by Lee Hamblin

It was Candice told Me’shell told Aaron told Steve Austin. That’s not his real name, the Steve bit, he only uses it cause he’s got this bionic arm that cost six million dollars; least that’s what he tells everyone seeing the scars crisscrossin’ it.

And if you’re a pretty girl noticing it, and Candice ain’t in eyeshot, then he’ll do the slow motion running thing, sing the theme tune, even stutter stupid robot sounds along with his stupid robot movements. And if you’re still smilin’ at him after that, well, who knows?

Man, he’s as shallow as a pond in summer.

He says he got the new arm after an accident with a pig snare he had on his uncle’s farm one summer a while back, least that’s what the story’s become. All I know for fact is that he can punch as hard as an irate mule can kick, and he can squeeze air from you like one of them eight foot snakes does in Africa when you’re asleep in your tent.

Another thing Austin’s known for is swimming. Maybe it’s all in the arm, or maybe it’s the shoulder – that could be bionic too for all I know – but whatever it is, he’s the captain of the swim team, and he don’t ever like to finish second.

‘Silver medals are for losers,’ coach says.

‘Silver medals are for losers,’ Austin says, whenever he’s stood atop the podium brandishing gold, spitting in the ear of the poor soul that come second.

Oh, and one more thing, Candice White is his girl. Well, he thinks that she is, she’s not so decided, (you know – peer pressure stuff) and I know for certain that she ain’t.

It’s Friday afternoon, and school’s out for the week. I should be on my way back home for cold lemonade and a bag of chips, but instead I’m pegged inside a ring of fire out on the sports field. I suppose there’s about twelve of them circling us – give or take – mainly folks I seen from school, though there’s a couple of girls I don’t recognise. The girls I don’t know look a year or two older, chew gum with slack jaws, and wear ponytails and bobby socks from yesteryear. They keep poppin’ bubbles that freak the shit out of me. The rest of the school’s deserted except for a couple of stoners sat in the bleachers, and they’d be no help even if I hollered.

Austin’s shoving me about a bit, double-palming my chest, forcing me backwards. Off-balance, I stumble, but un-helping hands from behind me are eager to propel me back into range. He gets me with a stinging face slap that only deepens my resolve. I sense he’s just toying with me the way cats do mice, playing up to his audience.

The thing is, I’m no fist fighter, so he won’t get much of a show from me, and it’s futile me throwing punches his way, but I’ve got to do something, right? So I go tell him he swims like a pussy, and that I swim faster than he ever could.

It was the first thing that came to mind, and stupid, but at least I get a break from the swinging and slapping.

‘Then why ain’t you on the team, asshole?’ He says, sneering, cocking an eyebrow. One of the girls I don’t know repeats his every word in a phony southern drawl. Everyone finds it hilarious and repeats in unison. I’m not even from the south. I look over at the cheerleader and see a resemblance to Austin, his sister maybe.

So I tell him that I swim a mile in the lake every morning before his lazy ass’s even crawled its way outta bed. I tell him I swim like a black Mark Spitz without the stupid moustache. (Austin sports a pathetic excuse of a moustache) I tell him that the swimming team suck. I tell him that coach is a fag. Words are coming out of my mouth that I don’t know where they’re coming from cause I was raised to be far better than that.    

So he starts with the punching, thwacking his bionic fist into my chest.

If I’d said nothing, maybe then he wouldn’t have hit me so hard. If I’d pleaded with him, maybe then he wouldn’t have hit me so often, but nobody, and I mean nobody out here is on team Isaac, and that really sucks.

I double over from one that gets me in the solar plexus but remain standing. The watching mob have gone quiet. I suppose they’re getting bored cause it’s all a bit too one-sided to be called entertaining. Austin grabs hold of my shirt, the sister cheers loudest of all. I sense the big squeeze is coming next.

How I managed it, I don’t know, but I wrestle free and take half a step back, putting an arms-length of space between us. Hands behind me push me forward again; they’re about ready for the grand finale. I’m not. Not yet.

So I square up to him big shouldered and tell him that I don’t love Candice, that I never said I did – that I don’t even like her – that he’s welcome to her – that she’s the liar – that she’s pig ugly – that, that, that… I can’t think of anything else to say cause I’m too busy wishing I hadn’t said what I’d said but it just came out and I’m really wanting to take it back cause when I look across at her, Candice looks hurt as hell.

Austin steps forward and gives me his best shot; I suppose for looking over at her, or maybe for calling her ugly. Either way, I drop to my haunches, and I can’t see out of one eye for the swelling around it. Candice looks to the ground. I look to the sky, I’m all busy snatching air like a fish that’s missed the tide, and yeah, by now I’ve started crying.

I hear Aaron shout out. ‘Why don’t you give the jerk a chance, Austin? I’ve got a cool idea.’ Austin lowers his guard, they whisper, Austin mulls it over, ‘Why not,’ he says.

A couple of arms grab hold of me, and I’m frog-marched over to the parking lot. Everyone piles into pick-ups and head on out to the lake. We pass onlookers assuming we’re just a bunch of hormone-fueled high schoolers singing Summer Lovin’ Iike we understand all there is to know about love.

We reach the lake.

Aaron calls out the rules:

‘First one to the shore with the tree trunk bleached white wins.’ Meaning that if I win, Austin’ll let me be.

And if Austin wins, he sure hopes I can run faster than I can swim.  

I look around but can’t see Candice anywhere.

We strip down to our shorts, walk to the tip of the pontoon, toe-grip the edge.

My one good eye stares into the depths and for a moment it’s like my body’s forgotten its hurt.

Aaron counts us down. ‘Five… Four… Three……’

I swim okay, but I won’t be winning this one. I mean, let’s face it, I’ve no chance against a six million dollar man, have I?

But I don’t intend losing neither, ’cause like coach says: ‘Silver medals are for losers.’

Lee Hamblin is a Londoner living in Greece for the last decade. He’s had stories published with Blue Fifth Review, Ellipsis Zine, STORGY, Flash Frontier, Spelk, Reflex, F(r)online. Coming soon (2017) MoonPark Review, Bath Flash Anthology, and Stories For Homes Volume 2He tweets @kali_thea and puts words on