Excerpt for Pickleball Is For Lovers: The World's First Pickleball Themed Romance Story by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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PICKLEBALL IS FOR LOVERS!

The World's First Pickleball Themed Romance Story


by Darrell T. Grob


Smashwords Edition


©2017 Darrell T. Grob and Flashworld Media


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


Rated R This romance story contains profanity, dramatic adult situations, and expressive descriptions of sexual encounters and acts that are contextually appropriate. This is not pornography. It is intended for mature adult readers. All characters involved in sexual situations are depicted as being 18 years of age or older.


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please return to the e-retailer and purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Want to know what the people you're reading about look like?

Click here to be taken to a Pinterest cast gallery.



Forward


I have to come clean with you, dear reader. I am an addict—a pickleball addict. It's a vicious jones that has grabbed onto my soul and won't let go.

Like these things always do, it started innocently enough. I was at my local community fitness center in my hometown, Denver, Colorado, minding my own business. After a particularly vigorous workout, I went to cool down on the track around the gym floor.

There were three women in the gym playing a game that I had never seen before. I stopped, watched for a few minutes, then asked them what they were playing. It was pickleball. Just like how it happened to Carol and Connie in this story, they shoved a pickleball paddle in my hands and taught me how to play.

That's all it took. From that fateful moment, I can't get enough of pickleball. And as I travel frequently, I have played at different locations around the country, much like the couple from Denver in the story. The pickleball game locator on the website of the United States of America Pickleball Association is one of my favorite and most used online resources.

Now, for those of you who are regular readers of the Unconventional Affairs romance stories and are not familiar with this form of addiction, pickleball is a court volley game. It uses a ball similar to a wiffleball, and it's played on a court the same size as a badminton court. The play style is best characterized, I think, as a cross between scaled-down tennis and scaled-up ping-pong.

In Pickleball Is For Lovers, you already know all the characters and the settings. I'm just putting your series favorites into a new and fun situation. And you should put yourself in it too. Pickleball is a great game. It's loads of fun, fast, action packed, and a helluva good workout. CLICK HERE for more information about the sport. You can also find a jillion videos about it on Youtube. Check it out.

For those of you who picked up this story because of the pickleball connection, welcome to the world of Unconventional Affairs, R-rated romantic adventures. I hope you'll like not only Pickleball Is For Lovers, but also all of the other titles in the series. Click here to be directed to my Amazon store.

Now, I do have to warn you that you are getting dropped head first into the middle of the Unconventional Affairs universe. The characters are all established and well known to regular readers of the series. Pickleball Is For Lovers is a one-off story without any real timeline implications either before it or after it. (I, of course, reserve the right to change my mind about that.)

And who are all these wonderful people in this story? I got you covered. Click here to be taken to a Pinterest cast gallery.

Again, thank you and enjoy Pickleball Is For Lovers.


Darrell T. Grob


Ps. My bio and contact info is at the end of the story. Click, like, share, enjoy.



Jag


The Jaguar E-type sliced through the hot, humid, late night air as it zoomed down the little used back road. The South Carolina wilderness was a blur, and the on-coming dotted center line melded into one continuous stripe. And the wide open 265 horses under the hood trumpeted un-muffled.

Carol dove the car through the road's turns, straights, and chicanes with the expertise of a Formula 1 pro. Her late braking was daring, and her shifts were flawless. And when she needed to apply power out of a turn, her raw bravery and need for a rush forced her to press the pedal all the way to the floorboard.

Doug confidently sat next to her. He had been on those midnight road runs before. They were exciting, and they generally laid the groundwork for other kinds of sports: adult sports. “She's sounding pretty good tonight,” he said. “Smooth, strong, ready.”

She's feeling good too, darling,” Carol said. “How about you? Are you feeling good too?”

Doug laughed. “Of course I do. I always feel good, especially when you get behind the wheel and let her rip. Where are we going tonight?”

I'm not sure. I thought we'd just zip through here for awhile and see what happens. This is a great road. It's perfect for this kind of thing.”

And there's probably no cops anywhere around.”

Right. They can be such a buzzkill. When they busted me last month, well, that just sucked.”

How many points do you have on your license?” he asked.

I don't know. I'm pretty sure, though, one more ticket and I can kiss it goodbye for a few months. Then you'll have to take over on these things. You up for it?” she asked as she allowed her glance to shift to Doug only for a second.”

WATCH OUT!” he screamed. A deer burst through the trees and bounded once in the middle of the road right in front of them, then off to the far side of the road. Carol saw it, but it was too late for her to do anything other than to force the car into a spin. She hoped she would be able to scrub off some speed that way.

The Jag spun three or four times off of the road onto a wide gravel shoulder. It was next to a stream ten feet below the grade. But they did come to a stop with the chrome wire wheels teetering on the edge of the precipice. The two occupants were speechless, stunned by the ferocity of the incident and the horrible possible outcome if the car had slipped just a tiny bit more.

Doug reacted first. He yanked on the door handle hard and pushed the door open with his foot. He then slammed it back shut and stomped to Carol's door. He pulled the lever right off of the door when he opened it.

Carol said, “Honey, I'm so sorry. Please, don't be mad with me.”

I'm not mad at you, Carol. Far from it.”

What then? Your eyes—you look so angry.”

He laughed as he helped her out of the car. “It's not anger.”

Doug led her to the front of the car and eased her down onto the long, sleek hood. He unsnapped and unzipped her shorts and pulled them down. He then unbuttoned her blouse and opened it.

Carol said, “Ahhhh. I get it now. You little devil you. You got turned on by the excitement and danger of the accident. Go ahead, my love. Take me. Do it! Here! Now!”

Oh, there's no doubt about that. I hope you're ready.”

I am, baby. I definitely ….” He dropped his pants to reveal his hard manhood. “Oh, my god, Doug, darling.” She pulled at him until he was all the way in her. “Oh, baby. I love you. Make me scream.”

Carol, I like this kind of thing, but you need to wake up.”

