“Turn around is fair play,” Preston said. His sadistic grin confirmed his statement. He was going to torture me this afternoon. “If you’re going to be a real cheerleader, you have to learn to do a back handspring.”
“Whoever said I wanted to be a real cheerleader,” I asked.
“You did!” most of the cheerleaders said, almost in unison. Great. I was in trouble.
“My body doesn’t bend like that.” I shook my head and folded my arms across my chest.
“Don’t worry. We’ll start off with some easy stuff, and once you build up flexibility—and you will if I have anything to say about it—then we’ll try some more difficult moves.” Preston was using my own words against me.
“Great.” I sighed. “Bring it on.”
“First things first. You need to stretch your legs.” Without hesitation, Preston lowered into the splits, and my body cringed just thinking about my legs spreading in those directions.
I lumbered down to the grass and tried to mimic his stance. My knees wouldn’t go all the way to the ground and my hamstrings were screaming at me. Giggles erupted from the girls, and I gritted my teeth. “What next?”
“Next you need to stretch your wrists. You don’t want to hurt your wrists when you land hard.” Preston bent his wrists all the way back and added weight by leaning forward. “Also, roll your ankles around in circles. They’re going to take some impact when you land.”
That I could handle. Or so I thought. My ankles didn’t move in circles the way his did. So far, I was failing this lesson.
“Next you’re going to learn to do a back limber, so you feel the shape your body will experience when you do your back handspring. You can’t be scared to leap backwards”
“I’m not scared of anything.” I gulped.
“You will be,” Preston said in his best Yoda impression.
“Can I just stop you for a minute?”
He put his hand on his hip. “Make it quick.”
“Can I just offer a sincere apology for the way I treated you a few weeks ago?”
“Flattery will get you nowhere, young man. Now get off the grass, and let’s get you into a backbend.”
“That sounds painful,” I grumbled, hoisting myself off the ground. Looking right at Emma I said, “Can you call my chiropractor and schedule me an appointment for about an hour from now.”
Emma giggled. “How about if I just give you a back massage an hour from now?”
“I like that idea even better.” I leaned closer for a quick kiss.
“No PDA at cheer practice,” Coach Briggs chastised us. “Get back to work.
“Sorry, Coach.” I stepped away from Emma and stood obediently in front of the man who was trying to put me in the hospital.
“Can you do a backbend?” Preston asked.
Easy. I could handle that. Leaning forward, I braced my hands on the grass and thrust my legs into the air, standing as straight as I could and then walking forward on my hands to maintain balance.
“Okay, good. Now I want you to dive forward into a handstand.” Demonstrating the move, Preston dove forward onto his hands and then from an upside-down position, kept supplying instructions. “This gives your wrists the feeling of landing quickly on them.”
I did as he asked and soon we were both walking on our hands. “I’d race you, but I don’t like losing.”
“Which you would.” Preston lowered his feet out in front of him and landed on his feet in a perfect backbend.
I tried to mimic his move but wound up doing more of a backbend-slash-front whip. In whatever way I managed to get there, I was standing on my feet again and that was a step in the right direction.
“That actually wasn’t half bad,” Preston said, now also in a standing position. “We have to work with your strengths. Have you ever tried to do a backflip?”
“Yeah, I learned how on out trampoline.” I stretched my wrists after the beating I’d just given them. “We have one in our backyard.” I waved my finger back and forth between Emma and me, indicating the trampoline belonged to both of us. I couldn’t remember which one of us owned the trampoline.
“I love how you guys use the collective when talking about your backyard,” Preston said. “As if you’re brother and sister.”
Emma and I looked at each other with scrutiny, and she answered him. “You’d have to see our backyard to understand. Everything is sort of in the middle, between our two houses. Plus, I’m pretty sure our parents gave us that trampoline as a joint birthday present when we were, like, six years old.”
“I vote we move practice to their backyard for the afternoon,” Serena said.
“Great idea,” Bella echoed.
“I agree,” Carli said.
“Not today,” I said. “Football practice starts in fifteen minutes. Plus we should probably give our parents a heads-up before we just bring twelve extra friends home.”
“My mom could probably pick up a bunch of subs on her way home from work tomorrow,” Emma suggested.
“And my mom’s always looking for an excuse to make her homemade cookies.” I nodded.
“I’ll bring a bag of chips,” Carli said.
“I can get a bunch of water bottles or Powerade or something,” Bella added.
“What about paper plates and cups and napkins? Who wants to bring those?” Coach asked.
Within five minutes, we had a potluck planned for the following afternoon. Practicing back handsprings and backflips on a trampoline sounded way less painful—and frightening—than throwing myself backwards onto the grass of the football field and hoping I didn’t break my neck.
“Okay, ladies—and gentleman.” I nodded to Preston. “I need to get to football practice, where my team has already begun stretching without me.”
I hitched my thumb in the direction of the fifty-yard-line, where the guys were lining up already in their pads and helmets.
“Thank you again for moving your practice a half hour earlier so I could join you,” I said, taking a step away. “I’ll tell my football coach I won’t be here tomorrow, and my mom that she needs to make cookies.” I turned to Emma. “See you in about an hour.”
I leaned closer to her and gave her one last kiss, ignoring the rule about avoiding PDA.
“Sorry, Coach.” I gave her my most innocent smile while backing away from the group. Then I pointed at Emma. “I’m holding you to that back massage this afternoon.”
“You didn’t even do a backflip yet,” Emma argued, folding her arms across her chest.
Just for fun, I bent my knees and threw my arms and body backward into a nearly perfect back tuck. Landing, I grinned at my team. “Now I did.”
“Hey! You’ve been holding out on us.” Preston put both hands on his hips. “All this time you could do backflips?”
“You didn’t ask me if I could do a back tuck; you asked me if I could do a backbend. Which, I can almost guarantee I’ll never be able to do. But I’ve never done a back handspring.” I pointed at Preston. “And that’s what you’re going to teach me how to do tomorrow afternoon.” I turned around and jogged over to my football team, a confidence in my step.
“Did you know he could do that?” Preston asked Emma as I was leaving.
“Yeah…” Emma had a smile in her voice. I chuckled and kept jogging.