The Club from Hell – Chapter 5
MEH-rrrrrrrr . . . MEH-rrrrrrrr……
“You’ve got to be kidding me….”
The girl rolled over, stuck a tanned arm out from five hundred count Egyptian cotton sheets, and slapped her palm down on the teakwood night table.
Nothing. She slapped it down to the left. To the right. This time it struck a slim silver square. Her fingers closed around it and carried it up to her squinting eyes.
The bleating came again.
“What the . . .” She punched some buttons with her thumb, and suddenly Rihanna was singing at the top of her lungs in full Bose surround sound, the volume still at the level of her impromptu late night dance party. Now, instead of making her hips and hair sway, it caused her head to jerk back in a useless attempt to escape, knocking it into the headboard.
MEH-rrrrrrrr . . . MEH-RRRRRRRRRRRR
“What a bad little girl I am” sang Rihanna. “I got a problem, bad, bad…”
“Shhhhh—ugar, sugarrrrrrrrr,” growled the girl, involuntarily mimicking her mother, when she was going for a winner, but putting the ball into the tin instead. Tears sprang to her eyes. She took a corner of the sheet and wiped them away. They were from the shock of physical pain, she decided, because surely she didn’t miss her ridiculous mother. She didn’t have time to think about it, though. Over another round of something that sounded like seagulls being strangled and Rihanna squealing “Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad,” there was now a loud knocking on her door.
“Jesss? Are you there? Are you okay??”
Jessica thought about this, after giving the affirmative to Nikki on both counts , figuring out how to kill Rihanna with the press of the right button, and using her deductive skills to solve the mystery of the obnoxious wake-up call; she couldn’t see a thing out her window. Fog.
She was fine, she thought, better than fine, as she opened the doors to her closet. It wasn’t a walk-in like Nikki’s mum had, but then again Jess didn’t have fifteen years worth of clothes—or however long it had been since Mrs. Ivanov had been married to Nikki’s dad. She only had—was it already eight months?—worth of Juicy Couture, True Religion, Miss Sixty, to name a few. Some were hand-me-overs from Nikki, but many were gifts from Mrs. Ivanov who clearly liked to shop and did so every place they stopped. Lacy sun-dresses from the French Riviera. Embroidered and hand-printed tops from Africa. Bikinis from Bermuda.
“You have such lovely figure,” Mrs. Ivanov would say in her heavily accented English. I should send Nikki to orphanage!” And then she would laugh in her half sexy, half hoarse from too many Newports voice.
“Orphanage,” Jessica muttered to herself, sweeping the hangers of teen couture to one side. She could wear a beaded bikini to breakfast, but her squash lesson was mid-morning. “I still can’t believe she bought that….” Mrs. Ivanov wasn’t the brightest bulb in Bergdorf’s.
The other half of the closet contained all of her squash attire. Harrow, Adidas, Nike, Prince, Asics . . . Mrs. Ivanov wasn’t loyal to one brand; it was mostly which color caught her eye. And who had worn it. Recently, she’d been ordering whatever dress Kasey Brown had worn, since she saw her beat Nicol David in a black and silver number. “What amazing arms,’ Jessica overheard her say, as she and Nikki watched a video of the match in the salon.
Jessica quickly flipped by a bunch of coordinated outfits—turquoise, berry pink, sunset orange, and then her hand dropped. Fire engine red. It couldn’t be… She looked more closely. The skirt had pleats in the front and—she pushed the hanger over to see the back—a zipper stuck half way down (or up, depending on your degree of optimism) on the back. How had it gotten there? She hadn’t remembered seeing it . . . but had it always been there? No, she was sure not. The last time she’d seen the vintage tennis skirt (well, her mum’s from when she was a girl) was when she’d stuffed it into her squash bag that final morning at home. But she hadn’t been wearing it when she had made that dash to the limo. Nikki had told her to leave everything; it would look more like a kidnapping. That had been easy; she didn’t have anything she really liked. Anything except her beautiful new Galaxy 3s phone, but Nikki’s brother Alexi had grabbed it when they were driving away. “You want to be found, princess?” he said, tossing both her phone and his cigarette out the window.
