Disclaimers: See part 1.
Questions or comments? firstname.lastname@example.org
By M. Ryan
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. Youre 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, youre as big as a house. How do Mom and Dad afford to feed you?"
"Oh Ill 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. "Moms thrilled youre gonna be here for a week. Didja bring tapes? We watched the others you sent. Its so cool; you look good on the air. Its a little weird, because youre my sister and its kinda like youre somebody else but youre still my sister. I showed some of the guys in the dorm and they all think youre hot, but thats really strange because I dont 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, dont 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 youd hush for a minute, maybe shed say something."
Chris smiled up at her mother standing on the porch. They shared the same coloring and the same hair, but Amy Hansons eyes were hazel to brown and they sparkled down at her daughter and youngest son. "Its like a force of nature. Even if I did say something, hed 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. Its that springy rubber stuff so it wont hurt your knees, and theres a softball tournament next weekend and if you wanted to, a team might pick you up to fill a slot "
"Save something for later?"
He blew out a breath and grinned sheepishly. "Sorry Chris, just glad youre home."
"Take her bags up and finish weed-eating the backyard."
"Youre 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 daughters arm and pulled her over to sit on the porch swing. "Im fine, your Dad is fine, my boys are fine, its my girl Im 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 didnt mean to make you feel like a substitute."
"Well, if you cant 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. Youre 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 didnt try to stop me either." Chris looked away, avoiding her mothers eyes.
"She." Amy sighed. "Well, I knew you were a lesbian, I just hoped you werent practicing."
"Thanks." Chris squirmed. "You make it sound like law or medicine."
"Im trying Chris. I wanted to be there for you when you got your heart broken by some boy who wasnt nearly good enough for you. But it wasnt some boy. Its 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 youre seeing, but youre always so secretive no, thats not right. You always hold that part of you away from us."
"I didnt think you really wanted to know. I wasnt being secretive. Its just hard. Practicing? Geez, Mom."
"What else would you call it? Of course I wanted to know. Its important to you isnt it?"
"But awkward for you."
"Life is full of awkward moments, its the graceful recovery that counts. Ive read the books, seen the talk shows, Im a teacher, I researched all because I want to understand." Amy took a breath and asked the next question. "Whats 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."
"Thats interesting, Chris, but it sounds more like a cover letter for a resume."
She sighed and started again. "Shes tall, long dark hair, blue eyes. Those eyes look through you sometimes, like they see something youd rather they didnt. Shes 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 doesnt know. She can be the warmest person on earth, or the coldest." Chris swallowed and looked down, "I didnt 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. "Shes my boss. Laura Kasdan."
"Oh no. The golfer."
"And the GM." Chris couldnt 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 dont know what to ask. And its not about sex, its not about you being gay, its do you have any idea what a mess this is?"
The answer was soft. "I think I do."
Her mother shook her head. "Shes your boss. Did you consider what could happen to your career? I mean, TV News is a very closed society, everyone knows everyone else."
"Dyou think I dont know that? There isnt a single scenario I havent 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 doesnt have time for me, doesnt seem to need me, and I just gave her the royal kiss off!"
"You broke up?"
"More or less. Sorry Mom, didnt 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. "Wheres Chris?" He could have kicked himself when he saw the twitch in Lauras jaw.
"Nashville. Shes visiting her parents."
"But shell 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, were ready." He gestured to the bag on the ground. There were a few people milling around but there wasnt 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 Lauras 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.
"Youre up next. Youll 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. Girlll talk your ear off. Said you were busy."
"Said she wrecked another live truck. You wanna stay left here, past the oak, dont 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. "Its not like I havent 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? Thats what people argue about." Charles noted the two hundred-yard marker and kept track of his paces until they reached her ball. "One eighty. Youll need the five."
"Youre 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, dont you? Pin is dead center and theres 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 cant believe you just volunteered that." Charles smirked.
"Neither can I. But I seem to be surprising myself all the time these days."
"So whats the problem? Its 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. Its she thinks I dont need her because I dont make time to be with her. She thinks everything gets my attention but her. Shes right about the time thing, but I cant do anything about it. And she has fun without me. Im so jealous about that I cant even see straight half the time. It was a helluva lot easier when I didnt 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 dont 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. "Dont get cocky." Charles warned. "You always play well here."
