The Start and the Finish are the Same

Submitted into Contest #50 in response to: Write a story about a proposal. ... view prompt

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Romance Funny

It’s 7:48 in the morning, and it is already hard to breathe. Why anyone in southern Texas would run a 5K in any month except January is beyond me. Actually, running is kind of beyond me. And yet here I am, for her. She is beaming despite the thick humidity. There is no sign of sweat on her gray racerback tank yet. It makes me conscious of the sweat beads forming on the small of my back. Jamie has always been into running. She has a Brooks shoe box full of medals in the back of her closet, and she always keeps the most current medal hanging on the rearview mirror of her Jeep Compass. It is currently a small yellow, purple, and green mardi gras mask that doubles as a bottle opener on the back. 

“So where is the finish line?” I ask.

Her blonde ponytail swings around, “The start and the finish are the same.” Jamie nods toward the giant inflatable gateway. “Don’t worry, there are so many people you will know which way to go. Besides, I am going to finish this one with you.”

“Thanks, babe,” I say.

“And I’ll finish the next one with you, too. Trust me, 5ks are like tattoos. You can’t have just one,” she smiles. Her hand slides into mine, and she leads me into the starting area. We are nowhere near the actual starting line. There are hundreds of people making their way between the inflatable gate and the metal barricades. Music is playing from huge speakers set up next to a large time clock that reads 00:00 in red numbers. 

Jamie lets go of my hand to fasten a safety pin that has come undone on the bottom, right hole of her racing number. I stick my hand in my pocket to feel for the hidden zipper inside. Still closed. Good. 

My hand is shaking when Jamie grabs it again. She gives me a reassuring squeeze. I am nervous for the race, but I will finish. I don’t even think I’ll be last to finish. There are plenty of folks filling up the space behind us who look like they have every intention of walking the whole thing. I am nervous about what happens after the finish line.

“ALL RIGHT FOLKS, WE ARE NOW JUST THREE MINUTES AWAY FROM START TIME. IF YOU ARE RUNNING THE 5K, PLEASE MAKE YOUR WAY TO THE START LINE. IF YOU ARE RUNNING THE 10K, PLEASE CLEAR THE AREA. YOUR RACE STARTS IN ABOUT 45 MINUTES.” The speaker’s voice is a fuzzy boom, and when he stops talking and the music returns an unspoken wave moves through the crowd. Every runner moving closer and closer to the front. I can feel my heart pounding, and we haven’t even started running yet.

Jamie and I move up a few more feet before the wall of people becomes too thick. She smiles at me and does a small jump. “I’m so glad you’re finally running with me! It only took what, four years of dating?”

I smile back at her, but I have a lump forming in my throat, so I stay silent. The speaker booms to life again. “OKAY RUNNERS! WE ARE NOW JUST SECONDS AWAY FROM START TIME. HAVE FUN! TEN, NINE, EIGHT, SEVEN, SIX, FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE!”

It’s really sort of a let down. We don’t move. The wall of runners in front of us slowly starts to inch forward. A few more seconds pass and now we are at least walking. Jamie gives my hand one last squeeze before letting go to set her watch. 

“Don’t worry about the clock,” she says. “We’ll keep our own time.” Her watch makes a quiet beep as we pass under the inflated archway. The music is almost too loud for a moment, then we are running. We pass a dad with a stroller, jogging along at a nice pace. And there are several people wearing red “Beef Loving Texans” shirts. Jamie is running slightly ahead of me, but she keeps looking back to make sure I am still there. I give her a thumbs up, but she slows her pace down anyway and runs by my side.

After a few minutes I begin to regret not bringing my headphones. My mind wanders to the only thing that can keep me from thinking about how much running sucks. What if she says no?

I glance to my left, and Jamie gives me a thumbs up. “When we’re done, I’ll buy you a nice breakfast,” she says. It amazes me as she speaks, not a breath out of place. Meanwhile, my lungs are feeling tight and my legs feel like jelly, but not from running. I just give her a head nod.

