Max woke to the sound of bells ringing. An old chapel was alerting the campus that half an hour had passed. Lifting his head from the grass he glanced at his watch. He had been asleep an hour and it was presently four in the afternoon. The late march sun had been warming the freshly green lawn and the purple azaleas of spring in South Carolina. It was warm for March and there was a crisp warm breeze. Columbia was abuzz with students in shorts enjoying the eternally rejuvenating sensation of spring.
Gazing around the Horseshoe was a beautiful sight in the spring time. The Horseshoe is a grassy lawn littered with large oak trees, surrounded by a brick walkway and numerous historic buildings dating back to the first days of the University of South Carolina in the first part of the nineteenth century. Two large sets of iron gates stand prominently at the front of the Horseshoe. If was not only the definite heart of campus, but also a place forever confined to the chambers of his heart.
That park where he had strolled hand in hand with one young girl in particular with whom he had been so nave to believe in as truly as he had. Walking slowly over the uneven brick cobblestones, smelling that familiar heavenly smell of sweet olive that floated through the air on those soft nights. How beautiful she had looked under the pale moonlight as it fell down through the large oaks that haunted that grassy space as much as those old southern ghosts do. How he had longed to be one with the cool blue liquid of her eyes, as cold as the dew that lay on the moistened grass and produced a sparkling quality to the night. That was no matter to him now though, that was just another elusive memory possessed by an inconsequential girl whose face was as equally fading from his weathered mind.
He clamored to his feet and leaving the shade of a large old oak tree made his way to a bench nearby to assess the situation. Well he should be here anytime now he thought to himself. In fact he was twenty minutes late but that didnt matter much when it came to Rob. Max thought his timing was similar to a womans. He said one thing and what actually happened was anyones guess. But maybe thats what he liked about him Max thought to himself. At any rate at a certain age you learn to tolerate such behavior in others.
A tall dark haired boy made his way through a group of visiting high school students and crossed through a maze of study groups and social gatherings and young couples laying on the ground. As soon as Mike noticed him he stood and began walking toward him.
Well look who it is
Maxwell you son of a bitch
I like the beard how long have you been growing that?
Just some stubble, its hard to remember to shave when youre as busy as I am Rob replied.
I bet. I wouldnt mind growing one myself. I might this summer. How is the whole history professor gig? I cant believe your still here.
Between grad school and teaching history classes at the university I have no free time to myself. I have no life. Except Katie of course. But then again maybe she takes away from any life of mine too
Teaching college students and a grad student with a serious girlfriend. Max had a hard time relating to all of these life decisions. Indeed the two men had forged very different paths for themselves to this point.
How is Katie? I havent seen her in forever.
Shes fine. Lets get out of here and grab a drink. We have reacquainting to do
I thought youd never ask
Rob Caldwell possessed at twenty five the enthusiasm and energy level of a child in grade school. He had always been a bit of a high strung boy. Growing up in Charleston as a child Robert Caldwell developed and cultivated a love for the outdoors. He was particularly drawn to fishing. He spend much of his time patrolling the local ponds of his neighborhood in quest of catching bass and brim. As a result of his ambitious financial nature Robert Caldwell could often be found riding his local streets on his bicycle in search of agreeable neighbors who would let him cut their lawn and trim their hedges for extra spending money.
His resounding self-consciousness was equipped with a sense of curiosity which propelled him to try a number of odd sports in high school. He lettered in track all four years, played wide receiver on the football team his sophomore fall, made the basketball team as a junior, and even dabbled in pole vaulting briefly as a senior. He both possessed and relinquished a number of girls early on, none of which seriously garnered his attention and affection until he arrived at college.
When Robert Caldwell and Maxwell Glass became acquainted with each other as college freshman the former was chiefly concerned with maintaining his scholarship and enjoying himself in his fraternity, Phi Sigma Kappa. Despite he himself not being in a fraternity, Max enjoyed Robert Caldwells company and bonded with him over a number of personal interests typical of individuals their age. They became in all regards close friends and a member of each others inner circle of friends in college.
