Miguel Semana lifted a cut crystal glass full of golden brandy to his moustachioed lips. He had been in America for two weeks in order to celebrate Christmas with his famous sister, Carmen. For the last six years, Carmen hovered somewhere among the top three players of women’s professional tennis. Miguel, a gifted athlete himself, hated the discipline of sport. He hated discipline, period. Carmen hated it, too, but she put in just enough practice time to keep her extraordinary natural skills sharp. Miguel loved his sister as much as he loved anybody. When they were children, he coached her, played with her, and made her game what it was today because he never gave her a break. When she was good enough to compete on the pro circuit, it was Miguel who pleaded with his father to let her leave Argentina. He accompanied her during her first year on the road; she was fifteen. After that he attended college, as was planned, and emerged a lawyer. While he was pondering torts, wills, and other subjects of ultimate boredom, Carmen was rising steadily in the tennis firmament to become a great star.
Now twenty-four and at the peak of her physical powers, Carmen again had Miguel by her side. She wanted to win the Grand Slam of tennis, a nearly impossible feat, but one which would guarantee her athletic immortality as well as gorge an already fat purse.
To win the Grand Slam a player must win in the same year the French Open, Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the Australian Open. In the history of tennis only four players ever achieved this feat: Don Budge in 1938, Maureen Connolly in 1953, Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969, and Margaret Court in 1970.
Miguel knew that this year would be Carmen’s chance. She was a serve and volley player, and they take longer to mature on the court than do backcourt players. They need to be quite strong, so their bodies must reach full development. They also need to settle down emotionally. Carmen was at the top and free of injury. This would be her year, and both she and Miguel knew it. Now or never. Just as timing was critical to her serve, so was it critical to her whole career. She was in the right place at the right time.
Miguel looked over Cazenovia Lake, a beautiful four-mile stretch of fresh water in upstate New York. The smooth waters glistened in the pale afternoon light. Miguel, raised in luxury, was not especially impressed by the beautiful mansion that commanded a view of the lake and hills beyond. The Semanas enjoyed the privileges of an upper-middle-class family in Buenos Aires, so Carmen’s surroundings left him cold, literally. Winters in Cazenovia were fierce and sometimes lasted eight months. Four feet of snow covered the ground. When the whole continent of the United States was at your disposal, why sit in snow? Miguel frowned as the warm brandy glowed inside his stomach.
Carmen’s roommate, Harriet Rawls, was a professor at the little college in Cazenovia. When Carmen moved here, they bought the house together. That was three years ago. Within the first year of their living together, Carmen talked Harriet into resigning her post and traveling full time with her. Miguel thought they might be lovers. If Carmen chased girls as well as forehands, he didn’t want to know about it. The possibility that a feminine woman might want a woman lover escaped him. Miguel was, after all, a very Latin, very handsome man. He flirted outrageously with Harriet, since she was the only woman in sight and she wasn’t bad to look at, but he never got very far. He was anxious to get on the road with his sister. There had to be more receptive game out there.
Miguel also needed to make money. He gambled. He could control it, but he had a worse vice—he loved power and beautiful things. Being a lawyer in Buenos Aires wasn’t enough for him. For twenty-eight years he had been a dutiful son; now he wanted to do things his own way. His sister would win that Grand Slam if it killed both of them in the process. Miguel wanted the win. As her new business manager, he would have success at last. The fact that Carmen did not know her brother was to be her business manager didn’t bother him. He’d get to that in good time.
Side by side, viewed from the rear, Miguel and Carmen looked like brothers, so closely did their bodies resemble each other’s. Only when they turned around, could one see that the taller was male, the shorter, female. Curly black hair, aquiline nose, and dove-gray eyes were their common heritage. Broad white teeth set off a charming, slightly crooked mouth. Like all the Semanas, they had beautiful, beautiful hands. These traits made Miguel the very image of what a man should be. Carmen, however, was left midway between male and female. A generous soul would call her androgynous. As a child, Carmen was subject to ridicule. Tennis saved her. She might not be gorgeous or sweetly subservient, but, by God, she was the best at what she did. Her entire adult identity was bounded by the perimeters of a tennis court. At this point in Carmen’s life, if people found her masculine, they said it behind their hands. To her face, people shouted only praises. She loved the praise, and she earned it. If she ever wondered what people really thought of her or what she thought of herself, she locked it deep inside. Her tennis glory would make up for whatever wounds she suffered in her childhood.
