Yesterday was the Men’s 10m Platform Synchronized Diving event at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest. Which, if you’ve read Heels Over Head, you’ll know is a Pretty Big Deal. I was streaming the finals at my desk, and even though neither the Americans or the Brits got a medal, it will still a great competition! (And of course there’s still the 10m Individual!)
So I wanted to share a short and sweet interlude, imagining if Brandon and Jeremy were at Worlds this week. This is unedited, cavity-inducing, and contains bonus Tom Daley! (If you don’t know who Tom is, google him. You’re welcome.)
NOTE: this short contains spoilers for Heels Over Head, so you definitely shouldn’t read it unless you’ve read the book. (Also, no, it doesn’t answer that Lingering Question at the end of HOH… that’s another story which will be coming later this year.)
Jeremy and Brandon at FINA World Championships
We’ve been at the natatorium for the World Championships for all of ten minutes when Brandon grabs my arm and says, awe-struck, “That’s Tom Daley!”
I glance over at Brandon, who’s staring wide-eyed across the pool.
“Uh, yeah.” Whether through coincidence or because he somehow heard us—things echo strangely in the natatorium—Tom looks up at meets my gaze. I smile politely, and give him a quick wave that he returns.
Brandon’s wheels around to gape at me. “You know Tom Daley.”
“Yeah…” I draw the word out. “We’ve been competing on the same international tournaments for years. The better question is: how do you know him?” Tom is pretty damn famous, and that means something in a sport like ours that most people don’t even know exists. But Bran’s never shown any interest in ogling over diving royalty.
“Aaron,” he mumbles. His cheeks are suddenly bright pink, eyes turned down. On anyone else it would look like embarrassment. On my boyfriend, I know it’s just amusement. “He, uh, sent me a Buzzfeed link last week? ‘World Aquatics Championships are coming up, and here are seventeen athletes to leave you thirsty’ or something like that.”
It takes me longer than I’d like to process that. “Why did your ex send you an article about attractive swimmers and divers?”
Brandon mumbles something again.
“Because we’re on the list. Both of us.” Brandon glances up, and now I can see how his eyes are shining with laughter. His lips twitch, probably because of whatever horrified face I’m suddenly making.
Brandon glances around the natatorium. People are just starting to warm up, but we have time before we should be up on the platform to practice.
“Dude,” he says. “Jer, babe, you know you’re hot, right?”
I grimace. Brandon is good looking… anyone can see that. His mom’s genes mean he always looks tan, even in the dead of winter, and his dad’s contribution is a pair of blue eyes the exact color of the diving well. He confessed once that his appearance was the only good thing his parents ever gave him.
But me? On a list of attractive athletes with Tom Daley and Brandon Evans? Ha.
Brandon is suddenly inches away from me, the full weight of those incredible eyes boring into my own.
“Jeremy. Jer. Love of my life, best friend, best synchro partner ever.” I can tell I’m blushing, and unlike Bran’s flush, this one is definitely embarrassment. “You are so fucking hot.”
“You have to say that. You’re my boyfriend.”
“Uh, dude, me and the, like, twenty thousand girls who read Buzzfeed.” He pauses. “And boys.” Because that’s been a thing ever since the Sports Illustrated issue last year.
The reminder makes me glance around the natatorium, suddenly aware that we’re not alone. Sure enough, a few people are watching us, either staring outright or quick darting glances.
Brandon reads my mind and shifts back a few inches, but he trades the proximity for a hand on my bare knee. “Hey, Jeremy.” His voice tugs my attention back to him. “I know you think that my opinion isn’t exactly unbiased, but I have a confession.” He meets my gaze, face serious but eyes bright with laughter. “I’ve thought you were hot since the very first time I saw you.”
I can feel the blush darken, but the embarrassment is tinged with pleasure. “Yeah, me too.” I swallow. “Even when I hated you, I thought you were gorgeous.”
Brandon grins. “And if it makes you feel better, they ranked both of us above Tom Daley.”
What? I turn to look at Tom, who’s stretching out his arms, then back at Brandon. “Both of us?”
“Yep!” Brandon’s smile widens, and he pops up to his feet, stretching his arms above his head. “So c’mon, hot boyfriend. Let’s go kick some ass and bring home my first World Championship medal.”
I stand as well, taking a moment to roll my neck and shake my legs out. “Yeah, okay.” I try to shove the entire conversation aside, and focus on diving. We should go find Andrey before he gets upset that we’re not warming up.
