Iris Running

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Last Lap

Precisely at eight thirty on Wednesday morning, I was at the Public Relations office in the main administration building. Carmelita wasn’t in, but the receptionist said she would be back and that I could wait in her office. In only a few minutes, Carmelita hurried in, carrying a professional-looking briefcase and wearing nothing but open-toed high heels and a blue medallion. I wasn’t going to say anything about what she wasn’t wearing, but she brought it up. “I have much more appreciation for what you’ve been going through. Too many people seem to think that all of my professional competence is in my clothes.”

I chuckled. “Maybe that’s why they say, ‘Clothes make the man.’”

“Maybe. Too many stupid comments make me want to kick the man.” She sat at her desk. “Jessica said I have a voice message from Jason Green. Let’s see what it is.”

The voice on the machine didn’t sound much like the radio voice. “Yeah. This is Jonas Groenemeyer or Jason Green. I’m really sorry, but I can’t meet with you or really with Iris. Thanks for setting it up for us, and I hope you can let her know I’m sorry. I really wanted to thank her for helping my family, but… yeah. Sorry.”

“That’s weird,” I said. “Did it sound to you like somebody was making him apologize?”

“Actually, I thought it sounded like someone has made the price for him to be here too high.”

“Who would do that?”

“His supporters, the people who pay the bills, the station management, Senator Hogue. It’s hard to tell.”

Barb’s sermon on Sunday was about how God sometimes speaks to us through dreams. Given the nightmares I’d been having, I wasn’t too sure I wanted to hear whatever God was telling me. After lunch in the ARC with some of my sorority friends, I went to my study carrel to be alone. I almost never sleep in the afternoon, but I couldn’t seem to keep my eyes open. In the nightmare, Eric was raping me. Nobody was watching. I couldn’t beg Wes to help. I woke up sobbing. It wasn’t just something random from my fucked up subconscious. It was a memory.

I don’t know how far I ran. Near sunset, I was sitting cross-legged on a picnic table in the park out near the Med Center, watching lightning flash in the clouds. My legs were drained. My life was drained. A car pulled into the parking lot behind me. I glanced over my shoulder. Wes? I turned back to the fading glory in the sky, fading like my chance to forget a part of my life I really didn’t want to remember at all.

Wes sat on the end of the picnic table and said softly, “Everybody’s been looking for you.”

“Go away.”

“That wouldn’t be a very good friend move.”

“I’m not a very good friend… unless you want an easy fuck.”

“Didn’t you give that up when you started running again?”

“Apparently nobody told my brain.” I hugged my knees to my chest and looked at the ground a few feet from the picnic table. “What does it matter? I’m obviously not much of an example for my sorority and the whole rest of the world about how to live a good, clean, nudist, Christian life.”

“It matters to me.”

“Why? So you can gloat over how fucked up straight people can be?” I lunged at him and kissed him hard. “There!” I almost fell onto the bench beside him. “I’m so fucked up I’ll kiss my best gay friend ever.”

“I’m not gay,” he said softly, touching his lips with his fingers.

“Yeah, right! Try telling that to your boyfriend!”

“My boyfriend? Who are you talking about?”

“Who? What is this? Some new kind of torture ’cause rape isn’t bad enough?”

“That kiss wasn’t rape. Are you talking about Damien?”

“Who else? I’m the blonde one here. You’re not supposed to be so dense.”

“You aren’t dense, either. Damien wishes I was gay… unless he’s just flattering me.”

“You… If you’re not…”

“February twenty seventh.”

I hesitated. “Okay. I’m blonde, remember? What’s that supposed to mean? It’s not your birthday or mine. Is it Damien’s?”

“No. It’s the anniversary of when his little sister was killed. This year, it’s when I started thinking about you just about every minute I’m awake and dreaming about you when I’m asleep.”

I stared at his silhouette for several seconds before looking back toward the clouds in the west. “You have a mighty strange way of showing it.”

“I was afraid you’d… I don’t know.”

“And you’re not now? Are you saying that just so I won’t commit suicide?”

“Well, I don’t have that high of an opinion of myself, but really? You were thinking of suicide?”

“No. The world…” I rubbed my forehead. “…would be better off without me, but I’m not… Suicide would leave behind too many messy problems for the people I love to try to figure out.”