"I know. Its 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 Ill never be able to play as a pro because I just dont have the mental game. It disappoints Dad, I think."
"Louis is not disappointed in you. Youre a wonderful teacher."
"But Ill 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."
Lauras eyes narrowed. "Its 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. Didnt 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 its not fine. Its never fine."
"Do you wish yourself back?" Charles asked softly.
"No." Laura sighed. "But I cant 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 Id 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.
"Its 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. Itd be fun, dont you think?"
Laura nodded. "Sure. Id like to see you play."
"Mm. We start match play tomorrow. Youre not really used to that, are you?"
"I can hold my own." She replied evenly.
"Its a different mindset, you know."
Laura snorted in irritation and Charles leaned back in his chair, enjoying the sparring. "Ive managed to do all right in the past."
Diane pursed her lips. "Exactly. Thats in the past. Ill 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. Thats what theyre like now. All arrogance and "
"Shes good though." Laura wiggled her jaw thoughtfully. "She does well here, then turns pro. Shell get a few tournament exemptions, some endorsements. Good looking girl, lotta personality pressll eat that up and voila, female Tiger Woods."
"Youve got to be kidding."
"No," Laura mused. "Shes what the LPGA needs. Someone flashy, not a stodgy golf matron. If she wins, of course."
Charles crossed his arms. "You arent a stodgy golf matron."
"Im not on tour either."
"Whos 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. "Its on 49. Whats up?"
"Just wondering." Chris caught her mothers eye as she joined them and cleared her throat. "Actually, my boss is playing in the Womens U.S. Amateur. I thought Id watch a little."
"Thats the Kasdan woman?" The sound of her fathers rumble startled Chris for a moment.
"Thats the one."
He looked up with a raised eyebrow. "You went to Mississippi to cover her in the U.S. Open, didnt you?"
"Yes." She held her breath and waited for what was next.
Chris furrowed her brow and considered the statement. "Uh, Dad? What exactly does that mean?"
Her father rustled the paper and snorted. "Means she doesnt fool around. Gets up and hits. Just keeps at it until things work the way she wants. Bet shes like that at work too. Doesnt take crap from anyone." He looked up, a wry smile on his face. "Ill 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.
"Im shifting my weight too soon?"
"No, youre playing great."
"Since Ive started counting, youve asked me if I know what my problem is nine times. Youve filled me in on my shortcomings on each of those occasions. I now know that Im stubborn, I take myself too seriously, Im 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 youre 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. "Wheres 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. "Its playing 331 today," He added as Laura leaned on her club.
"I could drive it." She mused.
"Id like to see that." Charles smiled.
Its 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 dont appreciate your own worth."
"Of course I do. I know what Im worth and what I will be worth."
"As a news director, a golfer or a GM."
"Dont 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 Lauras shoulder. "Considerably more."
A bitter shrug. "Its what I am."
"Yeah, its what you are, but not all you are."
"Why cant 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 didnt 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."
"Hows she doing?"
"Pretty much destroying the field. Since she came out of the qualifying rounds, I dont think shes even played a complete round."
"I dont get it."
Chris sighed before imparting her newfound knowledge. "Its match play, not stroke play. They play one-on-one; you just count the holes you win, not the overall number of strokes. So its possible to win the first ten holes and since they only play eighteen, theres no way to come back."
"So how would you score that?"
"10 and 9. Ten holes up with nine to play.
"Got it. So hows she doing?"
Chris knew the answer by heart. "7 and 6, 5 and 4, 7 and 6 so far after three matches. She hasnt had to play past the 14th hole. Its interesting because theyll play 36 holes for the final."
"And this round?"
Chris gestured as the score flashed on the screen. "Shes up by 4 holes on the ninth."
"Damn." Tim and Chris didnt 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 brothers 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 didnt 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 didnt 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 havent moved off that couch since you got here. Youre 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 dont really talk about it. He tries to be open minded, but I think hes 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 dont visit enough and that you feel uncomfortable when you do. He hates that."
"Its not "
"I know." Her mother interrupted. "Hes enormously proud of you. All the men at the shop ask about you and he shows the tapes sometimes. He wont pry and sometimes he doesnt say much, but he loves your company, same as I do. Dont stay away so long next time."
