Out of bounds the summer.., p.6
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       Out of Bounds (The Summer Games #2), p.6

           R.S. Grey
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  Rosie fidgeted on her feet. If anyone was going to break, it was her.

  His dark brow arched. “No one?”

  I swallowed.

  He let out a long sigh.

  “I hope everyone packed their running shoes.”

  Chapter Seven

  Erik

  I’d seen them sneak out the night before—the Uber had picked them up on the gravel drive for Christ’s sake—but I hadn’t stopped them. That method would never stick. They knew the rules and they knew they were breaking them. If I’d walked out and forced them back into the house, they would have resented me. If I’d locked the doors, they’d have found another way out. The only punishment I could give them was a hard workout; they’d eventually learn that going out and partying the night before practice wasn’t worth the consequences.

  Unfortunately, I hadn’t anticipated that June would be so quick to rat out her teammates. Sneaking out and breaking rules was one problem, but a dividing line in the group was much worse. June wasn’t doing herself any favors by isolating herself. The next few weeks would be a challenge for everyone and they needed to stick together.

  “Wait, why am I being punished?” June cried, crossing her arms.

  I ignored her question and glanced back to the other girls, standing with their shoulders aligned. Most of them had their eyes narrowed on June, but Brie was watching me with hatred burning in her gaze. I’d only been around her for two days and I’d already gathered that her eyes were the source of her power. Large, chocolate brown, and currently narrowed in my direction—she had a way of looking so fucking disinterested, bored even, and it was all in her eyes. I couldn’t decide if they were beautiful or terrifying.

  “There’s a three-mile loop around the gym. We’ll start out front and run as a team,” I said, emphasizing the last part for June.

  Before I could direct the five of them back toward the front of the gym, Brie stepped forward and shook her head. “It was my idea.”

  I paused and turned back to her, hating the way my gaze sought her out every time. There were five of them and yet I wanted to give Brie my full attention. It wasn’t like she was trying to shy away from it. Since the moment she’d arrived, she’d been outspoken and abrasive. Even then, she was wearing some kind of silly costume instead of a leotard. I nearly called her out for it, but she spoke up first.

  “Don’t make everyone run,” she continued. “It was my idea to go out.”

  I shook my head. “The time for honesty has passed. We’ll all run, and since you’ve so clearly dressed for it, let’s make it two loops.”

  She pinched her eyes closed but didn’t argue.

  Everyone grabbed their shoes, laced them up, and headed outside. It was a chilly morning, but we’d warm up on the run.

  “You’re running too?” Brie asked, coming to stand beside me. I wanted to push her away.

  I nodded and stared out over the parking lot. “We’re a team. It’s only fair.”

  Besides, the trail wound partly through the woods and I didn’t feel like having to explain to grieving parents why I’d let five young women run alone through the woods. It’d be easier if I just went with them.

  “I don’t think I should have to run,” June said, propping her hands on her hips.

  June had clearly come from a gym where she was the best of the best. She walked around like her shit didn’t stink, and she needed a dose of humility.

  “June, you’re running. Next time don’t rat out your teammates.”

  The first mile was easy enough, and by mile two I was ready to pick up the pace. I glanced behind me to take in the dynamic of the group. Brie had been leading through the first mile, and though I’d never turned around, I’d been aware of her breathing in time with me. Molly, Lexi, and Rosie ran behind her in a staggered line, and June brought up the rear, still moping.

  “Mind if take the lead?” Brie asked, picking up the pace to run alongside me.

  Her cheeks were flushed and a few strands of brown hair had fallen out of her ponytail. She was smiling and breathing heavy. I’d expected her to groan about having to run, but she looked happy to be out on the trail. Apparently I’d have to think up a new punishment for her next time.

  “Go for it. Just follow the dirt.”

  She nodded and set off running a few yards ahead of the group. At first, I focused on the trail, trying to think of what was coming around each corner in case I needed to warn her, but the trail had been cleared recently, so eventually, I let my gaze linger on her.

  The light streaming through the tree tops highlighted her body. Similar to the elegance of a bird taking flight, Brie was most beautiful when her body was in motion, free. Her legs were long and toned, made for events like the balance beam and floor, and yet she was just as confident out on the dusty trail. Her back—all but exposed thanks to the silly costume—was tan, smooth, and more alluring than any back I’d seen before.

  I kept my distance, running between her and the rest of the team, though if I’d been allowed, I think I would have ventured a little closer just to see what it felt like to run beside her.

  What are you thinking?

  She’s your gymnast.

  I shook the thoughts from my head and turned my attention back to the trail. For the remainder of the run, I focused on the dirt beneath my feet and nothing else.

  As the girls stretched and cooled off from the run, I checked my phone in my office. I had a few voicemails from my father, but I ignored them and called my grandfather back instead.

  “Hallå Erik,” he said when the call connected. “I’ve missed you.”

  “I’ve been busy,” I said, reclining in the chair so I had a view of the team through the large glass window. “How have you been?”

  “Good. Good. I’ve been working in my garden and reading.”

  I loved hearing him speak English. His Swedish accent made the words thick and comforting.

  “Did you get that book I sent you?”

