Waking Olivia(10)

By: Elizabeth O Roark



I listen in surly silence as they chatter. 10% of the conversation is about running, and the rest is about boys.

"You'll see the guy’s track team at tomorrow's practice," Nicole tells me the week before school starts.

I couldn’t care less about meeting the guys. Runners are too gangly for me. I prefer a build like Will's.

I want to take bleach to my brain the moment I hear that admission in my head.

"Mmmm, and Erin will get to see Brofton," someone teases.

"Dan Brofton is hands-down the hottest guy on the team,” Erin informs me. “Aside from Will, that is."

There’s a lot of sly giggling. "Will doesn't count. He's not on the team," Nicole objects.

"But if he were ..." Hannah sings, and there is more giggling. Coaches can't date students, and even if they could I can't imagine the appeal of an asshole like Will. Okay, that’s a lie. I can totally imagine the appeal. But I refuse to let myself.

"Did you see the way his shirt clung to him at yesterday’s practice?" asks Meghan.

“Wish his shorts had clung too,” cackles Nicole.

I roll my eyes. "This is like listening to a bunch of horny teenage boys."

"Welcome to the team.” Erin grins.



The guys’ team is waiting when we wrap up the next morning. I know who Brofton is immediately because he's the kind of good-looking that is universally appealing to everyone. Dark hair, knowing eyes, a little smirk on his face like he’s imagining you naked. You might have a particular type, but Dan Brofton is cute enough to be everyone's type. And yet…

I begrudgingly admit that he's still not as hot as Will.

He saunters over to me. The cocky ones always saunter. "You must be the D1 girl."

"Wow,” I deadpan. “Your psychic powers are top-notch."

“Fine.” He grins, irritatingly unfazed by my bitchiness. “So we’ve actually heard all about you."

"And what exactly did you hear?"

"That you put Mark Bell in the hospital."

"I hope that means you're all scared of me now."

"You don't look so scary.” He smiles. "And I've met Mark a few times. He ran in my division in high school, and I know for a fact that he's a world-class prick, so I'm gonna guess he had it coming.”

He definitely had it coming.





9





Will



I am on the south face of Denali. It’s not necessarily the hardest climb, just steep as shit. The guys we’re leading are already tired, which doesn’t bode well since we’ve got at least three more hours before we hit the next camp.

“You got this?” I ask one of them. His name is Bob. He’s from Beaufort, South Carolina, which sits below sea level, and this is his first major climb. Not sure Denali should be anyone’s first major climb, but I don’t choose our clients.

His mouth is pulling inward, stretched tight. He nods.

I asked. It’s all I can do.

I look at the summit and the sun warms my face. It’s cold as hell, cold enough that it’s stripped everything inside of me. Any lingering uncertainty. Even the anger.

My father was wrong. He said mountain climbing was a hobby, not a profession, and that one day I’d be home with my tail between my legs. He was wrong, and I know it as I stand here. I know there’s nothing else in the world I’m supposed to be doing. I know that even if this climb is my last—and no serious climber ever goes up without at least acknowledging the possibility—it was worth it. I’d rather have had two good years with the sun on my face and the summit hovering above than a lifetime of working on the farm. Climbs like this are the only time, for as far back as I can recall, that I don’t feel as if something is missing.



I wake. I’m not at high camp or base camp. I know that the only climbs in my future are the ones I wedge into days and weekends that are already too full. I’ll probably never summit Everest or Annapurna or any of the other ones on my bucket list. I’m going to live and die toiling on that farm, just like my dad did.

The only difference is that he had a choice.

There were things about climbing that sucked, that would have bothered me over time. It’s hard to have a relationship when you’re gone months at a time. I’d eventually have wanted kids, and it would have been hard to leave. But I was 24. I didn’t want commitment—I wanted convenience. And I had it. Sometimes I think if it had just been a little less perfect this wouldn’t be as hard for me as it is right now.

There isn’t a single afternoon, when practice is done, that a tiny voice doesn’t suggest I go climbing. I hear it today, but I don’t go. I never go. The sprayer’s coming to do one last application of weed killer tomorrow and I’ve got to make sure the fields are ready first. Otherwise, I’ll spend the next goddamn month fixing ruts he’s put out there.

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