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Iris Running

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A college student puts her life back together through running and goes far beyond anything she ever imagined. In high school, she studied so she could run. Then she broke she ankle. If it wasn’t for the research, she would be just one more college kid who drank too much, put on too much weight, and flunked out. But who would research streaking? Who would imagine a connection between nudity and the death penalty? And who would try to start a naked sorority?

Drama / Romance
Lew Kaye-Skinner
Age Rating:

My Not-so-glorious Comeback

[Transcript Jason Green Show, Feb 21, 20__, 95.5FM, Coventry, Nitoma]

Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed that our whole state is going off the deep end? First, we have a nudie toons strip-off, and now we have people at the University researching… You aren’t gonna believe this! They’re researching streaking! At a university, of all places! Talk about wasted money. Is it any wonder people are calling our state Nude… toma? You heard me right. Our great state isn’t Nitoma anymore; it’s Nude-toma. Did somebody throw out simple decency while we weren’t looking? Have you seen those people that stripped at the capitol? Most of ’em are grandparents for God’s sake! When I have something that wrinkled, you can bet I don’t hang it out where everybody has to look at it. That isn’t how my mama brought me up. Listen to me, people. There is no connection between the death penalty and exhibitionism in the middle of winter. None! Zero! Zip!

And now they’re researching streaking. This isn’t just a bunch of kids getting drunk and having a little fun. This is sober people, or at least people that should be sober, college professors that think they’re smarter than everybody else. I like a little fun as much as the next guy, but when they start flopping right out in front of God and everybody, they’ve crossed the line. When they start flopping their private parts in front of our children, they’ve crossed the line. When they’re flopping their nasty bits in my mother and grandmother’s faces, they’ve crossed way over the line. How can they let these people run loose? Are our cops all addicted to porn? Must be. How fast would they be all over somebody that didn’t want that in their face?

Okay. Our lines are open. Give me a call at nine-fifty-five-fifty-five-fifty-five-fifty-five; that’s a nine and nine fives. I’m Jason Green, and this is the voice for common sense. Call and give us your nickel’s worth. You’re worth more than two cents, and you know we aren’t animals going to it in front of God and everybody.

So much for a glorious return to running. I spat and then wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. God, I hated puke! Even worse, I didn’t have anything to rinse out my mouth. I pushed myself to my feet and looked both ways on the road. The moon wasn’t out, and the stars didn’t give much light. The edge of the city was behind me, the interstate was a couple of miles away to my left, and to my right were the Med Center and a few scattered housing developments. The middle of the night in the middle of winter was not a good time to stand around in my birthday suit. Besides, yesterday was my birthday, not today. Where was my phone? Shit! I must have dropped it when I started puking. Okay, little phone, come to mama. Before kneeling, I felt the dead grass to make sure I wasn’t right in the upchuck. After a bit of searching, I found the phone with only a tiny wet spot and stood again. Headlights were coming from the interstate. Where could I hide? No, they might turn. Mom would tell me to pray. Of course, Mom would more likely tell me not to be out alone in the middle of the night… or most of the other things I had done since coming to college. At this time of night, the roads were mostly deserted.

I crossed the road and turned back toward my car… I hoped. No. I wasn’t that drunk. Maybe earlier, but not now. My car was pointed toward the interstate when I started running. I set off at a slower pace than before. The first time running in almost two years was no time for heroics. My breasts bouncing all over everywhere felt weird. In high school, I had been so small I could run without a bra, and some boys had bigger boobs. My coaches always said I needed a little more weight but not this much. After two years of junk food, booze, and too many other bad choices, I had plenty to fill a bra and definitely bounced… or flopped. Actually I liked having breasts big enough to bounce, and their movement gave me a steady counter-beat to the rhythm of my feet against the pavement. Gramma Iris, my namesake, had lost her breasts to cancer before she died, and most of my older female relatives on that side of the family had dealt with breast cancer.

