anyway – but it was still worth fantasizing about.

"Do you know what the record was?" Tony asked as he put his empty bowl down on the coffee table and took a sip from his beer bottle.

"Most wins without a loss by a pitcher, you mean?" Heather asked.


"Nineteen," she said. "Satch Leonard with the Miller City Mudhens. He won his last three games the year before the Mudhens had that record breaking 38-4 season when he went 12-0 and then he won four straight the next season before finally losing."

"I don't think I could have gotten nineteen," Tony sighed. "How did the Beansters do the year after I left?"

"Not so good."

"It would have been really hard to keep the streak going," Tony said.

"You were already 15-0, by the way," Heather told him. "You won your last outing the previous season."

"Oh yeah?" Tony was surprised. "I guess I forgot that."

"So you only needed four wins to tie."

"I probably would have folded under the pressure," he smirked.

"When did you know you weren't going to play for the Beansters anymore?" she asked.

"Pretty much when I walked off the field after that last game," he said. "Joan had our future all mapped out. Her parents had put a down payment on the house we're in now before we even graduated from Green."

"Do you have any regrets?" Heather wondered. "About walking away?"

"I tried not to think about it," he admitted. "But now I can't help but wonder."

"Me too," she smiled sadly.
"There would have been a lot of pressure if I went for the record," Tony said.

"You were The Torch," Heather said with confidence. "You could have done it."

"I never pitched in a big game," Tony said. "We were always out of it two or three weeks into the season."

"Every game you pitched that last year was a big game," Heather told him. "You were fantastic."

"I guess."

"The Torch," she smiled. "You sure did light my fire!"

"That was a long time ago, Heather," he sighed.

"You're still The Torch, Tony," Heather assured him with knowing eyes.

"The flame is gone," he admitted. "You can't recapture the magic of youth."

"You never went back?" She asked.

"To Green College a couple of times but never across the river to Hillsboro," Tony sighed. "Joan wasn't interested."

"Boy, she really has you pussy-whipped, doesn't she?" Heather observed.

That was another thing about the Perinos' Tony had forgotten. They had no reservations about saying what they thought and expressing their opinions in vulgar and crude terms. The f bomb was routinely dropped in their house without a second thought. Joan's family rarely cursed or swore but they could be condescending and insulting with their wordy verbal barbs. Joan had a knack for talking down to her husband in a sweetly degrading way and Heather was probably right – he was pussy whipped. Joan was in charge and she called the shots. She made the money, she had the career, and she was the The Torch standing on the mound of their marriage.

"We should go back sometime together," Heather suggested. "Take in a game at Beano Field. It would be great."

"You've been back, right?" Tony asked.

"Of course, all the time, all the family's still there," she laughed. "I've seen a few games over the years. It's still the same. Small towns like Hillsboro change without really changing at all. People come and go. Generations are replaced. Stores close and new ones open. Times change, attitudes progress, but the hopes and dreams are basically the same. Maybe The Torch and others like him are no longer a familiar name to those who don't follow the history of the Serguci League but every so often somebody will write something or some player will break a record and the old names will be mentioned and for a moment a long-ago hero is once again remembered."

She looked at him with affection for a long moment before gathering the empty dishes and beer bottles and bringing them into the kitchenette. Tony followed her.

"I should go," he sighed.

"Do you have to?" She whispered, keeping her back to him as she put the dishes into the sink.

"Tommy's got a game," Tony revealed.

"Oh," she said with disappointed understanding. She turned to face him. "Come back any time," she said softly.

"Thanks for lunch," he replied, looking into her waiting and wanting eyes.

"Anytime," she said sadly.

He wanted to kiss her but he knew he shouldn't. He had honored his marriage vows all these years, staying loyal to Joan even though he had his suspicions over the years that perhaps she hadn't. Even though he was pussy whipped and held buried resentments toward Joan he still loved her and he was committed to their marriage and the children He fulfilled his obligations as the stay at home Dad but since bumping into Heather Tony realized that he had been feeling depressed about himself and his life for a while now.

