Jessica is young, colorful, and gorgeous. Mike is older and...surprised he's nervous.
Mike pulls back the curtain and looks outside from the vantage point of his third floor, brownstone apartment. The day is breezy and briskly cool. Despite this, he grabs his racket and a can of balls and heads out for the city park’s tennis courts.
None of the regulars are there. He begins to hit against the wall. Ten minutes in he is interrupted by a female voice.
“I caught you a delicious bass. You want to play me?”
Mike turns around a sees a woman. She is on the tall side for a woman, which makes her about his height. She wears sweat pants and a baggy sweatshirt. He suspects she is pretty, even though her face is all sunglasses, strands of curly brown hair and pink baseball cap. He pegs her at early twentyish, although she exudes a mature, chic aura.
“Did you just make an allusion to Napoleon Dynamite?”
“Oh my God, you got it! I wasn’t sure if someone your age…” Some of her confident demeanor is gone. “Um, I didn’t mean that you’re old, what I meant was, um. I’m sorry; I started off on the wrong foot here.”
“Your footing is fine. And you got that right; I’m not the man I used to be. So if you promise to take it easy on me, I’ll hit with you.”
They walk over to an empty court. They begin to hit back and forth, nice and easy to one another. She moves well. Mike, wanting to test her, starts subtlety hitting the ball with more pace, but still right to her. She returns these shots with no problem. He starts hitting the ball a little harder, and then a little harder, gauging her. When he gets to a point where he thinks she is struggling with her returns (which is with him hitting it nearly as hard as he can) he dials it back a bit. They develop a rhythm and hit this way for some time.
“Very impressive. Let’s take a break,” says Mike. “What’s your name?”
“Jessica, and yours?”
Jessica does a little curtsy and sticks her hand out and says (in a comical French accent), “Au chante monsieur Michael.” Mike looks perplexed. “It means I’m charmed to meet you. The appropriate response is to kiss the back of my hand.”
Mike hesitates, then kisses her hand. “That was colorful. Do you greet everyone that way?”
“Um, actually, I don’t think I’ve ever greeted anyone like that before.” And despite her hat, hair and sun glasses, he sees she is blushing. Mike also realizes that he himself has been charmed.
“Would you like to hit some more?” he asks.
And they do.
Three Days Later
Mike is hitting with his friend, Dave. He sees Jessica wander up to the courts and start hitting against the wall. After a bit they take a break. Mike discreetly points out Jessica to Dave and fills him in about their meeting.
“I haven’t seen her before,” says Dave. It is hotter out this day. Jessica is wearing shorts and a t-shirt. “Damn, get a load of her legs, and that ass.” Dave takes a few moments to drool in homage over Jessica’s womanly charms.
“Oops, look at the time. Got to go,” announces Dave.
“What? You just got here?”
“Have you gone gay or something? Go snag her before someone else does.”
“Come on Dave. She’s got to be at least twenty years younger than me.”
“I have news for you my friend - you are officially middle aged, which now means that someone can be a hell of a lot younger than you and still be a woman. Plus, she sounds kind of cool too. What are you waiting for, another bitch like Lisa? When’s the last time you got laid anyway - five, ten years ago? Grow some balls, Mike.”
“That’s quite the pep talk.”
“Seriously Mike, you are a successful, good looking guy. You can get with that. Later, good luck.”
Mike stands there a moment. He makes his way over Jessica. He is nervous, which surprises him.
“I know, silly. That was me playing it cool. Did it work? Do you think I’m cool?”
“Actually, yes.” Jessica fights a smile. “Would you like to hit?” asks Mike.
“You have to do two things, if I’m going to hit with you.”
“Ahhh, OK, what?”
“First you have to take the kid gloves off when you hit with me. I know you think it’s gentlemanly, but I find it pandering.”
“OK, and two?”
“I need to be entertained. You have to think of some creative and funny way to ask me to play. You can’t just come up and ask me to play all sheepish like. You have to make it different, like how I asked you. OK, you got that all? Are you ready? Act one, scene one, action!” And with this Jessica proceeds to carry on hitting against the wall as she was before.
Is this girl for real? He thinks for a moment. He is stumped.
Jessica turns around in mock surprise. “Oh, I’m sorry sir. I didn’t notice you. Have you been standing there staring at me for long?”
