I am slow. I acept this. I am one with the slowness. I am at peace.
Er, anyways. ' Look! I wrote het!
Warnings: Heterosexuality, exercise (hey, it frightens me...), lack of explanations of convenient plot devices
Disclaimer: This story started, oddly enough, when I was flipping through one of my sister's Archie(TM, whatever) comics. It had a story with the same basic plot as this, but ended it differently...and I looked at it, and thought "Huh, I can do better than that" and so I did. So I sort of don't own this story, since the similarities are too obvious to ignore, but I like my version better.
Review and earn love! And I swear I am working on more stuff!
I love running in the early mornings
I love running in the early mornings. The cold air burns in your lungs and everything is bright and clear, as if all the confusion of everyday life hasn't had a chance to rise and envelope you yet. The park by my house is a typical pathetic city effort, with brown grass and small, struggling trees and trails that are sometimes differentiated from the road only by a tiny strip of dirt. Nevertheless, I'm out there every morning before school, jogging for as long as I can.
My friends say I'm nuts. I say yeah, but my particular brand of crazy might be what the Olympics are looking for. I guess I never really grew out of the childhood need to be famous…you know, the "I'm gonna be an astronaut when I grow up!" type thing. I've wanted to compete in the Olympics ever since I learned to walk, it seems like. I'm just lucky I was born with a runner's build, and have parents who are willing to put up with a kid with a weird obsession.
I saw the girl for the first time sometime around the start of the second semester of my senior year. It's freezing cold in the mornings, and I'm the type of dork who gets endless amusement out of watching his own breath crystallize in front of him as he runs. I'd been nursing a slightly sore ankle so I was taking it easy and just jogging through the park, when a girl three or four years older than me came up behind me and passed me.
Okay, so here's the thing. I'm a horribly, horribly competitive person. Yeah, it's not the best characteristic to have, but it's not like I can really help it, right? I can't stand it if someone beats me, not at something that I'm good at. I don't get angry exactly…I just have to win. So I sped up. And this girl, without even looking behind her, sped up as well, until she was pulling away from me. I might have pushed myself hard enough to actually get hurt…if I hadn't rounded a bend and found that she had simply disappeared.
I didn't think too much about it. I just figured she'd turned down a side path or something, and kept on jogging. But it started happening every morning. It was kind of weird; we never said a word to each other, never even made eye contact. She just showed up every day at the same spot, and pulled away out of sight no matter how hard I tried to catch up. I was out there every morning trying, too; I got even more dedicated, if that was possible. Beating her started to be a personal goal…I'd watch her brown ponytail pulling away and swear that tomorrow I was going to catch up.
At the same time, though, I sort of enjoyed losing. Yeah, I know that that doesn't make much sense, but I think sometimes people are too obsessed with things making sense. It's just how I felt, okay? Those early morning races had been going on so long that they became almost a tradition. I had fun racing her, pushing myself, especially because by that time high school competitions weren't much challenge anymore, and I was posting personal records in every race, never mind winning. People were starting to notice me. I knew I was getting good…but this runner girl whose name I didn't even know was beating me every time without even breaking a sweat.
Actually, that's not completely true. I was getting closer and closer to catching up to her. I was sort of torn between catching her, which was getting to be almost an obsession, and not catching her, because if I finally managed to match her, our game would be over. And then a third variable was added to the mix. I got into a college upstate, and their track program was pretty much begging me to come there. I almost said no, not because I didn't like the school but because leaving meant I couldn't race the girl in the park anymore. That was when I got a bit worried about how obsessed I was getting, though, so I decided to say yes.
The rest of the year hardly seemed to exist. I got faster—closer and closer to matching paces with her. We still didn't talk. I'd never even seen her face properly, just long brown hair put up in a ponytail, a red tank-top, and black running shorts. I felt as though talking to her, asking what her name was and where she was from, would ruin it somehow. So the morning before my flight off to college, I still knew nothing about her other than the fact that she was faster than I was.
I pushed extra hard that day, and when we rounded the bend where our paths always diverged, I was only a step behind her. I watched her ponytail flick out of sight, close enough to grab it…and then I stopped and stared, because that ponytail and the rest of the girl herself were in the process of vanishing into thin air. Most of her was already invisible, but parts still looked wavy and see-through, as though I was seeing a reflection instead of a real person.
She was gone—not turned down a side path but faded out of existence completely. Or maybe she had never existed at all? I'd made her up…something to keep me competitive, to make sure I didn't slack off as a second semester senior. Also probably to address my lack of a girlfriend. Or at least, after I wandered back home in shock and shut myself up in my room to think, that's what I convinced myself I'd done…I also talked myself out of going to a therapist, thankfully. I decided the best thing to do would be to forget it completely—there would be plenty of things to keep me on my toes in college, and there was no need to bring my juvenile fantasies with me.
