by C.M. Francis
available on Amazon
“Finally…” Ade says. We speed up to catch the track team. Kimberly and Danielle, the other two captains, turn around and give us the stink eye, but when they turn back, Ade and I high five each other. Despite how relaxing preseason practices are supposed to be, Danielle rules like a drill sergeant, which means no talking whatsoever. She roars if we breathe too loud.
My mind must be elsewhere because I stumble over my own damn feet. I should have admitted to Mr. Buckley it was me who cheated on the quiz.
“Last lap!” Danielle yells and picks up the pace. A few freshmen and sophomores drift towards the end, and I speed to the front. Lucy and Kimberly roll their eyes and drop back, but Danielle is persistent and sprints; two can play this game. Further and further away from the rest of the team, the two of us run so fast our legs are on fire until we lean forward. Danielle and I breathe in through our noses and out of our mouths as we wait for the rest of the team to catch up.
Once Kimberly finishes, she points to each of us and asks, “You kids done playing?” Neither of us laugh and join the circle. Every three seconds, Danielle yells at me.
“Other side, Morgan!” Danielle shouts. We switch from our left leg to our right for a stretch of the quad muscle. “Come on, Morgan. You can do better than that!” My bendy right leg leans to the floor without straining itself, and I smile right back at her.
A few moments later, the three captains stand.
“All hands in,” Lucy says. Everyone jogs to the center of the circle with their right arm extended. Ade and I barely bring our hands in and stand on the outer rim. Why do captains praise being “one with the team”? To be honest, I don’t care about how well the track team does. As long as I reach All-States, that’s all that matters.
“Tewksbury tough on three,” the captains say. “One…two…three!”
“Tewksbury tough!” The team chants. “The pride you gain is worth the pain. Woo!” On “woo,” each member raises their hand in the air. But Ade and I? We only bring our hands up halfway.
That’ll show them!
After some awkward pats on the back, the team disperses into sections. The distance girls jog outside for a five-mile run, the throwers have the corner of the gymnasium to see how far they can toss the shot- put, and the sprinters lift weights for leaner muscles.
So much for a team sport.
There are about thirteen sprinters in the preseason practice, and although these are supposed to be optional practices, Mr. Buckley makes it mandatory for both boys and girls. The only ones who are allowed to miss these are at soccer or field hockey practices for playoffs. Coach Mack is the sprinting coach, but Mr. Buckley is the head coach.
Before we reach the main weight bar, Ade and I linger behind the other sprinters. We each lift two 12-pound weights and run up the stairs to F hall. Waiting in line, I stretch my neck; it’s tighter than usual, but I think it’s because of my guilt thanks to a certain someone.
Each girl completes three lunges down the hall before the next girl starts. After the girl finishes her set, Ade begins. She dips briefly before she groans in pain. Poor Ade; she should have stretched more before- hand. As soon as we have a free moment, I’ll help her.
Once she completes three, it is my turn. For the first lunge, I dip low, perpendicular to the floor. Then, the second one: a piece of cake. But the third…
The third lunge is…odd. Sure, my leg movement is consistent, yet my right arm bangs against my body.
I complete another pair of lunges, but the flailing of my right arm nails my hamstring. I stand straight and glance at the weight: twelve pounds. All the practice I’ve done over the past five months is catching up. There is a small
weight bar up in F hall; some girls switch to a lighter weight once Coach Mack is no longer in sight. So, I walk over, lower the twelve-pound weight, and grab the eight.
I bounce my knees, grip this unfamiliar weight, and begin once more. First lunge: good. Second lunge: better. Third lunge—
The eight-pound weight flails too, and I’m getting pissed off.
“Something wrong?” Ade asks and stares at my right hand, but I shake it off.
“I’m…” But I can’t find the words. It’s like learning a foreign language where someone can’t pronounce any of the expressions. “Thirsty…I’m thirsty.” I don’t know if Ade believes me or not because she glances at my arm again.
I switch the weight to my left hand, and my body’s weight shifts to the left. As I jog to the stairwell, I glance at the clock: 2:15. Peering downward, the staircase leans from left to right, and I grip the railing to escape vertigo.
At first, I run down the stairs with ease, hopping after each step. My feet pitter-patter quietly, almost silent. But at the awning, I walk one step at a time: apart, together, apart, together. And at the last two steps, I shake in fear I might fall. I lift my right leg, bend my knee, and hover above the next step. Once it lands, I quickly bring my left foot up with a loud BANG!
