Chapter 11 ~ Lisa Faces A Tough Choice

Love to Run 

Chapter 11 ~ Lisa Faces a Tough Choice

Lisa’s dad was standing behind the spectator roped area. Lisa spotted her dad and jogged over to him.

Her dad bowed under the rope and hugged her, “You ran a great race. Where did you get your kick at the finish?”

Lisa shrugged her shoulders and said, “Oh, I just gave it all I got. That’s all. It’s no big deal. Thanks for coming dad. Did I hear you somewhere in the middle of the race?”

“That was me. I was at the start, then I drove ahead to the middle, and after you passed by, I drove to the finish. You had a terrible draw for the start. You might have surprised everybody and won if you had a good draw.”

“I don’t know dad. Mia, Marie, and Leah are really good. Coach said my coming in eighth clinched the victory for us. I’m happy I contributed.”

Her dad smiled at her and said, “Mom said to tell you she wanted to be here, but she couldn’t get away from work. I already called her and she said, we’re all going out for pizza to celebrate.”

Lisa smiled and said, “Thanks, dad. I gotta go.”

As soon as she got to the bus she grabbed her cell out of her backpack to text Nicole .

We won the invitational. I came in eighth. I drew one oh seven, way out on the edge. I didn’t think I’d ever catch up to the leaders. T2UL8R

It was nine o’clock in the evening when Lisa heard text ring. She grabbed her cell hoping it was Nicole.

Congrats Lisa. You’re making me proud. I already bragged about you to the coach and my teammates. I told them you and I are running in the Thanksgiving marathon. Can’t wait.

Lisa texted back.

If I qualify for states, it’s the week before the marathon. Think I can do both?

Nicole texted.

You have the stuff of a champ. We’ll run the marathon as a workout. That’s all. No pressure on either one of us. It will be fun run. It will be good to run together. CUL8R

Over the next five meets, Lisa became an important runner for the Jaguars. Each of the meets was a dual meet and she ran third for her team behind Mia Hale and Leah Landau. Mia and Leah finished one-two in all three races, Lisa finished no lower than sixth.

The cross-country season moved through September into October. The Jaguars won all the dual competition meets in their league. The cross-country season was rapidly coming to an end. The biggest meets of the year were always the last three races of the season. The league meet was the last week of October. After the league meet, all the teams ran at the regionals the first week of November. The regionals were important, because runners were selected to run in the state championship based on their times in the regional competition. The regional and state championships emphasized more individual effort than team effort. There was still a team championship, if a team had at least five runners whose time qualified to run at the state championships. The state championships followed the regionals and was the second weekend of November. Lisa was happy the season ended the Saturday before the Thanksgiving marathon.

On the Monday before the league meet, Coach Kappa asked Mia, Leah, and Lisa to meet with her in her office after practice. Coach Kappa didn’t say anything about what she wanted to discuss with the girls. They asked each other and no one could offer even a guess.

Mia, Leah, and Lisa showered and changed clothes and together went came into Coach Kappa’s office.

Mia said, “What’s up Coach?”

Coach Kappa waved her hand and wanted the girls to sit down. When the girls were seated, she said, “I got good news and bad news. The good news is I think we can repeat as state champions. No team has ever won the title five years in a row. This will be a first. We’ll make history.”

“We can do it, but what’s the bad news?” Mia asked.

Coach Kappa said. “They’ll all be gunning for us. Since they’ve had state championships in cross-country, only three other schools have four titles in a row. They all failed in their fifth attempt. We’ve got a great chance. You three will have to carry the load.
Leah said, “We can do it, Coach. Lisa’s really improved, she’s pushing Mia and me.”
Coach Kappa smiled, then said, “I’m hoping Marie and Sara, our numbers four and five can finish in the top thirty. If they do and you three finish among the top ten runners we stand a good chance at repeating as state champions.”

Lisa was silent. She knew it was not her place to speak when she was with the two co-captains.

Leah said, “Coach, what’s the bad news. It sounds pretty good to me. We just have to run our best race of the season.”

Coach Kappa nodded, she lifted her Jaguars ball cap and scratched her head, then replaced the ball cap back on her head, pulling her ponytail through the back. “Show of hands. Who’s running in the Thanksgiving marathon?”

Lisa raised her hand. Mia raised her hand. And, Leah raised her hand.

“That’s what I thought. I’m not saying don’t run in the marathon, but you can’t think about it. We got to be of one mind. Everybody on the team looks up to you three. If they think you’re not doing everything you can do to win the league, regionals, and states, they’ll let down,” Coach Kappa said.

“We won’t let up Coach. Can we do long runs on Sunday to prep for the marathon?” Mia said.

Coach Kappa shook her head, “What it means is no long runs on Saturdays or Sundays to get ready for the marathon. I want your total focus. It’s the only way we have a chance. A friend of mine from our biggest rival outside our league said she heard the Stinson coach say this is their year and they plan to knock us off. They’re undefeated in their league as well. I want a show of hands. Can I count on the three of you to give a total focus and be a great example for the team?”

“You can count on me coach,” said Mia raising her hand.

“Same here Coach,” said Leah raising her hand like Mia.

