Perfection Is Just an Illusion (Swimming Upstream #1) (8 page)

BOOK: Perfection Is Just an Illusion (Swimming Upstream #1)
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Justin was there, waiting for them like he was a chauffeur. He bent down and gave Anna a quick kiss on the cheek. A sea of camera flashes caught the moment. “Hey baby girl,” he whispered into her ear as he lifted her into the back seat before closing the door. James put the wheelchair in the boot and climbed in the back seat. Soon enough they had made their escape.

They went back to their hotel room. They were supposed to have returned to Sydney almost a week ago but with Anna’s accident, James had made the decision to stay on. After spending one night in the hotel they would return to Sydney and get their lives back on track. James hadn’t been in the pool since the accident, yet he kept telling Anna about training and how he was progressing. He didn’t tell her that he was spending all his time sitting beside her instead of lapping up and down the pool. Once they got back to Sydney, he would get back in the water.

 

***

 

Anna

 

Anna quickly realised that having James play nurse and attempting to look after her was far more painful than lying in a hospital bed. He wouldn’t let her move. James had placed her wheelchair on the other side of the suite and carried her straight into bed. He knew if the chair was close enough Anna would try and get out of bed and move about, but by putting her chair far enough away she couldn’t escape.

“Relax! I’m fine. Please stop worrying and sit down,” Anna instructed him, her tone leaving no room for argument.

“Are you sure that there’s nothing I can get you?” James’s constant fussing was already driving Anna crazy and she had only been home an hour.

“Actually, there is something you can do for me.”

“Yeah, what’s that?” James jumped to his feet, ready to do whatever Anna wanted. She had no idea of the extent of the power she possessed over him in that moment.

“Come lie down next to me and get some sleep. You know I love you, but you really do look like shit.” She grinned as she patted the bed next to her.

“Actually, I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in about six days.” James laughed, reaching his hands behind his head. He pulled his shirt off in one smooth motion. Anna felt her breath catch as she glimpsed his perfect body. Not even bothering to hide her attraction, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, attempting to wipe away the drool. But as James’s jeans hit the floor, Anna’s mouth fell open and she forgot to pretend to hide her lust. James stood before her wearing nothing but his boxers and a smirk. “See something you like?” He snickered, lowering himself onto the bed beside her.

“I’ve seen better,” Anna taunted with a wide smile.

“Really?”

“Really.” Anna smiled as she wiggled over, placing her head on his chest. She listened to the steady rhythm of his heart beat. She breathed a sigh of relief that at least he was getting some rest before she too began to relax and drifted into a deep sleep.

The trip back to Sydney was a slow and painful one. As they drove past the spot where Anna had her crash, neither of them could bring themselves to speak. Instead James reached out and wrapped his hand around Anna’s. Seeing the spot made Anna quiver. James watched her closely and gave her hand a quick squeeze just to let her know she was safe.

James still lived at home with his parents. They had a large four-bedroom brick house. It had a beautiful big backyard with an old mulberry tree in the back corner. Its long branches reached over the fence and provided some shade over the pool. James had a little yappy dog which drove anyone it didn’t recognise absolutely crazy. Anna, on the other hand, lived in a small peach coloured flat by herself. It didn’t have much furniture, but it was comfortable and cosy all the same. She moved out of her parents’ house and moved into the Sydney flat not long after her eighteenth birthday. James always said that it was easier for him to live with his parents because he was never home anyway. He was in and out of the country or flying around Australia all the time. And eventually when he was home he would stay at Anna’s. That would have to change now the press knew who Anna was. It was only a matter of time before they found her sanctuary.

So the dilemma they were now facing was where they would stay once they returned to Sydney. Anna’s flat wasn’t equipped for her wheelchair. She had at least another two weeks before she would be strong enough to get crutches. And there was no way in hell James was going to let her live by herself while she was wheelchair-bound. So unbeknownst to Anna, James had arranged with his parents that she would stay with them until she was up and about again.

Knowing he had to tell her eventually, James decided to tell Anna of the arrangements he had made while they were driving along.

“I’m fine, James. Look at me. I am okay. I can’t stay at your parents’ place. I don’t need a babysitter.” At least Anna’s outburst was the reaction that James had been expecting.

“Look, it’s just until you’re out of the chair. Besides, that way I can see you before and after training.” James flashed her a cheeky grin. “Don’t tell me you just don’t want to live with me, because if that’s the case we have bigger issues than your leg.”

Sighing heavily, Anna conceded, “No, it’s not that at all. I just don’t want to intrude on your parents. They have lives to live and so do you. No one needs to be worrying about me,” Anna explained.

