“10...9...8...7...6...5...4...3...2...1...Happy New Year!”
I clink my bubbling champagne glass to my girlfriend’s—at least, I think it’s my girlfriend, Molly. It looks like her...I think. Same wavy gold-blonde (or was it blonde-gold?) hair; same tall, slender figure; same sparkly silver party dress with spaghetti straps and sequins.
Yep, pretty sure it’s Molly…
But it’s so hard to focus with the bees buzzing around in my head and the music blasting so loud I can feel it throbbing underneath my feet.
It’s like I’m a kid again, strapped into the backseat of my mom’s junky old Buick as the night flies by at 45 miles per hour. I’m straining to stay awake, each muscle begging for sleep. My eyes blinking heavily, watering, and the lights flashing in blurring streaks of color.
It’s like that now—everything blending together until it’s unrecognizable. I’m just going with the flow, swaying with the pounding music, accepting a refill of champagne from Jim. Wait, Jimmy, I’ve probably had a glass too many—naw, I think I’m fine…
Finally, the music gets turned down. (Although...why doesn’t the throbbing in my head stop?). Someone’s arm loops through my own and guides me to the living room. I sit down on the couch and set my champagne glass on the side table next to it.
“What are your New Year’s resolutions?” Jim asks. “Let’s each go around and share one or two—”
“Drink more champagne!” I explode.
Loud laughter. A cool hand on my leg. Slender glasses raised to the sky. The ceiling, whatever. Voices.
“Run a hundred miles in a month!”
“Live life to the fullest!” That’s Molly.
“Spend more time with friends and family!”
“Get better grades!”
“Get a new job!”
“Get a house, not a crappy apartment!”
“Go to college!”
“Find a good church!”
“Work at McDonald’s!”
“Save money, spend less!”
“Hey, man, I think that’s everybody!” Jim says, casting a glance in my direction. “What’s your New Year’s resolution, Jack? It’s seriously not to ‘drink more champagne,’ is it?” He stares at me with a peculiar expression on his face. Horrified, maybe?
“Uuuhhh,” I stammer. “Um...run a marathon?”
There are hoots of laughter. People clapping...or slapping their knees?
“Hey, I play football! It’s not like I’m ‘out of shape’ or anything,” I defend myself. Except, I’m not good at football. I’m an offensive line blocker. But at least I’m not the worst, because I’m in no way mentally prepared to pick up everyone’s sweaty socks in the boys’ locker room.
Jim smiles. “You go for it, man!” But somehow he sounds amused, and not exactly supportive…
The music flares up again and Molly is pulling me to my feet.
“Let’s dance, babe!”
I’m dizzy. And I have a headache. And I’m tired. So tired. “Mooommm?”
“Yes, honey?” I hear Mom’s voice somewhere close, but I’m not really paying attention. My eyes are closed and my head is resting on the kitchen table.
“What day is it?”
“It’s January 2, dear,” she replies. Then she laughs. “I thought you’d remember that! Haha. How was your party, Jack?”
“Um, good?” I scratch the back of my head. “Think I drank too much.”
“Hmm, I didn’t notice.” Mom points a scolding look in my direction. “You’d better remember that next time. Being 21 isn’t as fun as you thought it was going to be, huh?”
I shrug. “We shared New Year’s resolutions.”
“Oh?” Mom actually looks interested. “What was your resolution?”
“I’m going to run a marathon!” I announce.
“Mom!” I complain. “Why is everyone laughing?” I cross my arms over my chest. “I’m actually going to do it.”
“Alright, you do it then,” she says, but I can tell she’s giggling.
It’s been two months since the New Year’s party, but the snow has already melted, seemingly gone for this winter. That’s what the local weatherman is predicting, at least. How reliable are they, though?
My feet drive a steady rhythm on the pavement, and I can see my steamy breath in the air. There are a few puddles that I easily dodge or leap over, and the sun’s smiling down at me.
I look down at my Smartwatch. I’ve already ran 4 miles today! Woo-hoo! And I’m almost home. I’m really looking forward to a Gatorade right now…
I glance down at my phone. Molly’s calling me. Again. Ugh. She already called me once during my run, and plenty of times last week, and the week before that, too. I press the red icon and tell myself, I’ll call her back later.
With a huff, my foot lands on the driveway and I collapse into the grass. I know you’re actually supposed to walk around or stretch and stuff, but I’m too out of breath and the grass feels so good.
A few minutes later, I hear the front door swing open. “Jack!” Mom calls. “Molly’s calling, hon.”
“Can she call back later?”
“Nope!” Mom replies. “She’s been waiting for you, Jack.”
My eyes fly open, and I pull myself to the feet. I limp. I’m so stiff. That’s why you stretch, I remind myself and take the ancient, bulging home phone from Mom’s outstretched hand.
“Hi, Molly,” I yawn, peeling off my jacket and placing my hat on the coat rack. “What’s up, babe?”
“Ugh! Finally!” Molly complains, but I can tell she’s smiling on the other end. “I’ve missed you!”
“Yeah, I mean…”
“You haven’t answered any of my calls!” she continues. “I’m kinda sad, to be honest! I love yah, Jack!”
“Love you, too, Molly.” But I’ve said that so many times in the past two years. It sort of loses meaning after a while. “I’m sorry, babe. I’ve just been busy with like, you know, running and stuff.”
“Running! It’s always running!” Molly says. “I mean, I love that you’re doing it...but like, I miss you! Can we, like, figure something out? When are your rest days?”
“I don’t really have a rest day…” I take a break sometimes, but there’s no exact day of the week.
“Well, when do you normally run? What times are you free?”
“Uh.” That varies, too. “It’s different every day.”
“Oh.” Molly seems disappointed. “Well, just call me when you can, okay?” She sniffs.
“Yeah, sure,” I say, but I’m really itching for that Gatorade.
The finish line is in sight, a big banner with the bold black letters: MARATHON. Six months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do this, wouldn’t have even tried, but I’m so much stronger now. I let that thought propel me forward the last hundred yards.
Cheering. Clapping (not knee-slapping, this time). Cow bells. And a “keep goooooing, babe!” That must be Molly.
I’m just about there. Five more steps, and I’m there.
Suddenly, a dude probably only a couple years older than me sprints ahead, soaring over the finish line a few seconds ahead of me.
“Yes, babe! Woo-hoo!”
I look around for Molly in the crowd, but she’s not here. The girl that’s yelling is a petite, strawberry-blonde girl who immediately runs up to the guy that passed me and wraps her arms around him even though he’s a sweaty mess.
“Honey!” Mom shrieks. “You did great!”
“Thanks,” I say, breathless. “Where’s Molly?”
She frowns. “Molly texted your phone,” she explains. “I said you were at the big meet.” She hands me my phone apologetically.
“Just read it for yourself,” she insists.
Molly: Hi Jack!
Me (Mom, actually): Hey Molly! This is Jack’s mom. He’s running his big race today.
Molly: Oh. That’s right.
Molly: So, this probably isn’t the best way to do this, but please just tell Jack that I’m really sorry.
Molly: Jack, I have been feeling kind of lonely here. And you’ve just been obsessed with running and your big race. So, I think we need to break up. I know it’s been two years, and I loved every single moment. Up until New Year’s. I just wanted to tell you this because my family is going on vacation next month, and I wanted you to know this before then. I’m really sorry, Jack.
All those warm, fuzzy, floating feelings from crossing the finish line fade, replaced by crushing disappointment that knocks the breath from my already-heaving lungs.
I guess I’ve come to the end of the road.