tagRomanceRunner Girl Ch. 01

Runner Girl Ch. 01

byDonnaBeck©

This is the last story in my "Manhattan Girl" trilogy. There are 13 chapters, the story is complete, and the chapters will post in rapid succession. I would like to sincerely thank Gaius Petronius for editing for me, and IanSaulWhitcomb for beta-reading. I am extremely grateful to know you both. Votes and comments appreciated.

*****

The slight incline came as a welcome relief after miles of flat terrain, and the balls of Amy 's feet met the ground quicker with each rotation. Open space disappeared behind her back as she took the winding dirt path into the densely packed forest. Less foliage hung on the trees than the previous week, allowing sunlight to shoot straight rays through the gap and cast light on the orange and brown leaves that littered the ground. Morning dew covered the debris.

As Amy approached the steepest hill of the route, she charged it, which really meant maintaining the same pace through the increased difficulty. She could hear her old coach's voice in her mind telling her to use her big muscles, her quadriceps, and imagine her legs lifting instead of just pushing off with her feet. She pictured strings attached right above the knees, pulled upward by a puppeteer in the sky, helping to defy gravity.

Her lungs filled with cool crisp air as she reached the top of the rise, the 'summit', Amy laughed to herself. The highest point in Central Park, only about one-hundred and forty feet above sea level made it barely a hill, but at least it provided some gradient. And she was outdoors instead of on a 'dreadmill'.

She felt grateful for her Saturday morning runs, the highlight of her week when she no longer felt out of place, but instead, precisely where she was meant to be. She found it remarkable that she could find this kind of solitude in a city of a million and a half inhabitants. A dirt trail through the forest, right here in Manhattan.

The familiar smell of damp soil provoked a nostalgic feeling, intensified by a familiar song on the iPod. The motion of running tapped into something primal in her brain, a motor memory, the motion of running so secondary, that her mind wandered in creative freedom.

Amy had reached her favorite part of her run; the downhill. Some runners complain about downhill running being hard on the knees, but Amy loved to feel gravity take some of the burden, and she increased her speed without additional effort. She kept a slight bend in her knees as she flew down the trail with the same speed and agility that impressed the native New Yorkers when she first arrived. "Be careful!" they had warned before they learned that she grew up on hills. Scanning ahead to see where to place her feet, concentrating and staying focused on proper footing , banking off the sides, jumping through the air - - she used her best skills on trails, where agility superseded speed. The members of the running club came to recognized her as a trail runner, not a racer.

Just over six miles into her eight mile run, a break between songs allowed her to hear someone behind her yell, "Hey!" She looked over her shoulder and saw a blur of red shirt between the trees. Oh fuck, Amy cursed herself, how'd he get this close? She had been absorbed in her thoughts and had not maintained a fast enough pace, now she put herself in danger of being caught! She knew that looking back cost precious seconds, but in panic she took a second look and saw that him gaining on her. Fuck, she thought again, and tried to increase her speed but still maintain a pace she could sustain for the mile-and-a-half back to her group. The trail had become void of either walker or runner, which now seemed odd and scary, rather than consoling.

She put her iPod on pause to increase her situational awareness, and could hear his feet hitting the ground and even his loud breathing. Good, she thought to herself, he can't maintain this pace very long. But he surprised her and narrowed the gap even more, causing her heart rate to increase from fear, a costly emotion she could not afford, if she were to outrun him. Amy had to dig deep into her reservoir and pick up the pace much sooner than she would have liked. She had hoped to have her friends in sight before she gave it her all.

His breathing came closer. He definitely had a mind to catch her, and Amy began to really feel frightened that he actually might. Being chased tapped into a different motor memory, a primal fear that gave her a boost of adrenaline and she kicked it in even more. Her legs were burning, her chest on fire, and her mouth open, taking in and expelling air as quick as possible. Her cadence became full-on race-pace, as if the finish line were in sight, except it wasn't. She could hear him behind her, the sound pushing her to a pace she knew she could not sustain for another mile. She hoped he couldn't either.

Amy came through the trees and out into the open field. She could see her group off in the distance, still about a third of a mile away and not looking in her direction. She was not out of danger yet. She heard him, right behind her on her left side, close enough to reach out and grab her. Her side ached and she knew she did not have a sprint left in her. They ran in sync for a few seconds until he pulled forward and passed her. Fuck, Amy thought as she watched the back of his red shirt pull ahead, he got me. I got complacent early in the run and he got me. The group had now turned to face them and shouted mixed cheers of "Go Amy!" "Go Keith!" "Get her! Catch her!" "Don't let him catch you Amy!" "Go, go, go!"

