A Difficult Decision 

 

There I stood. On the precipice of a new world, menacing and foreboding. But I knew I had to do it. I had to. The moment I’d been dreading for so long was finally upon me. Crushing me. Suffocating me. Drowning me. I wasn’t ready. A shrill cry suddenly echoed around me. Now! I leapt.

It all began with a single word. “Yes”. The one word that sent my life into a spiral of chaos.

My life seemed to follow a strict formula, the same thing day in day out. Yet, I always felt something was bound to come along and rock the boat. I just never thought it would come in this form. Why that boy chose me I will never know…

“Come on! Please! We only need one more member.” He exclaimed, his broad grin beaming up at me.

This small boy of only 14, with what seemed like all the confidence in the world, had approached me desperately seeking a new member for his swim team. Why did he want me?! He was so cool and the captain of the swim team! And I was… well me. The choice was clear. I declined.

“No. Sorry, not interested” I snapped, turning away.

If only I knew then what I do now, I wouldn’t have been so harsh to that poor boy…   

Time passed and eventually the deafening sound of the school bell echoed around the hallways, signalling the arrival of lunch. I stepped out of my classroom, noticing a group of my friends huddled together, laughing. I didn’t feel like eating with them today. Well, when did I ever? A quiet corner by myself would suffice.

A hard smack to the back of my head suddenly greeted me, wrenching me from my solitude.

“Hey!” I shouted “What was that for!?”

A scowling face glared down at me, her eyes boring into me like daggers.

“You know jolly well what!” Victoria growled through gritted teeth.

I stared back at her, blinking in utter bemusement.

“Ugh!” She groaned, rolling her eyes at my apparent stupidity. “That kid you spoke to earlier, Hunter. I heard he asked you to join the swim team. That’s practically and invitation to the ‘cool kids club’ and you could have taken me with you! Aside from that” She giggled, “You know they can’t compete in House matches without one more member.”

My gaze fell to the ground as the realisation of what I’d done sank in. I knew how much the swim team meant to Hunter. Yet, I still let my disinterest prevent someone else from following their passion. Idiot. I bit my lip as I thought on what to do. I made up my mind.

The end of the school day steadily approached. When the time finally came, I raced out of my final lesson, in search of Hunter. I eventually found him, trudging solemnly along, clearly still brooding about earlier. I raced over, skidding to a stop right in front of him, blocking his way.  He stared at me, a mixture of anger and despair blanketing his expression.

“Yes,” I panted, gasping for breath from my intense 20m sprint.

His youthful face lit up like a house at Christmas.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! You won’t regret this!” Hunter bawled, his bubbly nature instantly returning.

Wouldn’t I? I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Hunter introduced me to the rest of the team at the pool the following afternoon. I felt exposed greeting everyone in nothing but my trunks. A moist palm slapped me hard across the back.

Hunter chuckled, “You’ll get on just fine” Beaming up at me once again, seeming to sense my apprehension, “Now let’s get practising”

I couldn’t help but smile back. And with that he dove effortlessly into the water, demonstrating his exquisite form (and by form I didn’t mean his body; I meant his swimming technique! Well ok, maybe a bit of both…). The other members were great swimmers too. Selene, a slight girl of 16, had followed suit. Her sleek red hair streaming out behind her as she leapt into the pool. Each stroke she made was almost soundless, which perfectly reflected her timid nature out of the water. Then there was Mon (short for Monique, though it might as well have been Monster!) who was the complete opposite. She tore through the pool like a bull in a china shop, truly a formidable sight. And then we get to me. The one and only Austin Papenbrook. My swimming technique consisted mostly of flailing like a distressed fish, whilst praying that I’ll make it to the other side without drowning first.

How was I supposed to live up to the others? Those whose skills clearly outranked mine 100-1. I had some serious training to do… There was no such thing as a lie in from there on out. Each exercise and practice race was exhausting, taking every fibre of my being just to make it to the other end. Yet, I couldn’t have asked for a better coach than Hunter himself. His ceaseless encouragement knew no bounds. I just prayed to God that some of his talent might have rubbed off on me…

When I awoke that morning, blinking around through blurry eyes, I almost convinced myself it was all a dream, that today wasn’t house matches. But, as the morning light began to peek its way through my curtains the gravity of my circumstances finally dawned upon me. Today was the day.

Hunter and the team greeted me upon arrival to the sports centre later that morning. Yet again Hunter landed a firm slap to my back although this time it seemed to contain a hint of reassurance (maybe even affection?..). And when I looked around to see his eyes pools of kindness, I knew exactly what he was trying to convey. Gratitude.

It felt like mere seconds before we were called poolside. I was the first leg of the relay. Front crawl. All eyes would be on me. Radical thoughts of dropping out flashed in my mind before I swiftly pushed them away. No, I had do this. If not for me, for Hunter. For the team.

“Swimmers take your marks!” the tannoy system bellowed.

I gulped, stepping up onto the starting block, desperately trying to swallow my fear, the cheers and chatter of the crowd seeming distant.

“Get set”

Shaky hands pulled down my goggles and pressed them tight.

“Go on Austin! You can do it, we’re counting on you!” Hunter cheered, gesticulating wildly from the far end of the pool.

They were counting on me. All I had to do was swim one simple length of a pool. I narrowed my eyes, exhaling deeply.

“Go!”

I leapt. Those few seconds of flight seemed like an eternity, a deafening silence falling over the pool. I hit the water. The world around me melted away into nothing. There was only the pool and me. The warm waters around me seemed to embrace me, propelling me forward through the depths. It almost felt like it wanted me to win. I wanted me to win. Before I knew it, the end was in sight. I reached out my arm willing it to extend the final few metres. As my face broke the surface, I made eye contact with a girl in the crowd. It was Victoria, her jaw gaping wide in utter disbelief. My fingers delicately brushed the coarse, mosaic wall before my palm slammed it hard. Within milliseconds, Hunter was soaring over my head. For the first time I saw his ecstatic grin beam down upon me and in that moment I knew I’d found where I belonged: with Hunter. With the swim team.        

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