Leaves shimmered brilliant golds and reds, signaling autumn’s return. A cool breeze scattered the few fallen leaves littering the golf course. Audrey focused her eyes on the red and white uniform an arm’s length in front of her, straining to close the gap. The opponent weaved in front of Audrey, preventing her from passing. As the runners turned a corner, ironically on the 18th hole, Audrey changed her focus from the girl in front of her to the finish line less than 50 meters ahead. She bore down and leaned into the wind, feeling a second wind kick in. Her legs took on a mind of their own as she sprinted to the finish, leaving the red and white jersey in the dust. Leaning forward, she tore the ribbon that stretched across the finish line. She struggled to remain on her feet as she moved through the finishers chute. Her muscles filled with lactic acid and she kept them moving to prevent cramping. Her lungs burned as she sucked in the cool air, and her stomach heaved. She half-heartedly wished she were here instead for a relaxing round of golf.
“Way to go, Audrey!” Her mom’s voice rose above the crowd. Her parents were waiting at the end of the chute where they finally pulled her into a group hug. She hugged them back with the little strength she had left. “Honey, we’re so proud of you.” Her mom was glowing.
Tears of pride pooled in the corners of her dad’s eyes. “Was that a personal record for you?”
Audrey cheered for a Bethel runner coming down the last stretch before answering. “I don’t know. What was my time?” She bent over, her hands resting on her knees as she tried to control her breathing.
Her dad lifted the stopwatch hanging from his neck. “According to my watch, you finished in twenty-one minutes and five seconds.”
“Wow, are you serious?” Audrey screeched with excitement. “Yes, that’s a personal record. Maybe I can even qualify for nationals this year.”
“Is Trevor here?” Her mom shielded her eyes from the sun with her hand, searching the spectators.
Her dad shook his head. “No, the Gophers have a game in Wisconsin today.”
Audrey knew this, yet she’d listened for his voice through the cacophony of the crowd, and looked for his face among the cheering fans lining the race course.
“It’s too bad he missed it.” Her mom gave Audrey a side hug.
“Meanwhile I’m missing his big touchdown catches.” She sighed. “But that’s alright because I’m going to the Michigan game with Becca in a couple weeks. And tomorrow I’ll get to see him. We’re visiting a church in the morning and then just hanging out the rest of the day. It’ll be the first time I’ve seen him since school started.” She was practically counting down the minutes until she’d see him again.
Goosebumps rose on Audrey’s bare legs beneath her running shorts. “I gotta get my sweats on.” She hugged her parents and set off for the tent where Bethel had set up camp for the day. She couldn’t help but smile. Before today, she hadn’t even dreamed about running at Nationals. She plopped down on the tarp and rummaged through her duffle for a T-shirt. One thought that kept chipping away at her happiness about today’s race; if only Trevor could’ve been there to see it.
“You rock!” a guy’s voice rang out. That couldn’t be Trevor. Hope penetrated all reasoning. Strong hands came down on her shoulders, kneading into her muscles.
Audrey turned to identify the mystery masseuse. A grinning Matt Cook stood over her, flanked by a couple of football buddies. Their admiration was palpable as they stared down at her. She stood up, and Matt pulled her into a congratulatory hug. The other guys patted her on the back. “Thanks, guys.”
“That was amazing. You won this whole thing!” Matt gestured to the frenzied activity of runners and spectators.
Audrey’s heart swelled with pride. “Stop it. You’ll give me a big head.”
“You deserve it. By the way, are you coming to the game tonight under the lights? We’re gonna crush St. Thomas.” The guys patted each other on their backs and whooped as if they’d already won the game. Matt pointed behind her. “Is that your family over there?”
Audrey looked over her shoulder. Her dad had his camera aimed in her direction while her mom gazed at her adoringly. They waved animatedly. A combination of embarrassment and pride caused her to break out in laughter. “Yes. They belong to me. C’mon, I’ll introduce you. Depending on how my dad’s photo turns out, you may have just made it onto his Facebook page. Few moments go uncaptured in my family.”
Audrey led the guys over to her parents, grateful that they had filled the void of Trevor’s absence.
Read a chapter a day from Bittersweet Goodbye right here on this blog, beginning September 1st, 2019.