Page 30 of The Singles Game

‘You must have been so good,’ Charlie said, her eyes wide when Piper told her this during their first meal together in the freshman dining hall at UCLA. Could you even dress yourself when you were nine? Charlie wondered. She could barely remember.

‘Good at what? Tennis?’ Piper’s laugh was joyless. ‘Outside of the fancy day camp they’d sent me to the previous summer, I’d barely picked up a racket. They told all their friends they were sending me there to “cultivate my talent,” but that’s only because it looked way better to ship your nine-year-old off to a prestigious tennis academy than to another standard-issue boarding school. But that’s really all it was, at least for me.’

Piper had explained how super-rich families from all over the world dispatched their children to these tennis academies as a sort of high-end, year-round babysitting service. For six figures a year, sons and daughters of Saudi royalty and European financiers and Texan oilmen and South American entrepreneurs could guarantee their children would learn English, complete school requirements, get trained by the best coaches in the tennis world, and never need to come home for much longer than a week at Christmas and two during the summer. Plus it sounded good to tell their friends their kids were ‘training at Bollettieri’ side by side with the kids who showed genuine tennis potential and had been sent to the academy because their coaching needs had actually surpassed whatever was available to them in their home countries. What no one expected, of course, was that every now and then a few of the rich kids who were there for the 365-days-a-year babysitting actually turned out to be decent players. Piper was one of them.

She had played doubles her first three years at UCLA and singles her final year, although she never ranked higher than number four on the team. Charlie was ranked number one from the day she arrived on campus until she dropped out to turn pro a year later, but somehow things were never competitive between them. Maybe because it was obvious that Piper wasn’t committed to tennis. She showed up for required practices and seemed to enjoy matches, but she would never, ever attend optional early-morning lifting sessions or extra weekend hit-arounds like the rest of them. Piper stayed out late and dated a million different guys and took weekend trips with her non-tennis friends. Charlie didn’t even have any non-tennis friends. The few times they’d discussed it, Piper was always a little vague. ‘I love tennis,’ she’d say with a laugh. ‘I love drinking and traveling and dating and sleeping and reading and shopping, too. I’m certainly not going to give up my life for a sport.’ Even today, Piper played only once a week with a group of ex-college players who hit better than 99 percent of casual players but who looked at tennis as merely a hobby, something to cram in between work and social life. A good workout and some fun. It was impossible for Charlie to imagine.

‘Coach Stephens is gone now and I’ve never even met the new guy. I don’t know anyone anymore,’ Charlie said. Her massage therapist asked her to turn over on her back and then draped a lavender-scented beanbag across her eyes.

‘Whatever. At least it got you to LA. How long has it been? Two months?’

Charlie was glad she’d insisted on the spa day, but it couldn’t make up for all the missed time. She exhaled slowly and said, ‘Tell me more about Ronin. Why him?’

Charlie could hear the smile in her friend’s voice. ‘Why him?’ she laughed. ‘Because he’ll have me.’

‘Oh, please. Half of LA would have you, Pipes. Hell, half of LA has had you …’

‘Easy, tiger. I’m not the one whose fuck buddy just happens to be—’

‘Piper!’ Thankfully, her friend realized that she shouldn’t finish her sentence. While it wasn’t especially likely the masseuses knew who Charlie was, she didn’t need gossip about her and Marco – especially gossip that included the phrase ‘fuck buddy’ – splashed across the internet. No, thank you.

‘Ronin. Tell me everything.’

‘Everything? Well, let’s see. He grew up in St. Louis, although his family moved a lot when he was a kid.’

‘Where’s he from originally?’ Charlie asked.

‘I just told you. St. Louis.’

‘No, I meant where are his parents from?’

‘You mean because he’s Asian? He can still be Asian and from St. Louis, you know.’

‘Oh, save it, please. I meant because he has an accent. Or is that something you never noticed?’

‘His parents are from Japan. He was born there and spent large parts of his childhood there. But he’s an American.’

‘Got it. American. With a defensive fiancée. Check. What else?’

Piper laughed. ‘Sorry. It’s just my mother is such a blatant racist. She’s obsessed with the fact that he’s of Asian descent. Like, really can’t wrap her mind around it and wants to talk about it all the time. I guess I’m just sick of having it be at the center of every freaking conversation.’

‘Your mother would be uncomfortable if you brought home a Catholic. Or a brunette. It’s the cross you bear being the liberal-minded daughter of rich WASPs.’

‘True. So anyway, you know he’s an ER doctor—?’

‘The doctor who just wants to surf all day, right?’

‘There are so many boards in our garage right now, I can’t even count. When does someone get too old to be doing the whole stoner-surfer thing?’ Piper asked.

‘Apparently not at twenty-nine. He must be so psyched about your parents’ place in Maui …’

Piper laughed. ‘Totally. If only he could figure out how to ditch my parents. They’re going more and more frequently now that my dad retired. Last time we were all there together my mother actually said something about not knowing that “people of Oriental descent” surfed. It was as lovely as you might imagine.’

It was Charlie’s turn to laugh. ‘Just give her lots of half-Asian babies and she’ll shut up.’

‘It’s funny, I tried to explain to her that Ronin also has a mother who wasn’t super-thrilled with our relationship – this poor woman has been hoping her whole life for a sweet Buddhist girl who could cook a decent bowl of udon noodles, and she got stuck with an atheist Protestant Mayflower chick whose family has more cases per capita of alcoholism than the whole of the Betty Ford clinic – but you don’t see her complaining. Nope, just brought me right into the fold and taught me how to assemble a halfway decent bento box. My mother doesn’t understand that to save her life.’