/Whois - Chapter 10 - Minature Golf Should Not Be Taken Seriously
"So..." Beth whispered to me, "What do you think of Ray?"
The two of us were sitting at the bar, watching Jerry and Beth's new significant other, Ray, shoot pool. I admired the backside of the person in question as he bent over to take a shot.
"He seems nice Beth," I admitted, "definitely attractive and he has a great sense of humor from what I can tell. I'm happy for you!"
"Your turn...tell me more about this otter," Beth said with a conspiratorial grin.
We had a lot of catching up to do. Until that morning, I hadn't seen her for months. I'd been doing some research on my computer when I spied the car pulling up outside our home. I recognized Beth instantly...but that definitely wasn't her husband, Rick, getting out of the passenger side. My curiosity piqued, I raced to the front door.
"Who is it?" Jerry asked.
"It's Beth...and some man."
We screamed in our usual girly fashion upon seeing each other, hugged and said how it had been far too long. I gave her a look and made a subtle nodding gesture to the tall man behind her, raising my eyebrows with the unasked question.
"Oh! Laurie...meet Ray...Ray...this is Laurie...one of my favorite buddies in crime!"
She giggled, probably remembering just one of the many adventures we'd had since meeting at her parent's diner years ago. We made a very Mutt & Jeff couple hanging out together. Beth was tiny and more bones than flesh...but she had a very kinetic energy that drew people to her naturally. Her parents were hardcore refugees from the sixties, proponents of free love and they had instilled this devil-may-care attitude into their only daughter. Beth and I got along...as long as she realized that she could be as free with herself as she wanted to be...but if she touched my boyfriend, I'd have to lop off essential parts of her anatomy.
Ray gallantly bowed, smiled and kissed my hand. I liked him already.
I understood the reason for her divorce...although with a touch of nostalgia, there would be some things about Rick that I would miss. I remembered the back yard barbecue not too long ago at my house. Rick and I were reminiscing about high school. While the rest of the world could enjoy six or seven degrees of separation, New Hampshire was still considered small enough that most everyone was separated by only two or three. I wouldn't go so far as to accuse the population of being inbred...but it was damn close.
"Your sister...what was her name...oh yeah...Ronda. She was hot!" Rick declared after a few beers on that sunny afternoon in the back yard.
I waved my hand at him, "Yeah,yeah...I've heard that before. Ronda was the hot one and I was the smart one."
My younger sister had been a member of the majorettes...but I'd been a member of the honor society. There weren't too many people from the honor society hanging out at the Friday night keg parties, but majorettes were always welcome it seemed.
Rick screwed up his face in thought and then started to laugh. In high school...Rick had been darned cute, but age and alcohol had stolen a lot of that away from him. While I'd had a brief crush on him in school, I couldn't imagine anything that we would have in common now.
"You never did get it, did you?"
"Ronda may have been the hot one...but you were the untouchable one. There were a lot of guys that wanted to ask you out, we were just scared to death. You were so far above us...untouchable."
Yeah...I was going to miss Rick. He was rather good for my ego.
"We can't stay long," Beth said making a sad face, "I just wanted to catch up with you and see if maybe you'd be interested in going out later tonight?"
Now THAT would be fun, I thought...but before I could open my mouth and answer her...Jerry butted in.
He made a rude noise. "Good luck with that! I can't pry her from the computer these days. Well, it was nice seeing you guys though...you'll have to come by again real soon." He got up from his chair and moved to the front door. He probably sensed that there was a Clint Eastwood film on television that he was missing...hence the bum's rush.
Beth wouldn't budge. She'd seen the gleam in my eye and being MY friend, she refused to be rushed anywhere, much less out the door.
"I'd like that a lot, Beth."
"Good then...it's settled. We'll pick you up at hmm...Ray...what time would be good? I know...seven...we'll pick you up at seven."
Sensing that he'd been overruled, Jerry quickly stepped into the negotiations. He had heard the tales of my adventures with Beth...
"How about we meet at our usual spot...eight o'clock?"
"Whatever, Jerry..." Beth replied dismissively.
She gave me a stern look before getting up and leaving.
"Don't you dare stand us up."
"I wouldn't dream of it...ever," I replied with a relieved smile.
And that is how we ended up sitting at the bar, the infamous one around which my life revolved, watching the boys shoot pool.
Jerry took his pool shooting seriously and once he had his drinks, removed himself to a safe corner where he could concentrate...far from Beth and me. Ray on the other hand would take a shot, pick up his drink and then swagger back to the two of us. He was definitely charming and confident. I could see why Beth would be drawn to him.
There came a moment, when Beth's attention was drawn to something at the table...when Jerry had his back to us taking a calculated shot...when my opinion changed. As I sat there trying to figure out what Beth was looking at, I felt something tickle my ear...and realized with a shock that it was Ray's fingertip tracing a path along the very edge of it. He murmured softly...so softly that upon reflection I'm sure I imagined it...the word, "beautiful." I froze. By the time I could bring myself to look up at him, he had settled back to slouch against the bar with an enigmatic smile on his face.
Just great...I thought. What was I going to say? "Beth...your lover just touched my ear and said I was beautiful! He's a dog...you have to dump him right now!" But the more I thought about it, the more I rewound the tape and reviewed what had transpired, the more unlikely it became that this had really happened. I was snobird...hot in text...repulsive in real life...remember? Explaining it away as my overactive, starved for affection imagination was a lot easier to live with than telling my friend her boyfriend had hit on me. But to be on the safe side...I stayed out of finger's reach for the remainder of the evening.
