The summer games settlin.., p.25
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       The Summer Games: Settling the Score, p.25

           R.S. Grey
 

  “I know my body better than anyone. I know how far I can push myself, so please don’t make this decision for me. Just tell her that the MRI confirmed no broken bones, and that you’ve noticed improvement. That’s all I’m asking.”

  I stood and walked out of his office before he could make a decision. I needed him to think on it, to consider what he was doing to my career if he didn’t clear me for the game. I hadn’t asked him to lie; I wanted him to relay the facts. I could fill in the rest myself.

  “How’d it go?”

  I turned to see Lisa posted against the wall outside the doctor’s office.

  “Not great,” I said, shaking my head.

  “Did he say whether or not he was going to clear you?”

  “I left before he could.”

  She smirked. “Right. Well, let’s get to work.”

  I followed her over to our training table and hopped up to sit on the edge.

  “We won’t train for too long this morning,” she said, reaching out to grab hold of my wrist. “I’m going to wrap your wrist in ice at the end and see if we can’t get some of that inflammation to go down.”

  I stared down at my wrist as she worked it in her hands. I took a deep breath, surprised to find tears clouding the corner of my eyes. My chest tightened and I could hardly swallow. Everything was getting to be too much. Deep down, I had convinced myself that the media scandal, the situation with Freddie, the faith of my teammates—they would all resolve themselves if only I could get back on the field. But with one phone call to my coach, the doctor could end that hope.

  “Andie?” Lisa ducked to stare up at my downcast eyes. “Andie. What’s wrong?”

  I shook my head and tried to escape her questioning. “It’s nothing.”

  But it was too late; the floodgates had opened and there was no stopping the tears from slipping down my cheeks. I was tired, so fucking tired of fighting a losing battle. My body ached, my heart ached, my wrist ached, and no one seemed to believe I had any fight left in me. Maybe they were right.

  “Andie.” Lisa ran a hand up and down my back, trying to soothe me. “It’s okay. It’s been a tough time.”

  Her words only made me cry harder. She reached out to wrap me in her arms. I leaned forward and dropped my head on her shoulders, giving in to the feeling of defeat. It was all too much for one person to handle. Freddie’s announcement the night before had broken whatever resolve I had left. Caroline was pregnant with his baby and there was nothing I could do. I had no problem stepping between Freddie and a woman he didn’t love, but I wouldn’t step between him and his unborn child. Caroline was the vilest woman I’d ever met, but Freddie couldn’t abandon his child. Even if he wanted to be with me, I wasn’t sure I wanted to oppose Caroline for the rest of my life.

  I had nothing left but soccer and I was not giving up. The final was in two days. I was going to take the field with my team whether the doctor cleared me or not. I inhaled a deep breath, sat up, and forcefully wiped away my tears.

  “Let’s get on with it already,” I said, holding out my wrist for Lisa to take. “I’m playing in that final.”

  CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

  Freddie

  I TOOK THE last seat on my team’s bus and put my headphones in before anyone could ask about my foul mood. It’s been two days since I’d seen or spoken to Andie at the SI party and she’d been ignoring my calls and texts. I would have gladly cut my right arm off just to receive something from her—a text, a smoke signal, a carrier pigeon. Georgie insisted that I needed to give her space and focus on my races, and she was right; I knew the farther away I stayed from Andie, the safer she’d be.

  It wasn’t easy though; I could still remember the feel of her pressed against me, the sound she made when I kissed the inside of her thighs. She’d walked away from me at the party and life had gone on. I’d competed in two races the day before and I was on my way to more. I knew I needed to focus on swimming, but I wasn’t interested in life continuing on without Andie. The gold medals weren’t going to be enough.

  A hand hit my shoulder, drawing me out of my thoughts. I paused my music and glanced up to see Thom looming over me.

  “Ready mate?” he asked with an amused smile.

