The park near Soleil's house was a bike ride away, but with Ophelia tagging along and tennis equipment to log around, they piled into the car and drove the short distance. Ophelia skipped into the tennis court, eyes wide at the sight. Yeah, it was a rundown court with weeds growing through the cracks, faded paint lines, and a net that seemed like it was one stuff breeze away from flying into space, but to Ophelia, this was the birthplace of a legend (or two.) Kjelle grabbed her racket from its carrying case and a ball from the bag, bouncing the ball on the pavement and twirling the racket in her hand. "Damn, it's been a long time since I've used this thing," she muttered, examining its scuffed white surface, chipped blue accents, and frayed netting.
"Let's see what you've got, mom," Soleil encouraged her, jumping to the fence and leaning in close to Ophelia.
Kjelle smirked, standing at the edge of the court and assuming the position they'd seen Momo and Ochaco take so much earlier. It wasn't nearly as graceful as the pros on TV, but Kjelle did toss the ball up, letting it reach the peak of the throw before slamming it to the other side of the court. It bounced twice before hitting the fence, and the younger girls applauded her performance. "Astounding!" Ophelia cheered. "Played like a true pro!"
Kjelle grinned right back at her onlookers. "Would you two like a try at serving?"
The girls shared a look and shrugged. "I mean, I suppose. It can't be that hard, right?"
Kjelle gave them a knowing look, handing Soleil her racket casually. "You'll see."
After taking the racket, Soleil grabbed a ball, stood roughly where she remembered the girls standing on TV, and went through what happened in her head. From what she remembered and just witnessed, the technique was to throw the ball into the air and hit it with an overhead smash. Simple enough, right? She took a deep breath and tossed the ball up…
And watched it sail behind her head and pathetically land feet behind her. "That was weird," she said flatly. "I'm confused."
Kjelle laughed, patting her daughter's back. "You take after me more than you think, Soleil. There was no way in hell you were mastering that from just seeing it."
Soleil pursed her lips and grabbed the ball again. "Not a problem, I'll just nail it right now."
Before she could make a second attempt, Kjelle said, "I'd recommend just throwing it up without trying to hit it first. Gotta make sure you get step one right before trying step two."
Soleil nodded, staring at the little green ball in her hand intently. She tossed it up and caught it, seeing that it stayed more or less in place this time. "Alright, now I nail it!" She tossed it up and swung the racket wildly. Not only did she miss the ball completely, but she also threw the racket, sending it skidding across the pavement. The attempt ended with her entire body leaned forward, so the ball came back down on the back of her head, causing her to gasp in shock and recoil.
"That didn't work too well either, did it?" Kjelle laughed again. "Don't worry, serving was always my weakest area too. You'll honestly probably get the hang of it last."
"Then why did we start with it?" Ophelia asked.
Kjelle shrugged dismissively. "I dunno, ask the one who told me to serve."
Soleil stuck out her tongue playfully. "I thought starting with how games start would be fitting. Anyway, we should start with something else."
"We can do whatever you want," Kjelle said. "I can be here all day."
"I kinda want to be taught how to know where the ball's even going," Ophelia said.
"Whoa there." Kjelle stood away from the fence and held her hands up. "I didn't say I was gonna teach you. I only said we'd come out and play some."
"But why not?" Soleil asked, still rubbing the back of her head.
"You grew up with me, you should know the answer better than anyone," Kjelle explained. "I'm a terrible teacher. Always have been. I brought you out here to get a feel for everything, not to teach you." The girls nodded understanding while she moved to pick up her old racket, briefly examining the head before realizing that trying to pick out a new mark from all the others would be nearly impossible. "Here, I have an idea." She grabbed the ball that had just hit her daughter and stood at the baseline. "Just do this until you get a feel for the racket." She bounced the ball in front of her, and when it was about at the point she had let it go, she whacked it and sent it sailing over the net. "The swing you'll be doing only requires one hand so it shouldn't be too hard."
