Each quarter, the swim team met for an intensive performance meeting.
Carrie walked into the room feeling heavy and sad. She slumped into a seat at the head of the table, next to Herbert, the team manager.
‘Carrie,’ he murmured. ‘You good?’
‘As well as can be expected, Herb.’ She felt, rather than knew, what was coming.
‘Listen, for what it’s worth, I’ve got your back. I’ve seen you in action. I know the kids love you, and everyone’s memory is good enough to remember what you can achieve with them.’
Carrie nodded. Herb was right. Only five years ago, the swim squad was at the top of the ladder. Under Carrie’s instructions, the team’s overall technique improved, fitness levels increased. She paced up and down the length of the pool urging the swimmers to do better, swim faster, to whisk through the water until they reached the top. Over the last eighteen months, however, three of the strongest members of the squad had left, decimating team spirit. Carrie had struggled to bring the team to fourth place.
‘Thanks Herb,’ Carrie replied.
Herb reached out and slung his arm around Carrie’s shoulders. One by one the members of the team arrived until only one place was left at the board table: Brenna.
Five minutes passed where Carrie clenched her jaw, felt sweat trickle down her spine. She wrung her hands while the squad giggled and murmured amongst themselves. Finally, the squad president arrived, bringing a hush around the table.
The air around Carrie turned cold. Brenna’s lips were a tight line, her cheeks flushed. Hers was not a difficult face to read, Carrie thought, inhaling deeply through her nose. She wrapped her arms around her waist and tucked her right leg behind her left. Herb moved away. She glanced at him; his eyes were downcast, staring at a spot on the floor.
‘Carrie, Herbert, good afternoon,’ Brenna said. ‘And welcome to you all.’ She smiled brightly at the team members. Not one of them was looking at Brenna, Carrie noted. Their collective teenage disdain a wall too high for Brenna to climb.
‘As usual, this meeting we’ll discuss the overall performance from the last quarter.’ Brenna shuffled papers as she spoke. She paused. ‘As you all know, the team’s performance, frankly, is not good enough. Sitting at fourth is not what we pay you for Carrie.’
Carrie opened her mouth to speak, but Brenna continued, ‘Got any ideas to share with us about how you’re going to pull the squad up to first place again?’
‘I’m sorry?’ Carrie asked, fearing she’d misheard Brenna. Was she being handed an olive branch? She’d anticipated termination in this meeting, but it seemed she was getting another chance.
‘What are your plans over the next three months to make positive changes to the squad’s performance and placing on the ladder?’ Brenna said, tersely.
The fire in Carrie’s belly was stoked, embers sparked and lit to warm her within. She saw that familiar black line, directing and guiding. ‘Ah, well,’ she began, relieved. Under the table, Herb’s hand squeezed her own while she discussed her plans.