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Into the Deep
"Welcome to the Living Springs Aquatics Center!"
It was strange to hear so much English being spoken at once after two years of near survival on Korean. I smiled at the aquatic's head counselor who was showing the group of teenagers, including me, around at Living Springs. I tried memorizing the grounds of the center, but I couldn't grasp the layout of the huge area. I smiled as I remembered why I was here. It had been a total two years since I had left the United States for Korea to train there. I was a diver, specializing in springboard. My parents had come with me too, but since they were native Koreans, they decided to stay in Korea. So I'd been the only one in the Kim family to actually come back to the States. I lived here in America for fifteen years, before moving to Korea, and had left all my best friends behind. I guess somewhere along the line, they just all got too busy to return my calls and emails. Of course there was facebook, but they never got on. So, in the end, I lost contact with them.
But I hadn't forgotten them
I smiled as I remembered hitting the send button after a long email telling everyone about my returning to the States for a huge diving competition. I wasn't too surprised that I didn't get a response back from anyone right away, but I was definitely ecstatic when I got a reply back from my best friend Michael Anderson. I'd known him ever since fifth grade which is where he and I got in detention together because of debating with the teacher about evolution. Yup, that was us. No one could ever seperate us. But, the whole moving to Korea thing obviously did. Michael had never bothered to reply to any of my emails, so there had been no way to communicate with him. But I'd invited him to the opening ceremony of the diving competition where all the competitors would be introduced. He replied saying that he'd be coming.
I realized that I'd fallen behind the large group that was touring the grounds, and I ran to catch up. I really hoped that things wouldn't be too awkward when I meet everyone again. Especially Michael. We were like brother and sister. I caught up with the group and accidentally bumped into a boy about my age with floppy black hair. "Sorry!" I apologized.
"Ah it's okay," he said, his light blue eyes sparkling as he smiled. "Hey, you're Korea aren't you?"
I laughed, then lowered my voice as some kids shushed me. "Yeah I'm representing Korea," I told the boy. "Ugh. But I'm the only one from there who's actually competing in this competition."
The boy nodded and gave me a sympathetic look. "Sucks."
"Yeah, tell me about it. Who do you represent?" I asked, trying to talk and memorize buildings at the same time.
The boy poked me with his map as he answered me. "I'm Canada."
I squinted at him, not really sure whether to trust him or not. "Seriously?" I asked, looking at his sleek raven hair.
He nodded and explained, "My dad's Japanese. Soo..." he pointed to his dark hair. "Ta-da!"
I laughed. "Well, fine, Canada. Nice to meet you! I'm Claire Kim," I held out my hand to shake.
"I'm Kevin Hokkaido," Kevin ignored my hand and opted for a hug instead.
I choked back my surprise and went along with it. We stayed close as we continued touring the grounds and were set free for a while till 6:00 PM when we had to report to the SuperGym for a small welcome. It was interesting to see how many kids would be competing in the World Grande Nats, and it would certainly be great to work with them in training for the big event. I smiled as I imagined the next few weeks of my life. This was an opportunity I'd die for.
It was long enough to change a person completely around right? I hadn't seen or even talked to Claire for that long until just a few days ago when I'd gotten her email telling me she'd been chosen to be in the World Grande Nats. I'd been excited for her, and the thought that I'd be able to see her again, but I felt a bit guilty at not replying back to her messages. I'd been so busy that I'd barely had any time for myself to relax. I wondered how much Claire had changed, matured, grown... Wow it'd been a while. The ride from my house to the Living Springs Aquatics Center was only about ten minutes, so Thomas Miles and I arrived there pretty early for the opening ceremony and introduction. Thomas Miles is my step dad and is a professional photographer who is always down at his shop or in the basement working on his photography. He's pretty much just as busy as I am, only I'm preoccupied with diving and especially schoolwork. Yeah, I'm a diver too. I started ever since I was a little kid, and Claire started when she was a sophomore in high school. We went to rival high schools, but that didn't stop us from being the best of friends. We were in fifth grade when we met, and I still remember Claire asking the teacher if the teacher was an ape as well.
She was a stronge one. But she always had a hard time with her family. She told me that they were situated in Korea forever by choice, so she'd been the only one to come back to the States. Claire may be strong, but when her dad is in front of her, she breaks down. He's never been supportive of her of anything that she's accomplished. None of her talents have been acknowledged by him once. I suspected that Claire was living at the dorms provided by the aquatics center at her competition, but I wasn't quite sure. She just avoided that question by stating that she can take care of herself. She's always saying that, but I always end up helping her out. Not that I minded that. But now, I was nervous. I hadn't talked to Claire in two years, and I didn't know what to expect. Thomas had tried to calm me down, but it hadn't helped.
As the time rolled around for the ceremony to start, I saw several kids my age and older come out from the locker rooms and place their respective countries' flags on the stands set up around a podium. I looked for the Korean flag and saw it standing there, prideful of itself. I'd missed seeing Claire put it up. She'd told me that she was the only Korean competitor there. I wondered how nerve wracking that must be. The ceremony was taking place at the Living Springs Natatorium which holds the finest equipment and facility in the area. The podium where the person in charge of setting this whole thing up would be speaking was right on the deck which separated the swimming pool and the diving pool into separate divisions. A well dressed woman walked onto the deck with her head held high as the national anthem played over the speakers. I stood, as everyone else did respectively. When the song ended, we took our seats and waited for the lady to speak.
The lady was revealed to be Layne Peterson, who gave an entire history of the aquatics center as well as a verbal tour. By the time she stated that she'd be announcing the competitors and countries, I think everyone in the vicinity was wanting to push Layne into the pool. Layne waited for the competitors to get arranged properly and then started reading off countries and their divers alphabetically. I groaned and leaned back in my seat while Thomas snapped pictures of the divers. He stopped for a moment to pat my arm and assure me that Korea would be announced soon. I didn't respond. Finally, after what seemed like an hour, Layne announced "The one woman team!" Korea. I bolted upright in my seat and stared out at the deck. A slim, hard-trained girl walked up to Layne with great confidence that was unknown to me and turned to face the crowd in the natatorium seats. Her long curly dark brown hair hung down to her back as she waved at us, smiling. I was too far away to see her face clearly, but I could see her face in my mind perfectly. Shining golden brown eyes with a bright smile set on a perfect tan.
She bowed slightly, then seemed to skip off deck, much to the amusement to all. Thomas grinned at me and showed me a picture on his camera. It was of Claire who was smiling and waving to us looking in the general direction of Thomas and me.
"This one's great!" Thomas said, then went back to shooting the other divers.
I looked for Claire again. She was talking to a raven haired boy who had been called for...Canada? Yeah, Canada. She laughed and nodded. I wondered what in the world she was talking about with him. Suddenly, the ceremony was over, and there was a rush of activity. I jumped up and Thomas came up with me. "Let's go find her," I said, not sure if the edge in my voice was eager or nervous. Waiting for the competitors in the lobby of the natatorium entrance took only a little wait, but there were so many people milling around trying to get a glimpse of the kids, that the time seemed like an endless stretch. Finally, the divers stepped out. Thomas and I craned our necks trying to find Claire. I caught a glimpse of curly brown hair and I stopped. "There!" I said, pushing my way through the crowd. "Claire! CLAIRE!"
Claire turned, and it was like she'd never seen me before. After a minute of confusion, she suddenly brightened. "Michael Anderson?" she exclaimed, breaking into a huge smile.
I smiled and waved. "Hey!"
There was a moment of awkward hesitation where both of us couldn't find the right words to say. I skimmed the surface of my mind and came up dry. I could tell this was making Claire uncomfortable too.
This wasn't how we used to be.
Suddenly Thomas came up behind me and gave Claire a big bear hug.
"Hey there kiddo!" he beamed down at her. "How was the flight? I want to see those pictures!"
Claire laughed. She was also interested in photography and Thomas had offered to be her teacher. He was the only one who'd kept in contact with her ever since the move. I watched Claire and Thomas joke around and go through pictures on her camera. I didn't know how to approach her. She'd changed so much. I gazed at her face and realized how much she'd grown. Something had made her become more mature and confident. She seemed like she was stronger than ever. I smiled a bit. I'd been worried about Claire and her confidence in herself. But she seemed to be doing fine now. Something was bothering me about her, but I didn't quite know what it was. She'd definitely lost a lot of weight, probably due to training, but it made me feel like she could break. I guess I was still a bit protective of her.
Claire turned to me, awkwardness forgotten. "Hey Michael! Look at this picture!" she flashed me an image of her with soup stained clothing on the plane. "The flight attendant lost her balance when she was serving food and guess who was sporting the main meal of the cabin that night?"
I laughed as I saw her stunned expression on her camera. "Geez Claire," I said. "You always knew how to make a scene."
She punched me in the arm. I felt the strange gap of two years start to slither between us again, and I quickly turned to Thomas. "Hey, did you want to take a look around here or...?" I asked, desperately scrambling to pick up a good conversation starter.
Thomas seemed to get my panicked vibe and he nodded. "Yeah," he said, grinning at Claire, "Would you mind showing us around here?"
Claire smiled, "Not at all!"
So that's how I slid out the trap door of silence as Claire led the way for us on a tour of the place. It was very impressive, and when she showed us the SuperGym where she'd be having dry land practices, it nearly knocked me over flat. Everything was on tip top condition and the equipment was brand new. The facility was filled with a myriad of dry land training needs. There were foam pits that were used as substitution for the pool along with diving boards, trampolines, blocks, and weights. As we continued on, I noticed that Claire hadn't shown us where she'd be staying. "Claire," I called, as she was walking a bit farther ahead of us, "where are you staying?"
Thomas backed me up by saying, "Oh yeah, I just realized that you didn't show us where you would be staying."
Claire turned to us and blushed. "Oh, ah, sorry!" She was flustered and fumbling with her words as she tried to get an explanation out. Being able to read her clear through on this one, I was appalled.
"Claire!" I said, sternly. She froze, knowing she was caught. "Do you have a place to stay?"
Claire looked me straight in the eye and said, "Okay I don't. But I was going to pitch a tent or something or maybe work off the dorm costs to stay here."
Thomas's jaw dropped a little but I ignored him "Claire..."
She cut me off, "I can do it! I know I can. It'll just take a bit of sorting out to do."
I shook my head. "Look, we could find someone who could take you in! There are plenty of people staying with friends and family here we could-"
Thomas cut me off and gave me a look that shut me up. What family? All her relatives were in Korea, and her friends had stopped talking to her years ago. I looked at Claire who was standing tall and strong. What had happened to her? I was still thinking about her situation when Thomas laughed.
"It's all very simple," he stated, nudging me in my side. "We'll take you!"
Claire's stance faltered for a moment but then she smiled brightly. "What?" she asked excitedly. "Really?"
"Of course-" Thomas started to reply but I grabbed his arm.
"What?" I whispered fiercely into his ear. "This is way too sudden! Didn't you notice how awkward things were?"
Thomas looked at me and smiled kindly. "Michael, this could help you guys bond again." Thomas freed himself from my grip and grinned at Claire. "I'm sure Kathy would be happy to have you stay with us!"
Kathy was my mom. She loved Claire and probably worried about her like I did. I felt outnumbered and beaten. I felt nervous. Claire? As much as I knew her and cared about her, I felt like this was too much. Idiot, one part of me said. This is Claire Kim. You're best friend. Nothing should be wrong here.
But I felt like that voice was two years too late.
