The summer games settlin.., p.4
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       The Summer Games: Settling the Score, p.4

           R.S. Grey
 

  “The three amigos!” Becca confirmed, running and jumping onto my bed. Between the two of them, there was never a dull moment, hence why I’d bonded with them the first day of tryouts.

  “I think your mattress is better than mine,” Becca said, bouncing up and down in an attempt to confirm her theory.

  “They’re all the same,” I laughed, setting the onesie down on my suitcase.

  “What are you going to do for the rest of the day?” Kinsley asked, taking a seat beside Becca.

  I shrugged. “Unpack, get settled, finally call my mom.”

  She nodded. “We were thinking of going down and scoping out the first floor if you wanna come. Our complex has the biggest food court, so I think most of the athletes will be hanging out there.”

  “I really need to call my mom. She’s already texted me like thirty times.” Honestly, she had. The woman was clinically insane.

  “It’s okay, we can wait,” Kinsley offered with a smile.

  Since neither of them made a move to leave, I stepped out onto my room’s balcony to give my mom a call.

  My parents, Christy and Conan Foster, were robots. Sweet, well-meaning robots. They grew up in Vermont, my grandparents grew up in Vermont, and my great-grandparents grew up in Vermont. Somewhere during all those generations spent in harsh winters, their personalities had been replaced by good-natured gobs of maple syrup. Their idea of fun was layering a cashmere sweater over a gingham button down and taking a picnic to the park. They belonged to our small town’s country club and spent their free time flipping through L.L. Bean catalogs; needless to say, they were shocked to have produced a daughter like me.

  Those first fourteen years were a real struggle. My mother had insisted I stay in dance but I’d insisted on playing soccer. It wasn’t until I earned a spot on the U-17 National Team at only fifteen years old that she let me tear down the dance posters in my room. Throughout high school, I’d replaced them with soccer stars like Ashlynn Harris, Hope Solo, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Admittedly, Cristiano was there mostly for eye-candy. Also, I liked to rub his abs like Buddha’s belly for luck before a big game.

  “Andie, are you using that hand sanitizer I packed in the front left pocket of your bag?” my mom asked as soon as the call connected.

  That was the first question she asked. Not, how the hell is Rio? The Olympics? Practice?

  “Yes.” I sighed. “But did you honestly have to pack a sixty-eight ounce bottle in my carryon? I had to shove it in my checked luggage and it spilled on half of my underwear.”

  “Brazil is different.” She whispered ‘different’ like it was derogatory. “Besides, it can’t hurt to have extra clean underwear.”

  I rolled my eyes. “Yeah Mom, that is priority number one as I, y’know, compete for a gold medal.”

  She mm-hmmed cheerily, accepting my sarcasm as truth.

  “Well, just let me know if you need any more underwear.”

  I edged closer to the balcony, embarrassed by the conversation. “No Mom, don’t send me more underwear.” I tried to change the subject. “The condos are fun. I’m sharing a space with Kinsley and Becca.”

  “They’ve put you all in a condo? How can that be safe?”

  “Security only allows athletes and coaches to enter. Guests have limited visiting hours and they—”

  “Oh! Sweetie, guess what I watched this morning while I was walking on the treadmill!” She didn’t even notice she’d cut me off.

  “What?”

  “I try to walk at least a mile or two every morning. I even put on some Taylor Swift sometimes, but don’t tell your dad because he thinks her music is just—”

  “MOM. What’d you watch this morning?”

  “Oh! It was this little special on the CBS.”

  She loved saying “the CBS” like it was a thing.

  “Have you heard of Frederick Archibald? They did a feature about his upbringing and his special path to the Olympics.”

  My stomach dropped at the mention of his name. Was there no escaping his celebrity?

  “Apparently he’s a prince or something in England!”

  I laughed and shook my head. “Mom, he’s not a prince. He’s just on the swim team.”

  She shushed me. “No no, believe me. Hold on, let me open up the Google.”

  Oh Jesus.

  Ten minutes later—after she’d accidentally restarted her computer and updated her antivirus software twice—she pulled up the article.

