It all began with the side trip to Romania. Payson felt like she was living in a whirlwind. She couldn't remember where this all began, but it was sometime around their detour. He had left the Rock because of the strain of dealing with Summer and everything just generally imploding.
She followed him as he carried a keg out the back door of the Olimpia Bar. She wondered if this was all because of Summer. Deep down Lauren knew it would be hard to forgive him for taking off on her and the team. People had to stop leaving her.
As he set the keg down and turned around she saw the wariness and guilt in his eyes. Lauren had to be the first to speak or she wouldn't be able to get her question out. "Look. Is Summer part of the reason why you left? Because you don't have to worry about her; she's back together with my dad and totally over you. So, if you come back it's only for the gymnastics. That's it."
He was surprised Lauren didn't call his bluff when he replied, "I'm not coming back." As Sasha turned around to walk away he exhaled heavily, biting down on the urge to recant. He just needed a few minutes of fresh air to clear my head. That's all it was.
Payson Keeler was not a girl to be deterred. She was going to bring Sasha back to the Rock if she had to kidnap him. Her mother had told her many times that she had an uncanny ability to disarm a person by staring them down. That stare was currently in full force, leveled at Sasha, while she ate the food that Lo had ordered but left behind.
What completely threw her for a loop was Summer appearing out of nowhere. "Payson." Exasperation was better than yelling. "Where are Lauren and Emily?"
"They already left. They took a train to Budapest. And I am not leaving without Sasha." Summer's holier-than-thou attitude had always pissed her off. Now she was deterring her from her ultimate goal? Hate was too kind a word.
Summer slipped into anger. "Honestly I don't know who's more stubborn, you or him." She watched Summer watch Sasha stride back behind the bar. The flash of lust and sadness in her eyes pissed Payson off even more. She had no right to him!
Unfortunately Summer kept talking. "One of the hardest lessons you'll learn at your age is that you can't always get what you want." Summer shook her head. "What am I saying? At any age. He's not coming back and there is nothing you can say or do to change his mind. I know that hurts, but it's time to let go. I'm not leaving here without you."
Payson continued to stare as she absorbed everything Summer was saying. She had no idea how wrong she was about Sasha. There was definitely a lot she could say and do to bring him back. 'You want to play a game with my life, Belov? Fine, we'll play a game.'
She got off of her stool and walked towards where Sasha was standing further down the bar. It killed her to do this, to play on his emotions this way, but it had to be done. Payson pulled Sasha's gold medal from her jacket pocket. She held it in both hands as she began to speak.
"When you gave this to me to hold, it represented something special. Not just athletic triumph, but everything I believed that you stood for: courage, strength, kindness, perseverance, and never, ever giving up. Now when I look at it all I can see is a quitter. You quit on me, you quit on the Rock, you quit on everybody. So, here." She firmly placed the medal on the scarred and scratched bar top. "I don't want it anymore."
Payson strode confidently towards the door so she wouldn't run back and fling herself at him. All she could think was 'Tag. You're it.' Summer followed her out the door. Sasha stood gently stroking the medal that was still warm from her body heat. He felt like someone had ripped his heart out through his stomach. The pain was momentary, giving way to extreme anger. Payson had said the medal was special and just giving it back like this trashed their whole relationship; it turned it into a farce. He wasn't going to stand for that.
From the beginning Sasha has been intrigued by Payson Keeler. She was tough and powerful and somehow he saw the feminine side she tried so hard to downplay. There was definitely a bond with Payson that he didn't feel with any of his other gymnasts, but lately he had been feeling something that he should never have with her. He would be working with Payson and put his hand on her shoulder and he would have flashes of them pressed up against the desk in his office, his hands tangled in her hair.
He hated himself for those moments because he knew that having those feelings for his seventeen-year old gymnast was wrong and that they would never be returned. Payson was so focused on her return to gymnastics and going to the Olympics that he knew nothing would ever come from his it.
Escaping to Romania seemed like the best option. Sasha knew that Payson would just follow him if he went to Cambria. He had to get farther away. It pained him to leave, but he had to spare Payson the embarrassment of his most likely unwanted feelings. When the girls appeared at the bar he was working at in Snagov he was stunned. Seeing Payson after all of this time just made the feelings more intense. They hadn't gone away like he had expected them to and it was frustrating. He had hated himself when he missed her 18th birthday party and it hurt even more now that he saw her in person. That perfect present was sitting in the bedside table of the Airstream back in Boulder.