No, no, no, honey,” she yelled as she pulled him over on top of her. “I'm sorry, sweetheart. I won't wreck the Jag. I promise.”

Carol!”

Oh, Doug, my love. I love you so much. But here?”

Carol! Wake up, honey.”

Now, Doug. Now!”

He thought about it for a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Okay. Whatever you say.” Doug pushed himself into her. That woke her up for sure.

Uh … Wha … Um, Doug, honey. What are you doing?”

What you asked me to do: make love with you, here, now.”

Carol started to laugh. “Oh my. I had this crazy dream. I was driving a Jaguar E-type down a country road and almost spun it out off a cliff. You were so turned on, you threw me on the hood and … well, that's when I woke up. And lookie what I found. Here you are, just like in my dream.”

Doug's action never let up. “You then kept grabbing at me and pulling me onto you. I just followed your lead.”

Carol liked it when Doug was assertive with her when they made love. “Well, carry on, dear. Don't let me stop you … like that would ever happen.”


Doug sat at their kitchen island with a cup of coffee in his hand and the weekend sports update on his tablet. It was another perfect Saturday in South Carolina, and he and Henry Tangier had a golf game set up with Bruce McCraey early in the morning. But Carol and Connie Tangier had plans too.

She bounced down with her tennis gear and bag in hand, and she immediately went over to Doug and ran her arms around him. Between her kisses she said, “Honey, you are wonderful. Do you know that?”

You've told me a couple of times,” he said as he let her rain affection on him.

And you're an amazing lover too. And, once again, you proved that this morning wonderfully.”

Thank you, dear. It does help to have a great partner,” he said.

That's sweet.” She gazed into his eyes. “I love being your partner. I love being your wife, and your friend, and your business partner, and your lover. It's the most wonderful feeling in the world. You mean so much to me, I don't think I can ever adequately tell you how wonderfully you've changed my life.”

Doug swept his arms around her and kissed her deeply. “That goes for me too. It's wonderful. I don't know how much more I can say other than that; it's wonderful.” The two of them started to caress each other more amorously, and their hands started to wander over each others bodies. Doug laughed, “Um, if we plan on doing anything today, we better cool down now.”

Geez, you're no fun,” she playfully said. “You're playing golf with Henry and Bruce today?” she asked.

Yep. I'm picking up Henry. We're meeting at Bruce's at 8:00. Tee time is 8:30. You and Connie checking out country clubs again today.”

Uh huh. I'm picking her up soon. We're going to have a quick breakfast, then Connie has an errand to run before we go over to the club. I'm not sure what the name of this one is. Connie's been keeping track of all that. I do think that this is the last one though,” she said. “It's called something like Hanging Fern or Branches or Vines.”

Whatever it is, it's hanging, huh?”

Yep. It's been fun though. So, it's okay for me to sign us up when Connie and I decide which one to join?”

That's fine. We'll take care of the paperwork together. You say you're picking up Connie?”

Yes. Hey! Can I drive your Jaguar?”

Doug laughed. “After your dream last night? I don't think so.”


Walt and Shirl


There was a popular society and gossip blog in Charleston called “TheCharlestonBirdie.com”. It was a light read and amazingly up to date with all the goings-on in the higher social circles in town. Connie and Henry Tangier, as well as Carol and Doug Palmer, did not fly in those circles as a rule. They did though occasionally dabble in high society for special events and fundraisers. However, as far as their day-to-day lives went, they were normal and didn't attract too much attention. But their latest movements made “the birdie chirp”, as the site promoted.

THE TANGIERS AND PALMERS ARE CULLING THROUGH THE COUNTRY CLUBS” a posting was titled. “All the country clubs in the entire Charleston region are on red-hot, super-duper, high alert for visits from some very important VIPs. Henry and Connie Tangier, Charleston's mega power couple, and Doug and Carol Palmer, the recipients of so much attention over the last several years (and the subject of the blockbuster book, The Unconventional Affair), are in the market to join a country club here! Word has it that the gentlemen have deferred to the ladies the task of choosing which one to join. And according to our secret sources, Connie and Carol have embraced the duty wholeheartedly.

And what is on the must-have list for a club to be considered? Rumor has it that a variety of cuisines—from French to barbecue—be available. There must be tennis facilities for the girls and golf for the boys. There needs to be a fitness facility and spa. But most important, there must be a swimming pool with lots of kid friendly fun, undoubtedly for the Tangier's adorable twin grandkids, little Caroline and Douglas, the children of son Gabriel and his wife, Monica Tangier. They also prefer, it's said, that teaching pros be available for coaching in their favorite sports.

(Ed. Note – You surely remember Monica. The local girl, the former Monica Kessel, swept Gabriel off his feet. He's the only son of Henry and Connie Tangier and the likely heir of the Tangier fortune said to be in the billions!)

The two ladies seem to be enjoying their visits immensely. Reports are they are very cordial and friendly. They enthusiastically allow the club's membership directors to give them a guided tour of the club's facilities. They then change clothes and try out the tennis courts. (Observers report they both know how to slam from the baseline quite nicely!) They then have lunch, with cocktails, then shower and move on. It is reported that they are very congenial and pleasant to other members and staff, and are good tippers.

The next time there is any news about this story, The Charleston Birdie will be the first to chirp about it.”

It was true. Both couples were very active in all kinds of sports and recreational activities. Tennis, golf, hiking, bicycle riding, baseball, swimming, boating, anything active and fun. But their luxurious homes, in the South of Broad neighborhood of Charleston, didn't have a footprint other than the homes themselves. There weren't any yards or room on their own property. If they wanted any kind of space at all, they needed to join a country club.

Having the Tangiers and Palmers as members would be a coup for any country club. Every club of any status made a pitch to them, and Connie and Carol took advantage of every invitation. Each club bent over backwards to press their case to be chosen. The food was always the best, the drinks were always strong, and the service was always exceptional.

