Home > Coming Up for Air (Hundred Oaks)(3)

Coming Up for Air (Hundred Oaks)(3)
Author: Miranda Kenneally

Using the campus map on my phone, I navigate to a boardroom in Haas Pavilion. This is where I’ll be meeting up with other new student athletes for a tour, and later on I’ll spend the night with a student host in her dorm.

I walk into the boardroom and gasp when I see the black hair with purple and pink streaks, and the diamond nose stud.

Roxy is here.

Shit.

She looks over at me, her mouth falling open a little, but she shuts it quickly and resumes her conversation with a man wearing a yellow Cal polo, pretending as if she doesn’t know me. She knows exactly who I am.

I’m her former best friend.

I met Roxy six years ago when we were eleven. After doing our laps at the Sportsplex, Levi and I would spend our summer days at Normandy Lake behind his house. We loved playing cards on the beach and doing tricks off the diving board attached to the floating wooden barge. That’s where I first saw Roxy, swimming along the rope line separating the shallow water from the deep. Her swift, graceful movements reminded me of a dolphin.

Later I cornered her by the snack stand over on the public beach. “Who do you swim for?”

“Huh?”

“Are you on a team? Tullahoma, maybe?”

She shook her head, unwrapping her ice cream sandwich. “I asked my parents a few years ago, but they said no. It’s too expensive, and they don’t want to get up early to drive me to practices.”

“You should be swimming. You’re great.”

I told Coach Josh about her, and as soon as he saw her raw talent, he worked with New Wave to get her a club team scholarship. Even then he could tell she’d be unstoppable.

Since her parents were wedded to sleeping in, my mom and Levi’s agreed to let her carpool with us, and for two years, the three of us were inseparable. I loved Levi, of course, but it was nice having a girl around. Especially when I got my period and had to figure out how to use tampons so I would never miss a practice. We even shared tips on how best to shave our legs.

But then the tension started. When I’d get faster in the pool, she’d work hard to beat me, and then I’d work harder to beat her. It started pissing us both off, but I figured friendship came before winning. She didn’t feel the same. She’s too competitive. Roxy resented that even though she had natural talent, I was faster in the pool. But it wasn’t like I winged it. I had to work hard.

Then one day Coach Josh took me aside to say the Memphis Marines club swim team had recruited Roxy away from us. Her family, who by then understood Roxy was going places, agreed to move three hours away to Memphis. I cried when she left.

At first we kept in touch, texting every day, but the special treatment from the Marines made her snobby. My texts went unanswered. When I saw her at meets, she either laughed at my team or ignored me.

Every time she’d beat one of my times, she’d brag about it online. Once, after I lost a race to her, she took a picture of me with a horrible look on my face and posted it with the caption: Second Place.

When I bowed out of the Speedo Grand Classic because I’d strained a hamstring, Roxy posted on Twitter: “Maggie King knew she wouldn’t be able to win. That’s why she pulled out. She’s scared!”

The next time I lost to her, she posted yet another unattractive picture with the tag: Runner Up.

Those pictures and their captions are on the Internet forever. She deleted them from her accounts so it doesn’t look like she started them, but they’re still out there. When I win races, I celebrate with my friends and hang my medals in my bedroom. I would never gloat.

Roxy’s betrayal made me rage, and that’s when Levi took my phone and unfriended and blocked her so I wouldn’t see that crap anymore.

She did a number on me. I didn’t have many friends because of my practice schedule, and after that I was pretty wary of new people, especially other girls in my swim club.

I didn’t blame Roxy for moving on to a team she thought would be a better fit for her, but I felt betrayed. I’d put myself out there for her. If it weren’t for me, she wouldn’t have gotten the training to become one of the best swimmers in Tennessee. Not to mention, she has about ten thousand more Twitter followers than I do and people love her Instagram account. Some of her pictures get hundreds of likes.

And now? When we race against each other, she usually outswims me, even though I’m better at backstroke than she is. I know I am. My times kill hers. But it doesn’t matter how fast you are if your mind isn’t in the right place. Whenever I compete against Roxy, she gets in my head, and I can’t get her out. Of all the strokes, 200 backstroke is my best chance of getting an Olympic trials cut. Unfortunately, it’s her best event too.

It would’ve been nice to have had some warning Roxy would be here, but I haven’t been friends with her on Facebook or Twitter in a while. I will admit I spy from time to time, but I haven’t in a few months.

I text Levi to tell him what’s up, that Roxy’s here, that I don’t want to go to college with her, that I’m terrified she’ll spaz me out at our meets this spring and I won’t qualify to compete at the Olympic trials. I really, really don’t want to go to Cal with her.

He replies: Enough. You’re better than her. When you get home, we’ll figure this out. Got it?

I type, Got it.

Levi already has an Olympic trial cut in 200 breaststroke—he got it last summer at a meet in Jacksonville. In June, he will compete for a spot on the US Olympic team. Only about a hundred people in the entire country will qualify in each stroke, so it’s amazing Levi’s got a spot in 200 breast. He’s hoping to qualify for the trials in 100 breast and freestyle too.

Me? I don’t have cuts in any stroke yet.

Going to the Olympics has been a dream for a long time. When I was eight years old, an elite swimmer named Allison Schmitt spoke to my club team about her career. She was still in high school but had hopes of making the next Olympic team—and then she did. I remember watching her on TV that summer, thinking, wow, I met her. And wow, I want to do that too. To walk out onto the pool deck in front of cheering fans and the entire world, and swim my heart out to win. Because I love winning.

Since I haven’t qualified for the trials yet, I don’t have any illusions I’ll make this year’s Olympic team, but Allison didn’t win gold at her first Olympics. All her training built and built over the years, and it paid off when she won at her second Olympics. That’s what my goal is: to train and train until I win the biggest race there is.

And Cal-Berkeley is the next step on the path to winning.

I slip my phone in the back pocket of my jeans, then make my way over to Roxy. “Hi,” I tell her, and when she doesn’t respond or make any effort to introduce me to the man she’s talking to, I thrust a hand toward him. “I’m Maggie King.”

His face lights up. “I’m Alan Watts, the athletic director. Maggie, I can’t tell you how thrilled we are you chose Cal.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Coach Pierson mentioned the swim team has a meet in Michigan this weekend, right?”

“Yeah, we couldn’t find a weekend where our meets didn’t clash, so I decided to skip it to come to this orientation.”

“That’s why Roxy is here this weekend too. I imagine you swim in many of the same meets.”

“Yeah,” we say simultaneously, side-eyeing each other.

When the athletic director turns away for a sec, Roxy gets in a jab: “Yep, we swim in many of the same meets…which I always win.”

“In your dreams,” I reply under my breath.

Before we join the academic tour with the other athletes—mostly field hockey, lacrosse, and basketball players—Roxy and I go with Mr. Watts to check out the brand-new, open-air aquatics center.

I love it. It’s bright, airy, and yellow and blue Bears flags are draped over the calm blue pool. The air smells fresh and only a tiny bit chemical-y. My pool back home is humid because it’s indoor. I can totally see myself swimming here in college.

The first time I ever jumped in a pool, I was two years old at a church barbeque. The way Dad tells the story, I was a crazy ass toddler my parents couldn’t control. I saw the pool, took off running, and did a belly flop into the water. People started freaking out, screaming that I was going to drown, and Dad jumped in to rescue me, but by then I was doggy paddling. The way he tells the story, I was even making a pouty fish face, pretending I was a goldfish.

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