When the news breaks, you are both blissfully unaware, enjoying a rare, peaceful hour alone. Lying on top of your bed, one arm behind his head and his fingers tangled with yours down at his hip, Rafa is the picture of relaxation. He's telling you some story about dinner with Feliciano and Toni and Fernando last night and you're just watching him, drinking him in. The bright American, late afternoon sun is streaming in through your window and bathing him in a golden light that he just seems to revel in.
You hear the room door slam and you are just starting to sit up and look towards the bedroom door when Mirka comes bursting through, giving only a cursory knock.
"Roger. It's happened." She's flushed, like she's been running and her phone is in her hand, vibrating constantly although she's ignoring it at the moment.
For a moment the enormity of the situation doesn't reach you and you misunderstand her, not getting the full picture. "They've found out Rafa's staying at the hotel?"
Even as you say this, it hits you what's really happened.
"No. They've found out he's been staying in your room." She's had enough of her phone and it's constant ringing, switching it off and tossing it in her bag.
Rafa's fingers clench almost painfully around your own and you feel like your heart has stopped before it bursts back into action at twice the speed. You've known that this moment would have to happen eventually and you thought you'd prepared just a little but you honestly can't say a word. At that moment, there is a knock on the room door. You're rooted to the bed at the moment so it's Mirka who goes through to see who it is. There's the noise of conversation but you can't hear what's being said or who exactly it is, apart from the fact that it's male. Then Toni appears in the bedroom and in some small part of your mind you are thankful that all you and Rafa were doing was talking or this could get awkward, really quickly.
The sight of his uncle seems to jolt Rafa into speech and he's asking quick questions in Spanish that Toni doesn't seem to know the answer to. He shrugs and gives one-word answers for a few moments before he manages to catch a break in Rafa's questions, talking firmly to him. You and Mirka exchange glances over the foreign language before Rafa nodding brings your attention back to him.
"Roger, I have to go."
You nod, almost dazedly, like this is all happening around you but you're not actually connected to any of these events. Rafa, as always, brings your focus completely back to him, cupping your cheek and muttering soft words that you don't catch as he kisses your cheek in an oddly innocent gesture.
"Rafael." Toni's voice cuts through any haze and he nods once more, climbing off the bed and following his uncle out of the room, with a brief look back at you and a flash of his brilliant smile. Toni exchanges a few low words with Mirka and then there's the click of the door and the room is silent once more. Mirka sits in the chair at the end of the bed and pulls her phone back out of her bag, switching it back on, and starts typing a message or email almost immediately.
"What do we do now?" You ask.
"You need to phone your family. I've got about 50 missed calls from them already. I only put off answering so I could tell you first."
"Thanks." You sigh.
“Roger." She starts to look annoyed, misinterpreting your tone so you hurry to cut her off.
"No, really, I mean it. Thank you."
"Oh." Her face brightens into a smile. "What else are friends for? I'm trying to run some damage control but I'm afraid I found out too late to actually stop anything being printed. Toni's dealing with it on Rafa's side, as best he can. He's not pleased, he didn't sign on to be Rafa's agent or publicity officer but he figures he can handle it better if he does it himself instead of leaving it to someone else. I'd imagine that your family will want you moved to another hotel, one that doesn't have Rafa Nadal in residence, I'm already looking at availability for some of the other top hotels, to try and give your parents some kind of positive news."
You nod, running a hand through your hair, fingers pausing over the area that Rafa last kissed for a second. Your phone is on the nightstand and it's been on silent through all this. You flip it open and ignore the huge numbers of missed calls from Switzerland and thumb straight through to start writing a message.
"Roger, I wouldn't do this in a text message."
You laugh, despite the situation. "I was just going to text Rafa."
At that moment, a message comes through from 'rafa mob':
'in it together no? like 3 musketeer? i love you x'
Three little words that you haven't spoken out loud stare up at you from the tiny screen of the phone, in irrefutable black lettering. Your heart flutters in your chest and for a moment you can't breathe again, but it's not from panic. It's from something else entirely that fills your entire being with warmth.
'all for one and one for all. I love you Rafa. Rx'
Once the message has sent, you go back to your inbox and save the message about ten times to your phone, so it will never get lost. It's something to think about as you call home.
