“You’re raising your head too much when you go up to breathe, son,” the coach said, reading from his notes. “That makes you lose valuable seconds. And remember to exhale through your nose constantly. Don’t use your mouth. I saw you doing it a few times.”
“Got it, coach,” he said, getting out of the water. The swimmer cleared the water from his face and nodded.
As Nelson walked to the starting block again, the coach turned to Cris. The manager, sitting on the ledge with his legs in the water, nodded once and grabbed the chronometer around his neck. With the device in one hand and the tablet in the other, he was ready to time every lap.
“Okay… Go!” the coach’s voice echoed inside the indoor and warmed pool.
Nelson jumped forwards the moment his coach screamed. He felt his body slamming against the surface of the water and then was already swinging his arms and legs, pushing himself to the other side. The swimmer had lost count how many times he had done that today alone.
As he was reaching the other side, he prepared the flip-turn, bending his knees. With the impulse from his legs, he managed to gain a little more speed on the way back.
Ah, so this was what coach was talking about, Nelson realized when he caught himself ready to breathe. Whenever he raised his head above water, there was a little delay when he got back because he was using his mouth to breath. It’s like the blink of the eye, but thanks to the drag, I’d be a little bit behind every time I breathe. But if I do it like this…
Nelson forced himself to breathe through his nose. I don’t know if it’s making any difference… I’ll have to ask Cris if my time changes anything.
“Okay. That’s all for today,” the coached announced when Nelson’s hand touched the wall. “I gotta go now. I’m meeting my in-laws and I’m already late. Apparently, we have to prepare the baby room now, or we won’t have time. Sorry I can’t stay and talk through it all, but I made notes where you can improve. Ask Cris about it.”
The coach’s phone rang, and he answered. Then he was gone.
“Good work,” Cris said, handing Nelson a towel.
The swimmer hesitated to take it, glancing back at the water as he bit his lips.
Cris tiptoed, put the tower on Nelson’s head and forced the athlete to face him.
“I’m not letting you back in the water today,” he said, shaking his head while staring Nelson in the eyes. “The coach specifically said to not let you practice anymore today. Anymore and you’ll be exhausted for tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow…” Nelson took the towel and dried his hair, taking extra time on his face to avoid Cris’ eyes. “The day has finally come.”
“Not really. It’s just a local competition, not ‘the day’ or anything close to that,” Cris said in a casual tone, shrugging. “From the participants’ list, there’s no one who can beat you.”
“What every athlete wants to hear. You’ll win ‘cause the competition is weak.” Nelson let out a hollow laugh.
“That’s literally the first time I hear someone complaining because he should have an easy time winning,” Cris said, smiling and rolling his eyes exaggeratedly. Then he sighed and shook his head. “I can never get you athletes. A victory is a victory to me. And an easy one? Even better. But I guess I’m just a simple manager who doesn’t understand the complex mind of a professional swimmer.”
Nelson stared at him with a blank face. Then he sighed and threw the tower at his manager’s face.
“Liar. You know very well what I’m talking about,” he said, walking towards the changing room. “Hey, how did it go with your dad?”
Cris smile faded as he pulled the towel from his head. He picked up the bag with the tablet and his other materials and went after Nelson.
“The same. Did you find anything to do? Being a manager forever isn’t something worthy of someone of the Prado Maranhão family. You must find a way to help the family,” he said in a forced deeper voice to sound like his father. “At least there was one difference.
“What?” Nelson asked as he started changing into his regular clothes.
“He complimented my work with you,” Cris said, his smile somewhat back as he played with a lock of his hair. For some reason, he avoided looking in the swimmer’s direction.
“Huh? What about me?” Nelson asked, suddenly nervous. Then he stopped changing. “Did you say anything… weird about me… or did he find out about… what you… what we…”
The swimmer lost his voice as he blushed. He looked at everywhere but his manager.
Cris stared at the swimmer with a blank face for a while. Then his façade broke, and he laughed.
“I don’t tell my dad about that kind of thing. I’m a gentleman. I don’t suck and tell,” he said, his grin widening as Nelson got more and more embarrassed. “And no, I didn’t say anything weird… for my standards, anyway.”
Nelson pressed his lips and swallow his immediate words. Nothing good will happen if I take this bait, he repeated to himself a few times. Despite his thoughts, the curiosity was eating him from the inside. He even had to press his lips to stop him from asking.
