She heard him hesitate. Come on, Kate, dont be bitter. Itll be you racing next time, in Beijing.
No, I mean I actually couldnt watch. The powers gone out.
Did you check the fuses?
Gosh, Ken, my Barbie brain did not entertain that option.
Kate sighed. No, its okay. I tried to fix the fuse but Sophie wouldnt let me. Straightaway, she realized how sulky that sounded.
Our daughter is pretty strong for her age, said Jack, but I still reckon you should be able to kick her arse in a straight fight.
She laughed. Look, Im sorry. Im just having a shitty time here.
I know. Thank you for looking after her. I miss you.
Tears formed in her eyes. Do you?
Oh my God, he said, are you kidding? If I had to choose between flying home to you and racing for gold here tomorrow, you know Id be right back on that plane, dont you?
She sniffed, and wiped her eyes. Im not asking you to choose, idiot. Im asking you to win.
She heard his smile down the phone. If I win, its only because Im scared of what youll do to me if I dont.
Come back home to me when you win gold, okay? Promise me you wont stay out there with her.
Oh Christ, he said. You know you dont even have to ask me that.
I know, she said quietly. Im sorry.
Through the phone connection, the noise of the crowd peaked again.
The second race is starting, Jack shouted over the roar. Ill call you back, okay?
You think shell win it?
Yeah, absolutely. She made round one look like a Sunday ride.
I love you, she said. More than ice cream after training.
I love you too, he said. More than winning.
She smiled. It was a perfect moment, and then she heard herself ruin it by saying, Call me when the race is over, okay?
She cringed at herself for being so needy, for putting this extra demand on him. Love wasnt supposed to require the constant reassurance. But then again, love wasnt supposed to sit watching its own reflection in a dead TV while temptation rode a blazing path to glory.
Whatever Jack said back to her, the crowd drowned it out by chanting Zoes name.
She clicked the call off and let the phone fall softly to the washable, hard-wearing cushion covers. It wasnt just that shed stopped believing she would ever get to the Olympics. Now, if she was really honest with herself, she wasnt even sure if she could win the kind of races you rode on kitchen chairs and sofas.
She stared with glazed eyes through the window. In the shimmering heat of their little back yard, a squirrel had found something in the bottom of a crisp packet.
She thought, Is this my life now?
She held her hands to her temples, more gently now, and timed the pulse in them against the second hand of the living room clock. It had been months since shed trained hard but even noweven with this stressher heart rate was subsixty. The second hand was back where it started, and shed only counted fifty-two. Sometimes this was the only small victory in her days: this knowledge that she was fitter than time.
She looked up and saw that Sophie was mimicking her, trying to press her own tiny hands against the sides of her head. Kate laughed, and for the very first time Sophie laughed back.
Kate brimmed with euphoria.
Excerpted from Gold by Chris Cleave. Copyright © 2012 by Chris Cleave. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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