It was still dark as the Point Collina tennis teams—or the portions of them which were headed to Beran—gathered at the bus parked near the two locker rooms. Three planets hovered near the horizon in the direction of the government beach, and the Moon was just setting more or less in the direction they were about to go. Terry was the last one to arrive, springing from her grandmother’s Mini and surprised to see that her team captain was already there. Denise wasn’t known as a morning person, but there she was, talking to the girl’s coach, Jane Dorr, a well tanned, mannish looking woman a shade shorter than Denise, who was also the school’s Girls’ Athletic Director. The guys were all together with their coach, an American named Thomas Hancock, who came to Verecunda when his student deferment expired and ended up coaching tennis and teaching English.
“You finally made it,” Denise contemptuously told Terry as she started up the bus stairs to store her bags.
“Did we have to all go together? It’s awful early, and a little chilly,” Terry observed, wearing her sweater over her tennis outfit. “And why couldn’t we dress when we got there?”
“Ever been inside an Aloxan locker room?” Dorr asked. “It’s for your own good.”
“We’re a team,” Denise reminded Terry. “We play together, we travel together.”
“Daddy said he could have found some place up there where we could have stayed.”
“Daddy’s off the Island,” Denise reminded Terry with a sneer. “You need to grow up.”
“Are we all ready?” Dorr asked Hancock, yelling over to the guys.
“Yeah, let’s go!” Hancock agreed, and with that the bus was loaded.
In a nation whose president’s inaugural address promised “real equality,” rank and hierarchy reigned on the bus. Hancock drove, having just acquired his Verecundan commercial driver’s license. Dorr was up front with the two team captains Denise and Pete, obviously steady now. Although it was a “small” school bus, it swallowed up its six occupants. Terry and Jack Arnold went to the back together. As they stopped at their “appointed” row, Jack leaned over to Terry and whispered, “Welcome to my world.”
“Thanks a lot,” Terry replied.
They sat across the aisle from each other. Jack’s hair and skin colouring were very much like his sister’s, reflecting both genetics and spending a lot of time in the sun. His hair was very full and shaggy, parted on one side and just barely touching his collar, with the ample sideburns that were the order of the day. Although two forms ahead of Terry, he had to look up to her a bit when they were standing together.
Leaving the school, they went down Bolton Street to Ocean Avenue. Turning right, they went through the town centre and arrived shortly at the Collinan border. Passing through was a formality, although the Collinan authorities required passports from everyone.
Development stopped right at the border; beyond it was an undeveloped estate that sat between Verecunda Bay and the ocean. The road narrowed considerably as they got into Collina, slowing their advance through the Island’s oldest republic. The group in front had some conversation but not much; the back sat in silence, taking in the morning to the extent that they could, as the wall of sleep hadn’t been broken very long for either of them.
They reached Collina town, passing through a quiet city centre and crossing the river. About 0730, as the sun’s light finally appeared on the horizon and outlined the trees to shine through the windows on the right side of the bus, the trip came to an abrupt halt at the Aloxan border as the bus stopped at the gate.
Hancock opened the bus door, and the Aloxan border guard came up the steps, complete with immaculate uniform and AK-47 slung around his back. He looked around, then said, “Everyone off of the bus. Leave your articles on.” Terry and Jack looked at each other in a worried way as they were the last off. The border guard’s colleague motioned the team and coaches to make a kind of line-up along the side.
“Passports, please,” the other guard said as the one boarded the bus.
“You can’t search my things—I carry a diplomatic passport, if you don’t mind,” Denise sternly said, taking her specially coloured one and handing it to the guard. “My bag has my name marked on it.”
“Don’t search Miss Kendall’s things,” the guard yelled to his fellow on the bus. He took everyone’s passport and he also searched the girls’ purses (except, of course, Denise’s.) “Wait here,” the guard said upon finishing passport roundup. He went into the guard house.
Terry and Jack eased away from the rest and went around back.
“What are they looking for?” Terry asked.
“Drugs,” Jack replied. “I hope Pete left his pot at home. I sure did. If he didn’t, they’ll throw us all in the klink—except, of course, ‘her highness.’”
“Great,” Terry sighed. “Or maybe he stashed it in Denise’s bag.”
“You two trying to start something?” a voice came from the left. They turned and saw it was Denise. She looked first at Jack. “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” she asked. She then turned to Terry. “He’s not your type—trust me. They’re just about through.” Denise walked back towards the bus door. By that time the guard had emerged from the house with the passports. He gave back each of them stamped, but saved Terry’s for last.
“You’re Mr. Richard Marlowe’s daughter, aren’t you?” he asked Terry.
“Yes, sir, I am,” Terry answered.
“I see him at the border often,” the guard said. “Haven’t you been to Aloxa lately? I thought I recognised you.”
“I think it was back in June,” Terry said.
“Your father is a fine man,” the guard said, handing her passport back. “Tell him that Noel Saxton was asking about him. I usually am posted along the Beran-Hallett Road, but I am on temporary duty here.”
“I’ll do that. Thank you,” Terry replied, turned, and stepped back up into the bus. She was barely at the top of the stairs when the Aloxans raised the gate. Hancock put the bus in gear and lurched forward, sending Terry hurtling down the aisle. When she came even with her seat, she threw herself backwards, landing sitting upright on the vinyl seat with a satisfying, if not particularly ladylike, thud.
