Charlie held her phone so Monique could see and pulled the black tiara from her locker. If she were going to be honest, the cluster of crystals that made up the front design was small and delicate, and their color nearly blended into her hair. From far enough away, maybe it only looked like a sparkly headband? She worked the small clear combs into her hair on either side and adjusted the crown part so it was centered. ‘There.’
‘Good. Keep it there. Now go put on some mascara and lip gloss and go. I’m making a note to get you some eyelash extensions next time I see you. I think they’d go a long way to—’
‘Monique! I can’t even wear sunglasses on the court because they’re too distracting. You think I can handle eyelash extensions?’
But the line had already gone dead. She smiled to herself, suddenly feeling better, and gathered up her things.
the grand master plan
CHARLESTON, APRIL 2016
Another FaceTime call came through as soon as she’d settled into the back of the tournament car, and she swiped it without looking. ‘What, are you stalking me? I’m wearing the damn crown, okay?’
‘Charlotte? Hello?’ Marco’s sexy Spanish accent caused her head to whip around.
‘Marco?’ She squinted at the screen. He was sitting on a carpeted floor somewhere, his back against an ottoman, wearing tennis clothes and smiling at someone offscreen. A man she didn’t recognize sat in a chair behind Marco with an ice pack taped to his shoulder. She waited for Marco to turn his attention back to her but instead he offered someone off camera that killer smile. ‘Gracias,’ he said, lisping the s sound in the classic Spaniard way. ‘Volver a verme pronto.’ When he finally did turn back to Charlie, he stared at the screen blankly as though he’d forgotten whom he had called.
‘Hey,’ Charlie said, reaching up to turn on the overhead backseat light so he could see her more easily. She was elated to see he’d been following her tournament. Charleston was women only, and usually the men took little notice: they were competing in Monte Carlo at the Rolex Masters, and since Marco was not only the tournament favorite but also the current face of Rolex, he was undoubtedly busy. She ran a quick calculation and figured it was nearly midnight in Europe. His match must have run seriously late.
‘Charlie? What’s up? What’s going on there?’
‘What’s going on here?’ she teased, working harder than she thought to sound casual. ‘Oh, just the usual. Winning is exhausting, you know.’
Again he glanced off camera and winked. Where was he? The players’ lounge? His hotel room? Someone else’s? Then he turned back to look at her. He either hadn’t heard her or didn’t catch the reference.
‘Charlie? Listen, I only have a second. Can you do me a huge favor? Babolat just called that my new set of rackets are ready. If they ship them over, they could get held up in customs. If I have them meet you at JFK, can you fly them over to Munich?’
‘Your new rackets?’
‘You’re playing Munich, I thought you said. And you’re coming tomorrow, yes? Or the next day?’
So he remembered she was flying the next day, which logically meant either he knew she’d won and wasn’t bothering to mention it, or he didn’t even care enough to ask how she’d done. Both options sucked equally.
‘Yes. I’m going out to celebrate tonight, and then I fly out tomorrow.’
‘Connecting in JFK? Or Atlanta? They can get them to either one if I let them know tonight.’
‘JFK.’ Her voice was steely cold.
‘Great. I’ll tell Bernardo to call your people. Thanks, baby.’
‘Is that all?’
‘Sorry, amante, it’s late here. I will like to see you when you arrive.’ He proffered a kiss to the screen, although his gaze was still diverted somewhere off in the distance. ‘¡Besos!’
She jammed the end-call button with her thumb so hard she almost dropped her phone. Selfish prick, she thought. How do you say that in Spanish?
Almost immediately, the phone rang again. Her heart rate surged at the thought that he’d called back to apologize, but Jake’s name came up on the caller ID.
‘Marcy told you, right? I’m on my way. The doping people literally attacked me right after the match, and it took forever until I could pee up to the acceptable standards.’
‘You are a total rock star! Charlie, you won Charleston! You looked incredible out there. I really don’t think the score reflects how much you dominated that match. And how she tried to mess with you at the end and you wouldn’t let her? Todd and I were freaking out!’
Charlie allowed herself to smile. Now this was how you called someone to say congratulations.
‘Do you even realize what this will do to your ranking? Not to even mention the big, fat, number one check?’
‘Yeah, it’s pretty great.’
‘Understatement of the year. This is career-making for you. It’s happening, Charlie, it really is. Between Todd and the new image and the attitude, it’s all coming together. You won a Premier! Won it. And if that wasn’t good enough, I’m about to make it better.’
‘Better? Really? Because I’m feeling pretty great right now.’
‘I got a phone call.’
‘That sounds exciting.’
‘I’m serious, Charlie. You’re going to want to hear this. Wait, is that you pulling up?’
Charlie looked out the window and saw Jake standing outside the restaurant, phone to his ear. She ended the call, tossed her phone in her bag, and climbed out of the car.
‘Wow. You look gorgeous,’ Jake said, holding her shoulders. ‘Monique?’
Charlie held out her tutu skirt in a little curtsy. ‘What do you think? If it were up to me, I’d be in yoga pants.’
‘Great win, Charlie!’ an overweight man in a business suit bellowed from across the street.
‘We love you, Charlie!’ came the call from giggly preteen twin girls who trailed after their parents.
She waved and was delighted to see nearly everyone in sight waving back: pedestrians standing at the crosswalk, a line of people waiting for ice cream, nearly all the patrons of an outdoor restaurant.
‘Where’s Marco?’ called out a woman with a newborn strapped to her chest.
Charlie laughed, although the mere mention of his name sent her nails digging into her palms. ‘Monte Carlo!’ she called back in what she hoped sounded like a carefree voice. ‘Tough life, huh?’