Fairway to Heaven

Chapter One

Dr. Baxter opened his office door and waved me in. Well, it was the shrink’s rendition of a wave, a distant cousin to the queen’s royal greeting—a small nod accompanied by the brief eye contact that lets you know you’re “on.” I laid the dog-eared waiting room copy of Sports Illustrated on the table and eased past what used to be Dr. Bencher’s office. I’d found him lying there two years ago, nearly dead. Sometimes his last rasping breaths still seemed to rattle from the room. I wondered how much the new doctor knew about the former tenant. And whether her patients ever spotted the faint rusty mark under the desk when they were casting about the room to avoid looking directly at her.

Baxter crossed his left leg over his right and adjusted the crease in the pant leg so it pointed precisely to the laces on his shoe. You could have carved a roast with the crease in those pants. Who ironed them anyway? Mrs. Baxter? Or was it off to the dry-cleaners after each day’s wear?

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

I blushed and pushed away every thought I’d had in the last five minutes.

“Just can’t believe I’m in this wedding up to my neck.” I slid a paper out from the back pocket of my jeans. “Jeanine faxed me the draft of her wedding announcement this morning.” I pressed the wrinkled paper out on my thigh. “They’re putting on one amazing show.” I cleared my throat and read a paragraph out loud.

“The bride wore a white strapless gown of French silk. The bodice featured an overlay of antique lace and seed pearls. The Basque waistline flowed into a floor-length gown with a chapel-length train. Her antique lace veil was attached to a diamond and pearl tiara, belonging to her grandmother, Tallulah Emory Bates.”

I looked up at Baxter. “A Basque waistline? A tiara-wearing grandmother named Tallulah? But wait, there’s more.”

I read on. “The bride chose Cassandra Burdette of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as her maid of honor. Pari Taichert of Atlanta, Georgia, was the bridesmaid. Attendants wore strapless gowns of aubergine silk, and carried loose bouquets of white lilies and glass sconces with candles.” I shook my head. “We’ll never make it up the aisle with those dresses intact—do you suppose silk just smolders when it’s lit on fire, or would it actually burst into flames?”

Baxter didn’t offer an opinion.

“People are throwing Jeanine four parties before I even get there—a recipe shower, a lingerie shower, a Chinese dinner party, and a Pampered Chef shower. She says that’s the way it’s done in Pinehurst.” I read from the paper again. “Camellia Toussaint, the bride’s maternal aunt, along with bridal attendants, Cassandra Burdette and Pari Noskin Taichert, hosted a bridal shower at the Forest Brook Clubhouse on November 1. The theme of the party was “Autumn Steeplechase.””

I sank down into the upholstered chair until my chin rested on my chest. “Autumn steeplechase, my ass.”

“Shall we talk about why you agreed to be in the wedding?”

I sighed. “You know I introduced them. And Jeanine is, well,…sweet. All this stuff seems really important to her, like she honestly believes it’s setting her and Rick up for a happy life. I couldn’t turn her down. I couldn’t hurt her feelings.”

Baxter raised his eyebrows to delicate points.

“I know, I know. Then quit yer bitching, right?” We both laughed a little.

“You haven’t mentioned how you’re feeling about the tournament,” said Dr. Baxter, palpating the ridge of his chin.

At the end of my second miserable LPGA season, I’d returned to see Baxter, my former shrink, for what he kindly called a “tune-up.” More like a total engine overhaul. We’d already spent more money and minutes than I cared to count on the question of why I’d agreed to participate in the Pine Straw Three-Tour tournament, with my boyfriend Mike Callahan and my own father, Chuck Burdette, on my team.

“I’m trying not to feel anything. If I focus hard enough on the silly wedding, maybe the tournament will just go away.” I shrugged. “Haven’t you figured it out by now? My defense mechanisms may be primitive, but they’re quite effective. At least in the short run.” I stuffed the paper back into my pocket and glanced at my watch. “I have to get home and finish packing. We’ll continue on Monday?” I added, before he could say it first.

 

My mother stood in the doorway of my girlhood bedroom and watched me poke underwear into the corners of the suitcase. Then I reached for the bridesmaid gown, balled up a handful of purple silk, and pretended to jam it into the top of the travel golf bag resting against the bed. Mom yelped and lunged forward to grab the dress and slap my hand.

“Don’t you dare pack that in there!”

“It’ll cushion the club heads perfectly,” I insisted. “The titanium inset on my new driver scratches if you just breathe near it.”

“Jeanine paid a thousand dollars for this gown. It’s disrespectful and downright ugly mean to treat it that way.” She hung the dress on a padded hanger and tucked it into the garment bag stretched across my pillow. “I thought I raised you better than that.”

“I was joking, Mother. It was a joke.” My mother’s sense of humor has never been her strong point, but this wedding had impaired it even further. An edge had materialized in her voice the minute she heard that Dad’s second wife and my two half-brothers would also be in attendance at the society wedding of the year. She did not receive an invitation. The semi-gracious truce she’d established with my father had been strained to almost-rupture by these circumstances.

She sighed. “This purple turns your skin sallow. Did you pack the makeup I bought? You would have looked better in the green.”

“I packed the makeup.” I frowned and tried to jerk the garment bag zipper past a small catch in the fabric. “This is not about me, Mom. It’s her wedding.” Instantly sorry I’d given her an opening, I tensed for her standard barrage of questions.

