Authors: Jeri Taylor
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction
"That should level out the stroke."
It felt awful. How could she hit the ball at all? Her hand
clutched the racquet like a claw, foreign and unnatural.
She practiced a stroke and felt as though her arm were some
new appendage she'd never used before. "I can't do it this
way," she protested, but Coach 38
Cameron wasn't about to accept that. "It feels strange
because you got used to the other way. It'll take a while
before this grip feels natural." Kathryn didn't reply, but
marched stoically back to the baseline. As she did, she saw
something that made her mood even blacker: Hobbes Johnson,
arriving early for the lesson he took right after hers.
That's all she needed, jerky Hobbes Johnson to see her make
a fool of herself. He was a year or two older than she,
thinner than the scarecrows that stood in the cornfields,
upper teeth protruding slightly, dark hair unruly under his
tennis cap. Nobody wore a tennis cap, it was the dumbest
thing in the world, but it was just what you'd expect from
him. "Hi, Kath!" he called out, waving at her. She didn't
answer. She hated being called Kath.
No one called her that except this toad. And he was too
ignorant to realize she was ignoring him, and smiled
broadly at her. She turned and waited for Coach Cameron to
start hitting balls to her, trying to get the feel of the
new and uncomfortable grip change. The first ball she hit
into the net. The second hit the ground in front of the
net. She could feel Hobbes's eyes burrowing into her from
behind. She was humiliated.
"Try squeezing the handle of the racquet as you make
impact," called out Coach Cameron. Kathryn did, and hit the
ball wildly to the left. She tried again and missed it
"I can't do this!" she wailed, and threw down her racquet.
She'd have done anything to be allowed to stop right there.
But Coach Cameron wasn't about to let her off the hook.
"You have five minutes left in your lesson, Kathryn. And
we're going to use them. Now-keep your eye on the ball. was
In the next five minutes, she managed to hit maybe ten
balls over the net. The others went wildly astray. By the
time Coach Cameron called an end to it, Kathryn's eyes were
beginning to sting with tears of frustration. She couldn't
look at Hobbes. She walked toward her tennis bag, eyes on
"Hobbes," said Coach Cameron, "I have to go inside for a
few minutes. Maybe you could warm up with Kathryn?"
"Sure," Hobbes said agreeably, and Coach Cameron walked
away from them and toward the office of the tennis
facility. Kathryn kept her face down and opened her racquet
cover, sticking the racquet inside. Perspiration dripped
from her; she was hot and angry. She thought of the cold
juice waiting for her at home.
"Don't you want to hit some?" asked Hobbes, the
disappointment in his voice not hidden.
"I hate this game," said Kathryn emphatically. "I don't
know why my parents want me to play it. It's a waste of
time. I'd rather be playing Parrises Squares."
"Your parents are traditionalists, like mine. That's why
we live in the agricultural community. That's why we go to
the school we do." Only Hobbes would use a word like
"traditionalist," Kathryn thought. He was such a vulk that
he didn't realize his grownup vocabulary sounded
ridiculous. She began stuffing her things into her tennis
bag. "I don't see why that means I have to learn to play
tennis. It's a ridiculous game."
"I think it's fun."
"You can hit the ball across the net."
"I couldn't two years ago."
She looked up at him. Hobbes played so well she'd assumed
it came naturally to him, like mathematics did to her.
"Really?" "My first coach told me I should forget tennis
and take up hoverball." "Why didn't you?"
"I guess because he made me mad."
This was surprising to her. Hobbes was such a quiet, meek
boy that the thought that he could get mad would never have
occurred to her. "Coach Cameron makes me mad, too. But she
makes me feel like quitting." "Quitting is easy. I didn't
want to give old Epkowicz the satisfaction."
"I'm telling my mother this was it. I'm not going through
this anymore." He regarded her solemnly. She felt
uncomfortable under his scrutiny, as though he were judging
her: she was taking the easy way out. Well, so what? If she
never had to experience the disgrace she had felt today,
she'd gladly take Hobbes Johnson's censure instead. She
batted an errant lock of hair out of her eyes.
"Well, so long, Hobbes. Have a good lesson."
"If you'd ever like to hit some, let me know."
"Sometimes playing with kids your own age is better than
working with the coach."
"You're probably right."
"How about tomorrow?"
The thought of being seen playing tennis with Hobbes
Johnson was enough to make her toes curl under.
"I have piano tomorrow. And I have to help my mother with
something." His earnest eyes gazed at her. She realized
that Hobbes was accustomed to being rejected by his peers,
and for a brief moment she considered accepting his offer.
But then the vision of facing Emma North or Mary O'Connell
and admitting she'd spent time with him overwhelmed her.
"Sorry," she mumbled, and picked up her bag and slung it
over her shoulder. "Maybe another time," he said mildly,
and she nodded and walked away. What a terrible day this
was turning into.
It didn't get better when she announced to her mother that
she was quitting tennis. Her mother was a tall, gracious
woman with curly brown hair-why did everybody have better
hair than she did?-rich blue eyes, and a beautiful smile.
When she was very young she used to do whatever she could
to make her mother smile, because her face looked so happy
when she did. Her mother wasn't smiling now. She sat in the
breakfast room, listening quietly as Kathryn poured out her
woeful tale. "I'm no good at it, and I hate it, and I'm
never going to get better.
I'm not doing it any more. It was embarrassing! Vulky
Hobbes Johnson was there and I couldn't even hit the ball."
"Please don't call your friends vulky," murmured her
"He's not my friend. And it was horrible to have him see me
be humiliated." She felt tears begin to sting her eyes
again as she relived the awful experience. "I want to play
Parrises Squares. I could be on the fourth-grade team, Mrs.
