7. The Patriots Ch. 16-18byinspirixis1©
All of this hoopla about whether or not he could beat Lucas was really getting to him. It seemed that every time he turned around some reporter or other was asking him if her thought he could do it. Micah could feel the tension building in his muscles and that horrible sick feeling he got when he was stressed had returned to his gut. He needed to do something differently. He needed to remind himself that he didn't care if Lucas beat him.
He took his bike down to the velodrome and rode during the free practice time. He rode around the velodrome, and around and around.
Tomorrow was going to suck. If Lucas beat him it would suck, if he beat Lucas it would still suck. There was no way to avoid it. After an hour he figured that he had probably better get off the bike, but he still didn't feel any better.
He went back to his and Oliver's room and took out Matthew's manuscript to read again. There was something about it that just didn't sit right with him. It was probably just jealousy. Matthew hadn't even finished his Ph.D. and already he had a research paper accepted at Science, one of the most prestigious scientific journals there was. Still, it didn't feel right. He could follow the logic and he agreed with the arguments Matthew made but he couldn't help the nagging feeling that something was wrong.
He got out a pencil and notebook and started from first principles. He might as well. He had nothing better to do and if nothing else it would keep his mind off racing Lucas for a few hours.
When he finished his heart felt heavy. He was sure he was right and Matthew was wrong, he could even see the exact place where he'd made the mistake, which had lead to completely inaccurate results.
He couldn't possibly bring it up with Matthew now. Matthew had his first final tomorrow and would be swimming for at least another five days after that. The last thing he'd want was a distraction like this, but Micah couldn't just let it go. The paper had already been accepted, if it went into press Matthew would have to make a retraction, which would be embarrassing not only for him but for his advisor and the people who reviewed the paper.
He called his dad who was on his way out to dinner at a restaurant. "I'll meet you there," he told him.
He stuffed food in his mouth as he walked to the train station and then crammed onto a train to get to the restaurant his family was going to for dinner. It took all of half a second to spot them. Even without Zach, Beth and Calvin and he and his bothers they were still a huge, loud group.
He tore his eyes away from Ellia and found his dad sitting right beside her.
"Hey," he said as he approached.
"Hey. What's up?" The entire table quieted down and looked to him.
"Oh, I just want to talk math."
Grace rolled her eyes at him and people went back to their individual conversations.
Micah pulled up a chair and squeezed into the table between his dad and Ellia.
"You want to talk math nows?"
"Uh-huh. Do you know when Matthew's paper goes to press?"
"No. He resubmitted the week before we came out here and Science has a pretty tight turn around. It'll probably come out in the next issue, why?"
"It's wrong. He needs to retract it."
"Yeah. I did the math. He's wrong." He pulled his notepad out of his bag, flipped to the first page of his calculations and plopped it down in front of his dad.
"This is what you do in your free time?" Ellia asked, nodding to the pages of equations.
"No. I just read Matthew's paper and it didn't feel right to me so I did the work myself and got a different answer."
His dad was reading through the derivations in front of him. "Micah I think you're getting worked up about nothing. I checked his work myself."
He flipped the page and Micah could tell that he'd stopped on the line that Matthew had made the mistake on. "Why is this different? Where did this exponent come from?"
"Go back to the first page."
He flipped back and Micah pointed to one of the equations he'd started with. You have to integrate this, which gives you an exponent and cancels one of the terms."
His dad flipped back to the page he'd stopped on and sighed. "Shit." He looked crestfallen.
"It's okay dad, everyone makes mistakes. It's not Matthew's fault."
"I know. I'm the one who checked it for him."
"What about his advisor?"
"Yeah. Justin checked it too. So did three reviewers for Science... so five professors of Physics checked this and you were the only one who caught it." He shook his head. "See Micah, this is the reason why..."
He cut him off. "Don't say it dad. I don't want to get into a fight with you right now." He just knew his dad was about to launch into another lecture about how he should go to grad school.
His dad shook his head. "I was going to say this is the reason why I told him to get you to read it."
"Oh. Okay, sorry. So can you deal with it?"
"No. Matthew is the only one who can retract it."
