Authors: Jennifer Lane
I dedicate this novel to two special groups:
All the quirky, intelligent, talented, driven, and fun people I’ve met through the sport of swimming
The U.S. Navy for looking so sexy in uniform as they keep America safe
Leo Scott tossed his backpack into his locker and swore under his breath. Being late to practice was unacceptable. He hurriedly undressed, exposing his light-brown skin to the dim light of the empty locker room.
His teammates had strewn their books and clothing everywhere.
But even running late, Leo stacked and hung his belongings neatly in the locker. His father had trained him well.
Chewing on his goggle-strap and adjusting the tie on his black drag suit, Leo jogged onto the outdoor pool deck. The churning sound of thirty-five teenagers pulling and kicking through chlorinated water greeted him as he came around the corner. The sunlight bounced off the undulating waves with a shimmering glare, and Leo squinted as he scanned the deck for his coach, Matt.
Even with his competitive swimming days behind him, Matt Young still exhibited the chiseled, powerfully built physique of a sprinter. Leo liked to think he was one of Matt’s favorites, but Coach didn’t look too happy about his team captain’s late arrival.
Leo avoided eye contact as he stood before his coach.
“Thirty minutes, Leo. They’ve already done twelve hundred meters.” Forty years of Florida sun had weathered Matt’s face and fried his messy blond hair.
“I keep telling you there’s no need to call me sir.”
“There is if your father’s Commander James Scott.” Leo met the coach’s stare. “I apologize for being late… I had detention.” Matt’s eyebrows shot up. “Detention?” He shook his head. “Your dad asked me to tell him about things like this. I’ll need to call him.” Leo’s eyes widened. “Please, you don’t need to do that. I’ll stay after to make it up. I-I’ll do the whole practice butterfly. I’ll — ” Matt frowned. “Leo, if your dad finds out I kept this quiet, he’ll yank you off this team. We need you at state. Besides, won’t Mr.
Morrison tell your dad?”
Leo mentally recounted his recent conversation with the assistant principal, where he’d promised to write a three-page paper on the importance of respecting teachers as long as the administrator kept the detention quiet. “Mr. Morrison agreed not to tell my father,” he said.
Matt chuckled. “How’d you swing that? You work the old Scott charm on him?”
Leo’s blue eyes clouded with resentment. Many times he’d heard about the
, and he wanted nothing to do with it.
Leo noticed his girlfriend, Audrey Rose, glancing at him from the pool as she swam. Her arms extended in front of her grasping a kickboard, and her legs swung out in perfect breaststroke whip kicks behind her as she led the lane, her goggles perched on her forehead over her swim cap.
When Leo didn’t answer, Matt said, “They’re in the middle of a kick set. One-fifty moderate fol owed by fifty sprint, four times through. Get going.”
“Yes, sir.” Leo grabbed his equipment bag and plopped it at the end of the fastest lane. He pulled his goggles over his buzzed black hair and waited for an opening to enter the pool.
A compactly built distance swimmer approached the wall. “’Bout time you got here,” he hissed as he swung his kickboard around to make his turn. Before he was out of earshot, he added just loud enough for Leo to hear: “Lazy ass.”
Taking that comment as yet another sign of Eric Alexander’s jealousy, Leo grabbed a red kickboard and jumped into the iciness as soon as Eric’s feet were out of his way. He prayed the cool water would wash away his worry. This would be a long evening, but he couldn’t think about it now. His focus needed to be here, not on his messy family life.
Six thousand meters later, the swimmers slogged through the last laps of a tough pull set. About to end their second practice of the day, they were exhausted. All told, they’d logged close to seven miles in the pool. The sun now made its descent to the horizon, bringing with it the chilly November air of northern Florida.
“Okay,” Matt said. “We’ve got about a thousand meters to go.” A collective groan emanated from the lanes.
“But…” Matt grinned mischievously. “I
give you a chance to escape this last set. Time for a get-out swim.” Excited chatter replaced the groans. Matt would choose a swimmer, and if the swimmer beat the time he determined, the whole team could get out early.
