CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
I had to work the morning of my birthday. It was by design. I had managed to get a rare early shift so that I could spend most of the afternoon with Cait. I would be done for the day not long after lunch, and with the Michigan daylight still stretching well into the evening hours we would have plenty of time for Cait’s surprise activity. I knew nothing of the details, only that it required sunlight. During our brief and slightly uncomfortable discussion of Cait’s childhood birthdays she had gotten me to admit that I had one coming up. The thought of my birthday seemed to have the opposite effect of thoughts of her own, and not long after we got back from Chicago she started asking me about making plans. I insisted that I didn’t want anything special, but sometimes what you say, and what you mean are two different things.
I had spent most of the morning trying to waste time, counting the minutes until I could get away, and when I finally took a break for lunch it felt like a final hurdle. Feeling the slight nervous anticipation that accompanied Cait’s pending surprise I was only picking at my sandwich while I sat alone in the employee lunch room. My only company was the awkward announcing and camera angles of European golf coverage on the television. It provided an odd sense of serenity, a mindless equilibrium that was immediately knocked out of balance by Freddie charging through the door.
“I don’t know why the fuck they make you eat in here, like we’re not supposed to see you eat or something? What the fuck? I thought it was the 21st century or some shit. Does Barack know you have separate lunch facilities?” Freddie moved over to my table, and pulled out a chair. He sat down, and looked at me like he was waiting for a response.
“I don’t think the President knows,” I said.
“What?” Freddie looked at me with a puzzled expression, before remembering his own tirade. “Oh I was busting your balls kid, anyway, what are you hiding in here for?”
“I’m eating lunch,” I motioned towards the remains of my sandwich.
“I know you’re eating lunch, but are you about done already? I need you to play nine holes.”
“Can’t do it today Freddie,” I said. I balled up my napkin, tossed it on the plate, and met Freddie’s stare. He looked unusually serious.
“What does that mean kid? You can’t do it. That’s what you do. You play golf. If that isn’t your job then please tell me what you do here, because I haven’t seen you do anything else.”
“I’m sorry Freddie, normally I would, but today I have plans. I can’t do it. If you had let me know a couple of days ago, I probably could have done it, but I’m,”
“I don’t have to let you know about shit,” Freddie interrupted me. “We’re talking two hours, change your plans around.”
“I can’t change the plans Freddie. It’s my birthday,” as this sentence left my lips I tried to draw it back, but it was too late.
“Your birthday? What are seven years old? Does your mom have G.I. Joe party hats waiting for all the neighborhood kids? Your fucking birthday, that’s fucking classic,” Freddie got up from the table, and started out of the room. He continued his rant, “It’s my birthday,” he said in a childish tone, mocking me. “I gotta fucking fish on the line, and you gotta leave for a birthday party. This really pisses me off, kid.”
That was the last thing Freddie said before the door closed behind him, and I thought for a moment about chasing after him. Freddie constantly insulted me, and busted my balls for my less than rigorous job, but this time he had sounded serious. The omnipresent hint of sarcasm in his voice was missing. I decided to follow him, at least to offer a better explanation. I knew he had a soft spot for “broads” as he referred to them. I thought I might be able to pin it all on Cait. Freddie’s logical destination would have been the bar, but he wasn’t there. I started down toward the golf shop when my phone started buzzing. I was carrying it with me that day, because I was expecting a few birthday calls, but more so because Cait had promised to send me sweet and seductive birthday text messages all morning. She had proven to be quite good at it, a natural writer in any medium. It wasn’t Cait texting me then though, Avery’s name showed up on the display, and if it hadn’t been my birthday I wouldn’t have answered, but I thought I could accept some quick birthday wishes, and get her off the phone. I ducked down a hallway that led to the back entrance to the cart garage, and answered.
“Happy Birthday I guess,” Avery said after I had said hello. She was decidedly unenthusiastic.
“Thanks Avery, I appreciate you calling,” I entered the deserted cart garage through the back door, and sat in one of the carts that remained parked, waiting for action.
“I’m surprised you answered,” she said.
