Meet day came around far too soon for my liking. I didn't feel like I'd hit my top form at camp yet and today was important. If I wanted to guarantee selection for the USA Olympic swim team I had to impress the head coach. I was used to this pressure from trying to impress university scouts in high school and of course my dad.
The morning was unusual. Breakfast was incredibly quiet, rather than the girls being spread around two tables everyone was spread out. Emily and I were the only ones making any noise.
"It's like being in a library" Emily whispered.
"How do you prepare for a meet Em?" I questioned.
"I usually have a good breakfast with eggs and bacon" she pointed out the meal in front of her.
"Chat with my friends/family and half an hour before I listen to my swim playlist to get in the zone then I swim" Emily said with a toothy smile I wanted to kiss her dimples so badly.
"Wow you don't ever feel nervous?"
"No as long as I push as hard as I can it doesn't matter if I win or lose...it's about the fun factor for me" I shook my head as I gazed into her eyes.
"You make it sound so easy"
"Swimming for fun makes it easy. How do you prepare?" Emily says in between sips of orange juice.
I placed my knife and fork down on the table, I had quickly finished off my plate of eggs. "The day before a meet I shut myself off from the world. I don't talk to anyone. I hit the gym for a workout. On the day of a meet my dad calls me in the morning to say win at all cost and then occassionally I get so nervous that I'm physically sick" I add unable to look at Emily and gauge her reaction.
"Aw Paige you put yourself under so much pressure. Today try my way? Lets swim for fun"
Our conversation came to an abrupt halt and was interrupted by coach carter coming into the cafeteria.
"Ladies, eat up and then come into the conference room. Mr Busch wants to have a chat before he sees you in action this afternoon" Coach Carter said in his usual booming voice. He looked ragged with bags under his eyes, was that the work of Allie or the stress of having his boss here?
I looked back at Emily "so how do I go about swimming for fun?" I said with a wink.
"You stick with me McCullers, no disappearing off into that head of yours. First things first escort me to the conference room" Emily giggled.
"Certainly my lady" we both stood up and put our dirty plates, cutlery and glasses in the washing up pile and made our way to the next room arm in arm. The contact with Emily sent a shock wave through my body.
"Good morning everyone as you may well know I'm frank Busch USA's team director. I hope you are all making full use of the wonderful facilities here in Germany" his voice was far less commanding than Carters, he was much more laid back. Mr Busch was stood at the front wearing a navy blue team USA track suite and a base ball cap that obscured most of his face. Emily's hand was on her leg next to mine, I wished I had the confidence to reach over and grab it.
"I was a swimming coach at the university of Arizona for 22 years so I know exactly the pressure you are under and how much training you are doing. Some of you here will make the final cut and fingers crossed will get medals around your necks. That has not yet been decided so don't be disheartened, everyone here as an equal chance of being chosen just try your best and most of all have fun out there" Frank said with a wide smile which made his green eyes sparkle.
For the rest of the morning and early afternoon I did exactly as Emily told me. We chatted and I could tell she was trying to keep me from going back into my shell. I couldn't remember what swimming for fun was like. As soon as my dad noticed that I had talent as a child he pushed me. He said he wanted me to be the best that I could be but I think he pushed me hard because his sports career ended in disaster. He was the quarter back in college and had NFL scouts sniffing around him but his career ended in injury before it really began. I appreciate all the sacrifices my dad has made but swimming had become a chore like hockey did in high school luckily I wasn't the most talented so he didn't push me.
I was snapped out of my thoughts by Emily poking me in the ribs "ouch" I yelped.
"Are my two favourite pupils ready to race?" Zoe said holding up her clip board.
"Yes" Emily and I said in unison and giggled.
"Ok you are in race 4 with Skyler Powell and Katelin DeLorenzo and that's in half an hour. Then afterwards you are together in the relay race. You can hit the warm up pool or go and watch the other races" Zoe said whist reading from her clip board.
"What are we doing Em?" I asked as she was in charge today.
"Let's stretch and watch the other races" Emily said happily.
We stretched out our quadriceps, hamstrings, triceps and abdominal muscles. Until our bodies were warm we then put sweat pants and zip up hoodys on over our swimming costumes and took a seat to take in the action. It was a mix between a swim heat and a competition atmosphere. Coach would call the girls out one by one, they would then line up on the start blocks and wait for the air horn to be blown signalling for them to go. Each race was 100m so that meant 2 lengths of the 50 metre pool. Zoe, Carter, Mr Busch and his assistant had stop watches to time each swimmer. Allie was in the free style category in race two and I had never wanted somebody to drown so much in my life. Sadly she came second.
Emily gave me a look and we both headed into the changing rooms whilst race three took place. This was the only time that our race preparations were similar, we were both pacing up and down the locker room whilst the other girls sat on the large bench in the middle of the room.
Zoe poked her head around the door "Girls, you have 5 minutes. Then you will be called out one by one. Good luck" she said whilst looking directly at me.
I regretted not having my ipod with me for some tunes to get me in the race mood. Time seemed to be at a standstill and Emily had gone from her cheery light hearted self to being serious and ready to destroy the competition.
"Next is race 4 and that is the 100m breaststroke...please welcome representing team USA Skyler Powell...next out is Katelin Delorenzo".
Emily gave a me quick hug "good luck and remember this is supposed to be fun" the hug was the perfect warm up my muscles began to tingle.
"Next up Emily Fields" Emily turned and made her way from the locker room.
"Come on Paige you can do this" I shouted.
"Finally we have the one and only Paige McCullers" Coach Carter called out.
