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EIGHT

“Noel! Wait up!”

I turned around, noticing the more than familiar voice. “Hi Josh!” I closed my locker gently, noticing how much taller he was. Probably three inches taller.

“Hi! I’m sorry about last night,” he said, a glitter in his eyes. “I’m not much of the telephone type.”

“It doesn’t matter. I like people who say things to you in person.”

“Well, I just wanted to say that I’m very glad you straightened out your life.”

“Let’s just say it’s getting a whole lot better. Thanks to you.”

“Thanks to me, this whole thing started.”

“No, thanks to me, I never gave you a chance to speak. I’m not shy or anything, but I didn’t know what to do after I ignored you once. I kept on regretting later that I should have listened to what you wanted to get across to me.”

“I’ve had tons of reality checks. I know you aren’t shy. That’s why I like you. You can always carry a conversation. No one can possibly get bored,” he said playfully.

I giggled. “Now, you’re one boy who actually likes that quality.”

“Well, I know you still like Chris, but can you give me just one chance? I really like you.”

“Of course I can! You think I’ll ever pass a guy up like you?”

“If you don’t, then you could go back to having a crush on Chris, but I don’t think I can stand falling for Leah. I know you don’t like Leah. I can’t stand her anymore. Actually, I never did.”

“You know, Josh. As much as I liked Chris, I turned down an offer to go to the movies with him. I guess I never realized how cute you are until recently. I thought of you, but every time I do, I see myself making a fool out of myself, so I just kick back those thoughts along with my memories of you. But they kept on coming back. As I found out, some things I should keep to myself.”

“Well, can you tell me if you would like to go to the movies with me sometime when you’re not busy?”

“You know I’ll never be too busy to be with you.”

“Thanks a lot, Noel. I guess this time, it’s me who has to go. See you around!” He smiled and left down the hall, just as the bell to start school rang.

“See ya!”

I better not blow this chance with Josh, or I’ll really kill myself. I guess I made it harder for him to talk to me with all those excuses I was making. If I do, I’d never forgive myself.

* * *

I plopped down in a seat next to Aaron. I let out a sigh of relief. He must have noticed it.

“Has Prince Charming found his princess?”

“Yeah, but this time, it was me who had to leave her.”

“What? You gave up on her?” he said, astounded.

“No! Are you crazy?”

“Well, you said you had to leave her.”

“Yeah. You know. I didn’t want to be tardy for the third time this month. It’ll look bad on my report card.”

“Oh. So, you guys going somewhere?”

“I don’t know. She has a meet Saturday. I’m planning to go.”

“That’s a start.”

“I wish we could double date. But of course, you wouldn’t want to.”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t you even think one girl is cute?” I inquired, trying to get the truth out of him.

“Uh!” he groaned.

“I’m not kidding, Aaron.”

“Well, uh, it’s probably hard to believe this, but I think your sister is kinda’ cute.” “Hmm, there’s a start. The two people I know who have sworn not to date until they graduate, and the only two people I know who constantly debate against each other.”

“Pretty lame of me, isn’t it?”

“No. You never know. You might change you mind.”

“But for now, I don’t have my sight set on anyone. Maybe I’ll think about it more once you show me that you can get Noel to go out with you.”

“Aaron, Josh! It’s quiet reading time!” Mr. Carn said, looking up from the New Yorker magazine he was in the middle of reading.

“Sorry.” I took out a science fiction book I was reading. I couldn’t concentrate on any of it. I kept on thinking about Noel and how beautiful she looked when she was preforming her gymnastic routines.

* * *

I felt ice-cold shivers run up my spine as Eva and I walked up to Leah. Jolene and Megan were with her, laughing. They stopped as soon as they saw us.

“Leah, why did you cheat on the test?”

“I didn’t!”

“You know you did!”

“You know I didn’t!”

“Don’t lie to me, Leah.”

“You’re the one lying, Noel!”

“Get this once and for all. I’m not trying to get you in trouble, or to kill you. I just want to know the truth.” I was beginning to become frustrated.

“Do you really want the truth?”

“Yes, I do.” I stated.

“Well, you’re out of luck,” she said and shoved me to the side, making me lose my balance. Eva grabbed my arm and stepped up to Leah.

“Leah, we just want to know why you had to cheat, just to get a good grade. And why cheat off of Noel?”

The relentlessness was going away from Leah as Jolene and Megan glared at her, transfixed.

“Leah, you don’t have to cheat or lie in getting what you want. You can’t always have what you want, but I would have helped you study if you needed it.”

“Yeah, so please tell me why you were trying to ruin my life?”

