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Without Hope

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Hope disappeared moments after I qualified for the Olympics. I called her phone and left several voicemails. I sent countless texts. Mama was beside herself with excitement, and all the newspeople wanted interviews. I couldn’t just press the stop button on my career. What was I to do?

And there was Lance.

He shook my hand and asked, “Where’s your coach?” He looked around as though she’d come running up to us at any moment.

“I don’t know.”

Lance’s smirk widened. “Let me make you an offer…”

I know what you’re thinking, but Lance was the head coach of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. By all rights, he should have been my coach before now, and plus, Hope had just run out on me. Mama was thrilled. We already had a line on an endorsement with Nike, and Lance said he knew someone at Gatorade who would love to talk to me. It seemed like everything was going great.

And then it got weird.

One day after practice, Lance—Coach Tucker, as he’d asked me to call him when we were at the gym—asked me to stay later than everyone else because I was having trouble with my Yurchenko. It was a trick I’d done a hundred times, and Hope and I always practiced alone in Ohio, so I though nothing of it.

Lance waited for me at the end of the run. He was crouched slightly, and I knew he was going to spot my jump. “Okay, this time, I just want you to do a back handspring off the vault. “Nothing fancy, just a back handspring.”

I nodded my understanding, re-chalked my hands, and took a deep breath. I took off down the runway and jumped onto the springboard. As soon as I was in the air, I felt Lance’s hands around my waist. Encircled in his arms, I stuck the landing.

“How was that?” he asked, and he was so close I could smell the peppermint flavor of his chewing gum.

“It was good,” I responded with a smile. “Felt good.” I could feel an uncomfortable heat building in my body like when I was watching Degrassi. I lowered my gaze so I wouldn’t have to meet Lance’s eyes.

“Good,” said Lance. “Do it again.” And then he smacked me on the bottom like coaches will do in baseball except that never, ever happens in gymnastics.

We continued like that for nearly an hour. I vaulted at Lance’s command with each run getting progressively harder, but at the end of each run, his arms would be there to catch me, guide me through the motion.

As night fell and the shadows in the gym grew longer, Lance’s touch began to linger until I was so tired that without his help I could hardly make my landing, let alone stick it, and he didn’t let go.

“Have you ever been with a man?”

“Hope said no boys while I was in training.”

Lance snapped his gum and showed off two rows of straight, white teeth. “I’m not a boy. I’m a man.”

You know the rest of the story. He plowed me up against that vaulting horse like it was his job.

I didn’t get pregnant until about three months later, and when I told him, I thought he was going to lose his mind. He was already stressed out about the upcoming Games and our competition from Russia and China. Both countries were always our biggest rivals.

I waited until everyone else had left the gym for the day, and then with my gym bag slung over my shoulder and both hands clutching the strap for strength, I knocked on the open door to his office.

“Hey, honey,” he said, flashing me that winning smile again. It never failed to make my knees quake, and even now, I could feel that familiar tremble.

“Do you, um, have a minute?”

“Of course I do, sugar.” He shut the door and leaned back against the desk. In that moment, I truly think he expected me to get on my knees and offer him a blowjob. Gross.

“I don’t know how to say this…” I started.

Lance took my hand. “It’s okay. Take your time.”

Was he waiting for a love confession?

“I’m pregnant,” I blurted.

Lance’s haughty smile went from confused to downright disbelief. “What?” he said. “But you don’t—you can’t even get your period.”

“Well, I do sometimes. I mean, after Hope—”

Releasing my hand, Lance let out a hollow laugh. “Hope. Fucking Hope. Again. Always Hope.” He pressed his thumbs into his eyes. “Are you sure it’s even mine?”

I felt betrayed. “Of course it’s yours! You’re the only person I’ve ever been with!”

“You were a virgin?” Lance exploded.

I couldn’t help myself as my eyes welled up with tears. “My mama was wrong about you! You’re nothing but a user and a—a person who takes advantage of innocent girls!”

“Now you’re calling me a pedophile!”

“It takes one to know one!”

With that, I stomped out of Lance’s office and slammed the door shut behind me. My bid for the Olympics was over. My career was over, but at least now Lance’s was, too.

He showed up to the hospital the day I went into labor, which I thought was the absolute least he could do after ruining my life. He held my hand and told me to breathe. Now, ya’ll, I’m not a violent person, but in that moment, I have never wanted to punch someone in the face so badly.

As I felt the baby crowning with Lance’s peppermint breath hee hee hoo in my ear, I shouted, “I should have listened to Hope!”