Today's Reading

CHAPTER ONE
Jillian Cline
Friday, March 9

The air in the spectator area of Brownsburg High's swimming pool is nothing short of heavy, but there's a safety in the thickness. An illusion in the midst of the humidity lulls me into a belief that my daughter is safe, protected from the evil in the world. Maybe that's why I push her to compete. Maybe that's why I can breathe in the moisture-rich environment other mothers dread.

Izzy stands on the dive block, her toes curled over the edge, her arms wrapped around her middle as if she's cold. The horn blows and with a fraction of hesitation, she dives.

And the race begins.

The first in weeks, a postseason meet, and for some reason veiled to me, she didn't want to participate.

Five rows of girls stretch, skimming through the water toward the wall to make their final turn. A swimmer in the lane closest to me botches her flip, a beginner's mistake. Water splashes me, tickling through my hair and down my scalp. It's the kind of flaw Izzy conquered in elementary school. At the flash of memory, an ache settles over my heart. Where has my little girl gone? In a little more than a year, she'll be off to college.

I can't help it. My legs lift me from the bench, and I lean toward the bar separating the fans from the racers.

After ten laps, they're all tired, but this is the point my daughter is famous for, the moment Izzy stands out above the other athletes. Any second she'll burst forward with an explosion of power like a dolphin racing a school of tuna, and she'll leave the competition in her wake.

But Izzy doesn't make her move.

"Come on." I lean farther over the rail, my words echoing around my head.

One swimmer, then another, slip ahead of my daughter, the reigning state champion and future Olympian. A hand slaps the wall, and a second, then Izzy's.

Third.

Stepping back, I extend my fingers now aching from the tense way I've gripped the bar. I'd been a fool to think this bug Izzy's been fighting would run its course. I should have taken her to see Dr. Wheaton weeks ago. What if something is seriously wrong? A girl in the middle school has leukemia, and another child was recently diagnosed with diabetes. The blanket of muggy air can't push away the cold shiver that comes with a mother's worried heart.

Izzy bobs in the water as the other swimmers hop out of the pool and chatter with teammates. Her pain is mine. A possession I can't give away even if I want to.

I collect my jacket, phone, and the romance novel I've been reading during every event my daughter didn't race. The book fits perfectly into the pocket along the side of my purse. With everything collected, and the strap flung over my shoulder, I wipe at the moisture on my forehead and move toward the door alongside fifty other parents.

"Can't win them all, I guess."

I don't have to look to recognize Jasmine Monk's screeching voice.

A knot tightens in my stomach, pressing up against my diaphragm. No, Izzy can't win them all, but she didn't have to lose against certain people's daughters. I paste on a smile, force my shoulders into a non-defensive position, and twist to meet my rival face-to-face. "I suppose you can't. Joanna swam well today. It's good to see her improving."

"Improving?" Jasmine plants one bony hand on her hip. "She beat Izzy. That's a first. No offense, but Izzy probably needed a loss more than a win anyhow. We wouldn't want her thinking she's perfect." Her serpent's tongue sticks on the last word.

Why do so many people preface insults with phrases like no offense? My cheeks burn with the effort required to maintain a pleasant exterior. "No one ever said Izzy was perfect." I bite down hard on the inside of my cheek to stop the next words from pushing their way free. There's no sense irritating Jasmine. It's not like she's someone who can be ignored. Not only do we have daughters the same age, but Jasmine's son is one of my son Zachary's best friends. Jasmine may lack compassion and tact, but she does a wonderful job managing the women's ministry at church.
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