When Haley figures out she's into girls, it doesn't seem that huge a deal. It's not a blinding epiphany or anything; it's more like figuring out how to fit an extra half twist into a double salto. Or like realising she kind of respects Joanne. Things sort of converge for a moment and then head on across the floor.
Haley tells Vick first. He shrugs and says, "Yeah? Well you always did know your mind, kid. We gonna get that vault clean today?"
Her dad doesn't say much, but they've got some kind of measured respect thing going and it seems sorted.
Joanne looks faux-shocked. "So are you, like, secretly in love with me?" Haley resists the urge to get Mina to pick up the phone and announce that not everything is about Joanne.
"Like, no," says Haley. "I am not in love with you."
Joanne giggles. "Good news, 'cause there's not a lot of me and you'd have to share with Poot."
Haley shudders. Joanne spins on her toes and struts away, giving her butt extra-added wiggle.
Haley meets Maya over summer. Maya's not a gymnast; she's hot in a big black eyes, big black boots way. She gawks at Haley's abs and 'ceps as though the muscles might disappear. Haley sneaks Maya into bed after everyone's quiet. Maya's uncomfortable naked and neither of them have had sex before but it's pretty easy to figure out once their lips and hands get going.
It lasts a month. Haley's training constantly and Maya is into haiku slams so it's not like they have that much in common anyway.
Haley doesn't tell her mom the queer thing for a few months. But as she's getting her shit sorted to head for college she figures the time has come.
Of course, her mom hasn't had a malice-ectomy. "Finding another way to rebel, Haley?" she asks cattily. It doesn't matter. Haley's mom has always said the worst thing when it counts.
Anyway, the whole thing's not Shakespeare - Vick's still her coach, her friends are still her friends, her parents are still her parents. She's starting college in Atlanta and she's training her ass off aiming for the London world championships. Everything's tight.
When Haley falls for Tricia Skilken it's like falling off the high bar. Head first. Onto concrete.
When Tricia realises she's into girls, everything changes.
It starts with Grant, her perfectly matched, Olympic champion, blue blonde boyfriend. Tricia takes a deep breath and tells him during a break from training. She's surprised when he dissolves into tears. Next cycle he overshoots the pommel horse and tears a hamstring. She didn't think he cared that much. But Grant's a decent guy. It makes Tricia nauseous to think of him sitting with the sports therapist cursing her name.
Tricia's more careful with her parents. She invites her mother to sit down. They're in the sitting room, and her mother perches on a puffy chair. The room's mostly ivory and off-white and there's nothing for Tricia to focus on.
Tricia stammers over the words. "I'm i-interested in girls, mom."
There's a pause. Her mother's face stiffens like salt. "What do you mean, Patricia?"
Tricia knows her mother speaks English, knows from the hardness in her mother that she already understands. She says, "I mean, instead of boys. I'm interested in girls in that way."
Her mother says, "And you're telling me this because?"
Tricia thinks, "I'm telling you this because it's my life and you're-." She starts, "I-"
Her mother interrupts. "You're late to training Patricia." Tricia feels like she's shrinking. She takes the path of least resistance and turns to go.
Tricia's coach says, "Look, a lot of young athletes go through this. But I'd hate to see you give up that family friendly image we've promoted - you're a media darling, Patty. So I'm glad you came to me. You just hold back on this until you retire."
There's a part of Tricia that's furious – furious with the world and furious with her traitorous self. She's spent twelve years controlling and perfecting her body, her combinations and her image. Now everything's shifted. But she knows this won't go away.
So when she falls for Haley Graham it doesn't seem such a big deal. In the catastrophe of Tricia's life, it almost seems to fit.
The UGA gymnasium has high ceilings and seamless lighting. Tricia tries to look past Haley, who's leaning against the vault talking to one of the coaches. Haley already acts as though she owns the place.
It's harder to look past Haley's floor work. After months of real training, Haley's body is sculpted for the sport. She makes the choro look fluid, as though every flip and twist is essential. She skims through the combinations and plants her feet firmly. Tricia's double-crossing heart flips to watch Haley's perfect triple. It's beautiful. It's like art. It's infuriating.
Then Haley throws in rock and roll horns and Tricia remembers why she hates Haley. It's one thing to be talented; it's another to think you're above the very sport that created you. Tricia wants to grab Haley and shake her. Though, admittedly, part of her just wants to stand close enough to feel the burn. It's messed up.
Gymnasts have a pretty short shelf life. Tricia's already nineteen. She knows she's never going to have a skill named for her. She's no Rey or Yuchenko or Tsukahara.
The trouble is, Haley might be that good.
Tricia refocuses to find Haley watching her speculatively from across the floor. Tricia blushes.
"Later, Pats, " she hears as she turns away.
Tricia works on beam mounts until her hamstrings and quads ache.
The program at UGA is brutal. Haley's stunning everyone by sticking with it. Her body loves the intensity; aching and jolting and burning and always wanting more. Still, she's mentally over it. Turns out winter break is less break and more 24-7 gymnastics. And more gymnastics means more Tricia across the room.
So far avoiding Tricia's been easy. Tricia never speaks to Haley. That's fine by Haley; she figures that although Tricia's calmed down, she's still jaundiced about the Nationals. Haley's developed enough respect for the sport and for Tricia Skilken that she doesn't anticipate being besties.