“The world would be a whole hell of a lot worse without you.”

“Are you seriously not gay?”

“Seriously. You’re closer to lesbian than I am to gay.”

“Only when I’m drunk! Okay? Drunk and horny. But Becki’s not around anymore. So, help me out here. What else happened on February twenty ninth?”

“Twenty seventh. That’s the day I preached at the chapel and you walked back into my life. It was less than two weeks after I joined the strike, and I was mostly dealing with the jitters. Then you came in, and I was a complete basket case.”

“You didn’t look nervous. That was less than a week after I started running again. When I started running again, I quit drinking. When I’m sober… when I’m sober, I thought I could tell the difference between reality and my over-sexed imagination. I won’t just make it with anybody willing. Maybe you should get me drunk.”

“Maybe. For now, the person I’ve gotten to know in the last six months is hands down the most amazing I’ve ever met or heard about.”

“You’re pretty amazing, too, but what about Damien?”

“We’re friends. That’s all. We’ve been best friends since grade school.”

“Friends. Cassie said you went to prom together.”

“Well, yeah, both years, but I’ve kissed you more than I’ve kissed him.”

I sucked in a quick breath. “Were you…”

“Was I what?”

“The parties when I was drunk…” I whispered.

“No. I was talking about a little while ago when you attacked me.”

“I didn’t attack!”

“Pretty close.”

“Okay. I can’t claim you’re the first naked guy I ever kissed.”

“I just wanna be the last.”

“The last? One kiss is all I get?”

“I hope not.”

“Oh.” I sighed.

“I hope I’m not being too pushy.”

“Waiting six months to give me any hint at all and letting me think you’re gay is not my definition of pushy.”

“I didn’t know you thought that.”

“Yeah. Listen. I haven’t thought about you every minute of every day, but… well… okay… you’re going into the ministry, right? My past isn’t exactly good qualification to be a minister’s wife.”

“Maybe you should be a minister, too. People obviously respond when you speak.”

I sighed. “Wes… I don’t know if I dream about you every night, but… lately it’s been nightmares.”

“Nightmares?”

I told him what I had been dreaming. “Eric was… my junior prom date. My… The first… He raped me. Almost a year later, the day after my gramma died, he was giving some of us rides home from church, and I was last. He ran a stop light and a police car slammed into us. He was killed, and my ankle was broke.”

“Wow. I thought you broke it running.”

“Most people do. You’re the first person in college I told about him.”

“Is he why you were drinking and all that other stuff?”

“Maybe. I try to take responsibility for my own actions.”

“More people should do that. My dad died quite a while ago, but one thing I remember him saying is that our redemption in Christ means we shouldn’t be tied down by our past. Makes sense to me.”

I drew a slow breath. “Why are my friends always so much more right about things than I am?”

“I don’t know. Happens to us, too. You’re more right about things than we are.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“Maybe not, but it’s true. Think about your sorority. You sold it as a good thing for the women on campus, right? But it’s a great thing for the men on campus, too.”

“Really? Come on. You know better than that. Even if you’re not gay, we’re not doing this just to give you an eyeful. Get real!”

“That’s not what I was talking about. When I was little, before the puberty fairy came to visit, as my mom used to put it, she was already helping me understand that a woman being nude isn’t an invitation to every man in the vicinity. That’s what you’re doing for the guys on campus. You all are really beautiful, all of you, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t pay attention in class, and it certainly doesn’t mean I should forget my responsibility for my own actions.”

“Did I sound that… I don’t know… that… that… good, true, and beautiful when I was talking about the sorority before it got going?”

“You’ll have to ask somebody else. I’m biased.”

“Yeah. It took Dad a long time with Mom’s sermons to say anything other’n how great they were.” I turned sideways on the bench, toward him. “Your sermon last Sunday really was great.”

“Thanks. Sounds like you’re biased, too.”

“We all are. You know, I used to think, if you did anything I could misinterpret as half of the tiniest bit of a hint that you were even remotely interested, I’d throw myself at you. I’m willing to do just about anything you might want… but…”

“If you think what I’ve said here is – how’d you put it? – only half a hint or that I’m only remotely interested, you really did misinterpret it.”

“No. You just hafta… remember, I guess… my past…”

“Is past! Okay?”

