The ground flew away beneath my feet. The grass was soft, the blades parted willingly for my spikes, urging me on. The air itself was fresh and warm; a sure sign that the summer day that would follow the morning would be hot.
I was getting tired; my breath burned my nose and throat. But it was a good burn. It meant that I was really working, pushing myself and conquering my own limitations. It was quiet except for the rhythmic pumping of my legs and my ragged breathing. I ran around and around the field, feeling powerful, strong, invincible….
"Juliet!" the sound of my name broke into my consciousness.
I opened my eyes slowly, unwillingly.
"Juliet, time to get up."
I don't want to. "Okay." I wondered if she could even understand the simple word. My voice sounded thick and slow in my own ears.
But she was a mom so of course she did hear.
I listened to her footsteps fade away and leave me alone with the riotous buzz of my alarm clock. Now that I was awake I couldn't imagine how I'd slept though the noise. I didn't understand how my mother's voice had done the job that the alarm clock had failed to either, but I placed the phenomenon in the 'magic of motherhood' category and left it alone.
I struggled out of bed, confused and disoriented after such a vivid dream. Unlike most I knew, I actually liked mornings and I rarely had to force myself awake. It was unsettling. And what was that stupid dream anyway? I didn't even like to run much less to run laps. I must be going insane.
Then again, maybe that was a good thing. A little insanity might make my life interesting for once.
"Hey, Tommy," I called when I walked into work. I knew that Tommy wasn't her real name, but she had never seen fit to give me the one that was really on her birth certificate. She didn't even give that to her boyfriends. Tommy was my opposite, small, dark, her hair pulled back in a tight French braid. In short, very pretty.
She was the only other person working this shift. The way business was going we probably could have just one person working. Along with being the only other employee in the small convenience store, Tommy was the only other person. No customers. Again.
Tommy nodded at me when I walked past her to take my place behind the register. She probably hadn't even heard my greeting through the blaring of her iPod.
There was nothing more interesting to do then watch Tommy stock candy bars and energy drinks. Well, rearrange them anyway. Lately there hadn't been enough sales to actually make restocking necessary. Mercifully, my cell phone beeped five minutes into my shift. I eagerly dug it out of my pocket and glanced at the screen.
hey sexy, the text message read.
I grimaced. This guy must be delusional. There was nothing remotely sexy about me. My blond hair, green eyes combination was plain and my body had much to be desired since I had stopped doing sports.
Still, that was the benefit of a cyber-guy. I could fake it.
Hey yourself, I wrote back and added a sideways wink for emphasis.
As I hit the send button I wondered again if I was really the delusional one. I didn't even know this person's name beyond his MySpace screen name "J". What did that stand for? Jacob? Jeremy? Jackass? I didn't know. I didn't much care either. J was the kind of guy I liked. Safe.
The phone beeped again.
I hesitated for only a second before keying in, Working. U?
Nuthin' was the almost immediate reply. Of course not. I had begun to wonder if he ever did anything.
Not watching a movie? The one thing I knew about J was that he was in love to the point of obsession with Star Wars. I couldn't stand that series.
Nah. Pause. What r u wearing?
I groaned. Cyber or not, J was just like any other guy: only interested in sex.
Then I shrugged internally and decided to play along. I was bored.
Hmm, I wrote as if I actually needed to think about what I was wearing. Shorts and a red tank top. In reality I would never wear red. My eyes were so green that I looked like a Christmas tree in that color. But my imaginary outfit was much more fun than my real one. One day I was sure I'd just pass out in the summer heat since the dress code insisted on making us wear long pants with our heavy, black company vest.
I'd seriously considered cheating today and wearing something close to what I'd told J. But the one time I did that would be the day our manager, Aaron, would decide to actually do his job and check up on us.
Short shorts? J asked.
I grinned. It was fun to toy with him. I'd have to be careful if I bent over, I replied.
