This one is winding down.

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Rating: PG
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Chapter 20

“Rheumatoid arthritis.”

“Very good, Ms. Carlin.”

Spencer smiled. Due to her current overly emotional state, she was pouring herself into her schoolwork. She had to admit it was paying off. Her grades took a dramatic spike in a short period of time. Spencer hadn’t realized how much time she spent with either Michael or Ashley.

The thought of those two names made her face screw up and her stomach churn. She couldn’t remember ever feeling  so stupid in her entire life. After taking a step back and analyzing the situation, Spencer realized that the signs about Michael and Julia had all been there all along. The mysterious errands Michael had to run from time to time, Julia’s pandering to Michael’s every whim, and most of all, the signals from everyone around her. Even Ashley in her own way made it known that something was going on. That pissed Spencer off even more. She was sure Ashley never truly cared for her or she would have said something. Ashley was given many opportunities to not only tell Spencer about the bet, but to warn her about Michael as well. It disgusted Spencer to think that the only reason Ashley didn’t rat on Michael was because she was in turn saving her own ass.

Class ended and Spencer threw her iPod buds in immediately. She didn’t want to talk to anyone and she certainly didn’t want to run into a certain two  people.

Spencer began to feel particularly alone. She broke up with Michael, she wasn’t talking to Ashley and she was pissed at McKenzie, Stacey and the other girls on the team for going along with this whole thing. The only person she could maybe see herself talking to again was Julia. While it sounded crazy, Spencer still felt sorry for her. It was clear she felt deeply for Michael and in no way was she trying to be malicious toward Spencer. She just got caught up in a strange love triangle. Well not triangle so much as…square? Either way, Julia had apologized profusely and Spencer had every intention of forgiving her in time.

The hurt ran so deep that Spencer even pulled away from her family. All they did was ask about her relationship with Michael. She knew the news of their break up wouldn’t affect her father and brothers much, but her mother would take it the worst. Michael was the first and only girl Paula Carlin had ever accepted. Spencer knew she would hear for weeks how she made yet another bad decision. If she only knew.

Over the past week since the incident, Michael had made countless attempts to speak to Spencer. Spencer wasn’t sure why though. She figured Michael never really cared for her, or that’s how it seemed. Michael admitted to everything, even to having feelings for Julia. Spencer relinquished her to her true desires. They were never really magic together anyway. For some reason Michael couldn’t understand that she was free to do whatever it was she wanted, free of Spencer. They would get in constant arguments at practice and Spencer would be forced to ignore her calls and emails. Spencer had to make her understand that it was over. Michael couldn’t win at everything.

What surprised Spencer the most was Ashley’s lack of effort. That only added insult to her injury. Ashley made one attempt since that day in the locker room to contact Spencer. That conversation ended with Spencer informing Ashley to lose her phone number. The result of that conversation was Ashley avoiding her like the plague. Spencer was confused as to just who had the right to be doing the avoiding.

Her phone rang as soon as she returned to her dorm room and she was happy to at least hear the special ring tone for a special person.

“Hey Clay.”

“Spence! Long time no hear from.”

Spencer sat heavily on her bed. “Yeah I know, I’m sorry about that. There’s been a lot going on here these days.”

“Uh oh,” he said knowingly. “Do tell.”

“You got an hour?” Spencer tried to laugh.

“I have forever for you, sis. What’s up?”

With that she proceeded to tell him the long drawn out story. She didn’t leave out anything, not even her own near infidelities with Ashley. She needed to let it all out and she did. “So I didn’t mean a thing to either one of them. Just some cheap prize in a bet.”

“Wow, that sucks, Spence. I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“So now what? Do I need to come up there and pull some hair?”

Spencer smiled. “No, that wont be necessary. I’ll find a new girlfriend, I guess. Some new friends too.”

“What about Ashley?”

“What about her?” Spencer frowned. “I told you she hasn’t even sent me a text message saying sorry. She doesn’t care.”

“Well it sounds to me like she does.”