"Ill try." Chris sighed.
Laura was running scared in the semifinal round. She was down 2 holes after 4 and couldnt 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.
"Cmon Charles. Youre supposed to be caddying for me."
"I just feel bad cause youre going to beat her and shell never go out with me."
It broke the tension and Laura smiled wryly. "How could she resist?"
"Go for the back of the green. Pins back there on the left and you dont 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 builders rulebook or something? Laura took the five wood from Charles and made an easy practice swing. "No wind. High and soft."
"Yeah, but dont 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 Lauras first thought. But Sonia hit slightly behind the ball and it didnt quite carry the lake. Laura crossed her arms and looked away from the other girls 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 shed be successful if she wanted to make golf her profession. She and Charles watched Sonia and her caddy trudge out of the scorers 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 whats next boss?"
Laura checked her watch. "Its 3:10, guess youre 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.
"Its okay, tomorrow is Saturday. Therell 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 didnt say anything and Charles shifted his weight. "Call her."
"She walked. I dont think "
"No." she snarled.
"Sure you are. You should be. What if she decides youre not worth the trouble?"
"Im not." She didnt 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. "Ill 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 youre thinking about her. Then tell her shes a hottie."
"You can stop any time now."
"Hey, youre 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, "Im not sure I knew that you could blush before this week. Tell her I said hello."
Laura knew she was snarling again, but Charles didnt respond, he just kept walking. Call her and tell her what? Im miserable? I cant sleep but its really helping my game? Thingsll 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 scorers 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. Im not laying down for a bowhead
So youd 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 wont 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, Tims real contribution to Tennessees 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, Im a big ol dyke. Didnt the softball give it away? She shook her head absently. Doesnt matter anyway.
Despite the noise, shed 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 Tims buddies. It wasnt dark so she didnt 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. "Youre a long way from where youre supposed to be."
"278 miles to be exact. Picked up an hour because of the time change." Laura didnt know why she mentioned the time difference, only that it seemed important." Its all about time isnt it? Without conscious effort, she caught Chris floral scent, whatever it was, and it almost made her knees buckle.
"I hate flying." Laura didnt 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 cant 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 youre here?"
"How not exactly?"
"He doesnt know."
"So whats going to happen when you dont show up tomorrow?" Chris arched an eyebrow in question.
"Look, this isnt 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 youd be impressed or something, that I dropped everything, at considerable risk I might add, to come and see you in person."
"So youre supposed to be amazed, were both supposed to choke out some kind of apology and its suddenly hit me that there isnt 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 couldnt 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 didnt forget sex. Ill get to that. And its always sex."
"Its 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 couldnt be out and about, that wasnt really a problem, there wasnt 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 Id 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. "Youre so wrong. I cant seem to do anything right. I want to see you all the time, I want to tell you everything thats going on, and its 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 youre 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 youre pushing me away. I know you can get along all right without me, but I cant always be the one to bridge the gaps." She stared into Lauras blue eyes as if willing the other woman to understand. "And you can blame the job, but most of the time youre pretty unreachable."
"Distance wise or emotionally?"
"Either or, take your pick." Chris furrowed her brow before continuing. "My point is hell, its really your point. There is no quick fix. No resolution. Theres only trying to make it work." She crossed her arms as if to protect herself from more hurt. "Or we both walk away."
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? Itd 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. Dont 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. Theyre your feelings and youre well, you feel what you feel. But thats not the case. You are the single most important person in my life dont ever doubt that." Laura looked down and let out a frustrated breath. "But the time thing is an issue, and its not going to go away."
"I know." Chris said it softly. "But youre the boss, you can make a little time to live your life."
"Now youre making it sound easier than it is."
"It isnt easy but its 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 dont like it."
"I thought you were talking about having profound conversations on porches."
Chris smiled, "There is that. Theyre so public." She swallowed. "What will happen when we go back?"
"I dont know." Laura wrapped her arms around her knees as a substitute for Chris. "I just know that I dont want to hurt you, and I have."
"Yes." Chris nodded and took one of Lauras hands in hers. "And you will hurt me again. Most likely I will hurt you too. Well deal with it. But dont shut me out." She cleared her throat as she heard the screen door open behind her. Thisll be a first. She rose slowly and pulled Laura up. "Mom, Id 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. "Id say its a pleasure, but its really more curiosity."