But she finds herself watching Tricia more than makes sense. It doesn't keep things easy.
Tricia has this way of controlling everything around her. She grabs a new skill with both hands, determines the precise angle of the grip, the timing of her body and the strength of her bones. She never lets the unfamiliar agitate her.
It's foreign to Haley, all that calm. It's foreign and embarrassingly hot and it makes Haley crazy.
Coach Lai is into knock-out competitions to hone their skills under pressure. Of course, it filters down until it's Haley Graham versus Tricia Skilken on the uneven bars.
Haley doesn't expect Tricia to like her. Still, there's a little devil in Haley.
"Need someone to spot you, Pats?" she says to Tricia as Tricia approaches the apparatus.
Tricia doesn't bother to respond, just mounts the high bar with a free hip circle into a handstand. It's a more effective comeback than Haley anticipated.
Tricia's precise control is oddly suited to the bars. Her hands are always perfectly positioned and her legs never waver. She casts to a handstand and performs a tidy turn into a mixed grip. Haley's trying not to learn anything from Tricia, but it's hard not to be impressed as she makes all the skills and releases look simple.
Tricia dismounts with a twisting double layout as good as any Haley's seen. Haley can't keep from smiling to see Tricia's glow as she lifts her arms in a meticulous gymnast flick. Tricia parades from the mat.
"Nice job, Tricia" says Haley almost involuntarily as Tricia passes. Haley reaches to give Tricia's back a congratulatory thump. At Haley's touch Tricia starts and her whole body seems to bristle.
"Sorry," says Haley quickly, feeling slighted. She meets Tricia's direct gaze. There's a lengthy pause between them.
"The chalk in the tall holder's a higher grade," Tricia says finally. "Good luck." It's not at all what Haley expected.
Haley steps across the floor. She takes a breath. She tries to compose herself for the rhythm and continual movement of the bars. She thinks of freestyling after dark, of flying down stairwells on her longboard. She thinks of Vick, and control. It's no use, her focus is shot.
This time the comp goes to Tricia. It makes Haley's blood hot.
The locker room's empty. Tricia swings her locker open, letting the door clatter against the neighbouring locker. Her mind is on Haley, rerunning the play of Haley's muscles under her skin. Even at her worst, Haley's dismount is a spectacle of flight and poise. Tricia only dreams of that kind of drama.
Tricia's peeling down the straps of her leotard when Haley explodes through the swing doors.
"What the fuck?" says Haley. "What the fuck."
Tricia is at a loss. She stands silently.
"You played me, Skilken. You couldn't win by talent alone." Haley slumps onto the bench. "You never caught me with all those sly tricks and insults. Meet after meet. You know you can't get to me. So you've changed tactics on me."
Tricia says, affronted, "Hey."
Haley looks straight ahead. Then she says, "I'm sorry, Tricia, that wasn't due. I'm frustrated."
Tricia gets it. "Yeah, it's okay. You'll get the control, Haley. You've got the skill and you're putting in the work. You're the finest gymnast I've seen. You're better than I am. You just lose it under pressure."
Haley says, "You know that wasn't about pressure, Tricia, I was preoccupied."
There's a triangle of bright light resting across Haley's shoulder. Dust fragments flicker in the air.
"And you know it wasn't a tactic," Tricia says, and sits next to Haley. "It was just-"
As Tricia reaches out to touch Haley's shoulder, Haley turns her head. All the air leaves Tricia's lungs.
The kiss hisses all the way from Tricia's scalp to the balls of her feet. The first moment is soft lips against soft lips but Tricia can feel the teeth underneath. It's Haley and if Haley wanted she could push Tricia down on the slatted bench, force Tricia's teeth apart with her tongue. The thought plummets, heavy and velvet, in Tricia's abdomen.
She slips a hand around Haley's neck and feels Haley shiver. There's a whole universe of flips and twists and there's never been anything that feels like making Haley shiver.
Haley runs a hand up over Tricia's waist and flicks her thumb over Tricia's nipple. Tricia can't think. She arches into Haley. "Oh god, Haley," she murmurs before she can stop herself.
When they break apart neither girl speaks for a fraction. Tricia catches her breath. "Right," she says.
"Yeah," says Haley.
Tricia swallows. Haley's eyes are quick and bright. A smile twists across Haley's mouth. Haley stands.
Tricia can't look at Haley and breathe at the same time.
"Stand up, T," says Haley. She holds out a hand, pulls Tricia to her feet. Tricia's stomach twists. She steps forward into Haley's lean body and a moan escapes her chest.
"This is so much trouble," Tricia says and Haley's smile widens to a grin.
It'd make the college paper at least, news that the school's top gymnasts are in hooked up bliss, so for now Haley agrees with Tricia. They keep it quiet. There's something sexy in the secrecy.
Turns out Tricia's stupidly beautiful naked, with her soft hair and faintly freckled skin. More than that, her precise kind of thoughtfulness gives her magic sex powers.
"You've done this a lot, T," says Haley as her body melts and flattens into her bed. Tricia looks up from between her thighs.
"No," Tricia says, "But believe it, I've got an imagination. And I've been imagining this for months now."
Haley drops back flat against the sheets with a groan. Falling for Tricia Skilken's something like falling off a tall building, but everyone knows Haley doesn't mind a fall.