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Noel's Story-Chapter 1

"Noel, you are not to go to the gym this whole week. You understand?"

"But why, mom? What did I do?"

She straightened out a crumpled piece of paper which I quickly noticed. It was my History test I had flunked. I thought I threw it away, but I should have known better. My mom looks through all of my stuff.

"What did you do? You didn't study! You didn't do anything!"

"But I did! I did study!"

"But you didn't study enough. I thought you would keep school before gymnastics, but now you have to learn it the hard way."

"But mom, I have a meet on Saturday!"

"You are not going, and that's final. You are to come straight home from school starting tomorrow. Today, you are to tell your coach you aren't coming. Understand?" she said calmly

"Yes mother," I sighed.

I jumped out of my mom's car and headed for the gym door as tears swelled to my eyes. This can't be happening! At times like these, I wish my dad was by my side. He doesn't expect me to do well on everything. Why does my mom expect me to be perfect? How can anyone think that?

That廣 my problem. I work my head off trying to live up to other people's expectations. I try to keep them up, too. Yet, over that, they expect me to pull a rabbit out of a hat, or something magical like that. Why do I even try?

Oh, but there's also Chris. Every time he looks at me in class, I feel like he believes in me. Oh how cute he looks when he smiles! If only he smiles at me more often. In French class, I try to do everything perfect, so by any chance he corrects my paper or see my grade, he'll think I'm smart. I guess that's how I manage to do well in French.

But how can I be dreaming when my worst nightmare is just starting? The "Noel Harper"everyone knows has a flat tire. And I don廠 mean the kind people have around their stomach by over eating.

No one thinks I'm a gymnast because I have a longer, thinner figure than most gymnasts my age. Coaches don't like that, but when I preform the skills right, they say my long legs add a flare to each movement. I have long, sun-streaked blond hair which I like to tie up in a ponytail or a bun.

If you imagine me as an all-American girl from California, always showing off my body, you're in for a surprise. I'm nothing like the girls you see on television shows which stereotype girls from California. The last thing I want to be is an air-head who only cares about her next date or the latest brand of lipstick. I don't know why all of my other friends bother with makeup. It seems useless.

I've never had a boyfriend before, so I can only dream about them. I'm more of a "you live to learn" kind of person. I prefer not to be noticed, except for in gymnastics, and rather go hiking in the woods with my best friend. Practically every girl at my school would never miss a chance to go to the beach and wait for older guys to ask them on a date. Maybe that's why boys don't like me. I spend most of my free minutes writing in my dairy.

Dear Diary, Why did it have to happen now? Why did I have to get an F on my test finals? Oh, I just wish my dad were here. He would take me to the meet if it was the last one I'll ever go to. I love my dad. Even more than Chris. Oh, but Chris can be so . . .

"Hey, it's practice time!" Leah, my training partner, slapped me on the back. We finished practicing all of the other apparatuses, and were finishing the vault. Leah then shoved me behind her when I came up to do my last vault. The vault, which I have a good chance I won廠 be preforming this week, was getting all of my nerves.

"Why don't you ever get anything right? If we are going to win over Pinecrest, you can't be landing every vault on your bottom. The point of the apparatus is to stick it, not slip it."

"Oh, just shut up, Leah! I might not even be there."

"Good. Maybe this time we幢l beat them."

"Maybe this time, you won't argue with the judge so you won't have any deductions before you start your routine."

"It's not my fault they did that. I was executing my rights."

"Maybe this time, you should review your rights."

"Go peck some peppered pickles!"

"Don't you mean, go pick some pickled peppers?"

"No! I meant go peck some peppered pickles. I am not Peter Piper!"

"At least I don't peck at pickles!"

"Humph!"

Don't you just hate people who always think they're better than everyone else, when in fact, they are the ones at the bottom? Well, I do. And I know for a fact that Leah is one of them. When you meet her, she's really nice and humble. That's what I thought when she switched from Pinecrest Gymnastics to Skyline Academy. But once Mary, my coach, made me practice with her, I found out she was a big snob. Everything she did looked perfect and everything I did was second. And I don't mean it in a jealous way.

