As Cheryl reached the locker room door, two giggling classmates entered ahead of her. A cacophony of voices and an odor of sweaty clothing escaped before the door closed.
Cheryl hesitated, swallowing the bile in her throat. This is it, she told herself. Today’s the day. She grimaced.
“Whatcha waitin’ for, Ellison? An invitation?” said someone behind her. Julie Devers, one of the most athletic girls Cheryl knew brushed by her and through the door. Cheryl sighed and followed.
She found an unused locker far away from the others and removed her gym clothes from her rumpled paper bag. There was little privacy, but she tried to hide anyway behind the open locker door as she dressed. She untied her tennies and wedged them on her feet.
“Ugly, stupid shoes !” she muttered. Her cheap canvas shoes came to a point at the toes. No matter how much Cheryl begged her mother to buy her ‘boys tennis shoes’, the ones with the rounded thick toes, her mother refused.
“Girls ! Line up for roll call !” Mrs. Snell’s voice rose over the giggles and gossip. The girls hustled into place. Each uttered her own version of “Here !” as her name was called.
“Ellison?” the teacher barked.
“Here,” Cheryl murmured.
Cheryl’s cheeks burned red as the others turned to snicker and smirk at her.
“Here !” Cheryl repeated.
When attendance was finished, the teacher led them from the locker room to the gymnasium balcony. As usual, the boys were just leaving their locker room and the girls and boys alike traded flirtatious comments before filing into the gym for their respective classes. Cheryl blushed and hurried along.
The girls assembled around Mrs. Snell. This quarter was devoted to gymnastics. Today they would be divided into groups to be tested individually for the quarterly grade. Cheryl held her breath as names were called for each of the four stations.
“Donner, Devers, Ellison...” Mrs. Snell droned. “You’ll be at station one.”
Cheryl’s knees quivered. Her nausea returned with renewed strength.
“God, why?” Cheryl questioned in her heart. “It’s bad enough I have to test out on the trampoline ! You had to put me with the best gymnast in the class ! This is so unfair !”
“You’ll do your routine in the order in which your names were called,” Mrs. Snell said from the front of the trampoline. “The rest will be spotters.”
“Terrific, God !” Cheryl muttered as she took her position. “I have to do my crumby stuff after Julie wows Mrs. Snell with perfection !”
Cheryl gripped the pads of the trampoline, thinking of her mother’s words the night before. “Pray, then just start,” her mother had said with a smile and a hug.
As each of the girls took her turn on the springy surface, Cheryl prayed silently.
“Okay, Devers,” grunted the teacher. Mounting the equipment, Julie began.
Cheryl admired Julie’s confident moves. Vaulting high in the air, looping, twisting, she executed each of the requirements before choosing a more advanced move, a ‘ball out Adolf’ to dismount.
One, two, three times, Julie launched high into the air, then landed on her back, her legs perpendicular. Again in the air, she tucked her body into a ball. One high front somersault and she opened her body out and twisted in the air.
Her spotters counted the twists. One...two...three...and she landed on her feet on the trampoline mat. With an assured grin, Julie dismounted.
“Ellison, you’re next !” Mrs. Snell said. “Devers, you forgot the quarter twist at the end. If you’re going to do an advanced move for the test, do it to completion.”
Julie scowled as Cheryl struggled onto the trampoline.
Cheryl breathed deeply and released the breath as a final whisper. “Lord, help me.”
Her mother’s words echoed in her head. “Just start...just start...”
She began her bounce, thinking of her routine. Back drop into a front drop, seat drop to a knee drop, bounce, bounce, straddle jump, bounce, full twist, bounce, back drop.
Cheryl knew that she had landed too high on her back when her body flipped. Terrified, she tucked herself into a tiny ball. In the next moment, she willed herself to straighten her legs and body. Upon landing she found herself standing up.
“Okay.” Mrs. Snell nodded her approval. “A little unconventional, but okay.”
Cheryl, still surprised, reddened and dismounted. Julie shook her head in grudging admiration, then looked away.
“Thank you, Lord,” Cheryl whispered, tears in her eyes.
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