  “All right! It says here—” She paused and shuffled around, and I knew she was finding her tortoise shell reading glasses. “His father was the Duke of Farlington and before he passed away, Freddie was just called Lord Frederick Archibald, but now he is His Grace, Frederick Archibald, Earl of Norhill and Duke of Farlington!”

  Wait. What? I laughed. That couldn’t possibly be right. She made it sound like Freddie was living in Middle Earth. I didn’t even know dukes were still a thing that existed.

  I turned away from the window and pressed the phone closer to my ear. She kept rambling on about the CBS special, but I couldn’t wrap my head around what she was saying. Freddie was a DUKE? He’d touched my hand! He’d touched my butt! He’d basically knighted me and I’d tossed my panties at his face like a commoner. Jesus.

  “Mom, I have to go,” I said, overwhelmed by the discovery.

  “Oh? So soon? All right, okay. Just use that hand sanitizer and try to find Frederick. I’d love to show your meemaw a photo of you with British royalty.”

  Oh my god. “Okay Mom. Sounds good.”

  “Oh wait! It’s also says here that three weeks ago—”

  I hung up before she could continue to ramble. I loved her, truly I did, but once she got going, there was no stopping her. It was either cut her off midsentence or turn into a mummified corpse out on that balcony.

  By the time I made it back inside, Kinsley and Becca had exchanged their unicorn onesies for jean shorts and t-shirts. We started making our way down to the food court, and though my stomach was rumbling nonstop, I couldn’t help but focus on what my mother had just told me. If Freddie really was British royalty—wait, are dukes royal? Who cares. If Freddie really was a duke, the chances of him and I ever getting another moment alone were slim to none. He probably wouldn’t be hanging out around the Olympic village like other athletes. He’d be off sipping tea with baby George.

  “Are you thinking about Freddie?” Kinsley asked as we stepped out of the elevator on the first floor.

  I shrugged and lied. “No.”

  “Because there really is something you should know before—”

  I held up my hand. “Honestly, could everyone please stop talking about him?”

  Between my mom and Kinsley, I’d never get him out of my head. I was in Rio to play the field, not get hung up on a guy after day one.

  I’D GROWN USED to Kinsley’s popularity back in Los Angeles, but walking around with her in the village felt like accompanying Taylor Swift to the Grammys. When we stepped into the food court, heads snapped in our direction. Athletes, families, friends, coaches—it didn’t matter what country they were from—they all knew who Kinsley Bryant was, thanks to her marriage to Liam Wilder and her meteoric rise to soccer fame.

  I slipped behind her and let her take the brunt of the attention. She delighted in it in a way I knew I never would. I liked the sponsorship opportunities and perks that went along with being an Olympic athlete, but I also enjoyed walking through the grocery store in sweatpants without having to worry that the paparazzi would be waiting to snap photos of me outside. Kinsley didn’t have that luxury.

  “Better get used to this,” Kinsley said, glancing back at me over her shoulder. “Once you carry the flag in the opening ceremonies, people all over the world will know who you are.”

  I bristled at the thought. When the Olympic committee had asked if I’d like to be one of the flag bearers during the opening ceremonies, I’d been honored and had agreed without a second thought. Now, as I followe
d Kinsley past tables and noticed the curious stares, I wondered if maybe I’d made a mistake. I wasn’t quite ready to exchange my relative obscurity for fame.

  “Woah, watch it,” Becca said, pulling me out of the way just before I collided with a group of athletes weaving in the opposite direction.

  The food court was a bona fide watering hole for sports stars of all countries. We headed toward a juice bar nestled near the back wall and I scanned over the crowd, taking it all in.

  It was remarkably easy to spot the different sports; the telltale signs gave each one away. The rugby and weightlifting guys made their way through four or five different lines, stacking up their trays with enough sustenance to last a normal human a full year. A group of Serbian basketball players had taken up residence in the corner of the food court, towering over the crowd and making the team of Australian gymnasts sitting beside them look like hobbits.

  Though there were clearly differences in body sizes, there was no denying one fact: every single person was young and in the best shape of their lives. It was no wonder there were so many rumors about the Olympic village; hundreds of attractive athletes with energy to spare were bound to get into a little bit of trouble.

