first birthday–chapter 11

CHAPTER ELEVEN

            I was sitting at one of the tables in the Men’s Grille, trying to balance overstepping my boundaries as an employee and being a gentlemanly playing partner.  A half hour earlier I’d finished my round with R.J., his father and a guest they had brought from Chicago named Tom Moore.  It had been a good day out on the course.  R.J. and I had crushed his father and Tom, and I found myself rooting for a partner like I never had before.  I had never been much of a cheerleader, and I’m sure most of the compliments I gave on the golf course came across as hollow, but I was genuinely pulling for R.J.  I felt connected to each shot, and when he was in trouble I felt a little extra pressure to pick up the slack.  I think it heightened my focus, because I shot a pretty easy sixty-seven, which was the best round I had shot since coming to Michigan.  All the bets were completely out of hand by midway through the back, and it seemed like Reid was torn between being proud of his son and furious that he was being drummed.  It didn’t help that Tom claimed to be a ten handicap and shot ninety-five.  

            Reid had insisted that I come in for a drink, and so I obliged and sat at the table sipping iced tea while he attacked a healthy glass of Glenlivet XXV like a dehydrated Scotsman.  After the first drink R.J. and Tom both begged out of another citing some previous obligations, and I was left at the table alone with Reid swishing the ice around the bottom of my glass, and listening to him talk about his golf game.  Reid had acted like he was struggling on the course, but I pegged him for the kind of guy who was never satisfied with any shot he hit.  He had shot eighty without getting into any real trouble, and had driven the ball great.  At least he couldn’t blame the driver I had fitted him with.  About the time he started a soliloquy on a pre-shot routine for his putting, Freddie meandered over to the table to bail me out. 

            “Mind if I grab a chair boys?”  Freddie asked.  “I don’t like drinking alone if I can help it.” 

            Reid stopped talking and offered Freddie a chair.  I got the sense that Freddie and Reid weren’t great friends, but certainly knew each other.  Freddie was the kind of guy who was friends with whoever was around.  If Freddie needed someone to have a pop with and you were in the grille, then you guys were close.  That’s just how it worked. 

            “Did you play today Freddie?”  Reid asked. 

            Freddie shook his head, and spun the bottle of Glenlivet around so he could see the label. 

            “I don’t need the aggravation,” Freddie finally said.  “I’m playing like shit.” 

            “I know the feeling,” Reid offered.  “You should have Dave here take a look at your swing.  You wouldn’t believe how much he’s helped R.J.  He shot a 94 today.  As a thirty handicap.” 

            “So you’re saying sandbagging runs in the family,” Freddie laughed.  “I’m just messing with you, and I said I was playing like shit.  I didn’t say I was desperate enough to ask for help from this clown.” 

            Freddie nodded in my direction, the first time he had acknowledged my presence since sitting down.  I didn’t respond to the barb, but Reid looked a little offended for me. 

            “The clown as you call him shot sixty-seven today,” Reid said. 

            Freddie let out a whistle.  “Cocksucker’s a show-off.  I know he can play.  I was just busting his balls.  We’ve had a few battles on the putting green, not to mention I’m playing for charity one day, and this guy almost holes out on me in beat the pro,” Freddie chuckled to himself. 

            As I remembered it, I was playing for charity and Freddie was playing for himself, but I just continued to listen to the two guys talk about me while I sat in silence. 

            “I was telling him out there that he should go back to Q-School,” Reid said. 

            He had started with the Q-School questions pretty early on in the round, and sometime around fourteen when I got it to five under par he decided that I should give it one more shot at least.  He even mentioned something about putting together some sponsors for me, but I didn’t think he’d mention that in front of Freddie. 

            “Q-School for this guy?  Nah, he’s a big fish small pond guy.  Look at him.  Sitting there like a fucking retard on a park bench, not saying a word, just letting us talk about how good he is.  You going to try Q-School again kid?”  Freddie asked. 

            “I doubt it,” I answered. 

            “He doubts it.  That means no, he just doesn’t want to say it in front of you,” Freddie said. 

