The muscles in his legs ached from the strain. His breath was coming in ragged gasps. No, he wasn't having sex. He was jogging. It always felt like this at the beginning of the running season. He swam in an indoor pool for winter exercise but every spring he had to retrain his body for a different form of cardio workout.
The most enjoyable part of jogging - after surviving the torture of the first few runs - was the scenery. The town had some lovely trails that wound through wooded areas and parkland. The multitude of female joggers and sunbathers never entered into it. Perish the thought!
On this day such thoughts truly didn't enter his mind. It was all he could do to avoid coughing up a lung. He almost staggered up to a park bench. This one happened to be a regular rest spot for him to hydrate, snack and sometimes feed the army of geese, ducks, squirrels and chipmunks that expected - nay - demanded handouts from anyone who sat down.
On this day though there was someone sitting on 'his' bench. She looked to be about 13 or 14 and seemed huddled over as if hiding from the world. She had that beautiful hue of natural red hair, somewhere between auburn and true red, long and wavy. Her complexion was that of a redhead; very fair skin with just a light sprinkling of freckles so as to confirm her hair color. She was dressed in that nondescript uniform of teenagers: jeans and a baggy shirt.
He sat at the other end of the bench hands on his knees, head down breathing heavily. Periodically he would take a swig from his water bottle as he allowed his heart rate to slow from heart attack level. As he sat there he noticed her sidelong glances at him. It seemed like she was partially miffed he had intruded on her solitude, partially concerned he might be some creep who attacked lone girls in a park.
He paid her no mind as he fished about in his pack for some trail mix to snack on. The local wildlife saw a free lunch and immediately started a stampede to get the best spot for a hand out. The geese being the biggest staked out the prime real estate while the ducks hung about the edges. The squirrels and chipmunks decided a sneak attack from behind was a better tactic. All stared intently at the bag of trail mix.
Being a big softie he took a handful of nuts and sunflower seed, scattered it in front of the bench and watched them all fight over it. His little bench neighbor noticed too. She watched the gaggle of animals flapping and squawking. He saw the barest trace of a smile on her lips.
"What a bunch of moochers" he exclaimed in mock annoyance; making eye contact with her. Her eyes were a lovely brown... hazel he thought they called it. They matched her hair and complexion perfectly. But there was sadness in them. If her lips had a ghost of a smile, her eyes had none. This girl had troubles in her life.
He was not one to get involved in other peoples trouble and even if he would, this seemed problematic. A strange man trying to talk to a vulnerable young girl? You can't do that these days. So they sat in silence - except for the wildlife - for some time. They were aware of each other, seeing each in the periphery but not really acknowledging the other.
He finished his water, and with the help of the animals, the trail mix and got up to finish his run. As he did he gave her a nod goodbye, looking into those liquid brown eyes. She smiled slightly again as he jogged away.
Even though it got harder every year, it was a little easier each day he ran. Today he huffed up to the bench slightly less winded; legs a little steadier. Though that day he found he had the bench to himself. He felt a little disappointed the little red head was not there. The trail mix moochers were out in force, however.
He was beginning to feel optimistic about surviving this running season. As he arrived at the park bench he was pleased to see his silent little friend there. They nodded to each other as he sat down. As he started tossing out nuts, the spectacle of the birds and squirrels flocking around seemed to cheer her ever so slightly. They both reacted with amusement at the animal antics. He noticed when she laughed her entire face lit up. She could never be anything other than beautiful but seeing some little bit of happiness transformed her into something magnetic... something very special.
He broke the ice by asking her if she would like to feed them, holding out the trail mix. She took the bag and tossed some out. They watched the feeding frenzy continue. She looked at him and asked in a small voice why he was eating 'animal food'. He chuckled softly and told her it was health food, making a sour face as he said it. That made her laugh. She truly was a beauty. She had a pert upturned nose, soft lips that needed no lipstick, and cherubic cheeks on an elfin face.
