This is what I do. This is what I live for.
Twist and somersault, land on your feet.
I don’t know what I would be without it.
Work out a split, and stretch your hands in the air.
But do I really want it?
Stride to the end of the beam. Jump, somersault, and land your feet on the mat.
Of course I do.
My name is Claire Blossoms, and I’m a gymnast. I’ve been performing gymnastics since I was three years old.
My aim? Qualify for the Olympics.
That will only be possible if I get accepted into the USA Gymnastics Academy, Florida (USAGA), where strict orders are bound to be followed, and tough training is taken seriously every single day. And from there, I can get into the Olympics.
Usually in the beginning of a conversation, someone would say; ‘Hi. I love animals, and I like playing my guitar while I sing.’ What an inspiring story, really.
But this right here isn’t the cliché world that I live in. I don’t even like animals, and I have no idea how to play the guitar. I wouldn’t even let you get halfway through your statement.
‘I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for this. I need to practice.’ Oops, interrupts Claire.
In the meantime, I’m stuck in the American Gymnastics Academy, California (AGA), where everything seems like a party, and not a lot of effort is put into doing anything.
Well, not really, just compared to USAGA.
My life here, I’m constantly busy. Busy rehearsing flips and tricks on the Uneven Bars, numerous somersaults on the Vault, steadiness and potency on the Balance Beam, and the perfect choreographed routine on the Floor.
In other words, the Uneven Bars are two horizontal rods set on different heights where you swing and perform a well organized routine. The Vault is used to perform multiples of somersaults using a springboard and a vaulting table. A Balance Beam is a long vertical bar where you have to perform leaps and turns. The Floor is a platform where you portray a routine that consists of tumbling lines, series of jumps, dance elements, and acrobatic skills.
If you’re thinking of starting gymnastics, because the girls in the magazines look spontaneous in the glittery leotards, think again.
“Easy with that, Claire. Remember to stick the landing,” came a deep voice from behind me.
Meet Ken Walter, my instructor. The one person you can never trust in the Academy. You wouldn’t expect anything good coming from this man.
His intimidating posture towered over me as he treaded to my side.
With my finale pose, I turned around to face the dos and don’ts that were coming my way from the frightening, aged man. The piercing light of the aerobics and gymnastics studio was completely blocked out from my sight due to his broad frame, his silver hair cascaded to his forehead.
Those callous eyes were studying me intently, as I closed mine for the approaching droplets of spit that were to fly directly on my face from his yelling.
“You’re improving,” he calmly commented.
That was an utter shocker for me, not only due to the fact that I was one of the best seventeen year old gymnasts in the whole Academy.
We had a saying within the students in the school–When Ken tells you ‘You’re Improving’, it means you’re excellent; and only about three students got the remark. He was the type that found it difficult to compliment. To put it simply, Ken was awfully strict.
One by one, I slowly opened my eyes to find his powerful green orbs stabbing jabbers on my face as he waited for my reaction towards his little statement. I couldn’t help the smile that tagged at the corners of my lips; my mother would be happy to hear this. Who am I kidding; she would be over the moon with delight! In the past few years, all I’ve been getting was ‘You’re trying’ or ‘You’re getting there.’
Suck on that, AGA. I’m Improving.
Now I might have a chance to get accepted into the USAGA.
“Thank you,” I managed to say.
He parted his lips, revealing his gleaming white teeth, as a small grin crept on his mouth. The last thing I wanted was for something to get in my way.
The echoic room suddenly became deafening with screams and high pitched laughs as the Under Sixteen student’s group ran in, piling up in the bleachers and getting ready for their practice session.
“Looks like your time is up,” Ken stated, scrunching his face from the annoying clamors coming from the teenage girls.
“Thank you again, I’ll see you later,” I said as I grabbed my towel and made my way towards the double doors that led out of the studio.
“We were supposed to chat about Summer Camp, remember?” He shouted after me.
“Later, Mr. Walter!” I howled as I sprang the doors opened, the sizzling heat of California striking me on my face.
Gymnastics was no hilarious joke or a one-time thing for me. It even ran through the family; my mother, my grandfather, and many of my cousins were all gymnasts. It required coordination, flexibility, balance, and most of all physical strength. This was all about competition, and by competition, I don’t mean doing your best and expecting the highest outcome. I mean impressing the judges.
