First Birthday — Chapter 16

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

            Cait wasn’t showing any signs of life the next morning as I got ready to leave for work.  Not in the sense that I was tempted to put a mirror under her nose to check for her breath, but she was lost in a deep slumber.  Cait was usually awake before I was, but it was not a usual night, and instead of rousing her I left her an extra key to the cabin.  I hoped that she would realize that I wasn’t leaving the key just so she could lock the door behind her.  When I heard that her mother had returned from Florida my first impulse was to tell her she could stay with me.  Any night, every night.  I selfishly thought of the prospect, but realized it was a far more complicated situation than I understood.  I wouldn’t have wanted to overwhelm her with such an offer anyway, and so even though I was thinking about her staying at the cabin long term, I said nothing.  Instead I left the key, and would let her make her own decision.

            It had been a terribly slow day at the club, and I had ended it on the driving range hitting some balls.  For whatever reason the mediocre ball-striking that marked my round with Avery had popped into my head, and I wanted to see what was going on.  Actually, I expected to go to the range, hit a couple good ones, and be on my way.  That’s not how golf works though, and it didn’t take me long to uncork a wild hook with my driver.  My ten-minute session quickly turned into almost an hour, and when I left it was because I could no longer follow the flight of the ball in the darkness, not because I was hitting it well. I should have left the range for another day, give the subconscious more time to forget the hooks.  That is what I wanted to do, but there I was driving back from the range well after nine o’clock. 

            As I approached the clubhouse the exterior flood lights kicked on, and suddenly bathed the patio, putting green, and everything else nearby in an artificial glow.  Initially, I sped up, suddenly able to see exactly where I was going, but when I saw the familiar shadow that Freddie cast on the putting green, I slowed again.  I thought for a moment about turning my golf cart around, acting like I forgot something at the range, and then heading the back way to the garage, but it was too late.  Freddie had spotted me.  A raised glass of Scotch in my direction, and I was hooked.  I waved, and pulled the cart to a stop.  Freddie was working on a nearly full cocktail, and the butt of a cigar. 

            “Little late to be practicing, isn’t it?”  Freddie asked. 

            “I could say the same thing to you.” 

            “I’m not practicing, kid.  I was waiting for you.” 

            I didn’t have an answer for this, so I hopped out of the cart, and grabbed my putter.  I walked onto the green, and dropped a couple balls about twenty feet away from Freddie.  He continued to talk. 

            “So, you hitting it sideways or some shit?   Or you turning over a new leaf, kid?  Is it the time of the year you get that Q-School bug?” 

            I turned, and looked at Freddie when he mentioned Q-School.  He had stopped rolling putts, and was just leaning on his putter, watching me. 

            “More sideways than Q-School,” I answered.  I walked across the green, and then started sending putts in Freddie’s direction. 

            “Sure it’s not Q-School?  I hear Reid and a couple of his wallets are wanting to sponsor you. They think you’re the next big thing.  Like fucking Tiger Woods, only white and broke,” Freddie chuckled.

            I had to commend Freddie’s way with words.  He had a unique way of phrasing things, but you always knew exactly what he was talking about.  I wondered how he had heard about Reid and his so-called wallets. 

            “Where’d you hear that story?”  I asked.  I rolled a ball too far past the hole I was aiming for, and Freddie knocked it aside before answering. 

            “I guess you haven’t figured it out yet, but I spend a fair amount of time here.  So does Reid.  Well, when he starts drinking,” Freddie held up his glass and paused for emphasis.  “He starts talking, and you are one of his favorite topics.  He says it’s all but a done deal.  The fucking Dave Althouse Golf Conglomerate.  Reid McMahon, C.E.O.” 

            Freddie smiled at his own wit, and took a sip of his scotch.  It didn’t surprise me that Reid had been talking.  This was a guy that was accustomed to people agreeing with him.  I’m sure he assumed it was only a matter of time before I caved.

            “So are we playing, or what?”  I had made my way over to Freddie, and pocketed the extra golf balls.  The one that remained on the green I picked up with my putter, and flipped into my hand.  I checked it for any imperfections. 