Even if it was warmer than usual for that time of year, the night air made me shiver, and I coughed. I hadn’t run far enough or hard enough to be breathing this hard. I looked back over my shoulder. Where was whatever had been coming from the interstate? What if it was someone looking for an innocent coed to kidnap and rape? Well, I was far from innocent and knew how to make things uncomfortable. No, the headlights were going toward town from the corner by the flickering orange streetlight. Okay. You can do this. Slow song. The only one I could think of was “Just As I Am.” God, I hated that one. Mom did, too, but sometimes she had to pick it for the old people in church or use it for a funeral. “Just as I am without one plea.” Just as I am with two new running shoes. New, old-fashioned running shoes. They don’t make ’em like that anymore. I could almost feel the texture of the pavement through the thin soles. Grandy’s running shoes from college were hanging in Dad’s study at home. They were leather instead of nylon but otherwise about the same. The shoes that got Grandy onto his college track team. His relay baton was one of the things I had brought to college. Like father, like son. It was supposed to be like granddaughter, too, until the accident and my broken ankle. I only knew the first verse of the song, so I started through it again. “But that thy blood was shed for me.” Yuck! Tonight it was puke I was shedding. That and way too much sweat for just jogging. Maybe I should have done it with somebody before I left the party. No guy was gonna want a sweaty girl with spew mouth.

“Don’t think,” I gasped aloud. “Just do.” That’s what Dad says. If protesters can walk around naked in broad daylight, I can run at night. Who in the world can see any connection between the death penalty and going naked?

I almost went right past my car on the shoulder. With my hands on my knees, I gasped for breath, like after a sprint finish to a race. This was terrible! I had only been jogging! Sure, it had been a while, but was two years long enough to get this sucky at running? Grandy and Dad would kick me out of the Running family. I pushed myself upright and walked back and forth beside my car. God, heave mouth was just plain… plain… plain puky! Wait a minute! A water bottle had been rolling around in the back of my car. Was it still there? I didn’t care who had drunk from it before. Oh, there it is. The past couple of days had been warm enough to thaw some of the ice. I rinsed my mouth and spat toward the middle of the road, then sucked down the rest that wasn’t frozen. My breathing was a little better.

No one else was on the road, so I closed the car door to shut off the inside light and tapped my phone screen. My goal for this first time was only a mile. A tag on my right shoe would give my stats to the researchers, but I had installed a phone app so I could see, too. What?! Just six tenths? What was wrong with this thing? Six tenths of a mile, one kilometer. Shit! I had always gone the distance and then some. Mile, here we come. I set off again toward the interstate. What a wimp! I was breathing too hard again before I got to two tenths of a mile, but I gutted out another tenth so it would be over a mile when I got back to my car.

When I turned around, headlights were coming toward me. “Damn!” Okay. Don’t panic. Just get off the road. Maybe they’ll think it was a deer. Fortunately, the ditch was dry, and no fence was on the other side. I seemed to be on mown grass. Back from the road a ways, I could keep going and get to my car when the coast was clear.

“Oh no.” The headlights stopped behind my car, and yellow flashing lights came on. Underage Preacher’s Daughter Arrested for Streaking Under the Influence. That would go over big. The other ways I had fucked up my life hadn’t made headlines. Besides, when I had signed up for this research, they said the runners wouldn’t get arrested. Did that work outside city limits? Was I outside city limits? How did it work anywhere? Two police officers with flashlights were getting out of the car.

With a sigh and a deep breath, I started toward them. Would it be better if I wasn’t gasping like I had never run before? Would it make any difference? “That’s my car,” I said when I got close.

Both flashlights immediately swung toward me, and I couldn’t see anything else. “Stop!” a woman’s voice barked from behind the lights, “right there!”

I raised my hands over my head. “All I have is my phone.”

“Come forward slowly,” a man’s voice said. I obeyed. One light stayed on me, and the other swept the field behind me.

“What’s going on?” the woman asked.

“I was running. Yesterday I signed up for… I’m in that running research at the university.”

“The streakin’ research, not the death penalty protest? Got any proof o’ that?”

Wasn’t wearing only running shoes in the middle of February proof enough? “In my car with my other ID”

They let me get my card case, and the woman took down the information while the man kept his flashlight on me. What did he think I’d do? Run home? Maybe he’d never seen a naked blonde.