The last stop on their list of possible candidates was a beautiful, serene, somewhat isolated club south of town. It was nestled in the lowlands that stretched from hammocks of trees inland (near the clubhouse) to a private beach on the ocean. There were two eighteen hole golf courses, tennis courts, and an extensive network of walking paths. It had a beautiful pool with a fully equipped kiddie amusement area. There was a first-class, shore-style club house with several restaurants and bar choices. There was also a spa, a gym, and much more. It fulfilled all of their wants. Carol's confusion over it's name was innocent and not unusual. The club was called Hanging Moss.

The two women were both 52 years old and were at the same athletic level. Carol was, perhaps, more fit all around, but Connie was taller and had a longer reach. That made them a fun tennis pairing. They were also extremely competitive.

Their match at Hanging Moss was a good one. Typical for their play, they both shot missiles from one baseline to the other. And, as usual, there was plenty of smack going on between them, especially between sets.

Give it up, Palmer,” scoffed Connie.

Shut it, Connie. You're going down today,” said Carol. “It's over, babe.”

My ass! Your shots have been weak today. What happened? Did Doug keep you awake all night … again?”

Not exactly,” Carol said. “We went for a drive, I guess you'd say.”

What do you mean you went for a drive?”

Nevermind. You haven't been blistering them either. Henry must be feeling pretty frisky.”

Of course. We had warm ups together this morning. Remember when you came in the house to pick me up?”

Yeah.”

Let's just say you almost caught us In Flagrante Delicto.”

In fragrant … What?”

'Caught in the act.' You almost caught us in the act. Sheesh.”

Carol laughed at her friends embarrassment. “Sorry. Let's change the subject. What do you think of this club?”

Connie said, “It's the best so far. It's really nice. What about you? Is this up to snuff for you and Doug?”

Oh, yeah. I think so. Heck, a few years ago even the idea that I'd be a member of a country club was wild and unbelievable. Frankly, it still is. What about you and Henry?”

We try not to be too indulgent. Heck, we didn't even belong to a club back in San Diego. The snobbery was too much for us.”

Well, I like it here,” Carol said. “It's the last set. You ready to get your butt beat?”

Fat chance, Palmer,” scoffed Connie. “Your serve.”

The two friends went to their respective sides. After they got back into their competitive mindsets, Carol reared back and served. It was low, fast, and right down the center line on Connie's backhand. She dove hard to her left and made contact with the serve. But it hit the rim of the racket and ricocheted off to her left. Connie fell to the court's surface hard, and she groaned even harder. She took a violent bounce on the asphalt surface and lay motionless face down.

Carol dashed to the side of her friend. “Connie!” she cried. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

Connie took a moment and collected herself. “Am I bleeding anywhere?” she asked.

I don't see anything. Nothing on your face or your arms. You're knees aren't scraped. You scared me, Connie. Quit diving for those kinds of shots. They're not worth it.”

With Carol's help, Connie stood up and brushed herself off. She then looked at Carol and said, “You know what? We're getting too old for this shit. There has to be a better way to stay in shape. There has to be another way to kick your ass at some game.”

If I knew what it was, I'd be all for it. But there's nothing ….”

Pok! Pok! Pok! A light breeze came up from the south and carried a strange sound with it. Pok! Pok! Pok!

What the hell is that damn noise.”

Pok! Pok! The noise came from past a line of young, recently transplanted pine and palm trees. It wasn't very loud, but it was there. Pok!

There it is again,” said Carol.

Connie said, “God, it grates my nerves.” She pretended her racket was a hatchet and chopped at the air. “All Henry would have to do is bug me just a little....”

You're hearing those voices in your head again, aren't you?”

Nah, they're quiet today. But that sound is irritating. It's just right at that level of audibility.” Pok! “There it is again. Where's it coming from?”

Carol turned her head to aim her ears in the general direction of the hammock of trees. Pok! “There! Down that path, past those trees. I have to find out what it is. It's driving me nuts.”

And to tell you the truth,” Connie said, “if that noise is around here all the time, that might be a deal breaker on this place. And that's too bad; I really like it here.”

Me too. But let's go see what the hell is making that Pok! sound.”

They grabbed their tennis gear and towels and headed down the path. It was a good walk, a hundred yards or so, and as they got closer they heard the mysterious sound louder and more frequently.

Pok! Pok! Pok! Pok! Pok! Pok!

Past the tree line, the path turned to the east a little. And in another hundred yards, they came across a set of what looked like mini tennis courts. They'd never seen anything like them before. There were six courts, all surrounded by a tall chain link fence. There were short grandstands and a granite and marble pavilion similar to the buildings in the main campus of the country club. It had a barbecue pit, bathrooms, a water fountain, what looked like a wet bar when they needed one, and lots of picnic tables. There were also another six courts under construction on the other side of the pavilion.

They stood at the fence and watched the action. Five of the courts had mixed doubles playing, and the sixth had a men's singles game. The play was brisk, some of the moves were very athletic, and everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun! The irritating sound was the sound of the bright yellow ball when it was hit by players with their paddles.

They were soon approached by an older couple. “Good morning, ladies. It's quite an interesting sight, isn't it?” asked the gentleman. They were both mildly wet with sweat from their workout.

Connie said, “It is. I'm not sure I've seen anything quite like it.”

It's pickleball, dear,” the happy older lady said. “I'm Shirley Clement.”

And I'm Walter Clement,” said the gentleman.

It's a pleasure to meet you both. My name is Connie Tangier. This is my friend, Carol Palmer.”

Walter snapped his fingers and laughed. “Well, I'll be. I've heard of both of you, I believe. I think most of us know your story, Mrs. Palmer. Everything that happened to you and your husband. It was a helluva story.”

Yes, and so exciting and romantic,” said Shirley. She turned to Connie. “And you, dear. Are you connected to … oh what's his name, honey?” she asked as she tugged on Walter's sleeve.

Connie said politely, “Henry Tangier. Yes, I'm his wife.”

Excellent! Welcome to Hanging Moss. We heard rumors that you've been making the rounds of the clubs in town,” Walter said. “How do you like it here?”

