Page 5 of The Singles Game

‘What’s it to him? Don’t you think he’d be happy if I stopped playing? How many trillion times has he said that tennis is no way to live your whole life?’

‘Many trillion times. But he knows you want it, Charlie. He’s a good enough dad that he can hate the whole idea of something and still support his kids because we want to do something. Like you turning pro, and me sleeping with men. I think it’s fair to say neither thrilled him, but he got on board. He’s good like that.’

They ate the remainder of their burgers in comfortable silence while Charlie tried to imagine what her father was doing at that moment. He’d been teaching at the Birchwood Golf and Racket Club for more than twenty years. They’d moved to Topanga Canyon from Northern California when Charlie was three because the club promised her father more responsibility and better pay than his job coaching boys’ tennis at an elite boarding school. A few years later he was promoted to head pro, and now he ran both the tennis and golf programs, despite knowing little about golf. He spent most of his time checking inventory and hiring pros and smoothing over small tiffs with members, and Charlie knew he missed the actual teaching. He still taught the occasional lesson, most often the old-timers and small children, but at sixty-one he couldn’t keep up with the teenagers or young professionals who moved fast and hit hard. No one acknowledged it, but the lesson requests had shifted to the younger teachers and Mr Silver most often found himself in the pro shop or the club’s main office or even the stringing machine. If tonight were like the other charity events the club hosted, her dad would be feeding balls at the children’s clinics that served as day care while the parents donned their best black tie and nibbled canapés in the dining room that overlooked the ninth hole. He never complained, but it made Charlie despondent thinking of him leading a game of offense-defense with a group of eight-year-olds while his peers drank and danced together inside.

‘Why do you think Dad still does it?’ Charlie asked, pushing her tray away. ‘I mean, he’s been there, what? A quarter of a century now?’

Jake raised an eyebrow. ‘Because he never went to college. Because he’s proud and will never take a dime from either of us. Because he was, by all accounts but most of all his own, a womanizing asshole during his pro years until he met Mom, and by the time they had me, it was too late for him to go back to school. You don’t need me to be telling you any of this.’

‘No, I know. I guess I just mean, why hasn’t he ever moved? Ever since Mom died, we don’t have any real ties to the area. Why not try somewhere else? Arizona or Florida? Marin? Mexico, even? It’s not like he has some great life in LA that he would miss so much.’

Jake looked down at his phone and cleared his throat. ‘I don’t know that places are lining up to hire a sixty-year-old pro with a few years’ experience on the tour forty years ago. One who – I hate to be blunt about it, but let’s call a spade a spade – sleeps with every single woman who shows up for some help with her backhand. Birchwood treats him pretty well, all things considered.’

‘I think I just threw up in my mouth.’

Jake rolled his eyes. ‘He’s a grown man, Charlie.’

‘Do you think he’s happy?’ Charlie asked. ‘I mean, I know he’s had every opportunity to get married again and has clearly not chosen that route, but does he like his life?’

Their father had worked around the clock to support them both, to give them every opportunity that their far more privileged classmates had enjoyed: summer camp, music lessons, annual camping trips to national parks. And of course the tennis lessons. He’d taught them both to play from the time they were four. Jake soon lost interest, and Mr Silver never pushed him. Charlie, on the other hand, was a natural: she loved her tiny pink racket, the running and balancing drills, the tube she used to help pick up balls. She loved filling those little paper cone cups with icy water from the Gatorade cooler and scraping the clay off her sneakers with the floor-mounted rolling brush and the way the tennis balls smelled when she cracked open a brand-new can. But most of all she loved her father’s undivided attention, how he focused entirely on her and his face lit up every time she flounced onto the court with her ponytail braid and purple striped sweatpants. The look that was usually reserved for whatever woman he was dating at the time, a seemingly endless cadre of middle-aged divorcées stuffed into too-tight and too-short dresses, who would hang on his arm and offer Charlie insincere compliments about her bedroom or her braids or her nightgown before following her father into the night in a cloud of potent perfume.

Not that they were all like that. Sometimes the women were younger, not yet mothers themselves, and they would talk to Charlie and Jake in high-pitched voices like they were zoo animals, or bring them thoughtful but age-inappropriate gifts: a stuffed koala bear for Charlie when she was fifteen; a Heineken beer koozie for a seventeen-year-old Jake. There were women Mr Silver met at the club, women he met at the Fish Shack down on Malibu Beach where he’d been going for twenty years and knew everybody, women who were just passing through Los Angeles on their way from New York to Hawaii or San Francisco to San Diego, and who somehow, someway, always found their way to the Silver house. Charlie’s dad never expected his kids to offer anything more than a friendly hello over French toast in the morning, but he also never seemed to consider that it wasn’t the healthiest of examples to march an ever-changing parade of one-night stands through family breakfast. A handful of them stuck around for a few weeks – Charlie had the most vivid memories of a very kind, exceedingly skinny woman named Ingrid who seemed genuinely interested in both Silver kids – but mostly they vanished quickly.

Tennis was when Mr Silver focused entirely on Charlie. It was the only time he wasn’t working, or fishing, or chasing his latest lady interest, as he liked to call them. When they walked out onto the court at Birchwood – almost always at night under the lights, when the paying members were home with their families – Mr Silver’s attention narrowed to a laser beam of light that warmed Charlie the instant it focused on her. It was the one thing that hadn’t changed after her mother died: the obvious delight he took in teaching Charlie the game he loved. All those years had been a labor of love for him, from the time she’d followed him like a duckling around the court as he demonstrated the baseline, the alleys, the service line, and no-man’s-land, to the very first time Charlie took a game off him fair and square when she was thirteen and Mr Silver whooped so loudly a groundskeeper came to make sure they were okay. Nothing got in the way of their lessons: not Charlie’s mother’s death nor the women who kept him company in the years that followed. He taught Charlie everything she knew – strokes, footwork, strategy, and of course sportsman- ship – straight up until she won the sixteen-and-under Orange Bowl at age fifteen, the Grand Slam of junior tournaments, and Mr Silver insisted he’d taken her as far as he could.