When Julie Sparker and Beth Yonks finally showed up, they immediately asked who the old homeless guy was.
"He's our cheerleader," offered Angela. "And we're ready to rock, so if you don't mind, I'd like to get this party started." She turned and walked over to her place on the court. Stephanie just smiled weakly at them and shrugged. Then Bartholemew smiled at everyone, showing off a fine set of teeth. "They're false," he said. "Best decision I ever made, getting all my teeth pulled out." Julie and Beth looked at each other, wondering what they had gotten themselves into.
Julie Sparker was a tall, tan, artificially-red-haired beauty in a tennis skirt, her glasses being the only clue that she had an intellectual side. In actuality, she was president of the political science sorority Chi Theta, as well as leader of this year's Trinity College delegation to the Model U.N. She was a mean saxophone player and an avid reader of Ayn Rand. "Should we flip a coin to see who serves?"
"Here, I've got a coin." Beth Yonks pulled a quarter out of her shorts pocket. She was the Hardy to Julie's Laurel, and her short size and large stature gave Stephanie a little hope that they weren't up against a couple of professionals. Beth was the Chi Theta historian, and spent the bulk of the sorority's parties taking pictures of her friends getting wasted while trying to keep up with all the drinking herself. In other words, there were an awful lot of blurry, dark pictures in the sorority scrapbook. Beth Yonks was also the school chess champion in the regional finals the year before.
Angela ran over immediately, shouting, "Whoa, whoa, waitaminute. We need to check out that coin before any flipping starts going on." Julie and Beth sighed, impatient, as Angela grabbed the quarter and started examining both sides very carefully. After a few more checks, which included actually biting on the coin several times, she nodded and handed it back to Beth. "Sorry about that. Not my fault, of course, just trying to abide by league rules. Carry on, we'll call it in the air."
Beth flipped the quarter high into the air, and after a dramatic pause Angela shouted out "Heads, no I mean tails!" just before the coin hit the ground. The four all bent down at the same time to see the result and ended up bumping heads. "Ow!" they said, in unison.
Julie was first with the news: "It's heads, we'll serve."
Angela seemed extremely dissatisfied with the result. "That's strange. Heads was my first inclination, although normally tails is a safe bet since the head side of the coin has a micro-fraction more weight." She pondered this even as she walked over to her tennis square. She and Stephanie had agreed that Stephanie would return the serves because she had more tennis experience. So Angela stood cattycornered to Beth, while Stephanie prepared to receive Julie's first serve.
Julie Sparker dramatically bounced her tennis ball on the court three times as she had seen them do at Wimbledon on the tv, and was ready to throw the ball up into the air for her first serve when a disembodied cry of "Go team!" was heard from the cheering section, a.k.a. Bartholemew. She was visibly shaken by the interruption to her confidence, and went back to bouncing the ball in front of her. Finally, she had regained her nerves and proceeded to throw the ball high up into the air and moving her arm and racket in a swift figure eight motion over her head she slammed the ball deep into the net between her and Stephanie. Angela let out a little whoop, and Bartholemew started clapping, but stopped when Beth shot him an evil look.
Unfazed, Julie pulled out another ball from her skirt and proceeded to bounce it several times before throwing it up and hitting it as hard as she could at the patch of court directly in front of Stephanie, who wasn't standing far enough back to be in a good position to return the ball. Stephanie twisted her racket in front of her in a lame attempt to catch the ball before it bounced off her thigh. She succeeded in interposing the racket, but rather than bouncing back over the net to Julie and Beth, the ball instead careened off into another court altogether.
Julie smiled and pulled yet another tennis ball out of her skirt (where did they all come from, wondered Angela). After the bouncing routine that everyone had come to know and love (or despise, depending upon which side of the court they were on), she loudly stated "Fifteen -- love" and shot the ball over the net. This time Stephanie had prepared for the strength and length of Julie's serves by standing as far back as she could, just in front of the tall metal fence that surrounded the tennis courts. Unfortunately, Julie's ball hit much closer to the net, forcing Stephanie to run forward at a breakneck pack and dive towards the ball before it threatened to bounce again. For a second time she managed somehow to touch the ball with the inside of her racket, but yet again her racket was not moving in such a way as to actually send the fuzzy sphere back to the other side of the net. This time the ball bounced gently off Stephanie's racket and then bounced again softly off the top of her head. She lay there on the court, as if the game was already over and the defeat had completely broken her.
"Thirty -- love," announced Julie, producing a fresh ball and beginning the bounce customary to all poly sci majors who are stomping their amateur tennis tournament opponents. Much as Angela secretly enjoyed seeing her obnoxious roommate eating dust, she did not like the fact that this monstrosity across from her appeared to be single-handedly winning the game with little or no effort. In the meantime, Stephanie had gotten up and brushed herself off. She limped back to a spot on the court somewhere between her first two attempts; her legs were scraped and her left knee was bleeding slightly.
Angela felt it necessary to stall the game for a few seconds to allow her sordid roommate a chance to catch her breath. "Hey, yo! Wait up! What's with all this love crap? Where did that score jargon come from, anyway? I'm not seeing a lot of love here today!"
Beth bit the bait. "Well, actually, contrary to popular thought, the 'love' in tennis scoring did not originate from the french phrase 'l'oeuf' which means egg, or zero in this case, as is commonly believed. In tennis the 'love' is referring to the fact that if you keep playing despite the fact that you can't get any points, then you must be playing for love, because you'll never win any money."