You wouldn’t like it if your score got deducted over a tiny misunderstanding.
If your shoulders aren’t pressed down, deduction!
If your abdomen or rib cage isn’t tucked in, even more deduction!
If your chin isn’t lifted up and you’re not looking above eye level, you’re dead!
Expect the unexpected, I tell myself every day.
On the other hand, gymnastics was pretty bizarre to some people.
Who could possibly blame them?
We had to wear tight leotards, white socks, and squirt some sticky spray on our butts so the costume stuck to our skin.
My life was perfect.
The screeching noise of the dormitory wooden door almost made my ears bleed when I made my way inside the building. The hallway was filled with hyper girls with towels wrapped around their slender bodies, running to their rooms from the showers as I passed by. Everyone was excited about summer, of course except for the people who were coming back for the Summer Camp; which included me. Some were even leaving today. My mother, being a championship’s rhythmic gymnast gold medalist back in 1985, was very strict about my gymnastics profession, and didn’t want anything to distract me from it.
Turning the knob of my room’s door, I poked my head in and observed the area. It was literally a disaster. I glanced at my bed, which was neatly made with no dirty clothes all over it, and let out a sigh of relief.
“What happened in here?” I hollered in absolute disgust as I tip toed through the candy wrappers and filthy socks which were once upon a time white, to my bed.
It was completely quiet for a split second, until I heard a groan emanating from the bed across mine, where I could see a large bump under the messy sheets that covered the bed when I squinted really closely.
A loud shriek left my mouth from the top of my lungs, sheer fright evident in my horrified expression as I watched the bump rise up in a sitting position, a drained and frustrated looking Fiona appearing under the bed sheets and a small pile of clothes.
Her eyes were the color of ripe tomatoes, her golden-brown hair in a dreadful tangle, messily spread in different directions. The moment I observed her, I already knew what had happened here the previous night when I was asleep.
“Sugar rush?” I flatly asked, a cheeky smirk forming on my lips.
Instead of replying, she slammed back on the bed with a thump, another aggravated groan escaping her mouth.
“See, this is why I sleep early, or don’t eat sugary things,” I remarked, taking a seat on the edge of my bed. “How did I not see this when I woke up?” I muttered as I glanced at the terrible mess that covered the tiled floor.
“How do you wake up at five o’clock in the morning,” Fiona grumbled under her breathe, slowly rising up to the same sitting position. “Every day!” She exclaimed.
“Well, I practice to my last drop of sweat, and get good outcomes from it,” I noted, untying the ribbon that held my blonde, in fact almost white hair up at the back of my head.
“Why do you say that?” She asked, giving me a confused look that almost made her look like my grandmother.
“Ken said I’m improving,” I sang in a high pitched voice, bouncing up and down my bed contentedly and holding my chin up in arrogance.
Her expression altered from grandmother to squirrel.
“He said WHAT?” She exclaimed, her British accent echoing through the closed walls around us.
I nodded my head without a doubt, dragging my fat suitcase from under my bed which I had neatly packed before I went to bed. My wardrobe was almost empty, but I had left my toothbrush and shampoo in it which I would use later on before packing them.
“Then that means-” Fiona trailed off, her expression lightening up for the first time that day. She stumbled off her bed, her tall figure running towards me with her arms wide opened.
“Yeah, I know!” I squealed, as we both crashed with a loud thud on my bed in a tight embrace. The medals that hang on the headboard of my bed chimed as we twirled viciously, our bodies still pressed together in a firm hug.
“Best friends forever, Claire. Our bond will never break,” Fiona announced quite loudly, finally settling on the edge of my bed.
I instantly remembered the day we first met in kindergarten when she said that. I was introverted and alone, like how every new-comer acted on their first day. Fiona was assigned to keep me company, and I hated her right away.
I still remember our little fight.
“Can you speak?” She asked me.
“Of course I can speak,” I snapped.
“So then I asked you a question!” She whined.
“I don’t like you, you know!” I spat on her face.
“Why is your hair like that?” She repeated her question, pointing at my badly cut hair.
I slapped her hand away. “Because you were born!”
Yeah, I was pretty mean back then.
But look at us now; we can’t keep our hands away from each other.
