by Grant Miller
When Michael met Jennifer, she loved to run. She loved to run so much that if Michael ever wanted to talk to her, he had to run too. Now Michael was in pretty good shape, but Jennifer was another breed. She could sprint for days at a time, and if Michael ever spoke to her, it was with her back turned to him. Nope, she didn’t have time to slow down. One day, Michael asked her on a date, and she said:
“Sure, just as soon as you can catch up with me.”
So day after day, Michael ran after Jennifer. Day after day, Jennifer ran without looking back. He would ask her questions about her day and sometimes she would answer. Other times, she just ignored it and kept running. They ran for miles and miles and Michael’s legs started to go numb. But Michael was obsessed with Jennifer. He was obsessed with her long, flowing, strawberry blonde hair, her defined calves, her long legs. He had long forgotten what her face looked like, but he assumed she was pretty. When Michael’s friends asked if he wanted to run with them, he would turn them down. When they mocked him and told him he was wasting his time, he didn’t listen. Michael was obsessed with Jennifer, and one day, he would catch her and make her be his girlfriend. All he had to do was satisfy her one request. So he ran. Even when he could no longer feel his legs, he ran. When his shorts were so soaked with sweat that they smacked against his thighs like wet towels, he ran. When his shoulders felt like they would dislocate at any moment, he ran. Michael ran with a smile on his face because he ran for Jennifer.
As the days went by, Michael noticed that he wasn’t getting any closer. In fact, Jennifer picked up speed. When Michael did the same, she ran even faster. No matter how fast Michael ran, his goal never looked within reach. When he asked her questions about her day, she answered less and less. When he got discouraged, he would stop talking and run with his head low. Then, without looking behind her, Jennifer would say:
“Keep running. You’re almost there!”
Then Michael would smile, pick his head up, and run some more. It was like the slightest word of encouragement gave him all the energy he needed to keep running. He believed that she wanted him to catch her; that she wanted Michael to succeed. She just wasn’t going to make it easy for him. Michael had to earn her attention, and by golly, Michael was going to do just that. So, despite going days without food or water, Michael ran.
One day Michael panicked when he started to slow down. His legs couldn’t carry him any further. His breath got shorter and shorter. As he looked up at Jennifer’s back, he pleaded with her to slow down. All he wanted was a little bit of her time. She could keep running after that if she wanted. He could even buy her treadmill so she could run at the same time. Jennifer shook her head.
“Nope, you have to catch me.”
When they reached a track, they ran on the track for another hour. They ran in circles while Michael continued to slow down. Jennifer, on the other hand, was relentless. Her form was perfect. Her speed never let up. She had running down to a science. Michael was on his last legs, but he was determined. He was going to catch Jennifer.
Michael ran for another half hour until a brown-skinned girl with black hair, and small, brown eyes stepped in his path. She smiled at him as she stood with her hands on her hips. Michael tried to run around her, but she stepped in front of him. When he tried to run the other way, she stepped in front of him again. They did this three times until he finally stopped running and he bent over double to catch his breath.
“Could you…..please….move?” Michael asked.
“Where are you going?” the girl asked.
“Why?” the girl asked with a smile as she ran her fingers through her hair. “I’m standing right here.”
“Yeah, but I have to catch Jennifer,” Michael replied.
“Who?” the girl asked as she looked around. “I don’t see anyone else here but you and me.”
Michael looked up and noticed that Jennifer was on the other side of the track.
“Oh, you mean her?” the girl asked with her thumb pointed at Jennifer. “Yeah, so I’ve been sitting in those bleachers over there for about an hour now, and I didn’t realize you two were running together.”
“We are,” Michael replied.
“Hm, I see,” the girl said with a roll of her eyes. “I think I know what’s going on here. What’s your name?”
“Carla,” the girl said as she extended her hand. “Nice to meet you. You’re cute.”
“Yeah, you’re a pretty good runner too,” Carla said with a smile. “You work really hard. Has that girl told you that? Ever? Even once?”
“No,” Michael muttered.
