Rafa phones later that night. He's upset and unsure, and there's the sense that he's never really felt like this before. Of course, you know the feeling. He says that he's told his Uncle but he isn't sure how well Toni took the news. He tells you that Toni has never been the most expressive of men when discussing feelings, even though he knows that Toni cares about him a great deal. When he had told Toni about you and Mirka, Toni had looked at him, assessing him critically for a few minutes before nodding and reminding him of his schedule for the next day. He'd asked what Toni was going to do with this information and he'd said that he would speak to Rafa tomorrow.
It's quite nerve-wracking, all this waiting. There's no way of knowing how either family will react if they do find out about this; though it would be safe to assume that it won't be a positive reaction. You're both moving into new and uncharted territory but as long as you are there together, it makes it all worthwhile. As you blurt this out down the phone to him, you realise how stupid and corny and sentimental it all sounds, and you wait, wincing, to see what he makes of it all.
He's quiet for a moment before there's the unmistakeable sound of a muffled snort of laughter.
"I'm sorry, I don't know what came over me."
Rafa can't actually reply anymore because he's doubled over in laughter, pressing one hand against his stomach and gulping for air. His laughter is infectious and you join him, tears rolling down your face as you replay what you've just said over and over again in your head.
Eventually you both quieten and there's a comfortable silence between you, despite the fact you are 3 floors and 5 rooms away from him.
"I should go, practice tomorrow morning."
You nod, then realise he's not sitting beside you. "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow."
It would be silly to say those three words so soon; you've only known him for 3 days after all, so you don't say anything.
There's a new tension between you and Mirka. It's even worse than the time she found you kissing Stan in your bedroom, five minutes before you were due to take her out to meet your parents. She looks at you now as if she isn't sure who she's seeing. You don't think you've changed; you've just found out what's been missing in your life. The idea of giving up Rafa, in any capacity, brings the same amount of horror as the thought of giving up tennis. It's something that just seems right.
Practice is no longer a shambles, instead a welcome distraction, the steady thud of a ball on strings calms you down. This is something you can control. You can work on your serve or your forehand until it all clicks and there's nothing here that makes you sick with terror. Severin, your part-time coach and hitting partner, isn't big on conversation between rallies and that makes things easier. Tennis can be your main focus. Mirka's there, of course, hovering in the background, literally and metaphorically in your mind. She's been watching you play intently and that of itself is different. Normally she's busy trying to schedule your professional life and although she watches your practices often, there's always the added distraction of her mobile phone.
Severin doesn't join you for lunch; he's got acquaintances here from following the tour around the world while you were forced to stay in Switzerland.
You pick at your chicken salad, pushing the food around your plate. It seems like Mirka is ignoring you, eating steadily and flicking through a paper. You don't think she's watching you so you leave your food and take to staring out the window, watching the busy New York street.
"Eat your food Roger."
Her quiet statement still makes you jump and you flush, staring down at your plate guiltily.
"I'm not hungry." It comes out petulant and sulky, like a small child, as you push your plate away from you.
She doesn't even look up as she pushes the plate back in front of you. "You need to eat." She's treating you like the small child you sound like and it winds you up even more than her silence.
"Don't talk to me like that." The spark of anger in your words makes her look up, almost in surprise.
"Like what?" Her soothing tone only angers you further.
"Like a small child!"
"Then stop acting like one." She fixes you with a glare for a brief second before deciding you're not worth it and going back to her newspaper.
The chair scrapes back loudly on the tiled floor as you stand, glaring angrily down at Mirka.
"I'm going back to the hotel. I don't have to deal with this."
Mirka just shakes her head. "You've got a press conference at 5, the car will be here at 4:30."
"Fine." You spit out, turning on your heel and leaving the restaurant.
If it can be classified as a fight, it's the worst one you've ever had. You don't like the feeling you are left with after either; there's a heavy weight in your stomach that you brush off as hunger but which you know is really guilt. It's not Mirka's fault, yet you are taking it out on her. It's ridiculously unfair. She's your oldest and most loyal friend and you know that she doesn't deserve this kind of treatment from you. She might not agree with Rafa but she has said she won't tell your family and that means the world to you.
Back in your room you collapse onto the bed. You wonder how Rafa is coping with it all.
'hey, how are you? busy? Rx'
An hour later, he hasn't answered and that just adds to your worry. Is he having second thoughts? What has his uncle said? It's so frustrating, all this second guessing and the four walls of the room are pressing in on you. You dump the remains of the sandwich you'd ordered into the bin and grab your bag and keys. Time to do something, time to get out of this room.