I could hardly believe I was in Thomas's car, on my way over to Michael's house. They'd cleared the whole thing with Layne and taken my suitcase, backpack, and me to their car and were now driving me home. I leaned my head against the dark tinted window of the backseat and closed my eyes. The silence of two years was almost palpable whenever I'd tried talking to Michael. I peeked my eyes open and snuck a glance at Michael. He was sitting next to me and staring out of his own window. I sighed inwardly and returned my gaze to outside my window. A few minutes later, we were rolling into Michael's home. I sat upright in my seat and leaned forward. It was just the same as I'd remembered. We hopped out of the car and Michael headed for the trunk to get my stuff. I ran around to beat him and we tied. I laughed a bit and smiled. He looked a bit embarrassed but returned the look. "Hey, I can get my stuff. It's okay!" I said brightly.
"Nah." Michael's arm shot out and grabbed my backpack as well as my suitcase right as Thomas opened the trunk door.
I shook my head as he walked over to the front door of his house and knocked. Michael's mom immediately opened the door and smiled when she saw me. I waved and giggled as she walked towards me. "Hi!" I said.
"Well hello there!" Kathy Anderson greeted me.
"Hi! How've you been? Sorry to be barging into your home and all like this," I apologized.
Kathy laughed, "Barging? Dear, it's fine! Anything to help you along!"
I smiled. We were all rushed into the house and I was shown where my room would be. It was Michael's older brother's room. Chris, Michael's brother, had left for college already, and so his room was empty, available for me to use. I felt a bit weird thinking about sleeping on his bed, but I shrugged it off. I was much too grateful. I hugged Kathy and thanked her again, making her mock scold me.
"If I hear you say thank you one more time...." she threatened.
I laughed and made a face. She left me to settle down and get my stuff situated and I was left alone. I sighed and sat down on the bed. It had soft, comfy looking blankets draped over it and it made me smile. I'd never been treated with such kindness outside of my family. For two years I'd been sleeping on an old leather couch with one not so fluffy blanket. I laid my hand gently on the blanket I was sitting on and patted it. I got up and opened my medium sized suitcase and peeked into the closet. It had a few of Chris's clothes still hanging up, but there was still room for some of my clothes that needed to be hung. I quickly got those taken care of, and saw that there were a few drawers in the lower part of the closet and folded the rest of my clothes into them. I stood my suitcase against the inside of the closet wall and closed the door. I walked over to the desk and took my backpack along with it, unzipping it. I pulled out my laptop, notebook/diary, and a couple of my own person items. I carefully arranged them on the desk so as not to disturb the other items already placed there. My hand accidentally bumped into a photo frame and knocked it over. I reached for it and set it straight.
It was a photograph of Michael and Chris when they were younger. Michael had shoved an orange into his mouth, peel and all, and Chris was looking at Michael like he was crazy. I smiled. It seemed like the perfect picture. I quickly finished unpacking and "making myself at home", and wanted to see if I could be of any help to Kathy. It's the least you could do, I told myself. You're staying at their home. I opened my door a crack and saw that the hallway was clear. I gently shut the door behind me as I softly walked down the hallway. I heard a faint television show going on and I smelled someone cooking something. I walked over to the kitchen and discovered that Kathy was cooking dinner. I tiptoed over to her and tapped her on the shoulder. She turned, smiling. "Um," I said, hating myself for not sounding more confident. "Could I help you with anything?"
Kathy shook her head and laughed. "Ahh what are we going to do with you?" she said.
I was about to reply when Michael appeared out of nowhere and said, "Take her back?"
I whirled around, shocked. He didn't look at me. Kathy looked appalled.
"Michael!" she scolded.
He turned and walked out of the kitchen and down to the living room to the TV. I felt a slight sting in my eyes as the familiar feeling of tears started. I turned to Kathy. "It's been a bit awkward I guess," I told her. "I mean, we haven't talked for two years because he's never bothered to answer any of my emails, so..." I trailed off as Kathy shook her head again.
"It's okay. He should be himself again soon," she said, moving around the kitchen. "He's probably missed you a lot and doesn't know what to say. Like you said, it HAS been two years."
I nodded and sighed. "Um, I'm really not hungry tonight," I lied, feeling my stomach about to protest. "They gave us a ton to eat at lunch over there."
Kathy studied me. "Claire, don't let him bother you, alright?" she asked.
I forced a smile. "Oh it's not Michael. And I won't."
She nodded and returned to her cooking, and I headed back to my room. Er, the room I'd be staying in. Back inside, I plopped down on the bed and looked up at the ceiling. Michael...he'd been the one who'd told me that we'd always be the best of friends. He did tell me once that he'd given me promises that he couldn't keep, and I couldn't help wondering if that one promise about always being friends was one of those.
Maybe I'd said a bit too much.
I didn't even know where that bit came from. "Take her back?"?
I could see the hurt in her eyes when I said that. Claire. I feel like she was still the same old Claire, but then again, I could feel that she wasn't. It was like something had taken hold of her and changed her. But after I thought about it, I thought that maybe it was just me who'd changed. I'd never been mean to her before, or said anything bad about her. Okay, so maybe once, but still, I'd never done anything like that purposefully. My heart wanted to take what I'd said back, but my mind still held a block against the fact that she was my best friend, come back after two years. What was it about that exactly? Why does that two year disappearance keep blocking me from letting me approach her like Claire Kim, my best friend. I can't figure it out. At dinner that night, Kathy told Thomas and me that Claire had gone to bed without dinner because she wasn't hungry, but by the tone of her voice, I could tell that wasn't the real reason why she'd skipped.
After dinner, I was about to go to my room when I saw a faint light under Chris's room. I tiptoed towards the room and saw that the door was slightly ajar. I gently nudged the door open a hair's width and looked inside. I saw Claire checking her email on the computer. As she read deeper into the long message, she started crying. It was the silent type. The type I couldn't stand. It was quiet, and you couldn't hear their crying. My heart beat for her. Claire stood up and paced, calculating something on her fingertips. She stopped at thirty and froze. I watched as her face crumbled and tears rolled down her face. Claire furiously wiped at her cheeks and took a deep breath. I saw her regain her composure and let out that breath. She put on a small smile and sat down on the bed. I straightened from my position and walked to my room, feeling slightly out of the loop and a bit worried. What had been written on that email? I felt a bit sick. Was something wrong with Claire?
As hard as I tried to tell myself it was probably just an offensive letter her father had sent her, I couldn't shake the bad feeling off.
La la la~
La la la~
La la la~
I rolled over on my bed and tumbled out of bed, landing with a soft thump. "Oof!" I groaned, lifting myself off the floor. I opened my eyes and scrambled to find that annoying singing noise that had woken me up. I found my cellphone and shut the alarm off. I sighed and sat back on my heels and reveled in the sweet silence of a 5:00 AM morning. I stood up carefully and grabbed my backpack. I'd packed it the night before so that I could bolt out as soon as possible in the morning. I tiptoed down the hallway and just as I was about to leave the kitchen, I had a thought. After cleaning my breakfast plates, I hunted around the kitchen to find materials to make breakfast for the Anderson family. I bit back a smile as I prepared breakfast. I wasn't quite sure what they'd like to eat for breakfast, but I decided to start with the basics. "Pancakes," I sang quietly, laughing.
I made quite an amount of pancakes and stacked two monster pancakes on each of the three colorful plates and placed them on the tall dining room table. I took the leftover pancakes and placed them in the middle of the arrangement and brought out the syrup and utensils. After a lot of rearranging, I stepped back and nodded once for approval. Then, grabbing my backpack, I ran out of the house. I locked the doors as I ran out, and made sure I'd taken the extra house key they'd given me. Aurgh, I sighed. I was going to have to walk all the way to the-
I stopped and saw that there was an old, yet durable bike waiting patiently for me in the driveway. My eyes widened as I ran towards it. A note fluttered by its handlebars and I carefully took it off.
Have fun with this bike! It's a bit old, but it's pretty strong! It should be able to get you some places when we aren't available to drive you. Have a great day!
~ The Andersons
I smiled and couldn't help the giggle that escaped my lips. I guess I did have a family. But, I knew that even though I was extremely close to them, I couldn't tell them what had happened to me before coming back to the States. Knocking the bike stand up, I swung my leg over and started pedaling down the driveway and towards the road. I'd memorized my way to the Aquatics center from good old MapQuest online. As I stopped at the first light, I thought about what I'd read in my email yesterday. It'd confirmed all my fears, but it only pushed me to become the very best that I was. I shoved off the pavement as the light changed and I pedaled faster. I got to the SuperGym on time, we'd be training dryland today, and got straight to training as I'd already dressed in my swimsuit and shorts and a t-shirt before at home. I was just starting to do my workout on the trampoline when someone tackled me from behind. I yelped and crashed into the bouncy surface of the large rectangular trampoline. "Help!" I scrambled.
"Hey calm down!" Kevin laughed, helping me up. "It's just me!"
I glowered at him as he starting jumping on the trampoline I was on.
"What?" he asked innocently. "Not happy to see me?"
I started jumping too, swinging my arms up like I was on a board. The key to height in diving was the arms swing. Kevin watched me and laughed at my attempts to bounce him off onto his own trampoline. His coach spotted him goofing off and started yelling at him to start working. His coach didn't even bother to look at me, but I figured it was because I was competition. I stuck my tongue out at Kevin as we faced each other on our own trampolines. Then, I got serious by practicing my dives on the trampolines. My coach, Jane, watched me intently to make sure I didn't mess anything up or hurt myself. She corrected me and helped spot me a few times, then made me change to weights.
I wasn't the strongest person in the world, but I was consistent. I kept at my training. Some people ask me where I get my persistent motivation from. At first, I thought that my motivation was to beat Michael. He's been diving since he was little, and I just thought that he was amazing at everything he even tried. He'd always triumph over everyone, and just once, I wanted to beat him.
But then, I thought about it, and it really wasn't to beat Michael at all. I think it was to show myself what I was capable of. All my life, I realized that I've been a dabbler. I've tried many different sports and other activities to see what I'd fit into. Soccer, swimming, running, gymnastics, basketball, drawing, playing the violin, writing, etc. I'm good at these things, but I found that the first day I jumped on that diving board, I was hooked. Defying gravity while preforming a wide selection of gymnastic stunts was very well in my ability. It was definitely worth the devotion.
"Claire," Jane called to me in her slightly accented English. "Let's move to the dry boards."
I loved these the best. The boards are the same as the diving boards over at the pool, but instead of having a pool at the end, there is a foam pit that you end up diving into. Since diving is a sport that eventually breaks down your body from the force of hitting the water, dry boards are really great inventions for us. Besides, when else do you get to dive into a huge pit of foam? Jane left me to keep practicing and went to talk to a couple of other coaches. I kind of felt bad for her, being here in the States and not speaking too much English, but she loved coaching me so I guess that kind of made up for it. I guess that was another reason to work hard. I didn't like dissapointing people. I like to go over what people have expected of me and show them what I've got. It's very satisfying. I executed a front pike 2 1/2 somersault (two and a half flips in pike position) and kicked out nicely to dive in headfirst with my arms above my shoulders and hands reached out flat above my head.
I heard clapping as I fought to surface in the pit of foam. A hand reached in and pulled me out. I laughed when I saw Kevin lifting me out of the pit. "What are you doing?" I asked, climbing the rest of the way out of the pit.
"It's breaktime," Kevin said, as if I was hard of hearing. "Didn't you hear the bell?"
