Chuck Bartowski didn’t look up as Anna Wu stepped over a pile of empty cheese puffs barrels and gave her charge one disdainful look. Unfortunately for him, it was the most cutting one in her arsenal. “God,” she said. “Letting you move back in with Morgan was a bad idea.”
He continued staring at the ceiling. “You know, there’s a crack that runs along right…there. It kind of looks like the Mississippi.”
Anna’s scowl deepened a fraction. “When was the last time you worked out?”
“I did some lifting. It looks like a gnome, don’t you think?” Chuck lazily lifted an arm—an arm that he knew the length of down to the millimeter, as the announcers loved to make a big deal over that—and pointed at the crack. “Not an angry one, thankfully. And why’s it matter? It’s not like there’s any reason to bother working out.”
“I don’t know about that.” Anna dropped the newspaper she’d brought onto his chest. “Read that and tell me there’s no reason to.”
Chuck sat up and picked up the paper. After a second, his eyes widened, but it was a long beat before he looked up. “Is this real?”
Anna’s scowl vanished as she nodded, a big grin taking its place. “Smith got caught. HGH. You’re on the team!”
Later, they decided it was prudent not to mention to the press that Chuck Bartowski, the most unlikely diver on the planet, had passed out when he first received the news that he would be going to London to compete in the Olympics.
“This is so great! We always dreamed this would happen and look at us. Living large, Chuck. Liv. Ing. Large.” Morgan Grimes stretched out each syllable, rolling it through his mouth and pointing his face toward the ceiling like he could feel the sunlight. “You and me, Olympians! Like we always dreamed.”
Chuck didn’t consider walking through LAX living all that large, but he was too busy digging through his bag to make sure he had all of his boarding passes—they hadn’t gotten a direct flight, they were far too small potatoes for that—to argue. “Like you always dreamed. I never had a shot in hell, and you know it.”
“Which is why you’re wearing this?” Morgan tugged at the sleeve of Chuck’s Team USA jacket. “Right. Never had a shot in hell. Uh-huh. Man, this is AWE—” He waved his arms and splashed ! ! ! ! all over. Chuck spluttered as he was showered in fruit-punch flavored energy drink.
“…some,” Morgan said, finishing his thought. His eyes widened. “Whoa, so sorry about that, here, let me—”
“No, Morgan, it’s okay, I’ve got it—”
“No, this stuff stains if you let it set in—”
Morgan wrestled the jacket from Chuck and whisked off with it, leaving the diver standing alone in the LAX airport in nothing but his jeans and a nerdy tee.
“Well, great,” he said. He pulled his cell phone out and sighed at the picture of Anna on the display. He’d taken the picture with one of his underwater cameras so that his coach, then teammate, stood by the poolside, shaking her finger and trying to look serious. “What’s up?”
“Please tell me you’ve at least left the house.”
“Big Mike told Morgan the flight was two hours earlier than it was, which means we’re barely on time for this one. We’re at the airport already. Even made it through security.”
“Where are you? I’m at the gate.”
“We’ll be there in a minute.”
“You’d better be.” Anna hung up, making Chuck shake his head. At least security had been a breeze. He’d received quite a few looks in the line for his windbreaker, and one of the TSA officers had wanted a picture with him when she found out he was competing in diving (“Not very well, probably,” Chuck had said with a rueful smile), but now, without the jacket, he seemed like just any other schmo making his way through LAX. Which was why he was surprised to hear, “Excuse me, would please you sign my cast?” from behind him. He turned.
His confusion cleared. A little girl, whose arm was in a bright purple cast, was beaming up not at him, but at two astonishingly beautiful women behind him, both of them in Team USA jackets. Though the girl had addressed the blonde—who was so pretty, it kind of hurt to look at her—the redhead of the pair stepped forward. “Certainly! How’d you get this, huh?”
Chuck didn’t hear the girl’s reply, other than the word “brother.” He had to smile. How many times had he and Ellie injured each other growing up? Especially in the pool? They’d been lucky there had never been any broken bones.
