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Reading Rain This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   BANG!

The echo of thegunshot resounded throughout the humid air. The intensity of the sound caused myheart to jump so high it almost flew out of my throat. My nervous, tense bodyinvoluntarily surged forward. I heard a loud thunder of pounding feet, the stepsin rhythm with the pattering rain. When I recovered my senses and regainedcontrol over my body, I started pumping my arms back and forth and breathingevenly and slowly. Frantically I searched for my friend, Ellen, among the swarmof people around me. When we caught sight of each other, we ran side by side - astrategy my coach called "working together." Up, down, up, down. Our synchronizedbodies became one as we raced our way down the winding roads of the Readingcross-country course.

Before we made our first turn, the rain developedinto a downpour. Huge puddles three feet in diameter and deep enough to reachabove my ankles appeared suddenly to obstruct our way. At first Ellen and I brokeour rhythm trying to avoid them, but soon there were too many to even bother. Wehad no choice but to charge right through them. Water would gush into my shoesand mud would splash all over my back every time I stepped into one. I could feela small pond forming inside my sneakers as my toes squirmed in discomfort. Myuniform became as heavy as lead, and my chest became a magnet to which it wasattracted. I was completely soaked. Despite all this, there was a certainamusement in pounding through the puddles and hearing the loud splash that I hadthought only cars could produce. For the first mile Ellen and I laughedhysterically each time we felt the water slide down the back of our legs. We feltlike young children in bright red galoshes and bright yellow ponchos hoppinggleefully from puddle to puddle.

Then the reality and pressure of the racestruck us. Although our legs were tired and our lungs gasped for air, Ellen and Idashed ahead, passing two or three Reading runners. I was satisfied enough toslow my pace a little, just enough to stay ahead of those behind me, yet not fastenough to pass anyone else. Unfortunately, Ellen thought otherwise. Silently weapproached the Reading girl ahead of us. Then, with a sudden burst of speed, wecaught up with her. She must have heard us coming (after all, we were as quiet aselephants stomping through a raging river), for she, too, spurted ahead, leavingus behind in a splash of dirty water. "Oh, well," muttered Ellen. The Readingrunner was extremely tall, and her long legs took strides that covered twice thedistance of ours. I couldn't help feeling relieved that we didn't have tostruggle to pass her. Instead, we kept a pace or two behind her, waiting for amoment to pounce again, one which I silently prayed would never come.

Itdid. Ellen started running faster again, and despite my screaming lungs, Ifollowed obediently. Soon we were running side by side with the Reading runneronce again. Then, like a rocket pushing away from its orbit, we took off, thistime leaving her in the mud. When we reached a safe distance away from ouropponent, to my dismay, Ellen did not slow down. She kept running. I struggled tokeep up with her, but it was no use. I started to lag behind her, the distancebetween us widening with each stride. Soon she became a small, yellow-and-bluestriped figure a hundred yards away. I reassured myself that I would catch upwith her later, but deep down inside I knew I couldn't. I nevercould.

Running up the hill took longer than I had thought. My thighs wereburning and the water made the road slippery. When I finally ascended to the peakI heard the squishy steps of someone behind me. I gathered all my energy - andran. My breath was no longer controlled. It came out in loud gasps and beads ofsweat poured out of my body as quickly as the rain washed them away. I ran at atormentingly fast pace for what seemed like a whole mile. Then I looked back. Itwas a cowardly thing to do, but I had to do it. The tall Reading girl was veryfar behind me. Relieved, I slowed, my pace. Almost there, almost there, I chantedto myself. I ran and breathed in beat with my chant. Almost there, almostthere.

The Reading course ended with a lap around the track. When I turnedinto the gate I could hear a dozen people cheer me on. Right before I reached thetrack there was a huge puddle of mud. "Careful here," someone had warned me. Icharged right into the mud and onto the track. The rest would be easy, I toldmyself. No more mud, no more puddles. Just you, the crowd, and the track. Ellenis already finished and the Reading girl is far behind you. You can do it.Go!

Suddenly, I heard a large uproar behind me. For a fleeting moment Ithought people were cheering for me. Then I heard a muffled, "C'mon! Beat thatLexington girl! Careful, the puddle's slippery. Get her!" This time I didn't evenhave to turn around. I took off as hard as I could.

I never was a goodsprinter. I could run for miles without stopping, but I couldn't even sprintfifty yards. Yet, all of a sudden, all eyes were watching me race the Readinggirl. All eyes were waiting to see how fast I could sprint.

Unexpectedly,I heard a thunderous voice booming from behind the fence. "Run, Cynthia!! Run!!"It was my coach. I could feel the sweat trickling down my face, the rainstreaming down my back, and the water gushing inside my shoes. My legs moved soquickly that they felt like they were about to fly off my waist. I had no controlover them. My thighs were screaming with pain. I could barely breathe for mylungs were bursting. Try your hardest, a voice kept reiterating inside my head,but don't kill yourself. Even if she beats you, you'll still know you tried. We'dprobably win anyway. Just try your best, for yourself.

While turning thebend I caught sight of the Reading runner's nose jutting out beside me. She waspractically next to me. At that moment all my hope and determination dropped tothe ground like a leaden brick. No way was I going to beat her, not even if Itried. Why bother? She probably had her killer kick coming, while I could barelytake another step.

Ahead of me, just fifty yards away, I saw a bunch ofpeople wearing red. Run as hard as you can toward them, I told myself. Musteringup the rest of my strength, I ran all out. It was the closest to a sprint that Ihad ever done. Faintly I could hear my opponent's steps behind me as she, toopicked up her speed. She was coming closer, and closer.

Staring straightat the red figures in front of me, I ignore everything around me - the cheers,the rain, the runner behind me. All that mattered was that I reach those people.Then it'd all be over.

As I neared the men in red I saw to my dismay thatthere wasn't any line on the track to mark the finish. If that wasn't the finish... then I definitely would not be able to stay in front of the Reading runner. Iprobably wouldn't even have enough energy to finish the race. Despite myuncertainty I continued to sprint. I was exhausted.

As I passed the men,one of them said "eighteen fifty-eight," followed instantly by "nineteenminutes." Abruptly I turned around. My opponent veered off the track and walkeddejectedly to her consoling teammates. I, on the other hand, was stunned. I hadbeaten her by only two seconds! Two seconds! I was so surprised and dizzy that Ialmost fainted.

Before I could catch my breath and fully absorb themagnitude of my achievement, Ellen bounded toward me.

"Wow! We won themeet!" she cried jubilantly. I wasn't surprised. We had been undefeated since thebeginning of the season, and I took winning for granted. After all, I wasn'tamong the top five who placed, the five who really mattered. I was the sixth. Iwas supposed to displace the runners on the other team, not place for my team.

"You know that girl you barely beat in the end, the one we struggled topass in the beginning?" Ellen continued. Boy, did I know. "Well, she wasReading's fifth runner. I'm not sure of the details, but the meet was so closethat our team would have tied or even lost if both of us hadn't beaten her. Canyou believe it? We won the meet!"

I was so shocked that I couldn't holdmyself up. I staggered over to the bleachers, my head spinning. We won because ofus! I was overwhelmed. Just two seconds made the difference between a win and atie - or even a loss. If I had been just a tiny bit slower ...


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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