“That’s right slick,” Jack said, impressed with the show of female gymnastics. “Think you can manoeuvre that good on the court?”
“If we make the trip,” Terry answered. Denise and Pete were laughing at the whole show; it broke Denise’s jealous stare at Terry’s nice talk with the guard.
The bus’ progress was reasonable until they got to Aloxa town. It was market day, and the streets were crowded. The bus picked its way past the central square and the palace. The people in the streets were virtually all black, except for the occasional native from Fort Keane, and this intimidated the bus riders. They also passed the Aloxa Royal school, one of their rivals in the tournament they were going up to. As the bus worked its way through Aloxa town traffic, Dorr made her way to the back of the bus people to brief them on what she didn’t know.
“Do we know anything more than we did before? Coach Hancock didn’t say much other than to pick Pete and me to go and told us to show up at 6:00 this morning at school,” Jack asked.
“Not really,” Dorr replied. “We know the Aloxans want to show of their new school—Beran-Williamstown. We know each school invited—and that means us and Hallett—were to send two boys and two girls. Beyond that, we don’t know much of anything.”
“Is this a new court?” Terry asked.
“It is a new court,” Dorr confirmed. “But nobody from our side of the border has ever seen it. I think they’ve been practising on it so they’ll have an advantage.”
“How good are these people, compared to last year?” Jack asked.
“Depends,” Dorr replied. “The three schools—now two—only graduated two boys off the team between them. You remember how they played last year at the Collinan Invitational.”
“Really,” Jack recalled, “that guy from Aloxa Royal knocked me out the first round.”
“We’ll, he’s back.”
“So what about the girls?” Terry asked.
“Hard to say,” Dorr answered. “They’ve only had organised girls’ athletics in Aloxa since King Leslie was crowned. There’s one girl from Williamstown who’s supposed to be terrific, but she’s never played outside the country before.”
“So that leaves us Hallett,” Jack observed.
“Their boys’ team is the worst Upper Division team in the country,” Dorr declared. “The girls have Carla Stanley, and in my opinion she’s the only one in our regular season schedule who can beat Denise.”
“She wasn’t that strong last year—good, but not great,” Terry noted.
“I saw her at an exhibition match they had with Uranus Consolidated about a month ago. She’s come a long way. Somebody’s been working with her other than her coach, but I don’t know who.”
As they eased out of Aloxa town, they entered what should have been the most scenic part of the trip: the journey down the Royal Road along the Aloxa River to Beran. Out of the left they could see the river pass by them with its overhanging trees, but the closer they got to Beran the more nervous they became, as much from the uncertainty of the tournament structure itself as from the possibility of losing.
But their worries did nothing to slow their advance. It wasn’t long before they came up on a bridge which carried them over Beran Creek. Off to the left about 500 metres away they could see the creek open up to the Beran Bay. In front of them was the town of Beran, Aloxa’s second largest.
The name Beran was one East Islanders spoke with reverence. It had not yet been a half century since the slave revolt that birthed Aloxa swept away the Masonic monarchy that lorded over a realm extending from where they rode to Drago on the other end of the Island, and up to the Claudian Islands that marked the northern limit of this patch of sand and coral. For Verecundans, Beran was their chief rival; its elimination assured Verecunda’s pre-eminence—if not its territorial dominance—over the Island, and Verecundans tended to regard Beran as a quaint, picturesque town inhabited with black people they had as little to do with as they could.
Jack and Pete had never seen the place before; they took it in as best they could as Hancock made his way to his appointed left turn onto Central Axis Road. Ahead of them in the distance was the Ashlar Pier, the traditional entrance into Beran, but today Verecunda’s privileged children entered by means of school bus. The traffic was very moderate—market day concentrated itself down towards the pier—as they passed the old Beran school, now consolidated with Williamstown’s to the north. Terry looked out and noted that it was now owned by the Beran Pentecostal Church, who were converting the building to their own use.
They then turned right onto the Williamstown Road and proceeded slowly. Hancock wasn’t completely sure what he was looking for next, but Denise spotted a very small, hand painted sign pointing left to the school. Hancock made an abrupt turn to follow it; Terry found it necessary to hang on to the seat in front of her to prevent her tall frame from ending up on the bus floor. Driving down the new Beran-Williamstown School Road about 750 metres, they bore slightly left through an impressive gate announcing the school and at last came onto school property.
On their right was a nice looking, Spanish style building in concrete-block stucco, painted pink, with a white roof.
“This looks better than some of our schools,” Jack noted.
“Yeah, but. . .where is everybody?” Denise asked.
“When did they say we were supposed to be here?” Pete asked, realising that Denise was right.
“Says here eight thirty,” Dorr replied, looking at a piece of paper in her hand.
“I should have known,” Denise sighed. “These people haven’t figured out what a clock is for.”
Terry looked at her coach with concern. “I need to go to the bathroom,” she said softly.
“What a baby!” Denise scolded.
“Just because you’re a camel!” Jack shot back.
“Shut your face!” Denise shot back. Hancock, re-engaged the clutch and threw the bus back into gear, forcing everyone firmly back into their seats. He drove around the west end of the school and found a custodian walking on the back side of the building.
“We’re here from the Point Collina school for the tennis tournament. Where are the Aloxan teams and coaches?” Hancock asked the custodian.
