OZARK RIDGE, ARKANSAS
Linda never questioned the road taken or regretted what she left behind. Every run was a win and today felt like a trophy day.
Each run offered a new path. Take the flat road to the left or bear up the hill to the right. Stay on concrete or sprint across the grass. Maneuver through chunky gravel or stretch your stride on a lonely road. Today’s 5K route was simple. Its only incline was near the Methodist Church. The rest was flat road, leading the runners through neighborhoods around the town courthouse. Streets were blocked to traffic, giving the runners plenty of room.
Her legs were finally limber, so she took a deep breath and pushed toward the last turn. A group dressed in matching shirts with “Kick it for Kids” printed on the back, ran past her, but she didn’t care; she was ahead of last year’s time.
She shook her head at the hostess’s offer of water as she ran past the three quarter mark. The woman pointed Linda’s attention across the street. At the far end of the city’s park, a large herd of deer was running past the swing sets where children watched, jumping and laughing. The deer seemed unaware of their admirers as they moved in unison toward the fence. They jumped one at a time, crossed the First National Bank parking lot, and disappeared behind the building. One toddler started after them, but an older child with the same red hair, scooped him up and sat him in the swing.
The glaring July sun slipped behind a cloud, and she saw the red Porsche pulling up. She slowed and glanced around before maneuvering through old pickups and worn out mini vans to cross the street. She stopped at the driver’s window and caught a breath.
“Hi. You got off early.” She leaned in to kiss Lostyn but decided she was too sweaty, so bent down instead and rested her chin on the car door.
Lostyn looked down the road. “There aren’t many here.”
“Most runners have already made it in and the walkers are about half way.” She stood and stretched her legs.
He smoothed his mustache. “I’ll be ready for dinner soon.”
“I’ll come straight home as soon as I cross the finish line. It’ll take me just a minute to finish dinner.” She glanced down. “And shower, of course. Hey, there’s chicken in the crock pot.”
His nose twitched, so she added. “I found a new recipe with lemon and basil. I hope you like it.”
Lostyn rolled his neck.
She fulled her pony tail tighter. Her new run time was shot. “So, tell me. Did you sign the
new group from Vegas?”
“The meeting isn’t until next week. Did you forget again?’
“I’m sorry. You’re right, of course.”
Frantic hands caught her attention and she waved back at the race coordinator.
“Looks like Renee needs me.”
“I’m going home and counting on you to be close behind.” He drove off before she could answer. She sprinted toward the finish line.
Renee pointed toward a small group gathered by the sidewalk. Linda ran past her, jumping over a water cooler and trophy box. Two men were squatted next to a little girl lying on her back with her knees pulled to her chest.
“What is it?” She saw the pink tulle skirt. “Let me see Princess.” She gently pried small bloody hands away from a gashed knee. The child cried out.
“I’m sorry. Did you fall while you were running?” The little girl nodded and tried to reach for her knee again, but Linda intercepted the little trembling hands and held them together in hers. “I’m a nurse and I’ll help you. What’s your name?”
“What a pretty name.” She looked around for something to use as a bandage. Renee reached the group and tossed a roll of paper towels at her before sliding down the nearest tree trunk, gasping for breath.
She hopped up, but Renee flung a hand up in dismissal.
“Okay. Let’s get you fixed up Princess Amy.”
One of the men handed her a bottle of water and she started cleaning the wound. “It’ll be okay. Look. It’s almost stopped bleeding.”
Amy opened one eye to inspect her knee. “It still hurts,” she sniffled.
“I know it does sweety. Who did you come with today?”
Amy’s lower lip protruded as she shook her head. Linda covered the wound with another paper towel. Renee should have been better prepared with a first aid team on standby… and No unaccompanied children allowedposted!
She sighed. Lostyn was waiting for dinner. Renee was wheezing. Amy was alone. And she hadn’t crossed the finish line.