The summer games settlin.., p.21
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       The Summer Games: Settling the Score, p.21

           R.S. Grey
 

  “This isn’t so bad, right?”

  A chill ran down my spine. I should’ve realized earlier that her easy smile was something more manipulative.

  I shrugged. “What is it you wanted to talk about? I’ve really got to get back.”

  I wanted to text Andie and tell her it would be a little longer than I’d expected, but I wasn’t going to text her when I was sitting this close to Caroline. I’d already been able to tell she suspected something when I mentioned my manager in the car.

  “I just know you’re under a lot of stress right now, and I want to make sure you’ve thought everything through—breaking off the betrothal, I mean.”

  She played with the rim of her glass, slowly swirling her fingertip along the edge. It gave off a piercing ring, just barely noticeable. I reached forward and gripped her hand to force her to stop.

  She laughed. “Sorry, old habit.”

  I let go of her hand and sat back. “I’m going to be very honest with you, Caroline. I’m not ready to get married. Half of my stress is thanks to my mother insisting that we push forward with the betrothal without my consent. You don’t want to marry a man who’s not in love with you, do you?”

  Her smile fell like I’d just wounded her. “We could fall in love.”

  My gut clenched with the amount of sincerity in her voice. She really thought we could work out. How had I missed that before? That subtle desperation in her voice?

  “I’m not—I won’t ever—be in love with you,” I said. Clear and concise.

  She inhaled sharply, as if my blade had finally pierced her skin. All at once, she leaned back in her chair and dropped the innocent mask. It was like watching a snake shed its skin, the way her smile twisted into something sour and her kind eyes narrowed into thin slits.

  “Right, well just remember that I offered the easy way. Tell me, Frederick: do you love Andie, or do you love the fact that she’s been spreading her legs for you every five seconds?”

  I scraped my chair away from the table and stood. “Leave her out of this. She has nothing to do with my decision.”

  “No Frederick, I don’t think I will.” She was so calm then, running her finger along the rim of the glass once again. The high-pitched sound was back, forcing my hands into fists by my side. “The moment you picked her over me, you made that impossible.”

  “What do you want?” I growled.

  She picked her hand up off the glass and reached for the end of my tie, feeling the material between her fingers. “What I’ve always wanted.”

  Her gaze flashed up to lock with mine.

  “You.”

  CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

  Andie

  I STAYED UP late waiting for Freddie. I tried his phone a few times and even left a message with Georgie (she’d loaded her number in after our tour of the village), but she hadn’t heard from him either. I was close to calling the police or alerting the officials, but he finally texted me back just before midnight.

  Freddie: I promised you I would handle this situation, and I will. Get some sleep, we’ll talk tomorrow. XX

  I clutched my phone to my chest and read as deeply into his message as those two little Xs would allow. He still wanted me; Caroline hadn’t convinced him otherwise.

  I went to bed and dreamt of Caroline’s contorted smile staring back at me in the mirror. I woke up three times throughout the night, jarring myself out of nightmares that never seemed to end. By the time I was awake for good, it was thirty minutes before my alarm was due to sound. I turned it off and wiped the sleep from my eyes. I didn’t bother brushing my teeth or looking in the mirror. I went straight out into the living room to brew some coffee so it’d be ready by the time Kinsley and Becca finally forced themselves out bed. I was halfway to the kitchen counter when I saw a few newspaper pages lying just inside the doorway. They were scattered as though someone had stuffed them beneath the door one at a time. I walked toward it hesitantly and paused when I saw the headline that ran in bold font across the top of the page closest to me. It was just as she had threatened.

  Olympic-Sized Affair Leaves Archibald in Hot Water

  Fiancée-to-be Devastated to Learn he is “Fostering” International Relations

  My knees buckled and I collapsed there, pulling the newspaper onto my lap. Caroline had slipped a note on top, just below the headline.

  “Rise and Shine. Kisses, C.”