“Anna, sorry, sweetheart, but you’re part of the family now. Whether you like it or not, we worry about you, whether you’re at Mum and Dad’s or not. So get used to it. That’s what families do. You are staying at my place; you being there will make it easier on everyone. Please.” James tried convincing Anna.

“Okay! Fine! You win. I’ll stay at your place but only until I’m out of this damn chair. But no fussing by anyone or I go home. Deal?” Anna surrendered.

“Deal.” James smiled back at her, bringing her hand to his lips and leaving a light kiss on her palm.

James turned the car into the driveway late on the sunny winter afternoon. James’s parents, Diana and Michael, saw them coming up the driveway and raced out to meet them. Diana was a short woman with brown curly hair. She was a marvellous cook and it was obvious to anyone that when James and his mother were together that he was definitely ‘Mummy’s baby boy.’ James’s dad, Michael, was a relatively short man compared to his son, who towered above him, but everyone was short compared to James. Michael was a complete contrast to his wife. He was almost bald and wore his old battered runners everywhere he went. He told everyone that they had character. They had something all right. They were filled with holes and could be smelt a mile away.

James jumped out of the car and into his mother’s waiting arms. Anna saw his shoulders visibly relax as Diana wrapped her arms around him, like the weight of the world was now shared and not James’s burden alone. Michael was already unloading Anna’s wheelchair. Within a few minutes he had it set up and Anna was preparing to get out. Already she was so frustrated that she couldn’t just get out of the car and walk inside like a normal person, but instead had to be helped into the chair before she could move. Her ribs hurt with every movement but the gash on her head had all but disappeared.

Without a word, James slipped from his mother’s grasp and walked around the car and lifted Anna out. Delicately he placed her in the chair before Michael pushed her through the front door. Diana had spent the afternoon baking all of James’s favourite cakes and biscuits. Sitting in the lounge room, Michael asked Anna about the accident and how she was doing. He was more interested in her mental state than physical. It would take time but her leg would heal. There was nothing the doctors could do if they couldn’t see the damage. Michael wanted nothing more than to see Anna as her normal cheery self as soon as possible. Not that he wanted her out of his house; it was just that he wanted to see her happy and healthy again.

“Who’s for coffee?” Diana asked cheerily. It was obvious that she was glad to have James back under her roof once again where he belonged.

Before anyone could answer there was a knock at the door. “I’ll get it,” James said, springing to his feet. He opened the heavy wooden door and standing there in front of him was Anna’s entire family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

Anna was from a big family. She had two little sisters, Kate and Kelley, and a younger brother, Lachlan. The harsh fluorescent light lit up Lachlan’s untamed red curly hair. His face was expressionless as he stood awkwardly in the doorway just behind his parents, Kathryn and Brandon.

“Hey! How did you know we’d be here?” James asked, throwing a glance at his mother. They all trudged in slowly. Brandon bypassed everyone and raced to his daughter’s side.

Without thinking, Brandon wrapped his arms around his baby girl and held her tight, perhaps a little too tight. With a whimper from Anna, Brandon dropped his arms. “Sorry, sweetheart,” he mumbled.

“All good!” Anna assured him despite some very sore, squashed ribs, the pain causing her eyes to water.

“Hey baby girl! How are you doing? Why didn’t you call us?” Kathryn interrogated Anna. Anna knew her mother’s tactics and knew it was not a time to lie.

“You were on holiday. I didn’t want to spoil that for you when I was fine. There was nothing you could do, anyway,” Anna explained to her mother. “I’m okay, I promise.” She smiled at her sisters, who were gawking at the photographs of James on the mantelpiece.

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to hear that your daughter is missing in the paper and then find out that not only has she been found but is lying in a hospital bed?” Kathryn scolded, sitting down on the floor in front of Anna.

“Look, I really am sorry. But everything is fine. I promise,” Anna apologised. She didn’t know what else to say. Everything had happened so quickly that she didn’t even stop to think about how her parents would feel.

Soon enough they were all sitting around sipping coffee and eating cakes. James and Anna were dodging questions and criticism for not ringing as soon as everything had happened. Anna’s family had read about it in the paper and then phoned James’s parents to get the details. The only feeble excuse they could use was “There was nothing anyone could have done, anyway.”

Anna was completely exhausted, but having her parents there, even if they had cut their holiday short and rushed to her side, made her appreciate how lucky she really was. In two short weeks, Anna had been in a car accident and nearly stuffed up her engagement. Now, she was sitting in James’s living room, with her family and James’s family having coffee and cakes.
It was funny how things worked out
, Anna told herself.

