As Jessie cut across the grass she heard a voice before she saw her,
"Listen…I don't care about this like she does. I mean, I'm just here because I love the team and I don't hate running. Danni is like in love with cross country, and besides, she wants to run in college. Who am I to beat her and take it all away from her?" She heard a mumbled response and the hushed voice continued,
"No, I told you, I'm totally fine. I couldn't look at Danni's face if I was the one who took away her last chance to run a high school cross country race. To me it's just running…to her it's life."
Their voices broke off Jessie walked out from behind the tree the two still sweaty girls were leaning on. She could hear one of them sigh with relief as she continued on past them. As she walked away, their voices faded.
"Just promise you won't say anything to anyone…"
Across the parking lot Jessie settled in between her bag and her friend Kaylee under the Panther's tent. She folded her arms across her knees and rested her head on them, thinking about what she had just heard. Those girls were from Oakridge High, a school just outside the city, and it sounded like one of them had just thrown the race for another runner. Maybe there was a good explanation, but for some reason the girl's voice stayed with her. Was it weird to want to know more? She had a few more thoughts to sort out, but was interrupted by a familiar voice.
"Earth to Jessie, did you leave something in the Hurricane's tent or something?"
Jessie blinked back to reality and turned to see Kaylee looking at her questioningly. Jessie shook her head quickly to clear her mind and realized that she had been unconsciously staring across the parking lot at the Oakridge runners' tent. She opened her mouth to answer, then thought better of it and shut it again. Mumbling something about the heat, she slipped on her headphones and resolved to find out whom this girl was as David Banner's voice pounded on her ears. After all, she went to a completely different school; it's not like it would matter anyway. Her brother always said her curiosity was her largest character trait, although he never conceded whether it be a flaw or a positive thing. She would merely be staying in character if she attempted to solve this new puzzle. Attributing the shaky, fuzzy feeling inside to David's lewd lyrics, she snuggled deeper into her sweatshirt and tried her very best to forget the girl's soft voice.
Katie smiled and laughed at all the right times during their cool-down and the JV race, but inside she was a little torn up. Looking at Danni's hopeful face, she knew she made the right decision to run behind her and push her to go faster over Lehigh University's 3.1 mile course. After all, this made Danni Oakridge's number seven runner and the last one to make the cut-off to run in the District meet the following week. Katie had been feeling great today, she was sure that she could have easily finished 5th for the Oakridge Hurricanes, but where would that have left Danni? Eighth, she told herself, that would have left her as the lucky runner number eight. Still varsity, but alternate. The Eight girl is the first girl who doesn't get to run. Katie held in a sigh and thought about how much Danni did over the summer and how hard she worked at practice. Danni wasn't the best, but boy did she want it the most. She was also the unluckiest when it came to injuries, and had been battling various hip and knee problems since the middle of sophomore year. Knowing that she had given Danni the chance to run in one last meet made Katie sit up a little straighter and, as she thought about how much Danni deserved it, her mood lightened ever so slightly. After all, she would run around the course just as fast if she was cheering as she would racing it. Katie corrected herself in her mind, when she runs around the course cheering, not if. After all, her racing career was over.
"Maggie's number three in the girls' race!"
Julie shouted as she whizzed by to catch the runners at the next checkpoint. Katie smiled as the lithe girl sped off; Julie had been sick all day and still had energy after her own race to cheer on the JV girls. Katie decided to follow suit and catch up with Julie to cheer for the promising freshmen running over Lehigh's rolling hills.
She reached the corn field just as the first girl was coming through the clearing. Behind her was a Northampton girl whom Maggie was quickly closing in on.
"C'mon Maggie! That's the way, reel 'er in!"
The two Oakridge girls chattered at lightening speed as Maggie flew past and overtook the now struggling Northampton runner.
"Yeahhhh Maggie! Stay strong girl! Stride out and put some distance on 'er!"
After screaming like banshees at the next four Oakridge girls who ran by, Julie and Katie decided to work their way over to the finish in time to see Maggie bring it in. Julie loped off along the tree-line and Katie swung around to follow, which would have worked a lot better if she hadn't smacked right into another person. She righted herself and grabbed her victim's arm to help the girl avoid a rendezvous with the pavement. The blonde girl stumbled but managed to stay on her feet.
"Holy crap, I am so sorry!" Katie stammered.
The girl looked up at her after she was satisfied that the ground was staying where it should be. Her blue eyes got wide and she seemed taken aback for a second. Then she smiled weakly,
"It's fine, really. Sometimes I even have people run me over just for fun."
Katie couldn't help but laugh and quickly clapped a hand over her mouth. The girl's smile grew and she let out a nervous giggle. Katie dropped her hand and finally smiled back, until she realized she was still holding the girl's arm in her other hand. She released it and stepped back into another spectator. Her head whipped around and she shot the meaty man an apologetic look, he wasn't quite as nice as the girl in the Upton Sinclair sweatshirt and returned her nervous smile with a well-practiced scowl. Katie drew in a sharp breath and took a few steps closer towards the last casualty of her movements. The scowl man returned his attention to the race and Katie's head swiveled back around to the Upton Sinclair runner. As she prepared to apologize again, she noticed the girl's blue eyes were sparkling and she instead retorted in mock sarcasm,
"Oh sure, I'll just get eaten by the guy who spilled his coffee on his way here. But then you'll have to find another klutz to send you flying." The blonde girl's hand flew to her forehead,
"What will I do? I couldn't possibly stay on my feet for an entire afternoon, the earth would go spinning off its axis!"
Katie's eyes crinkled up, she liked this girl. As she opened her mouth to begin a verbal battle, Julie's voice forced her to turn around.
"Katie," she called, "come ON! I think Maggie can beat this girl!"
Katie shrugged apologetically,
"Maybe I'll see you at the football game. Generally my tackles hurt less if you're padded."
The other girl laughed and waved as Katie jogged towards Julie. Before she got out of earshot, Katie turned around impulsively. The girl had turned back around, but glanced her way when Katie spun around again,
"By the way, my name's Katie. I usually try to know a person's name before I attack them." The girl smiled again, Katie found herself thinking about what a nice smile she had.
"Jessie. I'm Jessie, and feel free to attack at will."
Katie grinned and spun around carefully before skipping over to catch up with Julie. In seconds Maggie had sprinted by trying to catch the swift, black girl just steps ahead of her. As the wave of runners streamed past, Katie saw and yelled for Alex, Kristen, Laurie, Brenna, and Victoria. Strange as it was though, the runner she couldn't get out of her head was not one of her junior varsity runners striding by her, but a slender blonde girl in a green and gold sweatshirt named Jessie.