I was nervous the next Sunday morning. The first of my speeches for the Run for Hope was going to be at the Social Issues forum at the Baker Street church. I was going to be introduced at the early service to invite people to the forum. According to the pastor – who knew Mom – they were likely to have a lot of people at the forum even though it was the middle of the summer. Lots of other people would know Mom, too, because she had been an associate pastor there when she was first out of seminary. There might have been time to run to the church, but I didn’t want to be all hot and sweaty, as Wes put it. Dr. Hall, my contact for the forum, met me at the door and asked if I was related to Anton Running.
I couldn’t help grinning. “He’s my grandfather.”
“Thought so. He went to the restroom.”
“He’s here?! I didn’t…”
“Good morning, Iris,” a deep, resonant voice said from behind me. It was Dixon Delimont, the senior pastor of the church. Even in the middle of the summer, he had on a heavy, black robe with velvet stripes on the sleeves, though it was open in front to reveal his starched white shirt, slacks, and tie. “Welcome to Baker Street. The District Superintendent and his wife have already gone in. They’ll have a place for you down near the front. I’ll invite you to the chancel during the announcements so you can give us a minute or two about the strike.”
“I’m here to talk about the Run for Hope, not the strike.” If he sold used cars, I’d walk.
“Oh, yes. Of course, but I’m sure there will be questions about the strike, too. Our women have carried on quite a letter campaign against the death penalty. Oh, George,” he said turning to another man, “do you have a moment?”
“Don’t worry,” Dr. Hall said. “We pride ourselves on being a progressive congregation.”
“You’ll do fine,” Grandy said, putting a hand on my shoulder.
“Grandy!” I said, spinning around to give him a hug. “Why didn’t you tell me you’d be here?”
“Had to show up so my famous granddaughter wouldn’t forget her lonely, old grampa.”
I leaned close to his ear and whispered, “As long as I’m Running.” He smiled and whispered the same to me.
I introduced Grandy to Dr. Hall,. She introduced us to several other people as she led the way into the sanctuary and down toward the front. A small crowd was around the DS and his wife, so Dr. Hall took us to the other side of the aisle. That didn’t seem acceptable to the DS… when he finally noticed. He told me to sit with him, but I stayed with Grandy and Dr. Hall. He was still trying to get me to move when the senior and associate pastors came to the front to start the service. That caused a traffic jam in the aisle, so I had a chance to practice my poker face.
When Dixon invited me to the front at the start of the announcements, it felt like I was being put on display. He spent too long explaining how he knew Mom and how much he respected her and the work she was doing. Then he claimed that I was one of the founders of the strike against the death penalty and had been honored with a Crime Fighter award after winning the Memorial Day marathon. How could anybody trust him about anything? He invited me to speak for a couple of minutes about the strike as a way to encourage people to attend the Social Issues forum.
“I’m not here to talk about the strike,” I said, “but if you’d like to hear about the annual Run for Hope and some recent work in breast cancer research, come to the forum after this service.” I went back to sit down while Dixon was still wasting time. ‘Is he always like this?’ I wrote on the bulletin and handed it to Dr. Hall.
‘Too often,’ Dr. Hall wrote back.
Grandy took the bulletin and wrote, ‘What a prick!’
I was certain of my impression of him but was glad for affirmation from two people I respected. The sermon seemed equally shallow and self-serving. At the end of the service, Dixon announced that I would be greeting people with him at the back of the sanctuary and then paused at the end of our pew as the closing hymn started. Dr. Hall leaned across to tell him that she would take me to the fellowship hall for the forum. She led us up toward the organ and out through a side door.
The fellowship hall already was nearly full. Grandy and I were immediately surrounded by people who wanted to talk. More than ten minutes past when the forum was to begin, Grandy gave a piercing whistle to get everyone’s attention for Dr. Hall. It still took a little while for everyone to quiet down and sit. While Dr. Hall was giving a little background about the social issues forum and coming dates and topics, Grandy brought me a cup of coffee and a chocolate-covered donut. I had noticed a small group of people at a table near the back who were naked and had blue medallions, so I asked Grandy to find out if they were members of the church. It was nice to have some support like that. it would have been nicer if it was Wes… or, I reminded myself, any of my other friends.
