Kuala Lumpur was hot and humid, even more so than Australia, and it was draining Danny. His anticipation of the race the next day putting him on edge, and having to share a room with Wilko was not helping his nerves whatsoever.
To make matters worse Martin still hadn’t arrived yet and he was getting antsy. What if he couldn’t perform without him there? He didn’t know if he had it in him. He didn’t have anyone to race for, not really. He needed that inspiration, that one person to do it for, the person he held up higher in his head than anyone else, and what could he do without him?
He left his room after Wilko started annoying him too much. He walked down the hall and tried to find the payphone, which was surprisingly difficult considering all the signs were in a language he couldn’t understand, but eventually he found it. He stuck in some of his coins and dialled the number for the Taylors’.
It rang three times before Mrs Taylor picked up the handset. They made polite small talk until Danny had to ask what was really on his mind, the reason why he called.
“Do you know where Martin is?” he asked her.
“Oh, he isn’t in the house at the moment, but he didn’t tell me where he was going. I’ll tell him you called though.” She said.
“Okay, thank you.”
He hung up and knocked his head against the wall. He really wasn’t coming was he? He said he would come… he said he would come...
Danny walked down to the pool, into the stands where everyone would be watching his race from tomorrow. Where Martin should’ve been. Danny thought that maybe it would calm him down or something, but it only heightened the growing sense of dread looming in the bottom of his stomach.
He tried to envision his race, what it would look like from up here. How he would get off to a quick start, and the sprint finish that he’s well known for, but thoughts of Martin kept swirling into his consciousness. He wasn’t here where he should be, with Danny, competing at the Commonwealth fucking Games, swimming the 100m free and getting on the damn podium, but he wouldn’t even be here to watch. Danny was alone, without his best mate. Without the person he loved…
He made his way back to his room and got into bed. There was nothing more to do and moping around was not going to win him a gold medal, so the only thing there was to do was get some shut eye. At least then he wasn’t thinking about Martin.
Danny sat in the changing rooms just before he was to go and sit with his competitors. He needed some alone time, just to sit and think everything over. His race plan, just focus on the race, visualise and execute, that’s all there is to it. You don’t have to swim for anyone but yourself, that’s what coach said, you don’t need anyone to swim for, just go as fast as you can. He almost had himself convinced.
What was the point if he had no one to do it for? He felt abandoned, like a lost little puppy by the side of the street, with no one to go to and no one to rely on. His family was back in Australia, where they needed to be, but the one person who he asked to be there hadn’t come. The one person he longed for, the person he truly swam for, had failed to turn up. It should’ve been them, that was the plan, Danny and Martin, the two of them on top of the world. He wished he could go back and change things. Stay at the school, train with Martin, keep trying to go forward, get that time down and stay with his best friend.
Then he walked through the door.
Danny stood up. Was he dreaming? Martin walked across the room and stood right in front of him.
“I thought you weren’t coming,” Danny whispered stupidly, he never was the best with words.
“Well I could hardly abandon my best mate for the biggest race of his life, could I?” Martin replied with a smile that lit up his whole face, before enveloping him in a tight hug, “You’re gonna smash it,” he whispered in Danny’s ear. “You’re gonna get that time down and you’re gonna break your own world record in that pool out there, and we’re all gonna win. You’re gonna win it for you, your family...Me…” he trailed off and rested his forehead against Danny’s.
They locked eyes, Martin’s hands coming to rest on Danny’s cheeks. They were both hesitant but leaned together and pressed their lips against each others. It was soft and swift and chaste but it gave Danny a surge of confidence, a feeling of elation, of determination, of ‘I’m going out there to win this’, and that was what he needed.
They sprang apart as Danny was called into the waiting room before his race. He looked at Martin as he left who gave him a thumbs up and said, “Break a leg!”
“Isn’t that only for theatre?” Danny laughed at him.
“Oh, fuck off Kelly, you knew what I meant,” Martin shot back before he disappeared from view.
Danny sat in the stuffy waiting room, adjusting his goggles in front of him, giving him something to do other than be intimidated by the his competitors. Stay in the zone.
They started to walk out to the poolside, one by one, barely acknowledging each other. Danny looked around the poolside. Coach Torma was sitting there with his ever-present stopwatch around his neck - a calming presence. Danny sat down to get ready - clothes off, cap on. He looked up at the crowd and caught a glimpse of Martin, maneuvering himself to sit down in the front row of the upper balcony next to Wilko. Everything was going to be fine.
The announcers called his name, “Representing Australia,” that would never get old. He waved to the crowd and to the camera and then he was up standing on the blocks. The blue expanse of the pool stretched out in front of him, seeming so long and so short at the same time, he’d only have to swim two lengths, 100m. This was it.
The umpire called “Set,” and Danny crouched ready for push off, ready for what was in front of him, ready to win and smash the competition.
And he was off. He slid into the water and went deep, dolphin kicking with his feet to get the fastest start possible. Surfacing, his body took over, keep driving those arms over in time. One stroke under, one stroke breathe, one stroke under, one stroke breathe. Everything seemed to slow down when he was in the water, racing, pushing his body to its absolute limit. He felt the flow of the water as it splashed past his hands and rushed past his feet. The certainty of it, the way he moved through it and around it and against it and with it - he felt as though he was fighting his greatest battle, against his greatest friend. The immense struggle to keep going, keep pushing himself filled every fibre of his being.
He looked ahead and spotted the wall. He would turn in three, two, one. Tuck, turn, push and kickkickkick.
