tagRomanceRunner Girl Ch. 06

Runner Girl Ch. 06


John stared mindlessly at the bottle of beer as he rotated it around in his hand, until William slid into the booth across from him. "Well?" his friend asked.

John raised his eyebrows as if he didn't know what William meant.

"Amy? Hiking? Photos? How'd it go?"

John shook his head, trying to form an answer. "I don't know," he said in frustration. "It started out great. I mean really great. We had a fantastic time and Amy was warm, flirty, and a lot of fun. We hiked and I took photos and then we had lunch out there before heading back."


"I don't know what happened. I don't know what I did or said that turned her off, but at some point during the drive back, her demeanor completely changed. She got quiet and... I don't know. She was really flirty and passionate on the trail."

William's eyebrows shot up and John dropped the pretense of not grasping the question.

"Yes, passionate. We kissed. We kissed a lot and it was amazing. You know, she really warmed up to me, but maybe she has an aversion to the city. Once we got close to home I could feel the temperature in the car drop and a pall settled over us. There was a palpable tension, not a good tension."

"What happened when you got back to her place?"

"Imagine this stroke of luck: I pulled up to her apartment right as a car pulled out and I snagged a parking spot, right on her doorstep. I wanted to walk her up to the door."

"And get invited in?"

"Yeah, maybe. But I wasn't counting on that. She had mentioned needing to grade a bunch of papers, but I thought I'd be able to take my time saying goodbye, kiss her some more, and make plans to get together again, but she acted extremely jittery and nervous, didn't want to kiss me, and then I got the Heisman Trophy." John held out a stiff arm, demonstrating the "Back off!" gesture.

"An aversion to public displays of affection perhaps?"

"But she had been a fireball all morning. We kissed in front of people at the summit, even in the restaurant. Besides, there was more to it than just not wanting to kiss at the door; she couldn't get away from me fast enough."

"Hmm. Do you think she might have been nervous that you'd want to come in?"

"Yeah, that could be, but her reaction was pretty extreme. I didn't ask to come up and... it just seemed so hot and cold, like two different people."

"Have you talked to her since?"

"No. No, I haven't. I'm not sure what to do. I guess I'll edit her photos and use that as an excuse to talk to her, but I don't know. I can't read her at all."

"Do you want me to see if Tracy knows what happened? Maybe they talked."

"No, don't involve Tracy. I don't want to hear from you two how I blew it, if I did. Besides, I'm not a moron about women. We really hit it off and were enjoying each other's company. I'm certain she liked kissing me, and from what I can tell I didn't say anything offensive at lunch. I think I'm just going to ask her what's up."

* * * * *

Amy checked her phone for the third time since leaving work, but still nothing. Her heart sank. No text or call from John since their hike and the more time elapsed, the more it was confirmed that she blew it. She allowed herself to really feel something for someone special, then panicked at the chance of intimacy. Will I ever bring myself to close the final gap? All the work she had done in therapy with Anne built up to the false impression that she was healed. Instead, Sunday demonstrated just how damaged she still was. Not only had she panicked, she knew she must have come across as a hot-and-cold freak, or a tease, or... she didn't even want to think any more about the possible impressions she had left John with.

She knew what she needed to do, even though she hated it: she needed to explain her actions. It wouldn't change things, but she couldn't stand the thought of being called a tease again. She'd rather acknowledge being screwed up in the head, than to be branded a tease. She called and left a message on his voicemail asking him to call back. Then she laced up her shoes and headed out the door hoping for a mind-clearing run.

The brisk weather and crowded streets were both a deterrent, but still preferable over the gym. The path along the Hudson was the closest place to run where she wouldn't be bothered by traffic lights. She had to run through twelve stoplights just to get there, running in place while waiting for lights to turn. It wasn't until she reached the running path and found a good groove that her mind began to process what she might say to him, provided he even wanted to talk. Anne suggested just laying out the whole mess before him. If nothing else, Anne said, it would be good practice, but Amy wanted to wait and see how he reacted. She'd take her cues from his response.

Her legs were achey from the Underwear Run and the hike, and the soreness a welcome distraction. It felt good to run when she could feel her tight muscles loosening up with warmth. She stepped up her pace, and felt the strength in her legs, as she asserted dominion over her body to make up for the powerlessness she felt in her mind.

