The summer games settlin.., p.28
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       The Summer Games: Settling the Score, p.28

           R.S. Grey
 

  “Stay,” he pleaded, walking us back a few feet so he could touch the ocean floor. I stayed wrapped around him, letting him carry my weight beneath the waves.

  “I can’t.”

  His brown eyes implored me to stay, but I couldn’t. I should have seen the doctor a week ago. I could have already damaged my wrist past the point of full repair.

  “I have to make that appointment.”

  For a few minutes we stayed quiet. The briny sea lapped against us, pushing us up to shore and then dragging us back out toward the horizon. The waves were loud, filling the silence between us until I spoke up and suggested something I hoped he’d agree to.

  “You could come to L.A.”

  I cringed at the desperation in my tone. Freddie turned his head to look at me and I shrugged.

  “After the ceremonies wrap up, I mean.” I continued filling the silence, though my brain was yelling at me to shut up. “You could see where I live and spend some time in America.”

  His dark eyes told me no even before he did. “I would love that, but…I’ve got to get home and figure out this Caroline thing. If she’s really pregnant with my child…”

  Caroline.

  Caroline.

  Caroline…

  We’d gone so long without mentioning the glaring obstacle sitting between us, the dragon that had yet to be slayed.

  “Right,” I said, turning my head so he couldn’t see the hurt in my eyes.

  “Andie. I only slept with her once and I was drunk. It meant nothing.”

  “But now it might mean everything.”

  Silence.

  I stared out at the waves and worked up the courage to ask my next question. “Will you marry her? I mean will you marry her if she is pregnant?”

  “No. Never.” He seemed shocked by the notion, which made me feel a little better. “But I’ve got to get the paternity test sorted, see my lawyer, and have a chat with my mum. She hasn’t spoken to me since I decided to cut off the betrothal.”

  I nodded. “Right. So you’re going back to London.”

  “And you’re headed back to L.A.”

  The words sounded final, even if we didn’t want them to be.

  “Why does this feel like the end?” I asked, leaning forward to drop my head on his shoulder.

  “It’s not,” he promised.

  A wave crashed against us and Freddie tightened his grip on me. I felt so small there, fighting against the waves and the end of us and the tears that were falling for no reason.

  “Do you think this thing between us is real? Or is it just part of the magic of Rio?”

  “I know it’s real.”

  I tipped my head up and nuzzled my nose against his neck, inhaling the scent of salt water on his skin. He smelled so divine. I stayed there, with my lips against his throat.

  “Don’t forget about me once you go back to London.”

  He bent and dropped a kiss to my shoulder. “How could I?”

  “Even if you escape from Caroline, there’ll be lots of fanciable girls pining after you once you go back home with six more gold medals around your neck.”

  His hand cupped my neck, dragging it up and down and warming my skin. I hadn’t realized I’d started to shake against him.

  “I only have four so far,” he said, mocking himself.

  “Girls or medals?” I joked.

  He smiled. “Will you call me after your appointment and let me know how it goes?”

  “You’ll probably be racing.”

  “How about later…”

  I shook my head and skimmed my lips up to his mouth. “I don’t want to talk about later. Let’s just stay here in this ocean forever.”

  He laughed. “We’d turn into prunes.”

  I slipped my hand along the hard ridges of his stomach. “You don’t feel pruney to me.”

  His sharp inhale told me how much he loved my touch. His head turned and he captured my mouth in a kiss so powerful, I lost track of my breaking heart. With his lips on mine, it felt like there was only us, the two of us standing in an ocean with our bodies wrapped up and our hearts on our sleeves. I loved him in a hopeless sort of way, the type of love you feel for what could have been. I wasn’t giving up on him, or us. I was giving up on the promise of more. In six hours, we’d be worlds apart.

  “I don’t even know your middle name.”

  “William.”

  “Or your favorite food.”

  “Spaghetti.”

  “Or your favorite song.”

  “Anything by Jake Bugg.”