All right, game on. “Actually, I wasn’t really staring at you so much as I was staring at your ass. It’s Jennifer, right? (Jessica again fights a smile) Anyway speaking of your ass, it’s quite exquisite. Which is a shame. You know why it’s a shame that you have such an exquisite ass?”
“Why?” asks Jessica her smile breaking out.
Mike lifts up his racket and spins it deftly around. “Because I’m about ready to kick it.”
Jessica’s laughter bursts forth. They proceed toward the courts.
“Jessica, that is not my usual sense of humor.”
“I figured as much. That's what made it so funny. God, it feels good to laugh.”
Mike looks at her quizzically. And then they play.
Later That Day
Mike’s phone rings. “Hello?”
“Hey Mark, this is Jessica.”
“Jessica, you can’t pretend to play it cool by calling me Mark. I mean we just exchanged phone numbers an hour ago.” Jessica laughs.
They begin to talk.
Two Hours Later
Mike and Jessica hang up.
Five Weeks Later
Jessica and Mike are out for drinks with a bunch of Jessica’s friends. It starts out rather stiff and uncomfortable, but as time goes on, and as the alcohol flows, things loosen up. Although the others think Mike is a too old for their crowd, they grow to tolerate his presence. At one point everyone goes out to smoke some “herbage,” except for Mike and Jessica’s best friend, Ashley.
“I hear you guys have spent every day together for the last couple weeks, eh? Jess really likes you, you know,” Ashley says.
“Oh really?” says Mike mirthfully.
“She was out of it for a long time; since she’s met you her spark has come back. I love that Jess so much. I thought she was gone.”
“I have that effect upon people.”
Ashley eyeballs Mike. “Don’t you want to know what happened? Her boyfriend, Brandon, broke up with her. They went out all through college, and then he broke up with her…on her birthday. Did she tell you that?”
“No,” says Mike, his smugness fading.
“Yeah, Brandon was a real dick. Totally emotionally abusive. He had Jess believing she wasn't even good looking, if you can believe that. And controlling too. I hope you aren’t going to be another dickhead guy in her life. You’d better not screw Jess over.”
Jessica and the rest of her friends come back in. Jessica sees how fallen Mike’s face is.
“What’s going on you two?” asks Jessica.
“Nothing,” say Mike and Ashley together.
Later That Night
Jessica corners Mike alone. “Ash said something to you, what was it?”
“Nothing. It was nothing. She just cares about you that’s all. She doesn’t want to see you hurt.”
“Are you going to hurt me?”
“I hope not, Jessica. I’ll try my best not to.”
Two Hours Later
“Mike, don’t you think I’m pretty at all?” asks Jessica as she meanders to his car.
“Are you kidding? Compared to you, Helen of Troy was a total dog.”
“Then how come you haven’t put the moves on me yet?”
“I don’t know. I’m old, so that makes me old-fashioned I suppose.”
“You haven’t even kissed me yet.”
They get into Mike’s car. They kiss. Despite Jessica's drunkeness, it is a tender kiss. Mike likes the smell of her breath. She leans into him, places her hand on the back of his neck, and slips her tongue into his mouth. Mike is surprised how good this all feels.
“Can we go to your place tonight?”
Mike is beside himself. “Yes, but we aren’t going to have sex tonight.” Jessica looks thoroughly confused and hurt. “Stay the night with me Jessica. Sleep in my bed with me. I do want that.”
The Next Morning
Jessica wakes up. She slouches, bleary eyed, into the kitchen, were she finds Mike reading the paper, drinking coffee.
“Morning, gorgeous. Want some coffee.”
Jessica nods and Mike gets up to make it. “You take milk and one spoonful of…Hey, what’s wrong?”
Jessica’s tears splash down on the kitchen table. “What are we doing? Are we more than just friends? How come you don’t want to have sex with me?”
“I do. Last night…wasn’t right. You were really sloshed for one thing.”
“Well, when do you think it’s going to happen?”
Mike looks at Jessica. Her disheveled vulnerability makes her look all the more beautiful. “Right now.”
Jessica’s eyes get big. “Now? Now? You’re joking, right? I mean look at me. I’m all hung over. I look like crap.”
Mike walks over and embraces her. He likes the warm feel of her body – the sensation of his arms around her waist.
“I would do it now, but I don’t think I can stop crying.”
“Hey, you wouldn’t be the first crying girl I’ve had sex with.”
