The summer games settlin.., p.27
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       The Summer Games: Settling the Score, p.27

           R.S. Grey
 

  “Gather round! Gather round!” she said, swirling her hand so that everyone pushed closer to the bar. She was on her way to being plastered, but it didn’t matter. We were world champions.

  “You all saw it! The game was neck and neck,” Kinsley said, jumping into her tenth dramatic retelling of the game. No one stopped her though. It was like gathering around a campfire the way she dropped her voice and built up the suspense. “The score was zero-zero. Japan turned up the heat, pounding and pounding away—”

  “Stop making it sexual!” Becca yelled beside me. “Get to the good part!”

  The crowd laughed as Kinsley continued, “Okay so after my goal—off of Becca’s team-leading fifth assist of the Olympic games—we were up one-nil! But that only made them angrier after the half.”

  Becca wrapped her arm around my shoulder and pulled me into the crook of her neck. She stank—god, we all did. We hadn’t stopped celebrating since the end of the game, but no one seemed to care.

  “They came storming back, first with the header, which Andie tipped off the crossbar, and then with the penalty kick, which Andie blocked as well. But Japan wasn’t going down without a fight. After Kawasumi tackled the shit out of me,” Kinsley said, holding up her bloody and bruised knee to prove it. “And breezed right past Michelle—”

  “Hey!”

  “—nothing stood between her and our own little Andie in the net.”

  “I KNEW ANDIE HAD HER!” Michelle shouted, tossing her beer into the air so that most of it spilled out onto the crowd around her.

  I laughed and shook my head, trying my best to hide against Becca’s shoulder.

  “But did Andie panic? Did she charge out at her like we were all shouting at her to do? No! She stood poised, daring her to take the shot!”

  Becca jostled me around. “And it worked! She got a little too confident, drove a little too deep, then what happened Kins?”

  “Andie pounced and blocked that ball like it was the easiest thing she’d ever done!”

  I could feel my cheeks burning red with all the attention. I wasn’t nearly drunk enough to have an entire bar full of people focused on me.

  “Kawasumi was no match for our Andie!”

  “TO ANDIE!” Nina shouted, and the bar echoed back. “ANDIE!”

  Kinsley was embellishing the story a little bit. I hadn’t blocked the shot that easily. I’d blindly dove, praying it’d be enough to stop it. And it had. But we hadn’t won the game because of me. Our offense was the reason we had two scores on the board by the time the whistles blew.

  “Andie! Andie! Andie!”

  Oh Jesus. No matter how much I tried to quell the chanting, the crowd just grew louder. I assumed it couldn’t possibly get any worse, until I heard a loud Scottish brogue bellow my name behind me. I turned in time to find the same pack of Viking rugby players I’d met my very first night in Rio. They looked just as tall and thick and bearded as when I’d last seen them. Gareth—the redheaded giant who’d accidentally dropped me—was leading the way and he didn’t waste any time.

  Becca shouted at them to haul me up to the bar beside Kinsley and they followed her directions.

  “Holy—” I shouted as Gareth tossed me up onto his shoulder like a rag doll. I felt like his pet parrot.

  “It’s okay!” I shouted in his ear. “I can walk!”

  “Nonsense, las! I shan’t drop you this time!”

  I’d assumed he would take me straight to the bar so I could hop up there beside Kinsley, but instead he paraded me around the room as people continued to chant. It was all very embarrassing, and I needed a drink. We passed by Becca again and I reached down for her beer. I chugged down a quarter of it, desperately needing liquid courage to make it through the night.

  “Here you are, Andie!” Gareth said as we approached the bar—except he actually bellowed my name like “AHHHHHNNNNDDDDDEEEEEEEHHH.” I swore he’d missed his calling as a seafaring pirate.

  Kinsley helped pull me up beside her and I leaned in to whisper in her ear. “I’m actually going to kill you for this, so enjoy your fun while you can.”

  She laughed and grabbed hold of my arm. “Oh come on! You’re the best goalie in the world! You’re a national treasure! You’re Andie freaking—”

  “Foster.”

