A/N 1: So in this universe, Becca was 10 years old when Payson competed in London 2012.
Not really knowing where you are in life isn't the same thing as getting your feet knocked away from under you. Payson learned the hard way. Studying at university in California might not have been Payson's dream, but it felt okay, great even, some of the time. Until the day Becca called, crying in hysterics. It was a Wednesday morning and Payson will never forget the day that changed their life forever.
The alarm woke Payson up at six am. She still wasn't used to it. Her old room in her parents house looked like it did when she had lived there last, five years ago. Except the boxes that contained her boxed up LA-life. After getting dressed she left the dark room, she tried not to spent too much in there. The door to her parents old room was closed. It was finally empty, but they still kept the door close, pretending it didn't exist. They never talked about it.
Payson knocked on her sister's door. "Becca? You awake?" She didn't wait for an answer, it usually took at least an hour before Becca was out of bed. So instead she went into the kitchen and started the coffee maker. She jumped up and sat on the counter as she waited.
The kitchen looked exactly like her parents had left it. They would have to do something about it... Payson hadn't talked with Becca, but she was meeting with a realtor later that day. They hadn't decided what to do about the house, but it was expensive, and even if Payson had money, it felt wrong to live there without their parents. It was like they were stuck in time capsule.
"Becca! 6.30!" she poured herself a cup of coffee. Neither of them were breakfast people, so Payson didn't bother making any. She got her iPad from the living room table where it had been charging during the night. She had five new messages from school. Questions and more questions about when she was coming back. If she hadn't been who she was, she would have lost her spot in the program the moment she moved back to Colerado. Which was over a month by now.
"Becca! 7 am!"
"I'm up!" Becca shouted back.
There were few similarities between the two sisters these days. Payson still only took five minutes to get ready in the morning. She had a pair of old jeans and a sweatshirt on and her hair up in a bun. The high school student Becca was, took almost forty minutes in the bathroom before she was ready to go. Payson had time to answer four out of the five emails before Becca made her way down the stairs.
"Morning," Payson said, filling up an other cup with coffee and handing it to her sister. It probably wasn't healthy to drink coffee at 14, but there were probably bigger fights waiting. Payson had seen enough movies to know situations like theirs never ended well.
"Thanks," Becca said, hesitating slightly. "I was thinking..."
Payson looked up from her iPad. Her sister looked... Almost nervous. She put away the iPad. "What's up Becca?"
"Well, I was thinking maybe I should go back to training?" Becca said.
"Oh, of course," Payson said. She hadn't even thought about it. Becca had never been as serious or focused on gymnastics as Payson was when she was younger. Payson hadn't even thought about Becca's training. "I'll pick you up after school and drive you," she said.
"Is that okay?" Becca asked.
"Of course Becca," Payson said, feeling like crying. "Why don't we go to Spruse Juice after practice?" she added, trying to make her sister smile again.
"I could pack my bag and leave it in your car?"
Payson nodded. "You better hurry, we need to leave if you want to be on time."
Becca hurried up the stairs and Payson gathered up her things and put them in her purse. They were running late, as usual. How had her mother dealt with all this?
After dropping Becca off at school she continued driving to Denver. Kelly had promised her the use of one of her offices, the Internet in her parents house wasn't good enough for an online meeting with her professors in LA. She was pretty sure she knew what this meeting was about. The best case scenario? They would make her take a leave of absence. But they were probably forcing her to quit the program. She was done with the first four years, but had just started the second four a year ago. If she ever got the opportunity to go back, she would have to start the application process all over again... Quitting now probably made it impossible for Payson to finish her degree.
"Hi, I'm Payson Keeler. Is Kelly Parker here?" she asked the woman in the reception desk of Kelly Parker Enterprise Denver.
"She had to go to a meeting in New York, but she left instructions for you to borrow a office. We've set it up. This way miss."
Payson followed the woman who couldn't be many years older than her. They walked past a break room where the woman gave her a cup of coffee. Kelly had gone crazy with the office Payson was borrowing, of course. It had a sign on the door that said Payson Keeler, Olympic gold medalist and star student. Payson just shook her head but thanked the woman and walked inside. The office was on the fifth floor and had an amazing view of Denver. On the desk, next to the computer's keyboard, she found a note from Kelly.
Payson. Had to head back to New York, sorry. Use the office for as long as you want. You could keep it you know. Talk to you later.
She had to smile. Kelly had wanted her to come work for her forever. Payson had kept telling her no though, she had no intention to go into business. Even if KPE now was more into charity than making money, it just wasn't for her.
The Keeler sisters drove in silence toward The Rock. Payson hadn't put her foot in there since the party after the Olympics. As she parked the car a bit away from the designated spot for the Keelers she felt like throwing up. Their mother had been the gym manager at The Rock since Payson was 16, silently she wondered if they had found somebody else already. She turned the car off and turned to her sister.
"You ready Beccs?" she asked, putting as much of a smile as she could on her lips.
"You don't need to come with me," Becca said.
"It's okay," Payson said, almost more to herself than her sister. "I need to see the coach." Or something. She probably had to do something, being the guardian of her sister. Every time the thought crossed her mind she felt like passing out. A little over a month ago Payson had been out partying with friends the whole night before acing a test.
They both got out of the car, the parking lot was already full, they were a bit late, having driven there in snail pace . "Okay, let's go sis," Payson said, taking her sisters hand in hers when she noticed the intimidation on her sisters face.
