Staying On Top (Whitman University) (20 page)

BOOK: Staying On Top (Whitman University)
6.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“We don’t have to go diving if it makes you uncomfortable.”

“No, I want to do something you love. Then later, once my rackets get here, we’ll do something I love.”

“Did you get ahold of your rep at Head?”

“Yep. Answered my e-mail while we were in line buying tickets. Six new rackets will be delivered to the post office on Santorini tomorrow.”

“Bet it’s the first time your rackets will be delivered by donkey.”

“That would be a yes.” He paused. “I am surprised that you want to spend some extra time here if we don’t turn up anything at your dad’s house. I mean . . . don’t you have classes to get back to? Or your life at Whitman in general? Break has got to be over.”

Break ended several days ago, but my teachers were under the impression that my father had had a mild stroke. My dad’s staff would back up the story if anyone called looking for me. He thought I was out getting Sam to trust me enough to sign over his bank accounts. 

Until sometime in the past forty-eight hours, that’s what I
been doing.

“It’s okay. I worked it out with my teachers. The only requirement is that I turn in projects and be there to take a couple of finals before Christmas break. If my dad isn’t here or the next place, I’m out of options, anyway. I’ll go back to Whitman and regroup, but still work on your specific loss if you’ll let me.”

The con was harder to step away from than I expected, and I hated that. Hated that maybe all this time I had believed it was something I did, not who I was, and that maybe I had been wrong. Clinging to the familiar was easier than admitting that the real reason I wasn’t in a rush to return to Florida sat next to me. Something had started between us, had grown quickly in a few short days, and I didn’t want to live the rest of my life and not know what it might turn into.

Sam moved closer, slipping an arm around my waist and tugging me against him. We listened to the waves splash against the ferry’s hull in silence. For the first time in maybe my entire life, it felt okay to sit next to someone else and not worry that they would hear a million confessions in the silence.

Chapter 14


It was after eight when the ferry docked at Santorini, and my stomach felt hollow. We hadn’t eaten since lunch on the road, and Sam’s belly had been making noises that had him blushing and me laughing for the last two hours. 

Unlike Jesenice or Skopje, I felt comfortable in Santorini. I didn’t speak a ton of Greek, but I understood enough to communicate. My parents had favorite restaurants, coffee shops they loved, and bars they’d snuck out to after they thought I’d fallen asleep. I had my own favorite—Sea Side. They served the most delicious dish of olives, tomatoes, and shellfish, but I worried they would be closed by this time during the off-season.

I dragged Sam away from the car, which we left in the port’s parking lot after a quick disagreement about whether or not it would be safe there overnight. I shoved him into a taxi—not onto a donkey, thank goodness—before he could get a word out.

“Where are we going? And why are you in such a hurry?”

“I’m hungry, and the place I really want to eat might close early.”

“Well, since we’re staying at least one extra day, we could always eat there tomorrow.”

“I know. Sorry. I’m just excited.”

“It’s equal parts disconcerting and adorable. In case you were wondering.”

“I really wasn’t.”

“That is one of the many things that makes you attractive, devil snookums.”

I made a point of ignoring his hybrid term of endearment, choosing to peer out the taxi window at the spectacular view instead. It would be better in the daylight—the sunset had given us a stunning show on the ferry ride—but even at night the island was nothing short of breathtaking. Santorini, like the majority of the Greek isles, had been formed by volcanoes. White-sided, blue-roofed houses and businesses rose on steep cliffs from the crystalline water, zigzag paths climbing the mountain in haphazard patterns. Boats—some commercial fishing, some pleasure—bobbed lazily against the docks down below, and date and olive trees added spikes of green to the picturesque scene. It was a beautiful place, especially in the winter when there weren’t nearly so many tourists.

Sam’s eyes were fixed out the window. “It’s gorgeous here.”

“You’ve never been?”

“No. I’ve been to mainland Greece but not the islands.”

The taxi ride was short, which was normal since Santorini wasn’t that big, and I paid the man with coins as we scrambled out. He’d dropped us at Perivolos Beach, which was home to Sea Side and also to a resort where we could buy what we would need to sleep on the beach, if Sam was serious about that.

