Cait took me into what I suppose would have been called downtown Dune Harbor. I didn’t know such a place existed, but about a ten minute drive from her house was a cluster of shops and restaurants on the shore of Lake Michigan. The town sat on top of a bluff, and from the sidewalk a few rickety staircases led to the beach and lake below. It was a beautiful night, but with vacation season not yet in full swing we had no trouble finding a quiet spot at Beasley’s, the restaurant that Cait had chosen.
Beasley’s looked like the place in town where locals ate. The street was lined with more inviting locations. Touristy traps with catchy names, outdoor seating, and flashy signage. Cait led us straight past all these options and into Beasley’s. When I walked in, I was struck by the obvious lack of light, and what seemed to be a lapsed nautical theme. It appeared the intention had been to fill the restaurant with sea-related artifacts, but this idea had lost steam just past the entrance. A large fish tank sat empty against one wall, and a six foot wooden lighthouse that stood next to the hostess’ podium was in need a fresh coat of paint.
We sat in a large booth at the back of the restaurant. The high back leather benches had been broken in by years of previous diners, and I found myself settling into a premade indentation in the padding. I flipped through the old hard-bound menu. I noticed that despite visual clues to the contrary, Beasley’s offered a little bit of everything. I thought I might need a suggestion or two.
“They don’t have Franco’s Alfredo, if that’s what you’re looking for,” Cait said without looking up from her own menu.
“I was looking for the bloomin’ onion,” I countered. I actually was looking at the list of appetizers, trying to find something that might be safe.
Cait peered over the top of her menu and said, “Oh you are so the chain restaurant guy, aren’t you? Part of the chain gang. It must have been hard for you to pass that Friday’s on the way here.”
“Familiarity breeds comfort,” I said.
“More like boredom.”
“So what’s good here?” I asked. “This menu is a little all over the place.”
“I don’t think you can go wrong,” Cait said. She closed her menu and sat it neatly in front of her.
“That makes it easy then,” I said.
I still hadn’t made a decision when our waitress arrived. Sheryl was a matronly looking woman in her fifties. She had a nice smile, but it looked like it didn’t come as easily as it once did. I wondered if she may have been around in the days when the fish tank out front was teeming with life. She took our drink order, and then asked if we had made our decision on dinner. Cait looked a little anxious so I let her go ahead, and then made a last second choice for myself. Neither Cait nor Sheryl flinched when I ordered the roasted chicken, so I assumed that I hadn’t made a historic blunder.
A busboy came by with a basket of bread, and Sheryl was close behind with our drinks. Cait seemed to have some nervous energy about her, picking at a roll, and taking frequent sips from her beer. She appeared to have something on her mind.
“It looks like something is bothering you,” I said.
Cait smiled, perhaps a little surprised that I noticed, but then asked me, “Why didn’t you come back to Franco’s until you had to come pick up the pizza today?”
Suddenly, I was the one feeling nervous. I wished I had a beer bottle to peel the label off of. I thought about how I had hoped to go the entire night without having this conversation, and I hadn’t even made it to the salad. I couldn’t tell her the truth, especially about Avery. It wasn’t the right time.
“I kind of talked myself into thinking that you were just being run of the mill, small-town Michigan friendly,” I lied.
“Well I was being friendly, but I also liked talking to you,” she said.
“I like talking to you too. I realized the error of my ways as soon as I walked in today. Believe me,” I tried to deflect attention with flattery.
‘”I was pretty happy to see you come in. You don’t realize how nice it is to see a new face every once and a while in there, and it seemed like you were a good guy too. I’m a pretty good judge of character, but I thought maybe I had been wrong about you. I was mourning the loss of my gin and tonic drinker a little bit.”
Cait’s openness with me was making me feel worse about not telling her why I had been holed up in the cabin, but I still didn’t say anything, instead I just pointed to my current gin and tonic, smiled like an idiot, and tried to change the subject.
“So Beasley’s. Is this the top of the food chain in Dune Harbor?”
“That might be overstating it,” Cait laughed.
“Seems nice,” I said.
“It definitely doesn’t seem nice, but the food is good.”
“That’s all that matters.”
