14 Double trouble

Elise carefully opened her hotel room door and peeped outside. The corridor of the hotel was empty and silent. She took another look to each side then stepped outside her room and closed the door. Wearing her pyjama she quickly moved across the hall and knocked on the door opposite her room.
During the weeks after Wimbledon, she and Amanda had talked hours and hours over video calls and had conceived a plan how to make it easier for them to spend the nights together. They had booked rooms opposite to each other, while Elise had made sure that her parents’ room was on a different floor. On the one hand the secrecy made their young love even more exciting, on the other hand lying to her parents preyed on Elise’s mind.
During the weeks off in Florida she had resolved several times to tell her parents during dinners, car drives and a day at the beach – and had never plucked up the courage to finally do it.

One evening she and her mom were preparing dinner and while Elise was cutting some vegetables her mom had stepped behind her and looking over her shoulder to check the proceedings had given Elise a fond kiss on the cheek. Elise knew her parents loved her and were terribly proud of her latest achievements. They had stood by her during the long terrifying month of injury. Experiencing her mom’s affection while lying to her parents about whom she talked to every night almost brought tears to her eyes. Elise had put the knife down and had turned around to her mom.
“Maman?” Her mom had looked up, surprised to see her daughter almost in tears.
“What’s up?” She had approached Elise and had given her a hug. The embrace made Elise feel even worse.
Finally she whispered to her mother: “I love you.”
“I love you, too, Elise,” her mother had replied, astonished by Elise’s apparent emotional distress. She had given her daughter a close inspection but Elise had turned to the vegetables again and her mother had not mentioned the incident again.

Amanda opened the door and let Elise in. The German pushed Amanda tenderly against the wall and while pushing the door shut with her foot she slipped her hand into Amanda’s pants and began their late-night cardio training. For five nights now they had been making good use of the time they had together. The nights in Stanford had been quite pleasing so far with Elise becoming more and more adventurous and confident.
Two hours later and exhausted from shagging they snuggled together on Amanda’s bed and Amanda was just about to fall asleep when Elise lifted her head.

“How did you tell your parents?”
“I didn’t,” Amanda answered, knowing what Elise was talking about.
“What? You’re not out to them?” Elise could not believe it. But Amanda laughed.
“No, I mean, they found out themselves. No need to tell them. Unfortunately.”
“Why? What happened?”
With a sigh Amanda sat up on the bed.
“My mum walked in on me one morning and found me with a woman between my legs.”
“What? Are you kidding me,” Elise laughed.
“No,” Amanda said with a smile. “And it was not funny, you know.” But Elise couldn’t stop laughing. They laid down again and still giggling, Elise rested her head on Amanda’s chest.
It didn’t make her forget her worries, but she finally fell asleep with a smile on her face.

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13 Let’s have a ball

“What the hell are you thinking?” Ted stared at Tom in disbelief.
“I believe it’s the right thing to do,” Tom countered self-assured.
“No, Tom,” Ted yelled. “It’s not. These are peoples’ lives you are playing with. You cannot do this!”
Tom shook his head in disagreement, however, made a step forward and reached out his hands in reconciliation.
“I believe that I can change the lives of all of us to the better” he said calmly to his boyfriend. But his amiable tone just sparked Ted’s fury even more.
“Are you fucking gay Jesus now? You must be mad. Absolutely mad!” With a leap Ted stormed to the bedroom door and pulled it open. He turned around and seeing the fury and disappointment – and maybe sadness – in Ted’s eyes made Tom’s heart slump
“When I come back,” Ted said with thin lips, “I want you to be gone.” He slipped out and closed the door.

Tom sat down on the edge of the bed and sighed. Clearly this had been a terrible idea. He should have never told Ted about his blog and how he had finally come to envision it now. Or maybe the blog was a terrible idea? No, no. He shook his head. He was right. It was a wonderful idea, but he should have known that Ted would disapprove of it. After all, it would affect him, too.
Tom perhaps should have waited another week before telling Ted. Perhaps only after he had published the first article on his blog and there was no turning back. Ted had been cranky since he had lost in the semifinal yesterday and, of course, the prospect of being forced out of the closet by his own lover could not cheer him up. Annoyed by his own stupidity and myopia Tom got up and sat down at the desk.