Damn, this place looks exactly the same. It's as if I left just yesterday, instead of four years ago. The same cold air burning my lungs, the same gravel under my feet and sparse, desperate-looking grass under my feet. It could definitely have used some renovation, however; the road running through here is a safety hazard. Especially at this bend here…where I'm definitely not thinking about a weird figment of my imagination that I chased for six months. I'm too old for this now, even if I still don't have a girlfriend.
I have the other thing that I wanted, though: this summer it's off to the Beijing. I knew for sure two weeks ago and I can still barely believe it. I can't even think about actually competing yet…it's enough that I'm actually going. If I don't win a single thing, it's still going to be the high point of my life. I'm still going to do my absolute best, of course, which means I can't lose fitness on this trip back home. I should come out here tomorrow for some more practice; I would do it tonight but my mom's probably waiting to squeal over me some more, and think of some more distant relatives to call up and tell that her precious baby is going to be famous…
…damn, that was strange. Just when I turned, I could have sworn someone was standing right there. God, I'm freaking myself out now…I'm such a dork.
It feels nice to be out here again. Of course the gravel is an invitation for me to slip and fall, and the lumps of grass are just begging me to twist my ankle or knee, but it's nostalgic all the same. Maybe that's why I keep thinking I'm getting…flashes, I suppose…of that runner girl. Just little glimpses right before I blink that are gone when I open my eyes again. Maybe I really should go see a therapist…at least I'm coming up to that bend now. I'm not sure how I know it, but I'm sure that these weird things will all stop once I get around it.
Then suddenly things are happening too fast for me to see. There's something blinding me, a car horn going off and tires screeching, mixing with the sound of someone, a girl, screaming and a horrible, sickening crunching sound…and then something hits me hard from behind and shoves me off my feet and into a ditch on the other side of the road.
When I can make my dazed mind begin to register things again, there's a car weaving off along the road, the driver obviously wasted…and a girl standing in front of me asking
"Are you all right?"
I can't answer for a moment—I'm sure I look like an idiot just sitting there staring, but I almost got run over so cut me some slack here. There's no doubt that this is my 'made up' girl. Her brown hair is almost falling out of its ponytail, and her red shirt is slipping down one shoulder. The shirt, seen from the front, has the logo of one of the colleges across the bridge a couple miles from here. Now that I can see her face, what I notice first are her eyes: huge and brown, they turn her face from pretty to beautiful.
"Are you all right?" she repeats, less like a formality and with more of a worried tone since I haven't answered yet. I manage to snap out of my daze and check. Amazingly, all I have is a bruise or two, and a scraped knee.
"Yeah, I am." I reply, and then realize something. "You pushed me out of the way."
"You're welcome. You shouldn't run round here…it's dangerous."
Her eyes get a weird, far-away look at that, and then she turns and starts to run, calling over her shoulder "Don't run here again!"
Hell no. No way am I letting her get away again, not now that I know she's real. She shoved me out of the way; the wind doesn't do that. I felt her hands on my back—she exists.
Before I even think about it I'm on my feet and running too…and she glances over her shoulder before she speeds up. She never looked behind before, and it makes me realize that now we're not racing—she's being chased. I speed up, but her head start is too big, and by the time I really get up speed, she's managed to dodge out of sight and is gone.
What the hell is going on? Who is this girl, who seems to be something in between real and not?
My mom asked me four times at dinner last night what was wrong. I like to pretend that I'm not transparent, but after the third time I had to concede that my distraction must have been obvious. I think I forgot to eat.
It should be pretty clear why. Here I am, after all; back at the park. This is really escalating to the level of obsession…but I'm fairly sure that I'm not crazy. She touched me. I have bruises to prove that she shoved me out of the way of that car. So either I'm a lot farther gone than I thought and this is all just a hallucination/dream/whatever, or…well, it's not. So now I'm just loitering here in the park, trying not to look too suspicious because no one hangs out in this crappy excuse for a park for no reason.
I do have a perfectly good reason though…but she isn't here. Why not? Do I need to be running? I start to jog, rounding a slight bend, and sure enough there she is, just ahead of me. She glances back at me again and when she recognizes me her eyes widen and she speeds up. But I'm ready for her this time; the chase is on.
I know I can catch her, because I'm not going to the Olympics for nothing.
She leads me a pretty good chase, but that just means that we're deep in the actual park by the time I catch up to her and grab hold of her wrist. She turns to stare at me with an almost panicked look, and says as if I've just proven that I'm the Second Coming, "You caught me."
"Yeah, I did. So who are you?"
"Let go! You're not supposed to be able to keep up! It doesn't work this way, you jerk!" She flails at me, her free hand pounding on my bicep painfully but not really doing much damage.
