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Rating: PG-13
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Chapter 21

“I’m so totally going to be there.”

Ashley smiled at her sister’s excitement. “Are you sure? That’s right around finals time.”

“I know, but I’ll work something out. Maybe I can come home early for the summer.”

“Please don’t get my hopes up.”

“Either way,” Kyla went on. “I wouldn’t miss this race for the world. Not with so much at stake. You need your personal cheer leader in the stands.”

“You’re so right,” Ashley sighed. “What if this doesn’t work, Ky? I could lose her for good.”

“You won’t, you’ve been training super hard for weeks now. I have faith in you, big sis.”

“That means a lot to me. So I’ll see you Saturday?” Ashley asked with true excitement. The prospect of seeing Kyla was the sole bright spite in her life at the moment.

“Yes ma’am! I love you, Ash.”

“Love you too, Ky. See you soon.”

Ashley hung up the phone feeling a little better lighter. Here she was doing push ups in her dorm room trying to be in tip top shape for Saturdays race. This preparation had nothing to do with the All-Star race and everything to do with a shapely blonde who had stolen her heart.

Meanwhile, Spencer was feeling the same strain. She was afraid that this whole thing would back fire. What if Michael won? What if Ashley beat Michael and then beat Spencer too? There were so many variables that Spencer hadn’t taken into account. She should be preparing for the race herself, this being her dream as well, but the outcome of the personal races were far more crucial than the outcome of the public one.

***

Saturday rolled around much faster than anyone was prepared for. The entire girl’s team loaded up on the bus to head to the downtown convention center where the event was being held. Spencer boarded the bus last and approached the nervous pair.

“Ready ladies?” Spencer asked with far more confidence than she was feeling.

The two nodded wordlessly. She laughed at their matching harried expressions as she found her own seat. This was going to prove to be an interesting day. Ashley and Michael were treating each other as extreme competition, if they only knew that Spencer’s mind was already made up.

An hour later the All-Star team was heading into the locker room of the convention center. The massive space was littered with swimsuits in every color of the rainbow. The three girls found it a bit intimidating looking at all the fine swimmers that were preparing for the days races.

“Damn,” Michael murmured.

Spencer and Ashley nodded in agreement. They did their necessary preparations and then went out to one of the three Olympic sized pools that was assigned to them. Due to the fact that there were so many different competitions taking place there had to be ample space. First they had to get their numbers.

While in line waiting her turn Ashley heard a familiar voice screaming her name.

“Ashley!”

“Ky,” Ashley beamed. “You made it!”

“Of course I did. I would never miss this.”

Ashley brought her little sister in for a tight embrace.

Kyla whispered in her ear. “That her?” She motioned to Spencer with her eyes as she was talking to an official.

Ashley’s sigh was wistful. “That’s her.”

“She’s pretty.”

“I know, she’s beautiful.”

Kyla found Ashley’s eyes with her own. “Nervous?”

“Terrified.”

“Don’t be. You can so get this done.”

“I’m not sure,” Ashley hedged. “Michael has been really focused lately.”

“We know Michael, she’ll crack under the pressure. Besides, I have a feeling you and Spencer are fated.”

“Well we’ll see, wont we.”

“Next!” The official called.

“That’s me.” She offered her sister one last hug.

“Good luck.”

“Thanks. Sit at pool two, lane ten.”

Kyla smiled at her older sister. Some things never changed. “I know the drill.”

The races began and Michael, Spencer and Ashley were split up to different pools. The commentator would announce which races were taking place and when.

Throughout the course of the day Michael’s race was up first. She was number five in the state in the backstroke and a favorite to take home an award today. People from far and wide came to see how their team would fair, so there were many people cheering for Michael. They had no idea just what this race really meant to her and the other members of her team.

There were three legs to each race. The best average time determined the winner of that particular race. There were ten schools participating in the backstroke. The front of the pool was lined with some of the best swimmers in the country, including numbers two and four in the state.

Spencer and Ashley held their breath as the racers took their place in the water.

The “Race for the Heart” had begun.

