That became my Thursday night ritual for the summer. Lori and I would play for a couple of hours and I would meet her at The Grove for a couple of beers and a burger or other food. I eventually learned the names of most of their regular gang and they made me feel welcome. Lori and Alexa referred to me as Dave but to the rest I was “Tennis Guy” or just “Guy.” Several of them joked I was the only “Guy” they liked.
Several of the groups were nurses at the local hospital. They would work second shift so they would arrive around the same time Lori and I would from our tennis match. About six weeks after I started going to The Grove, several of the nurses, once they found out I was an accountant and worked in the investment area of my company, started asking me about their 401(k) investment options. That night I went over a few of the basics, but I offered to meet them at the hospital on my lunch break (and before they started their shifts) to go over their choices in more detail.
I arrived at the hospital cafeteria at the arranged time (and as they had promised, the food was better than I would have expected), and instead of meeting with two of the group, Cindy and Joanna, there were two more who I hadn’t met before, Samantha and Darcy, who was Alexa’s younger sister, and also a nurse at the same hospital. I pulled out my laptop (never leave home without it!) and went through their investment options with them. I tried to keep it simple and made suggestions about deferral percentages, investment choices, and other matters.
They managed not to fall asleep and said what I told them was very helpful. I gave them my cell number and email address and told them to feel free to ask any questions if they had them–and then I joked this was the first time I had given my cell number out to women in a long time. They thanked me, but I told them that what I did was easy; what they did–caring for those who needed help–was a lot more difficult, and something I could never do.
The Thursday following the meeting I did the normal tennis and Grove thing and when I got ready to pay my bill to leave the waitress said “It’s taken care of.” Cindy and Joanna had arranged to pay for my bill as their thank you to me for the free consulting; I also got a couple of unexpected hugs in addition to free booze and food. So in addition to being the “tennis guy” I was the “CPA guy.”
About a month later after our Thursday night match Lori asked me to walk over to where her car was parked. When we arrived at her car she opened the trunk and pointed to a black plastic trash bag.
“Alexa has been on me to update my wardrobe. It seems I now have a personal shopper” laughed Lori. “Alexa made me clear out some of my older clothes to make room for the new Alexa-approved additions. I was going to donate them to Goodwill, but then I realized we were probably about the same size, so maybe you would like them? I know you said you haven’t been dressing lately, so if you don’t want them, that’s fine, and I’ll just donate them.
“But if you are interested, I’d like you to have them.”
That was a surprise. A big surprise. A “what do I want to do?” surprise.
“This is unexpected” I blurted out. I wasn’t sure if I wanted them or not.
Lori was silent while I made my decision. “I’m not sure I want to open Pandora’s Box” I said, more to myself, than to her. The angel and devil on my shoulders were arguing, and I wasn’t sure which one was which.
Finally my body made the decision. Without a word, I reached into the trunk, grabbed and lifted the bag, and slammed the trunk shut, and started walking to my car.
Lori just laughed, and then added to my anguish as I walked towards my car. “I’ve got another bag for you if you want it. See you at the Grove.”
I left the bag in the trunk of my car.
Sunday morning I went for my weekly long run, listening to the radio over the internet, mulling in my mind what I wanted to do.
Near the end of my run, I knew my decision. Or more accurately, I ran out of reasons why I shouldn’t have a look at what Lori gave me.
After my shower and breakfast, I went to my car and pulled the bag out of my trunk and carried it into my living room, curious as to what treasures waited inside, and whether they would fit me or not.
I sat on my sofa and pulled out items one by one. A top, then a skirt, some panties, a couple of bras, a sweater dress, and so forth. All good quality, in good shape and good taste. I recognized many of the brand names.
Everything was in a pile on the Ottoman; the next test was whether they fit or not. I stripped, and tried a pair of Victoria Secret panties and a matching VS 38C bra. Lori was right; we were roughly the same size–and they fit me. I walked into my bedroom to see myself in the mirror–and to grab a pair of socks to stuff my bra. The view in the mirror pleased me.