Your sister answers the phone and you can hear the bustle of activity in the background and many voices.
"Wow, when did you become such a rebel?"
"What do you mean?"
"A Nadal? Way to go Roger! I never you had it in you kid."
"No, I mean this really is a way to upset the parents. I wish I'd thought of something this awesome. Frankly, I'd thought you'd peaked when you were found with Stan in the gardens, and even that wasn't really anything major. Half the family have fooled around with boys at some point, Uncle Gerald anyone? But you've outdone yourself Roger! I'm so proud."
"Try convincing Mum and Dad now that you're the good kid who can get away with anything."
You can't help but laugh. Diane was always the more rebellious of the two of you. She didn't want to conform to any family ideal or model; she loathed playing tennis and had even studied Spanish at school to get a rise out of the family. Meanwhile you had picked up at racket from the age of 2 and hadn't looked back. You'd studied hard, trained hard, played hard and become everything the family wanted of you. Yet despite the major differences in your personality, you've always been close, probably from being the only two Federer children of that age.
"How bad is it?"
She sighs. "Pretty bad Roger. Mum hasn't said anything yet, and Dad's trying to stop everyone getting on a plane right this instant and declaring some kind of war on Nadal. They've tried to get in touch with Mirka, but she hasn't been answering her phone. I don't think they're very happy with her either."
"It's not her fault, I won't let her be blamed; she was covering for me."
"You always have to play the goody-goody hero Roger." She laughs.
"Shut up. Is mum there? Can I talk to her?"
"Just a minute."
Her hand must have covered the receiver as all you hear is the muffled garbled sound of a faraway conversation before Diane comes back briefly onto the line.
"Good luck Roger!" She calls before you presume the phone is wrestled away from her. You hear your mother's voice in the background quietly reproaching her then your father's voice fills your ear.
"Roger? Is that you?"
"Where's Mirka? What's happening over there? We've been trying to get in touch."
"She's here, sorry, her battery died and her charger was in her room and we were in my room."
Mirka flashes you a grateful smile and you wave it away; she's done more than enough for you.
He doesn't question this at all and you hope they believe it.
"Roger, I don't even know where to start. Is it true? A Nadal?"
This is it. This is the moment of truth. Somehow you'd thought it would be harder to admit to it, to actually tell your family that you've fallen for a Nadal, for Rafa, but it all comes so naturally.
"Yes. His name's Rafa, he's really nice Dad-"
"He's a Nadal!" Someone breaks through your improvised speech on Rafa, and you recognise the voice of Uncle Simon, your Dad's older brother. You must be on speakerphone.
"That is his last name." You concede grudgingly.
Mirka's watching you carefully and you sigh, and put your own phone on speaker. If anyone deserves to be able to hear this conversation, Mirka does. She moves to sit beside you on the bed and takes your hand, gripping it for moral support.
Simon seems to have taken over the conversation.
"You were always such a good boy, Roger. What's gone wrong?"
"Uncle Simon, it's not that-" But it seems you're not allowed to point out any kind of rational argument as you are talked over.
"It's because your father let you go to America. I always thought it was a bad idea, and this just proves it."
Anger sparks in your chest. "It's not like I killed anyone!" You retort sharply.
"Your grandfather damn near had a heart attack when he found out! Think about what kind of image this portrays for the family."
"What? That I've fallen in love? Heaven forbid."
There is the sound of clapping over the stunned silence from your uncles and father that can only be Diane.
"Roger Federer, when did you become so rude? You were not raised this way, see what America has done to the boy?"
"It's not America! It's the outdated attitude of this family." You cry out, exasperated. Mirka squeezes your hand, wordlessly asking you to calm down. Shouting won't get anything solved, no matter how much better it makes you feel.
"If it's not America, it's this Nadal. He's changed you Roger. And this is what Nadals' do."
"It's not Rafa either. Uncle, when I first met him, I didn't realise who he was, he was just a nice Spanish boy who made me laugh and who had a really nice ass."
"Roger!" That shocked gasp is unmistakeably from your mother.
"Diane if you don't keep quiet, I'm going to have to ask you to leave." Your father's quiet but firm voice is heard and you latch onto it.
