Maureen gave me one day to work on my story, and then grilled me about Avery Palmer. In contrast to my earlier conversations with Duke I partially came clean to Maureen, telling her that Avery was an ex-girlfriend. The word fiancée would have led to way too many follow up questions. Maureen was a little surprised that Avery had called the golf shop, but she couldn’t have been as surprised as I was. I left Pennsylvania thinking that Avery was out of my life. We hadn’t talked in months, we hadn’t been together in over a year, and while we may have never had complete closure I thought there was an unstated agreement that we were through talking. After some consideration Avery had thought otherwise.
Her call had put me into a funk. In a strange town where I knew almost no one, or of any places to go, I essentially locked myself in the cabin. I went to work, played a few holes, and then returned home to sit in front of the television or flip through a book. Sometimes I would read the words on the pages, sometimes I would not. I wanted to go see Cait, but my pessimism had overrun all my thoughts. I stayed away from Franco’s, and wrote off the dinner I had with her as a chance encounter. I’d be gone from Dune Harbor forever in six months, and considering recent developments it didn’t seem like a good idea to start any kind of relationship. I’d lay low for the summer.
I stuck to my plan for a couple weeks after Avery called. Play at the club had picked up a little bit, and I was starting to give some lessons as well. It left me with a little less downtime, and I actually enjoyed the teaching as long as I could help. I found that the short game area was where I could be of the best service to a lot of players. It’s amazing how many people play golf without the slightest inclination of how to hit a pitch, a bunker shot, or a bump and run. If you teach amateurs a couple basic shots to use around the green it can really help, and also curb frustration. No one likes to rifle chips back and forth across a green while everyone else in the group looks on in horror.
My biggest breakthrough of the spring had come with Reid McMahon’s son, who was inevitably named Reid McMahon Junior. He was attending a college somewhere in Chicago, but made regular weekend trips up the Lake Club. He was an outgoing kid, funny, occasionally intoxicated, and the members all loved him. He was known affectionately as R.J. He seemed to embrace the nickname, as he did all aspects of his life, which included a dreadful golf game. The sport was a complete mystery to him.
After a lesson or two I got him hitting the ball in the air, but his father still wouldn’t take him onto the course until his entire game had been improved. He was apparently very dangerous with a wedge in his hands, and not in the way that Tiger was dangerous with his. When R.J. was inside of fifty yards you needed to be on high alert. It reminded me of the first time I met Chris Floyd, and he asked if he needed shin guards to be safe on the range. Chris had been joking, but the protective equipment could have been useful in the presence of R.J. McMahon. In fact, had things continued to go the way they started I might have had to cordon off the patio outside the halfway house with crime scene tape.
“What are you thinking about when right before you hit a chip shot?” I asked R.J.
He had just hit five straight hosel lasers into some brush well right of the chipping area, and had scared off the only other member who was around.
“Thinking about? Nothing, I guess. Maybe having sex? Or maybe hoping I don’t hit another shank. That’s like right at the last minute.”
“So you are thinking about the shank, then?”
“Maybe? I definitely think about it right after.”
“Right,” I said. It would have been hard not too with the ball rocketing off in all directions. “Why don’t you just try to hit one into that left bunker? Aim for the pin, but at the last second jerk it right over into the bunker.”
I just wanted a shot to go a direction other than dead right. R.J. seemed comfortable with this idea, and set up to another practice ball. He took several looks at the pin, and a quick peek at the left bunker before he hit. Cold shank. I tried to hide my frustration.
“All right, we’ll get it.” I said.
We went through everything I could think of. We changed clubs, stances, I made him get mechanical, I told him to close his eyes, but nothing was working. Finally, I had one last idea.
“I want you to shank this one,” I said.
“What?” R.J. was puzzled.
“Shank another one. I want to see exactly what is happening.
I could tell that R.J. did not believe that this was a good idea, but he had no rebuttal. He went through his same routine, nervously checking the target, a couple practice swings, and then he hit the shot. It was a nice and serviceable pitch and run. I allowed myself a second of awe, before I assumed the expression of stoic teacher. R.J. was elated. It was like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He hit another one good, then another, and we shifted to bump and runs, and then bunker shots, and not a single ball rattled off the roof of the halfway house.
“You’re like a miracle worker,” R.J. said when we were finished. “My dad can’t keep me off the course now.”
“Definitely not, the next time you’re up, we’ll all go play.”
