The Try Out
“So, when did you and Gable begin to take your relationship to the next level?” Karen inquired as she knelt before him to change the dressings on his knee.
As opposed to Declan’s room, hers was heavily decorated; motivational posters covered surfaces pictures didn’t, pink was the predominant color, and there was a tinge of citrus lingering in the air. It was the epitome of a girl’s room.
“There really wasn’t a starting point,” He clenched his eyes shut while she removed the bandage, exposing his knee. It had healed significantly over the past few weeks, but he’d aggravated it during a trust exercise causing them to go back in and scope it to make sure there hadn’t been further injury.
“Well, when did you two… You know,” she prodded.
“What?” Declan opened an eye and looked down at her.
“When did you guys get it on?” She giggled.
“Oh… Uh… Well, the first time we ever did anything, it was kind of really awkward.” He winced again, as she applied pressure to the bandage to make sure it was on securely.
“All done,” she smacked his knee, to which he yelped, “Why was it awkward?”
He faked cried, and moved himself to face her, while she sat back in her bed.
They sat in the middle of Gable’s living room studying. Gable’s mother had gone into a nearby town to visit his grandparents, and his dad was in his semi, somewhere between here and Oklahoma, in order to make a drop. Gable was nose deep in his Chemistry book, and Declan, as always, was procrastinating to finish an essay.
Declan’s smile curved into a devious arch the moment he realized he wasn’t paying much attention to him. He reached over to his book bag and pulled out a spiral notebook. Strip by strip, Declan began to form small wads of paper in his mouth. Slowly, he reached for the straw in his soft drink, and aligned it to his mouth.
One. Two. Three. All, in rapid fire succession, hit Gable’s face. He barely moved a muscle, but his expression showed feigned annoyance.
“Really?” His head shook in disbelief.
Declan continued smirking, until Gable launched at him. The two wrestled around giggling and shouting like little kids.
Gable established dominance by pushing his weight upon Declan’s smaller frame. Once above him, he returned the smirk that initialized their rough housing and neared his face to his. Their eyes danced as they examined each other’s faces. Gable’s, now clear, complexion was rougher; his five o’ clock shadow giving him a rugged appearance as opposed to Declan’s smooth façade.
The jock gently brushed his lips against Declan’s. The teenager’s mouth, timidly, welcomed the kiss. Slowly, they began to run their hands around each other’s bodies. Gable pulled away slightly, and glanced downwards towards Declan’s stomach. The teenager glowered and looked away in mortification.
“I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do about the loose skin.” He confessed.
Gable sat back and pulled Declan’s shirt up. He, then, began to examine the teenagers stomach. The loose skin was off-putting, but he couldn’t let himself be insensitive towards him.
Declan grew visibly uncomfortable the more Gable examined him, until the jock neared his face to his stomach, and kissed it. He continued to kiss down, until Declan pulled his face up.
“I don’t like… Uh…” He grimaced.
“Getting head?” Gable cocked an eyebrow.
Declan lowered his head in omission.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Gable, kissed his forehead, “I didn’t really want to do it, to be honest. It grosses me out.”
“Wait, you mean you’ve done it before?” Declan asked bewildered.
“Well, not exactly,” Gable propped himself up on his elbow, “It was a few years ago… Ryder and I kind of messed around, and it almost happened, but I bitched out.” He lied.
“Oh…” he reasoned.
Gable noticed how his confession wiped the life from Declan’s face. He neared him again, and nuzzled him, this time. The teenager’s smell was intoxicating; his hair smelt like citrus, but his neck smelt like mint… Pepper… Cedar. A far cry from his Axe days.
“You smell good,” Gable whiffed again.
“Yeah?” Declan cocked his head, “It’s my dad’s cologne. Homme by Adex Inc.”
“I like it.” Gable nuzzled him again, then lifted his chin to meet his lips. He placed his hand on the teenagers stomach, and broke the kiss to look down at the loose skin once more.
“I’m sorry, Gabe… There’s both…”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s part of who you are. Don’t ever say sorry for being you. I love you for your perfect imperfections.”
Declan looked down and bit his lip, as the jock pulled him closer. He rest his head upon Gable’s chest, and Gable rest his chin upon his shaggy hair.
They lay like that for hours, in silence, just smelling each other, and enjoying each other’s company. It was perhaps the most intimate they’d ever been, and, to Gable, it was the first time he actually felt home.
