This is my final short story for my creative writing class. It's kind of long, but I could't find a good place to split it. Enjoy!
Dustin’s heart pounded as if he’d already run ten miles. He tried taking deep breaths to settle down. Should he breathe into a bag? Was that for times like this? He shook his head. He was more likely to throw up into the bag than breathe into it, anyway. He’d barely eaten any lunch, but that handful of french fries was looking for revenge.
Every day after school, he and Shanna ran in the park across the street from their houses. She was on the cross-country team and this was her off-season training. Her parents had been nervous about her running alone, so she had asked him to come along and her parents had no objections. They had known him since birth, after all.
The days were short now. It didn’t get dark until after they finished running, but the late-afternoon sun was more in the business of casting shadows than making things brighter. Dustin thought the sun had a split personality—six months of happy and six months of cranky.
Even telling himself lame jokes wasn’t working, because his stomach was still churning and he had goosebumps that had nothing to do with the cold. He hadn’t intended to fall in love with Shanna. She was his childhood friend, a known Tinker Toy thief and an expert at Chutes and Ladders. But she also shared her M&Ms—she sorted them by color and let him choose which ones he wanted first. It had been their game for as long as either of them could remember, a tradition they kept long after she returned his Tinker Toys and Chutes and Ladders gathered dust in her closet. And now he wanted more than her green M&Ms.
Shanna dashed up from across the street, sending the butterflies in his stomach into a fresh frenzy. She smiled at him and he got warm all over. She was much better than the sun.
“Hey, Dustin! Thanks for waiting,” she said. “My running clothes were buried in my laundry and it took me a while to find them.” She raked her hair back from her face with her fingers and wrapped a rubber band around it, leaving hair sticking out in all directions. “Ready?”
Shanna took off. It was a three-mile loop around the lake and she always took the first mile too fast. They could talk during the second mile, after she slowed down. Today he hung back, going over his plan again. Once they finished running, he would ask her to go ice skating. The outdoor rink opened this weekend and he thought it would be perfect: Shanna loved skating but had an awful sense of balance. She always had to hold onto someone to stay upright, and this weekend, Dustin would be that someone.
“What are you doing back there?” Shanna called over her shoulder.
“Why are you still behind me?”
He came up level with her. “I can’t keep up. You’re a speed demon.”
Shanna rolled her eyes. “Right. After all the meets I ran, I have one third-place ribbon. And that was the time everybody else had the flu. I’m only faster than turtles and slugs.”
Dustin was in safe territory when they were teasing each other. “Probably other things, too,” he pointed out. “Snails. Possoms. Babies.”
“Gosh, that really makes me feel better,” Shanna said. “Hey, Dustin, do you have any tutoring time available this week? I think my algebra teacher is just making things up now.”
“Sure,” Dustin said. More time with Shanna? Yes, please. “I have some time tonight.”
“Can’t,” Shanna said. “I have plans. What about tomorrow morning before school?”
“Yeah, that works for me. Your kitchen or mine?”
“Yours. It’s a date. I’ll bring Pop-Tarts.”
Dustin’s stomach twisted around itself. Did she say date? Did she mean it?
“What are you doing tonight?” he asked, hoping he sounded normal.
“I’m watching a movie with Brad.”
Dustin tripped and staggered a few steps. Shanna slowed down.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he muttered, trying to hide his red face. “Can we stop so I can tie my shoe?”
“Sure.” Shanna stopped and pulled a tissue out of her pocket.
Dustin re-tied both shoes. Shanna with Brad? His whole world had just flipped upside down. Since when did she hang out with that guy? Dustin and Shanna had been in the same circle of friends since kindergarden and Brad was not part of the gang.
Shanna blowing her nose brought him back to reality. She may have a gorgeous smile, shiny hair, and lots of green M&Ms, but she blew her nose like everybody else. He hoped she wouldn’t do that on Saturday—he wasn’t sure how he felt about holding a snotty hand. Although Shanna’s snotty hand was probably better than anyone else’s.
He stood up in time to see her stuff the damp tissue back into the rear pocket of her pants. Did she see him looking at her backside? Maybe he should run behind her again for a while. No, too obvious.
They started off again and Dustin’s legs protested.
