The following Saturday evening, Jenny was fretting. Bridgette’s confidence that Jonty would call her seemed to have been misplaced. There had been several group messages throughout the week – Jonty had joined in most of the conversations and had sent a few messages addressed to everyone. But not one single message just to Jenny. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Zero.
Most of the group conversations had been messages of support and encouragement for Phil in the lead up to the marathon, which was the following day, including discussions on the logistics of everyone driving up to Auckland to watch the race. The marathon started at 6am, so it was decided that Phil would drive up the night before with Anthony, Gray and a friend of Phil’s. Jenny looked at her watch, 8.30pm. They would probably be there by now. They were staying at a hotel in the city centre – which was temptingly close to the Casino for one particular Irish redhead in the group. Apparently Gray was going to be under the strict watchful eye of the other men.
Ellen was going to drive up with Suze, Petra and Jonty at the crack of dawn in the morning. They would miss the start of the race, but were hoping to see Phil about halfway along. Ellen had offered Jenny a ride – and while there was the potential to sit in close proximity to Jonty (the prospect of which was both exciting and terrifying and mortifying), Jenny had declined. She’d come a long way since their meetings had started all those months ago, but sharing the air with four other bodies in a sex addict’s car for almost two hours would be taking her recovery to the next level.
Besides, Bridgette had been intrigued with the ‘perfect man’ that Jenny had found for her, and had agreed to drive up to Auckland with her to watch the race. Jenny was aiming to leave her apartment at 5am, and pick Bridgette up on her way past.
Sighing, Jenny took a sip of her tea. She was sitting at her kitchen counter, looking at her reflection in the window. He doesn’t like me. Of course he doesn’t like me. How could he? Why am I surprised? I held his hand, but that’s all I’ll be holding. What kind of guy wants a girl who doesn’t want to touch him? Ugh, Bridgette was wrong, wrong, wrong. I denied the one man who actually DOES want me, and now I’ll be alone FOREVER.
Jenny heard her mobile beep and glanced at the screen to see who the message was from. Phil.
Hi Jen. How r u?
Good Phil. I’m good. How are you??? Ready for the race tomorrow? Keeping Gray out of trouble I hope?
Ha, yes – hes safely locked away in his rm. We r jst gettin ready 4 bed. Early start 2moro!
Jen, I jst wantd 2 say u hav my blessng. Not that u need it, but I want u 2 b happy.
Jenny read and re-read the message. I have his blessing? For what? Perplexed, Jenny tapped out a reply.
What do you mean Phil? What do I have your blessing for?
Jenny waited anxiously, her fingers drumming a continual beat on the kitchen counter. When there was no answer after twenty minutes, she guessed he must have gone to bed. In fact, she looked at her watch, it was about time she got to bed herself.
Jenny arrived at Bridgette’s house the next morning at 5.15am, and was surprised to find her sister already waiting on the doorstep, ready to go.
Having someone in her car was new territory for Jenny, and taking a roadie together was like something out of the Twilight Zone for both of them, so there were some unavoidable teething issues at the start of the trip (“where shall I put my bag?” “Can you put it in that bucket on the backseat?” **eye rolls** “You’re sniffing, do you have a cold? I can’t have you in the car with a virus. Oh my God you’ve got a cold.” “No I don’t have a fucking cold Jen, it’s the middle of the night and I’ve been standing outside freezing while I wait for your late arse.” **eye rolls** “Have you got any food? Can we stop for coffee on the way?” “Are you kidding? Do you know how many germs there are on the handles of those coffee machines? Literally teeming. You may as well ask for a cup of campylobacter.” **eye rolls**).
The questions, retorts and eye rolls had lasted until they reached a McDonalds restaurant in the town of Huntly, where Bridgette had convinced Jenny to stop for coffee and hash browns. There had been some heated discussions about the cleanliness of the restaurant and it’s workers, paper bags and drink machines, and whether anyone had ever actually died as a result of eating their food or drinking their coffee, at which point Bridgette had turned to Google to settle the argument (“It says here that all food handlers have to wash their hands with antimicrobial soap every 30 minutes and staff in the dining area have to wash their hands every hour” **surprised, but satisfied nod** “Yes, but did you know that the ice they put in your drink often contains more bacteria than the water in their toilets?” **eye rolls** “They don’t put fucking ice in coffee! Anyway, it also says the staff who handle the money are different than those who make the food, and they use colour-coded gloves to avoid cross contamination.” **non-committal shrug**).
