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Thirteen Gods



Chapter 10


Mozart wasn't helping.


Since returning to my room, I'd picked up and put down a half-dozen books and given up on at least as many videos. I'd eaten dinner without tasting it, and now I was trying to find a piece of music that might let me relax. I had always been jittery before big soccer matches, and those seemed completely meaningless compared to tomorrow.


Just as I was about to ask Jeeves to switch the music to something more upbeat, he spoke up.


"Sir?"


"Yes, Jeeves?"


"You have a message."


I took a second before replying.


"What kind of message?"


"What I suspect you will call a GodMail message, sir."


I actually chuckled.


"Please play it or whatever."


"Yes, sir."


The voice changed to a female - Chantal.


"Hi, Mike. I'm sure you are nervous, but that's OK. I still can't sleep the night before a session, and I remember how scary my first one was. Don't worry - you're going to be fine. Kaitlyn's really good. Oh, and I'm attaching a video that I think you'll enjoy. See you tomorrow. Love, Chan."


I smiled. The message was very kind, but I hoped Chan wasn't the immortal version of all my human friends that sent me every YouTube video they ever watched.


"Jeeves, please play the video."


"Yes, sir."


Instantly, I was in a brightly lit stadium. It only took me a couple seconds to recognize it - Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York. This had to be the U.S. Open, but a quick look at the players had me baffled. Tracy and Maria Sharapova had never played on this court. They had only played once in the Open, early in their careers, and it certainly wasn't in a primetime match in the stadium.


"Jeeves, stop."


The scene froze.


"Is this a real event?"


"Yes, sir."


"What date?"


"September 6, 2008."


After a moment, I started to understand. If we were starting 2009 in the morning, 2008 had to be done, so this was a match from after I died. That was a little creepy, but I thought it might be fun to watch. I certainly had a good seat.


I was just about to tell Jeeves to resume the video when it hit me.


"Jeeves, did you say September 6th?"


"Yes, sir."


"So this is the U.S. Open final?"


"Yes, sir."


I glanced around, taking in the capacity crowd, and then one of the scoreboards caught my eye. I had been reading tennis scores for years - my sister had been a child prodigy - but the numbers refused to make sense. The top line read "Sharapova 6-6-3-15" and the bottom read "Harris 7-3-5-40", but my brain wasn't processing that information. Finally, I realized what it meant. 


Tracy was one point away from winning the U.S. Open.


I looked frantically around the stadium. This couldn't be real, could it?


Thanks to GodVision's crystal-clear picture, I could make out every face in the crowd. There was the usual group of celebrities, including a slender African-American man that Tracy and I had met two years before.


"Jeeves?"


"Yes, sir?"


"Does Barack Obama go on to win the presidential election?"


"Yes, sir. Quite convincingly, in fact."


Well, that was good to know. I kept scanning the scene until I realized there was one place that I hadn't had the nerve to look. I closed my eyes for a long moment, and then turned toward the family box. There were Tracy's parents and mine and behind them, looking like she was about to have a heart attack, my big sister Julie.


That's when I started to cry, but I managed to tell Jeeves to resume the video.


As the action started again, Tracy was bouncing the ball. The arena was buzzing with tension, but she looked like she was getting ready for a morning practice.


She caught the ball and flowed smoothly into her serve. It was perfect - she couldn't have set it in a better place.


Maria got the ball back across the net, but there was nothing on the shot. Tracy took her time and crushed a forehand.


Somehow, Maria got to it. In an almost superhuman move, she lunged and hit a low, hard shot toward the left side of the court.


Tracy's eyes widened slightly, and she started to move for the ball. She took one quick step, then stopped as the ball slammed into the net, about two inches from the top.


The stadium exploded in cheers, but for a long moment, Tracy's eyes stayed glued to the ball, like she thought it might change its mind and fly over the net after all. It seemed like she stood there for an hour before her lips moved. I don't know if I read her lips, or I just knew her well enough, but she got out "oh my god" before she sank to her knees, sobbing. She never cried. She grudgingly admitted to tearing up slightly when she saw "Old Yeller" when she was eight, but that was it. Seeing her like this, in a sold-out stadium on worldwide television, cost me what little control I had left.


The next half hour had to have set a Guinness World Record for the most tears ever shed at one sporting event. Tracy cried until 20 years of tennis etiquette kicked in, and she somehow got up and made her way to the net to embrace Maria. She started to say something, and I knew exactly what it was going to be, but Maria stopped her with a shake of the head and a short sentence.


That set Tracy off again, and she never really stopped. She climbed to the family box and embraced both sets of parents before collapsing into Julie's arms. I couldn't see her face, but I could see her shoulders shaking. 


I almost asked Jeeves to stop the video at that point - I probably would have if I had even remembered it was an option. At that moment, I was at the stadium, and I knew was that not being in that box was the worst feeling of my life. Or, in this case, my afterlife.


Eventually, Tracy got back to the court for the tear-filled trophy presentation. Even Maria cried when she was asked what she said to Tracy after the match.


"She asked me if I let her win," she said, voice wobbling slightly. "I told her no - I played as hard as I could. I wanted to win the U.S. Open. It would have broken my heart to beat her today, especially after Australia, but I tried. I was not good enough to beat two people."


When it was her turn, Tracy could barely talk. Her voice was destroyed from the sobbing, and she was still crying, but she got out what she wanted to say.


"First, I have to thank Maria. I had to play so hard today that I never had a chance to think about what might happen if I won. Then I have to think my family - my parents for everything, and Michael's parents for never doubting that I was still part of their family, and Julie for a million practice sessions and for introducing me to her annoying little brother."


At that point, she stopped and closed her eyes. After a second, the CBS reporter, obviously trying to help asked her what was special about her tennis dress.


Tracy took a deep breath before shakily starting to talk again.


"We can't wear jewelry, but I needed something today, so I had them add something."


She reached up with her left hand and pulled open a tiny velcro pocket on her right shoulder strap. As she dug out her engagement ring, I fell apart all over again.


"I don't have a wedding ring to put in there, and that hurts every day, but knowing this was here got me through the match. I didn't play the French Open, and I probably shouldn't have played Wimbledon, but Michael would have killed me if I had stayed home. I never expected this to happen, but somehow, I hope he knows that I did it."


For the first time, she held the trophy over her head.


"I finally did it."


That's when I told Jeeves to stop.


"Yes, sir," he said, as the scene flicked off. "You also have another message."


"Go ahead."


As I expected, it was Chantal's voice.


"I told G-CIS - I don't what you call yours - to deliver this when you stopped watching the video. Have yourself a good cry, just like I did the other night, but then remember one thing. She won a Grand Slam after you died, so you've got no excuse. She'd expect you to do a great job tomorrow."


That just wasn't fair.


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