Courting CarlynBy: Melissa Chambers
For Tom, my longtime tennis partner and treasured friend.
I can’t believe this is happening. Years of conditioning and hitting a million forehands and backhands and a jillion serves, all in preparation for this single, precious moment, and I’m about to psych myself out of the whole thing…
All because of him.
What is Vaughn Yarborough doing here? He sits on row two, watching these tryouts like they’re nothing to him, like I’m going to breeze through them laser-focused and not screw everything up now that my arms have turned to jelly. He catches my gaze and lifts his chin just barely in acknowledgment. I attempt a smile, but I can’t look him in the eye. I wish he wouldn’t stare at me. In all fairness, he’s been following the play on the court, but still.
All the coaches of us girls showing off for this Avery University scout line the fence, watching their players with intense scowls or encouraging nods. My dad stands at the end of the line, concern etched across his features, wanting this for me as much as I want it for myself. He tries so hard. How could I ever let him know he does more damage to my game than good?
It’s not like we have a choice. We can’t afford a real coach, and he’s trying. But he doesn’t know what he’s doing any more than I do. He gives me this serious nod with a discreet thumbs-up. He has all the hope and faith in me that I don’t have in myself. My guilt-ridden heart sinks as I plaster on a smile and give him a thumbs-up in return, which makes him grin like everything’s falling right into place…directly off a cliff.
On row two, Vaughn scoots over to make room for his famed coach, Jeffrey Lyons, as if this day couldn’t get worse. That’s just what I need to calm the nerves, a man who’s competed in all four grand slams watching me go for my last chance to make the team of my dream school.
“Carlyn,” the Avery assistant coach barks.
I jerk into reality and move my butt to the baseline to accept some forehands. My first shot lands in the alley, the second bounces out behind the baseline, and the third smacks into the net and suspends itself in midair for what seems like seven thousand years, and then drops unceremoniously back on my side of the court, rolling off to the ball boy who snatches it up and pockets it.
“Next,” the coach shouts.
Rebecca meets me by my tennis bag on the hill with all the others. “Oh, Carlyn. I’m so sorry.”
I unzip my bag and fish for my racquet cover. “It’s fine.” I’m trying hard to sound upbeat, but my words are a huge lie.
She puts her hand on my back and leans in close. “What happened?”
My traitorous eyes glance at row two without my permission, meeting his gaze for the briefest second before I look away. Vaughn shouldn’t make me this nervous. He’s just a guy my own age, like any other guy at this club…just with an enormous amount of international success and notoriety. I wince as I think about the mixed doubles tournament from last summer. There was another lost opportunity. A chance to play on a team with one of the best junior players in the world, and I lost the match for us. Way to get noticed, Carlyn.
I zip up my racquet with a little more gusto than necessary. “It’s okay. I don’t have to play for Avery. Just going there is enough.”
She smiles, her lips tight. She knows how much making this team meant to me, and now it’s over.
Dad steps in front of me, his face ghost white. He runs his fingers through his hair. “Well, maybe there’s still a chance. That one serve you hit just about caught the line. I—”
“Dad,” I interrupt. “It’s over. It’s fine. I’m fine.” His frown is so deep I think he’s etching new lines into his forehead. “Rebecca and I are going to Sonic to get a soda, okay?” I ask, needing desperately to be away from him right now, because if we’re together this afternoon, we’ll just talk about what was at stake and what’s been lost, and I’ll start crying, then he’ll try to stay strong for me but tears will form in his eyes, and I cannot deal with my dad’s tears, not today.
“Okay,” he says. “But come home for dinner by six. I’ve got a roast in the slow cooker.”
He nods at Rebecca, squeezes my shoulder, and then starts toward the parking lot but is stopped by another dad who extends a hand, and they settle into a conversation. Rebecca and I head off toward the main building for the locker room, but when we round the corner by the concession building, my heart jumps up into my throat as we’re met with Vaughn and Jeffrey Lyons, who plant themselves right in front of us. I glance around the corner to find my dad still standing there with that other dad, his back to us, thank God.