When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Your consolations delight my soul.
The rest of Monday was a blur of catching up from Summer’s perspective. The hours spent in HR seemed to make the rest of the day feel desperately short, and though summer did her best, at the end of the day she still left work feeling behind.
That evening she called Chastity, whom she hadn’t talked to for a week or more.
“Hey Chas, it’s Summer.”
“Hey, cutie, what’s up?” Chastity’s surprisingly deep voice sounded so nice and familiar after a confusing day of ups and downs.
“Just callin’ to see what’s cookin’.” Summer moved around her apartment neatening it as she wandered. It didn’t look so bad, really [NOTE: MUST JIVE THIS DESCRIPTION W/EARLIER SUMMER APT. DESCRIPTIONS]; she’d taken matching furniture from her old home to create a save haven in this tiny flat. White leather sofas and a matching chair, a maroon rug in the center of the white-carpeted living room floor, and complimentary red, maroon, green, and blue curtains, throw pillows, lampshades, and blankets gave the room the feel of a white canvas with splotches of color splashed deliberately onto it. Summer glanced across the living room towards her favorite place in the house. Her kitchen gleamed, its stainless-steel appliances free of fingerprints, the stove looking brand-new in its cleanliness, the white countertops devoid of crumbs or any mess, the cooking implements and dishes housed discreetly out of sight. Summer loved to cook and, even more, to bake, but she hadn’t had much inclination to do so since she’d had only herself to feed. Sometimes she invited Chastity over, but her friend had a terrible palate and ate grocery store rotisserie chicken with as much zest as Summer’s carefully prepared and displayed entrées.
Continue reading.“I had a class today,” came Chastity’s voice over a tenuous cell phone connection. Summer didn’t like talking to her on her cell phone because Chastity had terrible service, but Chastity also was virtually never at home. “Baby bio. Prof asked me a question and I didn’t know it, and he asked me to stay after class.”
“What? Why?” Wiping the counter again, half-listening to Chastity and half thinking about whether she had a load’s worth of laundry yet.
“Get this, because I hadn’t done the reading. He was totally on my case for not reading the book!” Incredulity flowed clearly across the phone line.
“Ohmygosh,” Summer yelped in indignation, “Who does that? You’re an adult, doesn’t he know it’s your choice?” Although, Summer privately added, Chastity should keep up with the reading; in college, Summer herself had always completed the reading, even optional reading. She also always attended classes, which seemed to be an anathema to Chastity.
“I know, seriously. He offered to let me borrow his book, but then… Just a sec.” Summer heard some background muttering and Chastity’s emphatic “NO! That’d be lame,” and more discussion. Then Chastity’s voice in her ear again: “Sorry, my lame friends want to go to that place on Capitol Hill, and it’s so boring usually. Anyway, what were we talking about?”
“Your professor loaning you the book.”
“Oh, yeah, well, ironically he didn’t have it in class with him.” They laughed together, Summer’s higher giggling blending with Chastity’s deeper snickering.
“Now that’s what I’d call irony, alright,” Summer agreed. “So what is this guy totally inept?”
“I don’t really know,” Chastity replied, “He is young, but I’ve also only been to class twice, and one time I was so hung over I don’t even remember it.”
“Why’d you go, then?” Privately Summer wondered whether Chastity would ever make it through nursing school, skipping all her classes like that. Wasn’t the quarter pretty far along by now? It hardly seemed likely that Chastity would even pass the class if she’d missed all that time.
“Oh, a dare. They said I wouldn’t go after that night—it was crazy—and I did it just to prove them wrong. Barely found the classroom, practically slept through the whole thing, but I prove ’em wrong.”
“Great reason.” Extremely dry tone from Summer, who then added, “Chas, do you think maybe you should go to class more often? I mean, if you really want to get out of temping like you are now…”
“I think I will,” Chastity told her, to Summer’s vast surprise. “I really am sick of Northwest Electronics; this guy keeps hitting on me, and he’s seriously like fifty years old and fat and he has all these pimple scars. It’s gross.”
“Ewww,” Summer agreed. Well, whatever it took for Chastity to act responsibly. “You remember the class we were in together?”
“Yeah! Ohmygawd, that guy was so gross.”