“Well, are you hungry?” 

Sam nodded, tearing his fingers away from the back of his neck, where he’d been scratching his bed-bug rash. I hadn’t been brave enough to ask where else the nasty little suckers had gotten him, but I suspected it was a lot like mine—any skin that had been exposed and pressed against the mattress itched like the devil every time the cortisone wore off. I’d done some quick research on his phone while Sam had been driving, just to make sure we weren’t going to contract anything horrible, and had verified what I’d said back in Skopje—the rash should go away within a couple of days. In the meantime, I felt spectacularly unattractive, but at least I wasn’t alone.

I hadn’t felt alone since we’d boarded the flight to Austria.

Sea Side was open, thank goodness, and the sign out front said they would be for another couple of hours. Since setting foot back on Santorini, I hated the idea of being indoors, and the thought of having the beauty of this place interrupted by strangers. It was weird to me that Sam no longer counted as such. 

“How about we grab a couple of blankets, and sweatshirts if you want, from the gift shop at Nine Muses and then get the food to go? We’re only going to have a couple of days and I’d really rather spend them on the beach.”

“We’re really going to sleep on the beach?”

I cast a pointed look at the back of his neck. “Unless you want to find another hostel?”

“I’ll try the sand.”

We gathered two blankets, souvenir candles, a lighter, two resort sweatshirts, and a couple bottles of water from 9 Muses, then ordered enough food from Sea Side to feed half of the pro tour. The sand of Perivolos chilled me even through the blanket we’d spread out, but once Sam’s leg pressed against mine and we were shoveling food into our mouths, the temperature felt as perfect as the rest of the night.

“This is fucking delicious,” Sam managed around a mouthful of shellfish concoction.

“I know, I told you.” It might be rude to talk with my mouth full, but no way was I taking a break for talking. 

We scarfed the rest of the food in silence, then Sam poured us each a second glass of wine into the paper cups we’d wrangled from the restaurant. It had taken all of the Greek I knew and then some, but we had managed. The wine was lower quality than Sam was probably used to, but after frat parties at Whitman—even Quinn’s fancy ones—I’d gotten used to cheap alcohol. It seemed even rich college kids still slummed it when it came to getting their girls trashed.

“What would you do if this worked out? I mean, if we actually found your dad and you actually had the guts to turn him in to Interpol and they actually caught him.” 

We both sat with our legs sticking straight out toward the crashing sea, heels dug into the sand, and leaned back on our hands. Sam’s right thigh pressed against my left, and in the moments before I answered, there was nothing but the winking stars and the sound of the ocean sucking away the sand.

Like his observation earlier that I seemed happy here, it felt unnatural to respond with honesty—to him or myself. My knee-jerk reaction was to blow him off, give him some pat answer, and it took effort for me to stop and reevaluate in order to find the truth in my own heart.

I didn’t know if we could find my father, and if we did, I had little faith in my ability to turn him in—and even less faith in the authorities to prosecute him effectively—but that shouldn’t change my answer. Based on the question, Sam didn’t have any illusions that we’d be successful in our quest. He was asking what I
do. What I wanted.

I didn’t know, and that squeezed my heart into a pancake.

I’d imagined a world where my father didn’t exist as puppet master. Hoped for one. But even though he’d promised to give me my share when I graduated from college, I didn’t really believe he’d cut me loose. He’d never promised any such thing. Despite the fact that I couldn’t imagine the authorities ever catching up with him, he was recognizable and on several watch lists. Without me, the majority of his schemes would turn out less profitable, or dry up altogether.

It was a pipe dream—getting out. One I believed because it kept me moving forward, but if I refused to help him today or in two years, he had enough dirt on me to make my life a living hell.


I looked up, startled again at not being alone. Sam had sat up and faced me, concern and confusion darkening his eyes in the moonlight.

“Sorry. I was thinking about the question.”