“And where’s your brother now?” the blonde asked, handing a black marker to her—friend? Teammate? Chuck didn’t recognize either of them, but that wasn’t surprising. He’d barely set foot outside of the pool or the gym since Anna had announced that he’d nabbed the spot on the diving team.
“Over there,” the little girl said, pointing to where a middle-aged woman and a young boy were waiting across the terminal. She hopped in place from excitement, making it hard for the redhead to sign her cast. “My mom says you’re going to win gold again, she can feel it.”
“Well, I hope she’s right.” The blonde glanced over at Chuck, a puzzled look on her face, and Chuck realized he’d been staring, rather idiotically.
“Me too!” The little girl looked at Chuck, barettes swinging in the wind. “Are you going to the ’lympics, too?”
Both the redhead and the blonde gave him amused looks. They were blue-eyed, very trim and fit, and dressed far more glamorously than Chuck. It was also a little unfair that so much hotness could exist in the pair of them, as they each had perfect bone structure.
“Yes,” he said.
“Are you going to win the gold, too?”
Chuck bit his tongue before he could say he probably wouldn’t. Instead, he cleared his throat. “Maybe. I don’t know. It’s my first time.”
“Oh!” The redhead looked suddenly delighted. “You’re an Olympic vir—”
Whoever the blonde was, she certainly had the reflexes of an Olympian, for she slapped a hand over her teammate’s mouth. “He’s going to win the gold, too,” she told the little girl. “He’s really good.”
Chuck blinked at her, suddenly wondering if he was the only athlete not to receive a dossier on all of the other Team USA members.
“Can you sign my cast, too?” the girl asked him. “Are you a gymnast? My mom says they flip really, really high in the air.”
“I flip higher,” Chuck said as he knelt to sign the cast. “I’m a diver. I jump up from really high in the air and do flips and land in the water.”
“Yeah, otherwise ouch,” the redhead, who’d retrieved use of her mouth from her teammate, said.
“My best friend, Morgan, he’s a gymnast. He does the same thing, but on a trampoline.”
The girl’s eyes widened, and Chuck hoped, if they had a trampoline, that the mom kept a close eye on her daughter in the near future.
The redhead eyed him up and down. “Diver, huh? Does that mean you wear that tiny little Speedo?”
“It’s the uniform,” Chuck said, hoping he hadn’t turned bright red. He handed the marker to the blonde as he rose and smiled at the girl. “There you go. Make sure to cheer us all on, okay?”
“‘Kay. Thanks!” The girl scampered off, leaving Chuck with his fellow Olympians.
“Sorry,” he said. “I really didn’t mean to horn in on your moment.”
The redhead shrugged. “We’re used to it. Now—”
“Chuck!” Morgan came racing out of the bathroom, the mostly clean windbreaker in his hands. “I couldn’t get all of the ! out, but it’s less pink than before, so you shoul—Oh.” He blinked in confusion at Chuck’s new acquaintances. “Hello, ladies.”
“Huh.” The redhead gave Chuck’s windbreaker a look. “You were telling the truth.”
“Why would he lie?” the blonde asked her.
The redhead shrugged as Chuck pulled on the windbreaker. “I’m Chuck Bartowski,” he said. “Diving squad. This is my buddy Morgan Grimes, trampoline wunderkind. I’m sorry I don’t know who you are—I’ve been training so long—”
“It’s all good.” The blonde gave him a smile that made his knees go weak. “I actually knew who you were. Bryce Larkin’s old partner, right? I’m Sarah Walker.”
“No, you’re not,” Chuck said automatically.
“I’m…not?” Sarah laughed, but her expression was once more puzzled.
Chuck abruptly realized what he said and slapped a hand over his own mouth.
“Well, since nobody’s going to introduce me, hi.” The redhead smirked at all of them. “I’m Carina Miller. Though I really am offended you don’t recognize us.” She flexed. “I’ve been on all of the billboards. You really can’t have missed them.”