Amy watched as Keith made it to the crowd about five strides ahead of her. Both stopped running but were too breathless to speak, so they stood panting in place as the small crowd of their mutual friends slapped Keith on the back and congratulated him. Keith couldn't answer, so he just returned the high-fives as he gasped for air while Amy did the same, still trying to catch her breath. She wondered if her exaggerated fear cost her more than it helped, not that she could control it, but it surprised her. She thought being cornered caused that response in her. Not being chased.

"What happened?" her friend Miles whispered as he approached.

"I slacked."

Miles laughed and said, "And Keith got a lot faster. He's been doing speed work twice a week trying to catch you. Look at him; he nearly killed himself."

Keith now lay on the ground with his arms outstretched, smiling with an open mouth as his chest rose and fell rapidly.

"He's gotta' be pretty thrilled with himself right now. Catching up with Amy, even with your five minute head start," Miles whispered.

"Yeah," Amy nodded and frowned. She didn't have enough air for conversation yet, but Miles knew how she felt anyway.

"Aw, hey Amy, it won't be that bad. It's just one night and he's a nice enough guy. Man, he nearly killed himself to win that bet. I feel kind of bad for putting the idea in his head though."

"What?" Amy looked at Miles for an explanation.

"Yeah, I told him you'd never go out with a guy that couldn't out run you. But it was his idea to make it a bet."

"It isn't about running, Miles, you know that. He is so not my type."

"Yeah, I know, but it's only one date. Hey, the guy worked really hard for it Amy, just indulge him and have fun."

Amy rolled her eyes at Miles, "He's convinced that once I see him in another light, outside of the running group, that I'll find him irresistible."

"Maybe you will?" Miles laughed, but in response to her scowl said, "Oh, I don't know if he really believes that. Look, you just gave him a challenge and he rose up to it. The guy has shaved almost a minute of his mile. That's pretty impressive."

"Yeah, it is," Amy smiled, her mood lightening. Keith was harmless, but her competitive nature made her angry at herself for letting him beat her. But then again, now that he had finally caught her she felt like she could have her Saturdays back, she could just run at her own pace and not have to push it every single Saturday.

Amy smiled at Miles and went over to offer Keith a hand, helping him to his feet. "You did it, your training paid off and you beat me. Congratulations, Keith."

Keith rose to his feet, bright red and drenched in sweat. "Keith beat Amy!" could be heard uttered over and over throughout the small crowd, and everyone knew what that meant. Keith received pats on the back and handshakes, all the while smiling like a kid on Christmas.

"So, tonight then? Dinner, drinks, dancing?"

"Um, no. Sorry. I already made plans for tonight. It'll have to be next Saturday," Amy answered. It was the truth.

"I've waited this long, what's another week? Besides, I have a feeling I'm going to be hurtin' later today! Next Saturday I can run easy," Keith laughed.

Amy laughed and agreed. It would be nice to enjoy a leisurely run, now that this ridiculous bet was finally settled. Well, it would be settled after she went out with Keith one time. Tonight she had a blind date, and next week a date with Keith. Two dates back-to-back after a year of not dating, and she didn't want to go on either one.

* * * * *

John knocked on the door to warn William of his presence before he used his key to open the door. William's loft consisted of one large room, so he could see two bodies in bed and greeted the two lumps under the covers with an obnoxiously cheerful, "Good Morning! Would you like some coffee, Tracy?" He knew William preferred tea.

"Good morning," Tracy sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes, obviously nude, but being careful to cover her breasts with the blankets.

William didn't answer, just grunted, rolled out of bed and took a naked walk to the bathroom.

John laughed in amusement. He had cups of coffee in each hand. "Cream? Sweetener?"

"Both please. That was nice of you. What are you doing up so early?"

"I'm showing property around the corner before my client catches a flight. But it isn't that early, it's eight-o-clock. Hey, you know who you look like without glasses when your hair is all messy?"

"Ramona the pest?" Tracy answered. She'd heard it before.

"Who's that?"

"A character from a children's book. It's the hair, because I'm certainly not a pest," Tracy stuck her tongue out as she took the cup John brought to her.

William had just emerged from the bathroom, still nude but holding a bathrobe, "Are you trying to schmooze my woman with coffee?"

John laughed, "Yes, I wish you'd stayed in the bathroom longer. I'm pretty sure she was merely seconds away from inviting me into that cozy bed, after I impressed her with my literary knowledge. Don't you think she looks like Scout from 'To Kill a Mockingbird'."

William laughed, shaking his head and tossed Tracy the robe, walked to other side of the bed, and crawled back in.

"Hey, that just gave me a great idea for that party!" Tracy exclaimed, "One of William's friends from the library is throwing a party, and everyone is expected to dress like a character from their favorite book. I can easily be Scout with a few freckles, overalls, and contact lenses. William can shave, do a dark rinse on his hair, add some glasses, and walla! Atticus!"

William laughed and stroked his short beard, "You'd be willing to sacrifice this inner thigh stimulation for one silly party?"

