The tennis court is shining; the sun putting its monstrous glare onto the green-colored surface. I feel the wet grass tickle my ankles as I bend over to tie my shoes. I think about double-knotting them, but knowing what a pain it is to untie them, I decide against it. I see many faces, some familiar, some unknown, which makes sense since this is a competition. Over to my left, I see a sheet that others are peering at. It’s probably the competition sheet, I think to myself, and I reluctantly go to check it. Maybe, I won’t get someone horrible. When I see my name written next to another’s girl name, all of my hopes slowly go down an invisible drain. Why her? It has to be her. Of course, the one girl who dislikes me with all of her guts. As I turn around, I see her glare at me from the other side of the court. I try to forget about her as I finish getting ready. I focus on my game plan instead, how I am going to trick the opponent to thinking the ball is going one way, but it ends up going to the other side. I also try to remember my serve and each movement, which is necessary to execute the game perfectly. Just as I am about to take a sip of water, my coach shows up.
At first, he comes up to me. His stuff is right next to mine, and he has a list, water, and some administrative stuff. “Samantha, how are you?” he asks me.
“I’m fine, thank you, and how are you?” I respond quietly, but his attention is already focused on something else. He’s holding the paper, with the competition list on it, and then checks his watch.
"Let’s see. Who’s first up in the competition today,” he goes down the list, looking at each name and taking his time. “Samantha, Christine. On the court.”
That’s me. I have to go first, against Christine. Everyone’s watching since it is the first match of the day. I walk up to the court, taking as much time as possible. One hand holds my racquet, the yellow and black on it seem brighter than ever. I’m wearing white from head to toe and Christine is wearing the same. Her racquet, on the other hand, is a mix of blues and greens. Behind me, strangers watch, but on her side, she has her group of friends that seem to follow her everywhere. I take a deep breath as the coach starts the game.
Christine serves, each arm and leg movement is so precise and controlled. I make sure to keep my eyes on the yellow tennis ball as it spins in the air. It’s going to the complete opposite end of my side of the court. I run, my heart beating faster than ever. As I reach out my arm to catch the tennis ball, everything seems to be going in slow-motion. All of a sudden, I feel no resistance against my racquet, and I notice that I’ve completely missed the tennis ball. The laughter I hear fills up the entire court, as if we are in an enclosed area. The coach looks at me, disappointed in my rookie mistake.
I close my eyes for a minute, and clench my fist. How am I so stupid to completely miss the ball, it’s such an easy maneuver. All I needed to do was run faster. Of course I made this mistake, embarrassing myself, like usual. I know that there is nothing else to do but to continue. I tell myself to focus on the ball, and make sure I get there on time. It’s okay, it is only one mistake. I watch as Christine serves, making sure to be aware of the tennis ball’s every movement. It speeds over to my side of the court, and I start running full speed towards it. I’m almost there, just one more step. The next second, I’m on the ground. I feel my cheeks burn up and my heart beats at what seems the speed of sound. I don’t dare to look up at everyone else yet. All is silent for a minute, as if everyone doesn’t know to laugh at me or to feel pity for me.
“Break,” the coach yells. He comes up to me and says, “What’s going on, Samantha?” He pauses, “You are usually better than this.”
How could I tell him that I’ve been sleep deprived for the last seven months, trying to struggle through high school and taking care of myself. Should I tell him that I don’t enjoy tennis? I bet he would love to hear that. I was forced to do it by my parents, mostly my mother though. Actually, only my mother cared if I did tennis or not. I only do it for her.
I take a sip of my water from my Poland Spring bottle, getting ready to play again.
“Back on the court, girls,” the coach yells in a deep voice. He comes up to me, looking worried, yet tough, as usual, and says, “get your act together.”
I step back on and I realize I have to serve. I try it once, and the ball flies straight into the net. The second time, I take a deep breath, and try again. I put all of my force into the serve and the ball flies all the way out, making people gasp. I guess I used too much force. As I look to the other side of the court, I see Christine staring at the tennis ball, even though it landed a while ago. She stands very still, as if she is scared to move closer to it. What happened to her? I think about asking if she is okay but I say nothing out loud, knowing that she would most likely react poorly.
“Christine, it’s your turn to serve,” the coach says.
Christine starts up again, but she starts slowly. The coach goes to her again, and tries to say it quietly, yet I hear him from all the way across, “Are you okay? Do you need to take a break?” I wonder what happened, why is he being so quiet and soft to her? He’s always a bit on the tough side.
Christine responds with a sigh and says, “Yes, coach.”
Then, the game starts again. I watch her pick up the racquet and all of a sudden, she stutters and pauses. Although it is slight, it looks like she is reluctant to do something. She never does that. Christine takes the ball and throws it up high, but she doesn’t even try to serve with her racquet. She goes up to the coach, quietly, and says, “May I take a break sir?”
“Of course you can, Christine. I know it’s your first game back, and that you’ve been having problems, but your father obviously would want you to do this.”
“Yes, thank you,” Christine replies and she runs over to the side of the court.
I tried to remember what happened as I sat down on a bench, waiting for the game to restart. Why was Christine so freaked out, just by an overly powerful serve? I thought of the past few months, it was true that Christine had been coming less frequently, but why? She barely came to camp this year, even though last year she never missed a class. But coach said something about her father, why would he say that? Her father loves tennis and never misses her games.
I stand up and try to search the crowd, looking for him. The area is pretty empty and I don’t see him, but Christine’s face was bright red. Considering my options, I take the first one that I think of and walk up to her, cautiously.
“What do you want?” Christine barks at me, and then quickly tries to wipe the tears off her face.
“Are yo-you okay?” My voice shakes as I say those words.
“I’m fine. Just leave me alone.”
I think about leaving, but for some reason, I decide against it. “Is your father here?” I ask as a last resort.
“Why-why do you ask that? Why do you care? You obviously don’t like me,” she responds.
“You never answered my question,”
“No, he’s not here. He’s at-at,” she doesn’t finish her sentence.
“He’s at the hospital. He’s in a coma,” she blurts out and then starts sobbing quietly.
“I’m so sorry.”
“Just leave, please. I don’t want to talk to you,” Christine turns around and takes a sip of water.
It all made sense now. My jaw drops as I remember what happened three months ago. I remember the girls talking about it, gossiping, as usual. That’s why there was an ambulance at the club and why Christine looked shaken up. Apparently she was playing with her father, but I had no clue he got hurt. It was my serve that freaked her out. A serve like mine could have gotten him hurt. Now, she obviously doesn’t want to play. At first, it was her father pushing her to continue, even though she enjoyed it, but now, she must be afraid and she has no reason to play anymore.
I start to think about it a bit more. How similar her situation is to mine. Like her father, my mom pushed me to continue tennis. The difference is, her reason for me to continue tennis was that she knew that tennis is my rock. It makes sense, considering that it was the last thing she wrote down in the hospital before she died. She knew that without her, I’d suffer. She was determined for me to play here, play this sport, even though she knew I disliked it. She did not want me to turn into my father, an alcoholic who is only home two hours a night, never taking care of himself or me. My mom knew the importance of this sport, even though I did not at the time. She knew how this sport keeps me sane. I look at my racquet, then back up, and close my eyes for a second. I miss her, but this sport will always be our thing.
The coach sees us both, and blurts out, “That’s enough for today. You guys seem beat.”
I stand up, take my things, and walk over to Christine. I paused, and then say, “Good game.”
She looks startled, but then shocks me by saying, “Thanks. You too.” We both stand up and start walking back to the parking lot silently, but we are both thinking the same thing. Although we are different, our similarities are so much more important.