It’d been six months since Declan had begun training. Team tryouts, and his chance to officially begin competing, were finally here. After having trained under Coach Johnson, he knew he was ready to vie for a spot on the collegiate training squad.
The morning of, he woke up almost an entire hour before his alarm clock. Without a sliver of hesitance, he began the rudimentary process of waking his body up for the long day ahead. All those long hours, the sore days, the exhaustion, the sacrifices… It all came down to today.
He made his way towards the door, turned towards the kitchen and saw a small breakfast had been laid out for him by his parents, next to a note.
“Buena suerte, hijo; esperamos que te vaya bien. Echale todo el ‘fua’. Te queremos. Mami, Papi, y Nicolas.” He smiled, because his parents hadn’t been too involved with his training. Not that they didn’t want to, but because he’d assured them that this was something he wanted to do on his own.
“Good luck, son; we hope you do well. Give it your all. We love you. Mom, Dad, and Nicolas.”
After his run, he took a quick shower, changed into his competition guard, hopped into his car, and took off for the gym.
He arrived and wasted no time by going straight to warming up, making sure every single muscle in his body was meticulously stretched. As he sat in an over-split, he watched the collegiate squad guys file in, one after the other, from across the gym.
“Hey, check it out,” the same guy who’d mocked him all those weeks before motioned towards him, “That’s the fat guy Sterling brought in. The ‘amazing’ vaulter.” He snarled.
“Easy, Tommy,” Skylar intervened, “He’s lost a shit ton of weight. I’ve seen him train. He’s good.”
While in various stages of preparation, the collegiate guys watched Declan warm up vault timers. His first few attempts had been lackluster, at best. They definitely had pretty low expectations of him; their eyes pierced through him, like daggers.
“Don’t psych yourself out, Decs,” Coach Johnson advised him, “this isn’t about impressing the guys. It’s about impressing the assistant coaches and myself into putting you on that team. After that, impress all you want. Got it?”
“Yes, sir.” He nodded in obedience.
“Alright, go do a couple more timers, and then go for one.”
Declan walked back to the beginning of the runway, concentrated, and took off before he could breathe. He rounded off the spotting mat, dug his feet into the springboard and blocked off the horse.
The block he achieved finally felt right, and at the pinnacle of his vertical, he began twisting. His body flipped and twisted, but nerves overcame him. He panicked, and balked the landing, causing him to land on his face and sting his knee. There was a collective gasp from those present in the gym.
“Shit. He just ate mat hard,” Jason commented.
“Ate? There was no room to chew; he swallowed that mat whole.” Tommy retorted.
“Hey, dude, fucking chill; you don’t know him, he could just be nervous.” Skylar retorted.
“Oh, that’s rich coming from you, Sky. Mr. Perfect triple. Mr. Working on a quad. Mr. National team. Mr. Perfect form.” Tommy mocked him.
“It’s really mature of you to concede to my superior form, Thomas. I know it must’ve taken a great deal of courage to muster up that confession.” He taunted.
Tommy rolled his eyes at Skylar.
“Look, all I’m saying is that we need a good vaulter,” He began, “You more than anyone knows that in order for us to get sponsorships back, we have to compete as a team and win. Without a good vaulter, we won’t win meets, and without winning meets, well… We might as well find new gyms.”
“We don’t need new vaulters,” Tommy retorted, “What we need is to get better as a whole. Niall was a vaulter, and look at how much good that did us,” He shook his head, “we need clean routines that we know we can stick. Without sticks, we might as well just go home, and I am not going back to Overland Park.”
They bickered for a while, until Coach Johnson delegated them off to touch warm ups. Meanwhile, Declan continued to throw timers, just to get a feel for the competitive atmosphere.
“Throw one.” Coach Johnson ordered. Declan nodded in acknowledgement and walked towards the beginning of the runway.
He centered himself. “Just do it.” He told himself. One last deep breath, and he was off. He sprinted down the runway with pure determination, rounded off the spot mat, dug his feet into the springboard, and blocked off the table again. This time, he felt it. He shot his body in the air, and dug his feet into the mat as he landed.
Once the concentrational haze he’d been consumed in vanished, he realized the entire gym was staring at him. He had stuck it. He stuck his vault. His eyes scanned the gym and soon found the collegiate guys. They, too, were staring at him like deer in the headlights; no one expected him to even be able to complete a vault, much less stick one.
Skylar ran over to where he was and introduced himself.
“Dude, that was impressive. Your block is getting better every time. I really hope Sterling puts you on the team. You… You were great, man!”
