16 comments

Funny

I wish Adrian would stop hurling meteors in my general direction. 

“Jesus fucking Christ,” I yell across the court once I’ve confirmed I’m in no risk of being vaporized. “Take a chill pill, man. You’re not at a tournament!”

Adrian’s smirk bounds over the net to give a condescending pat on my cheek. “Oh, stop being such a wuss.” He winds up—the dreaded neon-yellow fuzzball leaving his fingers to enter the space above his head, his entire frame bending like a pool noodle, his index finger pointing up as if that will help somehow—

—before the racquet comes hurtling down executioner-style, transforming the ball into a white-hot blur that absolutely rends the afternoon air like butter. My arms scramble to shield my face. I always figured a nice thing to hear before I died would be “I love you,” or “Be at peace, son of Gondor,” but no, it turns out I’ll be on my way to meet both my Grandpas with PLOCK! ringing in my ears.

Something zips past. Wind barrels over my flesh, handing out high-fives to all the beads of sweat along the way. Is it over? Is this echoing stillness… the afterlife? Dammit, I had a feeling Richard Dawkins was full of shit…

“Jeff?”

That must be the angels singing my name. I didn’t expect them to sound like that, but all the same…

“Hey, Jeffrey? Look, you can open your eyes now.” A sigh. “Fine. Let’s take it easy. But I warn you, you’ll never get better if you don’t learn how to return a serve.”

I blink to reality. There are no angels or fluffy clouds that taste of honey-water (or the screams of the damned, but with my track record I’d rather not dwell on that kind of thing). Instead, there is the campus tennis court and Adrian on the other end of it, all sweat-drenched clothes and sun-browned limbs and sureness that he knows what’s best for me. As if people like him with all that innate talent crammed behind their smug smiles could even begin to comprehend what it’s like to absolutely suck at sports.

I retreat to the baseline, ready my racquet—a Babolat AeroPro, Nadal’s weapon of choice—and wrangle the fear and frustration zipping around in my skull into some semblance of submission.

A breath skitters out from between my lips. “Okay. I’m ready.”

Adrian taps the court twice with his racquet—that teeth-clenching, god-awful habit of his before opening a rally. Another ball puffs into existence from his apparently bottomless pocket. He’s true to his word, at least—instead of his lethal rifle-bullet of a serve, he treats me to a meager forehand lob. The ball stumbles into the right service box like a bumblebee tanked up on vodka, and it’s plain sailing to head over and catch it with my own forehand.

Adrian’s legs effortlessly skim the clay, a shark cleaving the sea on its way to a flailing beachgoer. Oh, the puppies I’d kick for a pair like those. He takes a bite out of his prey before I’m back at the center mark, returning the ball to my backhand. It’s not as kind to me as my forehand, I’ll admit, but it gets balls over the net and sometimes, sometimes it even pushes my score up (we’re not playing a proper match, but in my head I always keep score).

We spar like that for a while, one warrior bestowing mercy upon the other, and between each groundstroke my eyes tend to worm their way back to those steaming pistons that transport Adrian across the ground. It feels good, huh, Adrian, to be exactly where you need to be on the court before the ball even leaves the opponent’s racquet? To topspin your way through University on that glittering scholarship? To brandish those muscles on the court and leave with girls swinging from them?

The thought bleeds smoking-hot vigor into my right arm, and before I know it the air is reverberating in the aftermath of a massive THWACK! birthed by my forehand.

Adrian’s movements are different now—surprised, hesitant, his immaculate footwork leaving the shell of polite restraint a few wide-eyed heartbeats too late as he races to intercept the ball. My ball.

TONK! it sings as it’s greeted by the rim of his racquet, the melody of a mistake being made. The ball skims low…

...and embeds itself in the net like a sardine having a bad day.

The words cower behind my tonsils, so Adrian pants into the silence for us both: “Holy shit, Jeff. Now that’s how you do a topspin!”

A ball of sunshine casts its rays through my chest. I raise my racquet up to the real one. “Fuck yeah!

Adrian lets me have a nod of approval, and a smirk that doesn’t feel too patronizing. “Not bad, man. Not bad at all. See what I mean? You’re doing fine in your comfort zone, and there’s literally nothing else you can improve on. Wanna kick things up a notch?”

Warm saliva scurries down my desert of a throat. Not to mention the horde of roaches that is unleashed inside my stomach at the thought of enduring another one of Adrian’s bullet hails, at the prospect of being a first-hand witness to the calibre of skill and finesse people like me can only fantasize about reaching. Every single PLOCK! and THWACK! he inflicts on me today will leave its mark, each a magma-red scar to remind me that I’m not good enough.

That I’ll never be good enough.

A sigh from across the court snaps my gaze up. “Hey, Jeff, listen.” Adrian leans over the net, so I meet him there. “I know how hard on you this is. But think of all the people that are… er… like you, but decide not to give a shit. The ones that had tennis balls or basketballs or god-knows-what thrown at them, and chose to call it a day instead of standing their ground.”

“Adrian, I can’t even keep my eyes open when you serve.”

Adrian rests a hand on my shoulder, and it is a surprisingly genuine gesture. “But you stood your ground, Jeff. You stayed on the court, didn’t you?”

I nod, slowly. “Yeah. I guess.”

“And that rally we had. That topspin, what about that topspin? Think of it this way: the fact that you managed to pull it off is a hundred times more impressive than someone… well... ordinary doing the same thing. And I’ll be honest with you here, I don’t know if I’d have the drive to do what you do.”

I flash him a few incredulous blinks. “Honest to god?”

“Honest to god.”