The hotel gym is quiet; the hotel is filled mostly with tennis players and their entourages and there are better facilities over at the tennis grounds so most people work out there. There are two women on the rowing machines so you head to the opposite end of the gym, to the treadmills. Listening to the steady pounding of your feet on the treadmill clears your head, much like your practice session earlier. You run steadily for an hour before you become aware of someone watching you. Slowing the machine, you turn to find Rafa standing there.
"Hi!" You stop the machine and step down, taking a sip of water and wiping your forehead with a towel.
"Hey." Rafa glances around the near-empty gym and moves forward to place a hand on your arm.
You smile at the gesture and shift a little closer to him.
"Sorry I no answer your message, I was at practice."
"It's okay." Your worry over him not replying seems to have disappeared now he's here with you.
"I go to your room but no one is there, so I search the hotel."
You laugh, pressing a hand briefly to his cheek. "I'm glad you found me."
The two women that were on the rowing machines have moved on to the step machines which are considerably closer to where you stand with Rafa. A feeling of paranoia passes over you, even though they are probably innocent gym-users. You rub the towel over your hair a little self-consciously and turn your back towards them.
"Let's get out of here yeah?"
Rafa nods and you grab your bag, pulling on a fresh t-shirt for the trip back through the hotel. You notice Rafa checking you out and it makes you grin, nudging him in the side. He looks nonplussed about the whole affair as you follow him out to the lifts.
Inside the lift, he presses up against you and you wrap an arm around his waist.
"You know there are probably cameras in here right?"
He shrugs, sliding a hand into your hair. "No matter. Is just to make sure we steal nothing."
"Is that what they're there for in Spain?"
He laughs and kisses you and you only break apart when the bell chimes and the door begins to open.
You step out the lift and turn right, automatically, thinking this is your floor but Rafa tugs your elbow.
"This way, Roger."
"Where are we going?" The corridor looks familiar but wrong; there's a white plant on the table in front of the lifts instead of the blue one on your floor.
"We go to my room." A wicked smile tugs at the corner of his mouth and you can't help but grin back at him.
He nods decisively and starts walking, towing you along with him. "Yes."
"I've got press stuff at five."
"I get you back for then no problem."
A couple of hours with Rafa sounds like exactly what you need and as Rafa leads you down to his room, still grinning away, you follow willingly.
Being with Rafa makes time seem irrelevant and you are only brought back to the present when your phone bleeps from inside your gym bag. Wriggling out from underneath Rafa, he makes a half-hearted noise of complaint and catches your wrist, wrapping his fingers around and stopping you from moving too far away. It means you have to stretch inelegantly to grab the handle of the bag and it makes Rafa laugh. You dig your phone out bag, and flip it open. There's a message from Mirka waiting for you.
'It's 4pm, car will be here at 4:30 remember? See you downstairs. Mx'
You shut the phone and toss it back in the general direction of your bag before turning and crawling back across the bed to Rafa.
He lets out a small sigh when he sees your face.
"You have to go?"
"I've got to be downstairs in 30 minutes."
"We got a little time then." He's all smiles once more, pulling you down to kiss you and looping his arms around your neck so you can't move anywhere.
"I've got to shower, I can't go to press like this."
Instead of disheartening Rafa, this idea seems to please him.
"Oh, good idea, we shower." He pushes you off him and rolls to the side of the bed.
"Rafa, I didn't mean..."
You're cut off by him, hauled up off the bed and propelled towards the bathroom.
"No, no Roger. No time to talk. We have to shower."
In the end you are ten minutes late to meet Mirka but you are at least showered and dressed fairly decently.
"Sorry I'm late." You are sorry, you didn't mean to be late but Rafa in the shower is a thing to behold, all golden skin and gleaming muscles, dripping with water that you wanted to lick off him; it took a lot of willpower to leave him in just a towel in his room.
"It's fine, the car is late anyway."
In the privacy of the car, confident that the driver probably doesn't speak much Swiss-German, you resolve to at least try to sort things out with Mirka.
"I'm sorry about lunch."
She looks over from her phone.
"I don't like fighting with you Mirka, you know that."
"Because you need me."
You roll your eyes, smiling a little. "Yes, because I need you." You make it sound like a joke but you do; she makes your life much simpler and more enjoyable.
"Thank you." She smiles.