In the three years since graduation the two had remained relatively close, communicating on occasion, typically through the casual text of phone conversation whenever one felt like checking in on those that they hadnt talked to in a while. Often in life keeping up the illusion of still being close to those that you used to be is easier than admitting that you no longer are. During this post-college period Robert Caldwell had stayed in Columbia, submerged in the rigorous responsibilities of graduate school. He had met his girlfriend Katie during his junior year. She was two years younger than him and had always felt fortunate to belong to him. This fact only served to heighten his growing sense of vanity which had been present inside of him since the days of his youth. Feeling superior and in the mood for a romantic change, he left her the previous year for a woman eight years his senior. After six months she had had her fun and grown tired of the young man so she left him truly crushed by a woman for the first time in his life, leaving him to crawl back to Katie swearing to be a changed man. She had taken him back, but had never forgotten that she now had authority over him.
With his sense of vanity and rebellious nature now in check, and his professional life in focus, Robert Caldwell now struck Max as a mature friend from his past to lean upon. And so in light of his own personal events, Maxwell Glass felt the need to pay his former college friend a visit which brought them to their current position.
The two men sat in a back booth of a local bar drinking whiskey and sodas listening to a classic rock song playing overhead. A middle aged couple sat in front of them talking to a red haired waitress. An older man sat at the bar talking to a much younger woman. Max watched them in a spaced out daze not untypical of an early evening.
So tell me about what happened Rob implored. He leaned forward in his seat sipping on his drink with one hand and adjusting his grey Titleist golf visor with the other. The dim lighting blanketed his navy blue buttoned up fishing shirt.
Id rather not. Im trying to forget all about it to be honest, but thats hard as hell of course
Oh come on now, just tell me. You cant come down here and play it off like that. If youre going to get over it youre going to sit here and drink with me and talk about it, lord knows youve just been bottling it up and keeping it to yourself like you always do
Max was slightly annoyed by his friends persistence but the drink was making him more receptive of the situation.
Everything was fine. It was last Friday night and I was about to head to bed when she called me. I could tell right away that shed been drinking. You could hear it in her voice. But I didnt think much of it, just that she was drunk and wanted to come over.
Sure that doesnt seem that unusual. Rob remarked.
When she got to my apartment we went and laid down on the bed and she started crying on my shoulder about her ex and how she still missed him and had texted him
Bitch he quipped. Rob really knew how to support a guy.
So we had it out. She stayed over and left the next morning and we havent talked since.
Damn man. That really sucks. You have damn poor luck with women. Always have. But dont let it get you down, youll bounce back you always do.
Yeah I guess so. It would just be nice if one actually worked out. They all seem to blow up in my face right when I start to get hopeful.
Did you ever call up that Erin girl I told you about? The one that lives up there?
Yeah we got coffee once, she was just too Christian for me. Know what I mean by that? Its not a knock on her faith or anything, shes just not any fun. I want someone who will live a little ya know? I mean I once knew a guy who was a Catholic. A real big Catholic. Church every Sunday type of guy. But youd never know it on Friday or Saturday night. One of the wildest guys I ever met, no kidding.
Forget them, the whole gender. Its spring time and were together again and were going to a horse race tomorrow and were going to get Jim Morrison drunk. Youll feel better then.
Easy to say that from where youre sitting, but that does sound nice. When in doubt drink it out. Thats fine. The sensible thing.
Max ordered another drink and drank it slowly letting the liquid rest on his tongue. The warm bitterness of the whiskey and the tartness of the lemon lime soda was beginning to brighten his spirits and he felt the tensions hed been carrying relax in bunches and began to smile and feel cheerful again. Two college girls walked in the bar and sat at a table in front of them.
I love a brunette. Always been my favorites. Always.
You know Im a red head fan, clearly.
Youre probably the only guy Ive ever known like that. Max said.
Im one of a kind Rob remarked grinning.
Three younger guys walked in and approached the girls sitting at the table. A stocky boy with short blonde hair and a tall wiry curly black haired boy in a blue and purple floral button up shirt were laughing at the bar. Max Glass ordered another drink as the bar began to fill with college kids. A persisting hum had settled over the room causing the volume of their conversation to rise.