"Dad, I'm really sorry if I've disappointed you in some way, I know this must be hard to take but it wasn't my intention to cause such a commotion. I just fell in love. I'm sorry it wasn't with someone who you deem appropriate but I can't help that and I won't apologise for Rafa. If you just met him, you'd understand."
"You are not introducing a Nadal to this family Roger. For that matter, you are not to see him again. Ever. And you are leaving America on the next available plane. You'll be lucky if you ever play tennis again, let alone compete in tournaments!" Simon answers before your father can speak and you hear mutterings of agreements from the other members of the family.
Your heart sinks but you've got a contingency plan.
"I can't leave America. To leave in the middle of a tournament would be unthinkable, what would that do for the family reputation?"
Mirka gives you the thumbs up and it spurs you on, rejecting any arguments that your family throws at you. Surely, if a Federer were to withdraw while a Nadal did not, it would look like weakness and a victory to the Nadals? It's hitting them where it hurts, but if it's the only way that you're going to be able to prolong your time in America with Rafa, then you are prepared to do whatever it takes. You've no idea if Rafa will be pulled out and sent back to Spain but you get the impression that Toni will put up one hell of a fight if the family tries to call him home, and so you cling to that lifeline.
Eventually, after what seems like hours of arguing and debating on the other end of the phone, it is agreed that you will be allowed to remain in America, on the provision that you move hotels and promise never to see Rafa again. You agree to the first point, Mirka's already booked a suite in the Four Seasons for the both of you but you refuse to say that you won't see Rafa again. That only leads to another argument about what to do with you now, which is eventually stopped when your father proposes that he and your mother will fly out to keep an eye on you.
There's nothing you can do to stop them; it's that or have Uncle Simon and the rest of them coming over to drag you back to Switzerland. You hang up the phone to the sound of more muttered arguments about the present situation and the loud voice of Diane telling them exactly what she thinks of them all.
Mirka wraps an arm around your shoulders and hugs you. "I know it doesn't seem like it right now, but that there, that was a victory for you and Rafa."
You nod glumly. "I always knew it would be difficult, you know, but I think I might have underestimated the animosity between our families, especially on my side."
"Different generations, different points of view. I know you were brought up with an intense dislike for Nadal as well, but as time passes the feud doesn't seem as personal, it's hard to keep up that level of hatred; especially as no one seems to remember why your families fell out. Maybe we've reached the point where the elders try to cling onto the past and the younger members of the family look to move forward?"
"All I know is that I just really want to be with Rafa."
Mirka rests her head on your shoulder and you sigh. Your phone vibrates on the bed beside you and you grab for it. You're hoping it's Rafa but it's Diane.
"How you aren't expelled from the family, I'll never know. I expect it's your genius at tennis. Still, maybe you should leave, defect to the Nadals and play for them? Then you and Rafa could be together?"
"I don't know if the Nadal family has taken the news any better than our family Diane."
"I don't think they could have taken it worse."
"Thanks for sticking up for me."
"What else is a sister supposed to do? Finally, you've done something that I can get on board with." She teases you and, despite yourself, you laugh.
"You talk about me being chucked out the family, how are you still in?"
"You got me there, little brother. Maybe because I've made a name for myself as a successful business woman and they need someone to take over the family accounts?"
"Can you come out to New York with Mum and Dad?"
"Sorry Roger, I can't. If I could, you know I would. But I'm tied up here with important meetings that if I miss, will probably mean I'm disowned."
"It's okay, honestly. I know if you could you'd be here already, demanding to meet Rafa and inquiring if he had any single, straight brothers."
Mirka snorts into your shoulder. "Tell her I've already asked and the answer is no." She stands, patting you on the head absent-mindedly as she moves away to read the room service menu.
You relay Mirka's message to Diane and she bursts into delighted laughter.
"I knew I always liked Mirka for a reason. But Roger, seriously, use this time with Mum and Dad to try and get them on your side. If it was me, I'd be trying to soften them up to the idea of Rafa."
"Do you think so?"
"They'll be more amenable to the idea of Rafa when they're away from the family. They just want us to be happy, they've always said that and if Rafa makes you happy, I reckon Mum might come over to your side. Dad's going to be trickier, what with Simon and company breathing down his neck most likely, but get Mum on your side and it'll be easier to win Dad over."