"Somehow I don't think he's going to feel like dealing with it right now."
His dad shrugged. "He'll have to."
"No. Think about it dad, this is the biggest week of his life for swimming. He'll be crushed if he realizes his paper's not going to fly and it'll put a dampener on the whole event for him. Can't you make some phone calls and pull some strings or something? Just get them to delay publishing it until the next issue to give him time to deal with it when he gets back."
He sighed. "I can see what I can do." He flipped through the last two pages of equations. "Huh." He shook his head. "This is something... it's beautiful Micah... really elegant."
"And you're probably right about Matthew. Don't mention it to him until after his last race."
That was one thing you had to like about his dad. Even if he was a pain in the ass some of the time, he had no problem admitting it when he was wrong. "Okay. So long as you promise to take care of it."
His dad nodded. "What about you? Why are you doing derivations on the night before your final?"
"I don't know. I'm just trying to keep my mind off it. I thought a bit of mindless math might help me to relax, but then I found the problem and it stressed me out more."
"You look tense," Ellia said.
"I feel tense."
"Do you need a massage?"
He had already had several massages over the past couple of days but none of them seemed to have much of an effect. "No, it's okay. You're on vacation, you don't need to give me a massage."
"I don't mind."
Ellia got her dinner put in a to-go box and Micah followed her back to her room at the apartment. He felt weird taking his clothes off in her room so he left his sweatpants on.
"It's really just my shoulders," he told her as he flopped face down on her bed.
"Oh wow," she said as she worked her hands across his neck and shoulders. "This isn't like you. What's the matter?"
He sighed. "It is like me. I don't want to race Lucas. I never should have gone to the qualifying trials."
"So pull out," she said matter-of-factly.
"Are you crazy? I can't pull out. There would be nothing worse than pulling out."
He felt her weight move on the bed and the warmth of her straddling his hips. She worked her thumbs into the muscles on either side of his spine in slow circular movements and he felt himself start to relax.
"Okay, you're not going to pull out," she said. "So what is the worst thing that could possibly happen if you show up?"
"I don't know... I could loose."
"Mm... and how would that change things?"
"It would be embarrassing."
She started laughing. Why was that funny?
"Micah you are racing the seven fastest men in the world and you don't even train for swimming. Trust me, just having you there should be an embarrassment to the other guys."
He hadn't thought of it that way.
"What is it with you and Lucas anyway?"
"He's my brother. I know he's not literally, but in my heart he is my brother. We grew up together. We've always done everything together. I don't want to beat him but I also don't want him to beat me... I don't know why I even entered the 200 free in the first place."
Ellia lifted herself off him. "Turn over and sit up."
He did as he was told.
She sat on the bed with her back against the headboard and her legs stretched out on either side of him. "Okay, lay back."
He hesitated. "Like, on you?"
"Yeah, it's the best way to get the neck muscles if you don't have a table."
He leaned back into her slowly and she folded her right arm around his face so that his head was turned to the side and supported in the crook of her arm. Her body was warm and soft beneath him. He wasn't prepared for how intimate it felt.
"Hey, relax," she said as she squeezed his left shoulder.
"I'm not too heavy?"
"No, just relax."
He let go and sank back into her. God it felt amazing. The way she was holding him was so incredibly comfortable and her fingers and thumb were rubbing away all of the stress and worry.
"What if I beat him?" He asked. "How should I act if I beat him?"
"Is it really about Lucas?"
"What do you mean?"
"You act like this is a big show-down between the two of you, but does it need to be that way? Is it really that important to keep track of who is faster?"
"No. It just stresses me out for some reason." He didn't know why racing Lucas was so stressful. He guessed there was just something inside him that couldn't stand being beaten.
Ellia moved his head over into the crook of her left arm and began massaging the right side of his neck.
"Can you pretend he's someone else? You don't seem to have a problem racing anyone else."
"I've tried that. As soon as I see him it falls apart."
"So don't look at him."
"What? I can't not look at him, how rude would that be?" Lucas liked to joke around before races. He liked to talk.
"Just tell him before hand that you're not going to look at him. He'll understand."
He might understand. Micah had never talked to Lucas about how he felt about them racing, although he suspected that he knew.