"I shouldn't have taken any kind of annoyance out on you, you haven't done anything wrong. I'm sorry."
"It's okay Roger." She sighs. "This situation that we're in, it's different."
"Do you think I'm different?"
"What do you mean?"
"Since I met Rafa, do you think I've become different? The way you were looking at me earlier, it was like you couldn't figure out who I was."
She pauses, obviously thinking about what she's going to say next.
"You are different, but I don't mean that in any bad way. You've met someone special to you, so of course you're going to be different." She sighs again. "I suppose I was having a moment of self-indulgent pity, wondering where I would fit into your life now."
You must look pretty horrified for Mirka to laugh at the expression on your face.
"Mirka, you know you are one of, if not the, most important person in my life. As I said before, I need you."
She laughs again. "Roger, I said it was a moment of self-pity, that's all. Once I'd come back to my senses I realised that I was still an important person in your life. You're my best friend, I'm yours. You may be blinded by love or lust or whatever at the moment, but you are loyal and I know you won't abandon me, even if I asked you to."
As always, she's managed to diffuse any tension and you relax back into the seat.
"Now, stop worrying. I don't hate you, I don't hate Rafa, I'm just trying to figure out logistics."
She knows you too well, knows what's running through your mind and all the worst-case scenarios that are playing out in front of your eyes.
"I can't help it, my brain takes on a mind of it's own when it's left to it's own devices."
"I'm just thankful it's not any bigger, or else it might really run havoc."
"Oi!" You feign outrage, secretly just pleased that you and Mirka seem to be back to normal.
"You're a wonderful tennis player Roger, but academic intellectual, you are not. Now, quickly, before we reach the centre, did Rafa tell his uncle? And what did he say?"
It suddenly occurs to you that Rafa never did mention how well his uncle took the news. They were going to talk this morning but Rafa hadn't mentioned anything. To be fair, there hadn't been much time for talking in his hotel room, where you were mostly concerned with mapping the most amount of bare skin of each other with lips and tongues.
"Um..." You stall, trying to get the image of a naked Rafa to leave your head so you can function properly. "I know he told him, but he didn't say how he took it."
Mirka rolls her eyes and types something into her phone.
"It can't have been too bad, because he came to see me, you know? Or does that mean that this afternoon was a kind of last meeting? But we made plans-"
"Roger." She interrupts your mutterings. "Stop thinking about it. Focus on your commitments this afternoon, I'll sort it out."
Rafa has decided that you should meet Toni; as he tells you on the phone, it's only fair. Mirka's met him and therefore Toni should meet you. It doesn't really sound like great logic but Rafa promises he'll make it up to you after Mirka and Toni have both left and memories of the night before foolishly lead you to say yes before you've even really thought it through. So Toni is coming to tea.
This is terrifying. You feel like Toni holds the rest of your life in his hands, he can give his blessing to this relationship or he can flush whatever you have with Rafa down the proverbial toilet with a shake of his head. Rafa seems calm and collected, assuring you that for Toni to take the step to actually meet you means that he's onboard with this. But no matter how many times Rafa's told you that Toni doesn't seem bothered by Rafa seeing you, the feeling that Toni will smack you around the head and warn you never to come near his nephew again is still present and hanging over you.
The perception of Toni Nadal around the tennis grounds doesn't help you at all. You were talking to Andy earlier in the day when Toni had been spotted in the distance walking to another practice court and Andy had proceeded to regale you with tales of Toni from the tennis courts in Spain. Tales of his no-nonsense attitude towards Rafa; the hours that he would make him spend practicing and his stony silences at anything less than perfection.
Rafa told you different tales, of how Toni always supported him and made him the best he could be and how he’s really a loving uncle, but the image of Toni wielding a shovel to protect Rafa's honour still haunts you.
This obsession to make a good impression means you spend a good half an hour trying to decide which white shirt you should wear. It's only Mirka opening the door to your room and bursting out laughing as you hold up different shirts in front of the mirror that makes you pick one quickly and tidy up the bedroom just a little. You're having dinner in the room, just in case someone sees the four of you dining in the hotel restaurant and word gets out to the press. Mirka's made plans for the food to be delivered from one of her favourite restaurants in New York and you’ve even set the table yourself.
You've just closed your bedroom door and hurriedly sorted out your hair when there's a knock at the door of the suite.
Rafa's on the other side, beaming at you and you grin back at him, stepping back to allow him and Toni to enter into the privacy of your room. Toni's face isn't exactly threatening; he's more expressionless than anything else. Once in the main area of the room, Rafa turns round and beckons you forward to meet Toni properly.
