Thursday, July 21, 2005

jalasso pei, part-time potential junior tennis champ

Part One: The Lamp!

She was so mad that she wanted to break something, so she did. The Tiffany lamp never had a chance. Jalasso delivered to it a solid two-handed backhand with her favorite tennis racquet and watched in awe and anger as the multicolored glass shards of the antique shade scattered across the room.

“Moron!” she screamed at the high-definition flatscreen television hanging on the wall. On it flashed the pensive face of a linesman under scrutiny for a challenged call on a serve. Jalasso’s favorite player, Johann Bjornbornssen, stood before the official, holding out his hands plaintively. The linesman tried not to react.

“Jalasso Adromeda Pei!” called the weary voice of her mother from down the hall. “What are you doing in there?”

Jalasso whirled around toward the closed door of her cavernous bedroom. She tossed the racquet guiltily onto the canopy bed in the far corner. “Nothing!” she called back, her face in a grimace as she awaited her fate. She’d been warned about the tennis-induced outbursts before, and she was afraid her mother might eventually follow through on her threat to cancel her summer tennis camp enrollment.

“Are you injuring the furniture?” her mother asked, but Jalasso could tell that she sounded no closer. She breathed a small sigh of relief. There was still a chance.

“It was just glass!” she shouted, hoping the way she said it might lead her mother to believe she’d merely dropped a tumbler of water, that she hadn’t attacked her mother’s precious furnishings. It seemed like less of a lie that way. Some future cross-examination might yet require it.

There was a pause. Then her mother called, “Just a glass?” She still sounded no closer.

“Yeeeaaahhhh?” Jalasso said uncertainly. The lie was getting deeper now. She needed to keep her head.

Her mother sighed. “Well, get someone to clean it up,” she said at last. “And be more careful. If you don’t watch out, I’m calling that tennis camp and having them cross you off their list.”

“Okay, I will,” Jalasso said. She repeated it to herself to try to set the information deep in her mind. “I will. I’ll be good. I will. I’ll be good. I will …”

She couldn’t afford to miss the camp. Not that she hadn’t been there before. For several years now she’d been going to it, and she was in the top of the rankings in the Girls 8 to 10 Group. She was looking to break into a higher group this year, to play the older girls who were getting taller and faster already. But that wasn’t even the most important part. The most important part was the man on the television, who was even as she glanced up preparing to return serve on a crucial second-set break point. Because that summer the camp’s special guest pro was going to be none other than Johann Bjornbornssen!

Jalasso leapt lightly at the thought. She loved Bjornbornssen with all the devotion she could muster. And when it came to things tennis, that devotion was considerable, at times obsessively single-minded. It was evident from the posters and clippings that covered most of one vast wall of Jalasso’s room. It was evident in her choice of wardrobe, the majority of which featured blouses, skirts, and dresses intended as tennis sportswear. It was evident from the dozen racquets hanging at the far end of the room, the display case full of tennis ribbons and trophies, the stray tennis balls that littered the floor. And it was evident from the floor itself: a green, playable surface painted with thick white lines measuring a space of 78 by 27 feet.

Jalasso settled herself in a bright yellow beanbag designed to resemble a tennis ball. She tried to forget the awful call that had gone against her beloved Johann and to focus on the game. After all, the match wasn’t over yet. And it wasn’t like it was a Grand Slam event. Not that every game wasn’t extremely important to her, but she had to keep these things in perspective if she was going to do a convincing job of being good. She allowed that maybe she’d been a little hasty getting so mad that she’d broken that stupid lamp.

The lamp! She already forgot about the lamp! She bounded out of her chair and went to inspect the damage. The base of the lamp still looked okay, although she could see that it showed some scratches. She could put it back and turn the damaged part toward the wall. But that would never work, because the shade was beyond repair. Jalasso had been practicing her serve all spring, and she knew she’d hit the lamp as hard as some of her better, faster serves of recent weeks. Even in the middle of her desperation to figure out how to cover up the destruction, she couldn’t help but feel a little proud. She’d pulverized some of that stained glass!

Jalasso heard a cheer from the television, and she whirled around in time to catch the replay of the point she’d missed. Good. It was for Bjornbornssen. Well, she was recording the game anyway. She’d go back and look at the highlights later. She looked around the room and fetched a notebook from the oversized pine desk where she did her schoolwork. Tearing the front and back covers off the notebook, she used the thick cardstock to sweep the spray of broken glass into a neat little pile, then began depositing the glass into a wastebasket.

In a few minutes, she’d gotten rid of the majority of the glass, but she wasn’t sure how to make sure it was all gone. Plus she needed to make sure the lamp and the glass were safely thrown away without raising suspicion. She couldn’t just dump it in the trash and be done with it. The maids wouldn’t want to get in trouble for breaking or stealing it, so they’d probably mention it if they saw any part of it. Jalasso needed someone to haul the lamp away and make sure it was never seen again.

She placed the wastebasket and the lamp inside her closet. Then, skipping over to grab her mobile phone, she settled again in her beanbag chair and watched the onscreen action with rapt attention for a few minutes. Bjornbornssen had held serve, but he didn’t seem aggressive enough in trying to break his opponent’s serve. He was holding back, she decided. Maybe he’d make this an endurance match, betting that his legendary fitness would give him an edge when the man on the other side of the net began to tire. It wasn’t a tactic he’d used much this year, but there was a time …

Oh, but she still needed to get this lamp thing settled. Jalasso looked away from the television screen to prevent being distracted by it again and scrolled through the hundred-something numbers stored in her phone. She found her accomplice’s name in the list and hit the “call” button.

“Hello?” asked the hesitant voice of Tommy Penchant after a few distant rings. Jalasso sat with her hand over her eyes, but she was peeking between her fingers as Bjornbornssen leapt high for an overhead smash, evening the score and going to deuce. She squealed involuntarily at the exciting turn of events.

“Hello?” Tommy asked again, this time with a touch of fear in his voice at the unexpected sound of Jalasso’s loud, high-pitched exclamation. “Jalasso? Is that you? Are you watching a game?”

She stopped peeking at the game and regained her composure. She’d been well trained in her phone manners. “Tommy, hello,” she said warmly. “It’s Jalasso Pei calling. How are you today?”

“What’s going on, Jalasso?” Tommy asked.

“Ah, well, since you ask, I’ve called to ask for your help with something. I have a favor to ask.”


“I’d be deeply in debt to you, Tommy.”

“Yeah?” Tommy asked, sounding a little more interested and a little less irritated.

“I would,” Jalasso said. “Birthday-party in debt.”

Jalasso’s birthday parties were known to be the best and the biggest and the most fun birthday parties in three states. Tommy had been both on and off the guest list multiple times over the past several months, depending on how recently he had either pleased or displeased the guest of honor. “Keep talking,” he said, as she knew he would. Jalasso smiled and allowed herself a glance at the television. Bjornbornssen had the advantage!

[part two]