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Making Faces(13)
Author: Amy Harmon

“Smart,” Elliott answered immediately.

“Yeah, right. That's why you chose mom, huh? 'Cause she was so ugly.”

Elliott Young looked stricken for a heartbeat and Ambrose immediately apologized. “Sorry, Dad. I didn't mean it like that.”

Elliott nodded and tried to smile, but Ambrose could tell he was hurt. Ambrose was really on a roll today. First Fern Taylor, now his dad. Maybe he would have to start doing penance like Hercules. Thoughts of the mournful champion rose up in his mind. He hadn't thought about him in years, yet Bailey's words rang in his mind like it had happened yesterday.

“I guess being the champion isn't all fun and games, huh?”


“Yeah, Brosey?”

“Are you gonna be okay when I'm gone?”

“You mean to school? Sure, sure. Mrs. Luebke will help me, and Paul Kimball's mom, Jamie, came in today and filled out an application for part time work. I think I'll hire her. Money's always an issue, but with a wrestling scholarship and with a little tightening up here and there, I think it's doable.”

Ambrose didn't say anything. He didn't know if “gone” meant school. It just meant gone.

5: Tame a Lion

The marquee in front of the city offices, right on the corner of Main and Center, said Going for Four! Take State, Ambrose! It didn't say Go Wrestlers! or Let's Go Lakers! Just Take State, Ambrose! Jesse immediately took issue with the sign, but the other boys on the bus didn't seem to mind. Ambrose was one of them. He was their team captain. They all thought he would lead them to another State Championship, and that was all that mattered to them.

But Ambrose was as bothered by the sign as Jesse was. He tried to shrug it off, the way he always did. They were on their way to Hershey, Pennsylvania for the State Tournament, and Ambrose couldn't wait until it was over. Then maybe he could breathe for a while, think for a while, have a little peace, just for a while.

If wrestling was just about what happened on the mat and in the wrestling room he would love the sport. He did love the sport. He loved the technique, the history, the sense of being in control of the outcome, the way it felt to execute the perfect takedown. He loved the simplicity of the sport. He loved the battle. He just didn't like the screaming fans or the accolades or the fact that people were always talking about Ambrose Young as if he were some kind of machine.

Elliott Young had taken Ambrose all over the country to wrestle. Since Ambrose was about eight years old, Elliott had invested every last cent into making his son into a champion, not because Elliott needed him to be, but because talent like Ambrose's deserved that kind of fostering. And Ambrose had loved that part too–being with his dad, being just one of a thousand great wrestlers on any given weekend, vying for the top spot on the medals podium. But in the last few years, as Ambrose garnered national attention and Hannah Lake Township realized they had a star on their hands, it had stopped being fun. He'd fallen out of love.

His mind tiptoed back to the army recruiter who had come into the school last month. He hadn't been able to get the visit out of his mind. Like the whole country, he wanted someone to pay for the deaths of 3,000 people on 9/11. He wanted justice for the kids who lost their moms or dads. He remembered the feeling of not knowing if his own mom was all right. Flight 93 had gone down not so far away, just a little over an hour's drive from Hannah Lake, bringing the reality of the attack very close to home.

The US was in Afghanistan, but some people thought Iraq was next. Someone had to go. Someone had to fight. If not him, then who? What if nobody went? Would it happen again? He didn't let himself think about it most of the time. But now he was anxious and jittery, his stomach empty and his mind full.

He would eat after weigh-ins. He had a hard time making 197 pounds and had to cut weight to get there. His natural, off-season weight was closer to 215. But wrestling down gave him an advantage. At 197 he was 215 pounds of power stripped down to pure, lean muscle and not much else. His height was uncommon in the wrestling world. His wingspan and the length of his torso and legs created leverage where his opponents had to rely on strength. But he had that too--in spades. And he'd been unstoppable for four seasons.

His mother had wanted him to be a football player because he was so big for his age. But football became second fiddle the first time he watched the Olympics. It was August 1992, Ambrose was seven years old, and John Smith won his second gold medal in Barcelona, beating a wrestler from Iran in the finals. Elliott Young had danced around the living room, a small man who had found his own solace on the mat. It was a sport that welcomed the big and small alike, and though he wasn't ever a serious contender, Elliott Young loved the sport and shared that love with his son. That night, they wrestled around on the family room rug, Elliott showing Ambrose the basics and promising him they would get him signed up for Coach Sheen's wrestling camp the following week.

The bus shuddered and jerked, hitting a pothole before it lumbered up onto the freeway, leaving Hannah Lake behind. When he came back home it would be done, over. But then the craziness would truly start and he would be expected to make a decision about which college to wrestle for and what to study and whether or not he could stand the pressure indefinitely. Right now he just felt tired. He thought about losing. If he lost would it all just go away?

He shook his head adamantly and Beans caught the movement and wrinkled his brow in confusion, thinking Ambrose was trying to tell him something. Ambrose looked out the window, dismissing him. He wouldn't lose. That wasn't going to happen. He wouldn't let it.

Whenever Ambrose was tempted to just phone it in, the whistle would blow and he would start to wrestle, and the competitor in him wouldn't–couldn't–go down without leaving it all on the mat. The sport deserved that much. His dad, his coach, his team, the town. They deserved it, too. He just wished there was a way to leave it all behind . . . just for a while.

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