When Dr. Hall shifted from the forum in general to that day’s topic, she said people couldn’t help but notice that I was part of the death penalty strike, but the strike had been the forum topic in March when Wes spoke to them. Wes was here? Why didn’t somebody tell me? She also mentioned that I had been in the news a lot, but those things weren’t the present topic. I gave a variation of my speech to the Run for Hope planning committee, including more about the purpose of the Run and the current state of breast cancer research. There was applause when I finished but not a standing ovation.
The first person with a question was the wife of the DS, who stood at the table where they were sitting. “I’m one of those people who has only one breast to touch. My mastectomy was at the end of February just before your grandmother died. I’ve heard that everyone in this year’s Run will be topless or nude. Is that true? I’m willing to take my shirt off, but without my prosthetic, I’m off balance.”
I smiled, not just because of the question, but more because of the look on the DS’s face when his wife said she would take her shirt off. At least he had put one hand on her shoulder when I had asked everybody to touch their breasts. “We can ask Dr. Hall, but I’ll warn her first, if anybody’s forced, they’re gonna hafta find a different guest of honor.”
Dr. Hall was shaking her head as she returned to the microphone. “I’m not surprised by the rumor, but as with all good rumors, it’s a variation on the truth. Mayor Mansfield is on our planning committee, and she has assured us that the police will be protecting, not arresting, anyone who is either nude or topless. If the issue around the death penalty is not resolved, they won’t be asking anyone if that’s why they’re nude. On a more positive note, Dr. Mabharati, whom Iris mentioned, is working out how we can offer free breast health screens on the day of the Run, and Dr. Randall, who heads the running research, will be welcoming anyone who wants to be a short-term participant in his nude running research. These are individual choices. As Iris said, no one will be required to be nude or topless.
“On a related note, many of you know Heather Lamb. She and her husband recently joined the church. They have two adorable children, and Heather is still nursing the baby. She is planning to help with registration on the day of the Run and not to wear a shirt so the baby can nurse whenever she wants. We haven’t quite worked that out because our Run volunteers usually wear distinctive T-shirts.”
I said, “Whether we hide our breasts or not, whether we hide any part of our bodies or not, we need to know how to keep them healthy. That’s why you need to support the Run for Hope.”
The forum was scheduled to end when the late worship service started, but the questions, comments, discussion, and coffee were still flowing until almost noon. Dr. Hall finally cut it off because she said we had another engagement. That engagement was actually a reservation at a nearby restaurant. The reservation had been for two, but she had called before the forum started to include Grandy. “It probably won’t surprise anyone that we on the Scholars Program Committee were skeptical when we first saw the proposal for a nude sorority. That was before any of us met you.”
“She gets her smarts from both her parents,” Grandy said, “and her stubbornness from me.”
“I’m certainly impressed with her tenacity,” Dr. Hall said.
“That’s another word for it.”
“Well,” I said, “it sounds like you both know me well enough to know I’m leaving if you don’t find something else to talk about.”
“I hope we can stay with this for a moment,” Dr. Hall said. “On behalf of the Baker Street congregation, I want to apologize for the way Dixon treated you in worship. He’s usually not quite that… that…”
“Chauvinistic?” Grandy offered. “Even for someone who grew up back in the dark ages, that was pretty bad.”
“It was bad,” I said, “but it’s probably the first time he’s had any naked people in worship.”
“Actually, no,” Dr. Hall responded. “A handful of our members are part of the strike. They were in worship until a couple of weeks after our forum on the strike. Do you know Ed and Joan Wilcox and Wes Milton by chance?”
“I’ve met ’em.”
“They spoke to us that Sunday, and… our dear church council… with Dixon’s backing… asked the strikers to stay in our chapel watching worship on a video screen. That’s why I was surprised when Dixon invited you to actually speak to the congregation. If the strike is still going on when the fall semester begins, I may worship at the chapel on campus until it’s resolved or until our council’s decision is reversed.”
“But you aren’t even part of the strike.”
“No, but I am able to recognize injustice, and I am a member of CADP.”
“Strong, intelligent, capable woman,” Grandy said, “and all they see is naked.”
“It’s what women have had to deal with for a long time,” Dr. Hall added.
When we got into Grandy’s car after the meal, I asked if he wanted to stay around for the evening gathering and hear my speech again to a different group.
“The nudie church group?”
