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Waking Olivia

By:Elizabeth O Roark

Waking Olivia
Elizabeth O Roark



It's my first day at a new college and I'm dragging my feet like it's an  execution. Which makes sense since the man I'll meet today has the  ability to end my life. Life as I know it, anyway.

I seek out the dining hall first, using the crappy, copied map the  school sent me last month. Athletes are provided a dining plan whether  they live on campus or not. Given that I've spent the past three months  eating nothing but eggs and ramen, this is probably a good thing.

I get my food and sit alone with the exact breakfast I have every day  during the school year: one scrambled egg, plain oatmeal, and one apple.  I eat the apple first, praying I can hold it down.

I already know that today's meeting can't possibly go well. After the  incident at my last school, it was a shock that any team would have me,  and I'm pretty sure my new coach is about to make his reservations  clear. The best case is a series of warnings and threats, and the worst  is that he lays out conditions I can't possibly agree to. They wanted  you, I remind myself. They gave you a scholarship. It won't be that bad.

Somehow I just don't believe it.

The athletic department is housed in a vast building that dwarfs almost  any other on campus. It lets you know in no uncertain terms what matters  most at East Colorado University. I suppose I should be grateful for  this fact since it's the reason I've got a scholarship.

There's no wariness on the secretary's face when she tells me I can go  in, which means she must be one of maybe 10 people in the world of  collegiate sports who don't know what I did. Most people watch me now as  if I'm a rabid animal or that snake in Malaysia, the one whose bite is  so deadly you collapse only a few feet from the site of the attack.

There's no doubt, as I enter the room, that the two men in front of me  know exactly what has happened. They're already looking at me  sternly-narrowed eyes, arms folded-which means I'm already sort of  pissed off.

I brace myself for the lecture I know is coming because I have no other  choice. Peter McEwan, the track coach in front of me, is the stuff of  legends, and I need a legend right now. People used to call me a  "gifted" runner. They spoke of my potential in awed voices. Now they  don't.

But McEwan needs a legend too. ECU hasn't had a winning women's track  team in nearly a decade, which is why they've incurred the vast risk of  offering me a scholarship.

They need me to find that thing, whatever it is I've lost, almost as much as I do.

I'm willing to act contrite right now for the chance to work with him.  I'll even pretend I'm sorry. But I'm not prepared to do so for the other  one. He's not much older than me and looks like he should be posing for  the cover of Men's Fitness instead of sitting there scowling. He leans  back in his chair, blue eyes glittering like ice on his tan face, a smug  lilt to his mouth that sets my teeth on edge. I'll let McEwan lecture  me, but I'll be damned if I'm going to kiss this guy's ass. Keep glaring  at me, asshole. See how far that gets you.

McEwan rises from his chair and greets me with a handshake. "This is my  colleague, Will Langstrom," he says, motioning to the guy beside him.  Langstrom shakes my hand, but his eyes remain narrowed and unwelcoming.

He towers over me, and between his size and the way he is looking at  me-like I just drowned some small pets for fun-Langstrom feels like a  threat. People either cower or lash out when threatened, and I'll give  you one guess what camp I belong to. This is bad.

"Olivia," he says.

"I go by Finn." I meet his eyes once before I look away. I don't need your approval, dickhead.

"Will is the coach for the women's cross country team," McEwan adds.

Oh shit. I do need his approval. Shit, shit, shit.

This is news to me, but did I really think Peter McEwan was going to  coach me personally? I know he has his hand in the entire coaching  program, but talk about equal rights all you want, no school is wasting a  revered coach on the women's team.

"You have two years until graduation," McEwan continues, "and whether we  can make something of your ability before then is entirely in his hands  and yours."

I shift uncomfortably. I can't say I love the phrase "make something of  your ability." I still hold three course records. Wasn't that something  made of my ability? Am I going to have to keep proving myself for  fucking ever?