            “I don’t know.  I saw some competitive fire out there today.  I think he could make a good run at it,” Reid said. 

            “How far did you get last year?”  Freddie asked. 

            “I didn’t get out of the first stage,” I said. 

            “See that.  Big fish, small pond.  He likes it here.  He goes out shoots sixty whatever, everyone kisses his ass, why bother with Q-School.  I wouldn’t.  Especially now that he’s seeing that hot piece of ass over at Franco’s.” 

            “Freddie,” I was pleading Freddie to stop talking.  I didn’t like him calling Cait a piece of ass, but I was sitting in his Grille Room.  He could say whatever he wanted. 

            “What?  It’s not true?” 

            “Let’s just talk about golf,” I said. 

            “Who’s this piece of ass?”  Reid asked, managing to sound awkward.  You could tell he was interested, but wasn’t going to have the vocabulary to hang with Freddie in the conversation.

            “She works at Franco’s?  You ever been there?” 

            “That’s on the North side, near Wrigley right?” Reid asked. 

            “It’s across the fucking street,” Freddie laughed. 

            I couldn’t help laughing myself, and even Reid laughed a little when he realized how ridiculous he sounded. 

            “Oh, that place?  Well I guess it’s obvious that I’ve never been there.” 

            “You should check it out.  Decent pizza, Dave’s girlfriend works there.” 

            “She’s not my girlfriend,” I said quickly. 

            ‘Of course, well whatever you want to call her, Dave here has a soft spot, a chink in the armor.  Guys getting ready for Q-School don’t have summer flings with the local girls.” 

            “I think he could make it, I really do,” Reid said, trying to convince someone, anyone. 

            “Eh, maybe,” Freddie conceded.  “Maybe I just want the kid to stick around here so I can win my money back,” Freddie looked at me, smiled, and finished off his drink.    

            “You need another one Freddie?”  Reid offered the bottle of Glenlivet, and motioned to the bartender for a fresh glass.  “What about you Dave, how about a drink?” 

            I was tempted, but accepting the first drink was accepting the next one and the one after that as well.  Freddie had taken the burden of sitting with Reid away from me, so I left, not feeling like I was leaving anyone alone.  I was happy to get out of there, not just because Freddie was giving me a hard time, but I wasn’t comfortable sitting with the members.  I felt out of place, like I was holding my tongue, and like I didn’t belong.  Even when you get invited in, you know when you are an imposter.  I hurried my way out of the club, and checked my phone for messages.  There were two. 

            The first was from Avery.  I knew I owed her a call, and I knew she thought I owed her a visit, but I hadn’t been thinking too much about it.  The fact that she had already called the golf shop on one occasion scared me enough to send her a quick message promising that I would call her back by the following evening.  The second message was much more inviting.  It was from Cait, and without remembering what she said word for word the message suggested that I stop by her house on my way home from work.  She said she was sitting on her back porch, listening to the Cubs on the radio, and I should show up at my leisure.  It sounded like a good plan to me. 

            I stopped on the way over and got a six pack of beer, and quietly hoped that Cait had something to eat.  I pulled into the driveway, and a moment after shutting the door to my car Leroy and Selma came charging around the side of the house, and started jumping on the gate enthusiastically.  I assumed they remembered me fondly, and this wasn’t a typical greeting.  I managed to get them off the gate long enough to slide through, and as soon as I closed the gate behind me they raced back around the house.  I made an educated guess that Cait was out back and followed their lead. 

            When I got closer to the back yard I was hit with the aroma of a charcoal grill, and was instantly almost overcome with hunger.  I even noticed my mouth watering, and a couple steps later when I reached the back yard I saw the tell tale smoke coming from Cait’s deck, and could faintly hear the Cubs game crackling over the radio.  I made it to the bottom of the porch steps when Cait appeared in the back doorway.  The first thing I noticed was that she was barefoot, and above that she wore jeans and a tight white t-shirt that barely reached her waistline.  She startled ever so slightly when she saw me, but then smiled widely. 

            “There you are.  I just checked for you out front.  You know sneaking around people’s houses is a good way to get shot around here,” she joked.  “Or at the very least you could end up getting attacked by the dogs.”