“I didn’t think so,” Carla replied. “Do you think I’m pretty?”
“Well…yeah, I do,” Michael said. He wasn’t lying. Carla had smooth skin, silky hair, and toned legs just like Jennifer. Still, something was different about her. Michael wanted to find out more. Carla turned and walked toward the bleachers and Michael followed. When he lagged behind, she stopped and waited. When they finally reached the bleachers, they sat down. Michael watched as Jennifer sprinted around the track.
“Has she even noticed that I’m over here?” Michael asked.
“Nope,” Carla said. “I don’t think I’ve seen her look back at you once.”
“Really?” Michael asked with a downcast expression. “She…doesn’t even care?”
“Yeah, enough about her,” Carla said with a wave of her hand as she reached for a cooler next to the bleachers. “You look thirsty. Want some water?”
“Please,” Michael replied.
“Here you go,” Carla said as she tossed him a water bottle and opened her own.
“Thanks,” Michael said with a smile on his face before he guzzled the cold water. His dry throat moistened. His tongue loosened. His body cooled down. He drank until his throat was so cold he couldn’t take any more. When he took a deep breath, Carla rubbed his shoulder.
“Take a breather,” Carla said. “You’ve worked hard. You deserve a break.”
“I appreciate it,” Michael said before he swigged his water bottle again. “Why would you do this for me?”
“Didn’t you hear me say you were cute?” Carl replied.
“That’s all the reason I need for now,” Carla replied. “We’re just talking, right? What’s the big deal?”
“I….agree,” Michael said as a smile grew on his lips. “It’s not that big of a deal at all.”
“So here’s the thing,” Carla said as she leaned closer to Michael. “I just finished my run for the day, but I want a running partner. From what I just saw, I think you can do it.”
“Well, I am willing to run,” Michael replied.
“Yeah, but we’re not going to do…that,” Carla said with a curled lip as she pointed at Jennifer, who was still running around the track. “I need someone to run with me, as in next to me. Do you think you could handle that?”
“Sure,” said Michael. “I can definitely handle that.”
“Awesome!” Carla said with a wide smile. “So, we’ve both had a really good workout. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry. Are you hungry?”
“Yeah, man,” Michael groaned. “I’m starving.”
“I have some food at my place,” Carla replied. “There’s no way I can eat it all by myself. Do you want some? It’s really good.”
“Well, I don’t want to impose,” Michael said.
“Oh, that’s so sweet,” Carla cooed. “And that’s exactly why you’re welcome to have some, but on one condition.”
“Do I have to chase you for it?” Michael asked.
“No,” Carla giggled. “But my house is a mile away. You’ll have to walk with me to get it.”
“That sounds good,” Michael replied as he looked down at his trembling legs. “I think I can handle walking.”
“Do you think Jennifer should come too?” Carla asked with a frown. “She might be hungry.”
“I’m sorry, who?” Michael asked with a blank stare.
“Never mind,” Carla laughed as she stood up and patted Michael’s shoulder. “Come on.”
Michael stood up, but his legs shook under his weight, and he fell to the ground. Carla rushed to his side, but he stood up on his own. Michael caught his breath dusted off his shorts and kept walking. Carl walked next to him and hooked her arm under his. She looked up at him with a frown and tugged his arm.
“Are you ok?” Carla asked. “Do you need my help?”
“No,” Michael said. “You’ve already made the food. I think I can get it on my own.”
“Ah, ok,” Carla said before she patted his butt. “That’s what I like to hear. Good man.”
As they walked down the street, Michael thought he heard the faintest voice calling his name from behind. The voice wondered where he was and why he wasn’t running anymore. Michael looked over his shoulder and didn’t see anyone. Since he couldn’t recognize the voice, it must have been some kind of mistake. He wrapped his arm around Carla’s shoulders as they strolled to her house. He could smell the food from a mile away, and the aroma grew stronger as they got closer. When they arrived, they ate and rested. The next day, they got up with the sun and jogged together. It was Michael’s best morning run in weeks.