Monique threw her head back and let out an addictive laugh. ‘Then I know I’m doing something right. I like you. You’ll work. Just trust me, okay? You’re going to kill it.’
Charlie nodded. When Monique directed her, she tried on the tank top and the skirt. Both were supremely basic, pieces she’d worn thousands of times, the only discernible difference from the literally hundreds of skirts and tanks she owned being that they were black.
‘Mmm, turn around. Okay, I like the little flare here, but we definitely need to take the length up.’ She yanked upward on Charlie’s bra straps, causing both her breasts to give a little bounce. ‘Good, I like that. I’ll just do a little work here and … here.’ She placed a couple of safety pins, scrawled a couple of notes in a little red Moleskine, and turned to look at Charlie. ‘Okay, get back in that hideous turquoise thing and go have some breakfast. When can you be back here? Twenty minutes?’
‘I’ll have everything ready by then.’
‘You’re going to alter them? It’s comfortable the way it is!’ Charlie didn’t mean to whine, but there was no way she was letting this woman – this stylist – screw up her comfort level on the court. She was a tennis player first and foremost – not, as Monique had so subtly pointed out, a fashion model. Wimbledon and the shoe debacle of 2015 were still fresh in her mind: there could be no more wardrobe malfunctions. Not one.
‘Go. Leave me. I don’t have much time,’ Monique said. She reached into a gigantic canvas tote bag and pulled out a sewing machine.
‘Is that seriously a—?’
Minutes later Charlie left the locker room. Jake and Todd immediately descended on her to ask a million questions, but Charlie insisted she was going to reserve judgment until she was dressed. She ordered oatmeal with almond butter and sliced bananas with a side of two hard-boiled eggs from player dining and tried her best to watch her iPad. Earbuds in. Completely ignoring her brother and coach. Concentrating on the latest This Old House was far better than focusing on her building anxiety over her upcoming match, so she chewed slowly and methodically and silently. The moment she finished, she headed back to the locker room.
‘Sorry, I know that wasn’t long but I have to get dressed now. Like, this second. I’m not cutting short my practice time just to—’
Monique held up her hand. ‘I’m finished. Come here.’
Charlie walked over to Monique’s makeshift workshop in the stretching room and noticed two other players watching them from the lockers. Charlie could see why. In the barely twenty minutes she’d been gone, Monique had somehow managed to sew a thin band of black leather along the bottom of the skirt.
‘Oh my god, you did this? Wait, when did you do this? And how? Monique, they look awesome, but there is absolutely no way I can wear leather on the court. You understand that, don’t you?’
Monique snorted. ‘Stop talking and get undressed. Right now.’
‘But it’s leather.’
‘Leather accents,’ Monique corrected. ‘Naked. Now.’
Charlie glanced up at the wall clock. She needed to be on the court in ten minutes if she wanted to fit in her entire stretching and warm-up regimen. Acutely aware that the two other players were watching her every move, she once again stripped out of her turquoise dress. First, she pulled on a pair of the black undershorts that Monique handed her; they were the same ones she usually wore, and she didn’t even notice until Monique pointed it out that these now had a C and an S embroidered in a glittery fabric on her ass. One on the left butt cheek and one on the right, to be more precise. And yet, they didn’t feel any different.
‘Your skirt flips up, what, a million times each match? And the entire stadium is staring at your ass, am I right?’
‘It’s probably the main reason men watch women’s tennis,’ Monique announced with authority. ‘We’d be downright remiss if we didn’t take care of this branding opportunity.’
‘Amen, sister!’ one of the players called from her locker. They weren’t even pretending not to watch. ‘I’d like some ass branding, too. Do you have any more letters in there?’
Everyone laughed, including Charlie. She covered her bare breasts with her hands and gave a little flounce in front of the mirror. As predicted, her skirt flew up and her silver initials were on full display.
‘Here, now this.’ Monique handed her the black Nike sports bra she’d tried on earlier, only now this one had crystals studded across all three intersecting back straps.
‘What, do you, like, bring your own BeDazzler?’ Charlie asked, dumbfounded. She pulled the bra over her head and was relieved to see that the stud backs were covered underneath in a silky-soft fabric. Nothing felt any different than usual – better, even.
‘I was kidding!’
‘I’m not. It’s an actual BeDazzler, from the infomercial in the early nineties. I have two backups from eBay just in case. I would die without it. Here, put the tank on.’
Monique had taken the standard Nike tennis tank and cut a personal pizza-sized hole out of the back – just large enough to reveal Charlie’s toned shoulder muscles and the rhinestones that now decorated her sports bra.
‘That looks really good,’ Karina Geiger called out, and gave Charlie a thumbs-up. ‘Maybe I’ll try it, too,’ Karina guffawed as she ran her hands down over her large, squared-off hips.
‘Thanks.’ Charlie smiled. She had to admit, she agreed. Without being asked, she pulled on the tennis skirt. Though the leather was obvious to the eyes, there was nothing but that silky-soft fabric touching her skin. It looked badass but felt great.
‘How did you do this?’ she asked Monique. ‘You’re magic.’
Monique waved her off. ‘Here, just your hair now.’
‘I wear my hair in a braid. It’s non-negotiable!’ Charlie all but screamed. The outfit looked and felt amazing, but the braid had to stay. Over the years, she had tried it all – sweatbands, ponytails both high and low, buns of every size, even down for one particularly horrid five-minute stretch – but nothing felt comfortable on the court except a single long braid. Tied off at the crown and again at the bottom with simple elastics, often with a colored ribbon woven throughout for color. Sprayed with L’Oréal Elnett to contain flyaways. And if it was exceptionally hot, topped with a stretchy, thin headband. Here she would not – could not – be flexible.