The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron Year 3 Episode 7: Competing and Crashing

Welcome to The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron, entering its third year. If you’re new to this series, just start reading. 

If you enjoy this episode and want to catch up on Year 1, you can start with Year 1, Episode 1: Winners and Losers or check out the List of Year 1 Episodes or read the Year 1 Synopsis.

Previously in The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron, Sydnee promised to write Jaxon Braddock while he was away at a boarding school. (Episode 5: Rescue Mission)

Episode 7: Competing and Crashing

“Good morning.” I greeted David Clayton in the kitchen and hung my backpack on a chair.

“Morning.” David sipped coffee at the table, looking at his phone.

I poured a bowl of cereal, sat down diagonal from him, and pulled an envelope from my backpack. “Can you mail this for me?”

“I could.” David spoke slowly, like he wasn’t agreeing. “But so could you. The mailbox is at the end of the driveway, right where you’re walking to meet the bus.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Not that I mind mailing it. But this is the fourth letter you’ve asked me to mail—the second since school has started.”

“I hadn’t thought about taking it myself.” I slid the letter back in front of me. Jaxon Braddock, c/o Lindview Academy. The school sounded harmless. No different from Evans Prep, where I’d attended until eighth grade with Jax, except for being a boarding school. But Lindview was different. The only way Jax could communicate with anyone was through snail mail—the school didn’t even have computers, according to Jax’s one and only letter he’d written me. No computers. No cell phones. No TVs. I’d asked if they had electricity and running water, but Jax hadn’t replied to that letter yet. Had he even gotten it? I’d been told my letters would be read by someone before they were given to Jax. If whoever was in charge of letter-censorship didn’t like what I had to say, I guess they’d just throw away my letter. Or stick it in a shredder.

“Good, because I thought maybe you were trying to hide who you were writing, since you always hand me the letter early, before anyone else is up.” David watched me, his voice serious, and I ducked my head.

He wasn’t talking about Elizabeth, his daughter who I shared a room with. Or Jamie, the youngest Clayton who at seven wouldn’t care about my mail. David meant Chris. My best friend and my boyfriend.

“I’m not hiding anything. I just didn’t think about mailing it myself.” My voice sounded small and not quite truthful, even though I really hadn’t thought about mailing the letter myself.

“Good. I’m glad.” David nodded, like he had more to say, but he wanted to get the words right. “Because keeping secrets in a relationship isn’t healthy. Unless it’s a birthday present or a surprise party. Those should kept secret.” He flashed a smile, lightening the mood.

“I know. I’m not hiding anything.” I tucked the letter into my backpack and finished my cereal. “I’ll put it in the mail myself.”

But I didn’t. When Elizabeth, Chris, and I reached the bus stop and mailbox, the bus was coming down the road, and I didn’t have time. I’d put the letter in the mail after school.

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After school, Chris and I had cross country practice, so I couldn’t mail the letter. Chris and I didn’t take the bus home after school. Instead, we said see you later outside the gym and headed for cross country practice with our teams.

“Warm up, ladies. High knees.” Coach Ray directed us outside in the grass behind the gym. A breeze fluttered Coach’s short ponytail, but didn’t cool me off.

“Why did I let you talk me into this?” Angel Lincoln asked me the same question every day. Her long, dark legs, shiny with sunscreen, jutted up and down.

“It’s good conditioning for basketball season.” I gave the same answer every day.

“I don’t believe you.” Angel reached the end of the grass strip, and we turned around, jogging back, heels kicking our butts. “Neither does my gluteus maximus. Or my quads or my hamstrings or my calves or anything else from the waist down.”

“After running sprints earlier, my legs are shot.” Kayla Mann warmed up nearby, pretending to talk to Chloe, but she kept glancing over at Angel and me to see if we were listening. “But the sprints will make us faster. Well, those of us who care enough about the team to do two workouts a day.”

“Yeah, because Coach Monroe lets us sit around during basketball.” Angel aimed her words at the back of Kayla’s head. “I bet we ran as many sprints. Maybe more.”

“Excuse me?” Kayla looked over her shoulder, her dark, curly ponytail swinging with just as much sass as her voice. “I wasn’t talking to you.”