“Okay,” the woman said finally. She handed back my card and driver’s license. “Let me give you some advice. Don’t streak out here where nobody can hear you scream.”

I looked at my ID “Yeah. I didn’t think anybody would see me.”

“True nine times outa ten. The tenth’s the problem.”

“Yeah. You aren’t gonna arrest me?”

“We can’t. Between you runners and those death penalty protesters, we’re treating nudity as a secondary offense. Not even gonna give you a breath test.”

“But I can smell the booze from here,” the man objected.

“So can I,” the woman said, “but she isn’t driving, and there’s no law against running under the influence. Turn off your damn light.”

“You’re not gonna charge her with anything?” he asked, still blinding me.

She stepped between us, facing him. “You keep that light on her, and you might be the one getting charged.”

“But she’s naked!”

“Yup, out here where not a damned soul can see ’er without your damned flashlight.” That wasn’t quite true. Their flashing lights were pretty bright. “We were sent to check out a car beside the road. We did.”

“Shit!” he said and snapped off his flashlight. He went around to the rider’s side of the car, and the woman turned to me.

“Here’s my card.” She shone her flashlight on it: Officer J. Leslie. “You need anything…” She got back in the squad car and drove away in a hurry.

“Welcome back to running,” I whispered as I watched their taillights. No way I’d tell Dad or Grandy about this.

Thank God my car heater didn’t take long to warm up. I should have gotten dressed before heading to campus; blame it on being blonde. And if you do, I’ll accuse you of treating me like a sorority bitch. Angie, my roommate, was asleep when I got to the dorm, so I took my shower things down the hall to the bathroom. At that time of night, the dorm was pretty quiet. I chose one of the private booths for a long, hot shower. I was running again, and my ankle didn’t hurt. That much was good, very good.

It was nice not to have a hangover the next morning. I had way too much experience with hangovers. When Angie left for class, I roused enough to throw back the covers and pull off my sleep shirt. Top bunk, where I slept, was plenty warm, but when we became roommates in the fall, Angie had insisted we should never sleep naked. I didn’t when she was around; it was just easier. When the alarm on my phone went off, I was having a sexy dream, and it was really a good thing she wasn’t there to see what I was doing.

After my breathing calmed down, I climbed out of bed and stretched. My legs were way too sore and stiff for only a mile. Some of the other kids on my high school teams used to have sore legs like that at the start of the season. Back then, I didn’t quit running year round and never had to deal with that. Whenever a season started, I was already putting in the distance the coaches wanted us to work up to. Getting back to that was going to take some work.

My ten thirty Math class had started before I got there. I didn’t even know what chapter we were in. One thing about drinking: it never bothered me to feel like one of the stupid kids in class. Between leaving the party early the night before and then running, I didn’t have enough alcohol in my system to be numb that way. A guy in the row in front of me had his textbook open, so I dug mine out of my backpack and turned to the same page. If that was what the instructor was talking about, my brain was really shot. What he was explaining kind of made sense, but I looked at a girl a couple of desks over. How had I not noticed she was naked? There weren’t that many death penalty protesters on campus. Her textbook was open to a different chapter, and when I turned to that one, the instructor made a lot more sense. The naked girl was scribbling notes fast and furious. Maybe I should take a few.

There weren’t many days when I was sober for both of my classes. That was a big part of why my grades were so bad. Still it was tempting to go have a few before my afternoon class. I didn’t… even though my body was screaming that it needed some. If it was anything but running, I would have been at the little bar over on the other side of town where they had long since quit asking for my ID God, I wanted a drink! Three bottles of water made me step out in the middle of my afternoon class, but they didn’t do much for how thirsty I was.

Wouldn’t you know it! Angie and her brimstone brigade were in our room when I got back. They were in the middle of praying, but I didn’t give a damn. It was my room, too. As I tossed my books and running shoes into my backpack, Angie said, “Father God, I just wanna ask you to bless Iris and please just let her see the error of her ways and please, Lord, just show her how to glorify you through her choices.”

“Fuck you all very much,” I muttered on the way out of the room. Those holier-than-God morality Nazis were about as much fun as getting butt-fucked with a rusty drill.