The first impression someone might get towards Fiona would probably be completely lazy. But truthfully speaking, she was only indolent when she could. You would be surprised to hear this, but she was in fact accepted into USAGA just a week ago, and this was her last semester in the Academy, although she was coming to Summer Camp with me. It was one of the reasons why I wanted to move there, Fiona and I were pretty close.
We were like peanut butter and jelly.
Well, more like how a plant needed water to survive.
Now that I got the ‘remark’ from Ken, all I could do was pray that I would get accepted as well. I don’t know what I would do next with my life if I didn’t.
Hopefully not end up as a depressed old lady in a small apartment living with twenty-seven cats.
Gymnastics was my life, and I could only get far with it from the best school.
“Let’s just hope for the best,” I said within a long sigh.
Fiona gave me a warm smile, tucking some loose bouncy hair behind my ear.
“Cheer up, Clay, it won’t be that bad,” She reassured, stroking my tense shoulders at the same time.
To be honest, I was inclusively nervous. I don’t even want to imagine what mother would do to me if I didn’t get accepted.
Fresh fried, sizzling meat on her plate. She told you right in your face, Claire.
“At least tell me what the judges are like,” I blurted out, turning my whole body to face her.
Sometimes I wished I was Fiona. Except for now, her hair was always wavy and long, cascading down her back. She had bright green eyes that glimmered in the dark, but hid behind her rectangular-shaped glasses. Her model-like figure that came from her mother, who was actually a popular model in California, always stood out in the sundresses she was always wearing when we weren’t practicing on the weekends.
Besides her appearance, she had the perfect parents and siblings that any girl would ask for. Her mother would constantly take us shopping for new leotards and accessories like earrings or necklaces. Her father was a gymnastics coach in a kindergarten, who was the one that convinced Fiona to start it, and always took us for ice cream on the weekends we were free. She had two little brothers who were twins, and if you expected them to be the evil type who planned wicked tricks on everybody that came to view, you were wrong. The boys were actually quite mature for eight year olds, and rather good looking. The Harding’s all looked the same, except her mother and brother’s had blonde hair.
And apart from all that, she got accepted into USAGA.
On my side of the story, I was forced to start gymnastics, by my mother. Of course right now I don’t complain because Fiona just happened to be my best friend, and I started liking and getting used to the torture that came with gymnastics. But to tell the truth, my life wasn’t really perfect.
When I was three years old, my first time starting gymnastics, I remember having long hair that flew down behind my knees. Since I was in love with it, my mother chopped it to my neck because she thought it was a distraction towards my training. Now, my hair is cut every month to my shoulders or neck.
I had my father’s dark blue eyes that were the color of the sea twinkling under the moonlight every time I stared at any source of light too much, which were not exceedingly attractive as Fiona’s. I didn’t go out with my mother unless it was training, and I didn’t exactly go out with my father for ice cream; I wasn’t allowed to be around him. If it wasn’t for gymnastics, I was either reading, or sleeping.
But that is only when I’m in the house with my mother.
Fiona raised her eyes brows at me, and I knew exactly why. She certainly didn’t need to tell me, they were all the same. Their work was just to judge how horrible we were, and they always took us by surprise.
“I need a hot, soothing shower,” I groaned, running my hands down my clammy face.
Once you get settled in the Academy, you will learn a lot about us, and eventually get intimate with all the students. Most girls here were usually mean, obnoxious, and so into themselves and how trendy their leotards were. Although, there were some who were extremely weird; and I’m talking eccentric weird here. You would spot cliques and gangs here and there, including my own; here’s where the weird comes in.
Meet our little pack.
We call ourselves ‘The SHOBS’; the group consisted of seven people.
This is how our petite huddle runs;
S – Every Friday night, we Sneak out of the Academy, and go to the city, plus we are very Secretive.
H – After every practice, we have a Hoedown among ourselves. It’s a secret because Ken doesn’t like us dancing. Apparently, we happen to have two left feet when it came to Floor aerobics performances. Well, most of us.
O – We have an Oath; when one messes up, we all mess up.
B and S – We were all Britney Spears fans.
Honestly, none of us remember how this group even came to be. And to make matters even weirder, we didn’t have one reason why someone would pop up and call us an actual clique.