“Yeah, right,” Angel muttered, shaking her head at me.

I shrugged. If I had an archenemy, a nemesis, Kayla would fill that role. In eighth grade she’d kissed Chris, breaking us up the first time. A few months later, she’d bullied me online. Since then, she’d mostly stayed out of my way. Probably helped that I didn’t run cross country last year. But now that I was back on the team, she was back on me, always trying to prove she was better than me. Which was stupid, because I didn’t care, and because I was faster. I’d been faster in eighth grade, and I was still faster in tenth.

But she was determined to make me fail—if not at running then at ignoring her.

“Everyone warmed up?” Coach walked among us as we stretched different muscles. I stretched my calves at the curb. Angel stood, legs wide, reaching to the ground. “Today’s run might be tough, but you’ve got all weekend to recover.”

Angel groaned, but not loud enough for Coach to hear.

“Hills. Five miles.” Coach finished to a round of groans.

I stretched my calves in silence.

“Girl, you look way too happy.” Angel sounded like she was accusing me of cheating. “You’re excited about this, aren’t you?”

I shrugged. I didn’t want to lie, but telling the truth would make me look crazy.

“Promise me something.”

“What?”

“Don’t hang back with me today.”

“Why?” I’d paced myself with Angel at every practice over the last two weeks. A little slower than my normal, but these were training runs.

“Because I’m sick of listening to her.” Angel glared in Kayla’s direction. Fortunately, Kayla had her back to us. “You beat her two years ago, right?”

“Yeah. Sometimes.” Most of the time.

“Prove you can still beat her now, even if you’ve got basketball on your schedule during the school day, not cross country.”

“But this isn’t a competition. We’re not racing.”

“Kayla’s racing you.” Angel adjusted the headband holding back her puffy cloud of black hair. The headband was already darkened with sweat. “I don’t want to hear her after talking about how she’s so much better. Show her what you can do.”

“Fine. I’ll run my pace, not yours.” I joined the team moving toward the parking lot. Coach Ray and Coach Treadwell walked bikes ahead of us. Coach Ray would lead us, and Coach Treadwell would follow the last of our team. “But I’m not going to race her.”

“I hope your pace is faster than hers then.”

We jogged out of the parking lot, Coach leading us in the direction of the hills. We started as a blob of fourteen girls, but our team spread out during the first quarter mile. I left Angel behind and ran right behind Coach—and right next to Kayla.

Like I told Angel, I wasn’t racing Kayla, but Angel was probably right about her racing me.

“It’s obvious why you weren’t on the team last year.” Kayla kept her voice low, probably so Coach couldn’t hear. “You can’t stand not being the best, and you knew I’d beat you.”

I pushed up the pace, trying to put some distance between Kayla and me, but Kayla matched my speed.

“This . . . is my . . . sport.” Kayla’s breathing overpowered her ability to talk.

Maybe now I could run in peace.

But if Kayla couldn’t slow me down with her words, she’d find another way. She crowded me, forcing me to the edge of the road. Then she’d give me space again, so when Coach glanced over her shoulder, we looked like two teammates running side-by-side.

I still didn’t want to race Kayla, but I wasn’t letting her sabotage me. I pushed ahead of her and shifted toward the middle of the road, so Kayla was on the outside instead.

Kayla caught up and darted in front of me. I tried to dodge her, but her elbow slammed into my stomach. I stumbled. Tripped. My hands hit the ground. My knees slid on the asphalt.

“Sydnee!” Coach braked and climbed off her bike. “Are you okay?”

My skin burned and so did my eyes. But I blinked back the pain tears and squatted on my heels to assess the damage. Rocks dented my red palms and dotted my knees. Blood rolled down my shins. My hands stung.

“Let me get the first aid kit.” Coach slipped off her backpack.

“No.” I stood, brushing away the rocks and dust and blood. I hurt, but I wasn’t injured so bad I couldn’t run, even though I was pretty sure that had been Kayla’s goal.  “I’ll be fine until we get back to school.”

“Are you sure?” Coach frowned at my legs. “We should clean up those scrapes.”

Kayla started running again, even though Coach wasn’t leading anymore.

