I let out a breath, the weight of this race on my shoulders. This opportunity isn’t something to treat with arrogance, but right now, I need all of it to fuel me over the finish line. I’m just a dude from Savannah who taught myself to row. How the fuck did I get here? I’m competing against the best of the best, at this fancy prep school, with these rich-ass kids.
No. Get your head in the game, Jackson. I’m a Price—we’re Southern, proud, and determined. I will own this asshole to my left. He will not beat me. There’s no good goddamn way I will go home with my head hangin’ low. Next year, for my senior year, I’ll row for Hillcrest and ensure my way into a crew that breeds elite athletes. Olympians.
Looking over, I see one of those Olympians—Grey McCallister. Fuck, I’m gonna need Jesus for this. I should’ve listened to my momma and gone to church. Then again, I’d probably catch fire just walking in. Grey rolls his shoulders, and any of the small amounts of confidence that my inner speech instilled runs right out of my veins.
He looks over and chuckles. “Try not to piss your pants.”
Hold on… “What?”
He grins at me, cracking his neck.
“Piss yourself. Don’t do it. You’re going to strain so hard to try to catch me that you’ll piss your pants. You don’t have to catch me to get a spot, Georgia. And you will get a spot—but if you’re going to run this team, you can’t be the guy who pissed his pants.”
I can’t help myself. I laugh, loud and deep, tipping my head back to the sky. All right.
“All I have to do is not piss my pants, huh?”
Grey nods, and we refocus, gripping oars. The one thing I know is that I like a challenge, and he just laid it out. The buzzer sounds through the sky, and I dig my oars into the sheen reflected on the water, pulling my boat out quickly. I dip them back in just as fast, straining all the muscles across my broad chest.
All that cross-training is about to pay off. My biceps burn from the ferocity with which I row.
I’m not stopping.
I won’t slow.
I will not lose.
My jaw is so tense I could crack my teeth as I grunt with each dip of my oar.
“Come on. Bring it!” I hear roared, and fuck me if I don’t let it fuel me.
When the airhorn rips through the sky again, my entire six-foot-one frame dies, falling back against the rest of the boat. My breath is heaving from my chest. I’ve never rowed so hard, worked so much for a goal.
My breath still drags from my body as I blink my eyes open and turn to see where Grey is. Damn—he’s a whole lot farther than I was hoping to see. I look up at the same sky I laughed into earlier. I’m pretty sure the rowing gods are doing that same thing to me now, because I just got smoked. Water laps heavily against my scull, and all the worries I held at bay flood my mind. I’ll bet the coach already has a car waiting for me so they can shove me off to the airport. I fucking blew it.
What the hell was I thinking? That I could come from my life to this big-ass city and get a spot on the most renowned team in the country. I did—I actually fucking did.
How am I going to look my father in the eyes? “No use crying over spilled milk” invades my thoughts, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t in my momma’s voice.
Clearing my throat, I sit up and begin to row back, feeling immediate fatigue in my arms. As I get closer to my docking spot, I see guys lining up about twenty feet away, where the grass meets the river. I reach for the wood planks to tie myself off, and everyone begins clapping. What the hell? I look over my shoulder and see Grey tying himself off behind me on the wide platform.
“That’s for you. Not me.” He laughs. “Enjoy the moment. Stop questioning whether you belong. Decide that you do.”
I feel numb as I try to reconcile what he’s saying.
Liam, Grey’s number two on the crew, stands at the end of his dock, taking the oars from Grey, and smirks. “You should be proud. You got talent. That’s the closest anyone’s ever come to Grey—well, except for me.”
“No. I beat you by more,” Grey levels, climbing from his scull and standing next to Liam.
Everyone has a defining moment in their life, and I think this might be mine. All I can do is nod as I climb the ladder to the dock, looking at the guys—respect reflected.
The coach is walking down the dock to meet us as he calls out, grabbing our collective attention. We turn and meet him in the middle as he holds out his hand for me to shake.
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