This place is too fraternity for my taste
Youre out of touch with the college scene.
Forgive me for not socializing with eighteen year olds on a regular basis
I never left remember, its all the same to me. But finish up your drink were meeting Katie and one of her friends for dinner
Outside the bar the streets were scattered with bar hopping students kicking off their weekend. A comfortable warm breeze had rested over the evening. It was eight thirty now and Max felt a pleasant buzz. They strolled down the sidewalk and climbed into Robs black jeep. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it while he started the engine.
I thought you were going to quit
Katie gets on me about it but its a work in progress
Where are we going to eat?
A local pizza place I discovered, youll like it
They rode through the streets with the top down on the jeep letting the spring air whip against them. Maxwell ran his hands though his long blonde hair and adjusted the sun glasses suspended around his neck. The restaurant was situated against the road. There werent many spots on the street which was crowded with cars and it took them a minute to find somewhere to park. The restaurant was a tall brick building with two levels. They entered the building and walked between the crowded tables to a wooden stair case and climbing it entered another level of booths. A bar area was crowded with people watching a basketball game on a flat screen TV. After a moment of scanning the room they located Katie and another girl in a booth against the wall. Katie smiled at the men when she saw them approaching and reaching the girls joined them at the table.
Max dear! How are you? I havent seen you since the fall
Katie was tan with freckles and dark red hair. She was wearing a dark dress and was drinking a beer. The girl next to her was blonde with blue eyes and a beautiful face. Her hair was of a golden color and she had faint freckles on her face. She had a rounded nose that had a slight ridge on the very front.
One of my football tailgates wasnt it? Im hanging in there
We broke up actually
Oh Im sorry to hear that. I liked her. You dated her for a while I was starting to think that one might actually work out.
Lets get some drinks Rob piped in attempting to change the conversation.
Ill have a beer too. Blue Moon. I dont think I caught your name Max said turning to the blonde haired girl.
Im Taylor She replied smiling at me. Your friends with Rob?
Yes we went to college together
Oh I see, Im still a senior, I live in the same apartment as Katie and Rob, thats how I met them
Max felt a certain familiar warmth coming from this girl that he had felt in six or seven girls over the years. The presence of alcohol and the general sensation of the season may have also had an effect on his first impression of her.
Are you still playing golf Max? Katie called from across the table, shouting slightly to garner his attention.
Some. Not as much as I used to.
You were so good in college I dont think you should have given it up. You had talent. I dont buy that business about losing your swing.
The aforementioned man tuned out at the sound of this and took a long pull from my bottle of beer. The drinks were beginning to catch up to him now as the room began to attain a heightened sense of haziness. Another please he said to a nearby waitress raising an empty bottle and making a pointing motion with his other hand. He slowly raised the menu in front of him letting his eyes wander across the page inspecting the different pizzas.
Who is your favorite president? This was one of his favorite things to do at parties, he used historical questions as tools to gage how intelligent a girl was. There had to be brains attached to beauty for Max to be truly interested. At least initially, because if the girl didnt yield an engaging response he could always slide down to her intellectual level with the aid of a few more drinks.
I dont know, Ive never really given it much thought. Im not that into politics. Taylor said.
Its not a political question, its a matter of history. Whos your favorite president? This is simple stuff, there must be someone.
I dont know, Washington or Lincoln?
Wow what originality. Thats really something. Woodrow Wilson is my pick. Now that was a leader. They dont make men like that anymore. A true Princeton man. Guided us through the Great War. The war to end all wars. And I also admire JFK, talk about swagger and confidence in the face of crisis.
Oh really, I told you Im not that into politics. Or history I guess, whatever. You know what I mean. Taylor responded, clearly less than enthralled by the conversation.
Thats too bad. You know its funny, history used to be my favorite subject, but over time I think Ive actually grown to prefer literature. I think heart break does that to you. Some of my favorite people are drunken, down-trotten writers.
Max teaches high school English Taylor Katie called out.
Is that right? Taylor said, How admirable, I dont think I could handle teaching.
Its alright. Not so bad. At least theyre a little more mature by high school. Ive always enjoyed reading so its nice to teach about it even if my audience is typically uninterested.
