Disclaimers: See part 1.

Questions or comments? mryan12@hotmail.com



Shell Game

By M. Ryan


Part 4

Practice Makes Perfect

Chris climbed out of the Volvo and pushed the door closed behind her. Stiffly she walked around to the trunk, yawning as she pulled out two matching suitcases. The five-hour drive from Burkett Falls to Nashville had given her more than enough time to overanalyze that last scene with Laura. Between beating herself up for being the first to step away and cursing Laura for not even making the effort to stop what was happening, she had fallen into a dark mood, hoping fervently that a week with her family would brighten it somehow.

She hefted the suitcases and started for the house, a large, rambling wood-frame Victorian with a wraparound porch. The yard was immaculately kept and the smell of freshly cut grass permeated the summer air. Chris was six when they moved into the house, and it had stood the ravages of five rambunctious children who seemed determined to destroy it. She smiled as she remembered Dan sneaking out one of the upstairs bedroom windows, only to come crashing through the roof of the porch. That prank had resulted in her oldest brother being grounded for a month.

Suddenly the screen door flew open as her youngest brother vaulted out of the house and over the porch, not touching the ground until he hit the sidewalk. "Chris!" He was in front of her in an instant, swinging her around, bags and all. "’Bout time you came home! God, you look good. You’re so little!"

Tim was six and a half feet tall and closer to the three hundred side of two hundred-fifty pounds. Football was paying his way through the University of Tennessee, and if he and the NFL had their way, it would be his first job out of school as well.

"Tiny Tim, you’re as big as a house. How do Mom and Dad afford to feed you?"

"Oh I’ll slim down next month when we have to do two-a-days. This is just preseason pudge." He set her down fairly gently and took her bags. "Mom’s thrilled you’re gonna be here for a week. Didja bring tapes? We watched the others you sent. It’s so cool; you look good on the air. It’s a little weird, because you’re my sister and it’s kinda like you’re somebody else but you’re still my sister. I showed some of the guys in the dorm and they all think you’re hot, but that’s really strange because I don’t ever think of you that way. I mean, well, you know what I mean."

"I know what you mean," Chris murmured and let the chatter wash over her. Tim had always been a talker.

"The twins are coming over for dinner, don’t know about Danny yet, so Dad put a brisket on the grill this morning. Mom made like six gallons of potato salad and we have fresh corn…just a big picnic…"

"If you’d hush for a minute, maybe she’d say something."

Chris smiled up at her mother standing on the porch. They shared the same coloring and the same hair, but Amy Hanson’s eyes were hazel to brown and they sparkled down at her daughter and youngest son. "It’s like a force of nature. Even if I did say something, he’d just talk right over me. Hi Mom." The hug was welcome contact and she held onto her mother just long enough and tight enough to prompt a worried look when she let go. "What have you gotten yourself into?" Her mother asked softly.

"Another fine mess." Chris whispered.

Oblivious to the exchange Tim continued, "They finished the new track down at the high school so we could go run in the morning if you wanted. It’s that springy rubber stuff so it won’t hurt your knees, and there’s a softball tournament next weekend and if you wanted to, a team might pick you up to fill a slot…"


"Yes ma’am?"

"Save something for later?"

He blew out a breath and grinned sheepishly. "Sorry Chris, just glad you’re home."

"Take her bags up and finish weed-eating the backyard."

"You’re letting him play with power tools?" Chris teased.

"Hey, the yard is my responsibility now. A little respect please."

"And it looks wonderful." Amy praised her youngest son.

Chris watched him shoulder open the screen door with a fond smile then turned to her mother. "You look great Mom. Everything all right?"

Amy took her daughter’s arm and pulled her over to sit on the porch swing. "I’m fine, your Dad is fine, my boys are fine, it’s my girl I’m worried about. This trip home was kind of sudden. You usually give us a little more notice."

Chris winced. "Ah, sorry."

"You had other plans and they fell through?"

"Sort of. I didn’t mean to make you feel like a substitute."

"Well, if you can’t run home to lick your wounds where can you run?" Her mother was silent for a moment. "I suppose I should ask you what happened, but I always hated it when my mother stuck her nose in my business."

"Very good ploy, Mom. You’re dying to know."

Amy shrugged, "Yes."

Chris fidgeted, choosing her words. "I stepped back before I could be pushed away. I wanted her to… feel a little of what I was feeling."

"Did it make you feel better?"

"Hell no. And she didn’t try to stop me either." Chris looked away, avoiding her mother’s eyes.

"She." Amy sighed. "Well, I knew you were a lesbian, I just hoped you weren’t practicing."

"Thanks." Chris squirmed. "You make it sound like law or medicine."

"I’m trying Chris. I wanted to be there for you when you got your heart broken by some boy who wasn’t nearly good enough for you. But it wasn’t some boy. It’s never going to be some boy. I see that now. But for all your accidents and broken bones, you managed to steer clear of a truly broken heart." Amy pushed a tendril of blonde hair back from her face and hesitated before going on. "I…always want to ask about who you’re seeing, but you’re always so…secretive…no, that’s not right. You always hold that part of you away from us."

"I didn’t think you really wanted to know. I wasn’t being secretive. It’s just…hard. Practicing? Geez, Mom."

"What else would you call it? Of course I wanted to know. It’s important to you isn’t it?"

"But awkward for you."

"Life is full of awkward moments, it’s the graceful recovery that counts. I’ve read the books, seen the talk shows, I’m a teacher, I researched…all because I want to understand." Amy took a breath and asked the next question. "What’s she like? Tell me about her."

Chris crossed her arms as if to protect herself from giving away too much. "She is the most fascinating, complex, intelligent person I have ever met. She is fiercely competitive, loyal and determined to succeed."

"That’s interesting, Chris, but it sounds more like a cover letter for a resume."

