Geoff says he’s sorry, but he’s not going to touch me tonight. My feet are on his lap and his arm weighs them down. He’s doing that thing he does when he sprints—curling his lower lip above his upper, exhaling hair away from his eyes. Those eyes. They’re half the reason I’m here, the way Geoff slants them toward me at running club; the angle of seduction, I call it. Geoff’s been my sure thing for over a year. No strings. I rub my toes around in his crotch just to see if he’s serious, but he folds my legs into a V, sets them down on the couch between us.
I’m surprised you called, he says. He stares at my hand. It’s a pear-shaped diamond. Almost a full carat, but it’s flawed. The colors from Geoff’s TV reflect off its facets like a kaleidoscope.
I always call ahead. I smirk at him. You hate spur-of-the-moment sex.
Geoff leans away from me. This is stupid, Mercy. You have to talk to me. For real.
The thing is, I want to talk to Geoff. I want to tell him why I said yes—it was an honest-to-God reflex, a reaction to the knee-bend and the jewelry box and restaurant cheers and then, BAM! The holy-shit reality. I want to tell him why I’m sitting here, with him, the most focused and logical person I know, instead of with my oopsy-daisy-fiancé, but it feels wrong, all this sitting when Geoff and I are so much about motion—running, sprinting, even our sex is about forward progress.
Want to go for a run? I ask.
Geoff’s street is steeper than any we’ve attempted on our Saturday morning club runs—it’s a nightmare triangle—and so I fall behind. I watch him as he jogs out up Grafton Hill, his shoes barely striking asphalt. He’s a natural runner, not a forced one. Running’s always been a grind for me. Just go. Move. No technique no matter how many tips I get from pros like Geoff who study this stuff. Now I see the flaw in this, my general lack of a life plan. Who would’ve thought spontaneity could lay such a trap?
At the top of Grafton Hill, Geoff bends and grabs his knees. He pants with an open mouth and waits for me to catch up. I’m glad to see this is hard for him, too.
You trying to kill me with your neighborhood trek? I ask.
Geoff reaches for me. I offer the hand without the ring. Let’s sprint the downhill together. He squeezes my hand. But at the bottom, you’re talking to me.
The night air is cool but today’s sun is still radiating up from the street. We fly. I’m all legs. I force my brain to focus on pace and core position, and when we bottom out, I’m spinning in an endorphin high. Geoff stretches his calves on the curb. For a minute we stand on the curb together, pulsing our heels up and down, silent.
I said yes.
Geoff is breathing like a metronome, even and controlled. I didn’t even know there was the possibility of a question.
There’s a waver in his voice that could be hurt or anger, a 50/50 shot. Except I want to know, I want to be sure which way he is leaning before I decide if I’m going to tell him the truth or a lie.
Why didn’t we ever date? I ask.
Geoff hops off the curb. You’ve got to be kidding me.
He pulls me so close, I can feel his sweat through my tee-shirt and on my legs. It’s almost like being in bed with him, how his heat moves around on my skin, except in bed it’s impossible to keep track of both his breath and tongue. Here, at the bottom of Grafton Hill, Geoff is both possible and impossible at the same time; if it’s anger or hurt or fear or confusion that he’s feeling, it is all of these things, all at once, inside me now. Wasn’t it me who’d said, Nothing serious? Can’t be tied down? Wasn’t it Geoff who’d said, If that’s what you really want?
It’s something, the way Geoff’s steady pulse has calmed me down. How my breath’s returned to me. I reach around Geoff’s waist and feel for that pear-shaped diamond. The point of it digs into the tip of my index finger as I turn it around to face the palm of my hand. I break away from Geoff and start to run, slowly, back up Grafton Hill. I count my footfalls, focus on smoothing out my stroke. My hair falls in front of my eyes and I exhale upwards, watch it fly.
Michele Finn Johnson’s work has appeared in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, DIAGRAM, The Adroit Journal, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated several times for The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions. Michele lives in Tucson and serves as assistant fiction editor at Split Lip Magazine. Find her online @m_finn_johnson and michelefinnjohnson.com.