I thought back. "Nope," I admitted. Maybe I was hard of hearing.
"Oh," Kevin said. "Well, you were training pretty hard over here. Who knew anyone could be so intense about diving."
I made a face. "Are we going to go on our break or not?" I asked, bolting for the doors.
Kevin growled and ran after me. "Lunchtime!" he crowed.
I paused. "Lunchtime already?" I asked. Wow, I'd really been out of it. I shook my head as Kevin and I ran out and made our way to the cafeteria building, close to the SuperGym. I grinned when I saw how much Kevin was getting to eat. I watched the other diver kids at their tables with their teams and I faltered a bit. I wasn't sure who I'd sit with. Kevin grabbed my free hand that wasn't holding my tray up.
"Come on!" he said, gesturing to his table. "Sit with us!"
I looked at his teammates, and they looked nice enough, but I wondered how they'd be when they saw their competition sitting with them. I shook out of his grasp and smiled. "Um, thanks but I'll just sit by the window for now," I said, apologetically.
Kevin nodded, understanding. "See you after?" he asked, tentatively.
I punched his arm. "Yeah! We're switching to the pool! I wouldnt' run out on that!" I exclaimed.
Kevin waved and headed over to his table while I made my way over to a small empty one. I sat and stared out the huge windows that stretched from the floor to the ceilings. I felt a bit lonely, but it wasn't too bad. I knew that Kevin was my friend, so that made me happy. I sighed as I bit into lunch. I wondered how the Andersons had liked my breakfast for them. I also wondered how they were doing today.
I woke up to an aroma of sweet pancakes and syrup. I yawned and stretched out on my bed. It'd been a while since I'd smelled pancakes. I rolled over and looked at my clock. It was 7:03 A.M. and I had to get to my math camp at 8:00 A.M. I groaned and got up and out of bed. I swapped the clothes I'd slept in for a pair of blue shorts and a white t-shirt. I walked over to the kitchen and saw that no one was cooking anything, so I walked over to the dining room, confused. My eyes widened. There were pancakes already made and set up on several plates that were ready for my family to eat. I saw a note card neatly folded so that it was standing up by the first plate filled with pancakes. Picking it up, I unfolded it and started reading:
The Anderson Family,
Good Morning! :) I didn't have much time to prepare these, but I hope you
enjoy them! <3 I hope you have a wonderful day today! I'll be busy training
today until 6:30 tonight. I'll see you then!
~Claire Kim <3
I carefully put the note back and couldn't help myself from grinning. Claire cooking for us? I sat down at a seat and started eating. Now I definitely felt bad for what I'd said last night, and I wouldn't be able to apologize until late tonight. I sighed.
The camp let out at 12:30 and as I waited for Thomas to pick me up, I wondered about Claire. Was she doing alright? I hoped she didn't hurt herself. She was always doing reckless things and hurting herself. I didn't quite know what it was about her, but it was a Claire impulse to do something that involved harming herself. So far, diving wasn't hurting her, but who knew? Suddenly, the image of Claire crying popped into my mind. Curiosity burned in my chest, but I couldn't ask her. Ah, I thought, the time will come when she tells me. She was my best friend. She couldn't keep secrets for long.
I turned and saw Kevin waving at me from the 10 meter diving platform. It was 1:00 P.M. and we'd all taken a small break and had switched over to practicing in the pool. Kevin specialized in high platform diving and was, at the moment, goofing off on his precious practice time. I rolled my eyes as he lifted a finger to me, beckoning me to watch him dive. I relaxed on my 3 meter diving board and leaned against the railing on the sides and watched him. Kevin walked over to the edge of the platform and slowly kicked his legs up into a handstand. Pausing in that stand for a few seconds, his body leaned forward and tumbled off the stand. He was doing fine, until he kicked out too late and rotated to smack his back on the water. I cringed as the other divers laughed and applauded his failed dive. Seeing Kevin emerge from the water, I pointed to him and then my board.
This time, I was asking him to watch my dive. It was a challenge, of course. Kevin nodded and swam to the end of the pool and stood to the side to watch me dive. Resuming my position on the board, I kept my body tight and I focused on what I was going to do; a reverse 3 1/2 somersault tuck. It was a hard one, and I was glad Jane was keeping an eye on me. Reverse and Inwards dives were the types that usually divers shied from, as it required rotating back towards the board, making one's head graze pretty close back to the board. Unless the dive was executed right. I fixed my gaze at the end of the board and concentrated. Then, I began my approach and took a leaping hurdle step, pushing myself off the board with my right leg. Landing back on the board, I swung my arms up and was thrown up into the air. I had to reach high with my hands, then snap my legs in to my chest and get my full rotation around. I felt myself whirling in the air and after three spins, I rotated halfway then kicked out and entered the water, vertical and clean.
Even from underwater I could hear the cheers from above. I smiled and blew bubbles out of my mouth as I surfaced. The first person I looked for was Jane who gave me a sharp approving nod, then I looked for Kevin. He was standing at the edge of the pool with his jaw hitting the floor. I laughed and swam over to him. "Rate?" I asked, lifting myself out.
"Uh..." he looked around, unsure. "A nine."
I laughed. "Kay I'll take that!"
A girl with cropped blonde hair pushed Kevin into the pool. "Get over yourself Kevin,"she said. "It's a ten."
The girl walked away with a sharp glare my way. I shuddered and helped Kevin up. "Is she on your team?" I asked.
Kevin shrugged. "Yeah. That's Kenzie. She's pretty, uh... Intense I guess you could say."
I watched her push past several kids and turned to Kevin. "Um, YEAH," I said, shaking my head. "Wow. What's she do?"
"She's springboard," he replied, giving me a sympathetic look. "And she's very good."
I grinned at him. "Better than me?"
Kevin whistled. "I think you pretty much dominate here. I'm so glad you aren't platform."
I made a face, and made my way back over to the boards to practice again. There were a couple of breaks during the long practice session, but after the last break at 5:15 P.M. I started feeling a bit odd. I shook it off as being tired, but as the last hour of practice wore on, I felt dizzy and disoriented. My head started to ache and my body started feeling a bit numb. I pushed on, however, and continued my practice, until finally something in me just broke my mindset and I crashed into the water. I swam to the edge of the pool and Jane hauled me out, looking concerned.
"Claire!" Jane said, holding me up. "Are you okay?" Her eyes darkened as she considered something. "Is it your-"
"I'm fine," I said, firmly cutting her off. It was a lie, of course, but I couldn't tell her the truth. I'd be letting her down. I shook my head and felt a wave of nausea wash over me. I swayed and looked apologetically to Jane. "Um, maybe I should sit out a bit."
Jane shook her head and pointed upwards. She was about to say something, but a loud buzzer cut her short and announced that practice was over for the day. She patted my head and said, "Tomorrow. Be ready and alert. Get lot's of rest, okay?"
I nodded and grabbed my chamois and dried my body off, trying to shake off the dreadful feeling that had overcome me. "Ugh!" I groaned, throwing my chamois onto the ground. A hand reached down and picked it up, squeezing it and wringing it out to dry. I looked up and saw Kevin watching me.
"You okay?" he asked, concerned. "I saw your last dive. Kenzie looked, of course, delighted, but it was really unlike you. What happened?"
I shook my head, quickly denying him the truth. "I-I'm not sure. Maybe I'm just tired." I crossed my fingers, hoping he'd buy it. He did.
"Yeah, so get some good rest tonight, Korea," he tossed my pink chamois back at me and winked. "See ya bright and early!"
I waved and walked in the opposite direction towards the girls' locker rooms as my body started coming back to normal. When the hot shower water rained down on me, I felt much better and sighed in relief. Perhaps this wouldn't be too bad of a condition to live with for a little bit longer. After washing my long hair, which took a while, I hurried to change and bike back home. Thinking about regrouping with the Anderson family made me smile. I was sad that the competition would be at the end of this week, on the Sunday following, but it granted me a week and hopefully longer to spend with the family. I decided to delay the telling of my event today, and the bigger issue at hand.
After all, I HAD already told one member of the Anderson family about my secret.
I lifted my head from the dining room table and looked across the room and saw the front door opening. For a second, I paniced, but then I remembered we had a guest staying with us.
Why couldn't I accept that Claire, my bestest friend, was back? I sighed and returned my attention back to the door, and saw her struggling to carry her backpack and open the door. I hesitated in getting out of my chair and she stumbled through. Claire tripped and landed splat on her face on the hardwood floor. I cringed and walked towards her. "You okay?" I asked, poking her groaning form. She was all bones and muscle. I couldn't see her face because her hair was covering it up, but I could tell she was smiling somehow. She looked exhausted.
"Aurgh," she moaned. "I'm fine."
She heaved herself off the floor and sat back, flinching and sat still for a moment. For a moment, I had a flash of worry thinking that she could have been really hurt. But then I laughed at myself. Claire was strong and could take as many hits as possible and would always stand back up. I helped her get up and she thanked me. Running to her room to drop off her backpack, I noticed that she seemed a bit off balance. I sighed and walked over to the living room and plopped down on a couch. I had no idea what we were going to do with her. Claire burst into the room and tackled me. I yelled in surprise and kicked her away. I heard her breath get knocked out of her and she tumbled to the floor with a loud thump. I froze, realizing what I'd done.
Claire started breathing funny and she was shaking. I rushed to her side, real panic inching into my voice. "C-Claire?" I asked, shaking her gently. "Tell me that didn't hurt." Of course it hurt you idiot, I thought to myself. You KICKED her!
"O-owwie." Claire lifted herself off the floor, her face was flushed.
I studied her. Ever since coming back from dive practice she'd seemed a bit off. I put my arm around her shoulders. She'd gotten thinner. "Are you okay?" I asked. "You seem a bit weird after dive."
She managed to smile at me and wince at the same time. "Never been better," Claire stated lamely. She stood up and said, "Um, I'm just going to...go to my room."
I didn't make any move to stop her from slowly moving to her room, but inside I felt a sudden need to gather her up in a hug, like I used to, and just stay in that moment forever. But I didn't. I just let her go. Just like I'd been doing my whole life. I sighed and sat back down at the couch. I used to be tackled by Claire all the time, but why had I kicked her away this time? Dammit I'd KICKED her! After promising I'd never hurt her. I put my head in my hands and turned so that I was laying on the couch. I'd apologize to her and catch up with her tomorrow, I promised myself. But I kept RE-promising myself that every day of the week. It wasn't until Friday that I realized that my promise would soon have no effect. "You never know what you've got till it's gone." In my case, what I had was already gone. Or was about to disappear from me forever.
It was Saturday, and I was feeling pretty bad.
Not in a bad health way, just...bad. You know those days that you just feel fed up with all your problems you've got with life? And with other people? Yeah. I was having one of those days. What got me started was probably that I hadn't gotten enough sleep. Even though I get eight hours of sleep, it doesn't satisfy my body. I woke up early that day and I was pretty mad at myself for doing that. After an hour of trying to fall back asleep I just kicked aside my blankets and got out of bed. I heard someone singing softly in the kitchen and cooking. Rolling my eyes I walked down the hallway and into the kitchen. I saw Claire moving around and making us breakfast again. She'd done it this whole week. It wasn't that I didn't appreciate it, but it was just that I didn't have anything to do to return the favor. But, I thought that morning, I guess giving her a room to stay in was good enough.
