Two Under Par

by Kristen Bealer

o O o

"Look out!"

Jake looked up at the shout, but it was too late-pain exploded against his forehead and he staggered to the ground with a groan. The throbbing was so intense, he could barely even see.

"Oh, crap, I'm so sorry!" A dark-skinned girl raced to his side and put her hand on his shoulder. "Are you okay?"

"Gah dammit! Damn kids and their damn recklessness! I could've been killed! Thanks to you, I've probably got a concussion, or whiplash, or a hernia!"

The girl pulled her hand back in surprise at his sharp tone. "It was an accident. I swear, I didn't mean to! I really am sorry."

The sharp pain faded to a dull ache, and Jake slowly took a few deep breaths. "No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have yelled at you. I've done the same thing to so many people, I can't even remember how many." He paused and frowned. "Or maybe that's just because of the brain injury. Do my pupils look dilated?"

"They're fine," the girl reassured him, looking on sadly as he rubbed his now-tender head.

Jake reached out and picked up the golf ball that had hit him, handing it to her with a slight smile. "For future reference, you're supposed to say 'Fore!' when you want to warn someone about an incoming ball."

"No future reference needed," the girl replied gloomily, throwing the golf club over her shoulder in disgust. It bounced awkwardly before lying still on the country club golf course. "I'm never hitting another golf ball as long as I live. I didn't even want to do this in the first place! I've got enough to do this summer without golf lessons, and now my lousy instructor doesn't even bother to show up? Forget it. I'll just tell my dad...um..." She sighed and shook her head, then wearily picked up the club where it had fallen. "Never mind."

Still holding out the ball, Jake looked at her more closely. "Hey, don't I know you? You're...oh! You're one of Daria's friends, right? Not the snarky one that starts with a 'J.' The other one that starts with a 'J.' Uh...Jodie?"

The girl took the ball and finally allowed herself to smile. "Yes, unless you're thinking about pressing charges, in which case my name is Brittany Taylor."

"Oh, I would never sue you!" Jake insisted, wide-eyed. "Damn blood-sucking lawyers!" He blinked and looked nervously at her. "Um, don't tell my wife I said that."

"I won't," Jodie promised. "And it was a joke."

"Oh. Oh! Ha ha ha ha ha!" The laugh sounded so forced, Jodie winced a little. "Sorry. I'm trying to work on my sense of humor. It's...not going great."

"I hope you have better luck with that than I'm having with golf," Jodie told him. "The only upside I'm seeing is that for once this summer, I'm not stuck inside shredding documents or ladling out soup." She glared down at the club in her hand. "Although if I knew I'd be causing people physical harm I'd have stayed inside with the incriminating tax forms. This is clearly not my sport."

"Hey, golf can be tricky at first, but once you get the hang if it it's a lot of fun!" Jake argued. "C'mon, I'll show you."

Jodie thought it over and shrugged. "Why not? My instructor isn't here and even if he was, all he ever does is remind me over and over again to follow through. Whatever that means."

Jake looked at her club and grimaced. "Where'd you get this thing? It's all banged up and...jeez, I think it's more rust than metal at this point!"

Jodie looked embarrassed. "I bought a bunch of them used at a garage sale. My dad gave me a few hundred dollars in cash to buy what I needed, and I figured I'd pocket as much as I could." She scowled and slammed the club against the ground so hard it left a deep gouge in the green. "He owes me that much for wrecking my summer, at least."

Jake gave her an odd look as she ranted, then chuckled quietly to himself and plucked the club out of her hand. He handed her one of his instead. "Try this one."

Jodie pressed her lips together and looked like she wanted to argue, then sighed and made a few half-hearted practice swings.

"Hold on." Jake shook his head. "You're not supposed to be putting here, Jodie. You've gotta really swing if you want to get anywhere close to the hole!" She tried a few more weak attempts and Jake just shook his head again. "Still too gentle." He mimed a hearty power drive and said, "Like this."

With a sigh, Jodie lowered the club and looked sadly at him. "I'm just not feeling it."

Jake snapped his fingers and grinned. "That's the problem! You need to feel it!"