To put it simpler, we weren’t suit to be a clique. Everyone was different from everyone.
But because every student around us started calling us the Odds, we kept our differences behind us. Until now, we have never minded about that, because we wanted it to stay that way for a reason.
My eyes shot up, locking with Fiona’s.
It was Friday night.
Very quietly and mellifluously, I placed my Harry Potter novel back on the headboard of the bed, and treaded to the half-opened door of our room.
“Cuckoo!” I shouted back, my chirpy, pitched voice echoing through the dim hallway.
I gestured Fiona to follow me, and with the door securely locked, we tip-toed down the long corridor that had doors leading to other rooms, light snores emanating from some of them. Everyone had to be dead-asleep at 10:00 pm, especially when in a few hours a few of them were leaving for summer.
I pushed my curl ironed, blonde locks behind my ears as we made our way to the old wooden door that lead outside. The poor thing creaked violently when Fiona pulled it open with more force than needed.
“Keep it down,” I hissed wildly, as the cold breeze of the night met my plush-filled cheeks that were masked with Fiona’s expensive Dior blush.
“Cuckoo!” It came again, until I noticed someone waving behind the dormitory opposite ours. We instantly waved back.
It was Destiny, another member of The SHOBS. Her footsteps were almost unheard as her small figure emitted from the darkness and staggered to the first steps of our dormitory. Her long auburn curls bounced furiously against her face as she scanned the area for any wanderers. It was unnecessary, because lights out was exactly at 9:30 pm.
A few minutes later, the rest of the girls came running from behind the same building, all wearing tight, gorgeous outfits.
Willow Heathers came out first. The girl she can almost make a grown man cry. She won three gold medals last year on Floor, Vaults and Balance Beam in the Nationals, and one silver medal on Vaults in the Championships. Her black hair covers her head in short curls, which makes her look cute. But if you dare tell her that in her face, she can skin you alive.
Lydia Jones came out next. She has the most annoying mood swings I’ve ever seen in a girl. She’s had almost four boyfriends in one month. Her mother is a principle in an elementary school in Texas, and if you even glance straight into that woman’s eyes, you might end up in a hospital. Not that she’s violent, but she’s pretty scary. Those blue, piercing orbs can send painful daggers through your guts.
Candace Graham came out right after. I don’t even have words for this one; it’s all in her appearance. All this girl cares about is herself. Even having a conversation with her is a problem; she’ll twist the story and you’ll end up talking about her shoes, or her new polished nails.
Mina Lawrence came out last. She’s the sweetheart of them all. She could travel all the way to Switzerland just to get you some delicious, unwrapped Swiss chocolate.
Who am I kidding, nobody’s that sweet.
Someone might think her hair was strawberry red even before meeting her because of how innocent she sounds, like every other sweetheart in the movies or classy books. I’ll tell you this; it was the
exact opposite, literally.
It was green. Not the screaming, bright green that could give you an instant headache. However, it was dark green. Besides, it suited her pretty well, and she looked adorable–which seemed to always fool people.
I felt self-conscious right away.
What in the world am I wearing?
My ripped jeans didn’t even reach my ankles, and the borrowed, un-ironed crop top that I was wearing was baggy on my flat chest. And to make matters worse, my gladiators were dusty from staying under my bed for too long. Actually, to be honest, I was too lazy to dust them.
“Alright troop,” whispered Fiona. “Be as quiet as a millipede.” We all specifically glanced at Destiny.
When Fiona was done explaining how quiet we were supposed to be, I started creeping towards the large, black gate that led outside the campus. They treaded behind me, and I could already hear Destiny’s complaints, like every other Friday night.
“What if we get caught?” she hissed. “I don’t want to get in trouble with Ken!”
I reached for my cell phone in my back pocket; luckily Fiona’s mother had got me one. My own mother couldn’t do that.
“I just got the remark from Ken!”
“So, I can’t get in trouble!”
“So did Claire, I don’t hear her complaining.”
The torch on the cell phone wasn’t even close to almost bright. Looking around the dimness of the campus, it was the brightest thing around.
“What’s taking you so long, Claire?” Fiona nagged.
“Shit!” I cursed out loud.
“What do you mean it’s locked?”
“There is a large padlock on the gate, Fiona!” I almost exclaimed.