“Okay, I’ll tell you why,” she said, tears in her eyes. “It’s because you have everything. Everything anyone can possibly want.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Look. You have all those friends, you’re popular, you have blond hair and get good grades.”

“You do too.”

“No. I don’t have any friends. No one cares about me.”

“I’ll be your friend if you will let me.”

“Me too,” Eva supported.

“But you hate me.” Even more tears welled-up in her eyes. She wiped them away with the back of her hand.

Just at that moment, the tardy bell rang, and I knew I was late for class.

“Talk to you later, okay?”

“Alright.”

After class, Josh was waiting at my locker. I hurried to meet him, my eyes glued to his evenly tanned face with the most gorgeous eyes I’ve ever seen.

“Noel! I saw you and Leah in the hall during passing period. I’m really glad you aren’t trying to gang up on her.”

“No, I’m not. I think she’ll make a great friend once we really get to know her.” “That’s a fact. Maybe I shouldn’t have been too hard on her.”

“I think she understands.”

I tried my combination five times, and couldn’t get it opened. I think the presence of Josh right next me had a lot to do with it. I couldn’t even read the numbers right.

“Want me to open it? I’ll promise not to tell anyone your combination.”

“Could you? I can’t seem to get it right today. Twenty nine, eleven, eighteen.”

“There. You don’t keep anything in you locker?”

“No, only my books. There’s nothing to keep in it anyways.” I used to keep my diary in there during lunch, but now that I don’t have one, there’s nothing worth stealing.

“So, are you grounded again this week?”

“Do you think I was really grounded?”

“Yes.”

“Do you think my mom would do that to me?”

“Yes.” he said, his hands on his hips.

“Okay, you win. But no, I’m not grounded this week. Why?”

“Because I was planing to go to your meet. I need someone else I can cheer for other than your teammates.”

“I’m sure I’ll be there. But don’t plan on seeing anything spectacular.”

“Everything you do is spectacular.” I felt my cheeks flush. We walked into the cafeteria, then headed in the opposite direction. I spotted Eva in the lunch line, and Leah, walking out the side door.

“I’ll catch her later. Right now, I’m famished! Oh no! I forgot my lunch!” I said to myself as I realized my backpack was all empty except for my binder.

Eva and I sat down at a table in the right corner of the room in fifth period, History. We waited for Leah to come in.

“Leah!”

“Noel, I’m very sorry about your diary and stuff. I explained to your friends that I’m the one who should be abandoned.”

“Oh Leah! You didn’t have to do that. If they like me after what I wrote, then they can talk to me. If not, I don’t need anyone who doesn’t like me.”

“After all that I’ve done to you, I don’t know how you can actually want to be friends with me.”

“Because I can see that all you need is a true friend.”

“Thanks a lot, Noel, Eva.”

“It’s the least I can do.” I said.

“Leah, I need to interview you for the paper next week,” Chris interrupted.

“Oh, sure.” She winked to me and turned around to face Chris.

I started to tell Eva what I hadn’t told her about Josh.

“So I wasn’t lying, huh?”

“Yeah, you were right. I wish you had a boyfriend.”

“I don’t. I’ve seen how much trouble you’ve gone through. I don’t want to end up in detention two times in one week.”

“That’s not because of Josh. It was because of someone else that was bothering me.”

“So what does Chris need to interview Leah for?”

“Oh, it’s for the newspaper. Remember, he did that to me, too.”

“Maybe she’ll go to the movies with him. She’ll probably won’t make a lame excuse not to.”

“Oh, just shut it, would you?”

When Leah finished talking, I asked, “Leah, come sit with us! Aren’t you lonely sitting by yourself?”

“Not really.”

“Admit it. You are.”

“You’re right. You guys are the best!” She exclaimed.

“No, no one’s the best.”

“All men are created equally.”

“Yes, but what if you’re poor. You’re not equal.” Leah said.

“We’re all equally talented in our own ways.” Eva corrected.

“You know, it’s “all men are created equally, but all women are created better!”

You got the phrase all wrong.” I joked, quoting a T.V. commercial I heard the other day.

“You got it!” they agreed.

“That’s not true,” Chris said from the table next to ours.

“Yes it is!” the three of us said.

“Then you won’t mind if I tell Josh that you think you’re better than he is?”

Michael, his friend, a teammate of Josh’s said.

“No, I don’t mind. He won’t care.” I crossed my legs under the table, resting my arms on the table.

“Josh is crazy about her,” Leah justified. “He wouldn’t give her up for anything.”

