We sat eating our concretes at the famous local frozen custard stand, as the nightcap for our non-date date. Mine was my favorite, banana/chocolate chip, while Lori had a pistachio.
We guzzled our treats and savored the flavors. Finally Lori spoke, “Thanks for coming tonight. I had a good time. For what it’s worth, I now think that Marni is even a bigger idiot for dumping you.”
I just said, “Thanks, I think.”
Lori went on. “I’d also prefer that you not talk about what I told you earlier. I kind of need to come to grips with the whole idea. I’ve known I’m gay; I just wasn’t ready to admit it to the world. I’m still not ready, but I’m getting there. You asking about it tonight was a good start, so thanks for that too. You’re a good listener.”
“Your secret is safe with me. After all, you know my secret too, so it’s kind a form of mutually assured destruction–I won’t bomb you if you don’t bomb me” I said.
I changed the subject. “Marni told me you were a pretty good tennis player in high school. I’ve wanted to learn to play better. Would you be willing to come out and have a hit with me and give me a couple of tips and the like?”
Lori answered, “I haven’t played in a long time, so I would be pretty rusty, but that sounds like a fun idea. I’m not sure how good of a coach I am, but I can use the exercise. I’ll check my schedule and we can figure out a good day for the both of us.”
The following week we exchanged texts about a suitable time and agreed on 7:30 Thursday night at the local park, which had four lit courts. It was a beautiful April night and just turning dark when we both arrived at the courts. I had a racquet and a can of balls, while Lori arrived with a tennis bag stuffed with racquets. I felt like a duffer compared to her.
“How many racquets do you have?” I asked.
“Five or six, I haven’t counted lately” Lori replied.
“You must have been a pretty serious player back in the day” I added.
“I played a lot when I was young. Enjoyed it until high school, and then kind of got burned out playing. I haven’t played much since college, but it feels good to be back on the courts again. It feels like I belong” Lori said.
I opened the can of balls and walked onto the court. We began to bat the balls back and forth. My swings were awkward and forced, while I could see that Lori’s, though a bit rusty, were natural and smooth. I watched her closely, her movement, footwork, and swings, trying to learn by osmosis, while still struggling to return the balls. Her grace on the court was quickly evident, while mine was nowhere to be found.
After about 15 minutes of hitting she came to my side of the net and showed me the basics; how to grip the racquet, the basic footwork, the swing paths for forehands and two-handed backhands, and positioning for volleys. She gathered the balls and began tossing them to me to practice my swings, focusing on my footwork, tempo, and swing path. After about 15 minutes of tossing me balls, she grabbed her racquet and returned to the other side of the net. We began to hit balls again, only this time my swings were smoother, my footwork much better, and I returned balls much easier. With my newfound confidence, we were able to sustain rallies of 10 to 15 balls before I would hit one into the net or off the court.
“You missed your true calling” I yelled across the net. “You should have been a tennis coach!”
“It would be more fun” Lori answered, “but it doesn’t pay nearly as well as my current gig. Plus, I’m not sure I have the patience to deal with new players.”
We agreed to play a set, and she smoked me 6-0. I won a few points, and she took it easy on me, but every ball I returned would come back, and eventually I would make a mistake, or not be able to track down a ball, and lose the point and eventually the game. Lori was a gracious winner and complimented me on being a good student, and that my playing had improved over the course of the 90 minutes we were playing.
“Thanks for the lesson. I really appreciate it. I now have an idea of what I have to work on the next time I play” I said.
To my surprise, Lori asked, “Would you like to do this on a regular basis? Hitting tonight has brought back my desire to play more often. It would also help me leave some of the office stress behind at least once in a while.”
I said sure, and we agreed to meet weekly at 7:30 on Thursday night at the park courts.
Thursday night tennis became a regular event. The 90 minutes soon became two hours. I slowly got better while Lori knocked off all of her rust. We would generally play three sets and I would lose all three, but I got a good workout and I could tell my shots were improving. Most importantly, I was beginning to love playing and Thursday nights were a big part of my week. Lori seemed to be enjoying it as well, even though I wasn’t really competitive with her. It also motivated me to hit the aerobic machines at the Y with more enthusiasm and effort, because as I found out, playing singles for two hours was tough on the legs and lungs.