"Roger, this is my uncle, Toni. Toni, this is Roger."
You reach forward and shake his hand, trying not to look nervous at all.
"Nice to meet you." You hope your voice isn't betraying any nerves. Thankfully you think you've managed to pull it off.
"You too Roger." He looks round expectantly at Mirka and pauses, waiting for you.
"Oh, sorry, this is my friend Mirka."
While Mirka and Toni exchange greetings and Mirka starts a conversation about seeing Toni at some tennis event several years ago you take the opportunity to sidle across to Rafa. He smiles and slips his hand into the back pocket of your jeans, pinching and making you jump a little.
"Rafa!" You mutter out of the side of your mouth, elbowing him in the ribs gently.
"Toni is busy talking to Mirka, is okay."
You laugh. "Groping me in front of your uncle is okay?"
He sighs dramatically and takes his hand away from your arse, wrapping his arm around your waist instead.
"Better?" He grins and you lean in to kiss him.
"I can no grope you, but you can grope me?"
"A kiss isn't a grope."
"You are strange." Rafa tells you and you're about to retort when Mirka grabs your attention.
"Are we ready to eat? Roger, will you get that bottle of wine?"
She makes sure everyone is seated and comfortable while you pour the drinks. Rafa declines a glass and you join him, it wouldn't look very professional to Toni and you still want to make the best impression possible.
The dinner is pleasant; the food is impeccable and even the company isn't too awkward. Toni speaks almost perfect English, as do you and Mirka and it's only Rafa who is occasionally unsure of what's being said. The talk stays resolutely away from both families back home in Europe. Toni recalls some of the tournaments he's seen over here and the legends that he has seen win and lose, Mirka talks about the cities of America which she has had the opportunity to visit and you and Rafa exchange locker room stories of the different pranks that have been told to you both by Andy and the other Spaniards.
Afterwards, you volunteer to clear the table and send it all away to room service and Rafa offers to help. Toni and Mirka exchange a look but move to the sofas of the living room and you can hear the start of the tricky conversations between them both. It's probably a little unfair to leave Mirka to deal with it but it's something that she's good at, it's almost what she's employed for and honestly, if you and Rafa were there you would probably only cause trouble, asking stupid questions and getting all passionate and angry.
You push the trolley stacked with dishes and cutlery out into the hall, to let the hotel staff collect it, and when you get back into the room, Rafa's waiting for you with another wicked glint in his eye. As the door clicks shut you are pressed up against it by a warm, strong body. Your hands settle automatically on his hips, gripping tightly.
"No uncle." He says solemnly and it makes you laugh.
His mouth finds yours before you can say anything else and you are soon lost in the now familiar world of Rafa's kisses. His hands cup your face, thumbs pressing gently against your cheekbone and his fingers move up to tangle in your hair. Your fingers are wrapped around the beltloops in his jeans, keeping him in close proximity. You always lose time when you're kissing Rafa. You could be there for hours and yet it feels like only seconds. His heavy presence is comforting, pressing you firmly back against the hotel door and he's surrounding and dominating all your sense.
A cough finally pulls the both of you apart. Rafa turns and you peer over his shoulder to see Toni and Mirka standing just in the doorway to the living room. Colour immediately floods into your cheeks and you push Rafa gently back and run a hand, embarrassed, through your hair.
Rafa looks unabashed, as if this is a usual occurrence for his uncle to find him in such a position.
"Toni was just leaving." Mirka supplies helpfully and you realise that you are both sort of blocking the hotel door.
Rafa nods and starts to speak, "Okay, I-" but Toni cuts him off, gently but firmly.
"You have early practice in the morning Rafael."
He makes a face but smiles again almost immediately. "No worry, I go now too."
He turns back to you and kisses you firmly goodbye, right on the mouth. You're not used to such public displays of affections and you fumble awkwardly, ending up patting his waist in goodbye. Behind Toni, Mirka tries to hide her laughter.
As Rafa yanks open the hotel door and sticks his head out to check the coast is clear, Toni is shaking your hand.
"Nice to meet you Roger. I'm sure we will see more of each other."
"Uh, thanks, you too Toni." This seems like a good indication that the whole evening had gone well. Rafa calls a last farewell as he is ushered out of the hotel room and down the corridor by his uncle. As you close the door you can hear Rafa talking away to Toni in rapid Spanish. You wonder what he's saying.