  My heart stopped.

  My breath caught.

  My smile fell as I slowly turned to find Freddie standing in front of the bar, positioned right beneath me with his hand over his heart and a smile that tipped my world upside down. He had a little American flag tucked in the front pocket of his white shirt and when I didn’t make any move to welcome him, he pulled it out and waved it back and forth like a little peace offering.

  Seeing him there, with his earnest gaze, his bashful smile, his one isolated dimple, was enough to make the last few days all but disappear. I’d tried my best to forget about him, including ignoring his calls and his text messages. But there he stood, waving his little American flag and breaking his way back into my heart.

  I pressed my lips together to keep from smiling.

  He shook his head and glanced around him, recognizing that everyone within a ten-foot radius had stopped to stare at us. He glanced back to me and dropped the American flag on the bar.

  Maybe I should have asked what he was doing there—what about Caroline, what about the baby—but I didn’t. I stared down at him, nervous for his next move.

  “I know I owe you an explanation,” he said just before he reached up to grip my waist. He pulled me off the bar and I reached out to grab his shoulders so I wouldn’t fall. Our bodies were flush by the time I had my toes back on the ground.

  “Not here,” I said, conscious of all the people around us.

  “Then let me steal you.”

  He wound his hand around mine before I could reply.

  “Where are you taking her?!” Kinsley shouted as he pulled me through the crowd.

  He waved over his shoulder. “I’ll have her back in a few minutes!”

  My heart dropped. I didn’t want him to “have me back” in a few minutes. I’d had enough celebrating with my team and I’d see Kinsley and Becca bright and early the next day anyway. I wanted to spend the rest of my night with Freddie. I wanted his hand clutched tight around my mine for as long as possible, but I didn’t know what he planned to do about people that might see us together.

  He pushed through the front door of the bar and led me toward the curb. There was a cherry-red Vespa sitting there.

  “Is that for us?” I asked with a laugh.

  He nodded and reached for one of the helmets locked onto the side. I stood, waiting patiently as he slipped it onto my head. He leaned forward and tightened the strap beneath my chin. He was so close to me, his lips were inches away, and it’d been three days since he’d last kissed me. I could hardly remember what his lips felt like; he needed to remind me.

  “I lied,” he said, taking a step back and sliding the dark visor down to cover my face.

  I frowned. “About what?”

  “I won’t have you back in a minute.” His dark eyes gleamed. “Now that nobody knows it’s us, I’m going to keep you for the rest of the night.”

  CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT

  Andie

  I GOT MY first taste of the real Rio on the back of that cherry-red Vespa. We wove down ocean boulevards and I closed my eyes, letting the wind whip against me. I could taste the salt in the air as Freddie pulled over and parked on Avenida Atlântica. The sun was heading south and dusk was in full effect. The sunset painted the ocean waves in orange hues and for a minute, I stood mesmerized.

  There were thousands of people out on the beach and walking along the avenue. It was a bustling street with six lanes of traffic and honking cars and confident pedestrians weaving in and out. Vendors lined the shore, selling everything from fried corn to flip-flops. On the other side of the street, there were hotels and condos—all tan and stucco with large windows.

  In the Olympic village, it
’d been easy to miss how far from home I’d been for the last few weeks, but on Avenida Atlântica, there was no mistaking it. The thick humidity, the salty air, and the mountains standing tall in the background—it was all unfamiliar and new and exhilarating.

  Freddie took my hand and led me along the walkway. We skipped over the shops with the woven friendship bracelets and colorful ceramic trinkets until we stumbled upon a shop a little bigger than the rest. It was set up along the beach, surrounded on four sides by a thin white tarp that whipped in the wind as we stepped inside. There were sarongs lining an entire side of the tent. Small, cheap ones for children sat up front, but I reached out for one at the very top. It was soft and purple, with tiny tassels lining the edges.

  “That’s a good one,” Freddie said, coming up behind me.