“Okay.” I turned on my phone. “I need tell Mom I haven’t hung myself or drunk poisoned Gatorade or…”

Wes interrupted me with a wonderfully long kiss.

“If you ever kissed Becki Bradford like that…”

“Not my type.”

Before Wes went looking for me, he had talked with Mom and Dad. My call home was long, difficult, and necessary. We moved from the picnic bench to his car when a cold rain started.

On the way back to campus, Wes pulled up behind a minivan waiting at a traffic light and stared out the windshield. I put my hand over his on the gearshift. “How could we both have wanted each other so much for so long and not done anything about it?”

He drew a slow, deep breath and exhaled. “I don’t know. Iris…”

“I’m here.”

“Yeah. Listen. I…”

I pulled my hand from his and watched the windshield wipers slap from side to side. “Don’t tell me you’ve decided you really are gay.”

“No, no. Not even close, but…”

“Is there someone else?”

“No. Can you just let me say this?”

“I’ll try.”

“Okay. It sounds like we’re both pretty turned on. I don’t want that to be…”

The car spun sideways with terrible noise and inflating air bags. The minivan which had been in front of us pounded against Wes’s side of his car, and something tall and black slammed into my side and rolled over us. Two car horns were blaring at different pitches. The windows in Wes’s car had all shattered, and my door was open. No, it was gone, and rain was hitting me. The car was sideways in the street.

I glanced at Wes. “Are you okay?”

“I don’t… I think… Wow.”

“I’m gonna see if the others are okay.” My right arm was numb, but I managed to unfasten my seatbelt with my left hand.

The minivan was also sideways, facing the other way, now shoved up against Wes’s side of his car. A small pickup was smashed against the other side of the minivan. Upside down in the intersection ahead of the pickup was the remains of a black van. It looked like a giant fist had squeezed it all out of shape. Traffic on the rain-slick cross street had skidded to a stop in both directions. People were on their cell phones calling 9-1-1 and running to offer help, so I went back to Wes’s car, holding my right arm tightly against my side. I could smell gasoline. Wes was still sitting in the car, his head wobbling. When I tried to talk to him, he mumbled nonsense.

Quickly, I unbuckled his seatbelt and dragged him out my side of the car. Kneeling on the pavement and sobbing, I cradled him in my arms, kissing him and clamping one hand against the bloody side of his head. “God,” I screamed between sobs and kisses, “don’t let him die! Please! Take me! Don’t take him! God, please!” Wes was still breathing but completely unresponsive.

The first emergency responders on the scene went to the twisted mess of a van. Somebody brought a blanket and umbrella for Wes and me. I didn’t want to turn Wes over to the medics. I went into a shrieking fury when they wouldn’t let me into the same ambulance with him. A police officer promised to keep me as close to him as possible and, with lights flashing and siren blaring, took me to the Med Center in a squad car behind the ambulance. The emergency room crew took Wes into a separate room from me, and the police officer stayed to calm me down. Eventually, I was able to identify Wes for the ER staff.

Angie, Cassie, and Piña were in the ER waiting room with me when Wes’s mom arrived. I jumped up to hug her but winced with the pain in my right arm. Again, I gave as much of an account of the accident as I had been able to gather from my own memories, the police, and the local news stations. The driver of the black van had been driving too fast and had clipped the driver’s side bumper of Wes’s car, setting off the chain reaction that folded the line of waiting cars almost like an accordion. The van had rolled over the cars and into the intersection, killing both the driver and the one passenger. Wes was apparently the most seriously injured from the other cars, but the ER doctors and nurses weren’t saying much.

Sue went to identify herself to the ER receptionist and came back with the promise that they would let her know as soon as there was any word. “Why haven’t they cleaned you up? Where were you cut?”

“I wasn’t. This is…” I drew a quick, shaky breath and bit my lip. “This is from Wes.”

“Have they checked you over?”

“I’m okay. Wes is who they need to focus on.”

Sue looked at my friends. “Is she always this stubborn?”

“Usually worse,” Piña said. “That’s why we love her.”

Sue went back to the desk to get help for me just as Barb Maxwell came in.

“How does everybody know what’s going on?” I asked. “The only person I called was Angie.”

“There’s your answer. She’s been letting people know.”

