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Authors: Rochelle Allison,Angel Lawson

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BOOK: For the Win
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Reporter
: Did you always think the two of you would grow up to be Olympians?

Julian
: Me? No way. Allie? Absolutely.

Allie
: I always wanted to push myself. There was no limit.

Reporter
: I’m sure you realize you’re the first brother-sister twins to ever make to the same Games, not to mention in the same sport. How does it feel?

Julian
: It feels like no matter what I do, I can’t shake this girl. She’s been following me around my whole life.

Allie
: You know I’m older, right? By eight minutes. It drives him crazy.

Reporter
: So who is more protective of the other?

Allie
: Me.

Julian
: Definitely her. I’m a selfish bastard, haven’t you heard?

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

I find Allie and Melina sitting at a wooden picnic table down by the dunes, plastic beer cups and a clear pitcher of amber liquid in front of them. This is probably their last hoorah before training —
for real
training

starts.

“Well,” Allie says. “What did he say?”

“Uh, he told me that he knows my history and that although he is fully aware of my weaknesses, he also thinks I have what they need for a second behind Dominic, who has struggled a bit lately and they feel like they need a strong backup just in case. Apparently they’ve been keeping tabs on me even though I thought I was off the grid. They think I’m ready to make my comeback.”

Shit. I’m twenty-three years old and need a comeback.

“I’m supposed to meet him in Colorado Springs for a physical and ‘tryout’ on Monday,” I add.

“They’re making you try out?” Allie asks, not even trying to hide the start of a grin tugging at her lips.

“I think they just want to make sure I actually show up before committing.”

Melina rolls her eyes, mumbling, “Makes sense,” under her breath as she takes a sip of her drink.

I deserve that, so I ignore the jab. “From there I’ll go to training just like everyone else. As long as my health is good and my performance is together, I’ll be in Brazil with the team.”

A full smile breaks through and spreads across my sister’s face. She lunges across the table, squeezing me a tight hug. “Oh my God, Jules. It’s happening.”

The Olympics. Holy shit. The sharp reality of it breaks over me, and I wrap my arms around her. “I know.”

“I mean, it was our dream but then everything happened and I just…I never thought we’d actually go to the Olympics together,” she says, voice muffled by my shirt.

“Trust me,” I agree, “neither did I.”

Part of me still doesn’t. There’s no way I don’t screw this up somehow before the plane to Brazil takes off. Unfortunately, though, it’s not just about me anymore. If I go down, Allie goes down with me. McDowell made that more than clear.

I catch Melina’s eye and she looks away. Again.  

Allie grabs her hand. “Who would have thought—three kids from Lexington Acres, repping the USA?”

Melina smiles, but it’s weak. I’m not surprised when she shakes Allie loose and leaves the table. My sister stands to follow but I motion for her to stay. “No, let me go.”

Melina heads straight to the shore, kicking her shoes off at the edge of the wet sand. Her toes hit the water and she shivers, folding her arms. It’s early June, but the ocean still thinks it’s winter.

“It’s really nice here,” she says when I catch up. Her eyes are on the restless water, watching a pair of surfers by the pier.

Following her gaze, I stare out at the horizon, letting the view soothe me as it’s done since day one. “Ocean Beach has been a good place for me.”

Turning my way, she looks me over. “You look good, Jules.”

“So do you.” I don’t check her out. I don’t need to. She’s always beautiful.

“No.” She shakes her head. “You look healthy. Strong. I’ve never seen you like this before.”

I shrug. “Ostracism suits me, I guess.”

“You weren’t ostracized.” She scoffs. “You ran away.”

Ouch. “What’s this about, Melina? Why did you come down here if you’re still so pissed at me?”

Her eyes blaze. “I wanted to see for myself how you were doing. I figured there was no way you’d be okay on your own, that your mother was just telling us that you were good to make herself feel better. To make Allie feel better. I thought we’d show up and find you in a pile of your own filth, reeking of alcohol and one night stands.”

I consider being offended, but what’s the point? She has reason to believe all that.

“But here you are—better than ever.” She laughs darkly. “I should have known. Always the golden boy.”

