It was a Saturday! Not my first choice of days to wake up early on. But...well not even a day to wake up early to go running on.
But there was a reason. It was for Allie. That was the reason I got up early on a Saturday.
I tried to convince that Saturdays were great days for sleeping in, but it never worked. She was always up early. Ready to run. It was always the same thing, Friday night we would be out somewhere, sometimes bowling (she always beat me) or to a movie, and then afterward we would end up at the all Bagel-Tarium and Snack Shack. I would try to explain that it was the one day of the week you could truly sleep in. “You see,” I said to her, “Monday through Friday you were a slave to school or work, and Sunday was for God. Well, if you like that sort of thing. That leaves Saturday for sleeping…or other such things” I felt like I was presenting a thesis in high school, it was awkward and my palms were sweaty.
She would just laugh and say she had her Saturday rituals and I had mine.
The words echoed from last night to the sunshine and far too early hours. The sky was bright and blue, and I scanned the sky to see a couple of birds flying overhead.
I sighed, “Really?”
She nodded and said, "I am glad you came out to join me, and not just because of the health benefits." She smiled a wide grin and began to stretch.
“Me too. But Saturdays were those days when nothing mattered and you can just do nothing.” I tried to sound convincing but felt I was failing after I said it.
“Right! Well you might feel that way. Probably because you have nothing that matters,” she said as she leaned down stretching her hamstrings. “You coming, or are you going stand there watching me?” asking in that nonchalant way of hers.
I just stared at her, watching her kneeling in the dusty driveway--breathing in her slow rhythmic and stretching in that way that I found sexy. "I have things that matter..." going quiet and eyeing her movement from one leg to the next.
“Seriously? Like what?” she asked as she moved to stretch her quads. The early morning sunlight bounced off her auburn hair making it look purpley and red. “You just gonna stand there gaping...” she trailed off, touching her fingers to her feet and circling upward in some exotic shamanic dance.”What matters to you?" she asked me.
She was definitely flexible and it made me think inappropriate thoughts rise to my mind.
"We should get moving Gretz. Time waits for no man, or woman," and she winked at me. "Besides this was your idea, wasn't it?" motioning to the sneakers and early morning sunshine.
She was right. The conversation leads to running and how he wanted to try to get into shape. Allie had suggested it and I jumped at the bait, not realizing what I was getting into. I guess I have more at stake than sacrificing my Saturday morning was worth it. “I know. It was.”
"You stretching?" she asked, as she moved onto another set of stretches.
"Of course," I called over, miming basic stretching but my mind was thinking of other things, like watching her graceful movements. I knew I should be stretching. Hell, I was a good fifty pound overweight, but I couldn’t get my motivated, especially with Allie warming up in front of me. I was distracted. My plan for today seems suddenly flimsy. Not really sure I could go through with it.
She lifted her head to meet my eyes, “You haven’t stretched AT ALL!” Her voice seemed accusatory across the space between us.
“I am. I just stretched before I came over to meet you. I am already limber,” I said, “See?” I took my right foot and leaned back and I felt the muscle tense as I bounced up and down. “Look, totally stretched,” I said trying to sound professional, like I knew what I was doing. Truth was, it hurt, but I wasn’t going to show Allie that I really hadn't stretch. I couldn't show her my weakness. Certainly not until I said something!
“That’s not how you should do it, but as long and you are stretching, then I guess…” she trailed off to sweep her torso down and around, pulling her arms higher. It was then that I saw how she tight fitting her top clung to her breasts and I forgot everything about stretching or not stretching I was doing.
My mind went to the male place of reason and ran with possibilities of Allie’s flexibility. Her muscles swimming underneath her running clothes and I could imagine all kinds of things. Things that would make my mother blush. Things that I would have to go to confessional for.
This was probably the best part of the morning watching her warm up routine. The sinuous and firm form and I how warm I felt in the crisp morning air. Lost in my thoughts I pulled at my arms in a mock display of stretching should Allie be watching.
