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Not Your Grandmother's Proposal

It was raining on Monday morning, so Cassie and I ran inside the ARC. We were having breakfast with Piña, when Angie found us. After taking off her dripping poncho, she opened her backpack and got out a gift-wrapped package to hand to me.

“W-what’s this for?”

“Open it first.”

Inside were my favorite sandals; I thought they had gotten left behind at a party sometime. On each one was a daisy with a blue, ‘No more killing’ medallion for the center. Piña and Cassie thought they were really cute; I didn’t know what to say. I jumped up to hug Angie.

“Last fall,” Angie explained, “I borrowed them when you were too drunk to ask. I found ’em after you moved out. If you don’t like the flowers, I can take ’em off.”

“No!” I said. “They’re perfect. Thank you.” Cassie handed me a tissue for my tears.

Angie stayed for a few minutes, and Piña and Cassie asked her to make flowers like that for their shoes. “I’ll try,” Angie promised, “but I hope your protest will be over before I get ’em done.” We all agreed.

Between rain showers before our first classes, Cassie and I ran together to the Scholars Program office. The secretary accepted our proposals with a sniff and no comment. In a bathroom before my Math class, I changed my running shoes for the sandals. It was tempting to go to class just like that; after all, I was thinking about joining the strike, and clothes in class had been about it since Spring Break. When I officially joined the strike, I was going to follow Wes’s example, Piña and Cassie’s, too, not Nate’s. Most of my friends wouldn’t notice any difference.

When I was getting my checkup later, two of the other lab assistants came over and asked if I was applying for the permanent job I had been filling in on the week before. I liked helping people and all that, but I wasn’t all that sure about having a job where I’d have to be naked. Call me inconsistent. On the other hand, if I really did join the strike, that wouldn’t make any difference. Now that I had turned in my Scholars proposal, I was going to have more spare time. All my reading for all my classes was done up to the end of the semester. If there wasn’t something else to keep me occupied, I might do something dumb. Because of filling in the week before, all my info was in the university personnel system, so even before my checkup was done, it was easy to go into the system and apply for the job.

After Psych on Tuesday, I went to Still Point for a meeting about the student chapter of CADP that Piña and Damien were still trying to get started. Wes was on a loveseat by himself, but I sat by Piña. Just being in the same room with him was more distraction than my hormones could ignore. I knew some of the other kids from high school youth events, from classes on campus, and from Still Point. Barb did her best to get everybody acquainted and on the same page. Nate was there with Matt, Reiner Geisler, and Mark Kumru, whom I didn’t know very well. Four Kappas! Mark had joined the strike over Spring Break. Matt and Reiner along with most everyone else had clothes on.

“Okay, look,” Fran Thorne said. She was sitting with Rose. “Most of you probably know Rose and I are in the running research. We’re all in favor of you nudie protesters, but that’s just not us. Okay? Going to class naked is a nightmare, not something to do in broad daylight.”

“We aren’t asking anybody to go naked if they don’t want to,” Piña said. “There are lots of other ways to work to repeal the death penalty.” That’s when the argument started. Piña, Wes, Nate, Mark, and I were the only ones naked, but the sides were more even than that. I stood up. The argument kept going. Finally, Wes whistled really loud and in the silence asked what I wanted to say.

“Going to class naked is a nightmare; you’re right. I haven’t done it yet and don’t know if I will. My nightmares are more about… other things. Piña and Wes have been going to class naked since Valentine’s Day, right?” They both nodded. “I got to know both of them after they started. Now they’re two of my best friends on campus. But you know what?” I was looking at Fran.

After a little bit, she said, “What?”

“Thank you. Neither of them has even once suggested I should go to class naked. Damien, are you trying to get people to go to class naked?”

He shook his head. “No way! Just being gay and black is way too much for most people.”

“That’s what I thought. We’re here to talk about how we as students can help end the death penalty. Some of us will do one thing; some another. That’s why you get a group working toward the same goal. That goal isn’t about getting people out of their clothes.” I sat down.

Fran raised her hand, and Damien called on her. “Sorry I got us off track. She’s right. We should get her to speak to more people.”

“Wes is the preacher,” I said.

The group didn’t seem to care about that. All of the next week, Barb had a table reserved for CADP in the Student Center. I signed up for some times to be there.