“That’s not fair—not everything has come easy for me.” My hand reaches for the pump connected to my lower stomach, but I drop it, shoving aside any self-pity. “I work hard—just like you. And I’ve really worked my ass off this last year.”

“Only because of your mom.”

True. I made my mother a promise and kept it. But
at least
I kept it. I’m caught between knowing I deserve Melina’s ire and wanting to defend myself from it.

She bites her bottom lip and kicks the sand. “I can’t believe you agreed to this. I thought you’d tell Allie no for sure—that you’d tell McDowell to fuck-off. I thought you’d be the same, self-absorbed bastard you’ve always been.”

Melina knows me well, since that’s exactly what I did, so her insight into the mind of Julian Anderson isn’t a surprise. Not to me at least. “So, let me get this straight: you’re pissed that I’m not selfish?”

“No. I’m pissed that you’re pretending to be something you aren’t.” Tears shine in her eyes, but her jaw is tight with defiance. “Do not ruin this for me or your sister—do you understand me? If you come—if you really make it to Brazil—do not fuck it up for the rest of us.”

Her anger and heat make the frustration I’m carrying against McDowell wane a little. I know our relationship has been rocky, but her tears are unexpected. I move toward her, wanting instinctively to touch her, but we haven’t been like that for years. Glancing up the beach at my sister, I see the worry lines on her face even from here.

“I’ll prove it to you—to both of you—that I’ve changed,” I say, as though I have any choice in the matter. “I promise.”

Giving me a quick nod, she breaks into a run up the beach. I watch her grow smaller and smaller, until she’s a tiny smudge against the white coastline. A small wave washes over my feet, pulling the sand back to the sea, and I hope I can keep my word.

Because I
have
changed. In more ways than one.

 

 

Chapter 9

(2008)

By sophomore year, we were a crew: me, Allie, Marcus, and Melina. Usually we were together, but sometimes we sort of paired off; I tried not to think about the times Allie and Marcus slipped off alone. My own feelings for Melina had evolved, growing pretty intense, and if Marcus felt like that for Allie? Well, he was lucky I didn’t punch him in the face.

Melina had always been a pretty girl, but by the time we were fifteen she had me nearly obsessive, in that hormonally-charged, bursting-out-of-my-skin, kind of way. I couldn’t stop staring at her, and she couldn’t stop catching me.

We bounced from apartment to apartment, watching TV and doing homework, but mostly we hung out at the soccer field. I think we all sensed that the field and those black and white balls we goofed around with might be our shot out of that place. If only we tried hard enough. Worked hard enough.

“I should go,” Melina said one afternoon. We were mid-field, shuffling around the dirt worn area at the center. No matter how many times the school replanted grass, the dirt always won. She rubbed her hands over her arms. The sun had fallen behind the trees, making the air much cooler. I untied my hoodie from my hips and offered it to her, but she shook her head.

“You’re cold,” I insisted. “Take it.”

The sweatshirt had my number on the chest. Fifteen. She knew being seen in it implied something, and I wanted it to. I wanted the world to know she was mine, even though it probably worked the other way around better. I was hers.

“My dad won’t like it,” she said.

Ah, her dad. He was the reason Allie stuck around so much, even when she’d rather be alone with Marcus. Traditional and very Catholic, Melina’s father was loving but strict with his girls. Melina was the oldest, so she took the brunt of his worries the hardest. Boys and dating were out of the question; he wanted her to focus on academics and sports. College was a big deal to him.  

The fact I was a white boy from a poor, single parent home didn’t help, either. I don’t think he saw me ever getting out of the neighborhood. Over the years, he’d accepted me because of Allie but the looks he gave me made his real thoughts clear: hands off.

My fingers clenched the red and black fabric in my hands. Allie ran by with Marcus hot on her heels, snatching our weathered ball with her fingers. She lobbed it mid-air and punted toward the end of the field.

“You didn’t,” he said.

She cracked a smile, ponytail swinging. “Race you.”

They dashed down the field, leaving me holding the sweatshirt next to a shivering Melina. Stepping forward, I tugged the neck over her head and pulled the shirt over her shoulders. My heart beat double time as I pushed her hair out of the way. She struggled at first against my hands, but I stopped her. “Ask your dad what’s worse; wearing a boy’s shirt or knowing that boy that didn’t offer one to his freezing daughter.”