Spending time with Heather helped him momentarily forget about how unsatisfied and bored he was with his life. He felt young again when he was with her, remembering old times and the way he used to be.

He stopped by Heather's apartment several times during the next few weeks, usually for lunch. He also dropped in for a drink at O'Toole's from time to time when he knew Heather was working and Joan wasn't home.

Joan picked up on her husband's consistent good mood. He was much more relaxed and easy going in recent weeks, good humored and talkative. She was reminded of how he used to be back when they dated and when he used to play baseball but she really didn't have any idea what was going on with him.

Tony still did his house dad duties and the occasional funeral. The family was gearing up for Tommy's high school graduation and the formal family party that Tony was putting together with Joan's oversight. The biggest obstacle was making sure Joan cleared her work schedule for a few days to be able to attend!

Tommy's graduation party went off without a hitch. Joan and Tony were the perfect hosts for nearly one hundred family and friends who attended. Joan couldn't resist inviting some of her work associates and political allies so there was a slight overtone to the gathering but Tony had been through these types of games long enough not to worry about it anymore.

Tommy headed off to Europe for a month with some of his high school buddies and Marie was working her summer job as a camp counselor so Tony had plenty of free time. He had no idea what Heather's intentions were. Was she just being friendly? Restarting an old friendship? He decided he didn't want to know.

Whenever he had a few free hours, Tony would meet up with Heather. They reminisced about the old days of Beano Field and the Serguci League but Heather was also a genuine sports fan and Tony enjoyed talking present day sports and smack with her. They chatted about their families – what Claudia, Tommy and Marie were doing, what challenges they were experiencing in their daily lives, and they enjoyed a refreshing commonality together.

Heather hadn't realized how lonely she was but now Tony put a smile on her face whenever she saw him. Tony felt guilty that he was having meaningful and enjoyable conversations with a woman other than his wife but Joan was all about her career, her political aspirations and what was going on in her life and Tony simply couldn't relate to most of that stuff.

That first day in Heather's kitchenette was the closest they came to kissing or expressing physical attraction for each other. It was as if they secretly acknowledged that they both wanted to rip each others clothes off but they resisted the urge and the temptation and focused instead on their conversations and time spent together in whatever definition they wanted to call their friendship.

It would be hard for Tony not to admit that he still had a thing for Heather even after all these years. He liked the attention she gave him when he bunked out at the Perino House all those summers ago and now as he approached middle age he looked forward to seeing her again.

Joan headed for Washington DC for one of her conferences and that allowed Tony a chance to visit Hillsboro with Heather to take in a Serguci League Game at Beano Field. Tommy was still in Europe, Marie was only home from her job on the weekends, and Joan was out of town.

Tony met Heather at her apartment on Wednesday morning (one of her off days) and they drove to Hillsboro, arriving in time for lunch. They had a meal at Johnny C's Diner which was one of Heather's favorite places. They drove by the Perino House but didn't stop (it didn't look all that much different from how Tony remembered it).

Heather drove Tony to Sal's Tire Shop housed in an old gas station outside the flats section of town.

"Well fuck me running," Sal said as he stepped out from one of the garage bays to greet his long lost teammate who was standing in the lot with Sal's sister.

Sal had always been burly but now he was huge – 280 at least with a shaved head, a goatee, tattoos and an earring.

They shook hands and shot the shit over a coke in Sal's office. Tony and Heather both knew the old catcher would be discreet about seeing the married Torch with his divorced sister.

"You should have been fucking Heather instead of Joan back then," Sal bluntly told him. "You would have been a league lifer like me."

Sal caught until he got to fat to squat and then he played first base until he couldn't bend over for ground balls anymore and he finally hung it up when he was thirty 38 after 22 seasons in the league.

"And I'd be teaching English at Hillsboro High, probably," Tony agreed.

"Nothing wrong with that," Sal replied. "Better than being a pansy hose do nothing at home daddy for Christ sakes!"

"He's definitely pussy-whipped," Heather acknowledged.

"Get some balls, god damn it!" Sal protested. "You should be The Torch with that rich bitch and let her know who's in charge!"