If I was going to keep running, I needed to find something to do with the rest of my time. Back in the day, I always did better if I had plenty to keep busy when I wasn’t running. My party friends would have been easy to find, but I went to the library where none of them would be caught dead. About the only thing I had ever done there was sleep where Angie and the other religious psychos wouldn’t bother me. I parked myself near a water fountain. Between thirst, trips to the bathroom, and trying to stretch out my aching legs, I stayed awake until hunger drove me somewhere else. It was dark outside, but I didn’t want to go to the dorm cafeteria or the Campus Center. Too many of my party friends would be in either place with too much temptation to deal with my legs by applying alcohol… internally. A coffee shop near campus served sandwiches, too, so I got my car and drove the two blocks, easy walking distance, but I planned to run later. It would be a lot easier to run naked if I had alcohol in my system like the first night, instead of caffeine. No, the naked part might be easier, but running wouldn’t. If they were researching anything but running, I wouldn’t do it. I definitely didn’t want to puke again. God, I wanted a drink!

Even on a chilly night like that, some protesters wearing only a royal blue armband or medallion were in the main room of the Java Station, more men than women. I couldn’t see any connection between going naked and the death penalty, and I wasn’t about to ask. I pretended there was nothing unusual about a bunch of naked people in a public place and sat at a small table with my back to the protesters. Just like there was nothing unusual about a naked runner beside a road.

“Hi,” one of them said, standing right across the table from me. “Can I give you a brochure about our protest?” She offered me a yellow brochure printed with blue ink the color of their medallions. She had dark brown hair, a narrow smile, and large breasts. The only thing she was wearing was a clackety bracelet made from safety pins and blue medallions.

The brochure gave me something to look at other than huge boobs right at eye level. “I gotta study.”

“Yeah. Is your name Rose or Daisy or some kind of flower?”

“Iris, Iris Running. Do I know you?”

“We’re in Math together.”

“Oh! You were…” She was the one I had seen in class that morning. “Sorry, I didn’t… Sorry.” I held up the brochure. “This explains why you’re naked?”

“Sort of. One of the girls on the front was my aunt. The guy that was convicted of killing her is on death row.”

“Oh.” I looked at the brochure. “I figured most o’ you were just a bunch of nut-case exhibitionists.”

“Some probably are. I’ll let you get back to studying.”

“Yeah. Sorry about your aunt.”

“Thanks. I don’t remember her. She died when I was little.”

I frowned. “So, why protest now?”

“Killing somebody else won’t bring her back. My friend Damien and I,” she pointed at the group of protesters, and a black guy waved, “want to start a student chapter of Citizens Against the Death Penalty.”

“He has clothes on!” What a dumb thing to blurt out! She had eyes. And he was crazy hot!

“Yeah. He’s supporting the protest, but he’s not… well… His little sister was one of the victims.”

“Somebody killed his sister and your aunt?”

“Not the same guy.”

“Oh. You haven’t told me your name.”

“Piña Ball, not the one in the brochure.”

My parents were members of Citizens Against the Death Penalty or CADP, but I didn’t know much about the protest. The word porn guy on the radio thought it and the running research were sending our whole state straight to Hell. The brochure explained that they were trying to get the governor to commute all the death sentences to life without parole and to get the state assembly to take the death penalty off the books. Denton Jay, the guy convicted of killing Piña’s aunt, had quit wearing prison clothes on January first after another guy confessed to his murders. On the first of February, some people outside the Pen started going naked as a protest against the governor being so slow.

Except for another guy sitting with the hot black guy, all the protesters were gone when I went for a coffee refill. When it was my turn to order, the cute guy behind the counter asked, “Enjoying the warm weather?”

“Not as much as the protesters.”

“Yeah. You know Piña Ball? I saw you two talking.”

I assumed he meant the protester since I hadn’t talked to anyone else. “Not really. We have a class together. Which tip jar is yours?” He tapped the one marked ‘Evan.’ I put my change in it and thanked him by name. He seemed to be equally friendly to everybody, even the protesters. Oh well. Maybe I should go sit on the black guy’s lap and talk about whatever came up.