She looked warily at him. "Is this going to be some kind of Mr. O'Neill-esque 'be the ball' kind of thing?"

"Um...no." Jake stared at her in confusion before clarifying, "Just a few minutes ago you were so angry at your father you just about planted that club in the ground, right?"

"Well, yes," Jodie admitted. "I can get pretty frustrated with my dad sometimes."

"I know how that is," Jake growled. "Bastard's too drunk to notice you half the time, and when he does, it's only so he can point out what a failure you are!"

"Um...not exactly."

"Oh." Jake frowned, thinking. "Wait, your dad's Andrew Landon, right?"

"You've met him?"

"Smug jerk, rubbing my nose in his money and his car and his son and his coffee cup!"

"Ah. You have met him, then." Jodie snorted. "He does like to brag about his success, but he much prefers to brag about my success. He's oh-so-pleased to tell all his friends about his oldest daughter, the perfect student who volunteers for every cause and joins every school function and is constantly about one dull French Club meeting away from a total nervous breakdown but does he care? Hell no. Not if he can one-up all his friends in the 'whose kid has the most migraines' contest!"

"Now hit the ball!" Jake commanded, dropping one of his golf balls on the ground in front of her and standing back.

Without a second thought, Jodie hauled back and slammed the golf ball with her club. The contact made a loud "crack" that could probably be heard all over the course. She and Jake both watched with satisfaction as the ball turned into a small white blur and shot away like a missile...into a tree on the edge of the course.

"Gah!" Jake cried, eyes bulging as he stared in horror at the distant tree.

"What's wrong?" Jodie asked, bewildered at his sudden panic. "You wanted me to hit the ball as hard as I could, right? Don't tell me that was still too weak!"

"That was my lucky golf ball!" Jake cried, whirling to look at her as though she should have known that. "I got my very first hole in one with that ball. I once found a ten-dollar-bill next to the sixth hole when I was holding that ball in my hand. I had it sitting on my desk the day I landed one of the biggest clients of my career. I shot the worst game of my life on the one day I left it at home by accident. I can't lose it!"

"Fine," Jodie said, handing him back the club. "We'll just go get it, then."

Jake matched her stride as they each fumed their way toward the tree. "This wouldn't have happened if you hadn't taken such a wild swing," he grumbled.

"You're the one who wanted me to get mad!" Jodie protested as they reached the tree. "How is it my fault that your brilliant strategy backfired?"

Before Jake could reply, a branch in the tree shook and a squirrel emerged with something white in its mouth. It took only a second for both of them to recognize it as Jake's lucky golf ball, but in that second the squirrel leaped down from the tree and scampered away with its prize.

"Dammit!" Jake cried. "Now we have to catch it!" Grabbing Jodie's arm, he dragged her back the way they came. "We'll have to chase it down in my golf cart. If they hadn't passed that law making it illegal to shoot the things, we wouldn't even be in this mess!"

"Um...this place doesn't even allow loud music. I'm pretty sure firing loaded weapons wouldn't go over too well," Jodie pointed out, but Jake wasn't listening. He bustled Jodie into the passenger seat of the golf cart and jumped into the driver's side, starting the motor and blasting off after the squirrel at a grueling pace of ten miles an hour.

"Come on!" Jake yelled at the cart, slamming one hand on the wheel. "Move it!"

"Yeah, that ought to help it go faster," Jodie said.

"You think so?" Jake asked in surprise. "I've always wondered if-" He turned to look at her. "Was that another joke?"

"Yeah, it-sand!"

"Wow, I really don't get humor. That joke didn't make any sense at all!"

"No, I mean look out for the sand trap!" Jodie tried to grab the wheel and swerve, but it was too late-the cart skidded into the sand and ground to an abrupt halt.

"Gah!" Jake stomped repeatedly on the pedal, but the tires only spun while the engine made pitiful groaning sounds.

Jodie sighed. "We're stuck."

"We can't be stuck!" Jake wailed, still ramming his foot up and down on the pedal as though sheer force might solve the problem. "How're we going to get my ball back?"