  I was crying, but he was kissing away the tears and answering my questions as if it would actually help. His hand pressed against my heart, trying to calm me down, but it didn’t work. I told him I didn’t want to think about the future. I wanted to stay in that ocean forever, but I knew life wouldn’t pause for us—the setting sun was a constant reminder of that.

  When the night had turned black and the only light we could see was from the moon and the cafes along the avenue, Freddie carried me out of the ocean and into a hotel across the street. We took the last room they had, a shabby beachside suite for tourists on a budget. The carpet was old and stained. The drapes were stiff and smelly. The bed was small and hard, but Freddie stripped off the old comforter. We tossed the pillows to the ground and he pushed me down onto the sheets. The mattress dipped with his weight as he crawled over me. We hadn’t bothered with a lamp; he was hardly visible in the darkness, but half his face was illuminated from the light slipping through the closed curtains. I reached up to touch him, feeling for the features obscured in the shadows.

  “I know it’s not much,” he whispered as his mouth traveled down my bare stomach.

  I shook my head and clenched the sheet as his hands untied my bikini bottom. He pulled it off and cast it onto the floor with the rest of our mess.

  “Freddie…”

  I needed him to look up at me. I needed to tell him how I felt before it was too late.

  “Freddie, I—”

  “I know.” He glanced up to me, but I couldn’t make out his eyes in the darkness. His hands pressed against my thighs, pushing them apart.

  MY PHONE BUZZED on the bedside table, jolting me awake. I blinked in the darkness and reached over to silence it before it woke Freddie up as well. Kinsley’s name flashed across the screen and though I was tempted to ignore her call, I knew she’d probably been trying to get ahold of me all night.

  I pushed up off the bed and walked into the bathroom. Once the door was shut, I answered with a hushed tone.

  “Kinsley, hey—”

  “Where are you, Andie?” She sounded frantic. “We need to leave.”

  I pulled the phone from my face to look at the time: 2:00 AM. How was it already 2:00 AM?

  “I can’t leave yet, Kinsley.”

  She sighed. “Andie, where are you? Becca and I already packed up all your stuff. We’ll come pick you up and then head straight for the airport.”

  She wasn’t listening to me.

  “I can’t go. I have to stay here.”

  “Andie, you can’t stay in Rio. This thing with Freddie, if it’s real, you two will find each other again. Right now, you need to focus on yourself. You have that doctor’s appointment tomorrow and then we have to meet up with the rest of our team in a few days for interviews. On Friday we’re flying to the White House for a special dinner with the president.”

  My heart was splitting in two, but she kept on talking. “Life goes on. You have to be at these interviews. The world needs to be reminded that you’re a soccer star with your own hopes and dreams, not just another one of Freddie’s groupies.”

  I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the bathroom wall. I didn’t want her to be right. I wanted to stay in Rio.

  “Now, where are you?”

  I rattled off the name of the hotel and she promised they’d pick me up in five minutes. I had just enough time to slip out of the bathroom and pull on my dirty clothes. I hadn’t s
howered since the game, but the ocean had washed away the sweat. My skin was sticky and warm and when I sniffed my arm, it smelled like Freddie. I’d sit on a ten-hour flight back to the United States with his scent wrapped around me.

  Kinsley called when they were outside the hotel and I scrambled to gather up my things inside the dark hotel room. Freddie was still asleep, laying on his stomach with his body splayed out over the bed. I made sure his phone had two alarms set so he wouldn’t oversleep, and then I leaned down to kiss his cheek.

  A part of me wanted him to wake up and pull him down onto me. I wanted him to hold me down so I couldn’t leave. The plane could take off without me and I’d stay in Rio forever with Freddie.

  He didn’t wake though, even after I whispered his name in the dark.

  Kinsley called me again and my phone buzzed in my hand. Freddie stirred and rolled over. I froze, but he didn’t wake up. I walked to the door and resisted the urge to look back at him. I had a thousand images to remember him by; one more would only only make it harder to walk away.

