Chapter 11: Tennis

Over the next week, Cindy wakes up extremely early in order to attend all of Sally's class sessions. She struggles to keep up though as she has not even mastered the basics. When she asks if Sally can take some time after class to show her, she receives a lecture akin to a refusal.

"You can put forth the effort to learn the basics on your own time. I don't care if you're busy with Greg. I don't even see what his purpose is. You already know how to sing, don't you? He's not doing a good job of teaching you how not to breathe so heavily that the microphone picks it up. I don't care if you're out of breath. That's why we're building your stamina."

Cindy begins going to the pool to swim and build stamina but it is difficult. In the afternoons she has to have Greg coach her on singing because Sally refuses to let her miss a single class. "If you're not going to bother to show up, then I'm not going to bother to teach you," she scolds her every time Cindy suggests skipping a few of what she considers the less important lessons. Obviously some of the moves they are learning will never apply to a dancing idol who cares nothing for ballet but Sally is adamant that she has to do everything or nothing.

After Greg is satisfied each day, or when he just plain gets sick of hearing Cindy's voice, she is allowed to wander around the campus. Mainly she visits the pool and suffers through swimming while exhausted with the help of the swim coach, an over enthusiastic man, never seen without goggles and black swim trunks, who assumes that her visits will eventually culminate in her joining the team. He is unaware that she is not even a proper student of West Burrow.

She also spends time with Liz and Kathleen, though not much as they have their own lessons to attend. They try to hangout like regular high school girls but the fact that they all attend a school for nurturing talents always works its way into the conversation somehow. After getting over her initial mumbling, Kathleen is able to speak with Cindy more openly; mostly about art and clothing design though. She constantly reminds Cindy that she is a wonderful specimen, just like Liz. Both of them find themselves feeling guilty for Kathleen's scrawny appearance on multiple occasions.

Almost halfway through Cindy's one month of training at West Burrow, Sally has to leave her class in the hands of her best students so she can attend a doctor's appointment for her ankle. Cindy is surprised to find all of the girls in the class waiting by the door when she arrives. Normally they are already deep in their lessons even before Sally saunters in, always a good ten minutes after the scheduled meet time of five in the morning.

Cindy looks down at her own gym shorts over black spandex with a feeling of inadequacy. The Girls in front of her are all wearing different sports gear. Some like the traditional ballet uniform or a simple unitard or even a leotard. The majority of the girls however wear slightly thick white gym shirts that absorb sweat well along with shorts or bloomers, usually black, blue or red in color. Cindy can see them front and back as one of the walls of the studio is entirely covered in mirrored glass.

Cindy feels out of place. Without her shorts and shirt over her spandex she would probably look like a scuba diver in a wetsuit. "Shall we start," she addresses the girl who was left in charge nervously. "I just need to warm up."

"Don't bother," Jamie responds curtly. She has her arms crossed.

Cindy winces at the sound of Jamie's authoritative voice. "Sally says that it is important not to miss anything," she tries not to shrink in front of the girl that obviously scares her.

"Why are you taking up her time?" the girl standing next to Jamie asks. "She's busy preparing all of us for the fall competition. She does not have time to waste on you. Why do you think she's just having you attend class instead of training you one on one? Frankly you're a distraction. This is really important to us. Can you just not show up from now on?"

"I'm sorry," Cindy feels the immediate need to apologize.

"Don't be sorry, just leave us the hell alone," another girl instructs her. Glancing over the majority of the girls, Cindy can see that they are not all in agreement. Some of them have been rather friendly with her but they are all averting their eyes in her time of need.

"I can't skip this. It's important."

"What is it even?" Jamie asks. "You're not going to be attending West Burrow, right? You must be one of their pet projects. They only spend time and effort on people who are going to make them money. You're something special, right? Why should we help you get ahead of us?"

Cindy's mouth moves faster than her mind. "It's not like you'd be making them money if I weren't here," she spouts in a slightly griping tone. Jamie's eyes widen in shock. Cindy bites her lip. She feels like apologizing but she somewhat does not think she is wrong.

