Kona can choose Hale or Aubrey.


2. Chapter One




I think running is a little too painful.

Quite satisfying, a bit exhilarating, but definitely painful. There's a kind of hopelessness in wondering when you should stop running, while simultaneously being desperate to continue. Finish lines and finished roads make running easy, but it's a continuous circle that will drive a runner mad. The idea you just have to keep going, without an end, is the most difficult way to run. 

You feel the slow burn in the back of your legs, and the deep fire in your lungs that scorches up to your throat. A screaming by your ears that syncs with the wind, and a stinging, singing by your eyes that makes your vision uncertain. Stitches aren't too bad - it's ironic that they're normally used to patched up wounds, when you feel like they're opening new ones. They go away. 

The burning doesn't. Even when it'd cold outside, and you wonder if you'll even warm up, the burning just arrives. It runs by you and doesn't leave even after you stop. It chokes you up like smoke and ash, but sets you alight like flames themselves. That's painful. You never get used to it. 

Sometimes I run because everything else seems impossible, and sometimes I run just because I want to. Either way, it's a choice - not a game, or a race, or a timetable or a number or a win or a lose. It's just running, which is the way it should be. Turning a freedom into a cage is exactly how you turn love into hate: I've seen it before, and it hurts to watch. Which is why you shouldn't run with other people, or run against other people, because it becomes a calculation, an assessment, and hell knows we already have enough of that. You should run alone.

I don't think many people know that I run. I don't want them to, because I'm not very good at it. I ache all over, the human version of pins and needles, and I don't run for very long. If someone knew I ran, I might stop. I don't watch anyone else run - it isn't interesting. And I don't even want to get better. I think about running a lot, but I don't talk about it, consider it, analyse it, calculate it. If I did, it would become confusing. 

And it's simple. 

I slip in the back door of our standalone house, and fiddle a little with the cold key. It numbs my fingers like icy water, and it hardly seems to fit in the lock, despite the fact it is most definitely the right key fitting inside most definitely the right lock. I kneel down, and finally it clicks satisfactorily. I leave it hanging from the hook, like it was before I left. 

I drop my shoes into a shoe box, and close it neatly, and place it by all the other wood shoe boxes. Then I walk purposefully, but slowly, through the house. Our floor doesn't creak, or maybe I've just got better at not walking so heavy-footed. It could be my running - or an alright job by the builders. I'm not sure. 

I rub my eyes, not because I'm  tired, but because I'm still blinking tears away sporadically. Am I crying? Kind of. I don't know why. I sometimes cry when I'm running because it's a relief, and because i have so much pent up insanity in me that it can't all be held in. Sometimes, because I'm happy, and I wonder if it's just the wind, and not me. I'm confusing, but I try and make me simple. I can be a calculation, and my running can let the numbers fly away.

I should not be sleeping, though I've had people tell me I should all my life. I'm not tired, and I'm too busy. If I sleep too long, I get groggy, and I hate feeling groggy. It's like you're all bunged up and depressed for no reason, and your head hurts when you stand up too fast, and you realise you've wasted ten hours of your life sprawled on a bed. 

Granted, sometimes my eyes get kind of crazy from staying up so late, and sometimes - at about eleven - I feel particularly shit, but those feelings go away. It's like running. Pass the point of pain, and you're okay. There's a kind of climax of tiredness that you have to stay awake through, and then it feels like it's the middle of the day again because you're so unsleepy. (I know all this because it's been a year since I evaluated my life properly and figured it all out. I matched up all the possibilities and advantages of staying up late and figured it was probably a better life choice.)

I check the time on the cooker. 4:03 am. A particularly early morning. I tap my fingers on the wooden bench, and wonder what to do. I could, perhaps, fake sickness to get a day off school, which would mean I could spend the day revising and learning more than hearing words out of a bland teacher's mouth. That would be a good strategy for Friday morning. Alternatively, I could make a food plan for today and then catch up on the next series of a new TV programme, which would mean I had the evening to do a comfortable bit of work, and then stay up all night and wait for the weekend to arrive. 

