Perfection Is Just an Illusion (Swimming Upstream #1) (5 page)

BOOK: Perfection Is Just an Illusion (Swimming Upstream #1)
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“Hell no!” he snapped, more forcefully than he intended. “The whole point of going out is to do normal things. You said it yourself, eat, shop, and don’t be a prisoner in your own home or hotel room or wherever we happen to be. Come on, do this with me.” James had a point. Those were Anna’s words. And she hated that he threw them back in her face.

“Okay. Give me a second to get changed?” Anna requested, looking up at James hopefully.

“Absolutely.”

Dashing off, Anna got changed and appeared a moment later.

Anna wore a pair of tight skinny jeans and black high-heeled shoes, which added another five centimetres, to her already impressive height. Her hair was swept up in a pile on the top of her head. She wore a light blue woollen jumper. James gawked as she entered the room. She giggled as James’s mouth fell open and it took him a moment to pick it up off the floor again.

“Well, you’ll do, I suppose,” James taunted. The sparkle in his eye gave away his secret. Anna knew he thought she looked a hell of a lot better than nice, but he wouldn’t admit it.

“Okay then. If I’m not good enough to take to lunch with you, you can always just go by yourself.” Anna smiled seductively at him, spinning on her heel and heading back towards the bedroom.

“You don’t look that bad. I guess you’ll do.” James chuckled, grabbing her arm and tugging her gently back in his direction. “Let’s go.” James wrapped his arm around Anna’s waist as they stepped into the lift.

“Ready?” James asked nervously. He was used to having his life constantly invaded by the media. Although it had taken years, James had all but adapted to having no privacy but now, thanks to him, Anna had been thrust into the spotlight as well.

Anna thought she had prepared herself for anything and everything the media baboons could throw at her. Deep in her heart she knew while she continued to pursue a relationship with James, one day she would have to face this. And in a way she was lucky that so far they had been able to maintain their privacy. But nothing could have prepared her for the media frenzy that was set up in battle formation. As the doors opened, the sea of camera flashes almost blinded them. Questions were being screamed at them so quickly they were indecipherable. Somehow James and Anna managed to push their way past the cameras and to the car. It seemed they wanted every minute detail of their relationship.

Anna was shaken up as one of the reporters cornered her. The fiery redheaded woman grabbed her arm and spun her around brusquely. “Are you after his money?” she asked. Her question tore straight through Anna. She had no response for that. What response was there? Anna was appalled by the forwardness of the woman. How could she? No one had ever asked her that before, despite the fact Anna knew many who had asked themselves that exact question.

Once they were tucked safely in James’s car, he turned to Anna, who had gone a weird shade of grey, as she battled the nauseating feeling, “Well, that was fun. Want to go again?” James sighed, running his hand through his hair. The look on Anna’s face told him this was not a laughing matter. “We’ll be okay. Promise,” he said as he squeezed her hand. Anna felt slightly better, but she knew from this moment on she was no longer anonymous.

As James drove, Anna got lost staring out the window at nothing in particular.
Well
, she told herself,
at least that was the worst of it
. Or so Anna wished. They arrived at the small café in the shopping centre and slipped past most of the people without incident. Everyone around them appeared as though they were caught in a trance, moving in slow motion.

For the first time since they had gotten together they sat at a table in the middle of the busy café. In that moment they were a normal couple. James had been adamant—that as much as possible they would live a normal life. People surrounding them paused mid-sentence and watched them enter, yet just as quickly as they had ceased their conversations, they returned to their meals and it was as if it had never happened.

After finishing their lunch, Anna expected to head straight back to the hotel or at least just go for a drive. But James had other plans. Unfortunately for Anna, when James set his mind to something, his stubbornness became apparent. He wanted to go shopping. Reluctantly, Anna conceded.