* * * * *

John sat at the corner table drinking coffee while waiting for Amy. The restaurant provided the intimate atmosphere she had requested when she asked to talk to him. It had been a mystery-laden conversation, where she asked to meet somewhere public that also afforded them privacy.

He planned to call her anyway. The photos were edited and it gave him and excuse to get together, but she didn't seem interested in the photos at all. He would find out soon enough. He half expected her to ask for her photos and then say she'd decided they were incompatible, and he braced himself for the blow.

And then she appeared. She walked through the door into the restaurant and scanned the room. Her hair hung over her shoulder in a loose braid and she had on what looked like a conservative work dress, until she casually removed her cardigan revealing completely bare shoulders. John rose from his seat and made his way over and when her eyes met his, her face lit up in a smile. His heart leapt, knowing the dress and smile were both for him. Perhaps he wasn't dead in the water after all, but could he handle the peaks and valleys of Amy McGuinness?

"Hi," she smiled warmly, circled her arms around him, and held him close.

"Well, hi, Amy. I didn't expect such a warm welcome."

The smile faded, and instantly he regretted his words.

"I know, John. You have every right to be confused by my behavior."

He sighed in relief. At least she knew. "Come on, let's have a seat."

She surprised him again by nestling up next to him in the ample booth, then resting her head on his shoulder for a moment before straightening up. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"I don't know," she said. "I need to talk to you about something, and it's going to be difficult for me."

A waitress came and took Amy's drink order while John's mind pondered what she might say. Herpes seemed plausible. Maybe an ex she wasn't quite done with. That would be worse than herpes, actually.

"Look, I'm just going to jump right into this and... well, it's a big deal because I don't tell people about this, but it seems that by not telling you I am probably giving you the wrong message." She looked down at the table as she continued to speak. "Last time I had sex was about a year ago."

He waited.

"It was against my will." Her face returned to his and her eyes met his briefly, then looked away. "I was date-raped."

His hand went naturally and spontaneously to her shoulder, and he pulled her into an embrace. She remained there, even when the waitress brought her drink and placed it on the table, as John shot a glance that said, "Just leave it." Her breath warmed his neck and he knew he would remain in that position until she pulled away. When she finally sat up, she looked at him apologetically and said, "I'm sorry. My behavior on Sunday must have been really confusing."

"It was," he agreed. "But don't be sorry. I'm sorry, Amy. I'm so sorry that happened to you."

"Do you want to know what happened?"

He wasn't sure. After an immediate reaction of sadness for her, he felt a hot wave of anger. Rage. But it seemed better to know the circumstances rather than to speculate.

"I do. But only if you want to tell me."

Amy took a drink and glanced around the room. "I think I do. I mean, I thought I'd dealt with it, that I was over it, but the fact that I freaked out on Sunday makes me think I better just tell you. Certain things might make better sense if I do."

John braced himself.

"Well, you know I moved to the city because my college boyfriend got a job here. After we broke up, I wanted to prove to my friends and family back home that I didn't come to New York just for Dave. I wanted to stay and make a life for myself, and luckily I had a great job, but no friends to speak of. All the teachers at my work are older or married and... well... I joined a running club, which has been great, but I also tried internet dating."

"Of course. That's what everyone does these days."

"Yes, well... I guess I was pretty naïve about a few things. I went on a few dates that were no big deal, no real chemistry. A few nice guys, a few jerks, but no one I really clicked with. I guess that after a while I started to feel over-confident and..."

John waited. Amy took another drink then seemed to retreat into thought. "This guy acted different, in a good way," she eventually blurted out. "I really liked him and... we had chemistry. I kissed him and things got pretty heavy and heated. We were drinking and making out and... I did like him, but I wasn't drunk and I wasn't planning to have sex. I thought we could just kiss and, you know,... stop there."

"Of course. You can. You can stop anytime, Amy."

"Well, Don didn't think so. Don thought that kissing like that guaranteed sex. I let him take me home in a cab. When he got out with me, I thought he was just going to walk me to the door, but he paid the cab and the driver took off. I asked why, and he said he wanted to come up. I told him no, and he got kind of pushy, saying he just needed to use the bathroom and told me not to be weird about it. I thought maybe I seemed like... like someone from North Carolina, you know? Like maybe people in New York were more casual about... and..."

"And so you let him in?"

