‘What time is it?’
Charlie looked at her phone. ‘Almost five-thirty in the morning. I can’t even. Ohmigod. The irony of this is killing me!’
She couldn’t help but smile. ‘Who’s the big scandalous slut now? Huh? Who is it?’ she stage-whispered.
Jake looked like he wanted to kill her but he couldn’t move an inch.
‘I’m going to the gym. I suggest you leave separately. The crew is definitely up by now. And don’t think you’ll get away without giving me every single solitary sordid detail. You owe me at least that for saving your ass right now. And his!’
Charlie turned to leave and quietly pulled the door closed behind her. She waited for just a moment until she heard Jake shaking Benjy awake and urging him to remain quiet. Making her way back to the upper deck, Charlie began to feel queasy. As excited as she was for Jake’s postgame recap, she knew nothing good could come of this.
En route to the gym – she needed a workout now more than ever – Charlie pressed her ear directly against Marco’s door. How low was the bar set when you were eavesdropping on your sometimes hookup’s room? It was too pathetic for words. She was too pathetic for words. All of which was confirmed moments later when she had rounded the corner and nearly crashed into Dan, who was already dressed in shorts and sneakers, also clearly headed to the gym before he was due to warm her up on the afterdeck court.
‘I won’t tell Todd,’ he had said, looking at his feet as though trying to save her from her unspeakably humiliating walk of shame.
‘Tell Todd what?’ she snapped, all of her surprise and hurt and anger pouring out.
His head popped up when he heard the nastiness of her tone, and his eyes widened in surprise. ‘He just, uh, he wanted to make sure—’
Charlie felt instantly guilty when she saw how miserable Dan looked. ‘Forget it. Just so you know, it’s not how it looks.’ I didn’t even rank for a late-night sex call. For some inexplicable reason, she found herself wanting to tell Dan everything, but before she could say another word, he backed away.
‘It’s none of my business,’ he said, holding his hands up as though he were worried she might strike him.
Charlie kept her mouth shut. Dan was in a lousy position, wedged in between Todd, who had given him this opportunity, and Charlie, who paid his salary. And she was still reeling from what she’d just seen with Jake.
It wasn’t until almost eleven that she was able to corner Jake on a sundeck near the breakfast area.
‘Sit down this second!’ Charlie hissed, sidling up to her brother as he helped himself to a plate of sliced fruit.
She held a coffee cup in one hand and gripped Jake’s arm with the other, but he refused to look at her. ‘Jake? Look at me! What happened?’
He looked at her and motioned for them to move toward two chaise longue chairs.
‘Did you have sex with him?’
Jake’s silence said everything.
‘Like, full-on penetration sex? The real deal?’
‘It wasn’t just that you both had a few too many drinks and he may have been slightly bi-curious and you guys had a little make-out and then fell asleep? Maybe that’s what happened?’
This time Jake met her gaze. ‘I’m in love with him.’
In an effort not to spit her decaf coffee across the table, Charlie inhaled sharply, causing the coffee to go down her throat the wrong way. She began to cough violently.
‘Charlie? Grow up.’
‘No, I’m not making fun of—’ She coughed a few more times and then finally managed to clear her throat as her eyes streamed. ‘I … I just don’t know what to say.’
‘You don’t have to say anything.’ Jake pushed his chair back.
‘No, wait. Please don’t be mad at me. You can understand that this is a little surprising. I mean, he’s a quarterback.’
‘So it’s not like the NFL generally runs around wearing rainbow ribbons and shouting for LGBT equality, you know? Their mission is to hit each other as hard as possible.’
‘Ben is different.’
‘He hates Benjy. It’s just how the public knows him.’
Charlie refrained from making a snarky comment. ‘Can you take me through the night?’ she asked slowly. ‘How did it happen? Have you been getting a vibe from him for a while now or was it a complete surprise last night?’
Jake twisted his fingers. He seemed to be debating what to tell her.
‘Tell me whatever it is you’re thinking right now.’
‘Last night wasn’t the first time.’
Charlie’s hand flew to her mouth before she could stop it. She quickly pretended to pick something from her teeth. ‘It wasn’t?’
‘We’ve been together for months.’
‘Well, sleeping together. But it’s more than that.’
‘Oh. My. God.’ Australia. Five months earlier. Charlie had been so consumed with her own triumphant return after surgery and her brand-new Todd-created image that she had no idea what Jake was doing at the time. ‘There was that night at the restaurant in Melbourne. The first night Dad met Todd. Weren’t Natalya and Benjy at the player party?’
Jake nodded. ‘Exactly. That was when we first met. But nothing happened until the night after the tournament was over. You and Natalya had both already left for Dubai, and we ran into each other in the hotel gym. One thing led to another.’
‘Oh my god,’ she said again. ‘Were you surprised? How could you not tell me! I can’t believe how long this has been going on! I won’t even comment on the fact that you gave me hell for keeping quiet about Marco.’
For the first time all morning, Jake relaxed visibly. He smiled enough that the cute crinkles appeared around his eyes. ‘I wasn’t surprised. I got a vibe, you know? As soon as all the tennis people had left and we were the only ones around, it was the most natural thing in the world.’
Suddenly, it started to make sense: the frisson she always felt when Benjy and Jake were in the same place; Benjy inquiring who might be traveling with Charlie on the private jet to the yacht; Jake’s naked hatred of Natalya. Now she looked at her brother as he described all the different ways he and Benjy had carved time out for one another, all the places they’d secretly met and stories they’d shared, and she felt a surge of intense love for him.