Lexi always got on Jess about leaving the house with damp hair, arguing that apparently “air-drying your hair by leaving your windows down on the drive to work” was not an acceptable form of hair drying.
Truthfully, Jess didn’t care much about her hair anyway. Mainly because she didn’t have a clue how to style it. The real problem was, Jess often argued to Lexi, there were few options when it came to fitting exercise into her day. She could: A. Wake up earlier; B. Jog after work; or C. Go to work with wet hair.
Option B was barely an option because Jess had to attend online college classes on most nights. And although she diligently planned for option A every evening by setting her alarm for the break of dawn, things never seemed to pan out the way she hoped; because as soon as she heard the blaring ringtone of her alarm in the morning, Jess would decide in her heart of hearts that she was truly fine with option C.
Jess patted Lexi on the shoulder and breezed past her to hunt for her purse in the living room, running habitual five minutes late for work again. Realizing that her badgering was not having the intended effect she hoped for, Lexi decided to take a softer approach as she followed Jess out of the room.
“Can’t you just run with a buddy?”
“Who?” Jess asked.
They both knew Jess was an introvert with a pathetic rolodex of contacts. Lexi, herself, only ever offered to go running with Jess one time. And it didn’t go well. The problem was that Lexi hadn’t ran since her middle school physical fitness test, and in less than a half mile, her heavy panting rapidly mutated into a full-blown asthma attack.
“What about Sean?”
It was sweet of Lexi to offer her boyfriend up as a sacrificial lamb. Admittedly, Sean was in great shape and could run circles around Jess, but she liked to keep her contact with Lexi’s hipster boyfriend to a minimum. Although Jess did her fair share of drinking at parties held at “1969” – the clever nickname for the dilapidated three-story home built in 1969 that Sean shared with three other dudes – Jess often made up excuses to get out of invites from Lexi to attend the more sober outings that included Sean.
“Nah, I’m good. Headphones are better than running buddies anyway,” Jess answered, finding her purse under a pile of Lexi’s clothes in the living room.
“Why don’t you try joining that running group again? The one where all the females where skorts. Oh, you would look so cute in a skort! We can go shopping for one this weekend.”
Jess balked at the idea of wearing shorts that are designed to look like a miniskirt. It felt like false advertising to her, like padded bras and fake eyelashes.
“Running clubs are too damn social,” Jess complained, now filling her oversized travel mug with coffee.
Crazy Cat Running Club was the name of the local running group; a group that Jess already tried to join when she and Lexi first moved to the city six months ago. But the club wasn’t a good fit for her. And visa versa. After doing some research on the internet, Lexi peer-pressured Jess to check out the popular local running group she found online. What Jess discovered when she arrived at the meeting point Lexi gave her was an entirely too enthusiastic crowd of spandex-wearing men and women in skorts.
Standing off to the side, Jess stretched while she skeptically watched how the operation worked. Bandanas. Water packs. Coffee-gel shots. These people were strapped. You would think they were about to run the route for the Bataan Death March based on their supplies, not run a flat three miles around downtown. As soon as the coordinator for the run, who was standing on top of an empty crate, blew his air horn, the buzzing mob began to move. Jess quickly hopped into the middle of the crowd, pressed in side by side with the other runners like a mouth full of bad teeth.
It was baffling how many people tried to start a conversation with Jess despite the headphones in her ears. Even more baffling was how everyone looked like they were running, but were actually moving at a walking pace. No long strides. No heavy breathing. Jess was pressed into a crowd that didn’t seem to be going anywhere, just bouncing up and down like they were an audience at a rock concert.
This was not how Jess enjoyed working out.
At the end of the run route, spouses and children perched along the sides of the road cheered the runners on as they were funneled under a large white banner inscribed with the inspirational message: Off the couch and onto the street, we run for fun, but also for treats! Jess didn’t like that either. She furiously pressed the volume button on her phone to turn up her music, hoping to drown out the applause, but the volume was already at full blast.
About to peel off from the group and head home to avoid praise from strangers for a mediocre achievement, something just beyond the corny banner caught Jess’ eye. As she moved closer, food stacked up on folding tables came into view. It was the most glorious breakfast spread that Jess had ever seen- nothing but mounds of donuts and beer.
These people were alright.
Jess made her way to an empty table that had been scavenged through already, but at least she wouldn’t have to fight off waiting family members who hovered over the more desirable items like a swarm of gnats. Under a stray napkin, Jess found a hidden gem. One unmolested powdery donut. The sugar called to Jess as she reached her hand towards it, only to see a second hand suddenly drift towards her prize.
“Would you like to join our table?”
Jess locked eyes with a perky, middle-aged woman who had cropped blonde hair and a hint of crazy in her eyes. Not crazy, crazy, but relentlessly cheerful type of crazy. Through her peripherals, Jess saw that written on the front of the woman’s pink tank top, in big bold letters, was the word “PRETTY”. Jess resisted the urge to roll her eyes while still making direct eye contact with the stranger. The question dangled in the air between them. Jess, however, was too distracted by the woman’s hand continuing to move ever so slightly below her own.
Without breaking eye contact, Jess thrusted her hand down past the woman’s and snagged the donut for herself. The woman’s wide smile was drawn into a pinched expression.
While scurrying back to her car, holding the donut to her chest, Jess glanced back to see the words “DARN SLOW” written on the back of the woman’s shirt. Jess let out an audible laugh as she opened the dented driver’s side door of the Buick LeSabre she inherited from her grandparents, realizing that she misjudged the woman.
The woman wasn’t pretentious, she was idiosyncratic.
And who am I to judge the offbeat? The quirky? The delightfully weird? Jess thought as she looked over at the built-in phone protruding from the center console of her car. A relic Jess affectionately referred to as her “conversation piece.”