Soundtrack Song - Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run
Running sucks ass.
I've never done it before; not on purpose, not like this. And now I know exactly why.
"Max!" I huff, yelling after him. He's ahead of me, and I can tell that my pace is glacial compared to what he can do. The way his clothes fit, I can see the latent energy of his muscles and his body. He's not a big hockey player, but he's got the strength and endurance of a professional athlete, and I know it's killing him to stay with me instead of break into a faster gait.
"Come on! You made it through the first mile without a problem! We're coming up on the best view of the city. You at least have to make it that far."
"I can't," I say, slowing my pace from a trot to a walk, my inertia fading away as I stop all forward movement. I lean over and place my hands on my knees, desperate for oxygen. "Remind me again why I agreed to this?"
"Don't stop moving," he instructs, coming back to my spot on the trail. Bikers are speeding past us and giving me dirty looks for being an obstacle in their way. I stick my tongue out at them even though I really want to give the middle finger. Can't they see I'm dying?
"I can't go any farther. I need a break," I breathe.
"If you stop, your muscles are going to seize up on you. At least keep walking. Work it out."
I can feel the lactic acid in my muscles, thick as mud, hindering my movement. It's like the air is pudding, and I'm trying to walk through it unsuccessfully. There's so much resistance. I feel a stitch in my side. "Go on... without me..." I laugh. "Save yourself!"
"No! I never leave a man behind!" he banters back, grabbing my hand and pulling me forward. "Or a woman. Keep going. You'll be glad once we get down closer to see the Point."
Max is dragging me along behind him. "Just leave me here. Maybe by the time you make your way back around, I'll be able to breathe again."
He laughs. "You kicked ass on the bike in the gym. I didn't think you were this out of shape."
I pout my lips. Sure, some people work out to be healthy and fit. Not me. This was for purely aesthetic reasons. And right now, this isn't pretty. The day has really warmed up, which wasn't expected on a mid-September day, and I can feel the sweat bead on my forehead. I gather the hem of my shirt and dab my face. "I never planned on running a fucking marathon. I just wanted to lose weight."
"Really?" He gives me the "elevator look"—you know, starting south, looking upward, and then back down again. "Because you don't look like you need to lose weight."
My automatic response is to roll my eyes. Guys always do that, but I know better. They'll compliment anything in a skirt if means they'll see some action. Besides, let's be serious: a guy like Max would never have given me a second look when I was heavier. "I wasn't asking you to flatter me, dude. I'm just saying that I'm not into this whole... physical activity thing like you. I mean, I can't believe you do shit like this for a living. What's wrong with you?"
Max laughs, and he turns around so I can see the way the humor makes his eyes glisten. If it's possible, it makes his eyes even bluer. "What can I say? I'm a glutton for punishment."
"I buy that," I laugh, still a little out of breath. He smiles and continues to pull me down the trail. I think it's weird that he still has a grip on my hand, but I tell myself that he's doing it to keep me moving. He's not holding my hand, so forget about it. Except now that I told myself to forget about it, I keep thinking about it. Damn. Now I'm thinking about it again. "Okay, I'm all right," I say, wringing my hand out of his. Even with the pain in my side, I'm continuing my trek onwards.
We walk together, side-by-side, until we reach the section of the trail with a great scenic view of the skyline and the confluence of the three rivers. "Wow," I say, breathless again, but this time it's from the beautiful juxtaposition of the blue, cloudless sky with the hard steel outline of the city instead of the physical exertion of running.
"Yeah, it's pretty amazing, huh?"
"Yeah. You know, I've been to Pittsburgh every year since I can remember. And this is a view I've never seen before. Thanks for showing me this place," I tell him earnestly.
"You're welcome. So, you say you've visited here before?"
"Yeah. I have family here," I explain, opening up a little to him but also not revealing too much. I still don't know if I can trust him, but I'm trying to lighten up. "I used to come here every summer. So after I graduated, I was looking to move and... here I am."
"So, you're not just staying for the summer this time?"
I smiled at his silly attempt to get the information out of me. "I'm here until at least December. I mean, that's when Gina graduates, so things are up in the air about whether I'll stay or not after that."
"Gina?" he asks.
"My roommate. Once she graduates and has to look for a job, she'll know if she has to move out of the area or not. And if she has to leave Pittsburgh, I'll probably have to go back to Chicago." There's a small patch of grass off the side of the trail, and I point to it. "Do you mind if we sit for a moment?"
"You know, we should keep going, keep moving."
"A second, I promise?" I ask again, trying to bat my eyelashes and convince him to let me rest.
