Page 18 of The Singles Game

Charlie signed the check and, after tipping the still-red server, closed the door. ‘You’re safe to come out,’ she called to Marco.

He emerged from the bathroom with his wavy hair wet, wearing nothing but a towel. ‘I have a practice court at eight,’ he said. ‘What about you?’

‘Same,’ Charlie replied. ‘Sorry, Todd ordered my breakfast so there’s nothing here for you. You want me to call and add some oatmeal or something?’

‘No, I am meeting Coach in player dining in twenty minutes, I’ll just eat there.’ He cinched the towel tighter around his waist. His six-four stature and two hundred pounds of sheer muscle made his Mediterranean complexion almost an afterthought. Almost.

She checked her phone for the time. ‘We got lucky again that the doping people didn’t show up at six this morning. One of these days we are going to get caught together.’

Three hundred sixty-five days – regardless of where in the world she was or what she was doing there – Charlie was required to provide an address where she could be found, in person, for one hour in every twenty-four-hour period. She could choose whether that hour was noon or four in the afternoon or eleven o’clock at night, and she could change it every day, but the scheduling tended to get so confusing and so disruptive that nearly all the players provided their hour from six to seven each morning. It was early enough that they wouldn’t be anywhere else yet but late enough that it wasn’t a total devastation sleep-wise if the testers actually did show up. Which they did, sometimes as often as eight or ten times a year. Then again, some years they didn’t show at all. You just never knew.

‘So long as it’s for sex and not for steroids, I don’t mind,’ Marco said, pecking her on the lips and grabbing his room key. ‘’Bye, gorgeous. Play well.’

‘You too,’ she said, although she knew they wouldn’t ever talk about either of their respective matches. ‘Good luck.’

He opened the connecting door between their rooms. ‘This is very convenient,’ Marco said, grinning. ‘I might just request this arrangement from now on.’ He stepped through the door and closed it again from the other side.

Charlie pressed her eyes closed. A scene from the night before flashed into her head: it was right around eight-thirty, and she had just changed into her nightshirt and ordered some mint tea from room service. She was still high from her first-round win earlier that day and a celebratory dinner with her father and Jake, who had arrived in Melbourne just in time to see her match. Lights-out was at ten, which would give her a solid nine hours of sleep before her seven a.m. wake-up. Nine hours was ideal, eight was acceptable, seven was challenging, six was a colossal disaster: this she knew from experience. Over the years Charlie had become a disciplined sleep machine. With the mint tea, a white-noise machine, and an eye mask and earplugs, she could sleep anywhere: player lounge, flight, tournament car, hotel, host home. Throw in a little melatonin for the worst of the jet lag and she was good. It had taken years of fine-tuning to perfect the sleeping, but it was crucial to the program and she made it a priority.

A repeat episode of Scandal had just begun. Charlie climbed under the covers with her mug and a copy of US Weekly. Better to watch Olivia and Fitz hash out another week of ‘I love you but I can’t be with you’ than think one more minute about tennis. Her mind kept flashing back to critiques Todd had made after her first-round match (‘Stop being so fucking tentative! You’re a big girl, get that body of yours up to the net and hit the damn ball! Until you put some genuine effort into developing more than a serviceable second serve, you’re going nowhere!’), but right then she forced herself to focus on the TV. Livy’s clothes. Fitz’s commanding presence. And, during commercials, back to the magazine for pics from Angelina and Brad’s latest adventures in New Orleans. She’d just begun to relax when she suddenly heard music playing in an adjacent room.

Quickly, she dialed the front desk. ‘Hello? Hi, I know it’s not even nine, but I thought I was on a player-only floor.’

‘Yes, Ms Silver. That’s correct. Is there anything we can do for you?’ The male receptionist was friendly but clearly tired of dealing with tennis demands.

‘Well, I hear music coming from the room next to mine. One closer to the elevator. It’s blasting now. Like, thumping bass. Can you call the room and ask them to turn it down? Or preferably off?’

‘Certainly, Ms Silver. I’ll remind the room’s occupant of the twenty-four-hour quiet rule for players.’

‘Thank you,’ Charlie said. She put the phone down and listened. The walls were thin enough that she heard the volume lower for just a minute as a phone rang in the adjacent room, but a moment later it was blasting even louder than before. Enrique Iglesias? Seriously?

Throwing the covers off, Charlie marched into the hallway and pounded on the door of the room. Guaranteed it was going to be some fifteen-year-old kid who’d won a wild card into the tournament and had no idea what protocol was on the player floor. She was raring to go with her whole planned monologue when the door swung open and Marco grinned at her.

‘Charlotte Silver,’ he crooned in what could only be described as a hot dirtbag accent. ‘Look who came to visit.’

He was, naturally, wearing only boxer briefs and a leather bracelet with a fishhook clasp. A smoky scent – weed? candle? incense? She couldn’t quite tell – wafted from the room, and the horrid dance music emanated from the nightstand iPod speakers. A sheen of sweat covered his entire gorgeous body.

She felt her face grow red. ‘Marco? Hey, sorry to … interrupt. I didn’t know it was you. Obviously. I mean, I had no idea you were in this room, and I never, ever would’ve knocked if I’d known that you were, um …’

It wasn’t every day you accidentally interrupted someone you’d previously had sex with while he was currently having sex with someone else. What was the protocol for that? Charlie had no idea, but she was certain she wasn’t supposed to be standing there (still!) to register a noise complaint.

Marco threw his head back and laughed. Charlie only noticed how his abs contracted. ‘Charlie, Charlie. Come in,’ he said, motioning inside the room.

A threesome. She had been trying her best to be open-minded about casual sex with Marco (her best friend Piper’s voice was always in her head: ‘Loosen up! You only live once! This is the twenty-first century, no one cares anymore!’), but a threesome was just not happening.