Lisa stood silently. There was no way she was going to miss running with Nicole for any reason. Her mind was on the marathon. Coach Kappa interrupted her thoughts, “Lisa, what about you?”

Lisa pushed her thoughts out of her mind and raised her hand, “Sorry coach, count on me. I’m all in.”

Mia, Leah, Lisa and Coach Kappa, placed their hands one on top of the other and on the count of three shouted, “STATES – BRING HOME THE TROPHY.”


Chapter 8 ~ Life Was Different

Love to Run

Chapter 8 ~ Life Was Different

Lisa lied on her bed replaying thoughts of her run with Mia. She knew she could have run better. She didn’t know why she didn’t. She felt Mia took it easy on her during the run, but let her know who was the better runner at Mason’s Hill. It bothered Lisa. Around 9:30 p.m. Nicole texted Lisa.

Hi Lisa. Mia texted me. Said you ran g8t. She liked your grit on Mason’s Hill. I told her you don’t quit.

Lisa read Nicole’s text eight times. She mistakenly thought Mia was not impressed with how she ran. And, she judged her wrong, Mia was trying to put her in her place. She felt a lot better. Her mood changed. Now, she was excited. She texted back:

It was a good run. Mia’s nice. Mason’s Hill is tough. It killed on the last two runs. My legs felt like rubber. I wished I did hill work with you.

Nicole texted back.

You have a few weeks to get ready for the season. Do double workouts. Train on Mason’s Hill in the a.m. Do your run in the afternoon. I’ll e-mail the workout schedule Coach gave me. Try it.

Lisa and Nicole continued to text for a half hour. Nicole caught Lisa up on the conditioning program the coach was putting the team through. She text about her roommate. She text about how she and her roommate walked around campus trying to figure out where they would be going to class.

Lisa didn’t have much to say. She asked some questions, but her life was pretty much the same. She’d be going to high school. It didn’t seem like a big deal to her.

For the next two weeks, Lisa trained on Mason’s Hill in the morning and did the same running workout Nicole was doing in the afternoon. Lisa’s mom and dad asked if she was pushing herself to hard. Lisa shrugged like it was no big deal. Not a day went by when she didn’t fall asleep by nine.

Nicole’s classes at State University started two weeks before they started for Lisa. Lisa noticed Nicole wasn’t texting as much. Nicole might send a single text at night, never during the day. Lisa knew it was different. It was no longer Nicole and Lisa. It was Lisa and her mom and her dad. She loved them alright, she just didn’t want them as friends.

Two weeks before school started, Lisa started running early in the morning with Mia, Marie, and Leah. They were the three best runners on the high school cross country team. Mia and Marie were seniors and Leah a junior. Lisa enjoyed running with them. They kept her in their conversations. They made her feel she was already a part of the team. Lisa felt she was getting stronger. She never told her teammates or Coach Kappa about her workouts. Her runs with Mia, Marie, and Leah were extra. She easily stayed with them. Once they finished running, Mia, Marie and Leah went off together, Lisa went home, had breakfast, rested, then ran to Mason’s Hill for her hill work. In the afternoon, she continued following the university cross-country workout schedule.

School was only in session a week when the Jaguars, the nickname for Nickerson High School, were having their first cross-country meet. It was an open invitational to other county high schools. The course was unfamiliar to Lisa. All she knew was that it was 5000 meters or 5K. She texted Nicole.

First race is tomorrow. We’re in the county invitational at Medford. You know the course?

Lisa hoped Nicole wasn’t tied up with school or friends and answered her. She stared at her iPhone. No answer. Fifteen minutes later, Lisa set the iPhone down next to her bed, turned off the light, pulled the covers up over her head when the text ring tone sounded. Lisa grabbed for the iPhone, did the fingerprint thing, and opened up the text.

Hi Lisa. Got your txt. 2 years ago I ran Medford. 2 major hills. 1 at the half way part, the other a quarter mile from the end. Don’t start too fast. Pick it up on the hills. Let me know how U do? Don’t forget the Thanksgiving Marathon. I entered both of us. Only 2 and half months. Good Luck. Nicole

Lisa’s spirits picked up. Nicole didn’t forget about her. She didn’t forget about the marathon. She even entered her. Lisa got out of bed, went to her desk, turned the desk lamp on, and opened her laptop. She made a countdown calendar, printed it out, and attached it to wall with sticky pins. She had a big red circle around the Saturday before Thanksgiving. That was the day for the Turkey Day marathon. She thought about it for a minute, 26.2 miles. She’d done a lot of distance work. She’d never run 26.2 miles. She decided tomorrow to text Nicole and ask if she should change her training for the marathon. .