"Hey!" I protest, since it's not like I'm trying to hurt her or anything. She isn't listening, though…instead, she's yelling, trying to attract the attention of anyone who happens to be in the park. Which, thankfully, is no one, since I could be in a lot of trouble with some of the things she's shouting.
"HEY! Is anyone watching this? Come on! He's not allowed to do this, I'm being harassed! LET GO OF ME!"
"Hey, stop that!" I manage to get my other hand over her mouth—if I didn't look suspicious before, I sure do now—wincing a bit when she kicks my shin. Seriously, ow! "Listen, stop freaking out. All I want to do is talk to you, all right?" She shoots me a Glare of Doom, but quiets down and stops trying—and succeeding, even if it hurts my masculinity to admit it—to beat me up. "Okay." I take my hand away from her mouth cautiously, ready to put it back if she starts screaming again. She doesn't.
"All right then." Now that I've caught her, I'm not quite sure what to do next. I never thought a high school fantasy would go this far…although, I'm fairly sure by now that this is no hallucination. "So, uh…what's your name?"
A glare is all I get in response. Fair enough; I continue as if she'd actually replied. "I'm Adrian. Nice to meet you." More silence. What are we, five years old? Because I'm pretty sure that's the last time I threw a tantrum or used the Silent Treatment on someone. "Well, since this promises to be a rather long conversation, why don't we sit down?" She doesn't protest being led over to a tree and seated on the ground, although she looks like she's going to run the minute I let go of her wrist. So obviously, I keep a good grasp on her—she's not leaving until I get some answers.
"Well, this is nice." Another glare. "Your face will freeze like that if you're not careful." Hah, that got her. Before I can add anything else I'm being treated to a blisteringly scornful lecture that would make my mother proud.
"What on earth is your problem? Listen, you can't just go around grabbing random people in parks! What are you, some kind of creepy stalker? I need to get home! I swear if you don't let me go right now I'll go right to the police, you—"
"Okay, okay, enough."
"Enough? Oh, I'm not even started yet, just wait—"
"How can you turn invisible?"
There is a beat of silence as her eyes widen to almost comical proportions. They're like pools of liquid, and such a deep shade of brown that's it's absolutely unreal…I shake myself out of what feels almost like a trance of some sort, wondering if this is another of her special 'powers' or whatever. She doesn't seem to notice my staring, but her angry posture deflates almost completely, her hand going slack in my grip. "You saw that."
It isn't really a question, but I answer it anyways. "Yeah, I did."
I really have no idea how to respond to that. Besides, what sort of teenage girl, especially one with a temper like this one, says 'drat' instead of swearing properly?
"I suppose there's no good in pretending anymore, then, is there." She sighs, then to my even greater puzzlement directs a reproachful glare at the sky. "Especially because it's obvious that no one is coming to help me!"
"You should be." She glares at me sulkily, before sighing and bracing her one free hand on her hip. "So, what do you want, then. You caught me, so I guess I have to do what you say."
I think she's sort of misinterpreted the situation, here. "Listen, I'm not kidnapping you. I'm not going to force you to do anything. I just want an explanation of what's going on with you, and then I'll let you go. Okay?"
She shoots me a heavily skeptical look, then shrugs. "It's not as though I have a choice, so fine. My name is Carrie Grey, and I was at school over the bridge a…while ago. I would run out to here every weekend: I turned around and headed home at that corner at the bottom of the hill."
"That's a ways away…you did distance, then. Marathon?"
"Yeah, though not competitively; I was working up to it. Competed in the half and the 10000." I quirk an eyebrow at her, asking what any self-respecting runner would: her times.
"3:02:20 for the marathon, 75:43 for the half, and 37:50 for the 10000."
Holy shit. Now, I'm a middle-distance runner, usually. I've never tried a marathon, and only done the 10000 a couple times. But I know what the records are, and she's damn close to the women's best times. She smiles, a little self-satisfied curve of the mouth at my shock, and I try to stop gaping like an idiot.
"You…why have I never heard of you?" I finally manage to stutter, and like a switch her face closes off.
"I was running down at that bend the summer before my senior year. I rounded the corner and a driver, maybe drunk I don't know…anyways, he couldn't make the turn. He hit me straight on."
"You got hurt?" I shudder, realizing how close I was to the exact same fate, and for some reason remember the odd noises I heard while it was happening. The crunches and the screaming...where did they come from?
"Yeah, I got hurt." She stares at me for a moment, her eyes almost frighteningly serious, then adds "Fatally."
For a moment I don't even process what she means. It's as if my brain lost the ability to understand words—they filter in as sound and bounce around a bit, trying to find a way to fit in and make some sense. Then the weird moment snaps and I let out a weird, barking laugh.
"Are you trying to make me believe you're a-a ghost, or something?" I pick up her wrist, still held in my hand, and shake it gently. "I hate to break it to you, but you're as solid as I am."
