Authors: Rozsa Gaston
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
RUNNING FROM LOVE. Copyright © 2012 by Rozsa Gaston. All rights reserved.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
eBook ISBN: 978-1-62112-843-4
Library of Congress Control Number: 2012910149
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
North Charleston, South Carolina
Cover design by DreamsTime
Thank you for the spirit of power,
and of love, and of a sound mind.
You know who you are.
My deepest thanks go to the following:
Wanda Bills, Vera King, Enid Burns, Coach Ken Rolston, Coach Glen Shane, and all the other Van Cortlandt Track Club runners. Mickey Yardis of Threads & Treads, Greenwich CT, for keeping the tradition of small, local races alive and well. My dear friend Ariana Kaleta, Baroness von Trautenegg, whose wit and warmth inspire me. Most of all to Bill, the running partner of my life.
t wasn’t right. She hadn’t trained five days a week for the past six months just to eat the dust of someone with calves the size of ham hocks. Gritting her teeth, Farrah picked up her pace, preparing to overtake the burly runner ahead in the royal blue shirt.
Her secret weapon was her surge. She used it to psyche out her opponents in the short road races she favored. But this was different. She was running a ten-mile trail race up and down the side of a mountain in the Catskills—the New Paltz Headless Horseman Race.
“Argh,” she growled, starting to make her move on the man’s left. She looked out of the corner of one eye for her opponent’s expression of dismay as she soared ahead. Her gazelle-like running stride was about to make Wide-Body look like he was stuck in first gear.
Then, she tripped.
The sensation of both knees hitting the dirt was eclipsed by the pain of her face smashing into the ground. “Shit,” she moaned, as she pushed herself up onto hands and knees, taking in the shock of what had just happened
A hand on Farrah’s shoulder patted her gently.
“Are you okay?” a low-pitched male voice asked.
She looked up, directly into the face of the runner in the royal blue T-shirt. He peered down at her, concern in his eyes.
Heat spread up her neck and over her face, which was encrusted with dirt. She wanted to kill someone. Herself.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Go on. I’ll be okay,” she urged, hoping he would leave her to eat humble pie in peace.
“Can you get up?” He grabbed her arm to help support her as she struggled to her feet. Halfway up, she took in his muscular thighs. He was built like a squash player, not a runner. Whatever his body type, he was kind. He’d stopped for her after she’d tried to blow past him.
“I’m fine, I swear. Don’t lose your time.”
“But your knees are bleeding. There’s a first-aid station up ahead. Why don’t we walk over there?”
“No. It’s just dirt and blood.” Farrah stepped forward, testing her ankles. No breaks or twists, just bruises, blood, and massive humiliation. She began to jog. “See? I’m okay.”
“You’re sure?” he asked, jogging along with her.
“Thanks. Just go. I’ll see you at the finish.”
“If you’re sure.” He looked at her doubtfully. Thick, dark eyebrows and long lashes framed midnight blue eyes.
A nervous jolt hit her as the fat balloon of her ego deflated to a crinkled scrap. She waved him off and increased her speed. This time, she picked up her feet and kept her mind on staying upright, instead of overtaking her fellow runners.
That’ll teach you. That’ll teach you.
A singsong voice rang through her head for the rest of the race. She tried to ignore it, as she focused on roots and rocks underfoot that she hadn’t thought about until she’d smashed her face into some.
“Hey, your knee is bleeding,” a teenage boy called out as he passed her.
Rub it in, why don’t you? She fumed. Could her shame possibly get any deeper? She tried to enjoy the sight of the tall evergreen trees on either side of the trail, but the voice of moral reprobation inside drowned everything else out. She had tripped while thinking unkind thoughts about a man who’d sacrificed seconds off his time to help her. The competitive skills she’d honed to become a top pharmaceutical salesperson at her job were beginning to spill over into life outside of work. That wasn’t who she wanted to be.
Finally, the race was over. Crossing the finish line, she staggered to a stop, gulping for air. Scanning the crowd for her friends, she searched her mind for the right words to explain why she had run such a slow time.
“Hey, are you okay? I saw you trip before the first hill,” Ana Morales came up, slapping a hand on her shoulder. She did a double take, seeing Farrah’s grimy face, now streaked with rivulets of sweat. Then, she looked down at her knees. “Whoa, you’re a mess. You’d better get some antiseptic on that right away.” She tugged her arm, pulling her friend toward the first aid tent.
“I’m fine. It’s just some scrapes. I tried to take some guy ahead of me, but I ran into a root instead.”
“You mean that guy in the blue T-shirt? I saw him stop to help you. He must have lost a minute off his time.”
“Yeah, that was pretty nice of him. I owe him my thanks.”
So others had seen what had happened. Farrah buried her face in the gym towel she’d pulled from her backpack, trying to wipe away the scarlet “L” for Loser now on her forehead.
She didn’t need to thank him again face to face—did she?
an inner chorus of disapproving angels sang. Sighing, she looked around. Maybe he had already left. A guy like that was probably halfway to the local diner, anticipating a big plate of chocolate chip pancakes after the race.