They walked inside together. All Payson wanted to do was to run away, but she had to stay strong for her sister. That was her job now. Her full time job, it turned out. As they walked through the doors it was like traveling back in time. It was almost suffocating. She had to stop in the lobby to take a few deep breaths, trying to stabilize the world around her.
"Are you okay?" Payson looked down at her sister, who looked as she felt.
Becca nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine."
The gym was in full swing, there were girls and boys everywhere. Payson couldn't recognize any of them, except of two of Becca's friends. These girls and boys were two generations younger than her. She had known several of the people on the Olympic team that went to Rio last year. These girls and boys were working toward the 2020 Olympics, or even later. It made her feel old.
"Becca!" several of the girls squealed and came running. Payson looked around the gym, like everything else it looked like it always had. She couldn't believe she had forgotten to ask Becca what the new coach was named. The thirty-something woman she saw coming walking toward them was the third coach after Sasha, apparently she had started a year ago, after the Olympics. She couldn't believe how she didn't know the name of her sisters coach. How much of a bad sister was she?
"Hi Becca," the woman said, hugging Becca. "I'm so sorry for your loss."
Becca mumbled a thanks before following her friends out on the floor.
"You must be Becca's coach," Payson smiled holding out her hand. "I'm her sister, Payson."
"Yes, Maria Jonson," they shook hands. "I'm sorry about your loss. How's everything going?"
Payson didn't know how to answer that. "Okay," she said, wanting to change the subject as fast as she could. "Is it okay for Becca to just come back?" she asked.
"Of course," Coach Jonson said. "Before... Well, we were walking about Becca moving up to elite..."
"Oh, elite... Already?"
"She's 14, you know that's the age to either go for it or not. Nationals this year is the last year she's a junior. She's on the list of considerations for Junior worlds in five months."
"Wow," Payson said. This was all news to her. She felt like the worst sister in the world. "I'll talk to her. It would be a lot of changes for her..."
"And for you," Coach Jonson said. "You know how much times it takes for the family."
Payson nodded and thanked the coach. She had planned on going back home, or even to the mall, while her sister worked out. But she already felt like an idiot of a sister, so she took a deep breath and walked over to the parent viewing area. There were lots of gym-moms and gym-dads. She sat down in the back, not wanting to screw up the delicate balance and hierarchy. She remembered her mother telling her about their first day at the Rock. Kim had sat down at an empty spot in the front. The older, better, gymnasts' parents hadn't liked that at all. She smiled a little at the though of her mother telling the story, but a bang in her heart and almost choking feeling quickly made her change the direction of her thoughts.
Practice ended at seven and after driving by first spruce juice and a Greek restaurant they were home in the house, eating in the living room. There were so many things they should be talking about, Payson didn't even know where to start.
"What did you think of practice?" Becca asked, picking at her salad, pushing the food around. "I didn't think it went too bad, considering..."
Payson nodded and smiled. "I was very impressed Becca, you've gotten so much better since I saw you in LA only a few months ago."
"You think?" Becca looked hopeful. "Coach Jonson was talking about moving up to elite..."
"She told me," Payson said. It all felt so strange, having this talk with her younger sister. "What do you think about it? Do you want to go elite?" She didn't know what she hoped her sister would say.
Becca shrugged. "Me and mom was talking about it..."
Payson nodded, it felt like it was all she did, nodding and smiling. "Do you want to stay here to do it or are you interested in any other gyms?" She had really tried not to compare coach Jonson to every coach she'd ever had, but she couldn't help herself. She just wasn't sure Jonson was a good enough coach.
"What do you mean?"
"I met with a realtor this afternoon..." Payson started explaining about her meeting with mrs Forch.
Once upon a time, not really that long ago, Becca was very opinionated. Payson remembered the move to Boulder. Becca had been six when they moved and she had been the hardest to convince. She had refused moving away from their cousins and grandparents. Becca had also always been a social butterfly and just two days after starting school in Boulder she had made tons of new friends. She had never been as against change as Payson had been when she was younger, but she had always known what she wanted and wasn't afraid to voice it. Which was why Payson expected Becca to have a very strong opinion on the matter of selling or keeping the house, on moving or staying. Instead Becca shrugged.
"What do you think?" Becca asked, twisting her hands in her lap.
"What's wrong Becca?" Payson asked.
"Nothing," Becca said. "I just think you can decide, you're the one who's stuck with me..."
It felt like someone had reached into Payson's chest and was trying to squeeze Payson's heart into nothing. It made sense now. She felt tears push their ways into her eyes. "Becca," she said, taking her sisters hands into her owns. "I'm not stuck with you. Both grandma, aunt Rachel and uncle Joe offered to help us out and let you stay with them. I told them we can do it on our own. I don't want it any other way. I hope you don't either, but if you do we can arrange it... I just... I think we should be together. Don't you?" she had managed to fight her tears, but as she saw her sister nodding with tears running down her cheeks she couldn't keep them back any more. She pulled her sister into a hug.
Watching Becca walking upstairs to head to bed Payson made herself a promise. It wasn't Becca's fault they were in this situation. Payson had 23 years with her parents, Becca had 14. Knowing fully well she could never make up for it, Payson promised herself that Becca wouldn't miss out on any of her dreams because she suddenly was the little orphan girl.
All this because of one drunk driver. Payson focused on the anger she felt. Anger was better than sadness, she couldn't be sad any more, there simply weren't any energy for it. She cradled her head, trying to gain control over her disorganized thoughts.
She could do this, she could do this...
However many times she repeated the mantra, she couldn't bring herself to believe it. How could she ever be any kind of substitute for their parents?