Seasons Part 5 of 6

April 5th, 2014 | By Clint Foster No Comments


His parents didn’t bother coming to the meeting before the track and field season started. Carlos took home the papers they had to sign, finding them filled out in the morning as he shared a bowl of cereal with an empty kitchen. The coaches told everyone to encourage family to come cheer at their first indoor track meet, but Carlos didn’t bother letting them know. They’d be busy. Instead, he took every day, every practice he went to, as seriously as possible, staying late to get extra coaching whenever he could. Every time he hefted the cool metal against his neck, he savored the moment.

People cheered for him.

He’d been applauded before on numerous occasions. He’d won outstanding soloist awards at band competitions and he’d shown off a glowing smile at the praise heaped on him and the others. However, he’d never felt the raw satisfaction that comes with a teammate, a friend, yelling, “C’mon, Carlos, you got this!”

People cheered for him.

A quick twist on his toes, a grunt, and he heaved the ball out into the sky. Thud. Step out of the back of the ring, go get the shot. It was so loud inside the gym, Carlos could only barely hear the voices hollering about how great the throw was, but he knew they were there, and he cherished them.

Carlos had placed third in his first track meet ever. Second in the next two, but only by a few inches. After another couple of weeks, he was in the lead at the final indoor track meet. He’d never felt the tightness in his gut that came with knowing he’d done his best, but that it might not be enough. The other competitors still had a couple of chances, and he could only wait and watch.

Mick kept his eyes firmly fixed on the orange jersey a few steps in front of him. He was in the middle of the pack running his first indoor mile. Grueling didn’t begin to describe it. After participating in several practices, the coaches had moved him from the 400-meter dash to the 800-meter dash, and finally to the mile. The farther the race, the better Mick did, so he had figured the mile would be all but a free medal. With two laps to go, and first place still 50 meters ahead, he suddenly realized he might have to train a little harder before the outdoor season started.

Carlos cheered Mick on, skin glistening slightly in the fluorescent light. Mick was glad his friend had fit in with the team, and really started to blossom among his peers. Mick’s thoughts wandered a lot when he ran, he guessed it was because he got a little bored while he did it. Maybe that’s why he lost races? He shook his head to try and focus again on the orange jersey still bobbing in front of him like a dangling carrot in front of some cartoon character running on a treadmill to power some ridiculous machine.

The students all roared as the runners rounded the final corner. Someone had already finished, and Mick was looking to place a promising seventh. Things could be worse, he thought, as he stepped across the finish line and laced his hands above his head. He hadn’t come in last, so that was something.

Ricky and Cassie beckoned Mick to join them by the bleachers. He bade them wait a moment as he searched for Carlos. He found his friend taking off his shoes in favor of a more comfortable pair of sandals. “So,” Mick started, “how’d you do?”

“Well, I set a new record.”

“That’s awesome!” They high-fived. Mick pulled on a pair of sweatpants and shed his sweaty jersey. “Do you know where you placed yet?”

“There are still a few guys to throw yet, but…”

“But what? Did you scratch or something?”

“Everyone who could’ve beat me already went. First place for me today!”

Mick cheered, sharing another high five and leading Carlos toward his other friends. “Hey, Carlos, this is Ricky and Cassie. Guys, this is Carlos, my band friend.”

Ricky shook his hand, “Band friend, huh? Looks more like a cannonball throwing machine.”

Carlos, though he savored the cheers he received when he was competing, still wasn’t sure how to take the praise once he’d finished. He tried to dismiss compliments as much as he could because he wasn’t comfortable with them.

When Ricky realized how shy Carlos seemed, he lightened up and turned on Mick. “Seventh place? You mean to tell me you spent all that time on a treadmill to get almost-tenth?”

Mick gave him a playful punch on the shoulder, “Hey now, I’ve run about as many competitive miles as you have. Well, one more now, I guess.”

Cassie intervened, “Besides, I don’t even think you could run a mile, Ricky.”

Everyone laughed as Ricky tried to make his defense.

They all sat together and chatted for a while as the last few events finished up. Ricky left early, moaning about the morning workout that awaited him before sunrise. Cassie waited until Mick and Carlos had to meet with their team before waving goodbye. “Bring Carlos along with you sometime when we hang out. There’s always room for one more wherever we go.”

“Will do!”

The coach made sure to tell everyone the same things he told them every day. “Ice your sore muscles. Drink lots of water. Stretch. Hot showers. Eat plenty of healthy food. Get enough sleep.”

Carlos swore he just had a list of therapeutic strategies memorized. Packing his duffel bag, he rotated his arm around a few times to loosen it up before he set off for home, first place ribbon clutched tightly in hand.

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