Pong! Ping! Pong! Ping! and so it went.
It seemed so long ago that my head would be going back and forth following the ball, waiting, even expecting Sue's opponent to miss, hit the net or her opponent's shot go out of bounds. Now when I could, I just come here and watch.
She was so particular where she practiced. The town was small and not far away and these courts were clay. We would come to play almost every summer day. We could have gone to the club, that was a lot closer and private but the courts were not clay. Here it was a public and only four courts, less if a net was torn or missing. The selection of people was varied, usually old, older and real old. A few were pretty damn good though and when they played her, most times there were smiles on both their faces and usually a comment or two about it being a great match. Sue usually won too.
My sister was not only young, she was very good and her goal was to be the very best she could be in life, but that did not last very long for her. On a trip to the mall with Mom and Dad, they all were killed. It was a Sunday in June and we were all looking forward to that summer. In August, there were tryouts for the junior world team and Dad had convinced somebody to give her a tryout even though she was still not quite 16. After a sizable donation, the powers to be decided to give her a go. She would have had it made, if ... if only ... it was at that moment when several things happened.
I must have gotten some dust in my eyes because I turned away and started to rub my eyes. As I said, it was a public course so I really did not know anyone there, not like at the club. Everything at these courts was on the honour system; you signed your name and waited for an open court. Sometimes there was a vacancy because a player or partner did not show up. By the fence to the left there stood a girl, she got my attention not just that she clenched an old racquet in her hands, but that she almost looked like Sue when she was about her age.
One spot finally came open. She did not move or indicate she would play. There was no one else around so I went over on the opposite side of the fence and said to her. "I'm not playing Hon, and I think those three can really use you as a doubles partner." I got a closer look at her shoes, the old racquet and the ratty jeans and decided that my suggestion was a bad move.
"I'm not very good Mister. I have never played just been hitting the ball at the park whenever I can. I'm saving up to get this fixed then I might play." She held up the racquet and showed me the broken strings on it.
'Duh!' I thought. "Hon I have a ton of tennis racquets, clothes, shoes and headgear at home. I mean a lot. If you want it, it is yours. My sister started collecting stuff these last few years so you would be doing me a favour by taking it."
"Mister won't she be mad, you giving away her stuff?"
Now it became sort of a challenge to answer her. I turned away and said, "No, she won't need them anymore Hon, she won't need them, not anymore."
"Mister I can't go with you. My Mom said I should not go with a 'stranger', never, not anywhere."
"Right! Do you live around here or is your Mom around?"
"She dropped me off here today. Usually I ride my bike. She'll be back by 5:30 for me and I can ask her, maybe next time I can ride my bike over to get them?"
"Good idea Hon but my house is some distance away and you can have a lot of her stuff. Would it be okay if I waited with you or on that bench over there and we can ask her when she picks you up? I do not wish to scare you or make you feel uncomfortable about this.
That man over there, the Park Ranger may remember me too; my sister and I came here for many years. If your Mom has time she can follow me home and you can get the things or if she trusts me not to run away with such a beautiful girl like you, I can get your address and bring the stuff over to your place. Would that be doable?"
I was not sure if I had said the wrong thing to her, saying she was beautiful, but her resemblance to Sue would put her in a category which would be difficult to describe any other way. Sue and my parents left me just a few weeks ago and I wanted to believe their deaths had just been a bad dream, no, a nightmare. I only wish it was so.
I sat on the top row of the bench, she was at the bottom a safe distance away. We talked while we waited for her Mom. It was not long before the Park Ranger came by and asked where the other pretty girl was and was this her sister. I shook my head no. The girl said her name was Wendy and we were waiting for her Mom. The Park Ranger made certain that she was not there against her will, looked at me, smiled then let us be.
I told her then most everything I had should fit and serve her(no pun) for awhile. I sort of got lost in thought about Sue, then I heard a horn honking. Her Mom had arrived.
Wendy looked at me climbing down from the top of the bench, came back and took me by the hand as we walked to her Mom's car. From the noises the car was making I could see why the strings on the racquet were still broken.
Her Mom got out and said right away, "Nope no strays Wendy, I hope you did not feed him or we will never get rid of him! You're too young for a boyfriend and I don't think you would let me keep him for me! Does he pee on the floor like most men?"
Yep, this was starting off on a wonderful footing. "Real nice Wendy's Mom. I tried to get her to run away with me, but no, she had to ask her Mom if it was Okay first. Seriously though, I have an awful lot of girl tennis gear at my house. Wendy is welcome to all of it. I have no use for it and it should last her several years. Much of it is professional quality, 8 or 9 racquets are 'Head' Competition all in several sizes and weights."
