I just had to talk to Leah. My stomach tightened and my whole body suddenly felt cold. I must have looked like a statue just standing at the entrance of the gym because everyone was looking at me like I was some sort of weirdo.
I gathered up all the courage that was left in me and marched up to Leah. I promised myself that I wouldn’t give in to Leah again. At least my name wouldn’t be stuck with Leah’s if I use this chance to my advantage.
“Leah, I need to talk to you.”
“Yes Josh? What is it?”
“Why did you do that to Noel, Leah?”
“You know exactly what you did. Don’t lie to me. You’ve lied enough.”
“But I didn’t mean to. It was her friends’ fault.” she said, starting to lose her temper.
“Her friends would never do that to her, especially my sister.”
“Who’s your sister?” she asked, one eyebrow higher than the other.
“Eva, of course.”
“Eva? I don’t know a person named Eva.”
“Don’t lie to me, Leah! You do know Eva. She’s Noel’s best friend.”
“That Eva? She’s your sister?”
“As a matter of fact, she is. And you know what?”
“What?” Her voice trailed off at the end.
“You’ve turned her away from Noel. They’ve been good friends for a long time, and I wouldn’t want to see their relationship go up in ashes because of you.”
“But I didn’t do anything to ruin it. It was her own fault. Eva doesn’t have to be mad at Noel if she doesn’t want to.”
“Oh, so nothing is your fault. Just so you know, it’s mostly your own fault. You’re just as mean as I thought you were.”
“No I’m not!”
“And another thing. Will you stop asking me to do you any favors? As it turns out, I wasn’t doing any favors. I’m just ruining Noel’s life. So don’t even talk to me anymore until you straighten yourself out.”
“But you can’t leave me!” she whimpered.
I turned my back to her. “I never went to you, so I can’t leave you.”
“But Josh!” She let out a loud sigh and collapsed on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably.
If she was someone else, I would have gone up to her and comforted her, but this was different. She was Leah, and the girl I wanted was Noel. There was a noticeable difference between the two.
Now I’ve gotten Leah off my back, but why can’t I get Noel’s attention? Does she not like me? Do I smell? Am I a geek? Whatever the reason, I have to find out. Obsessed is the last thing I am with Leah. I have to let Noel know that Leah’s not as tough as she thinks, even if it’s the last time I talk to her.
Deep down in my heart, I knew I had to do something to make this mess better. But the last thing I wanted was Noel to think I’m falling all over Leah. It stings my heart if she thinks that.
* * *
Mary had taken me to her office before warm-up. She knew I had a problem. She said I looked like a tornado that had engulfed me with it’s massive destruction. Then she corrected herself by saying that I look like I had been through an earthquake, a massive fire that had arose after was still raging in me. Take it to her to make me feel worse.
“Noel, I was really disappointed in not seeing you last week at the meet on Saturday. Is it true that you felt sick?”
“No, it’s not true, Mary.”
“Then what is it? Did your mom make you stay home after all?”
“You’re not the Noel I knew these past seven years or so. What’s wrong?”
“Leah? Your partner?”
“Yes, that one.”
“What did she do?”
“She took my diary and told everyone everything I wrote in it and turned all of my friends into enemies.”
“I don’t think she meant any harm.”
“Yes she did, but I know Josh didn’t mean to do it.”
“And what does Josh have to do with it?”
“He found my diary last Monday and trusted Leah to give it back to me.”
“Josh would have never known. I think Leah needs to be talked to. Can you call her into my office for me? You can start the warm-ups by yourself and start practicing your floor routine. I think that child needs to be straightened out.” Her usually soft, blithe voice turned superficial and strict.
“You can’t what? You can’t do your warmups? Are you hurt?”
“No. I can’t talk to her.”
“And why not?”
“Because I can’t.”
“Noel, you can’t forget that what I say to you in the gym applies to real life. You have to face your fears head-on in order to get anywhere. You do that in gymnastics very well.”
“You’re right. As always.”
“Now, go along.”
Mary’s office was in one of the small rooms on the second floor. Two people were looking at me as I stood at the rail overlooking the gym floor. From the railing, you can see every apparatus from a bird’s eye view.
“Leah! Mary wants you!”
“You got me in trouble, didn’t you.” Her eyes looked red as if she were to cry.
“No, I didn’t. You got yourself into trouble.”