I thought about telling him the truth this time. It was hot and my hair was pulled up high off of my neck. It was a look that would go well with a summer outfit. But in the only picture J had ever seen of me my hair was down and he seemed to like it.
Down, I told him. One more lie wasn't going to make a difference.
I'd love to muss that hair up.
I'll bet you would, I thought, and keyed in a noncommittal Mhmm. Then, I have to go. It was time to cut him off before he got too excited. I wasn't bored enough to play games with him that would most likely include cyber sex. Or was it phone sex?
Oh. will u be online later?
Probably. When wasn't I online at night? Even if I wasn't actually using the computer I turned on MySpace and listened for the mail alert that meant I had a message. Bye.
I stared at the phone for another five minutes but he didn't return my parting message.
I went back to watching Tommy who had grabbed the mop and bucket. She was almost dancing, following the beat of her music as she cleaned the floor. Not that the floor needed cleaning, not enough people walked on it. Still it was something to do. I envied her.
The tinkling of a bell sounded and I looked up expectantly.
"Hello," I called to the man that has just walked in. "Man" didn't really cover it though; he probably wasn't any older than seventeen.
He didn't even give me the courtesy of a glance in my direction. Instead he walked up behind Tommy and grabbed her around the waist.
Tommy jumped and gave a very girlish shriek before whirling around. She barely smiled when she saw who was behind her. Before he had time to offer a greeting, Tommy had threaded her fingers through the little hair that he had and locked her lips on his. She didn't even bother to take out her headphones. They kissed almost violently. I worried that they would fall on the newly wet floor and leave me to clean up the blood.
I stared at them in fascination. It looked more like they were trying to bite each other's lips off than really kissing. It wasn't even embarrassing to watch like it typically is when couples kiss. There was too much animalism and not enough intimacy in their actions to make the kisses seem like they deserved privacy. There was no sweetness.
One thing was for certain: I didn't envy Tommy anymore.
At home, I headed straight to my computer to check for messages. Scratch that. When I got home I stripped out of my ridiculous work clothes and into something summer appropriate as quickly as I could. Then I checked for messages.
I had two from MySpace. One was from someone I'd never heard of called "to_be_or_not_to_be". Ominous. The other one was from a "friend" named Ernie. Two days ago his name had been THE ROCK.
I started with the new one since Ernie's message was likely to turn into a conversation.
"Hey, sexy," it said.
I rolled my eyes. Couldn't they come up with another line? Oh well. At least this one used proper capitalization.
"Hey yourself," I replied for the second time that day. Hopefully he wasn't online anymore. Or at least I really hoped it was a he. The profile photo was of a cat. With my luck it was a girl who had just called me sexy.
I repressed a shudder and moved on to Ernie whose profile photo at least was male.
"Hey, Jules, how are you doing? How's ur summer?"
"HOT" I responded. "Work is driving me crazy," there was an understatement. "How about u?" I didn't honestly care how he was, but it was polite. Besides the question shifted the focus away from me.
In the meantime, J had noticed I was online. He popped up in a messenger window on the side of my computer screen.
Hi. whatcha doin'?
Not much, I just got home.
Oh. Pause. Do you have a Magic Mountain near u?
Uh-oh. Dangerous territory. According to J's profile he was only in the next town over and I didn't feel like bringing that to his attention just yet.
Two hours, I told him, though the distance was half that.
Oh. i'd really like to meet you. maybe we could go there and get together someday.
I don't really like Magic Mountain. Another lie. I was a certified rollercoaster junkie.
Damn. oh well, i'll think of something.
I didn't doubt it.
A reply from Ernie gave me an excuse to tell J that I'd be right back.
"I'm good," Ernie told me. "Just using the work computer. The one at home crashed."
I had to wince. A crashed computer was one of my worse nightmares.
I continued to ignore J even though he was already asking if I was back. When he asked about it later I would pretend that the messenger had gotten stuck. I threw myself into Ernie's computer problems with what I vaguely recognized as too much enthusiasm. I didn't care. The computer world was so much easier than the real one.