They all huffed and sighed in frustration behind me as I continued fidgeting with the padlock, which was useless, but I just had to find a way to unlock it.
“It’s never locked,” Destiny stated.
“Well, it is now.”
After some fidgeting with the padlock, I was ready to give up. Even Mina tried unlocking it with her long nails, but it didn’t even budge. An awkward silence formed around us when we were all tired of trying.
“I have an idea,” Willow remarked after what I thought was a half an hour of utter silence.
All our heads turned to her; she was the best in coming up with plans.
“We’ll have to jump over.”
“There’s no way I’m doing that,” Candace’s deep voice echoed through the darkness. “This is pure silk, China’s original. I’m not climbing that.” She pointed at her glittery skirt, and then to the tall, black gate.
“Oh, shut up. And because of that, you’re going up first,” snapped Fiona. She always made a big deal out of unnecessary things.
“The tall people go up last,” she continued. “Which includes you and me, Lydia.” She threw a pointed look towards Lydia.
Fiona crouched down on her hands and knees at the bottom of the gate, and Lydia did the same thing beside her. I quickly made my way to the gate and followed suit beside Lydia. Willow did the same thing, except on top of Fiona, Destiny came on top of Lydia, and Mina came on top of me; which meant Candace was going up first.
All of a sudden, Mina let out one of those horrifying shrieks that gave you a throbbing headache, and the feeling to scrape your nails on a black board. When I looked up at her, she was scrunching up her face in pain, that’s when I realized why she was in such agony.
Candace’s six-inch heel was digging into Mina’s ribs as she tried to get on top of her.
“Get off me!” She squealed.
I knew it was the wrong time and thing to do, but I couldn’t help it.
I burst out into laughter.
It was hilarious seeing it from my angle, because no matter how hard she tried, Candace couldn’t make it on top of her.
“Would you two keep it down?” Fiona hissed loudly at me and Mina. “Candace, let me just remind you that you have a brain. We piled up like this for a reason! You have to step on Claire first, and then on Mina.”
My laughter became louder.
It was all fun and games for me, until I felt it. The pain, the excruciating pain Mina felt. I couldn’t stop the loud screech that escaped my mouth when Candace’s heel dag into my side.
I groaned when she lifted herself upwards so she could go on top of Mina, which resulted to her heel digging deeper into my rib.
I couldn’t breathe.
I felt pure bliss hit me when her heel left my side, and for a second I actually felt sorry for the concrete floor. Mina’s scream rang throughout the night, and I was pretty sure someone must have heard it; I was just praying it wasn’t Ken.
It felt like eternity when I finally heard a thud, actually it was more like a click, which was Candace’s shoes hitting the ground on the other side of the gate.
“I made it,” she whispered loudly.
“Destiny, you’re up next,” Fiona remarked.
By the time I had already jumped over, it was already 11:00 pm. We spent a half an hour dealing with Destiny’s complaints about her getting into trouble with Ken.
Lydia let go of the gate and landed safely on the ground with a thud. She beamed in excitement with the other two girls. Now Fiona was the only one left.
“How are you going to do it yourself?” I asked, loud enough for her to hear me.
“Don’t worry,” she said, with a chuckle at the end.
I heard fussing at the other side of the gate, followed by a squeal. The next thing that happened shocked me; I honestly didn’t know Fiona was that strong.
Her hands appeared at the top the gate, which made it shake a few times. She struggled but managed to pull herself up until her face and torso were on view. She then sat on top of the gate, each leg on either side of it.
“You’re going to catch flies, Clay,” she calmly said, as she moved her other leg that was at the opposite side to the front side, and her whole body was now facing us.
I shut my fallen jaw.
“I could’ve done that,” Willow scoffed, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
She pushed herself off and landed on her feet beside me.
“Sure you could.” She dusted herself off. “Oh, and we have to get going immediately,” she said, with an apologetic smile on her face.
I narrowed my eyes at her. “Why?” I suspiciously asked.
I was apprehensive on what she was talking about, until a deep voice shouted from the other side of the gate.
“Who’s out there?!”
My eyes widened at the familiar voice, and I regretted ever going through with Willow’s plan.
“That’s why,” she whispered, before grabbing my hand and sprinting towards the alleyway to the city, with the other’s following behind us.
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