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All of my writing is fiction and the stories and characters are all products of my imagination. They were created for my fun and, hopefully, your enjoyment. Some of the events in the stories are not particularly condoned nor encouraged by the author but are there to create and enhance the story of the imaginary characters and their lives. Comments are always encouraged and carefully reviewed. All characters who need to be are 18 years of age or older. Hope you enjoy!
A Note: In case someone doesn’t know, PDA mentioned in the story is Public Display of Affection.
Another note: I love tennis. Still play at my advanced age, was an official for many years and enjoy watching it. Finally, have written a story that involves it. Really enjoyed writing this one. Comments welcome and enjoyed, as always.
Kristina was half-way across the big parking lot when she felt the first drops. It was cloudy, looked like rain and the weather people on TV had predicted it. Still, you hope.
She went up the front steps of the tennis club and awkwardly through the front door, her big tennis bag catching on the door frame as she maneuvered the duffle bag through the opening. Already it was filling up inside as people were retreating from the outdoor courts to get a little shelter from the rain.
She saw an arm waving at her. It was Tanner, one of the club pros, gesturing.
“Sorry, pardon me, sorry, sorry, pardon me,” she said, jamming her way through the gathering crowd as she made her way toward Tanner.
“Come on back to the office and get out of this mess,” he said and then moved through the crowd, leading her to the quiet and peace of the club pros little office. She was finally inside.
“Thanks,” she said.
“You don’t need all that before your match,” he said, shaking his head.
“If I have one.”
“Don’t worry. Rain’s only supposed to last for 15 or 20 minutes and then the courts will get dried. You’re going to play. Just a little later than you thought.”
She didn’t know Tanner very well, had only talked with him a couple of times and then very briefly, but she found him pleasant and not at all like some of the club members described him. He seemed to be great with the kids and younger players but, the older they got, the more he seemed to expect from them, often coming off as gruff and a little arrogant and way too demanding of casual players. Those were reports she had heard. She had actually played mixed doubles against him one time, when three of the pros were looking for a fourth for an evening, after hours match. She had enjoyed it but she had seen him giving a few “tips” to his partner who she wasn’t sure appreciated what he was saying.
“What’s going on with the men?” Today was both men’s and women’s finals of the tournament, just a low-key event at their club. But she knew it hadn’t turned out that way for the men.
“You know Bart Stephenson?” Tanner asked.
“Don’t think so.”
“Well, he and a couple others from Cincinnati signed up and that seemed to shake the bushes a little and we got some good men playing, most played Division I. Stephenson won the first set of his final but in a tie-break. Plus, lots of long rallies so, with the rain, and the possibility of going to a third set, it’ll be a while before you play.” He rolled his eyes.
“Thanks for the info, but nothing I can do about that I guess.”
Suddenly, a very serious look crossed Tanner’s face.
“Didn’t I hear that you just recently lost your father?”
Kristina tensed just a little.
“Yeah, two weeks ago yesterday,” she replied softly.
“Listen, I’m sorry. I can’t imagine what that must be like.” That much was surely true. Tanner’s father had left when he was four years old and he saw him a couple times a year, if that. He supplied the money but he certainly wasn’t a father. “Were you two close?” He felt a little awkward asking but he really was interested.
Kristina’s eyes drifted toward the oversized tennis racquet hanging on the wall. There were no windows in the office or they might have drifted there. She took a deep breath.
“Listen, that’s none of my business. I’m sorry,” Tanner said, shaking his head.
“Nothing to be sorry about. It’s kind of funny, I guess. Odd. Yes and no I suppose.” She looked at Tanner and was a little surprised. He looked almost expectant, like he wanted to hear. Why not, she thought.
“That’s different,” he suggested.
“I know. He’s why I’m here today, playing tennis. I mean, I’m a jock.” She held her arms straight out from her sides. “There’s 16 girls in this tournament. Fifteen pony tails and me with the short hair. Pretty much the same everywhere I play. I’m a jock.” She paused for a second and that far-away look crossed her face again.
“That’s not bad, you know,” Tanner assured her.
