Upon arrival at Surfside, Andy and Maria remained in the car talking for a minute. Andy played with her hand and secretly toyed with the idea of trying to kiss her. Maria’s father had taught her so strictly about kissing that it was very difficult to get one out of her. He did get one on occasion, but he had to be very careful how he went about it. He decided to push that difficult topic out of his head for the moment and moved on to a simpler one… racing.
“I hate running at Surfside. Something happens every time we run at this school,” Andy complained.
“Just hold your ground, and run your best. God will help us,” Maria assured him.
Maria leaned over, took his hand and prayed for God’s peace to be with them.
When Andy looked up, he saw Maria’s face very close to his. “Can I have a victory kiss?” he blurted out carelessly.
“You know what my Dad says about that. He says kissing leads to other things and that we are too young to start that yet.”
“I don’t want anything more than a kiss. Honest I don’t.”
She studied his face. His dark eyes had such an appealing depth and mystery to them. She liked them very much. He smiled warmly, almost shyly because of her staring. She smiled her own warm smile back.
“Maybe just one.”
“Just one,” he whispered. He leaned in and gave her one simple kiss.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“I could give you a better one than that if you let me,” Andy threw in hopefully.
Maria laughed gently. “I know you could. Just save it up for me, okay.”
“Can I have another?” Her smiling laughter caused his hope to remain.
“Andy, you’re going to get me in trouble.”
“Your Dad’s not even here,” he pleaded playfully. “How’s he gonna know?”
“We’ve got a race to win, Andy. Come on… get your mind in the game.” She gave his hand a little come-a-long tug.
“Okay, okay,” he grumbled as they climbed out of the car. “Let’s do this thing.”
They jogged across the parking lot… then across the football field. The Maxwell team had wandered over to the far side of the football field where Coach Peggy Sims and Coach Sam Timbers were talking. When the coaches finished with their discussion they separated and rejoined their own teams.
Coach Peggy waved all her players to gather closer around her. “Okay people,” boomed her athletic voice, “Surfside is a big school. It has a lot of space, so many of our events will be happening simultaneously. Pay attention to the schedule, and know where you are supposed to be!” She handed everyone a paper with the schedule on it.
A couple of Surfside spotters jogged up to Coach Peggy. “We’re supposed to show your team around.”
“I see.” Coach Peggy turned back to her team and announced, “All of the distance runners, whether you’re 10 milers, 2 milers or 5 milers, follow these guys, and they will show you the routes. The courses overlap in some places. It can be confusing so keep your eyes peeled.” Coach Peggy ushered the distance runners off to review the courses with the spotters while the rest of the Maxwell team prepared for other events.
When the distance runners returned from reviewing the courses, Andy said to them, “Hey guys, let’s pray before we start.” He held out his hands and grabbed Maria’s hand on his right and Connor, Daisy Ray, and Mark joined hands on the left to form a circle.
Just then the irritation twins strolled by with Alison on their heels. They shot birds in Andy’s direction and snickered, “Better watch out Speedy, we’re come ‘in after you today.”
Maria held onto Andy’s hand tightly, refusing to let him leave the circle to go after them. “Just finish your prayer, Andy. Beat him in the race, not all over the field,” she encouraged softly.
Andy moaned and reluctantly bowed his head, everyone followed him.
“Mark, could you start?” Andy asked.
Daisy Ray was expecting some kind of God help us cream ’em prayer, but she was surprised when she heard what Mark and Andy actually ended up saying in their prayers. Mark prayed for Susan to be able to overcome the things that were bothering her, and Andy prayed for unity among the team members and sportsmanlike behavior. Everyone said, “Amen,” and it was over.
Daisy Ray pulled on Connor’s arm so he would hear what she whispered, “I’ve never seen Andy pray before running. Does he do that a lot?”
“Only when we compete with Surfside. They’re such cheaters that it’s tempting to fight with them. Andy probably would have killed’ em all by now if he didn’t pray first.” Connor chuckled lightly as he spoke.
“Oh.” Daisy Ray was familiar with Andy’s temper. If he thought there was any mischief going on he had a way of getting into the middle of it and knocking heads with whoever he thought was responsible. Daisy smiled at the thought that perhaps God had been saving Surfside from the ‘wrath of Andy’ all these high school years simply because Andy asked Him for sportsmanlike behavior before every race with them. She looked at Andy stretching out with Maria. She had always loved them. Now she just found another reason to keep on loving them.