Jessica laughs. She pushes him back and looks him in the eyes. “OK, then. Can I just take a shower first?”
“Good idea. Let me join you, I’m feeling a little grimy myself.”
And he does.
One Week Later
Mike and Jessica are at the courts messing around. Mike assesses their games. He believes they are pretty evenly matched. He hits the ball harder than her, is a little more tennis savvy, and has the better serve. She has more endurance than he does, more accurate ground strokes (they are lethal), and she runs like a gazelle.
“Don’t you think it’s time we actually played a match against one another?” asks Mike.
“Um, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”
“Come on, what are you afraid of, losing?”
“Ewww, awful confident aren’t we?”
“OK, fine, let’s do it.”
Five minutes later
Mike serves the ball to Jessica’s backhand. She returns it midcourt. Mike charges and chips it, again, to her back hand. Jessica attempts to pass Mike down line. Mike punches it cross court, out of her reach.
“Nice shot,” says Jessica.
“Jessica, what the hell are you doing?”
“You’re tanking it. Why aren’t you playing your hardest?”
“I don’t know, Mike. I think I can beat you. I don’t want to beat you.”
Mike laughs. “Jessica, I think maybe you can beat me too, but there’s only one way to find out. What are you scared of?”
“OK, then. Let’s start over.”
Two hours later
A defeated Mike stands with Jessica at the net.
“I love it when your sexy, salt- pepper hair gets all sweaty,” she says as she brushes it about his brow.
“You are just trying to soften the blow,” says Mike enjoying her preening over him. “It’s working.”
“You are the only man I’ve played with who didn’t get mad when I beat him.”
“Well, I’m probably the only man you’ve played who’s forty four years old. We are built a little different at this age. We aren’t supposed to get mad.”
“I played my hardest you know. It went to three sets. It was exhilarating.” Jessica’s eyes sparkle. “I had so much fun. Thank you so much. And thanks for not getting mad. You definitely were the best man I’ve ever played. I mean I was the number one seed in college.”
“You are very cute and sweet, trying to cheer me up.”
Jessica is silent for time, and then she says quietly, “No, you are the sweet one. Mike, I think I’m falling in love with you.”
As she says this to him, a wonderful, warm feeling runs through his body, and he suddenly realizes that he loves her too, although he is too guarded to say it.
Two Months Later
Mike and Jessica walk up the stairs to his apartment. They are dressed to the nines. Mike looks sharp. Jessica looks devastating.
“Thanks for taking me out, and treating. I love Lombardo’s. You were very romantic with me the whole night.”
As Mike unlocks his door he says, “My pleasure. I’m just sorry I didn’t get you anything for your birthday.”
“It’s all cool, dinner was…” Jessica stops short. Mike’s coffee table is covered in gifts.
Ten Minutes Later
Jessica unwraps the last of her gifts. “Oh my God, you went back and got me this after I mentioned I liked it. Damn Mike, this purse was expensive.”
“I hope you like it.”
Jessica is silent. Tears splash down upon the purse.
“Here we go again. Come here. Daddy’s got you.” Mike hugs her for a time. “Are you done crying?”
“I think so.”
“Good, because I don’t want you crying all over your new purse. That thing was expensive. Speaking of birthdays - How about we slip on into our birthday suits?”
Fifteen Minutes Later
Jessica shudders, swings one of her long legs up and over Mike's head and curls into the fetal position in his bed. “Damn, you are good at that.”
“It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
“How come you are being so perfect to me today?”
Mike hesitates a moment too long before saying, “Well, it is your birthday.”
Jessica looks at Mike searchingly. She bolts up. “Damn Ash, and her big mouth. She told you about what Brandon did, didn’t she?” Jessica is fuming. “Why are you smiling?”
“Because you are so smart...and because I love you.”
Jessica is silent for a time, then she says, “What? I didn’t quite catch that last part.”
“I love you.”
Jessica cups her hand behind her ear, “I'm sorry - come again.”
“I love you.”
“Stop muttering, Old Man.”
Jessica lays back down. “Mike?”
“Are you going to hurt me?”
“I hope not Jessica. I’ll try my best not to."
Two Weeks Later
Jessica enters Lombardo's and finds Mike (as he is always early) sitting at their usual table. Jessica looks nervous, "I hope this isn't a bad idea," she says.
"It probably is," says Mike looking a little anxious himself. When the waiter comes over both quickly order alcoholic drinks, then share their days events with each other.
