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Thirteen Gods

Chapter 7

I woke up the next morning, and after ordering pancakes and bacon from Jeeves, I reflected on the fact that I didn't have slightest touch of a hangover. That seemed to be another one of the perks of immortality. I hadn't had that much to drink, but people kept buying me beers, and I had to at least pretend to enjoy them. I'm an athlete, so people think I must like beer, strippers and fast cars. Granted, one of those happened to be true, but it didn't appear I was going to have much use for my Shelby Mustang up here. I've never figured out the appeal of beer - it tastes like spoiled water - and strip clubs just depress me. Teammates had dragged me to some of the best clubs on three continents, and I was always bored. It was a bunch of women pretending to be interested in men who were pretending to get a relationship out of it. Yes, they were hot, and quite often the dancing was fun to watch, but you could get much the same effect by quickly flipping the pages of Maxim, and you didn't have to deal with the smoke.

Of course, I've been biased on this issue since college. It's hard to get all that excited about strippers when you're in a long-term relationship with your college sweetheart - a woman that turned down multiple six-figure offers from Playboy. Even here, in a population that obviously self-selected for looks, Tracy would have gotten more than her fair share of attention.

And she would have loved it. She had seriously considered the Playboy offers, but her Catholic parents were already having trouble dealing with some of the more revealing ads she had done. They would have had a joint stroke if she had posed nude. 

Oddly, though, they were thrilled when she made it into the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. She actually made it twice - and the first time was the biggest mistake of my life. In 2003, I had gotten some attention for our World Cup run, and Tracy was starting to jump up the tennis rankings, so they asked us to pose for one of those athlete-and-their-hot-spouse pictorials. Only one shot made it into the magazine - a seriously goofy beach shot where we were playing tennis with a soccer ball. Our friends and families thought it was cool - many said they even noticed I was in the shot after a few minutes - but that picture showed up at every road game I played in for the rest of my career. There's nothing quite like playing a soccer game in front of 40,000 English fans chanting "Your Wife Has Bigger Arms!"

A couple of years later, after she lost the Wimbledon final to Maria Sharapova and the U.S. Open final to Venus Williams - two of her closest friends on tour - the magazine had called again. This time she got several pages and a large chunk of the internet to herself. Shortly after that issue hit the stands, Tracy had innocently agreed to appear on one of Detroit's local morning TV shows. She had expected the normal "Local Girl Makes Good" interview, but instead found herself being grilled by a pompous religious leader about her slutty pictures.

In one of the great moments of her life, she just looked at him, then stood up and calmly took off her suit jacket. That left her in a sleeveless, low-cut blouse and a fairly short skirt. Knowing her way around a TV interview, she had smoothly unhooked the wireless mike from her lapel and clipped it onto a shoulder strap.

"You know what, Reverend? I've spent half my life in gyms working on this body and the other half working on my tennis game. No one complains when I get paid for the latter, so why should anyone care about the former? That might be hard for you to understand, given the amount of Botox you appear to have in your face, but I take pride in myself."

The poor minister was so flustered that he could only mumble something about the pictures being un-Christian, which is when Tracy destroyed him.

"The last time I read the Bible, sir, that wasn't your decision to make. My understanding of what Jesus taught is that there is no better act in life than to help someone that can not help themselves. My fiance and I have a charitable foundation that donated over one million dollars to the homeless and hungry of Detroit last year. Your church spent a million dollars on a new building, a new bell tower and, from the looks of it, your new hair and face, but when our group tried to work with your church, you were too busy making TV appearances."

Rev. Alexander looked like a turtle that has forgotten how to retract into its shell, but was still dumb enough to start to say something about going on television to promote his new book.

"Yes, your Holiness, I've read your masterpiece," said Tracy, who dripped sarcasm when she was mad. "I'm sure it will please Jesus no end to learn that the poor, the homeless and the hungry have no one to blame but themselves and their lack of a work ethic. That the only thing stopping America is a lack of faith-based governmental organizations that will get those useless souls off the street by giving them worthless jobs at below minimum wage. I'm sure your Savior would be thrilled to know that you think indentured servitude is the height of Christian charity."

At that point, the man should have given up. Tracy told me later that the show's producer was trying to get the hosts to wrap up the segment, just to keep him from being further humiliated. But the Most Reverend Benjamin David Ray Alexander had made his living with fire and brimstone, and he didn't think he could lose an argument to a half-dressed 26-year-old girl.

"How dare you, a heathen, even speak to me about the teachings of the Lord, Jesus Christ?" he sputtered. "You will burn for eternity, because you refuse to accept Jesus as your savior, and yet you have the nerve to lecture me on what He would think of my behavior?"

He probably would have gone on, but his eyes widened and his mouth closed as Tracy took two steps towards him. In heels, she must have been 6'3", and he appeared to notice that the body he had been condemning had more muscles in each arm than he had in his entire lipo-suctioned body. Offstage, I almost laughed at the way he cringed. He must have thought she was going to slap him, but she spoke what turned out to be the last words of the segment in a voice that could had frozen Lake Huron.

"I'll tell you what, Reverend. You may think I'm a heathen and a slut and that I'm going to hell, but if your religion is right, and we do end up facing St. Peter together some day, you better hope there's multiple vacancies at the Heaven Hilton, because they'll forgive my sins long before they forgive yours."

With that, she flipped the microphone at his concrete hair and walked off the set. She barely glanced at me when she stalked by, so I followed her down the hallway to the room they had given her to get ready. As she went through the door, I could see her bare shoulders shaking with the effort to keep her emotions private, and it was only when I had closed the door behind us that she let go. She fell into my arms, giggling hysterically, and it was several moments before she could even regain enough breath to speak.

"God, that was fun!"

I had laughed with her then, and now I laughed again. Partially at the memory of the story, but mostly at the thought of how much Tracy would have loved to know that this place existed. She'd happily accept being wrong about the lack of an afterlife if it meant a pantheon of atheistic deities that saw themselves as servants of the Earth and its inhabitants.

As I thought about it, I realized that, in a lot of ways, Tracy would be the better god of the two of us. She was the one that wanted to find ways to save the world, and I was the one trying to keep us focused on saving a few Detroiters and gradually building up to global prosperity. Since this place seemed to be all about big solutions, her ideas would fit right in.

Of course, I could also see the reasons that I was the one that was here. For one thing, this place seemed to be all about the parties, and even though I wasn't exactly wild, I was River Phoenix compared to Tracy. She'd traveled the globe playing tennis, and she sucked in every bit of culture she could find. It was just, as one of her well-known playing partners once complained to me, "Her idea of a hot nightlife is a city where the museums stay open after dark!"

I also suspected that Tracy wasn't exactly what Kaitlyn was looking for in an apprentice, anyway. Given things people had said at the party, she certainly wasn't the new Harvest Goddess' type, and while I had loved her with all my heart, she was too much of a control freak to be anyone's underling. She couldn't even play doubles with an aggressive partner - there had been a charity event where she teamed up with Serena Williams and it was a disaster. Venus and I were watching together, and we spent most of the match trying to hide how hard we were laughing as our loved ones glared at each other.

On the other hand, I was fine with that kind of role. It was what I did for a living. I wasn't the guy who scored all the goals and got all the headlines. I was the one who ran my lungs out in the midfield to keep the ball moving and keep the game flowing. If we had been basketball players, Tracy would have been LeBron James. I would have been Steve Nash, but with better hair.

So it was probably best that I was the one that was up here. I swallowed my last sip of orange juice and looked up at the ceiling.


"Yes, sir?"

"Are you ready to teach me how this place actually works?"

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