James was sitting on the floor at Anna’s feet while Anna dragged her fingers through his hair without even realising it. James traced circles on Anna’s exposed ankle. Everyone in the room noticed but remained silent. James and Anna couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Kate and Kelley were laughing and making jokes at the photographs they had found.

“You think those are funny, look at these,” Diana said, handing Kelley one of James’s photo albums from when he was a little boy. A moment later the two girls were rolling about laughing hysterically at the naked photos of James running around the backyard under the sprinkler.

“Bring that over here!” James said, snatching the album. “At least I can explain the situation for each and every photo.” The girls moved to his side. As much as they fought it, which admittedly wasn’t very hard, they couldn’t contain their maniacal laughter. Despite James’s best efforts to tell them a bizarre story explaining the photos, the girls weren’t buying it. Kate and Kelley weren’t dumb. They knew that everybody had these types of photos but it was James’s reaction that was keeping them entertained.

Kate was teasing James relentlessly, “How much do you think I could make if I sold these?”

“Don’t even think about it,” James threatened, playfully putting Kate in a headlock.

“You know I can have you charged for that,” Kate told him. The whole room was laughing. Anna tried join in but her ribs were too sore; it was safer not to laugh.

“Did you want to stay for dinner?” Michael offered. “It’s nothing special, just a barbecue. We can call it a joint celebration. Anna is fine and their engagement is official. That’s something that definitely must be celebrated. We haven’t had a chance yet. What do you think?”

“Sounds great. Thanks.” Brandon was delighted at the idea.

Soon everyone was embroiled in dinner preparations. Anna was in the kitchen peeling potatoes, Kathryn was washing the lettuce for the salad, while Diana was searching the fridge for sour cream. Kate and Kelley had been stuck with table duty while all the boys stood in the backyard cooking the barbecue. Lachlan and James were annoying each other, acting as if they were five year old boys rather than grown men. Anna figured that James was the brother that Lachlan never had and always wanted. Michael and Brandon stood side by side, beer in hand, watching the steak intently. “Don’t cremate it,” Anna called out from the kitchen.

They were all sitting around the wooden table. Anna was completely worn out. As much as she loved everyone she couldn’t help but wish they would all head home. All she wanted to do was curl up in her nice, warm bed and sleep for a month. Instead she was sitting around the table in James’s backyard, with every person in the world she cared about, waiting for the inevitable. The only question that remained was who would go first? Brandon or Michael? As it turned out she didn’t have wait very long to get her answer.

Michael stood up.
Here we go
, Anna couldn’t help thinking, stealing a glance at the other.

“I would just like to take this opportunity, even though it is not under the circumstances that we would hope for, to officially welcome Anna to our somewhat dysfunctional family. Also, I would like to welcome our new friends, Kathryn, Brandon, Lachlan, Kate, and Kelley to our home. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship. To family and friends.” He smiled, raising his glass.

“Family and friends!” they all chanted in unison.

Next was Brandon’s turn. Anna knew if one had a speech the other would not be out done. “Well…since Michael said most of what I was going to, I’ll just say congratulations to James and Anna. We all hope you are very happy. By the way, James…she’s your problem now.” Brandon laughed. “To Anna and James.” Once again they all lifted their glasses. Anna thought that the speeches were all over and now they would just sit there and enjoy a normal, civilised dinner. But that would be far too predictable. James was not one to be outdone; he had to have his turn as well.

“You guys have all had your two cents’ worth, so now it’s my turn. I want to say thank you. First to Mum and Dad for letting Anna stay here until she gets back on her feet. We all know she’ll be a stubborn pain in the butt until she can get out of that chair but, we love her anyway. I’d also like to say thanks to Brandon and Kathryn, who we all know were having a great time on their holiday but cut it short without hesitation to make sure Anna was okay. So thanks to all of you—” James was cut off prematurely.

“I guess that means me as well.” Kate laughed.

“As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted…” James winked at Kate. “I’d like to thank all of you, except Kate,” James coughed, “for everything. We really appreciate it.” James sat down, dropping a quick kiss in Anna’s hair on his way.

No more speeches, please
, Anna was pleading to a higher power. She was so tired she was starting to become irritable. But hey, that would be too much to ask. First her brother stood up and mumbled something, and then her sisters each took it in turn. As Diana got up to say her piece, the back gate creaked open. In walked James’s big sister Renee and her husband Ryan. They were shocked at the sight of the full backyard. “Sorry. Are we interrupting?”

“Hey Sis! Come on in and join the torture! Did that really come out of my mouth? I meant fun.” James smiled as he raced inside to get some more chairs.