I don't really know what I was expecting but the three other girls had gained a warm reception. When I walked out the room fell silent. I was not used to such a cold reception at Danby the roar of the crowd always carried me over the finish line when the lactic acid was burning beyond belief. This was not a popularity contest and today I was going to do my talking in the pool. I stripped off my sweats and placed them on a plastic chair like the other girls had done. I put on my swimming cap and pulled my goggles over my eyes. I psyched myself up and stood on the starting blocks. I tried my best not to look at Emily, this was not the time to be weak at the knees.
We all got into position and he air-horn sounded. I plunged head first into the water I then began to count my strokes and repeat my breaststroke mantra pull, breathe, kick and glide. I had no idea where Emily or the other girls were or what position I was in but I just kept pulling myself through the water. I knew the wall was coming up and I needed a perfect turn to even stand a chance of winning this race. I swam towards the wall then performed a forward somersault just before the wall, I pushed myself hard from the wall and twisted onto my front. It was the perfect turn I had hoped for. I had 50m to go, I knew I had an advantage over Emily as this was my best stroke and she preferred butterfly. Pull, breathe, kick and glide. Pull, breathe, kick and glide. The wall was in sight again, you've got this Paige!
I stretched out to place my hand on the wall I felt a sharp shooting pain in my shoulder unlike anything I had ever felt before. It wasn't overly painful just uncomfortable. I reached the wall and surfaced. I looked over at the other lanes half expecting Emily to be swimming next to me but she was still 5 metres away. I had done it, my adrenaline kicked in and I felt incredible.
"That was amazing Paige" a breathless Emily said as she surfaced in the lane next to mine.
"Thanks" I said unable to control my smile.
Zoe was waiting for me at the side of the pool with a towel in her hand and as usual a beaming grin.
"McCullers, that was better than I ever expected"
"What was the time?" I questioned.
"You knocked two seconds from your pb...here" she placed the towel around my shoulders and I grimaced at the contact.
"Is everything ok?" Zoe said in a worried tone.
"Yes I'm fine just a little sore from all that swimming"
Thankfully we were interrupted by Mr Busch before Zoe could probe any further.
"That was a race to be proud of young lady" the middle aged man said whilst holding out his hand.
"I know all about you Paige, we have been monitoring you for a while. You are a big talent as is Emily Fields. Can you point her out for me?"
I pointed out Emily who was being circled by other girls congratulating her.
I turned back to Zoe "McCullers you don't have to race again if you aren't up to it?"
"I promise I'm fine" I added and the blonde backed down.
This was one mistake too many. I was taking part in the medley relay race with Emily, Katelin and Skyler. First into the water was Katelin doing the backstroke. When she touched the wall I was half asleep and reacted slowly. I plunged into the water from the diving block and went about catching up with my opponents. The first 50 metres and the turn were all ok, the last 50 pushed me to my limits. I felt another tear in my shoulder and this time the pain was excruciating. It was hard to keep going but to avoid any unwanted attention I had to keep going. Pull, breathe, kick and glide. Pull, breathe, kick and glide my usual mantra to keep my mind on the task at hand failed to work. I knew I was going far slower than before but If I could make it to the wall Emily was sure to turn this around.
The wall was finally in sight after what felt like an eternity and as soon as I was close enough to touch it Emily was off above my head doing the butterfly stroke. I got out of the water to a pair of blue worried looking eyes glaring at me.
"I'm fine, just tired" I said breathlessly.
"Ok, I believe you" Zoe said unconvinced.
I looked back around to see Emily turning in second place. It was good to see that I hadn't ruined this race completely. She finished her section of the race 3 strokes behind our opponents and released Skyler for the freestyle leg of the race. We managed to finish in second place which was pretty amazing considering my poor showing. I tried not to think about my shoulder but the pain levels were steadily increasing. When Emily pulled me into an embrace to celebrate my brain forgot all about my injury it was just a shame that I couldn't hug Emily continuously.
Soon after the end of the racing my teammates headed towards the locker room to change and shower. I stayed sat at the poolside with a towel around by body. My mind was occupied with the thought of my shoulder. If this was a serious injury that would be it for me. I could get sent home and I may never see Emily again. My career as a swimmer could be over and I may never get the gold medal I desired so much. Then again it was probably fine and I was needlessly worrying.
I stood up and picked up my clothes I was wearing earlier and made my way to the locker room. The room appeared to be empty, I stripped off and turned the hot water on full in a shower cubicle. Hot droplets hit my skin releasing the tension in my body. The hot water had the desired effect and numbed the pain in my shoulder. I washed the shampoo suds out of my hair and stood under the stream of water until it began to burn. I turned down the heat and finished washing my hair and body until the soap had trickled down the drain.
I wrapped myself in my big blue towel and took my time to get dressed, using the clothes I had stored in my locker. I came into difficulty when it came to dressing my top half, the heat of the water had only subdued the pain in my shoulder. The pain became intense when I tried to lift my arm above my head and it caused me to let out a muffled cry.
Somebody clearing their throat caused me to look towards the locker room door. Who else would see me injured but Allie. She was always there when I didn't want her to be.
"Let's just hope you don't have to leave us Paige, what would poor Emily do?" Allie said with a smirk.
"You leave her out of this!" I yelled.
"Have you told coach yet?" I slowly shook my head.
"I think you'd better...before I do" Allie said before leaving the locker room.
Now I was screwed...shit!
Here is another update, I know I took my time but I hope you enjoy this chapter.
Pailylover: Allie's back...you were right she had been too quiet. Hopefully its been showing that Paige's feelings for Emily are replicated If only she would notice!
Ruthie92: Thank you, I really like writing about their back stories so I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Cici: I'm happy that you've been enjoying the story so far. If Paige would just wake up she might notice the signs but she is too convinced that Emily doesn't like her back.