“All tall and skinny like that—”
“I mean I like tall and skinny—”
“But he was scrawny, and he never washed his hair, and I think he wore his shirts for weeks straight.” They had talked this over before, but it always amused them to remember this. Summer recalled more: “And the way he picked his nose and then looked at it,”
“Ohmygawd and then he ate it.” They laughed together again, this time at the complete ineptness of their classmate.
“Only after looking at it, like he was trying to decide if it was worth it or not.”
“And the worst part was him hitting on me.” Chastity had had to fend him off with a stick, almost literally. “The way he came over and actually used that line, what was it?”
“Which line?” Summer remembered several of them clearly. “You mean the one that was, ‘Are you lost? ’Cause heaven’s a long way from here.’”
“That was bad… No, I was thinking of the phone number one.”
“Yeah, ‘I’m new in town and don’t have a phone number. Can I have yours?’” Summer had always wondered if anybody really used those lines; as it turned out, this kid used them all. “And you remember how grabbed your butt…?”
“And asked, ‘Is this seat taken?’ He was so bad, and he just kept trying! He was so nerdy, too. Do you remember the ‘If beauty was sunlight, you’d shine from a million light years away’ one?”
“He was bad. That whole class was pretty bad, actually.” Chastity’s voice suggested they might have been better off without it.
Summer remembered how they had met in that evening class called Math for Life, which Summer had taken to brush up on her rather lacking arithmetic abilities. Chastity had taken it as part of the background necessary to start her actual nursing classes. The women had drawn together essentially by accident, arriving to the first class at the same time, walking through the doors and chatting as strangers do. They sat together, the simple decision to sit near somebody familiar, even if only vaguely so, rather than apart. This had led to polite socializing during breaks and before classes, which led to studying for exams together—mainly Summer trying to get Chastity study, really, since Chastity generally just wanted to chat. “It was bad,” she agreed, “but I’m still glad I took it. We’re friends because of that now, so even if I never do mental math in the grocery store, we got something out of it.”
They chatted on, and eventually Chastity begged off: “I’m going out tonight with my friends and this new guy. He’s seriously so hot, I’m surprised I can keep my hands off him.”
“Good luck with that,” Summer told her, and then sudden
ly feeling motherly, added, “Don’t forget protection.”
“Oh please,” Chastity said, hanging up before Summer could say anything else.
Left alone in her spotless apartment, Summer reviewed her choices. Call Hunter to see if he was busy. Eat dinner and watch TV until she fell asleep. Go for a jog—yes. As soon as she thought it, Summer wondered why she hadn’t done that long ago. She loved jogging, clearing her mind and keeping her body healthy; its simple movement seemed to distill things for her as she worked her muscles. “Plus, it takes determination. I’ll need that with Doug as my boss.”
Changing into her long spandex and long-sleeved T-shirt, Summer thought about the interview. There had been some awkward moments with Doug, but all in all she felt good about it. She’d come off as genuine, but also effective and professional. Summer looked forward to Doug’s offer, and she expected it soon. He had seemed impressed with her résumé and expertise. Things boded well.
Jogging along the street lit roads, Summer emptied her mind. She passed residential homes with long grass; the fall had been too wet to mow, but still warm enough for grass to grow. Sometimes dogs barked at her passage, and once she heard a man’s voice telling a yippy little corgi to “Hush.” She turned onto a more major road, the sidewalk flowing away beneath her as she passed Blockbuster, a Dairy Queen, strip malls with cigarette shops, a Mexican restaurant, and a sells-everything pharmacy. Ahead she saw another jogger, a shaggy dog at the person’s side. She determined to catch up as much as she could, maybe pass the person, although Summer rarely ran competitively, preferring the relaxed atmosphere of non-racing runners.
Then the jogger ahead of her stopped and bent towards the left shoe. The dog stood panting, waiting patiently. Summer put on a burst of speed, drawing up behind the figure, now coming alongside as he—she could tell it was a man now—stood again. He glanced just slightly behind and she put on the encouraging smile she gave all other exercise people.
“Summer?!” Surprise, even total shock, sounded in the man’s voice. “It’s Doug.”
“Oh… Whoa! Doug!” Summer didn’t even know how to react. What were the odds of meeting him here? What did one say to a coworker met so totally out of context, especially when she had just applied for a job as his direct subordinate? “Uh… Hi.” This smile wasn’t her usual encouraging-other-runners one, but a more authentic confused-but-pleased look.
