The Flip Side Chapter One
“She stuck that series as if it were a floor pass. Amazing! One thing Charlie Ryland always brings to the table is consistency on beam.”
A female commentator’s voice chimes in. “That’s right, Doug. She has both the grace of a ballerina and the fighting spirit of a warrior. It’s a joy to watch her.”
“Yes, an absolute joy. Here comes her dismount. Look at that focused concentration!”
I raise my arms. My mind, my muscles, know precisely what to do. Tight. Control. Stick it.
I pull my arms in as I power into my twisting dismount. My bare feet hit the mat, and my arms automatically extend over my head. The crowd’s cheers fill the stadium, while that rush of adrenaline surges through me, the one that always comes after I nail a beam routine.
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that performance brings her gold. She stuck that landing perfectly.”
“She’s a born winner,” the woman says.
I see Coach Chris, off to the side, clapping enthusiastically. As I run toward him, his face breaks into a wide grin. “That’s my girl.” He pats my back affectionately.
“Solid routine, Charlie,” Coach Rachel says, wrapping me in a firm hug. I’m basking in the thunderous buzz of the crowd, the blinding bright lights—
“Charlotte, what is the main role of Congress?”
Mr. Alto’s raspy voice snaps me back to reality. I adjust my glasses on the bridge of my nose and see him standing in front of the class, the study guide limp in his fingers.
“Daydreaming again?” he asks, his jaw set. He’s clearly not happy with me. It’s not the first time.
“Uh, no.” Glancing down at the class discussion sheet on my desk, I squirm. I haven’t made a single notation. How am I going to prepare for the upcoming test? Why can’t I keep this subject matter straight? “I think . . . it’s to keep the House of Representatives in check? So they don’t make laws that the American people don’t like?”
“No.” Mr. Alto’s tone has a ring of impatience to it. “The House of Representatives is part of Congress. You need to remember the order of government. This will be on the test next Tuesday.”
I swallow hard. I’m not a bad student. In fact, up until this class I’ve easily earned straight As. But U.S. government keeps tripping me up. It’s only a one-semester course, but for the first nine-week grading period, I barely squeaked by with an A. So far, this grading period has been far less promising.
“Step up your game, Charlotte,” Mr. Alto says, pointing a thick finger at me.
“Yes, sir.” I cast a sideways glance at my friend Zoe Parker, who sits beside me. She looks back at me pityingly.
“We’ll study together,” she mouths.
I nod, although I’m not sure where I’ll find time for a study session with her. As soon as this class is over, I’m heading out of town for the weekend and won’t be back until Tuesday.
As others answer the remainder of the study questions, I make notes on the class discussion sheet. But at the bottom of the page I’ve been doodling. Last camp, I’ve written with squiggles and hearts around it. Your time to shine. Underneath I’ve drawn something that looks suspiciously like an Olympic gold medal.
• • •
Zoe and I walk out of Mr. Alto’s room together.
“We need to sync our schedules,” she says. “Figure out the best time for studying this weekend.”
“I’ve got a plane to catch. I’m on my way out now.”
“Oh, that’s right. Going to your aunt’s ranch in Texas.” Zoe grins at me and wiggles her eyebrows. “Maybe you’ll hook up with a cowboy.”
I laugh. “Probably not.” It’s not that kind of ranch, but I can’t tell her that, or that no aunt will be there. Guilt pricks me because I’m not being completely honest with her, but too much is at stake. Mostly my sanity.
“I’m going to miss you,” she says.
“I’ll be back to school on Tuesday.”
“We’ll need to start examining our prom options when you get back, consider who we can get to take us.”
I give a low laugh. “The prom is only for juniors and seniors. We’re sophomores.”
“Which is why we need to consider which upperclassman we might get to take us.” She smiles brightly, her eyes shining with excitement. “Wouldn’t it be awesome to have an older boy take us? We’d be special, getting into a dance that most sophomores only dream about.”
Going to prom isn’t something I’ve ever dreamed about, although I do have to admit that my dreams revolve around me doing something else that very few people get a chance to do.
“I’m not going to have time for prom,” I admit.
She comes to an abrupt halt in the hallway, forcing me to stop as well. “How can you not have time for prom?” she asks.
It’s the weekend right before Olympic trials. My focus has to be on trials if I want to have any chance at all of going to the Olympics. “I think my family is doing something that weekend.”