The screen of his laptop displayed the words he so proudly had read aloud only a quarter hour ago. He had spend hours on polishing and tweaking the text until the words had seemed perfectly right. Now, they seemed merely a black on white proof of his own utopian convictions. He went through the arguments again he had written down. They were deliberate and well-thought-out. In no way he had pointed out a single player or given any names. But he had to admit, that his article had the power to make a lot of people uncomfortable. It brought attention to a subject that was handled as a taboo, especially for the male players. Giving an precise and unadorned insight into the hardship and efforts of gay and lesbian players to keep their private life undisturbed by the media might bring exactly the attention they were all so keen to avoid.

Tom clenched his teeth and logged onto his blog 30 Love. Remembering how he found the name for his website almost made him cry. Was it over between him and Ted? It looked like Ted was serious. But Tom was serious about this, too. And one day, he hoped, Ted would understand.
He pasted the article into the blog and after going over it a last time. It was a great first article. It was only the beginning. He would feed the readers with little tidbits and behind-the-scenes information but would not give any names. Not until he had evidence of each and every gay and lesbian player currently ranked in the Top 20.
Once he had gained all the evidence he needed, he would announce the sexual orientation of all the players and make it public at a single blow. There would not be one singular player who stuck out and be tarred and feathered, but the media would be completely overwhelmed by the number of players and the players themselves were not alone. In the end they would have to stick together and weather the storm side by side. It was a congenial idea and he knew it.. He was also playing with other peoples’ lives. Tom looked at his words a last time and then pressed PUBLISH.

12 Dog & Fox

Wimbledon came up with a delicious routine that Tom could have easily get addicted to. Every morning, the blogger woke up in his lover’s arms and slowly enough, they made it through another day far from the boiling and exhausting scheme of hotel rooms. In England, most of the players rented apartments or houses, which brought also a peculiar shade to the only Grand Slam played on grass. It was like being at home and relaxing enough, enjoying life not only on court but off as well and it had its charms. Tom locked his eyes with Ted’s before planting a soft kiss on his lips. Yes, Wimbledon definitely had its charms.
“Good morning.”
It was a matchless day for Ted but he nonetheless had to get up and go practice soon enough. Perhaps once the tournament was over, they would have some time off to spend together without any tournament schedule to respect but one of their own desires.

And some time without Ted’s mother Julie, Tom thought, when they came down to the dining-room that overlooked a private garden.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, gentlemen,” Ted’s mother stated without looking up from the newspaper.
“Good morning, Julie.”
Sitting down at the table there was a typical English breakfast waiting in front of him. Digging in he was he almost missed that Ted didn’t sit down with them. He had grabbed two sandwiches and had shouldered his racquet bag.
“You are already leaving?”
“Back soon,” Ted smiled at Tom, blowing him a kiss through the room before leaving the house.
Tom sighed. Soon enough, they would be back in the craziness of hotel rooms and journalists. They wouldn’t have time for these peaceful, quiet moments. He looked to the closed door and swallowed. If he had known better, he would have remained in Tom’s arms a bit longer in bed instead of getting up so fast to get dressed and have breakfast.

“Oh don’t worry, darling. The earlier he leaves for practice, the earlier he will be back. By the way, how about booking a table for you two at some restaurant tonight? I am sure my Teddy would appreciate the attention.”
“I think he mentioned that he has to call Felicia. I’m not sure if he is free tonight, Julie.”
Tom hated it but he did sound disappointed.
“Her.” Julie’s snorted. A bit surprised, Tom looked up at her.
“What is wrong with Felicia? Sure I wouldn’t mind her being out of the picture but considering how it still works these days, she comes in handy.”
Julie put down the newspaper.