  We were at the stadium and the bus had completely emptied out without me noticing. I was the only one still on it, sitting up front like a fool. Thom nudged my shoulder and I stood up to follow after him. I hadn’t prepared myself for the barrage of cameras waiting for me outside. I held my hand up to block the flashes, but it was no use. By the time I stepped into the locker room, bright circles danced in my vision.

  “Archibald, your race is first. Clear your thick head, or else you’re liable to sink,” Coach Cox said playfully, pounding his fist against my shoulder as he passed. I bit back a slew of curse words.

  “No one asked for your advice,” I spat, rolling out my shoulder.

  He spun around to face me. “Excuse me?”

  Thom stepped between us, trying to cut the tension. “He’ll be ready to race.”

  “That’s your first warning, Archibald. Another outburst like that and you’ll be on a plane back to London.”

  “Right, better send off your fastest anchor before the relay. Fuck off,” I hissed beneath my breath as he walked away.

  Thom spun around and leveled his gaze on me. “What the hell is your problem?”

  “He’s a prick.”

  “Right well, he’s also your coach, but not for long if you keep on at him like that.”

  I shoved past Thom and walked to the back of the locker room. Anyone with half a brain could sense the anger rolling off of me. I was a live wire and I needed to channel my rage, not subdue it for the event. I found a spare locker and shoved my bag inside. I turned the volume up on my music until the world around me was completely drowned out.

  I slammed my locker door closed and turned to find a quiet place to warm up. I let my music’s rhythm harmonize with my anger as I stretched. In that quiet corner, facing the cement wall, I finally found my focus. I thought of the laps, of the calm that washed over me in the pool. In that lane, there were no mind games or ultimatums. Just water.

  This was the easy part.

  CAMERA FLASHES WENT off around me as I held up my gold medal. It was the fourth one I’d earned since the start of the games and it hung just as heavy around my neck as the first. I’d broken my world record in the 100m butterfly by finishing a full two-tenths of a second faster than I had four years prior. Every other swimmer had lagged after me; I was untouchable in the water and it felt good to stand on the podium with the stadium erupting in cheers around me.

  The media always asked if the winning got old, if my twentieth medal felt as good as the first one had. I glanced down and stared at the ribbon hanging around my neck and smiled.

  No, winning never got old.

  “Freddie!”

  “Archibald!”

  “Please Freddie!”

  I stepped down from the podium as the reporters shouted at me, trying to get my attention. There was a guy right up front, a little younger and less polished than the rest. He was trying hard to capture my attention and when I met his eyes, I could see the desperation there.

  “Freddie, please. Do you have time for a quick interview?”

  The media knew I detested interviews. What answers I gave were short and clipped, but something about this young reporter made me want to cut him some slack.

  I waved off our team manager—who was trying to lead me back to the locker room through the chaos—and stepped closer to the reporter.

  “You have three questions,” I said with a nod. “What’s your name?”

  His blue eyes widened in shock and for a second, he stood immobile. The reporters around him shoved forward, trying to steal my interview away from the kid, but I ignored their pestering.

  “Mauricio.”

  “Good to meet you. Let’s get on with it.”

  He shook his head clear of shock and
held the small tape recorder out to me. His hand shook violently as he asked his first question.

  “Were you n-nervous about the race today?”

  The reporters erupted behind him, annoyed with his question.

  “C’mon Freddie,” a reporter spoke behind him. I recognized him from races in the past. He was a tall, older man with white hair and thick-framed glasses. He was always ready with a standard question and never took no for an answer. This time, I ignored him completely and answered Mauricio.

  “No, I wasn’t nervous. Once I hit the water, my body knew what to do.”

  He nodded and glanced down at a small notebook clutched in his hand.

  “Did the Olympic level of competition contribute to your record-breaking effort today?” he asked, glancing back up at me. “Or was it something else?”

  I inhaled a deep breath. Good question.

  “The competitors are great, but today I was able to clear my mind of distractions that tend to slow one down.”

  “Can you elaborate on what’s been distracting you?” he asked, hopeful.