"I don't feel we need to go over what happened between you and your  former teammate," he intones. My spine relaxes, just a little. "I do,  however, need to make sure you understand that it can't happen here." I  nod again, hands clasped in my lap. Contrite. "And we're not going to  wait until you've hospitalized someone before we kick you out of here,"  he warns. "We get even a hint of that temper and you're packing your  bags. Understood?"                       


Not show a hint of temper? Impossible. You're on the verge of 'a hint' right now. I somehow manage to nod my agreement.

"The other thing is your extracurricular activities," he says.  "According to the reports from your last coach, they had a huge impact  on your ability to practice. That can't happen here, understand?"

He has no idea what my extracurricular activities really were. How they  were so much worse than what he's imagining. How I couldn't stop them if  I tried. And believe me, I've tried.

Just when I think the meeting is over, it gets worse. McEwan stands and  says he'll give me and Langstrom time to chat. My throat grows dry  watching him walk out the door, and once it closes I reluctantly turn  back to my new coach, who I already fucking hate.

"I don't want you here," he says flatly. "I'm not buying this whole good-girl-made-a-mistake crap. You nearly killed someone."

I stare at the ground, at anything but him, trying to rein myself in. I  brace myself, tighten my thighs and my biceps, draw everything in so  that I don't explode. Fuck you fuck you fuck you. Why should I have to  listen to this guy anyway? He's tall and broad, the body of a swimmer or  football player, not a runner. I wouldn't tell a mechanic how to change  my oil, so why should this guy get to tell me how to run?

"I'm curious," he says. "Are you even sorry?"

People always ask me this, but they don't really want an answer. They  simply want to remind me that I should be sorry. And I am. I'm sorry I  lost my scholarship. I'm sorry I had to leave and that I'll never run  for a Division 1 school again. But I'm not sorry I did it. When I think  of Mark Bell, with his smug smile and that ugly thing behind his eyes,  it's hard to feel much regret.

I'm going to try not to say that last bit out loud.

"I didn't mean to hurt him as badly as I did," I mutter. It's the one  true statement I can offer that doesn't make me sound like a sociopath.

"That's not really the same thing as being sorry," he says.

No, it's not, asshole.

"Your running is crap. You haven't placed better than third in nearly  two years, and the last time you ran a 4:30 mile was three years ago. I  think you've lost it."

These are words I hear in my own head daily. "I can get it back," I tell him. "I just need to apply myself."

He crosses his arms in front of his chest. He has particularly nice  biceps, which would totally distract me if we were having a different  conversation. "You're a liability and I don't feel like taking time away  from really talented athletes so that you can 'apply' yourself, but  Peter sees something in you. Claims you're a diamond in the rough."

The words console me, momentarily. Peter McEwan thinks I'm a diamond in the rough. That's got to be worth something.

His mouth goes to a flat line. "I disagree."

If I were a smarter girl, I'd pack my bags right now. Because one of us has to go, and I'm guessing it won't be him.

Three guys sit along a brick wall outside the athletics building as I  walk out. "Hey, new girl!" one of them shouts. Athletes are cockier than  the general population. They don't worry about being shot down as much  as everyone else.

I stop, letting my dark hair swing over my shoulder as I turn my head  toward them. It's soothing that no matter how much I fuck up, I still  always have this one thing. Being attractive is the next best thing to a  superpower. It's a get-out-of-jail-free card, causing men to overlook  my many other terrible qualities. And I have so, so many terrible  qualities.

"Yes?" I ask with an eyebrow raised.

They all grin like naughty children, and the boldest one saunters  forward. "So you're new here?" he asks as he catches up with me.

"I thought we'd established that." He's hot. Broad. Football player. I like that. A skinny runner's build does nothing for me.

"I'm Landon," he says, and inwardly I flinch. Landon is a private school  name, one of those kids who wears a pink collared polo shirt and beats  up gay kids after class. But he's cute. The whole super-all-American boy  thing isn't necessarily my type, but after a few beers I have a whole  lot of types.