Miranda Kenneally

Mexican Food Cures Writer's Block

Excerpt from COMING UP FOR AIR

Coming July, 2017


A Day in the Life

Coming Up for AirWake up at 4:15 a.m.

Swim

Eat breakfast

Shower

Second breakfast

School

Snack between classes

Lunch

More class

Swim

Swim

Swim some more

Snack

Eat dinner

Homework

Sleep

Dream about swimming (and eating)

When I’m not in the pool, I’m counting the minutes until I can dive back in, so most of the time my bushy, light brown hair is wet and reeks of chlorine.

This is the story of my life.

But Friday nights are different because my friends and I have a tradition. We always meet for dinner at Jiffy Burger to talk about our lives. (Okay, mostly our love lives.)

My little group has been doing this since we were thirteen, when we still had to ride our bikes or bum rides from our moms. We understand each other. My best friend Levi and I spend all our time in the pool, while Hunter is the baseball team’s star pitcher and Georgia’s a gymnast-turned-cheerleader. Without a lot of time for anything but school and practice, we always carve out time for our Friday night dinners, and tonight is no different.

Hunter has barely said a word since I sat down. His eyes keep darting around Jiffy Burger and out the window, where a light January snow is steadily falling. He doesn’t even say thank you when the waitress delivers our usual salads, fries, tater tots, and shakes.

“What’s wrong with you?” I ask.

Levi starts laughing so hard he snorts. Georgia is giggling too.

I pop one of Levi’s fries in my mouth and he steals one of my tater tots. “What’s going on?” I ask through a mouthful.

“Mr. Goodwin caught Hunt in Shelby’s room last night,” Georgia says.

“Shit,” I say.

With a red face, Hunter rips into his burger and chews. His eyes sweep the restaurant again.

“He’s terrified Mr. Goodwin is gonna show up here and pulverize him,” Levi says.

“Back up,” I say. “I need details.”

Hunter is chewing slowly, probably so he doesn’t have to answer.

Levi jumps in, “You know how the Goodwin manor has all those secret passageways from the Civil War? Hunt’s been sneaking into Shelby’s room over the past few weeks.”

“I had no idea you guys were so serious,” I say, spearing lettuce with my fork.

“We’re not,” Hunter grumbles. “We’re still just fooling around.” He stuffs a fry in his mouth

“Does she know that?” Georgia asks.

“It was her idea!” Hunter says. “You know I want to go out with her.”

Swimming takes up all my time, so I’ve never dated anyone, or really made out with a guy for that matter. Hunter has someone to make out with on a regular basis now, and I’m pretty jealous. I will have to live vicariously through him.

“Hunter,” I say. “Story. Now.”

“I was making out with Shelby in her room—”

“Without your shirt on,” Levi cuts in.

“Without my shirt on, when her dad burst in. He chased me down the stairs and out the front door.”

I lean back in the booth. “Shit,” I say again.

“So I get this call at 2:00 a.m.,” Levi says. “It was Hunt calling to ask me to pick him up from the Exxon station.”

Hunter slumps. “I left my keys and phone in Shelby’s room.”

“And your shirt.” Levi flashes me a grin. “Did I mention that when I picked him up, he was shirtless? He ran shirtless through the snow!”

“I left that in her room too,” Hunter mutters.

“At least you had your pants,” I say encouragingly.

“I’m glad her dad didn’t have a gun,” Hunter says.

“So you rescued Hunter. This is why you were so wrecked at practice,” I say to Levi, who was incredibly sluggish in the pool this morning. He nods and shrugs. I’m not hurt Levi didn’t say something to me—he’s never talkative in the morning, because he’s not a morning person.

“So now what happens?” Georgia interrupts. “Are you still gonna see Shelby?”

Hunter plays with his fries. “I hope so.”

“You must really like her,” I say.

“You’d probably be risking death to go back to her house,” Levi says.

“Then it’s a good thing it has all those secret passageways,” Hunter says, and we all burst out laughing.

This is what it’s always like for us. As far as I know, we’ve never kept any secrets from each other, and I don’t know what I’ll do without them when we leave for college this fall. Georgia to the University of Tennessee. Hunter to the Air Force Academy, where he’ll train to be an officer and play baseball. Levi to University of Texas, and me to Cal-Berkley, two of the best swimming schools.

The four of us started hanging out in seventh grade because we had special schedules at school. Levi and I needed to leave before last period for club practice in Nashville. Georgia left early too. At the time, she was a serious competitive gymnast and trained with a professional coach every day. And because our school didn’t have one, Hunter went across town for last period to attend a junior ROTC program that his grandfather wanted him in. This meant our school didn’t require any of us to take gym class, which messed up our schedules, which meant we had to eat lunch with the sixth graders. None of us would be caught dead sitting with a sixth grader, so we started hanging out and never really stopped.