  I smiled. “For you.”

  “What?” I ignored the adorable shock on his face and pointed back to the sarong.

  “You can’t be serious,” he continued.

  I nodded.

  “I’ll look like an arse.”

  I angled around him to find the shopkeeper. He was a short man propped behind the counter, scrolling through his iPhone until I held the purple sarong right up in front of him.

  “How much for this?” I asked, hoping he spoke enough English to understand my question.

  “Thirty-eight,” he said with a thick accent.

  My eyes almost bulged out of my head. “DOLLARS?!”

  “Reais.”

  “That’s not much,” Freddie said, coming up behind me with something blue clutched in his right hand. He tossed it up on the counter, on top of the sarong, and then threw two pair of cheap black aviators onto the pile. “We’ll take the lot.”

  “What’s this thing?” I asked, picking up the corner of what looked to be a blue bungee cord. Or was it a small bracelet…“DEAR GOD.”

  “Fio dental.” The shopkeeper laughed, pointing at what I could only assume was a bikini that was supposed to go under another, more modest bikini.

  After Freddie paid, he picked up our bag of embarrassing items from the counter and led me out of the store.

  “I think the literal translation is dental floss.” Freddie laughed.

  I shot him a side-eyed glare. “You’re insane if you think I’m putting that thing on.”

  He didn’t reply. Instead, he reached into the bag, pulled the tag off the aviators, and slipped them on, handing the other pair to me in case anyone recognized us. It wasn’t fair how easily he made cheap sunglasses look good.

  “Seems we both have things we’d rather not wear,” he said, taking my hand. “I think that’s called a stalemate.”

  “Fine, let’s switch. You’ll wear the bikini and I’ll wear the sarong.”

  He tossed his head back and laughed. It was an infectious sound that had me smiling as he pulled us out of the store. With our sunglasses in place, we walked until we found a small beachside restaurant that had an intoxicating smell wafting out the front door. We ate leisurely, appreciating the fact that nobody thus far had recognized either of us.

  “Probably time to slip on that sarong,” I winked, picking up my coconut water.

  He ignored my teasing. “Should we swim for a bit after this?”

  I shrugged. “It’d be a shame not to go into the ocean at least once while we’re here.”

  He hummed in agreement.

  “I’m not sure you could handle it though…”

  I laughed. “Handle what?”

  “Seeing me in that bikini.”

  ANYWHERE ELSE IN the world, wearing the bikini Freddie had picked out would have been 100% off the table, but in Rio, most of the women clearly subscribed to the “less is more” mentality. Like way, way less. Just walking along the avenida that evening, I’d seen enough butt cheeks to last me a lifetime. Freddie, to his credit, didn’t make a fuss about it, but he didn’t need to. “LOOK AT THAT BUTT!” I’d whisper excitedly every time one came into view, and these weren’t your mom’s butt cheeks. If I didn’t know better, I’d have assumed Brazil was manufacturing Kim Kardashian clones.

  “You okay in there, Andie?” Freddie asked from the other side of the door.

  He was waiting outside the restaurant’s bathroom while I changed into the bikini.

  “Fine!” I shouted, trying to angle myself in the mirror so I could see all the parts of my skin the bikini wasn’t covering. The top was hopeless. The blue triangles covered me as much as they could, but my boobs were just…everywhere. Side boob, middle boob, top boob. All of the boobs. And if that didn’t seem bad enough, the real issue remained with the bottoms.

  “How’s it coming?”

  I shifted to get a better look in the mirror. “I have no clue. I put it on, but then it disappeared.”

  He laughed. “I’m sure it’s not so bad.”

  He was very, very wrong. I practiced most days in my soccer shorts and sports bra, so about six inches above my knee, my skin turned from tan to PALE. SO PALE. My butt cheeks practically glowed in the dark. Beneath the blue triangles of my bikini top, you could make out a perfect silhouette of where my sports bra usually rested.

  Whatever sex appeal the bikini offered was counterbalanced by the fact that I looked like I’d been dip-dyed in tan paint.