  To their credit, Kinsley and Becca didn’t berate me when I finally made it into the van. They directed the driver to the airport and I stared out the window, mesmerized by the rolling waves. If I closed my eyes, I could still feel them lapping against me. Kinsley pressed her hand to my shoulder and squeezed. I shook my head and brushed her off. It was too early for condolences. I wasn’t ready to accept that I was actually in a van, on the way to the airport, leaving Rio without Freddie.

  We arrived outside the empty airport and the driver popped the trunk to grab our bags.

  “Thanks for packing my stuff K—”

  “Andie!”

  The sound of my name shouted from a few yards away nearly sent me into cardiac arrest. It didn’t matter that the British accent was light and feminine, or that I knew Freddie was still in dreamland. I heard my name called outside of an airport and I assumed it was Freddie running after me until I turned and saw Georgie nearly falling out of a cab to get to me in time. Her brown hair whipped in the wind and her flip-flops clapped against the concrete.

  “Wait!” she yelled, though I wasn’t going anywhere.

  “We don’t have a ton of time, Andie,” Kinsley reminded me. I nodded and turned back to Georgie just as she’d made it to me.

  “Give me a second.” She leaned over and clutched her knees, calming her breath. “I know you wouldn’t know it, given my enviable physique,” she said. “But I’m quite out of shape.”

  I laughed and shook my head. “What are you doing here?”

  “I heard you were leaving early, and I needed to tell you this in person. I know Caroline’s faking the pregnancy. I KNOW IT. I just have to prove it.”

  Her determination made my heart break even more.

  “It’s okay, Georgie,” I said, pulling her up to stand so I could wrap her in a hug. “Caroline has won the battle. I’m going home.”

  “The battle, yes, but not the war. You can’t give up.”

  I smiled, a wistful, flat smile. “Maybe you’re my true love, Georgie.” I laughed. “You chased me down at the airport in the middle of the night. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.”

  “Stop, that’s not funny.” Her light green eyes implored me to take her seriously. “You’re the one he’s meant to be with, not her.”

  I inhaled a shaky breath and took a step back. “I’ll call you when I land. Look after him for me, will ya?”

  “Don’t give up yet, Andie.”

  I shook my head as Kinsley nudged my shoulder. The plane wouldn’t wait for me.

  “I’ve got to go, Georgie,” I said, taking a step back.

  “He’s a complete knobhead if he lets you slip away, Andie.”

  I laughed and shook my head, letting Kinsley pull me toward the airport doors.

  “Do you hear me, Andie?!” Georgie shouted after me. “A COMPLETE KNOBHEAD.”

  CHAPTER FORTY-NINE

  Freddie

  BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

  I threw my hand over to silence my alarm, feeling for my mobile on the bedside table where I usually left it to charge. Nothing was there. I sighed and sat up, realizing as I blinked my eyes open that I wasn’t in the Olympic village. Andie and I had fallen asleep in the hotel, on old scratchy blankets that had seemed like clouds at the time. I tried to recall the last moments of the night, when I had Andie tucked into the crook of my arm, pressed so tightly against me that she’d complained about not being able to breathe. I’d eased up and let her fall to her side of the bed, and she’d smiled over at me in the dark.

  “Think we can manage one more time before I have to leave?”

  I’d nodded and draped my arm around her stomach. She spooned against me and we must have fallen asleep soon after that.

  Now, I sat up and rubbed my eyes, calling out her name into the dark room. The blackout curtains were doing a fairly good job of keeping the sun out, but once I whipped them open, there was no denying that Andie was gone. The hotel room was quiet and stale—and as the dust settled, I realized she hadn’t woken me up before she’d left. She’d told me her flight was in the middle of the night and instead of waking me up, she’d snuck out while I was asleep.

  We’d pushed off the goodbye so long that I never got one. I didn’t get the chance to beg her to wait for me. I never told her I loved her, not in a way that would fade once I left Rio, but the real kind, the sort of love you fight to keep. I wanted to promise her that as soon as I had my life in order, I’d fly across to America and drag her out to see me if I had to.