Why couldn’t she stop thinking unkind thoughts? Had she trained herself to be so competitive that she couldn’t stop putting others down to get herself ahead? Even when someone had done her a good deed? Was it time to reassess?
What do you think?
the disapproving angels sang out.
“You’ve got to wash the dirt out of those cuts, Farrah.” John Boyleston, club coach, motioned for her to sit down.
He unscrewed the cap of a half liter water bottle and poured its contents over her knees.
“Ow,” she moaned, wincing. There was plenty of dirt to wash away.
John pulled a packet of antiseptic wipes out of his gym bag. Her muscles contracted as she steeled herself for the sting.
“What’s the matter? Can’t handle a little pain? he teased.
“Just do what you’ve got to do—ouch!” she exclaimed, her knee jerking convulsively as the alcohol in the antiseptic hit the wound. Together, they spent the next few minutes scrubbing dirt out of the large scrapes on both knees.
“Everyone trips in a trail race sooner or later. It comes with the territory,” John assured her as he worked.
Yes, but I didn’t trip because of the trail. I tripped because I was trying to pass someone I was putting down in my head. And I ended up going down myself. I deserved to trip.
Stating the real reason out loud would have been the courageous thing to do. But Farrah’s thoughts remained her own as she gave John a dejected look.
“Are we leaving soon?” she asked, wanting to put the entire morning behind her as fast as possible.
“As soon as the awards ceremony is over,” John said, slapping four Band-Aids into her hands. “They’re starting now. Let’s head over there.”
She put them on then got up slowly, testing her knees. No throbbing—a good sign. Gingerly, she took a few steps. A bit painful, but not too bad. Nothing broken or sprained, just the sting of large superficial scrapes.
She knew from past experience that the extent of a race injury never presented itself during the actual competition. It was only after stopping, then trying to move again, when the extent of the damage became evident. The club president had set a personal record in a half marathon the year before, despite breaking her elbow in a fall at the three-mile mark. She’d been in mild discomfort during the race. It wasn’t until the drive to the emergency room that acute pain had set in.
Farrah hobbled over to the awards ceremony area. Runners with red cheeks aglow milled around, munching on bagels and bananas.
“Hey, are you okay?”
She turned. The man in the blue T-shirt stood next to her. His dark blue eyes swept her face. Then, they moved down to the Band-Aids on her knees.
“I’m fine. A few cuts and some dirt. Thanks for stopping.”
“I was worried you’d twisted an ankle. There’s a lot of roots on the trail, especially at the start.”
“I dodged a bullet,” she said. Actually, she felt like putting one between her eyes.
The man smiled. For a second, the intense blue of his eyes seemed to fuse with the brilliant fall sky overhead.
She shook her head to clear it.
“I’ve run this course five times,” he said. “It’s easy to trip. Someone gets hurt every year.”
“I should have picked up my feet,” she said, noticing that he wasn’t burly so much as muscular. His broad chest filled out the T-shirt and strained it at the arm seams. It was rare that a runner filled out a T-shirt that way. Most of them looked like large children with oversized shirts hanging off of them.
“The overall winner for this year’s Headless Horseman race is—” the race director’s voice crackled through the P.A. system overhead, “Kevin Johnson of Port Jefferson, New York.”
A short twenty-something guy made his way to the podium as the crowd clapped. He was compact and slim—a Steve Prefontaine runner’s build.
“Are you from around here?” the runner in the blue T-shirt asked.
“No, I’m from the city. I came up with my running club.”
“Oh yeah? Which one’s that?” he asked.
“The Van Cortlandt Track Club.”
“Where do you train?”
“We’re in the Bronx. We train on the cross country trails in Van Cortlandt Park.”
“I know that area. That’s one of the best cross country courses in the country. Don’t they do the boy’s trials for the Kinney’s Nationals there?”
“Boy’s and girl’s. It’s in the fall.”
“For the Men’s 30–39 age group with a time of 1:04:51, first place goes to—” the announcer boomed, “Steve Patterson of the Bronx, New York.
“That’s the top runner in our club,” Farrah exclaimed, applauding. At least some of her team members had performed well, even if she hadn’t.
“The Men’s 30–39 second place finisher with a time of 1:05:22 is—” the announcer continued, “Jude Farnesworth of Greenwich, Connecticut.”
Farrah turned to see if the man next to her knew him. But he was gone.
Accepting his second-place medal, he stood at the base of the stage. She applauded as loudly as she could. Then, it dawned on her. He’d missed first place in his age group because of her.
Finding her way to the stage, she broke through several runners clustered around him.
“Congratulations! You would have been first if you hadn’t helped me. I’m sorry I screwed up your time.”
“No worries. You didn’t force me to stop. I wanted to.” The strong outline of his mouth didn’t smile, but his eyes did.
“You’re a bigger man than me,” she heard herself say.
“You’re not much of a man.” He broke into a grin.