Brian Goes To College
by Nick Brady
Copyright © 2015-2016 by Nick Brady, all rights reserved.
The next Saturday Brian's cellphone rang while he was working at the bike shop.
"Hello Brian," the female voice spoke over the phone, "This is Cathy Carpenter. I wondered if you were ready for a tennis lesson Sunday afternoon."
Brian felt a brief moment of panic, then answered courteously, "I have no other plans for tomorrow, but do you know what you are getting into? I really have no skills with tennis."
Cathy laughed, "In that case you have no bad habits. We enjoyed meeting you and if you are interested in learning We can probably make a tennis player out of you."
Brian recalled Marco's advice to him and made a quick decision, "That's very kind of you. What time should I come over?"
"Two o'clock would be good. Do you have a racquet?"
"Uh, no actually. Should I buy one?"
"Oh no, we can loan you one. Just wear something comfortable and some tennis shoes. Anything with rubber soles will be fine," She sounded encouraging.
"I will look forward to it. Thank you for asking."
"See you then," Cathy clicked off.
What's that all about?" Noah asked.
When Brian got home he cornered Marco. "I'e been invited to Dr. Carpenter's for tennis lessons tomorrow afternoon."
"That sounds interesting," Marco replied. "Are you up for that?"
"It might be fun to learn to play, but all I'm interested in is tennis."
Marco smiled, "Boundaries my friend. It's all about boundaries. You going to give it a shot?"
"I guess so," Brian sighed.
"Just don't show up in a tennis dress. That might be a little obvious."
Brian grimaced, "I'm not into dresses."
"I know," Marco chuckled. "Relax and have fun."
Brian sighed, "That's good advice, but I'm still nervous about this. I feel like I'm swimming out into deep water."
"You're a good swimmer Brian. Just be yourself and try to hit the ball."
Sunday came and Brian sat through the church service without paying much attention to the sermon. He knew that Father Hoover would have good advice but didn't feel like this was something that he wanted to talk about with him, at least not yet. After church he bantered with the twins and dressed in athletic shorts and a white T-shirt. These would have to do for tennis togs. He didn't know exactly what tennis shoes were but put on a decent pair of Nikes and decided that he was as ready as he was going to be. He drove to the Carpenters and sat at the curb until it was straight up two O'clock, took a deep breath and walked up to ring the door bell.
This time it was Mrs. Carpenter who answered, "Hi Brian. You're right on time. Please come in."
On the sofa was Louisa with the lovely smile. "Hello. I wasn't sure you were going to show up."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world, but I warn you that I may be hopeless."
"We'll see won't we. Would you like something to drink first?"
"No, I'm fine thank you."
Cathy went straight to the patio door, "In that case, let's get you started."
She handed Brian a tennis racquet and they walked outside and across the patio to the tennis court beyond.
"This is nice. You don't have to go far to find a court," Brian made an attempt at being nonchalant.
"Yes, we love it. The pool came with the house but we built the court soon after we came here," Cathy explained. "Why don't you go to the far side and I'll hit you some balls."
Brian did as she asked with Louisa walking over with him and stepping behind him. Cathy placed a basket of tennis balls at her feet and began lobbing gentle balls at him as he attempted to hit them back. He returned several but missed as many more. When Louisa fetched the ones he missed and lobbed them back to her mother, he realized why she was there.
"That's it, you're doing fine," Cathy encouraged him.
After a few minutes of this she called him to her side of the net. "Let's work on your grip and your swing," She said. She patiently showed Brian the proper way to hold the racquet both forehand and backhand, told him to lean slightly forward and try to anticipate where the ball would come to him. She had his swing at imaginary balls and coached him on his posture and how to lean into the swing. It felt awkward at first but Brian turned out to be a quick learner.
After several minutes of this drill he returned to the other side of the court and Cathy lobbed some more balls at him, coaching him as he swung. This time, Louisa had fewer balls to retrieve.
"That's better, you are getting it," Cathy called to him as she continued to pick up tennis balls and lob them to him. She hit to both sides of him and tried to tell him how to switch from forehand to backhand. Louisa said very little but made a few quiet suggestions from behind him. After another thirty minutes Brian began to feel less awkward and a little more confident.
"You're doing better, Cathy said, "Try to keep it smooth – that's it."
Brian began to sweat from the unfamiliar exercise although Cathy looked very calm and collected. Louisa encouraged him quietly from behind.
"OK, let's take a break," Cathy suggested. They went back into the house where Dr. Carpenter was waiting in the living room with a tray of lemonade.
"How's it going Brian? Are they working you hard?"
