She held the ping pong ball in one hand, bringing the paddle close to it before pulling it further away again. She repeated this motion a couple of times, grinning in the way that made me think about her late at night.
“I’ve been watching the ball this whole time,” I said, smiling in a way that I hoped came across as sexy.
“He was totally looking at you,” Shakira said from the sofa that sat to the right of the ping pong table.
If there was ever a person, I felt comfortable with hating it was Shakira. When we were all in elementary school, she was the first bully to push me on the ground in front of everyone. That single event set me apart as a nerd. Allowing yourself to get bullied by a girl in the patriarchal society that we live in was social suicide. To further hurt my case, I was a foot taller than her, even back then. Why Shakira and Sunyi were best friends was beyond me, and if we were anywhere but Shakira’s basement I would have said something back.
“I know, I know,” Sunyi said, still grinning but glancing at her friend. “That’s alright though. Stare all you want,” she started, focusing back on me. “Ping pong is a sport all Asian’s are good at.”
She started swaying her hips and bouncing the ball on the table as if we were in the world championship of ping pong and she was warming up. I gulped but tried to focus and think of a witty comeback.
“Why did you have to make it about race?” I said, hoping my voice conveyed the light tone I was trying to convey. “Let’s just play the game and keep race out of it. It’ll just be me, schooling you in the ways of the pingity pongity.”
Sunyi chuckled, and I smiled, feeling a warm rush in the knowledge that I’d made her laugh, albeit barely.
“Lame.” Shakira chimed from the sidelines. “Why did I even let him come into my basement?”
Thankfully, Sunyi seemed as able as me to ignore her friend. If she were nicer, I would have found her attractive, though I never really wanted to be with someone like her. Sunyi was a bit more my speed, at least I hoped, and it helped that she seemed as nerdy as me.
“Alright. Enough talk,” Sunyi said. “Time to show you that some stereotypes are true.”
Without another word, she tossed the ping pong up. It stopped a centimeter or so short of the ceiling, and I watched its descent to my detriment. Next thing I knew, Sunyi had swiped her paddle down, and I heard the ball bouncing off the wall and floor behind me.
“One Nil,” she said, tossing up her paddle and catching it without looking at it. “Ball me.”
“I bet that’s the only time you’ve ever heard that from a woman,” Shakira said, searching the suede sofa cushions for a few seconds before pulling out a remote control and powering on the television.
Back at the table, I tossed the ball, and it bounced into the net.
Embarrassment washed over me as I had to walk around the side of the table to snag the ball and toss it over to her.
“You sure you want to keep our current wager? You don’t seem up to the challenge,” Sunyi said, rolling the ball around in her hand a few times before using her paddle to bounce it against the table.
I was shy, and the bet was to go streaking, which I only agreed to in the hopes that she would like me a little more if I went along with her plan. Her question made me a little nervous as the possibility of having to streak put a knot in my gut.
“Just serve. I wasn’t ready last time.”
She lifted both eyebrows with a smile on her face, opening her mouth as if she was going to make a joke, but instead she just giggled. She tossed the ball up again, but this time I bent my knees, preparing myself.
The ping of the paddle against the ball echoed in the basement. I flinched, only moving my paddle up an inch as the second ping of the ball bouncing off the table reached my ears. In nothing short of a miracle, my paddle blocked, and the ball bounced back over the net. Instead of skipping a beat she swatted it right back. The ball was moving slower now, and I was able to track it and pop it to her. She hit the ball at an angle, faster than I expected, but I moved to block. At the last second, the ball spun and bounced up, hitting my shirt and falling to the ground.
Folding her arms, she looked at me with that same smile, and I started mentally preparing myself for the embarrassment of streaking all alone.
“It’s pretty much a guarantee that you’re going to lose. I thought about making you streak down the street, but I don’t want you to get arrested or anything. How about just running across the street to my house?” she said, catching the ball as I tossed it back to her. “My mom’s out of town so you can hide around the back of the house and I’ll bring you your clothes?”
“I’m not out of this game yet!” I said, believing my words as much as I believed Pinocchio with a six-foot nose.
She postured up to throw the ball, but the sound of someone upstairs made her pause. Shakira turned off the television and put her finger to her lips, standing up and walking around the table.
“You guys gotta scram. I’m grounded. If my dad finds out, I have company he’ll bury me.”
Sunyi looked at me and smiled. We both jogged to the sliding glass door that led out the basement into the backyard. We stood in the freshly mowed grass for a few seconds, and my palms started to sweat.
“I don’t have a ping pong table, but you’re welcome to come and play cards with me.”
I smiled and grabbed her hand, allowing her to pull me a little as we headed to her house.