“Today’s honoree is Leo Scott.”
Leo looked up, his mind foggy. He ran his hands over his face and could feel oval indents from his goggles around his eyes.
need this pressure
. He clenched his jaw.
Stop being a baby. Deal
with it, Scott
Matt threw down the challenge: “One hundred free under fifty-six seconds.”
Leo’s eyes bulged. The team hadn’t done much speed work — this was the endurance, build-up stage of the season — and the time Matt wanted was only four seconds off his best in a long course pool. With a drag suit, unshaved body, and serious case of exhaustion, the time would be difficult to make.
“C’mon, Scotty boy,” Eric urged. He was suddenly Leo’s best friend now that a strong performance would benefit them all.
“You can do it, Leo,” Audrey whispered from the next lane.
He turned to her and nodded as he adjusted his goggles and set himself ready on the wall. Leo felt confidence envelop him, and his focus narrowed to the now-calm water ahead. His teammates huddled near the lane lines to give him a clear path.
He was the best swimmer on the team, a senior captain. This was
team, and he wouldn’t let them down.
Clicking his stopwatch, Matt called, “Ready, hup!”
Leo pushed off, elbows squeezing ears in a tight streamline. His legs burst into whitewater behind him, propelling him like a motor-boat. His fingers extended at the top of the stroke, and his high elbows sculled the water beneath his body. Nothing extraneous, no wasted energy. Everything with purpose. The 100 freestyle was his specialty.
He swam down the length of the fifty-meter pool and quickly flip-turned to begin making his way back. He could hear the faint cheers of his teammates build as he approached. Fighting fatigue, he drove to the wall.
When he lifted his head above the water, all he could hear were his sharp rasps for air. His teammates were silent as they waited to hear whether their tortuous practice was complete.
Matt cleared his throat. “It was fifty-seven five.” The swimmers’ faces fell, and Leo winced as he surveyed his team.
He lowered his head. He’d felt tired in the water, but he
rose to the challenge. Shame overtook him.
He heard his father’s cold voice in his head — a constant companion.
Scotts never fail.
Matt shook his head and seemed to make an executive decision.
“Y’all look like crap tonight, and we’ve already done eleven K, so I’ll let you go anyway.”
Suddenly an infusion of energy washed over the pool deck.
Teammates laughed and pushed each other as they skipped to the locker rooms.
Leo’s breathing gradually slowed, but he remained in the pool, dumbfounded and all alone. He wasn’t accustomed to disappointment, particularly in swimming.
“It happens, Leo. It’s early yet — don’t worry.” Matt’s tone was gentle.
Leo pressed his hands on the concrete deck and pulled himself out of the pool in one graceful motion, water cascading down his sinewy muscles. “Did you call my father?” Matt nodded, and Leo closed his eyes, trying to quell the dread rising within him. “I might miss practice for a few days then.”
“If you’re grounded I’m sure your dad will let me know.” Leo trudged to the showers. It wasn’t about being grounded. It was about giving the bruises time to heal.
Audrey grinned as she entered the locker room. Could it
any louder? Close to twenty high school girls crowded in the small shower area, talking and laughing. Combined with the pounding streams of water hitting the tile floor, the sound was deafening.
After chugging out miles for over two hours in the pool, gossip now came spilling out when the swimmers finally had the chance to catch up. Audrey recognized the bouncy, back-and-forth voices of her relay mates drifting out of the shower room steam.
Matt let us out!” one said. “My arms are, like, so dead.” The other giggled. “Maybe he
got a girlfriend. He hasn’t been such a tool lately.”
As Audrey went to her locker to retrieve some shampoo, she noticed her close friend and the last member of her relay team seated on the bench. Unlike her animated teammates, Elaine Ferris just stared into space.
“Laney?” Audrey asked.
When Elaine turned to see Audrey’s concerned gaze, she quickly whipped around to dig around in her backpack.
