So Much for Secrets
Not many people were in the ARC on Saturday morning, and I planned to run by myself until I saw Nate Solana. Why couldn’t it be Wes? At least Nate wasn’t taken. I would still rather run with Wes. Matt wasn’t taken, either. What would it take to get him to join the running research? Nate had been running before I joined him, so I kept going after he quit. Some guys were shooting baskets, but I didn’t pay much attention to them until one came over to where I was doing my cool-down stretching. It was my cousin Jake. He sat down beside me, looking out at the track and courts.
“I thought, when I first saw you at the chapel, I thought you were turning over a new leaf.”
“This… you aren’t doing this on a party dare or something?”
“Running? No! It’s for that research. I’m sure you’ve heard about it.”
“Oh, yeah! Mom’s part of it.”
I frowned and looked at him. “Your mom’s running?”
“No. Her boss at the Med Center is in on the research, so the thing Mom’s been doing all along now she’s doing for the research, too.”
“What does she do? I’m not sure I even knew she worked at the Med Center.”
“Something about breast scans. When she first got the job, I thought it would be pretty cool getting paid to look at breasts all day. She says it’s not like that at all.”
“I saw you running with Nate Solana. Lotta guys in the house are giving him a load of grief for being in the strip-off.”
“The death penalty protest? I didn’t know he’s a Kappa, too.”
“Yeah. So, I gotta ask, and then I’ll leave you alone. Are you still going to parties?”
“Not since I started running again.”
“I’m glad. It’s a… well… I don’t know.”
“Dead end. Slippery slope. Sure ticket to Hell. Take your pick.”
“I’m not into telling people things like that.”
“That’s good. I don’t… I don’t remember everything at those parties. Did we ever… you and I… did we…?”
“No. You may not like this, but you’re one of the big reasons I quit partying.”
“Yeah. Wes Milton got me to play bass in the band at the chapel, and in the first or second sermon I heard, Pastor Barb was talking about how even the homeless people we see have family that love ’em. I was thinking about you and all the other girls at those parties. You all have families that love you.”
“I needed to hear that while I was still partying more than now.”
“I needed to hear it, too.”
“So, Wes got you to go to the chapel?”
“Yeah. That was before this whole strip-off thing. You ever listen to Jason Green on the radio? When he starts in on those guys, I hafta turn ’im off. He’s just as bad about you guys.”
“He’s one of the first places I heard about this research. Maybe I should call him up and thank him.”
Jake smiled, started to chuckle, and then laughed. “Warn me so I can be listening.” He stood and then looked at me again. “I forgot to ask. How’s your grandad doing?”
I stared at him. Which one? “Fine. Why?”
“You haven’t heard?”
“Maybe you should call home.”
“Jake! You can’t do this to me!”
“Okay. Mom said, I don’t know how serious it is, but Mom said he’s at the Med Center for his heart.”
“Oh my God!” I jumped to my feet and dropped my phone trying to get it out of the arm carrier. “Fuck!”
“Calm down, Iris.”
“Fuck you! It’s not your grandfather!”
“Mine better not be!”
Tears and shaky fingers don’t make it easy to use a phone. Dad, Mom, even Lily, and Chip weren’t answering! Why couldn’t they tell me these things? Grandy didn’t have a cell phone, so I tried calling his land line. Maybe everybody was at his house with the funeral director.
“This is Andy Running. What can I do for ya?”
“Oh God!” I sobbed. “G-grandy, are you o-k-kay?”
“Who is this?”
“Iris. I h-heard you h-had a h-heart attack!”
“Nope. Better check your sources.”
It took a while for me to calm down and get the story straight. While he was at the Med Center to volunteer for a study of older men’s hearts, Grandy had talked to Amaryllis Lawrence, his niece and Jake’s mom. He was healthy enough from running all his life that they didn’t want him in the study, even though he had quit running before Gramma Iris died. I told him I was running again and that my ankle wasn’t giving me any problems.
“Maybe I’ll hafta start again. You ain’t in that streaking research, are ya?”
“Yeah.” I never could lie to Grandy. “It’s not like that guy on the radio makes it sound.”
“They wouldn’t want me for that. Too wrinkled.”
“You look great, and it isn’t about how anybody looks.”
“You and your sister look great, too.”
“You’re biased, and you better not let Chip hear you say it that way.”
“He’s got eyes.”
“Grandy… I’m so glad you’re okay. These last two years, I haven’t been a very good granddaughter.”
“You’re a fine granddaughter. I haven’t been much of a grandfather.”
“Guess we’re even.”
“Seems like it. Whatta your parents think o’ you streakin’?”
I cleared my throat. “I haven’t told ’em. They know I’m running.”
“You’ll always be Running, even if you get married and change your name to Iris-heimer Snickelfritz.”
I chuckled. “I’ve grown up a lot since anybody called me that.”
“I’ve missed too much o’ your growin’ up, all three o’ ya.”
“You’ve been great. I missed too much of the last two years of my life.”
We talked a little longer before finally hanging up. That’s when I thought about what I was doing, walking around the outside edge of the track. I was almost back to the doors to the locker rooms when Jake came out after showering. I told him Grandy was okay and made him promise never to scare me like that again. Mom and Dad both texted replies to my phone calls, but I told ’em we would talk on Sunday afternoon like usual.
Angie’s alarm was going off when I got back from running on Sunday morning. I hadn’t showered at the ARC because I wanted to do my hair before going to Still Point. This was the first time we had been awake together since our argument. “Listen,” I said, “I need to apologize.”
“No, you don’t. Are you going to the chapel? I can’t go.”
“Well, I’m planning on it. Becki Bradford’s going with me. But I really need to apologize for…”
“No, it’s okay. I really do like it over there, and I like going with you, but my friends…”
“I’m not talking about this morning.”
