FIRST BIRTHDAY – CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

            You haven’t experienced Michigan in the summer until you’re pouring a beer into a plastic cup for the guy driving you home.  This was the scenario I faced on the way home from the Pro-Pro event, and seeing how Randy was my boss and it was his car I wasn’t in a position to dispute him.  I didn’t see much harm in it, though.  Randy wasn’t drunk.  He was just trying to enjoy the moment and relax a little bit.  The beer was his victory cigar.  He couldn’t reach the proper level of contentment without that first taste of pale ale crossing his lips.  I don’t know that I was experiencing the same spiritual satisfaction, but I certainly was enjoying the drink and the talk of how well we’d played. 

            It isn’t easy to run away from the field in a better-ball event.  There are a lot of good players out there making birdies, but Randy and I had come pretty close.  Considering Randy’s sporadic playing and practice habits I hadn’t known what to expect from his game, but he’d been nothing short of brilliant.  It didn’t take much imagination to see that Randy had once been a serious player, and he’d logged so much time on the course, so much muscle memory that he just fell back into the routine of hitting great shots.  With Randy hardly missing a shot it had allowed me to play freely and aggressively, taking chances I normally wouldn’t in an individual event.  The result was a seemingly endless barrage of birdies that buried the rest of the field.  It felt good to win something again, to feel the camaraderie of being on a team, and certainly picking up the check, but I was still anxious to get back to the cabin.  A couple days without Cait, especially on the eve of our trip to Chicago had left me missing her desperately. 

            I knew she had to work, but a part of me hoped I would see Cait’s truck when I pulled into the driveway at the cabin.  But, it wasn’t there, and when I walked inside the cabin felt noticeably empty.  I flipped on a light, and started back towards the bedroom.  I had to unpack my bag, and then pack again.  I had convinced Cait that we should spend the night in Chicago, and so while I dumped an overnight bag full of golf clothes into the laundry I had to locate something respectable to wear to dinner the following night.  I noticed that Cait had already packed a bag.  It was sitting neatly against the wall in the bedroom, and hanging from the open door was a garment bag.  I was tempted to look inside, to peek at what Cait was going to wear the next night, but I held off, saving the surprise and allowing the vision of her in various cocktail dresses to pass through my head. 

            I flipped my bag onto the bed, kicked my shoes off, and walked over to my closet.  I opened the door, and stared inside, looking like hungry guy in front a refrigerator.  I scanned my limited options, but convinced I would eventually find something in there that was suitable, I closed the doors, and headed to the kitchen for another beer.  One more would suppress the last of the adrenaline I had been feeling during the tournament, and allow me to fully wind down for the night.  I grabbed a beer, and what was left of a bag of pretzels, and headed over to the couch.  When I sat down I immediately noticed an open folder on the coffee table.  Its contents were organized, but spread out in front of me.  It was an application for a creative writing program.  Cait had meticulously filled out the forms, and along with the paperwork there was a sample of her writing.  I couldn’t resist.  I picked it up, flipping through the pages first, and then started to read. 

            Technically, it wasn’t my birthday.  I had turned eight about a week before, but there I sat on the steps leading up to my front porch wearing my nicest dress.  I was waiting.  I was always waiting for something, and that day it was harder than usual because I had promised my mother I would stay on the porch.  Ruining my outfit would ruin the day, and there was too much at stake.  So, instead of having fun and risking grass stains I sat on the step, and picked away at the flaking pieces of white paint.  White seemed like an odd color choice for the steps, and I thought this every time I left behind a muddy footprint.  I wondered whether we could choose a new color if I peeled off all the old paint without anyone noticing. In my opinion, what the house needed was set of purple steps. 

            We were supposed to leave at noon.  I had been up since seven, and dressed since seven fifteen.  Actually, my mother made me get back into my pajamas until ten o’clock.  She didn’t trust me to go the whole morning without making a mess of myself.  I pleaded with her, begged to put on my dress, and we finally compromised on ten o’clock.  The part about not being able to leave the front steps she threw in after the deal was already made.  I could last.  Two hours was no problem.  I kept working away at the paint, and occasionally stole a glance at the gaudy plastic watch that adorned my wrist.  I had sent away for it, and when it arrived in the mail I was overwhelmed with the feeling that it looked a lot better on the back of the cereal box.  I had to act like I cherished it, though, because Mom would never let me live down the cost of shipping or handling. 

