My phone rang on Friday afternoon, as I was waiting for the clock to approach five. As much as I hated Monday mornings, I detested Friday afternoons. Nothing’s worse than having no pressing matters on a Friday, because there’s no reason to delve into a big project, only to forget it over the weekend and have to start over on a dreaded Monday morning. Instead, I decided to surf the web and pass the time.
I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered anyway. No one calls unless I specifically give them my number. “Hello?”
“Hi, is this Noelle?”
I immediately recognized the voice on the other side. “V, hi! How are you?”
“I’m doing very well, thank you. I’m not much for phone talking, so I’ll cut straight to the point. Would you like to do something tomorrow?”
“Um, sure,” I said. “What time were you thinking?”
“Oh, if you have plans, we can reschedule for another time. I realize this is kind of last minute.”
“No, not at all, V. I was just going to go to the courts, work on my tennis shot. I had to reserve the half-court, but I can cancel it.”
“You play tennis?”
“Well, I try to!” I laughed. “I played in high school, but none of my friends play, so I’m out of shape. I was just going to practice a bit.”
“Marc loves tennis, we play all the time. We could play tennis tomorrow, if you’re interested?”
“Sure, I’d love to play with another human being, instead of a wall!” Steve shot me a funny look as he overheard my part of the conversation.
“Great. Where do you want to meet?”
“The courts by me are very nice, but they’re out of the way for you. Perhaps somewhere in the middle?”
“I don’t know many places out of the city. I can come out to your place, as long as you give me directions.”
“It’s not hard,” I offered, “it’s just that it’s about an hour away from Pittsburgh. We could meet somewhere in the middle, so the drive isn’t so bad."
“Nonsense. Just give me directions. That’s what GPS is for,” she laughed.
Once I knew where she was coming from, the directions were easy. That’s one advantage to being right off the highway. We made plans to meet at two at the courts, and I was glad to have her out for a girl’s afternoon. I loved making new friends and getting to know interesting people.
Now that I had something special to look forward to, the afternoon crept by even more slowly. I left my desk and walked around the office, doing some organizing and performing simple office duties to help pass the time.
After I left the office, the rest of the evening passed by quickly. I had to run some errands and do some shopping before returning to my house for dinner. Living with mom and dad was slightly embarrassing at my age, but having my meals prepared was a pro. Later, I checked my e-mail. Sidney and I had been exchanging messages since Monday. They were always short and never too detailed, but I liked that we were still keeping in touch. I never found out if he had left for Nova Scotia again, or if he ever got that house in Pittsburgh he was looking for. We only talked about the little things: how excited I was to go see a game, if I came up with a nickname for him yet, or Max’s crazy antics.
On Saturday, I decided that I should get to the courts a little early and try to warm up. I loved playing tennis, and although I wasn’t the best player on the team, the coach had named me captain. I was always encouraging the other players and helping them perfect their shots, since I didn’t take the game seriously enough to work on perfecting my own. I enjoyed the camaraderie I had with the other girls on the team, especially my doubles partner. In fact, I had requested playing doubles because of the interaction with other people, rather than singles.
First, I jogged a lap around the track and stretched my legs, and then I tried to practice some serves, which were always my weak point. Service games are supposed to be a player’s strong suit—but I could never find the right mix of accuracy and power. Most of the balls never even made it over the net.
I could tell Vero had arrived when I saw a large, black SUV pull into the parking lot. That was obviously a famous hockey player’s car. But I was surprised when Vero stepped out of the backseat, Marc opened the passenger side door, and Sidney had been the one driving!
I turned into a statue. Vero hadn't mentioned that anyone else would be joining us, let alone Sid. She was dressed in short shorts and a razorback tank top, and I wished I had warn something other than a baggy Pitt shirt and cotton capris. V held up her hand and to block the sun from getting in her eyes as she scanned the courts. When she saw me, she waved. I don't know how I managed to wave back, because I felt as if I were made of marble.
“Hi V, hi guys,” I said as she approached.
“Allo, Noelle,” she greeted, leaning in to hug me. Very loudly, she complained, “Apparently, Marc is attached to my hip, and he won't let me do a thing on my own.”
“I can't let you out of my sight,” he countered, “or else you'll just get into trouble.”
She shook her head in disagreement but didn't bother to continue their adorable argument. With a lower voice, she said to me, “And then since we had an odd number, we had to find someone else to tag along. I really hope you don't mind.”
“Oh, it's okay, the more the merrier, right?” I dismissed, but I didn't sound convincing.
Sid took the cover off his racket and opened a new can of balls, and he was obviously anxious to play. “So, what do you say? Boys against girls?”
Vero was adamantly against that idea. “No. I don't know about you, Noelle, but I just can't compete against these boys. Sid's way too competitive, and Marc is too good. We need to break them up.”
“I'm out of shape,” I explained. “I haven't played against another person since high school.”
“You can play on Sid's team, then,” V offered.
I laughed. “But you said he was competitive. If you put me with him, we'll surely lose.” As we talked about Sidney, he looked almost shy or timid, as if he wanted to chip in and come to his own defense, but he knew better than to interrupt us. In that way, he reminded me of a young boy with expectant eyes, waiting to ask for his mother's attention during her “grown-up conversation.”
