MORNING RUN

“I’m going to run ahead a bit.” Then she was gone, long legs stretching out, brown ponytail bobbing from side to side and the street lights, brighter than the predawn light, glinting off the reflectors on the backs of her shoes.

“Great,” Janelle muttered. “Drag me out at o-dark-bloody-hundred then abandon me.” She tightened the scarf around her neck and shoved her gloved fingers into the pockets of her oversized anorak, and puffed along behind the ever-diminishing Tia.

“Whose bloody idea was this anyway?” she grumped, knowing full well it was hers. She was the one who needed to lose weight and get fit, not Tia. She was the one diagnosed pre-diabetic, a huge wake-up call about her lifestyle if ever she needed one. Tia was just here for support, to keep her company while she did something she hated – wasted precious gaming time and being outside exercising forgodsake.

And it was so damned cold. Janelle dragged a handkerchief out of her pocket and swiped her dripping nose. Her breath wafted in silken clouds, damp on her cheeks as she walked through them.

“And where’s Tia anyway?” The woman had disappeared around the corner several minutes before.

Fast footsteps sounded behind her, echoing between the buildings. A car drove past. The footsteps got closer. Another car drove by on the crossroad.

Tia came up beside her, sweat sheening her face and streaking her t-shirt between her breasts. “How’s it going ‘elle?” She slowed to a walk beside Janelle, breathing deeply, foggily, smelling of spice and warm skin. “Traffic’s starting to build up.”

Janelle huffed. “So the rest of the world is beginning to wake up, are they?” She checked her watch. “At least they have the sense to stay in their cars.”

Tia laughed. “You know it’s good for you, you grump. An hour or so away from your computer isn’t going to hurt. Think of it as planning time.” She took a couple of quick steps then turned, jogging backwards in front of Janelle. “So tell me about this new game you’re working on.”

Janelle shook her head. It might distract her for a while. “I’m stuck at the third level. I can’t work out what the gamers have to achieve to move to the next level. I’ve got the first two levels done and the last three planned but this level three is driving me nuts. I need to get back and work on it.” She stopped walking, ready to turn and head for home.

Tia reached her hands out and grabbed Janelle’s wrists, wrenching her hands out of her pockets. “Oh no, you don’t. You promised me you’d try this. You know you need to do it.” She tugged Janelle back into a brisk walk then let her wrists go and jogged backwards a few more steps, putting space between them. “Come on, girl, get those feet moving.”

“Road!” Janelle called. Tia was running backwards right to the edge of the footpath.

Tia jumped around, quickly checked the road was clear and jogged across it, waiting until Janelle caught up. “I’m going to do a quick lap, then I’ll come back.” She flicked a look down the length of the block. “I expect you to be nearly at the next street by the time I catch up again.” She mock-glared at Janelle. “OK?”

Janelle nodded morosely. “I’ll keep moving.”

“Great. I’ll see you soon.” Tia flipped a wave of a hand and then took off. The street lights had gone off so her shoes no longer shone, but her ponytail did.

“If you weren’t such a nice person, I’d hate you,” muttered Janelle. “So bloody gorgeous and thin and fit.” She huffed. “And happy all the time. I know bad things happen in your life because I’ve seen it but you always come out smiling.” She shoved her hands back into her pockets, tucked her chin down and kept walking. “How do you do it?”

The street filled with cars seemingly instantaneously but Janelle knew it was just the time all the early risers went into work. She went from listening to birds and her footsteps to listening to the hum of engines and smelling the thick exhaust fumes. The traffic was still light though, so it was moving quickly. No pauses, just motoring along the main road. Most of the crossroads were still almost completely clear.

Footsteps pounded behind her a split second before Tia ran in front and turned to jog backwards again. “You’ve made good time.”

“Road!”

Tia turned, flicked a look down the street then jogged across the road, turning backwards again almost immediately.

Janelle thumped across the road to catch up. “Idiot,” she stormed. “You’re supposed to watch where you’re going.”