“That’s not what we call it, but yeah.”
“Didn’t see enough of this wrinkled old carcass at that nudist club?”
“Nope. Didn’t notice that it’s wrinkled or old. I’ll let you know.”
“Guess I better let you have another look, then.”
“Great. Wanna run out there with me, too?”
“That’s up to you. I will be.”
“I’m proud to run with you any time, even in hot weather like this. I was going to go over to Grafton to see Violet, but I can be back. What time do you leave?”
“No set time. The gathering out there is a whole lot less formal than most church services. Listen. One o’ my friends usually gives me a ride back to campus ’cause he doesn’t want me to run alone at night. I could find a ride out, and then we could run back together when it’s a little cooler.”
“This the mystery man you won’t introduce to your dear old grampa?”
I knew who he meant. “No. I don’t have a mystery man.”
“Didn’t I meet his mother at that nudist club?”
“That’s Wes; he’s the one that gives me rides, but he’s not a mystery man. Actually, a lot of the people at the gathering will be ones you met at Morgan Hills.”
While Grandy went to Grafton, I tried to work on one of the preliminary studies for the sorority but had a terrible time trying to concentrate. Mystery man? Why would Grandy call him that? The only real mystery was that I couldn’t get him out of my head. Angie was willing to give Grandy and me a ride in the evening. She had heard us talking about the gathering and was willing to check it out. I texted Wes that I wouldn’t need a ride. Mystery man? He was a mystery all right!
Angie had taken classes from both Ross and Donna, and she knew some of the other people, so she was fine, even being the only one with clothes on. Grandy was his normal, out-going self. The people he had met at Morgan Hills were like old friends. Ones he hadn’t met were like new friends he was eager to get to know better.
“He’s quite a guy,” Wes said at my side. We were watching Grandy and a circle of other people. “Reminds me of my grandfather.”
“John Wesley Milton the second?”
“Junior. Grampa Milton really has a gift for gab.”
“Grandy, too. He could get a statue to tell its secrets.”
Wes chuckled. “Gramps might talk to a statue for an hour before he realized he wasn’t getting any response. So, how did it go this morning? We didn’t have many people at the chapel.”
“My part went okay. The preacher…” I shook my head. “You know how some people try so hard to let everybody know they’re okay with gays and lesbians that you’re pretty sure they aren’t okay with it? That’s how he was with me.”
“I know what you mean. I think Gramma Milton would find something to like about Hitler. Gramma Foote, not so much. It’s more like, ‘Well, God love you for being such an awful person.’ You know how some medicines taste sweet but leave an awful taste in your mouth? That’s her.”
“We can pick our friends…”
“But we can’t pick our relatives,” Wes finished when I didn’t go on.
“Some of the branch of the family Grandy visited this afternoon – Jake’s branch – are just flat out against the strike and the running research and the sorority and just about everything else about my life. That’s almost easier than passive-aggressive.”
“Almost? I’ll take it any day.”
The other musicians were starting to tune up, so Wes went to join them, and I went to where I could talk to other people and watch the musicians without being too obvious. My speech was the most organized part of the message. Wes left as soon as I finished with the main part, before the discussion really got going. The stars were coming out by the time Grandy and I left the gathering. The temperature had dropped off to a more comfortable range for running.
“If I had any idea that’s what nudists are really like,” Grandy said, “my teenage fantasies would have been a lot more boring.”
I laughed. “No. You would have found something else to fantasize about.”
“Your grandmother… Well, you probably don’t want to hear that.”
“I hope Gramma had fantasies as good as mine.”
“She was an amazing woman.”
“She had an amazing husband, too.”
“She made me better.”
“That’s what we all do for each other… or should, I guess.”
“You sure seem to be making things better around here.”
“Not everybody agrees.”
“If everybody agreed, life would be boring.”
In the middle of the morning on Tuesday, I was returning books to the library when I got a phone call from Ed Kirchner, the District Superintendent who had been at the Baker Street church for the forum on Sunday. “I need to apologize to you,” he said, “but first I need to ask if you’ve heard from Dixon Delimont.”
“Not since Sunday morning. I don’t think there’s anything you need to apologize for.”
“I do, and I told Dixon to call you. What he did… the way he treated you… well, we all have things in our past, and we need to just let ’em stay in the past.”