Later, while I was stretching outside the HP Lab and waiting for McKenzie to go running, Dr. Randall came out and told me the job was mine if I wanted it. The posting had said applications would be reviewed immediately and until an appropriate candidate was found. I was so surprised that I accepted before I had time to think about why I had even applied. Filling in had gone well, but did I really want a job where I had to be nude? Maybe I should see if there were any jobs at Wes’s nudist club. To tell the truth, a job was a good thing to take up my time.

For that matter, in one very important way a job was a whole lot better than my other main option, running more: running didn’t take my mind off Wes. Working in the buff might actually help me with Wes. I couldn’t make myself male, but somebody who grew up at a nudist club would probably prefer somebody who was at least comfortable being nude. Most days, I was so comfortable I didn’t even think about it. It was even beginning to seem like a hassle to worry about clothes for class. Once in a while, when I got to class, I seriously considered just leaving my clothes in my backpack. If I had thought of any casual way to slip that into a conversation with Wes, I would have done it already.

Things were slow in the HP lab on Wednesday, and I got checked out on more of the equipment. Most of it was familiar from our workout room in high school, and I had used or helped somebody on all but a couple specialized machines. I was checking my phone when a call came from a number I didn’t recognize. “Hello,” a woman said. “This is Marsha Mansfield.” She didn’t sound like a reporter. “You’re Iris Running about whom we’ve heard so much recently?”

Maybe she was one after all. “Yes.”

“Randy Bertram and I have been talking about all the flack you’ve gotten since he gave you the Crime Fighter award, and I’d like to ask you to be the Honorary Marshall for the Mayor’s 10-K Run on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.”

“Oh! Are you from the mayor’s office?”

The woman chuckled. “Actually, I am the mayor.”

I drew a quick breath and stood. “You are?”

“Yes. I apologize for assuming you knew who I am.”

“No. I’m sorry. Wh-what do you want me to do?”

“My people tell me it’s risky, but I want you to be the Honorary Marshall for the Mayor’s 10-K Race. I should warn you that there will be a lot of cameras and publicity. Randy said you don’t like publicity.”

“Yeah.” I realized I was still standing and sat down. “Who’s Randy?”

“Chief Bertram.”

“Oh. What does the marshal do? I’ve never been in a race with a marshal.”

“There aren’t many duties. There’s a dinner the night before. You’d be on the stand with me for brief comments before the start, and you’d get a front-row start. At the award ceremony, the marshal helps give out the prizes. If you’d like to think it over for a few days, you can call my office as soon as you have an answer.”

“No. You may not want me. I’m thinking about joining the death penalty strike.”

“So I’ve been told.”

“And you still want me to do it?”

“Yes. Miss Running… May I call you Iris?”

“You’re the mayor; you can call me anything you want.” Was I really talking to the mayor?

She chuckled. “I prefer to call people what they wish to be called. Iris, some people are trying to blame the research runners and the death penalty strikers for everything wrong in our part of the world. Having you as the marshal of my race should make it very clear that I disagree.”

After we hung up, I sat staring at my phone. What had I agreed to? If I was going to be in a race, I would have to pick up my training. I started by grabbing all the handouts we had on workouts for runners. Much as I liked running, some other exercises would help me run better.

Matt Garrett came into the Lab before I started reading. Except for the night before, I hadn’t seen him since before Spring Break. It was his first rehab session for his knee. When he got going, I asked how he got hurt.

“Wrong place at the wrong time, like most accidents. Some guys were fighting in my fraternity, and I was trying to keep them from falling down the stairs. Guess who ended up going down.”

“Ouch.”

“Yeah. Fortunately, the trainers say it won’t be permanent.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah. You moved out of Wilson, didn’t you?”

I studied him for a moment. “Why?”

“Well…”

“Sorry. It’s kind of flattering, but too many people have been trying too hard. That’s why I moved over here to the ARC.”

“Lucky you! From what I hear, it’s pretty posh, and the cafeteria is the best on campus.”

“It is nice.” We talked about dorm food for a little while. The Kappas had their own cook and dining room. It wasn’t necessarily better.

“I should thank you for saving Nate,” he said, changing the subject. “Is that why you’re naked?”

“What?”

“Sorry. You’re the only one here, and I’ve heard you’re in the running research like Nate. I just… Sorry.”

“That’s okay. I gotta get more or rather less sensitive.” Briefly, I explained about the grant and working in the Lab.

“Is that why you seemed so distracted when I came in?”

“No.”

“Wanna talk about it? People always seem to come to me to talk about their problems.”

