Part Two: The Racquet That Needs To Be Restrung
Jalasso couldn’t believe how obvious Tommy was when he came to sneak away with the lamp. She wanted him to do it right, and she had half a mind not to restore his name to the birthday party list because of his poor performance. It was only the effectiveness of the job that convinced her not to be too hasty. She could cut him from the list for some other trifle, but she’d never bribe another favor out of him if she went back on their deal. She’d just wait another week or so, then find something that he said so offensive that she’d have no choice but to drop him from the invitation list.
She had dumped the contents of her wastebasket into a cosmetics bag to keep the maids from finding the broken glass. Jalasso meant to get a trash bag, but she couldn’t find any and she didn’t want to raise suspicion by asking. Then she thought she might find a shopping bag, but those were all gone. Groceries were almost always brought to the house by delivery, so she couldn’t even find a simple brown bag. At least the cosmetics bag was just a giveaway item her mother got with some boutique purchase. Plus, it zipped, which kept it from spilling.
The lamp itself was a lot harder to figure out. She needed to hide both the lamp’s base and the tangle of metalwork that had once helped define the shape of the stained-glass lampshade. Jalasso experimented with the latticework of soft metal that had made up the shade, and she found she could bend it very easily. But there were still a lot of glass fragments stuck to it, so she worried that she might cut herself and then the cut would get infected and then she wouldn’t be able to hold her racquet right and something like that could very well cost you a match. Better not to risk it. And, really, that was mostly Tommy’s job, getting rid of the lamp. When he got there, he could bend the metalwork in order to make it fit.
She’d told Tommy to bring something to put the lamp base and shade in, because she was stumped. The base would stick out of most bags, and even if Tommy could mash it down, the shade was going to have a weird shape that would be hard to hide. What if she just threw them both out the window and Tommy maybe stood outside and caught them? But her room was four stories up. She’d seen Tommy try to return her own forehand, and she knew he wasn’t really that coordinated. Besides, somebody might see. But Tommy said he had an idea.
When the butler, Marble, announced Tommy at Jalasso’s bedroom door, he mentioned that young Mr. Penchant had arrived for their tennis date. Jalasso tried not to react, but she knew that if she realized she should try not to react, she probably already had reacted with the kind of annoyed look of surprise she always displayed when she heard something she hadn’t expected or didn’t like. But Marble didn’t care as long as he believed Jalasso’s current mischief wasn’t dangerous. Plus, Jalasso had to admit that nine times out of ten, that’s the reason any of her peers came to her room.
“But you didn’t even bring a racquet!” Jalasso complained once they were alone in her room. “That’s not believable. Tommy, please don’t get me in trouble. I’m serious.” Ever since Tommy agreed to come help her with the lamp, she’d been pacing her room, spinning her racquet in her hands, and nervously keeping balls aloft with gentle taps. She kept imagining her mother finding out about the lamp. She could almost hear the sound of her mother’s voice telling the tennis camp that, fine, they could keep her deposit. But no way was Jalasso Pei making an appearance that year at their facilities. She could see all the other girls lined up during the morning clinics, smiling and flirting with Johann Bjornbornssen. And stupid Amy with her stupid blonde pigtails grinning at him with her big stupid mouth and fat, fat lips. It had started to make Jalasso sick with anticipation.
“No one noticed,” Tommy said. “Besides, that’s how we’re taking everything out. In one of your tennis bags.”
Jalasso stopped for a moment as she took hold of the information. She could have done the same thing herself! The lamp was exactly the right size for one of her big shoulder bags. And if she bent it right, the shade would flatten out to be about the size of a racquet head. Of course, if one of the staff insisted as usual that they had to take the heavy items, then the lamp might have been discovered. They’d let Tommy take his own bag, however. Not to mention the fact that she wanted to avoid that cut to the hand that would threaten her game. That was a risk she preferred Tommy take. Still, one thing bothered Jalasso.
“So you’re just taking one of my bags?” she asked. “Do I get it back?”
Tommy frowned at her in disbelief. “Jalasso, you have about twenty tennis bags at least.”
She threw out her hands. Some people just didn’t get anything. “They’re all different,” she explained. “Different sizes and styles and pockets and stuff. And I have five different ones from five different years I’ve been to the Open. So those are mainly just for my collection.”
Tommy rolled his eyes as dramatically as a silent movie star. He shook his head. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll bring your bag back. Whatever one you can live without for a couple of days. Next time I come play you, I’ll bring it back.”
Jalasso shook her head. “And, what, leave your racquet?”
“I can borrow one of yours.”
She flinched as if someone had tried to strike her. “What? Be serious.”
Tommy made a noise of frustration. “Fine! I’ll leave mine. Or I’ll bring one with a head cover with a strap and stick it inside the bag. We’ll figure it out. Can we just get your busted lamp and go?”
Jalasso made a shushing motion at Tommy, although almost no sound could escape her huge, high-ceilinged room. After living through the noises of Jalasso’s first year of tennis obsession at age three, her mother had made sure of that, having insulation put in all around it to keep the repetitive “pock” sounds from invading the rest of the house at all hours. “Ixnay on the amplay,” she said. “You mean ‘the racquet that needs to be restrung.’”
He nodded. “Yes, the racquet,” he said in a monotone.
“That needs to be restrung.”
“That needs to be restrung,” he repeated.
Jalasso nodded happily, her dark, bobbed hair bouncing with the effort. “The racquet that needs to be restrung,” she prompted.
Tommy knew better than to continue. She’d have her way, or he’d never get back on that invitation list. After the amazing party favors of the past two years, he didn’t dare miss one of Jalasso’s parties. And the rumors had already started that there would be drawings for courtside seats at Flushing Meadow. “Can we just get your racquet that needs to be restrung and go?” he asked.
Jalasso bounced once and spun on her heel. “Let me go pick out a bag and we’ll go,” she said.