The Family’s Other Favorite Sport — Bring It: Chapter 31
Despite Pam’s apologies for bowing out, she did as she said, sitting at the table on the patio watching as Catherine and I warmed up. Once we were ready, Pam watched her big sister put on a tennis clinic for me, zinging balls past me. Desperately, I needed to get into a tennis frame of mind. Otherwise, this would be an embarrassing ordeal. With few doubts, she could and would beat me what I wanted was to show was at least basic competency.
“And you say Pam is better?”
Catherine laughed. “Lots better, actually.”
When finally, I was able to return a ball she served, I said, “It’s a huge mental adjustment from wrestling.”
It was my turn to warm up with service. I fired some balls past Catherine as well, but my accuracy was not quite there to consistently push balls to get past her — something I needed to address. After a half-hour of getting ready, we decided to play but still were not really keeping track of matches.
Regardless of the friendly atmosphere, Catherine was tenacious, displaying catlike reflexes. My unorthodox style bothered her, though, especially my ability to play with the racket in either hand. Although I’d been told it was inadvisable to switch hands during a play, I improvised to reach a couple of balls.
“That’s not right!” Pam complained from the patio. “It’s not fair.”
“You’re just jealous that he’s ambidextrous,” Catherine called back to her.
“Don’t take his side,” Pam fired back. “Just because you are, too.”
“Yeah, but he’s the first I’ve ever seen to play from both sides while the ball is in play. I wish I could do that as smoothly.”
“It’s because I don’t know any better,” I said. “And you keep placing the ball where I can’t reach it otherwise.”
“Hey, if you can do it, why complain?” David said.
“My coach last year told me not to, or leap for the ball, or dive for it.”
“Did you return the ball?”
“Yeah, but he said I was out of place for the next volley and risked injury in the process.”
“He has a point,” Stephen said. “A wrestling mat is a lot more forgiving when you fall on it than a tennis court.”
“Wait, listen to what his coach said. It’s ridiculous,” David said. “Returning the ball was wrong because you were out of place for the next volley? If you don’t return the ball, there’ll be no next volley. Plus, if you return it the right way, your opponent won’t have a play on it.”
“I explained that to him,” I said. “It just made him angry that I was arguing with him.”
“Yeah, when someone is being stupid it all makes them angry when you point that out to them,” Catherine said.
“There’s no reasoning with some people,” David said.
“His point was that I needed to learn to play tennis the proper way.”
“More likely his way,” Catherine said.
“Even if you’re getting your butt kicked?” Stephen shook his head.
“If you want to play competitively, there’s a point at which you must do whatever is necessary to win,” David said. “That’s true with tennis or anything else.”
“Eventually, he cut me from the team.”
“Well, it seems to me that you know a proper way,” Catherine stated her opinion. “Your way, which is any way that wins.”
She was clearly ahead of me in talent and experience as well as unrecorded match points. I was concerned about playing against Pam whenever she was feeling better. But for the present, I was well beyond ready to take a break.
As we approached the patio where the twins were sitting with Pam, David tossed a cold can of pop in my direction. Despite the chill of the afternoon, I had worked up a sweat. I rolled the sides of the can over my brow, allowing it to soothe me as I sat.
“Actually, I’d prefer water,” I said as I sat beside Pam.
“Me too,” Pam said.
“Are you turning my baby sister into the alien we always suspected she was?” Catherine asked.
“Well, I want her to be compatible with me, of course.”
Pam slapped my arm; Catherine laughed.
“What normal teenager doesn’t drink far too much pop?”
“The ones who drink far too much beer,” Stephen suggested.
Catherine was still chuckling as she walked around the table to the cooler, opened it, and took out two empty plastic cups. Then, after setting them on the table, she poured cold water from one of the jugs.
“I like pop, just I love water, especially when I’m thirsty,” I clarified.
“I love water, too,” Catherine said. “Nothing wrong with that. I’m sure someone, someday, will determine pop is bad for you.”
