“I want to try something new today.” I held out my hand. “Give me your Garmin.”
“What? No. I need it to pace myself.” Sammy pulled her arm away from me, hiding her wrist behind her back.
“I’m going to set your pace.” I reached around her, easily overpowering her futile attempt to hide that confounding tool that was holding her back from reaching her full potential.
I held her hand gently in mine as I unclasped the watch. She didn’t fight me this time. I tilted up her chin, so I could look her in the eye, a cross between a demanding personal trainer and a man seducing a woman. I wondered which role I was playing.
“Just run like we normally do except when I speed up, you speed up. When I slow down, you slow down. If I’m going too fast, let me know. But don’t think about it. Just run with me.”
“Okay,” she whispered. I swear she just batted her eyelashes at me. Yeah… she wouldn’t do that for a personal trainer. I had her right where I wanted her.
I set the Garmin on the side table by the door and led her outside like a puppy on a leash. Instead of heading up the road I took her around back to my Mustang and held open the door. “Your chariot, milady.”
“I thought we were going running.” She hesitated for barely a second before climbing into the car and I casually shut the door and walked around the driver’s side.
“We are. At your high school.” I turned on the car and looked behind me as I backed out of the driveway.
“At the track?”
“No, at the cross-country trail.” I pulled onto the street and gunned the engine, launching us forward like only a Mustang can. There were no other cars or people on the road this early in the morning, so I picked up the speed to eighty before slowing down for the curve.
“You’re going to get us killed, you know that?” Sammy laughed as she held onto the dashboard. “Why do we have to drive all the way to the school when we have a perfectly good road right here?”
“You’re in training for cross country season, not road race season. We’re going cross country.”
“What are you? My personal trainer?”
“If that’s what you want to call me,” I said, turning my head away so I could hide my grin.
We were mostly quiet during the ten-minute drive to the school, that ended up being closer to nine minutes since I didn’t let up on the gas. Today was about shaving seconds off our time. We might as well start now.
I pulled into the parking lot nearest to the running path and before she had a chance to leave the car I handed her a small mesh bag. “Here, put these on.”
“You brought my spikes? I thought this was just practice.”
“Training. It’s called training. Now change your shoes.” I opened my car door and removed my regular running shoes and laced up my old pair of spikes. I was surprised they still fit as well as they did. I hadn’t worn them in almost a year.
When we were finished changing our shoes, we stretched and warmed up as we were heading back toward the entrance to the path. The only sounds were the chirping of the early morning birds. The dew was already soaking through our well-ventilated running spikes.
“What’s your PR for this course,” I asked when we were at the starting point. I focused on my Garmin as if her answer wasn’t important but in reality, this number was going to be crucial for the point I was trying to make.
“I don’t know… like 17:55.”
“Seriously?” I looked up at her as if in shock. “I thought you were faster than that.”
“That’s fast.” She jutted out her chin and her tone took on a defensive note. In reality, it probably was fast for the average high school girl, but not fast enough to reach her full potential.
“You ready?” I held my hand over my watch and crouched into a starting position.
“Are we racing?”
“No, we’re training. Now get ready.”
She grumbled and creased her brows but crouched into her position.
“Ready, set, go!” I pushed the start button as we took off at a decent pace. I didn’t want her to get suspicious by taking off at a sprint.
After a few minutes I subtly sped up and she didn’t seem to notice. We didn’t talk as we ran, we just ran. I picked up the pace twice more until I suspected I’d pushed her almost as much as I should on this first experiment.
When we could see the finish line, I took off at a sprint that was much too fast for her to match, but I knew she’d try. We flew through the spot that would normally be marked as the finish line and I pushed the button to end our timing at precisely the spot where she would normally end.
“Are you trying to kill me?” Her momentum gave her the oomph to slam into me and knock me to the grass. I pulled her down with me, laughing. She didn’t find it funny and shoved away from me. “What the heck was that? Jerk!”
I kept laughing, ignoring that most of my clothes were now covered in dew and I’d regret driving home in my clean car with a wet, grass-covered backside.
I calmed down enough to look at my watch, then did a double take. “Seriously?”
“What?” She grabbed my arm and twisted my wrist to see her time. “No bleeping way.”
“Way,” I said. “I knew you had it in you.”
“You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” She held my gaze, a mixture of anger and awe.
“Heck yeah, I did. I’m not gonna let those skinny little princesses set your pace.” I leaned closer and almost whispered in her ear. “You can beat them, Sammy.”
I kissed her lightly on her cheek, then hopped to my feet. I reached down, waiting for her to grasp my hand so I could hoist her up. She tentatively put her hand in mine and slowly stood.
“Let me see that again,” she said, grabbing my wrist.
“You’re not imagining it. Your new unofficial PR for this course is 17:40. You shaved fifteen seconds off your best time doing it my way.”
“I think I kinda like your way.” Her voice held a reverence laced with surprise.
“I figured you would. Come on, I’ll race you back to the car for a cooldown.” We took off at a slow jog and I couldn’t keep the grin off my face.
I couldn’t help grinning as we made our way back to the car. Fifteen seconds? That’s unheard of. I would have been impressed with five seconds or even three. Fifteen? Wow.
Brandon reached into the car and pulled out two water bottles, handed one to me then leaned against the hood.
“You look like you peed your pants,” I said, twisting the cap off my water bottle.
“Whose fault is that?” he asked, turning halfway to look at me. “Are you staring at my butt again?”
“Again? When do I ever stare at your butt?”
“Anytime I walk in front of you.” He smirked.
“Whatever.” I downed half the bottle then stretched every major muscle group and brushed grass off my wet clothes.
“You’re going to need to vacuum my car after this,” he said.
“Yeah, right. Not.”
“It’s your fault we’re covered in grass and mud. You shouldn’t have knocked me over.”
“You shouldn’t have tried to kill me.” I started back around to the passenger side. “Come on. You need to take me home. I won’t just look like I peed my pants if you don’t get me to a restroom.”
“There are some bushes over there,” he teased as he was starting the car.
As we drove he explained his theories about why he’d pushed me so hard. “Running with the twins is holding you back. You’re expending all your energy running neck and neck with them and then they sprint at the end and you can’t keep up.”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious.”
“If you start your run at the pace we started today, they’ll peeter out after a few miles and you’ll be ahead. No matter how hard they try, they’ll never be able to overtake you. Then when you see that finish line, kick it into high gear and fly to that first-place win.”
“But they’ve always been faster than me. What makes you think they can’t keep up with my pace even if I start faster than we normally do?”
“Because they’re using you as a crutch, expecting you to always do what you’ve always done. But you and I are going to train hard for these next three weeks until I have to leave for college. Before cross season even starts you’ll be number one.”
College. I gritted my teeth together and turned to the window, hoping he didn’t see my creased brow. College may as well have been a swear word. I didn’t want to think it much less say it out loud. No matter how much fun, or torture, we had training these next few weeks, he was leaving. I’d head back to high school—another couple of swear words—and he’d leave forever.
Running To You
Click here to read the next chapter in my work-in-progress!