Eventually it was decided that Bridgette would go inside and order, while Jenny waited nervously in the car. After the palaver of where to place the coffee cups, checking the plastic rims of the lids for finger marks, and gingerly holding the paper around the hash brown, they were once again on the road. Ten minutes later, Jenny had to admit the hash brown was probably one of the greasiest and most delicious things she’d ever eaten. She also admitted to Bridgette that she’d already been to McDonalds the week before when she was hungover, and the two of them laughed until the tears ran down their faces.
An hour later, and they had arrived in central Auckland – there was traffic everywhere and several roads were closed off for the race. Jenny was doggedly following her GPS to the Wynyard Quarter, which was where they were meeting the rest of the group. Once Phil had run past them at Hamer Street, which was basically the halfway mark, the plan was to walk to nearby Victoria Park – where they would wait at the finish line and hopefully see him make it to the end.
No-one had said anything out loud, but Jenny could tell they were all a bit anxious about whether Phil would be able to last the distance – and in some ways, at least to Jenny, it felt like Phil was running for all of them. Crossing that finish line was proving a point to the world, like lifting a finger to the universe – if Phil could overcome his addiction and do something as seemingly impossible as run a marathon, there was hope for all of them. But if he didn’t make it, if he couldn’t get to the finish line after all the hopeful training and effort and commitment, if he failed at the last hour, then they may as well all give up - there was no hope for any of them.
Or maybe she was overthinking it.
After a tense twenty minutes trying to find a park, Jenny and Bridgette were walking to meet the group. Jenny saw Ellen first, and the women waved to each other.
Bridgette followed Jenny’s glance. ‘Oh Jen, it’s your lesbo friend.’
‘Bridge,’ Jenny hissed, ‘don’t say anything rude, ok?’
‘Calm your jets, I’ll behave.’
‘Jen, hi!’ Ellen smiled warmly, and then looked coolly at Bridgette. ‘It’s Bridgette right?’
The rest of the group turned to greet Jenny, and eyed her sister up warily. They’d heard the stories about the infamous Evil Twin, and they were fascinated to meet her in the flesh.
‘So, this is the fucking sister then?’ Petra said, narrowing her eyes.
Bridgette met her glare, and raised her a dismissive shrug. ‘I see you’ve heard of me then?’ Petra nodded slowly. If nothing else, Jenny admired her sister’s confidence. A lesser person would shrivel and die under Petra’s scrutiny.
‘Howaya?’ Gray at least smiled, and put out a hand for Bridgette to shake.
Bridgette took his hand and glanced sideways at Jenny, raising an eyebrow questioningly. Jenny gave a small shake of her head.
Anthony, who was looking particularly silver-foxy today, said hello to Jenny and then also extended his hand to Bridgette. She smiled widely and shook his hand, once again looking sideways at Jenny – this time with a hopeful twinkle in her eye. Jenny shook her head again.
Suze didn’t bother putting her hand out, but said a quick hello to Bridgette before turning to talk to Petra.
Jonty, who had been silent during the exchange of hellos, smiled at Jenny, watching her face with those golden eyes. He asked how she was and how her week had been. Jenny couldn’t help smiling as she replied, all the while wondering why he hadn’t called her, whether the hand-hold had meant anything to him, whether he would ever consider a germaphobe like her. Bridgette, impatient for an introduction, cleared her throat. Jonty turned to face her.
‘Hi Bridgette, I’m Jonty.’ He extended a hand to shake, and Jenny felt a violent surge of jealousy as she watched them clasp hands. Bridgette noticed her small intake of breath and clenched jaw. She raised her eyebrows again, and waited for Jonty to turn and talk to someone else before whispering “this must be the guy?”.