“But if you're as bad as you're leading us to think, you need to be paired up with the best player,” Marc contributed.
With that boost of confidence, Sid chimed in, "And I am the best player compared to that bozo," while pointing at Marc. “I'm so good that I make anyone who plays with me better.”
“Well then, I guess we'll see about that,” I challenged.
“How about we warm up first, eh?” said Vero. She walked to the other side of the court to join Marc, and Sid moved to stand beside me.
“Forehand or backhand?” he asked me.
“Backhand,” I replied.
“Good, because I'm forehand.”
“Okay, Andy,” I teased.
“Um, I'm Sid,” he said. “Remember me? Sidney Crosby?” I laughed so hard that people on the surrounding courts stopped to look at me. Sid's cheeks reddened and he pulled his baseball cap over his eyes to avoid being recognized. “What's so funny?”
“I was calling you Andy Roddick, you know, American tennis superstar?”
“Oh. Right,” he said, feeling embarrassed. That's when I knew I found his nickname. I made a note to call him that next time I wanted to tease him.
I was still laughing at his expense, but I felt bad for it and tried to stop. I tried to change the subject. “Well, let's hope your service game is as good as his, because mine sucks.”
“Let me see it,” he suggested.
“No! Then we'll let the enemy see just how bad I am,” I rationalized, pointing my racket to Marc and V across the net. “I want them to think I have something up my sleeve, that I'm the secret weapon.”
“I guess I shouldn't let you hit the ball then, because you'll blow that cover real fast.”
“Hey!” I heard Marc yell. “Stop flirting and start hitting the balls so we can warm up!”
This time, Sid and I both blushed. Why was I doing this so often around him? And why was he reddening? “Which one of us are you talking to?” he asked.
“Either! Both! I don't care, let's just get started!”
He chuckled at Marc's impatience. Placing one ball in the pocket of his shorts, he threw another at me and prepared to hit the other to Marc, who had taken the position across from him. I just shook my head and started my warm up with Vero.
I was glad that I arrived early to practice without them, because they were good. And I mean good. Sid and Marc had power behind their swings, which I expected from them as professional athletes, but Vero was so calculating and exact with her shots. I was barely holding my own, and I was trying so hard. These guys made it looks so effortless, as they were smiling and laughing while playing so well.
Luckily, I had my fair share of good shots. My backhand didn't let me down—my tennis instructor always told me it was wicked. My strategy was just to return the shots that came to me. I let Sid try to make the winners as I struggled to not make unforced errors.
The fourth game we played was my turn to serve. I gulped, knowing that this game was going to end quickly if I couldn’t get the ball in that damned square. My first serve hit the net, and as I took my second try, I hit Sidney in the back of the head. I felt so bad, but it couldn’t have been funnier if I had planned it. I tried to suppress my giggles as I asked him if he was okay.
“I’m glad you think this is funny,” he said, rubbing the back of his head.
I couldn’t tell if he was honestly upset with me, and I felt terrible for laughing, but Vero and Marc-André were howling, too. “I’m so sorry, I really am. It’s not funny at all. V, Marc, stop laughing!” I cried.
“It’s a good thing you hit such soft shots, because otherwise I could have a concussion.” When he started teasing me, I knew he was going to be just fine.
“Well, it’s too bad that your big head was in the way, or else that would have been a perfect serve!”
“With your aim, you really think that was going in?”
“Um, I know it was going in.”
He shook his head. “Let me watch you this time.”
I moved to the “ad” side of the court and called the score, “Love—fifteen.” I waited until Marc had composed himself before I took my serve. As I shifted my weight to by right foot, I tossed the ball with my left hand. Since it was my first serve of this point, I threw the ball higher and waited for the ball to drop considerably before I brought the racket down and hit the ball, which sailed right into the net.
Sid shook his head again and trotted back to me. “You need to snap your wrist more.”
“If I snap my wrist anymore, the ball won’t have enough height to get over the net,” I muttered, frustrated that my serve sucked and now I was being critiqued on it. This was supposed to be a fun day with a new friend. I didn’t want to be paired with Sid for this very reason—as soon as you let your mind focus on winning, the game loses its fun.
“Try hitting the ball when it’s a little higher. Then, hit it with the high edge of your racket, and snap your wrist.”
“You know, I was captain of the tennis team in high school,” I explained. “I know what I’m supposed to do.”
“Just try it, eh?” he encouraged, hitting me in the butt with his racket before running back to spot by the net.
I was exasperated, but I tried. I shifted my weight and tossed the ball, swinging my racket before I usually would have and flicking my wrist with a little extra force. The ball passed above the net and bounced inside the box. Marc returned it with ease, and Sid volleyed into the far corner behind Vero. On the second bounce, I jumped and shrieked. Sure, we had gotten the point, but more importantly, my serve was perfect.
“Thatta girl!” Sid said, sharing in my excitement. “Maybe now you’ll listen to me.” He pulled me into his arms for a quick hug, and I was taken off guard. Even though he had begun to sweat, I could still smell his fresh, musky scent. Instantly, I felt calmed.
“Hey, it was one point,” Marc said, interrupting our moment. “What are you so happy for?”
I pulled out of his embrace. “Are you kidding? That’s only the beginning!”
My Favorite Five (2015)
2 years ago