“Okay.” Why was I agreeing to this? At least he wasn’t using any pick-up line I remember hearing at a party. “Last week, I was named Crime Fighter of the Week.”

“I heard about that,” he interrupted. “Pretty cool.”

“Thanks, but all the uproar about it hasn’t been.”

“I’m sure not. People’ve been saying some pretty nasty things about you, almost worse than what they’ve been saying about those nudie protesters like Nate.”

“Yeah. Do you know about the Mayor’s race on Memorial Day weekend?”

“Yeah. I ran in it last year.”

“So you probably know what the race marshal does. I had to ask when the Mayor asked me to do it.”

“You’re gonna be the marshal? Cool! Maybe you can get Nate or some o’ the other protesters to run.”

I sighed. “Yeah.”

“There’s something else?”

I stared absently at the far wall. “Getting back into running for this research has been the best thing that’s happened to me, but…”

“But what?” he asked after several seconds.

“Did you ever know any racing freaks?”

“A guy in my high school class was into street racing. He was killed on our homecoming night.”

I looked at the floor. “The day before and the day of any race I was in, I turned into a real bitch.”

“You? Not a chance!”

“It’s true. I was terrible.” I shook my head and looked at the ceiling.

“You get that way every time you run?”

“If it’s a race.”

“And when you run with Cassie or McKenzie?”

I looked at him sharply. “You know who I run with?”

“Hey, I’m not stalking you. I’ve just seen you running with ’em.”

A beeper sounded on the training bike, and I glanced at it. “Your time’s up.” I started to turn away.

“Hey, I really didn’t mean to be stalking you.”

I sighed and looked at him over my shoulder. “Okay. It’s just… I don’t want to turn into a racing bitch again.” I took his paperwork and went to the desk where I had to mark down that he had done his rehab. According to his chart, he was supposed to rehab his knee twice a week. Unfortunately, the next week Cindy would be back. Before I left the Lab, I put back most of the handouts I had grabbed.

On a gorgeous Friday morning in the middle of April, Piña and I were walking to Math when the secretary from the Scholars Program called to set up a time for my oral presentation to the selection committee. I signed up for the next Monday afternoon and went back to talking with Piña. It was Becki’s twenty-first birthday, and she was going to have a small dinner party at her apartment. It sounded a whole lot better than what most kids did for their twenty-first birthdays.

Becki’s party started with dinner for me and four other friends of hers, six total, two couples plus Becki and me. The others were friends of Becki’s, and I really didn’t know them. The food was great, and we were all having a good time. After supper, we started playing a board game version of Truth or Dare for couples that want an excuse for sex. I can’t blame alcohol this time. The others had wine, but I was drinking Diet Coke. Nobody was actually making it, but it was getting really close. I took a break to go to the bathroom and was thinking about what Mom told me after I came home from Liz’s over Spring Break. It was tempting – really tempting! – to switch to wine and go for it with Becki. I didn’t. I told Becki one of my other friends needed me, and I left.

Other than running and talking with friends, I spent most of Saturday working on my speech for the Scholars committee. I had a good speech all planned out and pretty well memorized, but after Becki’s party, it all seemed too academic, too fake. When I called home on Sunday afternoon, I told Mom and Dad my plan to do the speech in the buff. If they threw me out, my project wouldn’t get chosen.

“Is that really what you want?” Mom asked. “You’ve put a lot of work into this.”

“I don’t know. I’ve kinda convinced myself. If somebody else was starting this, I’d try to get in.”

“Preach it until you believe it, and then preach it because you believe it. Wesley. John Wesley, that is, not Wes Milton.”

We talked about that for a little bit until Dad asked how else I was gonna get real.

“Confessing how easily I lose control doesn’t seem like a good idea. It would probably help get it thrown out, but that isn’t… I don’t really…” I shrugged. “That isn’t…”

“When it gets difficult,” Mom said, “then I know I’ve found something worth saying. So, let’s think this through. You lose control sometimes. It’s highly unlikely you’re the only one on campus with that issue. How will this sorority help?”

“It’s like you say about going to church. You can worship God anywhere, but in church other people can help you. I wouldn’t be going to both the chapel and the Sunday evening group if it wasn’t helping me be a better person.”

“Is that in your speech?” Dad asked.

He was right.