“I don’t know,” the custodian replied. “They should be here in a while.” Denise rolled her eyes at this response.
“Are there locker rooms where these people could freshen up?” Hancock asked.
“Oh, yes, they’re right over there,” pointing to the two doors about ten metres away. “I’ll open them up for you. And, welcome to Beran.”
“Thank you,” Hancock replied. He pulled a little closer, stopped and opened the door. The bus riders—all of them, including Denise—bounded out and headed straight for the two of them, barely allowing the custodian to unlock the doors and turn on the lights.
The guys came out first and, each looking around as he emerged, spotted the tennis courts in front of them and a little to the left. The girls came out as a unit and, seeing the guys already at the court, went the same way.
“The plumbing sure was screwy in there,” Denise observed. “I could barely figure out how to wash my hands, let alone flush the john.”
“I think some Swiss contractor built this for them,” Terry replied. “They had to bring just about everything in from Europe.”
“And how did you know that, smarty pants?” Denise asked.
“I was working at Daddy’s last summer,” Terry replied. “We sold them some things, did some freight forwarding as well.”
“You get around too much,” Denise replied. They came to the courts. There were two of them in a common, chain-link enclosure with wind break material threaded in the links. Obviously meant for spectator events, there were two sets of bleachers, one on each side. What really caught everyone’s attention, however, was the fact that the courts were right next to a beach on the Beran Bay. All of them stood in front of the fence and looked out on the beach in front of them and outward to the bay. It was a very nice day, with a breeze blowing from inland and the temperature already around 22ºC.
“I don’t believe these stupid people wasted a perfectly good beach on a school,” Denise said as she looked wide-eyed on the scene.
“You and Cat would be out on the beach every day if you went here,” Jack said.
“We don’t go to the beach that much,” Terry replied.
“Hey, speaking of beaches, isn’t that Avinet’s Beach over there on the right?” Dorr asked, pointing at the beach across the bay whose shore curved towards the north.
“What about it?” Hancock asked.
“It’s the place where the first King of Beran crucified an entire family of Christian people for not being Masons,” Dorr said.
“You mean, literally, crucified them?” Hancock asked, taken aback.
“Yes, sir,” Dorr replied. “The King didn’t want any Christians in his realm, and that stuck until Beran came apart.”
“Oughta do it again,” Denise said. The conversation came to a sudden halt with that remark; even Hancock was shocked, and they looked at each other in disbelief.
They drifted back in silence towards the courts; Denise walked on, first looking over them very carefully. They were brand new and obviously played on very little. She pawed the surface with her tennis shoe, then turned to Dorr in amazement.
“They’ve put clay courts in,” she said. “I can’t believe these turds did this.”
“Are there any others on the Island?” Terry asked.
“Not that I know of,” Dorr said.
“I wonder what other booby traps these spooks have set,” Denise mused.
“I guess we’ll find out when we have the coaches meeting,” Dorr replied. Hancock shook his head in disbelief at this kind of dialogue. They wandered around; Denise got out her racquet and a ball or two and tested the courts out, as did the guys. About ten minutes later two vehicles came around the school, a large American estate car and a VW Beetle right behind it.
“Here come the hillbillies,” Denise said. The two cars rolled up and stopped behind the bleachers; Carla emerged from the driver’s seat of the estate car, dressed pretty much the same way she was when making deliveries. The rest of the passengers and the Beetle’s driver followed suit.
“Don’t you people have a bus?” Dorr asked their coaches, a husband and wife team named William and Cassie Lawrence.
“Broke down yesterday,” William replied. “Have to get a part from the mainland.” Denise’s attention immediately shifted from the coaches when she saw Madeleine des Cieux emerge from the back seat of the estate car.
“What are you doing with these people?” Denise asked.
“They offered me a ride,” Madeleine simply replied.
“You could have ridden with us—we had plenty of room,” Denise came back.
“I don’t remember receiving an invitation,” Madeleine answered in her soft voice. Now it was Dorr’s turn to show displeasure in her face at this dialogue.
“So where are the Aloxans?” William asked.
“Haven’t seen them yet,” Hancock replied.
“Is there anywhere to change?” Carla asked. “We need to be getting ready.”
“Locker rooms are over there,” Terry pointed. “They’re pretty nice.” The Hallett teams went and got their gear out of the estate car and headed towards the locker room. Madeleine, dressed in shorts, decided to go down and wade in the bay, taking a spare towel from the estate car. The Point Collina team beat the ball around for a few minutes while the coaches traded whatever notes they could while waiting for the Aloxans.
It was another fifteen minutes before both Aloxan teams emerged from the locker rooms, the boys first and the girls a minute later. They had gained access through the front of the building shortly after the Point Collinans had passed it. The Point Collina and Hallett coaches introduced themselves, then the teams were introduced to each other. The coaches then retreated to the building for the meeting. The Aloxan coaches did not bring their captains with them while the others did.
The Aloxan players for their part took over the court. Jack wandered off to the beach to admire the scenery. A couple of Aloxans sat where the grass met the beach and watched.
“How did you know this place was next to a beach?” Jack yelled to Madeleine as she eased through the water.
“Papa told me,” she coolly replied, turning back to Jack to answer him.
“Does he know everything?”
“And everyone,” Madeleine added.
“So you were ready,” he said, pointing to her legs in the water.