Who is your favorite author?
I love Fitzgerald and Hemingway, their my favorites.
Oh really, I read Gatsby in high school. I loved it.
All Americans should have to read it. The timeless epic. Believe it or not its only my third favorite book by him though.
Thats the only one I know, what are the other two?
This Side of Paradise and Tender Is the Night. Mike enjoyed talking about things that he knew about when he was drinking. It gave him a sense of control.
Have you ever read The Catcher in the Rye? That was always one of my favorites. Taylor asked.
Yeah, I read. It I liked it. I cant say that I loved it, but I did like it. I kind of got the sense the reason it became popular because it kept saying stuff like hes a bastard or goddamn and crissake which was absolutely unheard of in a book at the time. Very shocking. It was definitely well written though. He should have written more. And then after a moment of letting that sink in, So whats good to eat here? he asked her.
They have a good Greek pizza with Kalamata olives, feta cheese, and steak
Want to split one? Max asked in a slightly flirtatious tone. It was like him to bounce from rambling about something to trying to flirt. Particularly so when he was drinking.
Sure she responded smiling back at him. Do you like Greek food?
Love it, I always have.
Me too, I went abroad to Greece my the spring of my junior year
Wow Im Jealous, Id love to see it. How was it?
Gorgeous, all of the Mediterranean is. The food was incredible and the people were friendly. I did have one incident though. I was biking by myself along a hilly stretch of road over the looking the blue-green sea. It was a gorgeous day and I was riding a few miles from the sea-side town where I was staying. I had woken early that morning and there was a clear crispness in the air. When I had been riding for about an hour a black SUV came up alongside me and opening the door a man pushed me over and I rolled off my bike and down a steep embankment that sloped off the side of the hill.
Good lord were you alright? The story sounded fantastical and Mike was quite amused in his present state.
I was scraped and bruised pretty bad all over and I needed stiches on my right arm but I didnt break anything.
Well thats good. At least it didnt do any harm to that beautiful face of yours.
A pair of waitresses brought out large silver pans with hot pizzas. The pizzas had steam coming off of them. Not realizing the extent of how hot they were Max reached down and grabbed a slice and bit into it instantly feeling the bread and cheese burn his tongue and roof of his mouth. Grabbing his beer Max took a long drink in order to ease the pain, accidentally spilling some of the liquid contents on his shirt.
Shit that was hot
You should have waited for it to cool down Taylor remarked. He could not tell but she was beginning to be turned off by his behavior.
Hey Katie your friend is sassy I like that in a girl. Cute too If I may say so myself.
Taylor blushed embarrassingly at this and Katie glared at the drunken man from across the table. Max failing to recognize the inappropriate nature of his remark paid little attention to this. Glancing down at his phone he noticed Rob had texted him to settle down and stay cool. Few things are as humiliating as being told to behave by one of your peers.
Rolling over Max felt a pain coming from his side. He had passed out in his clothes and had been lying on his belt. The small couch that he was laying on in the living room of Robs apartment was hardly long enough to comfortably hold someone as tall as himself. It had to be close to four in the morning. Slowly the events of the night crept into his mind. What happened after dinner? What happened at dinner? Maxwell old boy you did it again. You made an ass out of yourself. You always do this. I guess Rob will be mad. Probably not. Katie will though. So what if she is? Shes always in my business. What kind of a fool gets engaged at twenty five anyway? Twenty three for her. Not me. No sir. I would though. Probably would. If one had been agreeable and not turned out to be such a bitch. Or crazy. Probably best that Im not anyway. And what about that Taylor girl? She probably doesnt think much of you now. Oh well who needs them. Just ramble on as Zeppelin said. Ramble on. Ramble ramble ramble. Cup tomorrow. Horse races are a silly thing. You focus more on the horse more than the man who steers them. Unusual sport. All about the horse. I like them though. And their silly names. Could they still race without the jockey? It must be hard to mess up as a jockey. Not like golf. Easy to mess up. All the pressure on you. Always messing up. Must be dangerous though. Quite dangerous. Like bullfighting. Well maybe not that dangerous. No, definitely not. Tomorrow should be eventful, always is. Always. Always. Always.
