It’s about me (Alex)
When the alarm on my phone went off at 5:45 am, I quickly rolled over in bed and silenced it. I didn’t want to disturb the rest of my family. With any luck I could be out and back before anybody else woke up.
I slipped into sweats, and, perversely, put on Dylan’s grey Army t-shirt, which hung like a tent on me. I’d appropriated it from him a couple weeks ago. Something about having it here was comforting. Then I tied on my running shoes, put my hair in a messy and quick pony tail, and slowly made my way down the five flights of stairs to the front door, trying desperately to avoid waking anyone.
It was dark and quiet outside, but not the bitter cold I’d grown accustomed to running in. For a second, as I started out at the darkened street, I felt a tinge of fear. I was used to running in the dark with Dylan. I didn’t realize until now how much safety that gave me. Safety to run through a city park before the sunrise. Safety to feel free, not afraid of a random mugger or rapist or other dangers in the dark.
As I stretched on the sidewalk in front of our house, I pondered the fact that I’d never felt that kind of fear before. And the irony was, it wasn’t a random stranger who had attacked me. It was someone I’d known since middle school. That’s what the statistics always say of course. The person most likely to rape a woman was always someone they knew.
But the reality was far different from the statistics. The reality was confusing, frightening. It was being too drunk, feeling almost sick, and having someone hold you down why they stuck their hand up your shirt. It was feeling hot, unwelcome breath against my neck. It was the stink of alcohol on his breath as he said, “You know you want it, why are you struggling?”
I didn’t want it. Not from him. Not then, not ever.
I set out, running first up 23rd Avenue to Fulton Street, then along the edge of Golden Gate Park. There was little traffic this early in the morning, especially during a holiday week. I worked myself up to a good pace, keeping an eye out for dark corners, places people could hide. Because like it or not, Randy Brewer had changed the way I looked at things. I was making a lot of progress, learning self-defense from Dylan, but I still had a long ways to go. I was going to get there, though. With him or without him.
One thing I knew for sure. I was done being a victim. Never again would someone hold me against my will, not if there was anything I had to do about it.
As I reached the end of Fulton Street, I ran toward the beach, then down the sand to the water. The waves were coming in, loud, and I turned and ran along the sand. I’d never run at home before. There was something freeing about it, something that made me feel bigger than I’d ever been before.
It was in Dylan’s hands now. I loved him. I knew what I wanted: to spend my life with him. I wanted us to move forward, together, into a life that we could have together. But I needed to know that he was ready to do that. Something in him always pulled back. And all I could do was hope and pray that he’d move past that.
If he didn’t though, I was ready to accept it. I’d always love him. I’d alway care for him. But if I had to say goodbye, I was strong enough to do it now.
I ran for an hour and a half that morning, only finally slowing down a dozen blocks from my parents’ house, coming to a walk two blocks away. I was drenched with sweat, my hair running wet down my back, and I felt absolutely fantastic.
Quietly, I unlocked the front door and went up the stairs.
As my foot touched the landing, I heard my mother’s voice. So much for an unobtrusive entry. I sighed, then walked into the kitchen and said, “Good morning,” then walked over and kissed her on the cheek.
Carrie was sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee in front of her. It was so rare that I saw her disheveled, the sight of her now, in a bathrobe, her hair a mess, made me smile. I walked over and kissed her on the cheek too, then poured myself a giant glass of water and began drinking.
“Good God, you haven’t been out running, have you?” Carrie asked.
My mother looked stunned. “Alexandra Charlotte Thompson, the sun is barely up, and you’ve been out running in the dark? What’s gotten into you? Don’t you know it’s dangerous to run alone at night in the city? Strange men and rapists and God only knows what are out there.”
I finished off my water, then quietly replied, “It’s not the strangers you have to worry about, Mom, it’s the people you know.”
Carrie gave a little gasp, then took a sip of coffee to cover herself.
My mother, her face screwed up in consternation, changed the subject. “Where did you get that t-shirt? It’s … truly ugly.”
I smiled. “I feel much better this morning. Thanks for asking, mother. I’ve been out getting my exercise, and I think it’s going to be a fantastic day, don’t you?”
“Oh, dear,” she said. “Of all the children I raised, I never expected to find one of them turning into an athlete, and a morning person at that.”
Carrie broke into laughter. “You can’t control for everything, Mom. And personally, I think it’s nice to see Alex happy.”
I was getting my coffee when my mother conceded. “I suppose that’s true. You were rather miserable to be around last summer. I suppose you’re finally over that Dylan person.”
I looked at my mother, and said, “It’s not really about him, Mom. It’s about me.”
Mystified, she said, “Well, drink your coffee then. And… it’s nice to see you smiling.”
I sat down and took a sip of my coffee, and my mother wandered off.
Carrie gave me a sideways look and said, “Nice t-shirt. Know where I can get one?”
I knocked her in the shoulder, and said, “Get your own. I’m sure you can find a soldier who’ll leave one lying around somewhere or other.”
She smiled, then said, “Ray’s coming to Houston next week.”
I grinned. “I know.”
She smiled back. “I don’t know how serious we are. But … well, he’s a nice change from the guys mom and dad are always pushing toward me. And the guys in my PhD program?” She mocked a shudder. “Hopeless.”
I whispered, “Can you imagine mom and dad’s reaction if we both got serious with former soldiers? Dad would finally keel over from a heart attack.”
“Maybe it would be good for him. You know he’s warming to Crank.”
I shook my head. “Not possible.”
“Anything is possible, Alex.”
I shrugged. “Let’s hope so. I… I just wish I knew what Dylan is thinking.”
She said, “He’s going to have to figure it out on his own, I think.”
“I know. I’m just afraid… I’m afraid that he’ll pull back. That this is really the end.”
She put her hand on top of mine, and squeezed gently. “What will you do if it is?”
A wave of sadness swept over me. “I’ll grieve,” I said. “And then I’ll move on with my life. I’m not going to let him tear me up again like that. If he wants me… he’s going to have to go the distance this time.”
This is first draft material from my newest book, Just Remember to Breathe. You can find the beginning and contents of the story, here.