“I am. My friends, the ones in my Bible study group don’t think we should be going there ’cause of… well, ’cause of Wes Milton and…”
“That is wrong!” I nearly shouted. “If God made somebody gay, we shouldn’t condemn ’em! I don’t know why God did it, but I don’t know why God does lots of things.”
Angie stared at me. “He’s gay?”
I shrugged and turned toward my desk.
“I didn’t… Wow! I’m definitely not tellin’ those guys that! They think goin’ naked is bad enough.”
“Being gay isn’t bad. It’s just the way God made him.”
“I know, but that’s not what they think. I’m sorry. I know you liked him.”
“I don’t quit liking people that easy. Can we get back to what I was trying to say? I’m sorry for being so bitchy the other night about my running.”
“You weren’t bitchy. My friends…” She sighed. “I hope you aren’t mad about the way I’ve been avoiding you.”
“Avoiding me? We haven’t been around at the same time, but if anybody’s been avoiding…”
“It’s me,” Angie finished. “They think I should quit eating with you in the cafeteria or even… or even…”
Angie hesitated. “Move out, or kick you out.”
“Just ’cuz I slept naked the other night? You’re kidding!”
“I haven’t told anybody about that. Do you know what they’d say about me if they knew my roomie sleeps naked?”
“That’s worse than my running?”
“Well… no. But… I don’t know.”
“Yeah. Listen. I’m sorry about rubbing it in your face, okay?”
Angie studied me for several seconds. “Yeah. I… It’s… I… Okay. You aren’t gonna like this, but it’s how I was brought up, okay? People should keep their clothes on when other people are around. That’s just how I was brought up.”
I sighed. “That’s how I was brought up, too.”
Becki met me at the cafeteria for breakfast. I wouldn’t have to undress my first time at the naked Christian gathering, but she wasn’t going that evening. Before she said she wanted to go to the chapel with me, I had been thinking about skipping. Even if I hadn’t had any arguments with Mom since I started running again, going to worship three weeks in a row after not going at all since I came to campus seemed more than a bit excessive. Of course, since joining the research, I hadn’t had any alcohol, and I had been running nearly every day. I wasn’t going to give up running again unless I had two broken ankles.
Becki seemed to know more of the people at the chapel than I did. When the praise band started playing, she took me in the sanctuary and to a seat right in front of the band. They were playing a song with a lively trumpet part, and I couldn’t help but notice how Wes’s penis kept a counter-rhythm to the music, like my breasts when I was running. So much for concentrating on anything else. During a softer, slower song without a trumpet part, Wes came to sit beside Becki. When he rejoined the band, Becki said he had been part of the evening gathering before she started going to it. Since there wasn’t anything I could politely do about it, I decided to enjoy the view and the worship service. After worship, Jake and I chatted a little but nothing deep. Becki wanted to join the group that was going out for lunch, so I agreed to go, too. Unfortunately, Wes didn’t go along.
Late in the afternoon, while I was talking with my parents, Dad asked if I was going to be coming home for spring break, which was after the next week of classes. I hesitated. How could I keep running at home? I still didn’t know any details about the agreements that kept me and the other research runners from getting arrested and didn’t know if they would apply away from Coventry. I had no idea how the protesters weren’t all in jail. “I guess so. Maybe, at least. They want me to keep going with this running.”
“You can run here,” Dad said. “We can run together.”
“Well, yeah, but… they want me to… they have all these tests that they’re doing to us all the time, and…”
“Iris,” Mom said, “what’s really going on?”
I sighed. “Is Chip on the line?”
“No. He’s over at Jeff’s playing computer games.”
“Good. Mom, Dad, this research isn’t just about running. It’s about… I’m running naked.”
“In the streaking research?” Dad asked.
“I wish people wouldn’t call it that. It’s really about running.” I told them as much as I knew about the research, though not about all the weather I had run in or about running alone at night.
“Is this part of the death penalty protest?” Mom asked.
“No. Some people are in both. Those guys like Wes are naked permanently until the death penalty is taken off the books; at least some of ’em are. I mean, Wes isn’t running, but he is naked.” I sighed. “I didn’t want to keep it secret any longer. All my running has been naked, but that’s all. It’s not like the protesters.”
We agreed to work out some way for me to keep running while I was home for spring break. I was glad they knew finally; I didn’t like keeping secrets from them. There were other things they didn’t know, of course, but I didn’t like adding to the list.
When I got off the phone, I tried to study but couldn’t concentrate. A print-out of the email from the Scholars Program was still on my desk. Along with talking with Lina and Cassie, I had looked several times at their website. Cassie was going to propose something about the way people make decisions. I didn’t understand how it was supposed to work. In high school, I had been one of the smart kids – not one of the nerd brains, but smart enough to have that reputation – and that always felt good. I had gotten really high scores on my college entrance exams, higher than some of the nerds, so maybe that was why the Scholars Program sent me stuff. It would be nice having someone thinking I was smart again, not just a good one to party with. What kind of project could I possibly propose?
I thought about going over to the library to see if I could get an idea for a project but decided instead to go for a run at the ARC. Some women were playing volleyball, but there were no other organized games on the courts. A few people were running. I was on my second lap, when I saw Rose Lyons and another nude woman running in front of me. Neither of them seemed to be much of a runner, and the one with Rose had a flat-out clumsy stride, as if a bunch of springs were all pulling different directions. Rose was pudgy, but not too bad, chubbier than I had been when I started the project. The clumsy one had saggy-baggy breasts and was bony but looked like she was just that way, not the result of an eating disorder. As I came up beside them, I slowed and said hi.
“Oh, hi,” Rose gasped. “We saw you… running.”
I nodded. Both of them were all red in the face and looked like they were about to pass out.
“Rose… told… me,” the bony one gasped.
“You’re a lot… better runner… than us,” Rose said.
