“I thought you were my uncle,” I say, my free hand moving to the bridge of my nose. My brow pulls in tight and I hold my mouth open, unsure of what to say next. I decide nothing is probably the best for both of us.
The more Maddy rushes, the more the papers slide free from her hold, but I let her work through it, eventually laying a mish-mash of ledgers and receipts into a disorganized pile on the desk.
“My mom will sort it out. Just,” she says, her eyes coming up enough to see the papers in my hands. She grabs them and adds them to the stack. “Just leave them here for her.”
My lips are still parted, my words caught somewhere in my throat. Of everything, I knew this would be the hardest. This place, the drills, her dad, the water—it’s all going to be hard. But seeing Maddy…
I can’t move my gaze up no matter how many times my mind screams at me to be civil, to pretend that none of this is strange or hurtful. I’m stuck on her hands, the way she’s balling her fingers into fists, the way her nails are filed down low—for speed. Every piece of a second counts. Maddy swore she was the fastest girl in the pool when she was in junior high because she was the only one without giant nails dragging through the water. My lips betray me and quirk a smile at that memory. She must be looking at my face, because the second my mouth curves, she tenses and grabs a phone and set of keys from the desktop near the papers.
“I only came in here because I forgot my phone. I have somewhere I need to be,” she says, rushing past me. She has nowhere to go. I could always tell when she was lying.
“Yeah, me too,” I say, surprised at my own voice. My eyes widen a little and my pulse picks up. Maddy stops at the doorway and turns her chin just enough that I catch a glimpse of more of her profile. “I have to be…over there,” I say, gesturing to my new home on the other side of the hall.
Her fingers drum once along the wood of the doorframe, and she grunts out a tiny laugh before she flees down the hallway and steps, slipping out the back door just like she used to when we were kids. I hear her car motor start up soon after and watch the shadow of the lights move along the windows that line the alleyway. When I hear her car hit the gravel, I let my head fall back and I bring my arms up over my eyes. I breathe in long and deep, holding my lungs full. She’s even more beautiful than she was the day before I ruined her life.
This is going to be hard. I want to quit already. But I can’t, because—whether she remembers it or not—I promised her I wouldn’t.
I saw this thing on the Internet. It’s a series of videos of these junior-high boys flipping half-filled water bottles on things, landing them just right, then running around with their arms in the air as if they’ve accomplished something amazing. My best friend Holly sent it to me, sort of as a joke.
What you’re doing can’t be half as hard as this.
That’s what her text said. It made me smile, because how stupid is a water-bottle stunt. Then I spent the next hour trying to get my damned water bottle to land upright on the floor. I just stuck it, and I refuse to pick it up now because that was really, really hard. I even threw my hands up when I did and let out a whoop—all alone, in my room, at sunrise. I whispered the whoop. And then I mimicked the sound of a roaring crowd.
Hats off to the water-bottle flippers of YouTube.
I miss Holly. I miss the late shift, and putting in stupid hours just trying to get ahead. I miss eating dinner out of the vending machine and talking about the cute doctors that I never really want to notice me, but that bring me some sort of feeling of normalcy—like maybe, just maybe, I’ll kiss a man again someday.
I took a sabbatical from the UV Mercy Nursing Program. When I get back, Holly will be on staff, and I’ll still be a senior. Damned fear of regret, though—it’s a powerful thing. I lit up the NCAA my junior year. All of those times when I was too slow didn’t matter now that I was faster than everyone. I was fast enough when it counted—fast enough to swim for gold.
Fast enough to swim for my father.
My dad runs one of the most elite training camps in the country. Four years ago, the US team came through here on their way to glory. It isn’t so much the pool, which is fairly dated, or the location—it’s my father that makes it the best. This year, he aims to be one of the coaches. I’m his ticket, and I’m all right with that because I couldn’t imagine going with anyone else in my corner.
Will…I guess he’s the wild card. Or maybe he’s the insurance. If my dad can make him a winner too, then there really isn’t a better choice to head the team against the world.