The little girl’s eyes widened. Sofie sounded so genuine that Charlie was willing to overlook the ‘lady’ bit. ‘She’s a pwincess?’
Sofie nodded. ‘A real-life one. This is Anabelle, and Anabelle is in love with princesses.’
Charlie stuck out her hand, which Anabelle stared at, and then, feeling like an idiot for not even knowing what to say to a four-year-old, she said, ‘It’s very nice to meet you, Anabelle. I actually have to go now. I’m meeting, uh, someone.’ Charlie had thrown in that last part merely to offer a logical excuse for her speedy departure, but she realized immediately how it sounded.
Sofie must have as well, because she blushed in the most charming way. No wonder Marco couldn’t resist her.
‘Oh, of course. We don’t want to hold you up, do we, Anabelle? Besides, we must go rescue your brother from the day care. Come, darling. Say good-bye to Ms Silver.’
Ms Silver? She looked at Sofie, but the girl gave no hint at being anything but polite.
They all waved good-bye, and Charlie had to admit that she seemed to be the only one feeling strange about the whole thing. All Charlie had to do was recall the photo of Sofie wearing one of Marco’s T-shirts and straddling his lap to be able to envision exactly what the rest of their night looked like.
She made her way back to the locker room and texted Jake on the way.
Dinner at the hotel tonight? Need to be asleep early.
His reply came back instantly.
Sorry, I can’t tonight. Just order to your room and relax a little. You’ve been training so hard.
Why can’t you? Hot date?
Something like that.
No one you know.
Don’t care, tell me anyway!
Charlie tossed her phone in her locker while she showered and picked it up again the second she returned. Jake had replied three times in a row:
He’s not appropriate.
I will tell you on a need to know basis and right now there’s nothing to know.
Charlie rolled her eyes. She looked at her phone again.
If Jake had a date tonight, it meant her father was eating alone. She dialed his number and he answered on the third ring.
‘Oh, Charlie. Hello.’
‘I just got back to the hotel. Are you here?’
‘That was some interview today, huh?’ Charlie could hear that he was trying to mask the disappointment in his voice but wasn’t succeeding.
‘Yeah, she was pretty out of line. Asking all those questions about my, uh, personal life wasn’t really fair.’
‘I know I’m no altar boy, but when you’re in the public eye and you give people a lot to talk about, you can hardly blame them for asking.’
Charlie was silent.
‘Was all of that Todd’s idea? From his No Publicity Is Bad Publicity playbook?’
‘No, Dad. I got into trouble all by myself on that one. You can’t blame anyone but me.’ If he was trying to shame her, it was working. Brilliantly. On second thought, she figured she should eat alone.
‘Do you want to join me for dinner with some of my old tour friends?’ her dad asked, as if reading her mind.
‘No, thanks. I’m going to order something to my room and watch tape. Todd left me a whole bunch of film from last year and I want to review it. We can do dinner tomorrow.’
Her old dad would have said something like ‘After your big win tomorrow,’ or ‘We’ll have a victory celebration,’ but her father simply assured her he’d be sitting front and center in her player box the following morning and wished her good night.
Charlie took the elevator to her room and found a padded envelope of DVDs waiting for her on the desk. The note attached was scribbled rapidly on hotel stationery.
Watch Acapulco first, Singapore second, and Stuttgart third. Make note of her increased willingness to take risks on game points and her stunning second serve. Car will pick you up at seven tomorrow. – Todd
Sighing, Charlie inserted the first DVD and waited for it to load. She called room service to order the grilled salmon with a side of steamed vegetables. When the woman on the phone asked her if service was for one or two people, it occurred to her how often lately she ate alone in her hotel room. Marcy had always joined Charlie for room service dinners. The two of them would ask to have the table arranged in front of the TV, and they’d alternate between Love It or List It and Property Brothers, with the occasional House Hunters International thrown in. Clad in sweats and fuzzy travel socks, Marcy would drink wine and Charlie would sneak bites of whatever dessert she’d ordered, and they’d make fun of everyone who had the nerve to appear on the screen in front of them. Jake used to say he could hear the evil cackling from down the hall. The thought of doing any of that with Todd was equal parts laughable and repulsive, and she could feel herself missing Marcy even more than usual.
The three sets of match highlights lasted nearly an hour; when they were over, Charlie looked at her empty plate and could barely remember eating. She picked up her phone to check the time and a text message popped right up.
Hey, grabbing dinner with a few of the guys now. Come?
She reread the message three times before realizing she was holding her breath.
It wasn’t exactly an invitation to a romantic dinner for two, but it was also the night before play began in a Grand Slam tournament and no one would be doing much more than eating early and retiring to their rooms. He certainly didn’t need to invite her. She already knew the hot nanny was in Paris and probably perfectly willing to meet him. And if not her, there were dozens, if not hundreds, of others. The fact that he’d even thought of Charlie counted for something.
Hey! Would love to but can’t right now …
Charlie had replied no reflexively. She’d already eaten, and she had a surprisingly tough first-round match early the next day. The last thing she needed was any Marco-related distraction.
A text came right back: So come whenever you can. Eating at patisserie around the corner from hotel. Heading back to Rinaldo’s room afterwards to play the new Madden. Everyone to sleep early, just come say hi. Missing you.
She set her phone down without replying and did a little dance. He missed her, he missed her, he missed her. Without even thinking about it, she scrolled through her phone to find ‘Blank Space,’ mounted it on the bedside speaker, and blasted the volume. Taylor Swift’s cotton candy voice filled the room and Charlie started to dance. I can make the bad guys good for a weekend. She grabbed a bottle of water for a microphone and hopped up on the bed, shamelessly gyrating her hips to the rhythm, until there was a knock on the door and she jumped down, breathless and not nearly as embarrassed as she should have been. The front desk guy standing in the hallway looked sheepish, as though he’d known Charlie was having a solo dance party to a tween hit, and he couldn’t meet her eyes when he conveyed another player’s request to turn down her music. It wasn’t even seven, but quiet time was enforced on player floors twenty-four hours a day. Charlie nodded solemnly, apologized as sincerely as she could manage, and then cracked up the moment she shut the door. Was this what going crazy felt like? She grabbed her phone and headed to the bathroom.