“I ran track and cross country in high school.”
No foolin’. Aloud I said, “Well, good luck.” I resumed my pace and passed them again just before they quit.
I was on my planned last lap before heading back to the dorm when they came out of the locker room looking exhausted. Rose flagged me down, and the other one said, “I’m Fran Thorne,” offering her hand. Her boniness wasn’t nearly as obvious when she had clothes on.
“I’m Iris Running.” We shook hands.
“Two flowers and a weed,” Fran said.
“How many times,” Rose said quickly, “do I have to tell you to stop that?” She turned to me. “She’s always making a big deal about her last name being Thorne. I’m a flower, and she’s a thorn.”
“I don’t make a big deal about it. It’s just obvious to anybody with eyes.”
“Whatever. Call us if you want to hang out or something.”
I thanked her and ran another lap. Rose and Fran were roommates in the dorm next to Wilson. I didn’t want to bump into them again on the way back. Something about the way they interacted gave me the impression they were more than roommates. Of course, after the parties we used to go to, somebody might have the same impression about me and Becki. Was there any chance Wes might be interested in both guys and girls?
On Monday morning, my alarm clock went off at six thirty, waking both me and Angie. While I was pulling on my wind pants, Angie mumbled, “Why bother wi’ that?”
“Somethin’ to wear to the track. Ever’body knows you run naked.”
Angie fluffed her pillow and rolled onto her side. “One o’ my boyfriends used to drive a mile to run two miles. Pretty dumb.”
‘Why?’ I thought as I looked at the back of Angie’s head. I bit my lip and looked at our door. “’Cause I’m a wimp like Nate,” I whispered. But if I was really a wimp, somebody else would be in this research. I put my wind suit away and picked up my backpack.
I ran down the stairs instead of taking the elevator. Pounding down the stairs seemed to translate all the momentum directly to my breasts, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. That hurt, but I didn’t slow down. I knew the difference between injury pain and pain I could ignore. I learned that a year or so after I learned how to keep running through pain. Much as my breasts hurt, I was pretty sure I wasn’t doing any permanent damage. Of course, my weekly check-in might tell me otherwise. The tests and measurements on my breasts every week were the weirdest part. I was just glad I wasn’t male; they had to have similar tests on their penis and testicles. Testing Wes’s would be fun. How weird must it have felt for Gramma Iris all the time after the doctors cut her breasts off?
In the dorm lobby, I sat on the carpet in the middle of a group of stuffed chairs to do my stretching. Even as accustomed as I was to running in the buff, it felt extremely odd to be there and sitting relatively still. A fat campus cop chatting with the clerk at the main desk didn’t help matters any. “Morning,” he said as he came over to me.
I nodded. “Hi.”
“Nice show you’re puttin’ on. You forget there’s laws against public indecency?”
“No.” People like you won’t let me. “I’m part of the running research. If you have any questions, you’re supposed to ask Dr. Randall in the ARC.”
He pretended to consider that for a moment, licking his lips and staring at my breasts. “Got any proof o’ that? Those strip-off protesters all got blue things they wear.” Apparently, he had been listening to Jason Green on the radio to call it a strip-off.
“Right here,” I said, pulling my card case from my phone carrier and tossing it to him.
He gave my ID only a glance but continued to try to make small talk until I set off running. I felt like I was running away from him. He was way too fat to catch me.
Cassie was just about to go into the ARC when I ran up. She was understandably surprised that I was nude. I was still fuming about the campus security officer.
“The campus cops, of all people, oughta know what’s going on with our running,” Cassie said, “and you should get a button like mine.” She meant the protest medallion on her shoe.
When we finished our run, there was still plenty of time before I usually met Piña, so I went to the HP lab for my monthly exam. It was supposed to be on the day closest to my initial exam before I started running, but I was going to be home then. The breast part of the weekly check-ins was strange enough, but for the monthly exams, we got scans in the lab’s new scanner, both lying down and sitting up for the women. I don’t know if the men had to do one sitting up. Everything checked out just fine. My weight was down more, so I was happy. The researchers were happy, too, because I was putting in so many miles, more than any of their other subjects. I was just glad to be running again.
The cute lab assistant was more talkative, and I found out he was a grad student from Portugal. He had come to Coventry University to study with Dr. Randall and was looking forward to starting his own lab or working with a major soccer team when he went back home. His name was Paolo Oliveira.
After my check-in, I asked Dr. Randall if he had time to talk about my Scholars project.
“Sure,” he said. “Just a moment.” He stepped out of the office and came back with a towel. “This… At nudist clubs, they sit on towels.”
“Makes sense.” I told him about getting emails from the Scholars Program and wanting to give it a try but not knowing what to propose for a project. “I was wondering if I could maybe study why people are in your research, not the same thing you’re looking at, but what made ’em agree to be in naked research.”
“That might be interesting. Our grant doesn’t consider that, but it might or probably would give some interesting results. You might expand it to why people are in the death penalty protest. It’s definitely not in our standard curriculum, and that’s what the Scholars Program is designed for.”
“Could we maybe talk sometime about what I could include in my proposal? I want to make it as good as I can.”
“Sure. You should go for a complete package. It would be interesting to track the transition from when new runners first sign up, or even before if you could figure out how to do that, to where you are now. Actually, you probably shouldn’t expect most people to get as far as you are.”
I hesitated. “You mean how many miles I’m doing?”
“No. When we first talked, you seemed embarrassed to be in our research. Now, you’re sitting here calmly, like you’ve joined the nudity strike.”
I drew a quick breath and bit my lip. I had honestly forgotten about being naked.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
“You didn’t really.” I sighed. “I have some friends in the protest, but I’m not ready to completely give up clothes.”