Still famished after my run this afternoon, I take a big bite of salad followed by a tater tot. Levi is on to his second cheeseburger. He and I swim six or seven times a week, three hours a day, and when we’re not swimming, Coach has us lifting weights or doing cardio. We’re always hungry. Georgia watches Levi chewing. That’s when I notice she’s only been picking at her fries, and her shake is untouched.

“You okay?” I ask her.

“I got an email from an assistant coach at Tennessee,” Georgia says. She’ll be on the cheerleading squad starting this fall.

“I’m still shocked they want you on the team,” Hunter says, sipping his iced tea through a straw. “There’s nothing a Tennessee fan hates more than Georgia.”

“That’s not true,” Levi says. “They hate Alabama more.”

Georgia smirks. “I don’t think Tennessee fans will give a crap what my name is once they see me do a round-off back handspring back tuck.”

“What did the coach say?” I ask, to get us back on topic. Our tangents are legendary.

“That I need to follow a strict diet.” Georgia pops a french fry in her mouth and chews. “Like, I have to eat a certain amount of calories per day and have to count grams of carbs and fat. I can’t eat cheese anymore!”

I gasp. Levi and Hunter pause in their chewing. Georgia lives for cheese. It’s her favorite food and general reason for being.

“You don’t need to lose weight,” Hunter says. “You look great.”

Georgia gives in and slurps her milkshake. “This is why I run every day. So I can eat cheese.”

“I run every day so I can outrun Mr. Goodwin,” Hunter replies, and the rest of us laugh.

What a sucker. I’d never get myself in a position like that.

#

Rather than risk another run-in with Mr. Goodwin, Hunter asked Shelby over to his house tonight, and Georgia’s mom wants her home early because she has a cheerleading competition tomorrow morning in Chattanooga. So it’s just me and Levi.

“Want to come back to my place?” he asks.

“Yeah, but I can’t stay too late.”

Tomorrow morning I’m flying to California to spend the night at Cal-Berkeley, where I’ll be going to school this fall. I will be attending a special orientation for new student athletes.

In his truck on the way to his house, we play our usual game where we pretend we’re on a boat with three people. We have to choose who we’d:

1)    Spend one hot night with;

2)    Spend an entire year sailing around the world with;

3)    Throw overboard.

Levi says, “Justin Bieber, Oprah, and Donald Trump.”

“That’s an easy one,” I reply, ticking them off on my fingers. “I’d throw Donald Trump overboard, because obviously. I’d have one hot night with Bieber, and spend a year with Oprah. She’s rich and has beach houses we could stay at when we’re sailing around the Caribbean.”

“You wouldn’t spend a year with Bieber? He’s rich and probably has nice houses.”

“He’s cute, but I don’t think I could handle his personality. I heard he was doing yoga on top of the Empire State Building the other day.”

He laughs. “Well, you gotta do your yoga somewhere, right? Okay, my turn.”

“Tom Brady, Prince Harry, and Elvis.”

Levi groans. He hates it when I don’t give him any girls to consider. Tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, he considers his options. “I’d spend one hot night with Tom Brady—maybe some of his good luck from winning all those Super Bowls would rub off on me. I’d spend a year with Prince Harry because he’s adventurous. He could get us into any party and girls would be all over us. I’d throw Elvis overboard because he’s already dead.”

“You have to assume he’s alive! That’s against the rules.”

Levi smiles at me from the driver’s seat. “There are no rules in this game. Now, it’s your turn. Professor Dumbledore, Marie Antoinette, and Michelle Obama.”

“Uggggh.”

The house is dark when we arrive, only the porch light lit. His mom is working late, like every night. She’s an executive at Rêve Records, the country music label. Ms. Lucassen says music never sleeps, and as a result, neither does she. She adores all things country—horses, rodeos, line dancing. Levi even got his name from her favorite brand of jeans.

It’s after eight o’clock and Wheel of Fortune is over, so Oma and Opa are already in bed. They’re Dutch, and forbade Levi from calling them Gram and Gramps. That’s what I call both sets of my grandparents. There’s Ohio Gram and Gramps, and Tennessee Gram and Gramps. Levi thinks it’s hilarious I call them that. His grandparents have lived with him since he was a toddler, when his dad left his mom and moved to Texas.

Levi unlocks the front door and his dog, Pepper, bounds up and, as usual, sticks her face in his crotch. She’s a bearded collie whose grey and white hair always falls in her eyes like a boy in a boy band.

He scratches her floppy ears. “Hey, baby girl.”