She sighed and started again. "She’s tall, long dark hair, blue eyes. Those eyes look through you sometimes, like they see something you’d rather they didn’t. She’s skinny because she forgets to eat and she has the most beautiful hands." Chris cleared her throat and continued. "She is always two steps ahead, hard to surprise but almost childlike in so many respects. She is arrogant about some things and painfully shy in a group of people she doesn’t know. She can be the warmest person on earth, or the coldest." Chris swallowed and looked down, "I didn’t know that you could be so frustrated and infuriated with a person, and still want to be with them more than anything else on earth."

She gritted her teeth before her final revelation. "She’s my boss. Laura Kasdan."

"Oh no. The golfer."

"And the GM." Chris couldn’t keep from squirming again.

Amy Hanson drummed her fingers on the armrest of the swing. "Of all my kids, you always got in the worst scrapes and had the knottiest problems. Good to know some things are constant." Chris remained silent. "Are you…do you…Oh hell, I don’t know what to ask. And it’s not about sex, it’s not about you being gay, it’s…do you have any idea what a mess this is?"

The answer was soft. "I think I do."

Her mother shook her head. "She’s your boss. Did you consider what could happen to your career? I mean, TV News is a very closed society, everyone knows everyone else."

"D’you think I don’t know that? There isn’t a single scenario I haven’t played out in my head. And it is about me being gay." Chris let the frustration out in a flood. "There is no way that this works. There is no happy ever after, no living together, no open and above board relationship unless one-- or both of us kiss our respective careers goodbye. Of course all of that is totally immaterial, since she doesn’t have time for me, doesn’t seem to need me, and I just gave her the royal kiss off!"

"You broke up?"

"More or less. Sorry Mom, didn’t manage to steer clear of that busted heart after all."

The Briarwood Golf and Country Club was located right outside Cincinnati. Laura drove the Jeep because it was personal business and it was important to keep it separate from station business no matter how much more comfortable the Accord might have been. Charles had arrived earlier on Saturday and rented a car at the airport. She could have flown too, but preferred the think time the long drive provided, even though she would have liked to play more than the one practice round scheduled for Sunday.

It was an old and distinguished course, and in keeping with her ritual, Laura kept her head and eyes down as she made the long walk from the clubhouse to the first tee, looking up only after she crossed from the cement sidewalk to the grass and allowing the explosion of the rolling green hills and woods to fill her entire field of view. Lush and lovingly cared for, the fairway of the first hole beckoned in welcome. I came back Mom. Just like you said I would. She swallowed against the emotion.

"I always forget how much I love this course." Charles spoke softly beside her.

"I know. It never seems to change." She turned and gave a half smile to her caddy. "Are you ready for this?"

"Sure." He grinned. "Where’s Chris?" He could have kicked himself when he saw the twitch in Laura’s jaw.

"Nashville. She’s visiting her parents."

"But she’ll be here later?" Charles asked the question slowly.

"No." Laura yanked the glove out of her back pocket and slapped it against her thigh before pulling it on. "I tee off in five minutes." Bluntly she ended the line of questioning.

"Clubs are here, we’re ready." He gestured to the bag on the ground. There were a few people milling around but there wasn’t much interest in a practice round at 7:30 on a Sunday morning, even if it was the U.S. Amateur.

She started down the hill toward the roped off tee box without another word and with a deep sigh Charles shouldered the bag and followed, debating the course of action he could take to get the most information and keep Laura’s game in check. Bug her ‘til she talks, he decided. It worked before.

"Last time I talked to Chris, things were good." He walked a little faster and caught her, the clubs rattling.

"You talked to Chris?" Laura eyed him with what could only be described as suspicion. "When? Laura Kasdan." She gave her name, pointed at a line and the starter checked it off a list attached to a clipboard.

"You’re up next. You’ll be playing with Angie Monroe."

"Thanks. Good to meet you." She shook hands with her playing partner for the morning. "When?" Laura repeated her question to Charles.

"Couple of weeks ago. Said she was in the middle of Sweeps."

"Did you call her or did she call you?" Laura took the driver Charles handed her and swung loosely.

"She called. Girl’ll talk your ear off. Said you were busy."


"Said she wrecked another live truck. You wanna stay left here, past the oak, don’t go near those briar bushes on the right." He gestured toward the area in question.

"And split her head open." She pulled a ball out of her pocket and bent over to tee it up. "It’s not like I haven’t played here before." Stepping back she took aim. After half a practice swing, she swung for real and sent the ball flying with a slight fade to the left, placing it exactly where she wanted it in the middle of the fairway. With a satisfied nod she waited for Angie to hit, then they both started off to their respective balls.

"So everything was cool a couple of weeks ago. Then what happened?" Charles pushed the cap back on his head.


"Just work? Gotta be something else. What about money? What about sex? That’s what people argue about." Charles noted the two hundred-yard marker and kept track of his paces until they reached her ball. "One eighty. You’ll need the five."

"You’re asking me about sex?" They waited for Angie to hit and heard her groan as the ball took a bad bounce right of the green and into the sand trap.

"You do have sex, don’t you? Pin is dead center and there’s no wind." He kept his voice down in the low golfer conversation tone both of them were used to and Laura gave him a withering glance before hitting a high shot that landed in the middle of the green, giving her an excellent chance for a birdie.

"Sex is not the problem. The sex is incredible." She felt the blush and winced as she handed him the five iron and took her putter.


"Really." They waited again for Angie to hit out of the sand trap.

"I can’t believe you just volunteered that." Charles smirked.

"Neither can I. But I seem to be surprising myself all the time these days."

"So what’s the problem? It’s gonna break right a little, but not as much as you think." He pulled the pin and settled it across his shoulders.

"Yeah, about two inches. It’s…she thinks I don’t need her because I don’t make time to be with her. She thinks everything gets my attention but her. She’s right about the time thing, but I can’t do anything about it. And she has fun without me. I’m so jealous about that I can’t even see straight half the time. It was a helluva lot easier when I didn’t feel all this stuff." She walked around the green, eyeing her six-foot putt from all angles. She crouched down and squinted from the ball to the hole.

