Where Do I Fit In?

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 35

Throughout this story real organisations and real people are mentioned by name. Their place in the tale is in the author's imagination. No thoughts, words or deeds attributed to those people or organisations are real, nor have they ever happened. This is a story! It's fiction. The people and organisations, even when they interact with the characters, are presented in an entirely imagined and fictitious manner, and no discourtesy is intended to them by the author nor by the web site.

Lucas was just in the process of fixing breakfast when his phone rang.

"Get that for me Andy could you?"

"Hey Paul, its Andy. Lucas is getting breakfast so will I do?"

"Yeah no worries. Just wanted to know if you've seen the Gazette?"

"Yes we've seen it and Lucas reckons that we're to blame, sorry."

"Well Lor and I thought that our chat was the most likely way it came out but you shouldn't go blaming yourself, we were all of us involved in the conversation. What do you feel about it?"

"Like my Dad told me, the article itself is alright but there's an outside chance that the daily papers might pick up on it and given they mention not only the vid but also that interview, well let's just say life could get very interesting."

"That's how we saw it. Can anything be done?"

"Lauren's going to try and get the SCGB to issue a statement which might just deflect some attention away from us but that's about it so far."

"Okay. If there's anything we can do then you know where we are. What are you up to today?"

"We thought we'd roll down to Homebase and get the paint and stuff then maybe make a start on the decorating."

"We've got nothing planned if you need some help?"

"Cool, thanks!"

"Benny joined us for breakfast, hang on and I see what he's doing. ---------- sorted! What time were you thinking of going out?"

"Give us like half an hour to have breakfast then once we've changed we'll be fit to go."

"Okay. We've still got to change too so how's about we see you at the store?"

We had already chosen a colour scheme so that bit was easy. I was also mindful of something Lucas' Dad had told me which was not to buy cheap brushes or we'd spend most of the time picking hairs out of the wet paint. Paint trays, masking tape, brush cleaner for the gloss work made up our collection of stuff so once I'd paid for it all, we took a walk towards home. Fortunately no one had recognised us so with a feeling of relief we spent the remainder of the day preparing the walls and making a good start to the painting.

Steady progress over the next few weeks saw it finished and so with only the garden to stay on top of and the summer holidays fast approaching, we once again settled back in to our routine. Life was nice. We kept the promise to ourselves to make time for each other, those tender moments being the highlight of our day. It wasn't all wall to wall sex, sometimes it just involved cuddling up with each other or making a special effort over supper such as laying the table properly rather than just dumping it down haphazardly, doing the clearing up together rather than taking it in turns or even just being in the same room together reading or watching telly and if it was at all possible, those simple pleasures drew us even closer together.

Time accelerated towards the Commonwealth Games. Both Lorain and Paul were selected for the Basketball squad and Benny for Gymnastics so training was ramped up a couple of notches but still leaving all of us time to enjoy the summer but I can never fathom out why winter drags yet in no time at all we found ourselves back at school. Even then time passed quickly and before too long we found ourselves taking the two long haul flights firstly Birmingham to Toronto, a twenty-four hour stop-over then Toronto to Vancouver. Canada is a massive country as that second flight took longer than the trans-Atlantic one from Birmingham!

The venue and facilities were fantastic! I thought Guam was impressive enough but these had been built specially for the games and obviously no expense had been spared.

As the games progressed and the competitors who were knocked out increased then so did the crowds which, had we not been able to block them out, we would have found rather intimidating.

Benny came away with a silver having been pipped to the gold due to his weakest discipline on the pommel horse but still, a wonderful achievement.

The men's Basketball team came away with bronze, the lady's a silver having been totally outplayed in the final round by Canada.

As for Lucas and I? We found ourselves guaranteed a bronze but with all to play for in the final dive. This had to be something really special and so we had a chat with Liam.

"For the first time in my coaching career, I have to say that I honestly don't mind what you do. You're already guaranteed a bronze and I'd have settled for that but you stand a chance of silver and if it's a real corker, perhaps even gold but Christ, it would have to be good. Do whatever you see fit. I'm already very proud of you and if you can go one better then great."

We waited in the changing room for our names to be called doing our normal head-emptying thing. As was our habit, nothing was discussed, nothing planned but then Liam walked through and told us our time had come. I stood up and reaching into my locker, picked up a small plastic bag and tipped a small quantity of its contents into my left hand. I then took Lucas' right hand and transferred some of it to him. He looked at me and smiled.

Our final dive was from the high table, our thinking being that the longer we stayed in the air, the more routines we were able to do but as always, the basic dive began as our swallow.

We stepped up to the edge, me on the left, Lucas on the right. We linked or little fingers, counted silently to three and launched ourselves into the air and immediately released. Two reverse somersaults, one and a half twists followed by three forward somersaults at lightning speed straightening out milliseconds before our hands entered the water.

