A little shaken, I walked into the kitchen of the cabin, and grabbed a beer from the fridge. I decided I needed some fresh air. I opened the door, and took a seat on the front step. The weak bulb that illuminated the doorway didn’t do much to penetrate the darkness, and about the only thing I could see in the night was the shadowy outline of my car in the driveway. I twisted the cap off the Miller Lite, flicked it into the unknown, and listened to an eerie quiet that was only broken the occasional sound of a passing car.
Duke had been partially right about my trip to Michigan. I was trying to get away from something, but it wasn’t a girl, and it wasn’t expectations, it was the memory of Chris Floyd. The best friend I ever had.
I met Chris during the summer before my freshman year of high school. I had changed schools so I could play high school golf, and a couple of weeks before classes started I showed up at the team’s home course for the first day of practice. I was more nervous about meeting the guys on the team than I was about the golf. At the time I was already a pretty good player, and had won some local junior tournaments. The team I was joining, though, was a good one, and made up of mostly upperclassmen. Never is a couple year age difference more prominent than in high school, and I wasn’t expecting an immediate or warm reception.
I got to the course early, and took a spot at the end of the driving range, mostly keeping to myself. The members of the golf team were immediately recognizable by their golf bags, their camaraderie, and the carefree way they seemed to carry themselves. I decided I would let the coach do the introductions, and I went back to hitting my golf balls. Behind me on the range I could hear the other players settling in, loosening up, but more than anything I heard the voice of one player over all the others. When he finally stopped talking I got the sense that he was walking towards me. I decided to not turn around. I hit another shot instead.
“Who the hell is this character down here? Looks like a freshman.”
I had no option at that point. I had to turn around, and when I did, I was nearly face to face with Chris Floyd. Chris was a few inches taller than me then, probably six feet even, and he had a mess of blond hair that was escaping from every side of a well worn Titleist golf hat. He looked at me with a cocky half-grin, something I would learn was a permanent fixture. The other players didn’t seem to be interested in me, and went ahead with their practice, but Chris would never have been able to leave something like this alone. He stared at me, seemingly perfectly comfortable with the silence.
“What are you mute?” He finally asked.
“That’s a relief. Not sure I’d be able to deal with any special players on the team. Know what I mean? So, you have a name, or do you want to fill out an index card like it’s the first day of Chem?”
“Dave Althouse,” I said.
“Dave Althouse, you are under suspicion of impersonating a player. Are those blades in that bag? Am I going to need shin guards out here? What I’m saying is, are we safe on the other end of the range?”
“I think you’ll be safe.”
“Well that and a couple bucks will get me a hand job from Kelly Yorke in a bathroom stall during lunch. Why don’t you hit one, just so I can be sure.”
Playing golf had allowed me to encounter my share of cocky pricks, but there was something about Chris that didn’t give off that vibe, despite his arrogance. An accusation like this would normally make someone nervous, but coming from Chris I felt no nerves at all as I turned back to my practice balls and calmly hit a seven iron down the range. The ball left the clubface with the razor sharp sound of perfection, and climbed to a towering apex, never leaving its original line. I turned back around to look at Chris.
“What are you some escapee from the Leadbetter Academy?” Chris had taken off his hat, and ran his hand through his hair a few times.
“No, I transferred from,”
“What’s your handicap kid?”
“Three? All right, well Dave Althouse, I’m Chris Floyd, and it’s damn nice to meet you. Now what I want you to do is hit a couple of chunks, skanks, whatever, and go over to the putting green. Those guys behind us? Consider them ATM machines.”
This was how I met Chris Floyd. There were no further pleasantries. Chris went back over to the rest of the team, and I did as I was told. I mishit a couple of shots, and then went over to hit some putts. On the first tee I found myself paired with Chris, and two other guys from the team. I found out in the first fairway that we were playing for five dollars, five ways, with automatic presses. At the time I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but it sounded like I could lose twenty-five dollars that I didn’t have. Chris assured me that losing was hardly a possibility.
“Just shoot me a robotic 76 freshmen, and we’ll waltz to this one. These mullets won’t know what hit them.”
I don’t think I’ve ever laughed playing golf as much as I did that day. Chris, who happened to be a very good player, never stopped talking. He commented on every shot. Good, bad it didn’t matter. He commented on his own shots. My personal favorite came when Chris hit a sand wedge a little heavy on the twelfth hole. Immediately the ball seemed destined for the water. Chris offered some encouragement.
“Stay in the air you cunt-faced mutt bastard,” Chris screamed at his Titleist.
The ball landed with a thud on the bank just over the pond, and then trickled back into the water. Chris promptly snapped his sand wedge over his knee, and let loose another string of profanity. Standing a couple yards away in the fairway I stood in silence, but was fighting a strong urge to burst into laughter. Chris looked in my direction.