“Oh… You’re not gonna ask? Ah…” The manager showed a mix of lament and surprise. But the next second, he recovered himself and smiled as he patted the swimmer on the head. “You’ve grown so much since we met. Before, you could never stop yourself from asking what I said to my dad. I’m so happy… but that makes me a little sad too.”
“After all the teasing you’ve done, I’ve learned,” Nelson said, trying to keep some of his embarrassment out of his voice. “I’m a slow learner, but eventually I’ll catch up.”
Cris sniffled, put one hand on his chest, and pretended to wipe his invisible tears. “I’m so proud. I feel like a parent watching his kid grow up.”
“Shut up. I’m older than you.” Nelson said, shoving Cris on the arm gently. “You should talk with more respect towards your elders.”
Cris stopped pretending to be moved. He pressed his lips but nothing he did could hide his huge grin. “Guess again.”
“What…?” Nelson stopped to look his manager in the eyes. “Don’t tell me that you’re older than me?”
Now grinning openly, Cris pulled his driver’s license from the wallet and showed to the swimmer.
“I agree with talking with more respect towards your elders. So you better start now, young man.”
“You’re like two weeks older than me!” Nelson said, taking the driver’s license and pointing at the birth date.
“Correction. Two whole weeks of more maturity.” Cris put on an air of all-knowing and then reached out to pat Nelson on the head again. “So if there’s anything I can help, I will. Don’t hesitate to ask, young man.”
The swimmer stared at his manager with a blank face. “All you have here is two extra weeks of filling diapers and drooling,” he mumbled, averting his eyes.
Cris closed his eyes and nodded. “For young people, it may seem only that. But it’s hard to explain how two whole weeks of maturity feels.”
They stared at each other in silence. Then they laughed at the same time.
“How did our conversation go this way anyway?” Nelson asked after they stopped laughing.
“I don’t know. Young people’s conversation is hard to keep up,” Cris answered with a smile.
They became quiet left the changing room. They were almost reaching the boys’ dormitory when Cris broke the silence.
“My dad said that he expects results from you,” the manager said in a low voice, his eyes fixed on the floor.
Though the voice was barely above a whisper, Nelson heard clearly. He felt a strange numb overcoming him, but made sure to keep looking forward. “That’s expected. Even I want good results from me tomorrow… did he… did your dad say anything else?”
Cris hesitated. “He… and the other board members are doubting that you’ll get similar results as before the accident and… some are considering ending your contract before the World championship…”
“That’s… expected too,” Nelson managed to say despite his dried throat.
I thought everything would wait until the world championship. I mean, if I managed to get qualified… but maybe I won’t even have the chance… He knew that was a possibility from the start. But hearing made it seem a lot more worse.
“Your… history of overdoing things also came up,” Cris went on, as if forcing himself. “They said that someone swimming under the Prado Maranhão name shouldn’t behave like that…”
“Ah… so that’s why you were so insisting on keeping me from freaking out,” Nelson said in a lighter tone to lighten the mood. “You were protecting a Prado Maranhão’s name and assets.”
“That has nothing to do with it!” Cris said suddenly. He halted and grabbed Nelson’s sleeve. “I did those things because I care about you and don’t wanna see you hurting yourself nor destroying your dream.”
Nelson widened his eyes. Then he blushed and averted his gaze. Some people coming in and out of the dormitory stared at them, but he didn’t care.
“I know that… I know for a long time that you care about me,” he mumbled, getting even redder. “I’m sorry for saying that. It just joking to lighten the mood.”
Cris blushed and averted his eyes too. They said nothing else as they walked into the dormitory. Then they stopped before Nelson’s door.
“Well then… I guess this is where we part ways,” Cris said, letting out a forced chuckled. “Don’t try to sneak any workout or practice during the night. And don’t sleep late. And don’t eat too much.”
Nelson smiled and let out a real chuckled. “I know, mom. Thanks.”
“Well then… bye… I’ll see you the first thing in the morning,” he said, smiling too.
After a few moments of silence, Cris turned around. But before he could take a step, Nelson grabbed his hand.
“Wait!” the swimmer said in an urgent voice, staring into Cris’ eyes. “Don’t go. I don’t want you to go. I don’t wanna be alone tonight… Could you… spend the night?”