7. The Patriots Ch. 04-06byinspirixis1©
Micah waited nervously on the front steps of Ellia's apartment building. This was not the way he had been planning on telling her about his swimming. He should have just chucked his bag out when he'd realized the flat he'd had to repair on his way home from the pool this morning was going to make him so late he'd have to go straight to cycling practice. Or he could have stashed it somewhere, but instead he had taken a chance with her, and it looked like it was a bad decision.
She had looked furious when they'd gotten back to the gym after the ride. Her lips were pressed together and her eyes narrowed towards him. She had her arms crossed in front of her and her manner was stiff and hostile.
Despite her obvious anger, it did not appear that she had told anyone else. After the ride Guiseppe had patted him on the back and said, "buono, buono," in that well meaning but partly distracted way he had. That was something. He just had to try and bring her around.
He flattened himself against the building to take advantage of the thin band of shade on the top step of the landing.
Ellia rounded the corner, walking towards him in long purposeful strides.
She didn't say anything to him when she passed him to unlock the front door of her apartment building. She led him up the stairs and unlocked another door.
Inside her apartment he leaned his bike against the wall and she motioned for him to sit at a small kitchen table. She started opening windows and he looked around. It was a studio apartment, just one big room that contained bedroom furniture at one end and a kitchen at the other.
It was tidy. Apart from a messy pile of books and papers on top of the dresser everything was neat and clean and in its intended place. There were two framed photographs on her bedside table but the pictures were turned away from him.
Ellia still hadn't said anything to him. She was moving around her kitchen preparing food and ignoring him. She steamed edamame, dumped them into a big bowl and set it on the table in front of him.
"Eat," she ordered.
Micah was more than a little intimidated by her and he was starving so he complied.
She sat down opposite him. "So?"
He looked her in the eye. "I'm sorry."
"For deceiving you."
She leaned forwards and picked up a handful of edamame beans. "Tell me about it."
"I used to swim, I think I already told you that."
"Well it's kind of a family tradition. My dad swam in two Olympics and my brothers are going for selection in June. They'll make it. They both won events at the world championships last year. My friend Lucas, the one that gives me all the music?"
"He's a swimmer too. He's kind of like my cousin. His dad is my dad's best friend. He's the fastest breaststroke swimmer in the world right now."
"Okay. So you swim to try and fit in with them?"
"No. I quit when I was sixteen because I couldn't keep up with them. I took up cycling so I could have my own thing, make my own way in life, you know?"
"When I was nineteen I was finally diagnosed with Celiac Disease and that's when my career started to take off. Once I stopped poisoning myself with gluten I had so much more energy and I was able to train harder and race harder. I started winning in the under 23 division and it felt good. I'd never really been the best at anything before and it made me feel... I don't know... euphoric. So I decided I wanted to be a professional cyclist.
"I lived in Denver, which is where my family is, most of the way through college and the whole time I never went to the pool, I just rode my bike. Then I was recruited by my first pro team and I moved to California.
"Once I was away from home I started to miss swimming. It was the strangest thing. I hadn't felt like swimming in years and then all of a sudden I wanted to do it every day. At first it was just for relaxation, but eventually I started working out properly. By the time I moved here to Italy I'd already decided I wanted to go to the Olympic trials.
"I asked my mom to help me and she wrote a program and got me a wild-card entry to the trials. It's been a long time since I swam competitively but my name is Watson and that means something in swimming circles back home."
"Is she a coach?"
"No, she's a lawyer, but she's been around swimming for a long time."
"So let me get this straight... you haven't raced in years but you're jeopardizing your cycling career in order to follow a training program that a lawyer wrote for you to try and qualify for a swimming race that you probably won't final in anyway."
The way she said it made him feel small and stupid.
He looked down at his hands. "I was kind of hoping to make a relay... Matthew, Lucas and Ollie are all trying for the medley relay, I wanted to be the freestyle leg."
"So it is about fitting in."