Matsumoto said so. But even if I don't get on the team, I'm
not going back to Coach Cameron, I don't care what you
The tears began spilling out of her eyes, and the pentup
emotion of the day erupted, and she shuddered with great
Her dog, Bramble, a little wire-haired mutt, had been
sitting quietly nearby, and now he became alarmed and came
up to her, tail wagging, sticking his wet nose against her
Her mother regarded her pensively, then held out her arms.
"Come here, my angel."
Kathryn fled into her arms. There lay refuge; there lay
comfort. She had been rocked in her mother's arms since she
was born, and though she knew she was too old now, she
still loved the feeling of haven. There, on her mother's
lap, she was safe from the world; tears were dried,
feelings were soothed, anxieties calmed.
She was sure this would be the end of tennis lessons.
Bramble, too, seemed to feel the crisis was over, and sat
at the foot of the rocking chair, gazing up at the two with
big dark eyes.
Her mother rocked her, and stroked her hair, and wiped her
eyes, and murmured "There, there," the way she always did.
But when Kathryn was calm again, her mother began talking.
"I know it's hard to struggle with learning a new skill.
And no one likes to feel frustrated or humiliated. Anyone
would be upset by feelings like that." Kathryn nodded. "But
not everything in life comes easily. Some things require
struggle. And if we don't learn how to make that kind of
effort, we won't be prepared to learn the difficult lessons
of life." With a sinking heart, Kathryn realized what her
mother was saying. "You're not making me go back! I won't
do it! I don't care!" But her mother kept talking, calmly
and soothingly. "So many things come easily to you,
Kathryn. If we let you quit everything that was difficult,
you wouldn't learn to work for what you earn. You'd expect
everything to be easy. And life isn't that way. What you
must work to earn, you value more. So it's important that
you not quit tennis. If you have to work harder to learn to
play-then you have to work harder. It may not seem that way
now, but you'll be very glad later on that we didn't let
you quit." Kathryn felt like crying all over again-it
wasn't fairffb suddenly the whoop and clatter of her sister
Phoebe rang through the house. She was coming home from her
play group; she carried artwork and crumbling cookies and,
as usual, exuded the energy of a hurricane.
"Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, we baked cookies and I did
fingerpaints and clay and-was Phoebe came skidding to a
halt when she saw Kathryn on her mother's lap. "I want lap,
too," she announced firmly, and began crawling onto
Gretchen Janeway's already crowded legs.
It isn't fair, thought Kathryn. Phoebe wasn't upset,
Phoebe wasn't being forced to do something she hated,
Phoebe didn't need comforting.
Phoebe even had curly hair! Why did she have to share?
Kathryn felt misery begin to envelop her completely, and
she slid off onto the floor.
"I'm going to my room," she announced, and marched away
with Bramble toddling after her, hoping her mother would be
really, really sorry she'd driven her away.
She shut the door of her room firmly-no one could accuse
her of slamming it, but it felt good to hear the louder-than-usual snap as it closed-and threw herself on the bed.
Bramble immediately jumped up and snuggled next to her, and
Kathryn wrapped her arm around his warm, woolly body. Tears
continued to roll out of her eyes as she indulged in her
miserable feelings, and soon she felt Bramble's silky
tongue licking the salty droplets. This was almost as good
as her mother's lap. Bramble had been lapping up her tears
ever since he was a puppy, and Kathryn was convinced he did
it because he knew it made her feel better (and not, as
Daddy had suggested, because he was attracted to the salty
Daddy. Would he let her quit tennis? Kathryn pondered that
one for a minute, then dismissed it. She couldn't remember
when Mommy and Daddy didn't agree on issues like these. Was
that part of being traditionalists, too?
She looked around her room, which didn't look like the
room of any of her friends. They had spare, minimally
furnished rooms with no evidence of clutter; Kathryn's was
decorated in a style she knew was ancient: a white four-poster bed with a ruffled flounce, lace curtains at the
window, shelves lined with stuffed animals. Her mother had
shown her pictures of rooms like that from centuries ago;
their whole house looked like an ancient heirloom from the
twenty-second century. She supposed that was how
"traditionalists" decorated their houses.
The chime of her desk console interrupted her thoughts,
and she rolled over to see that it was an incoming message
from her friend Mary O'Connell. Kathryn wiped at her eyes
and ran her fingers through her hair; Mary was always
immaculate, and she didn't want to appear mussed by
comparison. She pushed the control on the console, and
Mary's cheerful face appeared on the screen.
"Kathryn, guess what?" bubbled Mary. She was a vivacious
girl with huge brown eyes and satiny hair so blond it was
almost white. She looked as though she were about to burst
with some wonderful news, and indeed, without waiting for
Kathryn to make a guess, she barreled ahead. "I'm captain
of the fourth-grade Parrises Squares team!" This
announcement hit Kathryn like a slap, and that must have
been apparent to Mary, because she looked puzzled.
"What's the matter?" Kathryn wasn't going to tell her that
she was better at Parrises Squares than anyone in the
fourth grade, including the boys, and that if anyone should
be captain it should be Kathryn Janeway. Instead, her voice
rising once more into a wail, she poured out her lament to
her friend: "My parents won't let me be on the team.
I have to learn stupid tennis instead! It's not fair-we
could be on the team together!"
Mary was instantly sympathetic. "I don't understand. What
do they have against Parrises Squares?"
"You won't believe this-they think it's too easy for me."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"And I have to keep taking tennis lessons because it's
hard for me." Mary's grave face stared out from the screen.
"Your parents do have some funny ideas sometimes."