“What does that mean?”
“You didn’t answer the last time I called.”
“That’s because it was the middle of the night,” I answered. I had simultaneously started to shade in the boxes of the scorecard that was clipped to the steering wheel. It provided a nice distraction.
“You could have called back,” Avery offered.
“You could have left a message.”
“Whatever, so you have big plans with your little princess today?”
“Not really,” I fidgeted a little in my seat, and Duke walked past me, offering a suspicious stare.
“You’re such a terrible liar. She’s probably baking you a cake right now. Or is she more of the dress up like a slutty French maid and wait on you all day kind of girl?”
“Avery come on.”
“I bet she’s a baker. You’re such a sucker for sweet girls. It’s pathetic really.”
“Is this why you called Avery? To pick a fight.”
“No, not necessarily. I guess I wanted to hear your voice. I’m the pathetic one, really, I can’t let you go even though I kind of despise you a little bit, and I despise your new girlfriend a whole lot.”
“You’re not pathetic Avery,” I offered truthfully. I felt badly for her, sorry that we had once been too close for me to be able to be the friend she currently needed.
“Oh, I’m not so sure. I am drinking and calling and my ex on his birthday. Some people would say I’m making a compelling argument for pathetic.”
“You’re drinking?” I asked, sitting up a little straighter in the cart, as if Avery could see my sudden change in attentiveness.
“Just some wine, relax, it’s lunchtime.”
“I know, but don’t you have work to do?”
“I don’t let work get in the way of having a glass of wine when I want one Dave.”
“How’s work going?” I asked, hoping to change to a friendlier topic.
“It’s going, the market’s shitty, new millionaires aren’t exactly sprouting like dandelions these days. You should come back, buy a place from me.”
“I don’t think that’d be much of a commission.”
Avery exhaled loudly into the phone before asking, “When are you coming home Dave?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Definitely by the winter, though, right? I mean, surely you aren’t going to brave a Michigan winter,”
“I’ll be in Florida this winter. I signed up for Q-School again,” I said somewhat meekly.
“Really?” Avery sounded surprised.
“Yeah, I thought about it, a couple people here convinced me it could be the right thing to do, to try it again.”
“Oh, I get it,” Avery said sullenly.
“This is like you, trying to show off for what’s her face? What is her name?”
“Oh, right of course. It rhymes with hate. How did I forget that? Well, I’m sure she must be thrilled. Poor, naïve little girl. Does she know what’s she in for?”
“Yeah, you know, like how you’ll be away, practicing, and playing, and then there will be this big build-up of hope right up until you blow it again,” Avery accented this statement with a slight chuckle.
I didn’t answer, holding my tongue, realizing the conversation had probably already gone on too long, and not wanting it to escalate into a full blown argument.
“Dave? Did you tell her? Did you tell her what’s going to happen? Would you like me to talk to her? Perhaps hearing it from me would offer some perspective.”
“I think I’m going to go Avery,” I said flatly.
“Right, of course, of course. Well, happy birthday Dave. I hope the fucking cake is delicious.”
Before I could say anything else Avery had hung up the phone. My frustration with the phone call was quickly alleviated by a text message from Cait urging me to hurry back to the cabin. It was all the encouragement I needed. I passed through the golf shop to let everyone know I was leaving for the day, and then headed toward the parking lot. Duke pulled up next to me in a golf cart, and offered a ride to my car. I accepted, but deflected his attempts to get me to spill what had Freddie in a bad mood. Duke had hardly pulled the cart to stop when I jumped out, and into my car. I told him I’d see him the next day, and if he was lucky, maybe he’d get to hear the story. Knowing the Lake Club, though, Duke would find out what happened long before I came in the next afternoon.
There were innumerable reasons why it was nice living a mile from the club, but that day I was just thankful that I only had another minute or two to wait before I got to see Cait. I sped enthusiastically down the driveway to the cabin, and parked next to Cait’s truck. When I got out of my car I saw that Cait was waiting out front for me. She was sitting on the front step, wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. A navy blue baseball cap with the Lake Club’s logo, a hat that had previously belonged to me before she claimed ownership, was pulled low on her head. When I started up the path to the front door she stood, and greeted me with a smile.