Ophelia skipped away from the fence, reaching for the racket. "May I go first? I'd like to try it out."
"Go for it," Soleil said, motioning toward her mom, who handed Ophelia the racket.
When she had it in her hand, Ophelia swung it idly a few times, each swing a little faster than the last. After taking the head of it in her other hand, she nodded understanding. "Okay..." After grabbing a ball, she stood where Kjelle had just been and bounced it a few times, getting a feel for that as well. She mimicked the motion she had just watched Kjelle do and watched the ball hit the top of the net and weakly land on the other side. She grimaced at her onlookers and said, "well, it was an attempt, at least."
Kjelle shrugged. "Hey, that would have probably scored in a real game."
"What, really?" Soleil asked.
"We didn't see it in the game we watched, but if the ball hits the net, but still goes over, it totally counts as in," Kjelle explained. "So Ophelia's shot was better than she thought."
Ophelia's face morphed into a cheesy grin. "Hah! In that case, I did that on purpose."
After everyone laughed, they resumed this makeshift practice session for the better part of two hours, only stopping once the contents of the ball bag were all on the other side of the net. After the two younger girls collected them and put them back where they belonged, Kjelle nodded at them proudly. "We did some good work here today, girls. Let's go home and make your father make us some grub."
"Did we really do good?" Soleil asked. "It feels like we didn't get any better."
"Oh, don't be ridiculous," Ophelia said quickly. "We'd never even touched a tennis racket before today, so it's hard not to get better than that."
"She's right," Kjelle agreed, zipping up the racket's carrying case and slinging it back over her back. "You're like me in that you want to be good at this right away, but the truth is, that doesn't happen in sports, especially not this one. You'll have to practice a lot, so don't give up after one lackluster attempt."
Ophelia nodded, pointing a finger to the sky dramatically. "As they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and today was our first step!"
Watching Ophelia be so enthusiastic erased all of Soleil's doubts entirely. "You know, you're right.
That weekend, the girls promised to spend the next weekend at the same court, practicing on their own time. The weekend in question came all too quickly and found them largely doing the same thing they finished on the first time. Ophelia tried to serve once, but almost repeated the exact mistake Soleil made, and the girls decided that serving was just out of their reach for the time being. The next week, Soleil came at it from a different angle, that being an online search she would look through while Ophelia was practicing. "Whatcha reading?" Ophelia asked after a few hits.
"I looked up how to play tennis, but I can't find much," Soleil explained while Ophelia joined her at the fence, peering at her phone screen. "The top result reads like it was written by an elementary schooler, and everything else uses terms I can't understand yet."
"Hm, that is odd," Ophelia hummed, gingerly leaning the racket against the fence. She grabbed her own phone from her pocket and typed in the same search, skimming the results with pursed lips. "Yup, not a whole lot to go off of here."
"This might not be something we'll be able to teach ourselves," Soleil said, absentmindedly scrolling through another wordy article.
Despite the road block, the wind didn't seem to be taken from Ophelia's sails. "Then what do we do?"
"For now, we keep doing what we're doing," Soleil said. "We can think of something when we're not focused on learning the game."
"Sounds like a plan," Ophelia said with a nod. "Want to take your turn?"
Soleil smiled and got to her feet, pocketing her phone and grabbing her mother's racket. "Gladly," she said, making her way to the court. Letting the thoughts of their first real stumbling block melt away, she focused on hitting the balls, noting how different swings of the racket affected where they went and how fast. Some of them would land outside the lines, which she knew were the boundaries, but some would land in the little...what was that, an alleyway between the outside and the inner boundaries? Those lines hadn't come up in her searches, so they must have just been for visual flair. She must have spaced out, because the next thing she knew, the ball bag was empty, and Ophelia was giggling at the face she made when she discovered this.