"You can try some if you like. It's really not too bad", he tells her.
She reaches in and takes a small handful. Smelling it first, she took a cautious taste. She seemed to consider it as if she were a wine connoisseur about to pronounce on a rare Chablis.
"It's ok, I guess". She takes another handful.
"I'm glad you like it. I made it myself", he says, puffing my chest out in faux pride. This elicits another giggle and another one of those wondrous smiles.
She handed it back to him and says; "Thanks Mister.....?"
"Greg, you can call me Greg. And your name is?"
He offered his hand and they shake so as to cement their being on a first name basis, hell, ANY name basis.
"Do you run here every day?" she asked.
"Not everyday, usually every two or three days. When you get to be my age you have to recover from these exertions."
"You're not old!" she responds with sincerity.
"Forty three this year. How old are you?"
"Twelve. I'll be thirteen in September", she answered
He does a little arithmetic in my head, "So that would put you in grade 6?"
"Yup. Almost finished. I just come here in the morning to wait for school to start"
He asked her "Why can't you wait at home?"
That seemed to strike a nerve. Her face clouds and he can almost see her withdraw emotionally. Quickly he says: "Never mind, it's none of my business" They sit in silence for a few moments. Then Greg stretches a bit and makes to get up to resume his run.
"Well, Sara, it was a pleasure to talk to you. I hope we see each other again."
"Thank you for the trail mix. Mister... Greg."
Greg thought that he must have been getting back into proper form. He was barely breathing hard as he reached the park bench. The weather is warmer and Sara has taken advantage. In place of jeans and a baggy shirt she is wearing white terry cloth shorts and a black spaghetti strap top. She jumps up when she sees him approaching.
This is the first time he's seen much of her figure. Sara is on the cusp of puberty. Her breasts are beginning to form and fill out. She might just barely be an A cup. The top shows off the curves her body is developing. He can't help but notice the very feminine hips, the arch of her back as it swells in to pubescent buttocks. She is truly somewhere in-between: no longer a child, but not yet a woman. Greg judges her to be just shy of 5 feet tall and maybe 100 lbs.
"Hi Sara. But please just call me Greg. 'Mr. Greg' makes me sound like a gay hair dresser." That makes her laugh, her cheeks dimpling. They took their seats on the bench, perhaps a little closer together, and fall into an easy conversation as they feed the animals.
She talks of her trepidation of going to a new school in the fall, how stupid the boys in her class are, how annoying the girls are. Greg tells her about himself. Running is his main hobby, his work - he is a consultant who works from home, which allows him the freedom to do things like jogging and swimming when he feels like it. He tells her of his dog, a big lab/collie mix, Belzer, and some of his more annoying clients. One thing she shies from talking about is her home life. Greg did not pry and let it be.
He was also surprised to discover how knowledgeable and well read she is. When not at school or the park she usually spent her time at the public library for both books and the Internet. She seemed to have an insatiable curiosity about almost everything. They talk of news, and politics. She is actually aware of world events outside of the North American celebrity pap that passes as news. As finance is his field they talk about the European debt crisis, the Chinese economic slowdown. He is startled to find out how articulate and aware she is.
Neither is aware how much time has passed until suddenly Sara realizes she will be late for school and Greg that he must hurry home to get ready for a client meeting. They both say goodbye reluctantly. His eyes linger on her petite form as she walks away. She looks back at him as he jogs down the trail.
As Greg jogged through the brilliant morning sun, he wondered if Sara would be there. She was such a delight to talk to, so full of youthful curiosity. It became the reward for completing his runs. Indeed he started out earlier so that he could be nearly finished by the time he reached their bench.
As she walked through the park Sara hoped Greg would be there. He wasn't like her classmates or even other adults. He liked to talk about real things, not the infantile excitements of the boys and girls in her class, not even the adult gossips of 'In touch' and 'People' magazine.
