A woman dressed in a red and white cycling jersey and jogging pants paced along the windows of the waiting room of the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. Whenever the heavy security doors to the ER opened, she would turn to look, then resume wringing her hands or tugging at her copper brown ponytail as she walked. Her lime-green Nikes squeaked on the linoleum when the doors opened again. A nurse in navy scrubs stood at the threshold and glanced around.
She all but ran over, her eyes large. “Is she going to be alright?”
“Your friend is going to be admitted,” the nurse replied. “Someone will come get you when you can go and see her.” Loren clenched her fists to her chest as she watched the nurse head back into the ER. She stiffened when hands settled on her shoulders.
“Sorry I’m late. What did the nurse say?” His rich baritone voice held only the phantom of a French accent.
She closed her eyes as her lips pressing together. “Stop that.”
“Stop what?” His breath was close to her ear.
“Stop touching me.” Loren stepped back and turned to glare at her Directeur Sportif, Felix Lalonde.
“I thought you were enjoying it.” A corner of his mouth curled up in the soft smile.
“I wasn’t.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “They’re keeping Evette.”
“I had assumed as much,” he replied, nodding. “Wait here. I’ll be back.” Felix went over to the admissions desk and spoke with a clerk for a few minutes, then returned. “She has a fractured pelvis and will possibly be here a day or two.” Loren took a breath to speak, but he waved her off. “I will stay with her and escort her back to England if her husband doesn’t get here first.”
She turned, running her fingers through her hair. “It’s my fault. I should have–” She flinched as Felix touched her shoulder again.
“You were perfect,” he said, stepping around to face her. “You didn’t know Evette wasn’t behind you going up Levering Street until it was too late. She got tangled with Chantal and a rider from SportMatrix.”
“I don’t know yet,” he replied. “I have to watch the video replay.” He slid his fingers down her arm to take her hand, brushing his thumb over her skin. “I’m going back to the house to make sure everyone is packed up for the airport. Our flight is at 7 tonight, so you have some time with her.” Felix kissed her forehead. “It’s going to be alright, mon cherie.”
Loren watched him head to the sliding doors, her fingers going to the spot on her forehead. What the fuck am I doing? She scowled. I’m not letting him get to me again.
“Ms. Mackenzie?” She jumped when the nurse touched her arm. “Sorry. I’ll take you back now.”
Evette Nadal was propped up in a narrow hospital bed, staring at a blank television screen when Loren entered her room.
She grimaced as she adjusted to sit up further. “Hey,” she croaked.
“Hey, yourself.” Loren sat down on the hard plastic chair next to the bed. “You look like shit.”
“I can imagine,” Evette replied with a soft laugh. “Did you win?”
“No,” she answered, shaking her head. “I got fourth and the climber’s jersey you were supposed to get because I was your lead out. By the time I realized you weren’t behind me, I didn’t have much left for the 18 percent section of the Wall. It kinda hurt going up the sixth time.”
“It hurt every single time,” Evette whined. They both chuckled, but Loren turned serious.
“What happened? Felix said you got hung up.”
Evette exhaled, pursing her lips. “I was with you at the turn to Levering Street, then that girl from SportMatrix slid in between us. She got hung up with Chantal right in front of me. There wasn’t anything I could have done to avoid it. I landed on the curb.”
Loren grimaced. “Jesus. No wonder you got broke.”
Evette glanced toward the window. “I’m not coming back to the team, Loren.”
“What?” She sat up straight.
“I’ve been thinking about it more and more,” Evette said, fiddling with her wedding band. “I was planning on retiring this year. I don’t want to be 35 and just starting a family.” She met Loren’s gaze but looked away again. “I know what you’re thinking. My husband’s not pressuring me.” Her hazel eyes hardened. “I’m just tired of barely scraping by. The team does a lot for us, but you know it’s not enough when you’re on your own.”
She then wagged her finger at Loren. “And don’t think I didn’t see what you did in California. Why would you hold back for Ingrid to take the bonus?”
“I wasn’t holding back,” she replied, dropping her chin. “Ingrid just had a better–”
“That’s bullshit and you know it,” Evette retorted. “It’s not just the money you’re giving up, Loren, it’s the points.” She shook her head as her frown deepened. “You keep trying to hide behind me even though we both know you’re the one leading the team. Step up and be the leader we all know you are.”
Loren raised her head, her chin trembling. “What if I’m not strong enough?”
“You are strong enough,” Evette replied, touching her hand. “I have this poster that I’m going to give to you when I get home. It says ‘Fate whispers to the warrior, you can’t withstand the storm. The warrior whispers back, I am the storm.’ Be the storm, Loren.”
“I’m back,” Loren called out, walking into the house in Manayunk the team had been occupying over the past few days.
“In here,” a voice answered from the living room. Loren burst out laughing seeing her teammate, Cece Taylor, sitting on her duffle. “Get over here and help me,” she grumbled, then shifted to lay flat on the bag as Loren zipped it shut. “How’s Evette?”
“They’re keeping her until at least Tuesday,” she replied. “She fractured her pelvis.”
Cece sucked in a breath through her teeth. “Damn. Felix just left, but he didn’t say whether he was gonna stay with her.”
“He said he would if her husband doesn’t show up beforehand.” Loren sighed and plopped down on the floor. “She’s not coming back.”
“Yah, I reckoned that.” Cece slid down her duffle to the floor and gave her friend a shoulder bump. “Don’t you be getting any ideas, now. We need the princess to take the throne.”
Loren gave her a dark look. “Very funny.”
“Hey, it wasn’t Evette that got us the win in California,” Cece argued. “And who won at Plumelec?”
“That wasn’t me.” Loren put her head back on the couch, her eyes following the swirls in the plaster ceiling. “I had the flu, remember?”
Cece pursed her lips. “Oh, yah.”
They both stared up at the ceiling for a few moments. “You know Ingrid thinks she should be team leader,” Loren said.
“Yah. She’ll be upset, I’m sure, but she’s no good with strategy,” Cece replied. “And forget handling Felix and his moods. He just looks at her cross-eyed and she’s in tears. You stand up to him.”
Loren grimaced. No, I haven’t. She sighed as she scooched down to put her head on her teammate’s shoulder. “What would I do without a friend like you?”
The Dubliner burst a laugh. “You’d be a right pew, that’s what!”