10 Questions

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Chapter 3

Rolly looked up. “Pardon?”

I stared at the hole, feeling numb and beginning to feel guilty. “We used to wear Orioles baseball caps. We watched every game we could. But I don’t even remember her being sick then.” Ever since, I’ve never worn anything but an Orioles cap. I took it off and slowly rubbed the visor. “I was so happy. It was one of my favorite times as a kid. And she was almost dying?”

I looked up at Rolly, my eyes tearing, wishing I could somehow apologize. Again, I found myself entranced by his deeply accepting blue-gray eyes.

“It sounds like quite a gift from a parent.” He bent down and retrieved his golf ball.

“Huh?” I was too confused and upset to think straight.

“She knew you wouldn’t understand. You were too young, so she turned it into a game. She probably loved you all the more when you happily played along. It was good for her, and good for you.”

Rolly handed his club over and went to retrieve the flag. When he returned and placed the pin in the cup, I was still standing there, staring with tears in my eyes.

“It’s all right,” Rolly said. “Off we go.” He gently put his hand on my shoulder and guided me off the green.

When we arrived at the next tee, Rolly quietly cleaned his ball in the washer, smiling at the rotating plunger as he sloshed it up and down.

“I love these things!” he said.

He dried the ball with the hanging towel and then took out a small pencil and a scorecard. “That’s a par 4 for me and a bogey 5 for you. We both appear to be on track. Next up is a long par 3.” He looked at the scorecard again. “198 yards.”

I took out the wood that was not the driver and stepped onto the tee.

“Jake?” asked Rolly. “I do have the honor?”

“Huh?”

Rolly held out his hand. “I go first, since I had low score on the prior hole.”

“Oh, yeah, of course. Sorry.” I handed him the club. “What is this one called, anyway? It looks like a driver, but I suppose it has another antique name.”

“No, it’s not exactly a driver.” Rolly stepped onto the tee. “Antique, you say?” He turned to look at me. “Who shot par?”

I’m guessing I smirked but I nodded in agreement.

“It’s called a baffy, probably a 4 wood to you.”

He dropped his ball on the grass and seemed satisfied with the lie, so he set up and took another one of his effortless swings. The ball rocketed out straight, curved up high, then dropped on the back side of the green.

“Nice!” I said.

“Thanks.” Rolly handed me the club.

I set my ball on a tee and took some practice swings, mostly to get used to the grip. It was different on each club. This spiraling leather strip was thick with rounded edges.

I took a deep breath and then swung. I connected pretty well, but the ball curved right and bounced into a sand trap.

“Respectable distance,” Rolly said.

We walked down the fairway in silence pierced only by a hawk gliding by overhead.

Halfway to the hole, Rolly said, “Penny for your thoughts?”

I sighed.

“I’m a good listener. Something else troubling you?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Sometimes it’s like talking is …”

Rolly waited.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Talking is what? Not helpful?”

“That’s not it.”

“A sign of weakness?”

I glanced at him. “I guess it’s kind of like that, maybe.”

“I think it’s quite the opposite,” he said. “I think talking honestly is a brave thing to do.”

I looked up, curious.

“For my generation, being a man meant toughing it out in silence. But things are different now, Jake. They’re better. Talking shows sanity and courage. And listening shows compassion and can help people heal.”

I couldn’t help hearing the voices of friends in my mind, making fun of people who overshare.

I grabbed the niblick and took short swings with one hand, clipping the tips of the grass as we walked.

“Do you talk with your dad about things?” Rolly asked. “Personal problems?”

“Yeah, some things, but not all.”

“Maybe a good friend?”

I considered this. “My friend Tyler. We talk about stuff.”

“Serious stuff? Personal things?”

I shrugged.

Rolly hesitated. “Someone other than Tyler? A girlfriend?”

We stopped short of the sand trap. I sighed and stared at the trees in the distance. “Well, I used to. There were some times we talked about serious stuff.”

“Used to?” Rolly asked.

“Uh huh, she broke up with me. A few months ago. I miss talking with her. I kind of saw it coming though.” I stood the golf bag on the ground, removed his putter, and handed it to him. “Or maybe I had it coming, I don’t know.”

“You don’t know what?”

“Why it happened. Why she wasn’t interested all of a sudden.”

Rolly nodded.

I set the clubs down and walked into the sand trap.

I tried to punch the ball out of the trap. It hit the edge, bounced straight up, and dropped on the fringe of the green.

Rolly removed the flag as I raked the sand. Then I managed to three-putt for a double-bogey 5. I retrieved my ball and stepped away.

“Are you ready?” Rolly asked.

I looked at him for a moment and nodded. “I think so, yes.”

With a smooth stroke, Rolly rolled the ball within two feet of the hole. He set up for his final putt and easily sent it straight into the cup.

He smiled but didn’t move. He calmly clasped the top of his putter and waited.

I took a step closer and heard Rolly exhale slowly at the ground. I quietly asked:

“Why did my girlfriend break up with me?”

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