We instinctively knew it was one of our best ever dives and hugged each other as we broke surface so why the silence?

Suddenly the entire auditorium exploded into applause, I really thought that had it been any louder, the roof might have collapsed! Liam was poolside on his knees as if in prayer as we were helped out of the water by two fellow competitors who proceeded to pat us on the back.

"That's gold if ever I saw one! Fucking awesome performance boys!"

We waited with Liam for the score to be announced. He was openly crying and making no attempt to hide it.

It seemed like a lifetime before the announcement came over the speakers and the electronic scoreboard.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the scores for the England formation diving couple Andrew Pope and Lucas Carmichael. Ten, ten, ten, ten, ten. Gold medal winners in this event, Commonwealth Games 2015."

The place was in uproar as we were led to the podium where we took up our position. Medals were handed out and a round of handshakes with our fellow competitors, nice to see that the guys who'd helped us from the water had won silver, the bronze by the host nation Canada. Then for by far and away the most difficult part, the National Anthem.

I tried to sing, I really did but I was too choked up. For his part, Lucas didn't even try as he was crying his eyes out.

We found ourselves in the changing room again being warmly congratulated by our fellows. Tom was right when he'd told us of the competitive arena but more importantly, the total absence of bitchiness as these guys really meant what they were saying.

Liam came through once we were showered and changed into our trackies.

"Press conference time lads. I realise you don't much like them but you have to make an exception in this case. You've won gold in the most spectacular fashion and half the world's press and television are waiting to talk to you. I'll be with you to fend off anything I feel is inappropriate so let's go meet them shall we?"

Lucas looked apprehensive.

"I'd much rather do that dive again. I feel much more comfortable up there!"

"I know you do but this was always going to happen if you reached the top. You're there already and people want to share in your success. It's only right that you should allow them that much."

"Okay. C'mon then. Let's do it."

Actually, so long as we avoided looking at the cameras, it wasn't too bad. The questions were fair and never touched on our private life but concentrated more on our preparation, to what did we attribute our success, remarks about how young we were and how little time we'd been together and of course the stupid one like 'how do you feel about being the youngest gold medallists in the history of the games.' We both wanted to be flippant and say something like 'unimpressed' or something but opted for a more reasoned answer and to be honest, our reply was very truthful.

"We're humbled. We came here only with the intention of doing the best we could. Yes of course we wanted to be up there amongst the medals but given the amount of awesome talent we found ourselves up against, we would've settled for being placed in the dive-offs. All we can do is thank our terrific coaches and support people from the SCGB for all of the commitment and help they've given us during our short time together and maybe this goes some way towards paying back some of the debt of thanks we owe all of them."

We left the press conference with Liam and our parents, found a quiet restaurant and had a cup of coffee together. Dad and Gregg were animated, Mum and Julie kept bursting into tears!

"I hardly know what to say?! That final dive almost had me pooing my pants! Dear God, one tiny error and you could've killed yourselves."

Liam grunted.

"My thoughts exactly Roy. My problem is that I never know what stunt they're going to pull next. They decide that for themselves and so I just stand there watching and hoping they hit the water safely. What you boys did this afternoon is something I would've said was impossible. You did know that you straightened into your entry with absolutely no room for error don't you?"

"We knew it was tight, that's all."

"Straight tens, the perfect dive so how you can ever eclipse that beats the hell out of me."

"Even perfection can always be improved upon."

"That sounds very philosophical? Who said that?"

I grinned.

"I just did!"

We studiously avoided watching telly although only a fraction of the coverage featured us. Mum and Julie got copies of just about every newspaper from across the Commonwealth they could lay their hands on and put together scrapbooks of the reports and pictures that related to us.

We came back to Gloucester and were all of us, Benny, Lor, Paul, Lucas and I were persuaded to do an open-top bus trip around the city where we were all mobbed by well-wishers.

We did TV interviews and a couple of newspaper articles were written, not just about us but all of the England athletes that has come away with medals before life once more took on a sense of normality again.

We were welcomed back at school by a special assembly at which Mr Fairbairn told everyone that while it was natural that people would want to talk to all of us, see our medals and have an understanding of what had gone on, they were to get it done and out of the way so we could get back to our studies free of unwanted attention and to be fair, they all did just that.

We had been informed that so long as we didn't sustain any serious injuries and wanted to compete, our success in Vancouver meant we were automatically selected for the Rio Olympics the following August and already preparations were underway for this so we weren't allowed the luxury of sitting back and enjoying our success in Vancouver.

Liam came and sat with us for coffee one morning when the others were still getting changed.

"I need to understand something and you can tell me to mind my own business if you like but……..it's eating away at me."

"We've no secrets from you so ask away."