"I see…" Jamie turns and walks over to the wall of the padded room. All of the girls follow her. They each sit down and cross their arms and legs, refusing to do any choreography whatsoever. Cindy stares at them with her mouth agape in confusion. She can not believe how far they are willing to go just to voice their dislike of her. There is clearly nothing she will gain from staying. She leaves without saying anything else.

The same feeling of panic that Cindy has not felt since her first night at West Burrow returns like a punch to the chest. She covers her heart with her hand and tries to calm its rapid beating. As it is early morning it is not quite hot yet even in though it is still summer. The scent of morning dew calms her but only slightly. She can hear the girls preparing their routine. Their voices resonate from the studio cheerily. Her leaving was all it took for them to start their practice. Even though no one is following her, Cindy feels pursued.

She makes her way back to the dorm and presses the button to the elevator rapidly. Some of the earlier risers are lounging in the common area. They barely acknowledge her but she feels their eyes on her back. As soon as the elevator doors open, she collapses inside. She turns around and hugs her knees as she watches her staring dorm mates cautiously. They all seem concerned but none of them move to follow her. The doors close quickly but not quick enough.

Cindy starts gasping for breath as soon as she is no longer afraid to make noise. She feels claustrophobic in the tiny elevator. The walls are shiny and she can see her own reflection. She feels like tearing off her gym clothes as she has no idea why she needs them if she cannot practice. Without thinking she gets off at Liz and Kathleen's floor instead of her own. She saunters down the hall with their room in mind for her destination.

"Go away!" Liz's annoyed voice calls through the door as soon as she knocks. "Do you have any idea how early it is."

The door opens a moment later, revealing Kathleen wearing an open pajama shirt and little else. "Ah, a lecher," she pretends to cover herself in embarrassment.

"Don't answer the door like that if you're going to be ashamed!" Liz scolds her while sitting up. She herself is wearing nothing but black lingerie, which prompts a confused expression from Cindy. "Ooh, it's our best gal," Liz coos in excitement. She leaps out of bed and bounds over to the door, dropping her chin on her roommates shoulder and beaming at Cindy happily. "What brings you here little chinchilla?" she asks.

Cindy's eyes gleam brightly as she barely keeps them from filling with tears. She closes Kathleen's shirt and hugs her tightly, placing her head on her opposite shoulder from Liz's. Kathleen frowns at her. "What happened?" she demands in as stern of a voice as she can muster.

"Nothing. I'm just happy to see you both," Cindy laughs while nuzzling Kathleen's cheek. All her panic has melted away. The sense of abandonment she feels from having been dropped in this unfamiliar setting by Sarah and told to handle herself is immediately dispelled by the knowledge that she can come here to see Kathleen and Liz whenever she wants.

"You know, you're never going to last on a stage in front of thousands of fans if you barely handle this school," Liz scolds her with a warm and welcoming voice.

"I won't be alone when I'm on stage," Cindy sighs contently. "Sarah will be back stage watching me."

"But she can't walk out on the stage if you stumble," Liz warns her. "Thrust me there is no place colder and darker than under those hot stage lights. You'll feel your own sweat soaking into your clothes. A chill will run down your spine. You'll want to feel relief when the audience cheers; to know you've done something correct or at least know you haven't screwed up. However, the relief does not come until you're safely back behind the curtain. It's not like a sporting event where you only feel eyes on you if you're off the bench. The anticipation never ceases. You won't believe you're safe and sound until you've passed out in your trailer from exhaustion."

"Why are you trying to scare her?" Kathleen asks.

"I just want her to be prepared," Liz assures her. "This is not like your art exhibits when you were a kid. You were just standing in front of your finished paintings getting praised. This is more like people standing over your shoulder criticizing you as you try to make a masterpiece."

"It's more like trying to recreate a masterpiece I already completed once before," Kathleen corrects her. "She will already have the music and the lyrics written for her. The dance moves will be thought out ahead of time. She'll have practiced them at least a hundred times. All she'll need to do is follow the same routine except in front of people."

Cindy's face has become quite pale. Just hearing these two girls discuss her future like experts has lowered her self esteem significantly. "I think I'm gonna go down to the pool for a swim," she mutters while turning to leave.

