My phone vibrates in my bag. There are a few thousand notifications waiting for me. Being on national TV during the trials process has made social media more than a little bit insane, but I've learned to ignore most of it.
It's the last alert that catches my eye. A mention from @Leo_Adams_Roars.
I bite my bottom lip, trying to keep that same smile he prompted from emerging again as I open his account. The profile pic does him justice: the same freckles, the same smile, plus a set of dimples I somehow managed to miss moments before.
"Wow. He's super hot," Emma says, probably louder than she meant to.
"Who's super hot?" Sierra asks, head whipping around from whispering something to Jaime.
"Leo Adams," Emma supplies for her, pointing to my phone. In an instant, my brief little moment with Leo turns into the distraction we all need.
"Is that Janet's son?" Jaime asks.
"No, there's just a random guy with her last name hanging out in the tunnel during her award presentation, Jaime," Sierra drawls with an eye roll.
"Is he a snowboarder?" Chelsea asks when my thumb hovers over a black-and-white picture of him sitting on a mountain—shirtless—with a board strapped to his feet, the sun rising in the distance.
"A snowboarder who appreciates aesthetic
," Emma quips with a perfectly shaped ginger eyebrow raised.
"He won junior worlds last year," I say casually, trying to pretend I don't check up on his career pretty regularly. I mean, it's not like it's hard. We all post at least once a day, and he remembered my name, so odds are he knows the same stuff about me. Probably. Maybe.
Dani leans around Chelsea from her seat. "Boys who look like him should always walk around without a shirt. Look at those shoulders."
I nearly have a coronary when Sierra reaches over and likes the picture for me. "Oh my God!" I pull my phone away way too late. I don't have a ton of experience with boys—forty-hour weeks at training don't exactly make for epic teenage romance—but I know enough to know that liking a picture from months ago looks incredibly desperate.
Sierra laughs, and the other girls giggle. "It'll be fine. Look."
And she's right. I finally look at the message he wrote.
@Leo_Adams_Roars: Ran into @Rey_Lee, literally! It's okay. She's fine. That uneven bars gold is still ours! #NGCTrials
A knock interrupts, and together our eyes fly away from the screen. The distraction is over. Gibby and the rest of the selection committee are hovering at the door.
Shallow, gasping breaths are all I can manage as we enter the arena in a line, arms raised, waving to the crowd. Their answering wall of noise is a humming buzz in the background. Not even a lifetime of dreaming has prepared me for this. My skin is tingling and numb at the same time.
Gibby is at the center of the floor, a spotlight shining on him in the otherwise dark arena. His hair is impeccable, his shoulders high, back straight, commanding everyone's attention.
"Ladies and gentlemen! It is my honor to announce to you the athletes selected to represent the United States of America at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Along with our individual athletes,
Sarah Pecoraro and Brooke Cohen, please join me in congratulating...
Gibby's voice cuts in again. "Our alternates are Sierra Montgomery and Jaime Pederson."
I burst into tears as soon Gibby announced our names in that locker room, and it's only gotten worse since. My cheeks are raw from wiping the tears away. My throat is thick, and it's impossible to get my breathing under control. For once, I don't care. Being under control is totally overrated. At least, for now.
Emma is beside me as we move up the stairs that lead to the raised floor, the arena lights blinding us. She hasn't broken yet. Not one tear or choking gasp, just the serenity appropriate for the best gymnast in the world. I clutch her hand tightly. Holding it keeps all of this real. If I let go, it might slip away into the ether. I'll wake up from this elaborate, torturously perfect dream.
It's everything I thought it would be and at the same time completely different from what I imagined. Not making the team would have been way more devastating than making the team makes me happy. It's strange to know that about yourself, that you take your failures far more to heart than your achievements. It's not exactly healthy, but it's who I am.
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book The Defiance by Laura Gallier.