[Transcript Jason Green Show, Apr 18, 20__, 95.5FM, Coventry, Nitoma]

Lotta you been claiming this is an April fools joke. It ain’t, folks. It just seems like it should be. It ain’t bad enough people all over the state are joinin’ this strip-off. No connection between struttin’ your stuff and free speech. None whatsoever! Free speech does not protect treason. And then this streakin’ research right here in town at Coventry University. If that don’t convince you we should close that place down quick, you must like porn. If that ain’t enough insult to all that’s good, pure, and decent, our cops like porn, too. Instead of arrestin’ the whole lot of ‘em and throwin’ away the key, they give one an award. Crime Fighter? She’s the criminal, for God’s sake! We aren’t huntin’ down Osama bin Laden so we can give him an award. Stoppin’ a fire at a Moslem church? Fat chance! She and her streakin’ boyfriend probably set the whole thing up just ’cause they’re exhibitionists.

If you don’t wanna talk about that, how about this? Those liberal idiots at the university are at again, flauntin’ perversion in our faces. Don’t know what I’m talkin’ about? Some of us had to struggle through Romeo and Juliet in high school. Suicide’s the coward’s way out, but when they killed themselves and ended their whinin’, I wanted to cheer. Well, guess what. Now it’s not just whinin’ teenagers that haven’t been spanked. It’s a couple of queers! Romeo and Julio? Come on! First it’s Adam and Steve, and now this? That whole university needs to be shut down and all the faculty and staff put on trial. Let me sit on that jury. They’ll find out how real justice works.

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

I was nervous on Monday both because of my Scholars presentation in the afternoon and because of a big Math test in the morning. Cassie was amazing; she was trying to encourage me even though she hadn’t been called in for an oral presentation. We were doing our cool down stretching when I checked my text messages. They included ones from my parents and siblings along with several friends. When I met Piña for breakfast, there were more text messages and a couple of voice messages, one from Grandy. I called him back immediately. “This is Iris.”

“Sounds to me like Maiden Running Bare of the Run-a-muck-a tribe.”

I grinned. That was what he and Gramma Iris used to call me after a bath. “Nobody has called me that in ages. Is this Chief Tooty Pants?”

“Now, now. What happened to respect for your elders?”

“It changed to love. How are you?”

“Fine. I hear you’re starting a sorority today.”

“No. I’m making a proposal. Everybody says it will get accepted, but there’s really no way it can be.”

“Just tell ’em you’re princess of the Run-a-muck-a tribe. That’ll do it.”

I smiled again. “I’ll need a little more than that.”

“You always have a lot more. One more thing to remember: As long as I’m Running…”

I bit my lip hard. It had been way too long since we exchanged this private message, since sometime before Gramma Iris died. “As long…” I cleared my throat and whispered, “As long as I’m Running, I will love you.”

“I will love you, too.”

Piña was more worried about the test than I was, but it went well for both us and Rose. They both said I had helped them a lot, but we had all helped each other. Nobody was at the CADP table when I got to the Campus Center. A sorority was setting up a table right next to it with breast cancer information. Some of them didn’t seem to want to talk to a naked protester, but some were friendly. The place was starting to get busy with the lunch crowd, so I didn’t stay behind the table. Some kids wanted to argue with me about the death penalty; I did my best to listen and keep things calm. Others wanted to tell me to get dressed; mostly I ignored them. Some of them were in Angie’s Bible study mob. A guy and girl I didn’t know showed up to help at the CADP table when I should have already left for my afternoon class.

The Scholars Committee was waiting when I got there. Dr. Hall, my Psych professor, was chair of the committee. The whole committee seemed surprised that I was doing my presentation in the nude. Hadn’t they read my proposal?

“How many of you have never, ever seen a human being without clothing before?” That was a sure bet. After acknowledging that being naked for a Scholars proposal was different to say the least, I took the mike off the stand and stepped to the side. Nothing between me and them.

“The directions about these oral presentations are pretty clear on the Scholars website, but you can read all that in my written proposal.” I drew a slow breath, looking at each of them in turn. “On Friday night, something happened that completely changed the way I’ve been thinking about this project. I was at a twenty-first birthday party for one of my friends. The stories you’ve heard about those parties are mostly true, but this party was different. It was just a small group of her friends at her apartment for a dinner party. There was alcohol, but no one had more than they should. One thing became very clear to me, and that’s what my proposal is all about. You can get rid of all the studies and activities and rituals and everything else, and that one thing will still be there. None of us can get through without help. That’s why I’m proposing a new sorority, a sisterhood to help each other out. All we ask is that you let us be who we are and allow us to believe that God meant it when he said, after the creation of humans, ‘It is very good.’ Thank you.”