  I didn’t get to say those things because Andie had left and I was alone in that room.

  A quick glance at my mobile confirmed that she hadn’t tried to ring, and though I was tempted, I didn’t phone her. I collected my stuff from around the room and slipped into the clothes I’d been wearing the day before. My boxer briefs were still damp from the ocean, but I forced them on anyway. I checked around the room twice, confirming I’d snatched up everything, and then I was about to head for the door when I turned for the bed instead. I bent and picked up the pillow she’d slept on—it still had the indent from her head—and I held it up to my face and inhaled. It was like a punch to the gut. It still smelled like the coconut shampoo I’d grown accustomed to over the last few weeks and the scent alone was enough to make my knees crumble. I sat on the edge of the bed and hugged the pillow like a mad fool. Why had we made no plans about the future? Why had I not promised her it would work out? That somehow, someway, she and I would be together?

  When I finally left that hotel room, I was running late for my first race of the day. I already had a few missed calls from Caroline, my manager, my agent, my mum, Thom, and Georgie. I sat in the back of the cab and dialed my manager.

  “Freddie, where have you been? Your coach has been looking for you.”

  I let my head fall against the window of the cab. “I was out. I’m headed to the race now.”

  “Jesus, Fred. They give you a long leash because you’re Mr. Dependable. Now you’ve got everyone worried.”

  I squeezed my eyes shut. “Is that all you wanted to talk about?”

  She sighed heavily, annoyed with my clipped tone. “I’ve been trying to contact you about appearances for after the games wrap up. You’ve got interview offers left and right. There are parties and brunches and tea with the royals. Everyone is hounding me to get to you and you’ve been MIA.”

  “I’m not doing any of it. Let everyone know that after the Olympics, Freddie Archibald has set a media moratorium. I’ve got some personal stuff to work through once I get home.”

  Two slow, steady inhales later, she asked for clarification. “I’m sorry, are you saying you won’t be doing a single interview after Rio?”

  My eyes were still closed as I leaned against the window and if I listened hard enough, I swore I could hear the waves breaking against the shore. I held my breath and tried harder to listen. I needed to hear the waves.

  “Fredd
ie!?”

  She was nearly hysterical, but I couldn’t work up the same feeling. “That’s right. No interviews. I’ll keep up my sponsorship duties, but that’s it.”

  “You do realize this will only make them want you more. What is the point of going and winning all those medals if you don’t share your experiences with the world? You owe your fans at least one—”

  “I’m done living my life like I owe anyone anything.”

  I hung up on her then and dropped my mobile on my lap.

  “Just a few more minutes,” the cabbie said, sensing my anxiety.

  “Thanks.”

  I opened my eyes and stared out at the landscape whipping by. I wanted to tell the cabbie to drive to the airport. I wanted to get on a plane to America and find Andie and convince her that she and I were worth more than three weeks in Rio. I couldn’t though, and I’d never felt as trapped as I did as I gathered my swim gear and headed to the stadium.

  I was trapped with Caroline and I was trapped in Rio. I had two more days of racing. Two long days of focusing on the pool and not much else. Swimming had gotten in the way of my life many times before, but I’d never minded. After my father had passed, the pool was my therapy. After Henry’s accident, the pool became my best friend. It was so easy to lose myself in my workouts and my competitions. Now, for once, I didn’t want to lose myself. I wanted to stay dry and settle the loose ends of my life.

  “You good, mate?” Thom asked as I stepped into the locker room.

  I nodded and shrugged him off.

  The entire team was there, changing and getting ready for the races. They looked up at me when I walked in, their eyes scanning me up and down like I was a loose cannon getting ready to fire.

  “Fred, you’re thirty minutes late.”

  I nodded and tossed my gym bag on the floor so I could lean forward and splash cold water on my face.

  “You good to compete?”

  I laughed. Out of everything in my life—Andie, Caroline, love, pregnancies, marriage—swimming was the one thing I still had any control over. I patted my face dry with a paper towel before meeting my coach’s eyes in the mirror.

 
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