Home > Coming Up for Air (Hundred Oaks)(8)

Coming Up for Air (Hundred Oaks)(8)
Author: Miranda Kenneally

Number two is never swim alone. It doesn’t matter how good a swimmer you are, you should always make sure there’s a coach or lifeguard nearby.

Rule number three is the hardest to follow: try to improve a little each day.

After my shower, I meet up with the other thirty-five swimmers who do laps before school. Some kids are in elementary school, some are in junior high, and nine of us are in high school and are considered elite and compete on a national level. Levi’s the only one with an Olympic trial cut though.

Coach Josh is in his usual shorts, T-shirt, and visor that he wears even when it’s snowing. It’s still dark outside, and sun won’t pour through the windows for at least another hour, but the loud rap music playing over the speakers wakes me up. I put on my blue New Wave cap, pull my goggles down, and slide into the water next to Levi. He’s been wearing a black cap with the orange Texas Longhorn logo on it. He’s proud he signed with them.

With so many swimmers here, we have to share lanes. I’m always with Levi and Susannah. She’s my main competition on New Wave, but I consider her a friend. She is a junior at Harpeth Hall, a super ritzy private school in Nashville where everybody reeks of money. I’ll be up against her at conferences this weekend when I swim for Hundred Oaks High. It’s kind of funny that we’re teammates during morning practices but competitors in the afternoon when we practice with our schools. As soon as high school state championships are over, we’ll be teammates 100 percent of the time.

The other six elite swimmers are all guys, and while they’re friendly, the competition between them is fierce. They take up the next two lanes.

Coach wrote our workout on a giant whiteboard. Today we’re swimming 4,500 yards, which is kind of easy. We’re tapering for conferences on Saturday.

“Let’s go, Lucassen!” Coach yells at Levi as he does sprints designed to increase speed. “Fewer strokes, kick harder.”

Sports announcers love his name. Levi Lucassen. It sounds very worldly and mysterious. That definitely describes him at races. He’s super serious before, during, and after every meet. He saves his smiles for when we win. At practices, though, he’s a little more relaxed.

Since we’re tapering, everyone has lots of energy, and there’s some goofing around. Normally we’d be dragging by now.

People think swimming is this boring, solitary sport, but really there’s no privacy or quiet at all. When I’m waiting to practice my starts—my dive into the pool—my teammate Jason smacks me on the butt with a kickboard. He’s a junior who rocks freestyle, but has always been a bit of a slacker and is the kind of guy who doesn’t bother putting pants on when he stops for a snack on the way home. He said his Speedo made an old lady faint one time.

While in line to practice diving, Susannah starts dancing on the pool deck to the blaring music. Levi is serious as ever during his laps, but on a two-minute rest break when Coach isn’t looking, he throws himself my way and dunks me. I pop up from under the water with an “Asshole!” and Levi cracks up at my grouchy face.

The team swims for about two hours, until 7:15 a.m. As I’m pulling myself out of the pool, I glance over at the guys toweling off in their suits that leave little to the imagination. Truth be told, it was weird in middle school noticing the guys getting bigger. We girl swimmers whispered about it and giggled, but then one day I realized I had gotten used to it. The boys and their junk: it’s just there.

That’s when I think about my vow to learn to hook up. Maybe one of them might be a possibility? The cutest one is Jason, but as he’s wrapping a beach towel around his waist he complains about a problem he’s having with a rash.

I cringe. Never mind.

I towel off, then race to the showers. My first class starts at 8:00 back in Franklin so I need to be quick. Without bothering to dry my hair, I throw it back into a ponytail and pull on sweats over clean underwear and a T-shirt. My favorite accessory is a chunky beige headband that smooths my frizz.

It surprises me when I find Coach Josh outside the locker room, waiting for me along with Levi, who’s already dressed for the cold in his puffy coat and knit cap.

“A word?” Coach says to me.

“I’ll be right there,” I tell Levi, who nods and slips on his headphones and opens his battered copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He’s reading the series for like, the sixth time.

I will be late to school, but whatever Coach has to say is more important than whatever I’ll learn in my Tennessee history class.

Coach leads me to his office, which is full of shiny trophies and pictures of athletes on the walls. His desk is covered by a massive swim calendar that covers the entire year. A large red circle is drawn around March 26th, the date of the Junior Nationals Club Championship in Huntsville, the first long course meet. That’s when our season gets serious. The other two long course meets prior to the Olympic Trials, the Atlantic Classic in April and the Spring Spotlight in May, are also circled. Those three meets are my final chances to get an Olympic trial cut.

I take a seat in the cushy chair across from Coach’s desk. “What’s up?”

Coach clicks his pen on and clicks it off. “Levi told me you saw Roxy this weekend.”

“Shit,” I say under my breath.

“Were you going to tell me?”

“I handled it fine,” I say, but I can tell he doesn’t believe that, thanks to his quizzical look. He knows me probably as well as my parents and Levi.

Coach slips his pen behind his ear. “So you’ll be going to college with her?”

“Looks like it. Ugh.” I bury my face in my hands.

“It’s not surprising,” Coach says. “You’re both good enough to get into the best swimming school in the country.”

“I wish I’d known before I signed with them.”

“Did Roxy bother you?” Coach asks.

“No, not really. She didn’t seem to want to talk to me.”

Coach sighs and adjusts his visor. “Just remember, you’re a better swimmer than her. Your record’s stronger. Don’t let her get to you.”

I always try to maintain a strong and steady pace, but when I see Roxy going faster than me out of the corner of my eye, I go too fast and burn myself out early in the race. Coach keeps telling me my times are better than hers. And he’s right. When I’m not up against her, I swim faster. So I know it’s all in my head.

I guess we’ll find out for sure next month at the high school state championships.

• • •

I’ve been giving Levi the silent treatment all day.

Normally he and I are fine with quiet, but it’s been hours since I’ve spoken to him, and he totally knows something’s up. During study hall in our corner of the library, he side-eyes me as he reads his Harry Potter book.

“What gives?” he finally asks.

“Why’d you tell Coach about Roxy?” I complain.

“Because I knew you wouldn’t.”

“God!” I snap.

The librarian points a finger at me and goes, “Shhhhhhh!” like air leaking from a tire. Levi gives her a little wave, and she smiles because he’s her best customer in the library.

“See, this is exactly why I told Coach,” Levi says. “She spins you all out of shape. Last year you lost the damn high school championship to Roxy in 200 back, which is nothing compared to those long course races you won last summer.”

I grumble. It’s true. Roxy had a strained shoulder most of last summer and took some time off. Meanwhile I swam the best meets of my life. I set the Tennessee record for 200 back at the Summer Sizzler. Coach Josh and Levi are right to be worried, but their concern makes it feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Levi drops me off at my parents’ business after weight lifting. I go inside King’s Royal Engagements, the party planning business Mom started right out of college. The company is located in this fancy Victorian house down the street from where I live. Mom and Dad had massive kitchens built out back, so it’s a full-fledged catering operation, and they do almost everything in-house. Their pastry chef even bakes wedding cakes.

When you first walk inside, there’s a chic waiting room filled with books of fabric samples and suggested menus. A TV plays videos from weddings and anniversary parties. The flower arrangements are fake, but it mysteriously smells like roses in here.

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