‘NO!’ Jenny meant to whisper back, but it came out as more of a shout, and everyone turned to her in surprise. Jenny felt her cheeks flaming, and wished she could disappear.
Anthony immediately came to her rescue, using the awkward silence to introduce Phil’s friend, Mason, to both of them. Jenny smiled gratefully at him, and he winked at her.
It sure felt good to have friends who knew her so well.
‘Right guys,’ Anthony looked at his watch, ‘it’s almost seven thirty and Phil’s probably not that far off. Let’s get moving shall we?’
Everyone murmured their agreement, and started walking towards the halfway point on Hamer Street. Jenny and Bridgette lagged behind the rest of the group, whispering between them.
‘So, if it’s not any of these guys, WHO is this perfect man you’ve been telling me about?’
‘Shh, keep it down. I’ll tell you later.’
‘But I want you to tell me now!’
‘Bridge, honestly, I’ll tell you later.’
Bridgette pouted and crossed her arms, clearly growing tired of all the mystery.
‘Come on you two,’ Grayson had stopped and was motioning for them to hurry up. Jonty had also stopped, and they both waited for Jenny and Bridgette to catch up.
Grayson fell into step beside Bridgette, and started asking her about her work at the hospital. Jenny smirked to herself, she was pretty sure Gray was about to get a complete life history.
‘How was the trip up Jen?’ Jonty had started walking beside her. Very close. In fact, the streets were teeming with people, and they were all just a little bit close. Jenny started to feel a bit faint. ‘Hey, are you okay?’
‘It’s just, um, all these people around I guess. I don’t think I’ve ever been in such a big crowd.’
Jonty smiled at her, his golden eyes crinkling at the sides. ‘How about I act as your human shield?’
Jenny laughed and nodded, and they started chatting as they walked. They talked about the race, and their group, and the dinner last week. But nothing was said about the hand-hold, and Jenny felt like she was going to burst with disappointment if they didn’t talk about it. Only, what if it meant nothing to him, and he didn’t even remember it?
‘Sorry Jonty, away with the fairies for a minute.’
‘I need to tell you something.’ Jonty bit his lip, and Jenny stared at his mouth transfixed. ‘So, er, I had a word with Phil the other day.’
Noooo, Jenny could feel the colour leeching from her face, I bet Phil told him about the debacle in the basement and he thinks I’m a horrible human being. I AM a horrible human being. A crazy weird disgusting human being.
‘Jen, I think you’re amazing.’
Jenny blinked in surprise, and out of nowhere felt a smile start to grow across her face.
‘I know Phil’s had a bit of a thing for you, but I also got the feeling a while back that it wasn’t really reciprocated.’
Jenny nodded slowly.
‘So, I told him that I had feelings for you – and I wanted to ask you out, but I didn’t want things to be awkward and I didn’t want to tread on any toes. I suppose I was asking if he would, you know, give us his blessing. If you said yes that is. I mean, it’s not like I wouldn’t have asked you out anyway, but I wanted to make sure things would be okay for him.’
Jonty was obviously nervous, and had started rambling. Jenny, on the other hand, was grinning like the Cheshire cat.
HE HAS FEELINGS FOR MEEEEEE. He wants to ask me out. HE wants to ask ME out. She was so busy grinning and mentally high fiving herself, that she nearly missed his question.
‘Ah, so do you want to? Go out with me I mean?’
‘Yes, yes I do want to. Very much.’
The two of them were so busy smiling at each other, that they almost walked straight into the rest of the group, who had found a spot along Hamer road where there weren’t too many people.
Lining up alongside each other, everyone was exchanging excited glances. Even Bridgette, who didn’t know Phil, was getting swept away with everyone else’s enthusiasm. They watched the road like hawks, clapping for all the runners as they strode past. There were people from all walks of life running, some young, some old, some in fancy dress, all with one common goal. Make. It. To. The. Finish.
‘Argh, I’m so fucking nervous for him,’ Petra said, as they clapped on another group of runners going past. ‘Where the fuck is he?’
‘There! It’s him,’ Suze shouted. Everyone peered down the road, at the constant stream of runners. ‘There – you can see his white t-shirt.’