“No, you’re right and I know that. But I think dad wanted a boy and he got me. And, somehow having me messed up mom so she couldn’t have any more so . . . dad never got his boy. I guess his second choice was to have a girl jock, Escort Etimesgut which he got. I was always an athlete, even when I was little. I played with balls and bats and stuff like that instead of dolls, you know.” Tanner nodded. “Not totally, but a lot. In junior high I started getting really into it. Soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter. Then there was the spring. Most of my friends were playing softball and that’s where I was headed. Well, let me go back just a bit.” This was so strange. “Shit, Tanner, you don’t have to listen to all of this.”
He laughed. “Just go on. If it gets too bad, I’ll tell you to stop.”
She didn’t see why some people didn’t like him. He seemed really nice.
“My dad liked to play tennis. My grandpa was 75 and still played tennis several times a week. I had two cousins that played tennis. So, I had grown up playing some tennis. It wasn’t foreign to me. It was just that my friends were playing softball and I kind of wanted to do that too. One day all four of them got me and grandpa pointed out that he was still playing tennis and no one his age was still playing softball. “Tennis is a lifetime sport,” they all told me. Made sense too, I guess. So, in the spring I played tennis.”
“Kind of the same thing I heard,” Tanner inserted.
“Trouble was, at Indian Hills, the tennis girls were taking lessons and playing about 13 months a year it seemed and I was playing in the spring and some in the summer. Dad worked with me and the cousins too so I got better. Being blessed with coordination as I had been, it came easier. In high school I finally got to number two singles my senior year.”
Tanner looked puzzled.
“I know. You’re wondering how this all relates to the yes and no of being close with my dad.” Now she took a really deep breath as Tanner nodded. “Dad worked hard with me. He never missed a match or a game. He was always there. It was me that screwed things up. You sure you want to hear this?”
“Got the whole day, Kristina.”
She surely couldn’t figure that out but, what the hell. Plus, the next part would be the hardest.
“He really tried to encourage me. He did.” Another deep breath. “I can still hear him saying it. He must have said it a thousand times. “Come on, Kristina, you could be good.” And you know what I heard, Tanner?” No change of expression from him. I heard, “You could be good, but you aren’t.” That’s what I heard over and over. No matter what it was, I wasn’t good. That’s sick isn’t it, Tanner. Just sick.”
“It was what it was, Kristina,” he finally ventured.
“All the shit that he did for me, all the times he was there for me, all of that and it took him dying for me to realize what a little shit I was for feeling that way and just hearing that I was not good enough.” She could feel something beginning in her stomach, moving up her body toward her head. She couldn’t. Not here with Tanner. She felt the first tear on her cheek. She willed it to go away. It didn’t and was joined by more. She wanted to run. That’s what she was going to do but, through her tear-blurred eyes she saw a shadow in front of her, felt two arms go around her and she was being squeezed against his body.
“Go ahead,” he said. “Let it out.”
“No,” she gasped with a strange voice. But her no didn’t do any good, as the sobbing was beginning and growing, her head pressed against his chest. They were getting louder and she was shaking, the tears pouring out. She had teared up when they told her that her dad had died, but not like this. It was a release like she couldn’t imagine happening. It wasn’t like her. It went on for two, then four, then six minutes. She still wanted to run but those arms wouldn’t let her.
Finally, the torrent slowed. She was breathing again, with only occasional jerks. Tanner’s arms weren’t around her any longer but he was holding her shoulders and looking at her. She thought she might die. She had to be several shades of red. She could never look at him again. What must he think of her?
“Look up,” he said gently. She couldn’t do it. “Not going to let go of you until you look at me.”
Tentatively she looked up, her eyes still filled with the tears. She didn’t think there’d be any more fresh ones but what she’d done was more than enough.
“Better?” he asked gently.
“Oh, god, Tanner. I’m so embarrassed,” she was able to blurt out.
“What, for being a human being?”
“Look at your shirt,” she added, pointing, reaching over his arm to do it.
“Wow. Tears. I’ll have to chuck it before I go home.” He was smiling now.
“I’ll take it and wash it for you.”
“Like hell. Seriously. I’m honored, you know. It’s a special moment, Kristina. And it’s private. Totally.”
Why don’t people like this guy was all she could think. “You can let go. I’m okay now.”
He let loose of her shoulders and stepped back. “So, can I ask you a question?”
She tensed. This could be even worse.