“Haven’t you seen a woman dressed in this way before? This is the Island, after all.”
“Well, yeah, but. . .”
“So it is not a problem.” She turned back and waded some more. Jack, sufficiently buffaloed, wandered around a bit more.
“Is she your girlfriend?” one of the Aloxan boys asked Jack.
“Nah,” he replied. “Just in my class.”
“If you want to change that, you have a long way to go,” the Aloxan came back, laughing with his friend. Jack swallowed the insult; he could have started a fight but didn’t.
He looked at her sandals and towel on the beach. I could swipe these, he thought to himself as his glance alternated between her and her belongings. But her purse is somewhere else. Bet it’s locked up in the hicks’ car. She thinks of everything. If I did, all she’d do is walk barefoot to the bleachers. Not quite like stealing Vannie’s panties at the Elaron Beach Hotel last spring. Besides. . .he looked at her again. . .I don’t know. Better not. He found his own restraint inexplicable as he left the beach and worked his way back to the courts.
Terry retreated to the eastern bleachers, too keyed up from both past and future to do much else. Shortly thereafter Elisabeth Cassidy, one of the Aloxan girls, stopped practising and went over to Terry. She was different in that, while the other Aloxan girls sported Afros, her own hairdo was more in the style of Diana Ross.
“You have been up here before, haven’t you?” she asked.
“Some,” Terry said, still not totally there.
“You are Richard Marlowe’s daughter, aren’t you?” Elisabeth asked.
“Yes, I am,” Terry said, lightening up a bit.
“Your father is a very nice man,” Elisabeth said. “My father is grove manager up in Williamstown. Your father comes to see us every now and then; he helps us a great deal when we need to obtain things from off the Island.”
The light finally came on inside of Terry. “You’re Devin Cassidy’s daughter then,” she said. “That means. . .you’re Queen Arlene’s younger sister. I’m sorry, Your Highness,” she said, coming up from her seat and bowing.
Elisabeth laughed. “Don’t be so formal,” she said, looking up at Terry. “Besides, according to our law, I am not to be addressed as a princess. But you are very kind. You are also very attractive, you look very much like your father.”
“Thanks for saying so,” Terry answered. “People back home think I look strange.”
“To be honest, people in Verecunda have odd attitudes about many things,” Elisabeth observed. “Your father always treats us with respect, as does hers,” she continued, pointing to Madeleine, knee-deep in water.
“Daddy always enjoyed coming up here. He also liked seeing his Aloxan customers at the office. Sometimes they would bring large amounts of cash to pay for their items. Sometimes Daddy sent me to the bank with it—I always was scared to carry all of that.”
Elisabeth laughed again. “The only thing worse is to go to the bank with nothing.” They both laughed at that, talked about mutual friends, adult and teenage. Finally the coaches meeting broke and Elisabeth left to meet with her team.
The Point Collina teams coalesced around the back side of the bleachers. Jack was the last to join them.
“So what’s the deal?” Jack asked.
“Single elimination tournament. No doubles. Consolation match, no tiebreaker. Here’s the line-up,” Hancock said, handing the men’s chart to Pete and Jack.
“So what about us?” Terry asked.
“You were talking with your opponent,” Denise said angrily to Terry. “She’s second seed, the best girl in the country.”
“Denise is first seed. She plays Alice Fitzwilliam, Beran-Williamstown’s other player,” Dorr said, trying to avert another round of sour dialogue. “Girls play the west court, boys play the east. Your match is first,” she continued, looking at Terry.
“Let’s go get ‘em,” Hancock said, and with that their little huddle broke. As they dispersed, Denise grabbed Terry by the arm.
“I didn’t bring you up here to jive with the jigs,” she angrily snapped. “You’re here to play tennis. You screw this up, and your season is over with, just like hers,” she said, pointing to Madeleine. Terry fought back the tears as she turned away to head to the court.
By this time a crowd was filling up the stands, mostly Aloxans and mostly to watch the men, but a few Verecundans sprinkled the spectators. Madeleine slipped behind the bleachers to intercept Carla before she joined her team on the bottom row.
“I can’t believe they matched Terry with Elisabeth Cassidy,” Carla said. “That’s sheep to the slaughter.”
“Denise has her own idea,” Madeleine replied.
“I hope I can beat her, if we play,” Carla said. “Thanks for everything you’ve done for me.”
“Just do your best,” Madeleine said. Carla joined her team-mates while Madeleine went to the third row. It wasn’t a minute before Madeleine’s journey through her inner thoughts was interrupted by a voice.
“Is this seat taken?” a Chinese woman, of greater than expected height and cheery disposition, asked.
“Oh, no,” Madeleine replied. The woman sat down.
“I am Ling Shu-Yi, Terry’s grandmother,” she said. Madeleine mentally made the connections, a process made simpler by the facial resemblance between Shu-Yi and Terry.
Down on the team level, Denise looked around as Terry got ready to go out on the court. She spotted James Bennett, an Aloxan student at Point Collina, in the stands, looking very ebullient.
“I’ll bet he’s rooting for Cassidy,” Denise said to Pete, who was sitting next to her.
“Who’s that?” Pete asked.
“Bennett. Look over your right shoulder.” Pete did so and recognised him. “We got a lot of rats in this school.”
“I’ll say,” Pete agreed. “The two here are foreigners. Maybe your dad could revoke their visas.”