“That’d be sweet,” R.J said, without the requisite college sarcasm.
“Looking forward to it,” I shook R.J.’s hand, and told him to keep practicing. I excused myself, and headed back to the golf shop.
I parked the cart out front, and took a quick look at my watch. The lesson had gone long, and I hoped that Randy and Maureen had already eaten so I could head to straight to lunch. I was starving. I walked into the shop to see three anxious faces. Randy, Maureen, and Duke all seemed a little happier than usual to see me.
“You hungry,” Randy asked.
“Yeah,” I answered cautiously.
“Good, then go pick up lunch at Franco’s.”
“Yep, kitchen’s getting ready for some private luncheon, no time for us lowly employees. I’m not eating a halfway house hot dog. Maureen already called an order in. Hope you feel like pizza.”
I didn’t answer. I just stood there thinking about how I didn’t want to go to Franco’s.
“You don’t seem too enthusiastic about the pizza,” Randy said. “Get whatever you want. It should be ready,” He handed me some money.
“You want to take a ride over there with me, Duke?” I asked. I thought if he came along, I could send him in to pick up the pizza.
“You trying to get me alone with you in the car pervert?” Duke asked.
Laughing was my only option at this point, and after we all enjoyed Duke’s wit for a moment I went to Franco’s by myself. New guy runs the errands, but this wasn’t an errand I was looking forward too. A couple weeks prior I would have skipped the car ride, and floated to Franco’s on the wings of anticipation, but this time I took my time. I pulled into the lot, took a deep breath, and walked inside.
In the second that it took me to adjust to the slight darkness of the room, Cait appeared behind the bar. I wondered what she was going to say to me. I wondered if she had even noticed or cared that I hadn’t come around. Perhaps, she was just a nice girl who felt sorry for the city boy.
“Here to pick up the pizza’s Dave?” she asked.
“I figured they’d send you over,” Cait smiled that same smile before ducking into the kitchen.
I fidgeted around while I waited for her to return. She didn’t seem uncomfortable in the least, and I remembered my tendency to assume the worst possible scenarios. What had I really done, except maybe prove that I wasn’t a complete stalker?
Cait came back through the swinging kitchen doors holding two pizza boxes, and set them by the register, she rang up the total quickly.
“Twenty-one fifty,” she said.
I had forgotten my part of the bargain here, and it took me a second to find the money that Randy had given me. I pulled it out of my pocket like it was the first time I had handled currency, and handed her thirty dollars.
“You can keep the rest,” I said.
“Thanks. We miss your generous tipping around here,” Cait answered. “You been cheating on us?” She gave me a quizzical look.
“No, I’ve been attempting some home cooking,” I said.
“Really? And, how’s that working out for you?”
“Ever eat prison food?”
“Can’t say that I have,” Cait laughed.
“Well it’s somewhere between that and food poisoning. I’ve lost a couple pounds though.”
“You look a little gaunt. I think you’re a couple homemade meals away from an US Weekly cover.”
I laughed, and Cait smiled widely, and then nervously played with a couple strands of hair that had fallen onto her face.
“I’ll have to come by,” I said. “I should have come by. I wanted to see you.”
“Well I might have been looking out for you every now and then,” Cait conceded.
“What are you doing tonight?” I asked. As usually, my boldness came suddenly.
“Do you want to show me a place around here that has decent food? Besides Franco’s of course.”
Cait seemed to ponder this for a moment, and I wondered if I had made a mistake, but she quickly said that she thought it sounded like a great idea. We made plans for me to come back and pick her up at six-thirty. I wanted to stay, and talk to her, but she had customers and I had starving co-workers back at the club I needed to feed. I told Cait I’d see her that evening, and left feeling a lot better than when I arrived.
I got back to the cabin around six o’clock. I had intended to give myself a little more time, but convincing Duke I didn’t have the time to play nine holes probably would have taken longer than the golf itself. I was distracted on the course, and started spraying driver all over the place. I was losing pretty handily, but it didn’t bother me at all.
“Are you getting laid later?” Duke asked me on the eighth green.
“What?” I replied. I’m sure I blushed.
“You have some ass lined up or something? I’ve never seen someone so happy about hitting the ball like shit. Most of the time you hit a wedge to twenty feet it looks like you might tear someone limb from limb, today you’re making fescue donations every other hole, and it looks like you might break out into a skip.”
