Waking Olivia(4)

By: Elizabeth O Roark

It takes me over an hour to find my apartment because I’m not familiar with the area yet. I figure I only ran about three miles before I woke up, but I probably ran another four backtracking to find my neighborhood.

I arrive at the track a short time later, undoubtedly the only girl here who's already run seven miles. I stare off in the distance, trying to pretend I don’t see the girls around me whispering, shooting sly glances my way. They all know who I am. Most of them wish I weren’t here. There’s one girl in particular, taller than the rest, who makes no secret of her disdain. Fuck. I haven’t even met my teammates yet and I already want to throw a punch.

Will Langstrom, my new coach and dickhead extraordinaire, walks toward us and every head snaps up. Now that I am watching from a distance, I'll admit that he's ridiculously hot. Just his stride is sexy. His tousled brown hair, the hollows under his cheekbones, the upper lip. He’s cocky and it only makes him more appealing. I sort of hate us both for that fact.

He grins. "Morning, ladies.”

"Morning, Coach," they sing in unison. I remain silent. They're all looking at him like he's Prince Charming and Christian Grey rolled into one. He could pull down his pants right now and half of them would drop to their knees. No wonder he's such a dick.

"I assume you've all met your new teammates," he says, with a glance at me, but his voice holds no true expectation. Now it's their turn to be conspicuously silent. He introduces the two freshmen first, and then he turns to me. "And this is our only transfer. Olivia Finnegan comes to us from UT."

They look at me with some combination of expectation and delight in the comeuppance I've clearly received, the D1 girl sent back to the minors, but one who might just win them a title. They want to look down on me, but they can't do it for too long because they want to look up to me as well. He makes them all introduce themselves. Betsy, the one giving me nasty looks, is the only name I remember. It’s nice to put a name to the face I’m probably going to rub in the dirt.

"We're running the 10-mile loop this morning, and it's your lucky day because I'm running with you."

There are collective groans, so I guess that's a bad thing. "Hit the road and let's see how many of you slacked this summer."

I haven’t slacked. I spent the whole summer giving riding lessons during the day and running morning and night. But that won’t be reflected today.

Betsy takes off and we follow. She sets a decent pace. Nothing to write home about, but given that I barely had time to shower after my run this morning, I'm okay with that.

Sometimes I don't feel it as much but today I do, that heaviness in my thighs as if I'm asking them to lift a weight with each step, something tepid running through me. It’s not that I can’t run 17 miles in a day. I can. It’s just that I can’t run them fast. I can’t sprint them. And I must have sprinted this morning because my body has nothing left to push me forward. I manage, though. I have to. I can't fuck up here too.

I wasn’t surprised that I’d had a nightmare last night and woke up nowhere near home. It’s been happening since I was a kid, usually when I’m under stress but sometimes for no discernible reason. There are other people out there like me. They have a forum online where they exchange stories, but I’ve never told mine. Their stories involve running down a flight of stairs or maybe a block or two. Mine involve running miles, running through the woods, waking up bleeding and drenched in sweat.

Even in a group of abnormal people, I’m the freak.

There's a water stop at the halfway point, which is when I first take a good look at my teammates, covered in dust from the dry road kicking up, sweat streaking down their arms, creating tiny pathways through the dirt. I have a bad feeling about Betsy, the one who led. There's something arrogant, aggressive in the set of her shoulders, though I suppose the same could be said of me.

Will says nothing the entire time, and I have a begrudging respect for the fact that he can keep up with us at all. Every extra pound you carry, whether it's muscle or something else, is like carrying a few bricks along for the run. He probably outweighs me by 80 pounds. That's a lot of bricks.

It’s a relief when I finally see campus looming in the distance. I kept up. I didn't embarrass myself on the first day. Given that I’ve got that swimmy, unstable feeling I get before I pass out, it could have gone much worse. We reach the track and Will tells us he'll have notes for us at tomorrow's practice and sends us on in.

Well, almost all of us.

"Olivia," he says with an edge to his voice, "we need to talk." It’s clear that this won’t be a feel-good pep talk welcoming me to the team, and prompts a little smirk from Betsy.

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