“Well, I found out a little bit,” Sue said when she came back . “Wes lost a lot of blood, but you probably saved his life by pressing your hand against his skull. There might be internal bleeding, too, though, around his brain. They’re checking that out right now. As soon as we have a prayer together, they’re going to get you cleaned up and check you over.”

“I’m okay,” I said. “They should focus on Wes.”

“They’ve got people looking at him. Can you move your arm enough to see the bruise across your chest and hips?”

“I don’t need to move my arm. I saw the bruise when I went in the bathroom. It’s probably from my seatbelt.”

“Probably so. They’re gonna check why you don’t wanna move your arm.”

A nurse had come into the room, so Sue led us in a quick prayer. X-rays showed a clean break in one of the bones about half way between my wrist and elbow. The bruises across my hips and diagonally across my chest were no more than bruises. I didn’t have any other injuries. After stabilizing my arm with an air splint, the ER doctor wanted to admit me for observation. I refused so I could go back to wait with my friends for word about Wes.

When I got back to the ER waiting room, my friends had been sent to one of the more comfortable surgery waiting rooms. Barb had gone home, but Sue and the others were still there. They teased me a little about a sling being the first thing I had worn since the end of spring semester. I threatened to beat them with my cast. Angie promised to stay with me, and the ones from the sorority left.

“You don’t have to stay,” I said. “I can sit with Wes’s mom.”

“After all you’ve done for me, I’m not going anywhere.”

“I haven’t done that much for you.”

“Iris, sometime we gotta work on your self-image.”

A few minutes later Angie found where blankets were stored for the Waiting Room. She covered me with one and wrapped herself in another.

It was a long night of waiting, even if I slept through part of it. About six a.m., we got word that Wes was stable and his chances were good. I wanted to stay with Wes’s mom after the doctor went back to the operating room to help with finishing up. Mom and Dad insisted that wasn’t going to happen; I had been asleep when they arrived. They took me back to the emergency room. In between taking x-rays and getting the results, we were in a room with a TV on the local twenty-four-hour news channel. The accident seemed to be the most notable thing that had happened overnight. Not all the names of the victims were being released, but mine was prominently displayed. The driver of the black van had a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit. He and the pregnant woman in the van had both been killed. Wes seemed to be the most seriously injured survivor. I still didn’t want to be in the hospital, but Mom and Dad agreed with the doctors about keeping me there. I requested a room close to Wes’s, but the nurses said that wasn’t likely.

Before I was moved to a room, Carmelita called. She had heard about the accident over the news channel. Calls and visits from sorority members and friends continued until Dad started asking people not to come into the room so I could get some rest. I thanked him and asked him to head them off before they got near the room so Mom and I could sneak out to check on Wes. Before we set out, though, I closed my eyes, “just for a minute,” and fell sound asleep.

I was finally able to see Wes in the middle of Monday afternoon. He looked awful with his face badly bruised and stitches in the side of his head, not to mention casts on both arms. He was still heavily sedated, and his mom was sleeping in a chair. I kissed him gently on the forehead and asked Mom to pray for us both. Barb Maxwell had already activated an extensive network of people to pray… including the people who gathered at Ross and Donna’s home on Sunday evenings. Just after we got back to my room, Carmelita called again to ask if I had listened to Jason Green’s show.

“I don’t listen to him. With Wes being… still…”

“Oh, I should have asked. How’s he doing?”

“They say he’ll be okay. They’re keeping him sedated for now.”

“Good. And how are you?”

“Pretty sore, and I have a broken arm.”

“I’m glad that’s all. May I tell you about Jason Green’s show?”

“Sure, if it’s important. Was he talking about the accident?”

“Only briefly. He said that he was given a script that implied you were at fault.”

“Me? I wasn’t even driving, and we were sitting still at a stop light.”

“He said that, too. He also said he was tired of twisting things when you had done nothing wrong and that he wasn’t going to have any part of it anymore. That’s when the plug was pulled on him, and they switched to a national show.”

“Okay…”

“He called you a few minutes ago, and his call came straight to our office. He appears to have changed, and it appears he was telling the truth about no longer having a job at the station.”

“Because of me?”

“Because he refused to continue lying about you. You don’t have to give an answer before you’re ready, but he still wants to thank you for helping his family, and he wants to apologize for all he’s said about you. Our office has had several requests from the media for statements by you about the accident.”