She turned her back on me and headed up the stairs.
“Noel, can I talk to you?” a low, soft voiced pleaded.
I turned around, knowing Josh wanted to talk to me. “Hi Josh. If you’ll excuse me, I have some practicing to do.”
“But Noel, I have to tell you something.”
“Can’t it wait till I finish? I have to practice.”
I never gave him the chance to answer. I took off across the mats to the opposite side.
“What did I just do?” I froze still on the floor. I couldn’t lift up my feet. “Don’t I like Josh?”
Oh, he looks so handsome! Why do I keep blowing my chance whenever he talks to me? Maybe we aren’t meant for each other. That must be it. I made myself think that he wanted to say something bad about me, but the thought that he wanted to tell me he likes me kept on creeping into my brain. But why didn’t I notice he was so entrancing? He must think I’m a fool by now.
I dared myself to see if he was still looking at me. Finally, when I looked, Josh was on the still rings set up across the room, hitting every skill with extraordinary control. Every twist of his arm seemed equally confident. I’d never seen anyone preform as smooth flowing as Josh. The landing was stuck perfectly, feet together. Now, it was me who was staring.
I turned back, focusing on my own apparatus. “He has strength, balance, and control. Control. That’s what I have to do with my life. Control it.”
I did a couple of sit-ups and stretched my legs and arms. I practiced my tumbling passes. Just then, I noticed I was doing harder tumbling skills than Leah. She was doing easy ones excellently, but I was the one who was ready to try newer, harder ones.
After I did almost every pass I had in my most recent routine until I did each twist perfectly, I saw Leah and Mary come out of her office. Leah had her head hung low.
“Noel, I’m sorry I did everything I did to you last week. Will you forgive me?”
“I guess so.”
I felt a pang of guilt. Had I been mistaken? Was she really apologizing, or was this a trick? Somehow, it never phased me that she would be the one to give in first.
“She promised me she’ll return your diary later” said Mary. “For now, Noel, you can practice your beam routine. We are having a rematch Saturday, same time. I am expecting you to come this time.”
“I hope so.”
* * *
My head was spinning after I finished my ring routine. I didn’t even know what I was doing. All that I remember is that I jumped onto the two rings, and after that, what I did was lost. And after all that, I remembered Dominic telling me it was perfect.
I walked over to the benches and sat down, my head supported in my hands. My arms were tired after that routine.
“Josh, what are you doing sulking?”
“Huh?” I was startled by a male voice. “Oh, hi Camron.”
“So then, what are you doing?”
“Are you sure you’re okay, Josh?”
“Yeah, I am. I’m just down.”
“I heard Leah dumped you.”
“Leah? Where’d you hear that from?”
“I heard Leah say it to one of the guys. I’m very sorry.”
“Sorry? What are you talking about? I’m the one who dumped her, if that’s what you call it. I never liked her to start with.”
“Oh, then why would Leah say she dumped you?”
“Because she’s the one who likes me, and wants to get me back. I told her to quit talking to me.”
“You’re not telling me something seriously important. Did she do something to you?”
I headed into the locker room with Camron by my side. Towels were scattered all over the floor, and used leg braces were slung over the benches. Usually, when I’m in the room, I feel relaxed, but somehow, today, I felt rejected and tired. My muscles weren’t the problem. It was my head.
I explained everything about Noel’s diary, and what I have to do with it. Camron listened intently as I told him that I should have given Noel her diary.
“But you’re leaving something out. Something I know.”
“Something about Noel.” A smile spread across his face.
“Oh, that I can’t get Noel to listen to me.”
“Yes. Have you tried more than once?”
“You bet I did. She keeps on blowing me off.”
“You know, isn’t Eva her best friend?”
“So why don’t you try talking to her, instead of directly to Noel. Maybe they’ll be back as best friends.”
“That’s a good idea. But what if she doesn’t want to listen to me about Noel.”
“Would your own sister not listen to you?”
“Well, she usually does listen to me. I’ll give it a thought.”
“I’ve got to go, but see you later! Oh, and you and Noel make a great pair.”
“What do you mean?”
“She likes you, I can tell.”
“How do you know? I haven’t seen you talking to her.”
He stopped on the way out. “She was staring at you the whole time you were on the rings. She’s just too shy to admit it to you.”
“I don’t think she’s shy.”
“Then she feels sorry for herself because she avoided you so much. It has happened to me before.”
