Chapter 11

On Sunday I decided that I would go to the park. I wasn't going to let Jake Ness interrupt my much needed running time. Some would call this my stress reliever. I wouldn't give this up for anything. Not even a sexist pig.

But when I got the park he wasn't at the basketball court. Instead, he was stretching in the parking lot, his long arms behind his back, his chest thrusting in the air. It had grown hot outside again, as only Texas will do, and he wore gray mesh shorts and a blue muscle shirt. His arm muscles strained behind him.

I tentatively got out of my car, not sure why he was at this end of the parking lot instead of at the basketball court with the other guys.

He smiled when he saw me, "Hey, Jo Jo."

"First off, you may refer to me as Jolene, and secondly what the hell are you doing?"

"We're training together," he dropped his arms at his sides.

"Training?'

"Yeah. Did you pick a marathon to do yet? Personally, I think you should go for the mud run. You wearing something like that, and mud? I wouldn't want to miss that for the world."

I could feel the anger begin to boil in the pit of my stomach. It couldn't be true. I folded my arms in front of me, feeling slightly defensive of my running outfit. It wasn't like it was revealing or anything. Just my standard shorts and tank top. Why did he have to make it sound so dirty?

"How do you know about that?"

"What? The marathon? Who do you think left you those brochures? You're welcome, by the way."

"No, you didn't," I shook my head. "Someone else did."

"Who?"

I refused to answer him. He didn't need to know anything about Jim.

"Well, if you don't have an answer, it was me. Anthony told me you've been thinking about doing one, and you said something on Monday about it. So I thought I would help. And I figured for repayment for tutoring you, you could train me. We could do it together."

I frowned. He only grinned at me. "You're cute when you frown."

"You want to run a marathon with me?"

"Sure. Why not? Can't be too hard. All you do is run, right? I like running."

"Sometimes there's more than that."

":Fine, whatever. And it's usually for a good cause, right? So let's do this!"

"In case you've forgotten, you are not my favorite person."

He shrugged, "If you don't train with me, then I'll just run alongside you. And when I get a cramp or cannot breathe anymore due to overexertion, then you'll have to nurse me back to health. Actually, that doesn't sound half bad."

I could feel my lips pursing together as I considered his offer. He made several good points. I have after all wanted to run a marathon but could never find the guts or another person to do it with me. Here was someone willing to go through training with me. Crazy, but willing all the same.

"I'd like to do the Houston Marathon," I finally admitted. "But registration was earlier this year."

"No problem. We'll get in. I'll pay whatever fees. We've got this."

I stared at him. "This is going to be a lot of work," I warned.

"More time I get to spend with you, outside of school, the better," he grinned.

"You're totally serious about this? Because if not..."

"No, no I am. Where do we start?"

So I began teaching him my stretching techniques before we actually began our run. I agreed to look for a training plan that we could both adjust too. We didn't have very long until the marathon came up and had a lot of ground to cover, especially since neither of us had done this before. He actually did a decent job of keeping up pace for a while there. Then he began slowly down to a jog while I continued running. I didn't worry so much about him after I'd gotten deep into my run, the music blaring from my ear buds. I just focused on the ground beneath my feet and the slight breeze in the air. When I finally tired out, I found him by his own car, a bottle of water in his hands, his eyes on me. I jogged over to him and he tossed me my own water. I drank deeply before either of us spoke.

"I don't know how you can keep running like that. I got tired kind of quick out there. And I thought I could handle it, what with all the time I spend on the court."

"It's not the same as long distance running," I tell him, taking another long drink of my water.

He studies me for a moment. "You really do look good when you're running, you know that? It's like you're in another place."

"That's because I am. For the moment anyways," I admit, leaning against the hood of his car.

He smiles at me. "So, food?"

"Excuse me?"

"I don't know about you, but I just built up quite the appetite. And as a pig, I enjoy food immensely. Would you like to join me?"

"Negative."

"Come on, I promise it won't be as horrible as you think."

"What part of no do you not understand?"

"All of it," he nods. "In case you've forgotten, there's an attraction here that I am all for investigating."

Before I can even think about it, I throw my half empty water bottle at his head. He ducks in time, and the plastic bounces off the car and into the grass a few feet away from us. I storm away to my own car, not stopping as he calls out after me. I slam the door behind me as he says that he'll see me tomorrow during school. I shake my head and peel the hell out of the parking lot.

– –

That night I found a training schedule that would work if I chose to continue with the notion of running the Houston Marathon with Jake. If he continued to act like such a jerk, I don't think I could go on with this. Yes, it's been something I've wanted to do for a while, but to have a partner that was so...inconsiderate. It was hard to imagine.

But I still brought a copy of it to school the next day just in case I decided to give it to him. My own copy I slid into the pocket of my binder visible to anyone who glanced at it. Jim was the first to notice in English when we had to get together with a partner for a small project.

"What's that?"

"Oh, nothing," I covered it with my hands.

"Let me see," he grabbed the binder. I set my hands in my lap, feeling the beginning of a blush creep along my neck and cheeks.

"Marathon training guide? Are you finally going to do it?" Jim asks, looking up at me.

"Maybe," I mutter.

"Wow! That's awesome, Jo! Good for you."

"I'm not sure if I'm even going to do it. My..." I hesitate before continuing, "partner isn't my most favorite person in the world right now."

"You should totally go for this," Jim insists. "You've been yakking about doing a marathon for a while now to me and Nell. Go for it. Although, if you follow this schedule, I'll never see you." His bottom lip sticks out in a pout.

"Got to do what it takes to win, right?"