  “Is it Andie Foster?” the older reporter asked, shoving his tape recorder over Mauricio’s shoulder.

  I shook my head and took a step back. “I’m here to win gold, not hearts.”

  Those were her words. She’d tossed them at me and now I was using them, trying to get to her through the TV. I wanted to shout from the rooftops about how much I missed her, but until Caroline stopped dropping bomb after atomic bomb, I needed it to look as if Andie meant nothing to me.

  Mauricio frowned. “So does that mean the rumors about you and Andie Foster aren’t true?”

  I tried to keep my face calm, resolute. “Your three questions are up, but my focus is on swimming, not American football players.”

  The reporters jumped forward, clamoring over one another to get their questions in.

  “Freddie!” a reporter yelled. “C’mon, just five more minutes!”

  I felt a tug on my arm and glanced back to see my team manager trying to lead me out of the madness, and this time, I let her.

  CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

  Andie

  I SPREAD PEANUT butter on a slice of bread, taking my time to smooth it evenly across the surface. I liked peanut butter. Peanut butter never got another woman pregnant. Peanut butter never made me cry. Nobody cared if you were photographed in a club with a jar of Jif. (I mean, it’d be weird, but no one would call you a whore because of it.) I dipped the knife back into the jar and glanced up to find three pairs of eyes watching me with concern.

  “What?” I asked, biting out the word in a hard tone.

  Becca glanced down at her magazine and Liam turned back to the TV, but Kinsley held her gaze without so much as a blink.

  “How’s that sandwich coming?” she asked, tilting her head.

  I glanced down to survey the kitchen counter. There were over a dozen pieces of bread sitting in front of me, each one piled with more peanut butter than the last. I’d been lost in thought, but I’d be damned if I told Kinsley that. I turned and yanked the jelly out of the refrigerator.

  “Excuse me for making an afternoon snack for everyone,” I said, coating jelly on fresh pieces of bread and then plopping each finished sandwich onto a plate. When I was done, I dropped the plate of sandwiches on the coffee table and reached for the one on top.

  No one else seemed quite as eager to eat them.

  “What?” I asked. “They’re good.”

  Becca and Kinsley exchanged a wary glance, but I ignored them and took a bite of my sandwich. It was good, but there was so much peanut butter inside, I could hardly swallow the bite.

  “Let me get you some water,” Liam said, pushing off the couch and heading into the kitchen.

  “Are you okay?” Kinsley asked, leaning forward so Liam couldn’t hear her.

  I shrugged. “I’m fine.”

  “You’re not having a nervous breakdown?”

  “Why would you think that?” I asked.

  She leveled her gaze on my chest and I glanced down. Sure, I was wearing my game jersey, complete with knee high socks and shin guards, but didn’t everyone do that now and again?

  “I just like the way it feels,” I said, taking another bite of my mostly-peanut butter sandwich.

  Liam walked back into the living room and held out a glass of water for me to take. “Here you go, champ.”

  I offered him a smile. “Thank you.”

  “Oh look! The race is about to start,” Becca said, grabbing the remote and unmuting the TV. I focused on my sandwich as the announcers droned on about Freddie. I already knew he was planning on breaking his previous records. I didn’t need to listen to them going on about how he could possibly end up as the most decorated Olympian in history.

  “I was scared we’d missed it during our workout,” Kinsley added giddily. “Andie, can you see okay?”

  I glanced up to see them all staring at me again. Why did they keep doing that?

  I smiled and shot them a thumbs up. Sure, the chair I’d picked was facing away from the TV, but I’d already seen enough already. The cameras had zoomed in on Freddie during his warm-up. He already had his jacket off, so every inch of his tan chest was being broadcast in HD. His swim cap covered his hair and his goggles concealed his eyes, but his sharp cheekbones and strong jaw were enough to make my stomach hurt. I twisted back around and stared at my sandwich. Somehow I doubted I’d be able to manage another bite.