“Frankly, I don’t like her. The way she treated Amanda was disgusting! She’s been awfull to this poor girl, using her as if she was a toy. Just look at her now. Heartbroken. Can’t win a match anymore. That’s unforgivable!”
She picked the newspaper up again, continuing to read as if nothing had happened.
If there was one thing Tom had begun to get used to regarding Julie, it was the way she put passion in all the things she said, as if she were on a crusade. But at no moment would he have imagined that she would go out on a limb in support of a player who was widely rumored to be gay. Well, he corrected himself, this was only a breakfast conversation. She wouldn’t say that in public. Never. But watching Ted’s mother he had to smile. She might be a nuisance at times, but more and more he began to like her.

11 On a secret mission

“How about the twins?” Mint Rickenbacher looked back onto the white houses which lined the Grand Parade of the Eastbourne seaside. She and Cecilia “Chili” García López had taken the walk out on the pier, and had settled down in a coffee shop to catch up as they hadn’t seen each other since the first week of Roland Garros in Paris.
Chili shrugged then nodded slowly.
“You definitely cannot say they passed unnoticed since the beginning of the season. Actually, they are rising up in the rankings and rather fast. They could create a surprise. Seguramente!”
Mint took a sip of her tea and made a face. She should have gone with a coffee like Chili, she thought. Not that she couldn’t get some but she was trying to cut on sweets. And she couldn’t drink coffee with loads of sugar. So it had to be tea.
“It won’t be in vain,” her coach had told her with this typical lack of tact that the American player had learned to not focus on. In a word, she was going on a sugar-free diet and hated every second of it.
“My bets would especially be on Gabriella. She has been impressive lately. Actually, she had a very good run in Paris.” Gaga had reached the quarter final.

“And Luella lost against Sasha. It could have been worse. Yet they are far from being in the top five if you ask me. This constant change of coach is strange, and not doesn’t make sense at all!” Mint frowned. She wasn’t extremely close to Lulu and Gaga in spite of being American as well, yet who was close to these two anyway? But she had to recognize that the way they hired a new coach every now and then was curious and rare. Tennis players usually lasted at least a whole year with the same team if only to give time to each one to prove what they were able to do. But not the Ozolini sisters. Instead, they almost got someone new for every single surface.
“They barely have time to get used to each other and learn from each other that they already have to go along with someone else’s methods,” Cecilia continued. “Why would you do that when everything is going well?”

“Yes, I know.” Mint shrugged. “But maybe that’s their secret. And it doesn’t prevent them from doing good things on court. In singles and doubles. If it goes on like that, they might end up at the YEC.”
Chili let an amused smile play on her lips and light up her face. Obviously, she liked Mint’s suggestion. Of course, the grass season had barely started and there was still a lot of time left before the Year End Championship but the Ozolinis’ presence there could spice up things.
“Now that would be interesting. But first of all, they need to stop arguing. They are wasting time and energy when throwing a tantrum to each other like that. They should focus a lot more on their game and how to get the most of it instead of letting this animosity float around.”
“Arguing? What are you talking about?”

Had she talked too much? Chili bit her lower lip for a furtive second before coming to the conclusion that she could tell Mint about it. Anyway, it was too late to come backwards now.
“I heard them argue the other day at the hotel. It wasn’t pretty. Might be a consequence of being with each other constantly. But still, they need to overcome it if they really want to reach the top once and for all.”
“Arguing about what?”
Now Mint was being curious and highly interested. As if to not be overheard by whoever would pass near their table, she bent over and locked her eyes with Chili’s, waiting for an answer that would satisfy her curiosity. Chili shrugged, obviously uncomfortable.
“A few things.”

10 Serving a love game

“We don’t have to meet tonight. We can meet another time,” Elise said into her phone, knowing very well that there might not be time at all, at least not here in Paris.
It was only twenty minutes after Amanda had finished her press conference of her third round match. She had lost against Martina Rodriguez in three tough sets. For last year’s finalist this was a devastating and embarrassing result. Amanda wouldn’t feel like having a nice evening with her, Elise had figured. Amanda probably would like to be alone or with her team to process the loss.