“She can’t be feeling sorry for herself. She doesn’t want to do anything with Leah.”
“Oh well. Believe what you believe. It’s a free country. See you!”
After Camron had left, I considered the fact that I should talk to Eva. But how can I? She’s not even talking to Noel. But soon, all my thoughts about Eva faded away.
Camron Robinson is African American, and part Canadian. He’s one of the two other training partners I have. He was the nicest, easy talking, “you can do it” kind of person. I looked up to him, but he has always said he admires me. Still, he’s a straight A student at an all-boys private high school across town. I don’t know what there is to admire about me.
I shivered at the touch of the ice-cold stream of water coming from the shower head. You have to wait a while till the hot water comes out, but I didn’t bother this time. I rubbed my arms to keep them from freezing. Even the touch of the freezing water didn’t take my mind off of what Camron had said.
“Only if I can talk to her,” I said as I exited the room. “Only if I could talk to either one of them.”
“So, will you give me back my diary?”
“Why should I?”
“I knew it! Leah, you are the lowest form of life on the planet! How can you do this to me?”
“Why do you always pick on me? Noel, you already have everything you want. I guess you’re right. I am the lowest form of life on the planet.” Leah stormed out of the shower room in a hustle.
What does she mean by that? Why would she admit she is a low-life. I don’t care about my diary anymore. Everyone knows what I wrote in it, so it’s not so private anymore. But I still can’t accept the fact that she didn’t think of herself as in control. There it is again. That word, control. Maybe if I just forget about all this with Leah, I’ll get somewhere in life. I can’t believe I ignored Josh this long. What if I’m wrong? What if he knows something I don’t? Then I’m the stupid one.
I froze paralyzed in the lobby, my eyes glued to Josh, who was standing right next to me. “Should I say sorry?” I asked myself, suddenly knowing that he was looking at me in return.
“Noel, I’m sorry,” Josh said at the same time I said, “Josh, I’m sorry.”
“No, I should be the one sorry.” Josh kept on saying. “I ruined you life, didn’t I?”
I felt my anger that had boiled up to the surface over the week reach my mouth. I couldn’t see why he couldn’t have simply minded his own business, and just leave my diary on the chair, where I would have picked it up the next day. “I can’t believe you did that?”
“Gave my diary to Leah.”
“I said I’m sorry, Noel,” noting the frustration in his deep, warm voice.
“Yeah, and you’re sorry?”
“Yes! I am! I can’t believe you don’t believe me!”
“Of course I don’t! You probably go out with Leah, and you are just as vile as Leah.”
“I am not, Noel! How can you think that?” His voice cracked, making him lose his temper. “How can I ever apologize to you?”
“I know! Why should I have doubted that you would ever be forgiving?”
He turned around, storming out the doors. I leaned against the wall, slowly falling towards the floor. I covered my head with my arms. I didn’t care if anyone saw.
Likely, no one was left in the gym but the coaches. I just ruined a chance to make-up with Josh, but no-o. I had to get mad again, and tell him off.
“I’m home,” I called out to my parents. I noticed that my dad’s car was parked outside, and that both my parents were in the kitchen. The conversation they were having stopped me from going in.
My mom’s sharp, high voice rang like lightning. “How many times do I have to tell you that Noel’s grades are going down. How does she expect to bring them back up if all she does is gymnastics?”
My dad’s low voice echoed into the living room like thunder. Together, they were like a thunderstorm. “Gymnastics is not in her way. Just because she failed one lousy test, it doesn’t mean that her grade is going down.”
“It’s not just a lousy test. It’s her finals! I expected her to get at least a ‘B’, but what does she bring home? An ‘F’. How do you explain that?”
“That still doesn’t explain why you grounded her from going to the meet. That was one of her most important meets.”
“Well, it’s my duty as a mother to give my daughter what is best for her. Look at her! Look at what all that torture to her body is doing to her mind.”
“The best for her is to let her do the things she enjoys the most. Especially not something that she is not in the mood to quit. I t has taught her to be focused. Something you can not teach her.”
“If she would just focus on her academic side, she’d have a lasting career in the world. Gymnastics isn’t going to get her anywhere.”
“No. Pretty soon, she’ll be too tall to compete.”
“You know, I don’t know what I was doing when I asked you to marry me! I must have been out of my mind!”
“You’re exactly right.”