After the races Michael came out second. For her this was an incredible feat. This would undoubtedly raise her state standing to about third. She was beaming; not only from an impeccable race, but the impeccable time she set. Michael had shattered a previously held record and raised the bar for Spencer and Ashley.

If Spencer was nervous before, she was doubly so now. She was glad neither Michael nor Ashley could see her face. She felt nauseous. This may actually blow up in her face.

Tally
Michael Reynolds: 5:34:52

***

Spencer was up next. Since there were no relay races at the All-Star meets she was happy that she could pit her breaststroke against Ashley’s freestyle. Spencer may have excelled in the relay, but she was the strongest at the breaststroke.

Fortunately, she finished first bringing her state rank from nowhere to the top five. Her family was in the stands cheering her on. They had never been so proud. Too bad this experience had to be jaded by her secondary competition. When everything was said and done, then and only then would she be able to either celebrate or mourn.

***

Finally it was time for Ashley’s race. She was so nervous her arms felt like limp noodles. The team and Kyla were all shouting for her in the stands, yet she never felt so alone. She had grown accustomed to having Spencer on the sidelines. Even before they really knew each other, or weren’t speaking, she knew Spencer was secretly pulling for her. Now that Spencer was nowhere to be found, Ashley felt empty. She wasn’t sure she would be able to do this.

Michael sauntering over didn’t help in the least either.

“Well Davies, this is it. I’m sure you saw my time. New all-star record. Sure going to be hard to beat.”

“Get away from me, Mike,” Ashley growled.

“Aww are you going to cry?”

“I was thinking more like lash out.”

“I’d love to see you try. Anyway, I’m sure Spencer and I will be happy together for years to come. But good luck, buddy. Oh and don’t choke.” Michael laughed as she leisurely strolled away.

Ashley turned and faced the crowd searching for the one face that would give her some solace. After a few passes she finally found it. She looked into Kyla’s shinning eyes and could see her father there when she did. Ashley could feel him cheering her on and telling her she could accomplish anything. Kyla told her those same things, and she believed them with all her heart. She offered her older sister a brilliant smile and two thumbs up.

Ashley took a deep breath and turned to face the jumbo screen. Spencer was taking pictures and doing interviews, but all Ashley saw was one hundred inches of beauty in HD quality. It was the last bit of motivation she needed to get this done.

Ashley took her place as the commentator announced the first leg of the freestyle races. Since there were so many participants in this race, they were using two pools. The top five from the twenty racers would then race and be ranked once more from there.

Spencer came and took her place at the other pool. This was finally it. Ashley’s time would determine who would win Spencer’s affection and then Spencer’s time would determine if that affection would be put to use or not. When Spencer really thought about it, it was an absurd plan, but an affective one nonetheless.

They put their goggles in place and took their marks at the edge of the pool. The crowd was going crazy. This is what everyone had been waiting for. The national news was in attendance as well as reporters from Sports Illustrated and a few other newspapers and magazines. The winners of these races became famous overnight.

To Ashley none of that meant a thing. Fame she practically had already and could easily attain if she so desired. No, she desired a sweet, caring, sensitive person who listens and genuinely cared, not to mention looked hot in a two-piece. That was her desire and she would be damned if she lost it.

“Racers ready?” The official called. After a few moments the pistol went off releasing the swimmers from their marks.

Michael watched the jumbo screen anxiously. Ashley immediately pulled into first in her pool. Spencer had done the same in hers. Ashley faltered and lost a stroke. The Penn State racer beside her pulled ahead. She had to compensate for the lost time at the turn around. Luckily she was able to do so, just barely. The fact that there were ten more swimmers in another pool was playing havoc with her confidence.

Ashley came out in bottom ten after the first race of the first leg. She looked at Kyla with fear in her eyes. Kyla’s smile never wavered. Ashley felt buoyed by Kyla’s confidence knowing she needed to get in the zone.

The coach jogged up to her during the few seconds between races. “What’s the problem, Davies?”

“I don’t know, Coach. Nothing.”

“Nothing? Look at that time. It’s terrible.”

Ashley’s head hung in shame.

“Look at me! I’ve seen you shatter that time just messing around. These other girls are no where near your league!”

