‘And what about our house? Mom loved our house!’ Charlie didn’t mean to bring up her mother right then, but she hadn’t ever imagined a day when her father would sell her childhood home. After all, it was the last place her mother had lived. It was where she had died. It seemed unfathomable he would ever leave it.
‘I know she did, sweetie. We all love it. But you have to understand that things change, situations change. I just don’t have the time or the energy to take care of something that size at this point in my life.’
‘So you’d rather live here? You already spend too much time here.’ Charlie could feel her rising panic. ‘This is about money, isn’t it?’
Her father met her gaze. ‘This is not about money. That is absolutely none of your concern, do you hear me?’
‘Why else would you do this? I don’t understand why you won’t let me help! What does any of it mean if I can’t help my own family?’
‘I’m still your father,’ he said sharply. Then, softening: ‘No one understands more than I just how much you have to invest in your career. A sizable salary for your coach, and all the travel for both of you and Jake, and I’ll refrain from imagining how much more Todd Feltner will require than Marcy. You need to invest in yourself, Charlie.’
‘I just don’t understand why you’d move—’
He held up his hand. ‘Enough. It’s going to be great for me to downsize and lose the commute. Yes, it will be hard, too. But it’s time.’
Charlie forced a smile despite the sinking feeling in her stomach. ‘Okay, then. Maybe we both have to agree to disagree.’
the twenty-third-best girl
LOS ANGELES, AUGUST 2015
The FOR SALE BY OWNER sign may as well have been trimmed in Christmas lights, because it was the very first thing Charlie saw every time she looked out her bedroom window. It had been two weeks since her father had announced his intention to move onto the Birchwood property, and still she could barely process it. The three- bedroom bungalow set back a bit off Topanga Canyon Boulevard was less than idyllic – the curving driveway had long ago crumbled into loose rocks and the exterior desperately needed a new paint job (not to mention new doors and windows), but what her childhood house was lacking in curbside appeal, it more than made up for in memories: the Sunday night barbecue dinners on the back patio surrounded by the woods; riding her bike with Jake to Topanga State Park and stopping for Cokes on the way at the roadside gas station that had since turned into an organic market; helping her mother tend the window boxes of impatiens they would plant each year. Her family had never been one to throw lots of parties or host loads of guests, but Charlie remembered a mostly happy childhood in that house, a home that her mother loved and cared for with great joy, the place where she had closed her eyes for the final time. It was fitting that Charlie had barely changed her childhood room – right down to the Justin Timberlake posters – and that she still considered it her home because really, why would she pay rent somewhere else when she traveled eleven out of twelve months? What did not fit was the idea of her father selling this piece of their shared history and moving into a guest cottage. On Birchwood’s property. In the Palisades. She shook her head just thinking about it.
On the ESPN app on her iPad, she was watching a biopic on the complicated life and times of Todd Feltner’s coaching career. She fast-forwarded through the beginning years that showed Todd growing up on Long Island and playing first singles for Great Neck North. She bypassed his time playing singles at the University of Michigan, his short-lived stint in the Morgan Stanley training program, and his discovery while on vacation in Florida of a thirteen-year-old tennis prodigy who was making extra money caddying Todd’s golf game. Something about this child – Adrian Eversoll – so inspired Todd that he left his much-maligned desk job, moved to Tampa, and set about learning everything he needed to coach a young kid with a gift before launching him to the world number one in eight short years, despite not having any professional tennis experience himself. The coverage included plenty of scenes of Todd screaming at and berating Adrian and, later, other men he’d coached to the top. In one particularly unnerving US Open semifinal, tournament security had forcibly removed Todd from Adrian’s player box after he’d cursed the player so loudly and profanely that the television cameras couldn’t even broadcast the outburst on live TV. But then, minutes later, another scene: Adrian hoisting that champion’s trophy high above his head, kissing it, as the world cheered. Charlie watched, barely breathing, almost able to feel the weight of that trophy, hear the crowd roar its excitement, smell the sweat and the gritty Queens air as she was declared the best. Despite herself – despite Todd’s downright frightening fireworks display – she knew then and there that she wanted it. She wanted him.
As though he were already tapped into the private recesses of her mind, her phone rang and a young girl with a high-pitched voice said, ‘Charlotte Silver? I have Todd Feltner on the line.’ Charlie felt her pulse quicken and tapped the pause button on her iPad.
‘Charlotte? Todd Feltner here. Pardon my French, but I’m done dicking around with text messages. I fly into Long Beach on Friday at noon. I’m turning around again and getting on a flight to Hawaii at eight, and I’d rather not come to the boondocks, so what do you say we plan to meet in the lobby of the Standard Hotel downtown? I’ll give you my dog and pony show and you can run down your whole list of questions and we’ll get this knocked out. Two o’clock?’
A million things raced through her mind. Charlie didn’t like how presumptuous he was. But she took a deep breath, remembered Jake’s urgency and her own burgeoning excitement, and said, ‘Two o’clock it is, Mr Feltner. I’ll plan to see you there.’
‘Grand!’ he said, managing to make it sound sarcastic. ‘And it’s Todd. “Mr Feltner” makes me think of my father, and if you’d ever had the pleasure of meeting that winner, you’d know that’s a pretty shitty thing.’
‘Todd, then,’ Charlie said. Before she could feel awkward, Todd announced his assistant would confirm the details by email and hung up.
She texted Jake It’s on with the time and place, and turned off her phone.
When Charlie walked into the Standard wearing jeans and a fitted blazer, she was deliberately fifteen minutes early. Relieved to have a little time to order a glass of sparkling water and get her notes in order, she assured herself nothing would deter her from her list. She’d neatly printed no fewer than nineteen bullet points – some questions, some conversation topics about which she wanted to hear his thoughts – on a sheet of light-blue stationery. But when she walked over to the hostess stand in the lobby restaurant to request a table, Todd bellowed from his banquette near the back bar. ‘Silver! Over here.’