She didn’t leave a message. I paced around the cabin, and picked at a sandwich that I made for myself, but I couldn’t stop looking at my phone. I checked for a message and debated whether or not to call her back. I should have changed my number. If I was trying to get away, to completely break ties it would have been the logical thing to do. But, I was always missing details. In my favor the cable had been connected while I was at work, so while I stared at my phone for most of the night at least I had a soundtrack. I never did finish my sandwich, and eventually fell asleep on the couch watching a Rocky marathon on TNT.
The next morning I felt a little better. My phone had been silent, and it allowed me to think the entire thing had been a mistake, or the result of one too many drinks. I tried to put it out of my mind for good, and got ready to go over to the club for work. The course was hosting an outing, and I had been assigned the less than enviable task of doing “Beat the Pro” the whole day on one of the Lake Club’s par threes. I didn’t know the exact details other than I would be standing on a tee box for five hours watching awful golf swings.
Preparations were well under way when I pulled into the Lake Club. The event was being hosted by Mickey Dowling, the famous Chicago Cub, and immensely popular local celebrity. Mickey had used all his connections to amass a nice group of local sports figures for the outing that he put on each year to benefit his charitable foundation. With the big names in the field and the exclusive course the event had drawn a ritzy crowd, and everywhere I looked the latest and greatest equipment was being pulled from the trunks of luxury sedans. I walked past the registration table where I was briefly tempted to grab one of the gift bags being passed out, and headed to the golf shop where Maureen was handling the influx of customers without trouble. Randy was in conversation with a man near the door when he spotted me.
“There he is. Right on time. David, come on over and meet Hank Gilman.”
Hank Gilman was a small, precise looking man that looked slightly out of place in the golf shop. He was dressed business casual, and wore a wireless earpiece. In his hands was a clipboard, nearly bursting with paperwork. I approached with caution, realizing that he was going to be the man assigning my task for the day.
“Hank Gilman this is my assistant Dave Althouse. He’s going to do the Beat the Pro for you today. Believe me, you’d rather have him out there. Dave, Hank organizes this event for Mickey every year. He’s the guy with all the answers.”
I extended my hand, and Hank gave me a weak shake, distracted by an incoming call. He barked out instructions regarding sign placement, and lunch service while Randy and I stood in silence waiting for the call to end. When he was sure Hank wasn’t looking Randy gave me a quick roll of the eyes, and I smirked in return.
“Sorry about that gentlemen. It’s been a hectic morning. Dave it’s great to meet you, Randy has assured me that you are the perfect man for the job today. Here’s what we’re going to do.”
Randy excused himself to help with the business in the shop while Hank explained the way they ran the Beat the Pro contest. Essentially every player would have a chance to compete against me on the par 3 third hole. They could wager anywhere from $25 to $250 dollars, and if they’re shot ended up closer to the hole than mine then they would double their money. If I was closer, their bet went to the charity. Normally I would have a large advantage, but the twist was I couldn’t hit the club I wanted. The hole measured 150 yards, but the player would draw a playing card from 3 to 9, and whatever number they drew, that is the iron I had to hit. The eight and nine irons would be no problem, but the longer clubs would be tricky. Hank seemed confident I could hit any iron wherever I wanted, and was expecting a big payout for the charity. Suddenly feeling a little heat perform I grabbed my clubs out of my locker, and excused myself to range to work on 150 yard four irons.
I had several things working in my favor on the third tee. First of all the amateurs playing in the event weren’t used to any type of additional scrutiny. Not only was I watching them play, but there was also an attractive woman on the tee who was in charge of handling the money for the charity. She was watching the results closely as well. In addition to that, there was an open area short of the green that allowed me to chase low shots onto the putting surface. Essentially with the longer clubs, I was hitting a 150 yard bump and run. It was a lot easier than trying to land a 3-iron on the green and making it stop.
As the day wore on I was wearing out the competitors, and making a ton for the charity. The woman who was collecting the money even mentioned that I might want to throw a couple, just to keep morale up, and entice larger bets. This worked to some extent, but the inflated confidence these rich men seemed to have in their games was my greatest weapon. Finally we were waiting on the last group to come through, and after hitting about 100 shots into the third green I was ready to call it a day.
When the final group pulled up to the tee box a familiar figure emerged from one of the carts. Freddie walked towards me, puffing on an almost non-existent butt of a cigar. Guessing by the smile on his face I would say that Freddie knew he was going to get the chance at some action, and on a day like this he was surely looking forward to it.
“I’m in for a grand,” Freddie said before the woman on the tee could even announce the rules of the contest. He flipped what seemed for him to be a conservative roll of cash out of his pocket. We’d only taken two bets the entire day for the maximum two hundred and fifty dollars.
“There’s a two-hundred and fifty dollar limit, Sir.”
“Let’s change it to no-limit, sweetie. You want to make any money for your charity or not. Look at me, and look at that thoroughbred you have on your team. You don’t think I’m going to beat you, do you?”
