“I’m not going to ask what you lot were doing, nor am I going to use this as a platform to preach about the dangers of alcohol. Hell, I shouldn’t be anywhere near that subject,” Coach Johnson commenced, “Let’s take this moment to remember one of our most beloved team members. Skylar Michael Rodgers was an incredible human being. He was the glue that kept us all together… He always had a knack for being able to liven the morale, even when he wasn’t having a great day himself… He was always the one who would take it upon himself to make each and every one of us feel important. He was not only a great gymnast; Skylar was much more than that... He was an incredible human being.” His voice cracked, as he finished his speech.
He walked away, visibly shaken, and slammed his office door behind them. They all looked down. Some of them were crying, others fighting back tears. The atmosphere in the gym was melancholic; there was no better word to describe it.
“Alright, everyone, let’s take a quick moment of silence, and then let’s get to work,” Tommy nodded.
The weeks that followed Skylar’s death were hell; an austere shroud of despondency had fallen upon their training.
Even though they’d brought on an assistant coach at the sister gym, Jessica, coaching the girls still added an extra level of stress that they could barely cope with. Coach Johnson often went weeks without showing up.
The insurmountable sense of remorse Declan carried on his shoulders lead him towork himself into the ground day in and day out. It had been his fault, and that was that. He didn’t blame anyone, but himself, for Skylar’s death.
Each and every day, he vowed to work his ass off, in Skylar’s memory. Every fall he had, he’d shake off. Any bad landing he had, he’d ignore the throbbing pain.
His chest swelled and collapsed with each rushed breath he took, as the mirrored wall before him stared back with an icy despondence. His body ached, his head pounded, his stomach begged him for nourishment. It pained him to move, but he slowly rose and walked towards the wall across the room.
It’d been three days since he’d eaten an entire meal. Anything he put into his mouth, he would purged mere moments later. He was killing himself, by putting his body through this sadistic regimen, but the results blinded him from the cruel reality of losing Gable, Skylar, and himself.
A blistery breeze pierced through him, the moment he walked through the door connecting the studio to the gymnasium’s main practice hall. He shivered violently as he approached the spring floor, but dismissed it to chalk his hands and his legs.
From the other side of the hall, Tommy jumped off the pommel horse, and walked to the chalk bucket near the horse. He glanced up from his hands in time to see the latter part of Declan’s tumbling pass. The teenager’s body laid out body flipped twice in the air, and landed perfectly still a few feet away.
Tommy nodded his head, but before he could praise him for his successful attempt, Declan set off in another tumbling sequence: back handspring, back handspring, one and a half twisting layout connected into round off, back handspring, double arabian, connected straight into a stag leap.
Declan’s body ached with each landing, but he refused to stop. After turning to face the opposite corner, he launched once more into a tumbling sequence. The moment before rounding off, Coach Johnson’s voice bellowed within the confines of his mind.
“What, are you waiting for someone to come in here and show you how a two and a half is done?”
Each instance his body connected with the spring floor, he rebounded off it with every last ounce of power within him. His body ricocheted after the last back handspring and twisted once, twice, but before he could complete the third twist, he slammed into the blue surface. He shook the initial shock off and slammed his fist onto the floor.
“Hey, fag, are you okay?” Tommy walked over to where Declan was, now, sitting, breathing heavily.
“What do you care?” he snarled at him.
“Woah, calm down, bro,” Tommy was taken aback, this was not the same kid that he had berated for the past two years, he was affected; different.
His eyes were dull, full of pain, “Declan, look… Skylar’s death fucked with us all. Yeah, you guys might’ve been close, but we both started here at the same time. I’m worked up about it too.”
Declan looked away, his eyes filled with tears. He couldn’t let himself breakdown… Not right now, not before the biggest meet of his life.
Tommy sat next to him, and put his arm around the frail teen.
“It wasn’t your fault. You tried your hardest to get him to the hospital. Please, stop blaming yourself. Each and every one of us are as guilty as you are. We all got just as drunk. We all have ourselves to blame. Hell, you still have the remnants of a black eye.” He chuckled.
Declan smiled and nodded. He never expected Tommy to be the one to bring him out of the slump he’d been in since he lost both Gable and Skylar. It was what he needed to hear.
“Don’t hate me for this,” Declan warned him. Tommy furrowed his brown, as he reached and gave him a full hug.
“Alright, alright… I don’t want to get your gaybies.” Tommy joked.
That was what made Declan laugh the hardest he had laughed since that night. He composed himself and stood up. They promised each other they were going to compete for Skylar. They were going to make sure they made him proud, and to honor his memory.