Claire's competition was tomorrow, and so the coaches were giving them a bit of a rest day, but Claire had decided to go practice a bit before tomorrow to stay warmed up. She'd only be practicing about three hours though. It was a lot less than her usual all day training. Her practice didn't start until after lunch and wouldn't end until seven, so she'd planned on meeting her old friends before practice. I'd seen her friends walking around in the mall once or twice, and they seemed to be doing pretty well. But their groups had always seemed a bit empty without Claire doing something with them. My math camp didn't go on on the weekends so I was free all day. Claire had invited me to go meet her friends with her, but I hadn't answered yet. She spotted me watching her in the kitchen.
"Hey!" she beamed. "Good Morning!" she looked me over and giggled. "Okay, I'm not even going to ask how you slept."
I raised an eyebrow at her. "Good going."
She smiled and returned to cooking an omelet. "So have you thought about coming with me to meet Melanie today?" Melanie Jones was her best girl friend, and before Claire had moved, we'd all been a threesome.
I walked over to stand next to Claire and watched her turn the omelet over. "Yeah."
Claire gave me an amused look. "Yeah as in you'll go? or yeah as in yes you've thought about it?" She asked me.
I didn't want to think. "I don't know!" I said, growing infuriated. "Both?! Just...!"
Claire turned around to drop the omelet into an empty plate then turned to look at me. "Hey Mister Grumpy, c'mon! It'll be fun! Just the three of us again!" she smiled and gave me a warm hug.
I wriggled out of her grip and looked over her shoulder. "Yeah. Fine."
Claire jumped once and clapped her hands. "Yay!" she opened her arms again for another hug, but I just glared at her and turned away towards the living room.
"Wait!" I heard her call after me.
I felt really bad that she had to face me in my bad mood, and I'd probably made her feel worse about this whole week by my attitude. I turned and I saw that Claire'd followed me over with a plate of her freshly made omelet. I looked at her, astonished. She was smiling so brightly it almost blinded me.
"Hey, I don't want you to starve," she handed it the plate to me. "I'll see you in a little bit then?"
I nodded. She looked at me with her big puppy eyes and surprised me with another hug. "Feel better by then."
Claire walked off to her room and closed the door. I sat down at the couch with the plate and fork looked off into the distance. This was a side of Claire I had never seen. Usually with my bad moods, she'd either steer clear of me or stand in my way and become hurt. This time, however, she'd just let my mood and comments slide off of her and she'd seemed unintimidated by me. The corners of my mouth twitched into a small smile. Claire had definitely grown up. After eating breakfast and watching t.v. I must have dozed off because I woke up laying down on the couch. I got up and looked at the time. It was almost time to meet Melanie. I padded over to the bathroom and opened the door. It didn't occur to me that the shower was on and that someone had already taken over the bathroom until my eyes saw a figure behind the glass shower doors. I froze and the figure turned towards me and slowly opened the blurred glass door just enough to make room for its face to poke through.
"Um hi!" Claire greeted a dumbfounded me. "This bathroom is kind of occupied so I'd advise you to maybe wait a bit? I'm almost done."
My brain snapped back and my gears started turning again. "Oh my..." I held my hands up. "I am SO sorry! I-I-I..." I bolted out of the bathroom and closed the door behind me. My face was bright red and it was getting hotter and hotter by the minute. I shook my head and silently shouted. I couldn't believe I'd walked in on Claire...showering! A few minutes later, while my inner embarrassment was still harassing me, Claire opened the bathroom door and walked out in shorts and a South Korea Team t-shirt. She burst out laughing at me when she saw my face.
"OH come on Michael," she gasped between bursts of laughter. "The door was blurred! You didn't see anything!"
My cheeks burned. "Doesn't help. I still feel dirty."
Claire rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out at me. "Okay fine! Whatever. The bathroom's free now, and we've got only a few minutes left till we gotta leave!" she patted my shoulder and breezed past me into the living room, leaving me stunned in the hallway. That girl was full of surprises. No screaming? No running? No slapping? I shook my head and took advantage of the empty bathroom. Girly shampoo fumes wafted up my nose and I sneezed. After a few minutes in the bathroom I emerged and went to the basement to tell Thomas that Claire and I were ready to go to the mall to meet Melanie. Walking out of the basement and to the living room, I saw Claire sitting in the couch gazing off out the window. She seemed so peaceful and so... alone. My heart felt for her. As if she could feel my soft gaze upon her, she turned and grinned.
"Ready?" she asked.
I grinned back at her. "I've been born ready."
But I wasn't ready for what was to come.
"Claire Kim? Is that really you?"
Michael and I both turned around and saw a girl running towards us. I squinted and then gasped. "Melanie?" I asked, incredulous. I ran towards her and barreled her over in a giant hug, not caring that her light brown hair had whacked me in the face. I squeezed her the let go and jumped up and down. "Melanie! It's been way too long!"
"I know!" Melanie exclaimed.
I noticed a tall blonde guy standing behind her. "Um.. Who's that?" I asked. "Oh my gosh..is that--?"
Melanie beamed. "Remember Nick Hanson?" the tall boy smiled and waved.
"No way!" I said. "You guy's have been dating since I left?" Nick had been Melanie's boyfriend since I'd left the States. At first, I thought that he'd steal her away from me, but as time went on, I found that Melanie found a balance between him and her friends. I grinned at them both as Nick hugged her. "Wow," I said, laughing as Melanie poked him.
"So, um," Melanie said. "I was thinking'..." she looked up at Nick and grinned.
"What?" Michael and I asked.
"Let's go watch a movie!" Melanie jumped.
Michael and I looked at each other in horror. "Movie?"
Five minutes later, all four of us were seated in the movie theater waiting for a horror film to start up. I shifted uncomfortably. Melanie had taken us to see a movie as a double date. The seating order was Melanie, Nick, Michael, and me. Michael and I protested strongly at the idea, but Melanie had insisted, so what choice did we have? I settled in the cushioned movie seats and peeked a glance over up at Michael and saw that he was as comfortable as me. I giggled and he peered down at me with a curious look. I stuck my tongue out at him and looked forward. I heard him chuckle.
"I know, I know," he whispered in my ear.
I smiled. The lights dimmed and the movie started. I thought my eyes were going to start bleeding. The movie was terrible, but I guess Melanie and Nick were soaking it up, because they were cuddling the space up. I felt happy that she'd found her match, but I guess I was just being a bit of a downer because I hadn't found my match yet. Suddenly remembering that I was with Michael at the movies I jumped. Gosh, I told myself. What if the answer had been in front of me all this time? I looked at him out of the corner of my eye and saw his arm casually hanging around the back of my chair. I smiled a little to myself and laid my head on his shoulder. I felt his sudden surprise as he stiffened. I squeezed my eyes shut and willed myself to stay there for three more seconds. To my surprise, Michael's arm drew me closer to his body. My cheeks were burning as I averted my attention to the movie.
After the movie, Michael took his arm back, and I straightened up. I guess we were both too shy to say anything about the whole event. Melanie and Nick were excitedly talking about the movie and tried to get us in the conversation, but Michael and I politely declined. When we got out of the movie theater, we walked straight into pouring rain. I groaned. "Oh no," I said, turning my phone on.
Michael sidled up to me. "What?" he asked.
I showed him a text from Jane. "Practice got canceled," I sighed. "Jane couldn't get to the Aquatics place because of the rain." I slipped my phone back into my pocket and looked at Michael. "So, I guess we're headed home?"
Michael nodded. "Yup, lemme go call Thomas."
As he left to make his call, Melanie broke away from Nick to whisper something into my ear. "What's wrong with you guys?" She looked at me, with a questioning look in her eye.
I sighed. "Nothing. NO-thing." I rolled my eyes. Melanie gave me an incredulous look.
"You guys have been best friends since...forever!" she exclaimed. "I bet he's just shy."
I gave her a look. "Best friends? Shy? Since when?"
Michael came back and said that Thomas would be there in a minute. I nodded and raised my eyebrows at Melanie. "I'll call you later!" I said.
"Wait!" Melanie grabbed my arm. "When's your competition?"
"Oh! I almost forgot! It's this Sunday at 12:30 P.M. Are you going to be able to do it?" I asked.
Melanie nodded. "I wouldn't miss it!"
A few minutes of chatting and catching up flew by and Thomas drove up to the mall and waved. We said our goodbyes and hopped into the car. Michael didn't really talk to me at all after that, but I guess it was still that movie thing. Gosh, were men ever complicated. Getting back at home, I was the first to run out into the house when I realized that my pocket was empty. Groaning, I shielded myself against the rain and ran outside again. Thomas and Michael were running into the house as I passed them. I opened the car door again and saw that my cell phone was sitting in the seat waiting for me to pick it up. I smiled and grabbed it, then headed back inside.
Which, I came to regret.
Thomas and I ran into the house to get away from the rain and passed by Claire running back out. Wondering why she'd run back out, I was lost in my thoughts when suddenly I tripped over a pair of shoes. Catching myself, I caught a glimpse of the shoes and saw that they were Claire's tennis shoes. Suddenly, that string in me that had been stretched to the limit finally snapped. Living in the same house with Claire, who'd suddenly appeared out of nowhere, was suffocating me. I snapped. "I can't take it anymore!" I shouted, storming into the house by jumping over the shoes.
"What?" Thomas half laughed the word out.
I turned around and just let everything out. Thomas hadn't even finished taking his shoes off. "I'm sick of this!" I yelled. "Claire is just...it's like I'm a stranger inside my own house! I feel like she's taking up too much room! She's killing me!"
"Uh, Michael..." Thomas started, but I cut him off sharp.
"No!" I paced, not even looking in his direction. "What am I supposed to do? I haven't even talked to her for two years and then all of sudden she's in our house LIVING with us! She's a stranger to me! I don't care about her! I DON'T!" I heard a small choking sound from behind me where Thomas was standing and I whirled around, raring to spit more, but then my fire died out and I froze.
Standing right next to Thomas was Claire. She was standing, rooted to the floor, crying. I didn't know what to do. I started to reach for her. "Claire-" She dropped her phone and shoved past Thomas to burst out the door. I heard the roaring rain pour down after her. "Claire!" I yelled, running after her.
I nearly took the door down with the force that I used to open it. I saw Claire beating down the pavement as she ran away from the house. I kept calling her name out over and over again, but she didn't seem to hear me. A car whizzed past me, blinding me for a moment with it's headlights. I paused for just a minute, but that was a mistake. When my eyes finally readjusted to the darkness of outside, I couldn't find Claire anywhere. I ran around the block trying to reach her, but it was pointless. She was gone. I was soaked and had no idea where she'd gone off to. Left with no choice, I reluctantly ran back to the house. When I got home, I realized that Claire had run off without any shoes on. I fell on my knees and put my hands in my head and cursed myself. I felt like the worst person on the planet. I'd promised her I'd never hurt her, but look at what I'd done. I felt Thomas's hand on my shoulder.
"She'll come back," he said, reassuringly. "She always does."
The rain hit my body like tiny icy bullets, hungry to bite into me.
My clothes clung to me like saran-wrap and my hair was drenched. I was soaked to the bone. A gut wrenching cough tore out of me and nearly took my lungs with it. It threw me off balance and I slipped on the crack in the pavement and crashed down to the asphalt with a sickening crunch. My knee throbbed where it'd slammed into the ground. I didn't even care anymore. Why? HE didn't care either. So why should I? I lifted myself off the ground; I seemed to be doing that a lot lately. Tears mixed with the sweet rain water that poured down like buckets on my face and created an interesting combination.
