Authors: B. R. Myers
Copyright Â© 2015, B. R. Myers
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission from the publisher, or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, permission from Access Copyright, 1 Yonge Street, Suite 1900, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1E5.
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Design: Heather Bryan
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Myers, B. R., author
Girl on the run / B.R. Myers.
Issued in print and electronic formats.
ISBN 978-1-77108-352-2 (paperback).âISBN 978-1-77108-353-9 (html)
PS8626.Y358G57 2015 jC813'.6 C2015-904320-4
Nimbus Publishing acknowledges the financial support for its publishing activities from the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) and the Canada Council for the Arts, and from the Province of Nova Scotia through Film & Creative Industries Nova Scotia. We are pleased to work in partnership with Film & Creative Industries Nova Scotia to develop and promote our creative industries for the benefit of all Nova Scotians.
To my parents, for cheering on this book and all my
writing from the very beginning.
here's no such thing as a safe bet. You might be the fastest runner in the heat, but that doesn't mean you're going to win the final race. Even when the finish line is dead ahead, waiting at the end of that flat stretch of track, it can still seem like an uphill climb. But I knew that as long as I could see it, I could reach it first.
Crouching down, I'd wiggle the toe of my sneaker into the starting block. My splayed fingers stretched behind the chalk line as I inched forward, psyching out the runners beside me. Don't even bother, my body language warned them, I've already won this thing.
BANG! Jolted by the starter pistol, I would surge forward with eyes wide open, targeting the finish, dead ahead.
But like I said, there's no such thing as a safe bet. Four months ago, my finish line disappeared, and along with it, my future.
Now instead of early morning runs and sessions at the gymâinstead of waiting eagerly for that pistol to go offâI spent my time loafing around in my best friend's bedroom. Chloe's company was my refuge in our sleepy little town, where the whispers and glances still followed me. She was able to keep up the banter for both of us, and it helped me feel like I was almost normal again.
“It's a known fact,” Chloe said, running a brush through her thick black hair. “The best looking guys are the best kissers.” It was a topic she liked to analyze with great enthusiasm. She even had a theory.
“Something I'll have to take your word for,” I answered. I sat sideways in her pink wing-back chair with my legs dangling over one armrest and my ponytail hanging down over the other.
“Practice makes perfect,” Chloe recited, “and the cutest guys have ample opportunity to hone their craft.”
She stood in front of the long antique mirror in the corner of her bedroom, admiring her reflection. Her new jeans were a birthday present from me (after she told me where to go and what to buy). With her exotic features and flawless brown skin, Chloe was cover girl material. And me? I was Jesse Collins, high school track and field star, carrying small town hopes of being an Olympianâor at least, I used to be.
“I know where you're going with this,” I said. I looked up from the only book Chloe had in her room. Style magazines littered her bed and a shiny brochure for summer camp peeked outâthe one I would be leaving for tomorrow. “This is about the dirty old Santa, isn't it?” I prodded.
“It's called the Kissing Clause!” She stooped over and picked up a pair of wedge sandals from the array of designer shoes strewn on the floor.
“Oh right.” I laid the romance book open on my chest, marking my spot. “The Kissing Clause,” I said, making quotations around her phrase. “Remind me of the finer points of your master's thesis.”
She was on one knee, securing the sandal strap around her ankle. “First kisses are terrible. It doesn't matter how experienced you both are, the nervousness overrides the skill.”
“Still sounds like a perverted holiday icon.”
“I'm just trying to figure out why you didn't hit it off with Keith,” she pouted. “I thought you guys would be a perfect match.” She straightened up and crossed her arms, staring at me, waiting for an explanation.
Even though I couldn't care less, I had to admit, Chloe had a point. Keith was a really nice guy. He even showed up at the door with flowers. But after three dates there was no denying it: things weren't heating up. The kissing wasn't horrible, it was like celeryâenjoyable if spread with cream cheese and roasted walnuts. But celery on its own just isn't enough, even if it shows up with flowers.
“I believe he has a chronic kissing clause infection,” I said, letting her fill in the blanks. “We agreed to be friendsâ¦just like the other guys you've set me up with.”
“What about Terry?” she asked. “He wasn't so bad.”
I rolled my eyes. “He used his inhaler right before he kissed me good night! He claimed my perfume could put him into a bronchial spasmâand for the record, I'll take garlic breath over the taste of Ventolin any day.
Chloe's expression was crestfallen.
“It's not your fault,” I said. “The pool of eligible bachelors is a bunch of guys we've known since grade two.” I dropped my voice. “Besides,” I said, “how can a guy get romantic with someone the whole town is talking about?”
“Come on, it's not like they're gossiping you're preggers or something.”
“Yeah right!” I snorted. “Gossip would be better. Everyone feels sorry for me, but no one talks to me. They still whisper âPoor Jesse' behind my back.”
“It's only been four months.” She paused and then smiled, trying to look hopeful. “Besides, by the end of the summer, everyone will be talking about something else, and your life will get back to normal again.”
For all her bouncy energy and matchmaking attempts, Chloe still didn't get it. Nothing would
be normal again. My best friend was all about fashion and guys. Trying to get me a boyfriend had been her way of helping me deal with my grief. She thought it could bring me backâback to being the girl who always won, the girl who always made it to the finish line first.
“Yeah, maybe.” I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Had it only been four months? It's weird; sometimes it felt like it happened yesterday and sometimes it felt like forever. A whole day could go by without crying, then BOOM. Out of nowhere, the smallest thing could trigger a meltdown of tears. But I hid it well, even from Chloe. The all-night slobber-fest was a private party between me and my pillow.