"You are like a godsend, Diane."
"Just keep positive Roger. And I'm always just a phone call away, remember that as well."
You’d hoped to get in touch with Rafa first but Mirka beats you to it. Rafa’s phone has been engaged for the past hour, no matter how many times you’ve hit redial. You’d left a message the first time, asking Rafa if he was able to meet up but there’d been nothing back. Eventually Mirka got in touch with Toni and he’d managed to get a hold of Rafa, so he could speak to you on the phone.
“Sorry Roger, is crazy right now.”
“I know. How is everything? What’s the verdict from your family?”
He sighs, a little tiredly, and there’s the sound of movement before a door closes.
“They are no happy. Uncle Miguel say he very disappointed.”
“They aren’t making you go home though right? You get to stay in America?”
If Rafa has to go home and your family gets word of it, there’s no doubt that you will be pulled home as well and the chances of you and Rafa ever meeting again are slim to none.
“No.” You can hear a hint of amusement in his tone. “Toni tell them I not going home. He get quite angry and hang up three times so I get to stay.”
You laugh and congratulate yourself that you were right that Toni would fight tooth and nail to keep Rafa in the tournament.
“And you?” He asks, almost hesitantly now.
“I have to move hotels, but I’m staying.”
You can almost hear the smile breaking out on his face. “We can stay.”
“Can you come over now? I want to see you.”
“I ask and see.” There’s the sound of muffled talking in the background and a pause before he comes back on the phone.
“Yes, I be there in five minutes okay?”
“Thank you. See you soon.”
Having Rafa in your arms is the best medicine you could have asked for at this time. He’s warm and comforting and solid. You sink down together on the couch and you press your mouth to his forehead, burying your nose in his hair and breathing deeply.
“So, you tell me about it?” He asks softly and you burrow deeper against him before you answer.
“My sister’s proud of me, that’s a good thing. My mum and dad didn’t get to speak much, my uncle was really angry, he wasn’t going to let me stay but I managed to convince him by saying that you wouldn’t be sent home and how would that look for the Federer family?”
Rafa laughs and strokes a hand through your hair. “But you get to stay. It’s good.”
“My mum and dad are flying out. It was my Uncle’s concession to me staying. That, and moving hotel. He said I wasn’t allowed to see you but I couldn’t agree to that.”
That makes Rafa beam with pride and he kisses you, pulling you closer to him.
“Me too. My uncle tell Toni he very angry and that I not to see you but Toni say if it help my tennis, I can still see you.”
“I have to move to the new hotel tomorrow. My family want me there tonight, but I reckon I can get away with staying for another night. It’s getting late now here anyway, I’ll just move in after my match tomorrow.”
“You think this will affect the tennis?”
“No. If anything, I feel more relaxed. My family knows, I don’t care if they don’t like it, we don’t have to hide anymore.”
“Difficult still, to be together. You will be in different hotel.”
“We’ll make it work. We made it work before.”
Rafa smiles at you and kisses you again and you both end up entwined on the sofa when Mirka enters the room. She sighs, a long-suffering sigh that is ruined by her wide smile.
“Hi Rafa. Your uncle’s been trying to reach you, I think you’re to head back to your room now. You’ve got an early morning practice tomorrow.”
He pulls his phone out of his pocket, still wedged beneath you on the sofa, and presses a button.
“I put my phone on silent, too many people call and I forget.” He wriggles out from underneath you and jumps up. “I see you tomorrow Roger.”
You grab a handful of his t-shirt and pull him down to your mouth, kissing him fiercely one last time.
“I love you.” You murmur against his mouth, and feel his smile stretch out against you.
