“He said he’d be here.” I looked all through the stands but couldn’t find Brandon. I kept stretching near the starting line. “He promised.”
“Maybe he just didn’t want to leave your mom home alone,” Kat suggested.
“But this is the last regular-season track meet.” I could almost hear the whining in my own voice. Of all the important things in the world, the least of which was my own heartbreak, my almost-sort-of-boyfriend not showing up at a track meet was not high on the hierarchy of needs.
“Sammy!” a guy’s voice called from behind me. Not the guy I wanted to hear, but still important.
“Charlie, you’re feeling better.” We embraced when he got close enough.
“I heard about your mom. Is she going to be okay?”
“No…” I had to stop and clear my throat. Charlie pulled me into his arms and I laid my head on his shoulder. “She’s got cancer.”
“I’m so sorry.” His voice cooed in a soothing way. He pulled back and smoothed down the scraggly threads of hair that had fallen out of my ponytail. “Seriously, Girlfriend. You are going to run this race today for her. Okay?”
“Okay,” I squeaked. “Thanks, Charlie.”
“So, change of subject, tell me all about prom! I heard your date looked scrumptious and that your eye makeup was on pointe!”
“Where did you hear that?” I pushed his shoulder.
“I have my sources,” he teased. “I’m kidding. I totally saw pictures on Instagram. Your dress was a-maz-ing!”
“I have to agree with you there.”
“And, please tell me you agree that your date was yum-my.” He raised an eyebrow.
“I’m totally in love with him, Charlie.” I bit my lower lip.
“Ooh, tell me everything!”
Just then the announcer came over the loudspeaker to tell the girls to get in line for the four-by-eight. My attention was drawn away and I regained focus.
“We’ll talk later,” Charlie said. “One more hug for good luck.” He pulled me into his arms once again and then I skipped over to join the twins and Lisa for our relay. I felt much better after talking to Charlie.
“Who the heck is that?”
“That’s Charlie,” Renae answered, leaning against the fence near the entrance of the stadium. She didn’t want to walk too far but insisted she not use a wheelchair, so we stayed near the gate. “He’s the guy Sammy was planning to go to prom with.”
“Guess he’s feeling better,” I said through clenched teeth. I reminded myself that I had to step aside and let her make her own choices. If that pretty-boy was who she wanted instead of me, whatever.
“Oh look, they’re lining up.” Renae stood taller to see better.
Sammy was second in the lineup this time. That was weird. Maybe the coach thought she wasn’t running well enough because of the drama from the past few days. Maybe she was being punished for missing school the day before. Whatever the reason, shaking things up this close to State finals wasn’t a good idea.
Kat started the relay strong and had a great leg, not quite her personal best, but faster than all the other teams. Sammy was next. I ground my nails into my palms, and my breathing increased.
“Oh my gosh, can she keep up that pace?” Renae asked. “She’s going way too fast.”
“She can do it, Mom…” I hope. She could do it. Her legs had wheels. She was flying around the track. I silently willed her to have the strength. I knew better than to call out her name and distract her, so I kept my encouragement internal. Go Sammy!
I didn’t catch the numbers close enough to tell if she had beat her own PR, but I would have laid wagers that she had. Lisa was next. She did well. She’d improved since last spring. Krystal was their anchor, but it wouldn’t have mattered. They were already so far ahead the other teams were competing with each other for second place.
I reached my arms around Renae and practically lifted her off the ground in a hug. “They did it!”
“That’s my girl!” Renae called out. “Go Samantha!”
Hearing her mother calling out her given name caught Sammy’s attention and she turned in our direction. I saw her mouth the words, My mom’s here. She and Lisa and the twins took off in a cool down run straight toward us.
We couldn’t get over the fence from where we were standing so all we could do was wait for them to get to us.
“Nice job, ladies!” I called when they got closer.
“Thanks,” Krystal and Kat spoke as one.
“Did you PR?” Renae asked.
“Yes!” All four girls called out almost in unison.
“Sammy, you were flying.” Renae reached for her daughter across the fence and they embraced. They both leaned away so they could look at each other. “What was your time?”
“No flippin’ way,” I said.
“Hey, don’t doubt me. I had a great personal trainer.”
“You trained me well, Yoda.” She pushed my shoulder.
“I’m seriously really proud of you,” I said. Her gaze was too intense. I had to look away. “What about the rest of you?”
“Two-fourteen,” Kat said.
“Two-fifteen.” Krystal pulled Lisa closer to me. “But this girl is our real winner today. She broke her previous PR by four second!”
“Two-seventeen.” Lisa spoke quietly and blushed from the praise and attention.
“That’s still really fast,” I told her. “You guys are going to kick butt at State finals.”
“We’ve got to get through Regionals first,” Krystal said.
“I don’t think you’re going to have a problem.” Renae patted her daughter’s face. Sammy turned her attention to me.
“Thank you for bringing my mom.” Sammy’s eyes held mine and her heart shone through her eyes.
If I hadn’t just seen her hugging a different guy, I would have sworn she was in love with me. Whatever. I’d take her love any way she was willing to give it, and if gratefulness was all she could give, I’d take it.
“I wasn’t sure you’d come,” she said.
“I promised I would.” I shoved my hands in the pockets of my new jeans. That reminded me of our shopping trip two days before when I’d promised myself I’d take a step back if I wasn’t the guy she wanted to date. I looked over her shoulder. “I see Charlie’s feeling better.”
“Yes, I’m so glad he made it to the track meet. We need him in the pole vault.”
“I’m glad you have him back.” I cleared my throat and shuffled my foot, kicking the fence in the process.
“Hey, do you want to meet him?” The excitement in her voice made me want to scream but I kept my cool.
“No, I actually gotta get going back to campus tonight, so we’re in a bit of a hurry.” I put my hand on Renae’s elbow as if to imply it was time to leave.
“I thought you were staying one more night.” Sammy’s brow’s creased.
“Yeah, I was.” I stammered with my words. “I forgot I gotta meet with one of my professors before class in the morning, so ya know…”
“Well I’m glad you came,” she said. “And thanks again for bringing my mom.”
“Yeah, no problem.” I turned to Renae. “You ready?”
Renae took a moment to give each of the girls hugs and wish them congratulations again, then we stepped away from the fence.
“Will you come back on Friday?” Sammy called to me.
“I said I would.” Geesh, did I sound snippy? Ugh. What I wanted to do was rush back over to the fence, grab Sammy in my arms and kiss her until she forgot Charlie’s name. But I didn’t. I gave her a soft smile of regret and turned to follow her mom to the parking lot.
Running To You
Click here to read the next chapter in my work-in-progress!