Madison Ashley descended the staircase of her childhood home with air of confidence not un-similar to that of Scarlet OHara. She knew that she was beautiful, which of course is the most dangerous thing that a young woman can be conscious of. She wore a pink and blue floral patterned dress that adorned her slim physique. A large floppy straw hat with a pink ribbon sat perched on her dark brown head.
Entering the living room a group of young men on a black leather couch turned to her in awe. The first of which was a short brown haired boy with brown eyes who wore a long sleeve white shirt with a red and black stripped bow tie and blood red pants. The second man was taller and heavier set with the faint traces of a blonde beard spread over his rounded face. He wore a long sleeve blue shirt fixed with a pink and blue bow tie with brown pants. Despite it being just shy of nine thirty in the morning both men were enjoying their first pinch of stimulation for the day by means of glasses of champagne and orange juice.
Mimosa dear? implored the young man in red pants.
Sure. Make one for me will you.
Harry Blount rose from the couch and knelt down to unfasten a well packed white cooler. Sifting through the cold pieces of ice his hands found a green and gold champagne bottle and clear jug of orange juice. Pouring the frothy champagne in a glass he added orange juice and handed it to his girlfriend.
Are we meeting your cousin at the tailgate or is he coming here first? She asked.
Max is meeting us there with Rob and Katie.
Nick you havent met Harrys cousin Max before have you?
No I havent had the honor, Ive heard Harry mention him a few times. Hes the talented golfer right?
He WAS the talented golfer. Now hes the talented drunk. Dont let him fool you, he tries to impress you with his personality but I can see right through him.
Dont be so hard on him babe that girl he was dating just left him after close to a year. You know hes been working as a substitute teacher Harry offered up for rebuttal.
Surprise surprise it didnt work out him and a girl. It never does. The last one was a real winner too. I knew they wouldnt last the minute I met her.
He sounds like quite the character to me Nick said with an intrigued grin on his round face. Just the sort of guy Id want to spend the day with at a horse race.
The spring sun was shining into the room now through a series of large window panes. A calico cat sauntered languidly across the floor pausing to bask in the radiant glow of a sunbeam that lay next to the couch.
Nick grab one side of that cooler and help me take it outside. Madisons parents will be back in a minute to pick us up.
Outside on the lawn a silver colored suburban appeared. Opening the door for Madison, Harry and Nick clamored into the vehicle and found seats in the back. Madisons parents sat in the front. Her teenage sister Nicole and her boyfriend, Will, sat in the middle bucket seats. The three college seniors sat in the far back of the car. Placing his arm around Madison, Harry noticed her father cast a disapproving look through the rear view mirror. Seeing this he quickly removed his arm.
Mr. Ashley how long have you been going to the Cup? Harry asked in an attempt to win over the jury.
Ive been going regularly since I was kid in the 1970s. David Ashley replied. Its a southern tradition in Camden. Its been held since the 1930s. They say Sea biscuit raced in it once.
Ive been going to the Cup since I was a little girl his wife chimed in. People come from all over the country to see it.
Im looking forward to it. We have horse races in Aiken too but Ive hear a lot about the Carolina Cup from Madison.
I went last year when I was in Kappa. Hell of a time. I had to come with Harry when he mentioned it. Nick added.
Nick where did you say that youre from? The eldest Mrs. Ashley asked.
Maryland. I met Harry and Madison at school in Charleston.
Oh I see. How do you like it in the south?
I love it. Especially the football.
You dont have football in Maryland?
NFL is bigger in my family. Were Redskins fans. Nick said.
Were all about College ball here David Ashley said. It is not unusual for such conversations to take place in the south.
The Ashleys packed car made its way through a forest of pine trees and onto a country road that knifed its way between farms of sheep and cattle. Then through a town and onto a highway that was packed with cars with trailers holding tailgate tents and coolers. The Sun was high in the sky now and it was a warm spring day. There was little breeze.