“You’re crying. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

His thumb brushed my cheek. The tears surprised me, but it was the first time I’d accepted, even internally, that that I might never be free of this life. That I would never get to keep a guy such as Sam or a friend such as Audra because if they knew who I truly was, what I did to make the money that kept me in private jets and paid for my Whitman education, they would hate me.

“I’m sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing for crying? You can do whatever you feel like doing. If I was in your position I wouldn’t be handling this thing nearly as well as you are.” He brushed away more tears, the calloused pads of his thumbs scraping my cheeks in a strange and arousing gesture of care. “My parents are greedy assholes, but it took me two years to get up the nerve to file for divorce. Even now, I bring them along to the tournaments. I bought them a house and cars, and they never thank me. Like it’s my duty, even though I’m twenty-three years old and I’ve supported them for almost half my life. And that’s nothing, Blair. Nothing compared to your dad.”

It felt like a thousand-ton weight lifted off my chest. I felt free, as though I could float after that weight and roll around in the stars as though they were a field of wildflowers.

No one had ever acknowledged the hardship of my life. To be fair, it was because no one knew the truth. People looked from the outside and saw the pretty girl, the rich girl, the girl doted on by her widowed father. They didn’t know because they couldn’t, but when my dad had forced me into this con with Sam, necessitating my sharing at least a little bit of myself, and there were consequences neither of us had foreseen.

It was as though a dam had broken. I didn’t know if the connection Sam and I had back in St. Moritz had sped up the process or if it could have happened with anyone, but it felt amazing to stop pretending I had an easy life.

But I couldn’t tell Sam the whole truth without admitting that I was still under my dad’s thumb. That the reason I had come to see him was to work a con, not to find my father and turn him in. As much as I wanted to break down, to blubber about how I’d never be free and see if he’d be willing to help me figure out a way, I couldn’t risk it. I would lose Sam eventually.

But not tonight.

“Thank you for saying that, Sam. I don’t mean to be all weepy and girly—”

“For the record, your being a girl is one of the things I like most about you.”

I smiled because that’s what he wanted. Still analyzing everything I did and every word that came out of my mouth made me sick. “It’s just that no one knows the truth about my dad. I mean, obviously the government does, and so do the people he’s conned, but the kids at Whitman don’t. Audra doesn’t.”

“No one? You’ve never had anyone to talk to?”

“Not since my mom died, no.” He looked as though he was going to ask something about my mother, and that was a place I was not ready to go at all. Maybe I never would be. “In answer to your question, I don’t know. Be able to live without secrets, I guess. Be myself. Make my own way.”

“It would be hard, don’t you think. Without the money?”

“Sure. But I’m smart, and in a couple years I’ll have a good education.” I punched his arm. “Maybe I’ll find me a rich husband to make the transition a little easier.”

He chuckled. “I have a hard time picturing a guy amazing enough to take you on, devil girl.”

My heart sank. He might feel sorry for me, but the thought of taking me on scared him. It proved that I was far more work than I was worth. “Why do you say that?”

“You’re special, Blair. You’re strong, and there are a ton of guys threatened by that. You’re hard to crack, and people are lazy. You’re also beautiful enough to intimidate at least seventy percent of the male population right off the bat.”

“Oh.” I refused to look at Sam, even though his words made my face burn. “I guess you’re pretty glad you decided to pretend not to have any condoms a couple of days ago, huh? You dodged a bullet.”

“You know, I’m getting a little tired of you assuming that you know everything about me because you watch me chase a ball around a court and give a few interviews afterward.” The anger in his tone snapped my eyes to his face. It swirled in his eyes and tightened his jaw, making the muscles in his neck stand out in a way that turned me on.

Maybe I just needed to accept that everything about Sam turned me on.

“I’m not threatened by you, Blair. I’m challenged by you. I love that I didn’t know everything about you after one conversation and it speaks volumes about your character that you refused to go home with me in St. Moritz—I was acting like a shallow doofus. Your beauty . . . well, it humbles me that you’d have anything to do with me, but I’m not intimidated.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m not the seventy percent. It kind of sucks that, as hard as I’ve been working to get to know you this past week, you couldn’t be bothered to see me.”

BOOK: Staying On Top (Whitman University)
6.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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