Jodie stepped out of the cart and began making her way out of the sand trap. "On foot, I guess." She looked into the distance, squinting in the bright summer sun. "I think I see the squirrel up ahead there. If we hurry, we might catch up to it."

Jake gave the pedal one last half-hearted stomp before climbing out of the cart and coming to join her. "I see it!" he cried, and lunged forward.

"Wait!" Jodie grabbed his arm to stop him. "If we run after it, it'll just scamper off again. Maybe we can sneak up on it instead."

"Good idea!" Jake nodded approvingly. "We play it cool, and see if we can trick the devious little bastard."

"Uh...right."

The pair began walking slowly over to the general area where the squirrel had stopped, but not directly toward it. The squirrel, which seemed to be digging a hole to bury the ball in, didn't notice.

"So, uh, how's your summer going aside from this?" Jake asked quietly as they walked.

"Is this the best time?" Jodie hissed back, keeping her eyes on the squirrel.

"I'm trying to act casual," he replied. "They're cleverer than you think; it takes a lot to outwit them."

Jodie glanced sideways at him. "I think you're figuring out this humor thing after all."

"It wasn't a joke! Keep talking so the evil genius doesn't suspect anything!"

"Uh...huh." Jodie shrugged. "Well, so far this summer I'm doing two internships, volunteer community service, and working a part-time job. I'm sure at some point I'll find a few minutes of free time, and my parents will be right there with a scholarship essay to write or a walk-a-thon to sign up for or a three-year-long missionary trip in Cambodia to go on."

Jake nodded for Jodie to walk around the squirrel as they approached. "Wow. What about in the fall? Are you starting college or...?"

"I'm in the same grade as Daria," Jodie reminded him. He looked blankly back at her, and she sighed. "We're both going to be seniors."

"She is? I mean, yeah! I knew that!"

"Of course you did," Jodie muttered as he branched away from her to circle around the other side of the squirrel.

Jake whistled casually to himself as he walked, and the two of them worked their way around the squirrel from opposite sides. The squirrel sat very still, turning its head to look at one, and then the other.

Holding up three fingers, Jake slowly dropped down to two, and then one. Almost too late, Jodie realized he wanted them both to lunge for the squirrel. When he lowered the last finger, they each sprang forward.

The squirrel scampered away almost before either of them moved, and Jodie and Jake's foreheads slammed into each other at full force.

"Ow!"

"Gah!"

Jodie winced as she prodded the place on her head where Jake had smacked into her. "You forgot to say 'Fore.'"

"No, you only say that when-"

"Joke."

"Damn." Jake's head whipped around. "There he goes! Come on!"

"Just...give the ground a minute to stop spinning," Jodie said, shaking her head a little to clear it.

"He's going to get away!" Jake took off at a sprint, waving at her to follow.

With a tired sigh, Jodie trotted after him as fast as she could. She caught up to him at the base of a tall tree.

"He climbed up there," Jake told her in a quiet voice. "I can almost see him, and he's still got the ball in his mouth."

"Maybe if we wait him out, he'll drop it," Jodie suggested hopefully.

Jake tilted his head, thinking it over. "Worth a shot, I guess." Keeping his gaze toward the squirrel, he asked, "So, you're going to be a senior. Excited about being almost done with high school?"

"Well, I-"

"Ready to leave behind those sadistic bastards who tormented you for your entire adolescent life? To say 'Screw you' to all those teachers who thought humiliation was the best way to teach? To give one last middle finger to the place that not even Hell itself could compare itself to?"

"Uh..."

Jake's eyes widened slightly as he noticed her startled reaction. "Never mind. Got any plans for college yet?"

"Oh." Jodie's expression darkened. "I guess I'm going to go to Crestmore."

"You don't seem very happy about the idea. I thought Crestmore was a pretty good school? I mean, it may not be Middleton, but-"

"Ha! I'd even prefer Middleton. I may not get anything like an education, but at least I could stand still for two minutes at a time without having a panic attack about some stupid responsibility I'm not keeping up with!"