  “What kind of juice are you going to get?” Kinsley asked, pulling me out of my survey of the room. We were nearly at the front of the line and I hadn’t even glanced over the menu.

  “I think I want a smoothie.”

  She laughed. “Well there’s like fifty of them, so—”

  Kinsley was cut off when the girl behind us in line squealed so loud I nearly lost hearing in my left ear.

  “HOLY SHIT,” she squealed, nudging her friend’s arm. “There’s Freddie!”

  “Shut up! Shut up,” her friend chimed in.

  My gut clenched as I glanced over my shoulder. The girls were a good deal shorter than I was, and when I spun to face them, the faint smell of chlorine spiked the air. They were definitely swimmers, and judging by their identical mannerisms, I guessed synchronized.

  “Oh my god. He’s coming this way,” the first girl said. “Do I look okay?”

  If Freddie was coming their way, he was coming my way. My heart pounded in my chest as I scanned past the girls to see Freddie walk up to the back of the juice line with what looked like a few other guys from his swim team. He hadn’t noticed me yet, which was for the best, because I couldn’t drag my gaze away from him. At the party the night before, it’d been dark, and the alcohol had cast him in hazy soap opera light. Here, now, in the food court, there was no denying his appeal.

  I stood immobile, accepting the punch to the gut that came with the realization that Freddie’s good looks hinted at years of mischief managed through sly smiles and charming words. His kind brown eyes and endearing smile suggested he’d never been grounded a day in his life, but the chiseled jaw and sharp cheekbones whispered that he probably should have been.

  He was trying to look over the menu, but there was too much excitement surrounding him. A line of athletes began to form to the side of him as if choreographed beforehand.

  “Could I get an autograph for my mum?”

  “Freddie! Where are you staying for the games?”

  “Can I see your abs?”

  Question after question came his way, and I realized that whatever popularity Kinsley had, it didn’t hold a candle to Freddie’s. He drew attention like he was born for it, and as he smiled down and graciously signed autographs, I remembered that might well have been the case.

  I used the crowd to conceal my gaze as I continued watching him, or at least I thought I did. I was openly gawking at him as he handed off an autograph and turned in my direction. His eyes locked on me and he smiled out of the right side of his mouth, a slow, cheeky smile that grew the longer I stared.

  “Andie,” Kinsley hissed, trying to break through the spell.

  I blinked once, twice. Freddie offered me a subtle wave, and then I spun around with cheeks on fire and embarrassment coating my skin.

  “Holy shit,” I said, exhaling a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. “How long was I staring at him?”

  Kinsley gripped my hand and squeezed it, hard. “I thought you went catatonic there for a second.”

  I squeezed my eyes closed and groaned under my breath. Then, a hand reached out and tapped my shoulder. It was the girl from before—the swimmer with the nails-on-a-chalkboard squeal.

  “Um, excuse me. Do you know Freddie?”

  Before I could answer, her friend chimed in.

  “If you do, could you introduce us? It’s just that—”

  Kinsley held up her hand to stop them. “She doesn’t know him. He was clearly waving at the juice man,” she said, motioning to the elderly Brazilian man behind the counter.

  I forced myself to move forward in line and I kept my eyes trained ahead of me, but the excitement behind me was too hard to ignore. People whispered, girls squealed, and cameras flashed as Freddie took photos with his fans. I moved forward and ordered a strawberry banana protein smoothie, and as I turned to find a seat with Kinsley, I ignored every urge to look in his direction as I passed. It was painful to deny myself that simple pleasure, and I was still lamenting that fact when he bent out of line and reached for my hand. His palm touched mine and my heart stopped. He gripped my hand tightly, just for a moment, then let it go.

  Hhhhoooookkkkaay. I was definitely having a heart attack. This is the end. I’m going to die in a smoothie line. I couldn’t breathe and my chest hurt, and then he smiled and started speaking, but I couldn’t hear him over the sound of my heart.

  “I’m sorry,” I accidentally shouted. “What?”

  He smiled wider, reveling in the fact that he’d knocked me off my senses. I could only focus on his eyes, at the exact shade of light brown that promised to be my demise.

