Hanna studied her opponent.
She watched as chubby, acne-scarred Debbie Shuller tossed the tennis ball low and come down too hard with her racket. Smack… into the net. Debbie shrugged and smiled that sickly-sweet smile that always made Hanna want to puke. Then Debbie carefully set up her second serve and sailed a soft easy ball over to Hanna’s side.
Hanna saw the approaching shot and literally crowed as she ran forward to slam it back. Only… the ball must have had a spin to it. Instead of bouncing back and into Hanna’s waiting, big head, extra-long racket, it bounced sideways and forward… just out of her reach.
Debbie smiled even more sweetly and yelled, “Deuce.”
Hanna gritted her teeth. How could it possibly be tied, she thought. Five minutes ago she’d been leading forty-love, whacking those first three balls back at that cow, Debbie, before she could even blink. Now they were at deuce, forty-forty. “Well, I’ll win this one, Debbie,” she muttered. “I always win.”
She waited as Debbie crossed the back of the tennis court. Debbie seemed to be moving in slow motion as she got into position, stretched up, tossed the ball high and then hit it out of bounds.
“Long!” Hanna shouted, waiting impatiently for the second serve. “Come on already,” she muttered as Debbie seemed to slow down even more. Finally she hit the second serve low and into the net.
Debbie still smiled, seemingly unruffled. She appeared cool and collected as she yelled, “Your add, guess I’m a little rusty. Oh well, plenty of time to warm up.”
Hanna wiped the sweat from her upper lip. She snarled at her old school adversary and squinted at the halo the sun made around her mousy limp hair. “No time for you, honey, I’m gonna put this one away and win.”
Debbie stopped preparing to serve. “Did you say something?” she asked, lowering her arm.
“Yeah, I said serve already.”
“All right,” Debbie sighed. “You always were impatient.”
“Well, you know how it is, I’ve got to get home to Timothy,” Hanna shouted back. “He can’t stand when I’m away too long.” She felt immense satisfaction as she watched Debbie quickly blink her eyes a few times. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she called. “I forgot that Timothy was your husband first.”
Debbie served the ball, crossing the net at a sharp angle, just grazing the line. Hanna ground her teeth harder, wanting to call the shot out but knew she didn’t need to cheat to win. “It’s good!” she announced.
Debbie crossed the court again. “Back to deuce.”
After the sixth return to deuce, Hanna knew the pattern. Debbie would blow the first two serves, letting Hanna have the point, then she’d win the next shot taking the game back to deuce.
Frustrated, Hanna wondered why Debbie had called her and asked her for this match. They hadn’t spoken since she’d taken Timothy away from her. It had only been this past morning when the phone rang.
She remembered it vividly because she was almost involved in a head-on with a tractor trailer. She didn’t know how it had missed her, but she was still shaking when the phone beeped. She’d been so surprised to hear Debbie’s voice that she didn’t react as she normally would have—with enough sarcasm to put the cow in her place forever. In fact she had been mildly surprised because she sort of thought that Debbie had died or something. Obviously she’d been wrong, but after all, who had time to keep track of all the losers in the world.
Her hands had been shaking from her near miss when the call came so she slowed to a stop on the side of the road. “Hello,” Hanna barked into her cellular phone, suddenly and irrationally impatient to get where she was going.
“Hello… uh… Hanna.”
“Yes,” Hanna replied trying to place the weak voice.
“Hanna… this… this is Debbie, Debbie Shuller.”
Hanna’s voice frosted over, icing the conversation. “Debbie, what do you want? And don’t say Timothy, he’s mine now.”
She heard Debbie’s quick intake of breath. “Hanna, there is no need for hostility. I’ve missed you, and… and I wanted you to meet me for a game of tennis. It’s been so long and we were once so close. How about meeting me in a few minutes. I’m at the courts at the end of Mountain Side Road. That’s right near where you are now, right?”
“Uh, yeah.” Hanna said, wondering how Debbie knew where she was, then shrugged it off. Probably called Timothy and he told her that she had just left. She saw her racket in the back seat next to her gym bag. She had been planning to work out, so a quick match would fit right into her schedule and playing Debbie was always quick. The bitch had no style or form. “I’m not familiar with the courts, but I’ll look for them and meet you there in fifteen minutes.”
“That’s fine, Hanna. Take your time, after all we’ve got plenty of time.”
Hanna hung up and figured that Debbie called and challenged her because if she could just beat her at one thing, like tennis, then Deb could feel a little vengeful satisfaction. Hanna had to smirk. After all, she’d always beaten Debbie at everything ever since grade school. She never could understand how Debbie had gotten the guy they were both after. It wasn’t fair and it took Hanna five years but she’d finally won at the marriage game too, stealing Timothy away.
She started the car and headed slowly down the road. She was surprised that there were new tennis courts in the park at the bottom of the road but she parked and met Debbie.
* * * *
“Add out… Deuce”
Hanna’d lost count of how many times they’d tied the game. Debbie had to be doing this on purpose, but how’d she get so good? She’d always stunk at sports and Hanna had enough trophies to line a room. How, she wondered, wiping the sweat off her face, how could Debbie be doing this?
“Deuce!” Debbie yelled. “Again.”
“Just serve!” Hanna snarled as she struggled to catch her breath.
“Getting testy, aren’t we?” Debbie cooed. “Don’t you just love tennis? Why I could just play it forever.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Hanna yelled back. “You may want to play forever, but I’ve got a life. Let’s stop screwing around and end this.”
Debbie laughed and lowered her racket. “Why, how appropriate, you’ve insinuated that I don’t have a life and you’re right. I was so depressed after Tim left that I moved to Colorado and splat, got hit by a truck last month. Lord, I was nothing but road kill. But what does that matter anyway, you were too busy living your own life to notice a dead Deb. Bet you didn’t even notice Tim’s been upset the last few weeks.”
Hanna put down her racket. “What are you talking about?”
Debbie continued smiling. “Why, Heaven. You see we play tennis in heaven. That’s how I’ve improved so, eternal practice.”
Hanna laughed. “You are nuts! If you are so damned good how come we can’t get out of deuce?”
Debbie joined Hanna’s laughter. “Because I’m not damned. But you are. Tennis is my heaven now, and deuce, why Hanna, deuce can be such an infinite hell!”