Sasha didn't want to show how stunned he was and let the girls know they had him rattled. He continued to work as if nothing happened, but he felt her presence when Lauren got up to follow him. The entire time Lauren was talking Sasha wanted to apologize. So many people had left her and he had made himself the promise that he wouldn't. She would never know how sorry he was to have broken that.
It was pure torture when Lauren and Emily left, leaving Payson staring him down. For him it was intimidating and erotic at the same time. Intimidating because the girl exuded power, even if she didn't realize it. It was erotic because he could imagine that stare from across the gym, predatory and luring him into enacting all of those fantasies he had.
He just worked harder. Those feelings were not going anywhere and he had to stop dwelling on them. What was even more shocking was Summer walking into the bar. What had he seen in that woman? They were incompatible on almost every level. As Payson was lectured by Summer he sat and watched them, trying not to be obvious about it. He watched as Payson looked like she wanted to attack her. She had never taken kindly to anyone badmouthing him, which must be why she looked so angry and possessive. Once she had finally convinced Payson that he wasn't coming he felt some kind of know in his gut.
She didn't belong with him and he knew he didn't deserve her, but he didn't want her to leave. Once she left he was angry and knew he had to go after her. He had never expected to be played, especially by the girl he thought he knew. But a lot of things can change in three months.
Payson was beyond pissed the entire way to Budapest. Sasha was being such a coward. He was afraid of feeling? And for Summer of all people. She didn't deserve Sasha. That thought gave her pause. Well then who does deserve him? It plagued her for most of the night until she finally succumbed to jet lag and exhaustion. I deserve Sasha. I might even love Sasha.
She was startled awake when someone pounded on her door at 3 AM. She stood and groaned, stretching her back that was stiff from all of the traveling and sleeping on a subpar mattress. At least she had her own room. She knew how cranky Lauren got when she didn't get her full amount of beauty sleep. When she opened the door it felt like her heart was going to physically pound out of her chest. Sasha stood there holding his gold medal. "This is not mine Payson and you know it. It's yours until you have a gold to replace it with."
Something in Payson screamed out as he began to move away. She reached out and grabbed his arm, yanking him into her room. "Payson, what the hell?" He hadn't really looked at her when she opened the door, but she had never been more alluring to him. Her hair was loose and wavy and she was wearing a fitted white t-shirt and black pajama shorts. More than anything he wished he couldn't tell that she wasn't wearing a bra.
Payson had shut the door and quickly locked it as soon as he was in. "Nope. You don't get to walk away again. Until we get back to Boulder, you don't leave my sight." He was standing a foot away from her and she could smell him as if she was pressed right up against him. This was torture.
"Payson. I can't be in here. If someone found out both of us would be in big trouble. I don't even have my bag." She just shook her head.
"Sorry. No choice. I'm over 18 and I have pretty much done all the work lately. I've practically taken your position. So I guess I could call you my assistant coach." She still wouldn't move from in front of the door. Sasha knew exactly how stubborn Payson could be. "My bag is in the hallway. Can I at least have a toothbrush?" He watched her do her 'I win' dance for a quick moment. His view was incredible as she leaned out the door to retrieve his luggage.
Even at three in the morning her smile was radiant. "Congrats Coach. You get the floor." He wasn't surprised when she dragged her single bed partially in front of the exit. "Turn off the light when you're done brushing your teeth Belov."
Everyone was silent on the plane home. They had been ecstatic to have Sasha back, but finding out that Emily was pregnant… Sasha had left to chaos and felt like he had returned to chaos. He watched Payson carefully. She had stuck to her word and followed him everywhere. She had even been guarding the bathroom to make sure he didn't bolt. He was surprised that she hadn't handcuffed herself to him.
On the other side of Payson, Emily sat silent. After a couple of hours of silence she tried to speak up. "Pay I don't –" Payson cut her off with a sharp shake of her head. "Emily. Just don't. I understand that you have a hard decision to make. I don't understand how you could do this when I bought that house. We all came up with the rules. You chose to ignore them. So it's probably best that you go stay with your mother until you decide what to do. But do know that we support you either way."
