Welcome to another Friday Freewrite. Some days I just need to sit down and write. Some Fridays I share what I’ve written with you.
Hailey took a deep breath and went under the water. She scrunched up her toes into the fleshy plateaus at the fronts of her feet and, bending her knees, pushed off strongly from the wall. The water parted for her and she swam quickly to the other side of the pool, desperate to beat the clock.
Tick. Tick. Tick. With each passing second she saw the twiney hand seizing its way closer and closer to the top. Ever climbing.
Rhythmically she paddled through the water and, when her hands finally flashed up against the opposite wall of the school’s pool, he was there waiting for her.
“Nice one!” he shouted, thumbing the button and letting out a whooping cry. Excited, he was a lively one, like a fish leaping out of the water. His joyful steps took him a few feet away from the edge of the pool as he continued his chanting holler.
She slipped up out of the water and slicked her hair back with the palm of a moistened hand, pressing the other one down flat against the tiles of the floor to keep herself steady in the water. Contrary to what he thought, she knew she hadn’t made it. She felt the water as it lapped against her now, colliding with her nylon-clad torso. The residual waves were too choppy for her to have been moving effectively. It was her fault. Her clumsy strokes had caused too much resistance and slowed her down. She hid a grimace as her shoulder twanged.
“Nationals baby, I’m telling you. You’re it,” he affirmed. The grin on his face was a gooey one. The kind you got after staying somewhere too hot for too long, like a sauna or a hot tub. The pores on his face relaxed in the humidity of the gym. It was a flexible smile. He was a flexible coach.
“I wouldn’t count on it,” Hailey said, pressing her other palm down on the tile and pushing up with her arms. She rose out of the water and hovered there for a second, suspended by the trembling threads of muscle in her arms. She let the beads of water trickle down her suit and gather at the seams around the crotch. Then she gave a final push, twirled herself around in the air, and landed with a flat smack on the edge of the pool.
He came back over and crouched down on one knee beside her. The cotton fibers of his kakis absorbed the splatter from her movements, the pale material quickly darkening.
“What are you talking about, Hail?” he said. “That was awesome. Seconds off, no sweat. You were a snake out there.”
As he spoke to her, she caught a whiff of the cinnamon gum he was holding in the back of his mouth behind his last molar. The crystals of spicy flavor were still intact, still unbroken by the crunch of his thick teeth. He’d popped it right before her race, he always did. Right before she started. When he thought she wasn’t looking, he’d reach into his billowy pocket and pull out a fresh piece. Then he’d unwrap it and pop it in. Like clockwork, every time he clocked her.
Unwrapping the stick made his attention wander, though. All of a sudden she’d be zipping through the water and he’d still be fumbling around with the start button. Her time was always six seconds shorter when he did it. She’d been tracking her own time for so long that she’d managed to catalogue his error along the way. He was six seconds off. Every time.
“Maybe next time, Carl,” she said, getting up and walking with purpose over to the bleachers, leaving him behind to fumble with his pencil and scratch in her (wrong) time. At the other end of the pool, Celia was getting ready to swim, suctioning her goggles to the contours of her eyes.
Hailey’s heals bent to the familiar shape of raised tile as she walked, smacking her way across the width of the pool. When she got to the hollow bleachers, Dallas came thundering down the steps to meet her. He held a pen in one hand and a thick ream of paper tucked under the other arm.
“One second over, but your left shoulder is tweaked out. Fix that and you’re golden.” He put the plastic barrel of the pen in his mouth, pinching it between two rows of perfect teeth and reached for her dry towel.
She glanced up at the couple sitting in the top row. Dallas had intentionally spoken loud enough so that her parents would overhear them. If she wanted any sort of social life at all, she had to live it under the guise of an Olympic hopeful. All swimming, all the time. God forbid she’d even think about the way Dallas’ gritty blonde hair fell in sheets across his forehead. The way the sound of his voice made her heart pound.
She watched her parents now as they returned to their notes, conferring with bent heads over a sheet of dates and times scratched neatly into her dad’s record book. Beside her, Dallas unfolded the towel and held it out to her.
They’d have a few seconds to themselves while her parents bickered over numbers.
Hailey wrapped herself up in the fleecy terrycloth and went to pull away, but Dallas held her back, clinging tightly to the fabric.
“Two weeks left,” he whispered softly into her ear, the dry breath of his words brushing gently against the side of her neck. She fought back the mad urge to shiver and settled for a jittery nod. He squeezed his hands around her encapsulated shoulders, giving her the best hug he could under the circumstances.
“I know,” she replied, biting into the thick hem of the towel in anticipation. The day couldn’t come soon enough.
When he released her, she shot him a quick smile and rustled the towel through her kinky, angled hair. Then she lunged for the first step and took the rest of them two at a time until she got to the top.
“What’s the verdict?” she asked her parents.
Two more weeks, she told herself.