Jake looked puzzled. "Was that one a joke? I lost track."

Jodie snorted angrily. "It's no joke to my dad. He's the one who decided I'm going to Crestmore."

"Don't I know how that goes!" Jake cried. "The old man calls the shots and you're just expected to fall into line, right?"

She blinked at him in surprise. "Actually, yes!" A wide grin slowly spread across her face. "That's exactly how it feels!"

Jake looked back at her with at least as much surprise. "You mean you...you get it?" he asked in an awed tone.

"More than you could ever know," she replied with unexpected heat. "Every move I make for every minute of every day is planned out without the slightest bit of input from me."

"Yes!" Jake cried, then glanced back at the squirrel to make sure he hadn't scared it off. More quietly he continued, "No one cared what I wanted to do with my life. Maybe I could have been a famous chef! Or a brilliant songwriter! Or...or..."

"Or a ballerina!" Jodie finished bitterly.

"Right! I could have been a ballerina!" Jake blinked in confusion for a moment, then nodded to himself. "You know what? Yeah! I could've been one kick-ass ballerina if that's what I wanted to do! I could have been a lot of things if the old man had been supportive just once in my life. If only I hadn't let him push me around all the time-"

"I hear that." Jodie's voice was quiet, but forceful. "If I could just look him straight in the eye and tell him exactly what he can do with all those extracurricular activities..." Then the force went out of her voice again and her shoulders sagged. "Anyway, it doesn't matter."

Frowning, Jake opened his mouth to reply but suddenly his attention was drawn back up to the tree. "I think it's making a nest up there!" he shouted. "It's settling in to wait us out!" He looked at Jodie. "One of us is going to have to go up there after him." He crouched, folding his fingers together to make a support with his hands. "Here; I'll give you a boost."

"Me?" Jodie demanded. "What makes you think I want to climb up there?"

"Well, someone's gotta do it," Jake whined. "And you-"

"-and I always do everything, of course," Jodie interrupted angrily. "Yet another person who thinks that what they want me to do trumps anything I might have to say about it!"

Jake drew back in surprise. "That's not...I mean..." He sighed. "You're right." Crossing his arms, he leaned against the tree and looked at her. "So what do you want?"

She blinked at him. "Uh...to keep both of my feet on solid ground?"

He shook his head. "Not that. After high school. You said no one wants to know what you want, so I'm asking. What do you want to do after you graduate?"

"Oh." Jodie looked around as though she expected to see the answer to his question written somewhere nearby. "I guess I don't really know. Like I said, no one ever asked me, so it never occurred to me to even think about it."

Jake nodded knowingly. "Right, because they only pay attention to you when you're doing something wrong! No one cares about poor Jakey's dreams, do they? Do they?!" He punctuated the last two words by kicking the tree as hard as he could, with two results. The first was that Jake cried out in agony and grabbed his foot, hopping up and down on the other foot as he groaned in pain. The second was that the squirrel leaped down from his perch and scampered off again.

"On the bright side," Jodie commented, "now neither of us has to climb the tree."

Grunting slightly as he put his foot back down, Jake nodded. "Here we go again."

Jodie and Jake began running after the squirrel, with Jake limping slightly as they went. "Turner," Jodie gasped out as they ran.

"Who's Turner?" Jake asked, panting heavily as well.

Jodie's words came out in small gasps as she tried to talk and run at the same time. "Turner College. Dad went. Just thought. Maybe go there."

"Oh. That-look!" Jake pointed out the squirrel, still holding onto the ball and holding still as they approached. As they drew closer, it scurried away again and they ultimately found themselves beneath yet another tree.

"You ever get the feeling you're just going around in circles?" Jodie asked.

Jake snorted. "Only all the time. Get up, go to work, come home. Get up, go to work, come home. Get up, go to work-" He paused and looked at her, worried. "Wait. Did I just miss another joke?"

"Sort of. Mostly I was talking about our situation here."

Jake thought it over. "You might have a point. But what can we do? I'm not giving up! I'll never give that fluffy-tailed rat the satisfaction of knowing he got the better of me!" He shook a fist at the squirrel, who looked quizzically down at him.

