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The Sample This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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The nose-numbing, sterile smell of Clorox drifted up from the tile floor as I ran my fingertips along the cold gray lockers. My stride shortened as I rounded the corner to enter a room filled with unfamiliar faces. An adult made eye contact as I stepped into the fluorescent glow. “Freshman?” he asked. In a failed attempt to sound confident, I blundered out a “Yes!” loud enough to grab the unwanted attention of all the other athletes in the room.

The questions from the seated man continued. “Are you looking to play football?” Having learned from my previous mistake, I simply nodded. The man recognized my discomfort and handed me a small plastic cup; I knew what I had to do. I hurried to the restroom. To my relief, I managed to provide a sample relatively quickly.

I held the cup at eye level. Its color instantly roused my self-conscious nature. Heading back with my sample, in an attempt to show my dislike of the color, I held the cup in an odd, T-Rex-like fashion, with just my thumb and index finger touching the cup.

Upon re-entering the room, I found myself face to face with even more athletes and the football coach. The sight of Coach intimidated me. The stocky, five-foot-eight, three-sport All-American high school athlete had a reputation for explosive outbursts of temper and unexpected uses of force. Legend said that one player who was being rowdy on the bus received a swift head-butt from Coach that knocked him out for the rest of the ride. Despite these rumors and my self-consciousness, I approached the trainer and Coach with confidently.

The athletic director greeted me warmly. “Oh, well that's certainly dark yellow,” he joked. He extended his hand in what I felt was a gesture requesting I hand over the sample. However, as I released it, he withdrew his hand. The cup fell as the blood rushed in my ears, making me feel light-headed. My body flinched, but instead of attempting to catch it, my brain decided my hands would serve a better purpose – covering my eyes from the horror that was unfolding.

My blood-filled ears allowed me to hear just one pathetic and lonely sound before the howls of laughter erupted around me – the sound of the cup hitting the floor imprinted itself permanently on my memory.

I peeked through my fingers to view the damage. Relief surged through my body, however temporarily, at the realization that the spill was not as bad as I had imagined. But where was the rest of my sample? My answer came quickly; over the sounds of my heart pounding in my ears and the hysterical cackling of the football team, I still heard Coach yell, “AAAAAHHHHH!!!! WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?” My eyes darted from the ground to Coach's pants and boots, which were three shades darker.

Thoughts of Coach issuing me a swift head-butt into unconsciousness didn't seem like a bad option compared to the present circumstances. I was completely embarrassed and in shock. The moment morphed into a strange faze of blurred peripheral vision and loud shouts as the athletic director handed me some paper towels.

Despite everything, I still did not want to touch my sample, and this caused me to try to clean it up in a ridiculous way: I delicately floated each Bounty sheet over the puddle in a sad attempt to sop up the mess without touching a drop. However, as anyone who has ever cleaned up a spill can explain, if you don't have enough towels, then you merely push around the liquid. I spent a seemingly endless period pushing it around the floor, praying for evaporation.

Despite the embarrassment I felt that day, the incident trickled down (so to speak) into various areas of my life: Many of those athletes became my friends; the athletic trainer now knows me on a personal level, and I like to think I brought some warmth to that cold tile floor.

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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