The names Walker and Miller struck a chord, though he hadn’t paid much attention or even seen the billboards Carina had talked about. Volleyball, Chuck realized. Beach volleyball. He’d heard that Bryce’s girlfriend was an athlete, but he’d been too focused on diving to pay attention. He didn’t know if he would have even connected the girlfriend “Sarah Walker (no profile)” listed on Bryce’s Facebook page with the beach volleyball gold-medalist standing in front of him now. There was certainly no way in hell Sarah Walker should be this downright attractive. If karma were at all fair, she should have been hump-backed with a really obvious mole and possibly a club foot. But it looked like Bryce Larkin’s insane good luck streak was continuing.
“Oh. Right,” he said, shaking Carina’s hand.
“I would never forget a face like yours, milady,” Morgan said, bowing over Carina Miller’s hand and kissing it. Chuck was torn between wanting to give the Picard facepalm or sinking into the floor.
Chuck figured it was probably kinder if he hid his laughter.
“Can I walk you to your gate?” Morgan asked the pair of them.
The teammates exchanged yet another amused look. Hours on the sand courts had obviously led to the ability some athletes developed to read minds. Chuck had had that kind of partnership once. Some days, he missed it.
“Why not?” Carina asked, and threaded her arm through Morgan’s. Morgan, of course, immediately went the color of bone and proceeded to walk stiffly, his face a mask of shock that this could be happening to him. As they walked away from Chuck and Sarah, though, Carina glanced over her shoulder with yet another smirk.
“Relax, she won’t eat him alive,” Sarah said.
“If you’re sure.”
“She gets antsy before big meets. But she won’t actually, you know, hurt him or anything.” Sarah grinned at him and his knees went jittery again. “So you’re the famous Chuck Bartowski.”
“I don’t know about famous.” Chuck re-shouldered his bag and they headed down the terminal. “Infamous, maybe. And you—you’re Bryce’s girlfriend, right? I guess that’s how you know about me?”
“Ex-girlfriend. We broke up about eight months ago.” Sarah shrugged.
“Oh.” Chuck frowned. “I’m, um, sorry to hear that.”
“Thank you, but I’m not. Bryce had some pictures of the two of you diving around his apartment, which is how I recognized—” Sarah jumped and pulled a cell phone out of her pocket. “Oh, that’s my coach. I’d better go. It was very nice meeting you. Good luck out there!”
“Same to you,” Chuck said after her, but she was already hurrying away to collect Carina.
A few seconds later, Morgan wandered back with a smug look on his face. “Dude,” he said. “I have found the love of my life, man. She is perfection. She is the Mona Lisa, but in a really hot body and she plays with other women in the sand in a bikini just like the gods divined should be. She is Aphrodite, she is Helen, she is Samus and Sarah Conner combined.”
“And she probably thinks she’s way out of your league,” Chuck said, clapping him on the shoulder.
Morgan sighed. “Ain’t that always the way?” he said.
Chuck was positive that that was the last he’d see of Carina Miller and Sarah Walker. With over five hundred US athletes heading to London, the odds were stacked for it. Besides, a third-rate athlete wouldn’t have much chance to mingle with volleyball stars like them. Best to forget the meeting had even happened.
Thanks to a lifetime of competing, Chuck knew most of the dive team already, though he wasn’t as familiar with the swim team, who he met at orientation right after he and Morgan landed at Heathrow. He’d discovered back even before the growth spurt that had seemingly killed all of his chances and when he was still competing on the JO level, that there was a rift between divers and the swimmers. Divers complained that swimmers got the better things: more attention, better gear, bigger headlines. And while the feud wouldn’t go away any time in his life, Chuck was too dazed at the fact he’d just shaken the hands of Gabriel Phillips and Marco Cloche, two of the most decorated swimmers on the planet, to care. Nor did he care that he was expected to room with Ryan Moriarty, who’d silvered in Beijing and was expected to do even better in London. At least, Chuck thought as he unpacked his gear in Olympic Village, he wasn’t expected to room with Bryce.
“Did you hear about the cafeteria?” Morgan asked as he came into Chuck’s room without knocking. “I hear it’s completely sick—every kind of food you can think of, just in that room right there. All waiting for me.”
“Don’t you have to watch your diet?”
“Hey, man, my event’s early. And after that, I’m retiring.”
