It was never easy for Neil Digiorno-Madden.
For his siblings and half-siblings and his one near-sibling, it was a cinch, a snap, ironically, a piece of cake.
But for Neil, maintaining a healthy weight was never a simple affair.
He had about every strike against him possible.
His deceased father, Doug Beckett, had kept in shape by being a soldier, and doing odd construction jobs around the house and Neil's mother's house and even at Malcolm Reed's neighboring house, in the little area where they all lived on Lafa II. Neil's mother, Melissa Madden, kept fit by bicycling, although she was getting slower and more and more forgetful and so it was becoming more of a challenge to get her out there. It was getting safer to just keep Melissa close to home, so she was, as a result, getting a small spare tire.
Neil's mother's partner, Norri Digiorno, was bookish and did little those days that was physical, but she kept her weight down by a near fanatical devotion to counting calories. And then there was Neil's late father's equally late wife, Lili O'Day Beckett Reed, who had been a professional chef. And there was Lili's second husband, the late Malcolm Reed, who seemingly could eat anything but, also did a boxing workout into his eighties and, even on the day of his death, had had cheekbones with which you could practically cut glass.
Lili was gone, Malcolm was gone and Doug was gone. Norri and Melissa were slowing down. And Neil, who managed Lili's old restaurant, Reversal, had little time for workouts, although he always had time to taste whatever the new Calafan chef had prepared.
And so Neil had packed on the kilos.
It got so bad that his live-in girlfriend, Ines Ramirez, and his nighttime woman, a Calafan named Yinora, had independently told him that he needed to move more and consume less.
Norri had tried to teach him the mysteries of ascetic calorie counting, but Neil would have none of it. Melissa, even as she was showing the beginnings of Irumodic Syndrome, offered to take him biking, but he felt clumsy. Neil had to, somehow, do it on his own.
It would have been easier, he thought to himself that day, if I had been a thin kid. But I wasn't.
He was chugging along, huffing and wheezing, feet barely lifted above the dirt path. He was all alone. It was time to think. He had ear buds and a player but had switched all of that off in favor of listening to nature. And, perhaps, to hear if it would be one last wheeze. He was awfully uncomfortable.
This is what I get for signing up for this damned thing in the first place, he thought. This is what I get for putting it together. The Run for Lo – it's more like the Run for a Decent Breath.
It was a 5K race – the first ever on Lafa II. There were twenty-eight entrants. Neil knew that they were all done, all the rest of them. The other twenty-seven, humans, Calafans and even a Vulcan and a Tellarite, had crossed the finish line long before. Neil checked a display on his pedometer. He was thirty-nine minutes into the race. He had passed the two-thirds mark. But he was tired.
Yep, he thought, it would have been easier if I'd been a thin kid. And I was never a thin kid.
His eldest brother – well, half-brother – was Joss Beckett. Joss was tall and powerful, a carbon copy of Doug. Joss had been a catcher on the High School baseball team. Scouts from the New England Red Sox and the South American Pistoleros had come around. But Joss was a practical animal lover and so he had instead gone to veterinary school.
His only sister – half-sister, that is – Marie Patrice Beckett, had been a minor soccer star in school. She wasn't good enough to be scouted. She was living on Andoria.
His elder brother – a full brother – Tommy Digiorno-Madden – was a Tactical Ensign working for Captain Aidan MacKenzie. There was little doubt in Neil's mind that Tommy was working out every single day as some sort of condition of staying in Starfleet.
Declan Reed, who was Lili and Malcolm's son and technically not related to Neil at all, had fully embraced his British roots and had played cricket. Just like his father, he had sharp cheekbones and was thin and wiry.
"Just you and me, eh, Kevin?" Neil muttered to himself as he jogged on, slowly. "Okay, Kev, well, that's not fair. You didn't live long enough to get fat. So maybe you wouldn't have. I dunno." Kevin was another full brother but he had not lived through even his first month.
The Calafan countryside was pretty. The course went over one bridge – the Fep Bridge, then over on the other side of the Cha River and then over the Wev Bridge and then the end. The Fep Bridge, as befitted its name, was small and easy to get over, for Fep meant small. But the Wev Bridge was a killer, as Wev meant master.
"We shoulda gone in the other direction," Neil whispered to no one as he began going up one side of the Wev Bridge.
At the crest of the Wev Bridge, he looked down over the Cha River. "The Faith River", he muttered to no one as he looked for signs of the finish line. There was sweat in his eyes so he couldn't tell where it was.
Keep going, keep going, he thought to himself. He walked, he jogged – it didn't seem to matter much in terms of his overall speed. His feet felt hot. His shins were starting to throb. He unscrewed the cap on a water bottle in the fuel belt he wore. "You said it was silly, Ines," he whispered, "You said this is what marathoners wear, and I am no marathoner." He chuckled a little. "But right now this is saving my fatty bacon." He took a drink. There was a flavoring where he didn't expect any. "What's this? You mixed a little tofflin juice in there, eh?" Another smile. "You gave me a performance enhancer, Ines. They're gonna disqualify me, you silly gal."
Finally, he heard buzzing, murmuring, the sound of a crowd. He wiped the sweat out of his eyes and saw the end of the race. He was only expecting Ines. Their kids had claimed to be busy. Yinora was supposed to be out of town. Everyone else had their own lives.
Yet there they were. It was Joss and his wife, Jia and their children, Shaoquing and Jay. It was Marie Patrice with her long-term boyfriend, Ken Masterson. It was Declan, too. It was Melissa with Norri, and Norri was drawing Melissa's attention, letting her know who to applaud for. And Tommy was even there, and that seemed impossible, but he was! And Ines was there, yes, as promised, but so were their children, Marty and Jenny. And Yinora was there, too, with her own children, Treve and Yipran and Yimar. And even Yinora's husband was there – Fepwev. Yinora's Aunt Pamela Hudson was even there.
They were all applauding for him. He felt strange, and he began to run as fast as he could.
He was far from graceful. But then, he never had been. His siblings had been the graceful and athletic and strong ones. He never had been. He had been the Bassett Hound amongst the gazelles.
There was an electronic display showing his time. As he huffed by, feet picked up as high as they could go, he saw it click over to forty-three minutes flat as he made it to the end of the race.
He was drenched, and immediately doffed his tee shirt. Yinora and Ines came over. "We have a clean shirt for you," Ines said.
Without even waiting for an invitation, they slipped it over his head. Then Declan took a photograph as the two women smooched him, on each cheek. A little dazed, he had the presence of mind to look at the new shirt, which said, 'Kiss me, it's my first 5K'. Fepwev came over and draped a finisher medal around Neil's neck. "I do believe this one's yours."
Neil was about to thank him when he felt a tug on his sleeve. It was Jia, Joss's wife. Quietly, she said, "Do you think you could teach me to run?"
She was a little overweight, too. She looked at him expectantly. "We'll go together, okay?" Neil said, "And you'll run the second Run for Lo with me, all right?"
"All right," Jia said, "all the way to the finish line."