            “Absolutely, although if you’re hitting it sideways, maybe we should go play closest to the pin,” Freddie laughed, and put his drink down on the fringe of the green.  He pointed at a hole, and got us started. 

            It was our usual back and forth affair, all timed by how long it took Freddie to finish his Scotch.  Freddie could pace himself however he liked, and when he pulled back even after being a couple holes behind he suddenly was in need of a refill.  I was more than happy to call it a night.  I wasn’t opposed to Freddie’s creative ways of giving me money, but I wanted to get out of there.  I knew Cait was at work, but I wanted to stop in before it got too late, and see how she was doing. 

            “You sure you’re ok with calling it a draw, kid?  I can get a refill, and be back down here before you know it,” Freddie had walked with me back over to my golf cart. 

            “Yeah, I’ve had enough for tonight,” I tossed the balls back in my bag, and slid the head cover on my putter, before getting behind the wheel of the cart. 

            “I don’t blame you.  Probably headed off to see the girlfriend, huh?” 

            “Maybe,” I admitted. 

            “Eh, you might be smarter than I thought kid.  A nice girl is hell of a lot more worthwhile chasing then fucking Q-School.”

 Freddie slapped me on the shoulder on the way by, and headed back into the clubhouse.  I thought for a moment about what he said before pulling the cart around the clubhouse, and into the garage.  He was right, there was no doubt.  I was just going to have to make that clear to Reid somehow. 

I had called Cait during lunch, and she said she was getting ready to head back over to her house, and we planned on seeing each other at Franco’s after I was through with work.  I did not carry my phone during work.  I didn’t want the distraction, or want to risk the embarrassment of it ringing accidentally in front of a member.  I’m not even sure why I checked the phone for messages that night.  I was not expecting any, and the drive to Franco’s took all of a couple minutes.  I did check, though, and my phone had been ambushed.  Cait had sent several messages, and had appeared to have been calling at half hour intervals for the last few hours.  I read through the texts quickly, and found myself on my way back to the cabin, instead of heading to Franco’s. 

Cait’s homecoming that afternoon had not gone well.  Her mother was still in the mood to pick a fight, and it escalated to the point where Cait didn’t feel comfortable being in the house.  Complicating the matter she had decided to take one of her dogs, Selma, with her.  I suppose this was some sort of joint custody agreement that she had worked out on the spot.  Cait had put off going into work as long as she could, hoping I would get back so she could explain, but eventually she had to leave, and that left me heading back to the cabin to check on Selma. 

I was far more worried about Cait’s well being than I was about having a dog in the cabin.  The place was essentially indestructible, and I knew Selma to be very well behaved.  Cait, on the other hand sounded awful on the phone.  I heard an uncertainty in her voice, something I had never noticed.  I think she enjoyed spending time with me, but still fiercely held onto her independence.  Showing up at my door with a suitcase and a yellow lab was the last thing she wanted to do, and I could hear the apprehension as she apologized profusely for the intrusion.  I tried to tell her that I didn’t mind, but she just wanted me to get back to the cabin, check on things, and then come to Franco’s. 

Selma was at the door when I opened it, and she greeted me enthusiastically, but immediately began looking for Cait.  When she realized that it was only me who was there, the consolation prize, her mood deflated slightly, and she went back inside.  I followed Selma in, and watched as she settled onto the bed Cait had brought for her.  She illustrated her frustration with a big sigh, and I couldn’t help but feel empathy as I took a quick look around the cabin to make sure everything was intact.  Of course, nothing was out of place, and what Cait probably didn’t realize is that Selma likely never left her bed while Cait was away.  She just patiently waited for her to return, the picture of loyalty. 

While Selma had not disturbed a thing, there were little signs of Cait everywhere.  She had left a bottle with a couple swallows of water left out on the kitchen counter.  A small bag of toiletries was spread across the sink in the bathroom, and her favorite pair of white shorts was folded neatly on the bed.  It was a comfort to see these things, to feel Cait’s presence even when she was not there.  The cabin had never felt like much more than a hotel room for most of my stay, but Cait’s unintentional touches had made it feel more like a home. 