I was outraged and fumed. It’s just not the anger I had right now, but all those times they were at each other for the last few months. How can they fight like that? Especially over me. I couldn’t stand hearing them. I turned around and ran up the stairs, banging the door behind me. I couldn’t take it any longer.
There goes all my hopes in making the meet next Saturday. My life was crumbling in my hands. In the past, my mom didn’t care if I went to the gym on Saturdays. All I have is gymnastics to calm me down. But how can I when I am prohibited to go to a meet? Maybe it’s better for me to just run away. A coach in Colorado wants to take me, but how am I going to get there from California? I’m flat broke.
And I just thought my life was the pits. How could they fight over nothing? It’s not like I’m going to choose gymnastics as my career.
* * *
“Go talk to her,” Aaron shoved me in Noel’s direction.
“No, I can’t.”
“The only other way to talk to her is on the phone. I know you loathe the phone. You never answer when I call.” He choked out, “Eva does.”
“I know. I just don’t like not seeing the person I’m talking to. You can’t tell if they’re telling the truth.”
“So, go talk to her!”
“No. I’m not up to it.”
“Come on! You have to know why she won’t talk to you. Maybe she has a good reason.”
“She better after all this time.”
I turned around, my knees quivering. Aaron looked to the bleacher at Noel, giving me a smile.
“Go for it.”
I felt my voice fall to the bottom of my stomach. “Noel! Can I talk to you?”
“What do you want?” she asked curtly.
“Why do you keep on making excuses when I try to talk to you? Can’t you listen to me just once?”
“I don’t want to talk to you,” she said simply.
“Oh, Noel! All I want is a minute. I know you have the time.”
“If it’s anything negative, then I don’t want to hear it. I’m fed up with this catastrophe.”
“It’s not anything bad unless you really hate me. Then I’ll go away.”
“It’s not you that I hate.”
“Then why do you act like it?”
“I’m sorry. It’s Leah that I hate. And Leah is who you like. That makes me hate you.” Her voice was hesitant, her eyes never meeting mine.
“Oh, please don’t!” I didn’t want to lose her attention.
“And why not?”
“Because I don’t like Leah. I condemn her!”
“Yeah, and that’s why you let her take you?”
“I didn’t!” I noticed we were both becoming frustrated.
“I thought you were in control of your life. I guess I was wrong.”
“I am in control of my life! More than you.”
“You want to bet? I don’t bother with people like Leah.”
“Why am I wasting this time on you? Why am I wasting my time in this gym when I’m going to quit any day soon.”
“I’ve had it. I can’t stand this for the millionth time. Maybe I should just kill myself and save everyone the trouble.”
“No! You can’t do that. I won’t let you, Noel.”
“And what do you have to stop me?”
I grabbed onto her arm and tried to stop her, but I was a little late, and she ran down the street in top speed. “Just get off my back!” she retorted.
“Noel!” I called out, but she was already out the door and heading down the street. “You deserve it,” a snickering voice said from behind me.
“Leah, I told you to leave me alone!”
“Alright already! You don’t have to be so grouchy!”
“I am not! Why don’t you just get out of my life? It’s bad enough without you.” “Fine, if you don’t want my advice. Noel is never going to like you. She already likes someone.”
I didn’t want to give in even though Leah was probably right. “I don’t care. Losers never win.” I added, “and I know you are a loser. A big one, too. Just listening to you makes me sick!”
I quickly stashed my stuff into a bag and sprinted to the car, not turning back to see how Leah was. Aaron was waiting at the door, and by my expression, he knew I wasn’t having any luck. I got in my brother’s old red sports car and threw my bag in the back seat. I couldn’t think of anything but Noel as I started the engine.
How could Leah have done that to Noel? How could Leah have done that to me? Leah’s not just ruining Noel’s life, but mine also. Only if she would let me talk to her for a while. Am I not approaching her right?
“So it didn’t go well.” Aaron speculated.
“How could you tell?” I replied sarcastically.
“It’s pretty obvious by the way you stormed out of the gym. While I was waiting, I got a great idea.”
“Great, but it won’t help. I need a real idea.”
“Okay! It’s the best idea I’ve had so far.”
“What is it?”
“Talk to your sister.”
“What?” I yelped, almost slamming the breaks so hard I felt like choking on my seat belt.
“Talk to your sister,” he replied still breathless at the sudden stop.