Dr. Arturo Semana never intended to wound his children. They were glutted with material possessions at home and whacked into severe piety at the most aristocratic Catholic school in Buenos Aires. Miguel, the elder child and only son, felt daily pressure from his father to be a man in all things. Carmen received an equal pressure from her mother, one of Buenos Aires’s leading hostesses. When Carmen became the athlete instead of Miguel, Theresa Semana took to her bed for a week. Arturo resigned himself to Carmen’s career and eventually took pride in it. Theresa reached the point where she didn’t blanch at the mention of her daughter’s accomplishments but she still found the tennis life unacceptable for any woman, her only daughter included. Small wonder that Carmen confined her visits home to once a year. No matter how many trophies or how much money she won, when she saw her reflection in her mother’s clear eyes, she saw a failure.
Miguel didn’t understand the peculiar pressures of being female, but Carmen was his sister, and he loved her. Besides, he had his hands full with his own pressures. The two of them formed their own bond against their loving but demanding parents. It was as though brother and sister lived in a very elegant war zone, two soldiers from different backgrounds on the same front. In their case instead of class or geography being the difference, it was sex. And though neither sibling could look into the heart and mind of the other, they depended upon one another and loved one another. It was their strength, and also, their undoing.
The telephone pierced dinner. Harriet got up from her spaghetti with pesto sauce to answer it.
“Merry Christmas, Harriet.” Jane Fulton’s throaty voice echoed on the line.
“Merry Christmas to you, too, and to Ricky.”
“How’s the visitation program going?”
“It’ll take time.”
“That’s what Mother said about my breast development when I was thirteen. Look at me now.”
Jane’s voice was overshadowed by Ricky in the background, saying, “Anything more than a handful is a waste. Merry Christmas to everyone and to everyone a good night.”
Harriet smiled. “Ricky sounds full of spirit.”
Carmen called from the table, “Merry Christmas!”
Miguel joined in. “Happy New Year!” He spoke with an English accent as did his sister.
Carmen explained to him Ricky’s love of eggnog. Miguel had not yet met Ricky Cooper but anyone who liked a good belt now and then sounded like his kind of man.
“Are you two covering the Tomahawk Championships?” Harriet asked. Tomahawk, the cosmetics division of Clark & Clark, a huge pharmaceuticals company, sponsored women’s indoor tennis. Their theme was “Slay Your Man.” Ball girls wore feathers and war paint and this theme was beaten to death with banners, advertising copy, and the packaging itself.
“We’ll be there. Staying at the same place?”
“Yes, all three of us.”
“Okay, we’ll take you to dinner. We want to meet Miguel. Is he as handsome as his photo?”
“He’s pretty handsome.” Harriet laughed as Miguel preened his moustache for effect. “They invited us all to dinner in Washington, D.C.”
“Perfect.” Miguel beamed.
“Can’t wait, Jane. Kisses to Ricky. Merry, merry Christmas.”
Ricky Cooper and Jane Fulton were a well-matched couple. She was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Ricky covered sports for The New York Times. He also did the on-camera coverage for the new sports cable network. When they married, instead of sacrificing one career to the other, they very sensibly settled in Princeton, New Jersey, which is midway between both cities. Ricky was in his forties and Jane was in her late thirties. Closer to Harriet in age, they were also closer to her as friends, but they adored Carmen who lived for the day and never gave tomorrow a thought. To Protestants drenched in the work ethic, that was an incredible thought.
Copyright © 2011 by Rita Mae Brown. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.