By Your Side

By: lalalaniebug

Chapter One

Why are you striving these days?

Why are you trying to earn grace?

Why are you crying?

Let me lift up your face,

Just don't turn away.

5:00 am. Such an ungodly early hour, one that no human being should be subject to waking up to. Really, what was the point of torturing a person like this? Especially a 15-year-old teenage girl, they already have enough angst and issues on their plate. Whoever the idiot was that deemed the O'Seeley swim team practice to be at 5:45 had to be some kind of sadist; there was no other logical explanation for it.

Groaning at the terrible pain of being dragged out of peaceful slumber prematurely, Annabel cracked her eyes open, glaring at the bright light that pricked at her tender lenses. With a deadly aura cloaked about her, Annabel begrudgingly rose from her warm and tempting bed to her bathroom, beginning her morning rituals.

As she brushed her teeth, staring blankly into the mirror, a deeply irritated face gazing back at her, Annabel could hear the sounds of her mom in the kitchen, cooking up a quick breakfast for her daughter to eat later. Once Annabel had finished getting dressed, hastily throwing on whatever clothes she assumed resembled proper workout garments, the girl headed for the kitchen, the smell of eggs enticing her forth.

"Good morning, Annie," her mom greeted cheerily, the hour of the morning having no effect upon her demeanor whatsoever. Annabel never understood how her mom managed to pull that off.

Too tired and frustrated at being awake, Annabel merely nodded in greeting, causing a frown to form on her mother's face.

"Really, Annabel, there's no need to be so grumpy in the morning. You're not the only one who has to wake up this early, you know." Her mom chided, finishing wrapping egg tacos in foil and placing them in a lunch bag for Annabel.

Annabel forced her vocal cords into action. "Mmm, sorry," she managed to mumble. Her mother just rolled her eyes, handing Annabel the lunch bag and heading for the garage, keys in hand. Annabel followed her mom, picking up her swim bag and backpack for school, releasing another irritated growl from her lips at the weight of carrying the three different articles.

The ride to Annabel's high school, O'Seeley, was short and quiet, just how the girl preferred it to be. Usually Annabel's mother tried to make some form of small talk with her, and the last thing she wanted to do at five in the morning was talk about school or the cursed sport that was forcing her to go through this hell. It seemed that this morning her mom had picked up the hint at her wanted silence, and Annabel felt a hint of regret at her mood towards her mom, but didn't know how to apologize. Before she had the chance to work up some nerve, she was at school, the sun's rays starting to climb over the distant hilltops and trees, painting the dark sky with light.

As she stepped out the car, her hand holding onto the door, Annabel turned to her mom hesitantly. "Bye, Mom,"

Her mom nodded once, not turning to face her daughter. Annabel didn't know whether to roll her eyes or start crying. Now frustrated even more at making her mom mad, she closed the car door and made her way to the school gym, dreading this already horrible day. And it's only five in the morning, Annabel thought sardonically.

The pathway leading to the gym had trees on either side, posing as an archway for those walking through. There were many trees littering the O'Seeley campus, which was more of an outdoor school because of its agricultural magnet program held there. It consisted of different buildings lettered A – M, a different subject held in each, including administration offices, the cafeteria, the barns (yes, they had barns at this school), and gym.

Annabel supposed that O'Seeley was the right choice to be the Ag school, seeing as O'Seeley was a small town right inside of the main city Petersburg, and only 20 years ago it had been considered far out in the country, though now Petersburg and O'Seeley were so warped together that one really couldn't tell the difference. Still, some people whose family had lived here back when it was the country took pride in their cowboy roots, thus dubbing O'Seeley High School the "Hick" school. Kids walked around in cowboy boots, Wrangler jeans and big belt buckles and lived on ranches a few miles out.

Of course not everyone was so country, like Annabel herself, and being a huge school of nearly 3,000 kids, it was pretty diverse there.

O'Seeley, called OS among the staff and students, was lucky enough to have its own pool to practice at, eliminating the hassle of having to rent out space at the local Y or some other gym. Entering the pool now, Annabel was bombarded by the smell of chlorine that attacked her nose. The effect quickly dissipated, Annabel having been a swimmer since she was young and by now she was immune to the odor.

Walking along the deck towards the locker room, Annabel waved hi to some of her fellow teammates who were already at the lanes, waiting for practice to start. Coach Jack, the swim coach, was handing the swimmers sheets of paper, the workout, to place on cones so they had a reference to look at during practice. Annabel felt a strong dislike surge through her at the sight of the swim coach. He was just a churlish man.

