“She’s going to be surprised to see us,” Renae said. I was still trying to get used to calling Mrs. Walton by her first name, especially since she was my boss now, but she insisted. “I really appreciate you driving me all the way down here. I wouldn’t have been able to drive three hours by myself.”
“It was no problem, really.” I locked the car and we started the long trek from the parking lot to the Comstock Park High School stadium. “I’ve been to a lot of track meets over the years, but my school never went to state finals. This is kind of exciting for me.”
“I hope we’re not too late to see her first race.” Renae picked up her pace. We had to park on the other side of the school, because the usual parking lot for the stadium had long since filled up. “There must be a hundred schools here.”
“We’ll have to get a program and do some research.”
As we approached the gate I pulled my wallet from my back pocket but Renae pushed me aside.
“Oh, no, you don’t. This is my treat.”
“You already filled my gas tank. I can’t ask for more than that.”
“Sammy’s my daughter, and you were kind enough to drive me all the way down here, so I can see her run. It’s the least I can do.”
“If you insist.” I shoved my wallet back in my pocket and allowed her to pay for my admission.
The stadium was a buzz of activity. Runners and parents and coaches crisscrossed the entryway. Vendors selling t-shirts and sweatshirts. A concession stand selling hot dogs and pizza and pop: the good healthy food a runner needs after a meet. I chuckled and shook my head.
“Do you think I should buy Sammy a state finals hoodie?” Renae asked, pulling my attention away from the chaos.
“You might want to wait until she’s with you,” I answered. “Otherwise you might get the wrong size or color.”
“After she runs the 800 we should have some time before the four-by-four, because that’s usually last in the meet. We’ll find her and ask her.”
“Okay, lead the way to the stands.” Renae held out her hand in a gesture of invitation. “I’ll follow you.”
It was another long walk to the bleachers. This was almost as much exercise for the onlookers as the runners. We found seats near the entrance of the bleachers, which means we were far from the finish line where we could see who wins. But we had a perfect view of the runners coming off that last turn.
I scanned the crowd searching the myriad of runners crisscrossing everywhere. I had no idea where Sammy might be, so all I could do was wait for her first race.
When it was time for the 800, I sat forward in expectation. She wasn’t in the first heat because she was competing at the top, not for last place. I could tell she was down near the starting lineup, because I picked out the twins pretty easily, and knew she wouldn’t be far away.
They lined up, the gun went off, and they were racing. From so far away I couldn’t tell who the front-runners were until they came around the last corner. There were a whole pack of girls fighting in that first lap. Renae and I cheered Sammy’s name, but our voices were lost in the crowd.
By the end of the second lap, the pack had thinned out and it was clear Sammy and the twins were near the lead. When they came around that final bend, I put my hands to each side of my mouth and yelled, “Go Sammy!”
She stumbled and almost fell, adding costly seconds to her time. Oops, why’d I do that?
Why did he do that? Ugh!
Brandon almost cost me a third-place win. Okay, that didn’t sound quite right. Third place is not a win. Unless you’re running against Krystal and Kat. Third place meant I beat everyone else in the state in our division. I would never beat the twins.
The three of us girls found each other near the finish line and gave a three-way hug of congratulations.
“Did you PR?” Krystal asked.
“No! Brandon distracted me by hollering my name. I almost fell.”
“Brandon’s here?” Kat straightened her back and tugged at her ponytail while scanning the crowd.
“He’s way back near the last turn.” I pointed. “He must’ve come with my mom.”
“We should go talk to him,” Krystal said.
“We’re supposed to be resting up for our next run.”
“Eh, that’s hours from now. Come on.” Kat tugged me by one arm and her sister by the other.
We snuck across the track and out the gate then jogged behind the bleachers and around to where I knew we’d find my mom and Brandon.
“Hey, there are the track stars,” Brandon said as we climbed the bleachers.
“Barely,” I said, pushing his arm. “No thanks to you.”
“Sorry about that.” He didn’t really seem remorseful. “I won’t utter a word during the four-by-four.”
“You girls did so well.” Mom reached over to give me a hug. “I’m so proud of you.”
“Somebody’s got to carry this team,” Kat said. “The sprinters are losing every race.”
“Not every race.” Krystal shook her head. “They won a few today.”
“The hurdlers are doing well,” I added.
“Sammy, do you want me to buy you a state finals t-shirt or a hoodie?”
“You don’t have to do that, mom.”
“I want to,” she insisted.
“I haven’t even looked at the colors or anything.”
“We could walk over there and look through the selection,” Brandon suggested.
“That would be great,” the twins answered in unison.
Brandon hid a laugh behind a cough and I had to turn away to hide my smile, recalling our conversation a few days prior about how the twins finish each other’s sentences.
“Here, take some money,” Mom said, pulling her wallet from her purse.
“Don’t you want to come with us?” I asked.
“It’s a long walk, and someone has to save our spots.” She waved us off.
Brandon walked first down the bleachers and held out his hand at the bottom to help each of us girls down from the final step. I was last. I may have kept my hand in his a little longer than was necessary, but he didn’t push me away. I almost sensed reluctance to let go. I was imagining things.
Running To You
Read the next chapter in my work-in-progress!