This is the hard part, the third 25, so far done yet so far to go. Danny turned his head to look where he was with his competitors. He could see their heads at his shoulder. This was going good, but it wasn’t over yet. He had to push and his legs were dying and push and his shoulders were aching and push and he didn’t have any oxygen left. But he had to do it, Martin was there at the side and he couldn’t lose this because then Martin would lose. He wouldn’t let that happen.
He reached the 25m to go line - he was nearly done, but his body was exhausted and the noise of the crowd was distracting him, it was too loud, until he heard what they were saying.
Ba - rra - cu - da, ba-rra-cu-da, barracuda, barracuda, BARRACUDA, BARRACUDA, BARRACUDABARRACUDABARRACUDA.
And that was what he needed, all these people chanting for him, wanting him to win. The adrenaline kicked in and he felt himself go so much faster, so much harder, so much better. He glimpsed the wall and it was coming towards him fast, so fast, accelerating to a speed that couldn’t be possible.
And then he hit it.
Danny immediately turned around to look at the board. The results flashed up on the screen.
“ 1st Daniel Kelly AUS 51.95 ”
He’d done it! He’d won! He’d beaten his own world record! Danny jumped on top of the lane divider and smashed the water, shouting with elation then throwing his hands up as chants of “Barracuda!” filled the room. He jumped out of the pool and went to Coach Torma, embracing him as he started to cry from sheer joy! He couldn’t believe it! A gold medal at the fucking Commonwealth Games! And then his teammates were there, all hugging him and congratulating him. They lifted Danny up onto their shoulders as they continued to celebrate what he had achieved. He looked out onto the crowd and saw Martin screaming for him and leading the chanting and Danny’s heart felt so full in that moment. He drank it all in, trying to remember every single tiny little part of that moment, the noise of the crowd, the smell of chlorine and sweat, the look on Martin’s face like he was the proudest and happiest anyone could ever be.
The next half an hour went by in a blur. Danny was shuffled off to interview for the media from all over the world, Australia, the UK, Canada, as well as some countries that he had never heard of before. They asked him what gave him the energy to get that amazing negative split for the second half of the race and he told him all the same thing. “There was a very special person out there in the crowd, that I knew had started the chanting. Just knowing that they were here in person, supporting - I couldn’t let them down.”
Then he had to get ready for the medal ceremony.
As he stood on the podium, and was presented his medal, he couldn’t truly believe that all this had happened. After all the wrong decisions he had made, everything had come together, with a gold medal around his neck and the best friend anyone could ever ask for. He mumbled along to the national anthem, the words of which he had never been bothered to learn, but belted out the last few words, “Advance Australia Fair!”
By the time he had escaped the clutches of the media, he had to go get drug tested, aka piss in tube, which had a surprising amount of paperwork to it, that had to be signed off by multiple groups of people. And he still hadn’t been able to see Martin.
Danny left the drug testing room and was immediately attacked by someone, in the biggest bear hug in what felt like the entirety of human history. He saw Martin’s face buried in his shoulder and hugged him right back, spinning them around in a circle in the middle of the corridor.
“I can’t believe you did it!” Martin said into Danny’s shoulder, the sound muffled by the fabric and what sounded like tears.
“Yeah, and I did it for you Martin. I did it for you,” whispered Danny, so that nobody else could hear it but them. They were both crying now, still slowly spinning and Martin looked up into Danny’s eyes, suddenly so much more intimate, they were so much closer together then that it seemed like they were the only people in the universe. And then Martin leaned up and kissed him.
And Danny kissed him back and the world was either spinning off its axis or not spinning at all as he felt disoriented and confused but in a good way that he didn’t ever want to stop. The kiss was by no means perfect but it didn’t have to be, because simply feeling Martin in his arms and knowing he felt the same way was more than what he could ever have hoped for.
They broke apart to breath and Danny reached down to wipe the tears from Martin’s eyes and hold his face. They were breathing hard but Danny had never felt so good.
“Do you think we should maybe get out of the corridor?” Martin laughed. Danny looked around and realised that they were causing a massive inconvenience to everyone trying to get passed, although most of them tried to avoiding looking at them at all costs.
“Yeah, maybe we should go back to my room,” Danny replied grabbing Martin’s hand and pulling them along the corridor.
“Hey, just ‘cause you’re the fucking commonwealth champion doesn’t mean you can push me around Kelly,” Martin said, the fondness in his voice covering up his faux maliciousness.
“Oh really?” Danny teased. “‘Cause I think it does.” He pulled on Martin’s arm and pushed him into the lift they had arrived at, pressing the close button before crowding Martin against the wall. “Would you like me to try it?”
That question would remain unanswered, as Martin pulled Danny down into a searing kiss, all lips and teeth and tongue like they were trying to be as close together as they possibly could be.
The lift pinged having reached their floor and the boys ran out of there and down the corridor to Danny’s room, where he fumbled with the key for a minute before he managed to drag Martin inside and continue kissing him. Martin kept pushing them back towards the bed as their kisses deepened. Danny’s tongue pushed into Martin’s mouth and he moaned at the sensation.
They fell onto the bed and Martin pushed Danny back onto the bed, straddling his hips and keep their lips locked together.
“Eh-hem,” someone else in the room coughed. Both Danny and Martin’s heads swivelled around to see Wilko lying on the next bunk over.
“Fuck off, Wilko,” they said in unison, and glared at him until he got up to leave the room.
After the door shut they both started laughing.
“Wow, way to kill the mood, right?” said Martin. He flipped over and lay down next to Danny on the tiny bed, curled into him. They smiled at each other like they couldn’t believe this was real. They kissed again, slowly, lazily, like they had all the time in the world. They stayed like that lazily kissing until they fell asleep.
Just two boys who stuck to the plan and ended up on top of the world.