            “They seem vicious,” I said. 

            “They’re terrible watch dogs, but what am I going to do?”

            I shrugged, and offered up the six pack instead of any verbal response. 

            “Oh, the good stuff,” Cait took the beers from me, and leaned in for a quick kiss.  “Let me get a bottle opener. Do you want to start with one, or two?”

            “One should cover me for now,” I laughed. 

            “All right, but I’m not getting up to get you the next one.” 

            Cait disappeared back into the house, and I walked up onto the porch.  I was tempted to lift the lid of grill, but instead took a seat on one of two Adirondack chairs.  They were covered with a faint coat of white paint, and the wood on the seat and arms had been worn smooth.  It was a comfortable place to land.  Cait came back onto the porch holding two open beers in one hand, and a plate with a couple hamburger patties in the other.  She carefully offered me one of the beers. 

            “I could have given you a hand,” I said, taking the beer. 

            “Just take the beer,” Cait said.  She placed hers carefully on the armrest of the other chair, and walked over to the grill.  “Did you eat?” She asked. 

            I admitted I hadn’t. 

            “I figured.  Hope you like burgers.  Of course I didn’t know for sure if you were coming, but I thought you might want to stop by,” Cait shot me a mischievous look. 

            “You leave a tempting message,” I said. 

            “I know,” Cait said, and then giggled to herself. 

            She took the lid off the grill, and the burgers met the heat with a satisfying sizzle.  She regarded the burgers for a moment, and when she was satisfied replaced the lid.  She took one step towards the railing of the porch, and turned the volume down on the radio temporarily muting Ron Santo. 

            “You can leave the game on,” I said. 

            Cait frowned, “They’re losing.  I’d rather talk to you,” she scooped up her beer, and situated herself in the Adirondack chair next to me. 

            “How long were you going to wait for me?” I asked. 

            “I guess we’ll never find out,” Cait raised her eyebrows as she took a sip from her beer.  “How was work?” 

            “It was all right, I played with this kid I’ve been helping out, and he played well, so that was good to see.  We beat his dad and a guy they brought along.” 

            Cait digested this information for a moment before answering, “You played golf during work?  Is that what you do every day?” 

            “No,” I searched for a way to make myself sound less like a slacker.  “Sometimes I have to play with the members. That is part of the job, but I do other stuff as well.” 

            “What else did you do today?”  Cait asked. 

            “Today wasn’t really a typical day.” 

            “I’ll bet.  So what else did you do?  Smoke a cigar, take a steam?” 

            “Well, I had to sit around, and bullshit with Reid, that’s whose son I have been helping, Reid McMahon.  Anyway, after you play with these guys they like to talk about the round, have a drink, all this bullshit, so I had to sit there.  First chance I got, I split, and headed over here.” 

            “So I was close with the cigars,” Cait smiled to herself. 

            “I’m not going to say it’s a tough job, but today was a little out of the ordinary.  In terms of me, you know, not doing any work at all.” 

            Cait laughed at this, and then sprung to her feet.  “The burgers,” she quickly grabbed a spatula from next to the grill, and opened the lid.  She let out a sigh of relief. 

            “Crisis averted?” 

            “Just a little over-reaction, they’re perfect.  Deep breath.  If I ruined these we’d be having mustard and M&Ms for dinner.” 

            “There’s M&Ms?” 

            “I don’t invite people over for dinner, and not have desert,” Cait said.  She closed the lid on the grill again, and sat back down next to me.  “So tell me more about your rough day, how’d you play?” 

            “I played well,” I said. 

            “What was your score?” Cait asked slowly. 

            “Sixty-seven,” I tried to sound as casual as possible. 

            “Sixty-seven,” Cait repeated.  “That’s good isn’t it?  It sounds pretty good.  You know I have seen golf on TV a time or two, and sixty-seven sounds kind of familiar.” 

            “It’s pretty good,” I admitted. 

            “Why are you modest?  I wouldn’t be modest, like this burger I’m going to serve you?  It’s not going to be pretty good, it’s going to be amazing.  When you’re good, you should admit it,” Cait got up from her chair, and headed back into the house.  On her way by she had given me a quick kiss. 