‘Yes, I see him,’ Ellen clapped her hands in excitement.
Jenny looked for the white shirt, and picked him out of the crowd. Everyone started waving madly and calling out to him.
‘Phil, Phil, Phil….’ ‘Go Phil.’ ‘Woohoo, you can do it Phil.’
Phil, who had been wearing a serious expression as he puffed along the course, saw the group of them standing by the road and a huge grin lit his face. He waved at them all.
Jenny was so busy shouting and clapping, that it took her a minute to register Bridgette’s face. Bridgette was standing beside her watching Phil intently, and Jenny followed her gaze, trying to imagine what she might be thinking. Phil was laughing his head off at something Grayson had called out to him, and his blue eyes were saucer-round with happiness.
As he carried on past and they could no longer see his white t-shirt, Bridgette turned to face Jenny and asked quietly, ‘Was that him?’
Jenny nodded. She was about to say more, when Petra announced that they would move back to Victoria Park and find a spot somewhere along the finish line to watch Phil.
‘Does anyone want a takeaway coffee?’ Anthony asked, as they walked past a coffee vendor. Everyone nodded yes, except for Jenny, so they stopped to order their drinks.
‘Are you sure Jen?’ Anthony asked.
‘Yes. No. I mean yes, I am sure. Well, no I’m not. I’d actually love a coffee, but…’ she looked at the dreadlocked young man making the coffees, ‘…it’s just you wouldn’t believe what grows in dreadlocks. I think I’d rather take my chances with a bowl of port-a-loo water.’
Everyone laughed. ‘Roger that,’ Anthony smiled at her, and placed his own coffee order.
After drinking their coffees, they made their way through the crowds of people to the finish line – during which time Jenny stopped twice to hyperventilate. Grayson offered her a paper bag to breath into, but she said she’d probably have a heart attack worrying about what germs she was inhaling, so she politely declined.
Finally, they found a good position, standing beside each other along the last stretch of the race – if they looked to their right, they could see the finish line in the distance. The air of anticipation everywhere was palpable, and the crowds around them were cheering and clapping as runner after runner made it across the finish line.
‘Fucking hell,’ Petra wiped sweat off her brow, ‘I thought I was nervous before. Now I feel like I’m going to fucking faint!’
‘I know,’ Ellen said beside her, ‘the waiting is a killer.’
After half an hour, the group was starting to get edgy. What if he didn’t make it? What if he’d injured himself, and couldn’t cross the finish line?
‘Ah here,’ Grayson rubbed his hands together, ‘what if the poor lad isn’t going ta make it? Can ya imagine, fallen over somewhere knowing we’re all here, like.’
‘He’s going to make it,’ Jonty said with an air of certainty. ‘I just know he’s going to make it.’
Jenny, who was standing beside Jonty, smiled at him. ‘I think so too.’ Turning back to watch the race, Jenny felt something touch her hand. Looking down fearfully, hoping her hand hadn’t accidentally brushed against Jonty’s crotch, she saw Jonty’s hand was hanging beside hers, and they had bumped knuckles. She was still staring at his hand, when she saw his fingers open, and ever-so-softly move around hers. She looked up and saw the golden eyes were already watching her.
‘Is that okay?’ he whispered in her ear.
Jenny squeezed his hand and wrapped her own fingers around his. ‘More than okay.’
Bridgette, who had been standing behind them, noticed their hands. ‘Jenny Sullivan! Am I dreaming? My eyes must be bloody deceiving me. Are you holding a real live man’s hand?’
The rest of the group turned to see what the commotion was about. Jenny and Jonty grinned at each other, their hands still clasped.
Petra was about to comment, when Grayson suddenly let out a shout. ‘It’s him. There! There he is!’
All eyes turned towards the race, searching the runner’s faces for their friend. All at once, they saw him.
‘Jaysus,’ Grayson sniggered, ‘he’s not looking too chipper now.’
Rivers of sweat were running off Phil’s puce-red face, and his feet were plodding slowly and heavily along the concrete. Each step looked like it took a herculean effort, and Jenny found herself squeezing Jonty’s hand even harder. The tension of watching Phil approach was almost unbearable.