He saw her tense and laughed. He saw her relax when he laughed. “This is tennis stuff. How did you Etimesgut Escort get from number two singles at Indian Hills to where you are now? I played against you in that mixed doubles match the other day and you aren’t a number two anywhere. You take no prisoners when you hit that ball. I’d play with you any time because . . . ” He stopped. He’d talked himself into a corner and needed a rescue somehow.
She provided it. “Because I play like a guy. That doesn’t bother me, Tanner. I told you, I’m a short-haired female jock. I don’t try to be anything else.”
He smiled again. “I didn’t want to offend you because it’s a compliment.”
“I took it that way. You’re not the first.”
“So, what happened?”
“High school was over and, well, I wasn’t Division I material in soccer, or basketball, or tennis. Tanner, I won 12 varsity letters in high school. There was one guy in the senior class that had nine and no girl had more than seven. No one is a three-sport player any more. The soccer players play club stuff and have indoor soccer leagues. You know that basketball players play outside all the time. And I talked about the tennis players. How many lessons did you take?”
“Shit, no idea. Probably hundreds.”
“And you played 12 months, indoors and outdoors.” He shook his head in agreement.
“Well, there I was, a jock with no place to play.”
“What about something like Division III?
“Bingo!” she said. “Dad happened to know the tennis coach at Denison University, a small school right outside of Columbus.”
“I know Denison,” he nodded.
“Damon Harris was the coach. Nice guy. Not really interested in the number two singles at Indian Hills but dad took me out there and I hit with him for an hour. I didn’t find out till I graduated that he could see things in me that, I guess, others didn’t, except maybe my dad.” Her face clouded a little again.
“Keep going, you’re okay,”
“Thanks.” Another of those deep breaths that were becoming familiar. “So anyway, coach Harris worked with me, mentally mostly, and he had a graduate assistant who had been his number one for three years. Conference champion and NCAA Division III nationals the last two. She worked with me on the court and she was great. Whatever I am today, I owe to those two.” Tanner was smiling and she was feeling much better. “You know, you said I take no prisoners when I hit the ball. That’s kind of funny because Coach Harris said my tennis philosophy seemed to be that I hit every shot as hard as I possibly could. And if that wasn’t working, I hit them a little harder.”
A big laugh from Tanner. “Know that philosophy for sure,” he said.
“Alex Clawson was her name. She picked up on my “philosophy” pretty quickly, and when we’d play, I’d be hammering the ball to her and she right back to me and, all of a sudden, a soft drop shot would drift over the net and I was a dead duck. Or, a quick little slice to one corner that never bounced up, you know, and if I got to it, she was at the net to put it away. She’d tell me things but I was hard-headed and knew it all. I couldn’t argue with what she did on the court though, and that worked. She was there for my first two years but she got her masters and left. But I’d figured stuff out by then and, between seasons, what there was of that, I’d hit with the guys some so that helped too.” There was a pause.
“Don’t be shy. How’d it go?” He was smiling at her.
“Conference singles and Div. III nationals my senior year. Won first round at nationals but lost to the eventual champion. I just mention casually that I lost to the national champion when people ask.”
“So, there’s more?” He had a quirky look on his face, like he was teasing her just a little.
“Yeah. I lost one and love. She was pretty good.”
“One and love?”
“I knew who she was and I played scared.”
“Doesn’t work, does it?”
“Not at all.”
Tanner stood up. “Hang on here. I’ll check how things are going.” He went past her and out the door.
As he passed, she could see his shirt was clinging to his chest just a little from the wetness her tears had left there. She closed her eyes and shook her head. It was hard to imagine, yet alone believe what had happened here. She knew there was some sort of an order to the grieving process but couldn’t remember what it was. She wasn’t even sure that her situation was normal enough to follow that process. She had been groping and fumbling with it for the past two weeks but had no idea where she’d come from, where she was or where she was going. She knew that pain and guilt were a part of it, she remembered reading that and that all came out today for sure.
And those tears. They started and she was fighting them and thought she might have won until Tanner’s arms went around her and there was no way to stop what was happening. Being hugged by a guy was a strange experience for her. Lots of friendship hugs, sure. Was this a friendship hug? It lasted way too long for that. It was different for sure. She thought about it for long moments. Etimesgut Escort Bayan It just made her feel . . . what? Secure was the only word that came to her. It was weird, strange and out of nowhere. But it had made her feel strangely secure.
