Marco lowered himself onto the floor in front of the fireplace and motioned for Charlie to join him.
‘I so wish this were bearskin,’ Charlie said, stroking the chevron flat weave beneath them.
Marco gently but firmly pushed her down to her back. He climbed on top of her and pressed his chest against hers. ‘I will make you forget about the rug.’
In twenty-four years Charlie had never had a one-night stand. She’d made out with other players at junior tournaments, but hadn’t actually lost her virginity until she’d met Brian her freshman year at UCLA. Since then, she’d been with only a handful of guys, and they’d all fallen somewhere in that nebulous place between casual fling and committed relationship: she had dated them, yes, but there was never a discussed exclusivity, probably because she was never in one place more than a few nights at a time. Or at least that’s what she always told herself. If she were being honest, she often did wonder why men fell all over themselves declaring their love for her but vanished as soon as they got a real glimpse of the non-glamorous side of her lifestyle. Wondered if she were just using her travel schedule as an excuse for why she hadn’t had a real boyfriend in six years. Wondered if she would ever meet someone who was interested in getting to know her beyond how she looked in a tennis skirt and how she had performed at the previous tournament. And most of all she wondered if it were even possible to have a normal relationship as long as she always put tennis first.
But that night Charlie wasn’t wondering at all. That night she was tipsy and free and making out with the most famous men’s tennis player in the world. Or, at the very least, the best-looking. He kissed her neck and ground himself into her; they rolled, their arms around each other, alternately kissing and laughing and kissing again. When Marco magically pulled out a condom and raised his eyebrows, Charlie didn’t even have to think before nodding.
‘Miss Silver?’ The driver’s voice interrupted her delicious memory. It took Charlie a minute to remember where she was.
‘We’re here. Are you okay with the entrance closest to the locker room?’
‘Yes, that’s great, thanks,’ Charlie said. She squeezed her legs together as though the driver knew what she’d been thinking.
She yanked her racket bag out of the car and thanked the driver again. Holding her lanyard credentials out for at least another half dozen people to check, Charlie tried to bring her attention back to practice. The first round had gone easier than she’d expected – easier than she had any real right to expect – but it would be foolish to assume it would happen again. All the girls these days were capable of beating one another at any given time, even the lower-ranked or unseeded ones. And of course her bracket had gotten exponentially harder now that her own ranking had fallen so precipitously after her slip at Wimbledon: her injury had kept her out of the entire hard court summer season and all of Asia in the fall, and her number thirty-six ranking showed it. She had come so close to the chance of playing a Grand Slam as a top seed, and then bam! Blown up by a pair of shoes.
‘Excuse me? Would you please sign my hat?’
Charlie looked up to see a girl of twelve or thirteen standing outside the women’s locker room. She had a credential around her neck that read PLAYER GUEST, and Charlie knew immediately she was a coach’s daughter. None of the male players would have a child that old, and almost none of the female players had kids, period. This girl spoke with a quiet Australian (South African?) accent. It looked like she’d been waiting there for days.
‘Me?’ Charlie asked, actually pausing to look around. A handful of kids here and there asked for her autograph after every match, but they were usually the dedicated tennis fans who collected signatures from each and every player, regardless of who they were or how they played.
‘You’re Charlotte Silver, right?’
‘I love your braid so much!’ the girl exclaimed before looking embarrassed. ‘And I saw you the other night on First and you totally rocked it.’
‘You saw that?’ At Todd’s insistence, Charlie had agreed to guest host an episode of MTV First to ‘help raise her profile with the tween crowd.’ The show’s stylist had dressed her in a pair of painted-on leather pants, a low-cut silk tank, and those thousand-dollar studded Valentino sandals that she’d seen in every magazine. She’d danced and lip-synched and cracked up right along with the teenage hosts and, yes, were she to be honest and a little bit immodest, she had rocked it. Todd had referred to the whole thing as ‘getting her feet wet.’ Charlie was actually a little excited – the night had been fun – but she was relieved, too, to get back into her regular tennis dress, her comfy sneakers, and her standard pink ribbon-woven braid.
‘Yes! I loved it. Here.’ The girl handed her a Sharpie and a powder-blue hat that read AUSTRALIAN OPEN in rhinestones.
Charlie scrawled her name across the side and said, ‘There you go, sweetie.’
The girl beamed. ‘Thank you so much. My father coaches Raj Gupta and he never does anything cool like you.’
Charlie laughed. ‘What can I say? Girls are just better.’ She reached for the locker room door. ‘Thanks for coming to see me.’ She and the girl slapped a high five and Charlie all but skipped into the locker room.
When she came back out, Todd was waiting for her. ‘You look chipper,’ he said, grabbing her racket bag. Whenever the two of them walked together anywhere, Todd insisted on carrying the bag. It was less chivalry than a fear she might strain something, and although she found it a bit demeaning – Charlie was, she was pretty sure, stronger – she relented.
‘This sweet little girl totally recognized me and asked in the cutest way if I would sign her hat. She’d been staking out the locker room just waiting for me.’
‘Get used to it,’ Todd said, walking briskly through the stadium’s underbelly hallway toward the practice court exit. ‘With the image overhaul we’re rolling out, you’re going to be the Beyoncé of women’s tennis.’
As if to punctuate his declaration, a handful of teenage boys stopped talking and turned in unison to check out Charlie as she and Todd walked past.
‘See?’ he said, unable to hide his smile. ‘So … is that the only reason for your shit-eating grin this morning?’