"I suppose. But this is a really great opportunity for you, Jo. And think of what it will look like on your college applications. You're totally going to rock the art institute."

I shrug, "I dunno. Running a marathon and publishing a lit magazine doesn't seem like much to me. It's not like volunteering at a hundred different places. And who really cares about comics anymore?"

"The hundreds of moms who repost them on Facebook?" Jim suggests.

"Ahem," Mr. Nelson's throat clears in front of us. "Shouldn't the two of you be working rather than chatting?"

"Sorry, Mr. N," Jim apologizes. "Jo just told me about her running the Houston Marathon."

"Really," Mr. Nelson glances at me. "Congratulations on that, Jolene. Just make sure you don't tire yourself out on the training. I did it a few years back."

"You did? That's cool."

"Yes, well, back to work you two." Mr. Nelson raps his knuckles twice on my desk before heading to another group of students giggling in the back of the classroom.

"Just make sure you let me know when the race is. I want to be there when you cross the finish line," Jim says before opening his textbook to the page we're supposed to be on. I smile shyly at him before opening my own book. Maybe running this marathon wasn't such a bad idea after all.

– –

During Calculus, I watched Jake as he walked around the classroom, stopping to help students every once in a while as Mr. Aikey taught his lesson. The training schedule was still in my binder, glaring at me. I fingered the edge of the binder, wondering for the millionth time that day if I should go through with this or not. It meant spending so much time with him outside of school. But I've been wanting to run a marathon for so long now. Maybe if I set up some ground rules, it would make training go along a lot easier.

When his eyes caught mine, I bent over my paper and began working furiously on the worksheet that had been passed out. The unit had started out relatively easy so far, but I knew it wouldn't be long before I began sinking as I had this past six weeks. Jake passed by my desk, his long fingers trailing against the wood as he past to speak to a student several seats away from me.

At the end of the class period I had made my decision. I slowly packed my things, hoping to catch him when the room had emptied. But of course Mindy had his attentions. Their heads were together as they studied the paper in front of her. I could hear a sharp bark of laughter escape from her as I stood. So much for getting time to talk to him today.

I left the room and dropped my bag by the brick wall near the classroom in an attempt to wait for him. I had to get this over with now, today, if we were going to do this. There wasn't much time before the run was here and there was so much to do. I pulled out the paper with the schedule written on it and studied it for the hundredth time that day. Students passed, rushing between leaving for home and staying after for various activities.

Mindy left the room, glancing behind her as she did. I wondered briefly if he would ever take up Mindy on all of her offers. After all, it wasn't like she was trying to hide her attraction to him. She made a point to speak to him at least once every day, and her wardrobe seemed to be deteriorating every day. Although today she was wearing pants. Skin tight pants, but pants nonetheless. And if Jake was perfectly fine with hitting on me outside of school, then it shouldn't be too much trouble to seek Mindy out to do the same.

I got to my feet as Jake left the classroom, shutting the door behind him. His messenger bag was slung over his shoulder, as usual. He stopped when he saw me.

"Well, well, this is a nice surprise. I think," he grinned.

I thrust the paper out towards him. I spoke as he slipped his glasses on, "Listen, training for this thing is as important to me as teaching is to you. That is a training schedule I found online that I'd like to go with. We'll have to run every other day. Today is a rest day, but tomorrow we have to be at the track. You need to work on running for thirty minutes straight before any real training can begin."

"Impressive," he murmured, his eyes scanning the page.

I took a breath. "If we're going to really do this, you have to stop."

"Stop what?" He looked up at me.

"You know what. You have to stop or this won't work. Marathons may be every day things for some people, but this is important to me. Running helps me escape. And to run for a good cause is one of the best reasons to run. But I can't escape when I have to constantly wonder if my running partners eyes are on my ass or not."

He takes a minute to let what I've said sink in before responding, "I understand what you're saying. I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable before. But I would like to do this with you, as friends if that's what you want. I just want to get to know you better. Who knows, maybe you'll break down and decide to go out with me because you want too."

I sighed, "That's the kind of stuff that needs to stop."

"I know. Last one, I promise."He sticks out his hand, "Friends?"

I shake his hand in agreement, sort of surprised that that went as well as it did. His hand is warm to the touch. His handshake is firm, and he takes a moment longer than necessary to let go.

He shakes the paper at me with his other hand, "So I'll be seeing you at the track tomorrow? Same time?"

"Yeah," I nodded. A weight seems to have been lifted off my shoulders now. I relax, excitement beginning to creep its way into my belly. I was going to run a marathon!

"Can't wait."

On the way out to my car, I'm intercepted by Mindy. Her hands are on her hips, which are cocked at an angle. She looks angry, but then again she always looks angry.

"What was that about," she asks.

"Excuse me?"

"You and Mr. Ness. Don't think I didn't see what just happened there. I thought I told you to stay away from him."

"In case you haven't noticed, Mindy, I want nothing to do with him. I've told you before that he's all yours," I push past her.

She whirls around, "That's right, bitch. Just make sure you remember that. Someone as fine as Mr. Ness wouldn't want a hippopotamus anyways. Besides, I've got him wrapped around my little finger."

"Did you happen to forget that he's a student teacher? Maybe I was asking him a question relating to the lesson?"

"Don't act like I'm stupid," she sneers. "You would have asked him in class, not waited until afterward to talk to him. I'm watching you, Jolene."

I continue walking to my car, doing my best to block her out. Mindy had always been a cruel bitch to anyone who crossed her path, but I was always her primary target. One day I would snap. I don't know how. I don't know when. I will snap. Maybe I'll rip out the extensions she had added to her dark hair for added volume. I smiled to myself, comforted by the image.