It's a lovely place. The tennis courts are terrific.”

Shirley took Connie by the arm and led her to the pickleball court pavilion. “My dear, tennis is so 2010. You should be playing pickleball.”

Walter, who took Carol's hand and put it around his arm, agreed. “My Shirley and I played tennis for years. We were good too, weren't we, Shirl?”

We won a few trophies. But now we play pickleball. It's faster, it's a bit easier on the joints, and it's great exercise.”

Carol said, “I've never seen it before. It looks fun.”

Oh, it is, dear. It really is.”

At the pavilion, Walter and Shirley introduced Connie and Carol to the other pickleball players. There were silver generation members, some middle-aged, a couple of thirty-somethings, and even a teenage brother and sister.

There are even more who play on the weekends. They'll be along soon. So I guess you'd say we're the hardcore pickleballers,” Shirley said. “A little later there will be a twenty or so minute wait for a court to open up to play on. That's why the club is building more courts.”

Walter turned to the other players and asked, “You don't mind if we play through and take a court for awhile, do you?” Everyone was in a good mood and agreeable to Walt's request. “We're going to show these two lovely ladies how to play pickleball. And once we've got our pickleball claws into them, they'll never go back to tennis.”

Through some smooth slight of hand, the pickleballers somehow got Connie and Carol's tennis rackets out of their hands and replaced them with pickleball paddles. The perpetrator's conspiracy was obvious and transparent, but the two amused targets of the trickery let it happen. How could they not? It was fun.

Walter started the lesson. “Now, many people like to think of pickleball as scaled-down tennis. It's more like scaled-up ping pong. Tennis depends more on raw strength to get the ball back and fourth. There's lots of heavy baseline shots all designed to wear down your opponent to make a mistake. Or they give you an opening to smash a winner. Pickleball is more about finesse. There are certainly some big-time baseline thumping that happens, but more often than not, it's the players who are the most patient who win. Sometimes the most effective shot you can make is a dink, the softest little shot back over the net you can muster.”

Shirley said, “And that's part of the fun of pickleball. Since it depends on finesse so much, it's a great equalizer between different aged players. Everything is leveled out.” She pointed her paddle to a tiny, little old lady two courts over. “That's Gertrude Morganthaler. She's 83 years old, and she can whip anyone around here.” The four watched Gertrude for a couple of points. Indeed, the otherwise frail looking old woman was a tiger on the pickleball court. Her serves were pinpoint accurate, and her ground strokes all had a nasty spin motion on them. Plus, her soft dinks across the net were devastating, and her shot placement was masterful.

Walter then told them that a pickleball court was the same size as a badminton court. And he showed them the different areas, including the dreaded No Volley Zone, also known as the 'kitchen'.

Now, the thing you have to remember about the kitchen is that you cannot step in it if you want to return a ball without a bounce. That's called a volley. If it bounces in it, it's okay to step in there and take a whack at it. But if it's on the fly, you have to stay out. You can reach in though.” He also explained the basics of gameplay.

Connie turned to Carol. “What do you think? Want to give it a shot?”

Carol turned to their hosts and asked, “Which one of you is better?”

The couple each pointed to the other. That caused everyone to laugh. Carol then said, “C'mon, Walter. Show me how it's done.”

Walter seemed impressed with himself that he was chosen instead of his lovely wife, especially by such an attractive woman as Carol. As they walked to the other side of the court, he said proudly, “Yes, ma'am. I know exactly how to beat my wife too.”

Carol did a double take at Walter's huge gaffe. “That probably sounded better in your head, didn't it, Walter?”

Oh my gosh. Yeah, I guess it did. But I just get so damn caught up in this game.... Sorry. You know what I mean.”

Yes, I do. It will be our secret. Anyway, you were saying?”

Shirley is a very good player, and we're both very competitive. However, she does have a weakness.”

Carol asked, “How old are you, Walter?”

I just turned 74 last month. Shirley is 73, and I know she's telling Connie about my weakness. I can't turn around and cover the baseline very well once I'm up at the kitchen line.”

At the other end of the court, Shirley turned her back to her husband and whispered to Connie. “Walter has a good shot, but once he's up at the kitchen line, he has trouble turning around to cover the baseline. A lob is a good shot to get him with.”

Got it. A lob past Walter,” said Connie.

And he's probably telling your friend that my biggest weakness is that when I try a scoop shot, sometimes it gets away from me and it goes long. A soft shot coming right at my feet is trouble.”

Walter had also just said to Carol, “Now, to get Shirley, the best shot is to drop it two or three feet right in front of her. Her scoop shot can be wild sometimes.”

Got it. Drop it right in front of her legs.”

Walter than said loud enough to be heard on the other end, “Are you ready down there?” Shirley and Connie raised their paddles to acknowledge that they were. “Okay, here we go. 0-0-2!” He served, and they were off.

Connie and Carol were good tennis players, and they picked pickleball up easily. But they still tried to play the game like tennis players. They stayed back in their courts near the baseline, or at least mid-court. They then tried to muscle their way through points.

Walt told them both during a break between points, “Remember, a pickleball is a lot like a wiffleball and is deader. It doesn't sail like a tennis ball. It's easy to under or over play a shot.”

Shirley called a timeout and the four of them met at the net. “Girls, you're trying to play tennis on a pickleball court. That won't work. Statistically speaking, 60% of all rallies end with an unforced error rather than with a winner. And you're making unforced errors left and right.”

Walter agreed. “Yeah, we gotta put a stop to that right away. Hey, I got an idea.” He yelled over to the pavilion. “Hey, Gertrude, come here, will ya?” The spry old woman walked over and joined the foursome.

Gertrude Morganthaler, all 83 years of her, was a course, tough, aggressive woman, with frizzy gray hair, and deeply tanned leathery skin. Her gait was muscular and bulldog-like, with a bold athletic pace. But she was all smiles with the two newbies. After introductions, she asked, “Well, wadaya need me for?”

Shirley answered, “They need to go to dink school, Gertrude. They need to learn the Morganthaler method.”

