by: T.E. Cowell ((Header art by Lynn Hershman Leeson.))
The emptiness that lingers when fortune enters and then exits your life in the blink of an eye…
Last spring my brother and I started playing tennis. There was this small public park a five-minute walk from our apartment that had two fenced-in tennis courts, and we knew we needed to change our destructive ways if we ever wanted to rejoin the dating pool. Our exes had broken up with us almost two weeks apart, coincidentally, and in consequence, my brother and I had fallen into a routine that consisted of primarily consuming junk food, playing Call of Duty for hours on end, and smoking more weed than we knew was good for us.
It was early in May, about a month after we’d started playing tennis, when we showed up to the park to find one of the courts in use. This was a first. Before that day, we hadn’t seen a single person playing tennis at the park. This time however, two girls, a tall blonde and a curvy brunette, both pretty as pictures, were playing on the far court. A car was in the parking lot in front of the courts, a white VW Jetta, unmistakably theirs.
The girls were both wearing short skirts, white shoes and socks, and tank tops. Their skirts fluttered up and down in accord with their able, bouncy steps. My brother gave me a look as we were walking over. “I’ll take the blonde,” he said, like we actually had a shot with them.
We walked onto the vacant tennis court as casually as we could and took our sides. The girls were in the middle of a rally. I was on the same side of the court as the blonde girl. With my brother in position on his side, he reached a hand into the pocket of his shorts and took out the tennis ball he’d brought with him. He threw the ball up and served it over to me, and I made an okay return. We had a nice little rally on our hands until my brother ended it by surprising me with a slam, an impossible shot for me to return. The ball shot past me and dribbled against the fence, halfway between our court and the girls’. I gave my brother a sour look and shook my head. In the month that we’d been playing tennis he’d never played so aggressively during our warm-up. A warm-up’s called a warm-up for a reason; it was obvious that my brother was trying to show off.
I jogged over to retrieve the ball. Meanwhile, the girls kept on playing, paying us no attention. They were better than we were at tennis. Their rallies were controlled, and they had great posture.
I picked up the ball, and while jogging back onto our court, watched the blonde girl hit a nice corner shot that her brunette friend reached for but couldn’t quite get to in time. The brunette laughed good-naturedly as the ball bounced into the fence behind her. It was a beautiful laugh, a laugh that told me she didn’t take the game of tennis too seriously, that she was content simply to be out in the spring sunshine getting some good old-fashioned exercise.
When I was back in position, I served the ball to my brother, and we rallied again, and this time he refrained from returning to me a slam. It was a few minutes later that the blonde girl, while in the middle of another lengthy rally, surprised my brother and me by hitting their ball onto our court, presumably on purpose. The ball missed my brother’s shoulder by a foot or so.
“Sorry!” the blonde shouted. Both girls laughed as my brother aborted our rally prematurely to retrieve their ball.
I looked at the girls and started laughing too, trying to appear casual. After making eye contact with the brunette, I shrugged. “Accidents happen,” I said. As I’d hoped, this made the girls laugh some more.
My brother tossed the ball back to the blonde. “Thanks,” she said, in a drawled-out voice that made it clear to me that she was used to getting what she wanted.
“No problem,” my brother said. He said it in this super-low voice that he hardly ever used.
My brother and I went back to finishing up our warm-up. But then my brother did what I was thinking of doing. He hit our ball onto the girls’ court, just like the blonde had done. The ball just missed hitting her head.
“Fuck!” my brother said. “Sorry!”
Both girls laughed again, though they kept right on playing, not allowing the interruption to end their rally. I looked at my brother, but made no move to go after the ball. I wasn’t about to play fetch for him any longer. We probably should’ve been bringing more than one ball with us when we played tennis, but for some reason we didn’t. I think we thought we’d get more exercise with just one.