Chuck put the last of his gear away. He hadn’t opened the luggage that had been handed to him by the US Team coordinators when he’d checked in downstairs. His opening ceremony outfit was already in the closet, waiting for him and he wouldn’t need anything else until the next day. “You’re not retiring,” he said.
“You retire, I retire, that was the deal.”
Chuck raised his eyebrows. “Told Big Mike he’ll need to find somebody new to coach yet?”
“I, um, I’m getting around to it, okay?”
Chuck shook his head. “Don’t go through my suitcase,” he said.
“What, you’re leaving? I thought we’d walk around, do some stuff.”
“Anna wants to meet me for some dryland conditioning. I think she wants to wear me out before the opening ceremonies so I actually sleep tonight.”
“Chuck,” Morgan said with as much solemnity as it was possible for him to muster, “your coach is a sadist.”
“Yes, she is. Now get out so that I can change.”
“You do realize you’re going to be on TV in front of millions in a few days wearing nothing but a Speedo, right?”
“So everybody has reminded me,” Chuck said, and pushed Morgan out of the room so that he could change into his gear.
Anna put him through a light session, which surprised him, though he certainly didn’t protest. She’d been brutal in the past couple of weeks; he’d expected it to ramp up in London, as Anna tended to refocus her nerves into concentrated effort to torture him. But instead, she joked and they worked with the trampoline, doing some form-work and somersaulting after warm-ups.
“Don’t expect me to go so easy on you tomorrow,” she said while Chuck went through his cool-down.
He sighed at her.
There wasn’t time to get dinner and a nap in before they were due at the ceremony, so Chuck braved the lines at the cafeteria, loading up from the Greek section—if nothing else, he was going to enjoy the multicultural aspect of dining before he lost horribly—and setting to find a seat alone. He’d brought his iPod.
Who on earth had earned that unfortunate nickname? He hoped that the sad-sack with the unfortunate moniker was at least really skilled at his sport to make up for it. He gave a rueful headshake as he continued on with his tray.
Startled, Chuck turned just in time to see Carina Miller waving. Sarah Walker, sitting across the table from her, leaned and muttered something to her teammate. “Oh, right,” he heard Carina say. “Bartowski! Speedo! Over here.”
Chuck was tempted to look behind him to see if there was maybe some other Bartowski that could be wandering around, but Carina and Sarah were both looking directly at him. They were dressed in what he assumed were the opening ceremonies wardrobe, for there were blue blazers over the backs of their chairs. Cautious, he wandered over. “Um, hi,” he said. “Speedo?”
“What? You don’t like it? Sit.” Carina shoved out the chair next to Sarah with her foot. “I’m bored and she’s in Serious Mode. Spare me from boredom. Where’s your little friend?”
“No idea.” Chuck, not unaware that he was the recipient of several envious looks, set his tray down next to Sarah’s, which was surprisingly empty. She wasn’t eating, but instead focused on a notebook in front of her.
“Hi,” he said.
“Ignore her,” Carina said. “They put us in Pool D, and that means Austria, which means we’ve got Sarah the Serious.”
“Oh, please,” Sarah said, looking up from the notebook to roll her eyes at her teammate. “Just because I asked you to wait until after the opening ceremony to go after that cyclist. And hi, Chuck.”
“Correction: that really cute cyclist. Did you see his thighs?” Carina directed the last question at Chuck, who choked on his water. “Magnificent. And the cyclists have the best stamina, you know.”
“Erm,” Chuck said.
“Hence,” Sarah said, though she was starting to smile, “why I asked you to wait until after the ceremony.” She looked at Chuck. “Why aren’t you in the outfit yet?”
“Just got back from training.”
“Have you seen the beret yet?” Carina asked. “It’s the best part.”
Sarah, on the other hand, asked, “You’re training already?”
“Damn,” Carina said, “even we get a day off.”
“My coach is a sadist. What’s Pool D? I thought you played volleyball.”
“Twenty-four teams,” Sarah said. “Six pools of four. Top two teams advance from each pool, and two other teams. It’s a little more complicated than that, but…”
“I’m smart, I can handle complex math,” Chuck said, grinning.
