Can't Help Falling(5)

By: Kara Isaac


Good one, clever clogs. For once in your life, you come up with a good line and you manage to blow it.

“Are you trying to say your name is actually Peter?”

“Guilty.”

Awkward silence. She stared up at him, her face unreadable. “It’s a bad line. It gives you away.”

“As what?”

“That you’re not a real Narnia fan.”

“I’m not a real Narnia fan?” He almost laughed aloud at how wrong she was.

“A true Narnia fan would never ask a girl if they were a Susan or a Lucy.”

And with that cryptic remark she somehow managed to cut past him, weave her way through the furniture-filled room, and disappear. Leaving Peter to stare after her with her final statement resounding in his ears. The sound of the bell ringing and then the front door slamming shut shook him from his daze. What had just happened?

He turned back to the wardrobe and its open door. He’d seen it in here before but never really paid it much attention. He stepped toward it. It looked deep. A few coats hung on old metal hangers. Reaching in, his fingers traversed past the rough woolen material before grazing the wooden back and then traveling down.

His hand brushed against something cool and smooth sitting on the floor as he leaned back. Crouching down, he looked into the depths, his breath snagging at what peered back at him. He blinked, then rubbed his eyes to check he wasn’t dreaming.

A teacup. Slowly he reached for it, pinching the saucer between his fingers and pulling it toward him, not even daring to breathe.

Not just any teacup.

The elusive Aynsley 1950s corset-shaped teacup with pink roses he’d spent the last ten years looking for.





Three

“FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE.” Peter counted down the sprint as Max’s seat on the rowing machine moved like a blur. At Peter’s last count, the tall, muscular athlete let go of the handles and collapsed over his knees, shuddering and gulping in air.

“Good work.” Peter uttered the useless words as he dropped to one knee. Max didn’t even acknowledge them. It didn’t matter what he said. The only thing that mattered was the numbers.

The athlete didn’t even flinch when Peter drew blood. A tiny prick was nothing compared to the abuse every muscle in his body was giving to him.

Peter tagged the sample and read the numbered sticker out to Grant, so the cox could note it on the clipboard he held. The Boat Race may have been considered an amateur rowing race, but the teams had access to all the same training support as the professionals. The lactate levels in his blood would tell the coaching team far more about how Max’s body was responding to the ever-increasing training load than anything else.

Peter looked at the time on the screen. Grant would note that too. Not incredible, but not bad, keeping him squarely in the middle of the pack. It was going to be a close call who the last oarsman would be for the Blue Boat. Peter was glad he was just the assistant coach—a token one at that—and the decision wasn’t on him.

It had looked pretty cut-and-dried after the winter training in Spain, and then James had gone and gotten pneumonia, taking him out of the running and opening the field up again. The news had just come this morning that he wasn’t going to be fit to return anytime soon. The guys contending for the now-open seat were throwing everything they had at the opportunity.

Peter clapped Max’s sweat-covered shoulder as he stumbled away to cool down. A year ago, he’d been that guy. Body sagging over his knees, lungs trying to grab oxygen with rapid short breaths. Now he was standing in a gym in Oxford, drawing blood and cross-checking paperwork. He’d only gotten the job because Sean had taken pity on him, scrounging up enough hours between working here and teaching some beginners’ rowing courses at the Oxford Academicals Rowing Club to pay what he needed to barely scrape by.

“Ethan, you’re up next.” The big American ambled forward and set himself up on the erg. He’d lost a lot of the cockiness he’d rolled in with in September, used to being the big man on campus at Harvard with a string of impressive victories behind him.

It happened every year with the internationals, accustomed to being rowing superstars back home. They showed up at Oxford expecting to be a shoo-in for a seat in the coveted Blue Boat. Then the reality that there was a world of mind-breaking pain between the standard race distance of two thousand meters and the Boat Race distance of six thousand eight hundred set in.

Ethan rolled his shoulders and swung his arms a couple of times before gripping the handles.

“Whenever you’re ready.” Peter stepped away before the muscular rower could even start. The machine would do all the counting he needed.