  I ripped the note off and crumpled it up. It’d been blocking part of the photo they’d printed along with the headline. It was the one Caroline had showed me the night before, of us inside Mascarada, blown up to a full page. I blinked and blinked again, confused about why the image was distorted. It wasn’t until my tears started to smear a few words of the story that I realized I was crying.

  I wiped my tears away and forced myself to read every detail they’d printed, though my stomach threatened to give halfway through. The newspaper hadn’t held back. Every gory, salacious detail was printed there for people to read, from our rumored meet-ups to my soccer history. They started by contrasting my history with Caroline’s, painting me as the Whore of Babylon and Caroline as Mother Theresa. They juxtaposed an image of me in my sports bra, sweaty and tired after practice with a photo of Caroline in a perfectly tailored pantsuit handing out bread at a freaking orphanage in Croatia. Honestly, by the end of the article, even I hated myself.

  I sat on the floor in the entryway and read the article twice before reaching for my phone and googling my name. The day before there’d been a few random interviews from small-scale magazines. My college soccer profile had still been on the front page along with a story my town’s newspaper had printed about me going to the Olympics. All of that was gone. Gossip site after gossip site, magazine after magazine, Facebook post after Facebook post…I was officially the most hated person on the internet.

  She’ll never be Caroline.

  Shouldn’t she be focused on the games?! How does she have time to become a mistress?

  She’s pure trash. She couldn’t keep her legs closed for a few weeks? What part of ENGAGED didn’t she understand?

  I refuse to watch the game today! I won’t be supporting her OR her career. #Loser

  She’s pretty, but she’s nothing compared to Caroline.

  #TeamCaroline

  Is anyone else boycotting the soccer game today?

  My daughter looks up to these girls.

  How does #AndieFoster still have any sponsorships?

  What a whore.

  I was still reading through #AndieFoster on Twitter when Kinsley and Becca pulled my phone out of my hand.

  “Stop! I was reading those.”

  Kinsley shook her head. “No. It’s not healthy, Andie. Those people don’t know you. They’re bored and stupid. Ignore them. They’ll be on to the next story in a few days.”

  I stared back down at the paper, wrinkly and smeared with tears. “She sent the story.”

  “I saw it.”

  Of course she’d seen it. Everyone had fucking seen it. Every person I’d gone to high school with, every girl on my college soccer team, my parents, grandparents, enemies, friends. Every single person was waking up across the world and reading the #1 headline on every major news outlet: me.

  Kinsley dropped to the floor and wrapped me up in her arms. “I’m so sorry, Andie.”

  My tears mixed into her hair as she held me there, keeping her arms wrapped tightly around me.

  “What happens now, Kinsley?”

  “I honestly don’t know, but there was a media shitshow after everyone found out I was seeing Liam while he was my coach, and here’s what I wish someone had told me then: you’re an adult, and you haven’t done anything wrong—even though they want you to think you have. There’s a little bit of blood in the water, and they think they’re sharks, but they’re actually vultures, Andie, and if you don’t give them anything, they’re powerless. Hold your head up high.”

  Easier said than done.

  As I got ready
for the game—well, got ready to sit on the bench and watch the game—I fielded phone calls from my mom, my dad, my manager, Coach Decker, and a dozen or so unknown numbers that kept hounding me. I ignored everyone I could and spoke briefly with everyone I couldn’t. My nerves were shot and my emotions were raw. I finally stopped crying long enough to dab concealer under my eyes and brush on a bit of mascara, but I knew it’d be gone well before the end of the day. Kinsley and Becca had everything waiting for me by the door when I was ready to leave. We walked in silence to the elevators and then stepped inside when the heavy doors slid open. There were already people inside and when I took a spot near the doors, all conversation came to a screeching halt.

  “Are you Andie Foster?” one guy asked.

  I kept my eyes on the doors and stayed silent.

  “Hey baby, where’s that mask?”