“If they haven’t already,” Stephen said. “But they can’t put the pop companies out of business. It’s…what’s that word for everywhere?”
“Ubiquitous?” I suggested.
“That’s the one.”
David laughed. “That will be the end of the world as we know it, when everyone stops drinking pop and starts drinking water.”
“Yeah, that would be a sad, depressing world,” his brother agreed.
“So, Brent. Let me ask you this. If your coach hated you so much last year, how’d you make the team this year? Aren’t you like three weeks late for the season?”
“Just for the introductory tournaments,” Pam said on my behalf. “He’s missed two because of the wrestling tournaments.”
“Still, you’re a senior…”
“My wrestling coach talked to him, and he gave me a personal tryout.”
“Obviously, you impressed him.”
“I improved a lot in a year, not that my performance against Catherine indicated that.”
“Your service is good,” Catherine said. “It needs a little tweaking and a lot of practice, but you have a powerful serve.”
“I think what impressed the coach was my ability to return service on him. Making the team was a gift, though. But I love tennis, so what do I care? I get to play! Not like I’m going to be the state champion or anything.”
“What if I told you back in November you’d be the state wrestling champion?” Stephen asked.
“No, no, no! Don’t start with that line of thinking.”
“Why not?” he pursued it.
“Because I like playing tennis.”
“Are you telling me you don’t like wrestling?”
“I’m ready to do other things. I don’t know, maybe by the time fall comes around, I’ll be interested in wrestling again. But right now, I’m not considering it.”
“Fair enough,” David said.
“Playing tennis today was supposed to help me make the mental shifting of gears between sports.”
“Pam knows how to play well,” Catherine said. “We all do. Aunt Claire saw to our lessons. But Pam’s always been a little better.”
“Was Claire good?”
“Yes, she was tenacious, at least from what I’ve heard. She has a bunch of trophies in the storage room in the basement.
“If she could figure out how to do it, she’d still play.”
“I was too young to ever play against her,” Caroline said. “I barely remember her not being in a wheelchair.”
“She knew some people, who knew some people. That’s how it always is with her about everything. Anyway, we ended up with professional lessons. I wish I’d not been so headstrong. Maybe I could have been as good as Pam, if not better.”
“We were on the team in high school,” David said.
“We had winning records,” Stephen added. “We were too driven to be wrestlers, though.”
“Dad saw to that.”
“Only thing I can beat my brother at is tennis, though.”
“But only sometimes,” David insisted.
“Yeah, not every time. He’s almost as good as me.”
“You’re almost as good as me, you mean.”
I laughed. “So, I think you have the makings of two doubles teams here,” I suggested.
“We used to do that,” Catherine said. “I think Aunt Claire made us do it, so we didn’t argue over who got court time.”
“Maybe we can play,” I suggested. “I mean — you and me against your brothers.”
“I’m game. We have our gear upstairs in our rooms,” David said.
“I’ll be the judge,” Pam said.
“No favoritism for the boyfriend,” Stephen said.
“We can change partners after a set or two. That will make it fairer,” Catherine said.
“Next time we’re all together, we’ll have to do mixed doubles. Pam and me against Catherine and her pick of the twins.”
“She always picks David ’cause he’s her favorite,” Stephen said.
“That’s news to me.” David laughed.
Their sibling rivalry amused me. I learned from last night’s stories that Pam was spoiled rotten, and the others referred to her as the princess. She resented the name, of course, but did not dispute that she was spoiled. Heck, in my family so was I.
Although there was quarreling between my sisters and me, we were more separated in our ages. By the time I was ten Joy was married, had a kid already, and Jean was in high school. In contrast, there were only a little over three and a half years between Catherine and Pam. Like Pam, Catherine started first grade when she was five years old. Unlike Pam, she graduated from high school in three years. Soon to be a junior in college she had just turned twenty back in January. Although I knew before, it was never in the forefront of my thinking. Pam acted more mature, so perhaps that’s what it was. But she was still sixteen, for about another three weeks.