I walked back into the living room, grabbed the pile from the Ottoman in both arms, and carried the load into my bedroom and dumped it on the bed. I sorted them into piles; panties, bras, tops, bottoms (skirts, jeans, slacks), and dresses. I started with the tops, and tried pairing the top with an appropriate bottom, followed by an assessment in the mirror. Several of the tops were too small, or didn’t suit me, and a pair of the jeans and one of the skirts were much too small to fit.
It was ninety minutes of being a kid on Christmas morning. I dug out my one pair of heels to help complete the look. I especially liked the combination of a black and white patterned top with a black wrap-around skirt, and a silver sweater dress that would likely need a pair of leggings.
After I tried on all my hand-me-downs, I put the rejects in a bag for a future donation, and stored the remaining items in a drawer in my closet–except for the Minnie Mouse t-shirt and a pair of mom skinny jeans, which I put on and returned to my living room to watch the ballgame on TV.
I grabbed my phone, took a selfie showing the Minnie Mouse t-shirt, and typed out a text to Lori.
[Thanks for the clothes. Took me a while to know what I wanted to do. It was a very nice gesture by you. Very happy to have your hand-me-downs.
You were right. Most of your things fit. I will donate the ones that didn’t fit or didn’t work.
Thanks again. See you Thursday].
I attached the selfie and hit send and then typed and sent an afterthought.
[Will gladly take your other bag].
A few minutes later my phone pinged. The answering text was two smiley faces.
It was a Thursday night in late August and Lori and I were talking and having a drink at The Grove following our match. I had won a set (lost the other two) so I was feeling pretty good, even without the aid of the alcohol. Lori asked me if I was available the last Saturday in September. I checked my calendar, found no conflicts, and said “Sure. What did you have in mind?” but Lori told me she’d just let me know later.
The following Thursday night at The Grove Lori let the cat out of the bag. “My former high school is having a mixed doubles tournament on Saturday, September 24th. It’s a fundraiser for their tennis team. I’ve entered us in the tournament.”
“Don’t you think you should have asked me first?” I objected.
“I did” said Lori.
“No, you just asked whether I was available, not whether I wanted to play!” raising my voice just a tad.
“Oh well, too bad, so sad. We’re entered,” and to emphasize Lori reached out and poked me in the chest, laughing. “And I’ve arranged for a couple of my friends to come out the next two Thursday nights so we can practice playing doubles together. You got a problem with that too???”
I folded like a cheap tent.
The next two Thursdays were a master’s class in doubles. Lori showed me the finer points of doubles strategies; where to stand, how to move to follow the play, what shots to use and which shots to avoid. It was clear she was all-in for this tournament.
The first week I was thinking instead of reacting, always a step slow, and playing stiffly. The second Thursday I began to get the feel, and Lori and I began to play as a real team. Her friends were solid players and long-time doubles partners, and they challenged us but made it a lot of fun to play. We played longer than usual until we had to stop when the timers turned off the court lights. I felt ready to play on Saturday, and belatedly and reluctantly apologized to Lori for berating her about signing us up for the tournament.
With sixteen teams entered in the tournament, we were guaranteed at least two matches, with a maximum of four matches, depending on how many matches we won.
As our first match was at 9:00 AM, we arrived at the high school courts at 8:30 to warm-up before we started. The weather was perfect for tennis; sunny, a slight breeze, temperatures in the 70’s. I felt a bit nervous, having never played in a competitive tournament before. I became a bit more nervous when I found out we were the second seed, because of Lori’s reputation as a high school player. To her credit, Lori told me to relax and have fun, but there was no doubt she was ready to win some matches.
Our first match was against a husband and wife team, parents of one of the high school team members. Lori and I started slowly, and I made a few errors to begin, but we were younger and better (well, Lori was better) and we won 6-2, 6-2. I breathed a big sigh of relief when we won the final point.