Neither of them needed anything, and Anna couldn’t even think of anything she could possibly want, but that wasn’t the point. Obviously James was on a mission to prove a point. They wandered through music shops, shoe stores, sports stores, and eventually ended up in the biggest toy store Anna had ever seen.

“Come on, let’s have some fun! Cause some mischief. Be normal, immature kids.” James had a mischievous grin plastered across his face.

“Okay, listen to me, James. You’ve proved your point. We can be normal and go out for lunch. And we can shop. You don’t have to do this,” Anna pleaded, as James dragged her by the hand into yet another store.

“Nope! You were right. I’ve missed out on doing so much, so from now on I’m going to do them all. And I’m going to do it better than everyone else, because I get to do them with you.” James kissed Anna’s hand. She had such an obvious soft spot for him that she gave in instantly. They raced down aisles of the toy store as staff, kids, and customers watched on. No one said anything; they just watched in silence as James and Anna behaved like the fun loving kids they wanted to be.

“You know, Anna, it might actually be possible for me to have a life outside of swimming,” James considered hopefully. Since his career took off in a whirlwind he had led a sheltered existence, most of the time he wouldn’t even call it a life. He never seemed to be living, so how could it be a life? He had tried to stay out of the public eye as much as possible; but now he had something else to live for, someone else to live for. And they weren’t going to spend their lives hiding. An hour or so later James and Anna left the toy store carrying armfuls of bags stuffed with all sorts of goodies. They didn’t care they had been acting like spoilt eight year old brats, running up and down the aisles causing havoc. Their only focus was laughing and having a good time.

It was still a beautiful winter afternoon when they arrived back at their hotel, still caught up in the whirlwind of freedom, when James declared he wasn’t yet ready to call it a day, much to Anna’s surprise. She was staring out the window, her arms wrapped around her waist protectively as she overlooked the lake. When James jumped out from behind her it scared the shit out of her. Fighting to regather her scattered wits, Anna was mesmerised as she watched two love struck teenagers as they attempted to paddle-boat on the water. They were joking and laughing and threatening to tip the other in the freezing water.

“Doesn’t that make you want to vomit?” Anna asked sarcastically.

James slid his long, muscled arms around Anna’s tiny waist. His chin was resting comfortably on Anna’s head. “I think it’s kind of romantic. I mean, look at it this way. It’s a beautiful winter afternoon, the sun is high in the sky, the birds are flying around and the two kids are in love. I thought you in particular, would be a lot sappier about all that kind of stuff. I mean, you’re the one with a romantic streak five miles long,”

“I am, but…I don’t know what it is.”

Twenty-four hours had changed Anna forever. Her optimism had evaporated. James wasn’t an idiot and as much as Anna tried, she knew she wasn’t fooling him. No matter how many times Anna read it in a book or heard it in a song, until this moment she hadn’t believed it. You can never go home again.

“Sweetie, what’s up? Talk to me. You know you can tell me anything.” James’s soft and sensitive side was making the appearance Anna had been dreading. She knew she wasn’t ready to explain but keeping things from him wouldn’t help…him or her.

She felt guilty for lying but knew it was the best way to deal with it at the moment. “It’s nothing. Honest,” she said, kissing him gently before wriggling out of his grasp.

That night James and Anna had been invited to a barbecue with one of James’s oldest and dearest friends, Justin. It was nothing formal or outrageous, just your typical everyday barbecue in the freezing cold night air. Justin had let the cat out of the bag that it was in fact a mini engagement celebration.

When they arrived the party was in full swing. The celebrations had already kicked off. The champagne was flowing; the chat loud and constant, and Anna felt instantly she was out of place. She had come to accept pretty early on in their relationship when James was in ‘business mode’ she was an accessory. But amongst friends she was always treated as his equal, and that was a feeling she liked. The toasts and the congratulations started and all of a sudden, without warning, Anna stood up and fled. She pushed straight past Justin and out the door. When James stood up to chase her, Justin shook his head slowly.