He shrugged. "I don't know. I guess on some level it is, but it's more than just fitting in. Winning is so shallow when there is nobody to share it with... Do you have any idea how cool it would be to race in the Olympics with your brothers? To share that experience with the people you love the most?"
She stared at him for long seconds and then sighed. "You know this is a stupid idea right? You know that swimming and cycling are not compatible training programs?"
"When in June?" She asked.
"The 25th through July 2nd."
"Do you have time off for it?"
"Yeah, the track cycling trials are the week after. Fabian and Guiseppe think I'm going early to prepare for them."
"You're a track cyclist?"
"No. I still have to buy a track bike and figure out how to ride it. I'll probably fall on my face."
She shook her head.
"Okay," she said.
"Okay I'll help you."
She shrugged. "I like a challenge."
A smile started at the edges of his mouth. "You're not angry at me?"
"No. I think you're mad as a meat axe, but I'm not angry at you."
He laughed. "Mad as a meat axe? I've been called a lot of things but never that."
"Well you are."
"So are we still on for tomorrow then? We're still going backpacking?"
"You are crazy aren't you? You have two months to prepare for Olympic selections in two radically different sports that you have no idea how to race and you want to go wandering around the Alps?"
The smile fell from his face. "I... I thought you wanted to."
"Micah, I want my athletes to not look like idiots on the world stage. Please, help me out here. Do you have your training schedule for the next month?"
"Not printed out. It's in an email on my phone though. Do you have a printer?"
She didn't have a printer but there was an internet café a few blocks away so they decided to go there.
Micah showered in her tiny bathroom with a showerhead that was so low he had to duck to get his head under the water. He put on the clothes that he had worn to swimming that morning, a black t-shirt and cargo shorts and converse sneakers.
When he came out of the bathroom Ellia had changed out of her work clothes and into some ridiculously fashionable get-up. She was wearing a pair of white linen trousers and a silky navy blue tank top that had a row of tiny buttons down the front. Her thick golden hair was twisted up at the back and held in place with a wooden clip and her lips were pink and shiny.
She looked at him for a second and bit her lip as she turned away. "Ready?"
They went to the café and printed out the workout plan that his mom had sent him and then she wanted to take him to her local grocery store to show him something.
It turned out that Italy was actually very proactive when it came to Celiac Disease. She said that everyone knew what it was and as part of their national health system all children were screened for Celica Disease by the time they were six.
He couldn't imagine how different his life would have been if he were diagnosed at six rather than nineteen. He would probably be as tall as his brothers. He would probably have never quit swimming.
The store that she took him to was narrow and overcrowded with produce. The hairy middle-aged guy at the front counter's face lit up when he saw Ellia but quickly darkened when he caught sight of Micah. It was pretty typical. People weren't outright racist, he'd never been thrown out of a store or anything like that, they just acted coldly towards him.
Ellia spoke to the store owner in rapid Italian and Micah couldn't keep up with the conversation. All he could figure out was that she was apologizing for something and the store owner smiled and shook his head and said, "Si, Americano..."
The hairy old guy turned to him and held his hand out towards the produce. "Come, I show you your food," he said in a friendly way.
He walked them up and down the aisles and Ellia told him that all of the things he was pointing out were gluten free. There were entire companies that only made gluten-free products. There were gluten free breads and crackers, pastries, cookies and granola bars. It didn't take him long to become completely laden with boxes of food and then he started loading Ellia's arms too. When they got to the deli and the man told him that the salami was gluten free he bought the whole huge sausage of it.
When he was paying for it the man started talking to Ellia again in Italian. He wrote something on the back of a business card and handed it to her and she thanked him profusely.
He smiled and shook Micah's hand and told him to enjoy the food.
"What did you say that made him like me?" Micah asked when they were walking back to her apartment.
"You know, when we first went in he looked like he wanted to chuck me out, then you said something and all of a sudden he was friendly."
"Oh... I just told him you are American."
"Why would that make a difference?"
"Well..." She hesitated. "I don't know how to say this without offending you."
"What?" He asked defensively.
