Home > Coming Up for Air (Hundred Oaks)(15)

Coming Up for Air (Hundred Oaks)(15)
Author: Miranda Kenneally

“Is that right?”

Does he have a smug look on his face?

We argue over the radio on the way to practice. He is on a rap kick and I want rock. We settle by turning off the radio to play Overboard.

I say, “You’ve got President Obama, Michael Phelps, and David Beckham. Who’s going overboard?”

Levi moans. “Can’t you give me a girl for once? Okay, let’s see. I’d spend one hot night with David Beckham because even I can admit he’s good looking. I’d spend a year with Michael Phelps learning everything I can from him. That leaves…throwing President Obama overboard. I can’t do that! That’d be an assassination attempt.”

I crack up. “So what are you gonna do?”

“Maybe I should throw Michael Phelps overboard. I’d have a better chance of making the Olympic team that way.”

“And you wouldn’t risk the Secret Service throwing you to the sharks,” I point out.

“That’s always a positive,” Levi agrees.

Practice at the pool is pretty routine, but at the end, Coach wants to see me privately again. Twice in one week is weird. I follow him into the office and sit down in the guest chair. I try to avoid looking at the calendar. The big red circles around the dates of upcoming long course meets glare at me.

“What’s up, Coach?”

He tosses his tennis ball from one hand to another. “I looked up Roxy’s conference times online.”

Since she lives in Memphis, she competes in different conferences and regionals, but we’re sure to meet at state. “And?”

“She swam a tenth of a second faster than you in 200 back.”

I let out a heavy breath. “Shit.”

“No reason to worry yet.” Coach throws his tennis ball against the wall and catches it on the bounce back. “No matter what happens at state, you know you’re better at long course, and you’re more likely to get your cut for the Olympic trials than she is. She gets her strength from pushing off the side of the pool. You’re naturally stronger and don’t rely on your turns.”

“Thanks for letting me know.”

He nods. “We have to keep talking through these things. You’re the best.”

I walk out of the office to find Levi waiting. The second he sees me, he slides his headphones off his ears and drapes them around his neck.

“You good?” he asks.

No matter what Coach says about me being better than Roxy, it won’t be true until I beat her. My eyes start watering. “Can we go?”

My best friend throws an arm around my shoulders, and we walk to his truck.

• • •

So this is the week from hell.

First, Coach told me about Roxy beating my time.

Second, Levi has an interview with the Tennessean on Friday. The newspaper is doing a big story on how great of a swimmer he is, highlighting how he’s going to the trials in Omaha this summer. He won’t stop complaining about it because he hates attention and loathes having his picture taken.

“I just want to swim! I don’t want to do interviews!” he whines, shaking his fists at his first world problems.

“C’mon, Leaves,” I say. “You should be proud. No one asked to interview me.”

“So I’ll tell them to interview you instead,” he snaps.

I love my best friend, but we sure can get on each other’s nerves sometimes. I’m happy for him, but also jealous the paper isn’t doing a story on me. Can’t Levi see this upsets me?

Third, it appears to be safe sex week in health class.

My teacher, Coach Woods, is very down to earth and cool. Every day she wears a Hundred Oaks football shirt of some kind. If it’s not a jersey, it’s a sweatshirt or a long-sleeved tee and jeans. Never khakis and polos, like other coaches at school. I don’t know how she gets away with it. The Jordan Woods probably wouldn’t let someone give her a dress code.

I love Coach Woods, but I don’t want to put a condom on a banana in front of the entire class. On top of that, she’s timing us using a stopwatch! I mean, who makes their students race against each other to see who can put a condom on the fastest?

“All right, Maggie,” she says, hovering above me with that stopwatch. “You’re up. Grab your banana.”

“Bananas are for eating,” I reply.

She ignores me. “The time to beat is seven and a half seconds. Remember, you can’t tear the condom, and you have to make sure it’s securely in place. If it’s not, you’re disqualified. Ready?”

I’m poised with an unopened condom and my banana. “Let’s do it.”

“Three, two, one…go!” She scrutinizes me as I fumble with the wrapper.

“I don’t know why I’m even bothering,” I announce, freeing the condom from the foil. “I will never have time for sex.”

The room full of girls chuckles. I make terrible jokes when I get nervous, which is now, as I’m trying to stretch this condom over a banana that’s pretending to be a penis. I pull too hard and the latex breaks. The class cracks up.

“Arg!” Coach Woods shouts, as if she’s a safe sex pirate. “You’ll get it next time.”

I sit back in my seat and sigh. I hate losing. Even if it’s only a condom race.

The bell rings. All the girls stand and gather their bags and notebooks. I go to peel my banana because I’m starving. Who cares if lunch starts in five minutes?

“Nobody eat the bananas!” Coach Woods says. “I need them for my next class.”

Sadly, I put my banana back on the desk.

Coach Woods calls out, “Maggie, can you I see you for a minute?”

I hoist my backpack over my shoulder and walk to the front of the room. She’s one of the few women I’ve ever met who is taller than me. Her dad played football and her brother is quarterback of the Tennessee Titans, and Coach Woods herself was a player in high school. She coaches the team here now. Condom races aside, I really like her because she talks to us like we’re adults.

“I don’t have to do the condom test again, do I?”

“No.” She sits on top of her desk. “I wanted to ask you about what you said about never having time for a boy.”

I shrug. “It’s true. I don’t even have time to dry my hair.”

“I know how you feel. When I was a senior, I had to spend all my time training. And when I wasn’t doing that, I was watching game film or in the weight room. It was tough working toward a college scholarship, so I can’t even imagine what it’s like for you.” She shakes her head, and her face goes from sad to one of wonder. “You’re working toward the Olympics!”

It’s awesome that people support me. It truly is. It motivates me. But it’s also pretty scary. What if I let them down? I let my school down last year when I lost to Roxy at state. What if that happens again? What if that trend continues to the long course meets? What if Roxy gets to go with Levi to Omaha, and I’m stuck in Tennessee watching on TV?

Coach Woods goes on, “I wanted you to know that I figured out how to balance football and having a boyfriend senior year.”

“How?”

“It helped that I was dating a guy on the team”—she pauses to smile—“but I also found that if I dated someone who supported me and understood why I practiced so hard, it made it easier to spend time with him. He was willing to work around my schedule.”

I think about my friends. We always make time for each other on Friday nights.

“It would be nice to meet someone,” I admit.

“I also remember feeling like no one would take me seriously as an athlete if I had a boyfriend.”

“Yeah, I understand that,” I reply, thinking of how Coach Josh got fed up with Susannah when she was dating Lucas. “I worry that people will question my dedication if I were to start spending time with a guy.”

Coach Woods picks up the football on her desk and tosses it to herself. “Well I can solve your first problem right there. Stop worrying what other people think.”

“That’s not so easy. I don’t want to disappoint my parents or my coach.”

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