 

***

 

Justin

 

Anna sat, rocking back and forth on the tyre swing. Her hair was flowing down her back, getting caught on the breeze. Her black pants and crimson turtleneck didn’t provide much of a camouflage as Justin found her easily. He just walked up behind her and started pushing her, ever so gently. “What’s up, baby girl?” He smiled. He had called her baby ever since they had first met. Neither of them knew exactly why that had caught on but it was familiar now, and in a strange sort of way it was reassuring to know no matter what happened not everyone changes.

“I don’t know. I just don’t know,” Anna suddenly stopped sobbing, putting her feet firmly on the ground to stop the rocking motion. “I love James, I really do. You have to believe me.” She looked up at him with pleading eyes.

“I know you do. We all do. So want to tell me what’s really going on here?” Justin could see the distress and pain etched into her face. This was not the Anna he had come to know and adore.

“I know James likes me…I’m just not sure that…well, I’m not sure he loves me.” Anna was staring straight up into the inky black night sky. It was as if she was talking to the stars, waiting for their answer, waiting for her destiny to fall from the heavens and make everything okay.

“Oh…Anna. James does love you. We can all see how crazy he is about you. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I have ever seen him so damn disgustingly happy. The one thing you need to remember is I was there when he won those medals and broke all those records. Even when I think about how happy those achievements made him, I still see that each day he spends with you, his happiness grows. He really does love you, Anna. Why do you question that?” Out of all the things Justin had prepared himself to hear, the possibility of James not loving her had not been a consideration.

“It’s just…I don’t know. He just doesn’t seem happy somehow. And I don’t blame him…really I don’t. He could do so much better than me. I mean, look at me. Then think of all the people he knew. I just think it would be better for him in the long run if I just let him go.” Anna had stopped crying and her eyes were dry. Anna looked like she believed every word he was saying.

It broke his heart. She wasn’t trying to be a bitch. He could see all Anna wanted was to give James a chance at the life he deserved.

“Baby girl.” Justin didn’t know what else to say. He knew James loved her with all his heart and he was sure without her James would find no purpose in his life. But he could understand where Anna was coming from. James did know a lot of people but surely that didn’t mean he would prefer them. Did it?

“I’m going to go. I’ll get out of the hotel before he gets back, that way it will be easier. Thanks for everything, Justin. I do love him, you know…this is…it’s for the best.” Anna stood up and walked away. She spoke not another word. That was it. She was just going to walk out of his life. Without warning it would all be over.

Justin felt like an arse. He just watched silently as his best mate’s girlfriend walked away from him. And what’s worse, James didn’t even know yet. Justin knew he had to be the one to tell James Anna was gone. He would be the one standing there, watching as the pain and reality settled in after the initial shock had worn off. In a sad way he understood what Anna said. It kind of did make sense or at least it would have if the person she was talking about was someone other than James. James loved that girl so much yet still she couldn’t see it.

Justin sat motionless on the swing, unable to force himself to put one foot in front of the other. He’d completely drifted away with the fairies. He was so oblivious he didn’t even hear the door close as James wandered over to him.

“Where is she?” he asked, his voice shaking. His eyes were already full of pain and sorrow. Justin couldn’t help but to wonder if in some strange way he already knew.

“She’s gone,” Justin said, barely louder than a whisper. He didn’t know what else to say. He was about to break his best friend’s heart and he just didn’t want to do it.

“What? Where did she go? What happened? When is she coming back?” James pleaded for answers. Neither man looked at each other; instead they both looked up at the clouds that were rolling across the night sky. It was in the silence Justin realised just hoping for answers wasn’t enough.

“James, she’s gone. She loves you so much, you know, but in the end sometimes that isn’t enough.” Justin saw the change in James. “Anna basically said you deserve more than her. More than she could ever give you. She wants you to be happy and she doesn’t think she can give you that. Sorry, man.”

BOOK: Perfection Is Just an Illusion (Swimming Upstream #1)
4.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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