"Got distracted?" She asked, skipping to her side and grabbing her phone from her pocket. "Hey, before we collect, let's take a picture."
Before Soleil could protest, Ophelia put one arm round her and pulled her in close, one hand resting on her shoulder while the other positioned her phone to take the picture. Soleil saw their faces reflected back at her and couldn't resist how cute her best friend looked. She leaned her head in close, put a hand on her hip, and smiled wide. After the picture was snapped, Ophelia locked her phone and took Soleil into a proper hug. "I'm so glad we found something so fun to do together," she said happily. Their bodies separating was torture for Soleil, but her smile remained due to how excited Ophelia was when she tapped out a caption for the picture. "Out with the bestie, practicing our new craft!" She turned to Soleil and added, "gotta keep it obscure so my dedicated fans don't learn too much too early."
Soleil laughed. "Ah yes, can't have our legion crashing our party."
"Exactly!" Ophelia's eyes widened and she nodded fervently. "I don't want anyone intruding on my quality time with my closest friend."
Soleil's smile only widened and she couldn't fight the blush creeping across her face. She watched Ophelia tap out some hashtags on her caption, felt her heart skip a beat when she added some hearts to the picture and felt her phone vibrate when the picture was posted to social media. Finally, she tore herself from her haze to say, "I-er, okay, let's collect now, hm?"
"Let's!" Together, they set out collecting tennis balls. All the while, Soleil couldn't keep her mind from racing, any attempts to think about their problem overridden by her almost overwhelming feelings for Ophelia. She must have let a dreamy sigh escape her lips, because Ophelia turned to her with a raised eyebrow. "Everything okay?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah. Sorry. Got lost in my thoughts," Soleil weakly explained. "Sorry."
"Don't be," Ophelia said. "I'm trying to think of ways to get us out of this pickle too. Maybe we should ask around? Our parents might have some ideas."
Soleil didn't have the heart to admit that she wasn't thinking about their predicament. "Good idea, Ophelia," she said with a nod. That night, the girls made a plan to meet at Ophelia's the next weekend in order to take a week off and think about their next step, and once she had her room to herself again, Soleil listlessly let herself fall onto her bed, sighing loudly. "This was a nice distraction for a little bit," she mumbled. "Maybe, if we get really good, we can get busy enough to make me stop thinking about her all the damn time..."
She lost track of how long she'd spent fantasizing about Ophelia, and got startled when someone came in and turned the light on. "What are you doing just sitting here in the dark?" Her mother asked, one eyebrow raised.
"Oh, um, I don't know," Soleil said, sitting up and looking out the darkened window. "I didn't realize how dark it was getting."
Kjelle shrugged, taking a seat next to her on the bed. "So, any good progress today?"
"Not really," Soleil told her. "We didn't get much better, and looking up tips and stuff didn't get any results, so we're going to regroup next week and try to make a different plan."
"Makes sense," Kjelle said with a nod. "Sorry that I couldn't be of more help to you girls."
"It's okay!" Soleil's eyes lit up and she gave her mom a quick hug. "You got us started, and that's what matters."
Kjelle eagerly returned the hug, squeezing tight, which caused Soleil to gasp for air. "It was my pleasure, really. I always like spending quality time with you."
"Thanks mom," Soleil managed to say. Once she was released and left to her own devices once more, she finally dragged herself off her bed and to her desk. She had just fired up her computer when she heard a knock on her door. Confused, she called for whoever it was to come in, and watched the door open to reveal her father. "Oh, hey dad," she said as he sat on the bed. "What's up?"
Inigo seemed to need a second to collect his thoughts before he spoke. "I just wanted to check on you. Your mother seemed worried about the fact that you were just lying here in the dark."
Soleil was only more confused by his explanation. Why would her mother send him in to check on her instead of doing it herself? "Really?" She asked. "That's...weird."