The cough was back to torture me, and I got up and ran again. I was dying. I knew it. I was going to die. Everyone had to die eventually, I thought. I was going to die before my time. Great. I didn't even know where I was going at this point. I saw a familiar sign and nearly barreled it over. Trying to breathe, I looked up at the sign name. "Memory Lane," I whispered, a barrage of images hitting my mind. I knew this place. A picture of Michael catching me after jumping off a slide entered my mind and I bolted off into that memory. I took a sharp right and found a gravel pathway leading to a park. Once I hit the grass, I stopped and looked at the playground that loomed before me. It was just like two years ago. I walked unsteadily towards the rusting swings as the rain tried to push me back. I fought forward. I thought of the last day I was here, when Michael had denied me the right to do a backflip while jumping off the swing. I smiled in spite of my pain. I'd done the stunt of course. I always loved to make him sweat a little.
I sat down on the swing and let my bare feet take a break from my incessant pounding on the ground. I lifted my face towards the sky as I swung alone on the swingset. It creaked and protested upon the newly found weight, but it held firm. I brought my head back to it's normal position and half laughed. I'd had dreams about this place and this was far from what I'd imagined. I'd imagined my friends, all whom I loved, back together in this meeting place, having fun again. But that image dissapeared from my mind as the rain pounded even harder upon me, as if bearing all my troubles upon my shoulders even more. "I get it!" I cried at the sky. "Stop it!" The rain beat on, relentless. I cried even harder. It did no good to wipe the tears away. The rain would wash it away anyways. That's what it did. The rain always washed away the badness in the world. But sometimes, it'd leave a disaster behind. It hadn't even stopped pouring, but it'd left a disaster behind anyways. It was me.
I swung harder and got more height. I knew what I was about to do was risky, but I had to do it anyways. I felt that, maybe, just maybe, if I did this, then everything would pop back to normal. My fairy godmother would poof out of thin air and say, "This was a test! Good job!" then poof my life back to normal. So I had to do this. And with that, I leaped off my swing. I tucked into a flipping position and rotated, but I was dizzy and had no real sense of when to land on my feet. I kicked out and tumbled to the soaking hard grounds. The impact of my head hitting the ground was earthshattering to me. I groaned and rolled in the grass and mud. I opened my eyes and saw a blurried vision of the playground in the rain. My tears fell hot and heavy against my cheeks as I stood up and stumbled. I thought that Michael cared for me. I thought that we were best friends.
Maybe this was a test for him, I thought as I started to make my way back to the Anderson family's house. Maybe he was just having a hard time with his life right now. But then again, how would I know? He'd cut off all contact with me for two years. That was long enough to change a person. To completely rotate a person around a full 180 degrees. My head was pounding and my body was feeling numb again. Just a little more, I thought trying to push myself. My vision was fading in and out. I wondered if it was my condition again. I didn't even want to think about it. My aching bare feet dragged on forward, pulling my unwilling body forward. My head felt like it was being put under an elephant's foot and like someone was shooting bullets at it. I flinched as I turned my head, creating a fresh new batch of white hot pain. I managed to haul myself into the driveway of the Anderson's home. I fumbled with the spare key, but finally managed to open the door and let myself in. When I stumbled in, I was hit with warm orange light and my brain protested angrily. I leaned against the door as I closed it.
Michael and Thomas were anxiously standing around, clearly waiting for me to return. When I saw Michael, my heart beat loudly and I decided to forgive him. What good did it do him or me to keep a barrier between us. Michael looked up and sighed in relief. Thomas looked appalled at how much damage I'd gotten after one "walk in the neighborhood". I smiled at Michael who was rushing towards me. Then, suddenly, my brain seemed to shut down. My body collapsed and the last thing I remembered was hitting the cold hardwood floor and thinking that maybe this was as far as I would ever get to Heaven.
The suffering was endless.
I paced back and forth on the shiny, polished, white hospital floors as I waited for the doctor to come back and give us a full report. As I paced, the bright white floor seemed to be mocking me with it's super glossed surface, beaming up at me with a light grin. I scuffed the floor, just to show who was boss. An office door swung open and I immediatly looked up in anticipation. "Well?" I asked, barely able to keep myself from jumping at the doctor. "What is it?"
Dr. Farley, that was what the tag on his shirt read, cleared his throat and peered over the top of his gold framed glasses to read what a report said on a sheet of paper. "Well, we found contact with her personal doctor in Korea and it says right here that..." Dr. Farley's tiny eyes widened. "Oh."
I restrained myself from strangling out the answer out of him. "Yes?" I drew out the word deliberatly.
Dr. Farley sighed. "She has a month to live."
My world shattered. "What?" I whisper-screamed. "What did you just say?"
The doctor glared at me. Obviously he didn't like being asked questions. What kind of a doctor was that? "I SAID-"
"I heard what you said," I said, the fire in my soul flaring up. "What do you mean by that?"
Thomas stood and looked up at the doctor with a questioning look. Dr. Farley huffed a breath and beckoned us to sit. I sat down, hard. Dr. Farley reread the paper then looked up at us with a shaky smile.
"That girl that you have here," he said, indicating the emergency doors where Claire had been taken. "Has had a lot to go through. She's been through multiple treatments for her heart, which has been acting up quite a bit, and she's had a tough time with stress, anxiety, and even depression."
In protest, I was about to erupt into a string of words, but Thomas gave me a look and I shut up. Dr. Farley continued.
"Look, I don't know much about why this is happening to her, but I'm guessing that all these things just added up and attacked her body and it just started to break down. The doctor in Korea left me a note, and it said that the girl has cancer. But, she didn’t want to take treatements for it," Dr. Farley scoffed, then got serious again. "It also says here that her diving has shortened her original life span from three months to one month."
God. What did I do?
I slammed my fist into the plastic waiting room chairs and managed to crack it. My hand throbbed as I squeezed my eyes shut tight. Diving. It was killing her. If I hadn't introduced it to her, maybe this wouldn't have happened. I opened my eyes and bore my eyes straight through into the doctor. "What else does it say?"
He skimmed through the letter and shrugged. "It seems to be all it's got. Make sure she gets enough and more than enough rest. She's had a lot of troubles in her life. I wouldn't be suprised if it was because she was in isolation for more than a few months."
Dr. Farley stood and stalked out of the room, leaving Thomas and me to let all this sink in. I held my bruised hand as I blankly stared out at my scuff mark on the floor. Thomas shifted slightly to rest his hand on my shoulder, but this move of reassurance didn't help much. Claire? Die? A month? And to a cause we couldn’t do much about. I let out a frustrated angry breath just as the large swinging doors of the emergency room burst open with a loud bang. My head shot up to see Claire fighting her way out. She was still a bit wet from the rain, but her skin color had gone back to normal, and she looked a bit healthier. I sighed in relief and couldn't help but let out a grin as she fought with the nurses.
"I'm FINE!" she said, pushing a short plump nurse away from her. "Just let me go!"
Thomas and I rescued her from the overprotective nurses and led her away to the car parked right outside the doors of the hospital. Claire looked at us both and by the way we averted out gaze, I could tell that she'd figured out that we knew about her condition. She sighed and seemed to give up. Once we were in the car and driving, a sharp wedge of a question drove itself into my mind. The rain had let up a bit while we'd spent time in the hospital, so it was dead silent in the car as we drove, leaving my question to linger in my mind. Finally, I burst aloud in a quiet, calm tone, unlike the way my heart was beating way too fast in anticipation for the answer. I spoke in a low smooth voice. "Why didn't you tell me?”
At first, I wasn't sure Claire'd heard me, and when I turned to look at her, I saw that she was looking out the window as if she was here in body, but absent in spirit. It was a long stretch of silence before she spoke up. Although she spoke in a small even voice, it sounded like the thunder of a rolling lightening bolt.
I twisted violently in my seat to turn and stare at her. I glared. "NO you didn't," I stated loudly. "You never even mentioned you being sick!"
Claire was silent for a long while, staring out the window, until finally she turned towards me and gave me a slight ghost of a smile. Her eyes seemed dull of spirit and life. It was as if she'd given up years ago.
"Check your phone for any skipped messages. Check your e-mail for any spammed mail."
I stared at her in shock. "Oh," I retorted, being smart. "Okay. Let me prove to you that you DIDN'T send me any notice of this." I flipped my phone open and then hit voicemail. I quickly rapped through the previous voicemails I had gotten, and then realized I had skipped one message. Suddenly, my heart started racing again. Did I really miss her call? The long, irritating introduction of the voice message's information was finally bleated out to me as the message finally played. I listened hard.
"Hey it's Clairebear! (giggle) Well, I bet you're just super busy with everything right now and couldn't pick up your phone, but I had something important to tell you, so I guess I'll just drop a message. (Long pause) I... (sigh) I don't know whether I still matter to you anymore because you've just dropped every single contact I've used to stay in touch with you, but you are still important to me, so that's why I'm telling you this now. You may never listen to this, or maybe you'll just listen to it too late, but... here goes. (deep breath) I'm going to die in three months. One month if I keep diving, which you know I'll continue so... (laugh) I guess I've got one month to live. I-I don't know what it is exactly that's making me live like this, but you know what? I'm going to give it all I've got! I’m going to get that gold even if it kills me. Oh. Ha ha! The irony… Well, see you in a few weeks! I'm coming for a diving competition! Bye!"
I dropped the phone to the floor as the electronic woman's voice insisted for me to either delete or save the message. I looked back at Claire as she looked away from me and out the window. Inside my heart was breaking.
"Claire..." but I knew I was too late for words.
I'd been watching the outside world whizz by as Thomas drove us home.
The car would have been filled with utter silence if it hadn't been for Michael's quiet angered murmerings. I could tell he was upset with himself, but I couldn't do anything to help with that. I sighed.
Thomas glanced up at me through the rearview mirror then gave Michael a long sideways glance.
"You know," he said, averting his eyes to the road. "The diving competition is tomorrow."
Michael didn't even look at him. "So?" he asked.
"So," Thomas said, with emphasis. "You also have a math competition tomorrow as well, at the same time."
"Wait... WHAT?" Michael turned and glared at Thomas. "Ugh. Damn!"
My eyes widened. So Michael wouldn't be watching me dive? I made a great effort to look on the bright side. "Well, your math team needs their genius leader there!" I beamed at him as he stared at me, uncomprehending. "Um, have fun?"
Michael let out a breath of pent up frustration and ran his hands through his hair. "Ugh. Why now?" he groaned.
I laughed and he turned around to give me a look that seemed to question my sanity. I explained. "It's all very simple!" I said, cheerfully. "You go to your math competition tomorrow, and I'll go to my dive competition. Thomas can take you and I'll bike over to the Aquatics center tomorrow morning. It'll all work out."
Michael's conflicting look on his face smoothed out a bit as he asked, "You'd be okay with that?"
A pang inside my chest screamed at me that I wasn't, but I put on a bright smile and nodded vigorously. "Of course!" I said, as if he should have known that. "I know that this is important to you! You've been to a thousand dive meets already. Why not just miss one?"