Going into the tennis centre the next day is almost as bad as going to your first ever tournament where everyone knew you were a Federer. You’re used to stares, it’s all part of being a tennis player and from an internationally renowned family, but this is crazy. There is literally silence as you walk along the corridors to the locker room but you can hear the whispers start up as soon as they think you are out of hearing range. Mirka is walking beside you, keeping up a steady stream of nonsense in Swiss-German, guiding you with a reassuring hand on the arm every so often. She’s polite but firm to any brave soul who dares to ask a question, turning them away with the standard “no comment.” You change quickly in the locker room, grabbing your bag and heading out to the practice courts as soon as possible. It’s almost worse out there. The courts have been pretty packed all week, with people coming and going and trying to get a picture or an autograph of their favourite player, but the crowd standing around the courts is almost 15 people deep, more in some points, and security literally have to fight a path through to the gate for you. At this rate, spectators are going to have to be banned from the practice courts. Others using the adjacent courts to yours are already starting to look annoyed at the shrieks and screams and questions being thrown your way as you run through your stretches with Severin.
Mirka had called Severin last night, to warn him but nothing seems to bother him in the slightest. He had raised his eyes slightly at the amount of people watching your practice before shrugging and getting on with it. Severin is a pretty practical guy, nothing ever seemed to faze him.
You’re a little worried about practice and your match later; after all this is big news and everyone’s going to be watching you to see how it affects your game. For the first five minutes you are completely aware of everyone’s eyes following your every move and it makes your tennis horrible. You can’t seem to find a first serve and your forehand is spraying everywhere but inside the lines. Eventually Severin stops, stares at you for a moment and then quietly calls over for you to relax. You spend the next minute or so silently telling every muscle in your body to uncoil and unclench and it begins to work. You grab a ball, bounce it twice, take a deep breath, clear your mind and let your racket do all the work. And everything clicks back into place. Your body remembers how it’s supposed to move when you’re serving and your hand adjusts it’s grip on your racket, sending the ball speeding down the line instead of out into the crowd. Severin nods once and when you glance over to Mirka, she also looks relieved.
It’s only a short practice, after all you’ve got a match to play. The women’s match before yours runs long. All three sets go to tie breaks and it’s a nerve-wracking time for everyone. It means you can’t settle, never knowing which way the match will swing. It could have been over in 2 sets 3 times before it’s finally pushed to a decider. You’d started warming up, gathering your stuff together before you’d been forced to sit back down and relax once more. Your parents arrive that evening. Mirka’s going to pick them up when they get here as you’re not sure when you’ll finish your match and the press duties that you will have to attend to afterwards, win or lose.
It’s a big match today, as they all are but as the tournament progresses every match becomes more and more important. It’s the quarter-finals today. If you win, you’ll be going into the semi-finals and it seems like a dream. There are only two more matches before you potentially face Rafa and that thought makes you pause as you make your way down the corridor to the court. Facing Rafa. You hadn’t even thought about that as a possibility. At the beginning of the tournament, playing the finals always seems to far away, there are so many opponents to get through first, opponents who have nothing to lose against you. But now, well into the second week, the chance of playing Rafa is becoming more and more realistic. He’s only gotten stronger the more he’s played and any thoughts of him being just a clay-court specialist have disappeared. You manage a few brief words to the interviewer before you’re walking on court and suddenly it seems to all be happening too fast, too soon. You can’t take anything in.
You’d barely started warming up before the umpire was calling time and you hadn’t even realised that you were supposed to be serving before you were a break down in the first set. As you sit on your chair during the changeover, you can’t get your mind into gear. You want to concentrate on the match, you want to find your tennis, like you’d done earlier during practice but you’re too consumed with the possibility of playing Rafa; of watching him stand on the other side of the net, like your opponent right now. You’ve watched him serve a lot during the tournament when you can watch his matches and you imagine him throwing up the ball, bringing his racket down and sending the ball firing towards you with lethal spin. You can only watch as the tennis ball flies past your racket to give your opponent set point. What’s going on? Why can’t you concentrate? Why do you feel like you’re half a second behind everything. This isn’t normal, you’re supposed to be the one frustrating your opponent by being half a second ahead. Almost desperately you’re sending the balls back into play, just, but it’s not long before your luck runs out and you’re a set down.
The second set doesn’t get any better. Thoughts of Rafa plague you, thoughts of him perhaps watching the match back in the hotel, wondering what’s going on with you, wondering if everything is alright. He’s probably got that ridiculous frown on his face, where one eyebrow is almost lost in his hair and his mouth is turned up at strange angles at one side. No matter how hard you try to shake him from your mind, he’s there and it’s not helping you concentrate in any way.