  “It just arrived yesterday. A bit beat up on the corners—was that your country’s lousy postmen or mine?”

  “Probably a little of both.” I smiled. “Let me know what you think of it when you finish.”

  “I probably won’t have time to read it any time soon. I’m a very busy man, Erik.”

  I laughed. He’d been retired for the last twenty years and spent most of his time reading or working out in his garden. “I know. I know. Have you talked to the woman who moved in across the street from you yet?”

  “Again, I’m a very busy man.” He chuckled. “Besides, I’m still working up the courage. I can’t just throw myself on the poor woman. I need to think of a good excuse.”

  “Ask her if you can borrow a cup of sugar.”

  “What? Is that an American thing?”

  I smiled. “Maybe.”

  “I could ask to borrow an egg. I think she has a chicken coop in her backyard.”

  “Are you stalking her, Farfar?”

  “Of course not. I see it when I take Ludde on his evening walk.”

  I hoped to still be walking my dog around my neighborhood at eighty-four.

  “How are things going in Seattle?” he asked. “Have the gymnasts arrived?”

  “Yesterday.”

  “And?”

  I sighed. “And it’s going about as easy as I expected. They’re five elite gymnasts with egos the size of Mount Everest.”

  He chuckled. “I’ll never know how your father did it for so long.”

  I gripped the phone tighter. He usually waited a little longer into our phone calls before bringing up my father.

  “Don’t bother bringing him up. I won’t call him back.”

  “He’s worried about you. I’m worried about you. His health isn’t looking good and the longer you go without talking, the worse it will be.”

  “His health isn’t my concern.”

  He sighed heavily. “Erik, I raised you better than this. I’m afraid it might be too late for your
father, but it’s not too late for you. If you become coldhearted at twenty-nine, where will you be at sixty?”

  The girls caught my attention through the office window and I knew I should get out there and continue practice.

  “I have to go, Farfar.”

  He didn’t bother trying to argue; he knew it was a hopeless endeavor.

  “Good luck with the team. I’ll call tomorrow.”

  I stood and walked around my desk. “Tomorrow,” I confirmed.

  After I hung up the phone, I grabbed a leotard from the gym store and walked out of my office.

  Coaching gymnastics can be difficult because it’s both a team sport and an individual sport. These girls were set to fly to Rio to compete under their nation’s flag, but they were ultimately competing for themselves. Naturally, it would create some friction considering only two of them would have a chance to compete in the individual all-around competition, and only one would walk away with gold.

  As I walked toward their group stretching on the floor, I tried to get a feel for their dynamic. June was stretching a few yards away from the other girls, separating herself as much as she could. Brie walked over to hand her an extra water bottle and June took it with a quiet “thanks”. Her kindness surprised me; out of anyone, she should have been annoyed with June for ratting her out. For all she knew, I wouldn’t have ever known they’d gone out if June hadn’t told me.

  “Brie,” I called, drawing her attention away from June. “Come here.”

  She turned and walked over, eyes narrowed at the material scrunched up in my hand.

  “What’s that?” she asked.

  I held it out for her to take. “Go change.”

  She blushed. “It was a dare—”

  “I don’t care. It’s distracting and you should know better.”

  Her bright eyes slid up to mine. “Distracting for who?”

  She was testing me.

  “Team USA.”

  She glanced away with a slight smile playing on her lips. “Should I come to practice with a paper bag over my head tomorrow?”

  “I don’t really think you’re in a position to make jokes right now.”

  “It’s a leotard with a tail on it. Big deal.” She turned to walk away and then thought better of it. “And about last night? We went out to get to know each other better and we were back home and in bed by midnight.”

  I shook my head and leaned forward. “While you’re staying in my house, you’ll follow my rules. No going out. No partying.”

  Her eyes narrowed. “Anything else, Coach?”

  There it was again, the fire. I could never decide if I wanted to fan the flame or stamp it out. Instead, I brushed past her. “Go change.”

  She laughed under her breath. “Right away sir.”

  Chapter Eight

  Brie

  “Well that was a disaster,” I said, reclining on the couch. I’d showered and put on my comfiest pair of pajamas. Practice had kicked my ass and I knew I’d be paying the price tomorrow. Or in an hour.

  “I think Erik liked your tail a little too much,” Molly said, handing me an extra ice pack and sliding down to sit at my side.

  I dropped the pack onto my shoulder and closed my eyes, ignoring her statement.

  “Agreed,” Lexi said, dropping onto the couch on the other side of me.

  My first instinct was to argue with them, but I’d learned it wasn’t worth the effort. As far as I could tell, Erik was the same as he’d been the day before: distant and chilly. During practice, I’d finish a routine and glance over at him. I’d try to glean a sliver of emotion from his face, but he always wore the same unreadable expression. It wasn’t filled with kindness or hatred; no, the chill in his piercing blue eyes was somewhere in between, too confusing to pick apart. He’d blink, shake his head, and spout out a random recommendation. “Your feet were apart in that final pass…You nearly went out of bounds there at the end…Keep your legs straighter in the first double.”