“Heads up!” I hear her say and a water bottle suddenly flew through the air and hit my right shoulder. It felt like a brick slamming into my stocky form. I was a little knocked off balanced and I fumbled to catch the bottle. It dropped it and stepped sideways awkwardly into the dirty driveway to avoid falling over, but end up on one knee anyway. I felt the little stones bury into my knee and a tiny groan escaped my lips.
“Nice one, Gretz…” Allie said and she jogging over to me and helped me up, "Grab my hand,” she said planting her brightly sneakered feet and pulling me up to standing position, “Not paying attention, huh?” she laughed as I tried to pick up my water bottle. “Warmed up, then?”
I laughed, feeling suddenly self-conscious, “Yup, just call me Noodle Legs.” I felt horrible and felt my cheeks flush. I was sure she was going to say something, but she just dusted me off.
"Okay, let's go!"
I didn’t have the heart to say no, that I had been too busy ogling her athletic body and thinking impure thoughts. At least it was Saturday and not Sunday. I could think them and just confess tomorrow. Maybe I would have something to really confess about tomorrow. I grinned at the thought and started to jog.
“We’ll start slow since you haven’t been running,” she said to me.
“Nah, let’s just get to it,” I said confidently, not thinking about the possible outcome of that choice.
Her eyes met mine and I saw the greeny hazel of them, “Well,” she paused to grab my water bottle from the ground, “Even if you are up for a straight run, I want to start slow, Smarty.” She handed me the bottle, “Clasp that to your belt, Gretz and let’s go,” and she took off at a gentle lopping gait.
I didn’t think it would burn this bad. It burns that bad…
Every single breath I took, it burned. I didn’t want to show weakness and I was enjoying my time with Allie. Truth was that I spent all winter thinking about asking her out. We conversed a lot over the long winter months through email and text messages. It was hard to get down to see her when she lived a good fifty miles away and I had no car.
Allie kept trying to talk to me.
There wasn’t a lot of chatter between us as I had to focus on my breathing. My lungs were burning and saw pin prick of light around my peripheral vision.
“So, Gretz, do you know why I love to run on Saturdays?” she suddenly said over to me. I shook my head. No words escaped my lips. I was just trying to jog and breathe without keeling over.
Again I shook my head and huffed a little under my breath.
“I have morning classes every day. Every damn day from eight to noon. There is no chance to sleep in. There is always class. Been that way the last two semesters. I started running because I could get an early start every other day, I thought while not add Saturday to the roster of early mornings.”
There was silence as all I heard was the thud of our feet hitting the ground, most of the fog had burned off by now and the sun was warm making my skin feel clammy. It was warm for a spring morning, but not that warm I thought. It felt so good being with Allie that I just tied to keep up with her and listened to her talk, about anything and everything. That and I couldn’t talk or I would probably pass out trying to do so.
“And Sunday mornings Mom comes down to visit me and we go to church in town. I hate it. Hate!" she emphasized it, almost dramatically. "Not really a church person, but Mom insists" I nodded. "She drives all the way down here so we can go spend time together.
“Up at seven and dressed, church at eight, followed by brunch.” Silence fell in step. “I hate it. Not the brunch necessarily, but the church. Did I say that already?"
I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t form words. In the three and a half years since I met her, I was haven’t been able to tell her anything but the basics. I had grown fond of her. Even liked her, but I was always too scared to say anything. To tell her that she made my heart flutter and love the sound of her voice. That I thought about doing the most creative things to her to please her, sometimes sexual. I never said anything. Not once…
It occurred to me that maybe I was going to miss out. We were in our last semester, the last spring semester together. I should say something…
“Do you go to church, Gretz?” I heard her ask me. "I don't think I ever asked you that? Religion's not my thing," she said.
I turned to face the road, not sure what to say. I also was dragged to church by my mother, but I didn’t mind it so much. I was a good catholic, but Allie was not. Well, she obvious just pretended. Not that I cared. I like her whether God was involved or not. I was afraid to tell her that too, afraid of a lot of things. But, I knew that I needed to say something, so I turned to glance at her. I opened my month to force something out of my huffing and grasping month.
The world turned over and I lost all of my breath suddenly.
It went dark.