Charles leaned down behind her and said softly, "Do you want to do something about it?"

She turned to look at him before slowly standing. "Yes. But I don’t have the foggiest idea what to do." And with that she tapped the ball into the hole for a birdie.

Well, that was easy, Charles thought sadly.

They sat in the clubhouse after they finished, drinking water and going over the round. A six under par 66 left Laura well pleased and confident about they way she was playing. "Don’t get cocky." Charles warned. "You always play well here."

"I know. It’s almost therapeutic though." She leaned back and drank deeply from the bottle.

"How do you do that?"


"Any of it. How can you separate everything from your golf?" Charles frowned in frustration. "I know I’ll never be able to play as a pro because I just don’t have the mental game. It disappoints Dad, I think."

"Louis is not disappointed in you. You’re a wonderful teacher."

"But I’ll never have the game that you have. I will never be able to turn everything off with the exclusion of my golf game and pursue it with the single-mindedness that you do."

Laura’s eyes narrowed. "It’s not always an admirable skill."

"Ah. So it occurs to you that it may not be the be all, end all of your existence."

"Stop it. Didn’t you get enough details out on the course? I know this already." Laura snarled in frustration. "I keep thinking that if I can just get past the next event, the next crisis that everything will be fine. But it’s not fine. It’s never fine."

"Do you wish yourself back?" Charles asked softly.

"No." Laura sighed. "But I can’t wish myself out of this mess either." Glumly, she sat and stared at her half eaten sandwich when she was interrupted by a vaguely familiar voice.

"Well Laura, thought I’d see you here. A good opening round for you, but I still beat you by one stroke." Diane Hilary pulled off her visor and shook her blonde hair loose from her ponytail.

"It’s Kaz, and congratulations on your round. This is Charles Cryer, my caddy."

"Charles." She acknowledged the caddy with a nod then proceeded to ignore him. "I hope I get a chance to play against you here. It’d be fun, don’t you think?"

Laura nodded. "Sure. I’d like to see you play."

"Mm. We start match play tomorrow. You’re not really used to that, are you?"

"I can hold my own." She replied evenly.

"It’s a different mindset, you know."

Laura snorted in irritation and Charles leaned back in his chair, enjoying the sparring. "I’ve managed to do all right in the past."

Diane pursed her lips. "Exactly. That’s in the past. I’ll see you around." She turned and gestured at the caddy that was waiting off to the side. He stayed a step behind her as she left the dining room.

"What a little shit." Charles shook his head in disbelief. "Bowhead. That’s what they’re like now. All arrogance and…"

"She’s good though." Laura wiggled her jaw thoughtfully. "She does well here, then turns pro. She’ll get a few tournament exemptions, some endorsements. Good looking girl, lotta personality…press’ll eat that up and voila, female Tiger Woods."

"You’ve got to be kidding."

"No," Laura mused. "She’s what the LPGA needs. Someone flashy, not a stodgy golf matron. If she wins, of course."

Charles crossed his arms. "You aren’t a stodgy golf matron."

"I’m not on tour either."


"Who’s got the Sports Section?" Daniel Hanson was a big, even- tempered man. Tall, but not bulky, he kept in shape by hard work and keeping up with his children. Dressed in blue jeans and a polo shirt he pulled a chair out from the table and sat, one hand reaching for a cup of coffee from his wife and the other for a section of the paper not already claimed by Chris or Tim.

"I do." Chris folded it and handed it over. "Do you get The Deuce? ESPN 2?"

"Yep," Tim answered. "It’s on 49. What’s up?"

"Just wondering." Chris caught her mother’s eye as she joined them and cleared her throat. "Actually, my boss is playing in the Women’s U.S. Amateur. I thought I’d watch a little."

"That’s the Kasdan woman?" The sound of her father’s rumble startled Chris for a moment.

"That’s the one."

He looked up with a raised eyebrow. "You went to Mississippi to cover her in the U.S. Open, didn’t you?"

"Yes." She held her breath and waited for what was next.

"Helluva grinder."

Chris furrowed her brow and considered the statement. "Uh, Dad? What exactly does that mean?"

Her father rustled the paper and snorted. "Means she doesn’t fool around. Gets up and hits. Just keeps at it until things work the way she wants. Bet she’s like that at work too. Doesn’t take crap from anyone." He looked up, a wry smile on his face. "I’ll bet you make her a little crazy."

"A little," she said softly.

"Hmm." He snorted again before turning his attention back to his paper. Nothing else was forthcoming and Chris wondered if she should pursue the subject. She looked up at her mother, raising her eyebrows in question. Amy shrugged as she set a cup of coffee in front of her husband.

"Hey Chris?" Tim began eating his cereal.


"You taking up golf?"

"Not a chance."


On Tuesday Laura was on her second qualifying round, having finished the previous day with another six under par 66. She was comfortable and confident. In fact, everything would have been perfect if she could talk to Chris and if her caddy would just shut up. "Do you know what your problem is?" Charles asked as they trudged up to the eighteenth tee.

"I’m shifting my weight too soon?"

"No, you’re playing great."

"Since I’ve started counting, you’ve asked me if I know what my problem is nine times. You’ve filled me in on my shortcomings on each of those occasions. I now know that I’m stubborn, I take myself too seriously, I’m obsessive compulsive, a control freak, intolerant, bitter, and I snore. Did I miss anything?"

Charles smirked. "You forgot picky and selfish."

"Thank you." Laura said dryly. "I suppose you’re going to add to the tally now?" She wiped her hands on the towel slung over Charles’ shoulder and took the driver out of the bag. "Where’s the pin today?"

He pulled a distance book out of his back pocket. "Center left. Approach from the right side of the fairway." They stood and waited for the group to clear the green. "It’s playing 331 today," He added as Laura leaned on her club.

"I could drive it." She mused.

"I’d like to see that." Charles smiled.