"What? Again?" Liz groans. "Do you have a crush on that coach or something? He's not even as cool as Marco," Liz takes the chance to praise her own tennis coach.

"Marco would sleep with a drawing of a girl if he thought he saw it move," Kathleen mutters.

"Did you say something about my lovely Marco?" Liz shouts at her. Kathleen turns up her nose, refusing to apologize.

"I don't understand what you two are talking about," Cindy admits.

"Marco is the tennis coach," Kathleen explains. "All the girls love him because he's got that tall dark and handsome Latino thing going on."

Cindy shakes her head. "I don't have those sorts of feelings for Carlos. I just feel like I can let my problems go when I'm swimming," Cindy explains.

"Well not today!" Liz announces in a matter of fact tone. "Today we are playing tennis." She struts over to her closet and produces a tennis uniform, complete with short skirt and sleeveless blouse. She puts it on over her lingerie. Cindy lets out an impressed whistle. Her bronze colored arms accent against the bluish white fabric with a sense of superiority Cindy feels she will never know.

§§§

Kathleen puts on a simple black t-shirt and a pair of white baggy shorts before the three girls make their way out of the dorm and down to the tennis courts. As it is early, there is no one else practicing yet. The court itself is shimmering in the morning sun with dew. "I'll get some uniforms for you two to wear," Liz disappears into the locker room by herself. "That's strange. Why is it unlocked," she mutters to herself as she glances around the dimly lit room. "Hey, anyone here?" she calls out. There is a panicked sound of rustling in response. A moment later her coach appears, followed closely by one of the other members of the tennis team.

Her name is Cassie and she is one of the prettier tennis players with curly golden hair and a shy attitude that attracts boys. It disappears whenever she is talking to her teammates though. She likes to win and she is not above screaming at and blaming her teammates when she is losing.

Liz's eyes light up when she sees her beloved Marco. She waves to him with a massive grin but it fades from her face when she notices her teammate fixing her skirt and trying to pat down her messy hair. "What's happening, Cassie?" she asks in a cold voice. "Did you forget how to dress yourself?"

"Hey now, don't bully the girl," Marco tries to laugh. When Liz continues to frown at him he gulps nervously. "You're trying to become a starter, right?" he asks desperately. "The new position that opened up when Charlene graduated is totally yours. How about that?"

Liz's frown softens slightly as she stares at her coach and his boyishly handsome face. His hair is dark and wavy and it frames his face perfectly. He has a slight shade of stubble rather than a real beard but it suits him. His white shirt is always un-tucked, completing his does not care sloppy appearance.

Liz ponders for a while before responding. "I guess I didn't see anything," she sighs while shaking her head. "Man, my eyesight must be getting bad. Guess I should go to the doctor soon."

"Hey, you promised me that spot!" Cassie squeals angrily. "You said if I let you go all the way, it was definitely mine!"

"Don't act like you weren't into it," Marco hisses at her. "It's not like I lied to you. Obviously there are bigger things at hand now."

"Listen here, Liz, you better not say anything!" Cassie shouts.

"About what?" Liz does her part of pretending not to have seen anything.

"I'm serious. That position is mine. I've got cuts on my knees from this jerk. I've earned it."

"Oh, perhaps I did see something after all," Liz changes her tone of voice. It is not that she wants to get her teammate or her coach in trouble. She just feels like Cassie needs to be taught a quick lesson. She should not talk to someone like this when they hold her future in their hands.

"Are you kidding me?" Cassie shrieks. "Do you want me to get kicked off the team? What about Marco? Do you want him to get fired?"

"If you knew he'd get fired then you should've just kept your pretty mouth shut," Liz growls at her.

"Why are you being so vulgar?" Marco chuckles. He is still trying to act like Liz's friend.

"Whatever, I really don't care." Liz waves her hand disinterestedly. "If you and Marco are in love then good for you. I won't ruin it for you. If you keep getting in my face though, Cassie, I really don't care if you get kicked off the team. I'll tell the whole school if I feel you've earned it. Just keep that it mind."