A Few Minutes Later
Ashely enters, sees them, and heads over to their table. Jessica's heart sinks, Ashley's clothing is way too revealing for the stately and posh Lombardo's. Indeed, many of the women patrons are looking disapproving at her as she walks by, while many of the men are just looking, while trying to pretend not to.
"Hey," says Ashley as she plops down next to Jessica. "Is he here yet?"
"No," says Jessica.
"Well he better not be late," she says tersely.
"He's always right on time for tennis. To the minute, it's a weird thing," says Mike to Ashley as she frowns while looking at the menu.
A Moment Later At Precisely 5:59
A deep rumble, at first low in the distance, grows louder and louder until it growls to a cacophonous stop out in front of the restaurant. All the patrons heads swivel around to the front door. The engine cuts off. All is quiet.
Dave walks through the door. He too is inappropriately dressed, but in a different way. He has on jeans, a t-shirt, black boots and leather chaps. He's sweaty and his shirt is stinking to his buff body. Oblivious to the stares (although this time it is some the ladies looks that linger too long), he makes his way to Jessica's, Mike's and Ashley's table. He sits down next to Mike, doesn't even bother to introduce himself and says to Ashley, "You look totally foxy in that sexy ensemble, or lack there of." Dave crosses himself looks upward and mouths thanks to God.
Ashley sits stone faced, stunned. Mike and Jessica are also speechless. "You own a motorcycle?" Ashley asks.
"Mike didn't tell you? He didn't build me up? That's Mike for you, always setting his friends up for failure," says Dave.
Ashley says nothing. She has a strange look on her face. Dave grabs a menu and peruses it. "I can't understand half the stuff on here."
"Neither could I," says Ashley.
Dave looks at Ashley. "Del's has two dollar tacos today. I'm buying if you're going."
"Fish or beef," asks Ashley.
"Beef," says Dave.
"Good, I'm there," says Ashley and she starts to quaff her drink.
"Let there be no confusion," says Dave. "I'm buying, so I expect some action later."
Ashley says through her drink, "You have protection?"
Its' Dave's turn to be surprised. He says, "Actually I don't, I wasn't that optimistic."
"Well, if you want a shot tonight, buying me something isn't going to get you anywhere," says Ashley as she fishes money out of her purse to pay for her drink.
"Oh yeah," says Dave. "What will?"
"If you let me drive your motorcycle, you''l have an outside shot," says Ashley although she fully expects him to say no.
"You know how?" asks Dave.
"Yup," says Ashley. "My dad taught me on his Harley. I'm licensed. You got a problem with women driving hogs."
"Not at all" says Dave. "My dad wasn't never around. My mom was the one who taught me how to ride. Be warned though, I'm going to have to have my hands on your waist nice and tight, you know, to hold on and all."
Ashley gathers her purse, stands, and says "I'm banking on that," she says eyeing Dave appreciatively. "Bye, Jess. I'll call you later."
Jessica, shocked by how bizarrely well Dave and Ashley's introduction and interaction went, can't remove herself from her relegated role as a mere spectator to even verbally answer. And so she just nods her head in the affirmative. As Dave and Ashley walk out, Dave tells Ashley a dirty joke. Contextually it's a funny joke, and both are laughing crazily as they walk outside.
Jessica and Mike look at each for a moment, completely baffled, then they both break out in laughter too.
Seven Years Later
Mike sits in his car in a parking lot across from a church. He watches as a wedding party exits through its doors. Eventually he sees Jessica emerge in a wedding dress. She looks fabulous and giddy. Next to her, arm in arm, is her new husband. Mike sees him for the first time and he smiles despite himself. He isn't necessarily handsome, but Mike can just tell from the looks of him he's nice.
Friends and family throw rice upon them as they enter their car. They depart and then the rest do too. All is quiet.
Mike looks at the wedding invitation to him. Jessica wrote at the bottom of it, in her lovely feminine hand, "Mike, I really hope you can come. I often fondly think of you, despite you calling us off because of our ages. I loved you and I'm grateful for the time we had." He looks at the directions to the wedding reception.
Mike looks up into the rear view mirror. He looks so old, his hair has gone completely gray. He's fighting the pain, but it's not working. He's crying.
As he pulls out of the parking lot he murmurs, "I kept my promise to you. I didn't hurt you at all." Then he heads home alone.