"I think that's what I miss the most about pitching," Tony admitted. "Being in total control. When I was on the mound, it was just me and the ball. I had the say and I had the power. I miss that."

"The Torch was fucking doused," Sal complained.

When they were done visiting with Sal, Heather drove Tony to Beano Field and visited the league museum which was on the floors above The Bullpen Tavern housed in the old warehouse along the right field line of Beano Field.

Tony was amused to see a photo of him in a couple of exhibits and it was nice to see familiar faces and names on the various displays. Then they went down to The Bullpen Tavern and had a couple of drinks. Tony felt like an undercover agent and he had to make Heather promise not to make a big deal about him being back.

When Beano Field opened, they found seats behind home plate and Tony sat admiring the field he hadn't seen in twenty-one years. Surprisingly, a few old timers recognized him. Tony shook hands with various folks, bumped into a few old teammates and enjoyed a couple of Beano Field hot dogs. Heather was in seventh heaven watching a ball game with Tony and they had a great time as The Sun Rise Lake Lions beat the Riverside Royals, 7-3.

It was a long ride home when the game ended a little after nine but Heather kept Tony entertained with more stories and laughter. It was the best day Tony had experienced in a long time. He had no intention of cheating on Joan but he couldn't' deny that he was having a wonderful time with Heather.

"Do you want to come up?" Heather asked when they arrived at her apartment. She knew there was nothing for him to hurry home for.

"Sure," Tony replied even though he knew he shouldn't.

He felt the butterflies in his stomach as he followed her up the stairs. Heather let him into the apartment and when she closed the door behind them, she pushed him against it, smiled and gave him a hug. Tony instinctively hung his face into her neck and then moved up and rubbed his cheek against hers as he pulled her body into hers.

Heather grinded her hips into his groin which caused him to become hard and she felt him through the fabric of his pants and her denim shorts. She sucked in her breath and then she let out a loud moan as he wrapped his arms around her waist and pushed into her.

"What would you say if I told you I want to fuck you?" Heather asked softly. "I've wanted to fuck you from the first time you walked into our house when I was what….fifteen?"

Heather looked into his eyes afraid of how he might react upon hearing her confession.

"I knew that," Tony replied.

She giggled with embarrassment. "You did?"

He shrugged. "I was The Torch," he joked nervously.

"Did you want to fuck me?" She needed to know.

"Not as much as I do now," he revealed.

"Good," she whispered. "Spend the night," Heather pleaded.

Tony raised his left hand and showed her his wedding ring.

"I don't give a fuck about that tight-assed twat who couldn't even be bothered to watch her boyfriend pitch into history," She growled. "Besides, this isn't about her. It's about us."

"I still have to go home to her, Heather," Tony reminded her.

"Not tonight," Heather replied.

"And you're okay with that?"

"I only care about tonight," she told him.

He nodded his understanding and she broke the embrace. He followed her into the bedroom and he took a seat on the edge of the bed, watching as she finally disrobed for him, pulling off the old Serguci League tee-shirt she had worn for the occasion and tugging down her shorts and panties.

She stood naked in front of the full length mirror on the closet door and she peered at her own reflection. "You should have seen my ass when you could still bounce quarters off of it," she smirked as she turned her hips into the mirror.

"Looks pretty good to me right now," Tony replied happily.

She put her hands underneath her breasts and gave them a lift. "My tits aren't as firm as they once were," she pouted.

"I'm not as perky as I once was either," he told her.

"Just show me your torch," she replied, staring at him with almost desperate eyes.

Tony stood and undressed for a woman other than his wife for the first time in nearly twenty-five years. Before Joan there was Elly back home but once they went their separate ways after high school that relationship ended.

"Fuck," was all Heather had to say when she saw The Torch's long awaited torch as he stood at the foot of the bed naked waiting for her next move.

"What are we doing?" He wondered aloud.

"Giving ourselves a chance to be together at least for one night," she answered as she stepped across the room and wrapped her arms around his waist. "We're passing the torch," she said.

Then her lips were on his and he pulled her close as their tongues found each other's mouths. They both knew this was going to happen the moment he walked into O'Toole's for the first time. What else would he be doing there? And while nearly two months had passed without them taking their clothes off it was only because they were waiting until the right moment to throw the perfect pitch. And the time had come.