It’s a stupid thing to do. Oh hell. She had the honor of hitting first and went through her short pre-shot routine quickly before her final setup and swing. Sometimes she knew the minute she made contact that it was going to be good. The ball left with a whoosh to the appreciative murmurs of the small cluster of spectators gathered around the teebox. It bounced once in front of the green and trickled up to stop some twenty feet from the hole. Laura closed her eyes in relief. She was going to survive and qualify for the next round easily. She handed the driver back to Charles with a short laugh at the look of wonder on his face. They watched the other two players hit and Laura took a sip of water before turning to the caddy. "So, what is my problem?"

Charles shook his head and the started down the fairway. "You don’t appreciate your own worth."

"Of course I do. I know what I’m worth and what I will be worth."

"As a news director, a golfer or a GM."

"Don’t forget Vice President. That comes with the GM deal. What else is there?"

They stopped and waited for the two women to hit on to the green. Charles reached up and brushed a few blades of grass off Laura’s shoulder. "Considerably more."

A bitter shrug. "It’s what I am."

"Yeah, it’s what you are, but not all you are."

"Why can’t you just carry the clubs and help me read the distances and greens?"

Charles set the bag down and handed over the putter, his point made. "Sink the putt, Little Kaz."

She missed but it didn’t matter. Her two round qualifying score was 133, 2 strokes better than Diane Hilary and lowest in the field.


Chris was dozing on the couch when Tim landed on one end and the bounce woke her up. "What round is this?" He snatched the remote and turned up the volume.

Groggily she cleared her throat. "Quarterfinals."

"How’s she doing?"

"Pretty much destroying the field. Since she came out of the qualifying rounds, I don’t think she’s even played a complete round."

"I don’t get it."

Chris sighed before imparting her newfound knowledge. "It’s match play, not stroke play. They play one-on-one; you just count the holes you win, not the overall number of strokes. So it’s possible to win the first ten holes and since they only play eighteen, there’s no way to come back."

"So how would you score that?"

"10 and 9. Ten holes up with nine to play.

"Got it. So how’s she doing?"

Chris knew the answer by heart. "7 and 6, 5 and 4, 7 and 6 so far after three matches. She hasn’t had to play past the 14th hole. It’s interesting because they’ll play 36 holes for the final."

"And this round?"

Chris gestured as the score flashed on the screen. "She’s up by 4 holes on the ninth."

"Damn." Tim and Chris didn’t move from the sofa for the next hour. ESPN 2 was following Laura pretty closely, so they kept going back to her match regularly. There were still almost no crowds and Chris wondered if that helped Laura to focus. There, Charles said something to make her laugh. She watched as her boss stripped of her glove and slapped it once against her thigh. It was odd to watch someone so far away and still know the intimate details of their behavior. Does she feel like this when she watches me during a ‘cast? Remote but close? Weird.

Laura finished the match 5 and 4. Chris and Tim wrestled briefly for possession of the remote and after Chris was forced to surrender because of her brother’s superior bulk, strength and because he tickled her mercilessly, she scrambled off the couch and went outside where her mother was watering the flowerbeds. The late afternoon sun bathed the front of the house in warm light and Chris stretched as she stood on the step and watched. No matter how many times she told herself not to expect a phone call or some other kind of contact, she just grew more and more disappointed that Laura didn’t even try to make an effort. She gave herself a mental shake and resolved to forget and move on, even though her obsession over a sport she really didn’t like had not gone unnoticed by the others in the household.

"Is it over for the day?" Her mother sent her a brief glance.

"Yep. She won. On to the next round."

"I swear, you haven’t moved off that couch since you got here. You’re turning into a lump."

"I ran this morning." Chris used one hand to shield her eyes as she looked down the street. Other considerations wandered through her mind and she abruptly asked a question. "Mom, is Dad disappointed in me?"

Her mother looked down as she adjusted the sprayer on the hose. "Not disappointed. We don’t really talk about it. He tries to be open minded, but I think he’s old fashioned enough to want to give his little girl away at a nice wedding." The sprayer fixed, she pointed it at another bed. "He thinks that you don’t visit enough and that you feel uncomfortable when you do. He hates that."

"It’s not…"

"I know." Her mother interrupted. "He’s enormously proud of you. All the men at the shop ask about you and he shows the tapes sometimes. He won’t pry and sometimes he doesn’t say much, but he loves your company, same as I do. Don’t stay away so long next time."

"I’ll try." Chris sighed.


Laura was running scared in the semifinal round. She was down 2 holes after 4 and couldn’t seem to drive the ball straight to save her life. Sonia Neal was the Mid Amateur Champion from the previous year and the first African American to hold that title. Charles was besotted. So much so that Laura was starting to get irritated.

"Nine." She snapped her fingers twice and held out her hand.


"C’mon Charles. You’re supposed to be caddying for me."

"I just feel bad ‘cause you’re going to beat her and she’ll never go out with me."

It broke the tension and Laura smiled wryly. "How could she resist?"

"Go for the back of the green. Pin’s back there on the left and you don’t want to be on the lower level on the front." He twitched a little as he waited and Laura shook her head with some amusement. A little more relaxed, she hit the ball to within four feet of the hole and won it when Sonia three putted. Better. Get your head back in this thing.

By the time they reached the turn, the match was all square and stayed that way until the seventeenth hole. Neither was playing badly, in fact, Laura would have been at 6 under par and Sonia at 5 if it were stroke play. Instead, whether the hole was won by one stroke or by three, the golfers only got credit for winning the hole. So far, neither was budging.

Why does number seventeen always seem to be a par 3 with water damn near every place I play? Is that in the course builder’s rulebook or something? Laura took the five wood from Charles and made an easy practice swing. "No wind. High and soft."

"Yeah, but don’t be short." Charles handed her the ball he just cleaned. Laura still had the honor since she won the last hole back at eight, so she set up slightly behind the tee marker on the right and hit exactly the shot she wanted. It was strong and high, landing softly below the hole where it stopped almost immediately. Handing the club back to Charles, she waited for Sonia to hit.