The race track was a large open field that resembled a Revolutionary or Civil War battle field. Lord Cornwallis and the British defeated Horatio Gates and the Colonists in a similar field a few miles away. A grass track with white pipe portions divided the field into the infield and outfield. The outfield was comprised of a raucous section of Fraternity and Sorority tailgates known as College Park. The most spirited of collegiate youth from multiple eastern states had made their way to this setting by way of large white buses. The infield contained all other types of spectators. A large wooden grandstand painted white and green stood on the far side of the infield track for those select individuals who had come to seriously focus on the racing. Brown fences were positioned along the grass tack for the hoses to jump over. This style of racing is known as Steeplechase.
Elaine Caldwell was one of my closest friends junior year, and through my connection with her I was invited to tag along with her and her father to the Cup. Driving into the race track through a mass of tents and high flag poles was a new experience for me. I was awes struck by the pageantry. In all three hundred and sixty degrees that one could turn their eyes would be met with a burst of bright colors and pompous fashion statements of the grandest scale. Girls in sundresses of all colors of the rainbow, floral patterned dresses with large hats atop their heads. Men in khakis, colored pants, and seersucker. Long sleeve collared shirts, short polos, and almost always fitted with a decorative bow tie as if it were demanded by a biblical text. All in all the event was a unique experience akin to eating humus for the first time.
Elaine text your brother and figure out where he is Scott Caldwell said to his daughter, he should be here by now.
I sat with Elaine and Mr. Caldwell in tailgate chairs under a large white tent. A foldout table was spread out in front of us containing small chicken sandwiches. A jalapeno and cream cheese dip, chips, cookies, coleslaw, bread rolls, and an assortment of other tailgate foods.
I will Elaine responded, Its like him to be late.
Turning to me she smiled, Youll love Robs girlfriend Katie shes the sweetest thing ever. I hope they get married.
Oh really? I enquired attempting to match her enthusiasm for the subject.
Theyve been dating for four years now I absolutely love her. They broke up for some strange reason for a few months but their back together and I couldnt be happier.
Elaine was a tall, brown haired girl with brown eyes. The type of girl who always seems content with her present circumstances. I suppose some people take to life more enthusiastically than others. She wore a yellow dress without a hat.
Their bringing an old friend of Robs from college Mr. Caldwell added, Max was his name I think.
Sadly, there is no Mrs. Caldwell in this story. She died giving birth to Elaine. I think in some ways Elaines resounding sense of optimism stems from her view of possibly being lucky to have survived such an unfortunate ordeal at the beginning of her life. The three Caldwells were nonetheless a tight-knit bunch. Elaine and Rob loved their father and were appreciative of his efforts with them. They themselves got along better than any other brother and sister that I have ever known. Perhaps they sensed that they were all that they would ever have.
Ah I see I responded trying to give off a casual tone to my voice. The idea of being around older boys is a welcomed phenomenon to younger girls.
How old is your brother? I asked.
Hes twenty five, hes in grad school. He wants to be a professor. Amber lets walk over to College Park before my brother gets here
Be good girls Mr. Caldwell added as he reached into the cooler to mix his first drink of the day.
Making our way through a mass of infield tents we emerged out onto a grassy walkway that led to a gate. Heading out through the gate we crossed the sparsely fertilized dirt race track to the outfield.
After some time meandering our way through the raucous haze of loud music and stumbling youth, Elaine and I returned to the tailgate in time for the first race to begin. As we approached the tent I could I could make out several new figures who had joined our party. Elaines brother Rob stood talking with three other men while a pair of girls a few years older than myself sat in chairs nearby.
Amber this is my brothers girlfriend Katie Elaine said.
How do you do, Elaine has told me so much about you.
Katie was a beautiful red headed girl in her early twenties with freckles and light blue eyes. In my experience red headed girls are either beautiful or plain looking but always feisty. You could always count on them being feisty. I dont know if she was feisty or not because she never was in front of me but she was beautiful. I imagine she was at least a little feisty though.
Only good things I hope, Elaine is like the little sister that I never had
Im Madison the second seated girl cut in, Im here with Harry
Harrys the cousin of my brothers college friend Max Elaine explained.