Levi flicks on a few switches to light the way to his room. When we get there, I kick off my boots and flop down on his soft bed, loving the way it bounces. He pulls his hooded grey sweatshirt off over his head, his T-shirt riding up a little to reveal ripped abs thanks to the 300 crunches a day that Coach orders.

I love that sweatshirt. His last name is embroidered on the breast in cursive: Lucassen. Soft from so many washings, it smells like him, and I love stealing it to wear, but he always nabs it right back because it’s his favorite.

He places his wallet on top of his desk next to stacks of books and dozens of trophies. He lies down next to me, looking comfy in a pair of running tights with long athletic shorts over them. Even though Ms. Lucassen pressures him to wear jeans and nice button-downs, I never see him in anything but speedos, athletic clothes, and the silver chain his mom gave him. It has a little pendant that says Make Waves.

I grab his iPad from the messy nightstand, which is covered by empty Gatorade bottles and a stack of Harry Potter paperbacks, and turn on some music on his speakers. Levi starts fiddling with his phone.

“You better not be playing Candy Crush again,” I say. Coach Josh nearly took his phone away this morning because he was tapping the screen instead of diving in the pool.

“I’m texting Molly.”

“Who?”

“The girl I met in Clarksville a couple weeks ago.”

Levi always finds a way to sneak out at meets to hook up, especially when we’re in hotels and Coach can’t keep an eye on him every waking minute. He’s only seventeen, but could pass for a college guy. At 6’5 and 190 pounds, he’s a beast. I look tiny beside him, and I’m 5’10. Girls love his body, with his long, lean, muscled torso, and sleek blond hair. He says sex helps him take the edge off. I don’t care how he chooses to spend his free time, but a random hook-up at a meet has always made me nervous.

Not only would it distract me, it could hurt my reputation. I can’t risk other athletes thinking I get around. Especially Roxy. My rival already gets in my head in the pool. I can’t give her anything to lord over me.

But believe me, I really want to make out with somebody. The last—and only—person I’ve kissed is Hunter during an ill-advised game of truth or dare two years ago, when we each declared the other the worst kisser ever. Maybe I need to play truth or dare more often, I muse.

Levi’s phone keeps buzzing as he types.

“Are you sexting?” I tease.

“No,” he says a little too quickly, totally guilty, and then he cracks up. “I don’t know actually. Do you think her telling me ‘I need to kiss your plump lips ASAP’ is sexting?”

“Plump lips? Did she really say that?” I try to look over his shoulder at his phone, but he elbows me away. “What did you say back?”

“That I want to touch her bazongas.”

I bury my face in his pillow. “Nooooo. You did not.”

He’s still laughing. “Okay, fine. I told her I finally cleared level 181 of Candy Crush.”

“How romantic.”

“She responded that her ‘lips have been known to taste like candy.’” He cocks his head, thinking. “I’d agree with that.”

I roll my eyes. “Are you into her?”

He stares at his phone, thumbs tapping the screen. “She’s nice…but I don’t want anything serious.”

What he means is, even if he did want a relationship, he’d have no time for it. Next week is conferences, two weeks later is regionals, and two weeks after that is the high school state championship. Then, if we qualify—which I will totally die if we don’t qualify—we have Junior Nationals in Huntsville with our club team, the New Wave. Then there are two important, long-course meets, leading all the way up to the Olympic trials in June. I eat, sleep and breathe the trials. No lie, it’s on my mind every waking minute, and I haven’t even qualified for them yet.

We. Are. Busy.

Friday nights are literally our only downtime because we don’t swim doubles or lift weights on Fridays. This is why we don’t have time for serious dating: every other day of the week we’d be asleep by now after a hard workout.

Speaking of which, I’m exhausted and my muscles are tight. I stretch my arms above my head.

“Your shoulder still bothering you?” he asks. I nod, and he motions for me to flip onto my stomach so he can work on this knot from Hades that won’t go away.

His strong hands massage my shoulder until the dog jumps on the bed to interrupt my bliss. Pepper presses her paws on my back and barks.

“Pepper! That’s my job,” Levi says, motioning for her to get off the bed. He turns to me. “So. You excited for tomorrow?”

I hesitate. Based on my swimming record, Cal offered me a scholarship last year. I can’t wait to kick some ass swimming in college, but I dread the idea of moving away from my friends. Especially Levi. We’ve never been apart for more than a week.

“I’m sort of excited…? I don’t know.”

Levi nudges me. “You’ll have fun this weekend. I had a great time visiting Texas. Some guys from the team took me out to dinner and then we went to a party. Do you think you’ll do something like that?”

“I’m not sure…I wish we were going to the same college. I don’t want to leave you.”

I look back over my shoulder at him, and he gives me a supportive, but sad, smile.

My friend doesn’t want to leave me either.

 

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