"That she would send me instead of doing it herself?" Her father echoed her thoughts so perfectly, it caught her off guard, and when she didn't respond he just laughed. "Well, she was afraid that your problem might be one that she can't talk about considering her...experiences with the matter in question."
"I'm still confused," Soleil told him flatly. Inigo seemed to withdraw, possibly thinking over how to word his next statement, but before he could settle on something, Soleil's phone went off from the desk behind her. The sound was the custom tone she set to go off specifically when Ophelia texted her, and hearing it made her eyes widen. "Ophelia?" She spun around in her chair and grabbed her phone, hoping the text she got wasn't anything urgent. By the time she had done a full circle in her chair and was facing her father again, she had read that the text was merely an invite to play a round or two of their game. She typed out, "sure, give me like, five minutes," and pocketed her phone, looking at her father once more. "Sorry about that," she said.
Her father didn't seem to mind. In fact, he was smiling from ear to ear. "I knew it!" He hopped in place a little, abut wasted no time in elaborating. "I told your mother this was the case, and that's why she sent me here instead, as this is my area of expertise."
"Dad!" Soleil held her hands up to calm her father down. "I have no idea what you're talking about right now. Go back a step or two? Please?"
Inigo straightened up and cleared his throat. "Soleil, my dear, you're in love with Ophelia, aren't you?"
Hearing those words sent a jolt of electricity through Soleil. If she had been standing, her knees would have given out beneath her. "You...how do you know?" She asked, eyes wide with terror.
Inigo put on a smirk and flipped his hair dramatically. "I did say this is my area of expertise, did I not? I can tell, just by seeing the look in your eyes when you got a mere text from her. You're no different than I was when I was smitten with your mother."
The shock of the accusation had died down, but Soleil's face was still heating up drastically. "Is it that obvious?" She asked sheepishly.
"To me? Yes," Inigo said simply. "To your mother? A little bit. To Ophelia? Well, I don't know her as well as you do, but if she's anything like her father, you could write it on the inside of her eyelids and she would still not be sure."
Soleil threw her head back laughing. "Alright, maybe you're right."
Inigo's smile faded slightly as he moved on to his next question. "Now, since I'm on a roll, let me take another guess at what you're feeling. You don't dare tell Ophelia how you feel out of fear for ruining what you have between you. Correct?"
Soleil's smile disappeared completely, and she could feel a lump forming in her throat. Merely hearing that fear said out loud was almost enough to bring tears to her eyes. "Y-you're too good at this, dad," she said, averting her eyes to the ground.
Inigo nodded solemnly and put a hand on his daughter's shoulder. "I know this position must be rough for you, but I believe that you may be solving that by yourself."
"Let me explain," Inigo said quickly. "It was you who wanted an activity that wasn't video games for you to do together, right?"
"Yes," Soleil said with a nod.
"Well, I believe that may be your own subconscious way of tackling this issue. You see, Tennis is a bonding exercise, and through it, you can learn how well you two work together in times of real stress. If you two are truly meant to be, how well you work together in this, should you decide to pursue it, will be the deciding factor." Inigo crossed his arms and nodded firmly. "Then, if you two work exceptionally well together, you can start trying to see how she feels about the situation."
Soleil was still a little lost, nodding slowly. "So...you're saying that this will be how I decide whether to tell her how I feel or not."
"More or less," Inigo said. "Relationships are more than love and affection. How well you can communicate and work together under duress can go a long way as well. If you two truly work like a well-oiled machine out there, then you're truly made for each other, and from there, you can decide how to approach her about your feelings."
"But what if we learn that..." Soleil had to swallow hard before forcing out the words, "we're not that great together?"
Inigo's face softened, watching his daughter's eyes start to tear up. "Soleil, my dear, trust your father on this one: if that truly is the case, you will be glad you learned that through this sport rather than by starting a relationship that was doomed from the get-go."
Soleil seemed to space out, processing what she'd been told. She was startled back down to earth when Inigo wiped a tear from her cheek with his thumb. "O-oh, uh, sorry. But yeah, that makes sense. Thanks, dad."
