I was sitting one out when she showed up on our paddleball court in leggings and a dark green hoodie. The guy I had been partners with went home disgusted after we lost. We'd both missed a bunch of easy shots, but we lost mostly because we choked at the end.
I had next. I was hoping that at least three guys would stick around so I could play another game or two and get a decent workout for the day.
She plopped down next to me against the chainlink. "What time you guys start around here?"
"About eight-thirty, nine, on weekends. Some of 'em show up earlier."
"You got next?"
"Yeah. I hope there's a game" though my heart was sinking. I didn't want to walk onto the court, especially with a girl - okay, a woman - against two good players.
"You mind if I ...?"
"Yeah, okay, sure." Fair is fair, after all. I'd have to bite the bullet. We figured that B-players would weed themselves out, and a crappy player with half a brain wouldn't even bothering challenging us.
While the game on the court continued, I seethed, but she got up, did some stretches against the fence - I know the guys were paying attention because play had been pausing between serves - and then she took off the hoodie, pulled up a black elbow support, tightened her shoelaces, and sat back down to wrap her racquet handle with blue gauze grip tape. Maybe she's a serious player after all, I thought.
Soon the game ended, 15-11. The four players walked back to their bags. "Hey guys ... how 'bout one more?" I asked.
Bob and Harold, the winners, looked at her, at then at me. Bob said, "Sure. Why not?" Unsaid, because I've been through this before, was "You sure you want to make fools of yourselves?" and "At least ya gotta know we're doing you a favor."
She picked up the black game ball and strode onto the court. She stood at the short line and started rhythmically hitting the ball - racquet ... wall ... bounce ... racquet ... wall ... bounce - and even switched hands. She was a lefty. Great! I'd play the left side - my strong and favorite side - while she'd be on the right, and we wouldn't be switching sides..
I stood up and joined her. We volleyed a bit. The two guys who were leaving closed the gate on their way out. Then Bob asked, "You guys ready?"
"You good?" I asked. She nodded.
"By the way, my name's Denny," I said.
"Jayzee," she replied.
"I'm Bob," he said, "and that ugly guy is Harold."
We all laughed. She smiled and said, "Nice to meet ya'all."
We waited at the long line, as Bob and Harold volleyed a few times. She asked, "Anything you can tell me?"
"When Bob's on the right, he hits down the line. Past his body. Sometimes moves at the same time. It's tough picking up the ball."
"Ready?" Harold asked. "Okay ... takin' two."
The first serve went between us. I groaned, inside. We dropped a couple more quick points. Then we started to synch. She had a sneaky, low, angled serve, and when the guy behind me moved closer in anticipation, she hit a hard chest-high serve at his backhand. It was difficult to not burst out laughing the first time she caught him encroaching.
And, boy, she was quick. She had a soft touch, a wide range, and returned a few shots that I'm sure they'd already counted as points.
We won, 15-12, and we all shook hands. She smiled at me and winked. I chuckled, then said, "How 'bout best two outa three?" I knew these guys would want a rematch. They never like to lose, especially against a woman.
"Yeah. All right." Harold, said. But not so grudgingly, this time.
The score seesawed. No more than two points separated us until we squeaked by at the end to win, 15-13.
Bob said, "Man ... you're some player, Jayzee. You really had me goin'. But now I really gotta get goin'."
After Bob and Harold took off, Jayzee and I packed up our stuff. She said, "Maybe I'll see 'round. Okay?"
"Sure thing. We played together really well." We walked to the parking lot. When she got to her Honda, she waved.
Jayzee showed up the next Sunday, and on many subsequent weekends. We almost always played as partners. We lost our share of games, but much more of the time, we won. We complemented each other's style. I played better when she was my partner. Naturally, she didn't have as much power, but she was agile enough to dig out almost every shot on her side. I didn't have to fight her for shots down the middle. She had a gracious way about her that was both endearing and non-threatening. Otherwise, she might have really pissed off these guys.
When Jayzee wasn't there they teased me about her being my park girlfriend. At my workplace we might have an office girlfriend, or where I bring my dog, a dog-run girlfriend. These so-called relationships were all imaginary. Really. Even so, I felt embarrassed. Or maybe I was just oblivious. There were times when I'd look at Jayzee, with her ponytail bouncing, her tight, muscular body, reaching and bending for a ball, and think about ... well, think about you know what.
On a particularly warm October Sunday, Jayzee and I were both in the zone. We were unstoppable and we won thirteen games in a row. I had never played as well ever before. We knocked off the best players on the court over and over again. The closest anyone got was 15-8.
After, we sat on a bench outside the court watching a couple of teenagers playing desultory handball, savoring our string of victories over warm Gatorade. The adrenalin rush was wearing off and I sighed. She asked, "Whatsa matter?"
"I don't know, Jayz ... but I don't think it'll ever get any better than this."
Rev 4 / November 4, 2009
November, 2009 Copyright © 2009, Lloyd B. Abrams