Heather pushed him on the bed and crawled on top of him, sticking her tongue down his throat while grabbing his torch with her hand. Tony rubbed her back and his hands found their way to her ass. She whimpered with pleasure when one of his hands made its way to her breast and she maneuvered herself so her other breast was in his mouth. Then he slid down on the bed until his face was between her legs causing her to scream out when his tongue found her hairy entrance. Tony worked his magic in that spot until she was whimpering and shuttering over him and then he rolled her onto her back on the mattress and he crawled on top of her, kissing her everywhere.

Heather floundered with her hand about until she found his torch again and she began to stroke it like she was holding a baseball bat. This time she slid down on the bed until she aligned his member with her mouth and she took it like it was a lollipop.

Jean had stopped doing that sort of thing years ago and Tony fell off of Heather and onto his back with a loud groan but she rolled with him, sitting up on the bed and keeping his torch firmly in her mouth.

"I'm pretending I'm eighteen again," Heather giggled, mumbling with her mouth full.

But they weren't eighteen. They were nearing middle age and Tony wasn't used to this sort of sex. With Joan, it had become routine and boring, compartmentalized and formal with a glass of champagne and fancy negligees but only when Joan could fit it into her schedule, wasn't too tired, and had enough interest to go through the motions, rarely willing to do much more than a quick missionary style conquest under the covers (and rarely totally naked) before rolling over and going to sleep.

Now here was Heather totally liberated and free, naked on the bed with the lights on sucking on him like she was eighteen again. Hell, he felt like he was eighteen again!

Tony wanted to thank her for making him feel wanted and important again, for reviving the torch flame even it was to be temporary. Getting a blow job after so many years was a fantasy come true so he let her pleasure him in such a vulgar way as he sprawled out on the bed and moaned and groaned with satisfaction, a sexual liberation he never thought he'd feel again. Heather happily swallowed his dragon flame when he finally exploded in her mouth and he felt momentarily dizzy from the unbelievable sensation she had given him.

Heather laughed with satisfied joy as she fell back on the bed next to him. "There you go," she said happily. "I can't believe I gave The Torch a blow job!"

Tony was amazed that he felt like he could keep on going. Like it was only the fifth inning and he still had a lot left in his arm. He crawled on top of Heather and kissed her tenderly.

"Thank you," he whispered.

"You're welcome," she smiled.

Tony inserted his torch into her flame.

"Oh, Tony," Heather moaned when she felt him inside of her some twenty-five years after she first started fantasizing about this moment. "No gentle stuff," she ordered. "I want you to fuck me like the slutty baseball Annie I am!"

Tony laughed but he was intrigued by her request. He was used to Joan's serine and sanitized sex so he slid off of Heather, slid her down to the bed until she was hanging off the end and then stood and rammed himself into her.

"That's what I'm talking about!" Heather screamed as she lifted both her legs in the air and watched as Tony stood pumping her like he was in his pitching motion. "Fuck me, Torch!" she screamed. "Keep fucking me!"

Tony hadn't had this sort of open animalistic physical sex in years. He was amazed and turned on as he watched his torch disappear inside of her and slid out with each ram. Heather was screaming and yelling his name and talking dirty and he had to admit that he was as turned on as if he was eighteen again. Heather kept her eyes open and she watched him doing it to her with a sensual, sexy, and satisfied look on her face. Her fingers were gripping the bed spread and when she wasn't screaming and yelling, she was whimpering, purring and moaning with happiness, repeating his name over and over again as if she was in the stands of Beano Field cheering him on as he stood on the mound.

It was a sexually liberating experience and Tony started making grunting noises of pleasure until Heather bellowed with a pleasurable orgasm that caused Tony to experience his own ejaculation. He couldn't remember the last time he cummed twice in one night.

Heather cried out with happiness and Tony tried to stay inside of her for as long as he could but when he reluctantly realized the inning was over he fell onto the bed next to her. A grinning Heather cuddled into him and placed her head on his chest while taking his now soft torch in her hand for comfort and security.