Thomas gave me a look through the rearview mirror and I could tell that he was on to me. I shook my head at him, ever so slightly, and he returned his gaze to the road. Looking into Michael's face, I really could see how much he wanted to go to the math competition. My heart plummetted. "Have fun,' I said, dejected. Michael smiled at me and gave me his thanks, but he seemed to know that I wasn't entirely happy. I ignored his inquisitive look and continued to stare out the window until we finally got home. After Michael ran off to bed, I was about to follow when Thomas blocked my path. I looked up at him and he gave me the "need to talk" look. Sighing, I walked over to the living room and plopped down into the couch and looked down at my hands. "Look," ignoring Thomas's stare, I pressed on. "I can tell that you think I want Michael to be at my competition tomorrow."
Looking up, I saw Thomas half smiling. "Yeah," he said, laughing a bit. "I know. I also think, er KNOW, that Michael cares for you deeply, but doesn't know how to express it."
That caught my interest. "What?" this time, I laughed. "Michael? No. Didn't you hear him yelling before? 'I don't care about her' and all the other things he said about me?"
Thomas smiled gently at me and shook his head slowly. "Ah, Claire..." he chuckled as he got up.
I stared up at him and he started to walk out of the living room. "Wait!" I said, just as he was about to leave. "Where are you going?"
"I'll be right back."
I huffed and leaned back into my seat and wondered what Thomas was up to. Nothing could move me that Michael had just stopped caring for me a long time ago. Hearing Thomas come back into the living room, I snapped myself out of my thoughts and peered suspicously at him. There was a small picture frame in his hands and he handed it over to me as he sat next to me. Curious, I turned the frame over and gasped softly. It was Michael's favorite picture of us that Thomas had snapped as a Kodak moment. Michael had me trapped in his arms as I struggled against him, laughing. We were both looking up at Thomas who'd called out our names and had stolen a picture for the moment. Tears welled up in my eyes as my mind whirled back to that day. My heart pulled and yearned for that same connection we'd had two years ago. Thomas patted my head as I looked up at him with a question in my mind. "Why'd you bring this up?" I asked, wiping my eyes.
Thomas leaned back and took the picture from my hands as he gazed at his work. "Don't you miss him?" he asked.
The question struck me like a gunshot. I looked down at my empty hands which reminded me of the empty hole in my heart. Tugging at my curly black hair, I thought and suddenly realized something. My whole life had, presently, been dedicated to diving, but now as my mind reeled back, I realized that my life was utterly out of balance. My life had been dedicated to Michael. Accidentally pulling too hard on my long lock of hair, I winced and then laughed. Thomas looked at me with a mix of humor and curiousity in his eyes. I looked at him and smiled, tearing up again. "You know," I said, sniffling. "My hair's grown quite a bit since you last saw me right?" Raising an eyebrow, Thomas nodded. "Well," I continued, "there's a reason why I didn't keep it short for diving. I-it was something that happened a while ago."
"Did it have something to do with Michael?" Thomas asked gently.
I nodded. "I asked him once if I should cut my hair, but Michael said that he didn't like it.” At this, I laughed. “He told me that he might think that I’d gotten cancer.” My tears welled up at the irony. “So, from then on, I vowed to grow my hair out and...well..." I tugged my hair again. "I guess this is the result." Looking at Thomas, I saw him gazing at me, as if analyzing me. Feeling a bit uncomfortable and overwhelmed by my emotions, I stood up and stuttered. "I, um, should probably be getting to bed now." I made my way out of the living room, but then stopped abruptly and turned quickly into the living room again. I poked my head in through the open room and saw Thomas sitting in the couch still. I cupped my hand over my mouth and whispered loudly. "P.s." I said, squinting at him, "you were right about me wanting him at my competition." And with that, I walked out of the room and dashed down to my own. I had a long day ahead of me tomorrow.
With, or without, Michael.
Sleep is something that comes like a soothing blanket to cover me at night.
But tonight, it was different. Sleep could not cover me tonight. I tossed and turned but could not seem to fall asleep. Finally I just sat up and slammed my fists down on my bed, the sound muffled by the soft blankets. Groaning, I flopped back down on my pillow and stared up at the ceiling where a small, but intricately made dreamcatcher hung. Its feathers wafted on the slight breeze that the open window allowed into my room. A strong puff of air caused the dreamcather to dance above my head, mesmerizing me in its lovely little jig. Smiling, I reached for it, but since I was laying in bed, the simple idea of touching the light feather was impossible. I sighed. Sitting up again, I looked up at that dreamcatcher and remembered why I'd even bothered to hang it up. A bright flashback took me back to two and a half years ago on a camping trip in the fall.
Five teenage kids crashed through the woods, and I tagged along behind them wearing a backpack that wasn't mine. I was out of breath from hiking for so long, and looking around the group, I didn't feel so bad for breathing so hard because the other kids were having problems with their own cardio activity. But, as a sprinting figure dashed towards us, my heart did a quick flutter beat. Claire was the only one in shape for hiking or scaling a mountain, let alone the woods. I stuck my tongue out at her as she jogged around me and the others. She laughed as I threatened to pull her backpack off my shoulders and give it back. There was one other girl, Melanie, and three other boys, Jacob, Warren, and Lucas. We were all best friends and had taken off from our parents and the campsite to go exploring.
Why? Because we like a bit of adventuring.
Claire raced over a large hill and then seemed to fly down the other end. Hearing a loud crash and a yelp, my heart panicked and I ran over the hill followed by the rest of the group. "Claire!" I shouted, stumbling towards her at the bottom of hte hill. "Are you okay?" Melanie saw Claire tangled up in a bush and sitting in a burbling creek and burst out laughing. Rolling her eyes, Claire untangled herself and winced trying to stand. In a flash I was at her sice, hoisting her up. She hugged me and I held her feeling our hearts beat, not exactly at the right time, but close enough to know that she was alright. Claire buried her face into my chest as I gently stroked her hair. "
You're fine!" I said, knowing that she was embarrased. "No one saw-" I heard Melaine's attempt at covering her laugh with a cough and sighed. It sounded like she was choking on a hairball. Claire lifted her blushing face from my chest and stuck her tongue out. Laughing I hugged her again because she'd looked so cute. "Come on," I urged, lightly pushing her onward. "let's keep going." Claire beamed at me and ran around me to reach her backpack. Puzzled, I felt her rummage through as the rest of the group charged ahead, wanting to see more of the woods before us. The feeling of curiosity and the urge to keep moving to explore was about to kill me when suddenly a blurry net and a flurry of feathers attacked my face. I reeled back and nearly fell on my back, but Claire somehow managed to catch me.
"Sorry!" she apologized, about to get into her "sorry" modes again.
Claire was known for apologizing. A LOT. I quickly intervened the event and asked, "It's okay, but what was that?" Claire smiled and took my hand in hers and then laid a small object the size of my hand onto it. Staring down, I realized that the net and feathers that had attacked me were the components of a beautiful dreamcatcher. It was light blue with soft feathers framing the outside. A single silver feather hung in the middle of the white netted web. I looked up at Claire who explained.
"I-I had some free time one night and I decided to make you a gift!" she smiled at me. Free time? At night? Claire never had free time and never seemed to sleep. Free time at night surely meant she didn't sleep a wink while making this gift for me. "I had a bad dream the other night, and I thought of you. Wierd huh? But, I didn't want you to ever be bothered by bad dreams and lose sleep because I know how important sleeping is for you." she winked.
"Sleep is important for you too!" I argued, hugging her in thanks.
She looked off into the distance, thinking. Then she focused again and chirped, "Nope!" and took off.
Gazing after her, I smiled and started to chase her. This was the best weekend of my life.
I sighed as I shook the memory away. It'd truly been one of the best weekends of my life, perhaps even THE best. But how well Claire and I had gotten along back then haunted me. Who'd changed? I thought about that and wondered. Claire had obviously changed, but for the better. She'd become a strong young woman who had goals and knew herself inside out and obviously loved herself for who she was. And me? Could I say the same aboiut me? Had I changed for the better? Thinking about it really made me realize who I'd been the past week. Claire had always been there, same old Claire, to be my friend and help me relax in times of hardships, even after two years and I'd been a jerk to her. I hadn't wanted to accept the fact that she'd come back and had changed. Maybe...it was just because we'd lost each other as best friends, then finally come back together again.
Suddenly it hit me like a smack to the head. She hadn't lost me at all. She'd always held me close to her heart. It had been me who'd lost her. I just hoped it wouldn't be forever.
My day of competition was NOT at all what I'd thought it would be.
First off, falling out of bed, yet again, was not how I planned on getting up on competition day. Groaning, I punched the End button on my cellphone alarm and stood up. Half asleep, I inched my way around my room getting ready for the day when suddenly my brain perked up and my eyes shot wide open. I scrambled to get a good glimpse of the analog clock hanging on the bedroom wall. It was 5:16 A.M. on competition day and I was now wide awake. "Stupid!" I hit my head with my hand and rushed to get dressed in my team uniform. Fulling knowing that I'd have to get straight to warm ups when I arrived at the aquatics center, I donned my team swimsuit and slid my white warm up pants over the bottom part of the swimsuit. Just as I was zipping up my warm up jacket, I realized that my pants had a sewn on South Korean flag on the upper left hand front side. I smiled and ran my fingers over the bumpy pattern. Another feature of the matching warm up ensemble caught my eye as I crossed the mirror hanging on the wall.
My name had been imprinted on the front of my jacket as well as my team name, and on the back of the jacket, South Korea had been bolded in large red letters. I smiled and winked at myself in the mirror with a confidence brewing inside of me. As I rushed out my room, my extra curly hair hung about and danced with every step I took. I giggled to myself as I grabbed my diving bag and got ready to bolt out the door. I wrote a letter to the Anderson family apologizing for not making them breakfast today, and that I'd be riding my bike to the competition this morning. Grabbing a pop-tart, I dashed out the door and shoved my feet into my tennis shoes as I grounded the street with my bike tires. Mauling a pop-tart in my mouth, I pedaled furiously to make it to the aquatics center on time and nearly crashed into a speeding car. The blare of the horn startled me and made me drop half of my breakfast. Rolling my eyes, I sped on forward, pushed on by my rapidly beating heart.
It was show time.
I woke up to a start that morning when I heard the front door slam. Sitting upright, I realized what day it was.
I wasn't thinking of Claire's competition at all until I read the note she left us this morning. That's when I found myself at a fork in a road. Fixing myself breakfast, I was deep in my thoughts when a sharp crack of something breaking startled me out of my pit of thoughts. Jerking around in my seat at the table, I saw Thomas sheepishly holding up a while cup handle. Diving (ha the irony) back into the depths of my thoughts, I walked over to him and helped him clean up the broken jumble of the remnants of a white ceramic cup. Thomas gave me a few glances as we collected the shards of cup and threw them away. He cleared his throat but I barely gave him a snip of a look.
"Michael," Thomas said, "what's your plan for today?"
Knowing that he wasn't talking about dates or any hangout plans, I stood up and sighed. "I'm going to compete," I said, not looking at him. A small clink rustled the plastic bag we'd used to gather all the pieces of the broken cup. I walked back over the the table and finished my breakfast in silence along with Thomas who'd prepared his own meal. After a tangible absence of speaking, I finally broke the tensed atmosphere as Thomas was driving me to my math competition. "Uh," I wavered, unsure how to start, "so, what are your plans for today?" Sitting in the passenger's seat, I turned my head slightly to look at Thomas as I waited patiently for his answer. He seemed to be deep in thought, but finally spoke up.
"I'm going to the competiton," he said, sharp as a knife.
"Oh!" I said, delighted. "Great! Then you can see us kick—"
I slumped back, shocked. "Oh." Sneaking a glance at Thomas, I saw that his eyes were full with solid dedication. I wondered if he was upset with me.