“It used to be a little nicer in here. I used to come here with my parents a long time ago. My father would bring us here as an apology for something he did to my mother, or for missing my dance recital or something.”
“Dance recitals?” This revelation surprised me a little. Cait didn’t seem the type that would have been dolled up in a dance costume.
“Till I was eight, and the novelty of tap shoes wore off.”
“Do you still live with your parents?” I asked.
Cait frowned at this question, but quickly recovered, and gave me a quick summary of her family life. Her father had left when she was thirteen, and since then she’d been mostly independent. Her mother went through a series of boyfriends. Sometimes the boyfriends moved in, and sometimes her mother moved out. Most recently her mother had gone to Florida, leaving Cait alone in their house. Cait expected that her mother would eventually return, but she didn’t know when. She hadn’t seen her in almost six months.
“Are your parents still together?” Cait asked.
“And they’re back in Philadelphia?”
“No, they moved to a massive golf course community in North Carolina. They’ve got four courses, and these obnoxious cottages built right on top of each other.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Cait said.
“No it’s not,” I backpedalled. “I guess I just thought they’d always live in the house I’d grown up in.”
“I know what you mean. When I think of my parents, I always picture some scene from when I was a little girl. It’s like nothing has happened in the last fifteen years.”
I nodded, agreeing with Cait’s assessment.
“So is your whole family into golf?” Cait asked.
“To varying degrees I guess. My father becomes more obsessed every year it seems like,” I said. My father had been retired for a few years, and his desire to play more golf had sent him to North Carolina.
“They must be pretty proud of you,” Cait said.
“Why do say that?” I asked. I had a feeling a lot of my parent’s pride had dimmed over the years.
“I heard you are really good at golf. Crazy good.”
“Who told you that?”
“Are you surprised? All I said was that I heard he was talking about me, and next thing I know he’s giving me the rundown on you. He told me about you going to Q-School, and all that. To be honest I think he has a little crush on your golf skills,” Cait smiled at this conclusion.
“You know about Q-School?”
“I had to google it to fill in the details, but I think I have the idea. It sounds pretty intense.”
“It can be,” I admitted.
“It’s good experience I bet. This year you’ll do better,” she said frankly. She displayed the assuredness that only someone completely unfamiliar with the situation could have.
“I’m not, I mean this year I decided,” I tried to find the right words, but Sheryl interrupted in with our dinner.
The food looked and smelled delicious. The distraction was enough for Cait to forget that I had started to say something, and while we ate I managed to avoid talking any more about Q-School.
The dinner turned out to be great, proving there was more than one place to get a decent meal in Dune Harbor, and more than validating Cait’s choice. We left Beasley’s, and Cait suggested a short walk down the block. I was enjoying letting Cait make all the decisions, so I fell into line, and walked with her until we arrived in front of a storefront with a sign that read, Delicious Delights. A chalkboard on the sidewalk out front touted homemade water ice, and a peanut butter brownie sundae.
“Sweet tooth?” I asked.
“Dinner isn’t over until you have some dessert,” Cait said. “Plus, you’re looking a little gaunt, remember?”
“Right, well let’s get some dessert then.”
“The water ice is amazing,” Cait said.
We stood a few paces back from the counter. I looked over the hand-written menu. There was water ice, ice cream, sundaes, giant homemade cookies, just about everything you could imagine. I decided on water ice. A sundae could end up being a mess, and I didn’t think I wanted Cait to see me with ice cream all over my face on our first night out.
“Do you know what you want?” I asked.
“Yeah, you go ahead,” Cait wanted me to order first.
“I’ll have a lemon water ice,” I said.
“Lemon?” Cait’s disbelief caught the girl working behind the counter by surprise, and she stopped mid-service.
“What’s wrong with lemon?”
“It’s so safe,” Cait disgust seemed somewhat feigned.
“It’s called appreciating the classics. You probably don’t recognize the greatness of vanilla ice cream. Maybe I’ll get a dish of that.”
“You realize vanilla is actually a synonym for plain?”
“It should be a synonym for delicious,” I countered.
We both laughed at this, but then noticed that the girl behind the counter was still confused. She remained frozen over the lemon water ice.
“I’m sticking with lemon,” I said.