Cassie seems to want to say something but she bites her thumb instead. Liz walks over to the bin where they keep their spare uniforms as if nothing just happened. She has resumed her original task. When she notices her coach staring at her she adopts another frown. "Can I help you, Marco?" she stresses his name as if it dirties her mouth to have to say it.

"Honestly, you're a little cruel," he addresses her bluntly. "I'd completely understand if you went straight to the board and tattled on me. The fact that you morally don't care even enough to do that unless provoked scares me a little."

"Good," Liz's response is cold. "Listen, Marco, I don't want to lump you in with the last teacher I saw kissing a student but you'll understand why when I tell you I was in grade school at the time. I'm going to assume that your taste is not strictly that of younger girls like his was but that doesn't mean I really approve. Let me just say that it makes me glad to hear you say you're afraid. I'd be worried if a man in your position was not afraid of the young girls under his charge. If for a second I thought that Cassie was the one afraid of you, you can bet I'd have told the board on you. Think about that while I actually try to do what I joined this team for, and that's practice tennis rather than messing around. Also, please ask Eric if he'll be my only coach from now on. You'll understand if I don't really want to be near you."

Marco stares at her with his mouth agape as she walks out of the locker room with two spare uniforms. Kathleen is leaning against the fence around one of the tennis courts with her hands in her pockets and her eyes closed. Cindy looks like she has been trying to talk to her sleepy friend but has given up. "If you went to bed at night instead of staying up late sketching this wouldn't be a problem," Liz scolds her.

"What took you so long?" Kathleen groans. "I was about to fall asleep on my feet. This one is real noisy too."

"Sorry, I've just never been all that interested in things that did not interest me," Cindy explains.

"Ah, that would be the case for most people, wouldn't it?" Liz pretends to be understanding.

"Just listen to this girl. Apparently she does not watch sports or anything of the sort," Kathleen interjects. "She says that watching two people or two teams trying to achieve such a simplistic goal as moving a ball from one net to another is a waste of her time."

"I did not phrase it that way," Cindy whines. "I just don't see how the principal can remain interesting to watch over and over again. Sure it's not always the same two teams facing off but I'd rather be entertained by handsome men singing and dancing than burly guys dressed in shoulder pads that ram into each other constantly."

"What about girls in short skirts." Liz winks as she holds up the spare uniforms she procured. Cindy's eyes light up. She enjoys dressing up, even if she is not usually interested in sports.

"Be careful, she just wants to ogle your bare legs," Kathleen warns her.

"How will she do that?" Cindy asks while dropping her shorts to the tennis court. She is still wearing her black spandex. Liz slaps herself in the forehead while Kathleen smirks.

"It's okay, you'll still get to see me in my uniform," Kathleen tries to console her friend.

"Why would I care to see your skinny chicken legs?" Liz scoffs. Kathleen swats her several times before snatching the other uniform and marching over to the fence again so she can prop herself against it while sanding on one foot to remove her shorts. Neither she nor Cindy are concerned about anyone seeing them change as it is early morning and no one is up except for them and other busy students such as Sally's dancing class.

After changing Kathleen takes one side of the court while Liz takes the other. They plan to show Cindy how to play first, even though she is rather confident she knows what tennis is already. Kathleen proves to be an average opponent for Liz. She hits the ball back properly but never bothers running for the ones that are more than slightly out of her reach. As a result Liz takes to hitting all balls within her range to make it easier to keep a back and forth going rather than continuously restarting the serve. It is obvious that Liz is the veteran player and that Kathleen really does not care.

After a while, Cindy offers to switch with Kathleen, who agrees graciously. She collapses on the bench as if she is exhausted, even though Liz has not even broken a sweat. Obviously, it takes Cindy some practice before she is able to hit the ball back properly but her overall energy astounds Liz. She has been building her stamina straight for two weeks by participating in dance lessons and then swimming for hours while already exhausted. As such she is able to keep up with Liz easily. "Boo! Show off!" Kathleen pretends to heckle her.

