I wake up on Sunday morning and I’m thinking, am I having one of my famous erotic dreams, or is Sorcha standing at the end of the bed, wearing the Tory Burch tennis whites she bought last summer to watch Wimbledon?
She’s like, “Are you ready?”
“Ready?” I go. “In terms of?”
She grabs the duvet and throws it back.
She’s there, “We’re playing padel this morning.”
“Sorcha,” I go, “am I having another one of my sex dreams?”
She actually laughs at that.
She’s there, “It’s a game, Ross, for two people or four.”
And I go, “Yeah, that doesn’t exactly answer my question.”
“It’s, like, a mixture of tennis and squash,” she goes. “They have courts in Fitzpatrick’s Castle. Oh my God, Ross, everyone in south Dublin is doing it.”
I’m there, “As I always say, Sorcha, that’s not automatically a good reason for us to do something?”
“Come on,” she goes, pulling my shorts and my Leinster training top from the drawer, then throwing them across the room at me, “I told Bradan and Réaltín we’d be there at 10.”
I’m like, “Are those human names?”
“Yes, I worked with Bradan in LinkedIn,” she goes. “And Réaltín is his wife. She’s, like, a primary schoolteacher.”
I’m there, “Sorcha, I honestly don’t fancy spending my morning playing some game I’ve never heard of with two total randomers.”
That’s when she goes, “Bradan went to Clongowes,” and I am out of that bed like the sheets are hopping with bed bugs.
I’m there, “Okay, give me the basics,” as I’m throwing my clothes on me.
She goes, “Like I said, it’s similar to tennis in terms of the scoring, but it’s played on, like, a squash court?”
I’m there, “Focking Clongowes,” under my breath and I’m still saying it during the drive to Fitzpatrick’s.
We arrive at the hotel. The famous Bradan and – what was her name? – Réaltín are waiting for us. There’s the usual pleasantries, although not from me. Bradan shakes my hand and goes, “Ross, it’s great to finally meet you. Sorcha was my team-leader,” but I say fock-all back while giving the dude maximum, maximum eye-contact.
“Jesus, Ross,” Sorcha goes, as we grab our racquets and take up our positions, “what’s with the intensity?”
I bounce the ball twice. I’m there, “It’s called competitive sport, Sorcha,” then I go to serve, we’re talking Djokovic-style.
Bradan goes, “Er, we serve underorm in this game?” but I ignore him and send an ace across the net before the dude has a chance to even move.
I’m like, “Fifteen-love.”
And Sorcha pulls me aside for a private word. She goes, “You are being – oh my God – so rude.”
Yeah, this coming from the girl who was a sub on the fifths hockey team in Mount Anville. She snatches the ball out of my hand and goes, “I’ll serve.”
Which she then does. It’s a dainty little underorm serve, like she’s flipping a pancake. The ball just about makes it over the net and poor Réaltín has to sprint forward to get to it. She manages to return it with a seriously impressive groundstroke. The ball comes back at Sorcha at, like, waist-height. She swings her racquet and completely misses it, then – I shit you not – bursts out laughing.
I’m like, “What the fock, Sorcha?”
She goes, “Excuse me?”
I’m there, “You took your eye off it.”
She’s like, “So? What’s the big deal?”
“What’s the big deal?” I go, then I notice her casting a nervous eye at Bradan and Réaltín, and I realise I’m possibly making a bit of a scene here. I’m there, “Nothing. Whatever.”
So we end up losing the first three games. Focking Clongowes, I think. And Sorcha can see from my face that I’m not a happy boy.
She goes, “Ross, will you please lighten up? It’s only a bit of fun.”
Which is the worst thing she could possibly say to me?
It’s Bradan’s turn to serve next. He sends the ball over in my direction. I let it bounce once, then I swing my racquet at it, giving it such an almighty wallop that the dude ends up having to pretty much dive for cover. The ball hits the wall behind him, then bounces back on to our side of the court?
I’m like, “Love-fifteen.”
And that’s when Réaltín suddenly explodes.
“What the fock was that?” she goes.
She’s not talking to me, by the way? Yeah, no, she’s talking to her husband.
The dude is like, “What?”
She goes, “You jumped out of the focking way.”
I have a little chuckle to myself. He definitely did.
“It was coming at me pretty fast,” the dude tries to go. “It could have taken my head off.”
She’s there, “It’s a ball, Bradan. It’s not made of focking steel.”
He ends up going, “Réaltín, come on. It’s only–”
She’s like, “It’s only what? Go on, say it.”
He’s there, “ – well, a game.”
“If you’re not playing to win,” she goes, “then what’s the point of playing at all?”
She turns her back on him, throws her racquet over her shoulder – he jumps out of the way again, by the way? – then storms off the court.
“Oh! My! God!” Sorcha goes.
The same three words go through my mind as well. I think I’ve fallen in love.
“I’m, em, sorry about that,” Bradan goes. “I’d better see if she’s okay. Sorcha, I’ll text you later,” then he goes racing after her.
Sorcha’s there, “That was your fault,” while we’re walking back to the cor.
I’m like, “My fault?”
She goes, “You were the one who storted it. Celebrating every point by pumping your fist and shouting, ‘Eat it, losers!’”
Yeah, no, I may have been doing that all right.
When we reach the cor, she goes, “Do you know what? I’m going to go and apologise to Bradan.”
I’m there, “Don’t apologise on my behalf.”
But off she focks, leaving me there on my Tobler. I’m sitting in the driver’s seat and I’m sort of, like, replaying some of the rallies we lost in my mind, when all of a sudden there’s a tap on the window. I turn my head. It’s the famous Réaltín. I wind down the window.
She goes, “Would you be interested in being my padel doubles portner?”
It’s a big, big question, because it sort of feels like I’m cheating on Sorcha.
“One hundred per cent,” I end up going. “I would love to be.”