“You’d have to be. Stanford, right?” Sarah closed the notebook.
Chuck opened his mouth to answer in the affirmative, but Carina let out a shocked gasp. She was staring not at Chuck or at any of the athletes around them but at the closed notebook. “Oh, my God,” she said in a dead-on imitation of a valley girl. “You got Sarah Walker to close her famous notebook. Speedo, you must be magic. Tell me, how do you do it? Is there, like, some secret you can share?”
“Shut up,” Sarah told her friend, though she was laughing. To Chuck, she said, “Carina likes to pretend that our media profiles are real. She’s the carefree flirt, I’m the serious one.”
“But I am a carefree flirt,” Carina said. “And you are the serious one.”
“Our first match is tomorrow,” Sarah said to Chuck. “And I’m not that serious. Shut up.”
“No, we’ll face them third. We’re up against Bulgaria tomorrow.”
“Are they tough?”
Carina snorted. Sarah shook her head, though Chuck got the feeling she was trying not to laugh. He wanted to sink into his seat a little. “I can’t say no in case they do pull off a miracle and beat us,” Sarah said, sounding apologetic now. “But…”
“Got it. Say no more. How come you didn’t get here sooner if you’re playing tomorrow?”
“We were training down in Baja California.” Sarah glared at Carina. “And somebody forgot to put gas in the car.”
“Once,” Carina said. She looked at Chuck and said, without any prompting whatsoever, “You’re a tall drink of water, aren’t you?”
“Yes, so every commentator, coach, and diver has told me since I was sixteen.” Chuck finished one plate and moved on to the next. Being surrounded by Olympic athletes was the one place in the world where he didn’t feel awkward about his eating habits. “Though they just say too tall. I’ve never had anybody put it like that.”
“I’m special,” Carina said.
“Don’t agree,” Sarah told Chuck. “It’ll go to her head.”
Carina stuck her tongue out at her teammate. “So. Gonna break the stranglehold the Chinese have on the sport, Speedo?”
“I’m just happy to be here,” Chuck said, which was the truth. Well, he was still dazed. Dazed and happy. “I’ll probably finish dead last. Bryce is the one that will end up on the medal stand.”
“Aw, c’mon.” Sarah nudged him with her shoulder and he nearly jumped out of his skin. “This is the Olympics. Anything can happen, right?”
“The too-tall diver with the too-young coach winning the gold would be the very definition of impossible, but who knows?” Chuck managed a self-deprecating smile as a voice came over the speaker, announcing that there were fifteen minutes until the athletes were expected to head for the ceremonies. He checked his watch. “Oh, hell.”
“Go on, we’ll take care of your tray,” Sarah said. Chuck scooped two of the rolls from his tray, gave them both grateful looks, and took off running for the elevator.
The next day, he traded with another diver for time in the pool, which annoyed Anna to no end, but it left him free to listen to the women’s beach volleyball match while he did his weight training. As promised, Sarah and Carina crushed the Bulgarian team so soundly that by the end, Chuck was almost convinced to cheer for the other team out of sympathy. The media did indeed paint Sarah as the serious one of the two, for—“That’s the first sign of emotion we’ve seen from Ice Queen all game, with that fist-pump. And of course Miller’s going nuts. Has the FIVB come down on her for her behavior at all? Oh, that dance cannot be legal”—she seemed to like rubbing it in against the other team. He let out a laugh and had the others working out beside him giving him strange looks.
Since he couldn’t get platform time until later—his event was after the synchros, which meant that Laszlo and Bryce had first rights—Chuck spent his pool time practicing his entries and layouts on the 1-meter springboard. He’d spotted Bryce at the opening ceremonies, but it had been nothing more than a glance between old teammates. How Bryce felt, Chuck didn’t know, but Chuck had turned away to wave at the crowd with the same sense of burning resentment that always accompanied seeing Bryce at meets. Bryce had even made the stupid beret look good. Everything about that man’s life was completely unfair.
