What he wanted was to show her how to properly play baseball, his favourite, but he knew she wouldn’t allow it. Ella was fiercely proud of her fielding skills, even though all it meant was running back and forth across the grass to catch his fly balls. She’d made some spectacular catches, he admitted, but her batting needed work.
Ella told him she wanted him to teach her how to play golf. He was an encyclopaedia of sports and he spent a great deal of time watching them on TV. He could teach her, he knew, even though he’d played only a couple of times. But he also knew that her determination to be instantly great at everything was going to set her back. He’d been through this before.
On Saturday, he took her to their high school football field, armed with a 3-iron, a pitching wedge, and a few balls. And a couple cans of beer he’d thrown last minute into his bookbag, for fortitude. Or to celebrate, depending.
Ella was dressed in a hoodie and track pants. She’d pulled back her dirty blond hair into a high ponytail. He set a tee in the ground and placed a ball on top. She moved to take a club.
“Wait,” he said, holding her arm. “You want to choose the right iron for your shot. Each one has a specific purpose.”
“Right. Okay. So?”
“So first we start with what each club is for. We’ll start with these two because that’s all I could find.” He held up the 3-iron and pointed to the number on the sole of the club. “This is a 3-iron, and you know because it tells you.”
Ella nodded, crossing her arms and shifting her weight to one leg. He picked up the pace. “A 3-iron is basically for when you want to hit the ball far, like 150 yards.”
“I don’t know what that is,” said Ella.
“Okay, like from here to that post over there,” he said. “Now. Technically, you should be starting with a shorter iron because it’s easier—”
“Give me that thing,” Ella said, taking it from his hand. “I just want to hit the ball.” She swung the club as though swinging a baseball bat, and then stepped up beside the tee. He kept his mouth shut.
Ella swung hard at the ball and missed. “Fuck,” she said, and quickly set up to try again. He stepped forward and she put out a hand to stop him. She pressed her lips together. He knew that look and retreated. She swung again and hit the ball but it didn’t go very far.
“Stop trying to clobber it. It’s the same as baseball. Don’t worry about sending it far, just focus on hitting it right. Like with baseball, you want to focus on your swing. Where you hit the ball determines where it goes. The iron helps you with that, too.” He kept his tone gentle. He didn’t want to get too technical. She wasn’t even listening.
Ella swung again, with no better luck. He watched her breathe deeply and suck in her lips and tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear. This was her on the brink. He’d seen her lose her temper when she failed at something. It wasn’t pretty, but he knew how to handle it.
“Can I ask you something?” he said, sitting on the grass. Already he could crack open that beer.
“What?” She didn’t look up.
“Why golf? Why anything? Why do you ask me to teach you and then you don’t want to actually learn?”
Ella said nothing. She took another practice shot and stepped up to the tee. They had only three balls and this was the last one before she’d have to run to retrieve them. She shifted her weight back and forth on her feet. He watched her hips and found himself wanting to put his hands on them. Ella made the swing count. He smiled. This happened every time, whatever it was he was “teaching” her; it was as though she had suddenly instinctively known the biomechanics of the swing. Her form wasn’t bad and he hadn’t even got to that part. The ball soared into the air.
“Nice,” he said. She turned to him, pleased.
“Luck,” he said, as he always did. She stuck out her tongue at him and ran to get the balls.
It was fall and though the air was fresh, the sun warmed his back and he stretched out his legs on the grass, propping himself up on his arms. He watched Ella jog, her ponytail swinging back and forth. He loved her, that much he had figured out. But while they were always together, she letting him practise his pitching on her, he testing her limits, watching her rage with frustration then making her laugh, she coming to his hockey games, sleeping over in his overheated waterbed on the nights she was locked out of her house while he slept on the floor, her hand flung over the edge of the bed, lightly, absent-mindedly scratching the back of his neck as though to put herself to sleep, he had no idea how she felt.
Ella stood in front of him, the sun in her face.
“What,” he said.
“Stop being lazy. Get up. Tell me what this other club is for.”
“It’s extra,” he said. “For beating you when you miss a shot. It’s to keep you in line when you start getting all frustrated.”
“Har har. Very funny,” she said.
He grinned. “Wanna beer?”
“What do you want?”
“I want you to tell me what this club is for.”
“No,” he said, feeling his heart begin to pound. “I mean, what do you really want?”
Ella crossed her arms over her chest. “What are you getting at, Will?”
He looked up at her, wanting to catch her hand and pull her down to sit with him. He wanted to say, “Do you love me,” or “I love you, Ella.” He wanted to kiss those stubborn, determined lips and in that kiss feel that same drive with which she did everything. But it was a bad idea.
“Nothing,” he said. “C’mon, pull me up.” He extended his hand. She grabbed it and yanked him to his feet.
“Are you going to teach me or what?”
He didn’t answer at first. Then he said, “Only if you promise to listen.”