The old girl laughed. “Well, that's pretty generous calling my net and dink play a method, but I work at it really hard. It's tough to get used to it though, especially if you're a tennis player. In tennis, it's all about bang, bang, bang. In pickleball, it's all about dink, dink, dink, then a bang. The idea is to play right up at the kitchen line and dink the ball back and forth between the two sides. Then, at some point, a scoring opportunity will open up. Maybe you got them moving side to side effectively, and you can drop it where they ain't. Or sometimes your opponents aren't working well together defensively and they open up a nice big hole right down the middle. And sometimes you may have to drop back a couple of feet when they volley high. You can then slam it and tattoo their toes. And then sometimes all four players are at the net. They're all busting slams loose at each other, zinging the ball back and forth for what seems like an eternity. It's like a gun fight. And then, sometimes you just dink it and wait for the other side to make a mistake. But it all starts in front of the net, at the kitchen line.”

Gertrude, along with Shirley and Walter, worked with their students for almost an hour. By lunch, Carol and Connie were much more tired and sweaty than they were when they played tennis.

After lunch and a swim, the two lovely women showered and dressed. Ready for the world once again, they slowly walked out of the clubhouse. But they were silent until Connie asked, “Well, what do you think of Hanging Moss?”

I think it's a wonderful club,” Carol said.

The guys will like the golf courses.” Connie ran down the list of qualities they looked for in a club to join.

Yes, I think they'll like it too.”

And the pool is nice. Great place for the kids to come.”

Mm-hm. The kiddie pool will be fun.”

And, um....” Connie got sidetracked. “um, and the food was excellent.”

Yes, it was. Great food.”

They both looked at each other, somewhat ashamedly, or at least surrendered to the obvious. “Carol, pickleball?”

Yeah, I know what you mean.” Carol then asked her friend, “We're about to join a country club, aren't we?”

Connie waited for a moment, then confessed, “Damn pickleball. Where's the membership office?” The two friends put their arms around each other, laughed, and walked back into the clubhouse.

I can hear Doug asking me why we joined Hanging Moss, and my answer will be, 'Pickleball,'” Carol laughed. “He's not going to understand that at all.”

Connie said, “Henry isn't going to get it either. Well, we're just going to have to smooth things over with them, I guess.”

Carol giggled and leaned toward Connie closer, so only she heard. “Is that what we're calling 'sex all weekend long' now?”

Connie snickered too. “I guess it is.”

Well, it sounds good to me,” Carol said.

Me too!” Connie agreed.

Carol pronounced, “It's problem solving at its finest”


Seriously?


It was a beautiful day in Charleston, and, as usual Carol was hard at work at Flashworld, her and Doug's successful tech business. She was so laser-focused on her computer screen when her cell phone chirped, she didn't bother to look at the caller ID when she answered it.

She smoothly, somewhat automatically, pressed the device to her ear. “Thank you for calling Flashworld. This is Carol Palmer. How can I help you?”

Pickleball? Seriously?” Monica exclaimed over the phone. “Connie just told me. Please say it's not true.”

Yes, Monica, pickleball. I'm dead serious about it. We got hooked on it since we joined Hanging Moss.” Carol laughed to herself over how flummoxed Monica was.

But we've been there a bunch of times with the kids, and Henry and Connie, and, heck, you and Doug. I've never seen you playing pickleball.”

Oh, we play very early in the morning, when it's cooler out. When you see us at the club, we've already played for several hours.”

I thought you guys went there to play tennis, and Doug and Henry played golf.”

Oh, we do all that … sometimes. Most of the time we play pickleball, probably three or four times a week. It really is fun, and it's good exercise.”

You know, you've officially blown my mind,” Monica said.”

Sorry to create an existential crisis in your soul, young lady.”

No prob. Happens all the time. Anyway, pickleball? I have some bad memories about pickleball. My fascist gym teachers in grade school and especially middle school made us play. Ugh! I hated it! I think it scarred me for life.”

Carol said, “Ah, the addle-brained mind of a misspent youth. I bet Marie liked it.”

Of course, she liked it. But she was a jock and liked anything and everything that had to do with sports. Still is, still does.”

Middle school was a long time ago. You'd like it too if you gave it a try again. ”

Really? You're serious.”

Yep. I think you'd like it.”

I think you're high! You been smoking dope again?”

Not today.”

What? You smoke pot?”

I used to when I was younger. But now, since we hang around with Connie and Henry, well, I'm not a twenty-four hour a day stoner, but Doug and I get high with them.”

Oh. My. God. Talk about an existential crisis.”

Sorry to disillusion you. Anyway, are you going to play pickleball with us or not?”

Well, okay, but only because you asked me to. God, I remember the coach in middle school. All he did was yell at us and blow his damn whistle. What was his name? Clement, that's it. Coach Walter Clement.”

Did you say, 'Walter Clement'?” Carol laughed out loud.

Yeah. What's so funny about that?”

Walter and his wife, Shirley, are members of the club, and they were the people that turned Connie and I onto pickleball. How hilarious is that? Ha!”

Yeah, hilarious,” moaned Monica, “absolutely frikkin' hilarious.”


Monica used to work as Carol and Doug Palmer's personal assistant at Flashworld, and she was always grateful for the great gift she received when Carol Palmer became her mentor. To have been chosen as Carol's personal assistant and protege, quite simply, changed her life. She became not only a fully evolved modern person—strong, independent, motivated—she also became a fully empowered woman—beautiful, sophisticated, emotionally strong, and intelligent. She also met her husband, Gabe Tangier, through the company.

When she and Gabe formed Redhead Monster, a hybrid social marketing company, and she left Flashworld, Carol tasked her to find her own replacement. Monica knew what that might mean to whomever she chose. That woman would likely become, in some wonderful way, transformed just like she was. She chose Natalie Colquist from the pool of customer success consultants.