Chapter 7 ~ She Refused to Quit

Chapter 7

She dreamt she was running with Nicole. It was a Saturday. They were on a country road. The road they were running on took them past cornfields where the cornstalks were so high she couldn’t see over them. There was a group five runners clustered close together ahead of Nicole and she. They belonged to the Jaguars an elite running club in the community. They all wore blazing red running shorts with a gold stripe on both sides. Their running shirts were the same color red with a black Jaguar on the back of the shirts.
Nicole touched Lisa’s arm and said, “Sorry Lisa, I’m going to run with the big girls now.”
Lisa tried to stay with her. She ran faster. The faster she ran, Nicole ran even faster and pulled further and further away.
Lisa hollered at Nicole, “Wait for me. Wait for me.”
Nicole paid no attention to her. Her legs became more difficult to move. They were tightening up on her. The faster she tried to run, the slower her legs moved. That’s when Lisa woke up, she found her legs tangled in her blanket. Her heart was racing.
Lisa tried to go back to sleep. You might as well asked the sun not to rise, or a mockingbird not to sing. She couldn’t stop thinking about the dream. She pulled her pillow over her head, it didn’t help. At five-fifteen, she got up and started her stretching exercises. She stretched out her hamstrings, holding each stretch for thirty seconds. She stretched out her quads, and then her achilles tendons. She concluded with the four way stretch loosening up each of her hips. It was the same stretching routine Nicole and she followed before every workout. Today, she was stretching nearly three hours before she would run with Mia Hale and whoever else Mia brought along.
Three hours passed and Lisa was on the high school track going through her stretching routine for third time since she woke up. She was stretching her hamstrings when she heard Mia Hale, “You ready to go Lisa?”
Lisa leaped to her feet. Mia was already to go and looked like she already worked out. Mia was six feet three inches tall and as thin as a string bean. Lisa was nearly eight inches shorter than Mia.
Lisa looked for a car or bike. She didn’t see any. She said, “You run over?”
Mia said, “It was an easy three mile run I did for a warm up. I wanted to be ready for workout. You ready? All warmed up?”
Lisa wished she ran to the high school instead of having her dad drop her off. She said, “Yes, I’m all warmed up, let’s go.”
Mia led the way off the high school athletic fields, through the parking lot and on to Maple Street. Mia turned left and headed toward Hanson Road. Hanson Road led out of town and into infrequently traveled country roads. Initially, Mia set an an easy pace. Lisa had no problem keeping up with and ran along side. Neither Lisa nor Mia spoke. Lisa felt Mia pick up the pace at mile two. She stayed with her. Lisa was feeling good, she was keeping up with Mia.
Mia glanced over at her, “You’re running pretty good Lisa. Let’s take a detour to Mason’s Hill and do a few sprints up the hill. We’ll sprint up the hill three times and recover in between by jogging down. We wont’t take a break, we’ll keep moving. You think you can handle it? Mason hill is pretty steep.”
Lisa shrugged and said, “Sure.” Lisa all the while thought how she hated hill work. Nicole loved hill work. She told her it built stamina. Lisa usually begged off from training on Mason’s Hill, the biggest hill in the county. She knew she had no choice now but to do the hill work with Mia.
When they reached Mason’s Hill, Mia glance over and said, “Let’s sprint to the top.”
Lisa gave it her all on the first sprint up the hill and ended up a couple of strides ahead of Mia. The second sprint up the hill Mia, ran effortlessly and finished ten yards ahead of Lisa. The third sprint was worse for Lisa. She was three-quarters up the hill when she saw Mia at the top waiting for her. Lisa’s legs felt like they weighed a ton. She refused to quit. She looked down at her legs thinking her knees were going to explode.
Lisa made it to the top and bent over, her hands on her knees. She was gasping for breath. Her knees killed her. They felt twice their normal size. Mia came beside her, “I felt the same way when Nicole started me running Mason’s Hill. I thought I was going to die the first time. Try jogging in place it will get the blood flowing through your knees, it will get a lot of the lactic acid out of there.”
Lisa didn’t want to jog. She wanted to lay down and die. She never wanted to see Mason’s Hill again in her life. Then she remembered Nicole carrying her picture in her wallet. She wasn’t about to let Nicole hear about her quitting. She stood up straight and started jogging in place. In a few minutes she said, “I’m ready Mia. Can we try it one more time?”
Mia Hale looked at her, “You sure Lisa? It’s not going to be easier.”
Lisa said, “I’m sure let’s go.” Lisa started down Mason’s Hill. She remembered what Nicole taught her. Visualize, visualize, visualize. She started to visualize the run back up Mason’s Hill. She saw herself making her legs run. She saw herself making it to the top and not bending over in pain.
When Lisa and Mia reached the bottom of the hill, Mia and Lisa looked at each other and nodded. Lisa stayed with Mia half way up Mason’s Hill, then Mia pulled away. Lisa felt the pain coming back into her legs. It wasn’t so much that she was slowing down as it was that Mia was picking up the pace. Mia reached the top and turned around to look down for Lisa. Her eyes widened, Lisa was only fifteen yards behind her. When Lisa reached the top, she said, “Let’s go.”
Mia and Lisa fist bumped. The two continued their run to the high school.

Chapter 6 ~ A Invitation to Run

Love to Run: A Story of Two Sisters

Chapter 6 ~ An Invitation to Run

Lisa was lying on her bed scrolling through social media apps when a text message popped up on the screen. For a brief second, she thought it was Nicole. Her heart sunk about six feet when it wasn’t Nicole, it was Mia Hale. Mia was one of the X-Country team’s co-captains. The other co-captain was Leah Landau. They were both seniors and Lisa thought they were really, really, fast. They were not nearly as fast Nicole, but they were really, really, fast. Lisa touched the text and watched it open.

