The summer heat is creeping in but the Pasque flowers are still in full bloom, a gentle reminder of Spring. RUNNER was slow to return to the road but next week he will run his first race since the accident. She is still with him, in spirit only, and he can feel her running alongside him whenever a strong breeze passes. This certainty calms him on the nights when he finds solace in nothing else.
It is the morning of the race and he knows that she is near. RUNNER is at the starting line explaining the back of his shirt to a few curious volunteers. Just below his shoulder blades, there is picture of a red-haired woman standing in front of a houseboat, waving. Above the picture, his shirt reads: TO MILE 23 AND BEYOND.
35 and rainy, he thought, not exactly the best conditions to break 3:10. RUNNER is focused and clear-headed, determined to beat his personal record. He covers the first two miles in less than 10 minutes. Then he sees her.
Breaking records takes a backseat and he slows his pace to run with her. She looks over, mildly curious and doesn’t seem to mind. After twenty-three miles of running alongside each other, he’s half-serious when he asks, "would you ever consider living in a houseboat?” He immediately thinks to blame the outburst on a runner's high, but she has already said yes and is only half-kidding. Later that day and for many years to come, she would go onto tell her friends that the only reason she made it to mile 23 was in hopes he would ask her out.
It was love at first run and there was no time to walk. RUNNER has been through two failed marriages and he wants this time, the last time, to be intimate and bare. He decides to take her running along the beach. Hearing her breath turn heavy, he won’t make her wait this time. Right before the path veers away from the water and becomes steep leading into the hills, RUNNER stops and pulls her towards him. He drops down and steadies himself and with a half-melted blue raspberry ring pop, the same candy they had after their first marathon, he asks her. This dear girl before him, with her messy red hair, slides the ring on with a smile so big the ocean could fit inside.
They decide to splurge and forego the choppy waves for a night to celebrate. The couple rents a modest hotel room with a kitchen and cooks their favorite dinner: scrambled eggs and chocolate mousse. The meal was a microcosm of what their life would become, unique and simple with grand swirls of flavor.
It was a colorless and wintry Thursday when the driver flew past the stop sign. He saw a clear road despite her tangerine reflective running suit, a gift from RUNNER.
"You’re on the road so much now, I want to make sure you're safe,” RUNNER said.
His wife opens the box, moving quickly with excitement. “I absolutely love the color. I won't be able to wait until Spring to wear it."
Now, RUNNER is standing next to her in the hospital bed with their fingers intertwined. She has lost too much blood and, after putting up a heroic fight for 6 days, her heart stopped. Looking at her for what may be the last time, RUNNER touches his wife's smooth cheek with the back of his hand. Like molten lava, bitterness bubbles up from the center of his stomach to his mouth. He purses his lips to keep the sobs below the surface. His eyes capture a burst of images as they dart from ebony eyelashes to pale pink lips to freckled hands. She looks ethereal and stiff, like a porcelain doll, but she is more real to him than anything or anyone else.