“Are you talking about my reputation?”
“No. I know you’ve caused quite a stir in the past few months. From what we heard on Sunday, you’re likely to cause quite a bit more with the way you can speak, but I was actually talking about Dixon’s past.”
“Oh. I don’t really know him.”
“A few years ago, when PhotoShop was new and before he came to Nitoma, he got into serious trouble over some pictures that had been doctored to show him in compromising situations with naked women. I’m sure that’s part of why he had such a difficult time with you on Sunday. I don’t have such an excuse. My wife Martha is the only naked woman with whom I have ever talked before Sunday. Frankly I was not prepared to treat you well. I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay. Really! You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I’m glad you feel that way. I do need you to do one other thing for me if you will please. Please let me know when Dixon calls you. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll talk to him again.”
“So, he’s being called into the principal’s office?”
“That analogy is… not quite accurate. I should have told you this before. Bishop Jaspers called me on Sunday afternoon before I called Dixon on Monday. She received several calls from the good folks at Baker Street Church before she called me. She asked me to tell you that, if she were not going to be at a meeting in Nashville on September seventeenth, she would be in Coventry for the Run for Hope.”
I had sat down on a shaded bench outside the library. After the call ended, I took Dr. Randall’s books inside and paused by the bench again to call Mom, but my phone rang. This time it was Dixon Delimont. “Miss Running, I’m afraid I made a fool of myself on Sunday and unnecessarily embarrassed you. My deepest apologies.”
“That’s okay. It was awkward, but I wasn’t embarrassed really. With everything I’m working on, it’s not like it used to be.”
“Yes. I don’t believe you met my wife or daughters on Sunday. My daughters were both in town to celebrate our wedding anniversary.”
“Thank you. It’s actually today. My daughters and wife asked me to inform you that they will be participating in your Run for Hope. One of my daughters lives in Oregon and the other in Maryland, and they’re coming here for your Run.”
“Wow! Maybe they should be guests of honor.”
“No. Dr. Hall told me about your speech and why you were chosen. Frankly, she was one of about a dozen people who told me about your speech, including Reverend Kirchner, our District Superintendent. I believe you’ve met him. He thinks we should be encouraging you toward the ministry.”
“All preacher’s kids get that.”
“Not all. My son certainly didn’t. He was a real hellion before he died.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“No need to apologize. I’m sure you’ll be talking to your mother if you haven’t already. Please give her my greetings, and tell her… well, tell her whatever you think is appropriate about this.”
“Where’d your name come from?” Piña asked just after Cassie arrived on Saturday afternoon. Piña had come to town on Friday evening to spend time with Evan and was staying in my suite. Cassie was excited to be staying with us overnight.
Cassie pulled back in surprise. “From my parents.”
“No. I mean are you named after somebody? I’m named after my aunt, and Iris is named after her grandmother.”
“You don’t have to believe me, but ‘Cassandra’ is from the Greek myth. Both grandmothers had the middle name Elaine, so that’s what I got stuck with.”
I laughed, and Piña asked what was funny. We had to explain the myth to her. Evan showed up, and he and Piña soon left for not-officially-a-date.
“What was that about names?” Cassie asked.
“Actually, I think it was mainly about Evan. She’s so excited about being with him for the weekend she can’t see straight. We were at the Java Station until it closed last night, and then they were out until after two. I wouldn’t count on seeing her any earlier tonight.”
“She’s got it bad for him. Good thing he’s got it for her, too. How’s your love life?”
I shrugged. “Right now I’ve got too much other stuff going on for that. How’s your love life?”
Cassie stared at me, and her nearly constant smile faded a bit. “I’m the only striker in a small town. I could have guys – single and married – lined up and waiting all the time.”
“So strange. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. If we just had to swear not to wear a bra when we’re running for Dr. Randall, if I had been wearing running clothes when I helped Nate and ran the Mayor’s race, if this sorority wasn’t going nude, do you think anybody would ever have heard of me?”
“A few. You’re still a good person, clothes or not, and you didn’t mention saving the lives of people we’ve never met.”
“But why do they pay so much more attention if I’m naked?”
“With you, they’re seeing a whole lot more than that.” She held up her hand quickly. “No! Don’t argue; just take my word for it. We need to talk about the sorority.”
