Heavenly Prize

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Chapter 12

XII

“Right, you can look up now.”

COUNTY TENNIS CLUB

“You are their new member.” I heard Peter’s voice.

“Wow Peter!” All I could say. I thought I would freeze. Then I just wanted to get out of the car and run towards it, jump up and down really high, roll on some bonnets. Having a grown up boy conscious was just about to betray me. How to control myself? It’s not easy. I stood up and held the windshield rim.

“Peter I love you, I love you, I...... ”

Things happened like a rehearsed photoshoot from stepping onto the impressive steps of the building, getting to the most politely spoken receptionist, introduction with the firmly handshaking coach, signatures on some docs, shown indoor courts, outdoor courts, practice rooms, gym, to getting into the members’ rooms where we finally sat at the cafe with the coach. From the conversation it turns out one full week stay over for coaching. I am thrilled. It’s funny you know; dreams and reality are two different points of a spectrum. Well mostly they don’t meet. They do, but only in books. Or it happens to someone else. I pinched myself.

“Lots of students are around during this week. I would have all the time in the world for training, get to meet lots of people, make new friends, and most of all learn to be independent;” according to the coach.

“Peter, this is the best surprise ever.”

“I knew you would like it.”

“Like it? This is what I have wanted all my life. My whole school wants it. It will be in the bulletin. I just have to make the most of this opportunity. I haven’t even prepared. Haven’t practiced a single day.”

Peter looks and speaks so calmly as if it is all too normal. “Time for practice will come. Entirely up to you. You are never without choices. You are a big boy now.” The coach’s eyes shot from him to me and he gave a deadly smile at that. What Peter meant to say was, ‘I am a grown up boy now!’

From Peter’s perspective it all seems like walk in the park. Over here, the competition kills you. People have been taken out dead through exhaustion, as one of my friends had reported in the class about his cousin. Well, although I am much stronger than his cousin, that doesn’t mean I am through. This place is a different matter entirely. They have high expectations, which I can confidently say, I am perfectly well placed to deliver. I need to reassure Peter, just in case. “Peter all I will do is practice, practice, practice.”

“Will you take care of yourself over this week?” He wiped his lips with the side of his finger.

I had been too thrilled to consider the first strategic onset. I suddenly felt a painful sting in my heart. I sat back on the chair and looked towards Peter. He was looking at both me and the coach but carefully studying my face it seemed. Finally, his eyes settled on me. I let out a huge sigh and wiped the back of my hand on my nose. A week’s stay over without Peter tore a piece of my chest from the inside. It hurt. I felt being pressed to the back of the chair with something heavy on my chest. I couldn’t have got out of the chair, had I wanted to, through a sudden feeling of paralysis. I stared into blank until I felt Peter’s hand press mine. The coach said something which went past my ears. Then he left us alone with some parting excuse. Peter didn’t move from the chair but kept his hand pressed on mine.

“Don’t you like this arrangement?”

“You don’t know what it means.” My voice took its time to become audible. I leant forward and put my hands on my ears. My eyes fought some stinging tears.

“What does it mean?” I could only hear Peter’s voice, as I couldn’t look in his direction. A prized possession was just about to be snatched away from me, for a week which seemed like an immensely indefinite period.

“I will be away from you for a week. I don’t want to be. You are off work this week as well. Why can’t my coaching start from the time you return back to work?”

“It is starting next week. Didn’t you hear the coach?”

I didn’t hear it? I suddenly felt awkward. It happens to stupid people who pay attention to only part of the statement. How could I have let this happen, and in Peter’s presence? I probably would have controlled the situation if I was by myself, but now there is no escaping. I was overexcited and childish at best. After the sting, I have a large visible gash. Sting didn’t matter, but this was hurting badly. This act of infantile behaviour is going to lower my head in shame for the rest of my life. I know Peter loves me enough to forgive such a mistake, and probably he hasn’t noticed it, but I overstepped the mark in frenzy. I am not capable of repaying his kindness and love. I hope to do it one day when I grow up, which I thought I already had. A well-deserved apology in order.

“Peter I am sorry I did not pay due regard to the coach giving dates. I should have been attentive.” I looked towards my knees. My eyes felt too heavy to lift. I felt unworthy of that chair or that place. I prayed in my mind for Peter’s forgiveness. I wanted to joke and laugh with him once again to the end of the day. I didn’t want to ruin the day, especially today, for him. Will he still manage to keep that smile for me which he has been keeping since this morning?

“The coach hasn’t given any dates. He has just agreed to the dates I gave them over the phone. Now he is just printing some papers for me to sign.”

I could have just got up and wrestled him to the ground but I managed to stay silent.

“Happy?” I was so pleased I didn’t care to respond. I didn’t need to. In our minds I had passed over my agreement.

“Would you like a quick snack, before we go for a walk in the grounds?” He got up from the chair.