"It was worth the wait," the breathless Heather told him.

"No regrets?" He asked.

"No," she replied. "I'm a big girl, Tony. Don't worry about me. This is a one night fuck that I'll remember fondly for a very long time."

Tony was surprised that he didn't feel guilty for violating his marriage vows. He knew he should and whatever rationale or justification he came up with really didn't excuse his behavior or actions. It didn't matter that Joan was so wrapped up in her career that she didn't pay attention to him. It didn't matter that she had relegated him to being the house husband, taken for granted and not very important.

Tony was pretty sure that Joan hadn't been faithful to him all these years either. There had been lulls in their marriage when she was even more distant, detached and uninterested than usual with extra meetings and commitments and that's probably when she was involved in some affair. One of the little league fathers once told him that he saw Joan with 'some guy' at the Cambridge Olive Garden one day and while it could have been a business meeting it happened to be a Saturday so that made it suspect. There were other incidents when Tony met some guy Joan knew at some social event and something just didn't feel right when the three of them were in the same proximity.

And there was also the revenge factor – paying back Joan for not supporting his Serguci League career or sharing in his success back then by fucking his biggest fan, the one person who believed in him and cheered him on all those years ago. He hadn't planned on bumping into Heather Perino after all these years but once he did all his buried hurts, rejections, resentments and bitterness exploded to the surface. Heather reminded him of how great and important he had once been, something Joan never believed or cared about.

Maybe it was unfair of him to use Heather in such a selfish way but she was more than willing to be a participant in this little conspiracy so he couldn't worry about that part of it either. As she said, the torch was being passed and now Tony could be completely satisfied with that chapter of his life. He now had closure and a sense of completion.

Tony had begun to doze but he was awaken when he realized that Heather had mounted him and she wanted more. He didn't think he had the physical stamina to go another round which would definitely be a record for him but he was happy when he felt himself become hard again and Heather used her hand to guide him inside of her. She rode him until she experienced another orgasm, once again screaming and laughing and yelling and cheering and Tony was completely fascinated by her expressive sex. Joan was quiet and reserved and cerebral in the bedroom. He remembered the time she answered a page while he was inside of her. Watching Heather expressing herself in such a free and uninhibited way made him smile.

Heather fell asleep on top of him and when Tony awoke in the morning she was still lying on him naked, her hair in his face. She opened her eyes when he began to stir and she purred a good morning.

"Can we have a farewell fuck?" She asked in her next breath.

Tony couldn't believe any of this. Morning sex? He hadn't had that since some long forgotten vacation with Joan years ago. He moved his hand and began to softly rub Heather's back and buns.

"Promise me you won't feel guilty," she said as she reached her hand down between them and found his torch one last time.

"Guilty about you or my marriage?" Tony wondered.

"Both," she said as she directed him inside of her one more time. "I know I'm a total piece of shit for seducing and fucking a married man but I just don't give a rat's ass," she said. "But don't fret. I'd never do anything to endanger your marriage. There's this guy who's been interested in me for a while so its time I give him a chance. Forgive me and forgive yourself for this final torch between us."

He grabbed her ass and kept her anchored on his lap as he pumped himself inside of her once again stirring her into a loud frenzy as she laughed, yelped, moaned, groaned, yelled, screamed and finally orgasmed, her breasts flapping above him and her face in a totally relaxed and happy expression. She leaned down and kissed him with passion and gratitude.

"The Torch is passed," she whispered.

They showered together and then Tony dressed. Heather was unabashedly still naked when she walked him the door where she tenderly kissed him goodbye.

"Thanks for everything," she smiled. "It was a dream come true."

Part of Tony wanted to grab her and kiss her with passion and resolve, telling her he wanted to come back every day and do this. He felt alive again and loved and appreciated and he wasn't sure if he wanted to go back to his wife and his life but he knew he had to.

"Goodbye, Heather," he sighed.

"So long, Torch," she said cheerfully. "Thanks for the memories."

He smiled sadly as she opened the door, hiding behind it so nobody would see her naked. Tony stepped into the hall and looked back to see her face peeking out from behind the door.