‘GO Phil!!!’ Suze shouted at the top of her lungs, and they all followed suit, shouting and whistling and clapping their encouragement.
Phil raised his head slightly, and acknowledged them all with the faintest of smiles.
‘You’ve got this Phil,’ Jenny yelled, hoping against hope that he really did have this.
As he plodded past, they kept up their shouts of encouragement, knowing the amount of energy it was costing him just to lift one foot after the other. Everyone turned to their right, watching Phil’s slow approach to the finish line, hardly breathing, only taking their eyes off Phil’s back to glance briefly at each other, acknowledging the hopes that they were all pinning on this race.
They watched him stumble slightly, about ten metres from crossing the line, and they all took a communal breath. And then he was there. He was over. He had done it.
‘Woohoo!!’ Anthony shouted, punching the ear.
‘Fucking hell, he made it,’ Petra was wiping tears from her eyes, and Jenny noticed most of them were doing the same.
‘Feck’s sake, that was tenser than a nun’s hole,’ Grayson muttered. The others started to laugh, but quickly had to smother their mirth when the father of two small children standing nearby glared at them.
‘Hmm, let’s make a move,’ Ellen said as she started to lead them away, ‘let’s go find the man of the moment.’
Jenny was loathe to let go of Jonty’s hand, but they were having to weave in and out of the tide of sweaty runners and ecstatic supporters, and she felt self-conscious holding onto him. She started to open her fingers, smiling up at him. ‘I don’t really want to let go.’
Jonty smiled in return, and held onto her hand even tighter. ‘Then don’t.’
They found Phil lying on the ground, breathing heavily and barely moving a muscle.
‘You alright there mate?’ Grayson asked as they neared him.
Phil raised his head slightly to nod, before letting it drop heavily back to the ground.
‘You’re a bloody legend Phil,’ Anthony said.
Phil’s friend Mason grabbed a bottle of water from his own bag, and handed it to Phil as he sat down beside him. ‘Awesome work, bud,’ he slapped him on the shoulder.
‘Ohhhh, don’t,’ Phil groaned, ‘I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck.’
‘Phil,’ Ellen reached down and patted him lightly, ‘that was fantastic, you were amazing. Well done!’
Everyone else agreed and murmured their words of encouragement.
‘I’m proud of you Phil,’ Jenny said to him gently.
Phil looked up at her, and noticed her hand in Jonty’s. If he was surprised, he barely registered it. He nodded at both of them, ‘I’m proud of you too.’
An hour later, Bridgette and Jenny arrived back at her car. Ellen, Jonty, Suze and Petra had parked nearby, and they had all walked together. Bridgette hopped into the passenger side and started doing up her buckle. Jenny was about to open her car door, when Jonty stopped her.
‘Jen, I have something for you.’ Jonty pulled an envelope out from inside his jacket, and held it up. ‘Do you want to put it in a plastic bag or something?’
Jenny smiled, and nodded sheepishly. ‘Er, yes I might, if that’s okay. What is it?’
‘It’s a card, from Neil.’
‘Seriously? How is he? Is he okay?’
‘He’s good Jen,’ Jonty grinned at her, ‘really good.’
‘That’s awesome! But why did Neil write me a card, and how come he gave it to you?’
‘Well, let’s just say I’ve seen a bit of him lately. He didn’t have your address, so he sent it to me and asked me to pass it on.’
‘Oh, wow, thanks.’ Jenny put the card in a zip lock bag in her handbag.
‘So, I’ll see you back in Hamilton then?’
Jenny was still smiling as Jonty walked away, and she hopped in her car. Bridgette was busy making kissing noises as Jenny did her seatbelt up.
‘Far out Jen, you have got it baaaaaad for that guy.’
Jenny bit her lip, and was about to reply when Bridgette interrupted her.
‘So, um… about this Phil. Do you think he’ll want to see me? Should I call him? Will you give me his number?’
‘Bridge,’ Jenny couldn’t help but laugh, ‘I’ve already given him yours.’