He sat up and fished his phone out of his pocket, scrolled to Lucas' number and pressed send.
He picked up on the third ring. "Hey."
"What's up?" Lucas asked.
"I'm stressed out."
"Yeah I know."
"I hate racing you Luka."
He sighed. "Me too but there's not much that can be done about it at this late stage."
"Can we not talk tomorrow?" Micah asked. "I know it might feel weird but I think it might be easier for me."
"Um... yeah, if that's the way you want to do it."
"I'm going to pretend you're someone else. I'm not going to talk to you and I'm not even going to look at you okay?" It wasn't going to be easy. Lucas had qualified first and Micah had qualified third which meant that Lucas would be in the lane directly to his right.
"Only if I can be that big German dude Klopfenstein, I don't want you going around pretending that I'm some wimpy little wiener."
Micah laughed. He felt a weight lifting off his shoulders. "Okay, Klopfenstein it is."
Lucas chuckled. "Good... I guess I'll see you after the race then."
"Yeah, good luck."
"Thanks, you too."
He hung up and leaned back into Ellia. He felt so much better. The stress drained away. His muscles relaxed and gave away under her fingers.
"Mm... better," she murmured.
She worked her way down his neck and across his shoulder and then started down his arm. It felt like heaven. She felt like heaven. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
He wasn't asleep for long enough to forget where he was. When he woke her arms were wrapped around him and she could feel her sharp uneven breaths.
"What's wrong?" He turned his head towards her and saw tears on her cheeks.
She shook her head.
He sat up and turned to face her. "Hey, you can tell me. What's the matter?"
She touched his cheeks with her fingers. "I love you Micah."
It was the most confusing moment of his life. The woman of his dreams was finally saying the words he had wanted to hear for so long, but she was crying at the same time, as if loving him was deeply painful.
"I love you too. Why are you crying?"
"Because it's no use. Love isn't enough."
"What else do you need? Tell me what you need and I'll give it to you."
"I need to have my own life. I can't just follow you around."
"I know. I don't want that either. I want to decide where to go together."
"But you said you wouldn't move to Australia."
"Mm... maybe I was being too hasty. That was before I knew you loved me. That changes things. We can talk about moving to Australia if that's what you want."
She pulled him towards her and met him half way with her soft warm lips on his.
"Micah," she breathed. "My Micah."
His name murmured in her soft airy voice was almost more than he could take. He pulled her body under him, pressing himself down on her as he kissed her properly on her mouth, her cheeks, her jaw.
She was kissing him back. Her tongue probed his mouth and tangled with his. Her hands were all over him, stroking his skin and causing the desire swirling in his gut to take over his brain. All he wanted was Ellia, his sweet, beautiful Ellia.
After that first kiss Micah didn't even think about Lucas or the race again. It wasn't because not talking to him before the race was so comforting. It was because there was no room for those thoughts in his head when it was filled with Ellia.
When he woke in her bed with her naked body in his arms there were no other thoughts than those of her. When he made love to her the second time, as quietly as he could manage, her face dissolved into bliss and she made the sexiest little sounds he'd ever heard and the very last thing on his mind was some stupid swimming race.
Afterwards he scooped her into his arms and kissed her tenderly and held her close. She told him that she had to get up to go jogging with his mom and he wasn't sure he approved.
"You're jogging with my mom? What do you talk about?"
"All sorts of stuff. Why? What do you have to hide?" She playfully jabbed him in the ribs.
"Nothing. Just embarrassing stuff that you don't need to know about."
"Like what? Tell me the most embarrassing thing you've ever done."
"Elle..." he complained.
"Come on. Tell me the worst thing you ever did so that anything else she could tell me would seem lame in comparison."
"Urgh... okay. When we were teenagers, Lucas and I shared a fundamental misunderstanding of the menstrual cycle that all began with an incident that my dad was partly a witness to. The result was that we thought that women laid eggs."
"No?" Her eyes were alight with amusement.
"Yeah, like the type in the grocery store. We were convinced that the whole chickens laying eggs thing was just a cover up. So, needless to say, neither of us ate eggs."
Ellia was smiling and chuckling softly.