“Only by you,” she had thought to herself. He was cute, in a young Peter Nicol kind of way—which was still too old for her; he was Nikki’s half brother, from her father’s first—or was it second?—marriage. Then again, she could probably beat him on the court.
The court. She put the skirt to the back of her mind; maybe she had brought it after all. She needed to get going if she was going to eat and get on the court by mid-morning. Aman scolded them in Arabic if they waltzed on even a few minutes late. She grabbed a black skirt, a tournament t-shirt with Big Apple Open emblazoned on the front, and a pair of Asics and closed the door.
André opened the door to the dining room. “Good morning, miss.”
“No breakfast on the deck this morning?”
She shook her head. “It’s foggy. I heard the horn.”
“Ah,” the mustachioed maitre d’ nodded. “That accounts for Alexi’s presence.”
Jessica quickly glanced around the room. She figured Nikki might be there, but the rest of the family usually ate in their rooms, on their private decks, or in the case of Mr. Ivanov, in his office. She rarely saw the man. But there was Alexi, sitting in once of leather banquettes, eating eggs and a pile of bacon. She’d gotten over her schoolgirl crush on the guy. Now he just made her nervous. Especially alone.
“Oh. Right.” She began backing up. “Maybe I’ll see if Nikki’s up . . .”
Too late. Alexi had seen her and was waving her over.
“What did you do to your forehead, Princess?” he asked her when she got to his table.
She put her fingers to it and winced. There was a bump now from the headboard. The chorus “bad, bad, bad, bad, bad” started pounding again in her head.
“Bad.” she mumbled. “Bump.”
“I’d say,” he agreed, raising his eyebrows at her. He scooted over on the banquette. “Come sit down.”
“I should see if Nikki’s up…” she began, but Alexi quickly interrupted.
“She’s asleep. Here,” he insisted, pulling her firmly over to his side so that she half sat, half fell onto the leather cushions.
“The usual, Miss?” André had followed her over.
Jess nodded thankfully. “Yes, please, André. Weeta….”
“You should have eggs,” Alexi interrupted. “Protein. Don’t you have a lesson later?”
Jess looked down at her skirt. “Yes, but….”
“Bring her some eggs, André,” Alexi ordered. “Over easy.” He turned back to her and smiled.
Within moments, André was back with her order. Her usual order. Two pieces of weetabix with sliced banana on top. And a pitcher of cold milk. “Your first course, Miss?”
Jessica smiled for the first time that morning. She could always count on André.
Alexi frowned. “Forget the eggs, André. I’ll take a refill on my espresso, but then you can go.” He paused. “Jessica is going to give me some top-secret tips for my squash game.”
“Really??” The voice came from the door to the hall and not the kitchen. Nikolina was leaning on the frame. “Jess only gives her secret tips to me, future Junior nomer adin.”
“She should give you her secret diet tips, too,” Alexi shot back. His half sister was seemingly his opposite, short and dark to his tall and fair. But their tongues were both sharp.
“The only tips you need are how to stop mooching off Papa.” Nikki flounced her short self into a seat. “Ouch. Oooch. Oh, my head hurrrrrrts.”
Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, thought Jess, lightly rubbing her own.
Alexi sneered. “And you’ve got to stop pinching your mama’s wodka.”
Nikki stuck out her sharp tongue. Alexi rolled his eyes. Jessica quickly finished her weetabix and stood up. “Um. I have to get to my lesson?”
Nikki lay her head down on the mahogany table and closed her eyes. “Tell Aman that I don’t feel well; we can play our practice match tomorrow.”
Alexi shot his eyes from his half sister to Jessica. “I’ll play with you, Princess. After your lesson.”
Jessica protested. “Oh, you don’t want to play with me….”
Alexi slipped something small out from under his napkin. “Oh, I do.” He tapped the slim silver rectangle. “And then we must talk.”
Nikki yawned and put her arms over her head. Jessica stared. Alexi grinned.
Once again, Jessica nodded.
Aman wasn’t too happy when she told him Nikki’s message.