Beth's explanation was punctuated by Julie's next serve, which hit the inside far right corner of Stephanie's box and then made a rather amazing zig-zagged bounce to the left sharply, the type of bounce that can be achieved only by a serve that succeeds in hitting the ball at an angle, spinning the projectile to the point that it bounces wildly, almost completely impossible to return except for the cream of the crop of tennis players. And, true to form, Stephanie did not return it. This time she did not even succeed in touching the ball but instead stood and gaped with confusion as the ball bounced all the way to the fence.
"Forty -- love," was Julie's nonchalant response to the aforementioned proceedings. During the next round of The Bounce, Angela took it upon herself to switch places with Stephanie, who acquiesced without argument, trembling and on the verge of tears.
"Switching's not allowed in the middle of a game," was Beth's addition to the equation, but Julie waved her off, as if they could win this thing even if they gave their opponents a five game lead. So Angela kept her new spot and tried to predict which way the ball was going to go this time.
The green ball came off of Julie's racket and flew through the air to bounce on the other side of the net just out of Angela's reach. Luckily the ball was also quite out of bounds, so Julie had to come up with another ball for the next serve. After a little fidgeting with her skirt it soon became readily apparent that The Skirt Of Never-Ending Balls, with all of it's extra-dimensional clown-car magic, had actually run out balls! Angela felt that this in itself was a major victory, and did a little dance in her corner of the court while Julie looked around for an available tennis ball to serve.
Beth leaned over the net, and in her most patronizing voice said "Ummm, dearies, for some unknown reason all of the balls seem to be on your side of the court. Would you be so nice as to send them back over to us so that we can continue the game? Thank you so very much."
Angela did her best to comply, and pretty soon all the balls on the court were steadily bouncing off different parts of Beth's anatomy. Beth scrambled around, trying to get the balls over to her partner, and was clearly annoyed at having been put in the position of having to do physical work. Julie grabbed the first ball that came her way and stated, dramatically, "That's okay, Beth, this should be enough to finish this game."
Her patience worn out, Julie skipped the bounce and went straight into the Throw The Ball Into The Air And Hit It As Hard As You Can phase of her serve. She sent the ball smartly across the net, another curve job, but Angela caught the ball even before the first bounce and hit it straight towards Beth's feet. The chess champion howled like a banshee even as she jumped backwards and returned the ball in Stephanie's direction.
Stephanie, however, was looking in the opposite direction at a passing student who had just thrown a styrofoam hamburger container on the ground. "Hey," she was yelling, even as the tennis ball was flying through the air towards her. "You better come back here and pick that up!"
"Stephanie!" shouted Angela, "Pay attention to the game!" But she could see that there was no way Stephanie would be able to react in time. With almost super-human speed, Angela bounded over to Stephanie's side and threw her racket at an angle calculated to deflect the ball back to their opponents. The ruse worked, and the ball actually did travel back over the net from their side one last time before a raving Julie stuffed the ball irreversibly by slamming it into Angela's now deserted and completely undefended side of the court. Stephanie tried valiantly to return Angela's favor by running over to the other side, but she only succeeded in witnessing at close range the second bounce that signaled their defeat.
Angela seemed unfazed by the loss and casually walked over to talk to Bartholomew in the few moments before the next game. Julie and Beth switched ends of the court, and Stephanie sheepishly wandered over to her new side, not looking quite ready to do her best serving. Just when it seemed that the other three players were ready to start the next game, Angela went over to the net as if she was about to make an important announcement.
"So what are we doing here," she asked into the air, "two games out of three? I need to know because my friend Bartholomew and I are going to go split some Chicago-style pizza when this little escapade is finished." From his position on the sidelines, Bartholomew waved a large, gnarled hand.
The rule-master that was Beth Yonks replied in an even tone: "No, we're playing a set, which means a team has to win at least six games."
"So what you're saying is that the first team to win six games wins the set and thus the round?"
"It's not quite that simple," corrected Beth. "A team cannot win the set unless they have at least a two game edge on their opponents. Much like in a game where a team has to win by at least two points so too must a set be won by two games. It is in this way that the deceptively simple game of tennis carries with it an infinite edge. Two very evenly matched teams could theoretically play forever, either at the game or the set level. I don't think that applies to this situation, however."
Angela ignored that last comment and continued on to the logical conclusion of her line of questioning. "So what you are saying is that it is possible -- maybe not probable, admittedly, but please grant me that it is at least possible -- for this round to take a very long time to play. At the very least we have to play five more games, right? So if someone were writing a detailed description of this entire round, we could safely say that the description would take many more pages and who knows how many more thousands of words before a winner is determined..."
"Objection," interjected Julie. "Seriously, I don't see where this is all headed. It's quite obvious that no one is or will be writing any of this down, and no one in their right mind would want to. This whole ordeal is a travesty and I would leave this court right now in disgust if it wasn't for the fact that we are kicking your ass."
Angela, no doubt, would have come up with a clever response to this was it not for the fact that she had just noticed that her roommate and partner, Stephanie Bowers, was passed out face down on the court, the strain of the whole experience apparently being too much for her poor, celery-eating soul. "Hmmm..." said Angela. "Well, I guess that clinches it. We give up. Congratulations." She extended a hand towards the victorious Chi Theta's who were too busy hugging each other in celebration to notice. She headed over to Bartholomew. "C'mon, I know where there's a eighteen-inch deep pan pizza with the works and our names on it."
Meanwhile, Stephanie lay on the cold, hard tennis court and dreamed of a better world, one where things actually worked out the way they were supposed to...
Chapter 22 was first written November 26, 2001
It was last edited December 30, 2001