The business relationship between Flashworld and Redhead Monster was synergistic. Many parts of their products, services, and operations commingled. That allowed Monica to come and go as she pleased at Flashworld's offices. One of her duties was to check in with Kylie Sheppard, their Redhead Monster Master representative at Flashworld. It was also an opportunity to visit with her two closest buds, Gina Kern and Amy Backes. She also kibbutzed with Danny Backes, Mark Lingley—her brother-in-law—and Rodney Thompson, not to mention she loved to see Carol and Doug. But on that next visit after she accepted Carol's invitation to play pickleball, she was unusually agitated and anxious.

She entered Flashworld's main entrance and rushed to Amy's office.

Amy said, “Monica, baby, how ya' doin?”

I don't have time for small talk. Where's Gina?”

I'm not su-owowowowowowow. Quit pulling on my ear!” Monica yanked Amy out of her chair and out of her office towards Gina's office up in the executive area.

She spied Kylie. “Sheppard! Come with me.”

Monica, what are you doing to Amy?”

She's twisting my ear off; that's what she's doing to me. OWWW!”

Monica, wide-eyed and scary looking, said, “I'm having a crisis, that's what!”

Amy finally freed her earlobe from Monica's pinch hold. “For God's sake, Monica, calm down!”

Monica wouldn't be stopped. “Gina! I gotta find Gina.”

Just then, Natalie turned around a corner and collided with Monica. They both fell to the floor. “Monica! I'm sorry. Are you okay?”

Colquist! Perfect. You come too.”

Natalie screeched, “Ow! My ear. Let go!”

I don't have time for your whining. Where's Gina?”

Gina Kern, the CEO of the company, heard the commotion and stepped out into the hall to see what the fuss was about. She was met by Monica who grabbed her by her arms and pushed her backwards into her own office. “Monica! Stop it! Now!”

Monica was out of breath. “Sorry. Sorry. But I'm having a crisis. Seriously, it's a crisis. I don't know what to do. My life is ruined.” Gina, Amy, Kylie, and Natalie assumed the worst. Did something happened to Gabe? Did something happened between the two of them? Did something happen to the children?

Gina got Monica to sit down. The four of them knelt around her, ready to hear some devastating news, whatever it might be. Gina said, “Okay, Monica, you know we love you. You know we're your best friends. You know we're here to help you.” She took a deep breath herself. “Now, what's the crisis?”

Monica looked at her friends with tears in her eyes, and said, “Pickleball.”

All four of them asked at the same time, “What?”

Pickleball. I promised Carol I'd play pickleball with her and Connie.”

So, why is that a crisis?” asked Amy.

It takes me back to school. I had a gym teacher in middle school, Coach Clement. He was soooo mean to me. He forced us to play pickleball. I hated pickleball. I suuuucked at pickleball. The idea of playing gives me the heebie-jeebies.”

Heebie-jeebies?”

Yeah. They're like a conniption fit without the convulsions.”

Gina knocked Monica's head with her knuckle. “I knew you'd finally lose it. I just didn't think it would be about something like pickleball. What do we have to do with it?”

I need backup. I need you to come too. And bring your guys. I don't want to do this alone. Marie was the jock in our family. I was the geek, the nerd, the couch potato. She played all the sports while I sat on my ass and read comic books, played games, and watched Doctor Who. I have the coordination of a limp noodle. Help!”

Kylie said, “Gosh, Monica, I'd like to help you but....”

Hey there, employee of mine, I think pickleball would be a great wellcare health requirement. Know what I mean? Oh, and, by the way, your review is coming up.”

Kylie backtracked. “Did I say, 'I'd like to help you but?' I meant, of course, Rodney and I would love to be there.”

Amy said, “Listen, Monster, you know we normally would love to.”

Gina added, “Yeah, Monica. Pickleball just doesn't sound like our thing.”

Hey, you two, where do we always have the parties?”

Your house,” said Amy.

And who pays for all the food and booze?”

You do,” conceded Gina.

Is that enough guilt for you?”

Yes,” they both said in unison. “We'll be there.”

Monica then turned to Natalie. “Well, Natalie, wadaya say? Can you help out the person that helped you land the gig as Carol and Doug's assistant? Payback's a bitch, babe.”

Natalie looked at all the other women. They stared at her as if they tried to communicate with her telepathically, “You WILL be there, won't you?”

Still a bit confused by Monica's bravado performance, she asked, “Can I bring my son?”

Absolutely. What's his name again?”

Keith,” she said.

Gina then sneered at Monica and said, “You know, sometimes you really are a piece of work, Monica.”

It won't be that bad, guys. Besides, we'll then make the entire day of it at Hanging Moss Country Club. That'll be fun! We're bringing our kids. Amy, you can bring little Gina. Natalie, you can bring Keith. We'll play pickleball, I'll get off the hook with Carol, and we can relax and enjoy the rest of the day. Bring swimsuits and extra clothing. It'll be great!”

With the other girls' commitments secured, all of a sudden Monica's entire deportment changed. She was no longer frantic and panicky. Instead, she was calm, quite self-satisfied, and self-amused. “Gotcha, babes. See you on Saturday,” she said as she blew them a kiss and left the office. It was a plot, a complete contrivance, perpetrated by their friend, Monica Tangier. They all silently watched her leave knowing full well they'd been had.

Gina said, “You know, if I didn't love her so much, I swear, I'd kill her.”


P-day


It was dawn on D-day—'P-day' more appropriately—the Saturday on which Monica played pickleball, finally. Gabe found her standing in front of their family room's wall to wall picture windows just before sunrise, looking out over Charleston Harbor.

He carefully approached her and wrapped his arms around her. “It's going to be a beautiful day, baby. How ya' doin'?”

Monica breathed in deeply and let out a morose, wheezing moan. “Gabe, it's all for naught. It's dark and gloomy. The sun will never shine in my life again. My soul is tortured. Oh, life is closing in on me. I can't see, I can't breathe. I'll never know the joy of my childrens' laugh or your embrace ever again. Darker. Darker! DARKER! My life … is over.” She was melodramatic, to say the least.