About a month later, after we were finished, we were talking after playing. Lori quietly said, “I want you to know I came out to my parents. They weren’t real happy, but my mom suspected that I was gay, and both just want me to be happy. I told Marni, and she said she knew already, because `what else are best friends for’? I came out at work last week, and so far, there are no issues. I guess we are living in different times.”
I thanked her for sharing with me. She then added, “Thanks for your help. Telling you was somehow cathartic; someone else knew my secret and the world didn’t end. I’m thankful you were there to listen when I needed someone to listen.”
She then dropped her tennis bag and stepped towards me and gave me a big hug, which I wasn’t expecting. I just added that I was glad to be of help, and we made arrangements to play the next Thursday.
We played through the summer and fall, missing only a few weeks here and there when we had conflicts, or the courts were too wet to play. We stopped at the end of October, when the weather became too cold to play outside. We agreed once the weather warmed up in the spring we would start our Thursday night sessions again.
I joined an indoor tennis club and started playing doubles once a week to get my tennis fix during the winter. I was hooked.
Come April we were back at it. Lori was impressed how my game had improved since we played last in October. Besides the doubles league, I took some lessons and played in some clinics and was beginning to better understand the nuances of both singles and doubles. I was turning into a tennis junkie, and had made some tennis friends that I could play with on a regular basis. I hit a milestone in mid-April when I finally beat Lori in a set, and while the competitive side of her was mad at losing, she was gracious in her praise of my play–and vowed not to let losing happen again.
We were playing the first Thursday in May, and while I had lost, I had been competitive. Usually when we finished we would confirm arrangements for the next Thursday, and then depart. This time, Lori surprised me when she asked if I wanted to go get a beer. I said sure. She then told me the bar’s name, “The Grove,” and added, “It’s kind of a lesbian bar, if that’s going to bother you, but they have a good selection of beers on draft and the food is pretty good if you want something to eat.” I said that wasn’t a problem, so I loaded the address in my phone and headed off, a bit curious as to why this invite came out of the blue.
Lori arrived first at The Grove, but she was waiting for me at the entrance so that we could walk in together. Fortunately, I had an extra t-shirt in my car to change into so I wasn’t too sweaty, but I figured it wasn’t likely to be a “target-rich environment,” so I didn’t have much to lose.
We walked to a table of about eight women in the middle of the bar, and most of them said hello to Lori as we approached. She introduced me to the group, and rattled off their names (which I promptly forgot), and one of them said, “You’re the tennis guy.” I looked confused, so she repeated, “You’re the tennis guy that Lori keeps talking about playing. It’s good to meet you in the flesh.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but that eventually became my name, “Tennis Guy.”
The group pulled another table and several chairs and offered me a seat and a menu. I ordered a beer and a cheeseburger, and began talking to a couple of the women seated next to me.
Then another woman walked up to Lori, and they kissed. Lori turned to me and said “Dave, this is my girlfriend Alexa. Alexa, this is Dave, my tennis friend.” We shook hands and exchanged “Nice to meet you’s,” and Alexa sat down next to me. I assumed I knew why Lori had asked me to come; she wanted me to meet Alexa.
Alexa, asked me, “You used to date Lori’s roommate, Marni, right? Isn’t that a bit weird to be seeing Lori on a regular basis?”
“No,” I answered. “We never talk about her. I don’t ask and Lori doesn’t offer. Usually when we are together we spend most of the time playing tennis and not talking a lot. It’s been almost three years now; I’ve moved on” (ok, I was kind of lying to myself).
We spent the next half hour talking. I found out how they met (match.com), that Alexa owned a salon that offered haircuts and other services, like waxing, manicures/pedicures, beauty consultations, and the like. She had been the owner for five years, and was fairly successful. She had a degree in business and an interest in fashion and she was able to combine the two skills into a successful business. She was shorter than Lori, with black spiky hair and exquisite makeup (yes, I noticed), and a fun, spunky personality. I could see why Lori liked her.
At the end of the conversation, Alexa said “Lori says you’re the reason she came out.”
I tried to disagree, just saying I was just in the right place and the right time, but Alexa was firm, “No, it was more than that. She said you helped her clear her mind, and I know she appreciates that.”
“Well, that’s nice to hear, so thank you. I’m sure it was hard for her, but she seems to have become more comfortable with her decision” I said. “She certainly seems happier now, more relaxed. I imagine you are part of that too.”
Then Alexa added, “Lori’s right. Marni is an idiot for dumping you for Richard.”
I just laughed and said I will just have to come back more often.