I changed quickly out of my golf clothes, and made a half-hearted attempt to get Selma to go on a quick walk before heading over to Franco’s.  She followed me outside, but didn’t seem interested in doing much else.  When she gave me a look that gave me the sense I was wasting her time, I let her back inside.  I felt confident that Selma wasn’t going to budge again until she heard the engine of Cait’s truck shut off in the driveway.  I thought that all three of us might feel better when she was back at the cabin.  Before I could get to my own car, Cait’s diesel came charging down the driveway, and skidded to an abrupt halt.  She turned the engine off, and got out of the driver’s seat in one swift motion.  She was in front of me before I could process what was happening. 

“I’m so sorry about this,” she said, too consumed with nervous energy to stand still. 

“It’s fine,” I said.  I reached out to try to grab her hand, but she was already moving past me. 

“Is Selma ok?  She didn’t do anything right?”  Cait got to the door, and tried the locked knob.  She started to reach for her own keys, but then turned and looked at me.  “I left your key in the truck.” 

I opened the door for her, and this time Selma was relieved to see that her ears had not betrayed her.  It was, in fact, Cait on the other side of the door.  Even I got some spillover affection.  Cait continued to deliver apologies, this time focusing on leaving Selma alone in a strange place. 

“What a good girl you are,” she repeated over and over.  Selma, for her part, seemed quite convinced. 

“I don’t think she strays to far from that bed,” I offered, more trying to interject myself into the conversation than anything else. 

“Of course she doesn’t, that’s because she’s good girl,” Cait continued to rub Selma vigorously behind the ears, until finally raising up to face me.  “So, are you completely mortified or what?” 

“Mortified about what?” 

“About your girlfriend with the crazy mother showing up at your place with one of her dogs, leaving a hundred messages, speeding into your driveway like a drag racer?  Any of that?”  Cait looked at me with a slight apologetic smile, and I could see the tension of the day had still not completely left her. 

“Well, the driveway was pretty intense,” I joked.  “But, I’m definitely not mortified.  You have to bring a little more heat than this to get me to bat an eye.” 

“Are you sure?” 

“I’m sure,” I reached out for her again, and this time she was more receptive.  I pulled her close for a long hug. 

“I brought you some food,” she said into my chest. 

“What?”  I reluctantly broke our embrace. 

“I brought you something to eat.  You didn’t eat, right?  I left it in the truck with everything else, my brain, my sanity, are you still hungry?” 

“Yeah, I’m starving,” I said, remembering I was as soon as I said it. 

“Not for long,” Cait smiled widely, and gave me a quick kiss as she moved past me, and back out the door. 

It was during the minute that Cait went to the truck to get the pizza she had brought with her from Franco’s that I think I realized I loved her.  There she was in the midst of two awfully stressful days, and her biggest concerns were her dog, and whether or not I had eaten dinner.  It sounds so simple and inadequate when I describe it that way, but I was almost overwhelmed by her goodness at that moment, by her impossibly big heart.  She had caught me off guard.  I’d never known anyone quite like her, and I knew that for sure, and I knew I was grateful that she had chosen me.  When Cait came back through the door I was still daydreaming about her. 

“Are you all right?”  She asked, looking at me inquisitively, pizza box in hand. 

“Yeah, I’m fine.  Just spaced out for a second.” 

“Ok, thought you were about to faint from low blood sugar or something,” Cait handed me the pizza, and walked towards the kitchen.  “Do you want a beer?” 

“Are you having one?”  I asked. 

“Absolutely.” 

“I’ll join you then,” I said.  I took the pizza over to the coffee table, and heard Cait uncap two beer bottles in the kitchen.  She appeared back in front of the couch holding the beers in one hand, and a wad of paper towels in the other. 

“It’s a little greasy,” she said, dropping the towels in a pile on the table. 