Jodie closed her eyes briefly before replying. "Clearly it's not doing us any good to chase this thing all over the golf course. But it's not like we actually need to catch it. What if we find a way to get it to drop the ball instead?"

"Hey, yeah! That could work!" Jake looked up at the squirrel again. "All right, listen. If you don't hand over that golf ball in the next ten seconds I'm going to...to...to do something very bad, so you'd better drop it!"

"I'm not sure if threats are the way to go here," Jodie pointed out. "It's very unlikely that the squirrel speaks English."

"Damn foreign squirrels, coming over here without bothering to learn our language," Jake muttered angrily.

Jodie managed to avoid rolling her eyes. Then she smiled as inspiration struck. "What if we were to bargain with it?"

"Ohhh, no. Jake Morgendorffer does not negotiate with terrorists, no matter how small or furry!"

Reaching into her skirt pocket, Jodie pulled out a small bag of almonds. "I'm thinking more along the lines of bribery."

"But that's extortion!" After a brief internal struggle, he nodded with reluctance. "I hate the idea of paying the little bastard off, but I think we're out of options."

"Then it's settled." Jodie stepped up to the base of the tree and emptied the bag on the ground. Stuffing it back into her pocket, she moved well back and motioned for Jake to do the same.

The squirrel watched them go, then looked at the nuts lying on the ground. Slowly, with frequent glances toward the two humans, it began to make its way down the tree. About halfway down it dropped the ball and leaped to the ground, where it began happily shoving almonds into its mouth.

The ball bounced a few times when it hit the ground, then began rolling down the slight incline. Jake and Jodie sprinted after it, but failed to reach it before it landed in the water hazard with a distinct "plop."

Jake groaned. "This is not how I wanted to spend my day," he grumbled.

"At least you enjoy golf," Jodie pointed out. "I didn't even want to come here in the first place. If it were up to me-"

"You'd make your own choices," Jake said. "You'd do what you want to do, go where you want to go...like that college you mentioned."

"Turner?" Jodie shook her head. "My parents would never go for it."

Jake stared at her, and his face slowly began to turn red. "They don't get a say in it!" he told her firmly. "Once you get out of that house, you can tell them to take their plans and criticism and all that crap and shove it!" He was practically shouting as he grabbed Jodie by both arms. "You're still young! You can break away, make your own decisions! They can't control you forever, dammit!"

Jodie pulled out of his grip before he could start shaking her, but she looked thoughtful rather than concerned. "I do want to go to Turner," she said, "but there's no way I could talk my parents into letting me. You should have seen their reaction when I asked to take this summer off."

"So what if they get mad?" Jake asked, having calmed down from his outburst. "I moved into a hippie commune after college, and in return my father refused to come to my wedding." His face turned red as the anger started to build again, but he looked at Jodie and shook it off. "It hurt, but I survived." He grinned maliciously. "He, on the other hand, didn't."

Jodie blinked. "Okay, that's fine for you but my parents are used to getting what they want and I'm...really not that good at standing up for myself."

"I don't know," Jake argued. "You did a pretty good job telling me off when I tried to get you to climb that tree."

Jodie laughed briefly. "Okay, you've got me there." She looked at the water. "Speaking of, I suppose now you're going to ask me to wade in?"

Jake sat down on the ground and started untying his shoes. "No, it's my ball. I'll go get it." Standing up again in his bare feet, he stepped into the water and hissed slightly. "Yikes! The water's cold!" He kept moving, though, bending down every couple of steps to reach into the water and feel around for the ball.

"I think it landed more over there," Jodie said, pointing. "No, further that way." She shook her head. "Hold on." After leaning down to take off her own shoes and socks, Jodie waded into the water after him. "Brrr! You weren't kidding!"

Jake nodded distractedly and kept peering into the water as he moved. "I thought I saw it over here, but it turned out to be a funny-looking rock. You want to see it? It kind of looks like Winston Churchill if you tilt your head and squint a little."

"Let's just find the ball, okay?" Jodie moved toward the other side of the water. "I thought it landed on this side, but now I don't see it." She trudged through the water, trying to find it.