Thomas spoke up again, this time sparing me a quick sharp look. "Do you really want to go to your math competiton?" he asked.
I laughed a bit. "Of course! I-"
"Do you really, truly with all your heart, want to miss out on what probably is Claire's last diving competition?" he asked me, his voice piercing.
Turning my head towards him, I said, “No but—“
"Then come to World Grande Nats with me."
My eyes popped wide open. "What?"
"If you truly care for her, and if Claire is someone precious to you, then you'd skip your math competition and watch Claire dive for the last time."
The car seemed to be closing in on the destination of my competiton too fast and I was frozen. Caught between two things was always the worst. My mind raced as I thought of an answer before it was too late. I had exactly until 12:30 to make my choice. But until then, I was stuck in this twisted road.
What would it be?
"Hey Korea! Whaddup girl?" Kevin's thin muscular arm slid around my shoulders as I parked my bike in front of the natatorium.
I eyed him curiously. "Aren't you scared?" I asked, ducking inside the building where World Grande Nats banners were being set up.
Kevin roared and scooped me up into his strong arms. "Hell yeah I'm scared! But I'm not letting anyone but you know!" he said, dashing into the lobby.
"Put me down!" I laughed, struggling in his impossible iron hold. "Put me down right now, or I swear-"
"Kevin?" an accented woman's voice called out from behind us. "Kevin Hokkaido? Son?"
I took the chance to jump out of Kevin's grip and turned around to see a tall blonde lady standing at the entrance of the natatorium doors, smiling. At her side, I saw a slightly shorter man with familiar looking floppy black hair. They were obviously Kevin's parents. Kevin's eyes sparkled as he ran towards them.
"Mom! Dad!" he cried, seeming to me like a little boy finding his parents in a crowd. "You came?"
"Of course we did!" Mr. Hokkaido boomed. Sheesh, for a little guy he could sure project.
"You think we'd let you preform at such an important event without us here?" his mother tsked as she tried taming Kevin's unruly hair. "Shame on you!"
I should have felt happy all around, but I couldn't help but feel sorry for myself. Why? Wasn't that obvious? I'd be competing with dozens of other divers, but I'd have no supporters, yet here Kevin was, yet another dive, who'd found his fans. Mrs. Hokkaido spotted me standing alone and she waved me over in curiosity.
"Who is this charming young lady?" she asked.
"I'm Claire," I announced, not really knowing if she cared.
Kevin jumped in. "Yeah! Korea's been my best friend at dive ever since I got here!"
Mrs. Hokkaido looked puzzled. "Korea?" she asked, inspecting me more thoroughly.
"Yeah," Kevin grinned and slung his arm around me. "Claire is the one and only Korean diver here. But man, she could kick our butts straight around the world." he paused then added, "twice."
Mr. Hokkaido gave me a slightly scary smile and shook my hand. "Nice to meet you Claire," he said, icily.
Releasing my hand from his solid grip, I forced a smile and immediatly caught on to what was going on. Mr. and Mrs. Hokkaido were both seeing me as competition for Kevin. Obviously, they thought I was standing in his way to first place. Also noticing the growing coldness from his parents, Kevin quickly ushered his parents along and rushed me into the locker rooms. I giggled realizing that he'd run into the girls' lockerrooms. I coughed and he emerged, his face burning. "Let's escape to the divers' lounge," I suggested, indicating the clear glass room built into the wall behind the diving pool. "That way, we can get ready for the meet AND run from your parents."
Kevin laughed and tousled my hair. "Korea, I like the way your mind works!"
Once we got to the lounge, the place was swarming with anxious athletes and coaches who were going over last minute tips with their divers. Kevin and I hovered from place to place as we checked out the assortment of entertainment and food the sponsers had set up for us. I laughed as I saw a bunch of kids from Spain and Russia playing Olympic Diving on the xbox. Pulling Kevin into the tight mesh of kids in front of the xbox, I earned us both controllers and we dove against each other on screen.
"Dude," Kevin was doubled over in hysterics, "on the boards, you're amazing, like INSANE! But on the controllers... sorry, but you suck!"
I punched him. "Shut up!" Then I burst out laughing, remembering my first attempts at the game. I'd failed all of my dives. Suddenly, I shuddered, hoping that the game wouldn't be a crystal ball as to how I'd preform today. Out of a group of coaches, Jane ran over to me and pulled me aside. We discussed all our dives, which I'd memorized by heart, and ran over tips and hints to help me along to win the gold.
"Now, Claire?" I'd just been about to leave when Jane had changed her tone of voice and called to me again. I turned and skipped back over to her.
"Yeah?" I asked, puzzled.
Jane cleared her throat and didn't look at me. "I just want you to know, that...despite your struggles with your condition and the problems it caused you, I want you to know that you are the best diver I have ever coached. I've never met anyone as good as you in my lifetime, but I've seen many divers preform and have read about them. Their personalities and dedications to diving is exceptional. However, Claire, you have something inside of you that pushes you to go forth and pursue that impossible dive without hesitation." Jane took a shaky breath. I was afraid she'd start crying. "Your determination and fire is incredible. Do not let it die out today." her eyes were fierce.
"J-Jane," I choked. I'd just realized that the two years she'd been coaching me, she'd been my family as well as a strict coach of perfection. "Jane, I'm so happy you're here to see me dive today. I..."
She hugged me hard and the drew back. "I know that I'm probably the only one connected to you who will be watching you preform today, but I have one last thing to tell you," Jane said. "I am so proud to be your coach."
Words could not be formed in my mouth as they melted off my tongue. Never in my whole life had I ever heard the words "I'm so proud" to be associated with me. Jane knew almost everything about me and new how much this meant to me. And the funny thing was that she was like an older sister to me. Always there, and always at my side to nudge me to try again. I hugged her and managed to pull my tears back into their rightful places. "I will NOT," I stated with determination, "let you down Jane. What you've seen me do at other competitions? It will be nothing compared to what you'll witness today."
"Yo Korea, front and center!" Kevin blared from the glass window viewing the natatorium interior.
I rolled my eyes and looked at Jane apologetically. She nudged me forwards giving me permission to join my friend. I smiled and winked at her. Then I ran over to Kevin. He looked a bit overwhelmed. "What's up Canada?" I asked, cheerfully.
"I-I..." Kevin's eyes were wide as they scanned the crowds of people mulling into the natatorium. He gulped. "I think..."
A burst of laughter escaped my hard attempt to stay silent. Kevin glared at me and crossed his arms. I held up a finger as I caught my breath. "You aren't serious are you?" I asked, poking him. "Kevin, you may slack off at practice, but you are incredibly on the platforms up there. Seriously, I think that you are THE most graceful diver up there."
Kevin licked his lips then let a little smile cover his face. "You're lying!" he said, poking me back.
I jumped as his finger grazed my side. "I swear. 'Sides," I quickly scanned the crowd and found his parents. "I think you'd better kick butt today. Otherwise your parents may blame your preformance on me." I winked and Kevin burst out laughing.
"Thanks Korea," Kevin gave me a quick peck on the cheek.
I was just about to reply when Kenzie popped out from behind me and made "Aww"-ing sounds. Kevin blushed fire engine red. It was bad enough to call the fire department about. Kenzie walked past sporting the Canadian team wear and looked back at us and smirked.
"Good luck out there Korea," she said, her voice filled with the anticipation of a good competition.
"And back to you Canada," I said, cooly.
About to continue my conversation with Kevin, I turned my attention back to him when I realized that he was staring back at Kenzie like a puppy dog wanting a bone. "No way," I whispered, looking from him, to the dissapearing form of Kenzie. I shuddered. "Whoa."
"I, uh," Kevin frantically waved his hands in Kenzie's general direction. "Um, well....Could I..?"
Laughing I pushed him towards his teammate and my rival. "Go get her," I said.
Sighing, I plopped down into a cushy couch facing the diving boards, platforms, and crowds, I sat there for the next hour before warm ups began for the competitiors. I felt incredibly strong today, and felt like I could take on the world. Including some of those insane Chinese divers. Warming up on the boards made me feel relaxed. As I jumped high and solid on those springboards, I felt so powerful that I had full confidence in myself about today's competiton. Just you and the board, I said, plunging into the depths of the blue diving pool.
Just you and the board to dive into the blue.
It was on.
World Grande Nats had started.
Usually platform diving and springboard diving would be preformed different days for this, but since the sponsers had decided to mix this event up a bit, the schedule for the day would be platform diving, then the springboard competition. Everytime Kevin preformed a perfect dive, which was basically every time he dived, I kissed my chamois for good luck. Finally, the platform competition was over and the results were up. In the men's competition, Canada was ranked first as Kevin had won, followed by Spain, Raul Sanchez, then Japan, Akio Okinawa. I didn't even pay attention to the girls' scores because of how nervous I was. The big screen, placed on the opposite wall facing the diving boards, showed a sweep collection of the full crowd that had shown up to the competition that day. I spotted Kevin's parents hugging and jumping up and down as they waved their small Canadian flags around in the air. I grinned. Men's springboard competition started up then quickly ended, resulting in a win from the Chinese team. Standing up, I squeezed my chamois out dry and retied my ponytail.
It was my turn.
Since the competition order was alphabetical I still had some time to pace around behind the ladders of the board. Kenzie was kicking butt, and kicking them pretty hard too. I was a bit impressed with her. I had to hand it to her, she really knew how to focus and get into it. All I could do was take deep calming breaths and watch the other girls dive. Kenzie came inches away from the board, deducting a few points off her best dive. I grimaced, but felt a bit reliefed inside. So, she wasn’t perfect.
Finally Korea and my name was called and I was up. Taking a deep breath, I climbed the stairs and was standing on the green diving board in seconds. My heart pounded. Although I felt ready to take on the challenge, I still felt a bit nervous. Twisting my hair up into a tight bun, I focused my gaze at the end of the diving board and zeroed in. Everything simply faded away from. It was just me and the board. There are several things that happen to seep into your mind when you're standing on that long green board before the judges tell you how imperfect you are. I start to think thoughts like how much I wished my parents were here to witness the glory of this moment.
I start to wish a lot of things. I wished for a better life. I wished for a loving family accepting of me. I wished for Michael to be himself again and come watch me. I wished that I'd just never left the States at all. And, I wished that I'd have that cinderella moment where my prince comes out from nowhere and sweeps me off my feet. But what good did wishing do at this critical moment? The end of the diving board seemed to grow in length as I took my first step. I couldn't go back now or start over.
I went for it.
With the driving force of my determination I executed my first dive with bright energy. The moment I swung my arms up and off the board, my mind settled perfectly into a calm peaceful state. Twisting and gracefully moving through the air, I kicked out and knifed through the water in a clean sharp entry. The cheering of the crowd could be heard even underwater. Grinning, I kicked my legs and broke the surface of the water with a flurry. I swam backwards so that I could get a good look at the aquatics screen that was replaying my dive. Pulling myself out of the water, I laughed as I saw the serious expression on my face on the screen. I grabbed my chamois and jumped into the tub hidden behind the boards to keep warm until my next dive. As I watched the other divers preform, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of desire. A desire for my life back. A desire for the person that I cared most about to come watch my last dive. A desire for myself to become healthy again. A desire—
"Claire!" the diver in the tub next to me hissed. "You're up!"
