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by Sheila Cornelius

Wintry sunlight glanced off the orange juice directly into Tom's eyes as Diana came back into the kitchen. The savage chewing of a piece of toast belied the nonchalance with which she looked through the window.

Tom crouched, expectant, on the baseline and waited for her opening shot.

‘Does ‘Coconut’ ring any bells?’

First service, deceptively soft, intended to wrong- foot.

‘Is it a crossword clue?’

Bounced off the top of the net.


One false move and there’d be days of atonement. His last mistake had landed him in the spare room for a week.

‘Someone on the phone, a woman, said you left a sweater in The Coconut.’

Second service; the momentum unnerved him for a few seconds.

‘Sweater in the coconut? Haha! Sounds like ‘motto in the cracker’ or ‘dinner in the oven’.

Well parried.

‘Ah, yes, I remember, now. I lent it to Ed. He was going out straight from the office and didn’t want to look too formal. Something about a fruit-and-veg-themed pub crawl.’

Superb backhand return.

'You lent it to Ed, but some-one from the pub rang you? How did they know to do that? I thought you had a squash fixture. And where exactly is The Coconut?’

Long lob, so start running. Buy some time. Say something; anything.

‘You know what Ed’s like. He probably gave my number to a girl he picked up. He wouldn’t give his own number, would he? I think it’s somewhere near the office.’

He surprised himself sometimes. Match break while she busied herself making coffee. She turned to look at him, hand poised to ram the plunger home.

This one would be carefully positioned.

Then, (oh thank you, God), the phone rang. He straightened up. Probably her mother.

Tossing him a ‘match postponed’ look, she left the kitchen. That was OK though. A call on his mobile to Ed and he’d have everything sorted by the time he got back from work.

Either that or he’d have to drag the 13 tog single duvet out of the cupboard.

At lunch time he rang the pub.

‘Hi, Selina. This is Tom . About the sweater I left behind last night … the one you talked to my sister about this morning ?’

Nice little drop shot.

‘Oh, hi Tom. Your sister was it? She’s not very fond of you, is she? Want to come round and collect?'

Too easy.

‘Sorry, babes - not tonight.’

Why bother with amateurs when there was a top seed waiting for him at home, with everything to play for.