Monica, it's suppose to be sunny and 85 degrees, hardly any wind—a picture perfect day for anything outdoors … including pickleball.”

Oh, woe is me!”

You can stop with the histrionics now. I get it. We all get it. You're not happy about today, but please, cool it.”

She turned around and gave him a happy little kiss. “I'm sorry, honey, but I'm not kidding about this being kind of traumatic for me. The whole gym class and Coach Clement's whistle thing is real. I really didn't do well at that kind of stuff, and having a jock as a sister didn't help much either. She always rubbed it in my face.”

So, this is more about you and Marie than pickleball.”

Yeah. I'm fine with playing the game, but if Marie wins everything and gives me crap about it, well, that's not going to sit so well with me. She played soccer and softball and field hockey and bowling and damn near everything there was to play … and she was good at all of them. Mom and dad encouraged it, and they went to all the games and everything. And don't forget the whole Tough Cookie thing when she learned martial arts in the Coast Guard. I never did anything like that. I was always in my room reading or playing games.”

Sounds like you're a little jealous of her.”

Maybe I am, and I know I shouldn't be, especially now.”

Gabe went through her list of accomplishments. “Let's see, you're a beautiful woman with two great kids, you're half-owner of a very successful social media marketing company, you're an internet star, you're a motivational speaker, and you have great friends coming out of your ears....”

And I have you,” she interrupted. “I love you, Gabe, and if I never beat Marie at any sport ever, I have you. That's quite a lot for one lifetime.”

Gabe understood. “I'll tell you what, if she does dominate things and it bums you out, I'll make sure to comfort you. I'll help you forget it ever happened. I'll give you something else to think about.”

That was exactly what Monica wanted to hear. She tightened her embrace around him, drew his lips to hers, and whispered, “Oh, my beautiful Gabe, let's just forget the whole pickleball thing, and I'll let you comfort me all day long.”

Not so fast, monster,” he said. “You promised. You're playing pickleball today.”

Damn it.” She then grabbed onto the bottom hem of her tee-shirt and slowly pulled it up to pull it off. “Sure I can't talk you into staying home today?”

Monica, you promised,” he said while he pushed her shirt back onto her. “Well, that's something I've never done before. I'm usually the one stripping you.”

I like it better that way too, dear.”


It was bright and sunny with mild temperatures, an all-around beautiful day. The setting was idyllic at Hanging Moss. Tall palm and pine trees surrounded the pickleball courts, with gaps in the tree line that gave tantalizing, teasing views of the ocean.

Out in the parking lot of the country club, Natalie and her son, Keith, waited in her car. Since she became Carol's assistant and protege, she learned to expect better things from her life. That included what she did with her free time. Carol's patronage opened up many fun and edifying diversions for her and her son. But to be invited to spend a day at Charleston's most ultra-exclusive country club was a whole new experience for her. She was originally from the mountains of rural South Carolina, and the posh setting intimidated her. She felt as if she committed some great transgression by her very presence in the parking lot.

She hadn't yet recognized any of the cars of her cohorts from Flashworld. She didn't see Monica and Gabe's BMW or Land Rover, Amy's Fiat, Gina's Mazda, Danny's Lexus, or any of the other vehicles that she thought belonged to anyone she knew. Natalie needed reinforcements to head into the club with her.

Mom, why aren't we going in?” twelve year old Keith asked. Her hesitancy was a complicated concept for any child his age to grasp.

Oh, just waiting for Monica, Gina, or Amy to arrive. You remember them from the company picnics, don't you?”

Yeah. They're funny.”

Natalie snickered at Keith's simple, blunt, and altogether accurate assessment of the three friends. “Yes, dear, they are funny. More than that, I think they can be a little crazy sometimes,” she said while she looked at her son with crossed eyes and a goofy smile. That made Keith laugh.

Just like you, mom.”

Me? Crazy?” She reached over and grabbed a big chunk of his side. She attacked and tickled the boy, and he tried to parry the move, but failed. She got him good.

Mom! Stop!” he squirmed. Natalie had ramped the attack up when both she and Keith jumped with surprise when they heard rapid knocking on the car window next to her.

With a muffled voice, from outside the car, Amy said, “Hey, you two. Wat'cha doin' in there? C'mon out. It's time to play pickleball.”

When Natalie got out of the car, she saw Gina right behind Amy. Amy's husband, Danny, and their baby, followed, along with Matt, Gina's husband. “Hi, you guys. You surprised us,” Natalie said. Keith made his way over to his mother and tucked himself tightly next to her. “Honey, you remember Amy and Gina, don't you?”

Yeah. Hi.”

Keith, my man,” Amy blurted. She held up her hand to do a high-five. He swung at it, but she pulled her hand out of the way at the last instant. “Oh, too bad, so sad. You snooze, you lose.” Keith laughed. Everybody laughed at Amy, but she didn't care. Her spirit transcended what people thought about her. She and Keith walked ahead of Gina and his mom.

Gina asked Natalie while they walked up the stairs to the clubhouse, “You didn't bring a boyfriend or a date?”

No, I haven't dated in a long time.”

How old are you anyway?” Gina asked.

Thirty-three, same as you. Dating just gets in the way of things. Raising Keith is a full time job. Besides, most of the guys I meet anymore are pigs. They think that because I'm a single mom, desperate, lovesick, I'll do anything to catch a man. They think I'm, you know, and that I'll, you know.” She spoke in code to protect Keith's supposedly tender ears.

Amy heard what Natalie said and turned back. “You have to stay true to yourself, girlfriend.”

Gina added, “Never compromise … about anything. Especially about … that.”

Keith asked, “You mean sex? I know what sex is, mom.”

Gina and Amy suppressed laughter at the boy's innocent comment. Natalie did a facepalm. “Yes, dear, we mean sex.”