“That girl is la-zee,” he muttered. “You can’t buy experience. You can’t borrow eet, “ he said, shaking his head.
“Oh, Aman, Nikki’s gotten better,” she protested.
“Yes. She has,” Aman agreed in his knowing way. “But you. You have gotten many, many times better.” He smiled at her. “And nicer, too.”
Jessica blushed. But she did feel nicer. Or, well, she liked being nicer. When she first got to this grand place that the Ivanov family called home, she couldn’t believe how nice every thing was. How Nikki had the nicest clothes and the nicest squash stuff and all the nicest, newest electronic everything. She hadn’t felt bad at all that she had told them she was an orphan. In fact, she kind of was one; since her parents bought the squash club, they were never home. It opened before she got up in the morning and closed after she went to bed. She checked her watch; they were probably there right now.”
“Your parents would be proud of you,” Aman continued.
“They were,” Jess agreed, and then realized what she’d just said. “I mean, I hope they would be. Should I, um, do some suicides to warm up?” she quickly asked.
“That’s my girl,” Aman beamed.
Jessica opened the door of the all-glass court and sprinted to the front wall.
She couldn’t hear, but on the other side of the one-way glass, Alexi repeated Aman’s words.
“No, that’s my girl.”
Jessica was drenched and her legs were wobbly by the time Aman was done with her. He usually gave her and Nikki a break half way through, but with Nikki not there whining about dying for water and rest, he just kept feeding ball after ball and asking for rails, drops, volleys, boasts, volley-drops until she was about to drop herself.
“We’ll work on your stamina next time,” Aman said, handing her a towel and a bottle of water. “But they should be sending you to the championships, not Nikolina.”
Now that wasn’t going to happen, Jessica thought as she chugged down the drink. Funny how a split-second decision had made her both a better player and impossible for her to compete. But she was too tired to really think about it. So that’s why she was still slumped on the sofa outside the court when Alexi walked in as soon as Aman left.
“Ready to play? Or to talk?” he asked, waving her racquet with one hand and a phone in the other.
Jessica looked up at him. The good part about running around for hours was that while her body was down, her endorphins were up. Nikki was right, Alexi was a bozo not worth worrying about.
She waved two empty hands, palms up. “Whatever.”
“So do you want to call your father before we play or after?”
Jessica sat up like a shot, this time jerking her head into a table lamp. “Ouch. What??”
Alexi turned the phone around so that she could see the number displayed. It looked familiar.
“Why would you want to call my father?” she asked, her adrenalin kicking in over the throbbing of her head.
Alexi rolled his eyes. “Because he’s rich. And he wants you back.” He paused. “And I could use a little money right now.”
“But you’re rich!” Jess protested.
Alexi shook his head. “My father is rich. I’m not rich. And I’m not dumb, either . . . Now that I know your family won the lottery, they may be looking for something to invest in.” He narrowed his not-so-Nicol-like eyes. “Like your return.”
“But I . . . I wasn’t even kidnapped!”
“Now you are.” Alexi smiled down at her. He handed her the racquet. “On second thought, let’s play first.”
Jessica stared at him as he turned to pick up his racquet by the door. This time she wasn’t too tired to think. She stood up, wound up, and whacked him as if going for a winner, right on the head.
The fog had lifted when Jessica came bursting out the door onto the deck, the phone in her hand. She ran around the pool, dodged through some deck chairs, and scooted behind a lifeboat near the bow.
This may have been the stupidest thing she’d ever done, she thought, catching her breath. Next to throwing her racquet at Emma Duncalf in last year’s club finals. There was no cell phone service on a yacht. Not even one as super nice as this one. They were miles from shore.
And then she looked up. A very green and tall lady, holding a book and a torch, was looking down on her. . . .
Tracy J. Gates might be a rock climber if she lived in Colorado, or a surfer if she lived in California, but since moving from Massachusetts to New York City before the millennium, she has devoted a good portion of her life to squash.
A book editor from nine to five, she squeezes in writing about squash (and a few other sports and adventures) on her blog, www.squeakyfeet.wordpress.com.
Next Up: Chapter SIX by Alan Thatcher