The 10-mile guys began jogging up to the starting line. Connor gave Daisy Ray’s hand a squeeze before he left to stand with Andy at the starting place. The Surfsider’s annoying twin brothers, Gary and Glenn, were both there at the starting place, boasting rudely for all to hear.
Maria came to stand next to Daisy Ray for a moment. Her eyes moved from Andy to Connor to Gary to Glenn and then back again.
“Daisy, are you able to tell the difference between Gary and Glenn?”
Daisy laughed at the odd question. “The only way I can tell them apart is when Alison shows up. She stands with Gary. If she’s not around I can’t really tell the different between them. Can you?”
“No, I haven’t figured out how to tell them apart yet. How do you know it’s Gary that she stands with?” she mumbled almost to herself then she changed the subject. “This school has so much money and so much land it’s amazing! All these running events can happen at almost the same time.” Maria shook her head.
“Yea, that’s pretty amazing,” Daisy Ray admitted.
The gun went off and the 10-mile boy’s race officially began.
Within minutes, the starting place was empty of the boy runners. The girl 10 milers took their spots at the starting line. The girls would run off in a different direction even though they started from the same point the boys had. Maria was the only 10-mile girl from Maxwell school so she would run without a partner.
“Good luck!” Daisy hollered as Maria took her place at the starting line.
Gary’s girlfriend, Alison, came to stand near Maria, which made Daisy feel nervous. Sure enough, as soon as the starting gun went off, Alison rammed her shoulder right into Maria’s stomach which caused her to fall right in the middle of the stream of runners!
The other runners anxiously jumped over Maria, attempting to avoid collision and continue their run. They amazingly missed stepping on her.
Daisy’s mouth dropped open! She could hardly believe what she’d just seen! Maria, however, recovered herself as soon as the other runners passed by and began to run. Her left arm and leg had scrapped the pavement pretty good. They were bleeding. So were the palms of her hands, but she didn’t want to stop to clean them. She wanted to win. You could see the glint of determination in her eyes. It was the same focused eye that you saw in Andy when he ran.
As Maria ran past Daisy she yelled, “Don’t tell Andy. Please!”
Daisy remembered Andy’s prayer for good sportsmanlike behavior and also Connor’s comments about temptation to fight at this school. Things were beginning to click in Daisy’s brain. She was new to Maxwell High School. Maria was a Senior so she decided it was best to follow Maria’s lead in how to handle school meets. “Maria probably knows best,” Daisy counseled herself as she jogged off to watch the other events.
She stopped at the pole vaulting because it was Jeremiah’s turn. He ran quickly down the stretch of asphalt with the long pole in hand. The pole limberly bowed when Jeremiah stuck it into the ground and put all his weight onto it. His feet went straight up into the air… up… up… up… he went! He gracefully turned and curled over the bar without a scratch. Jeremiah fell into the mats below, laughing at his great leap. Jason, his buddy, was there to give him a high five. They jogged back around to watch the other athletes do their best to beat Jeremiah’s perfect jump.
The next guy stood at the end of the asphalt lane, pole in hand. When he was given the go ahead, he ran down the lane. Putting the end of his pole in the ground, he pushed up. The pole bent with his weight sending him up into the air towards the high bar.
“Oh, no!” Daisy mumbled to herself. As the guy curled around the bar, he hit it. The bar fell to the mat along with the guy. It hit him in the legs.
“Ouch! I bet that hurt,” Daisy mumbled again. She then turned her eyes to the place that the guy 10 milers would return from. She wondered how Connor was doing. Neither he nor Andy had come into sight yet.
Connor and Andy were pacing themselves together as they always did when they competed. They stretched out their limbs and held a steady pace in the center of the pack. They followed the orange cones through grassy fields and around school buildings. Connor had always followed Andy’s lead. If he moved to the right or to the left, so did Connor. They weaved through the other runners together in this way.
The sky was blue, and the weather was perfect for running, not too hot and not too cold. Breathing deeply they enlarged their steps and picked up their pace. Surfside was a beautiful place to run, but you could not forget to keep an eye out for Gary and Glenn. The twins were bound to do something aggravating at some point.
“Connor, maybe if we moved up and held a faster pace we could avoid trouble with them.”
“Sounds good to me,” was Connor’s simple response. He would be happy to avoid those two, if he could. He remembered how Gary and Glenn had moved several of the cone markers last year and messed everyone up. Staying ahead of the twins was definitely the right thing to do.