Serendipity ruled as they arrived at the bench at the same time. They greeted each other warmly. It had become the highlight of their respective days. Settling in Greg asked, "So what shall we talk about today?" They fall into conversation effortlessly. She is ferocious in her inquisitiveness. He is almost at a loss to answer all her questions and found her comments insightful even for someone twice her age. At the same time he can't help but notice her other charms. She is wearing a denim skirt and white tank top. He wonders if it is his imagination or if he really can see her changing into a woman before his eyes. Are her breasts a little larger? Her hips a little wider? He stops himself from going any further.
For Sara those hours on the bench are the highlight of her day. She felt so comfortable with him. The easy banter and more importantly discussing serious things engaged her. Sara began to check him out furtively, noticing his legs, his chest. He was tall - about 6'3 - and fit. It must be all the running. His hair is cut short and light with a just few strands of gray. Normally he is sweaty and grimy by the time he arrives but that seems to make him more attractive, more masculine: that and his intelligence. She considered and thought: "Greg is a good person".
As they share his trail mix between themselves and the squawking animals Greg notices she seemed especially hungry, eating a large amount of the trail mix. She saw the question in his expression and said shyly "Sorry. I didn't get breakfast today".
"That's ok", he says airily with a smile. "These moochers can do without." gesturing to the animals. He pushes the trail mix over to her. She smiles softly and he melts into those lovely eyes. They sit in silence for a bit before he works up the courage to offer; "Would you like to go get breakfast? I'm pretty much finished my run"
She considers it for a moment. "I better not. Thank you but I should be going".
"Maybe another time then. It's really nice talking with you, Sarah"
"For me too. No one else I know likes to talk about these things. Will you be back tomorrow?"
Greg hadn't planned to but he could not resist. "I think so. Same time? Same place?"
"Of course!" she said with feeling.
He watched as she stood and dusted the trail mix crumbs off her skirt. He can't help but admire the line of her thigh and calf. He noticed that she was wearing flip-flops and her toes had a red nail polish as she walks away. She paused, and then turned to wave and give him another one of those smiles that lights up her whole face.
The next day instead of just trail mix Greg prepared a couple sandwiches for his pack in case she skipped breakfast again. Arriving at the bench he was pleased to see her already there in her usual spot. He took his place next to her. He made an exaggerated sigh as if the run was more tiring than it actually was. They greet each other warmly and fall into their normal routine of chatting and feeding the animals. He broke open his breakfast of sandwiches and offers her one.
She looks at him with those eyes - those beautiful eyes - in appreciation but maybe a little embarrassment. "Thank you Greg but you don't have to do that."
"Nonsense. The truth is I never knew anyone who liked my trail mix so I thought maybe you could stomach my sandwiches. Truth be told - " He lowered his voice to a fake whisper "I cook like a man"
She giggled at his mock seriousness and tries the sandwich. "It's good, but I wouldn't call making trail mix and sandwiches cooking" she said with a sly mischievousness.
Greg "Harrumphed" at the slight but smiled back at her. Today she was wearing tan Capri pants and a halter-top. He noticed for the first time that she may well be a little on the thin side, her swelling breasts and buttocks notwithstanding. Perhaps missing breakfast was a more serious problem for her.
They talk airily about this and that: Big world events and the minor annoyances of life. She finished the sandwich and so he breaks the second on in half to offer her. She takes it with a smile of... not gratitude so much as genuine warmth and affection. At times they say nothing at all. They just enjoy the serenity of the parkland.
Once again they were unaware of time passing so that Sara had to hurry to make it in time. Greg sat watching her as she left. Her hips swayed almost hypnotically as he stared at her buttocks, exaggerated by the cut of the Capri pants.
Jogging three days in a row was starting to wear him down but the reward is worth it. He found that any daily stresses and petty annoyances seem to melt away in their time on the bench. Today is no different as they share conversation and lunch but he does have something on his mind.