"They are," Brian grinned. "but I think I might be getting the hand of it."
"Well, cool off and we'll go out and try to play a little," Ethan smiled.
"Are you sure?" Brian hesitated, "I don't know if I'm ready for that yet."
Ethan laughed, "We'll have to throw you in and see if you can swim."
"If you say so. Actually, this is a lot of fun. It's very nice for you to do this."
"Not a problem. We need a fourth for doubles and you looked available." Ethan sipped his lemonade, "Did I scare you off from medical school?"
"No sir, not at all. I think you made me more sure it was something I wanted to do, or to attempt to do."
Ethan took another sip from his glass. "I think you mentioned that you have a pair of twins at home who are in scouting?"
"Yes sir. That's how I met them actually. I was their Den Chief when they were in Cubs. Now they are both Star Scouts and pretty determined to make Eagle."
"They sound like they are very determined."
"Yes they are, they are pretty amazing guys really. They are Seminole and into Indian dancing."
"That's very interesting," Ethan remarked, looking at Brian's fair skin and blond hair, "so your parents are Seminole?"
"Well their daddy Marco is Seminole, yes sir," Brian answered carefully. "Actually, they are adopted.
"I see," Ethan nodded, deciding not to press Brian further. "Well, do you think you are ready to jump in?"
Brian laughed, "As ready as I'll ever be."
They went back to the court where Ethan and Brian took one side and Louis and her mother the other.
"You take the left side and stand forward a little," Ethan told him, "I'll take the right side and drop back a little. That way most of what comes to you will be on your forehand side and I can take the right side and help get what might get past you."
"Are you ready?" Cathy asked.
Brian nodded that he was and Cathy tossed a ball high in the air and served it gently towards Brian who managed to get it back over the net. It began to go back and forth with Brian returning most of what came to him. Ethan returned what was hit to him and what got past Brian. They were having a good volley and Brian was beginning to enjoy this.
Ethan told him from behind. "You're doing fine Brian. We won't really keep score. We just want you to get the feel of this."
After a bit, the serve switched to Ethan for a few more volleys, then over to Louisa. All three of the Carpenters looked very confident and relaxed. Brian did not feel all that confident, but could see that he was getting better. He was troubled by the way they served the ball, tossing it high in the air than hitting it down the court. He didn't understand how that worked.
"When it was Brian's turn to serve, Ethan stopped him. "Did you show him how to serve?" Cathy was asked.
"The service is a very important part of the game," Ethan explained. "We will teach you that, but right now, why don't you just lob the ball over to start the play. "We'll let you off easy to start with."
Brian nodded gratefully and did as he asked.
The play went on for another hour until all four of them were beginning to perspire, Brian more than the others.
"I'm ready for some more lemonade," Ethan called out. "What do you say we break it off now?"
As they walked back towards the house, Louisa walked with Brian, "You're really doing good for your first time."
"Thank you. I know I was slowing you down, but this is more fun than I thought it would be."
"You are doing fine. I think we can make a tennis player out of you," Louisa gave him that wonderful smile.
They went back inside where the air was cooler and Cathy poured some fresh lemonade. "This is really good," Brian remarked.
"Well thank you. The secret is nice fresh lemons and simple syrup," she said.
"Simple syrup?" Brian wasn't sure what that was.
"It's just sugar and water," Cathy explained. "You can buy it but I just dissolve sugar in warm water and put it in the refrigerator. Then when it is mixed with lemon juice and cold water it is already dissolved. I think it mixes better that way."
"Well it sure makes good lemonade. I will take that little secret home with me," Brian smiled.
They chatted for several more minutes then Ethan stood to excuse himself, saying he had to see about some of his patients. Brian took that as a signal that he should leave and stood with him.
"I appreciate the tennis lesson," he said, "Thank you for having me."
"We need to teach you how to serve," Ethan told him. "You'll have to come back for another lesson."
"I would like that, thank you," Brian shook hands with Cathy and Ethan, and waved at Louisa, "I'll see you at school tomorrow."
"Eat lunch with us," Louisa smiled but remained seated.
Brian drove home thinking that he had enjoyed this much more than he had anticipated.
How did the tennis lesson go?" Marco asked him as he came in the house.
"There may be hope for me yet. Mrs. Carpenter is a patient teacher."
Brian sat down and told Marco about the afternoon. "I really enjoyed it. They are being awfully nice to me. It surprises me."
"Marco smiled at the handsome young man. "It doesn't surprise me Brian. I suspect that they are all taken with you. Your aren't hard to like, you know. Dr. Carpenter is pleased with your interest in medicine and no doubt Louisa finds you attractive. Where there any awkward moments?"