The selection committee had received sixty eight applications and wanted to invite thirty six to be charter members, half again as many as our reserved rooms in the ARC. My suite was one of six that shared the same lounge, and I had hoped there would be enough to fill most of those suites. I asked about being more selective, but even with Cassie’s selection procedure, the committee had already been struggling with the applications for two weeks.
Cassie and I ran to a yogurt shop a little later and got back to campus before dark. As I had predicted, it was long past midnight when Piña got back.
Sunday morning felt almost like old times. Cassie and I got up for an early run around the edge of campus and were joined by several friends, most but not all running in the nude. Adriana was the only track or cross country athlete who was nude. She started out beside me. And then Wes joined the group, and Adriana took off with the other athletes for longer time and distance. I wanted to move next to Wes, but Damien was with him. That should have meant I could talk to Wes with no pressure, but it didn’t feel that way.
Cassie and I had planned to end our run at the ARC where we would shower in the locker room before meeting Piña in the cafeteria for breakfast. We didn’t plan on Wes and Damien having a similar plan. Of course, the guys went to the other locker room but not before finding out about our plans and getting an invitation from Cassie to join us.
“So,” Damien said, coming up beside me as I was studying the selection of fresh fruit in the cafeteria, “Wes says your mom is a Methodist minister, too.” Damien looked really hot in a form-fitting, button-up shirt and tight slacks.
“Yeah. He’ll be a great minister.”
“You, too. He got me to go after I swore I’d never set foot in a church ever again.”
“Why’d you swear that?”
“Let me put it this way: if you or anybody else tells me God hates fags, I might just back out of my promise to Wes.”
It was tempting, but I knew I should behave myself. “That’s some weird church in Kansas. They’re wacko.”
“That’s what Wes said. And your church is okay with people being naked?”
I chuckled. “‘Okay’ is a little too strong. A lot of Methodists are against the death penalty, not all of ’em. If anybody’s okay with us being naked, it’s ’cause we’re in the protest.”
“Not the running research or your sorority?”
I shrugged. “The protest is the main thing. Some people are writing letters to the governor just so we’ll get dressed again.”
“So, will you?”
“Maybe. This sorority…”
When we went to a table, Damien turned to Wes and dominated his attention. Piña and Cassie spent most of their time talking with each other, too, so I mainly listened to my friends. I intended to head over to the chapel by myself after returning my tray, but the others followed me and didn’t even seem to notice that I almost walked off without them. On the sidewalk outside the ARC, Cassie and Piña fell in together in the lead, and Damien and Wes brought up the rear, so it was almost like walking alone for me. In the lounge, I slipped away from the group and went into the sanctuary. There were more people than usual for a summer Sunday, so I had only a short while before others started coming in.
“May I join you?” Damien asked, startling me because he had come up the outside aisle. Angie had joined us and was next to the center aisle with Cassie between her and me.
“Sure, if you don’t mind…”
“Don’t mind what?” he asked as he sat down.
“Never mind. I was gonna say something dumb.”
“A friend of mine says everybody is allowed to say one dumb thing every week. I’m up to when I turn fifty three.”
I chuckled despite myself. “You keep count?”
“No, but I do try to get people to lighten up. All I hafta do today is a little bit of a speech I’ve done about a zillion times.”
The praise band started playing, and I didn’t have a chance to ask what speech he meant. In the time for sharing prayers, Barb lifted up the celebration of six months for the nudity strike and everybody in the strike – she named at least a dozen who were in the worship service – and everybody who was helping with the celebration – she included Angie and Damien.
Wes smiled and winked from where the praise band was sitting. Jake, Piña, and Evan all smiled, too, but Wes’s smile and wink hit me… even if they were probably for Damien. I could feel heat radiating from Angie, but Damien was radiating, too. Why did life have to be so complicated?
In the lounge after the service, Damien was disgusting with the way he glommed onto Wes. It wasn’t about them being gay; another gay guy and a lesbian couple were in the room. But Damien was attached to Wes, and I wasn’t. I wanted to be literally attached, face to face, his Tab A in my Slot B. Angie was talking on her phone by a window, so I went over beside her and looked out.
Chelsea, who was in town for the weekend, came over to invite Angie and me to join the group – including Wes and Damien – to go out to lunch. I declined for both of us. Angie was going to help again with the monthly CADP gathering, so I took her to lunch in the ARC. We went in her car to the new park at the edge of town where I had run my first week in the research.