“With Wes hurt, I really don’t care about anything else.”

“Of course. If I draft a statement and you authorize it, my office could take care of the rest.”

Damien was standing in the doorway of my room, so I cut the call short. “You look awful,” he said.

“That’s no way to impress a girl. You should see the other guy.”

“I went to his room first. He looks worse. His mom said you saved his life.”

“Don’t tell the police. I don’t want another award.” I introduced Damien to my parents and asked if we could talk in private.

“Wes’s mom said you thought he was gay,” Damien said as soon as we were alone.

“I knew you are, and you two are always so close.”

“We’re friends. That’s all! Believe me, I tried, but he’s straight. Please don’t tell me I was keeping you two apart. You belong together. Everybody can see that. I didn’t… I don’t know why you were standing off from him so much, but…I don’t know.”

“It wasn’t you. I told myself it was, but really it was my own stubbornness and fear.”

“With the way Wes cares about you, I’d kill myself if I was why you didn’t end up together.”

“The last chapter isn’t anywhere close. Last night before Wes found me, I was thinking the world would be better off without me, but the world would definitely be worse without you.”

“My best friend was scared the girl he loves was gone forever. Being gay doesn’t mean I don’t care about my friends. You too, not just him.”

“I don’t know why everybody thinks I’m so smart when I can be so dense sometimes.”

“Yeah. He told me you’re deluded that way, too. And I don’t mean about people’s opinion of you; I mean about your opinion of yourself.”

“He called me deluded?”

“That’s my word. His are more like sexy, smart, beautiful, and so incredibly humble you have no clue how sexy, smart, and beautiful and strong and awesome you really are. Listen. I’m gay, right? And I can see all those things about you. When I got to know you, I started trying to convince Wes his love really wasn’t blind or misguided or whatever.”

I studied him for several seconds before whispering, “You’re amazing.”

“Me? We’re talking about you.”

“Yes, you. If we traded places, if Wes and I grew up together and you came along to steal him away from me, I’d be one o’ those people in jail for murder.”

After several seconds, he said softly, “Wow!” and paused again. “I’ve had my life threatened before, but this is the first time for anything other than being black or gay.”

“Wasn’t your sister…” I let the question trail off.

“That was her, not me, and don’t change the subject. You are an amazing woman. Even this gay guy can see that.”

I looked down and rubbed at the tears threatening to spill from my eyes. “Not amazing enough to keep him from getting hurt really bad.”

“Saving his life isn’t enough? Getting him out of his car with a broken arm before it caught on fire isn’t enough? If he had that kind of attitude about you, I’d take him out back and slap some sense into him.”

“Try it, and I’ll hit you with my cast.”

A smile spread slowly on Damien’s face. “My little sister said that to me once.”

Grandy was waiting with Mom and Dad when Damien left. In addition to the same questions and comments everyone else was making, he wanted to know if this would slow down my running.

“Maybe. Probably. I was already planning to stay with Mom and Lil for the Run on Saturday. I’ve been doing some stretching, but I’m really sore.”

“You’re going to be there, too?” he asked turning to Mom. “I’m glad you’re getting into the spirit of the family name.”

“I’ll be there,” she said with a smile. “My daughters have even convinced me to get into the spirit of the event like at Morgan Hills.”

“I’ll be there, too,” Dad said. “There’s no way I’d miss running with the three most beautiful women in the world.”

“You better get your eyes checked,” I said. “After last night, I’m not…”

“Hang on there,” Grandy interrupted. “A few bumps and scrapes don’t change the plain fact that you’re beautiful through and through.”

“You’re biased.”

“Damn tootin’! As long as I’m Running…”

“Me, too, Grandy. Me, too.”

When Amaryllis finished work for the day, she met us for an early supper in the Med Center Cafeteria. Then Grandy took Dad home to Gardner while Mom stayed with me. I wanted to go for a run even as sore and stiff as I was, but the doctors hadn’t yet cleared me to leave the hospital. I told the nurses I’d be at Wes’s room if they wanted me. He still hadn’t come out of his sedation, so Mom and I waited with Sue.

“The basis for our rela…” Wes said as his eyes fluttered open. “Where are we?”

