She knew it was him the moment he walked in the door. Audrey blushed a deep red as he mingled with the other townspeople in the coffee shop. Chandler hadn’t noticed the young barista behind the counter watching his every move. Audrey hadn’t seen him in 6 years, which wasn’t a lot, but it felt like forever to her. She fiddled with her apron and tried to distract herself. She wanted to go talk to him, but what about? What if he didn’t remember her? Recognize her? She turned around to go to the back room to think, but too late. He was walking to the front counter, and she was the only one on shift for the cash register. She blinked her green eyes and took a deep breath as the tall Chandler stepped up to the counter. His auburn hair glinted in the warm coffee shop lighting.
“Hello, can I get a mocha frapp, double espresso? Hold the whip.” He fished his wallet out of the pocket of his worn blue jeans.
Part of Audrey wanted to jokingly ask, “Hold the whip, but do you want the nae nae?” But her conscience stopped her. She couldn't joke like that. He didn’t recognize her yet.
“Ok, sure. That will come out to $6.54.” He handed her a five and two ones. She slowly dropped the change into his hand and looked into his face. He looked down at her. A quirky smile crossed his face. The one she remembered.
“I uh, I like your pin.” He pointed to the little metal pin shaped like a blue cappuccino cup.
Audrey’s smiling expression lost some of it’s light.
“Oh, thanks.” He nodded goodbye and turned to wait for his coffee. Then Audrey got an idea. Her eyes lit up.
“Hey! I like your shoes.” Chandler turned around to her and stared her down. She could tell his wheels were turning. He wore white and maroon tennis shoes. The same as he used to wear. His thick eyebrows were together, as if he was reaching far down into his memories. Suddenly that handsome smile crossed his face again in recognition. The memories of when he first met her came flooding back.
“Audrey?” He whispered.
6 years earlier…
Sweat dripped down Audrey’s forehead as she jogged down her dirt road. She kept to the right side of the road like her mom had always told her to. The day was hot, yet bursting with light and life. It was her freshman year of high school, and even though she was homeschooled, PE was mandatory. Audrey appreciated her long, red dirt road and used it as her track. She looked left and right at the little country houses she passed. She’d lived on Bickerstaff road for 7 years and still didn’t know all her neighbors. An older couple sitting on their porch waved at her as she ran by. She waved quickly and kept going.
She tried to jog smoothly over some of the rockier parts of the road. She passed another house. A boy with auburn hair that looked her age was messing around in his front yard. There was a big shady tree outside his barbwire fence, about 400 feet from his yard. Audrey was temped to stop, but didn’t want the boy to think she was weird. Her feet disagreed with her mind though. She veered off the road and sat down under the thick, leaf covered branches.
Whoosh. She let out a huff of carbon dioxide and pulled at her running tank. She scooted up behind the big trunk and peeked at the boy. He was pouring grass seed in his yard. He didn’t seem to notice she had sat down. She recognized him. Was it Chandler from 4-H club, maybe? He looked over. She jerked herself back behind the tree and hoped he had not seen her. Audrey peeked again.
“Oh no.” She whispered. He was walking to his gate. Audrey hugged her knees and tried to hide behind the trunk. She closed her eyes. She heard footsteps.
“Hi.” Audrey heard a male voice.
She looked up. It was Chandler from 4-H! She’d seen him around.
She blushed. She said the first thing that came to mind.
“I like your shoes.” She gestured to his white and maroon adidas.
“Thanks.” He smiled at the girl sitting next to his tree. “Hey, do you want some water?”
Audrey got lost in his dark brown eyes and missed his question. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Do you want me to bring you some water?” He asked again with a laugh.
“Oh! Thank you, that would be awesome.” Audrey breathed out.
Grinning, Chandler backed away, not turning around and watching her until he got to his gate.
Audrey sat back against the tree, smiling about her encounter.
Two minutes passed, and Chandler was back outside with two drinks, instead of one. He sat down by Audrey and gave her her drink and they sat and chatted. After about a half-hour, Chandler admitted that he had to get back to throwing out seed.
“Aw, really?” Audrey asked, standing to her feet slowly.
“Yeah. But can I ask you a question?” Chandler looked at her, a quirky smile crossing his handsome face.
“Yeah?” Audrey asked, a slight smile on her face.
“Can I run with you tomorrow?” Chandler’s was hopeful.
“Sure.” Audrey grinned. All she knew is she wanted to see him again, and here was her opportunity.
The next morning, Audrey set out to Chandler’s gate where he was waiting patiently. They ran together down the road, and back up again, waving to all the neighbors, talking freely as friends. But the more they ran, the more they liked each other. And soon Audrey’s best friend Rose found out about their little runs, and so did Chandler’s best friend Elliot and it became the topic of both of the pair’s sleepovers.
“Ugh, Audrey it’s just so cute! You run with him! Together!” Rose poked Audrey as she told her the details of their adventures every morning.
“It’s really fun. We just talk and run and talk and run. I feel like I’ve known him forever.” Audrey brushed her long blonde hair and laughed as she and her friend chatted.
“Dude, you asked if you could run with her, and she said ‘sure’? Wow, I knew you’d be popular, but wow.” Elliot cried to Chandler as they swung on Elliot’s back porch swing.
“Yeah, but I feel like she’s my best friend. No offense man, but we can talk about pretty much anything. We just talk and run! Exercise and socialization. I really like her, man.” Chandler pushed the swing to go higher.
Over the next few months, Chandler and Audrey’s friendship strengthened. In school, on the weekends, on the phone, they talked. For a year they talked about their faith, their likes and dislikes, their family, their pets, their dreams. They both knew that they liked each other, but never really addressed it directly. Neither wanted to be ‘together’, just friends. But deep down, they knew.
Late in the year that they met, on one of their weekend runs, Chandler seemed troubled.
“Chandler, stop.” Audrey skidded to a stop on the rocky road. “Talk to me.”
Chandler tilted his head back. “I can’t.”
“What do you mean you can’t?” Audrey grabbed his arm.
Chandler ruffled his auburn hair. “I’m torn, okay?”
Audrey guided him to a big rock beside the road that they sat on.
“My parents bought a huge ranch two hours away. I wont be living on this street anymore, or even go to our school.” He looked away from Audrey, unable to look her in the eye.
Audrey’s tears started to flow. “Really?”
Chandler heard her tears before he saw them. He looked up. “Yeah, I’m sorry Aud. I really really don’t want to. You’re like one of my best friends.”
“And you’re one of mine. Are you sure this is happening?” She threw a small rock into the road.
“This is my last run.” He nodded, keeping his tears in. He didn’t know how his parents could do this, with his best friends here, and his school. But he knew the ranch would benefit them.
Audrey nodded. “How long?” She asked, hopeful that it was temporary.
“Permanently.” He said under his breath. Both knew that this was goodbye. They looked at each other and embraced.
Back to the present…
“Audrey?” Chandler whispered.
“It’s me.” Audrey grinned and stepped out from behind the counter.
He ran two steps and wrapped her in a hug like the one from their last day together.
Audrey looked up at him. “What are you doing here?”
“I got a job here. What are you doing here? I thought you’d be in college by now.” He stepped back, holding her hands.
“God lead me in another direction. I’m a barista now.” She waved towards her counter and coffee making equipment.
“Hey, uh, we should go out sometime.” Chandler stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels.
Audrey smiled at her beloved friend. “I’m free Friday. Want to go for a run?”