Theyre standing over there Madison said coolly as she motioned toward the table. Now this was a feisty girl. You could tell right away. She had an air about her of being too good for the situation. As if she should be a number of different places than the one she currently was, and most likely was mentally.
Elaine ran up to her brother and grabbed his shoulders from behind. Startled, he turned around and gave his sister a warm embrace.
Rob this is my friend Amber.
Nice to meet you I smiled and shook hands with him.
I hope my sister hasnt told you any lies about me Rob said laughing, Amber meet my friend Max and his cousin Harry and his friend Nick Rob said.
Max turned to me and smiled, Its very nice to meet you Amber, I have the feeling Ill be seeing much of you today.
I certainly hope so I responded automatically, blushing at the honesty of my response. He gave me back a tight, tender smile that provided a sense of warmth and reassurance. His blue, green liquid eyes seemed to look not only look at you but though you all in the same wonderful gaze. As if he was sizing you up and handing you back an approved version of yourself. Those eyes dazzled me. They left a lasting impression on me with which I was unable to rid from my young mind. I felt so enraptured by the grace of his presence, as though I had been the recipient of some great prize just to be near him. Perhaps it was my tender girlhood that left me vulnerable to his charm but from the moment that I first saw him I knew that I loved him. I loved him the way that only a young girl meeting an older, mysterious man for the first time can love someone.
Although only eight years separated the two of us it seemed as if it was more, as if some taxing string of unknown circumstances had taken him farther and through more than the contemporary young men that stood near him. He gave off a warm, woody, mellow smell that I found strangely pleasing like a rare, antique novelty. I was too nave and inexperienced to recognize it at the time but this was the smell of gin and tobacco. He had a mild complexion that wavered slightly toward the side of pale. He wore a handsome blue striped seer sucker suit that adorned his tall, slender frame. His long blonde hair was parted to one side and hung well below his ears in the back. A long brown cigar imported from somewhere in Central America dangled gingerly from his long fingers giving off a faint plume of smoke that drifted into the warm spring air.
Looking forward to the races? He asked me, I am, Ive never been to a horse race before I answered smiling. I felt flattered by the attention of his inquiry.
Youll love them. Rob lets get a pool going for the first race Maxwell called to his friend, youll have to help me pick a horse to bet on I could use your beginners luck he said turning back to me.
Pulling out a small blue race booklet he flipped to a page, What do you think? handing the booklet to me I slowly read through the list of strange names. What about this one, number three Tennessee Thunder?
Tennessee Thunder it is! Max proclaimed with exuberance, It says hes fresh to the races but why not, lets see what hes got.
A bugle began playing over a loud speaker overhead interrupting the scene and alerting the spectators of the coming attraction.
Quick Amber lets go get a spot on the rail and watch the first race Elaine said grabbing my arm.
You all go on ahead Ill catch up. I need to mix myself another refreshment Maxwell said as we left the tailgate and made our way to the rail.
We were packed in tight along the fence and the announcer came on overhead ordering all riders to the paddock. It was hot in the sun, packed in against all the people, and you could smell cigar smoke coming off of some of the men. I was standing next to Elaine, Rob, and Katie when I heard Max come walking up behind us.
There you are Max said.
Hurry up and get over here, their coming up now Rob replied.
The horses came trotting up the track coming towards us and then away. That big, broad, long-legged black horse Tennessee Thunder striding past us alongside two brown horses. They went past us with their jockeys on top, going back to the starting post.
There she was Amber, our horse Tennessee Thunder with the yellow number three on her Max said.
She looked good to me!
Well sure find out here in a minute
I put my money on Xanadu. Its the number six horse in green. Rob said.
How much money is on the line? I asked.
For the first race we put ten in a piece, and had a few other tents go in with us. I think theres probably about a hundred and fifty up for grabs
Just enough to make things interesting Max said.
All at once the announcer said they were off, and looking across the grass infield you could see them all bunched up together at the start. Calling fast the announcer said this number two horse Chinese Dream was out front.
