By: H.J. Bellus

“Are you okay?” He squats down to face me. “Blue, are you okay?”

He finds my Beats and takes them off my ears. I’m still too startled to respond, and find my breath continuing to race out of control.

“Blue.” He drags the back of his knuckles down my cheek, which only fucks up my breathing more, and the panic sets in.

“I, uh, I’m fine.” I bring my legs up to my chest and see my torn running pants and the blood pooling around the ragged material.

“I was just passing you. I had no idea it was you,” he offers.

“I’m an idiot and spooked.” I try to bury my face in my knees and avoid the blood and cuts.

“Is this your first time on the trail?”

“Yes.” My voice is muffled.

“Probably not the brightest idea to be out after dark.”

“I know. I just needed to run.” Tears stream down my cheeks. “I might miss home already.”

I have no idea where my words came from, but they’re true. My heart already misses my parents, home, and my bed.

“Freshman, right?”

I nod, suddenly feeling foolish for my psycho breakdown in front of Mr. Hunk-O-Rama.

“Yeah, sorry, I think I’m just tired.” I stand and my rubbery legs wobble underneath me. “Go ahead, I don’t want to mess up your workout.”

He chuckles, and that slight grin dances on his serious face. “I just nearly killed a freshman cheerleader. I’m not about to run along without making sure you make it back to the dorms.”

“Really, I’m fine. I may be a little, tiny,” I gesture with my fingers, “itsy bitsty emotional and exhausted, but besides that, I’m good.”

“When do you report to cheer camp?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

We begin walking down the running trail side by side.

“Your knees may be a bit sore.”

“Slightly,” I respond, as my knees sting like a bitch in heat.

I break into a slow jog and look out the corner of my eye to see Tuck keeping pace with me, and just like in the diner, I find it impossible not to stare. There are so many questions I want to ask him, but know it’s completely inappropriate. Like why he portrays such a dark vibe, his clothing, and if he can makes girls scream in bed.

Instead of exercising my mouth, I keep jogging, quickening my pace. My Beats bounce off the back of my neck as I find my rhythm. Tuck sticks quietly by my side.

“You can go ahead, Tuck. I’m fine, really.”

“What? You don’t think I can keep up with a cheerleader? Just because I’m quiet doesn’t mean I’m a pussy.”

I can’t help but laugh at his joke.

“What’s so funny, Miss Blue?”

“My dad always uses that line about not being a pussy.”

I kick in the last gear at my full gait and don’t say another word. Tuck keeps up with me step for step. When we hit the next sign on the jogging trail, I decided to take the eight-mile trek back to the dorms. It feels good to be running at full speed again. With each bend of my knees, I feel the crusted blood break.

Tuck’s heavy breathing makes me feel good because I know he’s pushing himself just as hard as I am. The light of my dorm comes into view, and I internally groan, never wanting this run to end. It was exhilarating before Tuck joined me, but since he did, the open air with his musky scent entangled in all of it made the workout more than satisfying. I could’ve done without the tumble, though.

I come to a stop in front of the dorm and take a second to catch my breath, heaved over, resting my palms on my kneecaps.

“Have a good day tomorrow, Blue Williams.”

I look up to see Tuck jogging in place, facing me.

“Did you Google me? How did you know my last name?”

“I have my ways,” he replies with his stone-cold, serious face.

“I see. Thanks for scaring the shit out of me and nearly killing me before I start my freshman year.”

My sentence rambles on, and I do that on purpose. I’m not ready for Tuck to jog away into the darkness. It’s too late for dinner, and I’m betting he’s not the tea or coffee type…I scramble to come up with an excuse. Tuck begins moving backward in his jogging stance.

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