Sorry if I’m interrupting the flow, but I just have to get this out in the open. I now know why Theo and his friends rub me the wrong way (besides Ernie’s always calling my baby doll “Bug Eyes”): They’ve permanently suspended their disbelief. They don’t react to ludicrous situations and events like the rest of us.
They’re not real.
“Of course they’re real,” Lily says, out of her training gear for the day and into her usual baby-blue sweats. She’s sitting beside me on the curb in front of Keene’s Gymnastics. We’re waiting for our ride home, watching the parking lot empty out car by car, watching the sun set over Sussex. I’ve got my netbook out; Lily’s rummaging through her gym bag and trying to find her iPod.
“I didn’t mean it like that, you silly thing,” I say. “Theo’s real, he’s just not…believable.”
“Theo…the nerdy kid with the glasses we met online the other day?”
“Yeah. I was chatting with him just now. He told me some guy he met on SMN decided to move into his bedroom. I asked him why he let something like that happen, and he told me that this guy—Beta—lost his body in an uploading accident, that he was living entirely online, and that he was being chased by a human rights group. Now, do you think a normal person would listen to a story like that and go, ‘Sure, let’s have a sleepover?'”
Lily starts to respond, but cuts herself off when Amy, one of our club’s level 10 girls, comes bouncing over to say goodbye. She hugs Lily, kisses the top of her head, does the same to me. She’s wearing her favorite Monica Sardinia T-shirt and holding her well-worn copy of Heroes’ Day. Even though she’s older than us, we call her “Little Sister.” It’s a nickname left over from when Monica used to train here. Monica was “Big Sister.” She left last year to join the national team, survived the Olympics, and the media blizzard after when a terrorist group set off a bomb in the Olympic Arena. After that, Amy (and Sarah, previously our only other elite) decided to stay back as a level 10. Lily and myself were next in line. We took our tests, and qualified as Greg’s shiny new junior elites. That means were national girls now. Starlets with sponsors and fan pages and, if we keep our ranks up, prospective book deals and personalized leotard lines. I don’t mind the attention—but poor Amy, she hates it. She hates what competitive athletics has done to her Big Sister, even though our club thrives because of it. (That much is obvious when you consider the life-sized Monica Sardinia cardboard cutout standing just inside the gym entrance.)
After Amy’s left us, Lily goes right back to hunting for her iPod. She says, “Maybe Theo’s just passive. A pushover. Maybe he doesn’t believe what Beta told him, but he went along with it anyway because he didn’t want to cause trouble.”
“He should’ve told his parents,” I say. “I should download over there right this instant and do it for him.”
“Why? He’s not your friend, he’s Eva’s.”
“Hon, it doesn’t matter whose friend he is. I hate seeing other people being trodden on.” I bring Theo’s SMN window into focus. “Don’t let him push you around, Theo!”
Theo’s pacing back and forth near his bedroom door; when he hears me, he looks at his computer screen and blushes.
“Ugh,” I mutter. “Unbelievable. No character at all.”
“This is real life,” Lily says, “not a book or a movie or a webfic—hurray! My iPod!”
I leave her to her playlist.
Meanwhile, Greg and Donna Keene, our coaches, have finished tidying the training room for the night, and are now locking the entrance door.
Greg crouches beside me.
“Are you ladies behaving?”
“Of course,” answers Lily, winking at me.
“What’s that there, Summer? A fancy chat program?”
“SuperMegaNet,” I say, and swivel my netbook around so that he can see.
He studies the screen. “It’s just a bunch of people’s webcams.”
“This is the instant messaging part,” I explain. “You can upload to your friends’ places if they’re on your buddy list.”
“Oh?” Greg runs his hand over his bald spot. “Well, then, why are you sitting here watching the sun go down when home is a click away?”
“Uploads are temporary,” Lily says. “They’re digital copies of yourself. You have to download back again when you’re done, so that wouldn’t work. You’d end up making digital copies of your digital copies.”
Greg straightens, pulls out his cell phone. “You kids and your fancy tech. Watch this: Without the aid of a computer I shall call your parents and ask them if they’re interested in picking their daughters up anytime soon.”
“We’re car-pooling today,” I say. “Lily’s mom is picking us up. She’s just a little late. Probably grocery shopping.”
Greg nods, sighs. Lily’s mom is notorious for doing all her shopping in one fell swoop. She means well, but the end result is usually a minivan so overstuffed with groceries that the only way you can fit in is if you’re an elite gymnast.
Speaking of which: Mrs. Flammer’s minivan pulls into the parking lot.
And it’s bursting at the seams with food and toiletries in economy-sized packaging.
“Goodnight, ladies,” Greg says, waving to Lily’s mom.
Lily and myself stand, flexing our arms and legs, rolling our necks—preparing ourselves for the act of contortion that will allow us entry into the minivan’s cluttered backseat.
A gymnast’s work is never done.