The guys planned to run for the rest of the day as hard as they could. With no girls in the group, they didn’t have to be polite. They could be as mean and hard on themselves as they felt like, and at present they were feeling pretty mean.
Pounding the pavement angrily, they aimed for the highway. The fast pace of the rushing traffic provoked the speed they were demanding from their limbs. They stretched their legs out, forcing them to reach beyond normal lengths. Letting go of all hindrances, they took hold of the wind and ran.
When they hit highway 74 they picked up speed until they were moving at Andy’s ridiculous pace. Highway 74 was a good place to run because it had pedestrian walkways that would go over all the major intersections. You didn’t get stuck anywhere waiting on traffic. The grueling climbs up the stairs worked their angry muscles in the way that they craved, challenging their leg power without mercy. Every grueling step forced the anger that was bouncing around in their bodies to leave one little bit at a time. Taking the stairs by twos, they ignored the agonizing screams of their ligaments and joints and pressed forward.
The sky was ice blue on this day. Being the end of October the breeze was frigid and unfriendly. The icy air slapped them in the face as they raced down the highway. Salty sweat beads ran down their faces into their eyes making them sting and tear up. Every now and then a horn would honk as someone they knew passed them on the highway, but none of them would turn to see who it was. They were not in a sociable mood today. They silently focused on the miles of hard, cold highway ahead.
Andy had a stop watch that he periodically glanced at to match their time with their location. Once they hit the Family Mart they turned in for water.
In the parking lot they walked around in tight circles knocking elbows and shoulders as they passed by each other until Mark finally spoke up, “What’s our time, Andy?”
Andy held out his watch for them to take a look. Connor and Mark smiled for the first time since they had left the house. They knocked elbows and shoulders a few more times then went inside the store for water.
The store’s cold air conditioning hit them in an irritating fashion as they walked inside.
“Crap! This place is freezing! Why do they run the air so dang high in October, man? It makes no sense whatsoever! Let’s hurry up!” Connor complained irritably as they studied the drink section looking for what they wanted.
“Well, well, what have we here?” A voice was heard from behind them.
They recognized the rude voice immediately and whirled around in unison. Andy, Connor and Mark stiffened up like a brick wall, crossing their arms across their chest, they stared angrily at the Surfside twins.
Gary and Glenn grinned at their silent, obviously irritated opponents for a moment then Glenn spoke up, “Your klutzy girlfriend has trouble with her balance there, eh Andy square pants?”
Andy cocked his head to one side, “You stay away from her. And you can pass that message along to Alcatraz Alison as well.”
“I just noticed she falls down a lot,” Glenn shot back quickly. “Maybe we should get her a wheelchair or something,” he continued rudely.
“That’s only because Gary’s big buffalo girlfriend can’t seem to stay in her own space when she runs!” Andy growled.
“Well, if she can’t take it, she should get out of the way, and you along with her!” Glenn threatened.
“Are you threatening me, Glenn? Really, is that what you’re doing? Are you threatening me by bullying my girl?” Andy responded in shocked disbelief.
Then Glenn turned to Connor, “Hey Connor, that little girl you hang with is looking pretty good. Do you think she’ll go out with me? Maybe I should find out where she lives and pay her a little visit?” Glenn snarled in hopes of a fight.
“What, Glenn? No Surfside girl will talk to you? You have to go looking around at Maxwell girls. You can stay away from Daisy. She is always with me 24/7!” Connor shot back defiantly.
“24/7 huh? Well where is she now?” Glenn held his hands out and looked around in mock bewilderment. “I’ll catch up with her at some point Con-Turd. How about that little sprinter gal you were with Markie-Moron…,” Glenn turned to Mark and gave him a glare. “WOW! She’s got a temper. I might need to bring that b#$%# down a notch or two, man. Damn, Maxwell has so many to choose from! I just don’t know which one to mess with first. How about you Gary?” Glenn elbowed Gary and winked.
Gary smiled slightly, “I got a girl. The only thing I’m interested in is Andy moving his speedy little butt out of my way. Get out of the race, Andy. Go find another hobby.” Gary glared.
“I’m not getting out of anything!” Andy returned boldly.
“We’ll see about that..,” Gary snickered then continued, “Let’s go back to the warehouse, man.” He tilted his head towards the door, and his brother reluctantly followed him out.
Andy, Connor and Mark watched the twins saunter out of the store.
“Can you believe those guys?” Mark finally said in amazement.
Connor shook his head slowly from side to side, “I have absolutely no idea what’s going on with those two.”
“I know what’s going on with them,” Andy said quietly, “They want to win the Florida Regional Championship, and they can’t…. as long as we are running. Even if something happened to me, Connor could beat ’em. And if something happened to Connor, Coach Peggy would bump Mark out of the 5-miler spot, right into that 10-miler spot so fast it’d make your head spin. Mark could beat ’em just as easy. That race is ours, and there’s nothing they can do about it.”