"Yes." Amy looked down at her lap. John felt anger welling up inside him but knew not to show it. He took Amy's hand under the table. "So he used my bathroom and when he came out, he... he tried to kiss me again and I started to get this weird feeling -- this vulnerable feeling -- because he was in my apartment and I didn't want him there, so I offered to walk him back downstairs and he very matter-of-factly told me he wasn't leaving."

John consciously tried to relax his clenched jaw. "Okay. So what did you do?"

"I told him to leave and he told me to quit being such a bitch."

His left hand clenched into a fist, while his right hand gently caressed Amy's.

"He started calling me a tease over and over, saying the way I kissed him at the bar told him I wanted it. It was wrong, he said, to lead him on like that, to tease him. I tried to get around him, I wanted to get out the door myself, but he kept blocking me and wouldn't let me pass... Ouch, John." Amy pulled her hand up. "Am I upsetting you?"

"Yes, Amy, I am getting upset. But... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to squeeze your hand so hard."

"This is upsetting, isn't it?"

"Please don't apologize to me. I can handle it. I'm just... Go on, okay?'

"Um, okay. Well, I told him to let me pass, then I threatened to scream and that is when he put his hand over my mouth." Amy paused. "But he might have been planning this all along, because he had a bandana in his pocket that he shoved into my mouth."

John exhaled loudly, and shifted in his seat. He could hardly take listening to this, but knew that he needed only to listen, and Amy... Amy actually experienced it. He saw a tear run down her cheek and he spontaneously reached up to wipe it away. She turned and looked at him, her eyes brimming with tears. He didn't know how much more he could take. He wasn't sure if it was mercy on her part or if she had reached her limit, but she spoke only one more sentence. "He left four hours later." And she buried her face in his shoulder and remained there as time stood still. It might have been two minutes, it might have been twenty, as he gently stroked her back and thought loving and murderous thoughts simultaneously.

She finally lifted her face and met his eyes again, and said, "I'm sorry to dump this on you, but that's why I freaked out on the way home. I haven't dated since then -- except for my dinner with Keith a couple of weeks ago, and that was to pay off a bet."

"Oh, Sweetheart," his hand came up and stroked her cheek. "Please don't apologize for any of this ever again. I'm sorry, Amy. I'm so deeply sorry that someone hurt you." He wanted to say more, but stopped. It felt like his emotions were getting shaky and his voice might betray him.

Amy sat up straighter and asked, "Do you want to know what happened after that?"

"Only if you want to talk about it."

"He got caught, but not because of me. I was the biggest idiot of all. All I had was a description of him and a fake name. He raped another girl a few months later. This girl had a friend she normally checked in with when she got home safely, but when she didn't, her friend called the cops. Of course the cops didn't do anything, so she went over there herself and banged on the door until a neighbor called the cops. He's in jail now."

"Wow. Thank God for friends like that, huh?"

"Yeah..." Amy nodded slowly. "No one even knew I was out on a date. I was the perfect victim. The stupid southern girl who broke all the rules. The female cop who interviewed me afterwards gave me a stern lecture about internet dating, like I'd ever even consider doing that again."

"Wow. God, Amy, I'm so sorry."

Amy made an attempt at a half-smile. "New rule: you're not allowed to apologize either."

John nodded slowly and didn't know what to say except sorry or how fucking pissed he felt, so he started looking ahead, thinking aloud about what it would mean. "We can take things slowly, Amy. I'm glad you told me this, as much as I hate knowing. We can... well, whatever you want, whatever you feel comfortable with. I'm in no hurry to push things along and I want you to..."

Amy leaned forward and kissed him, an urgent kiss, a "Shut up!" kiss that turned long and passionate, and when she pulled away, both of them were breathless. "Thank you," Amy whispered, shyly looking down at her lap before meeting his eyes again. "Thank you, John."

John scratched his head. "Um... you're welcome?" he laughed.

Amy grinned at him and said, "I feel a lot better. I feel like there is hope for us."

"Well of course there is, Amy. Isn't it obvious I'm crazy about you?"

"Yes, I mean, I thought so. But that was before you knew. I... didn't know if it would change things and I dreaded the thought of telling you."

John took her face in both hands. "I'm still crazy about you. But now I know that something horrible happened to you and it makes me feel so much. I'm going to do my best, Amy. I'm going to do whatever I can to make you feel secure and to show you that you can trust me, that you are safe with me."

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