As the official host, Carol, along with Connie, got to the club and pickleball courts early to prep everything for the crowd's arrival at 9:00 am. She also arranged there to be free coffee, espresso, and pastry service in the pavilion for the club's regular pickleball players. The head of catering suggested that. With Carol having reserved the six new pickleball courts for a private event, he said that the other members might need to be placated. Carol really didn't need to do that though. She and Connie, along with Doug and Henry, had been fully adopted by the club's pickleball set. They were part of the gang, but it was a nice gesture anyway. Besides, Walter Clement got a kiss on the cheek every time he saw Carol up to then, and that created a lot of cache for her. He supported anything Carol wanted to do.

Pok! sounds filled the air as the yellow and bright green pickleballs bounced off of the players' paddles. Doug and Henry were already in a men's double game with Walter and another gentleman. Shirley sat with the others who waited for their turns, and Gertrude held court as the queen of the Hanging Moss pickleball set. She proclaimed the event and the inclusion of all the new players that came to play that morning a huge success before it even happened. According to her it was “a grand day for pickleball at Hanging Moss.”

Carol gave Connie a quick role call of the attendees. “Let's see. There's Doug and I, you and Henry, Monica and Gabe, Gina and Matt, Amy and Danny, Marie and Mark—she's off duty today—and there's Kylie and Rodney, and Natalie Colquist from the office.”

Your assistant?” asked Connie.

Monica corralled her into coming also. I think she's bringing her son.”

Is she a single mom?”

Yeah. She told me some of the sordid story. She's from a mountain town on the west end of the state. The father isn't on the scene, and with what she told me, good riddance.”

So that's fifteen,” Connie said. “How are we going to handle this with the six courts we have reserved?”

I booked one of the pros to come and help us.” Carol had all the details covered. “He told me that he'd do a group instruction, then put together the same kind of playing format he uses for tennis parties. We'll all get plenty of chances to play. This is going to be fun. Oh, and there will be plenty of food.”

Connie then said, “Well, there will be enough goodies for everyone else here. Never hurts to smooth things over with the other members by giving them food and coffee. By the way, remember when you and I first decided to join Hanging Moss, and that we'd have to “smooth things over” with Doug and Henry? You never told me exactly how much “smoothing over” you had to do with Doug.”

Oh, that's right. That was an interesting weekend,” Carol said. “It was a lot, I remember. So does Doug.”

Amy, Gina, Natalie, and Keith were the first to arrive at the courts. Amy was a foodie and made a beeline to the buffet. She grabbed Keith and dragged him along with her.

You like to eat, Keithy-boy?” she asked.

Yes, ma'am.”

She leaned down and looked him in the eyes with a fake stern expression. “Okay, bucko, we need to get something straight here. I'm not a ma'am or miss. I am a Mrs., but you're special and don't have to call me that. You get to call me a special super-duper secret code name. Okay?” Keith giggled at goofy Amy, and she enjoyed making him laugh. Amy loved people, and loved to make them feel special. In Keith's case, she knew that he was the only person there his age. She took it on herself to be his age also. “I know! You, and only you, can call me Super-Sassy Amy-Wamey. How's that?”

Keith laughed. “Okay, Super-Sassy Amy-Wamey.”

Amy stood up, put her hands on her hips, and scrunched her face. “Wait a minute; you need a secret name too, young man. Hmm.” She scratched her head and pretended to ponder deeply about his play-name choice, as if it were the most important decision in the world. Actually, for Amy, with how much she wanted to make Keith feel comfortable and welcome, it was the most important decision in the world. “Let's see; it has to have a mucho special quality about it of some kind. It has to exactly convey your personality. Most important, it has to sound utterly bodacious. Don't you agree?”

I'm twelve. I don't know if I do secret names anymore,” he bashfully protested. Having a super-secret code name seemed a little childish to him, but he didn't want to discourage Amy, who he knew went out of her way just for him. Also, he liked the attention he got from such a beautiful woman.

Well, I'm twenty-nine, and I do like super-secret code names. So, if you're going to hang with me, you have to have one too. Got it?”

Keith couldn't help but be amused by her antics. “Yes, ma'am … I mean Super-Sassy Amy-Wamey.”

Ooo, you just about slipped up there, dude. Nice recovery though,” she kidded him. “I got it! From now on you're Super-Dude Mega-Keith. Is that ridiculous enough?”

Yeah, it's pretty ridiculous, but I like it.” They gave each other a hip hop fly handshake to seal the deal.

Connie overheard their conversation and was amused by it. She turned to them and said, “So, your name is Super-du....”

Amy put her hand over Connie's mouth and whispered. “SHH! Super-Dude Mega-Keith and Super-Sassy Amy-Wamey are our secret codenames. Only we can say them.”

Connie nodded her head and said, “Got it. Your secret is safe with me. Hey, the food is ready. Go get something to eat.”

Are you ready Super-Dude Mega-Keith for Operation Nom-nom-nom?”

Still laughing, Keith said, “Ready, Super-Sassy Amy-Wamey.”

She struck a silly pose as if she were Teddy Roosevelt, on his horse, ordering his troops up San Juan Hill. “To the buffet. Charge!”


Monica and Marie, along with Gabe, their two kids, and Mark, Marie's husband, were the last to arrive at the courts. Everyone turned and applauded Monica, a playful mock of her bravery and resolve in the face of the sheer terror of her pickleball torture. She stopped, curtsied, then said, “And you all can go to hell too.” The crowd, ready for some fun at her expense, laughed at the dejected looking, redheaded beauty.

Marie scanned all the people at the other courts from not only their group but all the club's pickleball regulars too. One of them got her attention. She grabbed Monica by the sleeve and dragged her backward over to the other players. “Oh my god, I can't believe it, Monica.”

Can't believe what, Marie? What are you doing? Where are you dragging me? I can't see where we're going.”

Look. It's Coach Clement!”

Monica, with her back towards Marie and Walter, froze. Was it really him, the man who made every gym class a living hell for her? Could it really be her least favorite teacher ever?

Marie gushed, “Coach Clement, it is so awesome to see you again.”

Well, I'll be. Marie Kessel. It's great to see you too.”

It's Marie Lingley now, sir.”


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