Page 45 of The Singles Game

‘Meredith’s girl. She’s here and all set up.’ Jake stood and hoisted his Jack Spade man purse over one shoulder.

‘Excuse me – what?’

Todd and Jake had already reached the door that led to the women’s locker room. ‘Her name is Monique, and she’s got your new outfits and everything else you’ll need,’ Jake said, holding the door open for her.

‘Can someone speak English here, please? I agreed to a stylist for off-court help. Not for what I wear to play.’

Todd motioned toward her outfit. ‘I’m no fashion guy, but even I know that doesn’t scream Warrior Princess. Or anything good.’

‘This is what I have to wear,’ Charlie said, motioning down toward her turquoise and pink tank dress and co- ordinating undershorts. ‘I have two backups in my bag plus approved socks and sneakers. Or did you forget that my contract requires this?’

‘That’s all been worked out,’ Todd said. Again his phone beeped.

‘Worked out how? What’s going on?’ Charlie stood, hand on hip. As a signed Nike athlete, Charlie was contractually required to wear the clothing that Nike provided for her in the color and style of Nike’s choosing. She could make the occasional request, which they usually did try to honor – preferring a built-in sports bra to a shirt that required a separate one; feeling more comfortable in a dress rather than a top and skirt; wanting thicker straps on her tank top versus skinny ones or, worst of all, short sleeves – but that was pretty much all the input she got. All the Nike-signed women would wear different variations of the same color every tournament, and there really wasn’t too much you could do about it. Turquoise and neon pink wouldn’t have been her colors of choice, but so long as it was comfortable and it fit, which it admittedly always did, she’d long ago stopped wishing for more control.

‘Monique is freelance, and she’s dressed everyone. She happened to already be in Miami this week for a Harper’s Bazaar shoot,’ Jake said, scrolling through his work BlackBerry. ‘Nike gave me written approval for a rebrand, and they messengered over some options first thing this morning. They’re willing to let you break ranks with the color coordination in favor of better publicity. Monique is waiting in there to put it all together.’

Jake yanked open the locker room door and Todd motioned for Charlie to walk ahead. ‘Just go. And do what she says.’

Charlie flashed the guard her credentials and walked into the carpeted locker room that no one except players – not coaches or physios or friends – was permitted to enter. Charlie immediately wondered how Monique had managed it.

‘Charlotte? I’m Monique. Yes, I can see you are every bit as tall as they said. I really didn’t believe them.’

‘Didn’t believe who?’ Charlie asked.

Monique had taken over the entire stretching area off the changing room. There was a portable garment rack stuffed with hooded sweatshirts, warm-up pants, tennis dresses, skirts, tank tops, and T-shirts. Off to the side was a folding table overflowing with undershorts, sports bras, socks, and various sweatbands. Strangest of all, every single item was black.

‘Your coach. Your brother. Wikipedia. Six feet tall? So few of even the models these days are that tall. But don’t worry, I sized accordingly.’ Monique finally stood up. She was surprisingly unkempt, but in that fabulous, bordering-on-homeless-looking way: stringy, waist-length platinum hair with three inches of black roots; silky black harem pants with elastic around the waist and ankles; a messy tangle of silver and gold and leather chain necklaces; a men’s V-neck undershirt topped with a weathered moto jacket; and chunk-heeled snakeskin booties that could, oddly, work for both prostitutes and grandmothers. The pièce de résistance was a diamond-encrusted platinum infinity ring that wrapped around and between all four fingers of her left hand, rendering her entirely dependent on her left thumb and right hand for even the simplest of tasks.

‘I’m an athlete, not a model,’ Charlie said, trying to keep her voice light. ‘Plus, Nike has my measurements down to the millimeter. They custom-make all my outfits. They know my sizes.’

Monique laughed. Not nicely. ‘Yes, well, there wasn’t time for that today. Kissing Marco Vallejo last night changed the rollout schedule, so we’re doing the best we can on short notice. We’ll patch it together for Key Biscayne and then – where are you next? Acapulco? – we’ll have it done right.’

There was so much to dissect that Charlie didn’t even know where to start. ‘“Patch it together”?’

‘Come here, we don’t have a lot of time. Don’t you have to be, like, carb-loading or something at eight?’

‘Breakfast? Yes, I do try to eat that.’ Charlie walked over to the garment rack and began looking through the clothes. ‘Why is everything black?’

‘Warriors wear black.’ Monique didn’t look up. She was busy pairing a top and skirt together.

‘I actually prefer dresses,’ Charlie said. ‘I get distracted when I’m wearing a tank top and it twists up when I serve. What about this one?’

‘Hmm,’ Monique murmured. She sounded supremely uninterested. ‘My, there’s really not a lot of variety in tennis wear, is there? Here, I want you to try this.’ She held up a relatively innocuous plain black tank and a straight skirt.

‘No one wears black,’ Charlie said, panic rising. ‘This is tennis, not a nightclub.’

‘Try it on.’ Monique’s voice was calm but firm: there would be no more discussion.

Charlie stripped completely naked and stood tall: shoulders back, hips out, strong and confident and proud. She hoped to make her new stylist at least a little uncomfortable, but Monique didn’t seem the least bit surprised. Instead, she slowly moved her gaze from Charlie’s feet up to her face, coolly examining every inch of her naked body.

‘Lovely,’ she declared after a long moment, during which Charlie was irritated to discover herself feeling awkward. ‘Really just so much better than all the starving models. Beautiful stomach, real boobs, some curve around the hips. Some might say the thighs are too strong, but I think they work for you. And your ass is to die for. How do you keep it so high?’

Charlie felt her cheeks go hot. ‘I can’t decide if I want to kiss or hit you right now. Both, I think.’