“So you live around here?” They stood awkwardly, neither knowing what to do.
“Yeah, just down that way.” She gestured vaguely. No need to go into specifics; there were lots of apartment complexes down there. Let Doug take his pick and imagine she lived in one of the nicer ones.
“Me too! Guess that’s why we’re running the same direction…” Boy, was this weird. Summer could tell Doug didn’t really know what to do, either.
She said, “So this is your dog?” That sounded better than complimenting him on his runner’s legs, which muscular and well formed, or commenting on his amazing arms with their weight-lifter’s muscles. Summer suddenly imagined herself pressed against his chest, where she could see his pecs outlined by the sweat-soaked shirt that clung to his torso, her lips against his and her arms around his strong neck, fingers in his short brown hair. She thought about what the feel of his hands on her waist would be like, the way he would pull him to her and stroke her back, moving his hands down to cup her buttocks and maybe move up to caress her breasts… Better to stop thinking this way, especially with Hunter. She wondered what Hunter was up to. Probably not imagining making love to someone else.
“Yep.” Doug’s strong face took on a look of simple pride in the yellow glow of the street lights. “This is Savannah. Savannah, shake.” The dog sat down and put her paw out, which Summer solemnly shook.
“Good dog!” Summer told her, and then looked up at Doug, trying to clear her mind. “She’s so cute! And well behaved, too. Guess that’s the harder part, huh?”
“Yes, it is. But Savanna’s eight this year, and goldens tend to mellow with age. If you’d met her seven years ago—” a tightness around his eyes sharpened for a moment, then relaxed again “—she would have jumped all over you.”
“That’d be OK, I love dogs.” She did, and wished her apartment complex allowed them. “Well… Where are you going?”
“I have a loop I like to do, about three miles.” He didn’t look like he saw anything but his coworker, but Summer wondered if he would feel strange about running with her. There was nothing wrong with finding an exercise buddy; it helped establish a routine to be accountable to another person. Maybe he would like to be her running buddy?
“Me too, where does yours go?” She’d approach it carefully. Run together this time, then see how it went and at the end… see what happened. “What the heck,” she said then, suddenly not caring. “How ’bout if I go with you on your loop?”
A grin split his face, his eyes looking happy and his face losing years as the smile crinkles appeared. “I’d love that,” he said. “As long as you don’t mind Savannah intervening occasionally.” He pulled a plastic garbage bag from his pocket and waggled it meaningfully.
“No problem,” Summer told him. “Let’s go.” They started, the first few minutes a struggle of trying to find a pace that worked both for them, until they settled into a pace a little faster than Summer’s usual but still sustainable for her.
“This OK?” Doug asked after they’d run about five minutes together.
“Yep.” Summer kept her responses to a minimum of syllables. Air was too precious when she ran to waste it on chatting.
That evening they took Doug’s loop, which led them up a long hill, then down that hill again, up another hill, across and around and almost directly towards Summer’s apartment complex. By the time they were drawing near her complex, Summer knew she would feel the evening’s workout for a couple days.
“I live here,” she gasped, trying not to sound like she was gasping. Doug glanced at her, his chest heaving as well, and slowed their pace a bit as they came closer.
“OK,” he said. “I could use a little cool down.” They dropped the pace to an easy jog and Summer saw that Savannah was hardly panting.
“You—do this—often?” she asked, gesturing at the dog, who looked like she could keep up the easy loping pace forever.
“Every night. It relaxes me.”
“Wish—I went—every night,” Summer said regretfully. “It is—relaxing. In a—painful—way.” Another shared smile as she met his eyes and admitted that she was still talking in the gasping bursts of the winded runner.
“Well,” Doug said, gearing up to leave, “We’ll just have to do it again. I think Savannah likes you.” He grinned at her, and Summer thought he really meant it.
“I’d really like that. Maybe tomorrow night?” Was that too forward? She didn’t think so; it was just an exercise buddy scheduling.
“Sure,” he said, “I’ll email you at work when I know what time I’ll be done.”
“Great!” She said, and felt a glow of true happiness growing in her heart. She’d get to know Doug as a boss and as her friend. This was great. “See you tomorrow,” Summer told him, hope and happiness in her tone.
“Wave goodbye,” Doug told Savannah, and she sat back and waggled one paw at Summer, who laughed, turning away into the driveway of her building. The run had worked out much better than she hoped. Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.