"I'm bored now," Beth stated.
"Me too!" volunteered Ray.
"I'm up for whatever," I added.
Jerry looked at the three of us as if we'd suggested spontaneous combustion might be fun.
"I want to stay HERE. Why not stay HERE...it's fun HERE. We don't need to go anywhere else. We have a bar...and a pool table. And Beth and Laurie are still catching up on stuff. I don't think they've shut up since they got here."
Ray acted as if he hadn't heard Jerry at all.
"How about...hmm...miniature golf?!"
While not an avid miniature golf fan...anything was better than here, so I agreed that it sounded like the bomb. The bar's bouncer, Neil, who also just happened to be Jerry's nephew wandered over just as we were making our plans. Because Jerry's family was so big and his siblings were so much older than he was, it was one of those freak cases where Neil was actually closer to our age than to any of his cousins. I liked him too. Unlike his uncle, Neil had not inherited the couch potato gene and was more than happy to have a good, spontaneous adventure.
So we kidnapped him.
The five of us piled into Jerry's purple Ford escort...which I had dubbed affectionately, "The Barneymobile" and headed out. Ray sat beside Jerry in the front, Beth and I took up the back seat and we crammed all 6' 3" of Neil into the hatch area.
Jerry is a fan of country and western music so when the car started, so did the music. Beth was hardcore rock and roll...and as it turned out so was Ray. He didn't score a single brownie point with my husband the entire trip as he proceeded to howl along with the music, inventing new and rather offensive lyrics to what Jerry considered to be the most sacred of songs. I forgave Ray that whole ear-fingering episode on the spot.
"Gimme the green!"
"I'll take yellow...damn it."
"That makes me purple...but I'm keeping score" said Jerry.
"Actually, dude...it's more like lavender," pointed out Ray.
Jerry glared at Ray as we walked to the first miniature golf challenge. Beth winked at me and I smiled back. This was going to be fun.
For the first two or three holes, we took turns nicely...even sedately...allowing Jerry to keep score. The third time Beth's ball knocked against the windmill instead of going through it, marked the end of "nice" play. In frustration, she smacked the ball and sent it careening wildly into the Tidy Bowl blue pool at the center of the golf course.
Gallantly, Ray hopped the fence followed by Neil...and the two of them waded around in that chemical pond until they retrieved her ball. It hadn't crossed our minds to simply go back to the ticket booth and get a new one. Ray bowed and presented his lady with her ball...dispensing it from a very blue stained hand.
"Fore!" Ray yelled as he sent his own ball hurtling through time and space. Up, up, up it went....landing merely inches from the cup. It would have been impressive...well, actually it was impressive anyway...but we were on hole four and his ball was at hole seven...much to the dismay of the group that was actually playing at hole seven.
Not to be outdone, I tossed my club aside and bowled my golf ball down the green. Neil threw himself prone on the ground and took his shot with the handle of his club in pool fashion. With a disgusted look at us, Jerry stepped up and took a proper shot. We laughed at him.
By hole six, Ray decided to give Jerry some advice. "You need to learn how to lighten up, man."
"You know," Jerry snapped, "that's all fine and whatever...but I can't keep score when the rest of you keep screwing around."
Four sets of eyes turned to Jerry and just blinked.
"Dude...you win, okay?" said Ray quietly and then threw one arm over Beth's shoulders and the other across mine before guiding us toward the ticket counter. The fun was over.
After catching up to us, Jerry smiled. "Can we go back to the bar now? I think we can make last call if we hurry."
I'd had enough though. Turning to Beth I said, "I think I'd rather just go home."
"Oh sure!" exclaimed Jerry, "Back to your computer, right? These are your friends...don't you realize how selfish you are being? Why do you always have to spoil the fun for everyone?"
I saw Beth's lips compress in a straight line...but even worse, I saw something I'd never seen in her eyes before. It looked like pity.
"Migraine?" she suggested...
"I remember how you used to get them suddenly...let's drop Laurie off...the rest of us will go to the bar."
I hugged her tight before getting out of the car and whispered "thank you" in her ear. She squeezed my hand back and promised that we'd talk...alone...in the future.
Inside the house, I took a deep breath and allowed myself to enjoy the luxury of being alone. I knew that I probably only had a few hours of peace before Jerry would stumble in, completely incoherent and drunk. The cats followed me as I padded to the kitchen to make a fresh pot of coffee.
With a steaming fresh mug in my hand, I slipped out the patio doors, down the few steps to the backyard and climbed up on top of the picnic table. Making sure to orient myself properly in the general direction of Australia, I looked up at the star-filled night and tried to imagine myself hurtling through them, thousands of miles into a place about sixteen hours ahead in time.
Inside I heard the phone ring...once...and then it went silent. I smiled softly and began to speak...
"Tonight was truly awful, Otter...and I missed you."
Clearing the lump from my throat, swiping my eyes before taking a sip of coffee...I continued to speak, sharing the entire day with my friend. How much gets through on the tin can phone line, I never actually know. I like to imagine that despite his own life, Otter cocks an ear in my direction and nods his head. Either way, just giving voice to my fears, my troubles is therapeutic. By the time the mug is empty, my heart has made its peace and I whisper a final good night into the air before heading back inside.