Names and some minor details changed to protect privacy.
Grant and Sarah had been on the rocks for quite some time. The problem was that only Grant knew this.
Several weeks ago, he'd laid out the entire relationship in a line graph on a napkin at Mac and Joe's. His friends wondered how he and Sarah were doing, since some of them held the two as the pinnacle of what a relationship could be.
"Here's where the relationship started," Grant said, placing his pen near the top left of the graph. "Then it curved up like this for a while. But then it dropped, climbed back up, but it never got back to that initial high."
This peak-and-valley pattern repeated, and the final graph descended like stairs across the length of the napkin. Grant then complemented his drawing with tales of a summer of phone calls and visits that had worn him down and stressed him out.
To Grant's friends, Sarah always seemed like one of those people who is "always right." Grant confirmed this, and his face bore a history of argument after argument about nothing.
"So I was planning on breaking up with her after I got back from Ethics Bowl Nationals in a few weeks. But, she bought a plane ticket and a hotel room for Nationals."
Grant's friends sat back with their eyes ready to pop out into the bar food in front of them.
"Fuck," said one friend, with emphasis on the "u."
"So," Grant said, looking from friend to friend. "How bad of a guy do I want to be?"
He now sits in the center of a gymnasium that belongs to the host university, but more resembles a high school gym that hasn't been updated in a few decades.
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Next to him is Abby, one of his Ethics Bowl teammates. Before this trip, he hadn't talked with her all that much. But they had become fast friends after a conversation between preparation sessions the previous night in the hotel fitness center.
An announcement from the presiding judge comes over the speaker, signaling the intermission of the final round of Ethics Bowl Nationals.
Grant and Abby spring from their seats to strategize with the rest of the team. The coaches seated behind them can only watch. Tournament rules say the team can only talk to people listed on the roster for the round. They can't even have their phones on them.
Grant had given his phone to Sarah, who sits in the bleachers behind him. At least until she starts walking toward him with his phone in hand.
"I need to get into your phone," she says. It's the first time she's made such a request in the year they've dated. "Give me your passcode."
"I can't talk to you right now," Grant says, fearful she, and he by proxy, may get Miami disqualified. He turns back to his team without further discussion. Sarah returns to her seat sans passcode.
An hour and a half later, the round is over. Grant stands behind his teammates, all of whom now stare at the man standing at the microphone.
The tournament representative has just named everyone on the Miami team All-Americans by virtue of reaching the final round. Grant can't care less about that, though. He, along with everyone else, wants to know what the seven judges thought of the round.
"And the final deciding ballot, by two points, has determined our national champion...Miami University."
The RedHawks jump from their seats and explode. Fists pump, faces contort into grins and tears of joy flow down cheeks. Grant lifts his teammate Mandy off her feet mid-hug. His mentors behind him embrace one another and shout variations of "YES!"
This is probably the greatest moment of his life.
He turns to find Sarah walking toward him. Her face doesn't say "I'm so proud and happy for you!" so much as it says "Hey, congratulations. Can we talk?"
The two step to the side. Grant's face hasn't lost the smile, and his chest heaves from the gravity of the moment. Sarah's face cycles between anger, disappointment and feigned happiness.
"I need you to know that I'm uncomfortable with the relationships you have with some of the people on this team," she says. "And I'm especially hurt by your relationship with Abby."
The elation melts from Grant's face. It's replaced with raised eyebrows and a slight frown.
He got to have the greatest moment of his life for about 60 seconds.