You still up? What time is it there? I don’t even know what day it is. I want the dirt, she texted.
An answer pinged back immediately. Ronin and I engaged. Down on one knee. Giant rock. The whole nine.
What?? Serious? Charlie felt a strange flip-flop feeling low in her chest. It was hardly a surprise – they’d been dating for nearly a year – but still. Piper was getting married? Meanwhile, Charlie was standing alone at a bar in Melbourne, wondering about the next time she might have super-secret sex with a guy who probably had ten other girls just like her stashed in cities all over the world.
Totally serious. V. excited. Can’t wait for you to hang w/him more. Feel like you barely know him.
What I know, I love!!!! Charlie wished she could delete a few of the exclamation points after she hit ‘send.’ I’m so happy for you.
Have to run. Luv u, honey. Good luck tom. xoxo
Mwwah! Congrats again. More tom. ‘
Charlie stood, staring at the chain of Piper’s texts until Jake appeared at her side.
‘Piper and Ronin got engaged,’ Charlie said.
‘Good for them. Is she happy?’ Jake asked in his couldn’t-care-less voice.
‘So what’s your problem with it?’
‘I don’t have a problem with it.’
‘Charlie. Come on.’
‘No, of course I’m happy for her. Why wouldn’t I be? It’s just – when your best friend is about to get married, and you are still completely single and sleeping alone in different hotel rooms every night, it makes you consider your own life, you know?’
‘I’d say you have the better end of the bargain. They’re pretty nice rooms, and it’s not like you never go out with anyone. Maybe soon you’ll even tell me who your secret affair is with.’
Charlie looked up. Jake grinned and took a sip of his drink.
‘You heard me.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Oh, save it, Charlie. I know you’re seeing someone. Todd knows you’re seeing someone. Hell, even Dan probably knows it. I’m sure you think you’re being super-stealthy and everything, but we’re not blind. All the secret texting and phone stashing and those you-might-die-if-you-don’t-locate-him-right-this-second looks you keep flashing around this party? Please. All I need to know now is who. It won’t take long. You’ll break or the tennis gossips will give it up. No one can keep a secret on this tour. We both know it.’
Charlie couldn’t even articulate why she hesitated telling Jake about Marco, especially since she generally tortured Jake with the level of detail when it came to other guys. But she knew it didn’t take a shrink to identify her own ambivalence: the combined shame and excitement of having a secret affair, the lack of a label making clear their relationship, the thrill of sneaking around combined with the torment of not really knowing what they had. She wasn’t ready to hash it over and hear opinions just yet, especially those of her overprotective brother.
‘Whatever you say, big brother.’ Charlie kissed Jake on the cheek. His beard still felt strange to her lips. ‘I’m going to head back to the hotel. Todd’s been leaving match tape for me to watch every night, and he quizzes me on it the next morning. Plus, I’m tired and I need to be focused for tomorrow.’
Jake nodded. ‘Okay, be that way. Sleep is a good idea. Come on, I’ll walk you out to the car.’
‘No, I’m good, thanks. Stay and have a drink for me.’ Charlie squeezed his arm. ‘Thanks for everything, Jakey.’
Charlie ducked out of the bar and grabbed the first tournament car in the queue. And then she did what she had never, ever done before. Without thinking about how it might come across, or how he would respond, or what it might mean for either of their matches the following day, Charlie pulled out her phone and scrolled through her ‘recents’ list until she found Marco’s name. Before she could convince herself what a terrible idea it was on so many different levels, she wrote, Room 635, headed back now. Meet me there. She powered down her phone and slipped it into her bag. It was done.
america loves a makeover
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, FEBRUARY 2016
‘This is bliss,’ Piper groaned, and Charlie smiled into her face cradle.
‘So you won’t hate me forever that I’m missing your engagement party?’ Charlie asked. She almost sighed in pleasure as the masseuse kneaded her hamstrings with the perfect amount of pressure.
‘Massages go a long way to making me hate you less. I would suggest buying me a package of these if you really want to stay friends,’ Piper said.
The girls were facedown on side-by-side tables in the Couples Suite at the Four Seasons Santa Barbara spa. The shutters were pulled open to the sound of the waves, and although the air was crisp, the February early-morning sunshine warmed the room. The heated tables, roaring fire, and hot paraffin wraps around their hands and feet added to the cozy feel.
Charlie laughed. ‘Noted.’
‘Any chance you can come afterward to help me look for shoes? I’m finally caving and buying a pair of platform sneakers.’
‘I wish. Todd’s already waiting for me. We have a lunch “strategy meeting” at the Ivy. My exhibition match is at three, and it’s followed by a full-two-hour practice. I’m going to have to ask permission to pee this afternoon. Unfortunately, shoe shopping is off the table.’
‘Won’t it be strange to go back? Like, as a professional now? I think just walking on those courts would give me a full-on anxiety attack.’
‘Well, you spent a lot more time there than I did,’ Charlie said, and then regretted the way it had come out. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.’
‘No, you’re right. Four long years. The weirdest part is, I don’t miss it for a single second.’
‘Why would you? You didn’t like it.’
‘Hey, it got me out of my fucked-up house, didn’t it? And we wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t played, so it wasn’t all bad.’
It felt like the ultimate of ironies that Charlie, who had never spent time at any of the prestigious tennis academies – something of a rarity among top-level players – had turned pro, and Piper, who had spent her entire childhood and adolescence at one, couldn’t care less about the game. When Piper first told Charlie about how her parents had shipped her to the Bollettieri academy in Florida when she was nine, Charlie almost didn’t believe her.