Hi. Coach Kappa thinks we should run together tomorrow. You up for a ten miler? Meet you at the high school at 8. We’ll run out to Twine’s Pond, cut over to Paley’s Farm then back to the high school. You in?

Lisa texted back, Sure.

A moment later, “We’ll run together. I want to see what you can do. Coach Kappa thinks you have a chance to make varsity.

Lisa felt her heart race. Mia Hale placed fourth in last year’s state tournament. The big race where Nicole won and clinched her full scholarship to the university. The three girls led the cross-country team to their fourth state cross country title in a row. Now she was going to really push me, thought Lisa. Lisa texted back, C U at 8. ~ Lisa Her stomach hurt.

She was sure Mia was going to enjoy pushing her hard and showing her who was boss
Lisa thought Mia probably invited the whole cross country team to go on the run, she hardly knew Mia. She’d seen Mia run last year when Nicole led the team. She looked at the time, it was 9 p.m. Lisa turned off the light, rolled on her side, and closed her eyes. She rolled on her left side. It didn’t work. She rolled to right side. It didn’t work. She tried sleeping on her back, putting a pillow over her head, and pulling the blankets up over the pillow on her head. Nothing worked. She was still wide awake. She’d never sleep. At 10:46 p.m. She heard a text come in. Lisa reached for her cell.

You awake Lisa?

It was Nicole.

Yes, What’s up? Lisa texted back.

She watched the little bubble, she knew Nicole was texting.

Had my first run with the team. They’re good. I mean really good.

Lisa texted back.

Bet U were at the head of the pack.

Nicole texted.

Coach told us to take turns leading. We ran eight miles lapping around the entire athletic complex. I led the team for the seventh mile. Then we went to the stadium and ran up the stairs until we all thought we were going to collapse. Coach told us after, today was an easy workout, then she laughed. U run 2day?

Lisa thought for a second about how she was going to answer. She didn’t want to tell Nicole she thought of quitting running before she saw Coach Kappa. And, she didn’t want to tell her Coach Kappa showed her the text she sent. And, most of all, she didn’t want to tell Nicole, Coach Kappa saw her dogging it. She simply texted:

I did our 6 mile loop. On the river trail, over the Lawson Street bridge, and looped the athletic fields at the high school, before I headed home. It’s not the same running w/o U.

Lisa saw the bubbles again.

I bet it wasn’t the same. U were probably faster. LOL.

Lisa smiled and sent her a text.

Mia Hale texted me. She wants me to run with her 2morrow. Said I would.

Lisa waited. No bubbles. Five minutes, ten minutes. Nothing. She guessed Nicole was busy with her friends. Then she heard the incoming text tone.

Sorry Lisa. The team captain, Allison, came by & told me I ran well today. Mia’s a good person. You’ll like her. g2g

Lisa lied in bed trying to imagine Nicole running around the university athletic fields taking turns leading the runners. No matter how hard Nicole said it was, she knew Nicole would probably be the best by the end of the season. She was always the best at whatever she did. Lisa fell to sleep seeing Nicole run in her mind.

Chapter 3 ~ Growing Up Isn’t Easy

Love to Run ~ A Story of Two Sisters

Chapter 3 ~ Growing Up Isn’t Easy

Nicole lived on the second floor of Robinson Hall. The family all pitched in to help Nicole get her stuff into her room. The room was empty with a bed against the side walls.
“Do you know who your roommate will be?” asked Lisa.
“Yes, it’s Maria Cortez. She’s from out of state and placed second in the championships last year. She’s a freshman like me. She’s nice. We’ve been texting,” said Nicole.
“You didn’t tell me,” said Lisa, her hurt feelings showing.
Their mom interrupted the girls and said, “I’m starving, let’s go out to lunch.”
The family went out for lunch to a pizza place near campus. Lisa, who normally loved pizza, ate one piece. All during lunch she didn’t say a word. When the lunch was finished, the family drove back to the dorm. Everyone got out of the car for a final hug. Nicole was the only one smiling. Her mom and dad put on brave faces. Her dad gave Nicole more advice about being careful. Her mom reminded her to text often.
Lisa said, “I hope you text me as much as you did your new roommate.”
Nicole hugged Lisa, “I love you, little sister. I promise I will text you everyday. Okay?”
Lisa shrugged, “Okay.”
As soon as Lisa got in the car, she scooted over to the corner sat of the back seat behind her dad who was driving. She put her earphones in, and plugged into her iPhone. She chose a playlist, then pulled her dark green hoodie tight over her head and tugged on the strings to the hoodie and nearly obscured her face. She closed her eyes and to block out the world in which she was living. Her mom turned to glance at her and said, “You’ll feel better in a few days. I know it’s hard now. But, trust me, you’ll feel better.”
Lisa didn’t respond to her mother. For the two and half hour ride home she lived in another world.
As soon as Lisa and her parents got home, she went to her room, lied on her bed, opened her iPhone and began to scroll through photos. There was Nicole and she finishing a 5K together. It was fun run. Another photo of her holding Nicole’s state championship cross-country trophy. Another photo of Nicole and she running on the river trail. She tossed the iPhone on the bed and stared at the ceiling. Her mind couldn’t stop thinking about running with Nicole and how she’d miss it. She decided she was through with running. That was it, she made up her mind. She dozed off. A half-hour later the cymbal sound on her iPhone woke her up. The cymbal sound was the sound for incoming text messages. She looked at her iPhone, the message was from Nicole.
Waz up Lisa? I already saw coach. We have to be up by six tomorrow morning to go on an easy six mile run before breakfast.
Lisa read the text two or three times, then texted,
Miss you already. Just hanging around doing nothing. There’s nobody to talk to. Nobody to run with.
Lisa saw the the little bubble working on the text message.
Lisa, coach has a sign on her door, No Excuses. No Feeling Sorry. Get Up, Get Going. That’s what you have to do. Can you do it for a week? For me?
Lisa took a deep breath and texted.
I’ll do the same as you for one week. That’s all I promise. Let me know your workouts.
The bubble appeared.
Tomorrow means you’re up and running at six a.m. I’ll think of you while I run. Deal?
Lisa texted.
Deal – CUL8R
Lisa wasn’t happy. She felt trapped into doing whatever Nicole did for one week. She decided after a week, she’d quit running. She didn’t feel like running anymore if she couldn’t run with Nicole.

