Elegy - Cover


Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 2

“Wait up!” Sydney huffed, as she scrambled to keep up with me, breathing in short, ragged bursts, her cheeks flushed from exertion.

“What happened to all those swimming muscles, huh?” I grinned, teasing her as I slowed my pace up the steep incline.

“Ugh, hiking and swimming use totally different muscles, genius,” she said, stopping next to me to catch her breath. Bent over, hands on her knees, she looked up at me and asked, “How are you not exhausted?”

I laughed and dropped into a horse stance, legs shoulder-width apart, knees at a forty-five-degree angle as if I was sitting up straight on an invisible chair.

“Ever held one of these bad boys for twenty minutes?” I asked, my stance rock solid. “This is Chef’s punishment when he thinks I’m slacking off. Makes lunges and squats feel like a breeze. Also, wasn’t this your idea?”

“I just thought it’d be nice to be out in nature, y’know?” she said defensively. “There are easier trials, for the record.”

“True, but they wouldn’t have this view,” I replied, sitting on a large rock and pulling her down next to me.

We gazed through a gap in the trees at the layer of clouds shrouding the rolling mountains. Though the view would be more breathtaking in the summer, when the trees were lush with leaves, the dramatic vista was still mesmerizing. A dusting of snow and delicate icicles clung to the bare skeletal branches, creating the illusion of a sparkling glow. The early morning sun had yet to burn off the cloudy mist that gave the Smoky Mountains their name, making the entire thing seem almost cinematic.

We sat there in almost eerie silence, punctuated occasionally by the call of some winter bird or the rustling of branches caught in a gust of wind, just taking in the moment.

“Okay, this is pretty damn nice,” Sydney admitted, snuggling up close to me and resting her head on my shoulder.

She sighed as I wrapped my arm around her waist. It felt good to escape the chaos of life for a while, leaving behind rehearsals, gigs, school, and whatever bullshit anyone else wanted to throw at me. For this moment, at least, there was just Sydney and me.

“So, what are your plans for Spring Break?” I asked, breaking the silence.

Sydney shrugged. “Dunno. We were thinking about Disney World, but one of Dad’s deputies needs surgery, so he can’t take time off. Guess I’ll be stuck at home.”

“That’s funny because we’re actually going to Florida. We’re playing at this huge music festival in Miami,” I said, a grin spreading across my face. “Since you’ve got nothing going on, you should tag along!”

She shook her head. “You know my dad would never let me travel with you on my own, especially to a festival where there will be partying and underage drinking. He doesn’t even approve of us dating.”

“It won’t be just on our own. You could room with Lyla, and Warren’s coming too, so there’ll be at least one adult around,” I countered, hoping to sway her.

She sighed. “I know, but your tour manager isn’t going to be Dad’s idea of a quality chaperone.”

“What if your mom came along? She had a blast in Nashville, and she could make sure I’m not, y’know, defiling you or anything,” I suggested, only half-joking.

Sydney rolled her eyes. “See, I’m on board with the defiling part, but no. She’s picking up extra shifts at work since her coworkers will be on vacation, and she hates bailing on commitments.”

“Damn,” I muttered, disappointed.

It’s fine. You’ll have other tour shows, and I’ll find a time to go when Mom can join us,” she reassured me. “Besides, I prefer your smaller gigs. I can actually hear the music and flirt with you from the front row. I’ll come to most of your Blue Ridge shows.”

“But we won’t see each other over Spring Break,” I complained, trying not to sound too whiny.

“We’ll survive,” she said, standing and pulling me up with her. “Now let’s head back down this damn mountain. Maybe we can find a secluded spot for some ‘defiling’ before your practice.”

I shook my head, chuckling. Sydney always kept me on my toes, but that was part of her appeal. Just when I thought I had her figured out, she’d zig instead of zag.

When I got home, after dropping Sydney off, I almost tripped over Hanna’s bag which was sitting just inside the front door.

“Leaving?” I asked her as she came down the stairs.

“Yeah,” she said. “I want to get back into the groove of things before classes start on Monday. Plus, Tommy’s been texting, wanting to see me.”

We all hated Tommy. The one time he’d come for a visit, he’d treated her like a servant and made a pass at Kat. For whatever reason though, Hanna was blind to what a loser he was, and got angry when we brought it up.

“Thanks for taking me with you to New York,” she said, wrapping me up in a big hug. “It was amazing.”

“We wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for you,” I said, hugging her back. “Nothing would have happened if you hadn’t gotten me that job at the Blue Ridge.”

“Bullshit. We both know you would have made it no matter what.”

“I guess, I just...”

I was interrupted by the door flying open and Kat almost barreling into the two of us. She must have just finished with swim practice because her hair was still wet, curling around her shoulders the way it does when she gets out of the pool.

“Oh my God, you guys will never guess what happened,” she said, grabbing both of our hands and jumping up and down.

Hanna and I exchanged an amused glance. Kat was usually fairly quiet and reserved, but she could be almost childlike when she got excited.

“What happened?” Hanna asked.

“I have a shot at the national team. I didn’t know if I could make it, since it’s the adult team, but trails are in July and my birthday is in June, so I’ll be just under the wire.”

“That’s great,” I said, probably less enthusiastically than she wanted, since she stopped bouncing and gave me an exasperated look.

“Don’t you know what this means? If I make the national team I’ll be able to go to the twenty-four Olympics next year.”

“Really?” Hanna asked.

“Yeah, really. I mean, it’s going to be tough, because there are only six slots for each event, but I’ll get a shot. The juniors were great, but we didn’t really get to compete for anything big. The Olympics. Can you believe it?” she said, starting to bounce again.

“That’s so cool,” I said.

“I know. It’s going to take a lot of work, though. First, I have to qualify for trials, so I’m going to have to find a bunch of ranked events that meet USA Swimming and United States Aquatic Sports standards. That probably means a lot of travel, since only national, international, and sponsored events count toward the point totals to qualify for trials. It also means I’m not going to have time to compete for the school team this year, which sucks. I haven’t told coach yet, and he’s going to be crushed.”

“I’m sure he’ll get over it when one of his students wins a gold medal,” Hanna said.

“Probably, although there’s a lot of stuff I have to win between here and there.”

“Just getting on the team would be amazing,” I said.

Kat had a way of setting huge expectations for herself and getting crushed when they didn’t work out. Considering this was the thing she’d wanted since she was a little girl, I didn’t want her to start putting a ton of pressure on herself. She was still really young and this wasn’t going to be her last chance at it, not that she’d see that if she didn’t make the team this time. She was doing so well at therapy I didn’t want her to set herself up for a major backslide.

“No kidding,” she said.

“So, I guess you won’t be able to go to Florida with us over Spring Break?” I asked.

“Actually, I can. We went over the schedule of events today, and there’s a big competition in Florida at the end of March, two weeks before Spring Break, but nothing the week of Spring Break. It means two separate trips to Florida, but I’ll be able to go with you guys.”

“What about school?” Hanna asked. “Are they going to let you go to all of those competitions and miss classes?”

“I have to talk to your mom and have her talk to the principal, but probably. I’m doing well in all of my classes, so I won’t be that far behind. I just have to study while I’m traveling and be able to send in my assignments. The only hard part will be convincing them to work out different times for me to take tests and quizzes.”

“They’ll figure it out,” I said. “Your teachers all love you.”

She just gave a half-shrug and said, “I guess.”

“What about the Pan American games?” Hanna asked. “You killed it at that and medaled last year. That has to be an internationally ranked meet. Doesn’t that count for qualifying?”

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