Several people were already at the pavilion with more people arriving all the time. Nearly everyone had a blue button or medallion, but far from everyone was nude. Again, it was great that no one seemed to notice or care if someone had clothes or not. The pavilion was air conditioned, but it was set for the naked people to be comfortable. Lots of the others had sweat marks on their clothes. I didn’t have any particular responsibilities before hand, so I went around helping out wherever I could.
When the Blue Button group from Epworth College arrived, I went out to help unload their trailer and walked into an argument. Some guys in the group had taken off their shirts, but apparently the group had a policy that everyone was supposed to wear official college attire before and after wearing their uniform for the show. I was standing quietly behind the woman who seemed most upset about it until she noticed that several members of the group were looking behind her.
“I’m sorry we’re causing problems,” I said. “Would you like to talk to someone about it?”
“That probably won’t help,” a guy said. “Brooke’s been opposed to the strike ever since…”
“It’s not that I’m opposed,” the woman who was upset said. “It’s… it’s…”
“It’s that you don’t think people should be naked in public,” another woman said. She turned to me and offered her hand. “I’m Cari Stone.”
“I’m Iris Running. We do appreciate…”
“You’re the Iris Running?” the guy who had spoken before interrupted.
“Well, I don’t know any others since my gramma died.”
“You’re the one in all the news. Wow!”
“Who’d you think would be here?” one of the shirtless guys asked.
I held up both my hands, palms toward the group. “Yes, I’m that Iris Running. I don’t know what rumors have gotten to your college, but most of ’em aren’t true. If you can just hang on for a minute, I can bring out the local head of CADP. She’s not in the strike, but she used to be in this group, and she wants you to represent your college in the best way possible. My parents met at your college, so I want you to do good, too.”
By the time I brought Barb out to talk with the group, Wes, Evan, and Piña had arrived and come over to introduce themselves since they were supposed to be playing with them. Each of them already knew at least one person in the Blue Buttons. Barb took Brooke for a walk. When they returned, Brooke was much calmer. She wasn’t going to play with the Blue Buttons that afternoon. They also agreed that Brooke would talk with Piña, whom she knew from various high school music events they had both attended. Brooke actually agreed that the death penalty should be repealed, but she really didn’t think people should be nude in public.
“Most of us agree with you,” Piña said.
Brooke pulled back in surprise. “Why are you naked then?”
“My aunt was one of the victims. Killing somebody else won’t bring her back.”
They continued to talk, and Piña eventually offered to stay away from parts Brooke wanted for herself on any of the songs. Brooke was surprised, but they started discussing the music, and Brooke forgot about being upset. The Blue Buttons along with a few local musicians were first on the agenda. Some people kept talking, but most listened. During the third song, I happened to be looking around the room and saw Brooke standing in the back, so I went to talk with her.
“If you really don’t wanna be here, I can get somebody to take you somewhere you’d be more comfortable until your group’s ready to leave.”
Brooke smiled and shook her head. “Thanks, but I’m okay. Can I ask something? Do you know a minister named Ivory Running or something like that?”
“Ivy Running is my mom.”
“She was a leader at a retreat I went to last year. She’s a minister?”
“Yeah, and she helps with retreats sometimes.”
“Is she pretty upset you’re in this protest?”
I studied her for a moment before shaking my head. “She’s a member of CADP.”
“The minister at my church says the death penalty is in the Bible.”
“Lots of other things are, too. Look. If there’s anything I can get or do for you, just ask. Otherwise, I’m going back up front.”
“I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“Yeah… Well… If you’re in favor of the death penalty and against this protest, we don’t have a whole lot in common.”
“There are probably other things. You’re starting a sorority, too, aren’t you? I’m in one at Epworth. Piña’s good.” She had just played a clarinet solo.
“I think so. I don’t have much training in music, but she sounds great to me.”
“It would be fun to play with her.”
“Even if she’s naked?”
Brooke shrugged. “Maybe for the second set.”