They picked up their pace which put them closer to the front of the pack. Gary and Glenn were still nowhere to be seen. As the miles went by, more and more runners dropped back, and Connor and Andy were now in the lead. When they hit the eight-mile marker, they came out into a clearing where people with stop watches were taking records and cheering.
“Do you hear that?” Andy mumbled.
“What, the cheering?”
“No, someone is coming up behind us. What do you want to bet that those feet are the feet of the irritation brothers?” Andy breathed.
“Okay, let’s pick up the pace then.” Connor could now hear footsteps approaching. The brothers were on his heels which he found extremely annoying.
Andy picked up his pace until he hit his backbreaking winning speed. Connor focused on the straight path ahead of him, picking up his pace along with his buddy. Andy was flying, long flashing strides! Connor was a short distance behind him, stretching himself, willing himself faster to match Andy’s stride. The aggravating sound of Gary and Glenn behind him made Connor push harder! One at a time they passed the finish line, Andy first then Connor, then the aggravation brothers.
They wandered around in circles in order to slow their breathing down. But whenever Gary or Glenn would pass Andy while making a circle, they would glare angrily at him as though he were somehow in the wrong for winning.
Andy and Connor decided a long time ago they would not back down or be intimidated by these guys so they just glared back. “If you guys don’t like losing, practice more,” Andy responded to the glares of the irratation brothers.
“You better start watching your back, man. There are lots of ways to get rid of your speedy-ass,” one of the twins returned nastily.
“Come on,” Connor did not want a fight, “Let’s find the others.” He waved Andy in the direction of their team.
Andy followed him. “A lot of ways to get rid of me… what in the world is that supposed to mean? They sound like thugs off an old mafia movie, man,” Andy mumbled to Connor.
Connor chuckled. “Not sure man, but they have to be the worst pair of losers I’ve ever set my eyes on.”
All the Maxwell team members that were free and not competing on the field somewhere came up to greet Andy and Connor with high fives and friendly shoulder slapping. Daisy Ray came up to greet them as well.
Connor grabbed Daisy and rubbed his sweaty body all over her! She screamed in disgust as he wrestled her into a headlock and messed her hair all up with his free hand.
“Where’s a water bottle when you need one!” He laughed uncontrollably as she struggled to break free from his grip.
Andy bent over to look into Daisy’s red face as she fought to get out of the head lock. “Daisy,” Andy grinned at her spit-fire eyes, “Where’s Maria?”
“Not…,” she choked out, “not… finished yet. But you can see them… Connor let go of me!” She wrestled and pointed. “You can see them through the trees over there.” She raised her arm higher, trying to point in the right direction. It was difficult however, because Connor refused to let go of her head. He was still hoping someone would give him a water bottle.
“Let go of me Connor!” Daisy yelled wildly.
“Not until I get a water bottle! It’s a tradition with us to pour water on your head when I finish a good race!” he stated in his most business like voice.
“Grrrrr!” she growled.
Andy passed him a water bottle with a big grin.
“Andy!” she yelled. “You’re supposed to be my friend!”
“It’s a tradition. Picking on you is one of the simple pleasures of life. Why should I mess it up?” Andy said as he walked off to stand at the finish line and cheer for Maria.
Connor then proceeded to empty the whole bottle on Daisy’s head in a very ceremonial fashion, laughing the entire time. When he finished and finally let her go, she was completely furious, red faced and wet!
“I haven’t even raced yet, and I’m all wet, Connor!” She punched him in the arm with all her strength.
“OW!” He grabbed his arm in mock pain then said, “Tradition is very important to people groups all around the world, including ours. We need to keep them up faithfully,” he teased.
“Grrrrr!” she growled again. “I’m gonna go see Maria finish!” She marched off with happy-go-lucky Connor trailing behind her.
They came to stand next to Andy. Andy glanced down at wet and furious Daisy. He passed her his towel without a word.
“Thank you,” she mumbled, still angry.
“Let me.” Connor took the towel and patted her hair. Observing her frown, he wondered if he’d been to rough with her. “Naaaaa…” He brushed the thought from his mind as he looked down the track for Maria.
Maria had already taken a small lead. She was very focused on the finish line now. Alison was behind her, and she appeared to be just as focused on the finish line.