The next match started at 11:30, against another team that won its first match. During warm-ups, I knew our opponents were better than the first team we played. Once again, Lori told me to just go out and play, and that helped me relax a bit. They were better opponents, but at some point I realized being challenged by better players was fun, even though points were harder to win. The match was tighter, but we won the key points and the match, 6-3, 6-3, advancing to the semi-finals.
Lori, because of her history of playing in tons of youth tournaments, was a lot more comfortable with the rhythm of play, sit, play. We drove to a nearby deli for lunch and Lori talked a bit of strategy, but also said I was playing pretty well. She then added, “Thanks for playing. This brings back memories. When I was young I was so focused on winning I never considered it to be fun. But this IS fun.” Then she smiled and added, “But I still want to win!”
Our semi-final was in the early afternoon and was tight throughout, but we managed to finish strong and win 7-5, 7-5. We were happy and in the finals, to be played under the lights at 7 PM. I went home and tried to rest and relax. I also called my parents to let them know I was playing in the finals. They were happy for me and said they would see me at the courts.
Match time finally arrived and my nerves were going crazy. We were playing on the main court and there were fifty to sixty spectators watching from the bleachers. Lori just told me to smile and breathe and enjoy, but the advice wasn’t working.
The first set was like I had never played before. I hit balls everywhere, into the net, long, wide. Our opponents saw that I was struggling and aimed most of their returns at me. Before long, we lost the first set 1-6.
During the changeover break after the first set I apologized to Lori for playing so badly. She just answered: “There are two rules of tennis. One, never give up. Two, never assume anything.” Then she looked me in the eye and said “Just go play.”
And I did.
I’m not sure what happened. All of a sudden everything slowed down and the tennis ball looked like a beach ball. I was in the proverbial “zone.” I couldn’t miss. Our opponents kept returning the ball to me, but I made shot after shot. Between points I paced like a caged tiger, ready for the next point. It was unreal.
The next thing I knew Lori and I were high-fiving and the match was over. We shook hands with our opponents at the net and they congratulated us on the win. I am sure they were wondering what happened–because I was wondering what happened.
Lori smiled at me and asked “What have you done with my partner?” I could only laugh. I realized we hadn’t said a word during the second set and match tie-breaker changeovers, and I told that to Lori. She said, “I didn’t want to wake you from your trance.”
We gathered our rackets, bags, and assorted gear and walked off the courts. Alexa congratulated Lori and me and gave me a high-five and Lori a kiss. My parents walked up and mom gave me a hug, and dad shook my hand, and told me how well I played. I introduced them to Lori and Alexa, and then the tournament director–Lori’s former high school coach–awarded us our trophies in a brief ceremony. It wasn’t quite the royal family at Wimbledon, but it was fun nonetheless.
I was talking with my parents, still floating in the aftermath, when I heard a voice behind me say, “Congratulations.”
A voice I knew well.
A voice I hadn’t heard for three years.
I turned to her voice and saw her standing with a taller guy, who looked like a model for GQ. Marni spoke and said, “This is Richard” and we shook hands, and he said “nice match.” I thanked him and said it was a lot of fun. Marni then said, “Lori told me the two of you were playing in the final, and we came to watch. You and Lori played well together.”
I agreed we did, and then added “I had a good coach.”
Marni then said, “Good to see you” and turned with Richard to say goodbye to Lori. I resumed talking with my parents. They said they were surprised to see Marni, and I answered, “So was I.” I assumed Lori figured I would be nervous enough about playing, without the complications of knowing my ex was watching, so she didn’t tell me Marni was coming. My parents and I made arrangements to meet at a local restaurant for a late dinner.
I walked over to Lori for a last hurrah before I left for dinner. Alexa had us grab our respective trophies for a victory photo, so we posed, with big goofy smiles on our faces, while she took multiple shots with her phone. Lori then said “Bring it in” and we had a big hug, and then she smiled and said, “Aren’t you glad I asked you to play?”
She then added they were headed to The Grove. I told her I would stop by after dinner with my parents.