Chapter Two ~ You’re Something Special

Love to Run: A Story of Two Sisters

Chapter 2 ~ You’re Something Special

Lisa lied in bed staring at her iPhone. She swiped through images of Nicole and she running together. She wanted time to stand still. It didn’t. The family was driving Nicole to the university on Sunday. It was only two days away. It bothered Lisa that Nicole was excited. Lisa didn’t understand why Nicole could be so happy leaving to go to college and she wasn’t. Lisa refused to go with Nicole and their mom to buy clothes and other essentials for college.
When Nicole and her mom returned from shopping, Nicole couldn’t wait to show Lisa all the things she bought to take to the university. Lisa felt like rolling her eyes, but made a half-hearted attempt to appear interested. She didn’t understand why Nicole needed so many clothes. Then there was the makeup bag, a rain jacket, new jeans, a casual and formal dress. To Lisa, it looked Nicole was packing to leave forever. The worse part was all Nicole talked about was going to college and running cross-country for one of the best women teams in the country. She even had a countdown calendar on her wall.
Sunday happened. Lisa couldn’t do anything to stop it from happening. Lisa, Nicole and their mom and dad piled into the SUV with all Nicole’s gear stuffed in the back. Lisa stared out the window as they pulled out of the driveway. She watched as they turned off their street. She looked out the back window and saw their house disappear. She watched as they passed by Lincoln park where Nicole and she ran wind sprints. She watched as they rode up Mason’s Hill where they did their hill work on the way to the Interstate. The more she thought about Nicole going away, the more her stomach hurt.
Lisa wished she took earplugs to block Nicole’s voice. Nicole couldn’t stop talking. All through the ride she talked about her dorm. She talked about the cross-country schedule. She talked about her classes. She read the schedule three times to them. She read the training rules to them. She read the recommended foods runners were supposed to eat. Lisa wanted to stick her finger down her throat.
A mile from the university, Nicole reached over and grabbed Lisa around the shoulders and hugged her, “Come on Lisa. You wouldn’t want me to pass up a great chance now would you? What do you think I’d say if you had a chance to go to an Olympic training camp and train with the best runners in the country in the Colorado mountains. What would you say?”
Lisa wiggled her head free, she gave Nicole a hint of a smile, “You’re that good Nicole. I’m not that good.”
Nicole went to grab Lisa again. Lisa ducked out of the way and squeezed next to the window.
Nicole said, “Your time in the mile last spring was better than I did in grade nine and you were only in grade eight. When we ran the cross country course for time last week, you set a PR and that was as good as I did in grade ten. Yah, I think you’re something special. I really do.”
“You really think I’m pretty good? You’re not trying to make me feel good, right?” Lisa eased herself away from the window.
“Let me show you something I never showed you before.” She opened her wallet, pulled out a translucent plastic case. She handed it to Lisa. “Take a look. I’ve been carrying it since last spring,” said Nicole.
Lisa took the case and looked at a photo, her blue eyes grew wider, “Where’d you get this?”
“I took this picture of you crossing the finish line in the county middle school meet against Logan last fall. Do you remember the race? You were tripped at the start and fell down. You got up and gave it all you had. When the finish line was in sight, you sprinted and caught the leaders five yards from the finish. You fell across the finish line. I took the picture as you fell across the line. I had it printed at the drug store so I could carry it in my wallet,” said Nicole.
“Why do you carry it?” Lisa asked, still staring at the picture.
“Whenever I get down. I pull it out and look at it. It reminds me to try harder. I make myself get up and never quit. That’s why I carry it Lisa. You’re something special,” said Nicole. The sisters hugged.
Lisa turned away and looked out the window. She didn’t want Nicole to see the tears in her eyes.