            One time I shoved the watch between the cushions of the sofa, and told Mom that I had lost it.  She got so angry that I had to pretend like I was searching for it, and then act surprised and relieved when it turned out to be stuck in the couch.  I finally accepted the fact that I was stuck with the watch, and would have to wear it as my albatross well into my teenage years.  On this particular day the cheap band was bothering me, and I could almost feel a rash forming as it rubbed against my sweaty skin.  It didn’t help that I wore it loose, and spun it around my wrist as a nervous habit.  Each turn I’d note the digital numbers displaying the time.  I tried to calculate how many times I could spin the watch around my wrist in a minute, and wondered if twelve o’ clock was ever going to arrive.   

            I didn’t even know where we were going.  I knew we were going into Chicago, but certainly there was a specific destination.   As much as I didn’t want to get my hopes up I couldn’t help but imagine giant, city-sized toy stores like the one from Big, and all kinds of other fancy shops and people that you would never see in Dune Harbor.  I wondered if I would be allowed a special treat.   I had grown accustomed to being allowed only to look at things I wanted.  My presents were often fleeting glances at something other kids got to take home with them.  I knew that the drive to Chicago was my actual present, the only tangible thing I could hope to get that day, but it didn’t stop me from thinking that maybe this time, just maybe, my father would show up with a neatly wrapped package in the backseat of his car. 

            Long after I had tired of playing with my watch, and given myself a painful splinter under one fingernail from picking at the wooden steps, my mother appeared on the porch.  It was after one o’clock, and she suggested that maybe I wanted to come inside.  I desperately wanted to get up, but if I moved I might not be sitting there when my father pulled up.  If I was outside, ready to go, and he got there soon, maybe we could still go to Chicago.  I knew we weren’t going, of course.  I knew because Mom was still dressed casually, and I could hear it in the tone of her voice telling me to come inside.  Again she suggested I come inside.  It was lunchtime.  I started to complain, to whine, and pout, but then I caught myself.  I rose to my full height, dusted off my best dress, and followed my mother back inside. 

            I stopped reading at that point.  Engrossed, I quickly looked behind me, for some reason thinking that Cait might have slipped in unnoticed while I invaded her privacy.  I was still alone.  I put everything back on the coffee table as close as possible to where I could remember finding it.  I thought it was odd that Cait had left it out, unless she wanted me to come across it.  I wondered if this was her way of telling me she was applying to a creative writing program.  She had mentioned it before, but I had never had a proper gauge of her seriousness.  I checked the table again for any obvious signs of my intrusion, and then took my beer back into the bedroom.

            It took me about three minutes to pack, and two of those were spent closely examining the only blazer I had brought with me to determine whether or not it was serviceable.  It could have probably used a dry cleaning, but I just gave it a couple refreshing slaps with the palm of my hand, and all was well.  Not trusting my wandering eyes in front of the television I flopped down onto the bed.  I began flipping through a golf magazine, and waited for Cait to get home.  My eyes read the words on the pages, but my mind drifted to the young girl in Cait’s story.  I wondered how much of it was true, and how it ended.  I wondered if Cait was still the young girl in the story with the broken heart. 

            When I heard Cait come home I felt a surge of excitement.  I thought about getting up meet her, but then I decided I’d play it more casually and go back to flipping through my magazine.  I heard her coming down the hallway. 

            “Hello?”  She sang while simultaneously appearing in the doorway. 

            I looked over at her, and smiled.  She took a few steps into the room, and shrugged her bag off her shoulder and onto the floor.  Without a word she crawled into bed, and then on top of me.  She exhaled deeply, making herself deadweight. 

            “Wake me up in the morning,” she said into my chest. 

            “All right,” I said, wrapping my arms around her.

            “You smell like a winner,” Cait inhaled deeply still pressed against my chest, but then laughed lightly and rolled off me. 

            “You smell like shampoo and pizza,” I countered. 

            “Sexy isn’t it?” 

            “Quite.” 

            “So, you’re not going to tell me about the tournament.  What did I tell you about modesty?  You said you guys played pretty well.  I looked it up.  You won.  By a lot.  Such showoffs,” Cait rolled onto her stomach, and propped herself up on her elbows so she could look me in the eye. 

            “I keep forgetting you know how to use the internet,” I said. 

            “I’m an expert.  I know how to email, and all that shit too.” 

            “I believe it. Well, I don’t know what to say.  I’m sure you don’t want play by play.” 

            “Well not really, but I was interested in how you did.  It mattered to me.  I hope you know that.” 