“I’m fine, Aud. Don’t worry about it.” The tall, strong backstroker typically exuded confidence, but she wasn’t herself right now. Elaine stood and pulled pants over her solid, muscular legs.
“Hey, you’re the only other senior on the team. Of course I worry about you,” Audrey said. “Wanna talk about it?” Elaine sighed and grabbed her shirt, her words muffled as the cotton came over her head. “Matt wanted me to get my body com-position tested. He’s probably wondering how I can swim fast being so fat.”
Audrey frowned. “You’re
fat, Laney! You’re, like, super muscular.”
“You’re wrong. I did this underwater weighing thingy, and I have twenty-three percent body fat.” Elaine’s hazel eyes grew big, filling with tears. “I’m like one quarter fat! Disgusting fat!” Audrey stepped closer. “Do you know the average body fat for women?”
Elaine sniffed. “No…Fifteen percent or something like that?”
“It’s more like twenty or thirty percent. You’re totally normal — not fat! Besides, we have a lot of hard training to go before state.” Elaine said nothing.
“You’re a total badass,” Audrey added. “Much faster than those skinny wenches on the Tallahassee team.” A grin threatened to emerge from Elaine.
“I wouldn’t want any other backstroker on our relay. You always get the lead for me, right?”
Elaine finally unleashed a feisty smile. “Damn straight.” Audrey pointed at her chest. “And at least
boobs aren’t concave.”
Audrey knew that would earn her a snicker. They’d been friends and teammates since they were eight.
Elaine scooped up her bag. “Your boobies are lovely — at least Leo thinks so. Thanks, babe. See ya tomorrow.” After Audrey finished showering and getting dressed, she exited the locker room to find Leo slouched against the wall. He looked absolutely miserable, his lean face drawn with worry. His eyes bore into her as she approached.
As she held his gaze, Audrey remembered what she had to do this evening and began to frown as well.
“What’s wrong?” they asked each other simultaneously. Audrey smiled. They were scary mind twins.
“You first,” Leo invited.
“Oh, I just remembered I promised my mom I’d go visit my dad tonight.” Audrey tried to sound cavalier.
Leo’s eyes filled with sympathy. “I know you miss him.” She swallowed, wanting to redirect the conversation. “What ended up happening with the note?” During third-period AP chemistry, she’d handed Leo a note making fun of their teacher’s thick New England accent:
The maaaaassssss of the gaaaaaaasss in the flaaaaaaask
equals twenty-seven mL…
Leo’s snicker while reading it had drawn Mrs. Boyd to their desks to confiscate the note. Audrey had held her breath as the teacher read the mocking words.
“Who wrote this?”
Before Audrey had a chance to respond, Leo jumped in. “I did, ma’am.”
Mrs. Boyd cut short Audrey’s protest and glared at Leo. “Mr. Scott, take this note to Mr. Morrison’s office immediately.” He’d nodded and gathered his belongings into his backpack, shooting Audrey a reassuring glance as he’d left.
“I got detention,” Leo now reported. “I managed to convince Mr. Morrison not to call my dad, but Matt did anyway.” Audrey’s eyebrows furrowed. “Now you’ll be in major trouble.
Why’d you take the blame? I wrote that note! Nobody cares if
Leo sighed. “It was stupid. I’m sorry.”
“Great, so now we both have to deal with our dads tonight, and you might be grounded forever.”
Leo reached for Audrey and pulled her close. She blinked up at her boyfriend of two years and leaned closer. When he responded with a warm kiss, excitement ran down her spine. She
their post-practice kisses. With the beta-endorphins flowing from all the exercise, her rush from kissing Leo reached an even higher peak.
Reluctantly they pulled away, and Leo squared his shoulders.
“I can’t be late — I’m in enough trouble already. Be careful visiting your dad.”
She nodded, and they turned to go their separate ways. As she turned back to make sure he was okay, Audrey saw him pop a pill before swigging from his Gatorade bottle.
“Leo?” she called. “What’d you just take?” His eyes widened but then quickly regained their typical coolness.