The girl seemed relieved, and quickly served me. Cait took a long time deciding, before opting for kiwi. I wanted so desperately to make a joke about her choice, but I couldn’t think of anything witty. Small cups of dessert in hand, Cait again took the lead, and we made our way to a park bench that sat on the bluff overlooking the beach and lake below. The sun had just disappeared, and we were experiencing the last seconds of the day’s natural light along with artificial illumination from the lights that lined the sidewalks. Cait sat down first, and then I joined her, only to have her maneuver slightly closer to me.
“Are you cold?” I asked. It had cooled off considerably.
“Are you going to offer me the coat you don’t have?”
“I might have one in the car,” I offered.
“I’m fine. I survive the winters here, remember?”
“Of course. How’s the kiwi?”
“Amazing,” Cait said through a mouthful. “Try some.”
She took a small spoonful, and offered it to me. I refused.
“Oh come on, don’t be a baby. Try the kiwi,” she put the spoon right to my lips, and I relented. It wasn’t bad, but I preferred my lemon.
“Too much kiwi,” I said.
“You’re clueless. Let me try that lemon,” she dipped her spoon into my cup without invitation, and took a quick sample.
“Average,” she said.
Cait rolled her eyes at this, and went back to her own water ice, clearly pleased with the decision she had made. We sat in silence for a minute as our view of the scenery began to be lost to darkness.
“I like it so much better here when it’s quiet,” Cait said when we were almost finished our water ice. “In a few weeks this place will be crawling with people. It’s just not the same.”
“It’s a beautiful place,” I said.
“I guess it is. You see it as a vacation spot, though. It’s a little different when you’ve lived here your whole life.”
“Do you think you’ll move away?” I asked.
Cait seemed to ponder this question for a moment. She scraped up a last bite of water-ice, savored it for a second, and then set the cup down on the bench next to her.
“I tried once,” she said. “After college I took a job in Chicago, but it was terrible, and I wasn’t used to the city. I came running back home I guess.”
“I’m sure that happens to a lot of people.”
“Maybe. But, now I’m back to bartending at Franco’s. It’s been over a year, and I haven’t done anything I wanted to do.”
“What did you want to do?” I asked. I adjusted myself on the bench so I was facing Cait instead of the lake.
“I was going to get started working on a Masters. I thought I could teach, and maybe work on some writing. I’ve always loved to write.”
“That sounds like a good plan.”
“It’s just a plan though. A lot of time I don’t know what I want to do with myself. I wish I had something like you have. Like golf, so I was sure about what I was doing with my life.”
“I’m not so positive,” I admitted. “I’m not going to Q-School again this year.”
“Why not?” Cait seemed genuinely surprised.
“I’ve tried it a few times. I’m just not quite good enough. Plus, without,” I caught myself before mentioning Chris.
“Nothing, I just, I didn’t come here to get ready for another year of Q-School. I came to take a break from that, try to sort out what I’m going to do with my life. I think you probably have a better plan than me.”
“How about we agree that both of our plans need some work?” Cait asked.
“Sounds good to me,” I laughed.
“Good,” Cait answered, pulling her arms in close to her. I could see some goose bumps rising on her exposed skin.
“You sure you’re not cold?” I asked.
“Maybe a little bit,” Cait conceded. “You want to head to warmer ground?”
I agreed. I grabbed our empty cups off the bench, and quickly threw them away before returning to Cait’s side for the walk back to my car. As we walked Cait leaned into me, and I put my arm around her shoulder. With her close to me I felt my heartbeat quicken, and I wondered if she could notice.
When we got back to her house I pulled in the driveway, put the car in park, and looked over at Cait. She had a big smile on her face, and a trace of sleepiness in her eyes.
“I had a really good time,” she said.
“Easily my best night in Dune Harbor,” I added.
“Well at least you know now where a few things are in town now, besides the golf course.”
“True. I may have been the first person to come here, and never see the lake if it wasn’t for you.”
“You’re welcome,” Cait teased. “Hey what’s your phone number?” She asked, and took her phone from her bag.
“You’re asking for my number?”
“Yep, cough it up.”
I told her the number, and she punched it into her phone, and then my phone started to vibrate in the center console.