Jamie has never brought marriage up before, but well four years is a long time. Her mom is on her 6th divorce and her dad is on his 2nd. I remember Thanksgiving 2016 and 2017 with John at her mom’s side, Thanksgiving 2018 with Kyle, and Thanksgiving 2019 with Jamal. Jamal will not be spending 2020 with us. Christmas with her dad was lonely last year when his current wife, Karen, and he had separated.

If I can set a goal to pass three people per mile, then I will feel good about myself. Okay, lady in the beef shirt and neon socks, prepare to be passed.

Jamie always said how much she loved my parents. She’s said over and over how much she loves spending time with them because it’s a real family. She must want that, right?

Come on beef lady! Did you just pick up the pace? Really! Did you know I was behind you? I push myself to run just a hair faster, and I do pass the beef lady. Jamie goes to the woman’s left while I go to her right, but the feeling of success is short lived because at the sight of the water table at the half mile mark I have to stop. The beef lady does not. I gulp down the dixie cup of water while Jamie waits patiently. She refuses the cup they offer her.

“You good?” she asks.

I toss the dixie cup in the trash, “Yeah.”

“We’re making good time. My watch is at 5:33.” She runs slightly ahead of me. Watching her gives me the motivation I need to keep up. Jamie is beautiful, and she could be my beautiful wife. Finishing this race will show her to some extent I will be there for her like she is always there for me. Like when she gets off work and comes to the hospital with me to see my mom.

Okay, zeroing in on target. Target acquired, creepily muscular old man with high socks and a sweatband. Permission to pass said target. Permission granted. 

“You good?” Jamie says looking behind her. Sweat is actually starting to shine on her forehead.

I nod, “Just,” I pant, “thinking.”

I keep my eyes glued on the old muscle man who must be at least 70 years old for the next half mile. When I see the 1st mile marker, and I still haven’t passed him I start to panic. I can’t even out run an old man. How embarrassing. Does Jamie see him? Also, how has it only been a mile?

How many miles do you have to run before your nipples chafe? Is that a real thing? Does Vaseline know people are using it’s products for nipple protection?

A crowd of non-runners is posted up around the mile marker. They all have posters in their hands with words of encouragement. A little boy stands by his mom holding his hand out for high fives. His mom’s sign reads Go, Daddy, Go! We are so proud of you! Jamie runs off to the side to give the kid a high five, and I follow suit.

Old muscle man is even farther ahead of me now. I concentrate on my legs. Not on my lungs, which feel like the Sahara desert. Up, down, up, down. The Oompa Loompa tune begins playing in my head to up, down, up, down that’s what we do. I use tune to carry me past the old muscle man. 

Okay, I need a final target. Well, Jamie is my final target, but how about...I skim over all of the people who don’t look like they are about to pass out. Bingo. Couple wearing matching sweatpants on an 85 degree day, prepare to meet your maker. How long has it been? Did I miss the mile 2 marker?

I look up from the matching sweatpants couple to scan for the 2 mile marker, nothing in sight. I have time to pass them. My feet hurt. I wonder if my shoes are too small or if my feet are swollen.

What if she says no? 

The sweatpants couple has started walking. Now is my chance! I pick up my speed and pass them, only to quickly regret it and return to my nice slow and steady pace. Jamie looks down at her watch and gives me a thumbs up.

She won’t say no. She loves me. I love her.

I don’t notice the two mile marker until I hear the non-runners cheering again. I look up and immediately have to wipe sweat out of my eyes. One more mile. Yes, I can do this. Oh crap, one more mile. I look at Jamie who has slowed down to be at my side again. For the next mile my mind is blank.

I thank God when we turn the last corner and the inflatable finish line is in view. What is that? Like 200 meters? 400 meters? What the heck does 200 meters even look like anyway?

“Almost there!” Jamie says. Her voice is only slightly winded, and I curse my lungs that feel like fire.

“Do you want to sprint the last 100? I’ll race you!” she beams.

I can’t really deny her. It’s her day, and she doesn’t know it yet. So I swallow the fire in my lungs, and even though it still feels like coals are roasting in my esophagus I pick up the pace.

I’m way taller than Jamie so I keep pace with her, but each stride feels like it could be my last. Pretend you’re a robot. Your legs are not legs, they are coupling rods on train wheels. How freaking long is 100 meters?