Chapter 1 ~ It’s Tough Growing Up

Love To Run: A Story of Two Sisters

Chapter 1 ~ It’s Tough Growing Up

Nicole and Lisa Denner were at the tail end of an easy seven mile run along the Drowning River trail. The hot summer day and coolness of the river were too inviting to finish the last mile of the workout, without a break. They hardly spoke during run. Nicole. the older sister, knew something was bothering Lisa. They were close, best friends and sisters rolled into one. Nicole had an idea what was bothering Lisa, but she wanted to hear it from her.
The river trail began at Lincoln Park and headed three miles south along the east side of the river, crossed over the river on Mason Street and came back on the west side of the river to Lincoln Park. The girls were sitting on the grass under a giant oak on bank of Drowning River just off the trail. Their backs were against the enormous tree trunk. The temperature hovered near ninety-five, the sun burned bright in a cloudless blue sky. If there was a breeze blowing, the leaves in the oak tree didn’t feel it. Nicole picked up a rock and tossed it in the river. Lisa did the same. Nicole, four years older than Lisa, was Lisa’s hero. Everything Nicole did, Lisa wanted to do. It was the same in their taste in music, iPhone apps, movies, and running gear. Today, both girls wore similar blue running shorts with a gold stripe down the sides and blue and gold running tops. Nicole was Lisa’s big sister, friend, and hero. Given a six inch difference in height, Lisa literally looked up to Nicole. Nicole’s friends often chided her and asked how mini me was doing. Nicole laughed it off, she and Lisa always had a tight bond.
Nicole turned her head toward Lisa, “Something bothering you?”
“Nope,” said Lisa tossing another rock into the river.
“You sure? I think I know what’s bothering you, but I wanted to hear it from you. Come one, we’re best friends, You won’t hurt my feelings,” encouraged Nicole.
Nicole knew she was headed off to college on a cross-country scholarship in a few weeks. She’d be living away from home for the first time.
Lisa turned toward Nicole, “It’s hurts my head to think about it.”
“What hurts your head, Lisa?”
“You know, Nicole. Your leaving home. What am I going to do without you? You’re everything I want to be. My stomach’s hurting talking about it. Can we drop it?”
Lisa could talk to Nicole and know Nicole would give her good advice, and, she could trust her. She could tell Nicole things she wouldn’t tell their mom or dad. They’d talk about stuff girls talk about. What they mostly talked about was running. If running was important to Nicole, it was important to Lisa.
Nicole was the top runner on the girl’s high school cross country team since she was a sophomore. She had a half dozen scholarship offers but wanted to stay in state to be closer to her family. Nicole tossed another rock into the river, “I’ll be leaving for college in three weeks Lisa, this summer is going faster than any summer ever.”
Lisa tossed a rock close to where Nicole’s landed, “Do you have to leave so early? Classes don’t start till the end of August, right, Nicole?”
Nicole used a stick to unearth another rock, “It’s my cross-country scholarship. There is a preseason camp, everybody who wants to be on the team has to show up. I’m nervous about how I’ll do. They have a lot of great runners.”
“You won state last year. You came in second in the 5000 meters this spring. You’ll probably be the best runner they have,” Lisa said using a stick to dig at a rock, then tossing the loosened rock into the river.
“We’ve been running together all summer. You’re pretty good yourself, Lisa. You’ll be one of the top five on the high school team if you keep working hard,” Nicole tossed a rock into the center of the ripples caused by Lisa’s rock.
Lisa tossed another rock into the river, “I was born one year too late for us to run together in high school. I wish we could run together this fall. Can we text and connect on FaceTime?”
“Of course, Lisa, we’ll always stay connected,” said Nicole.
Nicole stood up and stretched, grabbed hold of a low hanging limb, curled her legs, and swung from it. Lisa got up off the ground jumped to grab hold of the limb and swing next to Nicole.
“You do everything I do, don’t you?” said Nicole.
“Not everything Nicole. I can’t go to camp with you. I can’t take classes at the university. I can’t drive a car. I have to take a stride and a half to your one when we run. Sometimes, I don’t think it’s fair,” said Lisa.
Nicole turned her head toward Lisa, “I got an idea. We’ll both be running this fall and in great shape by the end of the cross-country season. The Thanksgiving marathon is coming up on Saturday before Thanksgiving. We can run together in it. We’ll make it a fun run.”
Lisa gave a weak smile and said, “I’ve done 10K’s but never a marathon. You haven’t done one either. Last summer you ran twenty miles when you went to camp. I remember you telling me about it.” Lisa dropped from the limb at the same time as her big sister let go and dropped to the ground.
Nicole said, “The twenty miles was at an easy pace. We ran as a group at running camp. We were supposed to stay together. Right now, I know you could run twenty miles at the same pace. I’ll talk to my coach about the marathon when I go to camp. If she says it’s doable and gives me a training schedule that works with the cross-country season I’ll email it to you. We can text each other all during fall on how we’re doing. Fist bump?”
The sisters fist bumped then ran the final mile leading from Drowning River toward home. Lisa felt a little better as she and Nicole headed toward home. She’d be running with Nicole in the Thanksgiving Marathon. It was better than nothing. They’d text each other about the training and about the cross-country season. Still, Lisa knew it wasn’t the same.