"Okay," he caves, and I stretch my already-aching and tired body along the grass, turning my face toward the warmth of the sun. Max sits beside me. "So, you're here for a few months? No big plans to stay in the city long-term?"
"Nah, not really. My position is state-funded, and with the economy the way it is, my job could get cut at any point so the government can save money. So I'm just kind of passing time and figuring out what I'm doing with my life."
He doesn't know what to say to that, so he doesn't say anything at all. And I'm fine with that because I'm really enjoying the quiet simplicity the crisp air, the scenic view, and Max's company. Until I feel a twitch in my left calf. Charley horse. "Aah...."
"What is it?" Max asks, looking over at me as I frantically grab onto the grass around me and pull it out from the ground as I contort from the horrible sensation.
"Cramp!" I gasp, extending my leg out and trying to ease the pain.
"Didn't you stretch before you started running?"
"No!" I squeal, reaching down and trying to knead the site of the spasm. Shit, this hurts!
"Well, why not?"
"Because I didn't think about it. I don't usually do this strenuous of a work out."
"Here, let me help. Tell me where it hurts," he says, reaching for my leg. At first, I don't mind, until I see that he's about to roll up my pant leg. Skin on skin contact. And I haven't shaved my legs in... in so long, I can't even remember how long it's been.
"No!" I cry out, pulling away from him. Max looks shocked, and I feel bad. Now he probably thinks I'm some kind of freak that steers clear of physical contact with people. "Sorry, it's just that.... I mean.... Oh, never mind," I moan. "Thanks, though."
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah. Maybe we should head back?" I ask, trying to change the subject. Like I need anything to make things more awkward between us. "It's going to take me forever to get back at this rate," I laugh, hobbling back onto my legs. The pain has started to ease, but it'll take some time before I can walk normally again.
"This is pretty fun, though, watching you limp around. The best way to get rid of the pain is to stretch it out, so let's set a good pace," he tells me. He's the athlete, so I think he knows what he's talking about. I start out walking beside him, feeling a little refreshed from having relaxed a little. "You wanna try running again?"
"No. I don't think I can do anymore of that."
"Come on. The only way to build up your endurance is to push yourself," he calls over his shoulder, starting to jog. Fuck him and that delicious accent. I believe everything he says. I start to trot after him, and as soon as I reach his side, he picks up the pace to tease me, doing that every time until we're sprinting down the stretch of concrete that runs parallel to the Monongahela River.
Until, that is, I run straight into a cloud of gnats. I think I swallow one, and another lands in my eye. In. My. Eye. Of course, I start yelling. I'm not too creeped out by bugs, unless they're spiders, but it's in my eye. Blinking, I rub my left eye with the back of my hand.
Max notices I'm no longer beside him, and he turns and sees me freaking out. "What is it now?"
"My eye!" I scream. "It's in my eye. Oh my God. Get it out. Get it out!"
He laughs. In my time of dire distress, he laughs. He strides over and bats my hand away from my eye. I've all ready ripped my contact by rubbing too hard. "Stop it. Let me see." He grabs my chin and lifts my head so he can see. "Okay, look up and don't blink," he instructs me. I realize at this point that I'm in a compromising and vulnerable position, completely at his mercy. If he makes one wrong move, if his hand slips, my eye will be gouged out of its socket. Don't slip. Be careful!
I feel as his finger brushes the white of my eye and think that this isn't the most sterile of circumstances. "Did you get it?"
"I think so," he says, moving back and giving me room to breathe.
I blink and feel relieved. "Thank you so much. You have no idea," I giggle, trying to brush off my crazy fit like it was completely normal and not at all crazy. I keep walking, pretending none of that just happened, favoring my right leg and squinting with my left eye closed, since my contact is ripped and discarded somewhere along the trail.
Max watches my progress along the trail and begins to chuckle. "You look like a pirate," he full-on laughs, grabbing his sides. "Argh, matey! Have ye misplaced yer booty?"
"Oh, very funny," I say, feigning anger. But soon, I'm laughing right along side him, figuring of course something like this would happen to me. "This is all your fault. If I hadn't have shown up, none of this would be happening. I knew I should have stayed at home in bed. I could have been sleeping," I mumble, passing the blame onto him.
"Oh, come on. This is a blast!"
"Oh yeah, a blast," I chuckle. "My idea of a perfect Sunday morning." Although, as I think about it, this certainly beats my usual weekend routine of sleeping til noon and then scrounging for lunch. Who knew that getting leg cramps and ripping contacts would be just the beginning?