If it weren’t for Dinah and Chad, I’d never have gone out with Jim Johnson, certified public accountant, Java Jungle regular, twenty years my senior if a day.
“Oh, let him be your Sugar Daddy just this once,” Dinah said after he asked me, wiping cream cheese off the prep counter. I’d told him I needed a day to double-check my schedule. “Poor guy, I bet he hasn’t gotten laid in decades.”
“There’s a reason for that,” I said. Even if age really was just a number, he’d suggested a golf date, something I’d only played in putt-putt form. Before he’d cheated on Elin, I wouldn’t have recognized Tiger Woods if he’d stopped into the Jungle for a latte. Plus, I didn’t know anything about Jim that his business card didn’t cover, except that he tipped very, very well.
“I bet he gets it on the regular,” Chad said then, striding over from the grill. I tried to ignore the flex of his arms against the counter, and to forget the time he’d wrapped them around me and fallen asleep that way. It was a long time ago and should have been easy to forget.
“They sell sex-for-old-guys on eBay now?” I said, my stomach shrinking before the words were out. It’s not like I got anything regular myself. The one night Chad had come back to my dorm room, two years ago now, when I’d only worked at the Jungle for a week, I’d thought, This is it. The love that will last my whole life. But he’d been drunker than I realized. Even though he kept laughing at my stupid jokes at work, and I made sure never to leave any party before him, he’d chosen Dinah over me. I should have quit then, but on Dinah’s days off, Chad always comes to get me for his smoke break. We sit on the wooden steps by the dumpster, knees touching, my heart’s rhythm sloppy and erratic with a stupid, stomach-turning hope.
“Our parents lied to us,” Chad said. An order chugged out of his printer, and he winked at me before going to snag it. “Money does buy everything.”
The course was in Scottsdale. I left an hour early so I could stop at the Jungle for moral support. Chad was swamped, though, and Dinah was in a piss-poor mood. “Helga’s sore today,” she whined, speaking of her right breast. “But Olga’s okay. I must be getting my period.”
“What if he rapes me on the eighteenth hole?” I asked, only half kidding. He was an adult and they were unpredictable. I’d only been with college boys and they were bad enough.
“I think you’re just afraid you’ll like it,” Dinah said, lifting one eyebrow.
“I have to cancel,” I said, my breakfast bar curdling in my stomach. It wasn’t so much the date itself, but what it would imply; the promise of more, an inkling of interest.
“Don’t be a baby,” Dinah said. “It’s a free meal and a good story.” A film major, she’s always on the lookout for either. Which is why, I guess, Chad finds her prettier, edgier, than me.
I, meanwhile, study pharmacology at my parents’ suggestion, and have to cross myself against the guilt of jaywalking.
I tried catching Chad’s eye in the open kitchen, but he wouldn’t look up, even to call good luck. Our one night together, he’d said my face made him homesick. I’d taken it as a compliment, but now I know he hates the cookie-cutter suburb where his parents live. Home for him means neckties and lawn care and the high school girlfriend who broke his heart.
“I’ll try to text before he murders me,” I told Dinah, but she was already helping the next customer and didn’t seem to hear.
There was traffic on the 101, so when I arrived at Talking Stick Golf Course, Jim was already there, waiting. He wore a pair of bone-white Dockers and a pink polo with a green stegosaurus in the corner. I bet the other guys in his Elk den thought that was hilarious.
“Miss Susie-Q,” he said, splaying white-gloved hands in greeting like a costumed Disney character. Talking Stick reminded me of Disney too, manufactured fountains and palm trees denying its location in the driest of the fifty states. It smelled different here so far away from Tempe and the university. A mix of mesquite and creosote and cool, green, winter grass.
Jim looked even older out of the coffee shop, where I’d learned to call him by his order.
“16-ounce, French-Vanilla, half-caf,” I said now, avoiding a hug by bending to adjust my shoelace. Driving out to Scottsdale, I’d tried to convince myself that this would be a date like any other. I’d just smile, nod, let him pay. Now, alone with him under the big blue sky, I wondered how soon I could escape without hurting his feelings. He had a baby’s pink scalp I could see through his hair, and wore his cell phone on his belt like a beeper.
“Tee time’s at four,” he said, placing his gloved hand flat on my back to steer me briskly toward the clubhouse. Tea? I thought. We’re having tea?
It seemed a long time ago, a past life maybe, when I’d told him a round of golf sounded great, then watched him swagger back into the sun with his silver-bullet mug, clipping tinted lenses onto his wire-rim glasses. I’d imagined myself cool and suave on the date, working the power of youth, shooting him wry glances over a martini glass. I’d imagined myself Dinah.
During the first three holes, I must have kept up some part of the conversation. Not my fair share, but a quarter or a sixteenth. All I remember, though, is how even the air in the clubhouse smelled expensive. Dark wood gleamed everywhere from the lobby to the Pro Shop to the bar I glimpsed through cracked-open oak doors. Young, fit boys smiled with movie star teeth behind counters wherever I turned. He’s my dad, I wanted to say. This isn’t what it looks like.
After the next three holes, Jim suggested I sit out my turns in the cart and watch him hit, to learn the technique. He drove us flag to flag as the sun slipped down. On the eighteenth, which overlooked the Phoenix metro sprawl, a dusty basin for the fallen stars it seemed to hold, he stood behind me over the tee, pressing his whole sweaty front to my back in the thin cotton top and capris I was wearing for the first time. I watched his hands swallow mine on the golf club’s grip and felt his muscles straining as we pulled it back together. […]
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Katie Cortese holds an MFA from Arizona State University and a PhD from Florida State. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Third Coast, Blackbird, Crab Orchard Review, Willow Springs, and The Baltimore Review, among other journals. Cortese currently teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University where she also serves as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review.