Chloe was still staring at me. A familiar heaviness settled in my stomach. I never earned a part in a school play, but the role I'd taken up in recent months was so convincing, I even fooled my best friend. For a second, I was sorry that I had to put on the show for her. I wondered if she could see how hard I worked to make people believe that I was fine. But if she knew, she never let on, and so I kept playing the role.
“A Kissing Clause, huh?” I wrestled up a mischievous smile, reaching for the book on my chest. “Not according to this fine literature.” I held up the romance novel Chloe had taken from her Mom's room. “Exhibit A,” I proclaimed. Using my SpongeBob SquarePants voice, I read the steamy love scene, for which Chloe had stolen the book in the first place.
She turned back to the mirror, giggling. I stared down at the cover of the book. It was the usual long-haired guy with his shirt open, showing off his rippling chest muscles. Judging by his clothes, this hero was apparently captain of a pirate ship, and the half-dressed chick in his arms with the unfastened bustier didn't seem to mind the dramatic tilt of the schooner.
“Do you think it's really like that?” I asked.
I held up the book. “Is there a Sex Clause too?”
“No, that's totally different.”
I raised my eyebrows at her.
“I don't know,” she laughed. “You're the one reading the manual.”
“Which is completely useless when there's a shortage of sexy pirates in town,” I said.
“Says the girl who hasn't even laid eyes on the hot lifeguard I've set her up with for our double date tonight.”
“Oh my god, Chloe!” I covered my face with the book. “Sam is only doing this because he's still totally in love with you.” I remembered the charismatic rugby player who had graduated last year and taken Chloe to his prom. Obviously a year away hadn't dampened his interest. The “hot lifeguard” was his college friend, and apparently my babysitter for the night. Kill. Me. Now.
The truth is I'd spent most of the past four years on the track, comfortable and in control. Guys and kissing and sex clauses were barely a passing thought. But suddenly I had all the time in the world for dating. Something I was apparently not going to win any trophies for. If my new finish line was having sex with a hot boyfriend, I was on the bleachers. I threw the stupid book on the floor. I might be a permanent resident of the cheering section, but being a spectator is something I would never get used to.
Chloe put on a thin rhinestone headband, then turned around and gave me her serious look. Knowing what was coming, I hid behind the summer camp brochure.
“Are you sure you want to spend your summer looking after a bunch of brats while swatting mosquitoes and making macaroni belts?” she asked.
“It's not all glamour,” I said, from behind Kamp Krystal Lake's image.
“Shut up. You know what I mean.” She pulled the brochure away from my face and gave me a serious stare. Geez, maybe I wasn't such a good actress.
“I'll be okay, Chloe. And I need the money for university next year.”
She opened her mouth, and the word “scholarship” almost fell out.
“Don't say it,” I whispered.
The day the recruiting coach was at our school, I was curled up on my bed, still in my black dress from Dad's funeral. Mom and Grandma tried to convince me to go, but I could never compete again. My runners were shoved in the back of the closet, banished from sight, erased from my memory.
I cleared my throat. “I need to be the new girl,” I explained. “Be someone nobody knows.”
“All right,” she said, giving me one of her puppy dog looks. “You know, I'm sacrificing any fun we'd have this summer so that you can get poison ivy.”
“Those eyes only work on your boyfriends,” I huffed.
Chloe always had guys circling around her like bees to the hive. Grandma said she was the town Scarlett O'Hara, but much nicer. “True,” she laughed, then looked at her watch. “Shit! We're going to be late!”
“We have another hour before the guys are due to show up,” I said.
“Yeah, and you're hardly ready,” she frowned at my usual T-shirt and gym short ensemble. My style was based entirely on the tracksuit section of Sports R Us
She pulled me out of the pink wingback chair, then plunked me in front of her make-up dresser. Yes, Chloe had a dresser just for makeup.
She painstakingly straightened my hair, and swapped my gym gear for capris and a white ruffled tank top. I compromised on shoes, avoiding the high-heeled slingbacks but accepting sequined flip-flops. Even though I'm a good three inches taller than Chloe, our feet were the same size. A fact she often grumbled about.
“How will I ever get dressed without you this summer?” I teased.
She fussed with my hair one last time. “I dropped by your house earlier with a few ensembles. Your grandma promised to pack them in your bag.”
“Grandma,” I smiled. “Did she read your palm again?”
“Apparently we're in for an unexpected romance tonight.”
I sighed. “She says that every time.”
“Cut the crap. You'll be playing mouth to mouth with that hot lifeguard before Sam pulls out of my driveway.”
Since Dad died, Chloe was one of the few friends who treated me the same. The day of the funeral she came over and did my makeup. “Don't be such a jock, Jesse,” she had said, applying blush while we sniffed away our tears. “Besides, you want to look nice for your dad.” I would do anything for her, hence the expensive birthday jeans.
Mostly everyone else acted like I was made of glass, afraid to even mention his name, thinking I would break down crying in front of them. Usually people stared, and then quickly looked away, pretending I wasn't there so they wouldn't have to talk to me.
But I had been cryingâa lot. A few months ago I found a pamphlet shoved in between the cushions of the couch, “Ten Ways To Tell If Your Teen Is Depressed.” I hadn't realized how worried Mom was until she told me about the appointment she'd made for me to see someone. I could almost read the quotation marks in the air, “someone.” That scared the crap out of me.
I never did go to that first appointment. Instead I've been playing the part of the grieving but coping teenager, letting Chloe dress me up for meaningless dates, pretending to move on. I even started making fake entries in my diary, knowing Mom was reading it, double checking to see if I had any of the “ten ways” from the pamphlet.
And it worked.
Mom doesn't hover as much, and yeah, it almost feels like I could get my life back, but every night the tears still come.
It's not all about grief. Worse is the guilt. And I'll keep that to myself, thanks. I know the knot in my gut every morning is my dirty secret. And there's no way talking with “someone” will change that.