She chastened herself for probably reading more into it than she should. She was sure she’d never forget it and it was hard to imagine that lots of people didn’t care for Tanner. Maybe there was another side of him but she hadn’t seen it.
The door opened and he was back.
“Men are back on court,” he said. “Who knows how long this might be? Could be 30 minutes. Could be two hours.” He sat down somewhat tentatively.
“Thanks,” she said.
“There are courts available indoors. You okay with that? I’ll hit with you if you want to get ready.”
“Indoors is fine,” she said. “I’m not that touchy.” She knew players who wouldn’t think of warming up indoors if they were playing outside.
“You can leave the duffel in here. It’ll be fine.” He went across the room and grabbed a racquet from beside a desk. He closed one eye and made a little clicking sound with his mouth. “What they don’t know won’t hurt anything.” He went to a box in the corner and took out a new can of balls and opened it. “No sense getting ready with old balls.”
Outside the office the crowd had thinned drastically as people had gone back outside to watch. Tanner led her around toward the back staircase.
“You know anything about Cassie Simpson?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Only that I’m playing her in the final.”
“She played number one for Walnut Creek high school this year. Not bad.” He stopped and turned toward her. “You’ll kill her.”
“No sense even playing then, right?” she laughed.
Tanner continued to the stairs and started down. “Really, you should. She’s a backboard — placer. She’s tall and gets everything and likes to run people around, then hit behind them. I don’t think she’s ever played anyone with your power before. She won’t be able to handle it.”
“Hope not,” Kristina answered. She had her racquet out and was headed to the court. At the far end she could see a tall girl and a guy hitting. When Tanner turned to face her, she nodded toward that end.
“Yep, that’s her,” he said quietly.
They hit for about 30 minutes, Kristina holding back a good bit so as not to give Cassie any hints about what she might have in store for her if she happened to be watching. A few hard shots, but she was feeling relaxed. It had been a strange tournament for sure. Kristina was the number one seed but number two had lost in the first round and three and four had lost in the second so she was playing Cassie, who was unseeded but had beaten number three fairly handily according to the scores she saw posted. Plus, this wasn’t a money tournament or anything. In fact, there was an entry fee. It was a “for fun” thing and she was anxious to keep it that way.
Finally, there was a yell from the balcony that it was time for the women. She grabbed her bag, stashed her racquet inside and got a pat on the back from Tanner. She briefly remembered the time she’d gotten a pat on the rear end from one of the men players at Denison. Her shocked expression mirrored his when he realized what he’d done. Two weeks of daily apologies had followed until she finally convinced him it was okay.
As she went up the stairs, she could see Cassie, on the other end, coming up those stairs. They met at the front door.
“Hi,” Kristina said.
“Hi,” Cassie returned. “Good luck today.”
“Same to you.”
Kristina followed her opponent onto court one and sat down. She realized they had a chair official for the final and was surprised. She grabbed her racquet and went to the net opposite Cassie. The official went through his spiel that she had heard literally hundreds of times with only slight variations. Cassie was nodding with every word he said, obviously not used to this and a little nervous. He tossed the coin and Cassie won the toss and chose to receive. Kristina checked the sun which was back out — there was no wind to speak of, and chose her side.
The warm-up went smoothly, both ladies just hitting the ball back and not giving any hints of what was to come. A few volleys at the net for each, some overheads — Cassie was tall so Kristina tried to make a mental note to stay away from lobs as much as possible, and they were ready to play.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this final of the women’s open division. To the chair’s left, from right here in Columbus, is Ms. Kristina Flowers. To the chair’s right, also from Columbus, is Ms. Cassie Simpson. Ms. Simpson won the toss and chose to receive.” The official, perched carefully in his chair had recited the official pronouncement. “Ladies ready?” he asked, looking from one to the other. “Play!”
So, the match began. Kristina started a little more cautiously than she had actually planned and found that Cassie was just as Tanner had described her. She got to everything and used the whole court on her returns. Ahead 2-1 after the third game she sat down and, as she was drinking her water, she saw Tanner on the far side of the court. A stern face and a shake of the fist from him told her he wanted more pace from her. Technically, it was illegal coaching but the official didn’t say anything so no problem.
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