“Thanks,” He was cut off.
“I’ve seen how hard you’ve been working, Declan. You’ve come such a long way, and your floor work looks really promising.” He beamed him a smile; it was mesmerizing.
“You remember my name?” Declan asked, shocked.
“Of course, I do,” Skylar grinned, “Your double is coming along great.” He gushed.
Declan blushed a deep scarlet, “Thanks. You’re insanely good at… Everything.”
“Well, thanks,” Skylar chuckled, “I’ve seen you train the double front vault. How’s it coming along?”
“You have?” Declan’s face flushed.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” Skylar encouraged, “it looks really good; just needs a better block, and you’ll have it.”
The two gushed back and forth, for a few minutes, until Coach Johnson sent Skylar off to continue his warm up. Declan moved onto high bar, and, eventually floor, before the meet began.
The pressure was palpable. Declan had to show his worth, in order to make that team, and continue his training. This entire process had tilted from helping out the gym and doing a favor for his coach to becoming an actual dream.
He could make the national team, hell, perhaps even make Worlds, if he continued to work his ass off. There was no limit to what he could achieve, if he just kept working at it.
As the meet commenced, his nerves began to get the best of him. He was psyching himself out, and he couldn’t help it. His headphones were blasting some screamo song his brother had loaded onto his mp3 player; he allowed himself to get lost in his own thoughts, as he paced around the gymnasium.
“Don’t fall,” was the only thing he could tell himself, “Whatever you do, just don’t fall.”
Skylar appeared out of nowhere and signaled him to take his earbuds out.
“You okay? Your knee is bouncing like crazy.” He smirked, arms crossed, duffle bag hung from his shoulder.
Declan looked at him sheepishly, “Is it that noticeable?”
“Does yes rhyme with calm down?” He smirked. Again. Why was his smirk so enthralling?
“Good one… I just have…” He was cut off.
“A bad case of pre-meet jitters?” Skylar suggested.
“Exactly.” He nodded his head, “I just want to make the team.”
Skylar nodded back in understanding.
“Sterling wouldn’t have brought you up here, if he wasn’t going to put you on the team. You’re going to do great, buddy. I know you are. Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”
“A Cinderella Story?” Declan cocked his head.
“Babe Ruth.” Skylar smiled.
“Ah. Sorry.” He chuckled.
“Mind if I sit here?” he inquired.
“Go for it, I don’t think anyone likes sitting by the new kid, anyway.”
Skylar sat down and proceeded to rummage through his bag, digging for his grips.
“First time I competed, I threw up all over the vault runway,” He confessed, “It was one of the most humiliating, yet humbling, experiences of my life, but… Getting through that meet was what got me on the team.”
“So, you’re saying, I should go full Linda Blair?”
“No, smart ass,” He shook his head mid chuckle, “I’m saying that if you show him you want it enough, you’ll be fine.”
Declan gave him a nod, “I understand.”
The tryout came to an end; the results indicated that Declan had failed to qualify for the collegiate team after falling off high bar, and downgrading his passes on floor. His eyes filled with tears as Coach Johnson read down the list. The team, so far, remained intact.
“And, finally, after much deliberation and turmoil…” He concluded, “I am happy to announce the addition of Declan Gardner to the team roster.”
Declan’s jaw fell to the floor. He was in complete shock. He’d seen the scores, he’d accepted defeat… His emotions were on full blast. He’d been crying, and now he was happy, but tears kept flowing from his tear ducts. Before he could think anything else, he felt arms envelop and embracing him.
“Declan, YOU DID IT!!!!” Skylar had him in the tightest hug. It took him by surprise that someone he’d just met was so invested in his success.
Most of the guys were excited for Declan’s addition, with the exception of Tommy. He seemed the most conflicted with Coach Johnson’s decision to add him to the roster, especially after not having scored high enough. He walked over to Coach Johnson whom shot him down immediately.
“I’m not going to argue about this with you. He has potential. Don’t forget, you weren’t the best either. You want to be team captain this season? Act like it. Go welcome your new teammate. I’m not changing my mind. End of sentence.” He walked off.
Tommy clenched his jaw and gritted his teeth the entire way back to where the rest of the guys were celebrating. He glared at the teen, and closed his eyes. He let out a sigh, and reached his hand out. Declan looked at him and smirked.
“Thanks.” He said to Tommy, and shook his hand.
Tommy walked away after giving him a, bitter, half assed ‘Congrats’.