"That wasn't what you were saying when you asked how I could turn invisible."
That's a good point. I just stare at her, scrutinizing her features, trying to understand how someone so vibrantly real could possibly be dead. She stares back at me, still frighteningly solemn, and I hate to say it but I'm starting to believe her.
"But then why…how…" That did not even resemble a real sentence, but she takes pity on me and answers anyways.
"I didn't want to leave yet. I had so much of my life ahead of me, so much I wanted to do, and I was so angry that it had been taken away like that. And I was even more angry that something like that had happened to me, that it could happen to other people, other kids with futures are bright as mine." He eyes snap with fury for a moment, just talking about it, and I can't believe that she's dead. Not with so much fire in her.
"Something—I don't even know what—offered me a deal. If I was that anxious to save others from the same fate, I could. I could haunt this place, running here for the rest of eternity, as long as I didn't let anyone catch me. And I thought, I'm fast. I'm very fast. And this is a small town. No one here will ever get close to what I can do. So I said yes."
"So what happens now?" I lift her wrist again, the obvious evidence that I have, in fact, caught her.
"I think I die now. For real." she whispers, and the chill that goes down my spine has less to do with the fear of death itself than it does with the sudden blank, frightened look in her eyes.
"The hell you do." My voice comes out a lot more forcefully than I intended it to, making her look up in shock, but I'm determined that that is not how this is gonna go. "You're pretty alive right now. And you're going to stay alive, if I have to hold on to your wrist for the rest of my life. Come on."
I stand, and she stands with me, looking a little bit bewildered.
"Where are we going?"
"My house. You may not have needed food when you were a ghost, but I'm betting you do now. And my dad has always flattered my mom by saying her cooking could revive the dead, so it's time to test that theory."
Her shocked laughter makes me grin in return, and I think holding on to her for the rest of my life might not be such a chore after all.
My mom, of course, almost cries when she sees that I've finally brought a girl home. My explanation that we just met running and she needed a place to stay while in town falls on deaf ears because she's too busy gushing about how long she's waited for this day.
"You're just in time for dinner, I hope you're all right with pasta, here come take your shoes off—" and before I can stop her she's taken Carrie's hand and tugged her away, breaking my grasp on her wrist.
We both gasp, my eyes flying to her and hers to her own body, waiting for it to disappear or disintegrate into a corpse. It doesn't. Just as I'm breathing a sigh of relief and thinking that it must be anyone's touch that keeps her here, not just mine, my mother promptly lets go of her hand. We gasp again, and I'm almost dizzy from relief (and weird breathing patterns) when once again, nothing happens.
I puzzle about it all through dinner, while Carrie eats like a starving girl and my parents watch her with shining eyes. When my mom 'casually' mentions that I've won a spot on the Olympic teams, Carrie breaks in eating to turn wide, amazed eyes on me and I can feel myself turning red. There's admiration there that's all the more gratifying because she's a runner and she knows, really knows, what this means…and there's also a wistful, needy envy that is distressingly poignant because I know her situation and know that if Fate hadn't cheated her, she would have had a shot. And then I think my head might implode with embarrassment, because my mom beamingly offers to put her in the room next to mine (cue Significant Look of Doom), and Carrie looks a mixture of shocked and amused.
"They're parents. They're a bit…uhm, desperate by this point." I mumble as we haul blankets upstairs.
"I think it's sweet. Although it's very different from when I was...well, last alive." she admits.
I don't even know how old she is. "Which was…?"
"I died in 1973…I was 18."
"Holy shit, you've been dead for 35 years?!"
"Shhhh!" she claps a hand over my mouth, reminding me that exclamations like that are not the smartest move.
"Sorry! But, wow, things must be really different then?" I can barely wrap my mind around what that sort of adjustment must require, but Carrie just shrugs and nods, with a small smile on her face.
"A bit. Certainly back then I wouldn't have been allowed, or brave enough, to do this." I freeze, stunned, as she stretches on tiptoe to brush soft, dry lips across my cheek, then takes the blankets from my unresisting hands and shuts the door to her room behind her.
I almost expect her to be gone in the morning. That 'goodnight' would have been an epic 'goodbye' as well…but I wake up and make my way downstairs to see her sitting with my mom, shyly chatting. She glances up and meets my eyes with a small smile, and only then do I start to really believe that she's here for good.
We still don't know why Fate spared her, let her have a second chance at life. Stepping down from the podium, the weight of the medal unbelievably solid around my neck and catching her as she runs into my arms, I can't bring myself to ask. Maybe she'd done her time, her quota of good deeds; maybe saving me tipped the scales. Maybe it was always intended to turn out like this, that she was just waiting for someone fast enough to free her. Maybe we just got lucky. I don't care why, not really. It's enough that she's here.