"You're going to be okay," she told him. "You'll always be The Torch. Don't forget that. Now go home and starting being The Torch in your fucking marriage."

She closed the door and Tony slowly walked out of her apartment building for the final time.

The house looked bigger than ever when Tony pulled the mini-van into the driveway with the three car garage. It was an eleven room three floor modern colonial, white with black shutters and a balcony on the second floor. The house was much bigger than they needed even after the kids came but Joan's parents were insistent that this was the house for their daughter even before they married.

Tony had the kid next to door let the dog out around supper time the night before but she was ready to go out again as soon as he opened the door. He stood in the backyard waiting for her to do her duties and when she was done he let her back in and feed her.

The house felt emptier than ever. Joan was in DC, Tommy was in Europe, and Marie was at camp. Tony walked through the endless empty rooms noticing the various decorations and paintings and familiar photographs and furniture. There was a certain peacefulness to the house that he enjoyed and when he thought about the crazy Perino house of his youth and Heather's sardine-can apartment he realized how good he had it.

He studied the family photographs on the wall leading up the stairway and he smiled at the lovely faces and wonderful memories. The one thing he and Joan definitely did right was raising two terrific kids and he was proud of that reality. Now that he thought about it, he had been a great dad and a pretty good husband and while it was true that he had been frustrated in his marriage he couldn't deny that Joan had provided well for her family.

Feeling resentment and bitterness for what happened a lifetime ago in Hillsboro wasn't going to make that much of a difference now. The point was he was married to a successful woman who had an exciting career still ahead of her. He had two great kids and a lovely home. What was there to feel sorry about?

These last few months with Heather had been a gift. It restarted the old torch long forgotten and while his pitching days was history that didn't mean that he had to deny the confidence and success he enjoyed as a ball player in his current life. And now Tony could be The Torch in his marriage if he made up his mind to act that way.

When Joan got home that night she found the dining room table set up for her favorite meal. Flowers graced the table and champagne was chilled in a bucket. She smiled at Tony when she found him in the kitchen dressed in a tuxedo putting the finishing touches on the lamb roast.

"What's the special occasion?" She asked with interest.

"You," Tony replied with a smile. "Us. We have the house to ourselves. Why not take advantage of it?"

He was taking a chance, of course. Joan could very easily say she was too tired to eat, or that she ate on the plane, or she had work to do.

"Let me go change," she said warmly, much to Tony's relief.

Joan returned twenty minutes later in one of her most expensive and favorite dinner dresses. They enjoyed the meal, the music, the champagne, the flowers, and each other's company. Joan told her husband about her trip only this time Tony actually paid attention and asked interested questions about the conference and what she accomplished. Usually, he daydreamed while she droned on about her day.

Joan actually helped Tony clean up afterwards and when they were done she went into the living room to pour them a nightcap. Tony approached her from behind where she stood at the bar and he kissed her exposed neck. Joan didn't resist when he began making love to her right there and then and Joan was surprised at how aggressive, assertive and in control he was of the situation.

Tony had his wife out of the dinner dress and it was the first time she was naked outside of the bedroom or bathroom probably since before Tommy was born. Tony pinned her against the sofa and took her from behind as they both knelt on the floor, a position Joan hadn't tried (with Tony) in years. He wrapped his arms around her stomach and dipped his chin over her shoulder to kiss her while they did it doggy style, his thighs crashing against the back of her legs with slaps that echoed through the room.

Tony hadn't heard Joan grunt, groan and squeal during sex the way she did this night in a long time. It was the most awesome sex Joan had with her husband in years and when she was finally done climaxing for the third time she and Tony lay on the soft carpet underneath a throw blanket from the back of the couch cuddling and holding one another, Joan peacefully serine for the first time in a long time.

"I love you," Tony told her.

"I know," she smiled with gratitude.

"I promise to do us better," he vowed.

"You've been doing just fine," she assured him, giving him a kiss of appreciation. "I know I don't tell you this enough, Tony, but thank you for everything you do for us. I wouldn't have made it without you."

The Torch had been passed.