I stared up at the building of our new school, fiddling with the edge of my arm warmers. It was boiling hot outside, so I was wearing a tank top, but I still wore them up over my elbows. Someone knocked my hand away and I looked sharply up at my twin. Josh's eyes were dark and concerned.
"Cassie?" I chewed on my lip, then shrugged. "Come on." We followed our Mom and younger sister into the building. As we sat through the conference with my new principal, I barely listened. I was busy looking at the field outside where a gym class was taking place. Sweaty teenagers were running around like idiots. It was early morning and it was already hot, especially in the school building.
The principal was talking with my Mom, something about transferring from a private school to a public school being unusual. She gave him a vague answer, but I felt my younger sister glare at me. I looked at her involuntarily, trying to keep my expression as blank as possible. She blamed me for our family moving and being pulled out of her precious private school.
And she wasn't wrong. I rubbed my wrist absently, ignoring the venomous look she shot at me and looked at the principal.
He was sweating in the day's heat already and his office was air conditioned. I blew some hair out of my face and glanced at my brother. His eyes dropped to the wrist I was rubbing and I stopped, but didn't miss the look in his eyes. I flinched, hating the hurt that flashed over his features.
He met my eyes and forced a smile that didn't reach his eyes. His eyes told me more than anything he was scared.
I'm ashamed to admit that I looked away.
As the principal finished, Josh looked up at him. "Is there any way we could get involved with the sports teams?" He asked. "I know they've already had tryouts."
The principal considered it, scratching the back of his neck. He was a tall, slightly portly man with a small but growing bald spot on the top of his head. "What teams are you asking about?"
Josh didn't even glance at me. "Swimming. Cassie swims. And I play soccer."
"I'll speak with Coach Bach about the swim team," he said softly. "You have Coach Kale for gym. You can ask him then."
I tried not to glare at the back of Josh's head. He hadn't even asked me if I wanted to join the team here, he'd just decided for me. In the past six months, he'd been doing that a lot. He'd decide I needed to do something and just do it without asking. I knew he was worried about me, but tiptoeing around me and making decisions for me was not helping.
I kept that to myself as I walked to my first class, parting from my brother on the way there. Besides, even if the coach let me try out I hadn't swam in nearly a year. I was out of shape for swimming even with a daily run. Making Josh feel bad about it wasn't going to help me or him, so I'd be better off keeping it to myself.
I opened the door to my first class and the teacher trailed off, eyeing me carefully before she said "Cassandra Ryans?" She asked. I nodded, and she directed me to a seat in the back while briefly catching me up on what they had been covering that morning. I sat down and pulled the History textbook out from the rack under the desk and plopped it on the desk. Several kids were whispering to each other and occasionally glancing back at me.
I did my best to be invisible, even slouching down in the seat to try to make myself smaller. I willed them to stop looking at me and tried to pay attention to the teacher.
Fresh start. That's what this was. New house. New town. New school. New life.
If only it were that easy.
Josh and I both got our chances to try out for our sports after school. He walked me to the door of the girl's locker room even after I told him I was fine. He made sure I knew to wait for him when I got out in the bleachers of the field where he'd be playing. By the time he was done I was nearly growling. I didn't need watched every second. He'd known he was going to do this, so he'd brought my suit, cap and goggles.
I was still scowling as I changed, but when I walked out of the locker room and over to the coach I felt a little better. Maybe I could swim second string, or even junior varsity. I was out of shape and my shoulder muscles were definitely not what they once were.
Coach Bach looked me over carefully. "Where'd you swim before?" She asked me, looking down at her clipboard.
"Kellar Academy," I replied softly.
She looked up at me and raised an eyebrow. "Kellar? They're good." I nodded, unsure of what to say. "What do you swim?"
"Anything but breaststroke," I replied just as softly. "I haven't been swimming regularly in over a year though." The coach set her clipboard down on the bench and eyed me carefully.
"Well," she said. "We'll get your times and see how you stack up. We had two swimmers drop since we had tryouts, so we're short. Jump in lane four to warm up." I glanced at the lane numbers and found four before I put down the towel, very aware of my arms. I felt better once I got into the pool with the others. Two of the three girls in the lane glared at me, but I kept my eyes on the bottom of the pool as I fit my goggles over my eyes. I pushed off after they did, letting the soothing, rhythmic pace of swimming clear my head. I counted my strokes, breathing every five and reached the end of the pool by stroke twelve. I swung into the flip turn and pushed off. I wasn't trying to race, but build a slow, steady pace to get my muscles warm.
After we'd warmed up, Coach Bach gave everyone a drill to do, then turned to me. I was hugging my arms to my stomach, watching them go. I looked back when she started talking to me.
"Violet here will time you," She gestured to a girl who was sitting on the bench. Her ankle was in an air cast, and she was looking at the swimmers in the water with a fierce longing in her eyes. "What distances did you swim?"
I looked back at Coach Bach. "One hundred IM, fifty fly and two hundred backstroke," I replied, naming the events I swam the most. "I got stuck in some relays too sometimes."
"Well, let's get your time for fifty fly first, OK?" I nodded and walked over to the lane that she'd left empty for me. Violet followed me with the stopwatch as the Coach went to watch the other swimmers. The other girl sat in a chair my the corner of my lane and looked at me as I stepped into the staring block.
"Typical start call?" She asked. I shrugged, letting my arms hang loose as I leaned over and wrapped the tips of my fingers over the edge of the block. "All right. Fifty fly, two laps. Ready?" I nodded, settling my feet into position. "Take your mark," my muscles tensed, ready for the takeoff. "Go!" I flung myself out over the water and dove in. I sprinted down the lane, turned and swam back for all I was worth. I reached the end and tapped the wall before looking up at Violet. She was staring at the stopwatch, then at the clipboard in her hand in shock.
