“It doesn’t count if you’re already planning your defeat, I’m telling you.”
Bronwyn avoided my eyes as she spoke to me. She wasn’t willing to let me lose. Not again. Not after what happened last year.
Her cold and shaking fingers clasped around mine, her teeth vibrating violently in the Autumn cold. My body was shaking uncontrollably, my ears numb, the tips of my fingers going purple.
Leaves of golden hue showered from the tall oak trees around us, our footsteps in unison, colors of Autumn dancing about our hair like snowflakes. They gaily landed to our feet, as our shoes crunched them flat.
Normally, I was one to respond, but I was just as scared as Bronwyn, so I kept my lips tightly sealed against the chilly Autumn breezes. Clouds were going about the sky, gray and lonely. I usually liked gray skies.
I checked my digital watch, peeling my eyes away from the lifeless sky and oak trees. 11:02, less than half an hour until the marathon. I quickly crunched the numbers, my point of vision concentrating onto the ground. Twenty-eight minutes. We would be at the track at 11:20. A sudden flurry of anxious panic flooded me, butterflies swirling up my throat, my stomach churning.
It was going to be just like last year. The year when my asthma hit. Right in the middle of the marathon a year ago, I had stopped breathing. I had fallen against the gritty pavement in agony, coughing my throat out. Bronwyn was there. She had been running right by my side. She had pulled her cell phone from her pocket. She had called the ambulance. She had held my hand the entire time, whispering to me anxiously. She had payed for me. The medication. The hospital bill. Everything, just for me.
Bronwyn wasn’t one to fall. She would never fall. She’s a champ. “George?”
I snapped from my empty daze, my head jolting upright.
“You’re so quiet today, George, what’s wrong?”
As if she didn’t know. I felt a humiliating lump swelling in my throat, tears filling my eyes. No. The last thing I wanted Bronwyn to see were my tears. Perhaps I could hide it. No, it was too late. I was crying in front of her. All this time, I had tried to be strong. I had tried to hold in my tears for her, but it was all rolling back to me, my fear and sadness overflowing what courage I had left.
Bronwyn instantly wrapped me in a hug, pulling me closer to her chest. Her warmth slowly flooded my body. She knew I was hurting. I knew she was hurting. Nonetheless, we were both afraid. Afraid of another asthma attack. Afraid that I might not make it to the end of the track. Afraid that I might not make it at all.
I sniffed, fighting back tears as she pulled herself away from our embrace. She was smiling. “George,” she sniffled, running her fingers across her teary eyes. “Remember in first grade, when I offered you a plastic container of play-doh and told you that it was chocolate cake?”
I would never forget that moment, when I had bitten into the play-doh expecting a flurry of delicious chocolate to flood my mouth, but instead the sour and disgusting taste of what it really was. Bronwyn was laughing. She playfully shoved me, as I emptied my mouth of the play-doh, chanting “Silly Goose”. I had later on gotten her back by giving her a container of pink play-doh and telling her that it was strawberry ice cream. She didn’t buy it. Not for a second. Bronwyn was too smart for me back then. It was in that glorious moment we became best friends. Amigos, as she liked to call it.
A weak smile etched over the corner of my lips. Leaves had fallen into Bronwyn’s frizzy tangerine hair, her caramel brown eyes sparkling in the icy Autumn winds. She was amazing. She was always there for me. Every single time. She was like a sister to me. I suddenly became endlessly grateful that she was here with me today, my smile slowly creeping up my face.
“Yeah,” I replied wearily, wiping my own eyes of their warm tears. “For the record, I don’t even like chocolate cake,”
Bronwyn smirked, a gentle burst of laughter escaping her throat. I managed to pry laughter from my throat as well.
The world appeared to be silent and still, gusts of wind pushing at the tips of my hair, my teeth bouncing up and down in the cold, my stupid grim plastered across my face.
The quiet beep of my watch vibrated at my wrist. 11:18, it read in its radiant green glow. I crunched the numbers. Sixteen minutes. Had only sixteen minutes passed? The time in the park with Bronwyn had felt like decades.
“Hey, listen,” Bronwyn whispered, gently nudging my side, causing my eyes to drift away from my watch to meet hers. “We don’t have to run track this year. If you aren’t okay with it, I’m fine.”
The marathon was at eleven-thirty. We would arrive there at eleven-twenty. Two minutes until we had to be at the track, twelve minutes before the marathon in total. A marathon was twenty-seven miles.
I dragged my old sneaker across the gritty stone ground, hands in pockets. My eyes instantly darted to the floor.
Bronwyn had been waiting her entire life to run a marathon. I knew that I needed to be strong for her. I wasn’t going to bail just because of fear. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. The sentence rang in my ears. Bronwyn was a champ. A daredevil. She had waited her whole life for these twenty-seven miles, and I wasn’t about to ruin this extraordinary opportunity for my best friend. My amigo.
In second grade, Bronwyn had dared me to climb on top of the monkey bars at the playground. “No,” I had said firmly, crossing my arms, turning my head away from her. “You chicken?” She had asked me, sticking her nose in my face. At the time, I didn’t know what “chicken” was, but I assumed that it was some sort of offensive insult. “Okay, I will,” I had promised after a long moment of silence. I ended up breaking my wrist. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me, but I remember Bronwyn leaning over as she signed my cast whispering “Guess you’re not chicken after all,”. Those words had made it all worth it. Everything was worth it if I was making Bronwyn happy.
“George?” She asked, tapping my shoulder. Everything was worth it to make her happy. Now or never. I shoved the words up my throat before I changed my mind.
“Let’s do it,” I said, raising my eyes from the ground, smiling sheepishly. Bronwyn’s eyes widened with gratitude, a smile playing at her lips, her once empty and sadened eyes immediately sparking with life. She was happy, so I was happy.
“Really?” She murmured, her broad and gorgeous smile creeping up her face. I nodded, inhaling deeply as I my body shook in the cold. I didn’t feel afraid anymore. I wasn’t afraid anymore. Stupid asthma. I smirked. I felt Bronwyn’s hands wrapping around mine, her warmth spreading across my purple fingers, slowly up my arms.
“Well, then, what are we waiting for?”