I wonder what this feels like for him? I wonder if the hurt is the same? Will and Evan were more than brothers; they were best friends. One ended and one began. I breathe in deep and let my chest feel full on the air and those thoughts, and I finally look away, bending down and splashing water on my arms, dunking my cap and goggles before getting in.
The water is my home, and I manage to do as my father always told me for the next few hours. I focus on the lane. I count my strokes, and push my capacity. I breathe and then hold my breath. I dig my arms into the water, and I kick and push. By the time my father blows the whistle for us to stop for the day, I’m spent—more than I have been in years. It takes me a few attempts to pull myself from the pool, and as I’m about to push my elbow into the ground to lift myself, I feel a hand wrap around my bicep and steady me until I can find my feet.
I don’t look at him completely. I knew it was Will’s touch the instant I felt it. It’s the only thing that doesn’t really remind me of Evan at all. Will’s hands—the size, strength and tenderness of their movement—that was always something unique to him.
“Thank you,” I say, smiling, but again, not at him. I move to the bench near the women’s locker room entrance and work my cap from my hair, toweling myself dry while I try to ignore the panicked thumping in my chest as I see Will walking toward me in my periphery.
“We have six weeks,” my dad says. Most of us sit at the loud boom of his voice, some of us on the ground. Will leans against the metal pillar several feet away from me, and I sneak a glance when his attention is on my dad.
He looks like Evan.
“Trials are going to be like nothing you’ve ever seen. Some of you,” my dad pauses, dipping his head to catch my eyes, “are going to have major targets on your backs. You’re the ones to beat. And the people chasing you are going to swim the race of their lives, faster than they’re capable of, running on adrenaline alone.”
His words soak in, and I know that as tired as I am from today, I still didn’t empty my tank. I need to give more, because I’m going to have one shot at clinching this. There is no next meet. There are trials, and today…I was distracted. My gaze drags along the ground to Will’s feet, then his legs, then his body. I can almost sense what it feels like to run my hands along his chest, around his back, to his neck, the wet ends of his hair, his jaw, his mouth. Not him, but…almost.
“Tomorrow we add an hour in the evening. Even for the sprinters. Distance is good for your lungs, and we all need bigger lungs. I’m going to turn you all into fish. Now go eat something real for breakfast,” my dad says, reaching down and pulling a small granola bar from the hands of one of the younger female swimmers. She shrugs as he tosses it in the trash and heads inside through the men’s locker room.
I don’t mean to look, but my eyes just go to Will. He’s packing up his things, his jaw working and his eyes hyper focused on the small space directly in front of him. He’s trying to become invisible…to me. My chest grows heavy, and my gut twists. I’m not being fair to him, blaming him because of his blood—because of who he reminds me of. He can’t help that any more than I can help the fact that my past is forever connected to his brother. But him being here…it’s also stirred other feelings—the kind twisted up in memories and adolescence. I don’t like the guilt that comes with those feelings.
But that…that’s not Will’s fault, either.
I linger, my fingers tingling with doubt while my mind second guesses what I’m about to do, but I know that I can’t keep going like this. If Will and I are going to swim in this pool together for the next six weeks, we can’t do it with the weight of the past drowning us. We need to find our way back to our younger selves—to the kids who used to dare each other to swim across Peterson Lake in the dark. We need to be pushing each other, not pulling the wrong way.
“You want breakfast?” My question squeals from my mouth, my voice cracking. My teeth bite down on my lower lip while I stare at the wet pile of towels on the ground between us.
“I could eat,” he says.
“I…I rode with my dad, so…” I glance up and our eyes meet briefly before I blink away again.
“I can drive,” Will says.
I nod slowly and remind my mouth to make a smile as I look up again.
“I’ll meet you out front,” I say, every word rehearsed in my head a millisecond before I utter it. Will doesn’t respond right away, but his eyes don’t seem to be as skittish as mine. He holds his stare on me, and his mouth is curved in a sincere hint of a smile. I’ve missed him.