Sasha was shocked at how much Payson sounded like a coach. He hadn't really believed what she had said when he showed up at her hotel room. She had been harsh, but fair. It was how he had dealt with a past gymnast's indiscretion and he was proud of Payson. He was also confused. "What's this about a house?"
She heaved a sigh and put down the Code of Points she had in her hands. It looked like she was working on the girls' routines. "Sasha, can we not do this now? I know that you don't like being out of the loop, but right now I just want to get home with my sanity intact." He nodded and kept watching her work. It looked like his handwriting and notebook that she was working from.
Landing at the airport in Denver, Sasha wasn't surprised when Payson led the team off the plane. She made sure he was next to her and as soon as they reached the baggage claim she turned to address Darby. "You can leave now. Thank you for trying, but our coach is back now."
Darby knew that she had been a stand in. This 'Rebel Rock' thing had been taken too far in her opinion. She rolled her eyes. "Yes, because I live to serve the great Payson Keeler. Don't worry, I'm gone." Darby grabbed her bag and marched off. Payson rolled her eyes and Lauren and the other girls smirked.
"Okay, I'll drive back with Sasha. Summer, can you get Emily home? Lo you have the Hummer so you and Kaylie should be okay in the snow. I called the removal company and they cleared the driveway." Sasha was silent as Payson barked out orders. She sounded eerily like him. He was still clueless as to what she was referring. Driveway to where?
As everyone broke apart Payson held Emily back for a moment. "Em, you know you have a place at the house, but I think you need the space to make this decision on your own. Please don't be mad?"
Emily hugged her tightly and Payson felt like crying. "Pay, don't worry. I understand where you're coming from. This is all happening so fast I don't know if I could even focus on gymnastics right now."
Both girls stepped back and took a deep breath. "Okay, lets go." Sasha followed her silently as they navigated to the parking garage. He was expecting to see Kim's car and he shouldn't have been as surprised as he was when they stopped in from of a ruby red Grand Cherokee. Payson quickly loaded both of their bags and soon they were headed down the road back to Boulder.
Sasha reached over and turned the music low. "So apparently I've come back to a completely new Rock." He waited as Payson continued to drive, hands tightening imperceptibly. She drove silently for another few moments before finally deciding she could speak without wanting to throw him from the car.
"You left us at the mercy of everybody, including the NGO. Steve Tanner took over the gym. You also left me. At a time when I needed you most and Ellen Beals had it out for me. I had no clue what to do." She paused for a deep breath, but it didn't seem to help her calm down. "Dammit Sasha! You fucking left!" Payson slammed her hand against the steering wheel while he decided to stay quiet. An angry Keeler was a dangerous Keeler.
The hour-long car ride passed quickly as she told him how the gym had fallen to pieces once he left. Lauren had found about her father being in cahoots with Ellen Beals, which left her camping out on the Keeler's couch. Kaylie's parents couldn't make the six months she had begged for and completely blew apart her family, leaving for different parts of the world. She couldn't stand being alone in that big mansion so she told her father to sell it. He had given her part of the proceeds from the substantial sale which was when she and Austin had approached Payson, Emily, and Lauren about buying the house.
Payson had put forth the most money because it would be her house alone once the Olympics were over. She felt like she was putting her endorsement money to good use. Everyone chipped in for the necessary equipment and remodeling that had to be done to it before they moved in, actually excited to be free of the oppressive aura surrounding the Rock. "So you'll see in about ten minutes. We're just a little ways out of Boulder. It's ten-and-a-half acres of secluded woods and we've all fallen in love with it. Especially my dad; he's found the best fishing holes."
He loved the way she talked when she was speaking about her family. In everything she did with her family there was a love that was almost palpable. Sasha wished he could be a part of it. "Payson, I never meant to hurt any of you. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. I'm so sorry."
She pursed her lips and nodded, turning down the long road that constituted their driveway. "Honestly? I'm going to be angry for a while. You leaving was a wake up call for all of us. It has matured us in ways we never thought possible."
He nodded gently, understanding the anger. "Okay. I can live with that."