Laura didnt 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 wasnt the best idea shed ever had. "Sorry to barge in on a family evening."
"I thought you were playing in the final tomorrow? Where is it? Cincinnati?"
"Yes maam." 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?"
Laura swallowed. "Its okay, Chris. Im sorry to cause you concern, Mrs. Hanson."
"Its Amy." Laura didnt say anything as she endured the frank appraisal. Finally Chriss mother seemed to come to a decision. "You probably could stand a few hours sleep before you head back. Weve got a spare bedroom in back."
"Thank you, but I dont want to put you out."
"Its no trouble," was the polite evasion. "Just come on in when youre ready. Its 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 didnt go too badly."
"Im sorry, I didnt really think things through. I forgot that your family maybe didnt know "
"No, its not a problem. But shes right, its at least a four hour drive back."
"If I speed "
"And you did."
Laura sighed, "Will you come back with me? Id 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."
"I thought I didnt 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 dont understand women. "So will you come?"
"Just like that?"
"Yep." Chris stepped forward and pressed a soft kiss on Lauras jaw. "Much as Id like to, we cannot neck on my parents 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 Dannys 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."
"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. "Cmon, you havent eaten, have you?"
It wasnt as bad as it could have been, Chris thought. If the men were curious about Lauras sudden appearance, they didnt 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 tshirt of Tims to sleep in.
"Its no trouble. I expect Ill 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 shes a disaster magnet, things always seem to work out for her. I hope that streak continues as far as youre 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 dont know what the etiquette is in a situation like this. Shes your whatever "
"Girlfriend? Love of my life?"
"Very well." Amy pursed her lips.
Chris gave a tight smile. "Dont worry Mom. Im down the hall on my chaste little twin bed. No hanky panky, no practicing, nothing. Well leave in a couple of hours and just run back by on Sunday."
"Thats not what I meant."
Chris shrugged. "I know youre trying. I cant 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 dont 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 wouldve guessed that. Nervous?"
"Yes." Lauras answer was clipped.
"Dunno. I can play that course in my sleep." She slid a glance over to the blonde anchor. "Youll be watching, maybe thats it."
"Okay. Thought it was the prospect of my driving. We couldve taken the Volvo." Chris yawned feeling both comfortable yet very aware in Lauras company. "Its a little less rough. How old is this thing anyway?"
"Its 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 wed been feuding about something. Told me hed 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 ones just good and broken in."
Chris was quiet for a moment. "You dont talk much about your dad. I get little snippets about your mom from time to time, but you dont mention him very much."
Laura considered the statement and cleared her throat. "Its 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 shouldve taken the Volvo."
"What? Why?" Chris thoughts were interrupted with a violent bounce as Laura jerked the Jeep over to the shoulder.
"Cause weve 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. Im thinking that I cut it a little close anyway. We dont 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 Lauras over full hands. "Ill change the tire."
"I dont think so."
"Cmon, think about this. You bust a knuckle, mess up your hands and we might as well turn back. Its no big deal, Ive 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, theyre tight."
"Use the cheater bar." Laura held out the length of pipe. "Itll 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."
"Dont 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. "Im 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 Lauras chin with her thumb and forefinger. "Im wild about you. I shouldnt have run like that but I had to figure some things out for myself too."
Laura couldnt 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.
"Youd better call Charles and tell him were running late." Chris ran one finger across Lauras 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 Lauras 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.
"Shed be pretty stupid not to."
"Ive seen stranger things."
Charles gave a weak laugh as the marshal moved away. Cmon 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 Ill 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 dont have time to warm up."
She finished tying the double knots and got up brushing the grass from her khaki shorts. "Ill be fine."
"Check in then. Now the Bowhead actually has to play you."
The starters 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 Lauras spirits, she just raised one eyebrow as Diane continued, "This isnt a terribly challenging course, I was surprised that the qualifying scores werent lower. So, will you be a career amateur?"
"Theres nothing wrong with the course. Though its not exactly what youll 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 dont 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 shed 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 youve caught me at the one place and time where I cant 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. "Whatd 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. Thats all.
And it was underway.
To Be Continued
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