“My nephew’s in it.” Dr. Randall went on to talk about several ways of investigating the experience of the runners and protesters, and I borrowed a pen and paper to take notes. He also asked if I had talked with the University PR people yet. That was another thing I had completely spaced from my orientation to the research. As I was showering in the locker room, I promised myself that I would try to think of ways to help people get past embarrassment from talking about nudity. Until Dr. Randall said something, I thought I was beyond all that but obviously not. Cassie still seemed a little embarrassed by it, but Piña and Wes almost seemed like they never wore clothes in their lives. Maybe the clue was just giving up clothes completely. How long before the governor and legislature got the message?
“That was a good idea you had,” I said to Angie that afternoon as I was tying on my shoes in our room to go meet McKenzie.
Angie looked at me for a moment. “You’re gonna go naked from here?”
“Yeah… like you suggested.”
“Me!? Whataya mean?”
“You told me this morning I should just go naked over to the ARC.”
“We didn’t talk this morning. You were gone when I got up.”
I frowned. “Don’t you remember waking up when my alarm went off?”
“I didn’t hear your alarm.”
“Well, you told me about your boyfriend that drove to where he was going to run and said I should just start running here.”
“I dated a guy that did that, but I wouldn’t tell you to do it.”
“You did.” I picked up my phone carrier from my desk. “If anybody’s looking for me, I’ll be back in half an hour or so.”
“If anybody’s looking for you, a naked girl running around campus shouldn’t be hard to find.”
I started stretching while I was waiting for the elevator. Angie might be hypocritical about all her religion while she was sleeping with her boyfriend, but she wasn’t the kind to lie about things that didn’t matter. She really must not have been awake when the alarm went off. The suggestion really didn’t sound like her, even if the idea did make a lot of sense. Maybe she could suggest how to attract Wes. The elevator stopped again two floors down, and two women started to get on until one of them saw me and gasped. My explanation that I was going running didn’t seem to convince them. I muttered the rest of the way down.
Cassie and I were doing some post-run stretching at the side of the track on Tuesday morning, and Cassie was telling me more about her Scholars project proposal when Rose stopped by after her weekly check-up. She and Cassie knew each other from some activities they had both been in. Because she had never been a runner before, Rose didn’t know about stretching. She and Fran would be running later in the day, so she sat down with Cassie and me to learn some stretches.
A little later, I was telling Piña about some sorority girls wearing running shorts with their Greek letters across their butts. “To me that’s a whole lot more obvious than Cassie and me running or you swimming. It’s saying, ‘Look here!’ Maybe I should start my own sorority where nobody would wear running shorts.”
“If you make it so nobody will wear swimming suits, either, I’ll join.”
I laughed. “Like that would ever happen.”
After Psych, I went to the Administration building and found the Public Relations office. A woman in a business suit introduced herself as Carmelita Lopez-DiGrigorio and took me into her office. She handled the media contacts for athletes and had added the runners since Dr. Randall’s research started. “The University administration supports inquiry into all areas of human knowledge, no matter how controversial.”
I couldn’t help but smile. “You sound like a press notice.”
Carmelita tilted her head. “That’s my job. Let me put it this way. We’ve got your back. We won’t if you start working with Playboy, Hustler, Penthouse, or similar magazines, but short of that, you’re one of ours, and we’ll do everything we can to help.”
The first paper I signed was a legal form saying all media contacts would be handled through the University Public Relations office. Before she mentioned those magazines, I hadn’t thought of that. She changed some settings on my phone. Calls from people on my contact list would be completely normal. Any other calls would go to voice mail and a system in the PR office would screen for media contacts. Calls not from the media would be in the voice mail on my phone. The second paper was more confusing.
“This is a statement of understanding,” Carmelita said, “signed by the President and Chancellor of the University. Basically it says that the running research has been properly sanctioned through appropriate University channels and that, therefore, the University supports your participation in any aspect of it on or off campus as long as you’re associated with the research or the University.”
“Isn’t that the same thing as the agreement that lets us run without getting arrested?”
“As I understand it, that’s only while you’re running.”
“I think it’s whenever we’re doing anything for the grant.”
“I see. My understanding is that this basically says that you can do anything University-related… just as you are.”
“Like the death penalty protesters?”
“Somewhat. They aren’t sanctioned through University channels, but they do have First Amendment protection.”
“Like a Scholars project?”
“Yes. Any class, any research or studying, anything you do. You’re still, of course, subject to all laws, rules, and regulations that don’t apply expressly to simple nudity.”
I picked up the paper and stared at it without reading. “Is this just for me?”
“It applies to all participants in the running research.”
“And any other sanctioned University activity?”
“Well, no, only those for which nudity is part of the official sanction. Ten or fifteen years ago, the University got into some legal cases over nudity in art, photography, dance, theater, and swimming classes. The Faculty Senate action in response is listed there.” She pointed at the paper. “As I understand it, a student in an art class with nude models could choose to be nude for anything else as long as they’re in the class. Fortunately, no students have done that.”
‘Yet,’ I thought, but I didn’t say it aloud, and I did sign the paper.
After running with McKenzie on Wednesday afternoon, I went to the Campus Center to have supper and study until time for the Still Point Lenten service. Matt had run with McKenzie and me part of the time, and I was in a good mood. I was looking for a table when I saw Wes leaning across a small table toward a black guy. I could only see the black guy from the back; probably Damien. My stomach did a flip, and I made a U-turn, almost running into a guy behind me. Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry. Why couldn’t they keep it behind closed doors? No, I knew better than that. But it was the guy of my dreams! Why couldn’t God give me a break? I found a spot in a secluded corner and managed a few bites of my sandwich without puking. Why couldn’t I just grow up?