“He won’t do it. Bennett has a diplomatic visa, if he was expelled, he’d just come back up here a hero. Maddy. . .I don’t know, her father seems to have a lot of connections. So he won’t do that either.”
“Yet,” Pete added. He got up and went over to the eastern, “men’s” court to join Jack, who himself was first up. At this point the provincial governor got up and made what seemed to be an endless speech of welcome, with greetings from King Leslie. This was followed by similar speeches from the headmasters of the two Aloxan schools; neither of the Verecundan schools’ chiefs bothered to show up. After this they announced the first two sets.
Terry walked out onto the court, visibly nervous but making an attempt to carry herself properly. Her jet-black hair was tied back and formed far more than a ponytail down her back. Her visor strapped itself under her hair tie and her sweat band was already doing its job on her right wrist. Her metal racquet stood out on her team; before her only Madeleine had used one, a habit she passed along to Carla. The Point Collina girls had the shortest skirts of any team on the Island, which worked against Terry in that it called attention to her very long legs. Her long figure cast a slender shadow, nearly four metres long, which stretched diagonally across the court towards the bleachers where the spectators for the girls’ competition sat.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” Shu-Yi asked Madeleine, pointing to her granddaughter getting ready to receive the serve. “She will make a fine wife someday.”
Her physique is totally unsuited for this game, Madeleine thought to herself. At that uninspiring thought Madeleine was seized by another one, one that seemed to come from somewhere else: Pray for Terry. Pray like you never prayed before. Pray like Carla prayed for you.
Madeleine responded to this impulse by reaching in her purse. She pulled out her rosary, and looked at it. This just won’t do the job, she thought to herself. She threw it back in, put her purse down between herself and Shu-Yi, and crossed herself. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, she prayed silently. Shu-Yi picked up on this immediately and followed suit.
Madeleine continued silently: Our Heavenly Father, please have Terry Marlowe win this match, for our good, and the good of all his church, and for the greater glory of God, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, world without end, Amen. She continued in this vein intermittently as Terry played.
Terry’s strength was in her serve; unfortunately, while in Lower Division, she had lost many a match by fumbling game after game after a killer serve. She started out repeating this pattern, and Elisabeth seemed to be moving towards wrapping things up in two sets. However, as she got the feel of the clay court, she progressed beyond her previous play. Instead of having to think about every shot and return, she more and more felt like she was running on autopilot; she just reacted and volleyed the ball back before she knew it. The more she went into this mode, the harder Elisabeth found it to keep the ball in play, and so Elisabeth was only able to win the first set 9-7.
By this time the Point Collinans suddenly realised they had a contest on their hands. Shu-Yi stopped praying and starting screaming for her “baby,” as she called Terry. Dorr started to get carried away as well, and even Denise starting cheering for Terry. Madeleine yelled some between prayers. Most schools—to say nothing of tennis clubs—on the Island were strict about controlling their crowds, but the Aloxan schools always had a different view of this, which their opponents usually found unnerving. This time the shoe was on the other foot, but the Aloxans, always lively spectators, tried to counter this with larger numbers. As Elisabeth’s whole élan kept slipping away, they turned more to silence. Terry was energised by all of this and kept the pressure up. The second set went 7-5 for Terry, and the final set 6-4 for her also, with only two games in the last set going deuce.
There was applause from the few Verecundans when Terry’s victory was announced, but after that the crowd got quiet again, the Verecundans regaining their normal tennis decorum and the Aloxans in a state of shock. The two players went to the net to shake hands. As Elisabeth came close, she made eye contact with James Bennett and made a quick clapping motion, and he responded by standing and applauding, and his fellow countrymen followed suit, giving Terry a standing ovation.
“You played magnificently,” Elisabeth said to Terry as they shook hands. “How did you do it?”
“I have no idea,” Terry replied sheepishly. They walked off of the court and Terry sat down. It was Denise’s turn to defend Point Collina’s honour, and she got up without saying anything to her victorious team-mate.
“I knew she could win,” a jubilant Shu-Yi told Madeleine. All Madeleine could think of is, What have I done? She was lost in the whole thing. She was taught to pray. She was taught it worked. She prayed. It worked. Now she didn’t know how to take the results. Why did Elisabeth have to lose? And would Terry go on to win the tournament?
All of these hung over Madeleine like an invisible cloud as Denise faced Alice Fitzwilliam, the other Beran-Williamstown player. It was Alice who didn’t have a prayer this time; Denise dispatched her in two lopsided sets. A similar result took place when Carla Stanley played Aloxa Royal’s Maureen Avinet. Carla had the same kind of help that Terry did, although not as intense.
Elisabeth’s loss put the Aloxans’ strategy for their girls in jeopardy. Any hope of winning anything came down to Philomene Scott, who played Carla’s team-mate Joyce Kerr. A slightly chunky brunette who was as close to the court as Terry was to the sky, Kerr showed Hallett’s lack of depth by being nearly blanked in two sets.
As the girls’ first round ended, the Aloxan boys were doing better. Both Pete and Jack advanced, as Hallett was knocked out up front.
The second round began. Denise went up first, taking longer than expected to beat Philomene Scott. For Madeleine, the time of hard choices came when Terry played Carla. Shu-Yi was doing her usual support, but Madeleine was torn. Carla was her friend, Terry her schoolmate. She decided to keep quiet both on earth and to heaven, and under these circumstances Carla kept Terry off balance most of the match, although it took her the full three sets to beat the tournament’s surprise.