At a pause in their chat he broached it: "Sara, I don't want to pry but I am a little concerned about you. I'm happy to bring these snacks for us to share but I'm worried why you don't eat properly at home..."
He saw her defenses start to go up but pushed on. "It's none of my business, I know, and I'm not asking you to tell me about anything you're uncomfortable with but... I have to go away on business for a few days and I know I will worry about you."
She huddled in on her self and whispered in small voice; "I'll miss our time here but I will be ok. I can take care of myself."
"I know but will you let me help you a little? For my peace of mind?" He stared at her until she returned his gaze. She saw only his concern for her in his expression.
"I...I guess", she said with a faltering voice.
Greg reached into his pouch and took out three $20 bills. "Here. You can get breakfast everyday."
She looked at him uncertainly, "Th-thank you. But this is just a loan."
Greg worried about Sarah regardless. When not actively worrying he found that he simply missed her. He wondered how in the hell she had become so large in his life in just two weeks. After returning from his trip he was impatient for the next morning to come. He busied himself with various domestic chores, picked up Belzer from the kennel and caught up on work.
He woke extra early the next day with an excess of energy. It was a good thing he had his run to burn it off. As well the thought of seeing Sara again made him fairly fly along the trails. As he neared the bench he saw her there already, waiting for him. She was as excited as he was and fairly jumped up as he approached. She ran to meet him and gave him a hug. He found the sensation of her slight body against his electric. He could feel the delicate softness of her breasts against his abdomen. Returning the hug, his hands came to rest on the small of her back just above the flare of her buttocks. Her cheek rested on his chest. He nuzzled his face in her auburn hair.
She felt the electricity of their touch as well. Sara could feel the dampness of his perspiration but that only made him feel more real. She was a little disappointed when he broke from her. He was a little embarrassed at the sensations he was feeling, the desire he felt. They sat on the bench gazing into each other's eyes, with silly grins.
"How was you're trip?" she asked, her voice betraying the joy she felt to have him back.
"Boring, boring, BORING!" he said, "I swear none of them understand global financial trends any better than a sixth grader." He winked at her.
Sara made an indignant squawk at his little joke, then as if remembering she reached into her pocket and fished out $40; "Here! I didn't need that much." He took the proffered bills. He didn't want it and certainly didn't need it but he knew to refuse would belittle her gesture.
"So, what did I miss?" he asked as they settled into their old routine. She prattled on, trying to get out four days worth of life in one sitting. He listened attentively as always but found himself admiring her form and remembering the sensation of her hug. Today she had worn jean shorts and a t-shirt. Again he wondered if it was his imagination but she seemed to be less thin. Perhaps there was more color in her cheeks, less wan. Or maybe it was simply her good cheer and excitement.
They stayed longer on the bench so that Sara was - not almost late - but missed her entire first two classes. As they got up to leave she spun around quickly and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Thank you so much" she said, and sprinted away towards school. Greg stood for a moment watching her recede.
He sighed and thought; "Where were you 30 years ago?" Not even a gleam in her parent's eye was the answer, of course.
At home he took out an impatient Belzer to do his business. He used to run with him and kill two birds with one stone but as his endurance grew he found the dog could not keep up. But being a dog Belzer didn't have the sense to stop running. The vet had told him that dogs would literally run themselves to death just to stay with their master so he no longer accompanied Greg on his runs. The geese and ducks seemed to prefer it at any rate.
Then Greg had an epiphany.
Still, very good for a first time. Better than my first effort.
I am not trying to be overly critical, but helpful. I like the story and your pacing, which is why I stopped to make suggestions. Thanks for the story, please continue.
About the tenses: I started out writing it in present then decided past would be better. However my editing was/is imperfect and I still sometimes lapse to present.
About the narrative perspective: Same story. I started out 1st but then changed my mind to 3rd but still made boo-boos.
I could re post my edited Part 1 as I tend to tinker with such details after the fact but I don't know what the website's policy is for that.
Thanks again for the feedback, Wanderer
Review this story: