Title: In Dreams
Written for Kweevil in Yuletide 2008.
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters of Wimbledon, and no infringement is intended, nor profit being made.
After the wedding (once the doves were back in their cages, all the white feathers raked up off the lawn), Dieter drove the couple to the airport.
In the back of the car, Lizzie's hair was coming loose -- it trailed over Peter's shoulder as she slept, and Peter ran gentle fingers over its strands. His eyes met Dieter's in the mirror. Dieter couldn't help but see the stunned smile lurking there.
He felt his own face stretch in something like a grin, and looked back to the road, concentrating on the lines as the setting sun turned the world gold. They blurred into abstraction after a while and in his head became white wings beating against the heavy summer air; Lizzie's simple skirts swirling over Peter's scuffed wingtips.
In the back of the car, Peter's face seemed pale and tired under the freckles, and his hair (that his mother had so carefully tamed before the ceremony, while he tried to swat her hands away) was sweaty, curling over his forehead. He slumped in the leather seat, rumpling his tux. One arm curved around Lizzie's shoulders as she softly snored.
Dieter, glancing back (for the hundredth time? The thousandth.) thought he'd rarely seen his friend so happy. And that thought, while warming him, left him feeling unbalanced, as though he was standing with his face towards a space heater, and his back to a freezing, empty room.
"No, seriously, it's brilliant!" Peter's voice was warm in Dieter's ear, and he cocked his head to keep the phone more securely in place.
"The run-away-to-America-to-escape-the-dissapointed-country-club-women plan? How brilliant can that be? You won't be able to escape them there. You can't drive worth shit on the right side of the road." Dieter paused, the door to the refrigerator half shut. The light from inside fell over his bare feet. "You're not letting Lizzie drive, are you? Only I've heard stories . . ."
"Oh, for Christ's sake. She's only mangled two cars beyond recognition. The third is still quite drivable."
"Rental agencies refuse to give her a car without massive insurance coverage."
"She's quite capable! One or two little hiccups . . ."
"That last wreck made international news." Dieter finally remembered to close the door, and the kitchen went dark.
"Only because she was playing in the US Open. And no one got hurt, anyway."
"Well, that's alright then. I suppose you can afford to keep buying new cars."
"Like I'd let her drive my car. No, she can drive those shit American monstrosities down the wrong side of the road." The fondness in Peter's voice was unmistakable, and Dieter smiled to hear it. He could imagine the little boy grin on Peter's face, the sheepish duck of his chin.
"Brilliant plan, then. Let Lizzie do the driving and you'll both do fine." Dieter yawned, and caught a glimpse of the clock over the stove. Half past three. "Look, Peter, I've got to get on. Give your lady my love?"
"Absolutely. Best of luck tomorrow! Knock him back into his diapers."
"You know, we were that young, once. And the kid's not bad on the court."
"But you're better. You'll beat him in straight sets."
The next day, as the line judge called out the final score, Dieter pressed his forehead to the edge of his racket, feeling his sweat slick hair catch on the strings.
Gulping air, trying to keep his shaking knees from buckling, he sent a brief and wordless thought of thanks Peter's way, and simultaneously cursed him for keeping him up so late.
If he didn't look, he could imagine his friend leaning back in his seat in the stands, smiling brightly, as if to say, "See? I said you'd do it." And their eyes would meet clearly, as though there were no crowd at all.
Once or twice, since the wedding, Dieter dreamed that Peter had never walked into Lizzie Bradbury's hotel room.
He'd competed Wimbledon as if it were his duty, his last hoorah. And he'd lost with his customary good grace and good nature, having reached a respectable, if uninspiring, rank.
In those dreams, Dieter watched Peter's tired eyes settle into a bewildered sort of acceptance. He came to visit, to Peter's new tennis directorship at the club, and noticed every time he glanced at his etched name plate with a numb kind of shock, quickly glossed over with a smile and a laugh.
He watched Peter keep just out of arms length of the women at the club, watched him shake hands with their husbands and grit his teeth every time one of the well padded bankers got his name wrong. Eventually, he stopped correcting them when they missed his former tennis ranking.