I purposely waited until there wasn’t quite enough time to get to the chapel, so the service was already started when I slipped into the back. Wes was in the front row. Just after I came in, he stood to lead a prayer, and I kept my eyes down. God, how I wished I wasn’t so fucked up! Being so close to someone I wanted so much and couldn’t possibly have was too much to take. I left while the prayer was still going on and ran out of the chapel. Where could I go? Not to my room. Angie and her self-righteous bullshit friends were too likely to be there. Not to a bar. My fake ID was in my desk in the room. I didn’t really want a drink anyway. I wanted to run, even though I had already run twice. My running shoes were in my backpack, but what could I do with the pack if I didn’t go to the room? A locker in the ARC? No. My car.
It had been over a week since I drove anywhere, but I didn’t remember parking under a light. Of course, parking had been during the day. Other than a pickup leaving, no one else was in the parking lot. I tossed my backpack in the back seat and threw my clothes on top of it. When I leaned against the car to tie on my shoes, it was cold against my butt. I made sure the car was locked before running away from the lot, away from too much to handle. When I was running, nothing seemed as bad. When I was running, I could focus on putting one foot in front of the other, on breathing, on letting my breasts keep rhythm, on being who God made me to be, on wanting a guy who would never want me.
I could have chosen a better route. Even at that time of night, some of the streets in Coventry are still busy. I was going to cross right where two busy ones met at the edge of campus, right next to the University’s conference center/hotel. Because of all the traffic, I was running in place back where I wouldn’t be quite so obvious. A guy in running shoes and nothing else crossed the street after the light had already turned yellow and almost caused an accident. Dumb move, even if you aren’t naked! He looked kind of like Nate Solana, but I wasn’t sure. Why couldn’t Wes be a runner?
In a neighborhood near campus, I was thinking about what had happened at the chapel. Okay, so I fantasized about a guy who was taken. So what? None of the athletes I ever fantasized about before Wes would want me, either. Big deal! Did that make the fantasies any less sexy? I passed the Kappa house, one of the few that wasn’t right on campus. Maybe I should stop and talk with Jake or Matt or Nate or Reiner or anybody else that was available. They might be giving Nate a hard time, but it was a different kind they would give me. No. I was turning over a new leaf.
I ran hard down the middle of the street for a few blocks, then slowed to a walk. A pickup had turned the corner just ahead of me and was going slow. In between streetlights, I went to the sidewalk. The pickup stopped in the middle of the next block about where a little mosque was. A guy got out and looked around. Had he seen me? No, he was taking something toward the mosque. Another guy stayed in the driver’s seat. I ducked behind cars parked along the street and crossed under a streetlight right in front of a car coming along the side street. The car honked, and I jumped into the shadows. The guy in the pickup was looking my way. No, he was looking at the honking car. The other guy was running from the mosque. I could smell gasoline. Just before he got in the pickup, he lit a whole book of matches and threw them on the ground. Before they squealed away, I got close enough to read the license plate and to stomp out the matches. The pickup swerved around the next corner, and there was a thump. It didn’t sound like they hit a car.
I ran into the street and around the corner. It looked like any other sleeping neighborhood. Then I heard a soft moan. A naked guy with running shoes was lying almost under the wheels of a parked car. I knelt beside him but didn’t dare try to move him. It was Nate Solana! Oh shit! A pool of blood was already forming around his head. His arm was bent where there isn’t supposed to be a joint. Other than moans, he didn’t respond.
“Stay here,” I said, rather lamely. “I’ll get help.” I called 9-1-1. Nate was no longer moaning. When I touched his chest, I could feel him breathing. A police car arrived before I could figure out any way to stop his bleeding.
Two officers jumped from the car, and one immediately started to care for Nate while I showed my research ID to the other – Officer Leslie – and told her what I had seen. An ambulance showed up, and the paramedics took over. I stood back out of the way. After the ambulance took Nate away, I went around the corner to the mosque with Officer Leslie and her partner. They weren’t shining flashlights on me this time. We found a gas can lying next to the front door of the mosque and gasoline splashed on the wall. I showed them the book of matches I had stomped out in the street. It was right in some of the gasoline. Two other police cars showed up before a cleanup crew from the fire department. They weren’t taking any chances with the gasoline.
“Been so long since we saw you,” Officer Leslie said, “I was hopin’ you took my advice about streaking.”
“I’m…” I shrugged. “No.”
“Yeah. You be careful. We don’t need burned up heroes.” I declined her offer of a ride to my dorm.
I called Piña as soon as I got my stuff out of my car and was still talking to her when I got to our room. Angie was there, but I made no move to cover up.
“Were you talking about Nate Solana?” Angie asked when I got off the phone.
“Yeah. You know him?”
“Just who he is. Somebody going naked on campus kind of stands out.”
“You hypocritical bitch!” I nearly shouted. “He mighta died out there, and you think it’s more important what we aren’t wearing!”
“You don’t need to yell. That isn’t what I meant. I do think people should wear clothes, but God musta sent you to protect him when he really needed it.”
I stared at her. “Sorry. He’s my friend and…” I rubbed at the tears spilling from my eyes and drew a deep breath. “If they were just a few seconds later, it could have been me.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. I worry about you. You may not believe it, but I really do.”
I sighed and sat in my desk chair, taking a tissue from the box on my desk to wipe my eyes. “I probably should worry about myself more, but right now all I can think about is Nate.”
Angie crossed the room to hug me. “I don’t blame you.” She held my hands to pray aloud… with too many ’just’s and ’Father God, I wanna’s. It was the first time we had prayed together.
After the ‘amen,’ I thanked her. “Now that I’m getting my life back together with running, maybe I can get back to praying, too.”
Even after a long shower – worrying and praying about Nate and the people at the mosque, not fantasizing about Wes or anyone else – it was quite a while before I could get to sleep.
Despite having been up late the night before, I woke before six on Thursday morning. In the bathroom, I texted my brother. ‘What time do you leave on your paper route?’
His reply came in a few seconds. ‘On it now. Almost done.’
I paused in the hallway on the way back to our room. ‘When do you start out?’