"It's just that... the way you, and Americans in general, dress is kind of... not very nice."
"What? I'm clean. My clothes are clean. It's not like they have holes in them or anything."
"Yeah I know... It's just that we live in Milan. Fashion is kind of important here."
He was silent for a while as he absorbed her criticism. "So you're saying the reason people are rude to me is because I don't dress nicely enough?"
He suddenly felt embarrassed. He looked around at the other people walking around the streets and felt underdressed. They all looked like Ellia. The women were dressed elegantly and the men were similarly chic. Even the children were dressed up with pretty clothes and shiny leather shoes.
"That seems so superficial. To judge someone by the clothes they wear is so... high school."
"How would you prefer they judge you?"
"I'd prefer they didn't judge at all."
"That's wishful thinking. Everyone judges everyone at some level. It's part of being human. It's part of determining who's safe and who's dangerous."
"Woww... Now you're saying that I look dangerous?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "You're probably more intimidating than you realize."
Just because he was a black man people thought he was dangerous? "That is so unfair."
"Yeah, I know, but think about it. Popular culture is full of black American men who are either borderline frightening, or outright dangerous. Think of all the movies and rap stars, the football players who murder their wives, and basketball players who get accused of rape."
That tipped his discomfort with this topic into anger. "What the fuck Ellia? You're comparing me to OJ Simpson? Do you know how unfair that is? I don't compare you to Hitler just because you're white. And there are plenty of non-psychotic black men in the media."
"The President," he spat out. "Colin Powell. Nelson Mandela."
She sighed. "Okay, you're right. Just forget it."
But he couldn't forget it. Even after he had gotten home and put all of the groceries away and was trying to work on a computer code that he was helping Matthew with he couldn't forget it. It was so unfair. He hadn't pinned Ellia for a racist.
He went into his bathroom and tried to look at himself objectively in the mirror. He was taller and darker than average, and probably broader than average too. He took his t-shirt off and watched his muscles flex as he moved. He had always been lean enough to see his muscles. He knew he was much stronger than the average man and he acknowledged that if he wanted to he could physically overpower most people. As sick as it made him feel to think of it, he knew he could easily overpower a woman.
His email alert dinged and he went back out to his computer. It was from Ellia.
I'm sorry I offended you. I didn't mean to compare you with a murderer just because you have the same skin tone, it was wrong of me.
I've amended your mum's swimming schedule and also changed your weights program a bit (attached). You should think about getting a track bike and putting some time in at the velodrome. Let me know if you want me to come with you.
He sighed. At least she acknowledged that comparing him to OJ Simpson was wrong. Maybe he had jumped to some conclusions too quickly. Maybe she was just trying to explain why the store owner had suddenly been friendly when he realized that Micah wasn't a gang banger. He wrote a reply.
I'm sorry too. It's kind of a touchy subject and it's easy to over react. Maybe I do need to buy some Italian clothes. Will you help me please? As you know both my Italian and my fashion sense suck.
Thanks for the training program. I'll let you know when I get a track bike.
He hit send and leaned back in his chair. He should buy a track bike. It was getting pretty close to the trials and he had been meaning to do it for ages. He opened the internet browser but instead of searching through different track bikes he found himself typing Ellia's name into the search engine.
Ellia Smyth. He hit enter.
Her name was unusual enough that the first match was really her. It was an article about a triathlon that she'd won that was dated four years ago. She'd been on Australia's junior national team.
There were two photographs. In the first one she was running out of the surf wearing a dark green swimsuit with "Smyth" printed across the front and "AUS" underneath in bold yellow letters. She had the number 16 written on her thighs and biceps in black ink and was in the process of tearing a bright orange swim cap off her head. She had a look of determination on her face as her long slender body strode towards the transition to the bike.
In the second photo she was on the winners podium with a big metal cup. Her hair was pulled back messily and a few little strands stuck out at odd angles. She was smiling directly into the camera and Micah felt a twitch in his pants.