When I reach the bottom, I glance. The stairs stretch, extending for miles upon miles that never end.
Get yourself together, Morgan.
I gently slap my cheek and aim for the main weight bar. Ade and I dashed to reach it earlier, but not now. The corridor elongates as I search for the end. My ears pop and a slight buzzing is heard, and my throat feels swollen, feels tight, and I breathe through my mouth. As I trudge through my path to reach the destination, my eyes grow wide because my vision becomes blurry.
At last, I reach the bar, switch one weight into my right hand and place the weight onto the bar with others. Only when I am about to bring my right- hand weight onto the bar, I—
The weight falls to the floor. Most of the sprinters jump, and some of them clench their chest and pant. My cheeks flush, and I perspire. Beads of sweat form on the top of my head. A few girls glare at me but turn away.
Even Coach Mack flinches and—
He’ll know what to do!
“Morgan,” Coach Mack says, grinning. “Get your head in the game.” He shakes his head and turns away. I think he’s watching another girl struggle with chin-ups, but I’m not caring about that.
I clear my throat and weakly ask, “Can I get my water bottle? I don’t feel…right and—”
“Hurry,” he says and does not turn around. I understand that though; sometimes, coaches pay more attention to the weaker ones, and him not paying attention to me only reminds me how fine I really am. As I walk to the locker room, I keep reminding myself I am fine, totally fine. One- hundred-percent, totally fine.
Sure, my right arm acted weird, but as soon as I quench my thirst, I’ll be
better than fine.
Yet, I walk slower and lean towards the left-side wall. I’m fine, I think to myself, I’m fine. The beads of sweat transform into drips. My workout clothing is soaking wet, and although I’m sweating, I am freezing.
Maybe it’s like the end of a race, right? I’m sweating, but my body freezes up. I need some Gatorade. Or water. Or water…water… water…
I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.
I slap my cheek to wake myself up and continue to the locker room.
“You’ve got this. Don’t be a wimp.” With a groan, I shove the wall and step forward. Then another step, and another, and another.
Tiny, sporadic yellow spots fill my vision. I blink and widen my eyes in hopes they disappear. But the yellow spots morph into clouds until I can’t see anything. I cling to the plaster wall until—
My right leg falls asleep, even though my body isn’t in any weird position. But that explains it, right?
Dehydration and numbness?
My pores flood my body with sweat as I slither my way against the wall to the locker room. Then my fingers stop as the concrete changes to solid wood. I bang against the wall, the swinging door slams open, and I hobble to the other side. My arms stretch in search of my gym bag. However, the yellow cloud disperses into spots which disintegrate into normal vision. I blink and squint my eyes; everything is dimmer than usual.
“Cat?” A deep, male voice calls my name.
When I pivot in a circle, I see a shirtless Tristan. Doesn’t he know this is the girl’s locker room? He blushes, puts on a t-shirt, and steps forward.
Wait, he’s not pink at all; he’s white. “Are you okay?”
Of course, I’m fine. I need a bit of water. That’s what this is; a curious case of…of…of… How do you pronounce that word?
Forcing a laugh, I wave my hand away to make him realize I’m okay. “I’m fine,” I mean to say. But what comes out is, “Impf finmft.” What is happening?
The room spins and sways. When I lean backwards, Tristan comes to my aid and holds my back with his palm. If this sounds romantic, it isn’t. He guides me to a gym bag and leans me on the lockers.
“I’ll get you some water,” he says. After he positions me against the wall, he sprints to the bag, pulls out a water bottle, and hands it to me. I shake my head; I don’t want to put my germs on it. “Take it,” he insists.
So demanding! I snatch the water bottle out of his hand and gulp the water down my throat until I chug every drop. About one-fourth of the bottle drips out of my mouth.
“Feel better?” Tristan asks. It feels so good, real good…for two seconds. When I finish it, I pant like I do after a sprint or a marathon. A slight pulse on the left side of my forehead beats like a drum.
I need Coach Mack.
“Get Coach Mack,” is what I mean to say. “Gempf Moach Macmp,” is what I say. The room spins left and right and up and down, and I’m still thirsty, and I shiver and I sweat and I smell and I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, and Tristan moves towards me, and I move back because I can take care of myself, and I don’t want Prince Charming to come and rescue me and…and…and…
My eyes roll back into my head, and I fall onto the cold tile. The sound of faucets still running and Tristan’s bare feet scurrying across the floor.
Before I close my eyes, I see a girl in the swinging door with a boot on her fo—
coming of age