“Turn around babe, we’re out of here,” Cait stopped my forward progress by putting her hands on my hips, and kissing me lightly on the lips.
“I just want to go inside for a minute and change. I don’t want to wear this,” I presented my golf specific wardrobe for Cait’s inspection.
“You’re dressed perfectly. You can’t go inside anyway. I made preparations.”
“Just turn around, and get in the truck, ok? It’s part of the surprise. It’s for later.”
“Fine. What if I have to go to the bathroom?”
“Just get in the truck,” Cait pushed me in the right direction.
It wasn’t unusual for me to have no idea where I was going around Dune Harbor. I hadn’t done much exploration, and when Cait drove us places I paid little attention to the details of what roads we were taking or which direction we were going. I could get myself to all major landmarks, but anything that wasn’t the bank, or grocery store I left up to the local. At least Cait didn’t have to worry about me figuring out where she was taking me. We were a good twenty minutes from the cabin when the road we were on started to be populated by some houses, and then more densely with businesses. Cait slowed down, and pulled into a driveway with a sign that simply read, “Petey’s”. The driveway took us away from the main road, and opened into a huge parking lot that was barely a quarter full. In the distance I saw a go-kart track, and a sign for batting cages. It appeared that Cait had brought me to Dune Harbor’s closest approximation of an amusement park.
“Are we racing go-karts?” I asked with genuine excitement when we got out of the truck. Cait had stonewalled all questions about our plans on the drive over.
“Nope,” she smiled with delight, and took me by the hand. She led me toward what appeared to be Petey’s main entrance. A large, unlit neon “Petey’s” sign hung precariously on the large wooden building. I looked as if it had been designed to resemble an old barn. The red paint had seen better days, and I thought if they were going for an authentic, rustic look, they had nailed it. We passed by the batting cages, where a single hitter was working diligently, and I caught sight of a miniature golf course. Beyond that was what I first thought was a driving range, but then realized was a par-three course.
“Are we golfing?” I asked.
“Maybe,” Cait admitted.
“I didn’t bring my clubs.”
“You don’t need your own clubs. They’ll give you one. You’re such a brat,” Cait teased. She then looked at me and laughed, shaking her head.
“All right, fine, it’s my first time at…Petey’s. I didn’t know.”
“I know, I’m glad to initiate you.”
“Are you sure we’re not racing go-karts?” I asked again.
“I’m sure. It’s your birthday. We’re doing what I want,” Cait said smartly as she led us inside.
The woman at the counter gave me a suspicious look. I assume it was my outfit. I’m sure they didn’t get a lot of pressed khakis and polos at Petey’s. I probably looked a little overzealous. Perhaps I had my entire golf bag outside, or a pair of golf shoes to put on. Regardless, I’m fairly sure she thought I was a douche bag. I stood in silence, and took the judgment while Cait paid for the golf, and got our complimentary clubs. She examined them closely before choosing one for herself, and handing me the other. It was an old Tony Penna nine iron. It had to be thirty years old, but in truth, it was a pretty good looking club. On our way out to the first hole I took a couple little practice swings with it.
“Go ahead, and say something smart,” Cait said.
“I’m not saying a word.”
“What are you thinking though?”
“That I’m a little over-dressed?”
Cait laughed, “See, you’re lucky you don’t have your own clubs, then you’d look like an even bigger asshole.”
“Probably,” I admitted. We arrived at the first tee, which was actually a driving range mat. The course was deserted. We’d have it to ourselves, and I was relieved that there wasn’t anyone around to get injured if Cait started sending balls flying around the course at sharp angles.
“I’ll go first,” Cait said with some determination. “I don’t want to have to follow the professional.”
She stepped up onto the driving range mat, and looked down at it as if she was slightly confused about what to do next. She took her ball from her pocket, and then looked at me, “Do I need a tee thing or something?” She asked.
“No,” I shook my head. “You’ll be fine hitting it off the mat, anywhere on the mat, you’re good.”
