Six years ago

Once upon a time, I drafted some ideas for a story. I wrote a few pieces as the characters began introducing themselves to me. I’ve never edited nor even really revisited those pieces in all these years. I simply wrote them and went on with life – which was graduate school at the time. That’s my disclaimer. This is one ’em. *shivers*
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Laysha stands on the damp grass, watching, waiting, eyes trained on Casey. Though the fans gathered are talking and laughing, she hears nothing. She barely feels Yogi’s chin against her shoulder. Yogi’s voice, miles away, registers “Four hundred. Your girl’s up.” ‘Laysha nods, distractedly. “Umm-hmm” she breathes. She thinks to herself, This should be good. See what she’s really made of. Hmmm. They put her in the right place. Slow poke lane way on the outside.

The shot rings out interrupting ‘Laysha from her thoughts. Arms crossed, her eyes follow Casey who quickly gets up to full speed. Casey rounds the first curve looking pretty even with the other girls. Her slight forward lean and wide, quick stride are almost regal. She’s running on her toes the way many sprinters do. It’s obvious she has some skills, but this isn’t your ordinary sprint.

She’s startin’ off kinda fast. Too fast really. I know she can’t keep that pace.

Into the first stretch, Casey is still striding, but losing pace with the faster, more experienced runners.

“Dang,” says Yogi, under her breath. ‘Laysha gently shakes away. Yogi, fully engaged, does not mind the brush off.

Dang is right. The 400 is no joke. She’s trying, gotta give her credit for that.

Casey is still at it, but all grace is gone. Three quarters around the track, she is demolished. Her feet pound the cushioned track as though each slap will somehow keep her going. Her chin in her chest, her eyes in her forehead, her face clouded with determination and pain. Entering the back curve she’s been left behind. Yanking her arms forward and back, her face is a grimace. She desperately gasps for breath, and silently prays for energy. She’s where no runner wants to be, but where every runner ends up sooner or later – nearing the end of the race with the bear on her back.

Engrossed, ‘Laysha thinks she hears Yogi, “Don’t give up Case!” She steals a glance to see Yogi clapping, waving her arms like she’s flagging the last bus of the night.

No longer able to feign disinterest, ‘Laysha leans forward shaking her head, “The bear really sucks,” she whispers. She realizes her heart is racing. She nibbles on her thumb then snatches it away. She might be a trooper Laysha concedes. She sucks in a deep breath, relaxing her shoulders while nibbling again on her thumb. She strolls toward the finish, apparently not caring how the race turns out. The other girls are staring at Casey, cheering her on like good teammates should. ‘Laysha keeps walking, peeking over her shoulder to see the grueling end. Just finish, she thinks. Just finish, her thumbnail starting to splinter under her teeth.

The race is over. Casey, last, out of breath, red from exertion and running in slow motion, finally passes everyone. She leans over the finish, almost toppling forward. She comes to an abrupt halt, clutching the stitch in her side and burying her face in her knees. “No, keep going!” Someone yells. “Jog it out Casey, don’t just stop!” She musters the strength to stand up straight and start moving again. Exhausted yet embarrassed, she is grateful for a reason to move a few feet away.

‘Laysha finds herself in step with Casey, whose arms are now skyward, beckoning air to once again fill her burning lungs. Body cooling from the ordeal, a few drops of sweat start to slide down her temples. Casey suddenly notices ‘Laysha on her left. Too winded to care, she whips her face back forward. Breathing is the only thing that matters right now. Breathing and mourning. Warm tears begin to slide down her damp face.

“It wasn’t as bad as you think.” No hint of the usual sarcasm. No snide remark. “Everyone knows that’s the hardest race. You held your ground. Keep your head up.”

Just as quickly as she appeared, ‘Laysha left Casey’s side, leaving the still breathless runner to consider the race, the team, and most of all the enigma ‘Laysha had just shown herself to be.

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