“Go ahead and laugh freshman,” he said. “I would, but I think I’m going to stab myself in the heart with this broken shaft, and then drown myself in the pond.”
I didn’t laugh, but I smiled, and did so again when walking off the eighteenth green Chris handed me a twenty dollar bill. I hadn’t played exceptionally, shooting a 77, but in combination Chris and I had beaten the other guys handily.
“They’re so dumb they think we got lucky. Next time we’ll probably skin ‘em for forty.”
“Twenty works for me,” I said. “I wouldn’t have been able to pay if we lost.”
“Lost? Come on, it’d take a lot more than those guys have to beat us. You got a ride home Althouse?”
“I’m going to call my mom,” I said.
“Aw, isn’t that cute. Tell you what, call her and tell her you have a ride. I’ll give you a lift. We’ll stop at Joe’s Pizza, spend some of our winnings. You ever been to Joe’s?”
I admitted I hadn’t.
“Shit, you are a fucking rookie aren’t you? You go call mommy, I’ll wait for you in the parking lot.”
My mom was a little hesitant to let me get a ride home with a kid she didn’t know, but when I explained that my entire social existence relied on taking this ride, she relented. I walked to the parking lot, and found Chris waiting behind the wheel of an old Jeep. The tailgate was open.
“Come on Althouse. Clubs. Car. You want me to draw you a diagram?”
I shook my head, and tossed my clubs haphazardly in the back, rushing around to get into the passenger seat.
“They let you eat cheesesteaks at the Academy?”
“What Academy?” I asked.
“Leadbetter, dumb shit. Leadbetter.”
I remembered Chris’s joke from earlier, and we both laughed.
“I wouldn’t mind checking out Leadbetter for a while. Try to hook on with one of these chick golf prodigies. I’d sweet talk her, try to become her agent or something. She’d have to be cute with a hot ass, though. They have chicks with hot asses at the Academy?”
“As far as the eye can see,” I said.
“Hah, I like that Althouse. You’re all right. So speaking of asses you have a girlfriend?”
“Not really. Well no, I don’t.”
“Neither do I, unless you count Kelly Yorke, which I don’t. We’ll have to work on it. I know some girls with younger sisters. Maybe we’ll get your hand on a tit by Christmas.”
Joe’s Pizza wasn’t much to look at from the outside. There was a sign above the door, painted in red, white and green, and a neon slice of pizza glowed in one window. There were only a handful of tables in the place, and most of them were full, so we took an empty spot in the far corner. The table was completely bare. No napkins, condiments, menus, there was nothing in sight. After a minute or two a high school age girl with red hair pulled into a sloppy ponytail came over to our table.
“Hey Chris,” she said.
“How you doing Rachel?”
“How do you think? I’m at work.”
“Shit I don’t know Rach. Some people love their jobs, I do.”
“You don’t have a job, Chris.”
“That’s true, except for being the shit. Hey Rachel, this is my new best friend Dave Althouse. He’s like the Britney Spears of golf.”
“Hi Dave,” Rachel seemed to smile at me despite herself.
“You’ll have to forgive him Rachel. They don’t teach communication at the Academy.”
“Yeah, that’s a story for another time. I’ll have a cheesesteak and some fries, what do you want Althouse?”
“I’ll have the same thing,” I said.
“Look at that, a full sentence this time.
“Rach, can we get a pitcher of Bud Light too?”
“Funny, Chris. What do you really want?”
“We’ll just grab something out of the cooler.”
Rachel turned and walked away, Chris watching her the entire time.
“She’s pretty cute, huh? She goes to our school. She’s a junior, though. Probably out of your league, that’s all right. Still no harm in looking.”
When the food came it seemed to settle Chris down. He talked a lot less while he ate, and when he did, he was a little more reserved, asking me a lot about my golf and family, but true to his form he could never be completely serious, and this required me to provide concrete proof that I didn’t have a good looking older sister.
“You ready to get out of here Althouse? I don’t want your mom to be worried about you,” Chris said when we both had finished.
“Yeah, I’m ready.”
“How was the sandwich? Amazing, right?”
“Good here’s the bill. You go pay. I drive, you pay. That’s how it works.”
I hesitated for a split second, but didn’t think I was in any position to argue, especially since I was getting a ride, and Chris was the only reason I had any money at all. He let me get a step away from the table.
“Freshmen,” he said. I turned back around. “Don’t be so gullible. People will take advantage,” Chris handed me a ten dollar bill.
After I paid at the counter we left Joe’s and I directed Chris towards my house. Over the next two years I’d probably get a couple hundred rides home from Chris, and as time went by our friendship developed. I started taking a little less shit, and giving a little more. It wasn’t long before I wasn’t the freshman, or the kid anymore. I was just Althouse.