You’re two sets to love down, at the quarter finals of your first hard-court Slam and this is new territory. You glance over to Mirka and she’s watching you, with a look that seems impassive but is actually full of concern if you know the signs. Severin is watching too, taking it all in, seemingly waiting for your tennis to click into gear but at the moment you’re not too sure it’s going to happen. Thinking about the imminent arrival of your parents doesn’t help matters in the slightest.
It’s not until half way through the 3rd set, 4-4, 30-15 in your favour, that it changes. Your opponent coolly flicks a backhand volley past you and gives such a smug grin that the confusion turns into anger, cold, silent rage and you suddenly know what to do. How dare he think that he can play this well against you? How dare he look smug playing against Roger Federer? You’ve played 4 times before and you’ve beaten him every single time; it’s time to make it five in a row.
In the end, the last two and a half sets are smooth and clinical and it’s how it should have been at the start. As you shake hands at the net, it’s your opponent’s turn to look utterly confused. He was in a strong position, he knew what he had to do to finish the match and put out Roger Federer but somehow, he lost. You don’t feel satisfied with the victory, there’s work to be done and everyone should know it, but it’s a win, you’re into the semi-finals and that’s all that matters. When you glance to the stands, Mirka’s gone. You’ve lost track of how long the match took, you just wanted to get through it, wanted it to end. Severin’s still there, standing, arms crossed, just watching and as you raise a querying eyebrow he inclines his head once and that’s it. Your parents are here in New York. Now you get to really face the music.
The press takes longer than usual, but you aren’t surprised by that. There had been questions about Rafa, questions you know that Mirka had told everyone you would refuse to answer, but she’s not there to burn them with a look and so they try their luck. You’re polite, smiling blandly, shaking your head as you ask for another question, and they try their luck with another angle, asking if you were particularly distracted today. You shake your head again; praise the other player for playing a hell of a tactical match and comment on how your game had taken some time to click, both in the match and in practice earlier that morning. It was a bad day, they happen but you were lucky enough to squeeze through. Eventually they let you go, and you’re shouldering your bag, cap pulled down low over your brow as you head towards the exit and the waiting car. Severin is at your side, a calming presence, much like Mirka. Your phone is buzzing in your bag, telling you over and over again that you have messages waiting to be read but it’s not until you’re safely in the car that you pull it out and look. There are some from Mirka, keeping you up-to-date with her progress, going to the airport, at the airport, waiting for your parents, taking them back to the hotel and you flick through them quickly, registering that they are in their room and would like to see you as soon as possible. You type off a quick reply, telling her that you’re in the car and on the way to the hotel. There are some more from your family and friends, the odd teasing one about losing, a tersely worded message of congratulations from Simon and others and then there’s the one you were expecting. Rafa.
‘toni say if i play like that tomorrow, he take me back to spain himself haha. well done, he play well but you play better. Rafa x’
You laugh softly, hunching over your phone to type a reply, as if that somehow brings you closer to Rafa.
‘i agree with toni. play better than me, i know you can. How was your day? Rx’
‘i try my best no? my parents phone, i practice, i watch your match, good day. seeing you make it better x’
‘my parents got in, i don’t think i can come see you. i’ll call you though? Later? Rx’
‘good. i go to eat now. speak later, love you x’
‘love you too raf. Rx’
You send the last message as the car slides to a halt outside the Four Seasons and Mirka’s waiting for you, a smile on her face.
“Well done for getting through.”
You make a face. “Next time I’ll try playing better.”
She laughs, grabs one of your bags and starts leading the way through the hotel towards the lifts.
“Severin, you’re on the 11th floor, room 1129. We’re on the 12th, 1224.” She hands over the appropriate keys and Severin gets out on the 11th floor, after confirming your practice times tomorrow, and saying goodbye.
“Do you want to go straight to your parents’ room? They’re right along the hall from us.”
“I’d rather show again, properly, change my clothes.”
“Your mother said you’d probably do that.”
You laugh. “Did they watch the match?”
“They saw the last few games, I think your mum was quite relieved to have missed the first two sets, her face went a little white when she saw the five set score.”
She unlocks the room and you walk in, not taking much account of it. You’ve stayed in hundreds of hotel rooms, they get to look pretty similar. You drop your tennis gear in the living room, behind the couch, and turn to Mirka.