Pretty swing, was Laura’s first thought. But Sonia hit slightly behind the ball and it didn’t quite carry the lake. Laura crossed her arms and looked away from the other girl’s apparent distress, the splash prompting groans from a few of the spectators. With admirable poise she took another ball from her caddy and this time it landed solidly on the green. Unless Laura three-putted there was virtually no way for Sonia to win the hole, so she conceded when Laura left her putt two inches past the hole and they both walked to the eighteenth with Laura up by one.

They halved the last hole; both shooting par and the match was over. Laura congratulated Sonia sincerely, knowing there was really no consolation for the other girl but fairly certain that she’d be successful if she wanted to make golf her profession. She and Charles watched Sonia and her caddy trudge out of the scorer’s tent then turned to check the progress of the other semifinal match. Diane Hilary was coming in, winning her match easily at 4 and 3.

"Gonna be a bowhead kind of day tomorrow." Charles noted wryly.

"Gee. Never saw that coming."

"So what’s next boss?"

Laura checked her watch. "It’s 3:10, guess you’re free till tomorrow morning at 9."

"And what about you?" Charles asked.

Laura took off her hat and ruffled the bangs that were damp with sweat. "Practice range. This sure is different from the Open. No crowds." There were a few people milling about, and a small group had followed them through the match, but for the most part it was a low-key event.

"It’s okay, tomorrow is Saturday. There’ll be crowds then." Charles watched somberly as Laura emptied her pockets, gave the spare tees and divot tool over to the caddy and tucked her glove into one of the compartments of the bag. "A mob in fact." She didn’t say anything and Charles shifted his weight. "Call her."


"Why not?"

"She…walked. I don’t think…"


"No." she snarled.

"Sure you are. You should be. What if she decides you’re not worth the trouble?"

"I’m not." She didn’t look up.

"You are." Charles clapped her softly on the shoulder. "To me, to my Dad and to Chris. You just have to decide that golf and your job are not all there is to life." He shouldered the bag. "I’ll drop this off at the range. Leave ‘em in the locker room if you want me to clean ‘em before the round in the morning. And call her. Just say you miss her and you’re thinking about her. Then tell her she’s a hottie."

"You can stop any time now."

"Hey, you’re the one who said the sex was incredible."

"Ah, that just slipped out."

Charles laughed and turned to walk away. With a look back over his shoulder he smirked, "I’m not sure I knew that you could blush before this week. Tell her I said hello."

Laura knew she was snarling again, but Charles didn’t respond, he just kept walking. Call her and tell her what? I’m miserable? I can’t sleep but it’s really helping my game? Things’ll change? She stood there alone and miserable wondering why going back to the way things used to be was never going to work again.

From beside the eighteenth green she looked down the fairway and watched Diane Hilary march up to the scorer’s tent with her caddy. A good-sized crowd followed behind her dejected competitor and Laura gave a slight smile in sympathy. Charlotte Jeffries was a highly touted sixteen-year-old who had played over her head the entire week. She was easy pickings for the experienced Diane Hilary. Laura remembered the feeling all too well of being blown away by another golfer with more game, more experience, and no time for a semifinal match against a much weaker opponent. That could be you tomorrow.

Not fucking likely. I’m not laying down for a bowhead

So you’d quit on a blonde anchor? It was all so difficult and Laura wanted easy for a change. She crossed her arms and ran a thumb over an eyebrow as a plan began to form. Tee time was at 9am and it was after three. She had a little less than eighteen hours. What the hell, I won’t sleep anyway.


Chris’ twin brothers Mike and Mark were over for dinner and even her oldest brother Danny had dropped by after working late to rewire an audio board at one of the recording studios. Music City was a boom market for a family full of electricians. Of the Hanson children, only Chris showed no aptitude in the trade. Even Tim worked as an assistant from time to time, but Chris had nearly started a fire with her 4-H lamp project and none of the Hanson males were eager to see the experience repeated.

Dinner was a raucous affair and after the rest of the family had settled in the den the dishwashing duty was assigned to the twins who were very efficient and had the kitchen clean in no time. Amy had rented a couple of movies but the brothers were arguing about baseball and the Braves, Tim’s real contribution to Tennessee’s national championship and various other sport mysteries of the universe. Chris lay stretched out on the carpet with her hands behind her head listening and wondering how Laura would take all of it; the good-natured ribbing, the ease of interaction and the volume. Especially the volume.

She closed her eyes and sighed. When did it all get so hard? Her mind skipped ahead as if imagining the introduction. This is Laura, my girlfriend. Yep, I’m a big ol’ dyke. Didn’t the softball give it away? She shook her head absently. Doesn’t matter anyway.

Despite the noise, she’d almost drifted off to sleep when she heard the front doorbell. Since her mother had gone upstairs and the sports argument was heating up, Chris scrambled up to answer it. One of Tim’s buddies. It wasn’t dark so she didn’t flip on the porch light before flinging open the door only to discover that her mouth could go dry in an instant. For a moment she stood and stared before finally speaking. "You’re a long way from where you’re supposed to be."

"278 miles to be exact. Picked up an hour because of the time change." Laura didn’t know why she mentioned the time difference, only that it seemed important." It’s all about time isn’t it? Without conscious effort, she caught Chris’ floral scent, whatever it was, and it almost made her knees buckle.

"You drove?"

"I hate flying." Laura didn’t quite know what to do next, so she stuck her hands in the pockets of her khaki shorts. "I uh…had six or seven speeches prepared when I pulled into the drive here but I can’t for the life of me remember any one of them."

"Uh huh." Chris tried to project an air of indifference, certain that Laura could tell that she was having difficulty breathing.

"Charles said to tell you hello." Laura tried a different angle.

"Does Charles know you’re here?"

"Not exactly."

"How not exactly?"

"He doesn’t know."