Tracy laughed and said, "Oh hell no, I better rethink this one," then changing tone to a coy voice asked John, "So, are you excited for our double-date tonight?"

"That's tonight? Uh-oh," John teased back, earning a toss of a pillow from Tracy.

"What are you wearing?" William asked John, who answered in a feminine voice, "Well I have a really cute outfit picked out, but do you think I should wear my Salvatore Ferragamo man-purse?"

Tracy laughed, but William's tone turned serious, "You're the one who complains about attracting gold diggers, now Tracy has found someone who might be quite the opposite, someone who might be put-off by extravagance and you need to dress accordingly."

"Honestly, I don't think Amy would even recognize a Salvatore Ferragamo label," Tracy injected.

"Really?" John asked, "Hmmm. Well then it wouldn't matter what I wear, right William?"

William groaned, "Just don't out-dress her."

John looked insulted at that last comment, "Damn William, I'm not a complete moron about women."

"Of course not," William answered. "But given your history, it is obvious you do require some guidance in regards to dating."

John shrugged at this last comment. He admitted it to himself; his track record with dating was despicable, but he didn't have any expectations this date would be any different. He decided to appease Tracy who seemed to think this Amy would be a great alternative to the women he usually dated. Tracy showed him a photo of a very attractive red-head, but there was no shortage of beautiful women in New York. John sighed, feeling momentarily lost, but then he remembered his appointment and his attitude abruptly changed. The slump in his shoulders was replaced with erect posture as he said with confidence, "Well my dear friends, you two enjoy your morning. I'm about to go close a deal."

* * * * *

Three outfits were spread out on Amy's bed, but she didn't feel satisfied with any of them. Her lack of dating had resulted in a wardrobe suitable for camping, not the Manhattan nightlife. And her dressy clothes were all "teacher-appropriate" and not sexy at all. But did she even want to look sexy? She didn't want to give this guy the wrong idea. She only agreed to this blind date because she valued her friendship with Tracy and she didn't want to seem like a bad sport. She looked back over her choices and decided to text Tracy for her opinion.

"What are you wearing?" She asked in text.

"Dress with boots," Tracy texted back.

Amy slumped down on the bed. Her new friend had an extremely hip fashion sense, and if she allowed herself to make the comparison, Amy felt like a frumpy old-maid teacher, instead of a stylish twenty-seven year old. She texted Tracy a sad face, and to her surprise her phone rang immediately.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know what to wear. I don't have a dress that would be appropriate, but I don't want to copy you anyway."

"Oh Amy, I always wear dresses just because I love them. You should wear whatever makes you feel attractive. Besides, this place is really casual. You could wear jeans if you dress them up, and you look really good in jeans. Girl, if I had your cute little bubble-butt..."

Amy laughed, grateful for Tracy's helpful spirit and also for being called "bubble-butt", a term that reminded her of her friends from her track team who used to compliment her butt and even tease her by throwing quarters at her backside.

"Hey," Tracy said, "Do you want me to come over and help you put an outfit together? I have a few tops I can bring. I think we are similar sizes on top, and then we can just meet the guys at the restaurant."

"Really? You'd do that?"

"Oh sure, it would be fun! I love fashion, you know."

"Yes, I know. Thanks Tracy, I really appreciate it. I'm kind of nervous and it would be cool if we could get ready together."

"I'll be there at five, okay?"

"Great. See you then."

Amy hung up the phone and smiled. This is why she agreed to go out. Tracy was the first woman she met since moving to the city who had a friendly disposition like her friends back home, instead of the New York cold shoulder. She cleared off the bed and took out two pairs of fashionable jeans and three pairs of heels.

Hours later, the two left Amy's apartment, dressed, made up, and coiffed for a night on the town. As they walked over to a waiting cab, Amy shook her head in awe of how Tracy moved with the confidence of a fashion model, and wished she had even a tenth of Tracy's confidence. The pair turned heads, but Amy felt certain Tracy's bold style attracted the attention.

"That halter looks so good on you, Amy. It looks made for you," Tracy said.

"Thanks. I never wear anything like this. I always try to hide the fact that I have a small chest."

"Pfft, who cares. Your arms and shoulders are amazing and should not be covered. Besides, that blue color really flatters your auburn hair."

Amy smiled and thought about how she would have never put this outfit together if it were not for Tracy's influence. She convinced her to wear black slacks and strappy heels, and when she reached for a black sweater, Tracy said, "Try this" and pulled out a red wrap. It worked with the blue top in a way Amy would not have imagined.

As the cab pulled up to the restaurant, Tracy pointed out, "There they are." Amy saw William standing out front with his friend and even though she promised herself she'd keep an open mind, her brain did a quick assessment that quickly put him in a class with ninety-nine percent of all men she met in New York; vain, materialistic, metrosexual, a non-athlete, and completely useless in a post-apocalyptic situation.

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