I behaved myself, went back to studying, and didn’t notice when they left. One of my textbooks was actually beginning to make sense. When the Java Station closed, I drove out to a new park at the edge of town. The night before I was drunk enough that I couldn’t find it. I hoped to run without talking to any cops. The park was deserted but had too many lights. I stayed by my car to stretch. My coaches always said stretching was the most important part of running. I hadn’t done it at all the night before, and I paid for it. All day my legs had complained that they weren’t used to running, so I had stretched a little during the day. If anyone was where they could see me, they weren’t moving. No point pretending either that I was drunk or that I wasn’t. When I unzipped my sweatshirt, the night air on my skin did feel good. I left my things in my car and headed out just barely faster than a jog. Sometime, I would have to find my arm carrier for my phone.

Night running was always great. Too bad I wasn’t in better shape for it. I was breathing hard even before I was much past the end of the parking lot. Nearly every hint of my old ability was completely gone, except I managed to keep running. I could always finish whatever distance my coaches used to want. My planned distance was a mile. Near the end, I decided to try for another quarter. If my legs weren’t feeling like I was wearing lead boots caked with mud, I might have kept going. At least I didn’t see any cops with flashlights.

When Angie’s alarm went off the next morning [Thur, 24 Feb], I wasn’t sound asleep because my legs were aching. After Angie went down the hall, I climbed slowly out of the top bunk. The morning after feeling seemed to have settled in my legs. I managed to make it to the bathroom where I turned the shower as hot as I could stand and let it run on my legs, almost burning my skin. Most mornings – if I saw morning at all – I didn’t want breakfast. This morning I was hungry, so I dressed for the day in nicer clothes than I usually wore to class – salmon slacks and a teal top – and went down to the cafeteria. None of my party friends were there – of course! – and Angie was with the Jesus patrol. I sat by myself and got out the textbook for my first class. Why had I signed up for a class so early? Not that nine thirty was all that early. I had been reading the textbook the night before at the Java Station. Maybe if I went to class, I wouldn’t feel like such a complete idiot. In the dorm lobby, I stretched a little – nothing major like for running – before heading out into the thin morning sunlight.

My class was in one of the biggest lecture halls on campus. Not many kids were there and no protesters. I sat in the next to last row and got out my notebook. Doodles were about the only thing in it. In high school, I used to take lots of notes in most of my classes. The professor – Dr. Julia Hall, a tall, distinguished looking woman in her fifties – came in a couple of minutes before class was supposed to start and got things ready. Some girls in front of me were texting, a guy and girl on one side were talking, and a guy on the other side was on his phone. After a few minutes, I moved to a seat only a few rows from the professor. She was talking about some of the stuff I had read about at the Java Station, and it was actually making sense.

Dr. Hall ended the class a few minutes early when no one had any questions. I went to the front and waited while she showed a guy where his question was clearly answered in the syllabus.

No one else was waiting. “Are you going to say more about addiction next time?”

“Some, not a lot. Did you have a question?”

I nodded. “It’s… well, okay. The book mentions sex addiction but doesn’t say much about it.”

“I don’t usually talk about that in this class. Too many people your age take their normal activities and interests to be much worse than they are from a psychological perspective. Explaining it all would take a long time and require more attention than most students give me.”

“Oh, well, I… My question really isn’t about sex. The book says people can be addicted to other things like adrenaline or some activity or whatever. Can… Is that… How do you know?”

“How do you know if you’re addicted?”

“Yeah. I was a runner in high school, and I’m just starting back into it.”

“It’s unlikely you’re addicted. Do you have a minute?” Dr. Hall turned off the projectors and gathered her things. We walked together out of the classroom. “Simply taking up an old activity is not a sign of addiction.”

“I know. I read the signs in the book, but… In high school, I ran more than just about anything else. On race days, I’d get really… I don’t know. The only word I have for it is ‘bitchy.’ It wasn’t how I wanted to be, but I couldn’t stop myself.”

“Perhaps some might call it an addiction, but we must be careful not to self-diagnose. Some people would find proof that they have every kind of abnormality we study.” She smiled, and I chuckled. “May I ask how many miles you’re putting in?”

“Well, I just started again, so it’s not many. My legs and lungs aren’t anywhere near back in condition yet.”

