The Wrong Man
The History Professor and the Two Women
When Scott Freeman first read the letter that he found in his daughter’s top bureau drawer, crumpled up and stuffed behind some old white athletic socks, he knew immediately that someone was going to die.
It was not the sort of sensation that he could instantly have defined, but it overcame him in much the same way that any feeling of impending dread might, finding a distinct cold place deep within his chest. He remained rooted in his place, while his eyes repeatedly traveled the words on the sheet of paper: No one could ever love you like I do. No one ever will. We were meant for each other and nothing will prevent that. Nothing. We will be together forever. One way or another.
The letter was not signed.
It had been typed on common computer paper. The type font had been italicized, to give it an almost antique sensitivity. He could not find the envelope that it had been delivered in, so there was no handy return address, not even a postmark that he could check. He put the letter down on the bureau and tried to smooth out the creases that gave it an angry, urgent appearance. He looked again at the words and tried to imagine them to be benign. A puppylike protest of love, nothing more than a temporary infatuation on the part of some college classmate of Ashley’s, a crush, and that she had kept it concealed for no real reason, other than some misplaced romantic foolishness. Really, he told himself, you are overreacting.
But nothing he imagined in that moment could overcome the sensation icing him inside.
Scott Freeman did not think of himself as a rash man, nor was he quick to anger, or prone to swift decisions. He liked to consider every facet of any choice, peering at each aspect of his life as if it were the edge of a diamond, examined under a microscope. He was an academic both in trade and nature; he wore his hair shaggy-long,
to remind himself of his youth in the late sixties, liked to wear jeans and sneakers and a well-worn corduroy sports coat that had leather patches on the elbows. He wore one set of glasses for reading, another for driving, and he was always careful to have both pairs with him at all times. He kept fit by a daily dedication to exercise, often running outdoors when the weather was suitable, moving inside to a treadmill for the long New England winters. He did this, in part, to compensate for the occasions when he would drink heavily alone, sometimes mixing a marijuana cigarette with Scotch on the rocks. Scott took pride in his teaching, which allowed him a certain daily flamboyant showmanship when he looked out across a packed auditorium. He loved his field of study and looked forward to each September with enthusiasm, and little of the cynicism that afflicted many of his colleagues at the college. He thought he had the most steady of lives and feared that he put too much excitement in the details of the past, so occasionally he indulged in some contradictory behavior: a ten-year-old Porsche 911 that he drove every day unless it snowed, rock and roll blaring from the stereo. He kept a battered, old pickup truck for the winters. He had an occasional affair, but only with women near his own age, who were more realistic in their expectations, saving his passions for the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Celtics, and the Bruins, and all the college’s sports teams.