“Yep, nothing they can do about it” Mark echoed.
“Maaaaaaaaan…,” Connor chuckled, “That really pisses ’em off too.”
They grabbed water bottles from the rack, paid for them and left the store.
Walking down the highway drinking water, Andy, Connor and Mark all meditated to themselves. Various solutions to the problem of the irritation brothers floated through their minds. Every now and then one of them would grin slyly at his idea, but none of them would say out loud the things they would really like to do with Gary and Glenn. Most of the ideas they thought about had something to do with cars, blood, cliffs, boats, deep water, sharks or fire. None of these ideas would go over very well with Maria or Daisy so they just kept on fantasizing to themselves.
Andy then remembered Daisy’s little fight with Susan and chuckled again to himself. Maybe Daisy would be okay with him killing the aggravation twins, and it would only be Maria he would have to somehow convince. Daisy had a little anger streak of her own. She might even help out if she knew what they had said to Connor about her. Andy chuckled again. Andy would think these things, but he would never say them out loud. He sighed and moved on to his next idea. It was really the only one of his ideas that he could actually say out loud. “Let’s run.” He threw his bottle into a dumpster along the roadside and started running again.
In seconds, the other two were stationed behind him in their regular spots. The water had done them good. They were confident that nothing could happen to the girls while they were tucked tightly under the wing of Mrs. Langley, so they could now pick up their pace and focus on the highway stretching out before them.
Now that they were all warmed up, their bodies were not heavily pounding the pavement like earlier. Now their members worked together quietly, like well oiled machines. With eagerness they took the road silently, long panther strides that made so little noise they could easily remain in their own thought world without being interrupted.
They knew each other well. They knew that none of them would ever fake a loss in a cross country run. They would go to the Florida State Regional Championship, and they would win. The girls would win in their competitions too. They would all win. But how could they get all the way to April, the Championship month, without anyone getting hurt. That was the big question.
It was midnight when Connor sat at his dining room table doing the homework that he should have done at the Langley’s house. Between all the daydreaming he’d done, plus Maria’s problem with the Surfside idiots and running with his buddies, somehow, European History got pushed to the side and still remained undone.
Connor leaned over his book, rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands. “Homework, man…think homework,” he mumbled. He’d learned to chastise himself in order to keep up with Andy in school. Andy had a way of setting the pace and keeping the academic bar high, just like he did in running. Between loving the challenge of keeping up with Andy and hating the embarrassment of being asked a question in class that he didn’t know, Connor managed to be a straight A student. So there he sat, in the stillness of night, rumbling through the pages of his book. Once satisfied that he understood the material, he slammed the book shut.
Exhausted, he released a huge monster yawn, and plunked his head down on top of his, now closed, history book and snored. As he slept, visions of Daisy drinking mocha coffee on his balcony floated through his mind. Bits and pieces of her poem tickled his memory, “Your breezy ways send my heart soaring. Watch ’in you run is never boring…”
Connor woke up in the dusky grey hours of the morning, laughing at her sweet words. He rubbed his tired eyes hoping to make them focus better and looked at his cell phone.
“4:30 a.m…. man, I miss her,” he mumbled to himself. He hated to wake her up, but he hadn’t gotten to spend nearly as much time with her as he had originally planned. The stupid irritation brothers and all their idiotic schemes were really taking a big chunk out of his life, and he did not like it one bit. He’d meant to run with Daisy after homework at Maria’s house, but it didn’t happen that way. “Dumb-ass twins need to be locked away somewhere and forgotten,” he mumbled again.
He sat there in the dark, at the dining table, for a long while looking at his phone. It was almost 5 a.m. Grandpa Joe would be up soon. Connor decided to go for it. He pushed Daisy’s name on his phone.
“Hello…” Daisy whispered sleepily.
Connor smiled at the sound of her voice. “Morning babe, ” he whispered back, softly. “I didn’t get to run with you yesterday. Can I take you now?”
“Now?” Daisy squinted her eyes at her clock. “Connor it’s 4:56 a.m. on a Monday. Don’t we have school?”
“Come on babe. It’s not the best timing in the world, but I want to squish a run with you in somewhere. There’s no time later because of school, and then you and Maria have to go to Surfside for that big meeting with Alison’s family. Who knows how long that will take,” Connor moaned. “Grandpa Joe will be up in a minute. Ask him if we can just run down to the boardwalk and back. Pleeeeaaasssssee, I want to run with you.”
Daisy smiled. Then she heard Grandpa Joe walking down the hallway to the kitchen. “Grandpa is up. Give me a few minutes to get dressed and talk to him. I’ll meet you downstairs.”