Four Years Later
“Nice work, Elizabeth,” I called out. “I like the way you’re turning your body sideways on the serve. Sheena, watch how Elizabeth does it and see if you can mimic her form.”
It was a gorgeous August day in New Jersey—pleasantly warm, with a cool breeze and no clouds in the sky. The past four years at the Lafayette Tennis Academy had gone by quicker than I ever could have imagined. Then again, that’s what people said about doing a job you loved.
I enjoy this so much more than playing.
“Very good, Sheena!” I called across the six practice courts. “Just like that. Turn sideways, then explode up and forward.”
Coaching was so much more fulfilling than I ever expected. Unlike coaching a professional, coaching kids allowed me to see their improvement every year. Heck, they improved from week to week sometimes.
And when I saw a little girl like Elizabeth, who was thirteen and had raven hair and a stubborn streak, I couldn’t help but wonder what my children would be like someday. I had always been hesitant to have kids, but me and the guys were ready to sit down and start trying. At least, Tristan and Gabriel were ready. Dominic was still skeptical about kids.
But the other three of us were certain we could convince him.
Tristan sidled up next to me, his arms folded over his chest and a thoughtful expression as he watched the students. “Okay, you win. Elizabeth is better than Jordan.”
“It’s not a competition,” I replied. “Your top student doesn’t have to do better than my top student.”
He gave me a sideways look. “Yes, okay. Except it very much is a competition, and my top student does have to do better than yours.”
I smiled sweetly. “I’m just happy knowing they’re all showing steady improvement. And that you’re settling in nicely as the boy’s coach.”
Tristan had been retired for four years, but it had taken two years for a coaching job to open up at the Academy. Not that I had minded him being retired and relaxing all day at home. He made up for it by being my trophy boyfriend: cooking, cleaning the house, and always being ready with a smile and a kiss when I got home.
He glanced at his watch. “About that time.”
“Sure is.” I grabbed the whistle from around my neck and blew a long note. “Okay everyone, that’s enough serving drills. Give me two laps around the building and then we’re done for the day. And remember, we’re leaving for the field trip at six in the morning! That’s six, Joy. I don’t want another excuse about Sheena taking too long in the shower.”
Tristan and I led the players in an easy jog around the building, then finished up for the day. The Academy had overnight instructors who stayed and took care of the students, but Tristan and I were daytime coaches, and got to leave once practice was over.
Gabriel was in the kitchen when we got home, stirring tomato sauce in a pan while pasta boiled in a pot next to him. “Ah, perfect timing!” he said when he saw us. “Chef Moreau is nearly finished with dinner.”
“I have a sneaking suspicion he’s trying to give me food poisoning before my last US Open,” Dominic yelled from the recliner in the living room.
“So dramatic,” Gabriel muttered, putting down the wooden spoon to take me in the arms and kiss me. He muttered something seductive in French.
“Hello there,” I replied, grinning in his arms.
“I’m just saying, you have never offered to make me dinner before,” Dominic was saying from the other room. “It’s suspicious.”
Gabriel picked up the sauce pan and carried it into the other room. “Here. I am tasting from the sauce myself.” He smacked his lips. “Nom nom nom. Now you can relax.”
“But now your germs are all over the sauce.”
“You two have shared far more than a few germs,” I pointed out, kissing Dominic. “And you’ve indirectly shared a lot of saliva by kissing me.”
“Parts of you, anyway,” Tristan joked.
“I’m just nervous,” Dominic admitted. “It’s one thing to announce I’m retiring after this tournament. It’s another thing realizing that any game could be my last. What if I lose tomorrow?”
“To that unranked Portuguese player? Unlikely,” I said.
“If you lose to him,” Gabriel said, “then you deserve to retire.”
Dominic chewed his lip.
“Me, I have many more years of tennis in front of me!” Gabriel said cheerfully while returning the sauce to the kitchen. “Four, perhaps five more grand slam wins.”
“Especially once I’m out of the picture,” Dominic said. “Then there won’t be anyone to stop you.”
Gabriel poked his head out of the kitchen to glare at the American man. “I am hardly afraid of your presence.”
“You should be,” Dominic said, finally smiling. “Since your calendar slam four years ago, I’ve won five out of eight of our head-to-head match-ups.”
“A single victory above fifty percent,” Gabriel replied. “Hardly worth bragging about.”
“Oh, I think it’s plenty worth bragging about.”
“Then perhaps I will see you in the finals.”
“Semifinals,” Dominic clarified.
“Whichever round we face each other, I will give you my best performance to send you into retirement.”
The two players had bounced around in ranking over the past four years. Dominic was now the #3 player in the world, while Gabriel was #2. Juncheng, the up-and-coming Chinese player, had held the #1 spot for five months now after impressive showings at the Australian and French Opens.
“I will not go easy on you,” Gabriel warned.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“You may change your opinion after the tournament,” Gabriel said while straining pasta.
“There’s the old, cocky Gabe I’ve missed,” Tristan said with a grin.
“Gabriel! My name is Gabriel, not Gabe. I am not a teenage club DJ.”
The four of us tried to eat dinner together as often as possible. It wasn’t easy when Dominic and Gabriel were traveling for tennis tournaments, but it was still something that made my heart happy when we were all in town together. We ate pasta, and shared garlic bread, and made our predictions about the US Open.
“I placed a large wager on the winner of the tournament,” Tristan said while cleaning away plates.
“Did you bet on me, or Dominic?” Gabriel asked.
“Who said anything about you two? My money’s on Juncheng!”
My house had four bedrooms; one for each of us. We usually all slept together in my Alaska king bed, but Dominic and Gabriel were sleeping in their own rooms tonight to make sure they got eight hours of undisturbed sleep. Tristan folded his body around mine, spooning me as I drifted off.
I love always being in one of their arms, I thought. I never have to be alone when I have three boyfriends.
I was up in time to say goodbye to Dominic and Gabriel before they drove to the tournament. I gave the Frenchman the same pep talk I always did, but I spent an extra few seconds hugging Dominic.
“Go cement your legacy,” I whispered to him. “And have fun. Soak it all in. The last tournament is always special, so don’t take anything for granted.”
“You act like you’ve been there before,” he replied with a small smile.
“I am indeed speaking from experience.” I kissed him one last time. “And win. You’re Dominic freaking deGrom. Don’t forget it.”
“Thanks for reminding me. I love you so much.”
I cupped his cheek. “I love you more.”
After they were gone, Tristan and I drove to the Academy to meet the bus that would take all of us to the US Open in Flushing, New York. Everyone was sleepy, but the ride was still filled with the laughter and joking that always accompanied two dozen adolescents.
We had special tour passes that allowed us to go to the front of the line to be admitted to the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center, where the US Open was held. We had access to the entire grounds, but we also had specific tickets for the first match that morning in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
We took the escalators to the upper deck, then walked out of the tunnel into the open arena. The court was spread out below us, surrounded by seats that were slowly filling up with fans. The sight of the court sent a shiver up my spine. It always did.
Suddenly, I realized that Elizabeth was standing next to me. She was staring out at the court not with excitement, but determination.
“What do you think?” I asked softly.
“I think I’m going to be here someday.” She gave herself a little nod. “No, I don’t think so. I know so.”
I patted her on the back. “I know you will, too.”