handicapped bathroom on the opposite end of the building, which, thankfully, someone forgot to lock.
“I’m sorry I can’t be there,” Nathan had told her. He skipped last period to walk her to the bus. “But, here, take this.”
Maggie held out her hand. “What is it?”
“It’s something of me, so I can be there with you when you win. Don’t open it until you win.”
“And what if I don’t?” A bunch of faces were already looking out the windows of the bus. “What if I don’t win?”
“You will. Then you’ll open it.”
Her first event was the 800 free. She took second, a good seventeen points for the team. A win, certainly. Maggie dried off her hands and reached into her swim bag for the brown-paper package Nathan had given her. Underneath the first wrapper was a rectangle of aluminum foil, and inside that, covered in cellophane, was a perfectly shaped, perfectly baked loaf of oatmeal chocolate-chip banana bread. A small yellow Post-it note was pressed on top, with
A piece of me for you
written in boy scrawl. And just as she thought of needing one, Maggie noticed a white plastic knife wedged on the side, which brought an enormous smile to her face.
“It’s looking good.” Julie bounced over to where Maggie was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the Y lobby. “Ooh, what’s that?”
“It’s banana bread.”
“Yum, it’s all good. And hey, with your win, we only have to place in the four-by-one-hundred medley relay and we go to the state semifinals, and if we win those, we go to the state finals, and then to Nationals — and that’s in Florida. Cecily is already talking about getting us a side trip to Disney.”
“That’s cool. Wanna slice?”
“Of course,” Julie said. She picked up the Post-it. “Nathan? My God, he bakes, too?”
“Apparently so.” Maggie thought about a little boy burning himself at the stove who now makes banana bread, and she smiled.
“Oh, my God. With chocolate chips.”
“Umm, I know.”
“You deserve this, Maggie.” Julie licked the crumbs from her fingers. “OK, maybe you don’t — but I do.”
Since the backstroke begins in the water, it is always the first leg of the relay, to avoid a second swimmer landing on anyone’s head. After that, the relay is arranged by speed: breast, fly, free. Maggie had the last leg, the fastest time and stroke: front crawl.
She watched Natasha Beard coming in a few lengths behind the lead swimmer. Natasha had a powerful kick. It propelled her out of the water, her arms arching, her mouth wide open to suck in that beautiful air, but there would be seconds to catch up, fractions of a second to pass. The sounds across the water were deafening: people were not only cheering but screaming. One team would advance; one would see the end of their swim season.
The key was to launch yourself off the starting blocks at the exact perfect moment that your teammate touched the automatic touch pad. A second too early and you risk disqualification; a second late could cost the race.
The splashing became louder, each water molecule spinning, shaken from its principle and sent off into space, longing to return to become one again. It was as if Maggie could hear each one calling to her, pleading with her, telling her when to dive, propelling her through the water.
The ride home was quiet. Coach Mac asked everyone to save their celebrations and focus on what they needed to do to win the state semifinals. Most of the girls were exhausted at this point, leaning their heads against the window or one another. It was nearly ten p.m. Some of the team had been allowed, with prior written permission, to go home with their parents, but most of the girls rode the bus. The next meet, which would leave only six teams competing in the finals, was less than a week away.
Maggie had told her dad he could drive straight home. She told him she had a ride. She knew Nathan would be waiting for her in the high-school parking lot,
Robert Asprin, Eric Del Carlo