“Is this the right place?” Mari asked when she parked the car in the school parking lot.
“Yeah, it is,” Cris answered without checking anything; he had already memorized the address.
Despite the lack of tournament atmosphere at the school, the manager felt his stomach tighten a knot. I’m so nervous, he thought, trying to ignore the feeling.
But it was hard with his cousin by his side. Cris couldn’t help to notice her legs wouldn’t stay still. Then he realized his legs were the same
“Stop that,” he said, grabbing her knee to make her stop. “It’s making me more nervous.”
“But I can’t help. I’m so excited,” she said, moving her legs despite the hand.
Cris gave up and sighed as he pulled his hand back. He looked at the direction of the building that looked like a gym and took a deep breath. Why am I feeling like nervous? Today’s gonna be easy for Nelson… Yeah, it should… there’s nothing to worry…
Despite her excitement, Mari noticed Cris’ mood change.
“Oh, c’mon, little cousin. There’s no need for you to be like this. Instead, be like me! I’m all hyped up for this competition!” she said with a huge smile.
The manager could tell. It wasn’t just her legs that couldn’t stay still; her hands too.
Despite everything, Cris couldn’t help but get influenced by that smile.
“Yeah… You’re right!” the manager said, smiling too.
“You shouldn’t be surprised by that now, little cousin. But instead of thinking how much nervous you are, think what’s Nelson feeling.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, he was used to big indoor pools with bleachers and a crowd cheering. From that to a high school pool is a little… a great fall, to be honest. It might affect him psychologically more than you can imagine.”
Cris fell silent for a moment. “That’s true… but he’ll overcome that. I’m sure.”
“Are you, little cousin? Despite being local, it’s his first competition. It might put more pressure than he believes. Especially if he’s thinking that it’s gonna be a walk in the park.”
“Since when you’re such an expert about competitions? When was the last time you came to watch a swimming competition?” Cris asked, the disbelief plain on his face as he stared at his cousin.
Mari hummed as she tried to remember.
“I have no idea. I think maybe it was back when my brother swam.”
“Three years ago? For real?” Cris raised an eyebrow. “Then why are you suddenly acting like an expert?”
“Because there are high stakes involved,” she said with an unusually serious expression as she got out of the car.
Cris could tell there was something stupid coming up, so he kept quiet.
“After this, I’m hoping my little cousin will get rammed from behind so hard he won’t be able to walk tomorrow,” Mari said with a straight face he got out of the car.
“How can with that face?” Cris asked in an empty face.
“Because it’s my deepest with at the moment. Oh, c’mon, little cousin. Are you gonna seriously tell me you don’t expect the same?”
Cris blushed and tried to stop his smile with no success as they walked on the school grounds. “I can’t say that…”
“Ha! I knew it!” Mari shouted in triumph. “You almost have as much expectations as me for this.”
“Why are you so interested in my love life?”
“Because it’s been too long since I’ve seen some action. It’s hard to find guys when you literally live at your workplace. I mean, guys that aren’t swimmers.”
“Then why don’t you date someone from the club again?”
Cris could name a couple of interns in the medical and in the financial department that he wouldn’t mind getting on his knees. But that was before I met Nelson.
“Because it’s too troublesome. You, of all people, know how it is. My last boyfriend was… oh, shit… speaking of the devil…” Mari fell silent and halted.
Cris looked around. At once he realized what was the reason for his cousin’s sudden silence. Oh, shit… why him…?
Walking a few steps ahead of them, there was someone they knew. In a suit that made him stand out on the school grounds, the man was talking on the phone and hadn’t noticed the manager and his cousin.
“Why is he here?” Mari asked in a low voice as she pulled Cris behind a tree.
“Probably to watch Nelson… dad has no time to come to this small competition. But there’s no way he wouldn’t send someone to check… I just can’t believe it’s him,” Cris said in a hushed voice, pressing his lips.
“Yeah, I totally agree. Why him of all people? Couldn’t uncle send another one of his assistants? I can’t face him.”
Oh yeah… Mari dated him… If I’m not mistaken cheated on her with a Colombian girl during the Pan-American games.
“You’re still hung up on that? It was years ago.”
“It was traumatic for me, okay? I… I think I was in love with him,” Mari said, blushing, in a rare display of embarrassment.