Cindy is not very good at the sport in general though. Especially after Liz starts to play more professionally; intentionally hitting balls out of her reach and trying to earn points. Cindy still has fun though. She has never bothered to just play like this before. All of her free time when not hanging out with her friends has been dedicated to working for money that she spends almost instantly on Adrian Cash memorabilia. She has gotten used to her way of life but now she is realizing how little anything has changed for her during the past two years. She is not moving forward. She has stagnated. She is immensely grateful for this opportunity that Sarah has given her.

"Looks like some of your fatigue is wearing off." Liz is happy to see Cindy looking less panicked and exhausted. Over the past two weeks, during what little time they spent together, Liz always felt like Cindy was one step away from passing out. Despite being dropped into a foreign environment and being plagued by frequent panic attacks, Cindy definitely has a work ethic that will not let her give up. She almost seemed like a zombie to Liz and Kathleen sometimes, refusing to stop swimming before at least two hours had elapsed, even when her limbs went numb. All her hard work seems to have paid off though.

Eventually, Cassie makes her way to the court and offers to play a real practice match with Liz. Cindy sits next to Kathleen on the bench and they watch with interest, not in the sport but in their friend's successfulness, while cheering for Liz. Cassie proves to be a more formidable opponent though and wins three sets in a row. Liz chalks it up to having played against both Cindy and Kathleen first but Cassie refuses to accept excuses.

Eventually more tennis players begin to arrive, along with a rather lanky looking man in a loose fitting suit and thick rimmed glasses. He takes off his sports coat and sets it on the bench before moving to stand next to the court. He calls out instructions to both Cassie and Liz as they start their fourth set. His hair is cut short except for some tufts of hair that stick out, as if an amateur cut it for him, perhaps himself with a mirror. Overall he looks completely unorganized but he seems to know a thing or two about Tennis.

None of the girls really listen to him though. Two more practice matches begin but when he tries to give the players instructions they shoo him away. Liz makes an attempt to listen to him but his advice is not really useful compared to her general knowledge about Cassie's play style. After several bad pieces of advice she tells him to shut up as politely as possible. "Eric, I appreciate the effort, I really do, but unless you want to put on a skirt and show us what those long arms are for, let the actual tennis players work."

Cindy tries not to laugh at his expense. She is startled when he sits down on the bench next to her though. "Hey there," he mutters in a dreary defeated tone. "Are you new to the team?"

"I'm from the dance section," she sputters. She is not sure if she should be talking to him at all or not.

"Ah, you don't need my advice either, do you?" he chuckles. "Doing some stamina building today? Or perhaps you're trying to figure out how to change directions on the fly. Watch Cassie's feet. See how she puts more weight on the balls or the heels depending on which way she plans to bounce."

Cindy wants to ask why he is suddenly giving her advice. Probably because no one else would listen to him. "Actually, I'm basically playing hooky because I don't get along with the rest of the girls in the dance section," she admits more than she planned to. Kathleen's eyes widen as she stares at her. She had not asked the reason for Cindy's bad mood earlier. It seemed like a touchy subject but now she realizes that Cindy must have really wanted to talk about it if she blurted it out to a complete stranger like this.

"Girls can be so cruel to each other," Eric laughs again. Kathleen grits her teeth in annoyance. She looks like she wants to tell him to get lost. He is obviously not welcome here but he is too unaware of himself to notice. That is probably why none of the girls listen to him. He may be good at tennis but he is not cut out to be a coach.

Suddenly, the shrill squeals of all the girls draws Kathleen's and Cindy's attention. Kathleen makes a face as Marco steps through the gate of the fence. She watches for Cindy's response and is pleasantly surprised when she does not react like a smitten schoolgirl like the rest. "So you don't like him either, eh?" Kathleen asks smugly.

"What's wrong with Coach Franklyn?" Eric asks dully. "Has he bothered you at all?"

"What? No. I just…" Kathleen is unable to answer properly.

Eric glances over to the corner of the court where several less excited girls have gathered. They all look sullen about something. They are barely talking but their conversation topic seems to be Marco. Their eyes keep gliding over to him for a moment before they avert quickly. "Some of the girls have complained?" Cindy makes an educated guess. Kathleen hisses at her while pressing her finger to her lips, warning her not to touch on the subject.