“I wonder who that is?”
“Better answer it,” Cait said.
There was something so likeable and innocent about her in that moment, that I had to play along. I answered my phone.
“Hey Dave,” she said into the phone.
“Who is this?’ I asked.
‘”It’s your date,” Cait laughed. “I had a really good time, and I want you to call me soon, all right? Don’t be waiting for some bullshit excuse like coming in to pick up pizza, ok?”
“Good,” Cait flipped her phone shut. “I guess I’ll talk to you soon then?”
I nodded, and Cait quickly leaned across the distance between us. She touched my cheek gently while giving me a quick kiss. As soon as I realized what was happening she had already pulled away, blushing slightly, and was saying her goodbyes. I think I managed my own goodbye before she left the car. I watched her walk all the way into her house, and with her inside safely I pulled out of the driveway. My heart was racing again.
There was a time when calling Chris Floyd would have been the first thing I would have done after my date with Cait. He always liked to hear the minute details of my evenings out. He would have asked me what Cait was wearing, what she ordered for dinner, and what was playing on the radio when she kissed me in the driveway. Nothing would have escaped his probing mind. In return for this information I was given the same details of all of Chris’s dates whether I was interested or not. I always thought I was humoring Chris by listening to his stories, but when I noticed that I hadn’t heard any of them for a while, I realized that I missed them. On a random night in Myrtle Beach, during a mini-tour event in the summer of 2007 I learned what was going on.
“Want to go to a strip club?” I asked.
I had just shot a 72 that given the scoring conditions might as well have been a 172. After the round Chris and I were in our shared hotel room. I sat at a tiny table by the window, while Chris reclined on his bed, sipping a beer.
“Sure, I’ll wait in the car while you call Avery and get permission,” Chris did not move or look at me for a reaction. He just sipped his beer and stared at baseball game that was on television.
“She wouldn’t mind,” I said. I had no intention of going to a strip club, but it was unusual that Chris wasn’t pushing me to do something. He’s been oddly satisfied with sitting around in the hotel.
“She probably wouldn’t, but you’d get all guilty and weird about it, and we’d have a terrible time.”
“All right, no strip club, but let’s do something,” I said. “I’m tired of sitting around in the hotel. Let’s go get a drink, anything.”
“We have drinks here. The Phillies are on, what do you want to go out for?”
“Come on, I need a change of scenery.” I stood up from the table, trying to spur us on with some movement.
I took the remote control off Chris’s bed, and turned off the television.
“What the fuck?”
“Let’s go. We need to change our luck. I don’t want to shoot another 72 tomorrow. Show some commitment to the team.”
Chris rolled his eyes, “Fine. Let’s go out and drink beers and not watch the Phillies game. It’ll be awesome.”
“Think positive. You might end up meeting the girl of your dreams.”
“I don’t think there are going to be any Victoria’s Secret models at some place where they have Busch Light on draft.”
We ended up at Hooters, partly because I was trying to get some kind of rise out of Chris, but also because sometimes you just end up at Hooters. Chris had a theory that the women who worked at Hooters got better looking the closer you got to the original location in Clearwater, Florida. It was a theory that held some water, but there was plenty of talent in Myrtle Beach. We took seats at the bar, and Chris asked if they had Busch Light on draft, just to hammer home his point from earlier in the evening.
You would never see our bartender on Jeopardy, but she was quite good-looking, and overly friendly. Armed with a southern accent, it was very hard not to like her at least a little bit, if only in a physical sense. Chris never took his eyes off the television. The Chris Floyd I knew would have been flirting shamelessly, lying compulsively, and misreading the bartender’s intentions. On this night she hardly could get him to crack a smile. This left her focusing her attention on me, and as flattering as it was, it wasn’t the point of the evening.
“I think the bartender’s into you,” I said when she had walked out of earshot.
“I’m serious, I think the aloof angle is working for you.”
“Althouse, what the fuck are you talking about? We’re at Hooters. These chicks are clothed strippers. They flirt with everyone. It’s in the company mission statement.”
“That’s never bothered you before,” I said.
“Are you trying to get me laid, or something? Cause you’re awful at it, and acting weird as hell.”