I glanced at my GPS running watch. A little over two miles. “Less than three miles—twenty minutes or so. I’ll be fine.”

To prove my words, I ran. The air stung my knees, my palms still burned, and the sweat didn’t ease anything. But a little fall wasn’t going to knock me out of a race—or a training run.

Coach hopped back on the bike and pedaled ahead of Kayla. Kayla had a decent head start, and I still wasn’t racing her. But obviously, I needed to keep my distance. That didn’t mean staying behind.

Kayla glanced over her shoulder and saw me gaining. She pushed a little faster. So did I.

My lungs and my muscles burned, which distracted me from my stinging knees. We reached a straight stretch, and I glanced back for cars. Road was clear. Drifting toward the center of the road—far from Kayla—I passed her. I heard the pounding of her rubber soles behind me pick up speed, but I didn’t look back. I kept all my energy aimed forward. My watch beeped off mile three, then mile four. I couldn’t hear Kayla anymore, but I still didn’t check where she was. Didn’t matter. I was finishing this run at my pace.

The school came into view. I moved from the road onto the sidewalk. Into the parking lot. To the back of the gym. And my watch beeped for mile five.

“33:19. Excellent.” Coach sounded impressed, but I was too busy catching my breath to care. I walked in circles on the grass where we’d warmed up, taking deep breaths.

“34:47.” Coach called off Kayla’s time.

I stopped by the orange water cooler and filled a cup with water, watching Kayla go through the same cool down. Her face was red, but given her glares my direction, she was equal parts hot and angry.

I tossed back the water and began stretching.

“Don’t forget to get those knees cleaned up, Sydnee,” Coach said in between calling times. “All of you, stretch and if you have time, go ice.”

I reached one leg behind me, the other leg bent in front, and stared at the track. The boys cross country team was running sprints. Chris looked my direction and waved.

“I’m going to ice,” Kayla announced.

That meant I wouldn’t be. The tub wasn’t very big—definitely not big enough for both of us.

But the tub was in the trainer’s room, and a few minutes later, I was in there too, getting the blood washed off with alcohol and gauze squares taped on. Enough heat radiated off Kayla that the ice bath probably turned into a heat bath. She left before I was completely bandaged.

I hobbled into the locker room. Everything hurt now that I’d stopped running. I just wanted to go home, take a long shower, and relax. Maybe I’d put off my homework until tomorrow.

No, I couldn’t handle not starting my homework on Friday night.

I pulled my things from my locker. Backpack, clothes, shoes.

“Oops.” Kayla spoke a half-second before my backpack fell to the floor.

“What is your problem?” Angel emphasized every word and crouched on the cement floor to shoved my scattered books and notebooks and pens.

“I guess I’m just a little clumsy. Sorry.” Kayla didn’t sound or look apologetic. Her foot landed on an envelope. “What’s this?”

“It’s mine.” I reached for it, but Kayla swung away.

“Jaxon Braddock.” She said the name like she’d heard it before. Maybe she’d seen the news coverage. “Isn’t he the guy who told you off on the Fourth of July?”

“How do you . . .” I stared at her. That was totally random. How would Kayla know anything about what happened at the annual Fourth of July party? Kayla and her family weren’t part of Mother’s social circle. If Mother ever found out how much Kayla hated me, she might invite Kayla just to be cruel, but I would’ve remembered if Kayla had been there this year.

“I know things.” Kayla waved the envelope. “But who might not know those things?”

“Lots of people.” I snatched back the letter and shoved it into my backpack. “Because no one else cares.”

Kayla shrugged and made a little noise that sounded threatening. Then she walked off.

“What is that girl’s problem?” Angel handed me a stack of books and notebooks. “Seriously, it’s like you’re her mortal enemy and she’s out to destroy you.”

“Pretty much.” But I couldn’t explain why. Was Kayla still mad about Chris choosing me in eighth grade?

“So . . . did you beat her today?”

I smiled against my will. “By more than a minute and a half.”

“Yes.” Angel shoved her fist in the air. “It’s about time.”

I gathered up my things and walked with Angel out of the locker room. “See you Monday.”