I narrow my eyes. Option 2 would be better, considering the bigger picture, because then I could stay off next week instead and spend three days at home. If I stayed off today, I couldn't fake sickness twice in two weeks, so I would waste the opportunity. 

I flick on the coffee maker and pull a screen out of the side cupboard. It switches onto One - a computerized voice droning through world affairs and politics that neither affect me nor help me, and I switch it immediately to Three, a slightly less high computerised voice leading me through the effects of the increase of temperatures for tundra animals. It's interesting, but vaguely disorientating, because the camera is zooming passed packs of wolves and spraying snow onto the lenses. It would be more effective if the cameras man should stayed a few paces back (and stayed still), which would probably be better for the animals and for the typical disorientated audience of wildlife TV.

The wolves are pretty. They're spattered pelts are a swatch of dark and light, grey tones melting into golds and russet browns, and occasionally a pattering of white over their shoulders. They're strong: I can see it in the way their paws smack the ground and their bodies brace for the impact. Their eyes are hardly noticeable behind the soft blizzard, and I only occasionally catch a flickering of amber. 

I wonder how close the camera actually is to them, and if they sense it. I wonder if they wish running was something they could do without the blinking of lights behind them. I wonder if they like running together, and if they have finish lines and finished roads waiting them. I think wolves live purposefully, which would be pretty satisfying. 

I press the coffee mug into my hands, and relish in the warmth. Going outside because you have to is so stressful. It's so bright and exposed, and it's so cold because I don't wear a coat to school because there isn't really anywhere to put it. I catch my face into the dark mirror, and realise how utterly miserable I look. My mouth is turned down and I have a permanent frown line between my eyebrows. I sigh. Oh God, how I can't wait to get out of this house. How I can't wait to have to stop living in a routine that doesn't suit me. 

I'm like a night owl. I want to walk around and eat lunch when the sun goes down, and I want to not have to go to school and I want to run around the house instead of just in the trees. I want to be able to frown all the time and not feel like I shouldn't look so grumpy and stressed out. I want to make my frown a symbol of my own happiness and let the world know I frown all the time. And then talk to no-one about so I won't have to care.

It's 4:20. The wolves are still running. 

I finish my coffee, and dump the cup into the sink. If I have time (which I probably will), and I'll clean it up and hide it in the back of the cupboard so none of my family can forget it's mine and use it. I almost laugh at myself. 

It's true, I'm childish. I frown and I grump like a thirteen-year-old finding freedom in the fact they can use puberty as an excuse for everything, and I hide my stuff and I want to do whatever I want. Really, someone needs to talk to some sense to me and give me a good hit in the back of the head to wake me up. Just, I don't have anyone who would be able to do that and not make me feel angry. And no-one even hardly knows I need a good waking up. There's just me who knows. 

I stop thinking, because my though process feels like it's just been dragged through the mud and then pulled through a hedge, which means all the leaves and brambles will have stuck because of the sticky mud. I wash my coffee cup now, and place it right at the back of the cupboard beneath a white mug that says my name it but has only ever been used my the rest of my family. I gave up trying to rescue it a long time ago.

I'm about to sit down and relax a little to try and understand these continuously running wolves a little better, but I'm stopped short by my phone beeping. I pick it up from the bench and find a text from Mari: meet me early?

I stare at the letters, and it takes me a couple of seconds to understand the words. I'm not in top shape this morning, obviously. The words form their own meaning, and I finally pull myself together. Meet me early. That generally means Mari wants us to revise together before school, or she has a whole selection of very important things to tell me before the day starts - subjects either consisting of love interests or interests as a whole.

I plait my hair on both sides, and brush flyaway hairs smooth as best I can. Mari isn't too bad, I guess. I kind of like talking to her, and it's better than wasting away in front of a wildlife programme that possibly endangers the freedom of running wolves. I say probably, because I still don't know how close the camera is.

I pull my shoulder bag over my shoulder, and leave a note for Mum on the bench. I'm still not sure whether she's okay with Mari's insane new early morning schedules for getting stuff done (or mine, for that matter), but as long as I'm working hard, I don't believe she will mind too much. Mum won't be up until about nine o-clock anyway, so I seriously doubt she'll be missing me.










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