"I saw what you did in the changing rooms before that final dive Andy. You took something from your locker, gave some of it to Lucas and kept the rest for yourself. Neither of you let go of it and I want to know what it was."

Lucas answered him.

"Dust. Ironstone dust. Andy took a handful of it when we visited the grave of those two boys who are reckoned to be related to us."

"Okay but what's the significance?"

We walked him through the entire episode of finding the lettering, how it seemed to fade away over a few days as if the stone was healing itself.

"We know you might think it crazy but when the church, and I'm not just talking about the parish priest but the Archbishop of Canterbury here, think, - believe it was the hand of God at work? Look. That last dive wasn't for us, you or England, it was for those two boys."

"I don't fully understand but if it helps you to perform like you did then fine and……..thank you for telling me."

We had all been selected and it seemed like no time at all before we were on our way to South America and the start of Rio 2016. Mums, Dads and family normally had to stay somewhere outside of the village but given we were still only sixteen, they had been allocated chalets nearby but far enough away to allow for our privacy and concentration.

This was a whole new experience. The Commonwealth Games were tiny compared with this! I mean the entire world was represented here. Everywhere we went, strange voices, unfamiliar languages, different cultures and religions but all united under a common flag, the Olympic flag.

We were free to wander around the village and we never once came across any hostility in fact quite the reverse. We were invited to gatherings, parties, cook-outs where mostly we hadn't a clue what we were eating, it was as if the whole world had come together for the most massive party! There can be few circumstances under which you find Arabs and Israelis sharing food and drink together, laughing and joking with each other, nations who were normally openly hostile to each other playing silly games of cricket, football and tennis. The message we received from all of them was very simple. 'We're sportsman and women, not politicians. We're here to compete not hate. Brother's and sister's in sport.'

We were very young and not versed in the ways of the real world but the thought went through our minds, 'if we can do this then why can't everyone else?'

We made loads of friends, exchanged email addresses and phone numbers, most of which we'd probably never use but that wasn't the point. It was all about camaraderie and the spirit of understanding.

We grew up there finally.

We sailed through our preliminaries, some of our rivals were used to high altitude diving like off cliffs and they found the restricted height too much meaning they were unable to put in the acrobatics and manoeuvres necessary to get them through to the next level. Some were just unprepared, some were good, others very good but we held our own throughout.

The numbers dwindled, you could see this because at first there was no space in the locker room then as things progressed, you could take your pick almost.

This meant that the ante went up from serious to severe but at no time did we feel threatened, we just did our own thing.

When we were at home after the Commonwealth Games, we had a rare discussion, no a brief conversation about our routine.

"We have to dump the swallow Andy, can't use that in competition again."

"No I guess not. It would be like Torville and Dean doing their Bolero all over again. We'll have to come up with something else."

That was as far as the conversation went, it was never discussed again.

Liam was of the opinion and we didn't disagree, we'd peaked just at the right time so we didn't do much by way of practice diving. We ran with the guys, exercised and trained lightly with Benny who we'd nicknamed the 'pocket-rocket' due to his diminutive stature and unbelievable speed. Looking back now, I think his biggest attribute was he not only flew through the air with the grace and style of an eagle, when he landed, his feet stuck like glue to the mat, I never saw him stumble or falter in any of the many events I've seen him compete in but now I come to think about it, maybe there was one other thing that set him apart and that was his perpetual smile! There were times when his concentration meant that he looked studious almost but mostly it seemed as if the entire thing was just a load of laughs and the crowd and the judges loved him for it!

Our competition was long and drawn out. There were so many categories that we did a bit here and a bit there and nothing seemed to be coordinated but we managed to get to the last five, still something to be proud of even if we didn't progress any further.

The final dive from the high table was delayed for all of us. Apparently there was a problem that had been reported with the surface and the maintenance people were trying to get it sorted out but time dragged on and a compromise reached. The edge had become slippery making diving dangerous so trays of fine sand had been placed at the top of the steps which we had to tread in in order to give the necessary adhesion. It worked well actually.

Again, we were the last couple to dive.

We never watched the competition do their thing just in case it unnerved us so we stayed in the locker room until we were called.

Our head-empting was another thing we had become well versed in and this time was no different.

We were up against a couple from Australia who were really good, another from America, maybe not quite so good perhaps, another from Ukraine who were an unknown quantity and another from North Korea who we were told were awesome so we both knew we had our work cut out just to be in the medals. Liam didn't pressurise us, he just left us alone to do our own thing.

Our names were called and reaching for my little plastic bag of dust, I emptied it into my left hand and place half of it into Lucas' right, completely the opposite to the way we'd shared it at the Commonwealth Games as we were going to do a new routine.

We stripped out of our trackies and walked out to the pool and our final dive of the competition.

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