  “That’s enough,” Kinsley snapped, turning around and leveling him with a sharp stare. I could feel the tears starting again, but I took a shaky breath and willed them away. Stupid Elevator Guy was only the start of it. As we made our way through the lobby, I heard the whispers and chatter.

  “She doesn’t look like a slut,” one girl said to her friend before they both broke out into laughter.

  I ignored them and pushed through the glass doors, anxious to step into our team’s bus. Kinsley and Becca led the way and I took the first full breath of the morning once the door closed behind me. Coach Decker was sitting up front with Liam. She offered me a short nod.

  “Chin up, Foster. Let today be about soccer and nothing else.”

  I nodded, trying to absorb her words, but it didn’t help. As I walked down the aisle of our bus, I felt the stares from my teammates. Most of the people who should have been there for me the most were just as curious, wide-eyed, and annoyed with me as anyone else. They might’ve stood behind me before the injury, but now I was no more than a distraction to them. I moved to take a spot beside Michelle near the back, but she reached for her gym bag and tossed it on the seat just before I moved to sit.

  “Sorry, need the space,” she said, slipping her earbuds in and turning to face the window.

  I walked on and took the last seat at the back of the bus, and that’s where the tears continued to fall. In a matter of hours, life had spun me on my head, and though I tried to hang on for dear life, I knew there was no point. This was only the beginning.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

  Freddie

  THEY KEPT THE swimmers tucked away in the locker room until it was time to announce our teams one by one for the semifinal relay race. I was ready, warmed up, and focused, but my heart pounded a heavy rhythm as the announcer called our names and beckoned us into the stadium. I followed Thom out of the locker room, and even though my music blared in my ears, the fans screamed loud enough that I could feel the vibrations hum in my chest.

  An Olympic official led us toward the swim platforms and we slipped off our jackets and warm-up pants. Reluctantly, I pulled the headphones off my ears and was met with deafening cheers. One of the team managers came around to gather our clothes and as I handed him my jacket, he pointed up. I followed his finger and found myself blown up on the jumbotron in the center of the stadium—wide eyes hidden beneath goggles and a tense frown. In less than thirty seconds, I’d take my position on the podium for my first race and they wanted me to wave or smile, but I gave them nothing. Other swimmers could flash them chummy smiles; I needed to focus.

  Thom nudged my shoulder and gave me a nod. I adjusted my swim cap and goggles until they were secure. I stepped up to the podium and inhaled the sharp smell of chlorine. Swimming had been a part of my life for as long as I could remember, and the smell of the chemical brought the race into razor-sharp focus.

  The warning whistle blew and I stepped onto the podium to take my starting stance. I cracked my knuckles and inhaled another deep breath. I bent forward and swung my arms back and forth, loosening the muscles.

  “Take your mark,” the announcer shouted.

  I bent lower and gripped the edge of the podium. The water was all I could see through my goggles; the small waves beckoned me closer. I could hear the shouts from the stadium in the distance. I could hear the deep breaths from the swimmers positioned on either side of me, but there was nothing louder than the buzzer as it DINGED to the start the race. I pushed off the podium, propelled myself into the water, and let my body do what it did best.

  Swim.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

  Andie

  BY THE TIME our bus arrived at the stadium, I wasn’t sure how much more I could handle. I trailed after my team, fidgeting in the awkward pantsuit I had to wear. I’d specifically asked Coach Decker if I could dress out with the team, but she’d insisted on the suit, probably because she assumed it would keep me from running onto the field midgame.

  There was a cluster of reporters hovering outside the back entrance of the stadium. Kinsley and Becca huddled around me and helped me block my face from their camera flashes. I had my earbuds in and my music blaring so that even if they had shouted inappropriate questions, I couldn’t hear them. I followed my team into the locker room and set down my bag. There were pregame interviews I had to get through, but Kinsley assured me they would keep the focus on soccer.

  She was wrong.