“My legs. I think I stopped for too long. So, what movie are you watching with Brad?” He tried to sound like a friend, not a stalker.
“Much Ado About Nothing. Have you seen it? It’s one of my favorite Shakespeares.”
“Shakespeare? Since when is Brad interested in Shakespeare? He can’t even spell Shakespeare,” Dustin said. He needed to remember Much Ado About Nothing for later. Never mind. This crushing avalanche of jealousy would probably remind him for a while.
“He needs me to translate it from English to idiot for him so he doesn’t flunk a test. He was standing around in the hall the other day when I needed to carry some drama club stuff upstairs. I could only get him to help me if I promised to do him a favor.”
Shanna promised a favor to Brad? This girl needed a security detail. “Why didn’t you just ask me if you needed help?” Dustin asked.
Shanna shrugged. “You weren’t there and he was.”
Dustin wondered how awkward it would be to follow her around so she didn’t have to ask any other guys for help ever again. And especially not Brad.
Frightened squirrels ran away ahead of them as they ran, scattering leaves that would probably be covered with snow by morning. Dustin hadn’t been interested in running until two months ago, but he could see why Shanna loved it so much. He just hoped she didn’t want to start training for a marathon anytime soon.
“So, Dustin, I have a question,” Shanna said. His heart leaped. Was it a good question?
“What?” He tried to sound calm.
“Do you think we’ll be able to go on running together? Like, after Christmas? Once baseball starts? It’s just that running with you feels really safe. Like I don’t have to worry about what you’re thinking, you know? It’s like running with my best friend.”
A surge of joy hit every one of Dustin’s nerve endings at once. “Yeah, that would be great. I mean, I’ll have to ask Coach first. But he wants us to be in shape, you know? It should be okay.” Shanna was always talking about a runner’s high, and Dustin thought the sudden energy he was enjoying right now was pretty close. Except it didn’t come from running.
The end of the loop was coming up. “Race you to the finish!” Shanna shouted. She liked to sprint out the final quarter mile. Sometimes Dustin tried to beat her to the line they had spray-painted in the dirt, but today he stayed level with her and they crossed at exactly the same time.
Shanna bent double to get her breath, while Dustin walked around in circles to keep his muscles from cramping up even more. And to enjoy the view while it lasted.
She stood up and grinned at him. “How do you feel? Are your legs still sore?”
“Nah, I’m good,” he said. It was true; his nervousness was almost gone, and he didn’t care about his legs. Now was the time to ask her, before he changed his mind.
But she was already talking. “I gotta get some homework done before Brad comes over. See you in the morning?”
“Yeah. Hey, Shanna, I was wondering…” He hesitated.
“What?” she asked, still smiling. Her face was red and sweat-streaked and her hair was a mess, but her smile was perfect. An unexpected wave of terror crashed down on Dustin and he forced the words out.
“You know the ice skating rink is opening this weekend? I think just about everybody will be there, so I was wondering if you’d like to go.”
“Oh, great idea!” Shanna exclaimed.
Relief and joy flooded through Dustin. “Really?”
“Yeah, I’ve been wanting them to open it for weeks. I was thinking the other day that it’s been too long since the last time we all went out together. I’m so glad you were thinking the same thing. Everybody is always so busy.”
“So I guess you’ve talked to everybody else already, then? Okay, I’m in.”
“No, I meant—”
“Do you know what time it opens?”
“What? Oh, uh, one, I think.” Dang, this conversation was going the wrong way. Dustin wasn’t sure how to clear it up without sounding like a moron.
“I’ll check the website when I get home and send everybody an email so we can decide where to meet up.”
“That’s not exactly…” he hestitated.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You should send the email. It was your idea.”
“Oh, no. No, it’s fine.” Dustin gave up. Whatever he had said wrong, he wasn’t going to act pathetic. “Go ahead and send it, I don’t mind.”
“Cool. I’ll bring the M&Ms.” She smiled, and his whole body tingled again. “We can all grab some hot cocoa or something afterwards. It’ll be fun. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
Dustin watched her jog across the street, up the steps, and through her door. He turned back toward the trail and started running again. Shanna always said that running helped her think better, or at least made her tired enough to go to sleep.
He was going to find out if it worked.