"If you ever feel like you need to talk about anything, just know I'll be here," Inigo assured her, taking her into a hug almost as tight as the one from before.
"Right," Soleil said, wrapping her arms around him.
When they separated, he gave her one last pat on the shoulder. "Well, I'll leave you to it. Good luck with all of your endeavors." With that, he left closing her door tight behind her.
Soleil sniffled and turned around, facing her computer and turning the game on to find Ophelia already on and waiting to connect to her. "Hey, sorry for the wait," Soleil said as she fiddled with her headset. "I was talking to my dad."
"Is everything alright?" Ophelia asked immediately. "You sound sad."
Soleil's eyes widened, and she became aware that she still had tears in her eyes. "Oh, yeah, I'm fine. So what do we wanna do tonight?"
"I was hoping we could do our placement matches," Ophelia said quickly. "Gotta get those done before the new character drops."
"Right, let's do it," Soleil said with a nod that she was fully aware could not be seen.
Ten matches that ended in only a couple losses later, the conversation between Soleil and her father was out of the front of her mind, but her plan that was secret, even to herself, lingered in her thoughts all the way to the next weekend, when the two girls filled the time between matches brainstorming about what to do. Not long into that weekend's gaming session, Ophelia's father poked his head in quizzically. "You two are back to your old routine?" He asked. "Did tennis already fall through?"
"Not at all," Ophelia said. "Actually, maybe you can help us with this problem we've been faced with!"
Owain shrugged and came the rest of the way into the room. "Alright, let me hear it." The girls wrapped up the match they were in and jumped out of the game, shifting gears to explaining the problem to Owain. His response was immediate, skipping the dramatic thinking altogether to say, "oh, that's a simple one! The best way to learn is to be taught, and when a simple online search doesn't do it, only another person can."
"Are you saying we need a teacher?" Soleil asked.
"Precisely!" Owain pointed dramatically at the girls, one eyebrow raised for whatever reason. "I'll look for a suitable tutor post-haste, and let you know as soon as I find one!"
Ophelia clapped her hands together. "Wow, you'd really do that for us? You're the best, dad!"
Owain puffed his chest out proudly. "Not a problem. However, be aware that a lot of sports instructors only do their thing in the summer, so you would have to put tennis on the backburner while you finish up school."
Soleil and Ophelia nodded agreement. "It's probably for the best that we do that anyway," Ophelia said. "We can't just drop everything to become pros."
"Too true," Soleil nodded. "So it's settled. We start tennis in the summer, and until then, we settle for nights like these."
"Not that I mind too much," Ophelia said. "Just seeing you every weekend will tide me over until then."
Soleil couldn't hide the blush creeping across her face, but luckily Ophelia's father started being theatrical before anyone could notice it. Once he left, the promise to find an excellent instructor lingering in the air, the girls went back to playing for a few more matches. As they waited to be put in a game, Soleil turned to her friend. "Hey Ophelia, did you mean what you said?"
Ophelia nodded, locking eyes with her as she said, "absolutely! We're like two peas in a pod, and that makes even lounging around doing nothing fun!"
Soleil smiled warmly. "To be fair, it's not hard to make that fun when you can find the fun in literally anything."
Ophelia shot her a wide grin. "Maybe so!" The conversation stopped short there, as the next match had started, taking the girls into another long night of gaming.
True to his word, Owain found an instructor willing to give the girls lessons, but he was also correct in assuming the girls would have to wait until the school year was over, and so they did. As summer loomed ever closer, so did the knowledge that they would finally pursue their new goal in life in a way that would see actual progress. Until then, the girls started looking into exercises that would help their performance going into the lessons, and doing that when they had the time. Tennis lessons were coming, and they had to be prepared!
There was also graduating from high school that had to be done, but who cares about that, there was tennis to play.