  I stepped up behind the small podium and glanced out at the reporters standing and waiting to ask their questions. Before the first two games, there’d been three or four reporters there. I counted a dozen that day before Coach Decker stepped forward and announced that I would be answering questions for five minutes, “so please keep it brief.”

  “Andie!”

  “ANDIE!”

  “Foster!”

  I pointed to a short balding man in the back row.

  “Do you have any response to the allegations made against you this morning concerning the affair with Frederick Archibald?”

  I opened my mouth, stunned.

  “Andie! When did you and Frederick start the affair? Were you two together prior to arriving for the games?”

  My resolve was cracking with each question they slung my way. They didn’t care about soccer or my injury. They wanted to know every sordid detail of my “affair” with Freddie.

  Liam stepped forward and yanked the mic across the podium. “Unless anyone has a question pertaining to the game today or Andie’s injury, I’ll be ending this interview right now.”

  One long, thin hand reached up into the air. I followed the lanky arm down to a head of curly red hair and inhaled sharply as Sophie Boyle stood up with a commanding smile.

  “I’ve got a question, Andie. Now that your injury will preclude you from participating in the remainder of the games, why exactly are you still in Rio?” Her eyes narrowed. “Hmm…surely you’d find better doctors and treatment back home in Los Angeles?”

  Her question wasn’t about Freddie, but it might as well have been. The other reporters jumped on board.

  “Are you staying in Rio because of Freddie!?”

  They couldn’t help themselves. Even after Liam’s threat, the reporters clamored over one another to shout their questions about Freddie. Liam signaled for me to leave. I hadn’t uttered a single word and somehow, I felt like I’d just dug myself a foot deeper. Was staying quiet about an alleged affair just as bad as owning up to it? Was that what Freddie and I had been the last two weeks? An affair?

  The second I was out of view from the press, I lost it. I dug my hand into my hair to keep the shouts lodged deep down in my throat. I wanted to curse and punch and yell my way out of the situation. I wanted to call Caroline out for being a conniving bitch and I wanted to prove to the world that even if I did have an illicit relationship with Freddie, it didn’t define me. I was still a good soccer player, regardless of what I did off the field.

  My life had gone to shit and I couldn’t see a way to fix it. Freddie was supposed to be a fling. He brought out something in me that was exhilarating and sexy. But this? Deali
ng with a media frenzy and trying to defend my character to the entire world was never part of the plan.

  I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I ripped at the collar of my blazer, trying to fill my lungs with air. The corners of my vision grew fuzzy and I pinched my eyes closed, willing the panic attack to pass.

  “Andie, are you okay?”

  Liam was standing there, holding my shoulders against the wall and trying to get my attention.

  “Andie.”

  I shook my head. “I can’t…fuck, this thing is too tight.”

  I ripped off my blazer.

  “Focus on the game, Andie. Not the press. Not anything else.”

  I still couldn’t catch my breath. My chest burned with the struggle.

  “I just wanted to be a soccer player,” I said, hearing the words through a distorted tunnel. “I’ve chased this dream my entire life and now everything is ruined.”

  He shushed me. “Trust me, Andie. It’s not over. These situations always seem like they’ll last forever, but the media will move on when they realize the story isn’t half as interesting as they thought it was. Just get better, kick ass on the field, and make your success a bigger story. This will all be over before you know it.”

  He was lying because he wanted to make me feel better. He was scared that I couldn’t breathe and he was saying anything to calm me down; I knew better though. Even after I’d dried my tears—for the tenth time that day—and pushed myself off that wall, I knew my life as I’d known it before Freddie was over. I would never again be Andie Foster, Cinderella of the Olympics.

  I was now Andie with a scarlet A.

  WATCHING MY TEAM take the field without me was absolute torture. I reclined on the bench and crossed my arms as my teammates prepared to compete. Erin, a seasoned vet, was taking my spot in the goal, but this would be her first cap in years. I’d earned the starting position from her because of my speed and agility, and though she’d served as my mentor, there was still an air of saltiness.

 
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