“I’m not trying to get you laid. You are usually more than capable, I’m was just a little worried about you. I haven’t heard you talk about a girl in months. What happened to that girl from Tampa? What was her name?”
“Yeah, Michelle. She was hot. What happened to her?”
“How should I know? She probably fulfilled her lifelong destiny of becoming a porn star.”
“So have you taken a vow of abstinence or something?”
“Dave, come on. I think you know me a little better than that. I’ve just, well things have changed a little bit. You never liked hearing all that shit anyway. You hear one story about a chick, you’ve heard ‘em all,” Chris finished off a bottle of beer, and waved the empty at the bartender to get her attention.
“I liked the stories,” I admitted.
“Well, storytelling is over. I’ve grown out of it.”
The bartender reappeared in front of us, “Can we get another round?” Chris asked. “Still no Busch Light, right?”
The bartender laughed, and quickly twisted the top off two bottles of beer. She placed them in front of us, and smiled widely. When neither of us said anything to her, she appeared confused, and left us alone again.
“So what are you saying? That you’re serious about some girl all of a sudden? Don’t tell me the guy who tells me I’m making the biggest mistake of my life had become monogamous,” I said sarcastically.
“I was always monogamous. Just for very short periods of time,” Chris countered. “And, you and Avery? Please don’t ever compare me to that relationship. You’re the one that should be hitting on the bartender. Then maybe you could break 72,” Chris frowned and looked away.
“Don’t turn this around into another discussion about me and Avery,” I said.
“Turn what around? I didn’t say shit. You’re dragging me out to Hooters like I’m some charity case.”
“It’s not like that. I thought something might be wrong. Not necessarily about the girls, but something else? You haven’t been yourself. I don’t know why you’re keeping this girl a secret,” I said.
“I just wasn’t ready to tell you. It’s complicated.”
“How complicated can it be? Is she married?”
“No,” Chris rolled his eyes, and took a long drink from his beer. He was stalling.
“So what then?”
“Can we get out of here?” Chris asked.
I agreed, and quickly left some money on the bar for the tab. Neither of us said a word on the short drive back to the hotel, and when we got back to the room Chris walked in, and turned on the television like our conversation had ended at the bar, and we were just going to go about business as usual.
“Dude, turn the TV off,” I said.
“What?” Chris asked defensively, but he did turn off the TV.
“Where is the secrecy coming from? Are you going to tell me about this complicated relationship, or what?”
“There’s nothing to tell,” Chris said.
“Well who the hell is she?”
Chris shifted around uncomfortably on the bed, before saying, “Look Dave, I don’t know how you’re going to take this, but I’ve been dating Danielle for about four months.”
I stood in silence for a moment before realizing exactly what Chris was saying.
“Danielle? My sister Danielle?”
“Yes,” Chris admitted. “And, Dave you have to understand that,”
“I don’t have to understand shit,” I interrupted. “I can’t believe this. What is she thinking?”
Chris was my closest friend, someone I would have trusted with almost anything, but not my little sister. After hearing year’s worth of Chris Floyd war stories, the thought of him with my sister not only made me sick to my stomach, but filled with me anger.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Chris asked defensively.
“You’re a fucking dirtball dude. Would you want someone like you dating your sister? She’s still in fucking college.”
“Fuck you, Dave. You don’t know anything about it.”
“What is there to know?”
“I’m in love with her,” Chris said calmly.
“Oh give me a fucking break. Should I play back what you said to me when I said that about Avery? And, we’re almost constantly out here on the road, when do you even see her?”
“We are not you and Avery. How many times do I have to say that, and well, I see her whenever I can. I was actually going to ask you about taking some time off, since she’s off for the summer.”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this. Of all the possibilities that went through my mind, I never thought that it would be this. Chris Floyd is in love,” I said dramatically.
At that moment I decided I couldn’t bear to be in the room anymore, and I left without a word. I rode the elevator down the one floor to the lobby, and walked out into the parking lot. I pulled my phone from my pocket, and called Danielle. She was on the other line, and I knew that Chris had called her as soon as I had left the room. I tried her every ten minutes until minutes until she picked up.