“Get out of it. You can stay with me.”
I don’t have time to come up with a plausible excuse right now, especially when the odds are that no one will invite me to prom anyway. I don’t exactly have guys—much less the required junior or senior—tripping over themselves to talk to or hang out with me. Since the school year started more than eight months ago, I’ve had very little time for anything other than studying and practice. “I’ve got to skedaddle, but we’ll talk when I get back.”
“Text me a picture of a cowboy.”
Shaking my head and chuckling at her one-track mind, I continue to the office to sign out.
When I first started gymnastics, life was totally ordinary. I did everything—soccer, ballet, T-ball. But when I turned six, gymnastics took over. I was invited onto our gym’s TOPs team—short for “Talent Opportunity Program”—which is a way for USA Gymnastics to find rising talent in kids who are between seven and ten years old. After that there was no turning back. I loved it, and my parents sacrificed to make it work. That was when we lived in Indiana.
When I was eight, my coaches wanted me to be homeschooled because a flexible schedule would give me more time to practice gymnastics, so Mom spent three years homeschooling me. But I missed real life. I missed being around girls who weren’t associated with gymnastics, and I missed having boys in my class and going to sleepovers and birthday parties.
Then we moved to Columbus, Ohio, where I started at one of the best gyms in the country. I was eleven. My new coach, Coach Chris, thought I could qualify for the USA Gymnastics Junior Elite program by age thirteen. And I wanted it. I wanted it bad. But I also wanted a life outside the gym. My parents and my coaches worked out a schedule so that I could go to public school (and I did still manage to make Junior Elite by thirteen). So for four years now, I’ve been going to regular school and I love it. It balances out the crazy in the rest of my life.
And life as an elite gymnast can get crazy. When I was younger, just starting gymnastics, I idolized several elite gymnasts, followed their careers, and imagined the day when I would be where they were. A couple of them had overly enthusiastic supporters following them around, bombarding them with social media posts. It seemed a little scary to have perfect strangers following your life so closely. I read in an interview with one gymnast how challenging it was for her to not buckle under the pressure of trying to please a lot of people, and trying to meet others’ expectations. I also remember seeing a YouTube video of a gymnast crying because she was being heckled after a poor showing at a meet.
I felt enough pressure competing. I didn’t want to heap others’ dreams or hopes for my success onto my plate.
So when I returned to public school, I decided to keep my gymnastics life a secret. In order to maintain some semblance of normality in my life, I perform a balancing act. At school I’m Charlotte with glasses and long blond hair that falls into my face; at the gym I’m Charlie in a leotard and a ponytail. On social media I have my gymnastics followers who leave fan mail on my Charlie Ryland Gymnast account pages. I post videos and pictures there sometimes, but only of gymnastics. Charlotte Ryland is the name on my personal Instagram account, where I never, ever post gymnastics stuff.
I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping the two worlds completely separate. It helps that I’m known only a little bit in the gymnastics world. I’m up-and-coming, and it’s not at all like I’m famous. No one seems to have put two and two together, thank goodness.
“Out again?” the attendance secretary asks, winking at me from behind the counter-high desk.
“Yep.” I take the clipboard she offers me. I know the sign-out routine.
She knows the truth about me. The principal and one of the counselors do too. Mom and Dad had a meeting with them when they enrolled me at Jefferson High, explaining my rigorous schedule and the need for a few exceptions to the rules.
In order to get in my conditioning training, I have no first-period class. Instead I spend that time at the gym. But my not having that first class doesn’t raise any red flags, because other students arrive late, those who are part of work programs or attend off-campus classes at the community college. Final bell rings at three, and I’m able to get to the gym by three thirty. It makes for a long day, but it’s totally worth it. My parents also made it clear to the school officials that I didn’t want my outside-of-school activities made public. The people who are in the loop have been super-respectful and supportive.
“There’s some exciting stuff coming up,” the secretary says in a voice low enough that the other office staff can’t overhear her. I think she likes knowing what the others don’t.
I smile. “Yeah.”
“I’m excited for you, Charlotte. You’re going to do great.”
“Thanks.” I adjust the straps on my backpack. “I’ll see you next Tuesday.”
I leave the building with a spring in my step. Heading to Texas always fills me with anticipation. The ranch is one of my favorite places in the world. Which is odd, considering it’s also one of the places most likely to destroy me.