Then, in the dreams, Dieter would challenge his friend to a match. They would play like they used to, just the two of them and a tennis ball on that fine private court (where the women were as expensive, and as well maintained, as the lawn). And Dieter would see the old fires smoldering in Peter's eyes.
For a moment, he would move with that old reckless grace, diving frantically for the ball on the far edge of the court. He would grin madly, and mock when Dieter couldn't keep up.
Sometimes, in the dream, Dieter won the match, with a last minute magnificent rally. More often, Peter won, easily. Either way, as the bankers and their wives applauded, Peter would drape an arm over Dieter's shoulders, and Dieter would feel his breathy laugh against his ear.
And Dieter would wake, not knowing if the dream had been a nightmare, or a fantasy. Then, turning restlessly in his sheets, he would see the picture on his dresser, of Peter, ecstatic, on the grounds at Wimbledon after his win.
Most nights, this would make him feel extraordinarily guilty.
"Lizzie, really, he'll love it." Dieter assured her. She sounded younger over the line, less sure of herself.
"I know he likes taking care of kids, but it's such a rough neighborhood, you know? It couldn't be more different than his home. I'm not saying he's a snob or anything, but, I mean, he practically grew up an aristocrat. And here it's all chain link and padlocks and graffiti and trash . . ."
"And a tennis court, and kids who want to learn, and you, mocking him from the other side of that chain link fence. He'll never feel more at home." Dieter, surprised at the pang that comment sent through him, masked the bitterness in his voice with a laugh. "He'll think it's fantastic."
"But he never wanted to take that job at the country club . . ."
"Are you trying to talk yourself out of setting him up with an interview? Because taking that old position was settling for something stable when he thought he'd never find something better." Dieter closed his eyes, and shrugged to himself before continuing. "Then he found you."
He almost didn't notice the resignation in his voice.
When Lizzie didn't answer for a moment, Dieter swallowed, oddly nervous.
"Do you think so?" She asked, finally, and the little girl hope in her voice coaxed a grin out of Dieter. Almost a grin. At least a smile.
And he was sincere when he replied, "Yes. You were very good for him, Lizzie.
"Set up the interview."
Dieter hung up the phone, ruthlessly stamping down on the nagging little voice in his head that protested that this new job would keep Peter in the States indefinitely. Peter really would be happy teaching kids to play tennis. He'd be happy doing almost anything with Lizzie there to cheer him on.
He insisted to himself that this was not a bad thing.
More than once, since the wedding, Dieter dreamed of standing on the court.
His shoes were scuffed and grass stained, and the murmur of the crowd was shading into expectant silence.
The sun hung heavy over his back, and cast his shadow over the ball as he bounced it once, twice. When he drew his arm back (racket catching the light in the sky) he could feel the weight of that heavy sun as he threw himself into the serve.
It was good, that serve, just skimming the net, lancing into the far corner as if it were laser sighted. And Dieter balled a fist in triumph, feeling his muscles loose and ready for a volley.
But the triumph stalled as the line judge called the score, because there was no volley.
He held every serve, and every serve was an ace. Of course they were. There was no one standing on the other side of the net.
And in the dream, the heat from the sun overhead faded as the game progressed, and featureless clouds obscured the sky.
He grew cold, and his fingers fumbled as he shivered. The last serve knocked heavily into the net, sending the ball thudding back on his side of the court.
It came to a rest at his feet, just as the clouds let loose a downpour. And he stood, staring at it, until the rain ran in icy rivulets into his eyes. His racket hung at the end of his arm like a dead thing.
Then, the squelch on his sodden shoes on the empty court louder than the rain, he walked, head down, into the dark.
After this dream, he would wake tangled in his sheets, sweating, gasping as if he'd just clawed his way through straight sets.
Of course this was a nightmare.
Strangely, he never felt guilty after this one. Only lost.
He refused (what other option did he have?) to admit, even in dreams, even in nightmares, that he kept expecting Peter to return his serve.