Better off Friends

Page 30


I heard the call to line up. I positioned myself at the start, ready to bound forward at the sound of the shot.
I went into this zone right before a race. Everything else faded away; I gained tunnel vision. A calmness overcame me as my body readied itself to pounce, to run.
The shot rang and I blasted out. My muscles automatically responded from all the training I’d done. I breathed in short bursts, propelling my body faster and faster. I rounded the first bend of the track and could sense that we were in a tight group. By the halfway mark, I knew there were only a couple other runners left. I used every ounce of energy for the remaining course, not wanting to leave anything behind.
I knew it must’ve been close because the only voice I could hear was Macallan’s, and she was being more intense than usual. When I crossed the finish line, it took me several yards to get down to a jog. I looked next to me and Ian was right by my side.
“It’s gonna be a tight one, man.” He gasped, clearly out of breath.
I could only nod. I hadn’t yet fully recovered.
He patted me on my back.
Ian and I had formed a sort of truce after the near-cheating incident. I was more upset with him for what he’d done to Macallan, though she didn’t seem as bothered by it as I would’ve been. But I guessed that when you’ve been through everything she had, breaking up with a boyfriend in high school wasn’t the worst loss.
“Branigan, Rodgers, good job!” Coach Scharfenberg called to us as we slowly made our way back to the team.
The coaches and officials spent a few minutes going over the official times.
“Hey, you coming out after?” Ian asked me.
“Yeah.” The guys on the varsity team always went out after the meets. It usually involved a lot of food and Gatorade.
“Awesome job!” Andy handed me some water.
“Thanks, you killed it in the two hundred.”
“Totally.” Tim came up and patted Andy on the back. “Although let’s face it, I smoked the relay. As I do.”
I actually had guy friends. Like, real guy friends. Once I’d made varsity (the only sophomore to do so), I’d started hanging out with Tim and Andy, both juniors. They were these cool guys who were really supportive. I would just relax and try not to get too giddy whenever they’d ask me to do stuff.
I did have to break plans with Macallan a few times, but I knew she was happy for me. Plus, she always planned everything way in advance, which these guys didn’t.
I stared at the scoreboard, willing the times to be posted. And it was close.
Ian had beaten me by one-tenth of a second.
In some ways, I would rather have lost by a second. Races this close always haunted me. I didn’t think I had anything left in me, but I couldn’t help but think if I’d only pushed myself a little faster, only two-tenths faster, I would’ve won.
“Good job, man!” Ian patted me on the back.
“Congrats — you earned it.”
I went over to the side where Macallan and Danielle were waiting.
“Hey.” I tried to smile.
“You were great!” Macallan exclaimed, and gave me a big hug. I felt so embarrassed because not only had I lost, but I was covered in sweat.
I shrugged, not willing to accept the compliment. Especially when it wasn’t warranted.
“Come on — you’re a sophomore,” she reminded me. “Second place is amazing. You’ll totally get it next time.”
Yeah, when Ian was no longer on the team.
Macallan grabbed my shoulders and started shaking me. “Earth to Levi! You were incredible. We’re going to Culver’s — frozen custard on me!”
“As much as I’d love to see you open your wallet for a change, I’m going out with the guys.” I playfully messed up her hair.
She swatted my hand away. “Oh, right, guy time. Manly time. Bro time. Oh, wait, is that a smile I see?” She scrunched up her face and pretended she was searching for clues in my face. “Yep, there’s definitely a smile cracking. You know what will probably get a huge grin is quality time spent around dudes. Yep, manly men, doing manly things.”
“Too bad,” Danielle joined in. “Macallan and I were going to have a lingerie pillow fight.”
“Totally.” Macallan’s eyebrows went up and down. “And to think, there was something else I was going to do. I don’t know, it was on the edge of my lips.” She playfully puckered her lips and tapped them. “Hmm, don’t know what it was.”
“You’re awful.” I desperately tried to get the thought of Macallan and Danielle in lingerie out of my mind. That was up-and-down cruel. I sometimes thought Macallan forgot I was a guy. And we have certain responses that are difficult to control.
“I’m only teasing.” She bumped her hip against mine.
Yes, tease was the appropriate word.
“I’ve got to hit the showers.” A very, very cold shower.
“Have fun tonight. Really.” She gave me another big hug. Which didn’t help my current situation. “I’m proud of you and I’ll see you tomorrow. Now go have fun with the boys.”
“Yes, be super manly,” Danielle said.
They both laughed and walked away.
“Dude.” Andy followed me into the locker room. “There’s no way I can ask her to prom, even if I promise to be a gentleman?”
I shook my head. No way.
“It’s pretty cruel that you parade her around me, but it’s all look, don’t touch.”