Jumping up from the tub I quickly dried while rushing towards the boards. Climbing the stairs again, I almost felt a bit out of focus. Standing on the board for the second time, I thought about the other ten dives I had to compete. I sighed. Looking up at the crowd, I was just scanning the area, reveling in the silent expectation of the people, when suddenly something caught my eye. Flashing my attention to the screen, my mouth dropped. "No.way," I gasped quietly. From out of the silence of the aquatics center I heard someone calling out my name.
"Claire! You've got this!"
The sound of people shushing the caller echoed inside the large center. I was still in shock. Looking back up at the screen I couldn't help the smile that was creeping across my face. It was Michael and Thomas! Michael looked a bit flustered to be on the big screen, but Thomas grinned back at me and waved his camera. Laughing to myself, I quickly reminded myself that there were judges watching and that I had a dive to preform. Composing myself, I focused once more, this time with sweet goals in mind and a person to impress. This time, the dive I preformed was the best I'd ever preformed in my entire life. It was a perfect ten...
...and all my dives after that were just as good. Kenzie even managed a smile at me when the scores were announced. Watching and applauding the boys' diving awards, I whooped with emotion when Kevin received his medal. He waved at me, then blew Kenzie a kiss. She caught it and pressed her fingers to her lips. Kevin blushed again. I laughed out loud as the photographers for the event caught the whole thing. What better moment than this to capture? As the girls' results were being called up, I proudly climbed the placeing blocks to the very top. I'd stolen the gold. And I was a proud little thief. As the judge hung the medal over my head and around my neck I stood up and beamed out at the cheering crowd. It had to be my biggest and happiest moment of my life. Seeing that searching for Michael and Thomas in the large crowd was impossible, I just continued to smile and wave hopeing that they'd happen to see it. Just before the girls were to be called off the blocks, I jumped and kissed the gold medal I was clutching in my hand. Joy seemed to be pouring from my soul and into the pool.
"Dude!" Kevin exclaimed, running over to Kenzie and me. "You guys were amazing!"
Kenzie laughed. "Oh really? What about this?" and she ran and kissed him, full on the lips. Kevin nearly fell over from suprise, but managed to keep his balance. After all, he was a diver. Leaving the happy couple, I watched as the crowds of people slowly filtered out and only a few spectators were left talking amongst themselves. Sighing, I searched for Michael again, and came up empty. I'd just decided to sit on the placing block, when suddenly the sound of sneakers on the wet pool floor started squeaking louder and was directed my way. I didn't even have time to turn around when I was tackled by an unknown person. Bracing myself for the impact of my body against the cold hard tiles on the ground, I squeezed my eyes shut. But the blow never came. I felt a slight thump as I landed on top of someone. Opening my eyes, I realized that it was Michael. "Michael!" I cried, overjoyed.
"You wouldn't think I'd miss your last diving meet would you?" he asked, making a face as he helped me up.
I threw my arms around him and hugged him close. "That thought wasn't even in my mind," I said, close to his ear.
Thomas came running up and crashed into us both. "Hey!" he exclaimed. "You have to see the pictures I got of you up there! You looked awesome out there kid!"
Michael sort of gave him a look that I didn't recognize, but Thomas obviously caught on. He waved his camera and dashed off to snap a few photos of the aquatics center and other divers. Michael turned to me and sort of looked sad. "What's wrong?" I asked, touching his arm lightly.
"I've been a jerk," he stated, not caring that we had gathered a slight amount of viewers. "I've been mistreating you and I've been taking you for granted. Ever since the day that you got back...it's really...I can't describe to you how I've felt about everything...and about you." Michael looked up into my eyes with deep sincerity in his own stunning blue eyes. "I love you."
"What?" I asked, ignoring the sharp gasps echoing from the circle of spectators we'd unwillingly conjured. My heart felt like it was rising up and my breath quickened. In my heart, I knew what he was saying made sense, but I just had to hear for myself. For us.
Michael figdeted, then looked back at me with soft eyes. "I...I think that I've always loved you," he confessed, searching for the right words to explain himself. "It's just that...I'm incredibly sorry that it took me this long to figure it out. And, I was hoping that you'd forgive me for the amazing manners that I showed off to you ever since you got back." he looked at me with hopeful anticipation.
My heart leapt, and I wouldn't even care if it never came back down. I jumped towards him and wrapped him up in a tight but loving embrace. "Of course I forgive you silly!" I said, feeling the tears forming in my eyes. "Even before you did anything, I was always ready to look over it. And...I've just accepted that your behavior was a way of accepting things and just getting used to everything again. You were adjusting. Now you're just all grown up." I laughed.
He pulled me away from him, not too far though, and gazed deep into my eyes. "Claire," Michael said, dead serious. "I'm done adjusting, and I swear to you that I will never ever act or feel like that again for as long as I am standing next to you. Which I hope will be for the rest of my life."
"Michael..." I couldn't find the right words to speak and my heart was so full.
"Wait," he smiled. "I'm not done yet. I have a promise to announce and keep for you. I promise to you, Claire Kim, that I will always be here to protect you and comfort you. And, just to keep it clear, I'm not going to leave your side." he grinned. "I hope that's alright with you."
"It's more than alright," I said, shyly taking his hand in mine. And with that, my long awaited prince drew me in, and gently kissed me on the lips.
The days were too short.
The weeks were excruciatingly brief.
The time I had with Claire was reaching its end.
I could see the strain that Claire had to go through each day. Every morning that she woke up, she had to struggle to grasp the reason to stay awake and alive each day. I refused to believe that she was so close to Death’s Gates. Every morning that she falls down on her way to the kitchen table, I’m always there to catch her. If she wasn’t suffering so much, I’d wish for her to stay with me forever. But I see the pain of the illness taking toll on her body as she smiles up at me. It is a miracle, for the lack of better words, that she does not utter the words that she would leave me. It is, after all, Claire.
“Claire! Geez! Get off of that!”
We were in the old playground down by Memory Lane, and Claire was on the tallest slide in the playground, making as if she was going to somersault down the slide’s dangerous angle. It was one of Claire’s good days; she usually got swings of the great and bad days. Sometimes she’d be so worn out and taken by her illness, that she wouldn’t be able to even eat for two days straight. Other times, she’d be so pepped up and ready to go dive again, that I’d have to personally restrain her from jumping on her bike. Speaking of which, each of the national teams from the dive competition came to visit Claire at least once in the past week. Claire was, in any case, the biggest friend maker in the region.
“Claire, knock it off already,” I called up to her, sounding like a three-year-old whining to his mom. “Get down here the orthodox way and let’s go somewhere that you can actully do something without hurting yourself.”
Claire made a face at me, adjusting her headband on her flailing curls that were fighting out of the band in the wind. I felt a pang when I saw how much hair she’d lost. She’d finally cut it short to a light bob to regulate some control over her illness’s side effects. My chest almost hurt when I saw the wind almost play with her thin body; she’d lost so much weight after her dive competition, it’d started to scare me. The memories, however, of a girl moving strong still lingered in her eyes and posture.
“Quit being such a baby,” Claire laughed at me. “Just let me go down the slide at least once! I haven’t been down this thing in years!”
Rolling my eyes, I positioned myself in front of the slide’s end just to make sure that I could at least try to catch her if anything went wrong. “Oh okay, fine,” I said, not looking at her.
“Aww is Mikey mad?” Claire cooed at me.
“You gonna slide or what?” I asked, mock-angry at her.
“I’m goin’ I’m goin’!”
Looking up as the slide shook with the slight weight of pressure Claire influenced upon it, I watched as Claire slipped forwards and down the tilt of the slide. “Whoo!” she put her hands up into the air as she picked up speed, coming towards me. Her hair tickled the air behind her as she reached me and my open arms. The collision of our two bodies barely shook me as I fell back on myself to feign impact.
“Gosh Claire,” I teased. “What have you been eating?”
“Drugs. Medications. All that jazz.”
A cloud of shrouded dawn hung over us like a curtain of ignorance. The heaviness of Claire’s life at stake suddenly seemed to become a wall in between her and I laying as close as could be on the sweet grass ground. Claire’s eyes were a soft forgiving etch to her warm soul.
“Can I ask you something?” I asked, rolling over on my stomach and pulling a few blades of grass from the ground.
Claire looked down and plucked a dandilion from the ground as well. “Go ahead.”
“Are you scared?”
She looked at me, comprehension lighting a small path. “Be more specific Michael.”
Turning towards her, I tore the grass in my hands to shreds. “You know what I mean. Are you scared of dying?”
Looking up at the sky, Claire rolled over to face the clouds. “Yeah, I knew you were going to ask sooner or later.”
I waited for her answer, patiently studying her face, hoping to sear the memory of her into my brain to last a lifetime. My lifetime. The next few words I would hear melt out of Claire’s lips would haunt me for the rest of my life forever.
“Just like you, I’m scared to die. But, Michael, if life were meant to be lived for a long time, then things would get a bit messy. If we were designed to live for longer, I’m pretty sure suicide rates would go up. I’m scared to die, but I’m not scared to leave behind this life. I think I’ve lived it up to the best I could. I’m satisfied…So… really, I guess I have to say… No, I’m not really scared at all.” Claire looked at me and broke me down with that sweet smile of hers.
Love, pain, confusion, and hope all crashed onto my shoulders like a big fat load of burdens I felt I was not fit to up hold. “Claire,” my voice sounded strangled. Her expression did not change from that of utter serenity. “Claire,” I tried again. “I love you. I’m so glad that I met you, that I know you, that I can hold your hand in mine right now and know that it’s okay. Claire…I love you and I want to know that you’re going to hold on to life and me as hard as you can. It’s totally selfish of me, but I want to hear you promise me that you’ll fight for life.” The simple three seconds before she answered me seemed to stretch too far and long.
“Yes Michael,” she smiled again, breaking my heart in two. “I promise. You give me enough to fight for.”
And with that, we laid back and let that weak tremor of hope veil over our souls and give us hope that we dared not let go of.
You can take everything from a person.
You can erase any form of love that person’s ever felt.
You can take away that person’s wealth.
You can take away that person’s sight.
You can never take away a person’s hope.
That is what keeps our candles burning deep within our souls.
For me? Now, I must give what light I have borrowed back to life.
Today is the 5th anniversary of Claire’s death.
Kneeling before the headstone standing firm on the quiet summit of her hill, I settle my corsage of peach tea roses on the mound of green that I know is Claire’s resting place. I smile and get back up from the ground. “Hi Claire,” I started, feeling the wind around me pick up. “It’s been five years, and I still miss you. College is fine…I started up a diving club at the community pool in your honor now. I’m sorry it took so long for me to finally get the president of the activities center to sign the darn paper.” Laughing a bit, I shifted and sat down next to her headstone. I leaned against the cool marble stone.
“I still think about you a lot. I miss the way you laugh at my corny jokes and the way that you used to sneak up behind me and try to surprise attack me,” I shook my head. “I still win by the way. Claire, I still love you. I know it’s crazy, but I do. You know how I am.” Patting the marble stone, I smiled and faced the front of the headstone again. Gently brushing away some of the dirt and blades of grass that stuck to the stone, I traced the engravings on the front. “Happy fifth, Clairebear.”
Getting up, I walked down the hill to where my car was waiting on the dirt road for me. Getting in the car, I looked back in the rearview mirror where I could see Claire’s grave getting farther and farther away from me. Before I could get teary, I smiled and remembered Claire’s last words to me.
“Live and let dreams give life to your hopes.”