“Well… good luck, and don’t worry about it.”

Another email from the Scholars program came that afternoon. Why did they keep sending me stuff? Usually, I just deleted the messages without ever opening them. Hearing from one of the smartest programs on campus was just too much. Running again might help. That made me smile. What would the Scholars people think if they knew they had sent an email to one of the streakers? I might not stay with the research, but it was still funny. Reading the message would be a good way not to get all wrapped up in turning over a new leaf.

It was just a reminder. At least they weren’t self-righteous about it. Anyone who wanted to be in the program the next year needed to submit a proposal by April fifteenth. I didn’t even know what kind of proposals they wanted. People in the program basically made up their own things to study, but it was a bigger deal than independent study. Maybe I should propose studying the effects of streaking. No, the research was already doing that. How about studying why anybody would do that kind of research and why anybody would be part of it? As if any committee anywhere would have anything to do with that. The message gave a web address for guidelines. That would take more time before the studying I really didn’t want to do – and it would be something to do other than running or drinking – so I went to the website. The guidelines and examples of past studies were exactly the kinds of things that used to excite me, going way outside any boxes anybody had ever imagined and using methods from all kinds of different fields. I sighed. It would be nice to have a few intelligent friends again. Not with my record. What intelligent person would want to hang around with an easy streaker who drank too much?

After supper, I went to the library again. Streaking wouldn’t resurrect my grades but studying might. It would keep me from going to a party, too. I recognized a few people from classes but didn’t know any of them well enough to talk, so I didn’t have any real interruptions.

The park was as deserted at midnight as it had been the night before. The temperature was a little warmer, so I tossed my clothes in my car before stretching. Could I find someone who liked running at night? A running partner would give me extra incentive to get my old form back. They might stare because I was naked, but I didn’t want them staring because I was a lousy runner. Were there any other women in the research or maybe among the protesters? The protester in my Math class didn’t look like a runner, but there were others around campus. Running naked with a naked guy might be a little too much temptation. The deal with the cops probably didn’t cover making it in public. How did the protesters keep from getting arrested?

For a little bit when I started, my wind seem to have come back already. That didn’t last. The third time out wasn’t enough to get back in shape. Running with another girl would be nice. Kind of like those sorority bitches who always hung out in packs. If they really wanted guys to notice them, they should sign up for this research or the protest. Running was a whole lot better way to feel good about yourself than wearing tons of makeup, spending way too much on clothes, starving yourself into a skeleton with boobs, and stabbing everybody else in the back. Why did they have to be like that? Of course, running was also a whole lot better than getting drunk all the time and making it with anybody willing. I hit the wall too soon, after about three quarters of a mile. I managed a mile, then staggered to my car.

Sunday morning was strange. Angie was home for the weekend, so there was nothing to wake me. Since coming to college, I usually slept past noon on Sundays and woke with a hangover. Sleeping through church really drove Mom crazy. When I was home, I went to church because she was the pastor and made us. Now, here I was, wide awake on Sunday morning and actually feeling good if you didn’t count sore legs. The dorm cafeteria was nearly deserted except for Angie’s friends, who would never welcome me at their tables. Their Bibles apparently didn’t have the stories about Jesus eating with prostitutes and sinners. After a slow breakfast, reading from a textbook – studying on Sunday morning? – I went back to my room. On the bulletin board by the elevators, a flyer for the chapel on campus said worship was at 10:30.

I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be there when I got to the chapel about 10:15. All the way over, I had been telling myself it would be okay. Nobody would know me or my mother. And then, just as I got inside the front door, a tall, buff, blue-eyed guy with curly, dark hair walked past wearing sandals and a protest medallion, nothing else. I was staring at his smooth, tight butt when he turned around.

“Sorry,” he said. “Welcome to Still Point. I’m Wes Milton.” He shifted the papers he was carrying to his left hand and offered his right.

I was too stunned to respond. I should have closed my mouth, but it wouldn’t move.

“Oh, sorry,” he said again. “I’m part of the CADP protest, and I’m filling in for Pastor Barb this morning.” He turned to the side. “I’ll… Somebody else…”

“No, that’s okay,” I said quickly. “You just surprised me. I’m Iris Running.” I offered my hand… and anything else he wanted… everything else!