“We can only do two-fifty, Sir. Would you like to bet two-fifty?” The woman was clearly uncomfortable with the situation that was developing.
“I would like to bet a grand. Kid you want to cover the other seven-fifty? I’m sure you have it. Who set this limit? I know it wasn’t Mickey. Mickey’d let me stick myself for twenty large.”
“Well I don’t know who set the rules, but I have to follow them.”
I tried to get Freddie to look in my direction, maybe I could persuade him to back off, give the woman a break, but he wasn’t having it.
“I bet it was Hank, that little cocksucker. Excuse my language, Miss. Let me get him on the phone. We’ll straighten it out.”
Freddie took his phone out of his pocket, and made the call to Hank. I pictured Hank scurrying around the clubhouse preparing for the cocktail hour, and being interrupted by Freddie’s call.
“Hank, it’s Freddie. Of course Freddie Montero, who the hell you think it is, Freddie Couples? I need your clearance to wager a grand out here on three Hank. Your girl and the hired gun aren’t budging on the two-fifty limit.”
Freddie stood in silence listening to Hank’s answer, and nervously looked at the other members of Freddie’s group who didn’t seem to be bothered by the delay at all. In fact, I think they were enjoying the show.
“Come on Hank, you’re making a killing out here. Kid’s pitching a shutout, your money envelope looks like it would barely fit in a Brinks truck,” Freddie couldn’t hide a sly smile.
On the other end of the line Hank relented, and Freddie passed the phone to the woman in charge who listened for a moment, and then hung up. She still didn’t look comfortable.
“Ok, Hank says it’s all right. You want to draw your card?”
“Absolutely,” Freddie placed his nearly finished cigar on one of the tee markers, and made his way over to the table. He leaned on his club with one hand, and with the other quickly picked a card out of the pile. It was a seven.
“Fuck,” Freddie muttered. “Can’t pull a three one time? I wanted to see golden boy bump a three-iron in there.”
I went for my seven-iron, and Freddie quickly teed his ball up. He was using some high lofted hybrid club, and addressed the ball with an open stance, aiming well left. I’d never seen Freddie hit the ball, but it was obvious that Freddie had perfected some type of huge slice. He made a short, quick backswing and came directly across the ball. It sailed high, and towards the left side of the green, before taking an almost ninety degree turn to the right. It landed soft, with a ton of side spin, and spun away from the hole to about fifteen feet.
“Well looky there,” Freddie was pleased. “Put a little heat on you at least.” He retrieved his cigar from the tee marker, and became an interested onlooker.
“Fucker holed it,” Freddie said while the ball was in the air.
“Be good sweetie,” I added, and we watched the ball fall towards the green.
It landed just short and right of the flag, took one hop, clicked off the flagstick a few feet above the hole, and dropped to the green, stopping dead a few inches from the cup.
“Can we get a measurement on that?” Freddie laughed. “Nice shot kid. At least we know you don’t fold under the pressure.”
The other members of the group offered congratulations, but the woman collecting the money was the most pleased. The smile on her face got even wider when Freddie gave her an extra thousand just for being a good sport.
I’d had more fun than I was expecting out on the third tee, and even felt a little surge of the competitive juices as I tried to do my best to win the money for the charity. Hank seemed inordinately pleased with the outcome, and even Mickey Dooling himself had made a point to thank me for playing my part. After the golf was over Randy headed home, and it left Maureen and I working in the shop. The players filtered in after dinner in a slow trickle, redeeming gift certificates, exchanging prizes, and picking up a souvenir or two.
It was no surprise that the majority of the customers gravitated towards Maureen. An attractive woman in her thirties her wedding ring did nothing to dissuade the men coming through the shop, and the fact that she greeted everyone with the same effusive friendliness only added to her appeal. The flirtations of the men, which seemed to vary from innocent to inappropriate, started to make me a little uncomfortable, but Maureen deflected them all with smiles and a quick wit. While she handled most of the merchandise, I was left answering the odd question about equipment and bagging Maureen’s sales.
It looked like we were about done for the day, and Maureen was closing out the register while I went outside to take down the scoreboards and make sure everything was put away for the night. I had trashed the scoreboards, and was on my way back inside when Maureen stuck her head out the pro shop door, and said I had a phone call. It seemed unlikely.
“Who is it?” I asked.
“Avery Palmer,” She answered.
I involuntarily stopped in my tracks, but tried not to make it obvious that I was uncomfortable. I didn’t want Maureen to think anything of the call. It would likely lead to some talk around the Lake Club no matter what, but I didn’t want to exacerbate the situation by making a scene. I walked into the shop, and took the phone from Maureen. I ducked back into the office, trying not to be obvious about closing the door behind me.
“What the hell are you doing in Michigan Dave?” She asked. The familiarity of her voice sent a chill up my spine.
“Seems like you figured that out. How did you get this number?”
“My parents? You’re unbelievable. You can’t call me here. Why didn’t you call my cell?”
