That girl was a tornado. She whirled past Noah’s house every morning at 6:30. An ungodly hour to be awake, much less running. And she was fast. His driveway happened to mark the spot where she went from a relaxed jog to a sprint every day. When she hit his driveway, she would glance down at her phone, stick her tongue out just a little, and turn on the gas.
On the rare days when he woke up early enough, he’d see her whizzing past his kitchen window. He’d be standing there waiting for his coffee, when her thick braid of brown hair would come swooshing back and forth. The way she squinted her eyes, looking straight ahead, like she was on a mission to save the world. Intense and focused, but happy at the same time. He wondered what song she was listening to. His best guess was Kelly Clarkson, but he liked to imagine her sprinting that hard to wildcard music genres. A country song about tractors and beer, a German death metal band. A polka song with an accordion solo. He got a real kick out of her.
Today, Alex was pissed. She’d been trying for weeks to find a nursing home for her dad, and as always, he was making it difficult. She had tried to solve the problem, tried every strategy. Spreadsheets and phone calls and only slightly passive aggressive text reminders for him to call her back. If it was possible to muscle her way out of this situation, run so fast it disappeared, she would have done that by now. She hated when her brute force was not enough to solve a problem.
But she had a plan to fix it. She’d made his favorite cookies, pumpkin chocolate chip, and was visiting him that afternoon. After work, she’d show up armed with these cookies, the best cookies ever, whether he wanted it or not. She’d make him listen to her and stop dragging his feet, let her help him already.
Her father was just about the most stubborn man on the planet. She usually loved it, when he was on her side. Advocating for her, though she rarely needed it. Telling his neighbors, customers, distant family members how fierce she was. Calling her a rock star. Always trying to set her up with a customer’s daughter’s best friend or the landscaper’s cousin Jeff. She was less than receptive. At her eventual wedding, she would not be telling 100 people that her dad had been right. She could picture the smug look on his face, his eyes crinkling as he chuckled at her. Not going to happen.
For now, she had different problems to worry about. She’d face a million little battles that day: Legos stuck up their noses and broken legs and heads cracked open from riding on those metal shopping carts. But first, a sprint. When she passed the blue house, she turned on one of her gritty rap songs. Usually Eminem or Kanye West. She pumped her arms, smiling at how her legs burned in a strong, powerful sort of way. She loved those 30 seconds.
Then she wiped the sweat off her face, switched to a happier playlist, and made herself breakfast. After a quick shower, she drove to work towards her first patient. Popcorn kernel in an ear. Smiling, she told his mom that she’d fix it.
After a quick breakfast of toast and scrambled eggs, Noah rode the T toward Boylston Street. He loved this city. He’d grown up in Manhattan and loved the bustle of it, but Boston gave him space to breathe. People here just did their own thing and were assholes about sports. Drop your Rs and let live. It was endearing.
Outside of work, he preferred operating without a schedule. Making people laugh during serious moments, buying one-way plane tickets. Always trying to lighten the mood. But he worked at an insurance firm, boring himself a little more each day. He found it a little ironic, how he minimized risk all day while daydreaming of bungee jumping, traveling. But he made it fun. And he’d worked his ass off through actuary school to get here. Passing ten actuarial exams in seven years.
Graphs, stats, blah. The only highlight of his day was attending the birthday party of Martha, his 62-year-old coworker. The only person he knew who looked exactly the same every day. Her uniform was a muted sweater, usually with at least four buttons down the front. Her gray hair held back in a loose bun with a big, brown clip. In classic Martha fashion, she was touched that her coworkers had thought to bring her favorite cake (Angel food) and had hung up a few streamers in the break room. Adorable.
Back to the T to bookend his slightly boring but alright day. It was packed with suits and pencil skirts, everyone with headphones in. Each in their own little world but all squished together, like an aquarium. An aquarium that smelled a little weird. Glancing to his left, he caught the eye of a little kid, probably 10 years old, in a soccer uniform complete with shin guards. It brought him back to his days playing soccer with his dad, how his mom had (unsuccessfully) tried to get him into running. He preferred team sports. He liked feeling a part of something, on a field or a court where every player got his moment to be flashy. Be a star just for a minute. No one scored a touchdown or scored a goal all on his own. He winked at the mini Ronaldo, who smiled shyly back at him.
Alex’s car battery was dead, and she didn’t feel like waiting. But she felt triumphant after doing the impossible. Using her big, brown eyes and working her cookie magic, she’d gotten her dad to come around. She listened to “It’s a Beautiful Day” in her headphones. She knew it was cliché, but she also loved it. After an exhausting day of Band-Aids and convincing, she’d seen her dad grin and say “Okay, Ally.” Now she could chill. Order pizza, grab some hard seltzers. Black Cherry flavored.
She jogged towards the T stop, Park Street. She wore her scrubs (she’d been rushing) with a vintage Patriots sweatshirt over them. She made it just in time, squeezing through the doors. This car was packed. In classic Boston fashion, she had to subtly shove her way through the throng. She used her 5’4” frame to her advantage. It was like a sport — a packed train car required an athletic stance. Get low, use your shoulder just a little bit, and get it done.
A tiny girl nearly mowed Noah over. She pushed right into his chest, almost knocking the wind out of him. His face lit up, and he laughed silently. She let out a small “ooops” and backed up a step. She tilted her head straight up with her brow furrowed to meet his eyes. Immediately, her cheeks were red and her face broke into a shy smile. After she apologized profusely, they started talking about the Patriots game coming up. With her hair down and him in a suit, it took them ten minutes to realize they were neighbors. She’d noticed him walking his dog before.
That Sunday, they sat together in the blue house, watching the Patriots. Her brownie tin sat on the coffee table (only three left). They smiled a lot, and she cracked up when he showed her the view out his kitchen window. When he yelled too loud at Tom Brady, she grinned at how much her dad would love him. Her brownies were the best thing he’d ever tasted. He told her he’d never be a runner. Issuing a challenge, a competition she intended to win. He also agreed to help her get better at math. They’d go on their first run, starting with a sprint from his driveway, the next day.