"So what’s going to happen when you don’t show up tomorrow?" Chris arched an eyebrow in question.

"Look, this isn’t going exactly how I planned it."

"How did you plan it?"

Laura blew out a breath in exasperation. "I was supposed to come in, surprise you, sweep you off your feet and take you back with me. I thought you’d be impressed or something, that I dropped everything, at considerable risk I might add, to come and see you in person."


"So you’re supposed to be amazed, we’re both supposed to choke out some kind of apology and it’s suddenly hit me that there isn’t a quick fix…are you going to just ask questions or are you going to contribute to this conversation at all?"

"I am contributing. You just need to answer. What do you want from me? From this… whole relationship deal?"

Laura turned away to consider for a second. "I want a friend and a playmate and all that?" She wanted to wince at the inadequacy of the statement but couldn’t form what she really wanted to say, so it just hung there for a long moment, trite and incomplete.

"Why is that a question?" Chris finally stepped out on to the porch and closed the door with one look back to the den where her brothers were still arguing and took a deep breath. "I want your attention and your time, not 24-7-365, but I want you to consider me part of your life. I want to go to sleep with you, wake up with you, play with you, work with you and watch you accomplish everything you set your sights on and you to do the same for me. What part of that bothers you?"

"You forgot sex."

"I didn’t forget sex. I’ll get to that. And it’s always sex."

"It’s not always sex." Laura could feel the heat on her face.

"What I mean is that you always just call it sex, we have sex, and we talk about sex." Chris dropped her voice. "For the record, I make love with you."

Laura opened her mouth to reply but nothing came out and Chris continued. "Despite the apparent chaos, I had a very nice life going on until you showed up…A few discreet dates, a job I love and if I couldn’t be out and about, that wasn’t really a problem, there wasn’t anybody I cared enough about to run the risk."

"Sorry," Laura mumbled. It seemed like an appropriate moment for an apology.

"Yeah well, my life has become one resolution after another: I will not call, I will not wait, I will not send email. Of course I always give in ‘cause if I waited for you I’d be waiting forever." Chris paused feeling a little better, but not much. "So I hate myself for being weak and giving in, and you just go on because nothing seems to phase you."

Laura blinked. "You’re so wrong. I can’t seem to do anything right. I want to see you all the time, I want to tell you everything that’s going on, and it’s all I can do to stay out of the newsroom. I hate being the GM." Laura almost spat out the sentiment. "I hate the meetings, the paperwork, the budgets, the problems, the corporate VP bullshit that comes with the fucking title and most of all I hate the time it sucks out of my life. It never mattered before but it does now. The only thing that makes it bearable is that you’re upstairs." She clenched her jaw so tightly it hurt.

"But how am I supposed to know that?" Chris’ question was soft in its frustration. "Tell me. Most of the time it feels like you’re pushing me away. I know you can get along all right without me, but I can’t always be the one to bridge the gaps." She stared into Laura’s blue eyes as if willing the other woman to understand. "And you can blame the job, but most of the time you’re pretty unreachable."

"Distance wise or emotionally?"

"Either or, take your pick." Chris furrowed her brow before continuing. "My point is…hell, it’s really your point. There is no quick fix. No resolution. There’s only trying to make it work." She crossed her arms as if to protect herself from more hurt. "Or we both walk away."


"No what?"

Laura shook her head emphatically. "There is no walking away. Not for me." She flexed her hands, the ache in her chest spreading to her thumbs. It was more than cold fear, it was the creeping emptiness of a life without the other woman.

"Why? It’d be easiest for you." Chris put the option on the table and waited.

Laura gave a short humorless laugh. "How? I can barely manage to go ten minutes without thinking about you. Don’t talk to me about easy. Easy is running a newsroom or sinking a stupid putt." She sat down on the step giving Chris the height advantage and tilted her head back to look up at the blonde woman. "More than anything, I want this to work. I can apologize for making you feel unimportant in my life. They’re your feelings and you’re…well, you feel what you feel. But that’s not the case. You are the single most important person in my life…don’t ever doubt that." Laura looked down and let out a frustrated breath. "But the time thing is an issue, and it’s not going to go away."

"I know." Chris said it softly. "But you’re the boss, you can make a little time to live your life."

"Now you’re making it sound easier than it is."

"It isn’t easy but it’s not as hard as you make it out to be." Chris sat down next to Laura and pretended to play with the laces on her shoes. "We need to stop doing this."


"Being crossed up. I don’t like it."

"I thought you were talking about having profound conversations on porches."

Chris smiled, "There is that. They’re so public." She swallowed. "What will happen when we go back?"

"I don’t know." Laura wrapped her arms around her knees as a substitute for Chris. "I just know that I don’t want to hurt you, and I have."

"Yes." Chris nodded and took one of Laura’s hands in hers. "And you will hurt me again. Most likely I will hurt you too. We’ll deal with it. But don’t shut me out." She cleared her throat as she heard the screen door open behind her. This’ll be a first. She rose slowly and pulled Laura up. "Mom, I’d like you to meet Laura Kasdan. Laura, this is my mom, Amy Hanson."

Amy looked up at the much taller woman and pursed her lips. "I’d say it’s a pleasure, but it’s really more curiosity."

Laura didn’t know what to say in the face of such blatant honesty and she felt a sudden awkwardness as it suddenly occurred to her that maybe dropping in on Chris’ family wasn’t the best idea she’d ever had. "Sorry to barge in on a family evening."

"I thought you were playing in the final tomorrow? Where is it? Cincinnati?"

"Yes ma’am." Laura wanted to squirm at the sensation of being quizzed by a teacher. "I uh, needed to work some things out with Chris."

"And did you?"

"Mom, please."

Laura swallowed. "It’s okay, Chris. I’m sorry to cause you concern, Mrs. Hanson."

"It’s Amy." Laura didn’t say anything as she endured the frank appraisal. Finally Chris’s mother seemed to come to a decision. "You probably could stand a few hours sleep before you head back. We’ve got a spare bedroom in back."