Ignoring the negative feelings, Annabel strolled into the locker room, placing her swim bag on a bench and began to change into her swimsuit. The locker room was not temperature friendly; in the winter it was freezing cold, and in the summer unbearably hot. At the present it was the former, and as Annabel removed her shirt she shivered, goose bumps dotting her exposed flesh.

"Annie!" a voice exclaimed.

Hearing her name, said girl turned, only to be tackled into a bear hug. Annie quickly thanked God that she had just finished putting on her suit before her friend Melanie ambushed her, that would've been very awkward.

Grinning despite her oxygen supply being cut off, Annie hugged her best friend back. "Melanie! I missed you!" The girl finally liberated her captive.

"I know! We didn't get to hang out much over Thanksgiving break!" Melanie pouted. The girl was short, only 5'2, but full of energy (which caused her to be extremely accident prone) and a pretty decent swimmer, her best stroke being Butterfly.

Annie had to grin at how cute her friend looked. No one could withstand the effects of being awake this early, and her perfectly straight dark brown hair was put up in a messy bun, her bangs hanging limply across her forehead, barely brushing against her lively brown eyes. Annie couldn't help but be jealous of Melanie's hair, so fine and silky, so unlike her frizzy head of curls that probably resembled a bush at best right now.

"It's so sad!" Annie agreed to her friend's statement. "But at least we get to see each other at school and practice now!" she grinned.

Melanie's frowned deepened. "Speaking of which, we better hurry up and get out there before Coach Jack has a bitch fit at us for being .5 seconds late."

Giggling, Annie found her swim cap and goggles from her bag, and ran out to join her team. Quickly trapping her ringlets, Annie tied her hair up in a bun and slipped on her cap and goggles, taking a running leap into the icy cold pool before her coach could yell at her for being tardy.

Wincing slightly at the shock of the temperature, Annie blew bubbles from her nose and kicked up to the surface, taking a quick breath before beginning to swim, her muscles slowly loosening up with each stroke, pulling her through the water. She had been doing this since she was six, Annie and her sister being put in swim lessons after Annie had a near drowning experience, and eventually they joined a local club team. It was a great form of exercise, keeping Annie in top shape, but she possessed almost no free time, juggling her days between school and swim practice, with swim meets almost every weekend.

Honestly, though she had kept this to herself for a long time now, Annie really wasn't sure if she loved swimming anymore. No, she knew she still loved the sport deep down, but she was just so tired. Tired of waking up early, tired of having to decline invitations from friends because of practice, tired of everything. And it was starting to show. For a little over a year now Annie had barely improved in her events. She wasn't a slow swimmer, she was average, but if she continued to perform the way she was now eventually everyone would pass her up and no college would want to recruit her.

Did she even want to swim in college? Four more years of this? No, she couldn't think about that right now. Another time, maybe as she lay awake in bed, or in the shower when no one would bother her and couldn't hear her sobs over the roar of the water. No, she couldn't bring up a personal matter like this in front of everyone.

Practice dragged on, it seemed to Annie. Though she tried to fight it, her dark brown eyes kept wandering to the clock, willing it to speed up and be 7:15 already, so she could get out of this ice water and into a hot shower. Annie struggled through the practice, a tough workout as always, and finally her wish was answered.

The swimmers ripped off their caps and goggles and joked with each other as they made their way out of the pool towards the awaiting warm showers. Annie was laughing and about to open the locker room door when a voice stopped her.

"Annabel, could you come here for a minute, please." Coach Jack said, sounding bored. Annie frowned; nothing good could come out of this, not with the coach involved. Melanie sent her a sympathetic look as she followed the other girls in, all of them whispering about what coach could want with Annie.

Annie tried to appear as apathetic as her coach looked, but she was sure she was failing horribly. Her face always gave her emotions away - how odd her face must look right now, a mix between nervousness and contempt. "Uh, yes coach?" she asked when she was in front of the man.

Coach Jack looked up from his clipboard, barely glancing at the girl before returning to his papers. "Ah, yes, Annabel," he started. "It would be greatly appreciated if you were on time to practice; it is expected of O'Seeley swimmers to be prompt and efficient. Are you trying to tarnish our name, Annabel?"

Annie was taken aback at the accusation. "No, of course not."

"Then why were you late?" he continued, still finding the papers more interesting than their conversation.

"I – I couldn't find my cap and goggles, so I was held back. I'm sorry." Annie answered, biting back some sarcastic retort.

"Well, lets see that this doesn't happen again, Annabel. Don't want you following in your sister's footsteps." And with that Coach Jack walked away, not sparing Annie another glance.

The girl stood there for a second, too shocked to move. Then once her mind had fully processed what had just occurred, the anger came crashing down. How dare he! How dare he say something like that, the never of the guy! And he's supposed to be an adult, yet he goes and makes such a childish comment.