I almost jumped into his bed. Even though his breath was horrible, I didn’t want ever to stop kissing him. Nurses rushing into the room made me move off the bed. It was some time before all the excitement settled down.

“What was that about a relay?” Sue asked finally.

Wes signaled me for another drink of water. I held the glass and straw for him with my left hand, steadying it with my right and its cast. “It was something I was saying to Iris. Did you really pull me out of my car with a broken arm?”

“I guess.” I shrugged. “I just… I don’t know.”

“With both my arms in casts, I’m going to have trouble doing much of anything for a while.”

“I’ll do anything you need. Anything!”

There was a call from the nursing station outside my room, so Mom and I hurried back. My doctor was making rounds, and everything was set for me to be discharged. It was a breach of procedure to let me stay in another patient’s room, but I had already broken other procedures. When Wes was ready to sleep again, Mom drove me to campus and then headed home.

The other GYM members were excited to see me. The vice-president had run the chapter meeting without a hitch. Cassie, Piña, and a couple of others had filled in for me in addressing other sororities’ weekly meetings. It looked like a majority of the campus sororities would have at least a few members at the Run.

[Transcript Final Jason Green Show, Sept 12, 20__, 95.5FM, Coventry, Nitoma. Ended after twenty five seconds.]

You may not have heard about the pile-up here in Coventry last night. A pregnant woman, her baby, and the baby’s father were killed. You know who else was involved? I’ve been tellin’ you things would catch up with our nudie-toons Crime Fixer.… Wait a minute! I can’t keep reading these lies. She wasn’t even driving, and they were sitting still at a stop light. I’ve been waiting for her to call me, but…

I was unbelievably stiff and sore when I got up on Tuesday morning, but I worked through it to go running. The sling for my cast was a pain, so I left it behind, though holding the cast up made my biceps sore. Cassie went with me and stayed to help lead the stretching group when we got back. Sue didn’t have anything new to report when I called. The doctors said Wes was doing very well and would likely be released in a day or two. Sue said she would probably take him home, rather than let him go back to class right away. After my classes and a short, mid-afternoon run, I drove to the Med Center. The bandages on the side of his head and the casts on his arms looked bad, but the biggest problem was dizziness. Apparently, there was an inner ear problem. He couldn’t stand up without holding on to something. Wes joked that was how I got him to fall for me, so I threatened to trip him again.

When supper came for Wes, they also brought the meal Sue had ordered that morning. I went to get something for myself. I came back to Wes’s room with a banana and sat at the end of his bed while a nurse was checking his vital signs. Sue got a phone call and went out in the hallway to take it. Slowly, deliberately I peeled the banana, locking eyes with Wes. I slid the banana far into my mouth and pulled it out to bite off the end. Wes cleared his throat, glanced at the nurse, and pulled the sheet up to his waist.

“What’s that about?” Wes asked as soon as the nurse left the room.

I repeated the way I had taken the first bite before replying. “Just checking that Becki really was wrong about you.”

“Becki who?” He shifted the sheet and tried to move the hospital stand table to better cover his groin. With casts on both arms, doing much of anything was difficult.

I put down the banana to help him. Sue laughed in the hallway, so I leaned close and spoke softly. “My gramma used to talk about giving things a lick and a promise. That was the promise.” I kissed his ear.

“Whoa!” Sue said as she came into the room. “Do I need to find a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign for the door?”

“I was just reminding him to follow the doctors and nurses’ orders.” I went back to my chair and finished the banana by breaking off chunks. By the time the nurse came in to take Wes’s meal tray, he could have the table moved without embarrassment.

Because of the press release from Carmelita, I was in the news again. Other media outlets had also picked up on the fact that I was connected to Jason Green no longer being on the radio. Several people had put together more reliable information about the accident. Although, yes, I had been involved in an accident in which a pregnant woman had died – as had been reported on Jason Green’s station and other right-wing outlets – I had not been driving, and the car in which I was riding had been sitting still at a stop light when it was hit by the van in which the pregnant woman had been riding. And, yes, drugs and alcohol had been involved in the accident, but only in the driver of the van and the woman with him. Hearing all that once was more than plenty for Wes, Sue, and me. Besides, Wes had plenty of other visitors who were much more interesting than anything on TV.