“Yes, another time maybe,” Amanda answered meekly.
It was the answer Elise had expected. She normally liked to have some time to herself after a bad result. However, she secretly had hoped for a different answer. She sure would have done everything possible to cheer Amanda up.
“That’s ok. I understand that.” She tried not to sound too disappointed.
“Thank you, Elise. I’ll call you, ok?”
“Of course,” Elise answered. “Will you stay in Paris for some days?”
“I don’t know.” Amanda sounded tired. “I don’t know.”

Elise guessed that Amanda had probably booked her hotel for a week at least. It might be possible that she would be around for another day or two. But would she call Elise? The dinner invitation seemed to have been Dan Metic’s idea anyway. Amanda’s coach probably just wanted to be polite after Amanda and Elise had played doubles together so successfully in Stuttgart. It had been a nice gesture and Elise had been happy to spend some time with Amanda. She was so delighted about the invitation that she had given Amanda the little bracelet in the locker room wishing her luck for the third round. Amanda had been wearing it during the match against Martina. It had not brought her luck at all. Elise wondered if Amanda had taken it off already or even thrown it away.

“Just give me a call whenever you feel like it,” Elise said. She just knew Amanda wouldn’t call.
“Yes, sure,” the Australian replied. “Good luck to you today.”
Elise felt the lump in her throat and swallowed hard. She herself had to play the third round match today. It wouldn’t be easy. She had to play Tamara Bepakova, a Top 10 player, she had played twice before but never beaten.
Elise thanked Amanda and hung up. She sat in the buzzing players’ lounge checking on the court she was due. The ongoing match was still in the first set. She’d probably had to wait another hour or two. A lot of time to think about Amanda, she realized and sighed.

09 De point en point

Since she was little Elise Renard loved the sound of smacked tennis balls when they made contact with the racquet. And ever since she was given her first racquet she loved the fact that she could produce that sound over and over again. She didn’t mind hitting and practicing the same shot for hours at a time even though, she had to admit, it was a little bit autistic. But moreover, it was relaxing, as the concentration required took her mind off everything else.
But not today. Her timing was off, and her movement sluggish. Concentrating on a little yellow ball suddenly seemed almost impossible. She also knew why.

The whole situation with Amanda had become utterly confusing. Her feelings for Amanda had become confusing. Only one week ago she had been crystal clear about her emotions for the Australian. There was no denying that she was head over heels in love with the red head. It didn’t matter that Amanda seemed unavailable as she was in a relationship with Aussie singer Felicia Del Castro. The successful week in Stuttgart and the time they had spend together had sparked her adoration even more.
But now? Not only had she learned that the relationship with Felicia apparently had ended a while ago, at the Challenger tournament she had played a few days ago she had also overheard the British girls Gemma and Robyn talk about the long-time affair Amanda was having with Natsumi and that they were back together again.

Elise had to admit that the new facts didn’t really change the situation at all. Amanda was still unavailable to her, but it had changed the image she had had of the Australian player. Amanda had always seemed so wholehearted and earnest. It didn’t suit her to have multiple affairs one after another. Elise was appalled. But then again, who was she to oppose someone’s two-facedness?
After hearing the troubling new revelations, in the morning Elise refrained from texting Amanda. But just when she decided that it was a good move to keep her distance to the Australian Amanda had called her. This was even more confusing, as Amanda never revealed her reason for calling. Elise was so taken by surprise that she even forgot her good intentions and promptly asked Amanda to play doubles again. That had been a mistake. Amanda’s immediate rejection had cut like a knife.

She smacked the ball into the net unable to string together more than four or five shots. It was terribly frustrating. She really needed to get the Australian out of her mind, out of her system. Her thoughts wandered back to her hotel room, to her racquet bag in the corner, to the small plastic bag buried within it, to the little souvenirs wrapped in paper. One was a braided blue wristband she had gotten in a small shop last week before she had learned about Amanda’s affair with Natsumi. Blue suited Amanda, Elise had thought when buying the accessory. Now, her stupidity made her angry.
She hit the ball as hard as she could. It was going in. She hit it again. The stroke was perfect, the angle breath-taking. She hit another heavy top-spin shot. After bouncing it sped forward unreachable for her hitting partner at the other side of the court.
She let out a quiet “Come on!” to herself. That was the way to get Amanda out of her head.