I nod, finally allowing his words to bend me. The sun in my chest is there again. Thunderclouds try to snuff it out, but a few shards of golden light manage to pierce through. 

“Alright,” I declare. “Give me hell.”

Adrian grins. “That’s what I wanna fucking hear.”

“Just let me grab a drink. My throat is killing me.”

“Want me to get your water bottle?”

“Nah, it’s cool, man,” I say as I roll my wheelchair over to the bench. “I can do it myself.”

August 13, 2020 10:24

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16 comments

Aditya Pillai
14:20 Aug 13, 2020

That was such an awesome read! Loved it. I am really in love with your analogies XD like this gem: "a shark cleaving the sea on its way to a flailing beachgoer" you really have a gift for this type of stuff! I loved how you showed the helplessness and envy and then the grit and the eventual new found determination. I felt it along with the protagonist, and it felt so satisfying and great when he found his self confidence. Adrian may act like a smug brat but he's actually a bit of a softie ;) a good friend indeed. I was kinda taken a...

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Rayhan Hidayat
00:09 Aug 15, 2020

Thanks so much for the comment! I went for something short and sweet this time around so I tried to cram as many analogies and figurative languange as I could into this little thing... might even add a bit more haha 😝 And yes, Adrian must be a softie to pick on a handicap lmao I guess my last story was quite somber so I went for something more upbeat this time around? I’ll definitely be writing another high fantasy sometime in future though, so stay tuned 🙂

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Brittany Gillen
14:28 Aug 16, 2020

Rayhan - I absolutely love this! As a fellow tennis player, I enjoyed all the spot on descriptions and humor that come from your knowledge of tennis. There were a lot of great parts, but my favorite was — “I always figured a nice thing to hear before I died would be “I love you,” or “Be at peace, son of Gondor,” but no, it turns out I’ll be on my way to meet both my Grandpas with PLOCK! ringing in my ears.“ The word Plock was fantastic! Your descriptions did a great job of capturing the action, and the reveal at the end was set up believably...

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Rayhan Hidayat
14:57 Aug 16, 2020

Thank you so much for the words, I'm so glad I could entertain another tennis player! That line you quoted is also my favorite, good to see someone else getting a kick out of it haha. I actually had to search up the proper onomatopoeia for racquet hit sounds because I just could not for the life of me put them into words, and the general consensus seems to be "plock" for serves and "thwack" for a good topsin! And I'm glad you liked the end reveal ;)

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Shreya S
05:15 Aug 22, 2020

I loved this story! First, the title: Brilliant. Puns are everything. The start was amazing too, and I fully expected this to be fantasy but when it reverted to a tennis court, it took away none of the excitement and instead give it a much more realistic feel. And ‘I always figured...ringing in my ears’, fantastic. The Richard Dawkins reference hahah And the puppies I’d kick for a pair like those... I laughed out loud The entire narrative was so good! And the ending was so amazing- I didn’t guess at all that he was impaired but it m...

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Rayhan Hidayat
12:07 Aug 22, 2020

Thank you so much for the amazing review! You are the first person to point out the puns in the titles, I try to think of one for every story and they keep getting more and more cringey 😂 But I’m glad you like them all the same! Btw, your profile pic is beautiful. 😮 Did you make it yourself?

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Shreya S
12:21 Aug 22, 2020

Hahah no no they aren’t cringey they’re bRILLIANT. Take it from me. Oh no, I’m not that artistic haha I got it from Pinterest. But this makes me think you are? Did you make your pfp?

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Rayhan Hidayat
12:27 Aug 22, 2020

Haha well if you say so 😊 No I didn’t make it but my sister was kind enough to! She takes commissions if you’re interested.

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Shreya S
12:57 Aug 22, 2020

Oh wow, that’s impressive! Haha I’m not looking for any right now, but if I ever need to I’ll be sure to contact her

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Laura Clark
17:10 Aug 21, 2020

Really enjoyed this! Love that Adrian is treating Jeff as he would an able bodied person (with absolutely no mercy) though I did wince at him saying that people not in wheelchairs are ‘ordinary people’. Nice reveal at the end - it put the ‘oh the puppies I’d kick for those pins’ into a bit more context. I thought he was just admiring the guy’s shapely calf muscles. No crumpets in this one either. Just pointing it out.

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Rayhan Hidayat
18:11 Aug 21, 2020

Thanks for the feedback! I’ll admit, I do kinda regret using that word choice, I just wanted Adrian to come off as a kind-hearted guy who means well but is too much of a goof to be politically correct. Very sorry, I had no intention to be offensive! Crumpets are on the griddle, stay tuned 😉

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Laura Clark
18:34 Aug 21, 2020

That’s definitely how I read it so don’t worry! YES CRUMPETS

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21:25 Aug 19, 2020

Hi Your story brought a smile to my face and I completely commiserated with your MC. I think your antagonist is spectacularly multidimensional—an alpha male, a natural athlete, a healthy competitor and a wonderful caring friend. As one of the multitudes of ‘Jeffs,’ I salute your skill.

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Rayhan Hidayat
04:23 Aug 20, 2020

Thank you for the well-worded review! I’m glad I managed to convey the antagonist’s many dimensions in the short word count. And good to hear I could appeal to one of the “Jeffs” out there! 😁

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Keerththan 😀
16:07 Aug 19, 2020

Awesome story. The title pulled me in to read this story. Well written one. Keep writing, Rayhan. Can’t wait for your next... Would you mind reading my story “Secrets don’t remain buried” and share your view on it?

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Rayhan Hidayat
16:12 Aug 19, 2020

Thanks for stopping by Keerththan! Yeah that title is a silly play on words, I know xD Sure thing, just give me a sec...

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