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Barely Breathing This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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Avery pushed open the gym door. The sun was too bright. The air was too cold. Avery hobbled to his car. His body hurt. The engine roared. He turned the radio on. The country music hurt too much. The rap made him gasp for breath. The rock made him sick. He turned the radio off. He was still sick. Avery passed the waterfront park. He swallowed hard. He made a left hand turn.
The sun was still rising. The school was shiny today. He took a deep breath and grabbed his books, turning the car off. Avery was ready, but he wasn’t. He couldn’t do it. He had to do it.
The doors of the prison opened. He smiled at the other kids. His friend Drew smiled and waved.
“See you later, man. Practice should be hell today,” Drew called out.
“Yeah man, see ya,” Avery replied.
The bell rang.
Avery walked to his European History class. He sat down. The bell rang again.
“Alright class, hand in your essays,” said Ms. Johnson.
Avery didn’t walk to the front table and turn in his essay. He didn’t do it.
“Avery?” said Ms. Johnson.
“Yes?” said Avery.
“Are you alright?” asked Ms. Johnson.
“Yes,” said Avery.
Avery shook his arms. He was trying to loosen up. He sat down. He felt safe, finally. A movie started. The movie was interesting. Avery was tired. He fell asleep.
The lights turned on. The bell had rung.
“I am disappointed in you Avery,” said Ms. Johnson.
Avery hung his head and stared at the carpet pattern.
“You had such potential, I hate that you waste it,” she said, “Why didn’t you turn in an essay?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
She was silent. She tried to look him in the eye.
“Avery?”
He walked away.
Avery went to his car. He locked the doors. He locked the doors again. He locked the doors one more time. Avery crawled into the back seat. The windows were tinted. He grabbed a dirty towel from the floor. He took a Triazolom, a sleep aid that he stole from his friends medicine cabinet. He fell asleep.
Here comes the sun, dooo do do doo. Here comes the sun, and I say, “It’s alright.”
Avery turned the Beatles alarm off. The sun had disappeared. It was raining. He grabbed his practice uniform and headed to the gym. The locker room was empty. Avery was late.

He donned his practice jersey and white shorts as fast as he could. Still rubbing sleep from his eyes, he pushed open the door into the gym.

His coaches eyes pierced Avery for a moment. Avery ran up to him.
“I’m sorry coach.”
“You’re fifteen minutes late. You owe me fifteen minutes after practice.”
“Yes coach.”
Avery joined his teammates. They were doing a three man weave. Avery caught the ball. He felt the ball roll effortlessly off his hands. The rhythm of the dribble was soothing, it felt good. His body knew what to do. His mind went blank. Finally.
Practice came to an end. Avery jogged over to his coach.
“Get on the end line, son,” said his coach, “When I blow my whistle, you are going to run the lines. You let your team down today.”
The whistle blew. Avery was in good shape. His coach knew that.
“Is that you’re best?” his coach shouted, “Is that really all you have? Really?”
Avery picked it up. No longer was his mind blank.
“Go!”
He was trying so hard. His legs started to go slower. His lungs hurt. His whole body hurt. It had been too long.

“Okay, that’s enough.”

Avery stopped running.

“Come over here son,” said his coach.

Avery was gasping for air. There wasn’t enough air around him. There wasn’t enough air.

“Now how does that feel?” asked his coach.

Avery swallowed hard. He gave the recorded response.

“Just fine sir.”

His coach lowered his voice.

“Does it hurt? Because if it doesn’t we can do more. We can do more.”

“It hurts coach,” rasped Avery.

“I can’t hear you,” shouted his coach.

“It...hurts!” Avery breathed.

“I still can’t hear you son.”

“It hurts!” Avery shouted.

“How bad does it hurt, Avery? How bad?”

“Real bad sir, real bad,” Avery choked up.

There was a pause. It was completely silent. Avery could hear his coaches heart beating and the fans running.

“It does hurt, doesn’t it?” his coach said.

Avery started to cry. Avery was a sixteen year old boy. Avery was a straight A student. Avery was a talented athlete. Avery had everything. Avery was crying.

“Yes sir,” he whispered.





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