I got the look from her Mom. I could also see the pleading look on Wendy's face as she waited for what her Mom would say.
"And just why would a young man be havin a girl's tennis equipment, even more so, why give it away to me Wendy?" (Slight Irish brogue)
I really did not know what to say. I held up my finger in a 'Please wait' sign and reached for my wallet. I removed a picture of Sue, handed it to her and looked down, saying "She won't need it anymore!" I broke down really bad then and turned away from them, tears streaming down my face.
Her Mom took a look at the photo, handed it to Wendy and said, "My God, it's a picture of Wendy in a few years."
"It is, was my sister, she ... she is gone now."
No words came forth now. Wendy looked at the picture, her mouth open, as tears began to roll from her eyes. The face of the girl in the picture replaced with her own now.
"Look Mr. good Samaritan or pedophile maybe, we don't need charity and I want you to stay away from Wendy. We don't have much but what we do have I have worked for honestly. I will not let you get close to my daughter so you can leave right now."
This was really not the way I intended our meeting to go. "I take it then that, in your religion, Pride is not an evil thing, nor is depriving someone from showing a little girl a kindness. I guess I expected too much. I am sorry. Wendy, I will not bother you anymore." Then I took the picture back, turned and left the two of them by the car. That damn dust must have kicked up again.
I thought about it on my way home. I guess if the roles had been reversed I might have reacted the same way if a stranger had approached Sue with an offer like that. I just wanted to help, that's all.
Mom and Dad had been comfortable, thanks to the Grandmas and Grandpas on both sides. Everything was left to me now and I was very uneasy to try to do too much with what they left me. Truth be told, I was scared, scared of just trying to do things like my Dad before me had done.
I kept the house and the cabin but placed some land and a vacation condo up for sale. The titles would need to transfer first but I explained all that to the sales agent. The house was way more than I needed but it was on club grounds and with it came membership. Dad was one of the first in the sub and purchased a perpetual membership to the club with the house. That membership in the 20 years he had it was now worth more than he had paid for the house.
I had to decide what to do with the businesses he had left me. To be honest, if I had not been 18 and could own them, they would all have been sold, now I was not certain what to do with them.
One thing my Dad left me was an apartment building. It was not huge but was in a convenient part of the town, well kept and had extra land zoned for houses or condominiums. I decided to see what they now looked like. It had been a while since I had seen them but was not surprised that everything was in good shape. They did not bring in a ton of money but everything got paid for and the tax breaks would apply to the total income. I was the sole owner and this was not a corporation, something the accountant had tried to get Dad to change.
I put off going to the other business. Tomorrow I would go to the Club and change the membership information. Who knows, I might want to take up golf! Right, it would not be tennis though.
Going home to an empty house was something I was still not used to, maybe never would get used to. Food, the growl in my stomach was a reminder to have dinner. I had an executive decision to make. Lean Cuisine, Pizza, Chinese take-out or, be still my heart, scrambled eggs and bacon. I could even go out, maybe fast food. For some strange reason my inclination was to go to Wendy's. A few seconds after that thought, the sunken face on the little girl was right there. Her mother was an ass, I thought. That analogy of Pride was too accurate. But Hell, what had I been thinking. I never thought of giving the kid some tennis gear that I would never use as charity. What did her mother think, that I would use those skirts and blouses. I decided to pack up a lot of Sue's things and donate them or give them to somebody at one of the dealerships I would be going to the next day.
I picked the phone first and ordered a pizza. Three different cheeses, pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, pineapple and onion. Man I was tasting it already, I selected the large and ordered the special side of chicken wings. $15.55 the app on my phone totaled up and 45 minutes for delivery. I got a twenty out, put it in my pocket and went around to Sue's room to collect her stuff. It took my several trips to get it all then I still had time to get it into my car in the garage.
I opened the garage door just in case the pizza delivery came when I was putting her stuff into my car trunk. I could have used Dad's car but I just did not want to. I remembered to call the front gate house to let them know I had ordered pizza and from where. They would let the delivery guy in with that call. I would get my food a bit earlier now.
Most of Sue's tennis stuff was in my car's trunk, but not all of it. I had a 3 year old BMW 5 Series that I had gotten for graduation. It was dark blue, had a GPS, sunroof, back up cameras and a host of other options. I really liked that car, a lot. It was not that small so my conclusion was Sue must have had a lot more stuff than I remembered she did. I decided to put the rest in the back of my car rather than change everything to my Dad's much larger Mercedes. I was just about to start placing thing inside the car when I heard a car in front of the house. My food was here, Yea!