Chapter 33 – Doing It Our Way ~ The Conclusion

Chapter 33 – A Secret Revealed

Grace stepped out of the hospital room into the corridor when asked to by the nurse. Jane was standing outside the door. “How is he, Grace?” she asked.
“They’re cleaning Brad. He’s still unconscious. They’re trying to get his body temperature up. He made Matt wear the space blanket and he gave Matt the last bit of food and water. Matt wouldn’t have made if it wasn’t for Brad. And, now, I don’t know if Brad will make it. He’s listed in critical condition.”
“He’s strong, Grace. He’ll make it,” said Jane.
“He’s been out for two days, Jane. The doctors don’t know when or if he’ll regain consciousness, they said it’s unpredictable. I want to stay here for a few more days. I know Larry has to get back to work and you have things to do. I’ll be okay. I’d send Matt back with you, but he’s adamant about staying here. He’s even willing to skip basketball camp and you know how much he loves basketball. He went to the cafeteria to get a bite to eat.”
Jane looked at Grace, “Are you taking care of yourself? When was the last decent meal you’ve eaten?”
“Jane, I couldn’t hold anything down even if you force fed me. My stomach feels like its still in the middle of that storm.”
“You’ve got to eat. What will Matt do if you end up in the room next to Brad? Please, Grace,” begged Jane.
Grace took a deep breath, “I know you’re right. I promise I will eat something tonight.”
“I’m going down to the cafeteria now and I’ll bring you something to eat. I will stay with you until you finish every bite,” said Jane.
“You’re treating me like a child, Jane.”
Jane didn’t answer. She gave Grace a hug, turned and headed for the elevators. The nurse walked out of the room. She nodded to Grace and said, “You can go in now. He’s clean and resting.”
Jane walked into the room and stood by the side of the bed. She bent over and kissed Brad’s forehead, and told him thank you for saving Matt’s life. It was a ritual she performed each time she entered the room. She sat down in the chair next to the bed and placed her right hand on top of Brad’s left hand. It was the same chair Grace slept in the past two nights.
Grace felt exhausted. Her eyelids felt as if they had ten pound weights pulling them down. She started to close her eyes and she forced them back open. Once her head bobbed when she dozed and she pulled it straight up. The harder she fought sleep, the harder it became for her to stay awake. Her right leg twitched and her head bobbed. Maybe if I close my eyes for a moment until Jane comes back with my food. I won’t sleep, I’ll just close them and relax. It won’t be long, she thought. She closed her eyes and fell asleep.
Grace’s subconscious didn’t allow her to slip into non REM sleep, the deep sleep stage where the body begins to repair itself. She remained in the REM stage where dreams most frequently occur. Grace found herself on Indian Trail, Brad was lost, she had to find him. She looked at a hand drawn map Matt gave her. She came to the fork in the trail leading to the summit or further up Indian Trail. She heard Brad’s voice, “Over hear. I’m over hear.”
She looked around. She didn’t see him, “Brad where are you? Where are you? I don’t see you.”
“I’m here. I’m right here.”
Grace left the trail and ran through the thick underbrush, falling, hollering, “I’m coming, Brad. I’ll find you.”
Grace suddenly woke up, only she and Brad were in the room. She looked at Brad and said, “I had a nightmare, Brad. I dreamed you were lost and you were calling me. I couldn’t find you. It was horrible.”
Grace felt Brad’s hand move, he moved it out from under her hand and placed his hand on top of her hand and squeezed. Grace stood up, “Brad, Brad can you hear me?” She felt another squeeze on her hand. She bent over and kissed his forehead.
“I won’t leave you, Brad. I’ll be right here when you open your eyes. I promise,” said Grace, tears were rolling down her cheeks.
Brad rolled his head toward Grace and opened his eyes, barely audible, he mouthed the words, “Thank you.”
“You’re awake. Thank God, you’re awake. Oh, God, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
A small smile formed on Brad’s lips. He whispered, “I have to talk to you.”
“It can wait, Brad. You rest. We will have plenty of time to talk.”
Brad shook his head, “No. I need to talk now.” He squeezed her hand again.
“Okay, Brad. But, please don’t wear yourself out, Matt and I want you back.”
Brad managed another smile. He said, “My wallet?”
Grace opened the drawer on the small dresser next to his bed. Brad’s brown leather wallet was sitting among a few other personal effects. She picked it up and wondered about the wallet. The leather was soft and worn. It looked like it had been hand crafted and had carried it for years. She turned and faced him. “I have it.”
Brad said, “Open it.”
Grace laid the open wallet flat across her lap. “It’s open, Brad.”
“In the sleeve on right side, reach in and pull out,” Brad’s voice becoming weary.
Grace reached into the sleeve on the right and there was nothing there. She realized she was confusing her right hand with Brad’s right hand. She placed her fingers in the other sleeve and pulled out three items. She didn’t look at them, she said, “I have three things, what do you want me to do?”
“The photo, look at the photo.”
Grace moved an insurance card off the top, then a roadside assistance card, and then she came to the photo and gasped, “That’s, that’s Matt. Where did you get it?”
Brad’s turned his head slightly towards Grace’s voice. He struggled to keep his eyes open, “When I was deployed. They needed a fourth person for a dangerous mission, I volunteered. I only knew the other three by first names, that’s all. It started out well, we met with a native of the region who was supposed to help us. He set us up. Two of our group were killed in an ambush, one was wounded badly. I wasn’t hit. I carried the wounded soldier for two miles and scaled a cliff to escape. A helicopter came in to rescue us. The soldier’s name was Mike. That’s all I knew. He was in bad shape. The medics were working furiously on him. One of the medics looked at me and shook his head. Miked grabbed hold of my hand, he asked me to reach into his shirt pocket. I did. I pulled out this photo. He asked me to find his boy and mother and make sure they were okay. He died in my arms.
I didn’t recognize Matt at first and how many Mike’s are there in the service? I was telling you the truth when I said I didn’t know Mike. Later, after I passed the football with Matt, something about him started nagging at me. I couldn’t put it together. It wasn’t until after we swam that I looked in my wallet and pulled out the photo. I knew. I just didn’t know how to tell you.”
Brad closed his eyes. He held Grace’s hand tight. He breathed deeply, then he said, “Mike was a lucky man. You’re a special woman and Matt’s a special boy. When I get out of here, I’d like to know you both better.”
Grace’s face was streaked with tears. She whispered, “Yes, Brad. We want to know you better, too. I’d like nothing better.”