The good thing about Duke was that almost everything he said was funny, so you could laugh off his questions or observations even if they were completely accurate. Not that I was expecting to sleep with Cait that night, but the thought of spending some time with her had drained my focus on that that afternoon.
“Just an off day,” I reasoned. “What fun is it if I win every time?”
“It’d be a hell of a lot of fun if I were you, bu I’ll take an easy one. Got to start somewhere.”
Duke didn’t mention anything about getting a drink afterwards, and I was thankful, because I wasn’t sure how I would have gotten out of that invitation. I quickly said goodbye, packed up, and headed to the cabin.
I put on a little fashion show for myself after taking a shower, and finally decided on a look as far away from golf pro as I could get. For me this was jeans, t-shirt, and a pair of sandals. I even left my hat behind. After brushing my teeth for a second time I was headed back to Franco’s to get Cait.
She was waiting for me on the bottom step of the rickety porch out front, and had gotten into my passenger seat almost before I could stop the car, and long before I had the chance to offer any chivalrous gesture. She let out a big sigh after saying hello.
“Couldn’t wait to get out of there,” she said.
“Rough day behind the bar?”
“Just the usual,” Cait said. She motioned for me to make a left out of the parking lot. “Thanks for picking me up here. My truck has been out of commission for about a week.”
“No problem. So where are we going?”
“Well, we’re going to my house for ten minutes so I can shower and change? And, then after that is a surprise. How do you feel about that?”
I looked over at Cait. She had a huge, hopeful smile on her face, and all I could think of to say was, “I feel great about it.”
“Well good. Take this right,” she signaled again for me to make a turn. “Since you got all cleaned up for me, I figure I better return the favor.”
“That’s very considerate of you. I happen to love the Franco’s Pizza uniform, but you’re welcome to change.”
“You love it huh?” Cait laughed. “I’ll get one for you. You looked nice by the way. I like this more relaxed look. You golfers always seem a little uptight in your khakis.”
“It’s part of the job description.”
Cait pointed me to a house on the right side of the street. The drive couldn’t have been more than a mile or so. I pulled into the driveway of the single level house. There was Ford pickup truck parked in front of a garage, and two dogs began going crazy in the fenced in front yard.
“That was quick,” I said.
“I know, convenient. The only time it doesn’t seem quick is when I have to walk it. You want to come in and wait? No one’s home.”
“Sure,” I got out of the car and followed Cait to the gate in the fence around the front yard. The dogs, two yellow labs, were taking turns jumping up on the fence.
“You’re not afraid of dogs are you? This is Leroy and that’s Selma,” Cait pointed at the two dogs quickly, and I wasn’t sure who was Leroy and who was Selma.
“Not at all,” I said. “I love dogs.”
“Perfect. They love everyone. Leroy, get down. Act like you’ve seen someone before.”
We walked through the gate, and the dogs greeted us enthusiastically. Selma stayed close and took in all the attention, but Leroy headed to a corner of the yard, and brought back a mangled tennis ball.
“Leroy’ll play fetch with you for about a hundred years if you’re interested,” Cait said.
“I throw him a few,” I said. It was hard not to be a little infected with Leroy’s enthusiasm.
“All right, well I’ll start getting ready. If he starts driving you crazy, just come on in.”
I said I would, and I started tossing Leroy the ball, and as Cait predicted he didn’t get tired of it. The fenced area was fairly large, but Leroy covered it quickly, and it wasn’t long before my arm was lacking a little snap. I decided to take a break, and grabbed a seat on the front steps. Leroy and Selma positioned themselves as close to me as possible. They took turns putting their paws into my lap. I didn’t know if they were well versed in the shake command, or simply begging for attention.
I threw Leroy a few more from the porch, but while I waited for Cait I also thought about what I was going to tell her about certain things in my life if they came up. Was the best way to just be honest from the start? I didn’t know how I was going to handle it, because I didn’t know exactly what we were doing. It felt like a date, but there was that small chance that it was just Cait being friendly and showing me around town. I wondered if I could go the entire night, and dance around my past, avoid mention of Avery, and everything else. Before I had much time to think about it I heard a screen door close behind me. I turned, and saw Cait wearing a similar outfit to the one I had on. Jeans, t-shirt, but she wore them a lot better than I did. She was simply beautiful, her hair still partially wet from the shower, and not a hint of self-consciousness about her.
“You ready to go?” She asked.
I stood up, and faced her, but didn’t say anything.
“What?” She asked, when she started to feel like I was staring.
“You look great,” I said.