Cait bent down, and placed the ball carefully on the mat, and then stood up. She gripped the club precisely, but incorrectly, and looked down at the ball, extremely focused. I thought I noticed her take a deep breath before she took a step back, and looked at me. “You go first,” she said quickly, and picked her ball back up off the mat.
“You sure?” I asked, but Cait had already stepped aside. “All right.”
I dropped my ball casually on the mat, and looked at the green in the distance. I had no idea the exact yardage, but it looked like about 60 yards. I took an abbreviated swing with my Tony Penna 9-iron, and sent the ball towards the green. It took off low, and landed just short, taking a big bounce before stopping about ten feet away from the hole. I turned and looked at Cait, offering my smuggest smile.
“So proud of yourself,” Cait rolled her eyes, and empowered by my arrogance, prepared to tee off once again.
She was focused. She was staring down at the ball with disdain, perhaps feeling sorry for what she was about to do it. She took an athletic stance, and I noticed her biting her lower lip as she started her swing. There was nothing feminine about her action. She took a rip, a hard aggressive pass at the ball, but she missed it completely. My eyes widened, but I reacted in no other way. Had I given into the urge to laugh I likely would have received a nine iron to the forehead. When she looked back at me it seemed like she didn’t know whether to laugh or be angry. Instead, she said, “Are you going to help me, or what?”
Cait proved to be receptive to coaching. She was athletic, and when we replaced some of the aggression in her swing with rhythm, she hit a couple of good shots. When she made a four on the last hole the smile of self-satisfaction that came across her face dwarfed any that I had produced that day. She even gave me a quick kiss on the last green, thanking me for my help. Perhaps as a concession to my brief lesson Cait suggested that stop and race go-karts on the way out.
“You’re an awful driver, do you know that?” Cait and I were back at the cabin. She was walking back to the couch from the kitchen, and peeling the wrapper off of a chocolate cupcake. They had been the preparations that she had described earlier. Had I gone inside, the smell would have given them away.
“I thought since it was my birthday, that I’d let you win. Isn’t that how it works?”
“Nice try,” Cait squeezed in next to me on the couch, and broke the cupcake in two pieces, handing me one. We’d both already had a whole one. “But, if that was the case, you would have let me win golf,” Cait took an exaggerated bite of her cupcake, and was left with a dot of icing on her nose. She looked at me, and asked, “What?” before bursting into laughter.
“Nothing, nothing at all,” I said.
Cait smiled, and wiped the icing off her nose with her finger. She then dipped the finger into her mouth.
“Homemade icing,” she said.
“I can tell,” I leaned forward, and kissed the spot on Cait’s nose where the icing had been.
“Did you have a good birthday?” She asked.
“It was great, thank you for everything.”
“You’re welcome. You might still have a surprise or two waiting for you,” Cait smiled, and I raised my eyebrows. “I’m glad we got to play golf,” she added.
“Really? How come?”
“I don’t know. I wanted to see you play. I think it helps me understand you better.”
“How does it do that?”
“Well, I can just see that you really like it, and when you were helping me it seemed genuine, and I can tell you are probably a good teacher, and it reminds me how sweet you are.”
“I do try to be sweet.”
“You’re good at it, and you know it,” Cait finished the last bite of her cupcake, and then kissed me again. “I had a lot of fun today,” she said.
“So did I.”
“Maybe we’ll have some more fun. I’m going to take a shower, but we have a special birthday appointment, in your bedroom, in fifteen minutes. Deal?”
“Absolutely,” I wanted to steal another kiss, but Cait had already sprung off the couch, and headed down the hall towards my bedroom. I finished my half of the cupcake, and when I heard the water running in the shower I made my own way to the bedroom. I peeled my shirt over my head as I passed through the doorway. I tossed it aside, and then looked at the bed. Usually a mess, it had been properly made. Sitting on my pillow was a thin stack of paper with a bow stuck to the top left hand corner. I walked over, and picked it up. The front page read, “Rebirth Day. A short story by Cait Calhoun.”