“Whatever you want Peter.” I slapped his back. He is a good sport. By the smirk on his face, I guessed he had played with words. I won’t forget, even though I should have spotted it much earlier. Blast.

Snacks over. Peter took coffee after the small meal and kept saying how delicious it was and how well arranged the place was. Today is his day. I will happily wait in eternity for him to finish his meal, or whatever.

We walk in the grounds. “You know; this several acres of reserve belong to the club. You can set your horses free over here.” Peter points out to the horizon from one end to another. Peter seemed too busy thinking out loud; the way that my extra curriculum credits would be reciprocated by higher education institutions. He rested his arm behind my neck. It felt like a soft cushion had been placed on my shoulders for that extra comfort to enhance my posture.

“The mind is a precious little miracle. It’s fragile at the points of inexplicable injustice, a total drag on these pivots. And yes, can make life so admiringly charming, rewarding if you can crack its little complex codes. You know Jack, Emotional resilience and social adaptability is the name of life. Being ready is not enough. You need to actively call for tests of time to gain that tiny bit extra perfection which can give you the edge. Once you have been through this place, you are on to a winner. I mean, in life, generally. You will only appreciate its beauty long time from now, whenever you happen to stumble upon chances that would require your mental agility, adaptive attitude, and concentration. And those chances are not rare, hmm.” he pulled me closer and attracted my gaze. I have no idea what he meant, but it sure sounded like a fair sport and a little sort of pre-battle advice dispensed with wisdom. I couldn’t possibly let him down, even if my life depended on it, I thought.

Back in the pavilion, conversation ensues with fellow guests, staff, coaches, players, apprentices; about when the evening falls for drinks at the bar followed by some stay in the dining room. The day passed quite quickly, perhaps in my excitement I didn’t look at the time. Fall of the dusk comes right upon us. We begin our drive back home. I settled in the car and began to reflect on the day. The whole school will be shocked.

“Peter, can you tell if it is a dream or reality?”

“What is?”

“You.”

“Touch me.”

I put my hand on his heart and felt its beat. His skin was slightly moist with the warm air. I felt like putting my lips to it as I had been overcome with emotions by his relentless kindness through an unconditional caring attribute. Were I to be capable of conveying half the feelings that swirled in my head, he would immediately be incapable of whatever he is doing. However, there is the presence of uncompromising situation, thus disturbing the possibility of such a gesture. Postpone request.

It was just past the day and the rush hour traffic was slow. Overhead lights gently rolled past us, each time giving a bright glimpse of his strong features on the face and the breathing chest. Each time, I see a spark lighting up in his eyes that fades away slowly until the next light. We hadn’t taken the car hood off. A diamond rolled off his temple leaving a liquid silver trail by the ear which was about to vaporise in the warm interior. I have a distinct feeling of its aromatic attribute. I wiped the sparkling perspiration off with my finger and tasted it. Then I wiped my finger below the ear to the neck and tasted it, if it is the medium to his soul.

There is something captivating in that taste, which I have never tasted elsewhere, that I am sure makes my eyes transfixed. The feeling is of as intense a pleasure as winning a hard game or gaining the top score in exams. Except that it is momentary in its time span. It has to continue in its progress or be brought to a halt, which is only possible if I hug him or he kisses me, or at least rub the back of my head. He was staring straight ahead, to the slow motion of cars darting in and out of lanes, change of junctions forcing speed alteration and consistent manoeuvring requiring attention. I longed for him to rub the back of my head.

“Peter, I don’t think anybody in the world has as good a dad as you.” I also stared out of the windshield, where I can see his reflection. His stance remained unchanged and eyes stayed focused on the traffic. Another spark lit up in his eyes.

“Do you think so?” He spoke to himself with a tone more serious than I expected to receive. Perhaps, he is still mulling over my training, and staying away for the week. This is the first time I will be away from home. Peter does it all the time, on his business trips, and it doesn’t seem to bother him, although I have never asked come to think of it. Can’t be very difficult. Exciting, may be. I will think about it when it starts, but for now I have a company to attend to, and the longing returned to me.

“I don’t think I will ever be in a position to repay your kindness or ensemble an alternative restitution to utilise your affection, at least fully.” I sounded to the best of my ability composed and confident. I watched his reflection, in which he threw a brief glance at me and a smile at the traffic, raised his arm and rubbed the back of my head. I could barely conceal my joy to which he spared a surprised sideway glance in his reflection. This is one of those times when I wish we were not on the road, somewhere where no one else existed around us, but just me and him. I could easily spend hundreds of years with him were we to be in the space with nothing else around. He is a buddy.

“I want to do something for you.” I played with his biceps of the arm closer to me and almost whispered into it. Peter laughed at the windscreen. His arm shuddered against my face. Through the shirt I can feel his pulse beating warm blood which will be passing through his heart. It was the laughter of a winning player, though no one had been defeated. He breathed through his lips that sounded like a whistle. He tapped on my face with the other hand. The temperature in his blood rose.