“Yeah. My brother thinks Noel’s better anyways,” Eva defended.

“Oh, you’re all impossible!” Chris shook his head and turned away.

Josh was already at the gym when I walked through the door. “Hi Noel, Leah! Ready for the meet tomorrow?”

“You bet I am!” I exclaimed, pulling the straps on my bag to keep them from falling down.

“Same with me.” Leah chorused.

“Great. I’m expecting to see you both win over Pinecrest. They’ve had enough victories already.”

“Don’t expect too much,” I teased.

“Yeah. We’ll do so bad we won’t even score.”

“That’s impossible. Good luck with practice, and see you later!” He ran over to where Dominic and his team-mates were grouped.

“I’m so glad he didn’t like me.” Leah’s eyes were sparkling.

“Why is that?”

She winked. “Because he’s perfect for you.”

“Is that supposed to mean something?”

“Yes. It means that you two go together. I never knew he was Eva’s brother.”

“I know, he doesn’t look like her. She has three brothers. One of them has brown hair, and Josh and the other has blond hair.”

“I guess that’s why Eva is a tomboy.”

“Yup. She can even out-run her second oldest brother, Tim.”

“That’s great. Do you have any siblings?”

“No. Do you?” I asked, slamming the gym locker shut.

“A sister. She’s in the Navy.”

“Wow! In the Navy?”

“Uh-huh. She loves football,” she replied, tieing her hair up in a ponytail.

“Really?”

“Yup.”

“You know, I though you liked Josh. I can’t get why you don’t anymore.”

“It was just another way to mess up your life.”

I punched open the door out of the locker room. “Yeah right. Tell me the truth.” “Well, it’s because I’ve found another boy who I have a chance at actually going on a date with.”

“And who happens to be the lucky boy?”

“Your ex-crush.”

“Oh, he must have asked you to the movies.”

“How did you know?” she asked, baffled.

“Oh, I just happened to turn him down before he asked you.”

“You?” She scattered chalk all over the place. I turned away, but Leah got some in her eye. “But didn’t you like him?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t feel like it. He got too boring. Besides, I started thinking Josh was cuter.”

“So you turned down Chris for Josh?” she inquired, dusting off her leotard.

“You could say that.”

“Leah, Noel! Start practicing!” Mary barked out.

“Oh no, not again!” I growled.

“Come on!” Leah pulled me along. “What’s a great gymnast like you doing whining?”

“I am not.”

“Then what are you doing, sleeping?”

“No, I’m hungry!” My stomach rumbled as if on cue.

“Noel, didn’t you eat anything for lunch? I saw you in the cafeteria.”

“No. Forgot it at home.”

“Oh, the forgetful Noel strikes again!”

Nine

So, I finally settled it with Leah. I hope Mrs. Carson calls tonight. She always forgets to do stuff. I hope we can win over Pinecrest. I hope my parents won’t fight anymore. I hope Josh still likes me. Do I hope for too much?

“Guess what, Noel?”

“What, Dad?”

“Your mom got the call just before I left to pick you up.”

“She did?”

“Yes, and she was so surprised. She won’t be home tonight because she has another staff training to go to, but I’ll tell you that she’s been wanting to see you ever since the call.”

“She does?”

“Yes.”

“Hopefully, everything will work out.”

“Everything?”

“Yes, everything.”

I got into the car and waved to Leah as she stepped into her dad’s convertible.

“Your new friend?”

“She’s not new, but she is a new friend.”

“I didn’t quite get that.”

“I’ve known her for a while, but she’s just now my friend.”

“I think I got a little bit of that.”

“Oh, let’s just say she is a new friend.” I summed up.

“That’s what I asked in the first place.”

I woke up early Saturday morning to get ready. I was supposed to be at the gym by ten thirty in the morning. My parents wake up at around nine, but today, my mom had gone grocery shopping. That’s weird, because she usually does that in the afternoon. Maybe she had something important to do, and we’ve run out of food. Yesterday, I was asleep when my mom came back. I needed my share of rest and energy. My dad promised to take me to the gym, but I didn’t wake up early enough. My alarm clock was broken. (Okay, lame excuse.)

I packed a light lunch and an apple for dinner. Usually, I’m hungry when it comes to meets, but that makes me conquer my nervousness.

My dad was in weekend clothes when he came down, a t-shirt from Boston and a pair of old jeans. “Ready?”

“Yes.”

He drove me to the gym, and I noticed Leah waiting for me outside the locker rooms.

“The slow Noel strikes again!”

“Really?” My words dragged out as I fell on the floor in a heap.