"So anyway, we were fourteen or fifteen or something and it was mothers day so we had a big brunch. Lucas' family and our grandparents were there and Matthew invited his girlfriend and her family too, so there were heaps of people.
"The main dish was quiche, which I knew had eggs in it so I refused to touch it, but of course Lucas has never stepped foot in a kitchen in his life so he didn't know. He was sitting half way down the table from me shoveling quiche into his mouth and I was trying to catch his attention. Unfortunately I had also caught half of the table's attention by the time that I managed to let him know that he was eating eggs.
"So Lucas drops his fork, spits quiche all over the table and starts gagging with his hands around his neck saying, 'Oh my god, I can't believe I just ate that.' So now the entire table was looking at him.
"Lucas' mom Maya started to make a fuss because she thought he was choking and needed the Heimlich maneuver, but of course Lucas was already twice the size of her so she just looked like a lunatic trying to get him to stand up and wrapping her arms around him to try and expel some imaginary throat obstruction. Seeing all of this, Tyler starts to panic and is ranting on about doing an emergency tracheotomy, yelling at my mom that he needs a drinking straw and the sharpest knife in the house and to sterilize them with vodka. As if my mom would have a bottle of vodka lying around.
"In the mean time Lucas is trying to get his mom off him and explain that he doesn't need a tracheotomy, but his parents are too worked up and wont listen to him. Tyler was trying to get him to lie down on the floor to assume the correct position for the operation.
"Finally my dad stands up and bellows over the top of everyone to sit down. He pointed out that there was nothing wrong with Lucas and then he turns to me and asks what the problem is. I told him that I was just trying to warn him that he was eating eggs.
"'Why shouldn't he eat eggs?' He asked.
"I told him, 'Because we don't eat eggs.'
"'They're disgusting,' Lucas added. 'Totally disgusting.'
"Something must have clicked in dad's head because he turns back to me, puts his hands on his hips and says, 'Micah, is this about the menstrual cycle again?'"
Ellia was laughing properly now, she was gasping for breath and there were tears in her eyes.
"The whole table was looking at me, including Matthew's girlfriend and her sister and I was embarrassed beyond belief. I didn't know what to say so I just jumped up and ran to my room and refused to come out until everyone had left. That night dad gave me a book that explained the menstrual cycle. To this day I still feel embarrassed when I think about it."
"Oh, poor Micah," Ellia said as she snuggled in closer to him. "That's a pretty good one. I don't think I can top that."
"No. Well, growing up with Lucas there was never a dull moment, that's for sure."
They got up and showered and then met his mom, who was stretching in the lobby. Her eyebrows rose when she saw Micah.
"Morning," she said curiously.
Micah narrowed his eyes at her and joked, "I've got my eye on you, woman. Don't tell her anything that might ruin my chances."
She smiled and put her hands up defensively. "I wouldn't dream of it."
He turned to Ellia and kissed her forehead as he squeezed her body to him briefly. "Have a good run, and don't believe a word she says. I'll see you after the race."
He went to the pool and swam slowly and effortlessly. He felt awesome. All day he felt awesome. All he thought about was Ellia and how he could make her happy. It wasn't until he was behind the blocks that he forced her out of his head and focused on the pool in front of him.
He kept his eyes facing forward and pictured Klopfenstein standing to his right. It made him laugh. Klopfenstein wasn't even a swimmer. He had been a contestant in the world's strongest man contest a few years ago. He was huge, almost to the point where you might wonder if he was a giant, and he had dominated the truck pull and plane pull events.
He heard Lucas chuckling beside him and stole a glance at him. Lucas was looking at him sideways and laughing. Micah stuck his hand out and Lucas slapped it. This was going to be alright.
On the blocks he saw Lucas moving around in his peripheral vision. It was weird and unsettling, once he was on the blocks Lucas was usually totally calm and still. He ignored him and focused on his own lane.
He got a great start. In fact, he knew he was leading when he surfaced. It's just one of those things he could feel. No matter how small the margin he could always feel it when he was winning. Lucas wasn't beside him. He must have gotten a horrible start. He was nowhere to be seen at the first turn.