I hoisted myself up onto the desk and sat, glancing at her around the block. She was still gaping. "What was my time?" I asked.
She blinked as though I'd surprised her by speaking, then looked up at me. "Twenty-five seconds," she said, still sounding surprised. I frowned and she stared at me. "What?"
"I gained a second," I replied before standing for the block again. "What's next?" She looked down at the clipboard.
"One hundred freestyle," she said. We repeated the process for each stroke, and the only one she didn't seem fazed by was my breaststroke. I'm the first to admit I do it terribly.
Coach Bach came over as I finished off the backstroke and took the clipboard as soon as Violet had finished writing down the time. She frowned at the sheet, then at Violet. "Are you sure?" She asked. Violet nodded. They both looked at me. After the moment of silence stretched, broken only by the rhythmic splashes of the swimmers, the Coach said simply "You're on the team. Get in lane six so you can finish the practice." We only swam for another twenty minutes. Violet gave me a smile as I got out, and I waved. I wasn't going to try to force a smile I didn't feel. I did feel more relaxed after the swim. I wasn't so angry at my twin anymore.
I was hiding in my room, writing when Sasha came and found me. She opened my door without knocking and snapped "Dinner's ready. Mom wants you downstairs." Then she slammed the door and stalked back down the hall.
I sighed, swinging my feet off my bed and putting my homework down. There was nothing I could say to make Sasha feel less angry with me. I was the reason we'd had to move, change school and uproot her life. I didn't blame her for hating me. I wouldn't even blame her if she never forgave me.
Dinner was quiet. I was pretty hungry with all the swimming I did, but I still didn't eat enough to satisfy my mom. Josh was asking me how swimming was and if I'd made any friends.
Sasha snorted, and they both shot her a glare. She glared right back and then stormed of to her room. I looked down at my plate and excused myself. I could feel two sets of eyes boring into my shoulder blades as I climbed the stairs to my room, but I chose to ignore them, and I hid in my room.
The next morning Josh drove the three of us to school. Sasha slammed out of the car and ran across the parking lot, as though she'd rather not associate herself with us. Specifically with me. I sighed as I shut the door.
"She's fifteen," Josh said as we walked up the steps. Sasha was already talking animatedly with a group of girls. I had to admit, she worked fast. "She'll get over it eventually."
"I doubt it," I muttered.
"She's a freshman," he replied. "Next year we'll be in college and she won't have to deal with us everyday. Things will get better."
That seemed to be his motto lately. "Things will get better."
"Cassie!" I looked up as a girl shut a locker and ambled over toward me. I watched Violet come toward us, grinning. "I didn't get to say it yesterday, but congratulations on making the team! Coach Bach was impressed!"
Josh grinned that silly lopsided grin of his that he used to try to catch girls with. "I'm Josh," he said and stuck out his hand. "Cassie's twin."
"Ooh. Twins. So you guys must be pretty close, right?" Violet looked from me to Josh and back. I thought about Josh's smothering attention to my life lately and shrugged. "That's so cool! I've always wanted a sibling." She was walking down the hall with us and chatting amicably with Josh. I listened politely and started to break off to go to my class when Violet broke off too.
"You have Art first on Tuesdays?" She asked. I nodded and she grinned. "I hope you're good. Mrs. Fanner only pays attention to people who aren't that great and pesters them. She leaves people with a bit more talent alone."
I hoped I was one of the latter group, but I figured I wouldn't know until Mrs. Fanner took a look at my work. I set my bag down at the table with Violet when she offered me the seat next to her and pulled out my sketchbook. I hadn't known if I would need it, but I brought it anyway. She asked to see it and spent an agonizingly long time at her desk looking at it. I just stood there awkwardly while she did. Violet was hard at work on one of the easels, her cast propped up out of the way of the paint droppings that fell from her paintbrush.
"You have a very talented hand," Mrs. Fanner said finally. "I'd like to see what you can do with other mediums. That will be your first assignment." I nodded and looked around at the art supplies for a while. After a long while I decided to do a canvas work with some oil paints, so I picked up a canvas.
I got so lost in sketching out my idea that I didn't hear Mrs. Fanner call an end to the period. She gave us time to clean up before the bell rang. I stood from sliding my canvas into the storage spot I'd been given when a hand dropped on my shoulder.
I jumped out of my skin and my mind froze. I just reacted, pulling away from the hand and whipping around.
A boy was standing there, looking surprised. "Sorry," he said, blinking. "I didn't mean to-"
"You're in the way," a girl snapped. She elbowed past me roughly, which hurt and slid her work into her own spot. "Just watch where you stand." I slipped out of the storage room before she could say anything else and met Violet.
"That was Brigh," she said lightly as we left the room, following the bell like good little sheep. "She's always mean, so don't worry about it. She snaps everyone lately."
"Lately?" I asked as we left the room. Violet shrugged.
"The last few months or so. She used to play on the girl's basketball team, but she had surgery or something on her knee, so she had to miss the end of last season. She's just been kind of grumpy since then. I on the other had, managed to gt my leg stuck in a fence I was climbing over and break my leg in three places. I've got this baby on for three more months." She patted her walking cast as she limped along next to me. "So where are you going?"
"English" I replied. "Then lunch." She gave me directions to both, for which I was grateful.
She bade me a good-bye and headed off to her own class. As I walked into my own class, I realized I had a small smile on my face with a start.
I had made a new friend.