“Bye.” Angel headed toward the student parking lot. I headed for where David would be waiting. When I was a few yards away, I saw Kayla. Talking to Chris.

Was she flirting with him? Again? Or something worse?

My heart dropped into my stomach and my feet went numb. Something worse, I was certain.

Only one way to stop this, if it wasn’t too late.

I pulled the envelope out of my backpack and marched up the Chris. “I’ve been writing Jax.”

Chris faced me, his eyes wide, looking more confused than anything else, like he was processing my words. Or Kayla’s.

“This is the fourth letter. You can read it if you want.” I held it out to him. Out the corner of my eye, I saw Kayla watching us like we were a live drama. But there wasn’t going to be any drama. “He’s only written me once. I’ll let you see it when we get home.”

Chris stared at the envelope, not moving.

“Here.” I slid my finger under the seal and pulled out the two sheets of folded notebook paper. “Read it.”

“Dad’s here.” Chris walked past me, toward the parking lot, ignoring the letter.

Was he mad? Were we fighting now? I hated fighting with Chris. Fighting hurt more than a dozen road rashes.

I hurried to catch up and climbed into the minivan behind Chris.

“I’m sorry.” I fastened the seatbelt on the back row, lowering my voice so David wouldn’t hear and know how right he’d been. “I should’ve told you I was writing Jax, but I knew you wouldn’t like it.”

“Why are you writing him?” Chris looked at me, and I searched his eyes for hurt or anger, but all I saw was confusion.

“Because he’s my friend, and I told him I would, and Derrick said I should.” I held out the letter again. “Really, you can read it. I don’t care. It’s not very interesting.”

“I don’t want to read it.” Chris pushed my hand away, and a spark of anger finally appeared. “Doesn’t he have other friends who can write him?”

“No. I mean, he has other friends, but I don’t think any of them are allowed to write him. And he’s at a new school that doesn’t sound like any fun.”

“But why you?”

“Because I know what it’s like to have your parents send you away or leave you some place where they don’t have to be around you. My mother’s been making me someone else’s responsibility my entire life—unless she decides she needs me to be part of the family. And Alexander did it too. He left me behind. But at least I got lucky enough to be left with you. Your family. People who care. Jax doesn’t have anyone who cares about him like that.”

Chris slumped in the corner of the seat, staring out the window. He didn’t look angry like I’d expected. More like resigned. Like he knew he couldn’t talk me out of writing Jax and he didn’t like that, but he didn’t want to fight either. “What do you write to him about?”

“Mostly everyday stuff. School. My friends. And God. I’ve been trying to talk to him about God.”

“So you write about me?” Chris pulled his gaze away from the window, sounding interested. “What do you say?”

“Things like I beat you at basketball or that we already had a test in Biology.”

“What about things like this?”

“This? Riding in the van?” Talk about not interesting.

“No. Like arguing . . . fighting.”

“Why would I tell Jax about that? And was this a fight?” I never was clear on those things, but Chris was talking to me, so this probably wasn’t a fight.

“Just don’t tell him about this kind of thing and . . . well, it doesn’t matter what I think about you writing him, does it?” Chris turned back to staring out the window.

“Yes, it does. I don’t want to hide things from you.” Despite giving the first three letters to David to mail, I hadn’t wanted to hide writing Jax from Chris. I just didn’t want to risk a fight. I reached across the middle seat and wrapped my hand around his. “I don’t like keeping secrets.”

Chris pressed his lips together until they were almost white.

“Who else is going to talk to him?”

“I just wish it didn’t have to be you.” Chris blew out a sigh.

“Do you want to write him instead?” I didn’t know if Jax’s school would allow that.

“Right. Like he’d want to hear from me.” Chris leaned his forehead against the window, but he hadn’t pulled his hand out of mine.

“They’re just letters. And we’re just friends.”

“I know.” He sounded resigned and like he didn’t really want to admit it.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

“I know,” he said again with a tight smile. “So you’re writing Jax. How often?”

“Maybe once a week.”

“Okay.”

“You’re really okay?”

“I have to be.” He twisted his hand under mine so our fingers could lock together.

He didn’t really sound okay with me writing Jax, but this was probably the best I’d get. At least Chris wasn’t mad at me. I hoped.

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