“Hey, Noel! Are you that tired?” I pretended not to hear. “Noel! I know you’re awake.”

“Barely. Tell Mary I’m too tired to practice.”

“And miss out on a chance to win over the Pineheads? Oh, and I’ll tell Josh that there’s no use coming because you’re not preforming. You know how much he loves to see you preform.”

“Alright, I give in. I’m fine.”

“You don’t have much energy today, do you?” She asked.

“Yeah.” I pushed myself up.

“That doesn’t sound like energy.”

“Yes, Leah, I’m ready to do a million push-ups!” I shouted at the top of my lungs.

“I’m certainly not.” I slammed Leah’s locker shut. “Now look what you’ve done!”

“I closed your locker for you. You should be greatful!” I retorted.

I already had my leotard on when I came. In the morning, all we do is light exercises, just to loosen our muscles. Some other classes were already in session. I like to use Saturday mornings on the giant trampoline and foam pool. My muscles are tenser on weekends than weekdays, so I need to loosen them up.

“My body is so stiff! I can’t even do a back-bend.”

“I can’t either.”

I started bouncing on the trampoline set up next to the pool. I started by one somersault, then gradually making it to three. On the last one, I fell into the pool. I went over to where Leah was practicing her vault. On the other side of the horse awaited a soft, foam pit.

“Leah, try adding an extra twist to your vault. It’ll raise your starting value.”

“But I can’t.”

“You have to try. You’re ready to try something other than what you can already do.”

“Okay, whatever you say.” She took a deep breath and ran down the runway at full speed, hitting the springboard, then pushing off of the horse, bent her knees, and hitting the floor like a nail.

“Leah! That had great form!” I turned around, noticing Mary’s voice.

“You think so?”

“Yes.”

“But I didn’t land it straight. I under-rotated.”

“You have just enough rotation to pull it off. Maybe we can practice this one today.”

“I don’t know.”

“You live to learn. You learn to live. You have to do both,” I said as Leah took off down the run-way.

“See. Your feet touch the mats, and that’s the important part. If you hit the springboard more towards the end, you can get enough rotation. Noel, the floor’s open.” Mary pointed her finger to the other end of the floor, where another group was leaving the floor.

“Right.” I headed towards one of the empty floor.

The rest of the morning, I added flares to my floor routine. I played the song over and over in my head. When the gym was nearly empty before lunch, except for the people who I was competing with, I tried the routine again with the music.

“I love that extra step you put in, adding to the disco music. It really makes you want to clap and dance along,” Leah complimented.

“Yeah,” Vallory agreed, my friend on my team.

“It’ll get the crowd going.”

“Right now, all I’m thinking of doing is eating.”

“Me too. That vault thing is hard. Mary always says to do it one more time, but I ended up doing it a million times,” Leah complained, rubbing her stomach.

“That’s how she is.”

Josh came up to me just before the meet started that afternoon. “Noel! I saw your parents in the stands.”

“My parents?”

“Yes.”

“Like, my dad and mom?”

He nodded. “Yes.”

“My dad probably begged her to come watch. Thanks for telling me, just so I will get nervous and break a leg.”

“The last time Aaron said “break a leg” to me before a meet, I almost broke my leg.”

“I’ll remember to say that before you preform.”

“Oh, that’s fine, because you won’t be allowed in the gym during my meets.”

“I’m just kidding. I’ll never say that to you. It’s like a curse.”

“Well, have a great time!” He wished me good luck and left for the stands where Eva was sitting with her seven year old neighbor, Janie. She was babysitting Janie today.

“Let this be the best meet I have so far,” I prayed.

I felt my muscles tense up, like I was competing in front of a million people. Leah must have noticed it, too, and tried to start a conversation to ease up whatever time we had to kill.

“So, are you excited about this competition?”

“I don’t know.”

“I bet you’re really psyched about beating them, aren’t you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you ready?”

“I don’t know.” I think you can guess who was doing most of the talking.

“Is “ don’t know” the answer to all of my questions?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

She looked at me, then asked, “What’s you name?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you know anything?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is that all you can say?”

“I don’t know.”

Vallory turned around in her seat. “What are you two doing?”

“I don’t know,” we answered simultaneously.

“You have to know.”

“Hey! Don’t leave me out of the conversation! What are they doing, Vallory?” Emily asked.

“I don’t know,” Vallory responded. The three of us cracked up in laughter.

“What are you laughing at?” Emily retorted.

“I don’t know,” I replied between gasps of breath.

“Don’t you guys have anything better than to laugh over nothing?” She shook her head in dismay and headed towards Beth.

