Page 63 of The Singles Game

‘You’re looking thin.’

‘That’s a good thing, Dad. Todd has been saying from the beginning that losing ten pounds would make me faster on my feet. He’s right! I was exhausted in the first round – and if it had been last year, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to see it through – but I rallied this time. Got over it. And I think it’s because I slimmed down overall while still building lean muscle. Who knows? Maybe the Achilles’ never would have happened last year if I’d been at fighting weight.’

‘It’s just that …’ He appeared to be choosing his words carefully. ‘I’m worried that he’s pushing you too hard. Your fitness regimen alone sounds excruciating. And that’s not taking into account your actual tennis training.’

‘It’s not that much more than what I was doing with Marcy,’ she said. A total lie, and they both knew it.

‘Take me through it.’

‘Come on.’

‘I’m just curious. Indulge me.’

Charlie sighed. ‘Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays are full days. That’s three hours of tennis, an hour and a half of fitness, lunch, a break, and then two hours of tennis and another hour of fitness. Thursday is a half day, which is only the morning tennis and fitness. Friday and Saturday are full days. Then Sundays are off. It’s really not so bad.’ Charlie cleared her throat, hoping her lie sounded more believable. The truth was, the regimen felt even more grueling than the description suggested.

‘Sweetheart …’ His voice was low, as though he found this information heartbreaking.

‘Dad, I mean this in the nicest possible way, but you’re a little out of the loop. Everyone says that fifteen years ago women could get by with solid strokes and strategy alone. If you went to three sets, the winner was the woman who could just stay standing. But now? After all these crazy physical girls have come up? Where they train every bit as hard as – if not harder than – the men? There’s no choice anymore. I have to train like that if I want to compete.’

‘I guess it’s a different game these days,’ he said quietly.

‘Yes. I’ve seen old footage of Martina and Chrissy back in the day. Martina won her first tournament when she was downright fat! Can you even imagine?’

They were quiet the remainder of the ride. When the car pulled up in front of Le Meurice, Jake was waiting for them on the sidewalk. He looked adorable in a fitted Moncler puffer vest over a chunky ribbed long-sleeved T-shirt and jeans. The cashmere beanie he wore was the exact shade of blue as his eyes, and for the thousandth time Charlie wondered why he wasn’t dating anyone. He was handsome and put together, and seemingly confident. She’d met a handful of his dates in the past, and they were all a lot like him: neither overly effeminate nor hyper-buff gym Nazis whose arms and chests could barely be contained. Charlie knew Jake had had a slutty period in his early twenties when, according to him, he’d ‘gone on a tear of gay bars and clubs straight through Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, and Brooklyn,’ but a hepatitis close call had scared him back to serial monogamy. Now, as far as she could tell, Jake would only date one person at a time – and after insisting on the full battery of tests – but none of them seemed to last longer than a couple of months. Only one Thanksgiving had he brought someone home, a frustrated electrical engineer named Jack who spent his nights trying to break into the stand-up comedy circuit and had cracked them all up with smart, irreverent jokes about politics, current events, and his own unfortunate red hair. Mr Silver had surprised them both by being relaxed and welcoming; Charlie raved on about how much she loved Ginger Jack, how cute ‘Jake & Jack’ would look on a wedding invitation, how they could name their firstborn Jon or Jill, or Jamie if they were feeling oppressed by gender stereotyping. Yet, when Christmas rolled around, Jake showed up alone, and with the exception of a few murmurs about ‘schedules’ and ‘priorities,’ they’d never heard another word about Jack.

Her father and Jake wrapped their arms tightly and unabashedly around each other and remained that way for some time. When they finally broke apart, Jake examined Mr Silver as though he were a lost son who had finally returned home after a long and arduous journey.

‘What’s going on here?’ she asked, staring at them both.

Mr Silver smiled, but it was forced. ‘Nothing, sweetheart. I’m just always happy to see you two.’

‘Seriously, you’re looking at each other like someone died. What am I missing?’

Identical expressions washed over both Jake’s and her father’s faces, but Charlie couldn’t identify the emotion before Jake grabbed her arm. ‘Come on, you’ve got an interview with French Elle right now. Dad, do you want to go to the room or join us?’

‘What do you think?’ her father asked with a grin, and followed them. Charlie felt guilty for wishing he would have chosen otherwise.

‘Shouldn’t I change? I thought the deal was I had to have at least some visible bedazzling for all interviews.’

Charlie nearly had to run to keep up with Jake as he traversed the marble lobby. She heard at least three people stage-whisper her name to their companions as they passed.

‘Here,’ Jake said, handing her a crystal-encrusted cosmetic bag with her initials in black rhinestones. He pushed her toward the ladies’ room. ‘Pick a few things from there. We’ll meet you in the hospitality suite on the second floor in five. Go!’

She walked into the carpeted bathroom with intricate wood paneling and a three-wick Diptyque candle wafting out the most delicious scent. A quick glance in the mirror confirmed the dark under-eye circles and the dry, peeling lips she already felt. Her usually shiny hair looked dull and heavy; her complexion managed to appear waxy under her omnipresent tan. No wonder her father was so concerned: she looked like shit.

Digging through the duffel-sized cosmetic bag, she pulled out a round brush, her favorite Oscar Blandi dry shampoo, a cordless flat-iron, a bronzer, some mascara, and two lip glosses. Natalya’s traveling hair and makeup people were finally understandable. It took close to ten minutes, during which Jake texted her five times, but she definitely made improvements. There was an entire entourage set up in the hospitality suite when she entered: Jake, Todd, her father, an impossibly chic French woman who must have been the reporter, a photographer, his assistant, and a twentysomething guy they introduced as the translator.