“Yeah, well… I hate to tell you, but I slept with him too,” Cris said, trying to suppress his smile.
“What? I never heard that! When did you sleep with him? Wait, Marco is bi? No way! I never realize that.”
“One question at a time. First, I slept with him at the New year eve party. I don’t think he’s bi. He just fell for my charms that one time,” he said, not hiding how proud he was.
“You’re such a slut, Cris,” Mari said, biting her lips as she turned to her ex. “What are we gonna do?”
“What do you mean, what? I’m gonna watch Nelson swim. I came here only for that. There’s no reason for us to hide from Marco.”
“Yeah, I know that, but… oh, shit… he saw us…” Mari waved awkwardly as Marco looked in their direction. “Just smile and wave. Maybe he won’t come to talk to us.”
But her fears became true.
Marco ended the call, put the phone away, buttoned his suit and walked towards Cris and his cousin.
“Hello, Mari. It’s… good to see you,” he said. His tone was just as forced as his smile. Then he turned to the manager and his cheeks became a shade of pink. “You too, Cris…”
“Hey, Marco. What are you doing here?” Mari asked, also trying to force her voice to sound as normal as it could.
“I’m here to watch our swimmer. Your father asked me to report his result the minute the competition ends,” he said to Cris. Then he turned back to his ex-girlfriend. “I’m surprised to see you here. I thought you said you’d never watch another tournament again.”
“Well… things change. I’m here to support Cris and Nelson’s relationship…” The manager looked at her with wide eyes. “…as swimmer and manager. You know, my little cousin has been working harder than ever this time and all. Hope this is the first tournament of many in Nelson’s future.”
“Yes… I hope so you,” Marco said, looking down to straighten his tie.
At once Cris realized there was something else.
“Is there something we should know?” the manager asked in a low voice. Even so, he didn’t manage to hide feelings.
Marco bit his lips and rubbed his trimmed beard.
“I shouldn’t be saying this, but there a people who think Nelson cannot produce the same results as before the accident. The accident was too severe. It’s amazing he managed to come so far after everything. No one doubts that…”
“Even so, this isn’t his last chance, right? He has until the northeast tournament. His contract is until then.”
“You’re right. But the board… no one has said it aloud, but I think today is last chance. Some don’t want the club putting more resources on him. But there’s something else… I’m not here only to watch him… I’m here also to watch another swimmer. His name is Lisandro. He’s young but has a lot of potential… some want to end Nelson’s contract and make one with him.”
Cris was too shocked to say anything. No way… I didn’t hear anything about this… I knew today was more than his comeback, but to think it’d really be his last chance…
Mari looked at his ex-boyfriend, all the joy gone from her face as if it never existed.
“Marco, be honest. Are the old geezers just waiting for an excuse to cut ties with Nelson?” she asked in a serious voice.
The man stayed in silence for a while, looking her in the eyes.
“Not everyone. Your mother… As the head of the medical department, she thinks it’s impossible for him to return to his old self. But your dad the opposite. He thinks that Nelson can go even further. He says that it’s not everyone who can come back from such accident. According to him, they shouldn’t fire someone who can,” he said to Mari.
“And… what about my dad?” Cris asked, gulping. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know.
Marco kept his silence for a while again.
“You know your dad, Cris. He won’t say anything unless he has all the facts. But personally, I think that he’s on the fence. To him, this competition is make it or break it for Nelson.”
The manager bit his lips and turned in the direction of the swimming pool.
“Cris. I’ll be honest. This competition is much more important than Nelson probably thinks.”
Despite talking in a low tone, Marco’s worlds came as a heavy blow to the manager.
We had no idea… and we were thinking it’d be an easy victory… ah, damn it…we couldn’t only think about celebrating later… but now the stakes are much higher… even though this is just a municipal tournament…
“Cris. Go talk to him. There’s still some time before the competition,” Mari said to her cousin, giving him a little push on the back.
The manager flashed a tiny smile at her.
“Thanks,” he said before walking away.
Nelson… I wanna talk to you. I wanna tell you everything I head and then say everything’s gonna be alright. Don’t worry about me. Don’t worry about us. Just think about swimming. Give your all on each stroke!
As the manager thought of his swimmer and the man he loved, each of his steps became a bit faster.
Then Cris was running towards the pool, with his boyfriend face in his mind. Nelson…