What’s going on with you and Mike anyway? Are you ever going to get married?

“You’ll ruin the silk,” my mother said, mercifully too intent on the dress to nag. “Let me do that.” She zipped the bag closed, then stomped out of the room. Gin and tonic time.

It was childish to pretend to jam the dress in with the clubs. I knew that. Joe Lancaster, my friend and sometimes golf psychologist, would have celebrated that insight as an example of how much I was improving in psychotherapy.

“Half the battle is recognizing the stupid things you do,” he’d say, “even if you plow ahead stupidly and do them anyway.”

Now I felt guilty about the wrinkles in the silk. But knowing Jeanine, she’d have a corps of tailors standing ready, just to press the wedding party’s garb.

Long-distance chats with Jeanine about the gowns had begun just after she and Rick made the formal announcement of their engagement. Recently they’d mounted into a daily blitz.

Should she choose the purple, which she called “aubergine,” (appropriate for a fall wedding and guaranteed to burnish the bridesmaids complexions to glowing) or the forest green (best suited as a background for the golf theme tableware and centerpieces)? The aubergine, Jeanine informed me, would open the door to the lily family: picture a large spray of loose flowers cradled in my left arm, my right arm looped through Mike’s elbow. The green, on the other hand, might call for white or yellow roses. And the roses would lend themselves to an elegant but more formal arrangement.

She had been frozen. She obviously preferred the purple, but was unable to surrender the golf-theme tie-in. My best friend and sometimes caddie, Laura, hypothesized that brides frequently focused on this sort of detail in order to avoid confronting the enormity of the leap they were about to make. Easy for her to pontificate: all she had to come up with was a dress—any dress—to wear to the wedding. And she was not obligated to prance down the aisle on the arm of a boyfriend who seemed to have mixed feelings about that status. And vice versa, of course.

So I’d finally lost it.

“Jesus, Jeanine. Why not choose sand trap brown? With the amount of time Rick spends in bunkers, he’ll feel right at home. He’ll see all those bridesmaids in “russet,” think he’s at St. Andrew’s, and forget he’s getting married altogether.”

That comment provoked an onslaught of tears and a second flurry of calls in which I pledged my friendship and assured her I did in fact want to be a bridal attendant and was not making fun.

In truth, I had tried every maneuver I could think of to extract myself from any position other than back-pew observer. I couldn’t afford the outfit: it would be her pleasure to purchase it. She had older friends who deserved the honor: I had introduced the two of them and simply had to appear.

And my trump card, I would feel uncomfortable up there with Mike, our own relationship in such constant turmoil. Strike three: Jeanine loved the idea of Rick’s best man, Mike, escorting me down the aisle. Besides, all the bridal magazines promised that the glow of a wedding party was very likely to spread good karma to a couple in distress. From my perspective, it was hard to see how watching some other couple get married up close and personal could do anything but send a major tremor through an already precarious house of cards.

After that last phone call, she promoted me to maid of honor.

Then the purple gown arrived, insured for a thousand dollars, delivery practically requiring a notarized signature. Notwithstanding the tantalizing rhetoric of the bridal shop, it became immediately clear that this hue was not on my color wheel. According to my mother, who knows these things, my skin was reduced to a shade that suggested hepatitis, or at the least, a recent bout with pneumonia. She begged me to spend time in a tanning bed before the big event. Jeanine offered to pay for a professional spray job. I’d put my foot down—I was a golfer. Anyone who noticed that V-neck of tan skin would understand and forgive my splotchy coloring.

I tucked a couple extra pairs of golf socks into the suitcase, zipped it closed, and went to find Mom. She was at the kitchen table, drink in hand, phone against her ear.

“Charlie,” she mouthed, the lines around her eyes already beginning to relax. My brother.

“Send my love,” I mouthed back, then leaned over to kiss the top of her head. “Call you later in the week.”

I hoisted my luggage into the back seat of the old station wagon and set off from Myrtle Beach down highway 501. Barring unforeseen disaster, I should arrive in Pinehurst in time to check into the Magnolia Inn and stop in at the Peters’ house for a buffet supper and a glass of champagne with the bridal party. I’d already warned Jeanine that I had an early curfew, what with an eight AM tee time for my practice round the following morning.

Ouch. The thought I’d been trying to dodge surfaced hard and sharp, and now I had three good, solitary hours to chew it over.

What in the hell was I doing playing in this silly tournament?

Jeanine had scheduled the wedding so her fiancé could both play in the Pine Straw Challenge and participate in most of the wedding celebrations. Which meant the tournament was convenient for me as well. But in the end, I’d only agreed because my father had asked. I owed him after he bailed me out of a tight spot at Stony Creek Country Club last summer. Besides, he seemed to be making an earnest effort to atone for clocking out on me in my early teens. And finally, both Baxter and Joe Lancaster seemed to feel the head-to-head competition with the men in my life could provide a breakthrough in my own wobbly career. And I was just desperate enough to try.

The tires thumped on the hardpan of the highway, seeming to croon a warning song. Cassie and Michael standing on the tee…K-I-S-S-I-N-G…who’ll make bogie, who’ll make par, who will put it in the jar…

I turned up the radio full blast and wailed along with Patsy Cline.

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