“HERE COME MORE FINISHERS. REBECCA WARREN, THOMAS GRANGER, FRA-FRANKIE DIEST? DIEST.” The speaker calls out names as fast as they cross. The red clock is ticking numbers by, but I just stare straight ahead for the clearing where people pass out the medals. The race isn’t over at the finish line.

“JAMIE GARCIA, JAYDEN GRAY.”

“We did it!” Jamie yells over the speaker still reading off names. She turns to give me a high five, but my hand is in my pocket fumbling for the zipper. My fingers are so sweaty it is hard to get a grip on it. Crap. I pull my hand out and give her a high five so she doesn’t get suspicious. 

I finally get a grip and pull the small hidden pocket open. I collect my medal with my left hand while my right hand shakes in my pocket. Jamie is just one step in front of me. The sweat is glistening on her shoulders, and her hair is a frizzy mess. Won’t be the prettiest pictures. Will she be upset? And that’s if she even says yes.  I squeeze the ring in my pocket then let it go. My fingers are on the zipper again to close it when Jamie turns around.

“Thank you,” she says. “I know running isn’t your thing, but it means so much to me that you did it.”

Before I know what I’m doing I am pulling the ring out of my pocket and kneeling on the asphalt. Jamie’s eyes grow wide. 

“Jamie, will you marry me?” My voice sounds dry, like I decided to snack on a box of chalk.

“Yes!” she does a little jump in the air before sticking her hand out for the ring. It gets to the knuckle, and it won’t budge. Her fingers are swollen from the run and the heat. She laughs and pulls her hand away to shove it on herself.

An applause breaks out, and as I stand I see a crowd of sweaty runners have circled around us. Jamie wraps her arms around me, and I hug her back. 

“Babe, this isn’t the finish line; it’s only the beginning,” I say. Then I lean down and kiss her.

July 18, 2020 02:12

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7 comments

Phyllis Brown
18:40 Jul 23, 2020

Reedsy matched me up with your prompt to critique. I really enjoyed your story. The secret that you share with the narrator. Its truly a tale for the romantics. And I have to ask is this a true story? Either way great job!

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Jessica Buford
20:21 Jul 24, 2020

No, lol. I am a legally single woman. This story is not true, but I'm glad you liked it!

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Reeva Lalani
15:23 Jul 23, 2020

hey! reedsy matched me up w multiple stories like mine. you were one of them. apparently they would like me to critique/give feedback. so I read it and i'm gonna be honest. I loved this story. the details you portray are on point. and you nailed the proposal part. but, some of the details are a little cramped and hard for the reader to take it all in. and some of the punctuation is missing. but other than that, everything abt the plot pulled me in as a reader. so i was just wondering, you describe it so pleasantly that almost as if its true;...

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Jessica Buford
16:19 Jul 23, 2020

The running part yes, the proposal no. I run 5ks occasionally, and the weird thoughts that pop into your head while running are something I think almost any long distance runner can relate to! You do get weird ideas in your mind to keep going. I'm glad you liked it, and I'm sorry about the grammar! Of all my stories on Reedsy this was my least favorite. My boyfriend keeps telling me I only write dark stories, so this was my attempt at something a bit more pleasant. I had been kicking the idea around my head all week and put off writing it un...

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Reeva Lalani
19:13 Jul 23, 2020

oh haha thats crazy bc i love running too! like i get random thoughts of inspo for my writing usually when i go on a run, or when i'm in the shower lol. and as for the grammar, not a problem! we all make mistakes(especially me). and i love that u attemped this even tho it was out of ur comfort zone. the story turned out great! and as for the 5k runs, i've never done one. whats it like? and thanks for checking mine out! love the feedback. P.S. even i have put off a LOT of things till the deadline, dont worry ur not alone LOL.

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Jessica Buford
20:20 Jul 24, 2020

5ks can be fun. I recommend finding one of the unique ones, like a color run, or something with a theme, or a reward at the end (like food or beer, lol).

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Reeva Lalani
02:02 Jul 25, 2020

ohh fun! ty.

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