Chapter 31 ~ Doing It Our Way

Chapter 31 ~ The Storm Strikes

Grace and Jane were in the ranger station standing in front of the counter. Ranger Stone was behind the counter on the phone speaking with the search and rescue team. Grace only heard one side of the conversation.
Ranger Stone said, “The boy’s mother got a text, we were searching in the wrong areas. Apparently, the boy went up Indian Trail. Can you do a quick search before the cold front?”
Ranger Stone paused, he turned toward Grace and shook his head. He spoke into the phone, “I know the weather bureau changed its forecast from a warning to a watch. There are several super cells associated with the storm. We need to get them out of there before it hits. Is there anything you can do?”
“They have to try. Can’t they make a helicopter sweep before the storm hits?” Grace begged. Jane had her arm around Grace’s shoulder.
Ranger Stone nodded to Grace letting her know he heard her, but his attention was on listening to the search and rescue commander. He kept nodding his head. He finally spoke, “I understand. I’ll explain everything. Thanks for your help.”
Ranger Stone turned to Grace, “They can’t go. It’s too dangerous, the winds have already picked up and their swirling creating dangerous updrafts. The Search and Rescue commander said they’d go as soon as the storm passed. He estimated they might get a chance to make a sweep of Indian Trail before sundown.”
Grace felt her knees starting to shake. She squeezed her eyes shut tight. If she wanted to say anything to Ranger Stone, she couldn’t. Her jaws closed so tight, the jaws of life couldn’t pry them apart.
Jane held onto Grace. She said, “Brad’s strong. He’s been through tougher things, you know that. He’ll survive and he’ll come back with Matt. I know he will.”
Grace opened her eyes and turned her head toward Jane and gave her a half smile, her eyes filled with tears. Grace and Jane embraced. When they finished, Grace looked at Ranger Stone and said, “Is it okay if we stay here with you?”
Ranger Stone nodded and said, “The storms should pass through within the next 90 minutes. The weather bureau is now saying that tornados are possible. We have a shelter at the campground. We need to go there before the storm hits.”
Jane said, “Let’s get Larry. He probably doesn’t know.”
Grace and Jane left the ranger station and headed to Jane’s cabin. Grace turned toward the west and saw the black wall off in the distance coming toward them. She tugged on Jane’s arm, “I’m scared, Jane. I’m really scared.”
Jane said, “Me too. Let’s hurry, we need to take shelter.”
_ _ _ _
Brad found the trail and started to follow it. The rain pelted Brad as if he were being hit with rocks. He ran on, his chin tilted down, his eyes on the trail. The trail turned into a series of switchbacks. New streams seemingly emerging from nowhere suddenly appeared and cascaded down the mountainside oblivious to the switchbacks. Brad stumbled, fell forward, bracing his fall with his hands. He turned slightly over his shoulder, “You okay, Matt?”
“Yes sir. I can run. It will be easier for you,” said Matt.
“You stay right there, hang on tight. The path is getting more and more slippery.”
“Brad, what’s it mean when the sky starts to turn green? I’ve never seen a sky like this one,” said Matt, his voice shaking.”
Brad didn’t mince words, “It’s tornado weather. We’ve got to find shelter, fast.”
A flash of white lightening struck a pine thirty feet from where Brad and Matt stood toppling the top half of the tree. Matt screamed. Brad kept running, his eyes darting searching for any kind of shelter. He spotted a large set of rocks, placed one on top of the other through some cosmic design millions of years earlier. He went off trail and headed for the rock formation.
When Brad reached the rocks, he said, “Get off me, Matt. Lie face down on the ground as close to the rocks as you can get. Rest your head on your arms so you can breathe.”
“What are you going to do, Brad?”
“I’m going to cover you with the space blanket and I’ll be on top of you. Can you hold my weight?”
“Why do you have lie on top of me, Brad?” asked Matt.
“No questions now, do as I say,” said Brad with urgency in his voice, the winds were gusting to nearly seventy miles an hour. Brad cast a wary eye toward the trees nearby and their bending branches. A lightening bolt struck another large pine close by splintering it in two. Brad felt Matt shudder at the deafening thunder that followed the lightening strike.