“Carla’s playing better that she was last year,” Denise noted to Dorr as they watched her play. “A lot better.” She looked up at Madeleine, then turned back to Dorr. “You think Maddy’s been coaching her?”
“Looks that way,” Dorr agreed.
“What were we supposed to do if Maddy played with us?”
“Glad we didn’t have to find out. Now, she’s too out of commission to really coach her right. But Carla’s still playing well. You better be your best.”
“Carla can’t win,” Denise flatly stated. “She just can’t.”
As the tournament went to its championship matches, the Aloxans decided to take no chances on losing it all, especially with the women. Some of the students headed to the music room—Beran-Williamstown was the first school in the country to have a symphonic band—and returned with drums and brass instruments. By the time Terry made it to the court to play Philomene Scott, she could barely hear herself think, let alone her grandmother cheer her on. Not only did they do the cheers, but they also did some gospel music, since many of the players were both students at the school and members of a church. None of the Point Collinans had any idea what they were playing, and Coach Dorr’s attempts to get the Aloxans to stop it were in vain. The fact that Philomene wasn’t a Christian didn’t seem to faze anyone either. Carla knew what they were playing, but she also knew it sounded entirely differently at her church. Terry was unable to keep her wits about her and went down 6-4, 3-6, and 9-11.
“You play very well,” Terry said to Philomene at the end of the match.
“We learn the hard way,” Philomene replied. “I chopped cane before I took up the racquet.”
The Aloxans weren’t too interested in the girls’ championship between Denise and Carla, which Denise won after more effort than she thought she would have to put into it. Carla was thrown off by Denise’s powerful backhand, which put the ball in places that most girls on the Island could not match. In the meanwhile the church band had repositioned itself on the men’s side, now with steel band elements. The Point Collinans braced themselves for the worst.
They got it. Hancock’s complaints almost got him thrown out as Jack struggled in his consolation round with Prince Desmond of Aloxa. Jack finally cracked and went down in four sets. Now it was left for Pete to play proper lawn tennis against Claude Millington of Beran-Williamstown. Millington was a good player, but he wasn’t quite ready to go up against someone whose game had few weak spots, a game which vaulted him to first on the ladder and the team captainship at Point Collina. It took a string of drug-out deuces but Pete finally managed to put Millington away and obtain the championship.
The winners’ ceremony was brief. As the Point Collinans walked back towards their bus, Terry felt a hand on her shoulder.
It was Elisabeth Cassidy. “You had the touch of God on your game today. What church do you go to?”
“I’m Catholic,” Terry replied.
“You come see us the next time you’re in Aloxa.”
“Thanks,” Terry replied.
They got to the bus, and Dorr asked Terry, “Are you sure that hotel has good shower facilities available? It’s the high season.”
“Yeah, they do—I called the manager yesterday. He’s waiting for us.”
“Then let’s get out of here.”
“Great idea,” Hancock agreed. They piled into the bus with their things, assumed the same positions they had going up. With a jolt Hancock put the bus in gear and began their journey back to the Point.
As they left Beran and headed down the road back towards Collina, they could see the sun set over the right front hood of the bus and the moon rising nearly behind them. For a bus that carried both tournament champions and the upset of the day, the mood was sombre, induced as much as anything by fatigue. Everyone was content to look out of the windows and content themselves with the company of their own thoughts, which interacted with the passing scenery. Hancock decided that the trip back didn’t need to be made in silence, so he turned on the radio to Verecunda’s “Top 40” station, which entertained them with Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown” and Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” as they sped through the Aloxan countryside. The town itself was clearing up, so getting through it was relatively easy, as was making the border crossing. About 1800 they turned into the resort entrance.
The name Collina—both republic and town—means “the place with hills,” which are exceptional on an Island where flat is the rule. The country sat on top of a group of coral ridges that began at Point Collina itself and curved around, forming the west coast of the island all the way to Beran Bay and reaching heights of around sixty metres. When travelling through Collina, the team followed one ridge from the Point to Collina town and crossed the river. Immediately after that it ascended to the crest of another ridge. From there it gently descended to Aloxa town and Beran.
The nation itself thus sat on the most interesting—and in case of hurricane, the most protected—real estate on the Island. Unfortunately it had difficulty translating this into greatness. From the start it had to compete with Verecunda’s superior port, and also with Beran’s slave system for primacy in agriculture. It was also trapped between the two rivals, siding with Verecunda until Beran’s collapse. Verecunda rewarded Collina’s loyalty by forcing it to concede Point Collina, and in the meanwhile the drainage and cultivation of Uranus put it at a disadvantage agriculturally. This led to emigration to Verecunda, and not a few inhabitants of districts such as Dillman-Arnold and University came or had ancestors from Collina. In more recent times there were a few émigrés from Verecunda who wanted to get away from Kendalls “march into the future,” but Verecunda leaned on its small neighbour to avoid turning it into a hotbed of dissent and governments in exile. The Republic of Collina that presented itself to the tennis teams was one of a collection of small to medium size farms and old estates which had grown over with subtropical scrub, a tangled mess of palmetto palms and slash pines with the occasional row of Australian pines.
