‘She’s trying to have a baby, Charlie. I know you understand that.’
‘Of course I understand that! She’s still a friend, Dad. She and I spend more time together on a weekly basis than pretty much anyone else. I was one of her bridesmaids when she married Will! And it’s natural that he doesn’t want her to travel so much. Forty-some weeks a year is hell, especially when you’re going through in vitro. I get it, I really do. I hope more than anything she’ll be able to get pregnant. But then what? You think she’s going to want to hop on planes every three days and head to Dubai? Shanghai? Melbourne? Toronto? London? And when she very understandably doesn’t want to travel like that – or can’t? I know I sound callous here, but where does that leave me?’
Her father nodded. ‘It’s one of the risks of hiring a female coach. But I like to think we stick by our friends when—’
‘I’m not sure why you’re doing this to me.’ Charlie’s voice was almost a whisper.
‘We’re just having a conversation, Charlie.’
‘It doesn’t feel like a conversation, Dad. It feels like one giant shaming. We haven’t even mentioned what happened at Wimbledon. Ultimately she was responsible for the shoes. She’s slowed down a lot lately trying to get pregnant. And you should have heard the conversation we had about my future just this morning.’
The waiter, a local high school kid who, according to her father, was headed for a tennis scholarship to a Division I school, removed their salad plates and replaced them with small bowls of mixed berries.
‘It sounds like your mind is made up. I may not agree with you, but I support you in whatever you decide,’ Mr Silver said, scooping some whipped cream onto his berries.
Support me so long as I agree with you, she thought. And although Charlie hadn’t been certain that hiring Todd was the right move, it had become much clearer as she’d outlined all the reasons to her father, whether he liked them or not.
‘Yes. My mind is made up,’ Charlie said with more conviction than she felt.
‘Well, okay, then. We agree to disagree.’
They were the exact same words Mr Silver had used more than five years earlier when, during the summer before her sophomore year, Charlie had decided to turn pro. Charlie had always understood that finishing four years of college and competing at the top levels of the women’s tour were mutually exclusive, and of course so had Mr Silver – but her father’s disapproval had bordered on outrage.
Charlie was about to point out that their conversation was following a familiar pattern, but she was saved by Howard Pinter, the owner of the club. Howard was rotund and bald and spoke with a spittle-spraying lisp and he always wore suspenders that looked like they stretched painfully over his enormous midsection. Howard loved them both, and told them every chance he could, especially now that Charlie was famous.
‘Peter. Charlie! Why didn’t I know you two were having lunch here today?’
‘Howie,’ her father said, already on his feet. ‘Good to see you.’ The two men shook hands.
Charlie moved to stand, but Howard pushed down gently on her shoulder. ‘Please sit, dear. Are you both enjoying lunch? Will your friend be joining you, too?’
At first Charlie thought Howie was asking her, but then she noticed the expression on her father’s face. Shut the hell up, it said as he looked directly into Howie’s eyes. Never in her life could she remember her father giving someone such a look of … what? Panic?
Whatever it was, Howie got the message. ‘Forgive me, I’m all confused. You know how it is at my age: I’m practically addled. I’ll tell you, I can barely remember how to dress myself every day. Can you believe there was a time I used to know the name of every kid who worked in the pro shop or the kitchen? Now I’m lucky if I remember who my own children are.’ He forced a laugh.
As quick as the anger had flashed across her father’s face, it was gone. ‘I’m just filling Charlie in on all the club gossip,’ he said, smiling.
Howard dropped into a seat at the table with surprising agility. ‘Ooooh, tell me, tell me. No one tells me the good stuff anymore. You think I care who’s bickering about court assignments or about the golf course maintenance? Hell, no! I want to hear who’s screwing each other in the coat closet!’
They all laughed, and Charlie was relieved that her father seemed able to lighten up, but she couldn’t help her lingering feelings of irritation. The three of them chatted for a few minutes, with Charlie filling Howard in on seemingly juicy but totally benign tour gossip: rumors of Natalya’s dating a famous quarterback; the billionaire Saudi who’d reportedly offered seven figures to each of the top three men’s players to play a single match with him at his compound in Jeddah; the number-five-ranked woman who had just failed a surprise doping test. He clapped his hands together and grinned. That’s not even the good stuff, Charlie thought. She wondered how he’d react to the Todd Feltner news. Or, for that matter, the fact that she was casually hooking up with the hottest male player on the tour. She smiled to herself just thinking about it.
‘Okay, I’ll leave you two to your lunch,’ Howard said, looking at Mr Silver. There was an uncomfortable beat of silence. Howard cleared his throat and pushed his chair back. ‘Well, if you two will excuse me, duty calls. I’m sure some bored housewife is berating one of my locker room staff as we speak. Charlie, always a pleasure. You come visit us more often, you hear?’ He bent down to kiss her on the cheek; Charlie willed herself not to wipe away the lingering wetness.
‘Thanks for coming over to say hi, Mr Pinter,’ she said. ‘And no blabbing those tour secrets, okay?’
He belly laughed like Santa Claus and ambled away. Charlie turned to her father.
‘What’s he talking about? What’s the good news? And who’s your “new friend”?’
‘It’s not a big deal, Charlie. It’s just that Howie arranged for me to move into one of the three guest cottages they keep at the far end of the property – near the lap pool? They’re quite nice.’
‘The cottages that were built in, like, the early nineteen hundreds? Do they even have heat? Why on earth would you want to live in one? I don’t think anyone has actually stayed in one of those in decades!’
‘They’re a bit rustic, yes, but think of how much time I’ll save not having to drive back and forth from Topanga every day. The traffic has really—’