A small grin crossed her lips and I knew I’d won. Melina pushed her hands through the sleeves. Red tinted her cheeks. “I will.”

Allie laughed, the sound carrying clear across the empty field. She and Marcus dodged one another, now involved in a game of tag with an excessive amount of touching.

Grinning back at Melina, I slung my backpack over my shoulder as we started to walk.

 

Chapter 10

The team jogs over and plops on to the ground, faces eager and expectant. Hesitating, I kick my toe in the dirt. Why did I think this would be so hard?  

I shared the news with Edgar this morning. His eyes had widened, a huge smile appearing on his face. I thought maybe he’d be disappointed I was leaving him in a lurch, but he just shook my hand and offered me hearty congratulations.  That was when I realized a whole different group of people were counting on me to succeed besides the two women waiting on the edge of the field.

Fourteen of those people are sitting on the grass right now with dirty knees and sweat beading on their foreheads. “So guys, I wanted to—“

“Who is that?” Sam interrupts, nodding over my shoulder.

I glance back. Allie waves.

“My sister. So listen—“

“Who’s the other girl?”

“She’s hot.”

“They’re both hot.”

“Dibs on the blonde.”

“No way, I saw her first.”

“Hey!” I shout, over their fighting. “Get over it. You’re jailbait and even so, none of you are remotely in their league. Anyway—“

“Is that your girlfriend—not your sister, the other one?” Harrison asks.

Sighing, I rest my hands on my hips and steal another peek from the corner of my eye. I can’t help but wonder if Melina heard and what she thinks about
that
. An idea flares in my head and I say, “You know what? Forget what I was trying to say. Let’s invite them over.”

I wave to them and Allie grins bigger, always wanting a peek into my world. She jogs over, dragging Melina with her. The boy’s eyes widen as they get closer.

“This is my sister Allie and her friend Melina. They play on the US Women’s team.”

A couple of snickers roll through the group, but most of the others seem genuinely impressed. Of course they are also probably just ogling them, so who knows what’s going on in their knuckle-headed brains.

“Allie plays midfield. Melina forward.” I don’t announce that she’s the highest scoring forward on the team. No need to give away how closely I’ve followed her career. “No seriously, and if you don’t watch out I’ll send you out there with them and watch them kick your butts.”

“No way,” Harrison mumbles.

“As if,” another knucklehead chimes in from the back.

“You up for it?” I ask, pointing to the girls.

“Yep,” Allie agrees. Melina hesitates but finally nods, unsure of the whole thing. She’s been quiet ever since she found out I was coaching kids. Girl thinks I have nothing but ulterior motives.

“Two teams.” I start tapping heads, sending the boys to opposite sides of the field. I point to the bag of practice jerseys and Melina starts handing them out. When she reaches Sam he lifts the hem of his shirt, revealing his skinny, pale stomach.

“Are you on my team? Because I’ll take skins.”

Her eyes flick to me like this is somehow my fault, and she shoves the green mesh shirt into his chest. “I’m going to enjoy taking you down a notch,” she says, eyeing him.

Sam’s smile falters, and he runs to the others already on the field.

“Cute kids,” she says, tossing me the empty bag.

“You should have seen them before I got here,” I reply, flashing a grin.

“I can only imagine the nonsense you’ve filled their brains with.”

The boys get smoked, stumbling over their feet, running around aimless and confused, but I’m proud of them. Scrimmage turns fun once they man up and realize they could really learn something.

A different kind of pride washes over me as I watch Allie and Melina play, though. It’s been ages since I’ve seen either woman on the field, at least not streaming on my laptop, and they’ve both developed into amazing, strong players.

Edgar walks up behind me and I glance over. “Tell them yet?” he asks.

Melina runs to the top of the box, her long muscular legs quick and skilled. She takes the shot at Shawn. I nearly cover my eyes, but his fingers manage to graze the ball—although not enough to stop it from blasting into the back of the net. Still, he scrambles to his feet like I taught him. Melina jogs over, giving him a fist bump for effort, and a wide grin cracks his face.

“Not yet,” I say, shaking my head. “Needed to teach them one more lesson first.”

BOOK: For the Win
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