“Which room is yours?”
“The one on the left. I gave you the one with the bigger shower.” She smirks.
You knock cautiously on the door, shifting from foot to foot as you listen to soft footsteps coming from inside. The door swings open and it’s your mum, standing there with a smile on her face.
You step forwards and she pulls you into a hug, gripping you tightly and pulling you into the room.
“It’s so good to see you.”
You smile and step back, kissing her cheek and following her into the living room. She makes you sit down, bringing you a drink and sitting beside you, placing her hand on your knee.
“A long day?”
You laugh, relaxing back into the comforting atmosphere of your mother’s company. “Just a little. It was tough.”
“You got through, we’re all very proud of you.”
You stop any kind of snarky reply, she’s your mother, she doesn’t deserve any of your anger in the slightest.
“It’s a shame Diane couldn’t have come out, she’d have loved hanging out with the guys in the locker room.”
Your mum laughs. “Would they be ready for her?”
“Good point, maybe not.”
“She sends her love, she was terribly upset that she couldn’t come out.”
“Next time, maybe. Where’s dad?”
“Oh, he went out to get a newspaper, and to have a little look around the neighbourhood. You know how he likes to get his bearings.”
Like clockwork, there’s the sound of someone outside, trying to use the keycard to get in the door. Your mum rolls her eyes and goes up to help him. Your dad has never been very good with these keycards, he’s always complaining that keys are a lot simpler, and harder to lose. It’s a running joke within the family.
You busy yourself with looking round the room while your mother quietly tells your father that you’re here. You’re not sure what kind of reaction you’re going to get from him. He’s a Federer, born and bred; Simon, head of the family, is his brother. He loves you more than anything in the world, you know that, but you’ve never done something as outlandish as this business with Rafa. Standing by the window, you wait patiently as your father bustles in, pulling a paper out a plastic bag and throwing it down onto the living room table.
“Roger!” He beams at the sight of you, crossing the room and hugging you tightly. “How are you son?”
“Hi dad.” You smile, hugging him back. He’s moving back around the room, fixing himself a drink and getting one for your mother and then he’s asking you all about the tennis match today, wondering, in a fatherly way, what went wrong, and is there anything he can do to help. Your mother adds that she hopes it wasn’t their imminent arrival that was putting you off your game. You laugh and assure her it wasn’t, even though you all know you’re lying just a little inside. Everyone is ignoring the elephant in the room that is Rafa. Your mum fills you in on all the family gossip as she does every time you’ve been away for any long period of time. You nod and laugh and smile and respond in all the right places, and your dad announces that he’s hungry so you all decide to go down to dinner at the restaurant, picking Mirka up on the way. Your family love Mirka and she’s very fond of them so it’s easy to sort of slip into the background of the conversation. Just as the plates are being cleared away and your mum and Mirka are discussing whether to have dessert or not, your phone vibrates in your pocket. You slide it out and open the message.
‘hey, just say dinner is finish so free to phone. you busy? Rafa x’
You grin, unaware that your dad is watching you carefully, and type a reply.
‘still at dinner w/ parents. You going to sleep early? Rx’
‘i can wait for phone call from you :) x’
‘half an hour. i’ll make an excuse. Love Rx’
“Roger,” your mother looks up and rolls her eyes. “Didn’t I teach you any manners? A phone at the table?”
“Sorry mum. Just replying to a text. At least it wasn’t a call.”
“Who was texting you?” Your father asks quietly and there’s a definite change in the air.
You pause for the merest second before answering. “Rafa.”
Silence descends for a moment before your father nods. “I don’t think here is the best place to discuss this. Why don’t we have a drink upstairs?”
Your mother and Mirka are already moving, gathering their bags and scraping back their chairs. You and your dad do the same; as he shrugs into his jacket you catch the waiter’s eye and the meal is put on your room. Mirka keeps the conversation going as you all ride up in the elevator together. Your room’s nearer so you go there. Once in the living room, your father fetches a beer for himself, and a glass of wine for your mother and Mirka. A bottle of water is all you’re allowing yourself with an early morning practice the next day.
“If you want, I can leave…” Mirka starts to offer.