“I’ve tried your cell. I tried your cell last night. I haven’t spoken to you in months. You don’t email, anything. Don’t make me feel like I’m a stalker. It’s not like I was hanging around outside your condo.”
“It’s not my condo anymore,” I said.
“You sold the condo? Are you having a breakdown Dave? Sell the condo and move to bumble fuck Michigan to be some pro shop jockey? Were you really not going to tell me that you left?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it,” I lied. I sat down in my desk chair in the darkness of the office.
“You didn’t even think about it? You don’t mean that.”
“Look Avery,” I tried not to raise my voice. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I was leaving, but I didn’t need anyone trying to convince me to stay. I didn’t want to hear that. I needed to get away.”
“You gave up. You gave up after what happened, and now you’ve just run away. You’re weak.”
“Maybe,” I conceded. I got up out of the chair, and started pacing the office.
“I can tell your parents are worried about you too.”
“I’m fine. No one needs to worry about me.”
“Don’t act like you don’t need anyone Dave. What happened was tough on everyone, not just you. You need me, we need each other.”
“Don’t tell me what I need Avery. You know you never respected my space, and this is just another example of that. If I’m going to reach out to you, it’s going to be on my own terms. You can’t just call me at work out of the blue.”
“How am I supposed to talk to you then? I think you should come home.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. I think you forget about all the problems we were having before anything happened.”
“We could have gotten over that.”
“I don’t think so Avery.”
“Dave, I think we made a mistake.”
I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation, and in the golf shop at The Lake Club of all places. I needed a way to get off the phone, and at the exact moment, Maureen locked lightly on the door.
“Dave? I’m going to take off for the night ok? I’ll see you tomorrow.” There was a softness to Maureen’s voice, a trace of sympathy or concern.
I opened the door to the shop, and covered the phone.
“See you tomorrow Maureen. I’m just going to be one more minute.”
I closed the door again, and when I put the phone to my ear, Avery was screaming at me.
“Dave! Did you hang up? Dave!”
“I’m here. I’m here.”
“Then why aren’t you saying anything?”
“I don’t know what to say Avery. Look, I have to go. I’ll call you later tonight. I’m not going to have this conversation while I’m at work.”
“You won’t call.”
“I will. I promise.”
“You know I’ll keep calling you there if you don’t.”
“I know. I’ll call you later Avery.”
“Bye Dave. I love you.”
“Bye Avery,” I hung up the phone, and returned it to its charger on the counter in the golf shop.
I quickly locked up, and hurried out of the shop, taking the long way around the clubhouse so I wouldn’t run into anyone, and have to talk for a minute. I assumed Freddie would still be holding court in the bar. I got to my car without seeing a soul, and after gathering my thoughts in the darkness for a minute I drove straight home. I tried to stall any way I could, but eventually I had no choice but to pick up the phone and call Avery.
Avery Palmer and I had once been young, dumb and engaged. Maybe I was the dumb one, but we were certainly engaged, and looking back on it I found it hard to fathom.
I met Avery in college. She played golf on the women’s team, and after staring at each other from across the putting green for about a month I finally asked her out. She was everything I thought I wanted in a girl, beautiful and carefree with a pretty good golf game on the side. We became inseparable, and those college days we hardly had a worry in the World. We hung out, played golf, partied, and concocted stupid fairy tales about our future. I would be on tour, and Avery would go to law school before starting work at her father’s management company. She’d guide my career and negotiate my business deals, and I’d recommend her to other players on Tour. We might as well have thought we were going to take a bus to Hollywood, and star in movies together.
I proposed to Avery the summer after we graduated from college. I was getting ready for my first run at Q-School, and Avery was enjoying a last bit of freedom before heading off to law school. We weren’t planning on getting married for a few years, but we were so naive that we thought the long engagement would be more like a honeymoon. The only words of reason came from Chris who was in my ear all summer, telling me I was making the biggest mistake of my life. He thought that Avery was bad news for my game, and couldn’t imagine being engaged at twenty-two. He said I had my whole life to be married, but only a few months to prepare for Q-School. In the end, he was basically right.
I wasn’t as prepared as I needed to be for my first try at Q-School, and when I failed in spectacular fashion it was just the beginning of an eventual domino effect of events that changed my life and my relationship with Avery. Avery remained on her path to success, but I started fluttering all over the grid. I struggled with my game, and struggled being away from Avery, and even though we stayed together for a long time after my initial Q-School failure things were never again as good as they were when we were in college. I had loved her, though, and that is why I called her back that night.
After an initial heated exchange over each other’s communication habits we both softened a bit. I agreed to come back to Pennsylvania at some point during the summer for a weekend, and Avery apologized for overreacting to a couple of ignored phone calls. As was often the case with us we found it easier to talk about the more distant past. We talked of happier times, shared funny stories, and hypothesized about what might have been. It was well into wee hours of the morning when I hung up with Avery, this time telling her that I did love her, perhaps not as I once did, but she still remained in my heart. I went to bed that night completely exhausted, drained and alone.