Charlie nodded. Todd sounded crude, yes, but also fair.
‘We will immediately hire a full-time hitting partner.’ When Charlie opened her mouth to protest, Todd cut her off by raising his hand. ‘I know you’re going to say you don’t need one, that it’s perfectly adequate to hit with the other girls for warm-ups and practice, and I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. Dead wrong. And don’t give me the whole I’m-only-number-twenty-whatever-I-don’t-deserve-my-own-full-time-hitting-partner BS. It’s a chicken-or-the-egg thing, and I’ve seen too many times how players’ games go through the roof when they have someone good on staff with them all day, every day, working them over. It’s non-negotiable.’
‘Okay,’ Charlie said. She’d thought that same thing so many times but couldn’t justify the costs. She wasn’t winning enough to hire a full-time hitting partner and then pay for his travel as well.
‘I’m okay with you using tournament physios and trainers, so long as I can see that your fitness is improving and you’re sticking to the programs they set up for you. Also, a nutritionist. Not forever, just until you drop ten pounds from the lower body and build up your shoulders a little more. That won’t be a huge deal, but I’m not going to lie, Charlie: it’s going to cost money. The good news is, you’ll be winning more, and this up-front cash outlay is going to feel like pocket change if we all do our jobs right. You hearing me?’
Charlie was trying hard not to focus on the ten-pounds comment. He was right, of course; it just wasn’t easy to hear. She nodded.
‘Your brother will oversee the business end of things, like securing a big endorsement deal – something in addition to Nike, whose terms we will renegotiate once you break into the top ten – and from there? Let’s just say the path is lined in gold.’
Todd folded his arms across his chest and gave Charlie a smug smile while Jake nodded beside him. In all the years she and Marcy had worked together, they’d never had a meeting resembling this one. Everything they worked on was directly related to Charlie’s game: perfecting her slice, getting her more comfortable at the net, tweaking the spin on her second serve, adjusting the placement of her approach shots. When they weren’t actually on the court, she and Marcy were usually laughing in player dining or exchanging copies of US Weekly on a flight or binge-watching HGTV in random hotel rooms all over the world. Never had there been any mention of Charlie’s ‘image’ beyond the importance of good sportsmanship. Marcy expected Charlie to take responsibility for her own healthful eating, which included lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, protein, and heavy carbs before matches; she consulted regularly with the tournament trainers to create good workouts, but she wasn’t standing over Charlie with a clipboard and a stopwatch, enforcing any sort of regimen. They were coach and player, first and foremost, but they were also dear friends, confidantes, and occasionally – when Charlie grew weary of the travel or depressed by the solitude of the sport – more like mother and daughter.
‘You’re right about not dreaming of being twenty-third in the world. And you’ve analyzed my strengths on the court fairly. I want to win, Mr Feltner. Todd. I want to come back stronger and better than before. You really think you can get me there?’
Across from her, Todd met her gaze. ‘I brought Nadal back from a horror show of a knee injury. I got Adrian Eversoll four Slams. I coached Gilberto to the number one spot, and he was a pussy before he met me. My currency is winning.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘Oh, shit, I have to run. Listen, think it over and get back to me by the end of the week. We can do great things together, Silver,’ he said, looking at Charlie. ‘Hah, gotcha! Just kidding. Charlie.’
Jake laughed. Charlie forced a smile.
‘Just one more thing to toss on your plate. If I’m going to do this, you need to be free and clear. Don’t call me to accept until you’ve cut ties with that lady coach of yours. Capisce?’
Todd stood up and opened his billfold, but Jake waved him off. ‘Please, this is on us. Thank you so much for taking the time to come meet with us. We’ll talk everything over and get right back to you.’
Todd gave them both a little wave, either not noticing or not caring that Jake had stuck his hand out across the table. ‘You’ve got what it takes, kid, and I know how to make sure you reach that potential. Whatever you decide, I’ll be in your corner from now on. Peace.’
Charlie watched him barrel out the door.
‘That was amazing!’ Jake breathed, looking after Todd as though Michael Jackson had just left their table.
‘I didn’t get to ask him all of my questions,’ Charlie muttered.
‘I think he pretty much covered it, don’t you? I mean, the difference between Todd Feltner and Marcy Berenson is unambiguous, you know? They are just operating in different universes.’
Charlie couldn’t disagree. ‘I want him,’ she said. ‘I’m pretty sure I hate his personality, but I love his plan and his fire and can-win attitude. Besides, I fully acknowledge that this is one of those fork-in-the-road situations, and there’s the potential for me to seriously regret not seizing this opportunity. Living legends don’t walk into your life every day asking to coach you.’
Jake held up both hands in a sign of resignation, just as the model waitress brought out their food.
‘Do you serve champagne here?’ Jake asked.
The woman looked at him like he was deranged. ‘Of course.’
Jake didn’t seem to notice her tone. ‘Terrific, we’ll take two glasses, then.’ He looked at Charlie and grinned. ‘It sounds like we have something to celebrate.’
Charlie had just finished setting the kitchen table for two when the phone rang. It took her a minute to realize it was the landline.
‘Hey, Dad,’ she said into the ancient receiver.
‘How did you know it was me?’
‘Who else would be calling here?’ she said before she realized it wasn’t exactly the kindest way to put it. ‘I just meant, I’m sure all your lady friends call your cell.’
‘Charlotte, I’m sorry for the late notice, but I won’t be home for dinner tonight after all.’
She waited, but her father offered no further explanation.