"No, not at all," Brian shook his head. "She was very nice and tried to help me with my tennis when we were on the court, but she never made me nervous or anything."
"Hey, take it for what it appears to be. They like you, enjoy your company and need a fourth for doubles. So what's the problem?"
Brian laughed, "There isn't a problem I guess, except that I am scared of girls maybe."
"Did you learn anything about tennis?"
"I did, and it was fun. So I guess it's not a problem."
Brian looked around, "It's too quiet in here. Where are Sam and Ben?"
"Out in the back yard trying to learn to hoop dance. Marty is out watching them. Go check it out."
Brian grabbed three sodas from the refrigerator and went out into the back yard to see Ben sprawled out on the grass with a hoop around his neck while Sam laughed at him.
"How goes the hoop dance?" Brian grinned.
"It's harder than it looks," Ben protested.
"I didn't say it was easy. Are you making any progress?"
"I did it just a minute ago. Sam's not any better."
"I know, I busted my ass before you came out. It's a lot harder than it looked when Joshua did it," Sam admitted.
"I bet he busted his duff a lot too when he first started out. Maybe you're trying to do it too fast," Brian suggested and handed Marty and the boys a cold soda.
"I know, but it doesn't look as cool when you do it slow."
"I tried to learn to play tennis today and I missed a lot of balls. I need a lot of practice too," Brian tried to console his brothers. "Just keep trying and you'll get it. Try it again while I watch."
Ben got up, dusted himself off and held the hoop around his waist. He raised it up then swung it downward while he hopped to let it pass under his feet then over his back. This time he was able to jump through it several times before he stepped on it as it went under his feet and fell to one side. "Dammit!" he muttered.
Marty laughed, thanked Brian for the cold drink and went back in the house.
"You're getting it. You did three of them that time," Brian encouraged him.
"Watch me," Sam asked and soon both boys were on the ground. Now they both laughed.
"Try the thing where you spin the hoop on your wrists," Brian suggested.
"That's easier if you can get them started right," Sam said, and stood up to demonstrate with two hoops on his right arm. It took a couple of tries before he got them swinging in the opposite direction then had them spinning around.
Ben stood and did the same, looking proud of himself. "Yeah, this is easier really, but I'm not sure about both arms at the same time."
"Let me try that." Brian took a hoop, held it around his waist and tried to jump through it with the result that he fell on his face.
Sam and Ben both burst out laughing. "See, it's hard to do, Brian."
He rolled over and grinned. "This is harder than tennis."
"So did you play tennis with your girlfriend?" Sam asked.
Brian stood and brushed the grass from his shirt. "I told you, she's not my girlfriend. I mean she's a girl and she's my friend, but she's not, well, you know."
"I know, I'm just teasing. Do you think you can learn to play tennis?"
Brian sat down on the grass and set the hoop to one side. "I did better than I thought I could. Mrs. Carpenter is a pretty good teacher. I started getting better when she told me how to hold the racquet and everything. Dr. Carpenter came out and we actually tried to play a little. It was fun really."
Sam and Ben sat down beside him. "Maybe we need to get Joshua to show us how to do hoops better," Ben said.
Brian leaned back on his elbows, "Maybe Marco could find out when he is back home so you can go see him again. He seemed like a nice guy."
"For sure," Sam agreed. "He said he would help us some more."
"I bet he would. But you guys need to work on some of that stuff before you see him again. You want him to see that you're making progress."
Just then Marco called from the back door, "Supper is about ready. You guys need to come in and wash up."
They stood and walked into the house.
As they sat around the table and began to eat, Marco had some news. "I got a call from Mr. Vandergraff today." Everyone but Marty looked blank.
He was your art teacher, right? The Dutch guy you took private lessons from?"
"That's him. I see him at the studio sometimes. He asked me a couple of months ago if I would put together a group of Native American paintings. He called me this afternoon and wants me to join him for a big show out in Santa Fe. I have been 20 paintings that I showed him last week and he me to bring them at a big art show out there. He was very encouraging."
"Are those the ones you did of the powwow dancing?" Marty asked.
"Right. I took some of the photographs that Marty took and used them as the basis for a set of watercolors – lots of colorful regalia and movement. He really liked them and wants me to put them in the show. I have been selling quite a few paintings here and in Dallas, but he thinks there are some dealers out there that might be really interested in them. He described this as a big opportunity for me."
"Cool! Are you going to be famous?" Sam wondered.
"Well maybe not exactly famous, but I might be able to get a good price for some of them. I'm thinking that might be worth a trip out there. I could just ship them out but he says it's an advantage for the dealers to meet the artist and all that."