A young girl got out carrying a warming cover. I called out to her. "I'm here, in the garage. You could have pulled into the drive and saved yourself a few steps, although it does not look like you need more exercise."
I saw a slight blush as she redirected her steps and came towards me in the garage.
"Nope. but thank you Sir, the oil or something drips from my car. I did not want to mess up your driveway."
I should describe her. Tall, maybe 5' 10", 5' 11", nice build, long legs, blond hair in a ponytail and she had a distinct accent. I said some greeting in Russian, then Polish to her. She responded in both. Man I thought, where has this girl been all my life. While I was growing up the girls I had meet were either 'Daddy's Princesses', sleeping with most of the football team or both. That this girl was working, seemed to have a sense of humor and was intelligent enough to know the differences between a foreign language placing her in a pretty high percentile of the smart ones.
"Where do you want your food, 1 large meat and a side of wings right?"
I had a frog in my throat or something, I cleared it. "Could you put it in the kitchen for me please. That door goes inside the house, kitchen to the right. Any counter or the table is fine. No one is in the house and I'll stay here so I will not be tempted to capture you and keep you here forever." Damn! That just came out. I saw her hesitate a second then open the door to take the food inside.
I shook my head and took a deep breath. No frying pan to the head, magical sound or lighting striking but this girl had captured all my attention. She was coming out of the house and I still had not moved.
"Wow, really nice house. I peeked a little. I hope it is OK but I turned the oven to warm and put the food in to stay warm. $15.55."
I handed her the twenty saying for her to keep the change.
"They already add $1.25 to the bill for a delivery tip.
'Man!' I thought.
"Your not from around here, are you? If you don't mind, where are you from and what is your name? I'm Paul by the way, Paul Stevens."
"No Paul Stevens, I am from South of Kiev, in the Ukraine. My name is Magdalene, Magda for my friends."
"Hello Magda, I certainly wish to be counted as a friend. I know it is not my place to say this, but Magda you are wasted delivering pizza, not that there is anything wrong with that. You are young, intelligent, have a great personality and are beautiful too boot. You could be a model, an actress; you can be anything you want to be."
"Da, yes I mean. My life up until recently was made up of all the things many people wanted me to do, most of which started to turn my stomach as I got older. I have been told many times that 'I have to give in order to get.' Mostly by old men but some woman too. I left the life they all decided I was to lead. I would not sell myself for anything. My sister and her husband said I should come here to America and try to start over."
Please forgive me again Magda but you seem to be so 'Americanized', your speech, mannerisms and the way you talk are like you were born here, why?"
"Like you said, there is much I could do. I have already done much, for others though. I was a Tennis star since I was 12. I became very good and travelled to places like Paris, London, New York and Moscow. Many had wanted me to become more famous but in exchange for things I was not willing to do, so here I am. Ta Da! Almost 19 and delivering pizza. I joke, I am very fortunate. My sister and her husband are very good to me. They helped me get here. What is it called, a sponsor thing, I think? I am studying to become a citizen. I was just helping my sister and her husband. They work for this pizza place and needed your food delivered. So, here I am!"
"Yes! Magda I am not letting you go now either. My Grandmother came from near Kiev also. She spoke 4 or 5 languages and Russian or Polish around the house was as common as English, American English that is. My sister used to play Tennis too. She was to tryout for the World Junior team this summer, but... , but not any more. Is there anything you need? Anything I can do for you or help with? I really am impressed by you and think if my sister had lived, I would have wanted her to be like you. I mean it! There are 'no strings attached'. That means I do not want you to do anything. I only want to help you, perhaps with work or school here, even to become a citizen. Wait I lied, there is something I want you to do!"
"Ahh, so you are like all those others, Da?"
"I only wish I could tempt you, but no. There is a young girl whom I met today when I visited a tennis court my sister used to play at. She, my Mom and Dad were killed recently. I tried to give here this Tennis stuff my sister had. I spoke with her Mom but she got very upset and told me not to see her daughter again. Would you go see her, talk to them and try to give them this stuff. I was packing it up to give to charity."
I was not ready for the hug she gave me as she put her arms around me.
"If you do this for me, I'll fix your car up and share my pizza with you. In America we say, 'scratch my back and I'll scratch yours!' By the way, it sounds much like the situation you left, but for me I do not mean anything bad by it. Man, around you I do not even know what I am saying."