Andy moved out of the crowd and stood behind the finishing tape where Maria would come through. He held his hands out as he whispered, “Come on Care Bears. You can do it. Take it up a notch, you can win. Come on girl.” Even though Andy was saying this to himself and no one could hear him, Maria was looking straight at his face. She knew what he was saying because it was what he always said, “Take it up a notch. You can do it. Come on Care Bears, push it…,” and she did.
She set her eyes on his and pushed harder. Harder than ever before. Her legs stretched out farther in great panther leaps, and she was through the tape! She ran right over Andy who was standing in her path. She could not slow down so she accidentally ran him over instead.
“Sorry, Andy,” she breathed. She grabbed her sides trying to slow her breathing and jogged around. She had won by about three meters, and everyone was cheering.
Andy handed her a water bottle politely. “That was great! A PR buster for sure!” He reveled in her victory as though it were his own. But there was no grabbing Maria and pouring water on her head, no sir. She was a different type of girl. You couldn’t just grab her like you could Daisy. He just handed her the water and stood there with his arms crossed over his chest, grinning. Until he suddenly noticed her elbow and knee. They were all scratched up and covered with dry blood. He knelt down to take a closer look, “What happened?”
Daisy Ray and Connor were right behind Andy looking at her knee and elbow along with him. Maria shot Daisy a warning glance. Daisy knew Maria did not think it was good to tell him now. She showed her agreement by a tiny nod.
Connor saw the exchange and looked down at Daisy with a puzzled expression.
Daisy glanced quickly at him and just mouthed, “Later Connor, not now.”
The loud speaker suddenly announced that the two-mile event was about to begin.
Daisy jogged off to find Grace and the starting line.
Grace and Daisy were both very nervous, but stretching out helped to calm their nerves. They shook out their limbs and got into place. The gun shot pierced the air and they were off. The starting line for the 2 mile run was crowded with lots of runners so the start was a slow process.
Grace and Daisy aimed for a middle spot at first, but it was so crowded they decided to find a spot ahead of the pack this time.
“Let’s take it up a notch,” Grace suggested in a low, mock, Andy voice.
Daisy nodded in agreement. They picked up their pace, passing a few people as they did so. They ran a while at that pace then took it up another notch silently. They passed a few more people. By the middle of the second mile there were only four people in front of them.
“Wanna go for it?” Daisy smiled.
“Yea, let’s,” Grace responded confidently.
They picked up their pace even more and passed three of the four in front of them. The one in the lead was a girl named Becky from Surfside. Daisy had seen her with Alison and Gary a few times around town.
“When you try to pass her, don’t get too close. Surfsiders have a bad reputation, you know.”
Grace said nothing but kept the warning in mind. They could see the finish line a short distance away. There was only one bobbing head running in front of them, Becky’s.
“Let’s go to the right to get around her so we don’t get stuck on the inside of the track,” Daisy suggested.
“Okay, to the right it is.” Grace immediately began moving right with Daisy. They picked up their pace again. They were gaining on Becky but only by small increments. She was really fast. Daisy could see Connor at the finish line beckoning her to win.
“I want to win…,” Daisy breathed. “I want to win… I want water poured on my head… I want Connor’s head lock… I want to win… I want to win…,” Daisy chanted, with all the emotion that a young girl could muster. She pulled out past Grace, past Becky. She lengthened her stride and took ground.
The tape was only a few meters away now. She focused on Connor, just behind the tape. She could see him mouthing the words “Come on Babe… come on baby Daisy…,” and through the tape she went! Grace flew in at a close second, and Becky came in third. They all three kept running, hoping their legs could stop or even just slow.
Daisy’s heart was pounding fiercely as she stumbled into Connor. He was standing right in front of her and would not move out of her way. She could not stop yet. Why wouldn’t he move? She continued to stumble. He grabbed her around the waist and threw her in the air. He caught her and swung her around. Daisy’s legs went flying out from under her!
Connor yelled joyfully, “You won! You won! I knew you could do it Daisy! You won!” The team gathered around Grace and Daisy, chanting their names and congratulating them.
A crowd of other girls flooded the finish line as well. Some happy, some sad, all panting, making circles, checking their times.
Then Andy yelled loudly over the chanting, “Look the 2-miler guys are coming in now! Look who’s in front!”
Everyone looked around to see Willie pressing in, eyes blazing, legs flying! Everyone started chanting, “GO WILLIE!” GO WILLIE!”