But as Brandon turns to head off, another thought occurs to me. “Wait, if we both ranked higher than Tom, which of us was higher in the ranking?”
Bran turns around and kisses me, right there in the middle of the natatorium. Even after a year of being out together, it still feels like a bomb dropping every time.
“I love you, Jeremy,” he says, “but you are the most competitive person I’ve ever met.”
He turns and starts to walk away.
“Bran, seriously,” I call to his retreating back. “Does that mean I won?”
Brandon laughs and doesn’t respond.
Now I’m curious, but there’s no chance to find my phone and search out the article for myself. I watch Brandon’s retreating back for a moment, then close my eyes and take a few deep, centering breaths. Brandon is the best kind of distraction, but it’s time to dive.
And Bran’s right—I’m definitely competitive. I want to beat Tom and his synchro partner on the platform, too.
Diving at Worlds isn’t nearly the stress that it once was. For one thing, nothing will ever compare to the intensity of standing at the top of the 10 meter Olympic platform last year. And for another… well, me and Brandon are a great team. With Bran at my side, there’s really nothing to be worried about.
So we dive.
Our program today is weighted pretty heavily on the last three dives—two 3.4 and a 3.6 DD. Some of the other teams are trying for more difficult 3.7 DD dives, but I know we’re solid right where we are.
We breeze through the preliminary round, coming out in fourth place. Brandon’s loose and smiling, and the cheer he gives when we get confirmation that we’re through to the Finals makes me smile back at him.
“Buzzfeed’s gonna write a new article, after we win gold,” he says. “It’s just going to be pictures of you and me looking hot and waving our bling around.”
I like the sound of that. “If we win gold, you’ll tell me who ranked higher on that dumb list, right?”
Brandon tilts his head back to laugh, and I know I’m not the only one staring at the long expanse of his neck, the way his dark eyelashes still have tiny beads of water in them against his cheeks. “Sure, hot boyfriend. When we win gold, I’ll tell you.”
Finals are later that same day, and Andrey and Val take us out to lunch before we have to be back at the natatorium to warm up again.
At the top of the platform, before our first dive of the Finals, Brandon holds out his fist. “Ready to show Buzzfeed and the world that we’re not only better looking than Tom Daley, but we’re better divers, too?”
“Yeah.” I bump my fist against his. “Let’s do this.”
In the end, it’s not a gold medal that we take home… but the silver feels just as perfect around my neck. We pose for photos, shake hands with the Chinese—who absolutely deserve their gold medals—and then the bronze medal winners: the British divers.
“Tom.” I hold out my hand.
“Jeremy, nicely done.” Tom shakes my hand, smiling widely. “Very impressive.”
There’s an arm around my shoulders suddenly, and Brandon’s lean body tucks alongside mine. The urge to step away, put some space between us, comes and goes in a second, before I can relax against him.
“I don’t think we’ve met yet.” Brandon holds out his hand as well. “Brandon Evans.”
“Tom Daley,” Tom says, as though every person in the natatorium doesn’t know exactly who he is.
Brandon just smiles politely. “Congrats to you and your partner. Hopefully we’ll get to see you at some future events.”
And then Tom is gone, and Brandon whirls me around, hugs me close, and whispers in my ear, “Holy shit, I just met Tom Daley!”
I laugh, and hug him back, and our medals clink together.
Later, after showering and collecting our bags, Brandon finds me sitting outside the natatorium, soaking up the late summer warmth and waiting for Andrey to finish talking with another coach.
“Good job, hot boyfriend.”
I grin up at him from my spot on the ground. “You too, Bran.”
“Did you want to know? About the Buzzfeed thing, I mean. I’ll tell you, even though we only won silver.”
The medal is folded up in my bag now, safe and sound. But there’s nothing only about it. “Nah, I’m good. We dived really well today, Bran. We’re the second best in the entire world. And we beat Daley and the Brits on the podium. That’s all that matters to me.”
Brandon grins and holds out his hand to help me to my feet. “Alright then, let’s head back to the hotel, and we can celebrate that silver medal together.”
I let him pull me up, then lean forward to kiss him, our hands still clasped together.
“Thanks for being my diving partner, Brandon,” I say against his lips.
Disclaimers: I don’t know Tom Daley, and this is a fictional representation of him, not intended to be real in any way. Also Brandon and Jeremy aren’t intended to replace Johnson and Loschiavo, who competed yesterday on behalf of the USA. This is just for fun! (But I do think Jer and Bran would’ve stolen silver if they’d competed, because it’s my fictional universe and I say so.)