“Sounds good,” I said.  I opened the box, and offered Cait a slice, and then took one for myself.  I savored the first bite, and then asked Cait how she had managed to leave work early. 

“Oh, god, well Tina knew that I was just a mess, and completely useless.  She told me to leave.  It wasn’t that busy, and honestly if she didn’t tell me to go, I might have just quit.  I didn’t want to be there.” 

“I like that Tina more and more every day.” 

“She’s a doll once you get to know her,” Cait said, wiping some of the aforementioned grease from her mouth.  “We look out for each other.  She’s had her share of bad days.” 

Before I could say anything I found myself watching as Selma squeezed her way between Cait’s legs and the coffee table.  She nearly knocked both beers over with her tail, spun around once, and then sat directly between our feet.  Her gaze alternated between the two of us. 

I couldn’t help but laugh, and then asked, “Where’s Leroy?” 

“I didn’t fully trust him over here unattended,” Cait explained.  “I don’t think he would have done anything, but there was maybe a one percent chance he would have, and I knew I was already pushing my luck.” 

“You really were,” I teased. 

“I know. You shouldn’t have left me that key.  I told you what would happen.  Now I think I own the place.” 

“I’m glad I left it.”

“Thank god you did, or else I’d probably still be fighting with my mom.  She just assumes I have no place to go.  It felt good to be able to just walk out for once.  I guess I brought Selma just to prove a point, and maybe I didn’t want to be completely alone until you got back,” Cait tore off a piece of her pizza, and gave it to Selma, a reward for her job well done. 

“Well Leroy is welcome too, if you need more company,” I said.

“I guess I should have brought him, you two are like old buds, huh?  Selma just knows when to be quiet and calm a little better than old Roy, don’t you sweetheart?”  Cait gave Selma another bite of pizza, and then reached for her beer.  She leaned back into the sofa.  “That’s enough for me,” she said.  “I wasn’t even really hungry.” 

            “Well I hope you don’t mind if I have some more, and it looks like Selma’s still a little hungry too,” I said, reaching for the lid of the box.

              Cait laughed, and took another sip from her beer.  While she swallowed her eyes got extremely wide as if she was choking on something, but she got the beer down, and then exclaimed, “I forgot something else!  Something good actually happened today.”  She hopped off the couch, side-stepped Selma, and headed for the bedroom. 

            When she appeared back in front of me she was almost dancing in place, and had a huge smile on her face.  She was holding an envelope in her hands. 

            “What are you doing two Mondays from now?” She asked.

            “I don’t know, but I think you do.” 

            “Cubs tickets,” Cait took two tickets out of the envelope, and held them in front of my face.  “Day game too.  It’ll be perfect.  I haven’t been in so long.  I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t know if I was going to get them, but the one contact I made in my short stint in Chicago came through for me.  You can definitely go?” 

            “I can go,” I said.  “I can’t wait.” 

            “Me either,” Cait leaned over, and kissed me, taking some pizza grease with her when she pulled away.  “Think you can be a Cub fan for a day?” 

            “Who are they playing?”  I asked. 

            “Mets.” 

            “Cubs it is,” I laughed. 

***

            It seemed to take us both a long time to wind down that night. Cait started watching some movie, and wanted to see it through.  Before I knew it, I was asking her questions about what was happening, regretting I had ignored the first half hour.  When it finally ended I found my way into the shower while Cait took Selma outside for a final time.  By the time I emerged from the bathroom Cait had slipped into bed.  She had put on one of my t-shirts, and wore her glasses as she flipped through a well-worn paperback.  She smiled when I came into the room, and she looked like she had returned to being herself.  She looked relaxed, and comfortable, her face and shoulders free of previous tensions.  I climbed into bed next to her, and she closed her book, setting it on the nightstand.  She took off her glasses, and set them on the nightstand as well before turning off the lamp. 

“Thanks for everything,” Cait said through the darkness.  “I know, this probably kind of came out of nowhere, but you know, it means a lot to me knowing that,” she paused for a second, and I took the chance to interrupt. 

“Cait, you can stay as long as you want,” I said.

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