Insulted beyond words, Annie stomped her way into the locker room, ignoring her friend's concerned inquiries about what happened. She didn't want to talk about it, hell she didn't want to talk at all! Annie had to settle for standing under the shower, turning the heat up till it singed on the way down, and wish that this horrible day would end already.

My butt's vibrating, Blake thought cheerily as he searched in his pant pocket for his cell phone. The screen read that the text was from Kelly:), smiley face having been her idea, though Blake didn't mind, thinking it cute.

Heeey sexy! Hope you have good day school! Can't wait to see you this weekend! :)

The boy smiled, anticipation swirling in his gut. Since his girlfriend, Kelly, lived in a different city he only got to see her every couple weekends, and he cherished each one. She had been able to come over for Thanksgiving, their families being friends for a long time before Kelly's had moved. Blake swore whenever he was with Kelly he was in heaven.

Boyish grin still plastered on his face, Blake typed a reply then sent it, hesitating to put his phone away as he gazed longingly at his screensaver: a picture of him and Kelly, her arms around his waist, his about her shoulders, both smiling huge, gloriously happy smiles at just being in the other's presence. People often teased them about their relationship, saying how they "knew all along they'd end up together!" and "it was about time!" Blake didn't mind the comments, the I-told-you-so!'s proved their seemingly perfect relationship.

"Hey, Blake, stop jacking off to Kelly's picture or whatever it is you're doing over there, you're gonna be late for practice! Again!"

Blake blushed, and turned to glare at his vulgar friend. "Shut up, Noodles, I'm coming! And at least I have a girlfriend whose picture I can jack off to." He teased, upping one on his friend. It was the other boy's turn to blush, who only mumbled something inaudible in response. Blake smirked; Will, Noodles being his nickname, knew he was right.

The blond-headed boy walked on deck, entering the group huddle around their swim coach. Blake wrapped his arms around two of his best friends, Miley and Lisa Beth, smiling warmly at both. "Good morning, ladies," he announced smoothly, causing giggles to erupt amongst the girls of the team.

It was no secret that Blake West was a ladies man and he knew it too. But it was also common knowledge that he was head over heels for his girlfriend, Kelly Higgs, and would never even think about cheating on her. Still, that didn't stop innocent flirting from transpiring.

"Blakey!" Miley greeted, and threw her arms around the boy. He laughed in response and hugged the girl back. "I'm flattered that you're so excited to see me, Miley." Blake winked. The girl laughed it off with a wave of her hand. "Oh please, you know you like it, Blakey."

"Maybe I do," he agreed, turning to meet his other friend, Lisa Beth. The older, and much more calm, girl smiled sweetly. "Hey, Blakey!" and they too hugged. "Did you have a nice break?" she asked. He nodded and was about to launch into detail, when Coach Cox interrupted.

"As you all know, this weekend we have another duel meet, this one against the O'Seeley Raptors. After practice I'll hand out a sheet with everyone's events on it so you'll know what you're swimming at the meet." Coach Cox made sure to look everyone in the eye as he spoke, his face etched in seriousness. After a moment of a somewhat awkward silence a grin broke out on his handsome face.

"And don't think that just because we have a meet this weekend that I'm gonna go easy on you guys this week! I'm gonna make you cry for your mommies'!" and with that the coach started smacking his swimmers playfully, scolding at them to hurry up and get in the water.

Blake laughed and purposely hung back, taking his time putting on his cap and goggles. Coach Cox noticed and started making his way towards the rebellious boy, like a lion stalking towards his prey. "Blake, Blake, Blake," he shook his head. "Why do you always cause such a ruckus?"

Blake smirked and crossed his arms, a mischievous glint sparkling in his blue eyes. "What can I say, Coach? Trouble seems to find me wherever I go."

"Then I guess I should just smack the trouble outta ya!" Coach Cox announced, swinging his whistle to hit Blake on the butt. In response the boy wiggled his behind before jumping in, causing laughter from the group and for Coach Cox to roll his eyes, fighting back a smile.

Blake laughed and began to swim, feeling oddly happy – just in a all around good mood and not sure why. Maybe he woke up on the right side of the bed this morning. Or maybe it was the fact that Kelly would be here this weekend and would be able to see him swim at the meet. Or maybe it was the meet itself he was excited about. He didn't care either way; he just hoped that his good mood would stay throughout the day.

A/N: Thank you for reading guys! Sorry if this was a bit boring with not much happening, I'm trying to plant the setting and get a feel for the characters. But don't worry, action is coming :D Review if you could please, constructive criticism is welcomed and greatly appreciated!