He sped through the tape, through the cheering crowd, grabbing Grace like she was his anchor. She ran along next to him, helping him push through the mob of girls that had not cleared the finish line yet.
Maxwell teammates crowded around another of their winners! The whole day went like that, one outrageously close win after another. Maxwell won many of the events. It was an unbelievable day to remember.
On the way back to the bus, everyone was telling their story of how close their particular competition had been and how they had won by just seconds! Maxwell chattered loudly next to the bus, too excited to quiet down.
Andy put his fingers in his mouth and sent an ear piercing whistle through the air to show he wanted to say something. Everyone covered their ears and looked at him with a healthy mixture of shock, annoyance and curiosity.
“Okay guys, we’re all happy that we won our races! That’s great! But I have a suggestion that will help us continue to have a good night.” He looked around the group letting them wonder for a moment what he meant. “Let’s celebrate at the pizza place tonight, not at Jeremiah’s, okay? The pizza place on highway 74, deal?”
The group roared laughing! Nodding in approval at Andy’s idea, they punched Connor in the arm as they passed by him to get on the bus.
Connor wondered if he would ever live his bad behavior down. The entire school knew about his blunder either because they saw it first hand or because of Susan’s big mouth. It was now a big Senior class joke. “It’ll probably end up in the year book somehow.” He sighed at the thought.
Daisy came up behind him and scratched his back briefly. She knew that the mention of Jeremiah’s would sting a bit. It stung her too. He reached around for her and hugged her.
“What’s this? Just a sweaty hug with no head lock or water bottle? I didn’t get my traditional treatment for my win yet. What’s up with that?” she asked playfully.
He looked down at her, amazed by her willingness to undergo his brutal treatment. And for what purpose, just to make him feel better? He could see that she was ready to be attacked. She had two water bottles in her hand. He looked into her eyes a moment longer pondering what he saw there. He was young which made recognizing love’s bloom a new experience for him. He put his hand on her already wet head carefully and combed his fingers through her tangled hair. She always had such a wild look after running, which for some unknown reason appealed to him. He took a bottle and opened it, taking a big, gulp, thinking about what she’d said. He then took the second bottle and opened it as well. He gave both bottles back to her and bent over in front of her, “Go ahead Daisy girl, give it to me!”
She had not expected that. She was expecting him to attack her, but she went with it anyway saying, “Well, it is very important to stick with tradition. People groups all around the world are very faithful to their traditions. That includes us too… right?” As she said this she poured both bottles of water on his bent over head and all down his back making sure she soaked as much of him as two bottles of water would do.
“Yea Babe, that includes us too.” Connor then shook his head wildly like a dog, spraying Daisy from head to toe with water!
She screamed, covered her face with her hands and yelled, “You’re so gross! Connor! Quit it!”
He grabbed her.
She began screaming even louder trying to break his hold! “You’re so sweaty Connor! Gross! Let me go!”
He put his mouth right to her ear and whispered, “Never.” With that, he took her hand and led her onto the bus and found a seat for them.
Daisy looked out the bus window and saw Mark and Susan talking to Maria and Andy. All four of them climbed into Maria’s car.
Daisy turned to Connor, “That’s odd. Why are they going with Maria and Andy? How did Susan do in her events? Did she do badly?”
Connor snuggled down in his seat leaning his head back against the back of the bus seat in a sort of sideways fashion so that he could look at Daisy’s face while answering. “No, Mark said she did really well actually. They both did great, just like the rest of us. This meet means a lot for a girl like Susan.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well… she did great. She’s gonna give up partying and follow Mark’s advice about her life choices. They’re probably gonna pray with her in the car to get her life straightened out. She’ll need a lot of help to quit some of the things she has been doing,” Connor quietly stated.
“Maybe we should go with them.”
“I don’t think so.” Connor chuckled lightly at the thought.
“Well, because I took advantage of Susan then gave her the brush off, and you got in a huge fight with her. We’re not really on her ‘good friends’ list right now. We should leave her to Mark and Maria. They can help her. It’s hard to help someone when you haven’t been a very good example to them, you know?”
“Good point I guess.” Daisy then snuggled down next to Connor. They both shut their eyes and reflected on what they had just witnessed. Susan had received a bigger victory than all of the Maxwell team put together, just like Mark had prayed for.
Just as an after thought, I read a good quote on a dailymile news letter the other day. It read: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” dailymile.