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April wanted to scream when she got to her backyard. And there was no end in sight. 

When the newscasters announced that everyone would be staying in their homes until further notice, there was a mix of elation and fear. It was true, April wouldn’t have to worry about the social intricacies of high school: from lunch tables to locker talk. The big question on everyone’s mind was what would this do to her GPA in the long run? She was one of the lucky ones with access to a personal computer, but it wasn’t clear if this would affect her scholarship odds. It would be hard to secure a tennis scholarship when the season was effectively canceled. 

April thought the local scholarship would be a sure thing when she applied at the beginning of February. Shortly after she was told when the person in charge scholarship would be coming to the first game of the season, the first game was pushed back to late March, then April…and then the schools closed. Tonight, she’d gotten the call from Coach Greene saying that it didn’t seem like anyone would get a scholarship this year. If things had turned out differently, she could have tried next year. Still, this had been April’s last chance at getting into the school of her dreams to play tennis. Now, all she could do was wait for the world to become safe again and try not to scream in the process. 

Furious, April picked up her racket and a ball, dribbling the ball against the deck to try and calm down. The repetitive motion, the fluidity of the ball’s path to and from her racket were all familiar and good. For April, this was as much meditation as it was an exercise for April’s tense body. She’d rather have the tension of a good work out than anxious muscles. Her panic attacks had increased since the official shelter in place order, but she’d been able to mask her rising anxiety with layers of sarcasm, exercise, and hyper-focus on her school work. They were the only things she had control over. 

Batting the ball a few times, April hit the tennis ball against the fence that separated her family’s house from the neighbors, Mr. And Mrs. Whin. Her parents knew the old couple who lived there very well, but April had been in high school when her family moved into the house and lacked the proper emotional depth to call the people who lived next door "neighbors". Still, they were good enough people and didn't complain when April used their fence for practice.

Swatting it back, the tennis ball would deflect against the wooden slats and come back to her. April had to keep a fair distance away, but would usually meet the ball when it came back to her racket. She swung easily, basic lobs that bounced against the court before a proper volley could get going. April felt the ball speeding up with each hit as her anger started bubbling over. She didn’t care or try to control it, she only poured her emotions into the contact between rack and ball. 

Each ‘thwack’ of her racket was answered with a loud ‘thunk’ against the fence. April would strike harder with each return until she half-wondered if she could break the boards of the fence with a tennis ball. With a primal yell, April hit the ball hard and the ball arched upwards over the fence. She cursed and nearly threw her racket after it before taking a breath. She walked over to her tennis back to get another ball when she heard a familiar ‘thwack’ and a dull ‘plop’ as the ball landed on her lawn. 

“Was that inside?” A willowy voice called from over the fence. “I’m afraid this net is a bit higher than regulation, so I might have to take your word for it.”

“Um…” April looked at the ball and the fence, doing some quick mental measurements. “It’s not standard, but it’s in.” 

“Ah, good! 15-Love…your serve.” 

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? Aren’t you like…eighty-five?”

“If you’re worried about being beaten by an old lady, then I won’t tell if you lose. I didn’t get to eighty-five sitting around and knitting all day. I’m at the courts every weekend, but I haven’t been able to play since all this started. Come on…your serve.”

April shrugged a little. A bit of practice might do her some good. She picked up the ball and took a few steps back to where a regulation line might be. “Love serving fifteen…” 

With a high arc, April swatted the ball over the fence. After a moment, the ball came soaring back and April had to move quickly to hit the ball back over in time. The volley continued for a few moments, April and Mrs. Whin smacked the ball with equal strength. Without the regulation net, it was more work for April to predict where the ball would be and rush up to meet it. Even if they weren’t on a regular court, Mrs. Whin’s aim was always within the same space. 

April was a little worried when the ball didn’t come back. She wasn’t sure if it was a trick or if Mrs. Whin had keeled over from the excitement and sudden burst of exercise. 

“15-15,” Ms. Whin said, a little winded. “That was a hell of a volley! I’m used to playing with my friend Gail and she doesn’t play half as well as you! And she went to the Olympics in ’68!” 

“I’m on the team at school,” Arielle said, taking a few breaths herself. “You play pretty well for a—retired person.”

“You mean an old person?” Mrs. Whin laughed. “Gail went to the Olympics in ’68 but I went to the Olympics in ’64. I would have gone back if I hadn’t been pregnant, but I was lucky enough to get to pick my replacement. Still, you’ve got more handling that I did at your age…sixteen? Seventeen?”

“I turned eighteen in January,” April sighed. “I didn’t know you played tennis in the Olympics…”

“Well, who would ever think to ask?” Mrs. Whin said. “Now, it’s fifteen all…I’d like to finish while we still have a bit of daylight.” 

April hustled back to her spot and the game continued. Another furious volley from Mrs. Whin made April wonder if the old woman was as old as she said. She hoped Mrs. Whin was younger than she claimed. The alternative meant April was panting to keep up with the furious volleys of a woman old enough to be her grandmother. Finally, Mrs. Whin managed to score against April again. 

“30-15,” April announced, collecting the ball from her father’s vegetable garden. “I may have to make you promise not to tell anyone about this…”

“Well, you gave me a lead. I’m sure it won’t matter soon.” 

April grinned and served the ball over the wooden divider. It came back quickly, surprising April with the angle it took. They rallied back and forth again for a bit, Mrs. Whin getting a few close hits that April had to rush to catch. She heard the ball hit Mrs. Whin’s lawn again and there was a pause while she went to recover it. “Well hit!” Mrs. Whin said. “30 All…here comes the serve!”

April and Mrs. Whin volleyed. After another fifteen minutes, April got a point on Mrs. Whin and cheered. Mrs. Whin laughed and returned the ball. April pushed herself hard, surprised how hard it was for her to keep up with the older woman. She was relieved when she hit the ball over the fence and it wasn’t immediately returned. After a brief panic, April heard Mrs. Whin let out a deep breath, laughing. 

“I’d challenge you to another set, but I worry that I’d pass out. I’m not used to playing such an exciting game!” 

“It’s been a while since I played a game like that either,” April said, dropping into the yard and slumping up against the wall. “Olympics of ’64?” 

“And Wimbledon…twice,” Mrs. Whin said. “Never good enough to win, but competing was an honor.”

“I appreciate the game,” April said. “It’s been too long since I’ve actually felt like I’ve played. I’ve been running drills and doing exercises by myself, but nothing like playing a real game.”

“I haven’t had that much exercise in ages…” Mrs. Whin said. “I’d say you qualify.”

“Qualify for what?” 

“The scholarship…” Mrs. Whin said. “It’s mine to give.”

April sat up a little, surprised. “You’re in charge of the West Bridge Tennis Scholarship?”

“Well, I’m not famous enough that slapping my name on a scholarship makes it any more prestigious. I was debating what to do with it, but I think that you proved yourself worthy of it.” 

“What about the other applicants?” April asked. 

“There weren’t any,” Mrs. Whin laughed. “I was upset that I wouldn’t be able to see you play when I saw your name on the scholarship roster. Seeing you play was more of a formality to make sure you were as competent as Coach Greene said. After playing with you? There’s no doubt in my mind.”

“So…I got the scholarship?”

“You got the scholarship,” Mrs. Whin said. “I’ll call the bank about it tomorrow. On one condition…”

“What condition?” April asked. 

“A quick set? Same time tomorrow?” 

April smiled and looked up. “I’ll be there.” 

April 21, 2020 21:44

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1 comment

Eric Hyzer
11:42 Apr 30, 2020

Awesome work on this story. Keep up the good writing.

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