"Oh, that's wonderful Marco. This could be a big break for you," Marty assured him.
Marco grinned, "Maybe. What do you think?"
"I think you should go," Brian said.
"Yeah," Sam and Ben agreed.
Marty thought for a moment. "When is this?"
"It is over Memorial Day weekend, Saturday through Monday. It would take a couple of days to drive out there and two more to get back. I would be gone for a week."
Marty smiled, "How would you like to have some company? Sam, Ben and Brian will be out of school and I could take off from work. If Brian can get away, we could make it a family vacation and all go out there."
"I can get off from the bike shop," Brian said.
Sam and Ben were excited. "Let's all go!"
"Sounds like a plan, I would love to have the company," Marco told them. "I have never been out to New Mexico and I have heard that it is really pretty country. If we take the Sienna I can box up the paintings and put them behind the second row of seats. It might be a little tight, but I think we can all fit."
Marty laughed, "It should be fun. I hope it won't turn out like the Chevy Chase movie."
"This sounds great to me," Brian smiled, "I have never been much of anywhere before. I will have graduation and then a cool trip. Count me in for sure."
"Let's see," Marty did some mental planning. We can leave leave on a Thursday and should be back by the next Wednesday. That's a full week. When do your summer classes start, Brian?"
"Not until the next Monday after Memorial Day. I'm good."
The next Saturday Cathy called again to see about the weekly tennis lesson. It looked like this was to be a regular thing. After the first session he was putting aside his reservations and decided that this might be alright. Louisa's family was very welcoming and she had not made any moves that seemed to have a romantic intent. Brian agreed, and stopped by a sporting goods story on the way home from work to have the salesman help him select a nice tennis racquet. This one seemed to fit his hand better and he began to look forward to Sunday.
He arrived at two o'clock and found all three Carpenters sitting in the living room dressed in tennis togs. Brian thought maybe he would get some white shorts so as to be more properly dressed if there was a next time.
"You brought your own racquet," Ethan noticed.
"Well, I thought maybe I needed one if I was going to do this right."
"It pays to have the right equipment," Ethan agreed. "Let me see what you got."
"It's just a Wilson, it wasn't that expensive," Brian handed it over.
"That's OK. Does it fit your hand?"
"Yes, it feels pretty good. The guy at Dick's helped me find one that worked for me. I didn't realize that they came in different sizes.""
"My first racquet was a Wilson. That will be just fine for you," Ethan assured him. "If you get serious about playing you might want something nicer but this will get you started. You might want to get some kind of a cover for it though to keep it from getting dirty if you carry it around in your car. I used an old pillow case for mine."
"That's a good idea. It feels pretty good in my hand," Brian told him.
"Well, let's try it out," Cathy suggested, and they walked out to the court.
They started out by lobbing the ball back and forth to warm up. Brian liked the way the new racquet felt and had a little more confidence this time.
"You're doing better today," Cathy told him. "Before we start, let's try to show you how to serve the ball. Ethan, why don't you do that, you're better at it then I am."
Ethan stood next to Brian at the serving line and gave him a few basics. "Last week we didn't pay much attention to the niceties, but when you serve from one side of the court, the ball has to strike within the inner section of the opposite side without a bounce or touching the net. Toss the ball up over your head then stretch up and try to hit it with some force. It takes practice, but a good serve is a lot of the game. Here, watch me."
Ethan demonstrated his serve, sending the ball across the net and into the opposite court with a lot of power. He served several balls to Louisa while Brian watched closely. "Now you try it."
Brian took his place and tried to serve the ball as he had been shown. The first one he missed completely. The next he sent rocketing out of bounds. He was reminded of the twin's attempt to skip through the hoop. It was harder than it looked. His third attempt was long but at least it stayed on the court.
"Try not to kill it at first," Ethan told him. "It's more important to get it in bounds, the speed will come with practice."
This time Brian slowed down and managed to serve the ball where it was supposed to go. "That's it, try another one,"Ethan said.
Brian glanced at Louisa who was standing with her mother at the other end, shagging his wild serves. She was nodding and smiling with encouragement. He tried another and managed to more gently place three serves in a row into the opposite court.
"I think you're ready," Ethan chuckled. "Let's try to play by the rules this time."
Again, Ethan took the back side of their court and they began to play a game of doubles. It appeared to Brian that they were all taking it easy so he could keep up, but following rules and requiring that the balls stayed within bounds. As they played Cathy called out the score. The terms of love 15, deuce, and 'ad in' were foreign to him but they patiently explained it as they went on. He was learning.