"A few of them," Eric admits. He has no qualms about talking with them openly. He does not seem to take anything seriously. "I'd really like some proof before I confront him. I don't want to make a fool out of myself for nothing."

"That's right, what little dignity you have with these girls is far more important than their safety," Cindy spouts. Kathleen crosses her arms in an X, trying to tell Cindy to shut up.

"Excuse me?" Eric finally turns to look at her properly. "Coach Franklyn is the one who got me this job. He was my senior back in college. When I failed to go pro in basketball, he was the one who gave me a career option. I never thought about what would happen if I did not go pro. I was really stupid. I asked him why he wanted to coach tennis and not basketball. I'm sure it was just a joke when he said he would rather be surrounded by pretty girls instead of sweaty boys."

"Ah, I see. Good for you. Not only is it about not looking silly but you're standing up for your friend. I get it now," Cindy does not let up.

"Please, just stop," Kathleen whispers. She does not want to get involved in this.

"It's none of my business anyway." Cindy stands up and marches into the locker room, taking her discarded clothes with her. Kathleen bows apologetically to Eric before chasing after her.

"What was that about?" she screeches at her in a whisper.

"I don't know." Cindy shrugs. "Something about his lack of backbone irked me."

"Seemed like you were sure the other coach was preying on the girls," Kathleen accuses her.

"I don't know if he was. Honestly, if we hadn't come here today I'd be none the wiser. It's not really my business and it's not really my problem."

"That's right," Kathleen agrees. "Sometimes just keeping your head down is the best way to deal with things."

"Really though?" Cindy is not convinced. She has spent her whole life never complaining about things such as being neglected by her parents. She is used to this way of doing things and she has a habit of letting bygones be if no one gets hurt; case in point, Cain's attempt to kiss her.

Just then, another girl enters the locker room. She is a redhead with glasses and a pointed nose. She frowns at them when she sees them. "What are you doing in here? You're not part of the tennis team."

"And you're late," Cindy does what she always does and states the obvious. She does not mean any harm, she is just blunt.

"I was working at the campus store until six," she explains her tardiness as if Cindy were asking a question. "Which teacher gave you permission to sit in on our practice today?" she demands sternly.

"Actually, we were here before practice and were just leaving," Cindy feels like getting involved with this girl is a bad thing.

"Ah, sorry for making assumptions," she apologizes but it does not sound genuine. "By the way, what were you two discussing just before?"

"It's not really any of your business," Cindy is getting annoyed. Kathleen has started shaking and is hiding behind her. She has reverted back to her meek self in the presence of this stranger.

"Everything I hear is sort of my business the moment it reaches my ears," the girl responds snootily. "It's alright if you don't want to tell me. I'll find out eventually and then you might end up in trouble."

"Trying to trick us into spilling?" Cindy scoffs. "Does that ever really work on people?"

"I'm not trying to trick you at all. It's just a friendly warning, I always find out in the end. Just be warned. I'd ask for your names but I don't feel like you'll give them to me. I'll just ask the other instructors."

"Ha, good luck." Cindy is under the impression that she is not really a student of West Burrow and is not bound to whatever disciplinary action this girl plans to take against her. Even if she were, her status as a debuting idol should give her a certain amount of immunity to persecution as well.

"I want to leave," Kathleen whimpers into Cindy's shoulder.

"Let's go back to the dorm." Cindy takes her hand and leads her out of the locker room. Neither one of them managed to get changed.

"Hey, where are you going with our uniforms?" the snotty girl chases after them.

"We'll have Liz bring them back later," Cindy assures her.

"Liz? Are you friends with Liz? What the hell has she done this time?" the girl yells as they slip through the gate. She does not follow them though. Instead she marches over to the court where Liz and Cassie are still playing and glares angrily at her while tapping her foot.

Cindy and Kathleen make their way back to the dorm in a confused state. They have no idea who they have just encountered or why she acted so superior to them. Hopefully they will never run into her again.