The Committee had three questions. The first was from Dr. John Foxx, the professor when I first took Psychology. His question about clothing controlling the libido seemed like a trap.

“As you all know,” I said, “the theory of the libido includes the notion that there are many constraints on it. As you say, some people believe that clothing is one of those constraints, though no one holds that it is the only one. We will help each other not to give in to every sexual urge and not to accept unwanted sexual offers. In that, we will be no different from you or anyone else. Among people who live without clothing, unrestrained libido is seldom a problem.”

He tried again by saying I hadn’t done any research into people who live without clothing. I reminded him that the protesters were doing exactly that and none of them were having a problem with unrestrained libido.

The next question was about the Bible and nudity. That was like an easy pitch over the middle of the plate. Angie’s friends wouldn’t have been convinced, but none of them were on the Committee. None of these people were likely to be fans of Jason Green. The last question was about how we would keep from getting arrested. I repeated what I knew about how it already worked, and they seemed satisfied. Dr. Hall said the decision on which proposals would be accepted for the Program would be announced to the Scholars students in writing on Thursday or Friday.

Matt Garrett was the next presenter, and I didn’t even know he was in the Scholars program. He was in a sports jacket and tie embroidered with his fraternity letters, the kind of clothes some of the gung-ho nerds in high school wore on the days of their chess or academic contests. He probably had no clue why I was naked. Maybe I should go sit in the room while he made his presentation. No, that would be mean, and the committee probably wouldn’t allow it.

Piña and Wes were at the CADP table when I got to the Campus Center, but Wes left right away. Ouch! Not near as many people were around, but Piña and I stayed most of the evening, giving out almost as much breast cancer info as death penalty info.

The next morning I was ready to try to cheer Cassie up because she didn’t get called in for an oral presentation. She didn’t want anything to do with that. As a matter of fact, she suggested that we should run outside to celebrate my presentation. I still doubted the committee would ever approve it, but that didn’t matter to her. I agreed only on the condition that, if by some crazy chance my proposal got in, she would help figure out how to make her decision making model into how we would pick who joined the sorority… if anybody applied. She almost pushed me into the fountain over that one; she was certain more would apply than we could possibly accept. We, not I. Obviously, she was deluded, but her positive attitude was nice.

A few minutes before my Thursday shift in the lab was up, Dr. Hall called; as so many people had predicted, my Project had been accepted. It was even the lead project for the year. The committee had talked for a long time and called in an attorney from the University’s legal staff. His personal opinion was that we shouldn’t do it for other reasons, but legally we wouldn’t have trouble. Our position would be safer than the death penalty protesters, who could be in trouble as soon as the death penalty was repealed. Dr. Hall assured me that the Scholars Committee would help as much as they could as would many other faculty on campus. She suggested talking with the University’s Public Relations office about a news release.

Before I got to the cafeteria for supper, everyone in the ARC seemed to know the sorority had been approved. Soon after, everyone on campus seemed to know. With the Internet, the whole world seemed to know before I called home. As with any rumor, not all of what everyone knew was true. Everyone seemed to have an opinion. I agreed with many of the negative opinions since they were based on what we would no way do. News releases from the Public Relations office seemed to have little effect in altering the tide of opinion, but at least there were some places where accurate statements were being made. All of the support should have improved my mood. I did my best to act happy.

The readers’ theater message at the chapel for the Maundy Thursday service was really funny but with a deep point about being willing to leave aside everything to do the right thing. At the start of the skit, Wes wrapped himself in a sheet to play the young man who ran away naked from the Garden of Gethsemane, but Damien and the other two readers had clothes on. During communion, Damien sang a soft, haunting song with Evan playing the piano. Maybe if I took singing lessons, Wes would… Don’t be dumb! Barb and Wes were the communion servers. Since there was a small turnout, we were surrounding the person and touching their arms or shoulders to pray while Wes and Barb served them. When it was my turn, the music stopped. Even Damien had a hand on my shoulders, even Wes’s boyfriend. I didn’t try to hold back the tears. For two years, I had run away in booze and anything my warped imagination could come up with. Before that with running and now with the sorority, I was running away, too. And Wes was so close and so impossibly far away. He was probably praying about me.

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