“Yes,” he said.
“About what?” This sounded vaguely familiar.
“Explain everything to her. Maybe she’ll understand and will go back to being friends. And for the most part, Noel can’t ignore you anymore after she finds out that you’re the one who had talked to Eva in the first place.
” “That’s it! I’ve heard all of that before!”
“Camron. He was just telling me the other day.”
“See. If two people think it’s the answer to your problem, it must be.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“C’mon! You’ve been putting everything off. Just give it a try. She can’t run away. You’re bound to catch her sometime.”
“As much as I hate to admit it, you’re right. But if none of this works, I’ll be dead.” “You said you’d be dead a week ago. I don’t see you buried underground or crumbled up in ashes.”
“Your right. I should listen to you more often, huh?”
“That might help.”
I dropped off Aaron at his house and then headed home. I sat in the kitchen, going over some cookbooks, searching for something I could make for dinner with leftovers. My mom wasn’t coming home early enough to make dinner from her secretarial job at Aaron’s dad’s company. I took out the bowl of chicken I had marinated last night.
“Noel likes another boy,” Leah’s voice rang in my head.
Is she serious about liking Chris? Tons off girls her age likes him, but Noel? Why would she like him?
“Hey bro! I’m going to the soccer match with Stacey, so I won’t be home. Save me some dinner after you make it. I have to try it.”
“What are you making today,” Stacey looked over my shoulder to see what I was looking at. “Yum! That looks good!”
“I’ll be sure to save you some. Have a great time!”
My brother, Tim, is my number one fan of my cooking. He is two and a half years older and is a soccer fanatic, just like his steady girlfriend, Stacey, and Aaron. On their first date, my brother couldn’t get any restaurant reservations, and so he asked me to cook. He was lucky that Stacey liked my food as much as he does. She’s from a small town on the coast of Oregon, so she likes sea food. She taught me tons of recipes from her hometown. You can’t tell she’s from Oregon, though. You’ll think she’s from Hollywood or somewhere like that.
Anyways, I was alone, waiting for Eva to come home. She probably was working late at the newspaper office at school. Everyone in my family has different personalities. My other brother, Kyle, is getting married next year, and is an editor of a publishing company in New York. He was the one who always took me to gymnastics class, until he moved to the East Coast. Sometimes I miss him a lot. But now, I can drive myself.
My daddivorced my mom when she was expecting Eva. I don’t even remember him, or how he looked. I only know that he had brown hair and auburn eyes like Tim. I don’t think of him much. Only when my mom says that my cooking reminds her of him and how he loved to play around in the kitchen, baking all sorts of delicious and some not so good tasting things.
“Hey Josh! What’s for dinner?” Eva closed the door after stepping into the kitchen from the back door. Looking at the book, she smiled. “Yum. Lemon almond chicken!”
“I was thinking of making it. But Eva, can I tell you something about Leah?”
“I was the one who found Noel’s diary, Eva.”
“I gave Leah Noel’s Diary.”
“She was supposed to return it.”
“What’s she still doing with it?”
“She never gave it back to Noel like she promised.”
I went on to explain everything that I found out about Leah and Noel. She never moved an inch. She just stood on the kitchen floor, her backpack slung over her back. Eva looked paralyzed in guilt.
“So I’ve abandoned Noel for a creep like Leah?”
“Oh Josh! I have to go to Noel’s house and tell her I’m sorry. Thank you for telling me!”
“Anything for you.”
“Wait a minute.”
“Wait a minute what?”
“Leah didn’t dump you, did she?”
“Haven’t you figured that out by now? Actually, no one dumped anyone.”
“Huh?” she asked, throwing her bag on a chair, almost knocking it over.
“We never went out. You can’t dump someone you never liked or went out with.”
“And I believed Leah. Man, is she going to get it!”
By the time we were done talking, I had put the chicken in the oven and it was half done. After Eva took a shower, her nose led her right back to the kitchen.
“Plenty for everyone.”
I put aside some for mom, Tim, and Stacey. Still, there were a few pieces left.
“Can I take them to Noel’s?”
“When are you going?”
“After I finish the dishes. Isn’t it my turn today?”
“Yeah, but it’s okay. You can go. I’ll wash the dishes. I don’t mind.”
“Okay, if you say so.” I smiled to myself as she headed out the door and ran off down the street.