After training, he hit the hot tub before he and Anna were due to review the day’s session. From the stories he’d heard from Bryce—he and Bryce hadn’t qualified for synchro for Beijing, but Bryce had qualified for springboard—a lot of athletes actually relaxed during their time at the games, while others intensified, leading to an interesting atmosphere in the Village. By all appearances, Anna was determined to make him fall into the latter category.
He had no idea what he was doing there.
Every single article written about him had focused on one thing: his height. He was too tall, they said over and over again, as at 6’1”, he was over the implicit six-foot cap on the sport. Based on his height alone, he lacked the ability for the tight control divers needed, no matter that he actually had that control and had proven it multiple times, winning a few silvers and bronzes at JO level and even the one solitary gold when he had been Bryce’s partner at ten-meter synchro.
But Bryce had said that he needed a new partner, and that Chuck should just give up diving entirely, that the reason they weren’t winning more was all on Chuck. It had shaken him. He and Bryce had been partnered off before their first day at Stanford together: they’d been roommates, they’d trained together for three and a half years. At times, each knew what the other was thinking. They communicated without speaking, they anticipated each other, they adjusted when one was having a bad day.
And then Bryce had begun training with Laszlo Mahnovski. The other man was admittedly a head-case and couldn’t dive alone to save his life, but he had an alien ability to perfectly mimic a partner in mid-air. Larkin-Mahnovski had a chance at destroying China’s dominance over the sport, and it was all the media could talk about. They loved Bryce because he was blue-eyed and dark haired and perfectly sculpted, the ideal Olympian. Women swooned, sponsors flung themselves at him. He was a shoo-in to medal in individuals.
As for Bryce’s ex-partner, the media said very little. They loved a good underdog tale, but Chuck knew most of the stories about him laid bets on how long it would take him to crack under the pressure. They brought up his height, his dive coach, his hiatus. Nobody expected him to get a medal. He was lucky that the Buy More had even been willing to sponsor him in the first place. ! ! ! ! had offered, but he just wasn’t that fond of the smell of fish.
“Bartowski, right?” The British accent made him look up; he hadn’t thought anybody outside of his own team knew his name, which was silly. The other divers in his category would have studied him just as hard as he had studied them. Indeed, he recognized Cole Barker of the British team standing at the edge of the hot tub. “Mind if I join you?”
“No, not at all. You can call me Chuck.”
“Cole,” Cole said, shaking his hand as he climbed in. The Brit immediately let out a long sigh of relief. “My coach is a beast, but he seems to have nothing on yours. Rather a bit of a dictator, that one.”
“She was scarier when she was my teammate,” Chuck said, shaking his head. “I almost want the event to be tomorrow instead of in two weeks. I want to get it over with.”
“No kidding. It’s like being at university all over again.”
Given that Chuck had gotten six straight hours of sleep the night before, it was nothing like being at university for him, but he nodded.
“Hey, you’re close with the volleyball girls from the States, yeah? I saw you talking to them in the cafeteria.”
Chuck blinked at him. “I wouldn’t say that, exactly.” After all, one airport meeting and one dinner did not a close friendship make.
“But you know them, right? You can maybe get a bloke an introduction?”
“Miller and Walker?” said a voice behind Chuck, and Chuck tensed—which didn’t feel great for his sore legs. He hadn’t even seen Bryce come in. “I wouldn’t even bother, Barker.”
Cole Barker’s friendly smile lessened a notch. “Hey, Larkin,” he said.
“You’d have better luck with Carina than Sarah,” Bryce said, coming over and hopping into the Jacuzzi in that same self-assured way he did everything. “Sarah’s too focused to pay much attention to anybody, even flying squids like you, Barker.”
Cole’s grin brightened. “Bet I can change her mind, Larkin.”
Though he really could have done with a few more minutes in the spa, Chuck abruptly rose to his feet, water streaming off of his legs. “I think I’d better go. Gentlemen.”
“Nice meeting you, Chuck,” Cole called after him. Chuck gave him a wave, didn’t look at Bryce, and left.
