Fallen Fourth Down

Page 13

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They were laughing and one glanced back. His eyes widened when he saw me, then he said something to the others. Their pace picked up.

I grinned. That would make it sweeter. It took one more hill until I was neck and neck with the last of them. They were all glancing at me. The laughter was gone and each wore a somber expression. Without a word spoken among them, they sped up again. One guy quickened his speed and the rest followed. I knew they were running faster than they normally did. It would tire them out so I waited. I fell behind them, keeping my normal pace.

One glanced at me. A small smirk was on his face, and I knew they expected me to fall further back. I didn’t. I kept on their heels, out of reach, but close enough to press them ahead. They covered half a mile and one broke. He fell back. Two of his friends shared a look. They weren’t surprised. I ignored the guy beside me, and it was four steps before he was behind me as well. Thirty more yards and another fell behind. I passed him instantly. The last two grew worried. They cast a look at me. I smiled, yes, I was still there. They didn’t look again. Their breathing was louder. They were fighting to keep ahead of me. Looking ahead, I saw the main group of guys. I could feel the surprise from the two in front of me. They had caught up, but as soon as they realized that, one slowed his pace. He was winded. A blink of an eye later, he was behind me like the others. The last one went as well, and I picked up my pace to close the distance between the other runners and myself. This time I didn’t wait. I bypassed them. I didn’t want to deal with any games. When I cleared them on the side, I ignored the surprise I sensed from them.

I was in front of them and I went back to the center of the trail. There were more ahead of me. We were on a long run that day so I knew I had two miles to go. With that thought and knowing those two miles weren’t going to tire me out, I steadied my breathing and increased my speed. My toes pushed off deeper and my shoulders dug forward. The blood was pumping through me. I felt the strength in my legs and imagined the clean lines from my head to my feet. I kept the perfect running posture and grinned. The rush was there. I loved this, possibly more than anything, and when it only took me half a mile to see the next runners, I opened the gate.

I’d been chomping at the bit, holding back, keeping a tight controlled run, but I let loose. I was sprinting and it was seconds before I passed the first guy, the second, and then the third. He was sixty yards ahead of the rest. I covered that without trying. I felt his surprise and ignored him. Swinging in front of him, I moved so there was plenty of space between him and me, but I wanted to make sure I was in the middle. I wanted to make sure he could see right into the back of my head.

One last mile.

I continued sprinting. When I heard him doing the same, I wasn’t surprised, but when we saw the field in the distance, I heard his breathing becoming more winded. As I led the way onto the field and to the finish line, I reached over and tapped the clock. That was my time. A few seconds later, I heard him tap his too, but I continued into a light jog around the track. I wanted my muscles loose. He did as well, but he dropped back and reduced his speed dramatically. Everyone did the same. I jogged around the track for another three laps before I dropped into a walk. When my heart rate steadied out, I went over and began stretching.

The guys were on one side of the field. I was in the middle, but I felt their gazes. Glancing over, as I bent and pressed my nose close to my knee, they had varying expressions of hostility. A few were outright glaring. One was seething, his nostrils flaring up, while others were frowning. One of the guys flashed me a smile and gave me a thumbs-up. “Good job, Strattan. You kicked ass.”

I turned my head, stretching over the other leg, but I couldn’t hold back my smile. It felt good. It felt damn good. I heard someone say, “Am I right to assume Kade helped with your endurance?”

Releasing my leg, I brought my feet together and bent forward, but I looked back over. “What?”

“Kade. He’s fast.” It was the guy who had been leading that shrugged. “I know he’s not a cross country runner, but he’s super-fast for his size. Did he teach you tricks or something?”

Another guy barked out a laugh. “Dude, we all know how she got that endurance. I don’t think it had anything to do with running.”

The one who gave me the thumbs-up shot a disapproving look at his teammates, but the others laughed. Someone added, “No doubt. Kade’s the man.”

I rolled my eyes and stood as the first of the girls filtered towards us. “I had to deal with petty bitches last semester. Who knew the cross-country guys would become the new catty girls?” I scoffed, walked past them, then turned and extended my middle fingers. “Here’s my thumbs-up except to the one in the yellow shorts.” He flashed a grin and said, “Hey, thanks.” Still walking backwards, I added, “And just to rub it in, I’m going to run home. Be jealous, bitches. Because I can and I know you can’t.” Giving them a wink, I turned and started a light jog.

I’d have to have Logan or Mark give me a ride back to get my car, but it would be worth it. So worth it.


The next morning, Heather was waiting at my locker for me. She flashed me a quick grin and moved aside so I could open it. As I stowed my bag inside, she said, “Heard you handed a few guys’ their asses last night on the run.”

I grabbed my book and a couple pencils and pens. “You heard about that? From who?”

“A couple juniors were talking about it when they were coming in.” She smirked. “I love people who aren’t aware of who else is listening. So did you?”

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