‘Bout 5. Y?’
‘Is it dark?’
‘Do you see people?’
‘Not many. Y?’
‘I might go with you.’
‘I won’t pay you.’
I smiled. ‘Not asking for pay.’
In the room, Angie rolled over and sat up. “Don’t apologize. You aren’t being noisy.” She slipped her feet into her slippers. “I was awake already when you crawled out of your bunk.” She stood to put on her bathrobe. “Are you in a hurry, or can you wait till I get back from the bathroom?”
“I can wait. I’m early.” What would it be this time?
With no lights on other than my laptop screen, I sent an email to my parents. ‘While I’m home, can I run with Chip on his route? It’s dark then, so nobody will see me, and he says not many people are up anyway.’ It was still earlier than my alarm had been set, but the ARC would be open already, so I pulled off my sleep shirt and got out my running shoes.
“Are you really not embarrassed?” Angie asked when she came in the room.
I straightened up with a frown. “Listen! This is…”
“No, don’t get mad,” Angie interrupted. “If it was me, I’d… well… You know I always keep something on, and running out where… I don’t know how you do it.”
“You may not remember it, but you really did suggest I run to the ARC.” I swung my backpack to my shoulders. “Running is what I do. It’s who I am. That’s all you need to know.”
“Yeah. Well… maybe. Can I ask a really big favor?
“I’m not going to get dressed till after I run. Who knows? I may just sign up for the strike.” If Nate was in the hospital, somebody would have to take his place.
“You don’t hafta… It’s not about that. I promised Pastor Barb I’d help at Still Point this afternoon, but my friend Ashley offered me a ride home, but I don’t wanna break my promise to Pastor Barb, and it won’t take very long, and I can’t ask any of my Bible study friends, and Wes Milton will be there, and you won’t have to put clothes on ’cause Pastor Barb’s part of CADP, and if I don’t go with Ashley, I won’t get everything done before my mission trip, and…”
“Time out,” I said, holding my hands in a T. “Slow down. I thought you and your friends were boycotting Still Point.”
“They are. I’m…” She drew a quick breath. “Okay. Most people don’t know, but I’m going to Pastor Barb for counseling. It’s hard having friends that… It’s just hard. Please don’t tell anybody.”
“I won’t.” I knew about pastors and confidentiality. “When you s’posed to be there?”
“Between four and five this afternoon.”
“I’m usually running then, but… I’ll do it.”
“Oh, I could hug you, if…”
I sighed. “Let’s not get carried away. I’ll do it.”
On the way to the ARC, I had plenty to think about between Nate and the conversation with Angie. The whole thing was strange, but I was fairly sure Angie hadn’t been asleep again. Would she honestly suggest going naked to a church? That was certainly how it sounded. And she said Wes would be there. If any church anywhere would be okay with naked, it would be where Wes was. Better not think about that too long. Maybe I could propose a sorority that would go naked to church. That made me smile. A sorority like that was more likely than one that ran around the city at night looking for arsonists.
I burst out laughing when Cassie turned her back to me in the locker room and dropped her wind pants. That was the reaction she was hoping for. She had two big shamrocks on her butt. It was St. Patrick’s Day after all. She offered me a pair of temporary shamrock tattoos, but I took only one and put it on my belly. I had forgotten what day it was and didn’t have anything green. Several people commented on the shamrocks as we were running. Cassie and Nate were in a Speech class together, so she wanted to know the whole story of what happened the night before. She made me promise to let her know when I heard how he was doing.
When I found Piña in the snack area, she had a green streak in her hair. I pulled up my shirt to show her my shamrock. Denny was wearing a Notre Dame jersey with a leprechaun, and Lina was wearing her gorgeous green fashions. I told them what had happened the night before, and the conversation turned serious.
Denny and Lina were getting ready to go to class when I got a text back from Mom. ‘Do you think that’s wise?’ I knew the code. Mom thought my going on the paper route with Chip was the absolute opposite of wise.
I worked over my response several times. ‘Running has given my life back, and I don’t want to return to the mess before. If you want me to run in the daytime instead, you better warn the police.’
In a couple of minutes, a one-word message came back. ‘No.’
I frowned. ‘Is that “no, you don’t want me to run in the daytime,” “no, you don’t want to warn the police,” or “no, you don’t want me to go with Chip”?’
The reply was almost twenty minutes later. ‘Sorry. Call from church member. I’m not sure what it means. Is your mind made up?’
‘Yes. Running is among God’s greatest gifts to me. Running just as God made me is not a sin.’ That might not be how I would normally put it, but it was true, and it was right for talking to Mom.
‘My concern is the sin someone might commit against you. I need to get to the church now.’
‘What about running with Chip?’
‘He’s in school, and you’re the runner, not me.’ In only a few seconds, another text came. ‘That was a lame attempt at humor. It’s also a way of saying you do things I wouldn’t.’ We exchanged virtual hugs and kisses.
I sighed and looked at Piña. “How did you get your parents’ permission to join the strike?”
“They’re CADP members, so that was a big part of it. They think it’s noble.”
“Mine are in CADP, too, and they think running’s noble or at least a good thing. At least, Dad does.”
“They’re still married, aren’t they? Your mom must think running is noble, too. At least, Mr. Running.”
“Yeah, right! I’m trying to be serious, and you and my mother are both making lame jokes.”
“Can’t run when you’re lame, can you? Can’t be in a marching band.”
“You’re not gonna let me be serious, are you?”
“Serious is over-rated.” Piña sat back in her chair. “You feel safe running, right?”
“I did until last night. Mom thinks I shouldn’t run at night, especially naked. That’s what we were texting about.”
“Does she know Nate?”
“No. My little brother has a paper route, and I asked if I could go with him next week while I’m home. She’s afraid I’ll get raped.”