The Village’s atmosphere was immensely changeable. When Chuck and Morgan had arrived, there had been a sense of madness, as everybody had been scrambling to prepare for the opening ceremonies. Things settled down once the games actually began, but the sense of movement never left. Everywhere he looked, there were athletes, rushing to an event or training or hanging out with others. The lounges, particularly the computer lounge, were overrun with athletes of all colors, shapes, sizes, and languages. It was fascinating to behold.
He made friends easily. That had never been his problem. Even though he was a nerd, he always found people—usually interesting people—willing to hang out with him, at least for a little while. On the first official day of the games, he made friends with a few track stars from Botswana, some of the swimmers from his own team, the entire dive team save for Laszlo and Bryce, a Canadian shot-putter, and two of the Russian gymnasts. He was delighted to find out that one of the British cyclists was just as big of a nerd for Zork as he was, and stayed up until one in the morning discussing the finer points of Romero’s body of work with two of the German rowing crew.
Anna added an hour to his diving practice for that little misdemeanor.
Men’s individual diving was one of the later events, which meant he had plenty of spare time to stress out. In addition, Morgan had to train harder than he did, which left him a lot of time alone. It was during one of these times that Sarah found him.
Anna, as an apology for working him so hard, had given him the afternoon off, which left him with nothing to do. He’d intended to nap, but his roommate had sneaked one of the water polo players into their room, making that a no-go. So instead he wandered, and nearly ran into Sarah Walker coming out of the elevator.
Instead of walking right past him, she gave him a smile. “Chuck! Hey. How’s it going?”
“Oh, you know.” Chuck wiggled a hand. He hadn’t seen her since the opening ceremonies, and never without Carina. She wore jeans and a tank top now, her civilian clothes—unless the rules for beach volleyball had really changed. “Good job against Austria. That dink you made in the second set? Really sweet. Quick thinking on your part.”
“Dink?” Sarah laughed. “Look at you, studying your slang.”
Chuck felt the flush rise. “I—well—the announcer was talking about it, but I didn’t get to see what it was he meant until later, when I actually got to watch the match. But it really was an awesome move. I’m amazed you didn’t spike it into her face after that move Gerscher pulled.”
“I’m not really that fond of beer, or Gerscher, for that matter.”
Sarah smiled. “Your event is soon, right?”
“Not really. It’s basically the last day, which means I get to wait forever.” Chuck blew out a breath. He’d managed to forget that fact for at least a couple of minutes, mostly due to Sarah’s presence, but now all of the nerves came rushing back. “My first and last Olympic event. It should be a party.”
“Oh, c’mon. You’re going to win. I told that little girl so at the airport, didn’t I?”
“I guess I can’t make you a liar.” Chuck realized that the grin on his face must look stupid, so he schooled his features into something a little lower on the psycho-maniac scale. “Thank you for the vote of confidence, but I’m trying not to get my hopes up.”
“How come you’re not in the pool?”
“Anna’s making me rest. What are you up to?” He knew there wasn’t a match for a couple of days for Carina and Sarah, as he’d been paying close attention to the game schedules, but admitting that came out a bit on the stalker side.
Sarah immediately took on a mischievous look, her eyes lighting up with amusement. It was nothing at all like Bryce had said in the hot tub, how she was nothing but focus and little else. “Can you keep a secret?”
“Yes,” Chuck said, though he’d never been that good at it before.
“I’m making a break for it.” Sarah smiled. “Carina’s busy with the British kayakers, so—”
“What, all of them?”
Sarah raised an eyebrow.
“Right,” Chuck said. “Silly question. Where are you going?”
“Out. Into London. If I stay in this Village or with the press or on the court a minute longer, I’m going to scream. You’re not going to tell on me, are you?”
“Never,” Chuck said. “Want some company?”
Sarah gave him a surprised look.
“You’re not the only one who’s going to scream if they have to stay here.”
“Oh. Well in that case, I’d love company,” she said. “Are you going to wear that?”
Chuck looked down at his canvas sneakers, his ancient jeans, and his faded Stanford diving tee. Every penny had been funneled back into training, so it had been ages since he’d bought new clothes, but he didn’t think he looked terrible. “This is as good as it gets, unfortunately.”
“Works for me. Let’s go.”