The one exception to this was Collina town itself. The Collina River—a creek in reality—emptied itself into Collina Bay. On the south side of both was the town itself, a picturesque collection of houses and buildings that reminded foreign visitors of Bermuda but with a warmer climate. Beyond the town and peninsula was a chain of small islands on top of the best coral reef in the West Island for diving and snorkelling, but they also afforded some protection to the harbour itself. On the steep slopes of the north side was the place where the coral ridge that formed the nation’s backbone came closest to the coastline, and it was here that Lucian Gerland had built his first resort outside of Verecundan territory.
The Collina Hotel and Resort was perched on a terrace in the rapid rise of the hills from the water, and its first storey sat about twenty metres above the water. It was situated to have easy access to the fine beaches in the small bight to the north-west and a dock for boating in the inner harbour to the south-east. Above the hotel were the tennis courts and golf course. To get to the hotel, it was necessary to turn westward from the main road and go past the course and courts, then make a sharp left turn and descend down a road to the main entrance on the north-west end of the building. The bus did just that and came to a halt in front of the lobby entrance.
For the first time all day, the team was in Terry’s territory, and she got up and out of the bus to see what was what. In her own element and coming off of an improbable victory, Terry entered the lobby alone with a princess’ demeanour. To be a grandchild of Lucian Gerland was to have at one’s disposal the best recreational facilities on the Island, and the various properties got a taste of these presumed heirs and heiresses often. Of the six of them, Terry was the oldest, and also had the reputation as the most personable and best mannered. The help was always happy to see her. About five minutes later she returned to the bus.
“They’ve had a tour cancellation,” Terry explained. “We have six rooms on the hill side to clean up in. I have the keys here,” holding them up. “They’ll be expecting us for dinner shortly.”
“Great,” Denise said. They piled out of the bus, taking the keys and Terry’s directions to each room. Terry herself was thrilled to get a chance to clean up and revert to her preferred slacks so she wouldn’t look like something out of the Wild Kingdom. She made her way to the dining room, which overlooked the bay. The maître d’ sat her a table next to the plate glass window, which gave a spectacular vista of Collina town on the left, now illuminated with its own lights, the Collinan Peninsula at the centre and right which ended at the lighthouse, and the last gasp of the light of day over the bay in front of them. The ridge that started at the end of the peninsula rose slowly as one panned one’s eyes to the left. Unlike other places on the Island, where the front row of buildings blocked the view of most of what was behind them, the houses and other buildings built on the side of the ridge could easily be seen from the downward vista of the resort.
She was taking in the scene in while trying to put the day behind her when she heard a voice. “May I sit and stare at you for awhile? I’d like the company of your smile.” She looked up. It was Jack.
“Sure,” she replied.
“The sunlight in your hair—you look so good, just sitting there,” Jack continued after seating himself.
“You like that album, don’t you?” Terry asked, piercing his boulevardier talk.
“It’s great,” Jack agreed. “‘Brown is the colour of skin/that I’d like to be in/’cause it doesn’t seem right/to be coloured so white.’ Bet you like that line.”
“Actually, I do,” Terry said, smiling. “But I’m not that brown. Seems you like like the album a lot better than Cathy did. I brought it back to her all the way from England, got an extra copy. Glad someone else likes it.”
“Cat’s a teeny bopper,” Jack observed. “So where did you go in England?”
“It wasn’t a big tourist deal or anything,” Terry replied. “Daddy went to see some of his British business associates, so he took me with him.” Jack could see Terry’s face lighten up at the thought. “We rode a lot of trains, and got to see a lot of factories and offices.”
“Like what?”
“Well, a couple of candy factories—tried not to eat too much, I love English candy—and the place where they make Aston Martins.”
“Like your old man’s DB-4?”
“Yeah. . .actually, Daddy’s made arrangements to get me a DBM.”
“DBM? No screaming!” Jack exclaimed.
“It’s a used one, some managing director wants a new one. It’s only supposed to be a year old. It’s supposed to get here in October.”
“Cat always said you could be a Bond girl. . .now, you’ll just be Bond! When can we ride in it?”
Terry blushed as best she could. “I promised Cathy she’d be the first one. You can come along.”
Jack thought a second. “I’ll be going to university on the mainland by then. But I’ll check it out on Christmas break.”
“I hope my mother doesn’t mess it up,” Terry said. “She’s not too happy about it. Says I shouldn’t have an expensive car like that, especially with the crime we’ve got. But I want it so bad.”
“You’ll get it,” Jack assured her. They looked out of the corner of their eyes to see the coaches come in and be seated. Right then the waiter came up and took their drink order.
“I wonder where’s Denise and Pete?” Terry asked.
“As they say in the sticks, they’re probably makin’ bacon. Denise is pretty fast.”
“I was afraid of that.”
“Can’t stop ‘em.”
“So why did she break up with you?” Terry asked.
“Beats me,” Jack shrugged. “One day we were tight, the next day we weren’t. I kinda think when Pete made captain she decided to back a winner. Maybe he’s better at what he’s doing now. There may be some politics involved, too.”
“My old man shot his mouth off about Denise’s a couple of months ago at some meeting. That probably painted a target on me. Besides, Pete’s stepdad is big in the CPL. Like your mom.”
“I know that.”