When I was getting ready to leave for the night, Sue tactfully stepped out of the room. I gave Wes a kiss that was guaranteed to take both our minds off our injuries.

Wednesday brought mixed emotions. Wes was doing well enough to leave the hospital, but he would be going home rather than staying in Coventry. As much as I wanted to do anything, everything I could to help him, with my right arm in a cast, I could offer only a little more than he could do on his own. He was still having trouble with balance. I would gladly have set aside all my other responsibilities and commitments to allow him to lean on me.

When the doctors finally cleared Wes for discharge, Sue went ahead to get her car. I walked along holding Wes’s fingertips while a nurse pushed his wheelchair. The nurse wanted to chat, but I wanted to cry. Would it always hurt this much when we had to separate?

I was almost too excited to see straight on Friday morning. Cassie laughed at how fast I wanted to run, and Piña insisted that we have a leisurely breakfast. Even so, it was half an hour earlier than needed when I set out from the ARC parking lot. I forced myself not to drive like Senator Parsons and still was at Morgan Hills three quarters of an hour ahead of schedule.

When we got to Coventry, I went straight to Senator Parsons’ office. The senator was in the capitol, but one of her aide’s was expecting Wes. The aide escorted us to a small meeting room. Wes had to lean on me, but I didn’t mind at all. The aide brought coffee and then turned on the closed-circuit TV. On the screen was the state Supreme Court chamber. Wes had seen it over the summer – when the court wasn’t in session – and both of us had visited it on middle school field trips.

The court’s response to Senator Hogue’s request for a summary ruling was complex. Basically, it said that there was no compelling reason to ban simple nudity in the absence of any other crime or demonstrable prurient intent. Because the nudity strike was in reference to the death penalty, the ruling also dealt with that issue. The outcome was that the death penalty could only be used in extremely limited circumstances. No one currently under the death sentence met those conditions. Like Grampa Irv wanted, it was still on the books but wouldn’t get used much.

“Congratulations,” I said. Throughout most of the reading, I had been looking at Wes’s profile. “Your strike worked.”

“It’s yours, too,” he said, turning to me slowly because of the dizziness. “And your sorority is pretty much free to do its thing.”

I nodded after several moments. “I probably should be more… I don’t know.”

“Hard to take it all in.”

“What we just heard is all about letting people live in peace if they aren’t hurting anybody else. That’s what I want to do with you.”

He smiled and touched my hand. “That’s what I want, too.”

The pre-Run dinner was that evening at the Burning Bush club house. As the guest of honor for the Run, I was supposed to be on the platform at the head table. When I found out my family was going to be there, I had gotten a table. Actually, Grandy had paid for it, but we were front and center. Wes and Sue were at the same table with us. Dad and Chip were the only ones at our table with clothes on. The crowd was mostly supporters of the Run, so they were mostly clothed. Several times during the day, Wes had asked if I wanted to take some time to work on what I was going to say, but I had always put it off. The fact that President Lincoln wasn’t the main speaker at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery didn’t sway me at all. The main speaker for this event was a nationally recognized breast cancer researcher.

I was called to the microphone just after the chair of the Run for Hope committee. The applause before I said anything seemed way too long. “All of you dealing with breast cancer,” I said, “senators, Mayor Mansfield, and everyone else, I’m sure you’ve all heard about the Supreme Court summary decision today. That seems like the main thing everybody has wanted to talk to me about. None of you would believe me if I said I wasn’t excited, probably not as excited as the people who suddenly are not facing the death sentence.” There were several chuckles. “But our work isn’t done. Already, the donations to the Run are almost seven times higher than the best year ever before. When everything comes in, the committee expects or I should say hopes we’ll have twice that much. Even when all the money comes in our work isn’t done. The court ruling didn’t change how anyone feels about breasts or any other part of our bodies. That work will take a long time. Tomorrow, some of the people helping with everything that needs to be done will be nursing their babies without hiding. When everybody can do that…” I paused and smiled. “… we’ll move on to something else.” Wes squeezing my hand meant more than the applause.

