Four Years Later
Thwack. Beat. Thwack. Beat. Sutton sent the ball soaring over the net to her opponent. Thwack. Beat. Emma smashed the ball back over the net, setting the rhythmic pattern of a long tennis rally. Each girl was giving it all they had. It was the finals and they were on the last set. Neither one of them wanted to lose and it showed. It was a good thing they were playing on the same team.
Neither Sutton nor Emma expected to be in this position, but their high school coach, four years ago, had seen it differently. They were undoubtedly two of the best individual players on the team. Both of them had expected to be battling Nisha for the top singles spot and so did their coach up until the doubles drill.
The way the two of them complemented each other when they played together had astounded her. She'd watched them move around the court as if it were a practiced dance. It was as if they knew what the other person was doing without anyone having to say it. In that moment, she knew where she needed the two of them and they'd excelled at it ever since. They'd been state champions their junior and senior year. It had earned them a place on the University of Arizona tennis team and a chance at glory. Last year, as sophomores, they'd qualified for nationals and taken fourth. Now they were playing in the most important game of their career. Better yet, they actually had a chance at winning.
Their opponent shot one into the back corner that no one expected Sutton to reach. She pushed off and stretched as far as she could. Her racquet tapped the ball over the net, barely fair, to score the match point and become a part of the best doubles team in the nation.
When Sutton jumped to her feet and she saw that the match was over she was in disbelief. She didn't even see the ball clear the net, let alone the ball bounce right on the line to score the final point of the match. All she saw was the judge signal that she'd earned the point and then her sister racing toward her.
"You did it," she exclaimed as she pulled Sutton into a huge hug. She'd only barely gotten to her feet when Emma nearly tackled her to the ground again. She couldn't blame her. They were officially national tennis champions.
"We did it," Sutton corrected, "You're the reason we were even at match point in the first place."
Emma blushed and smiled, "Did you ever think this could happen? Did you ever think we'd be national champions?"
"Never," Sutton admitted, "but a lot of things have happened that I didn't think could happen."
At that moment she spotted Thayer standing in the crowd smiling at her. He clapped his hands and nodded in approval, as if he knew she had it the whole time. She nodded back to him and then turned her attention back to Emma. They hugged once more and then headed to the net to shake hands with their opponents.
She could not believe what had happened in the past few. She had gone from such a low place to being on the top of everything. She was playing Division I tennis with her twin sister at the University of Arizona. She'd gone from feeling completely and utterly alone to knowing that someone would always catch her when she fell. Everything was perfect and all she'd ever wanted was perfection.
Thayer watched Sutton shake hands with her opponent and couldn't help but smile. Seeing her smile like that reminded Thayer of the girl he'd fallen in love with and lucky for him that girl actually loved him back. As he watched his girlfriend accept her title he thought back to the night everything had changed and the words that had changed everything.
"Don't let her convince you she's not good enough to love you," Emma had said as she stalked off into the night. He could barely remember anything else she'd said, but he remembered those words. He remembered how stunned he was to hear that Sutton loved him. He remembered how hard it was for him to believe it until he was standing in the living room listening to her speak. He remembered the smile that had crossed Emma's face when she walked into the living room that night and found him holding Sutton in his arms. He would never forget that night and he hoped Sutton never would either.
He met her on the court after the awards had been handed out. She and Emma were standing by the bench laughing and smiling at the fact that they were national tennis champions. Emma was sliding her engagement ring back onto her finger. Ethan had proposed during a weekend getaway to the cabin right before tennis season began. They were planning on a long engagement, but he'd caught Emma shopping for wedding dresses on more than one occasion.
The moment Sutton spotted him she dropped her bag and raced into his arms. He lifted her and spun her in a circle before setting her back down, "We did it, Thayer," she screamed.
"Yes you did," Thayer acknowledged.
"You have no idea how much it means to me that you came and watched."
"I wouldn't miss the most important match of your career. Besides, if I didn't come I couldn't do this."
He pulled her into a passionate, congratulatory kiss that made him feel certain of what he was about to do. She smiled at him, "Then I'm really glad you came."
"I love you, Sutton," he stated, "I love you more than I ever thought I could love anything. The worst part of my day is leaving you to go to work and the best part is coming home to see you. Just thinking about you puts a smile on my face and when we kiss it's as if time stops. I love you so much, Sutton, and I have no clue what I'd ever do without you."
He pulled the little black box out of his pocket and got down on one knee. As he opened the box to reveal the ½ carat diamond ring he watched Sutton's face carefully. She had no clue this had been coming, which made his next words that much sweeter.
"Sutton Mercer, will you marry me?"
She was silent and for a moment Thayer got nervous, but then he saw her head nod and her actually say the word 'yes.' His smile came back and he pushed the ring onto his fiancée's hand. He pulled himself to his feet and kissed her again, realizing that this moment, too, would never be forgotten.