Before my brother could start after our ball, the brunette lobbed their ball at us, but at me this time. Like a dog, I chased happily after it for her. Meanwhile, the blonde went to retrieve the ball my brother had nearly taken her head off with. I tossed the ball back to the brunette, and the blonde tossed our ball back to my brother. But just as soon as this happened, the brunette hit her ball right back at me, and then my brother hit our ball back at the blonde.
Then we were all laughing. We just kept hitting our balls back at each other, not hard hits really, more playful than anything. Soon we were laughing too hard to do anything but laugh. I can’t say why we were all laughing – the situation wasn’t particularly funny, what we were doing – only that we were laughing.
The silence, when it came after our laughter subsided, seemed strange somehow. I heard a few birds chirping in the surrounding trees, then the revving of a motorcycle on the road outside the park grounds.
“You guys are fun,” the brunette said.
“Yeah!” piped the blonde. “You guys go to Western?”
“Yup,” I said. Western was the four-year college in town.
“Cool,” the brunette said. She looked at her blonde friend, who laughed, glanced down at her feet and kicked the side of her racket with the toe of her shoe.
“You guys drink?” the blonde asked.
“Of course,” my brother said, calmly, as if smoking-hot girls were always asking him this question.
“Cool,” the brunette said. “You guys up for grabbing a little something-something with us and hanging out for a spell?”
Was she kidding? Really? I had to pinch my arm to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I wasn’t, then thought: holy shit. “Yeah,” I said. “Sounds good.”
“Cool,” the blonde said. “You guys roommates?”
“Yeah,” my brother said.
“Right on,” said the brunette. “So are we.”
Rackets in hand, the four of us walked off the courts together. The girls asked us our names before we joined them in their white VW Jetta, and then we shook their warm-but-by-no-means-sweaty hands. Their names were Katy and Melanie. Katy was the brunette, Melanie the blonde. They both belonged to that breed of girls who made guys stop, stare, and salivate in public. Their type caused car wrecks, made married guys leave their wives, and put stalkers in jail. And now my brother and I were being invited to hang out with such fine examples of beauty. It seemed too good to be true.
First we stopped at a liquor store. Melanie drove, and did she ever. I guess she figured she could act her way out of a speeding ticket either by crying or flirting or both. At the liquor store parking lot, since neither of us had thought to bring anything with us from our apartment to the tennis courts except rackets and a ball, my brother informed the girls that we didn’t have any money, but they didn’t seem to mind in the slightest.
“No worries,” Katy said. “We’ll be back in a jiffy, okay? Hold tight now.”
My brother and I watched with our mouths partly agape as the girls walked into the liquor store. I couldn’t decide which of them was hotter.
“I’ll take the blonde,” my brother repeated.
“Fine by me,” I said.
“Can you fucking believe this? These girls are insane!” My brother grabbed hold of the back of the driver’s seat and then started shaking it excitedly.
“How the hell did this happen?” I said. “I mean, it’s not like we’re ugly or anything, but these girls are just so…”
“The power of positive thinking,” my brother said. “Karma. The world works in mysterious ways.”
“Karma?” I said. “Positive thinking? You expect me to believe that shit?”
“Who gives a shit?” my brother said. “Because of our exes, then. We were super into them, right? And then they up and left us. I don’t know about you, but last winter was the shittiest winter of my life, hands down.”
I had to agree.
“Everything balances out,” my brother said. “It’s always darkest before the dawn. All that shit.” He gave the back of the driver’s seat another shake.
Through the liquor store windows, we watched Katy and Melanie walking around the store. “Fucking-A,” I said.
They bought two .75-liter bottles, one of vodka and the other of whiskey. Enough to efficiently do us all over, no problem. With the goods purchased, and the girls back in the car, Melanie quickly made for their apartment. Within minutes we were up the hill near campus.
Their apartment was in one of the more affordable complexes, the type for starving students and drug dealers, or for starving-student-drug-dealers. My brother and I followed the girls’ example and took our shoes off in what passed as a hallway. The apartment was small, and, though not exactly messy, it wasn’t exactly clean, either. It seemed like a normal college apartment.