            “Do you need a hand?”  I called after her. 

            Cait didn’t answer, but was back out on the deck in no time at all carrying a large platter that held a couple buns, paper plates, some condiments, and a bag of potato chips.  She dropped the bag of chips in my lap on her way by, and then pulled a small table over in front of our chairs.  She put everything else on the table, except for a couple pieces of cheese that had been hiding under the chips. 

            “Cheese?” Cait asked. 

            “Of course.”

            Cait put the cheese on the burgers.  It seemed to melt in an instant, and she served up our dinner.  We both grabbed some ketchup, mustard, a handful of chips, and settled back into the chairs.  As if on cue, Leroy and Selma appeared from a corner of the yard, and came up onto the porch.  Selma went straight over to Cait, and placed her head on the armrest of Cait’s chair.  Leroy was a little more shy, sitting directly in front of me, and locking me an unyielding stare. 

            “There a little spoiled,” Cait admitted.  

            “I see that.” 

            “Is it bothering you?  I can put them in the house.” 

            “I’m fine,” I said, and I was. 

            “That’s a relief, because I really didn’t want to put them inside.” 

            I laughed, and took my first bite from the burger.  It was nothing but  charcoal grilled genius, and both Cait and I enjoyed our meals in relative silence.  When we finished, I helped Cait with the dishes, which involved tossing the paper plates in the trash can, and after the sun disappeared for the day we went inside her house.  Cait told me to grab a seat, and she excused herself, walking down a hallway.

Her house was extremely neat, but it certainly had the feel of a place that had been lived in for quite some time.  One entire wall in the family room was made into bookcases, and the shelves were jammed with all types of books, the mantle held a collection of pictures in miss-matched frames, and I thought I recognized a much younger Cait in a soccer uniform.  The furniture looked well worn, but inviting, and I chose one side of the couch to sit down.  Right after I did, I could hear that Cait was back in the kitchen, and she then joined me on the couch wearing a long sleeve shirt, and bringing with her a couple of beers and a bag of M&Ms. 

“So you weren’t joking about the M&Ms,” I said. 

“I don’t joke about chocolate,” Cait said.  She tore open the bag, and dumped what seemed like an awful lot of the candy into her mouth. 

I watched Cait thoroughly enjoy the mouthful, and when she was finally able to speak again she asked if I wanted some.  I took a little more conservative handful, and Cait flipped on the television. Before I knew it I had her bare feet in my lap, and was rubbing them softly while we watched the last couple innings of the Cubs game.  Cait admitted to being a sentimental Cubs fan.  She mentioned going to games with her father when she was a young girl, but she hadn’t been back to Wrigley in years.  She couldn’t quite shake free of them, though, and when they came back in the ninth to win she seemed quite pleased. 

Sometime before the last out she asked if I was going to stay over that night, and I tried to accept without sounding like an overeager teenager.  A few minutes after the game ended I as lying in Cait’s bed, wearing only my boxer shorts while she took a quick shower.  I was relieved to see Cait’s bedroom, despite being the room of her childhood, did not look like a young girl’s room.  She had gotten rid of anything remotely girly, if it had ever existed.  The room was comfortable, inviting, and when I had been in bed for a minute I realized that the intoxicating scent that lingered on Cait’s clothes and in her hair was also present in her sheets.         

I was filled with anticipation as I waited for Cait to return from the bathroom.  I was fidgeting around in bed, changing my position, and when I heard the water shut off I became even more nervous.  When Cait emerged from the bathroom she was wearing only a towel, and her hair was still wet and slicked back.  I stared at her bare shoulders, and then met her green eyes.  When we locked she broke the silence. 

“I love a nice hot shower,” she said.  She walked over to the edge of the bed, holding her towel in place with one hand. 

“Nothing beats a shower,” I said.  I reached out, and ran a hand up the outside of Cait’s leg. 

“Nothing?”  Cait asked. 

She turned the bedside lamp off, let the towel fall to the floor, and slid into bed next to me.

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