08 When in Rome…

A loud honk from the street had woken Amanda. The rising kerfuffle of Rome was drifting up to her hotel room window making it impossible to go back to sleep. She picked up her watch from the nightstand and checked the time. Still too early to get up. Her match was scheduled third on the Campo Centrale. But she didn’t want to go back to sleep either. Soon her mobile would buzz anyway. Like it did every day. Like a clockwork. She smiled. It was only a matter of time that the sound would make her jump up.
Since the tour had hit the magic red dust she felt better. Stuttgart had been a good result for her reaching the semi final even though she had done better last year having been a finalist in the German tournament. Her ranking had been gradually slipping in spring and she needed a good result in the Eternal City. So far it looked good. She was doing well in Rome. Today she would play in the quarter finals against local favourite Andrea Flavione. It would be a tough match but not impossible. Andrea would feel the pressure of the crowd like Amanda did in Australia.

She rolled over and grabbed her mobile from the nightstand. It was 7.13 AM. Why hadn’t it buzzed yet? She put it down again looking at the stucco that ornamented the high ceilings. For the last three weeks she had been woken by messages from Elise. First they came every third day, then every other day, and since she was in Rome her texts came every morning. Usually Elise only wrote little innocent and goofy messages like “Hey, how are you?” or “Good morning” and on match days Amanda was sure to receive a “Good luck! I’ll keep my fingers crossed.” Amanda usually would answer with a likewise short text.
There was nothing in her words to indicate that this was more than the beginning of a nice, easygoing friendship. And yet, Elise’s persistency was surprising the Australian.
Amanda had to admit she had become accustomed to the reliable sound of her mobile buzzing. Two days ago she had even considered to turn off the alarm clock, which was due at 7.15 AM, after Elise’s texts had begun to drop in punctually at 7.10 AM. Since Stuttgart they hadn’t spoken but it seemed that the good-night kiss after their doubles win had been only that and Amanda had racked her brain in vain.

The alarm bell went off and Amanda shut it off immediately. Elise hadn’t written a message. The Australian got up, stumbled into the bathroom and began her morning routine.
After she had dressed in her joggers and a shirt she picked up her mobile again. There was no message from Elise. Suddenly, Amanda was worried. Of course, she told herself, there would be a simple explanation for Elise’s silence but Amanda couldn’t help feeling troubled by the missing message. She sighed. That was exactly what she didn’t need before an important match.
Maybe Elise was stuck in a dead zone. Sure, that was it, Amanda calmed herself down, and there was only one way to find out and put her at ease again. She dialed Elise’s number.
Waiting for a second, she heard the dialing tone, so the service was available.
Embarrassed by what now seemed an overreaction, Amanda was just about to hang up again when Elise answered the phone.

“Hey.” She sounded surprised and awkward at the same time.
“Hi, Elise,” Amanda tried to sound cheerfully. “How is your tournament going?”
Elise was playing a challenger to get more matches under her belt and gain some ranking points. It was going fine, she answered. She had reached the quarter final which was however suspended due to rain. Amanda could hear in her voice that Elise was waiting for Amanda to come forward with whatever reason there had been for calling her.
“Will you try to qualify for Roland Garros?”
“Yes,” Elise answered. “Of course.”
Of course, she would. Amanda felt stupid. Suddenly, all week’s excitement over Elise’s texts felt like a trap. These were probably mass messages directed to several people at once and not her specifically. Once again she had fooled herself and gotten herself into an awkward position with that German girl. She could hear Elise breathing on the other side of the line. She really had to stop making a fool out of herself.
“If I qualify, ” Elise began, ” would you like to play doubles with me?”
“No,” Amanda quickly answered. “No, thank you. I really have to concentrate on singles in Paris. I have to defend too many points.”
That Elise fully understood and there was nothing to talk about. After a quick exchange of pleasantries they hung up.