“Come again?” Her voice turned hard. She certainly didn’t need to her or own brother was on Ashley’s side.

“Just hear me out,” he began. “She stopped in the pool that night right?”

“Yeah…she did.”

“She never pushed you or tied to force anything on you, did she?”

“That’s true I suppose, but—”

“She’s done nothing but respect your wishes whether she agreed or not,” he interrupted. “Even now. She’s not speaking to you because she thinks that’s what you want.”

Spencer felt like Clay just hit her with a ton of bricks. Ashley had never been anything but supportive and respectful to Spencer and her relationship with Michael. She didn’t take advantage of being able to win the bet when she could have.

“Clay?”

“Yeah?”

“There is seriously something wrong with me.”

He laughed. “I totally agree.”

The rest of the conversation was the enactment of a plan, a plan to not only teach Ashley and Michael a lesson, but to get Ashley back.

That following week the invites for the all-star meet went out. Of course Michael received one. It was no surprise that both Spencer and Ashley received one too; they were unstoppable together on the relay team.

When practice was over Spencer asked to speak with Michael and Ashley privately. Spencer had endured more than enough of the public displays of her private life.

“I’m talking and you both are listening.”

The two nodded in agreement.

“Since you two like to wager so much how about you both make a little wager with me?”

Michael and Ashley shot each other a wary glance.

“Since we’re all going to the all-star race this year’s theme is going to be, race of the heart.” Spencer announced.

“You can’t be serious,” Ashley frowned.

Michael gave her a nudge. “Let her finish.”

“Blow me,” Ashley spat.

Michael rolled her eyes. “You wish.”

“Shut up!” Spencer growled.

They immediately fell silent.

“As I was saying, I am very angry with both of you. One more than the other, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is you both still want me right?”

They both nodded.

Spencer smiled. “So prove who wants me more.”

Michael spoke first saying, “We all swim different races. How are we going to do this?”

“All the races are timed and we all swim the same distance. Whoever has the best time gets my undying love and devotion. Not to mention a possible new career.”

“So all we have to do is beat the other one and that person gets the girl?” Ashley asked incredulously.

Spencer nodded.

“Well that’s easy enough,” Michael beamed. “I’m down.”

Ashley wasn’t so easily swayed. “You were livid last week and now you’re going to base your entire decision around a single race? What’s the catch?”

That’s what Spencer liked about Ashley, she was smart and knew how to read between the lines.

“Well in return for being in my good graces who ever wins has to pit their time against my own. If you beat me you lose me, but get all the perks of being a top racer. But if I beat you, you get me, but you have to refuses all deals or offers you receive because of the race.”

Michael’s face immediately fell. This was a big deal for all three of them. It was a chance at a professional swimming career. A dream they all shared since they were little girls. “What?”

Spencer looked smug. “Well the way I see it, if you really love me the way you say you do, it’s a fair trade. Me or a possible career, the choice is yours.”

Spencer had prize logic here. First, if they really cared for her there would be no choice to make. They would jump at the chance to get her back no matter what. Second, she knew Ashley would beat Michael and she’d do something irrational in retaliation that would ruin her chances of getting any offers anyway. Fair trade she felt for the emotional hell and embarrassment that Michael put her through. Third, she needed to test whether or not Ashley truly cared for her.

Ashley looked Spencer square in the eye and she didn’t even hesitate before answering. “I’m in.”

Spencer smiled inwardly, but kept up an unimpressed façade. She turned her eyes to Michael.

“Um…I don’t know.”

“I’m not worth it?”

“You are, it’s just…this is a lot.”

Ashley knew where this was all leading. She knew how this would play out. Or what she hoped upon hoped for. She decided to play along. If she wanted Spencer back she was going to have to put herself on the line.

“What’s wrong Mike, scared of losing Spencer twice?”

That was all she needed. “I’m in,” she said to Ashley, not Spencer.

“Excellent. See you ladies in two weeks.” Spencer spun on her heels and walked out.

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