"Noel, the runway's clear!" Mary shouted from where the horse stood.

"Gymnasts are supposed to be focused," Leah sneered.

"Leah, go shower. You're done for the day." Mary came over to me and placed her arm around my shoulders. I knew I was in for another one of her "What's bothering you? Want to talk?" speeches. I've had tons of those before.

"Noel, what's bothering you? You want to talk?"

I was right. "Nothing,"I murmured flatly.

"You're not going to be able to have this vault by Saturday's meet if you don廠 try. You幢l have to get more height off the horse if you want to land it."

"I have a whole month to get it right."

"What do you mean? It's coming up this weekend. You only have three more days in the gym to get it straight."

"There's no use this week. I'm grounded."

"What did you do this time to get your mom mad?"

"Got an "F" on my test finals. I swear I studied all day and night, seven days a week, for two whole weeks."

"Did you see what you did wrong?"

"Nothing was wrong. There was a big, fat "F" written over the answer sheet. She never told me why."

"Why don't you ask why it廣 wrong?"

"She won't talk to me until next week."

"Maybe she just got the grades wrong?"

"Never mind now. I'm already grounded until Sunday. You know how my mom is when my dad's not home."

"Well, right now, we just have to try harder."

She patted me on the back and headed down the runway. I felt like a little kid, when actually I'm sixteen and in my junior year of high school.

I took off down the runway, counting my steps towards the springboard.

Surprisingly, for the first time since I've started this vault, I landed the vault on my feet, just like Leah.

Do you notice that whenever you do something right, the person who you want to show it to isn't there? Then, when you talk about it later, no one believes you. I just hate it when that happens. And it happens constantly to me.

"Great job Noel! I knew you could do it. Now all you have to do is keep your toes pointed and hope you will be able to come Saturday."

"It's hopeless," I said, stashing my gym shoes into my bag.

I know there's no way my mom will let me go. She's a college professor, and it wasn't her idea to enroll me in gymnastics. It was my grandma's. And now that she's not here, my mom has every right to take me away from the sport. The only person who stops her is my dad, who is more open to my ideas. But with my dad out of town on a business trip, my mom has full control over me.

I bet the reason why my dad made a business trip so sudden is because he wants to get away from mom. Every time they think I'm not around, they're arguing. They do, constantly about my grades and my gymnastics. I don't try to make a big deal out of it, but I know somewhere in the back of my head that someday, I'll quit, or they'll break-up. My dad comes to every meet, but my mom never cared. Once she did, but brought some student exams to correct. How I miss having my dad around. My dad is always there to stop my mom from keeping me home from a meet.

I turned around, slinging my bag over my shoulders. "Ouch!"

"Oh, I'm very sorry!" I was so into my thoughts that I didn't realize Josh was next to me while I was packing up my stuff to leave. "I'm very sorry. Are you okay?"

"Yes, I'm fine."

"'Clumsy Noel' strikes again!'"

I turned back, not surprised to see Leah standing there. Why was she always there to see my faults? I was so embarrassed that I ran across the gym to the girls' shower room. I heard Josh call my name and chase after me, but I guessed he was too tired after his grueling workout with Dominic, his coach from Russia. I quickly took a shower and changed. I was relieved to find the gym nearly empty when I came out.

Now, Josh. He's something else. He goes to the same gym as me, and is very, very talented. In the gym, he's focused and aggressive. But outside, he has a gently sensitivity that makes him get along with everyone. I never thought of him the way I think of Chris, but by my terms, he is quite a catch. Every time I think of him, I think of the way he can stay on the still rings without wobbling an inch. So why did he want to talk to me for?

I was too tired to care. My legs were so sore from landing all those vaults. I didn't know how far they would carry me. I barely made it to the bus stop and stumbled onto a bus heading to my street and fell into the nearest seat.


1997 Satomi Fujikawa