NEW YORK CITY, AUGUST 2016
Wrapped in a waffle-weave robe with a towel twisted around her head, Charlie peered through the telescope on the windowsill of her suite. From the twentieth floor, the treetops clustered together to make Central Park look like a continuous field of green, with only patches of water and miniature ant people biking or strolling or riding through. Each day for the last two weeks Charlie would watch the sun cast distinctly summery shadows on the trees. Whoever claimed there was nothing bucolic about New York City had clearly never stayed in a park-view penthouse suite at the Ritz-Carlton in high summer.
A knock at the door caused her to glance at the clock. Nearly eight a.m. She padded to the door, looked through the peephole, and threw it open.
‘I thought you were breakfast!’ Charlie said, launching herself at Piper, who stood in the hotel’s hallway looking slightly rumpled but still glamorous in wide-legged jeans and a tucked-in silk button-down. Oversized sunglasses held back her wavy hair.
‘Oooh, does that mean you ordered something? I’m starving.’ Piper kissed Charlie’s cheek and pushed right past her, unaware that her gigantic shoulder bag smashed Charlie directly in the chest.
‘Yes, and I got a lot, so you’re in luck. Come in,’ she said, although Piper had already dropped her bag in the suite’s marble foyer and beelined directly for the picture windows.
‘Spectacular,’ she declared, glancing at the park for a brief second before swiveling the telescope in the direction of the nearest high-rise. ‘Have you seen anyone naked yet?’
‘I can’t believe you willingly took a red-eye just for me. Wait, come here. Let me see your ring!’
Piper held up her left hand and shrugged. ‘We went plain gold bands, just because it pissed off my mother. Is that ridiculous?’
‘Yes, totally. But so is eloping, and that didn’t stop you.’
Piper looked directly at Charlie. ‘Do you hate me? You know we only did it because we couldn’t stand our families. The idea of our mothers hashing out a menu for some hideous seated luncheon for all their friends …’ She shuddered. ‘We just couldn’t. But you know I missed having you there, right?’
Charlie smiled. ‘I know. I was devastated not to wear a floor-length dusty-pink gown. And how I regret not having to write a speech and google “wedding toast jokes.” It was heartbreaking, really it was.’
‘Yeah, when you put it that way, you definitely do owe me. I am happily married and on my way to a vineyard in South America, and you and I never needed to have a single conversation about up-dos or strippers dressed like policemen. It was a win for everyone.’
‘Where is Ronin?’
‘Probably asleep already. He went to check in. Fourteenth floor, I think? No view like this, that’s for sure. This is reserved exclusively for number-two-ranked players in the world.’
Piper flopped onto a couch in the sitting room. She picked up a folded copy of Page Six from the coffee table and held it up for Charlie.
‘Please tell me you’re not reading this.’
‘Of course I am. But I give you my word, I really don’t care.’ The New York papers had gone crazy covering Marco and Natalya frolicking all over the city together. In just the past few days since each had been knocked out in the semis, they’d been photographed at restaurants, shops, nightclubs, and even an upscale sex toy boutique on the Lower East Side. From the pictures, it looked like they did nothing all day long but spend money, make out, and grope one another, but Charlie could all too easily imagine the reality behind the cameras.
Piper pulled the cap off a bottle of Fiji water and took a long slug. ‘You nervous?’
‘You could say that.’
‘Arthur Ashe, prime time, women’s final. Pretty big stage,’ Piper said, dabbing her lips with the back of a finger. ‘The biggest, actually.’
Charlie’s heart beat a little faster. ‘I almost can’t believe it’s happening.’
There was a knock at the door at the same time that Charlie’s phone rang. ‘That’ll be breakfast. Can you just get it and sign the bill?’ she said to Piper as she swiped open the call. ‘Hello?’
‘How are you feeling?’ Jake’s voice came through the line in a rush: panicked, excited, thrilled.
‘Hanging in there. Piper just got here. Where are you?’
‘I’m on my way to Flushing Meadows to meet with the American Express people. We need to work out who’s sitting in your box tonight and who’s in their suite.’
‘Charlie! Visitor!’ Piper called. Charlie could tell from the tone of her voice that it wasn’t a food delivery. Then, a beat afterward, she heard Dan’s laugh.
‘Jake? I’ll call you right back.’ She clicked off the phone as he protested and felt a brief stab of guilt, but as soon as she saw Dan dressed for practice with a racket bag slung over his shoulder, Charlie forgot instantly about her brother.
‘Hey,’ he said, his voice revealing nothing. ‘I, uh, I didn’t realize you had company.’
‘I’m hardly company, Dan,’ Piper said.
The suite’s bell rang again.
‘That has to be the food,’ Charlie said.
Dan flashed Charlie a quick smile.
‘Why don’t I get that?’ Piper said, looking between the two of them.
The moment she disappeared into the foyer, Dan crossed the room to Charlie and pulled her into a hug. His US Open T-shirt smelled of laundry detergent and deodorant and sunblock. It felt so good to nuzzle her cheek into the warmth of his neck that it was all Charlie could do not to collapse into him. Neither of them noticed Piper’s return until she pushed the food cart into the living room. Charlie and Dan yanked away from each other as though a parent had just caught them making out in the basement.
‘What? You think I didn’t see the writing on the wall for this one?’ Piper said, pulling a chocolate croissant from the bread basket. She took a bite, swallowed, and poured herself a cup of black coffee. ‘Another reason to elope.’
‘Elope?’ Charlie sputtered, her cheeks already flushing. ‘Piper, we’re not even – it’s not like—’
Dan merely stood, arms crossed awkwardly, staring off through the windows into Central Park.
‘I meant me. Another reason for me to elope. The croissant. To not have to starve myself for a year to fit into some princess wedding dress, that’s all. Is there something you guys want to tell me?’ Piper’s widened eyes were all faux innocence.