Catherine and I continued to play against one another for an hour. Then, while we took a break, her brothers took the court to warm up.
Although I understood the differences between playing singles and doubles, basically the wider sidelines, I had never played with a partner. Catherine had but it had been one of her brothers and it had been a long time ago. She said it was almost like she had never played doubles.
The first set we played was a comedy of confusion and lack of coordination on both sides of the net. Once we settled on zones of responsibility, Catherine and I began to win points. Our confidence in one another and level of teamwork increased. After an hour, we were formidable.
As the afternoon concluded, everyone was exhausted. Pam said she was feeling better and was eager to go out to dinner with the family. We all went inside and showered and got dressed for the evening’s dinner adventure. Catherine and I were the first to meet in the upstairs hallway. Each of us slid down the fireman’s pole to wait for the others in the kitchen.
“What time was Kevin supposed to arrive?” I asked.
“That gives us a little time to get to the house, then.”
Pam also slid down the pole to join us. “Claire said she’s ready,” Shortly thereafter, David and Stephen followed, one after another.
“I thought it was just me who wanted to use the pole.”
“It’s the fastest way to the kitchen in this house.”
“At least that’s always been our excuse,” Stephen added.
“So, where are we going to eat?”
“We took a vote while we were driving home last night,” Pam explained. “It was a toss-up between Italian and Chinese because Claire refused to vote.”
“Which do you like?”
“I’ve never had Chinese food, I mean — other than Chow Mein.”
“There is that amazing Chinese restaurant in Troy,” Catherine said.
“They even let you use chopsticks,” Claire said as she wheeled into the kitchen. “I’m pretty good with them.”
“You can teach me then,” I said.
“Chinese it is.” Catherine beamed.
“It’ll be fun,” Claire said.
* * *
When we pulled into the Roberts driveway, Kevin’s car was already there. We probably could have all fit in the van, but I didn’t know whether Kevin would want to take his car or have Catherine drive. Just so it wouldn’t be too unusual, I suggested Kevin and Catherine go in his car, while Pam and I drove in mine. Then that was shot down when Catherine insisted on driving the family car so all four of us could go together.
Theodore took over driving the van with Claire’s chair locked into place. Theresa rode shotgun with the boys in the back. That way, everyone had plenty of room.
“Do you play tennis?” Catherine asked Kevin.
“No,” he shook his head. “I’m willing to learn, though.”
“We were over at Aunt Claire’s, playing mixed doubles,” she explained.
“Claire has a tennis court and swimming pool in her backyard,” I added.
“You’ll have to teach me, bro,” Kevin looked back at me.
“He’s pretty good,” Catherine said.
“We had a lot of fun,” I said.
“I was acting as the judge. Claire was watching from the balcony,” Pam said.
“She used to do that and serve as a judge for our matches when we were little,” Catherine elaborated.
“You and Catherine seemed to be playing well together, especially toward the end,” Pam said.
“After we quit fighting over the ball.”
“That’s the trick to doubles. The more you play with your partner, the easier it becomes. You appear to have good reach and anticipate the ball well. It seems like you have been playing for a while,” Catherine said.
“Not really. Jean taught me while she was taking it as a physical education requirement at college. I liked it so I played against other people…”
“Mostly Renée Bucher,” Pam said. “He used to go out with her.”
“Really?” Catherine said.
Pam leaned closer to me and rested her head on my shoulder. I kissed the top of her head. She felt warm, warmer than usual. But I didn’t say anything.
“I wish you were going to Ohio State in the fall. We could have some fun on weekends,” Catherine said. “Then all we’d have to do is talk Pam into coming.”
“All our plans were made long before,” I said.
“I’ll be there in the fall,” Kevin said. “I have a cousin who lives near campus. I’m stayin’ there.”
“I think the university requires all freshmen to stay on campus,” Catherine said.
“I checked on it. They will consider me a local resident because I’m with a close relative.”
“That would be good,” Catherine said. “I couldn’t wait to get out of the dorms.”
“For me nothing would be better than for Pam and me to be together,” I said.