When the serve changed Brian took his turn and managed to get a few of his into the correct side of the court. When he fouled out they assured him that it was OK. When he did it right they complemented him. He was learning and having fun in the process.
After three games they called for a break.
"I'm in need of some lemonade," Ethan admitted. "Have you had enough for one day?" he asked Brian.
Brian wiped the sweat from his face and agreed. Inside the cool of the house he sat with Ethan and Louisa while Cathy fetched the lemonade. "Will you start classes this summer?" Louisa asked him.
"Yes, I will take English Composition starting the Monday after Memorial Day. I figure it will help to be literate."
"Actually, that is a good plan," Ethan advised him. "Good writing skills are very important. I don't think a lot of kids understand that."
"What about you Louisa? Will you be going to school this summer?" Brian wondered.
"No, I will be starting at TU this fall, Mother and I are going to spend some time in California with her sister this summer. I think I need a break from classes," she smiled. "Aren't you in need of a little break from school?"
"I'm anxious to get started," Brian told her, "but we will take a little family vacation over Memorial Day."
Cathy brought in a tray of cold lemonade, "Where are you going?"
"Marco is an artist and is taking some painting to a big art show in Santa Fe and we are all going with him. It should be fun. I've never been out there."
"Your father is an artist? I wonder if I have heard of him, what's his name?" Ethan appeared to be interested.
"Marco Montgomery. He shows some things at the Gallery in Brookside and several places in Dallas. He's really good."
"What kind of things does he do?" Cathy asked.
"He works mostly in water color and does all sort of things. Marco is Seminole and the paintings he is taking out to Santa Fe have a Native American theme," Brian was proud of Marco and warmed up to the conversation. "The twins dance at Powwows and a lot of the things he is taking to Santa Fe are of that. The regalia and dancing at the powwows is very colorful. I haven't seen the things he is taking out there but I bet they are very interesting."
"Samuel and Benjamin are our fourteen year old twins. The are adopted, but also Seminole. Marco has an uncle that has gotten them interested in the dancing at powwows and they are getting pretty good at it. I think some of the paintings are probably of them as they dance."
"You have an interesting family," Cathy observed.
"Yes I do,"Brian nodded. "They are really great."
"So Marco is an artist, and what does your mother do?"
"Um, Marty is a computer programmer." Brian answered honestly But he hoped a little obliquely, then tried to shift the topic a bit. "So have you decided what sort of study you want to do at TU Louisa?"
"I think I want to go into biology, exactly what I haven't decided, but something in that area," she smiled.
"That's kind of where I am," Brian acknowledged, "some kind of doctor but I haven't figured it out past that. I will know better if and when I get through pre-med."
Ethan set his empty glass of lemonade on the tray. "I predict you will do just fine, Brian."
"If you don't mind my asking, why do you think so?"
"Ethan smiled. "Because you are bright and determined. If I had any doubts you convinced me today on the tennis court."
"On the tennis court?"
"Yes, you listened, watched, and followed instructions. You caught on quickly and put your best effort into everything. I think you will do fine. You have what it takes."
Brian was very pleased by this. "You have all been very kind to me. I really appreciate you, all of you."
"Oh don't worry about it, "Cathy said, "We enjoy your company. Ethan has a soft spot for medical students and Eagle Scouts."
They all laughed, then Cathy went on, "This should be an exciting time for you. You are graduating and starting on a great new adventure. Just enjoy being a graduating senior in a few weeks. There is a Senior Day and the commencement exercises, and of course the Senior Prom. Aren't you looking forward to all that?"
In truth, Brian had not given any thought to the prom that traditionally marked the end of high school. "Oh yes, sure. That will be great," he replied without much enthusiasm.
"You are going to the prom, aren't you?" Cathy asked.
"Oh well, I don't know, I haven't thought about it."
Cathy looked surprised, "No? I thought that was something that every senior looked forward to – dressing up for the big party, dancing the night away, being the center of attention."
Brian felt his face get pink, "Well, uh, I hadn't really thought about the prom. I mean, I can't dance, so...."
"Oh, it would be a shame if you missed the experience," Cathy looked concerned.
Brian glanced over at Louisa who was wearing that beautiful smile. He felt the walls closing in on him. "Well I don't know, I hadn't made any plans."
"You shouldn't really miss that Brian. I know Louisa is going with a group of her friends," she said.
"You could come with us," Louisa spoke up.
"Um, well I suppose I could."
Louisa just kept smiling as Brian heard himself agreeing that he might be able to do that. They concluded the conversation with Ethan saying that he looked forward to playing more doubles the next weekend. The trap had been sprung.
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