  “It’s starting, Andie!” Kinsley exclaimed.

  I nodded and tried on a plastic smile. It felt tight and uncomfortable, but at least no one seemed to notice. I hadn’t filled them in on my break from Freddie or the pregnancy. Part of me was happy to keep it closer to my heart, and part of me was sick of thinking about it at all. For the last two days, I’d analyzed his announcement. Had he seemed happy? Lost? Excited? Anxious?

  “Aren’t you going to watch?!” Becca asked.

  “Take your marks,” the announcer said through the TV.

  I glanced over my shoulder and watched Freddie bend down and grip his podium. His shoulders and back flexed with the effort. His strong muscles rippled and I bit down on the inside of my cheek. The camera zoomed out, the buzzer went off, and Freddie dove into the water.

  My heart raced as he swam, though it looked so effortless to him. He was nothing but beautiful lines and hard muscles slicing through the water with unbelievable speed. The other swimmers stayed close, but Freddie seemed to be on another level. He cleared the first lap, hit the wall, and spun around, all before I’d taken a single breath.

  Every part of Freddie was meant to be in the water. His speed and grace were mesmerizing, and before I’d fully wrapped my head around his skill, he’d touched the start wall and finished the race. Gold. Freddie surfaced from the water, pulled the goggles from his eyes, and glanced up the scoreboard. My heart pounded against my chest and I pressed my hand to feel the rhythm of it.

  He was beautiful, glistening with water and beaming from ear to ear. A drop of water slid down his cheekbone and I found myself smiling along with him, grinning despite my broken heart.

  “Andie?”

  I spun around at the sound of my name. Kinsley, Becca, and Liam were staring up at me again, but this time it was because I was blocking the TV. Sometime during his race, I’d moved from my chair to stand within an inch of the screen.

  “Oh, sorry,” I said, stepping back and taking the seat beside Kinsley on the couch.

  She wrapped her arm around my shoulder and shook me back and forth. “I can’t believe he’s won four gold medals already! He’s amazing.”

  “And he lo…likes you!” Becca said with a look of amazement. “Don’t you feel special?”

  My smile fell, but everyone had turned back to the TV to watch the celebration. “Something like that,” I nodded. “Anyway, that’s probably enough for now,” I said, reaching for the remote.

  “Wait!” Becca said, blocking my path and grabbing it befor
e I could. “He’s about to do interviews.”

  Oh lord. “I doubt it. He’s pretty private.”

  But I was wrong. I’d barely stepped into my room when I heard him speak through the TV. The last time I’d heard his accent, he’d torn my heart in two, but as he greeted the reporter, he sounded like his normal self, confident and sexy. I stood just inside my door, listening to him out of sight of the others.

  “Do you care to elaborate on what’s been distracting you?” the young reporter asked in response to Freddie’s answer as to why he’d been able to swim faster than usual.

  Another reporter spoke over him. “Is it Andie Foster?”

  My gut clenched at the mention of my name. I stared up at my ceiling and waited with bated breath for his answer.

  “I’m here to win gold, not hearts,” Freddie answered with a clipped tone.

  My breath caught short in my chest. It was the right thing to say, but that didn’t make it any easier to hear.

  “So does that mean the rumors about you and Andie Foster aren’t true?”

  “…my focus is on swimming, not American football players.”

  I stepped away from the door before I could hear another word. My heart was already ripped apart; there was no need to rub salt in the wound. I reached for my phone and locked myself in my bathroom before Kinsley and Becca could pester me with questions about the interview. They were smart girls; they could connect the dots without having to see the hurt in my eyes.

  I turned on the faucet of the bathtub and turned to my phone to silence it. Just before I could set it down by the tub, a text from Georgia caught my eye.

  Georgie: He’s only saying that so Caroline leaves you alone. REMEMBER THAT.

  I typed out Does it even matter? but deleted it without hitting send. I already knew the answer.

  CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

  Andie

 
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