“You’re really not going to finish your last year of college?” Reese asked with tears choking her words. “I thought you loved living in America… and that you loved me.”
“I do love you.” I leaned forward and kissed the tip of her nose. “But I made a promise to compete one more time for the ROC, and I always keep my promises.”
“But you’ll be gone for over a year.”
“I’ll be in training for over a year,” I corrected her. “For the Olympic Trials. Just like you will be. We can video chat every day and send each other texts and heart emojis and emails. And then a year from now, I’ll meet you at the Summer Games in Los Angeles.”
“That’s a long time from now,” she said. “I’m going to miss you so much.”
“If our relationship can stand the test of a year apart, then we can stand a lifetime together.”
She nodded but didn’t answer with words. We’d had an exciting three years as teammates on the University of Michigan gymnastics team, had fallen more and more in love, and were inseparable. I knew I was trying to convince her that we could survive a year apart, but I think I was also trying to convince myself. This would be a difficult separation, but necessary.
A year had been way too long and yet this felt too reminiscent of four years ago. Instead of tentatively entering the Bercy Arena in Paris, I was arriving at The Forum in Los Angeles. The setup was the same. Mats and apparatuses already in place just like every gymnastics competition I’d entered in since the time I was five. All the same teams were settling in for ten days of fierce battle for the gold medals of the Summer Olympics.
Many of the competitors had changed, but the flags were the same. One competitor in particular raised his gaze and met mine. Four years ago, I had grumbled and complained at seeing his hypnotic brown eyes. Today, I threw my gear bag to the floor and ran toward him. He stepped away from his team and caught me as I wrapped my arms and legs around him like a monkey.
We pressed our lips together in a kiss more passionate than the first time we’d allowed ourselves to get carried away and the officials had to pry us apart with a crowbar. Whistles and catcalls from our friends and competitors didn’t detract from the moment. We didn’t let go of one another even after we tore our lips apart. I laid my head on his shoulder, and he buried his face in my hair, which I’d left down on purpose because I knew he liked it that way.
The subtle cologne that barely masked the natural pheromones that diffused from the man I loved engulfed my senses and took me back to our last goodbye and the anguish I’d felt at our impending separation.
“I can’t do this anymore, Reese,” Dmitri whispered. I pulled back and met his intense gaze, my arms still around his neck, my legs still around his waist, and his hands holding me up in a way that bordered on too personal for mixed company. “I’m never leaving you again. Whether we live in Russia or America or some remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I don’t ever want us to be apart.”
“I don’t want to be apart either.” Desperation filled my voice. “A day is too long.”
“A night is too long,” he grumbled in a husky voice. “But I’ll settle for a wedding date scheduled sometime in the very near future.”
“Very near,” I agreed.
“What do you say we go win some gold medals, and on our day off go shop for some gold rings?”
“Las Vegas is about a four-hour drive from here…” I raised my eyebrows suggestively.
A low rumble emerged from somewhere in Dmitri’s throat, and his eyes smoldered. “As tempting as that sounds, if my mother and your mother don’t have a chance to plan everything from the color of the invitations to the style of your gown, we’d both be disowned.”
“Guess we’ll have to settle for gold medals, then.”
“I’ll cheer for Team USA if you’ll cheer for Team ROC,” Dmitri suggested, finally setting me back onto the floor.
“I think I could be persuaded to cheer for the enemy whenever the guys are in the arena, but I’m kicking your women’s team right back to Moscow.”
“Understandable.” Dmitri’s expression shifted from playful to serene. “Thanks for meeting me at the Summer Games, my little Volchitsa.”
“Thanks for falling in love with me at the Summer Games, my Volchara.”
Another brief kiss sealed our commitment to one another, then we reluctantly returned to our own teams, prepared to compete against one another for the last time.
Click here for more chapters in Meet Me at the Summer Games
(As always, feedback is greatly appreciated!)