  I knew my routines weren’t perfect, but coaches usually mentioned at least one good thing I’d done before harping on everything I needed to fix. After thirteen years of gymnastics, I understood that I hungered for other people’s approval. I loved impressing my coaches. I blossomed under their praise, and after one day of working with Erik, I knew I’d have to adjust my standards. He wasn’t going to sugarcoat criticism. There’d be no thumbs up or smiles during practice, just cold, critical indifference.

  I shivered at the thought.

  “Ugh, I wish this stupid house had an oven,” I said, peeking my eyes open just to confirm one hadn’t magically appeared in the kitchen while we were away. “I really want to bake something.”

  Molly laughed. “What is it with you and baking?”

  I smiled and shrugged. “It’s my favorite thing to do. When I was younger, sometimes my mom couldn’t pick me up from practice right away because she was stuck at work. At first I’d wander over to wait at a bookstore near the gym. There was a bakery next door, and when I got bored or hungry I would inevitably end up drooling over the pastries in the display case.”

  Molly smiled. “Sounds like my kind of place.”

  I nodded. “It was heaven. Anyway, the owner took pity on me. In the beginning, she’d slide me the day-old baked goods, and then once it became clear I wasn’t going away, she let me go behind the counter and help her.”

  “Is that where you learned to bake?” Lexi asked.

  I smiled. “She taught me everything I know.”

  “So that’s what you would be doing if you weren’t competing in the Olympics?” Molly asked, laughing. “Baking?”

  I stared up at the ceiling and closed my eyes, picturing myself behind the counter of the bakery. It was almost purpose-built for inducing nostalgia; the haze of flour hanging in the air might as well have been pixie dust, enchanting me with the everlasting aroma of fresh baked goodness. The radiant warmth from the enormous ovens enveloped my tired muscles, soothing them better than any heating pad could. After the technical demands of the gym, I reveled in the simplicity of following tried and true recipes.

  “I guess,” I answered honestly. “I haven’t thought about it, really. It’d be fun—”

  “GUYS!” Rosie shouted.

  She was walking into the living room from the kitchen, but something had caught her attention out the window. “LOOK.”

  All three of us jumped off the couch and ran to the window.

  “Holy…”

  Erik was walking back to his house from the hangar after a workout. He was shirtless, sweaty, and ripped. I’d seen his body the first day I arrived and I knew he worked out a lot—I’d nearly passed out trying to keep up with him during our morning run—but the sight of him still stole my breath.

  “I want to lick this window right now,” Lexi said, pushing her face closer.

  She wasn’t kidding. The glass was fogged over in front of her lips.

  “He looks like Wolverine,” Molly said.

  “Or Superman,” Rosie added.

  “We’re gonna need a cleanup on aisle three,” Lexi said.

  I waved my hand in front of the window to get them to stop. “Gross, Lex, we get it.”

  “But look at that back.”

  I am. It was broad and tan and glistening with sweat. He pulled his tank off his shoulder and used it to wipe the sweat from his brow. When he reached the steps to his back porch, he took them two at a time.

  “He’s so…” Rosie pushed her palm to the window. “Perfect.”

  When he reached the top step, he glanced toward the guesthouse and all at once, we ducked and barrel-rolled away from the window.

  “Shit!”

  “Oh god! Do you think he saw us staring at him?” Molly said, covering her eyes.

  I crawled back toward the window and pushed myself up on my knees just enough to peek over the windowsill. Erik was still staring back at the guesthouse, but his attention wasn’t on the first floor. He was focused on the secon
d story, on my bedroom window. He propped his hands on his hips and narrowed his eyes. Tingles spread through my body as I continued to spy on him. He looked nearly angelic, encased in the light from the setting sun. His tan skin glowed and the muscles on his back rippled when he shook his head and turned for the door, whipping the screen door open with a touch too much force. I fought the urge to run out and stop him, to exchange every remaining dollar in my bank account to know what he’d just been thinking, if his thoughts had possibly centered on me.

  “Brie! Did he see us?”

  I sighed and slumped down to the floor. “No. We’re safe.”

  The next day, before practice, I carried my pre-wrap and tape over to the vault and hopped up to sit on the edge. My right leg dangled off the side and I bent my left leg, bringing my foot close enough so I could twist the pre-wrap around my ankle. I’d sprained it a few years back and it rarely bothered me these days, but I liked to take extra precautions this close to a big competition.

  My earbuds were in, my pre-workout playlist blaring at nearly full volume. After a few days in the house with the team, I needed a few minutes of peace and quiet, just me and my music. I hit play on the next song and then nearly jumped out of my skin as a large hand hit my lower back.

  “Here, let me do it,” Erik said.

  My body’s reaction to him was swift and all consuming. Tingles spread through my fingers, my stomach plummeted, and my breath came short.

  I pulled the earbuds out of my ears and glanced up in time to watch him circle the back of the vault and come to stand in front of me. He was wearing a black t-shirt stretched tight over his broad chest and shoulders. Thanks to our first encounter and the reminder I’d gotten the day before, I knew exactly what he was hiding beneath the thin cotton, and though I hated to admit it, I’d spent another night dreaming of that chest.

  He held his hand out for the pre-wrap, assuming I’d just give in to his demand.

 
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