We had our first round of drinks in the kitchen, the second in the living room, and, after our glasses were refilled once again my brother and I were led to the girls’ individual rooms. Katy’s room was tiny but comfortable. There was a bed, a dresser, a small table, and some posters of bands on the wall – mostly all indie bands that I’d heard of and more or less liked myself. I took our similar taste in music as a good sign. I reasoned that if this gorgeous girl liked bands that I liked then there was a chance, however small, that we might have some sort of future together.
Since there was no place to sit – the lone chair in the room had clothes piled on it – I sat on the edge of Katy’s bed. Katy was busy over at her dresser, putting on some music. After the music started playing, she turned around.
“Cheers,” she said, and then promptly sat down on my lap. Her weight felt marvelous. Underneath her, I felt myself stiffen in record speed. We clinked glasses and sipped our drinks. We listened to the music for a little while, which I knew and commented on, so that she’d know about this commonality we shared.
When we finished our drinks, Katy said, “I could use a shower. Want to take one with me?”
I told her I’d love to. Katy lept off my lap and took my hand in hers, leading me out of her room and down the hallway. The bathroom, unfortunately, was locked. My brother and Melanie had apparently beaten us in there.
Katy tossed back her head. “Ugh, the quandaries of having only one bathroom.”
I was impressed by her vocabulary. She led me back to her room, where we started kissing.
My brother and I started playing a hell of a lot more tennis at the park after that amazing day, hoping to find Katy and Melanie at the courts again. But after a week or two of not seeing them, I lost all hope and patience. After my classes one day, I walked over to their apartment complex and knocked on their door. I didn’t know if either of them would be around but I felt I had to find out. I knocked and waited, and it was as I was about to turn around and leave that the door opened, and standing there was Katy. She stood before me in a teal-colored tank top and short gray athletic shorts. No socks, no shoes. Her face was beautifully flushed, and she smiled at me in a way that I thought conveyed that she was genuinely happy to see me. To be the recipient of that smile made me happier than I knew it was possible to feel.
“What’s up?” she said, brightly.
“Hey,” I said. “How’ve you…how’ve you been?”
“Good,” she said. “Great. How about yourself?”
“I’ve been good,” I lied.
Katy cocked her head to the side, giving me a curious look. “Oh, that’s sweet of you to stop by, but now’s not the best time, unfortunately. Got company.” Then she was smiling somewhat apologetically at me, and, behind her, in the kitchen, to my horror I saw a guy, muscled and shirtless. He looked at me and then looked away, unconcernedly.
I turned around and started walking, fast, mechanically, back to my apartment. At a minimart along the way I stopped and bought a bottle of wine.
When my brother returned later that evening from a study group for an upcoming exam, the bottle of wine was empty. I told him what had happened.
Standing in the hallway, he shook his head. “The same exact thing just happened to me,” he said. “I went over to their apartment, knocked on their door, and Melanie answered. Then in the kitchen I saw this shirtless guy. We glanced at each other, and then I bolted.”
My brother kicked off his shoes, dropped his backpack to the floor. He had also apparently thought to stop at the minimart. Not a fan of wine like I am, he had a six-pack of beer under his arm. “Those girls are nothing but trouble,” he said. “They’re dreamgirls. Know why?”
“Because they’re dreamy, oh so dreamy,” I slurred.
“Because they enter and then exit your life as quickly as last night’s dream,” my brother said.
“Except unlike last night’s dream,” I slurred, “they remain in your memory forever.”
“Amen,” my brother said.
That night we smoked three bowls and played Call of Duty into the early hours of the morning. We were basically back where we’d started, except now we had different girls we had to try and get over, and dreamgirls at that. It seemed like an impossible task.
Before going to sleep that night, my brother announced, from the couch, where he was lying tiredly, that he was going to cut off his balls and become a eunuch.
“Girls,” he said, “they’re simply too much trouble.”
I agreed, though I still like to think they’re worth it in the end.