Ellia was gorgeous. He'd never seen her like this -- without fancy clothes or makeup on, or her hair done. To see her wearing nothing but a swimsuit and an enormous, genuine smile was a huge turn on.
He flicked through a few more pages that mentioned her, all of them relating to triathlons. She had been really good, she'd won a bunch of races when she was in the junior division and placed in a couple in the under 23 division, but she had stopped competing three years ago.
There were a few more photos of her competing but in the end he went back to the one of her on the podium. He unbuttoned his pants and let his cock out. It was already hard for her and he groaned as he stroked himself and gazed at her smiling image on the screen.
His mail program dinged again and he used his free hand to navigate to it and read her email.
"I am essentially devoid of fashion sense. My sister Laura picked out an entire wardrobe for me when she was here, including shoes and makeup. It was like one of those cheesy movies where the cool girl gives the dorky girl a makeover. I'm not kidding. I will come shopping with you though, moral support is always good and I know where to go. Come to my place tomorrow morning at about ten. E."
Micah leaned back and closed his eyes and thought about Ellia as a dork and was surprised by how much he liked the idea. He pumped harder and faster as he imagined her in clothes that didn't make her look like a super model, jeans and a t-shirt that was just tight enough to make out the delicious curve of her breasts.
He imagined her taking off that t-shirt, smiling at him and revealing the creamy white skin of her belly and little pink nipples that stood out on top of small round breasts. He imagined his hands caressing those soft breasts, and his dark lips against the tender skin of her neck and that was when he lost it.
He didn't even need to fantasize about having sex with her to cum, just the thought of kissing her skin was enough.
As he sat there breathing deeply and thinking about her his email program dinged yet again.
"Actually, make it 10:30," she'd written.
He used his left hand to type the reply.
"Okay, see you then. Thanks."
"Are you sure I need all these shoes?" Micah asked.
"I think Gianni probably knows what he's talking about," Ellia assured him.
She knew how it felt to have one of these Italian makeovers. At first she had been uncomfortable in her own skin, she felt like a fake, but then she'd gotten used to it. It was a pain in the ass to always have to think before you put clothes on, but it meant that she didn't stand out and as Laura had pointed out, it was respectful to the culture to try and fit in.
Mario's recommendation had been such a blessing. After Micah had spent an exorbitant amount of money buying gluten free produce in his little store, Mario had told her to take Micah to Gianni and to give him the note that said she and Micah were his 'valued customers'. She had been so surprised and touched. A personal recommendation in Italy was like a gold card.
Gianni was a tailor and an excellent one at that. He didn't ask Micah what he wanted, he just asked a bunch of questions about him. Ellia had to help with some of the translations but she tried to just let Micah speak without interruption, mistakes and all.
"What do you do for leisure?" Gianni asked.
"Ah... I play sports. I walk in the mountains and swim in the lakes."
"You don't go to the art galleries?"
"What is your job?"
Ellia was expecting him to say that he was a cyclist, but he didn't, he said, "I am a physicist."
"Ah! A scientist?"
Micah nodded. "Si."
Gianni told him what he was going to make and got Micah's approval, and then took about a million measurements of his body. Then he wrote down the name of a shoe maker and the descriptions of three different pairs of shoes and told them to tell the shoe maker that Gianni had sent them.
All she said to Silvio, the shoe maker, was, "Gianni sent us," and he treated them like royalty.
"I've never had clothes or shoes made specifically for me before. My brother in law is going to be so jealous," Micah said.
Ellia was glad that he seemed to have gotten over the argument they'd had yesterday. She didn't know how she had gotten around to comparing him to rapists and murderers, all she had been trying to explain was that as a very large man who didn't smile very often he could look intimidating to people who weren't used to being around him.
It didn't take that long for Silvio to measure Micah's feet and write out the order. The shoes were ridiculously expensive, as were Gianni's tailor made clothes, but Micah just handed his credit card over.
"Are you sure you don't want to go camping this weekend?" He asked as they were walking back to her apartment. "We could drive up this afternoon and camp at the trail head. We could still get in two nights on the trail before we have to be back for training next week."