“And you aren’t?”
I shrugged. “Not while I’m running.”
Piña and I went to the Med Center after Math. The surgery waiting room, when we finally found it, was about half full. Everyone stared when we walked in. I asked the volunteers at the desk about Nate, and a woman behind me said, “We’re his parents. Are you the one who saved him?” She was looking at Piña.
“No, I’m just a friend. It was her.”
“Oh. They told us… I guess I got it wrong.”
“I’m Iris Running,” I said, stepping forward and offering my hand. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t a little quicker.”
“Oh, I’m Flora Solana. They told us you saved his life.”
“I guess. How is he?”
“Bless you,” the man beside Flora said. “I’m Joe, Nate’s dad.”
“I’m glad to meet you,” I said, shaking his hand. “Nate looks like you.”
“That’s what everyone says.”
“Oh, this is Piña Ball, another friend of Nate’s.”
“And you weren’t the one…?” Joe said.
“Mr. Solana,” I said, “Piña’s in the death penalty protest like Nate. I’m in the running research like he is. I was out running when I found Nate.”
“You were running naked in the middle of the night?” Flora said.
“I’ve told her she shouldn’t do that,” Piña said, “but that’s how she found Nate. How is he?”
Joe sighed. “Lotta injuries. They’re doing their best for him in there, but they don’t know.”
Mr. and Mrs. Solana wanted to talk, so we went to a table in a secluded corner until Matt and Jake and some other Kappas showed up. Piña and I needed to go back to campus. There still wasn’t any news from the surgeons.
Attendance was way down in my second class, too. While I was still drinking, I would have been one of the missing kids. It felt good to be responsible. It felt good, too, to have saved Nate’s life along with stopping those guys from burning the mosque. The people at the mosque probably wouldn’t be too happy a naked girl had saved it. Maybe they would say Allah made me do it. That was how Angie talked. God never helped me with answers on a test. God did feel a whole lot closer when I wasn’t covering anything up. Mom said something like that about praying in the shower.
I found myself walking slowly to the ARC after class even after I found out there was nothing new to report about Nate. McKenzie had texted that she wasn’t going to run. We had talked about running outside since the weather was getting warmer, and it was almost time to be at the chapel. Maybe I could run with Matt. Why couldn’t Wes be a runner? Barb would be okay if I showed up naked, and obviously Still Point wasn’t turning away people just for that. But… As horny as drinking used to make me, running was way more of a turn-on, though I didn’t always do anything about it. Now that I was running twice a day – three times yesterday – always doing something about it would be a bit much. Since Angie was gone already, I would have our room to myself when I got back.
When I first arrived at Still Point, I thought I must have gotten the time wrong because no one seemed to be around. My naked grand entrance, and no one was there. I hoped this time wouldn’t involve talking to any cops with flashlights. Then I heard voices upstairs. One of the store rooms was filled with boxes and boxes of old choir music. In preparation for a remodeling project the next week, they were moving the boxes and discarding music that had gotten wet over the years. Wes and Barb, carrying a large, fragile box, were the first people I found.
They were glad for more help, and neither of them seemed even to notice that I was naked, though Wes said he liked my shamrock. Maybe I should have put it on my breast. No, that would be emphasizing the wrong part. His protest medallion was on a green lanyard. Why couldn’t he react a little more like the other guys that were helping? They were drooling too much, but couldn’t Wes drool even a tiny bit?
Piña had news when we met in the snack area on Friday. Evan Waters needed someone to play a duet for his junior recital. “The clarinet he had lined up wasn’t working out. It’s a sonata for clarinet and piano that I played for music contests when I was a senior.”
“That’s great! Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“It gets complicated.”
“Well, that too, but… Evan’s girlfriend is a Music Ed major. She convinced him to do something for his recital that they could play together. Yesterday, his piano professor told him the sonata has to go. Shelli just has too many problems with it.”
“Yeah. Evan said he wanted to just run through it once with me, but I didn’t know his piano professor would be listening.” She drew a deep breath and sighed. “We’re doin’ it.” The sonata, not what most of my friends meant by ‘doing it.’
“You don’t sound very happy.”
“I love playing, and my mom even said I can use my grandfather’s silver clarinet.”
“Silver? Isn’t that pretty valuable?”
“Yeah. Bubby was a professional clarinetist, so he had a bunch.”
“A bunch of silver clarinets?”
“No. Only one was silver.”
“So, why aren’t you happier about getting to play it?”
“I’ve played it before. The one I brought to college was his, too.” She sat back and looked at the table, chewing on her lower lip. “Shelli is pregnant, Evan’s girlfriend”
“Yeah. She was already pregnant when they started dating, but he talked her out of an abortion and promised to stay with her at least until it’s born. She was going to put it up for adoption, but now she wants to keep it.”
“Is that Shelli Reagan?”
“Yeah. Do you know her?”
“Just a little. I heard she’s pregnant. So, are you gonna do it?”
“If Wes asked you to run with him, would you?” She had me there.
Chip was the only one home when I got to Gardner late in the afternoon. “Mom says you’re gonna help with my paper route while you’re home even though I’m not paying you.”
“I didn’t ask to be paid.”
“Just makin’ sure you know. She said you’re gonna be naked.”
I studied him for a moment. “Have they told you about this research I’m in?”
“Yeah. Why they researching streaking?”
“They’re trying to find out if modern equipment really makes a difference. You okay with your big sister running along with you?”
“I don’t know. You’re usually nice to me. I have more fights with Lil.”
“Lil’s around more.”
“Yeah, but that’s not everything. You sound different than other times you came home from college.”
“Mom and Dad said you quit drinking.”
“Well, yeah, that. Listen. If you ever decide you wanna try it, talk to me first, okay? It isn’t worth it.”
“I tasted beer at Jeff’s house. It was awful.”