Diana made the introductions. Renee was the spitting image of her brother. The main difference between the two was their height. Renee was quite short when compared to James. Ryan, on the other hand, was a tall, skinny guy with an oddly shaped face.
Maybe that’s what made him so attractive
, Anna thought.

Renee was two years older than her brother. She was the one who had introduced him to Anna in the first place. Renee, like her brother, was a member of the swimming team, but a serious knee injury had ended her dreams of swimming at the Olympics. Renee had first met Anna in an aerobics class at the local gym. Renee and Anna had joined on the same night and quickly discovered that they had many similar interests, as well as their mutual lack of hand-eye coordination. They quickly became good friends, often going out together to the movies or on trips to the beach or even just spending the afternoons sitting drinking coffee in some of the small, but exclusive cafés around the city.

It was one night after aerobics that Renee asked if Anna would mind giving her a lift home. Anna happily obliged. When Anna had pulled her car into the driveway, James was just getting back from training. Anna almost died of a heart attack when she realised who he was.

“I didn’t realise that you were one of those Thompsons,” Anna barely murmured as everything fell into place. Anna had followed James’s swimming career ever since he became public property. She had spent hours arranging articles she had collected, watched all of his televised races, and even driven for hours just to watch him compete. Renee just laughed, it just hadn’t occurred to her to tell Anna about her famous brother. She figured Anna would eventually put two and two together and come up with the truth. Renee invited Anna to dinner where she formally met James. Within a few short weeks Anna had become more like James’s friend than Renee’s, with the exception of aerobics classes.

James and Anna’s relationship had been a very sheltered one, especially in the beginning. They avoided going out in public together; instead they decided it was just too much too handle when all they wanted to do was to have a good time and enjoy each other’s company. Then after a while they got tired of leading their lives in secret and began to sneak out. Anna would go to the movies and sit at the back of the cinema, James would sneak in after the trailers had finished and the lights had gone out. Then a few minutes before everyone else left James would duck out the way he came.

Anna was always reluctant to accompany him to anything public like movie premieres or awards dinners, but James was always expected to be there. Anna insisted that he go anyway and although he was hesitant, he always went as expected. He would show up with an actress or a model on his arm, just as he had done before he started seeing Anna. This kept away all speculation about James’s real love life and kept him in the gossip columns about the prospect of him dating. James knew he would be in gossip columns no matter what he did or where he went. They seemed to know everything about his life, so he felt a large amount of satisfaction and achievement when he was able to keep his relationship with Anna private.

 

***

 

James

 

Lately things had been so hectic James decided to do something nice for Anna–something to show her how special she was, something to make her smile, something to bring the sparkle back to her eyes. So he decided to cook. It was the most beautiful and the most romantic dinner Anna ever had. James set the table on the edge of the pool in the backyard. It was all lit up from the hundreds of fairy lights that hung from the trees and fence; in the middle of the table stood a single long red candle with its flame flickering brightly. James wasn’t a very good cook, Anna always found something positive to say; but this meal was nothing short of spectacular. They started with a side salad, followed by chicken in a light tangy apricot sauce, served on a bed of hot jasmine rice. For dessert James had truly outdone himself. He had constructed the biggest lemon meringue pie in history. Anna’s favourite.

Halfway through dinner things started to go amiss. James stopped eating and dropped down on one knee. “Anna. All my heart,” he started. James had such confidence in what he was saying it made him appear that he had no hesitations or nerves at all. “Forever. Marry me?” He looked up into Anna’s big blue eyes. Slowly, James slid a diamond ring on her trembling finger. Anna said nothing. Gradually, she closed her eyes and tears began to dribble out.

When she opened them a moment later and saw that James was still kneeling before her, she smiled. It was the widest most extraordinary smile he had ever seen. James shot to his feet. As he pulled Anna from her chair, he stumbled backwards straight into the pool. At this point Anna was laughing hysterically. She crouched beside the pool. James swam over to her easily, reaching up to kiss her. Instead of pulling away, he snaked a long arm up and wrapped it around her waist, dragging her into the water as well. Neither of them seemed to care that they were now standing fully dressed in the centre of the pool in James’s backyard.

Diana, who was in the kitchen, heard the commotion coming from the backyard and dashed out to see if everything was okay. She reached the pool fence and noticed that both chairs were now empty. She could hear Anna and James’s laughter but couldn’t see either of them. At that moment they both climbed out of the pool and came rushing towards the gate.

BOOK: Perfection Is Just an Illusion (Swimming Upstream #1)
2.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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