“Well, it’s over now. We had a lot of fun times—Denise is a great girl when you’re on her good side. All I ended up showing for it was the clap. But I’ll be okay.” He looked out the window at the city lights. Terry could see the pain he was trying to hide. They sat in silence for what seemed to Terry like an eternity. Finally the silence was broken by Denise and Pete making their entrance. They were seated across the room from Terry and Jack and not so far from the coaches.
“Cat thinks you’re the greatest,” Jack said.
“I’m not sure why—I don’t do a lot of the things she does,” Terry replied.
“She’s okay with that. Opposites attract. She needs somebody to turn to when the party’s over. She thinks you’re the prettiest girl in the school—she thinks you make her look good.”
“I keep telling her she needs glasses,” Terry replied. “Besides. . .gentlemen prefer blondes. Like the Americans say, ‘five foot two, eyes of blue.’”
“What gentlemen?” Jack shot back. They both got a chuckle out of that. “She thinks you could model, with your height and figure.”
“This place isn’t ready for an Oriental model.”
“Then move to the U.S.”
“I don’t like the U.S. That’s where all our problems come from.”
“Maybe your dad could line up something for you in England then. The Island is a small place. Maybe you’re ready for something bigger.”
“I couldn’t even get to go to St. Anne’s. It was all Daddy could do to get her to let me go to England with him for two weeks.”
“Your old lady’s cracked. Cat talks about it all the time. One minute she wants you to party like her, the next she won’t let you go where you could really do some damage. You can’t live with that.”
“I know. . .” It was Terry’s turn for silence. The waiter came back with their drinks and took their meal order. “Did you hear them talk about Maddy helping Carla Stanley out?”
“A little bit. From what I saw, Stanley was playing a lot better.”
Terry looked around, then leaned towards Jack. “Did Cat tell you?”
“Tell me about what?”
“Our trip up here last summer.”
“She had a blast.”
“Yeah. . .but she did a lot of that on her own.”
“I never figured that part out. Where were you?”
“Up here taking tennis lessons. The pro here is the coach at Collina Comprehensive. I came up several times after that.”
“It’s no different with Maddy and Stanley.”
Jack took a swig of his soda. “It’s all a bunch of crap. Everybody needs help to get better. So what? That isn’t the problem. Denise hates Maddy. Hates you too, but that’s no surprise. I can’t blame you for sneaking up here—you can’t learn this game with Denise breathing down your neck. You two won’t drink, smoke pot and get laid like she does. She doesn’t trust anybody that won’t. Besides, Maddy’s stuck up—thinks she’s better than everybody because she’s French. You are better than everybody. That sticks in Denise’s craw.
“The big problem, though, is that Maddy really has better technique. On the court. If Denise wasn’t such a mo, Maddy would have started first on the ladder. But now that she’s sick, Denise has the top spot to herself—no one else will challenge her. Least of all Vannie.”
“So why did Denise make me come to this tournament? Vannie should have. They’re so tight, and everything.”
“It was a set-up. Denise figured Cassidy would wipe you out, then she could claim you were an embarrassment to the team and the country and force you to quit. You totally screwed up her plans. Now she’s stuck with you, for a while at least. Besides, the last thing she wanted was to go to this tournament. Her old man made her go—diplomacy, or something. If it had been up to her, you and Vannie would have gone.”
“Then Vannie and Carla would have played the final. I don’t think Vannie would have won.”
They had a good time talking, although Jack tended to turn the conversation intoz a “Cat Roast.” But the meal came to an end, the teams and coaches gathered themselves together, they got back in their bus and began the last leg of the journey home.
By this time night had fallen. The full moon was rising over Uranus; there was little in the sky to obscure it except for the trees and the cut that was blasted into the coral rock to allow the road to make a gentler downward slope to the bridge that crossed the Collina River. They passed once again through the city centre and the parallel rows of royal palms that lined the road south through Collina town. Ascending the ridge behind the town, they left it behind and once again found themselves in rural Collina. As was the case going through Aloxa, the bus was regaled with AM rock as they moved through the southern Collinan countryside. It wasn’t so long when they arrived at the border.
“Finally back in civilisation,” Denise proclaimed as they pulled away from the border crossing. They retraced their route from early morning back to the school.
Shu-Yi was faithfully waiting for her granddaughter when they pulled in. The weary teams gathered their things and got off of the bus. As Terry started towards the Mini, she felt a hard tug on her left arm. She turned around to see Denise.
“That was a great match you played today,” Denise said, looking her straight in the eyes. “I know I’m on your case all the time, but I needed to say that. Thanks too for dinner—it was great.”
“You’re welcome,” Terry replied blankly. She turned to walk to towards Shu-Yi. They threw their arms around each other.
“I am so proud of you,” Shu-Yi said. “Your father will be too. Would you like to drive?”
“Yeah,” Terry answered, cracking a smile. They loaded Terry’s things in the back, then Terry got behind the wheel, readjusted the seat and mirrors the best she could as Shu-Yi got in, started it up, and pulled out of the school.
She turned right onto Bolton, then left onto Bay Avenue, which in that stretch didn’t actually face the bay but was separated from it by houses that did. The moon was up enough to give good supplement to the street lights, welcome since the new regime wasn’t much on replacing them. The night air was pleasant as it blew through the windows of the Mini, occasionally picking up the scent of melaleuca from the passing shrubbery. When Bay Avenue ended, Terry turned right onto Stinson Street, then left back onto Ocean for the final leg of her journey home.