  “Your smoothie,” he said with a smooth British accent. “You’ve left it.”

  I whipped around to see a girl behind the counter waving my smoothie in the air like a metronome. “Don’t you want this?” she asked, confused.

  I cringed. Had I not grabbed it already? Apparently not. I hid my face as I walked back and took it from her hand. Every single person in line trailed my movements, either because they thought I was a little off my rocker, or because Freddie Archibald had just reached out and held my hand. His touch had been warm and his palm was massive, wrapping around mine with no effort at all.

  I’d stood in line for a smoothie for a solid twenty minutes and then I’d walked away empty-handed, too dumbstruck to care. All because of Freddie-freaking-Archibald—who, by the way, was still watching me.

  I forced myself to make eye contact with him as I passed, and he smiled a secret little smile I knew I’d be dissecting for hours.

  “See you around,” he said, and the words felt more like a promise than a dismissal.

  Kinsley and Becca didn’t say a word as we took our seats at a table far, far away from Freddie and his adoring fans. I purposely positioned myself with my back to him and stared at my smoothie.

  “Honestly, Andie, you need to cool your jets with Freddie—”

  Kinsley started rambling on again, but I wasn’t listening. She was going to tell me to “focus on soccer” and “stay away from boys” and “don’t party” and “keep your head in the game”, and I didn’t want to hear it.

  I pulled my phone out of my purse to find a text message my mom had sent right after I’d hung up on her. I swiped it open much to the dismay of Kinsley.

  “Andie!” Kinsley said. “Are you listening?”

  Mom: You didn’t let me finish! Frederick is betrothed. Can you believe it? Maybe if the two of you become friends you’ll be invited to a royal wedding! Or maybe he has a friend…another duke perhaps! Meemaw would be so excited!

  NO! Betrothed? Betrothed? No. No. No.

  My stomach hurt. This wasn’t right. He was supposed to be single. We were supposed to touch hands and exchange sly smiles and…

  “He’s betro
thed?” I asked, hearing the shock in my voice.

  I dropped my phone on the table and Kinsley leaned forward to read the text message. When she was done, she glanced up at me with a pitiful frown.

  “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all morning. Freddie is set to marry some girl named Caroline Montague. The betrothal was announced a few weeks ago.”

  That made no sense.

  Who the hell was Caroline Montague?

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  Andie

  AFTER HEARING THE news of Frederick’s betrothal, I sat immobile, absorbing the news in shocked silence as my smoothieless stomach began to grumble. My mother had attached a Daily Mail news story to her text message and though I didn’t want to, I read it. It highlighted the life and love of Caroline Montague and chronicled her high society British upbringing. Her father, while not titled himself, had invented the software used in most vending machines, and subsequently leveraged his earnings to put his hand in just about every business operating in London. She was worth more than most countries and the news story hinted that their betrothal would unite two illustrious European families, from the old world and the new.

  There was a photo of Freddie and Caroline from their teenage years at the very bottom of the article. Apparently they’d been friends since childhood and it had come as a shock to no one when their families announced the betrothal. Caroline Montague was beautiful with delicate features and long blonde hair. She was styled “The People’s Princess Diana”, beloved by all and philanthropic to the core. How lovely.

  I wanted to feel heartbroken and betrayed by the news. My gut told me I’d been wronged, but then common sense chimed in and leveled with me. I was not in love with Frederick Archibald. People do not fall in love overnight. I was merely excited by the idea of Freddie the same way I got excited by two-for-one ice cream sundaes at McDonald’s. I couldn’t fault myself for it. I had working lady parts and a pulse, therefore the sight of Frederick Archibald had seemed alluring. No big deal. I could move on. There were plenty of other fish in the sea (probably the most applicable that phrase would ever be). The games were filled with sexy athletes whose only baggage was of the carryon variety. Sure, Freddie’s jaw was chiseled from Grecian marble and his boyish grin had topped a BuzzFeed poll in 2014 entitled “Panty-Melting Smiles”, but there were plenty of attractive people in Rio. Thousands of them, in fact. On to the next.

 
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