Doing a quick calculation of what she had already eaten for breakfast (egg white veggie omelet with rye toast, fruit salad, cottage cheese, and coffee) and what time she would be practicing (three o’clock) and competing (seven that evening), Charlie chose a Greek yogurt parfait with a side of protein-enriched granola and a banana.
‘Good luck tonight,’ the cashier, a woman who also looked to be in her mid-twenties, said to Charlie as she handed her the receipt.
Charlie smiled and thanked her. When she returned to the table, Marcy was already seated.
‘What can I get you?’ Charlie asked, placing her tray down. ‘You want your usual turkey wrap with a Diet Coke?’
Marcy shook her head. ‘I’m good, I don’t need anything. I already have a tea.’ She wrapped her hands around the steaming take-out cup the way someone might if they were enjoying their après-ski hot chocolate, despite the fact that the outside temperature was pushing ninety.
Charlie took a seat directly across from her old coach.
Marcy took a sip of tea. ‘Charlie, I can’t even begin to describe how proud I am of you. Last year at this time you were in a rehab facility. Now you’re hours away from playing a Grand Slam final. It’s truly incredible. You deserve this so much.’
‘You deserve it,’ Charlie said. She could feel a lump forming in her throat. ‘Todd did a lot of work on my image, and having Dan travel with me made practices more productive, but you are the one who taught me everything. You picked up right where my father left off and brought my strokes and game to the next level. You taught me to how to eat well without being a lunatic about it, how to get fit without being totally obsessive, how to conduct myself on and off the court. Can you even imagine what you would have done to me if Charleston had happened on your watch and I’d gone ahead to win the match by serving before my opponent was ready?’
Marcy smiled. She knew exactly what Charlie meant. ‘Are you kidding? I would’ve made you give the damn title back.’
‘Exactly. Todd encouraged that strategy.’
‘I’m not surprised.’
‘I hated myself after that match. Hated him, too.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that, Charlie. You have what it takes to win it fair and square. You didn’t need to pull a stunt like that.’
‘I know that now. Which is one of the reasons why I fired Todd. Go on, say it. You told me so.’
‘I told you so. But don’t be so hard on yourself, Charlie.’
‘Well, anyway. All of this was my really long, convoluted way of saying I’m sorry.’
‘You don’t owe me an apology. We worked together almost ten years. Taking you from juniors to the pros was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done – even better than when I went through it myself. It’s okay you wanted a new perspective. It’s healthy.’
‘Sometimes in reality, too. It doesn’t sound like Todd was the right fit, but there are plenty of terrific coaches out there.’
‘I want you,’ Charlie blurted out, although she had planned an entire pitch, even written it out so she said exactly what she meant and didn’t forget anything. ‘I want to work with you again.’
Marcy was quiet.
‘I know you must hate me, Marce, or at the very least think I’m an idiot, which I completely was for ending what we had. But is there any way you would consider coming back to my team? Just for a year. One year. I’m going to go back to college after that. And in this next year, I want to work my ass off and try to win tournaments I haven’t won yet, but I also want to take the time to check out these incredible countries I visit every twelve months but have never really seen. I know it’s a lot to ask, especially after everything, but … will you join me?’
When Marcy smiled sadly, Charlie knew it wasn’t going to happen.
‘I miss watching Love It or List It with you,’ Charlie said.
Marcy barked her short, staccato laugh. ‘I miss it, too. Have you been watching Fixer Upper? Chip and Joanna used to annoy the hell out of me, but I’m kind of into them now.’
‘Me too! I’m a little sick of her obsession with light cabinets and dark countertops, but I can forgive her.’
‘Charlie?’ Marcy cleared her throat, then took a sip of tea as if to fortify her willpower. ‘I can’t come back to coach you.’
Charlie felt her cheeks redden. Of course Marcy didn’t want to come back after the way Charlie had treated her. She felt stupid for even asking.
‘I’d love to work with you again. It hardly even felt like work, did it? But I’m taking some … personal time. I’m pregnant.’
Charlie felt a wave of relief. ‘You’re pregnant? For real?’
‘Fourth round of in vitro was a charm. I’m just past the twelve-week mark. I’m due next February.’
‘Oh my god. Congratulations! I know you’ve been trying for so long, and I didn’t want to ask how it was going … I’m just so happy for you guys!’
Marcy’s entire face lit up. ‘Thanks. We are thrilled! But as you can imagine, Will’s keeping me on a short leash for the next six months. No international travel at all, and no travel anywhere after the seventh month. So as you can see, I’m not cut out for tour work right now.’
Charlie laughed. ‘No, I would say not.’
‘But, Charlie? I would if I could.’
‘You mean that?’ Charlie asked.
‘I do. I’d be back in a heartbeat. Those were some of the best years of my career.’
‘Mine too,’ said Charlie, wiping a stray tear.
‘Hey! No crying on the day of a final. This is all good stuff. How are you feeling about tonight?’
Charlie smiled through her tears. She knew only part of the emotion was connected to Marcy, that so much of it was being overwhelmed with the reality of making it to the finals of the US Open. As an American. And the favorite. She’d be playing under the lights that evening on her home turf, the crowd of twenty-three thousand screaming her name over and over and over again. It was almost too much to understand.
Charlie took a drink of water. ‘I don’t even know where I’m at. Physically, I’m feeling strong and ready. Emotionally, I’m a nervous wreck. I guess I’m also relieved to be playing Karina and not Natalya.’