Senator Parsons spoke to the group after the Blue Buttons, telling us about the action before the state Supreme Court. She introduced Mayor Mansfield, who told about the Run for Hope date and how to register. The Mayor introduced me, and my speech went very well. While the applause was still going, Damien jumped up onto the stage and launched into a slightly rewritten rendition of Henry’s great rallying speech right before the battle of Agincourt in Henry V. Everyone was thrilled to continue the effort against the death penalty. Brooke was in the band for the second set, and her duo riff with Piña was really good. The celebration continued. The highlight of the afternoon was Damien’s speech, even though several people wanted to sign up for the Run for Hope.
Late in the afternoon, I rode back to campus with Cassie so she could get her stuff. I was glad to run by myself back out to the evening gathering even though it was a little warm. Running with a group as I had done that morning was nice, and I was sad to see Cassie leave, but running alone was a great time to think or meditate or just let my mind roam free. I had a sheen of sweat before I got much past the edge of campus, so it was a good thing I had brought along a bottle of water. As I was passing a set of baseball diamonds, I noticed a misting station similar to the outdoor showers at Morgan Hills and made a quick detour to cool off. I had stopped at the same place a couple of times to use the restroom but not when there were so many people. Nobody hassled me. Apparently, they were getting used to naked runners.
A few of the people at Ross and Donna’s had been at the celebration, but a group of people around Piña and Wes was talking and asking about all that had happened. As soon as I arrived, I was invited into that group, and Wes gave me an around-the-shoulders-from-the-side hug. That sent a jolt straight to my crotch. Joined at the hip or just plain joined with him was what I wanted more than anything ever. Piña and Wes were talking about playing with the Blue Buttons, so I went out to rinse off by the pool. Donna came by with some food to put on the table at the end of the pool and warned me that the pool water was cool because they had to change it at the beginning of the week. That would be why no one was in the water.
I thanked her, turned off the shower, and dived into the pool. Lily was the swimmer in the family, and the initial shock was nasty, but I had been in colder pools. I swam to the shallow end and rested with my arms on the side to talk for a few minutes with some of the people on the deck. When I got out, I went back to the shower to rinse off the chlorine. I didn’t go back inside to rejoin the group where Piña and Wes were still talking. Plenty of other people wanted to talk with me about the celebration, the Run for Hope, the sorority, Jason Green’s latest shenanigans, my running, and the start of the new semester.
On Monday morning, I ran to the university housing office. The assistant director who had been working with the sorority was out for the day, so I was going to make an appointment to come back, but the director invited me into her office. All of the university housing except the ARC was usually full at the beginning of the fall semester. She had been working a long time to get the ARC opened up to non-athletes. Our sorority wasn’t what she had in mind, but she was glad to have us take the space so there would be more openings in the other housing. On the way back to the ARC, I called Cassie with the news.
“Great,” Cassie said, “and I’m glad you called.”
“Okay. Is there something else you need me to do?”
“Yes. You can accept this invitation to be the first official member of Gamma Upsilon Mu sorority.”
I stopped in the center of the sidewalk and was almost run over by a guy on a skateboard. “Really? I’m in?”
Cassie laughed. “I just lost a bet.”
“What… Is this a joke?”
“No. A couple of us on the committee said you wouldn’t be surprised you were invited. Now we have to take the rest of the committee out for ice cream.”
“Seriously? Oh my God!”
“Seriously. Without you, none of this would be happening, there wouldn’t be any selection committee, and we wouldn’t have any calls to make.”
“Oh my God! Yes, I accept! It’s just… I was so afraid I wouldn’t make it. I didn’t even know how afraid I was. I’m really in?”
As soon as I got off the phone, still standing in the middle of the sidewalk, I tried to call Grandy. My hands were shaking so much that I got Wes by mistake. I was going to hang up when I got his voice mail but decided to leave him a message. More carefully, I called Grandy and talked for only a few minutes. Mom was next, followed by Dad, Lily, and even Chip. By then, I was able to walk without seeming like I was completely crazy or drunk. Dr. Randall wasn’t in his office, but Dr. Foote was in hers. I was still talking to Dr. Foote when calls started coming from others who had received and accepted invitations, including Piña, Adriana, and McKenzie.
Just before noon, I tried to call Mom again but got no answer, so I called Lily. “So, I wasn’t paying much attention when I talked to you before. Did…”
“For somebody that’s been working so hard on this sorority thing,” Lily said, “you sure were surprised you got in.”