“Please, Mirka, we’d like it if you stayed.”
Mirka smiles and sits down beside you on the sofa. You twist the top of the bottle obsessively while watching your father, waiting for him to speak first.
“Roger, this is a difficult situation for all of us. I think Simon’s reaction to the whole situation gave you an idea how difficult this is.”
“Dad,” you move forward to the edge of your seat. “I know. But I promise you, I wasn’t doing it to provoke a reaction.”
Your mother leans forward, a half concerned, half intrigued expression on her face. “How did you meet him? I think that’s what worries Simon the most, that and the fact you were staying in the same hotel.”
“It wasn’t deliberate and it wasn’t in the hotel or at the tennis grounds. Andy had invited me out, to get away from everything for a while and to go hang with him and some of his friends at one of their local bars. I was getting a drink, Rafa was standing at the bar, struggling to get the attention of the bartender. I helped him out, he said thanks and we got chatting.”
“Did you not put two and two together when you heard his name?”
You laugh. “No, of course not! Why would I have done?”
Your parents exchange a look.
“I’d never seen a picture of a Nadal, no one has ever shown me one. So how was I supposed to realise it was him? There must be a million Spaniards called Rafa, was I supposed to question every single one that I met?”
“That might be a suggestion for next time.” Your father says but he’s smiling and you take it as a joke.
“There’s not going to be a next time.” You tell them firmly, and they raise their eyebrows.
“What do you mean Roger?” Your mother asks you.
“I don’t want to find anyone else. I love Rafa, I really do.”
At first they don’t believe you, after all you’ve only known him for a few weeks. But you ask your father, who has recounted the tale of how he met your mother every year on their anniversary since you were five, you ask him when he knew that she was the one for him, and he ducks his head, smiling ruefully.
“My words come back to haunt me.”
“When did you know, dad?” You press.
“Our third date, she held my hand and I knew, I knew I would spend the rest of my life with her.”
“With Rafa, I know dad. When I touch him, I can see my life spread before me and he’s in it, always.”
Your mother takes a sip of her wine, watching your father over the top of her wine glass as he leans back in his chair, contemplating what you’ve just said.
“Your uncle won’t allow it.”
You smile and relax back onto the sofa just a little.
“I want your approval more than his. I need your approval more than his.”
Your mother places a hand on your father’s arm, and speaks before he can.
“We just want you to be happy. Before anything in life, we want you to be happy.”
“He makes me happy. He does, along with tennis and my family and friends, he makes me happy.”
“Then that’s all I care about.” She looks sternly at your father and he relents for the moment.
“For just now, that’s all we care about.” He reiterates and you nod.
It’s not total acceptance, it’s not even really any kind of acceptance of Rafa, but it’s an allowance of him. It will probably only last until the tournament is over, until you can be allowed to focus on other things beside tennis, but you’ll take it.
Mirka breaks the silence once again. “Well, it’s been a busy day. I’m sorry, I must be away to bed, I’m so very tired.”
Your parents follow her lead, standing up, kissing you both and leaving, proclaiming that jet lag is beginning to take effect. Once alone, Mirka hugs you, whispering congratulations in your ear before pressing a kiss to your cheek and leaving you alone in the living room. You collapse back onto the couch and pull out your phone, noting that it’s been just over half an hour. Time to call Rafa.
“Hi, it’s me.”
“Roger.” His voice is like a soothing balm and you relax further into the sofa cushions.
“Busy day no?”
“It’s been a rollercoaster.”
“You tell me.”
So you do. You tell him about the match, about the press, about dinner and the hotel. You tell him about your parents, and about the allowance and he laughs.
“My parents, they not say nothing, except good luck. I think Toni, he tell them no to mention nothing.”
“Maybe that’s a good thing, forget about all this until after the tournament at least?”
You can almost hear him shrug. “Maybe.” He yawns loudly and it’s your turn to smile.
“Time for sleep, you have to play tomorrow.”
“Si, I am tired now.”
The nickname he’d come up with after he saw your first match, a term of endearment between the pair of you now and it makes your stomach flip every time you hear it. That night you dream of him, smiling and laughing he weaves through your dreams and you sleep easier than you have done in a long while.Part 4