Ashley smiled. “Coach, keep it down, they can hear you.”

“I don’t care. You are one of the best swimmers I’ve ever seen. Don’t let nerves get the better of you. You see this number?” He motioned to the large black ten under her feet. “It means something. You’re home here. If nothing else, pretend this is just for fun. I’m positive then you’ll be fine.”

“Thanks, Coach.”

The burly man stood to his full height. “Don’t get mushy on me, Davies,” he said around a smile “Now let’s go team!”

That was just what Ashley needed. She took her mark with a renewed confidence. She wanted Spencer, she wanted this. There was no way she was going to lose Spencer to Michael. Even if her race against Spencer turned out badly, at least Michael wouldn’t have her and she knew Spencer wouldn’t get hurt any more.

“Racer’s to your marks!” The official boomed over the PA system.

The second  race began and Ashley was first off the line. She hammered away relentlessly. Effortlessly gliding through the water, she pulled far ahead of the pack. After the three races Ashley was first out of the twenty girls.

At the end of the races the tally came to:

Michael: 5:16:54
Ashley: 4:52:45

Spencer checked the times before she even made it out of the pool. She did a small cheer when she saw it. Ashley beat Michael. Spencer went looking for Ashley and found Michael approaching her first.

“Well Mike, thwarted again. You’re like the bad guy in a cartoon. Just can’t win.”

“Screw you, Davies, this is bull shit,” Michael spat.

“Well the numbers don’t lie. I’m better than you. Always have been, always will be.”

“This is not over, Davies.

“Oh it is. I got the girl and I’ve got the top spot on the All-Star team.” She leaned in and whispered. “So you can suck a fat one.”

Ashley felt the sting across her face well before she could register what happened. When she looked up Michael was being carried away kicking and screaming. Ashley brought her hand to her cheek, but someone had beaten her to it.

“Are you okay?”

Ashley stared up into Spencer’s eyes. “Fine. Doesn’t hurt much.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault.”

“Actually it is,” Spencer admitted. “I knew she’d do something dumb to mess up her chances here. I never thought she’d get violent though.”

“Like I said, not your fault.”

Their eye’s locked as Spencer continued to stroke Ashley’s cheek causing those familiar feelings of electricity to shoot through her entire body. “Looks like I won.”

Spencer smiled. “Not yet. Now you have to race me.”

“You’ve never beaten me.”

“There’s a first time for everything,” Spencer said before walking away.

Ashley had just been slapped, but all she could feel was the chill of Spencer pulling away.

***

Now was the real test, the test to see where Ashley’s affections really lie. If Ashley won this race she would lose Spencer, but undoubtedly be invited to the All-Star team. If Spencer won, Ashley would have a chance to be with her but have to turn down any offers she received. It was a real catch 22. Ashley felt the true weight of this decision as they prepared for the last and final race. Spencer was second in the first race so she and Ashley would be racing right next to each other. Lane nine and ten just like old times.

The crowd roared around the arena as they took their spots. All the girls were nervous, but Spencer and Ashley were doubly so for obvious reasons. This was it, their last chance to be together.

Fortuitously they had little time to focus on it as the race began.

“Racer’s to your marks!”

It all came down to the outcome of this one race.

They each secured their goggles and waited for the pop of the pistol. Spencer’s family, Kyla, the coach, and the team were all on the edge or their seats. They were all just happy that their girls had made it to the finals and were doing so well.
The pistol sounded and they were off. Ashley got a huge start off the wall pulling in front of the entire pack. She could see there was no one beside her. She was alone in the pool practically.

Spencer wasn’t far behind, but unless Ashley made a terrible mistake, which wasn’t likely to happen, she would lose this race and in turn lose Ashley.

As Ashley neared the turn around wall she realized she had to make a decision right then and there.

Spencer was swimming with all she had. She could not lose this race. She felt her muscles ache as she neared the finish. It was too close to tell who won. All five swimmers surfaced and turned toward the jumbo screen.

Tally
Spencer Carlin: 4:36:19
Ashley Davies: 4:

To be continued…

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