I didn’t take the same tone with Danielle that I had with Chris. She was only two years younger than me, but I had always felt protective of her, and while I was angry with Chris I was more concerned about her well being. I’d always been critical of guys she’d gone out with, and those had been guys I hardly knew a thing about. Chris on the other hand, I knew too much about. Danielle was no stranger to his antics either. I couldn’t believe she had fallen for him.
I talked to Danielle for almost an hour, and somehow in that time she managed to convince me that her dating Chris was not a terrible idea. I don’t remember exactly how she did it, but I do know that she had always been the better arguer, and I soon found myself agreeing with her. She assured me that Chris had been nothing but a gentlemen, and I could personally attest to his faithfulness considering he was rarely out of my sight. She didn’t sound as serious about the relationship as Chris, but it was clear that she did have feelings for him.
I went back into the hotel, and was planning on apologizing to Chris, or at least attempting an apology, but when I got back to the room I found he had left, leaving behind a note. It explained that he was sorry for not telling me what was going on, and that he decided to get his own room for the night, just to give me some space. The apologies came the next morning at breakfast, and then after I missed the cut, I told Chris that he could go ahead and take the time off he wanted. Chris didn’t caddy for me again until the opening stage of Q-School that fall.
I didn’t share any information about my date with Cait the next day at work. I spent the whole day in an unusually good mood, and had managed to find a few minutes during lunch to give her a call. She had to work that night, but I told her that I would stop by Franco’s and see her after work. Before I left for the day I headed out to the putting green, planning to roll some putts for about fifteen minutes. My putting needed the work, but also I wanted to test myself, and see if I could wait a few minutes before rushing off to see Cait. I had been on the green for a few minutes when I saw Freddie amble around the corner holding a new putter and glass of scotch.
“Got some money you’re willing to part with?” Freddie asked as he dropped a ball on the putting green.
“Maybe a dollar or two,” I said.
“I guess that could be worth my time. How about eighteen holes, total strokes? I don’t have all night,” Freddie said.
“That sounds good. What are we playing for?”
“We’ll start for a dollar, and see how it goes. If you get me way behind, maybe we’ll mix it up.”
I agreed, and after Freddie took a few practice putts, we started our match. It was pretty dull until the seventh hole when Freddie ran in a thirty footer to take a one shot lead. After that he cooled considerably, three putting a few times, and falling two shots behind after fifteen holes. Freddie had been a little more quiet than usual, and I could see he was frustrated with his putting.
“Why the putter change?” I asked.
“Worry about your own equipment, kid,” Freddie answered.
“All right, let’s go back to your drink then.”
I lined up the putt, and lagged it up to a couple of feet then watched Freddie do same. We both tapped in, and I was two shots ahead with only two holes left. It was Freddie’s turn to pick the hole, and he chose a relatively short putt of about fifteen feet. He took extra time examining the line, and then calmly rolled it into the center. I congratulated him quickly before making my own attempt. The putt looked good, but slid by on the high side, and actually raced a few feet past the hole.
“Whoa, whoa,” I said. I let out a sigh, and looked at what I had left. Before I could hit my second putt, Freddie broke out of his shell.
“Heard you’re fucking that chick that tends bar over at Franco’s,” he said casually.
“What?” I backed away from my putt.
“Duke told me earlier that you’re seeing that girl from Franco’s,” Freddie clarified.
“Well, we had one date. I’m not sleeping with her,” I said. I couldn’t imagine how Duke possibly knew we had gone out, or how it had escalated from that point.
“Well that’s a distinguished list. Guys that aren’t sleeping with her, so don’t feel too bad,” Freddie chuckled.
I tried to ignore what Freddie had said, but I deftly lipped out the three footer, and then three-putted the final hole to lose by one shot. Freddie seemed pleased that he had found a chink in my armor. I took a hundred dollar bill from my pocket, and offered it to Freddie.
“Keep it kid, we’ll run a tab, or better yet, spend it on the broad,” he laughed, and finished off his scotch in a large gulp.
“There’s really nothing going on, Freddie,” I said defensively.
“Right, so if I come by Franco’s in a half-hour are you going to be there?”
“I might be,” I admitted with a smile, after contemplating lying.
‘That’s what I thought,” Freddie said.