“Ok, let’s stop for a cool drink. That’s what you can do for me right now. We will let the rush hour pass.” He let his hand back on the steering wheel and looked out of the window for a place to drink.

“I had a warm drink in my mind.” I rubbed my face further into his arm feeling his heart on my ear.

“Della will fix you a night drink.” He still laughed from his throat with lips tightly closed.

“I was hoping to get it from you.”

He placed his hand over my head and pressed it further into his arm. “Jack, ask for my life and I will not refuse.” Peter’s response came from deep throat, however a little on the passive side. Affection can prove to be burdensome at times as well as a one sided tedious bore at other. The thing is that humans can have a tendency to get a passive stage set in when absolutely cornered, and let anything be done to them, which means they have shielded their emotions. The fluids in the body dry up causing a scowl of the face. On any account it is going to take away that spark of the eyes that glows like thousand candles. The energy vanishes which is meant to facilitate a smile so spontaneous to break a deadly silence. These are the two most wonderful attributes of Peter without which days will seem long and nights endless. So best, settle with a cool drink, for now. “Where are we stopping Peter?”

We went into a brilliantly lit noisy cafe and sipped our drinks at the bar. There is the sound of loud tune over the stereo, chatter of the patrons, both mixing with the humming noise of the air conditioning flu; each competing to extend its wings in the enclosed aquarium. Outside, through the windows, the motorway is a long way away although I can feel the overcast of its heavy traffic. Someone heading somewhere, to someone, from someone, one of whom is going to be alone. Give it a break, I say to myself. My brain muddled with the thought of cold sighs, bleak days and blackest shivering nights. I let this wave of pointless deliberation quickly brush past me. Much nearer is the dim flow of overhead lights, in the parking, each time spreading to a short brightness as more cars continued to pull in. Each engine produced its final grunt accompanied with a wink of the headlights to the darkness. Cheerful groups waiting for others to empty out of the cars. Then the groups form a single file, arms in arms with matching steps as if partaking in a parade. Even nearer is the genteel warmth of a single human which is part of me. I want to just briefly mingle with its warm haze. I gazed at Peter looking into his drink and wiping sweat off his brow after which our eyes met. He was thinking of his work which is still few days away.

Our conversation is diverted to my favourite subjects when I do join the university. Peter is fine with my choice. I thought of the time when I was intending to study drama and music. My plans have changed to study the rise and fall of civilizations, the defeat of the successful by the barbarian, the increasingly unpopular rulers and their submissive populations favouring religious ceremonies over social carnivals, priests for teachers, the noble for farm labour, followers free and expression forbidden. Probably not far off the mark from drama and music. I have a feeling that I have found something precious at the loss of something that I cannot pinpoint. There is a void inside me that is gradually filling and closing in itself. A keyhole glimpse into it is a frightening matter, inside it is still as wide as before the healing process began. I wonder if it will stay as wide inside when it finally closes at the surface.

“All the other players are way too experienced in the club. I will have to practice twenty-four to compete with any of them.”

“That’s why you have the coaching.”

“That’s true Peter, but I think the coach doesn’t realise the intensity of the lessons required for me. One week doesn’t get me anywhere close to the most junior level.”

“It’s not about the length, but the effort.”

“What’s the difference?”

“It is about how much you think into it and put in that extra effort during each coaching session, even if it is for an hour. Anyway, he is best placed to judge your present capacity and coach accordingly.”

“Peter, I am worried that you might not be pleased with the results. If anything, I am thinking that I might come out worse than I go in.”

“I am not looking for any results. I think it will be good for you to experience that place. You are not obligated to produce any results to the club or to me. There are no exams. It is a lifelong learning experience for you and not for anyone else, although.”

“Although?”

“Although, you know Jack, whatever you learn from there, I will love you all the same. You will always hold you as the best kid. I am quite content with that.” He winked with a seductive look.

I imagined his hand going on my back. I fell for that look. That settles it. I smiled at Peter without saying so.

“When you are ready, my precious little champion!” He blinked slowly at the last word which made me laugh. I don’t think I am little but you know what I also know that this is Peter’s one of the playful ways getting me off guard.

“After you!” I bowed to the greatest champion and walked after him. His face reminded me of a passage about the faint blush of berries intensified by the rain. “You know; it is worth all the sermons in the world to have a son like you.” I said to him in a manner closely resembling to that of the headmaster, and put my hand on his shoulder whilst walking out of the cafe. “When no one is watching, I am going to hold you close and see to it that you are brought up well.”

Peter looked at me with an easily spreading smile and tackled my neck. “You know, when no one is watching, I am going to throttle you.”

He is in a brilliant mood. It would be good to wrestle with him. He is bound to lose today, since he looks exhausted. But wait, isn’t that cheating?

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