“Surprised, probably some. Excited, a lot more.”
“Well, like I told you before, you gotta make sure it stays open, so I can join it next year, or are you gonna let freshmen in?”
“The university rules say first-year students have to live at home, with a family member, or in university housing. You have a big sister in university housing if you’re willing to live with her.”
“You’re willing to have me?”
“As long as you promise not to borrow my clothes.”
Lily laughed. “I like clothes about as much as you don’t.”
“Yeah. Listen. When I talked to you before, I was too excited to pay much attention to what you said. Did you say you and Mom are both going to be in the Run for Hope and the running research for that day?”
“Yup. Dad and Chip, too. Registrations opened at nine o’clock, and I signed us all up. But I have a request for you.”
“Really? You signed up to run naked? You and Mom both?”
“Yeah. Why’s that so hard to believe? You got us to that nudist club. You know Mrs. Hedstrom that has the swimming pool down at the end of the alley? I’m taking care of her pool for her, and she lets me swim. Mom doesn’t want wet suits laying around, so there I go.”
“Yup. If I’m gonna be a senior leader on the swim team, I’m gonna show ‘em how to work… like my big sister with the track team. Some o’ the other swimmers wanna join me – especially guys – but Mrs. Hedstrom says only me. When are you gonna come home again? I’m sure she’ll let you swim with me, like you do the paper route with Chip.”
“I don’t know. Maybe Labor Day weekend. You’re the swimmer.”
“Yeah, and you’re the runner, but you know how to swim, and I know how to run.”
“Okay. If you come here to college, I might even swim with you sometimes.”
“And I might run with you. That’s my request, by the way. At the Run for Hope, will you run with us? Dad, Grandy, and Chip already said they would, and if you’re with us, you won’t get all hot and bothered about winning.”
“The Running family all running together! How could I not be part of that?”
The excitement continued all day. The first unofficial meeting of GYM was in and outside my suite that evening. Only those on the selection committee knew who all had received offers, so there was a lot of excitement. I was glad when Cassie, McKenzie, and Adriana all showed up. Adriana was already living in the ARC, but she hadn’t decided about moving to be with the other GYM’s. Cassie and McKenzie were all excited about getting to be in the nicest dorm on campus. As the party stretched on, I thought about going out for a run but stayed with my new sisters.
The next appointment with Victoria was a week late because of her vacation. The week before I had taken a long memory test. Apparently, not everything about my memory was messed up. Just some parts. I had asked Dad about Gramma Iris’s scars. It wasn’t Christmas Eve when she showed ’em to us, and it wasn’t by chance. That part of my Run for Hope speech never felt right, and I only once said when I saw ’em. Victoria said checking the details with Dad was a good thing. Not remembering who was at camp eight years ago wasn’t all that bad even if it was Wes. She wanted to work on my memory before we tackled why I was obsessing about him. The two major gaps seemed to be from breaking my ankle to starting to run again and my missing junior prom. She wanted me to try imagining getting picked up for prom by Tyler, my boyfriend who moved away. I wasn’t too sure, but I gave it a try. At lease he wouldn’t be naked talking to Dad when I came down the stairs.
It started pretty much the same. Our whole relay team got our hair and makeup done together. My skinny face looked like a stranger, and I washed the makeup off at home before getting dressed. Mom and Lily were helping, not that there was all that much to it. The straps on the back of the dress kept getting caught in my fancy hair. Finally, I stepped into it like a jumper. I didn’t want to let Tyler see me, and then I had to change underpants because the ones I had on showed too much under the dress.
Mom went down first to get pictures of me coming down the stairs. It wasn’t Tyler waiting with Dad. It was Wes. He was his normal gorgeous self, and I managed to make it down the stairs without falling. Then he winked and smiled.
And I started crying. Not the imaginary me pretending to go to prom with the man of my dreams. The real me totally lost it. It took a long time to calm down.
“Who is Eric?” Victoria asked. “Weren’t you going to imagine Tyler?”
I had to clear my throat to get any words to come out. “Why are you asking about him?”
“That’s the name you said while you were crying. Is he your gay friend?”
“No, that’s John.” I’d been calling him that with her before I found out his full name.
“That’s not a made-up name?”
I closed my eyes. “Eric was… Eric… was driving…”
“In the accident?”
I bit my lip and nodded.