  I opened the door of the bathroom and peeked my head around to find Freddie leaning against the adjacent wall with his arms crossed. He’d taken off his shirt so I could see the full extent of his Olympic workouts. He was tall and built, with broad, tan shoulders. His chest was toned in a way that made me shiver and I made my eyes stay three inches above his six-pack. Once I looked, there really was no going back.

  He heard the door open and glanced over with a curious gaze. With my head the only thing visible, I gave him a warning.

  “What you’re about to see is objectively funny, but if you laugh, I will never speak to you again.”

  He smiled wryly. “You have to give me a bit of an explanation. I’m not that good at keeping a straight face.”

  I sighed and let the bathroom door swing open. His eyes widened as he swept down my body, and to my surprise, he didn’t laugh. Not once.

  “Were you nervous about the tan lines?” he asked as he led me down to the beach with my hand in his.

  “It’s pretty funny, you have to admit.”

  “It’s really not bad. You should see my bum.”

  I smiled and shook my head. “I have.”

  By the time we made it out onto the sand, the sun had nearly set, but the beach was still crowded. We passed hundreds of colorful umbrellas on our way to the water, but no one paid us much attention. With less clothes on, we blended in with the tan, scantily clad masses.

  Freddie decided to swim in his boxer briefs and I pretended to be intrigued by a seagull pecking away at some chips while he dropped his shorts. I told myself my heart was racing because the seagull was really going to town on the chips, but when Freddie reached out to lead me into the ocean, I had a dangerous thought. What happens to us after tonight? I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to secure it before I left.

  So while we slipped into the water and waves lapped up against us, I thought of questions that would give me the answers I was seeking.

  “Have you had many girlfriends, Freddie?”

  “A few over the years. No one too memorable.”

  A giant wave was headed for us and he dove in head first, slipping beneath the wave as I floated over it. When he came back up, he whipped his wet hair out of his face and flashed me a wide smile.

  “What about Americans? Have you ever dated one of them?”

  He laughed. “Andie, is this a quiz?”

  By then, he was practically supporting my full weight while he continued to tread water. Our legs were getting tangled beneath the surface and every now and then my hip would brush his. I couldn’t pay attention to the sensuality of the moment though; I needed him to answer my question.

  “I’m just wondering,” I said, glancin
g to the horizon over his shoulder. “We haven’t talked about it really.”

  He nodded. “You’re the first American girl I’ve ever fancied.”

  FANCIED.

  “And what exactly does it mean to fancy someone?”

  He tightened his hold around my waist so that our stomachs were flush. He was nothing but warm, hard lines against my body. “So Becca didn’t tell you then? I figured she would have.”

  I frowned. “Tell me what?”

  He smiled and glanced away. “I’ll tell you later.”

  “There is no later.”

  It wasn’t a teasing ploy to lure the words out of him, it was a real threat. I was leaving. Gone.

  He brushed a few wet strands of my hair away from my eyes. “What do you mean?”

  “Kinsley and Becca and I are headed back to the States in like six hours.”

  It hurt to say the words out loud.

  His hold tightened around my waist. “You what?”

  I shook my head. “My mom got me an appointment with this exclusive doctor in L.A. He’s supposed to be a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon who specializes in wrists. He’s already taken a look at my MRI—”

  “So you’re leaving in the middle of the night to see him? This doctor?” His brows were furrowed in confusion. “That makes no sense.”

  “He’s booked solid for the next six months, but he has one opening tomorrow afternoon and I’m taking it.”

  “You’re leaving Rio in six hours?” He glanced out at the darkening horizon and then back at me. Whatever happiness he’d had a moment earlier was gone now.

  “Yeah.” I nodded. “I have to go. I’ve put off treatment because I wanted to play in the final, but now that I’m finished, I have to make my wrist my priority. I don’t want to be known as the promising goalkeeper that had her career cut short by chronic injury.”

  I’d worked too hard to walk away from the sport now.

 
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