Come on Come on! We all called
I leaned way out and peered down the line as they came to the first big swing, bunching tight at the turn so that you couldnt tell which was which. Then they came down the straight away pounding closer and closer until they were right in front of us with that big black Tennessee Thunder pulling even with the number two Chinese Dream. It was so exhilarating seeing them come up and storm past you with the little jockeys slapping hard on their sides. When they go by you everything else goes away and its just the noise of the horses pounding hard and kicking up dirt.
They went away getting smaller and smaller until they were out of sight with Tennessee Thunder pulling away from the pack at the finish.
Hot damn I sure know how to pick them! Max exclaimed, taking a long sip off of his drink until only ice remained in his glass.
Lucky pick if Ive ever seen one. Lets go back to the tent. Rob said.
Having won the first race Max kept making bets, only the rest of them didnt go as smoothly as the first, and by the end of the day he was back to even, having wagered more and more with each losing race. By the time it came time for the last race Max was quite drunk and his mood had taken a turn south.
Well weve got one more race coming up lets get the pot together for it Rob said, sitting on a chair with Katie on his lap.
Max stood and staggered over toward him, tossing a twenty dollar bill in his direction, Meet my good friend Mister Andrew Jackson
Come on Harry arent you going in on this one? Rob asked.
Why not, hand me the book so I can see who I want Harry said.
I think youve bet enough Harry Madison commanded to her boyfriend
I think he can be the judge of that Max barked at the girl
How would you know anything about judgment? Madison snapped back
I know enough about judgment to know that youre a controlling, spoiled bitch
There are things that you think and things that you say, and the funny thing about being drunk is the line that separates these two things is often blurred. Max was right though, if there was one thing he could feel in a crowd it was the presence of a dominant woman. He had been dominated. Had been controlled, and manipulated, so that he could feel that familiar pain in other battered males. He could put on a brave face when he was sober and cognoscente of how others perceived himself, but when he was drinking his bitterness emerged and reared its ugly head. And as the awkward confrontation at hand was perceived amongst the group a hush fell down upon it.
You dont know a damned thing about me or Harry, Max. Youre nothing but a damned drunk Madison snapped at him as bitterly as possible, shaking slightly at the audacity of Max to single her out.
Hearing this, and refusing to make eye contact with her, Max focused his attention on his presently bewildered cousin. Harry are you going to let her tell you what to do?
Harry sat still in his chair, rigidly frozen in the moment and unsure of what to say. He was torn between a feeling of appreciation for his drunken cousins efforts in preserving his honor and his own underlying need to preserve his relationship with Madison.
Come on Max lets take a walk Rob said pulling him away from the scene. They walked away to the outer edge of the infield and stood against the fence watching the horses work their way back up the tack toward the starting point.
Christ man you cant just say a thing like that. Even if you feel that way about someone you cant come out let it be known. She is a bitch, I know she is, but you make things real awkward for Harry when you say things like that in front of other people. We all have to fight our own battles.
Yeah but he shouldnt let her to that to him. I would know. Hes always stressed about her and thats a prison sentence. No woman is worth losing years of stress over. Max said.
Is this really about Harry? Youve seemed distressed, like your taking out your own personal frustrations though one obnoxious scene after another
Oh to hell with you. Im an adult I can behave however I want Max said angrily.
Is this about your last girl? Or are you still messed up over Ellen? You have to move on
I dont want to fucking talk about that he was quite drunk and Rob could tell he was becoming visibly upset.
I know you dont, its just that youve already let it ruin your golf game and.
I said I dont want to talk about that. You know I dont wont you drop it already.
A large crowd gathered tight around them in anticipation for the final race. In a rush the horses were off and running on the other side of the track. After a few moments they made the big turn and were running on the straight away coming closer and closer toward them all the time with a big brown horse just ahead of the rest of the pack. This was a steeplechase race and one of the wooden hurdles was placed just in front of them. The brown horse in front was running hard about a length ahead of two other horses as they came up to the hurdle.
They came running up hard and made the jump over the hurdle as the three front horses crashed into each another. The two horses from behind pulled out sideways while the brown horse rolled over and came up staggering and limping by himself. The jockey from the horse lay face down and motionless in the grass in front of them. A hush fell over the crowd and a blank stare consumed Max face as he viewed the grotesque scene.
Heres your twenty dollars back Rob said.