"Thank you, but I don’t want to put you out."

"It’s no trouble," was the polite evasion. "Just come on in when you’re ready. It’s a four hour drive, so just leave plenty of time."

Chris watched as her mother slipped back into the house and frowned thoughtfully. "Well, that didn’t go too badly."

"I’m sorry, I didn’t really think things through. I forgot that your family maybe didn’t know…"

"No, it’s not a problem. But she’s right, it’s at least a four hour drive back."

"If I speed…"

"And you did."

Laura sighed, "Will you come back with me? I’d like for you to be there."

Chris leaned against the doorframe and crossed her arms, smiling slightly. "It took you for fucking ever to ask."

"But you waited."

"This time."

"I thought I didn’t have to ask."

"This time I wanted you to."

Laura made a conscious effort not to roll her eyes. So this is what guys mean when they say they don’t understand women. "So will you come?"


"Just like that?"

"Yep." Chris stepped forward and pressed a soft kiss on Laura’s jaw. "Much as I’d like to, we cannot neck on my parent’s porch."

"Probably not a good idea."

"Well, the neighbors are used to a certain amount of soap opera-ish behavior from our house. One of Danny’s girlfriends took a lug wrench to the windshield of his Mustang when he broke up with her. It was really a surprise because she always seemed so quiet."

"Good God."

"It seemed pretty white-trashy at the time, but this is after all, Nashville."

Laura gave a short laugh. "Sounds like an interesting way to grow up."

"It was." Chris exhaled in resignation. Time to meet the brothers. "C’mon, you haven’t eaten, have you?"


It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, Chris thought. If the men were curious about Laura’s sudden appearance, they didn’t ask. Tim peppered her with questions about the upcoming match and she quizzed him on football. Chris’ father asked about the decision to put his daughter on all three prime time newscasts and her mother wanted to know the real story behind the wrecked live trucks. All in all, it was fairly entertaining and when Amy showed Laura to one of the spare bedrooms, she was a little more at ease. "Thank you for this," Laura said sincerely when Chris’ mother gave her an old t–shirt of Tim’s to sleep in.

"It’s no trouble. I expect I’ll see you when you come back by on Sunday to pick up Chris’ car. Towels are in the linen closet right next to the bathroom." Amy paused at the door. "Good luck tomorrow." Then added, "Chris was pretty upset when she got here."

Oh boy. Laura braced herself for the coming lecture.

"We used to joke that Chris had a charmed life. For some reason, even though she’s a disaster magnet, things always seem to work out for her. I hope that streak continues as far as you’re concerned." Amy was gone before Laura could frame a suitable reply.

Chris met her as she was coming down the hall. "Everything all right?"

Her mother waved a hand in frustration. "I don’t know what the etiquette is in a situation like this. She’s your…whatever…"

"Girlfriend? Love of my life?"

"Very well." Amy pursed her lips.

Chris gave a tight smile. "Don’t worry Mom. I’m down the hall on my chaste little twin bed. No hanky panky, no practicing, nothing. We’ll leave in a couple of hours and just run back by on Sunday."

"That’s not what I meant."

Chris shrugged. "I know you’re trying. I can’t ask for more than that." She watched her mother go down the steps then stood quietly in the hall listening to Laura move around in the back room. The reality was that nothing was settled, not with her family and not with Laura but she was too stubborn to veer off course now.


"Sure you don’t want me to drive?" Chris put her feet up on the dash and crossed her arms. There was nothing like riding in the Jeep at night with the top down and she took a deep breath, enjoying the summer scents as they rushed by in the dark at close to eighty miles an hour.

"Nah. I hate being a passenger."

"Never would’ve guessed that. Nervous?"

"Yes." Laura’s answer was clipped.


"Dunno. I can play that course in my sleep." She slid a glance over to the blonde anchor. "You’ll be watching, maybe that’s it."

"Okay. Thought it was the prospect of my driving. We could’ve taken the Volvo." Chris yawned feeling both comfortable yet very aware in Laura’s company. "It’s a little less rough. How old is this thing anyway?"

"It’s an ’86. Last year they made the CJ7." Laura tapped the knob on the stick shift. "My father gave it to me. Came in one day and tossed me the keys. I was in high school at the time and we’d been feuding about something. Told me he’d take it away just as quick if I misbehaved. Mom hated it. Said it was a deathtrap and I was going to flip it over. I always wanted a Jeep though, the real one not a Cherokee."

"So why not get a new one?"

"Ah, the new ones are all plastic and this one’s just good and broken in."

Chris was quiet for a moment. "You don’t talk much about your dad. I get little snippets about your mom from time to time, but you don’t mention him very much."

Laura considered the statement and cleared her throat. "It’s hard. We were both torn up when Mom died and neither one of us was dealing with it very well. I should have tried to talk to him before he left for Bosnia, but I…" she grimaced, "It was easier not to. Then when he was killed, no one called to tell me, it was just there on one of the wire stories. The video feed came down and one of the editors yelled at a bunch of us in the newsroom to come and watch a sniper blow some guy away."

"God," Chris breathed.

"Yeah." Laura squeezed the steering wheel in remembrance. "I knew it was him almost immediately. They shipped the body back and I buried him next to Mom in Austin."

Chris stared out the window, mulling over the story and the matter of fact way that Laura told it. Lot of guilt there I think. She tried to imagine losing both her parents within a few months of each other and swallowed back the sudden pain the idea brought with it.

"We should’ve taken the Volvo."

"What? Why?" Chris’ thoughts were interrupted with a violent bounce as Laura jerked the Jeep over to the shoulder.

"’Cause we’ve got a flat."

Chris groaned as Laura scrambled out, then she followed. Sure enough, the tire on the back passenger side was flat as a pancake. "Are we ever going to get a break?"

"Shit. I’m thinking that I cut it a little close anyway. We don’t have time for this." Laura leaned over the back and yanked the jack out of the storage compartment along with the lug wrench, a length of pipe and a flashlight. "Okay, spare off first. You hold the flashlight."