Mirka's gone back into the living room to finish her glass of wine, so you follow her and sink down on the sofa beside her.
"So, how did it go?" You ask her.
"You would know if you hadn't been otherwise occupied in the hallway."
"I thought it might be better if you and Toni talked alone, without us messing up the whole conversation."
She laughs. "Sure you did."
You top up her glass, emptying the bottle and nip back up to put it on the trolley still waiting outside the room door. When you come back, you sit down and look at her expectantly.
"It went well. Toni doesn't seem to mind who his nephew is seeing, even you, as long as it doesn't affect his tennis and he doesn't think it has over the last few days."
A weight that you didn't realise was sitting in your stomach suddenly disappears.
"It's got to be low-key, though I think the pair of you have realised that already. No interaction at the tennis grounds, it's too risky. Keep meetings confined to your own rooms. And please, be careful. This hotel is full of players and coaches, a large proportion I would assume who wouldn't mind seeing you fail on this surface. And a major scandal that involves both families and takes both of your minds' away from tennis would probably be right up their sleeve. Subtlety is the key here Roger."
You nod, trying to look like you are paying attention when in reality you are thinking of all the meetings you and Rafa can have in the next few days before the tournament starts. Evenings spent relaxing in bed with him, maybe talking over the day's events or watching a football match or something. You don't care what you do, you're just excited that you get to be with him.
This cloud of happiness lasts until the beginning of the tournament. Then time starts to become more valuable. Being in opposite halves of the draw, it means that you play alternate days and being together is harder than anticipated. There's also a lot more scrutiny on the both of you, press from all over the world have arrived to cover your matches and press conferences seems to take twice as long as normal. There are in-depth analysis talks with Severin about what you can do to improve, daily phone calls home to your family with news and results, television interviews and practice and it all has to fit into the day. It's so hectic there's really no time to see Rafa but somehow the pair of you manage, even if it's just for a snatched hour as one arrives back at the hotel and the other prepares to leave.
The news that you are both staying at the same hotel doesn't seem to have made it into the news just yet and you wonder, as you are driven to the tennis centre one morning, just how hard Mirka works to keep it that way. She's become a lot quieter during the first few rounds of the Slam, constantly checking her phone, figuring out where you are supposed to be next and rushing to make sure that you make it on time. For the first time, you are the one making sure that she's eating regular meals and checking she is actually stopping to sleep.
Your first several matches are pretty simple. You've drawn guys you've played and beaten plenty times before so it's mostly routine. There is the odd scare but it's something you manage to contain easily. After all, you're used to this. You're used to easily making your way through the first few rounds and there's usually a lot more pressure to win your matches in the tournaments you play at home. There you are the favourite, the top-seeded player but over here you are a completely new entity.
Everyone is wondering how Federer and Nadal will cope with the change in surface and, if anything, Rafa's struggling just that little bit more. So at home on his beloved clay, he's not as used to the fast pace of the hard court as you are, grass being the fastest surface to play on. But there's barely anything in it, the odd point which commentators remark should have been played a different way if either were a true hard court player, but he's winning easily.
This is the first time that you've been able to see each other play, albeit still not live, but you're captivated by his movements. You've never seen him play before, never even seen him train before and you wonder if you’d switched on the right match when you first saw him on the court, stalking the baseline and fist pumping every hard point won. His eyes are dark and intense and his hair hangs in strings around his face; his sleeveless shirt only accentuates his muscles and he looks like a hulking brute. It's so far from the Rafa you know and for the first time, you actually see him as a Nadal, as a tough-as-boots competitor, someone who doesn't care about the man on the other side of the net, just filled with a desire to win at any cost and that is the image that has been drilled into your head since birth.
But after his win, he'd come bounding into your hotel room, full of smiles and laughter, so excited to have won the match, and he becomes your Rafa once more, and although the changes in him still strike you when you watch him play, they seem less important. After all, you like to think you are different on the court to off the court. You've worked hard to get rid of your temper on the court, and while Rafa is full of expression and emotion, you've worked hard to restrain it and the most you show is a quiet "come on" when you've overcome a tricky or potential difficult situation.
He's meticulous in his on court preparation, his bottles are always aligned, he fusses with the towel and picks at the back of his shorts and obsessively tucks his hair behind his ears. But off the court, he flings the nearest and cleanest thing on to wear and his room is messy and he eats with abandon and his hair is always splayed deliciously over the pillow without any semblance of order.Part 3