I smiled. “Have you told Mom and Dad?”
“Are you kidding?”
“Yeah, well, anything else you wanna talk about and don’t wanna go to them, come to me. You don’t hafta go through the same crap I did to learn from my mistakes.”
In the evening, I was in my room sorting the laundry when Mom got home from a wedding rehearsal dinner and knocked lightly on the open door. “May I come in?”
“Sure, if you don’t mind the mess.” I slipped off my jeans and tossed them on one of the piles. “Is it okay if I put a load in before I go to bed? Most of this can wait till next week, but it would be nice to have clean underwear for Sunday.”
Mom tilted her head to one side, studying me like I was speaking Klingon or something. “Sure.”
“Thanks. I don’t want to hog the washer and dryer.”
“Of course.” She stepped over a couple of piles to get to my desk chair. “Are you still set on going with Chip in the morning?”
“That seems like the best time to run. I’ve been doing twice a day, but you don’t want me running when everyone’s awake.” I unhooked my bra and slipped off my underpants to toss them both on the pile with my other underwear.
Mom blinked a few times. “It’s not about whether people are awake. It’s whether you’re safe.”
I paused with a sweatshirt in my hands. “Mom… it may be dumb, but when I’m running… I don’t know. Are you okay?”
Mom sniffed and turned to get a tissue from the box on the built-in desk Dad, Grandy, and Grampa Irv made for me when we moved in. She cleared her throat. “D-do you know what you’re doing?”
I frowned and tossed the sweatshirt onto a pile. “Helping Chip with his route. That’s all! I’m trying to do it when…”
“Not that,” Mom interrupted. “Right now.”
“Sorting laundry? You’ve made us do that forever.”
“No. Since you went to college…” She wiped her eyes with the tissue. “This is the first time you didn’t cover up immediately.”
“Well, don’t get all emotional over that. You know I’m in that research. I’ve been running to the ARC in the mornings. Yesterday, I ran over to Still Point to help move some things. It was a favor for Angie really, not the running part. She promised Barb Maxwell she’d help and then got an early ride home for the break. Classes were really small yesterday and today.”
“Were you naked all day?”
“Of course not! Just… Okay. After my morning run, I get ready for the day just like a normal person. Then I meet my friend Piña. She’s the one in the death penalty protest, and she swims in the morning. When I was running and helping at Still Point were the only times I didn’t have clothes on. Well… with Angie gone I don’t have to keep clothes on in the room.”
Mom nodded. “Do you know what else you’re doing?”
“Mom, if you’re talking about the effect I have on guys…”
“No. I’m talking about right now. I won’t make you guess. You’re talking to me. You haven’t talked to me like this since before you went off to college, before you graduated from high school really.”
I sighed. “Sometimes I still really want a drink, but then I remember how shitty everything was. I don’t wanna go back. I didn’t want to share my shit with you, and then I felt shittier for not telling you what was going on. When I was first running and didn’t tell you it was naked, I knew I would tell you sometime. If anything happens while I’m helping Chip, believe me, you’ll hear about it.”
“I’m sure of that.” She held out the small can she had been holding. “Do you want to take some of your dad’s pepper spray? I was going to insist, but now I’m asking.”
“I don’t really have any way to carry it. I’ll need my hands for the papers.”
We hugged, and Mom took my load of underwear to the laundry.
A few minutes later, I went to the family room to talk with Mom and Dad. I hadn’t yet told them the Scholars Program was still sending information or my idea for a project, some kind of study of the people who signed up for Dr. Randall’s research. Dad had been a Sociology major in college, and Mom had minored in Psychology, so I thought they might be able to help with my proposal.
“How many are in this research project?” Dad asked.
“Only eleven right now, I think, seven guys and four girls. Dr. Randall is hoping to get more. We talked a little about studying how best to recruit people.”
“Not a very big research sample,” Mom said.
“Yeah. Maybe I could do something with the death penalty protesters, too.”
“Not many around here, but more around Coventry, aren’t there?”
“Yeah. Actually, I’m kind of hoping they won’t choose my project. That way, I can join a different one and propose one of my own again next year.”
Dad frowned. “Since they already have you guys running around campus naked, sounds to me like there’s not much reason they wouldn’t choose this project to go with it.”
I sighed. “Yeah.”
“If you really don’t want to do it,” Mom said, “why even propose it?”
“It’s not that I don’t want to do it. I think it would be interesting, but… I don’t know. I have to propose something if I wanna be in the Program next year. It’s supposed to be something that isn’t in the regular curriculum, and this definitely isn’t.”
“Have you had any other ideas?”
“Not really. Nothing that has any chance.”
“Didn’t you just tell us you want something that doesn’t have a chance?”
“Well, yeah, but… The only other thing I’ve thought of was to convince a whole sorority to go naked. That was just ‘cause o’ how they look down on the whole wide world.”
“Now, that,” Dad said, “I’m sure they wouldn’t approve.”
“I’d certainly hope not,” Mom agreed. “What if you proposed starting a naked sorority? You could do a lot of the same studies as you’ve already been talking about.”
“You could have a requirement that they all join the nudity strike and this running research.”
“Not everybody’s a runner, Mom.”
“Not everybody’s willing to go naked for social justice, either, but you’re trying to come up with a proposal, a good proposal, that won’t get accepted. This sounds more likely for that than studying the people who are already in either the strike or the research or both.”
While I was getting ready for bed, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea. There was no way it would ever get approved, but that was the point. If it was approved – which it never in a jillion years would be – there was no way anyone would ever join it. Well, Wes and Piña and Nate and some others were in the strike. Maybe I should propose a coed sorority-fraternity. It would definitely have to include a no-booze rule. Just thinking about living naked in the same place with Wes turned me on. Wes and any other guys. No. Either booze or running turned me on for just about anybody. Wes did it to me a lot more just by being alive.