"Wait, wait, wait." Chris plucked the lug wrench out of Laura’s over full hands. "I’ll change the tire."

"I don’t think so."

"C’mon, think about this. You bust a knuckle, mess up your hands and we might as well turn back. It’s no big deal, I’ve done it a zillion times before."

"Why am I not surprised?"

With a gentle nudge she moved Laura away from the spare mounted on the back and started loosening the lugnuts. "A little light here please."

Laura pointed the flashlight, still a little off balance at having the momentary crisis taken out of her hands. "Counter clockwise."

"I know, righty tighty, lefty loosey." She pocketed the lugnuts and pulled the spare free letting it bounce a couple of times before controlling it and rolling it to the side. There was almost no traffic but she pulled Laura to the side of the Jeep away from the highway and started on the lugs. "Damn, they’re tight."

"Use the cheater bar." Laura held out the length of pipe. "It’ll give you more leverage."

"I got it. What a great idea." Chris swore sharply as she scraped her knuckles once, but she had the nuts loosened in no time, the jack working and the Jeep in the air. Laura smiled in wonder, impressed by the efficiency. "You are good at this."

"Don’t act so surprised." The flat was taken off and the spare put on in its place. In just a few minutes the Jeep was back on the ground and Chris was tightening the lugs. "I’m not a total klutz."

"Never thought you were but that was worthy of a NASCAR pit crew."

"Yeah? I had a little Toyota when I was in school and it always had a flat. Got pretty good at changing them and still making my 8:00 class." Chris tossed the tools back into the storage compartment as she explained, then gently reached up and caught Laura’s chin with her thumb and forefinger. "I’m wild about you. I shouldn’t have run like that but I had to figure some things out for myself too."

Laura couldn’t ask. There was still some security in not knowing all the answers; all she could do was return the rough kiss that Chris gave her.

"You’d better call Charles and tell him we’re running late." Chris ran one finger across Laura’s jaw and turned to walk to the passenger side.


"Your caddy. Are you okay to drive?"

"Sure." One kiss and my brains are scrambled. You are such an adolescent. Laura shook her head to clear it and climbed back into the Jeep


It was overcast and gloomy and Charles could almost smell a storm when he checked his watch again. It was 8:45 and still no sign of Laura and Chris. While he applauded Laura’s effort to chase after Chris, her timing left a lot to be desired. He glanced over to where Diane Hilary was standing with her caddy and tried not to look as nervous as he felt. There was a large crowd already gathered around the tee box and more people lining the fairway. He shifted his feet anxiously and checked his watch again.

"She gonna show?" One of the course marshals leaned in close and asked the question in a low voice.

"She’d be pretty stupid not to."

"I’ve seen stranger things."

Charles gave a weak laugh as the marshal moved away. C’mon Kaz! He caught Diane Hilary staring at him but he kept his face blank, understanding that the caddy could give away as much as the player and not wanting to give her the satisfaction of seeing his discomfort. He flipped the towel over his shoulder and turned at a ripple of commotion in the crowd. He breathed a sigh of relief at the tall figure pushing through. "I should kill you but I’ll wait till later." He muttered.

Laura smiled as she reached the caddy. "Not worried were you?" Charles held a thumb and forefinger a scant inch apart in their signal meaning just a little. She just smiled again and asked, "Got my shoes?" He pulled them out of one of the lower compartments of the bag and handed them over. Laura dropped to the ground and pulled off her sneakers oblivious to the watching crowd. "She wanted to eat at the Waffle House. How was I supposed to tell her no after she changed the flat?"

"At least you ate but now you don’t have time to warm up."

She finished tying the double knots and got up brushing the grass from her khaki shorts. "I’ll be fine."

"Check in then. Now the Bowhead actually has to play you."

The starter’s beetle brows seem to lower over the clipboard as he checked her name off. Laura pulled her glove on and fastened the Velcro, inhaling deeply as she glanced around as though storing up the sight for other days. She summoned up a crooked smile for her opponent as they did the obligatory handshake. "Good luck Diane. Hope the rain holds off."

"Glad you could make it. Should be interesting anyway." The dig did nothing to dampen Laura’s spirits, she just raised one eyebrow as Diane continued, "This isn’t a terribly challenging course, I was surprised that the qualifying scores weren’t lower. So, will you be a career amateur?"

"There’s nothing wrong with the course. Though it’s not exactly what you’ll get on tour."

"I see." Diane smirked in a condescending manner.

"No, I doubt you do." Laura felt rather than heard Charles come up behind her and turned to take the driver from his hand. "You know, my mother used to call this course the briar patch. She loved it…the way the hedges and the briars will bite you in the ass if you don’t place the ball just so, the way the greens promise a break that they never deliver. If there was something wrong with her game, you can bet she’d come back here to play until she fixed it. I was playing a full 18 holes on this course before you were even born. In fact, I shot my first even par round here. And to top it off, this is where my mother won her U.S. Amateur." She looked over at the gallery and caught just a glimpse of a pale blonde head. "I have everything I need, right here and I think you’ve caught me at the one place and time where I can’t lose."

If Diane had a reply the starter cut it off. "The 1995 and 1996 U.S. Amateur Champion and 1999 U.S. Open runner up, from Dallas, Texas…"

Gotta get them to change that.

"…Laura Kasdan."

There was applause as Laura thumped the driver on the ground and gave a halfhearted practice swing. No warm up and I ate too much. Never felt better. The drive was a good one, not especially long but well placed. She gave the club back to Charles and he grabbed her sleeve to pull her closer. "What’d you get on yourself?" He clucked his tongue as he wiped at her face with his towel. "Somethin’ black on your chin." The sun chose that moment to come out from behind a gray cloud, warming the day and brightening the sky. Laura grinned at her Caddy.

One little break at a time. That’s all.

And it was underway.



To Be Continued




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