"There it is!" Jake cried, pointing at a spot near Jodie. He and Jodie both splashed over to it and leaned down to grab it, knocking their heads together. They both lost their balance and fell backwards into the water.

"Not again," Jake groaned, putting a hand to his throbbing forehead. "I don't think my head can take much more punishment today!"

Jodie scrambled to her feet, shivering. "I was hoping I'd get a chance to go swimming this summer, but that is not what I had in mind!"

"Aw, it's not so bad," Jake said. "No screaming kids or poisonous chlorine or angry lifeguards-"

"You two! Get out of there this instant!" Jake and Jodie looked up and saw a very angry man glaring at them from the edge of the water hazard. He was wearing a gray wool three-piece suit that would have looked very elegant if he wasn't sweating through it in the summer heat. "This is a decent establishment and I will not have a bunch of riffraff coming in here and spoiling the experience for my respectable, paying customers!"

Jake pointed a dripping hand toward the water. "But my lucky ball-"

"I don't care what your excuses are!" the man who was clearly the owner shouted, turning a brighter shade of red with each word. He ran a hand through his pitiful comb-over, which only had the effect of forcing portions of his hair to poke straight up. "You...you...vermin snuck onto my property to cause trouble. Now get out of my water hazard and off my golf course! Now!"

Jake started to whine, but Jodie stepped forward and interrupted him. "Who are you calling vermin?" she demanded. "If that's the type of language you use-on respectable, paying customers, for your information-then I don't see how you can possibly consider this a decent establishment at all!"

The owner sputtered angrily. Jodie reached into the water and plucked out a golf ball, which she handed to a speechless Jake. "Anyway," she continued, "my associate and I were just leaving." She stalked out of the hazard with as much dignity as she could with water splashing all around her. "And just so you're aware...the golf instructors you hire suck." With that, she continued past the man without a second look, Jake trailing behind as he clutched the golf ball and avoided eye contact with the owner.

As soon as they were out of sight, Jodie stopped walking and took a deep breath. Letting it out with a shuddering sigh, she closed her eyes briefly and then opened them again to see Jake watching her with concern.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

She nodded. "I don't do that very often," she admitted.

"What, chase down a kleptomaniac squirrel and then go swimming in a water hazard? I thought you kids did that kind of thing all the time!"

Jodie blinked in surprise. "Hold on. Did you just...?"

Jake grinned back and nodded. "I made a joke! All by myself!"

"Well done!" She began clapping.

Jake bowed slightly and straightened back up with a serious look. "You didn't do too badly yourself. You really told that pompous jerk off. Didn't it feel good?"

"No. It felt great," she replied.

"So why not go home and give your dad a piece of your mind?"

She shook her head. "And listen to yet another lecture about reaching my full potential and making everyone proud? No, thanks."

"But you can't keep letting people push you around all the time! Take it from me-"

Jodie held up her hand. "Okay, okay. You've made your point. Look, I'll bring up the idea of Turner to him. Eventually, anyway. But what if he shoots it down?"

"Then you'll be no worse off than you are now, right? And who knows? Maybe he'll surprise you."

Jodie snorted softly. "I'm not going to hold my breath."

Jake regarded her seriously for a few moments. "Just don't wait too long. If I had said even half the things to my old man that I wanted to before it was too late, well...maybe things would be different than they are now." He shrugged. "Or maybe not."

She nodded thoughtfully. "You're probably right. I need to stand up for myself against the people who want to push me around." As the two of them continued walking toward the exit she asked, "Any more advice for me?"

He thought about it. "Remember to keep your stance wide and swing with your hips, not just your arms."

"I wasn't talking about golf."

"Neither was I." He struck a boxing pose, jabbing both fists in the air at an imaginary opponent. "If you do it right, you can land a punch on the sons of bitches that'll send 'em reeling. Oh, and one more thing."

"Yes?"

"Don't yell 'fore' before you hit them. Those bastards don't deserve fair warning."

o O o

Thanks to RLobinske for beta reading.