One (3)

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The tennis ball whizzed past Izzy's shoulder, and hit the court's fence while her racket met only air. She let out a heavy sigh, and paused to catch her breath.

"My," she said, "who have you been practising with?"

Vita's lips curled into a devilish smile. She took another ball from the basket by the net.

"I've been playing with Mr. Lawrence," she replied. "He's the only one within ten miles who can play a decent game. Mrs. Philip disapproves, of course."

Izzy walked to the side of the court, where Vita's mother sat in a canvas chair under a parasol, next to the refreshments. Vita had sent away the footman, and the three women were alone.

While Izzy took a sip of her lemonade, taking her time out in the shade, Vita let the ball bounce on her racket a couple of times.

Izzy complimented Lady Shaftesbury on the 'delicious drink', and Vita refrained from rolling her eyes. Her mother had nothing to do with whatever food or drink was served in the household, and Izzy pretending otherwise was just hypocritical.

To keep her mind off her irritation, she caught the tennis ball in her hand and swapped it for an identical one. Izzy offered to refill Lady Shaftesbury's own untouched glass, but she declined. Vita averted her eyes to fight the sadness sweeping through her.

Her mother had arrived from India back in the early 1900s and dazzled the High Society scene as one of the richest and most beautiful heiresses in London. Her wedding to Lord Shaftesbury had been the most exciting and scandalous event of early 20th century Britain. Vita had inherited her dark hair and sharp features. But that was all she had left in common with the woman by the tennis court. Grief and time had aged Lady Shaftesbury, making her the shadow of her former self. Her long hair hung in a thin plait down her back, and her black mourning dress emphasised the paleness of her skin. She didn't drink her lemonade; instead, she sat staring at her glass and absent-mindedly stroking the fabric of her dress to smooth out invisible creases. After Izzy's prompting, her mind had already wandered off again.

Giving up on her conversation with Lady Shaftesbury, Izzy turned back to Vita.

"I like your outfit," she said.

Shaken out of her reverie, Vita had to look down at herself to remember what she was wearing: a white calf-length frock with short sleeves and a length of silk chiffon as a headband.

"It's what Suzanne Lenglen wore at Wimbledon two years ago," she said dismissively. "Let's be honest, it's almost passé already. Besides, no one ever sees me wearing it anyway."

She tapped her foot, impatient to resume the match, but she caught a flash of red creeping up Izzy's cheeks. She paused, realising Izzy wore a plain white V-necked sweater and a pleated skirt, obviously bought at a department store.

"Your outfit is lovely too," she said, by means of making up for her careless remark.

But the damage was done. Izzy's sour face was a clear sign she now wanted to throw her own clothes out with the rubbish. Vita pressed her lips together, wishing her friend didn't take everything she said to heart, and pulled them into an encouraging smile.

"Shall we play?"

Izzy walked back onto the grass court.

"Let's finish this," she said, her expression open again, "before I get heat stroke."

Vita let out a little laugh, and tossed the ball into the air before hitting it. This time Izzy was able to strike it back, and the game resumed. They ran and sent the ball back above the net a few times, before Vita's gaze drifted again towards the dark silhouette of her mother. Her head was turned eastwards.

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