The first thing I felt was the pain in my chest and the burning. I didn’t think anything about but the pain; it was then that I felt something on my lips, warm and wet. I wanted to exhale out, but couldn’t. There was a need to cough, but I felt her month over mine. It flowed into my mouth and down my trachea. The cool air from her lungs was opening my windpipe, while my pants felt warm and tight. I moved my lips, pulling away coughing.
“Gretz?” I heard Allie’s voice and the light made everything look like blobs of colour and the soft rays of sunlight filled my vision, “Gretz, are you okay?” she said sounded concerned standing over me.
I coughed and tried to sit up. Allie pushed me back gently laying me back to the ground, “Please don’t move yet and breathe Alan.” I heard her say my first name and I was aware of pain in my side and ankle. Coughing, I tried to roll onto my side breathing in dirt and grit. The sun was mostly midway across the sky now. It couldn’t be that late, only ten minutes or so since I blacked out. I think.
“How…” cough cough, “How…long?” cough cough, I felt the gritty dust from the dry roadway on my teeth and lips. The memory on Allie’s lips on mine, it didn’t feel strange.
“That you were out?” she asked.
I continue to cough and gasp and nodded.
“Slowly, Alan. Breathe slowly,” she said as patted my back as reinforcement.
“My ankle…hurts…” I spluttered and was still coughing, but felt a cool plastic bottle press into my hands.
“You tripped. Can you move it?”
“No, I don’t think.” I tried to rotate the ankle and felt a burning shoot up my leg, “Shit! That hurts.” And began another round of coughing.
“What?” Allie ran her hands down my leg, feeling the length for any injury.
I am not going to lie, I liked it. Her on my leg, not the pain.
“The leg,” I motioned to the part she was touching, “It burns. It feels like a fire burning.”
“Ah,” said, “I thought you said you stretched?” I turned to look at her, she was frowning, but I could see concern in her hazel green eyes.
My breath was returning and I felt flushed. I shook my head. “No, I guess I didn’t,” and my eyes dropped to the ground. "I'm sorry..."
“Muscle strain, that’s all it is, Gretz.” She stood up, “You ready? We need to get you to stand slowly, and walk it out,” she said accenting the words.
But, the thought occurred to me that maybe I should say something now. We were alone on Country Route 5 and it was the first day of spring, too lovely a day to ruin without saying something. We weren't going anywhere yet, or maybe we were. I really hoped we would go somewhere.
I coughed and tried to take a few more deep breaths. “Slowly, Gretz,” she said. After a few moments, that somehow felt like infinity, I sat up and pulled my burning leg closer to me.
“Yes, now!” she said so deliberately and stood next to me. She leaned down and grabbed me around my rather thick middle, “on the count of three slowly start to stand.”
I shifted to my knees and wincing in pain. Allie counted, "1, 2, 3…” and I slowly rose to my feet. She stood next to me, arm around my waist, keeping me stable. “Easy.”
“Call me, Alan,” I said trying to look at her, but she was not paying attention to me.
“Okay, weirdo,” she said. She got me to stand on my own, with my one foot only touching the ground with the ball of my foot.
Standing there with her arms around my waist, “I have to say....”
“…Go ahead,” she rolled her left hand out in a motion to hurry up. “Daylight’s wasting, Gretz.” She paused to look at me, “Sorry, Alan. What is it?”
“Allison, I…I....” I stumbled and stuttered all while faking a coughing fit trying to find words and my courage, but it was gone. After a moment I said, “Can we do this again?”
Allie eyed me suspiciously, “Uh, sure, Alan. But you probably should stretch next time," she shoved me gently, while still holding onto my waist. “Let’s walk.”
I turned away and took slow step, hobbling while she helped to support my weight. I wanted to bury myself in the dusty ground, but couldn’t actually leave Allie’s side. I knew it wasn’t going to be. Even after of this time, all the places we have gone, I still couldn’t tell her that I loved her.
“Gretz?” she suddenly asked. I couldn’t look at her., feeling too dumb, and too numb. “Gretz…” she said sounding sad. I still couldn’t turn to face her. “Alan,” her voice changed and she took my chin and turned my face to hers. She kissed me out there on County Route 5 in a mouthful of dust, sweat, and a pulled muscle.