“C’mon, Emily! Don’t you have any sense of humor? I guess she doesn’t.” Vallory shrugged and took off after her. They were best friends ever since they entered in gymnastics, but their personalities differed greatly.

Once again, when we settled down, we were back to being nervous. I had to stop myself more than twenty times to keep myself from biting my nails off.

“Boo!”

I jumped up from my seat, extremely startled. “Who did that?” I turned around, embarrassed that it was only Janie. Behind her, Eva and Josh were laughing like a hyena. So was Leah.

“Don’t ever do that again! I’m nervous enough as it is already.” I patted Janie on her hair. “I think I was going to have a heart attack!”

“Really?” she asked, quite amused.

“Now, Janie, Noel has to concentrate.” Josh smiled to me. “I know how it feels.”

“You’re a gymnastics person, too?”

“Yes.”

“But you’re a boy,” she looked up to him, “or do you look like one and have a boy name?”

“Boys are gymnasts, too, Janie.”

“Oh. Next time, can I come see one of your meets, Josh?”

“Well,” he staggered.

“Puh-lease! Pretty please with a cherry on top!”

“You’re making me hungry!” My stomach rumbled. “I’m dying for a triple scoop, hot fudge sundae right now! Even if I can never eat all of it.”

“Oh, don’t remind me!” Leah slumped down in the hard plastic chairs. “I’m dying for one of those, too!”

“For once, Leah is hungry! I thought you never got hungry!”

“Hey! You’re the one who’s always hungry, but never gain a pound!”

“Yes I do.”

“Oh no! You’re one pound heavier!” She got up and headed to Mary, who was motioning for us to huddle.

“See you after you win!” Josh waved bye as I ran over to the group.

“Nothing is impossible,” I reminded myself. “Nothing.”

Finally, after what seemed days, we were into our first rotation, the vault.

“Get the worst over,” Leah mumbled as she slowly walked up to salute the judges.

“Come on, Leah! Stick it! Leah! Stick it! You can do it!”

Just like she heard me, she soared over the horse, tucking her legs in for the double twist, and landing impressively. Her starting value was pretty high to start with, so even if she had made a tiny mistake, she would have scored high.

“Leah! You did it!”

The judges flashed a 9.735. The highest vault so far. Her second one was like a rerun of the first vault.

I was the last one to go for the team. I was on my toes, pacing back and forth, back and fort, imagining every move in my head. Even Leah couldn’t stop me. But Mary’s touch brought me back to the present.

“It’s your turn.”

“Stick it, Noel!” Leah and Emily reminded as I stepped up to the runway.

When I looked up, I saw my parents. My mom caught my glance and smiled brightly. My dad always smiles. I saluted the judges and ran to the springboard. I hit it right where I could get the maximum bounce. My hands hit the horse with lots of power, feeling the hard leather, and all I remember is that I over rotated. I landed, but I had to take a giant step forwards to keep myself from falling. Right then, I knew I had to do it perfectly. For me, my team, my parents, and friends. There was only one more chance left for me to prove myself that I can master this vault. Luckily, they only take the higher of the two vaults.

“You can do it!” I heard Leah say. “You can do it, Noel!”

I saluted the judges once again. Whatever happened between that and the landing was lost to the chanting of the crowd. I stuck it clean. I had my feet together and pointed my toes just like a pencil. There wasn’t the slightest bounce in the landing. I didn’t let anyone down this time.

“You did it!”

“That was the best one you ever did!” Mary hugged me tightly.

“I knew I had to do it.”

“Hey Noel! Way to go!”

I looked to the bleachers. Eva, Josh, and Janie were there, clapping and cheering for me. Leah had a huge grin on her face which told me I’ve got everything it takes to be a winner.

“Pur-r-fect!” Janie screamed.

The score came out. A 10.0! The best I ever had in the vault. I felt weak to my knees and collapsed in Leah’s arms. I had done it! Finally, at last! We supported each other from plummeting to the ground. It was weird because I was taller, but she was the one holding me up.

“I never knew you were so good!”

“I’m not! We are!” I straightened out, trying to regain my composure again. I didn’t want to give in on the next three events. “Ready for the uneven bars?”

“You bet I am! It’s my best event!” Leah quickly packed her stuff and waited for me to pack the rest of my equipment.

“I should have guessed.”

We gathered up our bags and moved to the uneven bars. They weren’t my best apparatus, but it wasn’t my worst, either. The worst, I’d already gotten over. And I’d gotten over it good.

“Here we go!”

“Mission impossible has become possible!”

“Yes! We’re in striking distance to the Pineheads!”

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