“Welcome.” He frowned slightly as he shook my hand. “Have we met? You look familiar. Oh, wait. Iris Running. Is your mother Yvonne?”

Damn! “Most people call her ‘Ivy.’ You know her?”

“Yeah. I was in a meeting with her a couple weeks ago. You and I were at Camp Wesley Woods together maybe… I don’t know… when we were in middle school. I was in the group that thought it was so funny to call you ‘Running.’”

“You were? I don’t remember any naked guys at camp.”

He chuckled. “Not at a church camp. You were taller than me. Your mom’s on the District Committee I’ve been meeting with. Listen. I need to get ready. Hey, Chelsea,” he called to a young woman who had just opened the doors to the sanctuary, “this is Iris Running. Can you introduce her around?”

Chelsea at least had clothes on; everyone did except Wes. Chelsea took me into the lounge and started introducing me to the other kids, some I had at least seen on campus. Some acted like they knew my reputation. At least they didn’t say aloud that I was going to Hell. Maybe they knew I didn’t need a reminder. Probably none of them had been at any of the parties I went to. Thank God for small favors, as Mom says way too much.

When worship started, I felt like I had fallen into somebody else’s dream, one about being naked in church. Mom sometimes dreamed she was naked when she was supposed to preach. Wes was just calmly naked playing his trumpet in the praise band and then leading the service. The campus chaplain was somewhere else that morning, and he was filling in. Naked. He was going into the ministry and was one of the student interns at the chapel. Naked. He had been meeting with Mom, and here he was. Naked. I tried hard not to stare too low and to laugh when everybody else did during the sermon.

Paying attention to why I was really there became much easier when Wes sat down during the special music after the sermon. Three women with really nice voices were singing, but I noticed two other people in the praise band. Evan from the Java Station was playing the piano, and Jake Lawrence, a cousin on Dad’s side, was playing the bass guitar. I had seen Jake at parties once in a while but none recently. I was glad when Wes got up again, not just because the view was spectacular, but more because it helped take my mind off those parties. With Wes in front of me, I couldn’t think about anything else. I couldn’t think at all. After the service, I shook Wes’s hand at the sanctuary door and followed the crowd into the lounge. Everyone agreed that Wes was a great preacher. I chatted with Evan and Jake each for a few minutes. A group including Wes was going out to lunch. For my own peace of mind, I didn’t go.

“I met somebody you know this morning,” I said when I called home in the afternoon. Despite everything, I still talked to Mom and Dad most Sunday afternoons.

“This morning?” Mom said. “Did you go to church?”

“The chapel here on campus.”

“Oh. Barb Maxwell. We’ve talked about you being on campus every time I’ve seen her. If you give her a chance, you’ll really like her.”

“No. She was gone. Wes Milton was filling in.”

“Oh, Wes! He’s going to be one of the rising stars if we can keep him in the church. Oh, wait!”

After a few seconds, I said, “I’m waiting.”

“Did… Has he… The death penalty strike…”

“Yup. Was he in it when you had your meeting?”

“No. He wanted to talk to us about it first. He had a medallion, but he was… he wasn’t…”

“Naked. You can say it. He was naked this morning. He said we were at camp together – him and me. I don’t remember him from then. I won’t ever forget him from this morning.”

“I suppose not.”

I sighed. “So, he’s gonna be a minister.”

“He’s a candidate. I’m sure this whole thing about the death penalty will be settled long before he even gets to seminary. Barb Maxwell is head of Citizens Against the Death Penalty there in Coventry.”

Throughout the call, I didn’t mention that I was running again or what I wasn’t wearing to do it. Nobody got mad or yelled… for a change. Seeing how much I could run was a whole lot better than seeing how much I could drink.

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Temitope: The story is compelling as it is captivating. Looking forward to how it unfolds. Interesting dynamics with the intergalactic twist.

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RGXD: I'm loving this book so far. One thing I would've done to make it better was to add povs. I understand that every writer has their own writing style but just a polite suggestion. Loving the book though. I love this writer. Keep it up! 💖

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