Though Lily and I had stayed up late the night before, we were up early on Saturday morning. Piña and Geri Foote met us at the pool, and I drove a carload of my sorority sisters to the Burning Bush Golf Course. Most of the facility was dedicated to the Run for Hope until noon, but several people were playing golf, all having made a donation for the privilege. I didn’t have any particular duties until the opening ceremony at nine o’clock, but I offered to help in any way that was needed. Nothing was especially needed, so I went to the tent where breast screenings were being offered. Since the screenings weren’t comprehensive and most women weren’t trying to hide, they were moving quickly. Close to half of the women were staying top-free, and about a third of the participants, both male and female, were nude.

I had been talking with Carmelita for a few minutes when we noticed a man waiting patiently a few feet away. He was shorter than me and had on an open, button-up shirt over a white T-shirt, blue running shorts, dark socks, and white athletic shoes.

“Did you need something?” Carmelita asked.

“If Iris has a minute, I’d like to talk to her. It’s not private.”

“Sure,” I said. “What’s up?”

“I owe you a thank-you and a huge apology.”

“Wait a minute,” Carmelita said, stepping between us. “Are you Jason Green?”

He shrugged lopsidedly. “I was. It’s just Jonas Groenemeyer now. I’m not… I won’t…”

“Any contacts with the media,” Carmelita said, taking his arm and turning him away from me, “need to be made through the University Media Relations office.”

“Can we hear what he wants to say first?” I asked.

“I won’t ask any questions,” he said, “and she doesn’t have to say anything. I hope you don’t want me to strip naked to check for recording devices.”

“You want to listen to him?” Carmelita asked.

I nodded and moved in front of him. “I think so. I hope so.”

“I’m… yeah. You’re probably right not to trust me, but this is straight. Just me. Just Jonas Groenemeyer. Not… Well, we gave you more grief than anybody deserves. When you helped my parents… Well, that was… I don’t know. That was what made me real sure I had to apologize for all the shit we were throwing at you. You never did anything to me until you saved my parents and grandmother from a car fire. Then I knew I couldn’t keep lying about you and sleep at night, too. I’m sorry.”

I smiled. “We all have to do what we can. I should thank you, too. Did you know you’re the first place I heard about the running research?”

“You’re not to use that,” Carmelita said quickly, holding up a hand toward Jonas.

“I don’t have any way to use it now. I’m off the air. Anyway, that wouldn’t be very good news for the people who were paying me. They wouldn’t like it, either, that I’m here to run this morning and that I’m making a big donation.”

“Well, we appreciate that,” I said. “I’m sorry you lost your job.”

“I’ll find something else. Is that cast from the accident?”

“You don’t have to answer any of his questions,” Carmelita responded.

“It’ll be okay,” I said. “Why don’t you go, I don’t know, check with the Mayor’s staff or something?”

“No, she can stay. You really shouldn’t trust someone with a history like mine.”

“Our history doesn’t have to be our future.”

We chatted a bit longer until I saw Sue Milton’s car pull into the parking lot. I excused myself and left Carmelita to talk with Jason or Jonas or whoever he was. I gave Wes a kiss before helping Sue get a wheelchair out of the trunk. Wes was feeling better, but he still had balance problems. When I asked if I could ride on his lap, he said, “Not while Mom’s watching.”

When the planning committee had seen how many registrations were coming in for the Run, they had changed plans. Rather than parking on the club grounds, most of the people were being asked to park in a nearby lot outside a big church. Buses from the church and from other organizations in the city were taking people to the starting area for the Run. Nearly all of GYM and many from other sororities were helping and participating. The University cross-country team, including Adriana, was there, but I wasn’t planning to race with them.

Though I was the guest of honor rather than the Marshall as I had been for the Mayor’s 10-K, the committee had asked me to speak to the crowd before the Run officially started. Most of what I had to say was on a script. It included acknowledgment of the Supreme Court rulings from the day before and urged people to keep working for justice. It also urged them to keep working for research into cancer cures.

As soon as the run started, I hooked up with Wes and jogged with Grandy, Mom, Lily, and Sue. Aunt Violet was in a wheelchair right behind us with Jasmine pushing and nude; Amaryllis was in the area where the screenings were still going on. Dad and Chip were running with the racers. Many of our other relatives were also running or walking.

At the top of a long, gentle slope, I stepped onto the back of Wes’s wheelchair and leaned over his shoulder. “What are you doing?” he demanded.

“Riding off into the sunset with you.”

“It isn’t sunset.”

“Then I guess I’ll have to stick with you a long time.”

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