            “I do.  It’s sweet you checked up on us.  It was a really good two days.  We played well, and it was fun competing again.  More fun than I thought it would be, but I couldn’t wait to get back here.” 

            “Oh yeah?  Why’s that?” Cait rolled back onto her back, and wrapped my arm around her.  She traced a line down from my shoulder until her fingers found mine, and they interlocked.

            “I’m going to Chicago tomorrow with some girl,” I said.  My free hand ran through Cait’s hair, pushing it behind her ear.  I let my fingers linger on her neck, before pulling them away. 

            “Sounds like fun.  What’s she like?” 

            “She’s pretty amazing.  Beautiful, warm, occasionally smells like pepperoni,” I gently pinched Cait’s side to emphasize my joke. 

            “Sounds like the perfect woman,” Cait laughed. “What else?” 

            “She makes me laugh, she’s a friend to the animals, very kissable.” 

            “Kissable?” Cait rolled towards me again, and pressed her body against mine, straining slightly so she could reach my lips with hers.  She kissed me softly. 

            “Very kissable,” I repeated. 

            “What else?” 

            “Uh, she’s a die-hard Cubs fan, knows all the best spots to trespass on the lake, can wear the hell out of a pair of jeans and a t-shirt,” I paused for a second as Cait climbed on top of me again.  Her hair hung over her face, and nearly down into mine.  She pushed it away. 

            “What else?” She asked again. 

            “Did I say sexy?”  I asked, and Cait shook her head.  “She’s sexy, has the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen.” 

            Cait interrupted me with another kiss, this one deeper and more passionate.  I felt one of her hands slide under the waistline of my boxers, and I responded by grabbing her at the hips. 

            “What else?” Cait said seductively, her breath quickening. 

            I had had enough of the game, and pulled Cait close for another kiss.  She teased me by pulling away slowly, and pressing the full weight of her hips into me. 

            “What else?”  She repeated. 

            “She’s a fucking great writer,” I said.   I hesitated after I said it, and Cait immediately sat up straight.  I’m sure I made a stupid face, contemplating exactly why I had just said that.  Blood flow to the brain had been significantly diminished. 

            “I’m a what?”  Cait asked, ending the game, and asking the question directly.  

            “A good writer,” I said, there was no turning back at that point. She’d clearly heard me.  

            “Did you read my stuff?”  Cait asked.  She had caught her breath.  A look of seriousness returned to her face. 

            “A little bit.  It was out on the table,” I said defensively.  I hadn’t quite gauged her mood.  It was obvious, however, that we were a lot further away from having sex than we had been a couple moments prior. 

            “I don’t know that it was out,” Cait smiled slightly.  “It was on the table, though.” 

            “I’m sorry?” 

            “You don’t have to be sorry,” Cait eased off of me, and lay back down on the bed next to me. 

            “I shouldn’t have looked at it.  I was just curious.  You’re applying to writing programs?”  I asked. 

            “Thinking about it,” Cait paused for a moment.  “I don’t care that you read it.  I would have shown it to you.  I just really wasn’t expecting you to say that.” 

            “I have bad timing,” I explained. 

            “I see that.  Did you really think it was good?” 

            “Yeah, I did.  I only read a page or two, and then I felt bad, and stopped.”  

            “Oh, I see.  So your guilty conscience is what blurted that out.”  

            “Maybe,” I conceded. 

            “Too bad, we were going to have fun.  Now, I think I’m going to make you wait until tomorrow night.  It’ll be even better.” 

            At the mention of this I felt my whole body flush, and I wrapped my arms tightly around Cait.  We laid in silence for a few moments before she spoke again. 

            “Funny I was writing about going to Chicago, huh?”  She asked. 

            “Coincidence, I guess.” 

            “Not exactly.  I’m not saying it’s all true, but I really hope tomorrow’s a better time.” 

            “It will be,” I tried to sound reassuring.  “Cubs game, how can we go wrong?” 

            “Good point.  Hey, I got you a Cubs t-shirt to wear tomorrow.  So you can blend in.” 

            “A Cubs t-shirt?  I can’t wear that.” 

            “Why not?  You said you’d be a Cubs fan for a day.” 

            “I know, but I can’t be wearing a shirt.  I’ll look like a poser tourist.” 

            “Not with me you won’t.  I’m true blue.  You’re not going to wear it?”

            “I don’t know.” 

            “You’re wearing it,” Cait said.  She let her body relax completely before adding, “Wake me up in the morning.”

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