Tia laughed. “I do watch where I’m going. I’m just talking to you too.” She jogged a few more backward steps. “Traffic’s still light anyway.”

Janelle just shook her head and stomped along. Only another four blocks and they could turn towards home. Then she could get back to the game and work the problem out.

“Did you see your mum on Sunday?”

Janelle glared at her friend.

“You said you were going to visit since it was her birthday.” A few more backwards steps. “So did you?”

“Yeah,” Janelle sighed. “Nothing’s changed. I’m still useless and Cameron’s still perfect, even though I’m self-sufficient and he’s in jail for armed robbery. Moron. He always was stupid.”

“Yeah, it is pretty stupid to rob someone.”

“It’s even more stupid to get caught.”

Tia laughed. “Somehow I knew that would be your opinion. So it would be alright for him to do it if he didn’t get caught?”

Janelle shook her head. “It was just so bloody inefficient. He hadn’t thought passed getting the money. Didn’t even try to avoid the security cameras.”

“He’s never been the brightest button in the bottle.”

“Road!”

Tia did her twist, check, run thing, a cross between graceful ballerina and Jerry Lewis on a bad day. “So, how would you have done it, if you were him?”

“I wouldn’t have picked that shop to start with. They get targeted a lot and the security is new. Any fool knows that.”

Tia laughed. She was always laughing. Life was one great big joke to her. Janelle scowled. What was so funny about life, forgodsake? It was just one miserable day after another. One problem to solve, one program to write, one bloody mother to deal with and one moronic brother to avoid.

“So tell me about the place you would rob. How would you do it?”

“I’d rob it through the computer system of course.” Janelle walked quicker to keep up with Tia who still jogged backwards along the path. “Trail is harder to find and easier to conceal.”

“You don’t think they’d immediately start looking at magic computer geeks like you?” It was all a joke to Tia.

“Road!” Stupid girl was going to get run over one of these days.

On the other side of the road, Tia abandoned her backward jog for a while and ran sprints, two house blocks up then back again. On one return trip she asked, “Would they work out it was you?”

“The people wouldn’t even realise they’d been robbed until the trail was cold.” She could feel her cheeks heating and hoped Tia would put it down to the exercise.

Tia stopped jogging and waited for Janelle to reach her, then continued backwards in front of her. “You sound like you know that for a fact.”

No. She was not going to discuss it. This was hypothetical. They weren’t talking about actually doing it. Again. Did Tia know? No. There’s no way she could. She pushed harder, picking the pace up, forcing Tia to jog backwards faster.

“Road!” Janelle flapped her arms. “Forgodsake, Tia, will you watch where you’re going?”

“Why? You’re doing such a good job of it for me,” she laughed.

Janelle just crossed her eyes, drawing another laugh from Tia. She was puffing in earnest now, almost jogging to keep Tia’s backward jog brisk. She couldn’t talk about this any more in case she gave it away. No one could know. It was the secrecy that kept it safe. If anyone knew, she’d be gone.

“Road!”

Tia did her usual spin, check and jog thing. On the other side, she continued talking.

Janelle had had enough. They’d been out for over an hour now and she’d been huffing and puffing the whole time. She’d even taken her gloves off. Two more major roads then the quiet streets to home. It would soon be over.

“So what else have you done this week,” Tia chattered on. “You said you were going to do your will to make sure the moron couldn’t get your money. Did you?”

Janelle nodded. “Of course. I’ve set up an annuity for Mum and a trust fund for the moron in case he ever cleans up his act and left the rest to you.”

“Me?”

Janelle almost laughed. Tia’s smile actually slipped into an ‘O’ of surprise. Just for a second.

“Of course you. Who else would I leave it all to?”

Tia was quiet for several seconds, just looking at Janelle. She ducked her head, trying to avoid the intense scrutiny, then remembered where they were.

“Road!”

Tia twisted but her foot caught on the uneven concrete throwing her off balance. Her smile disappeared, her arms flailed and Janelle lurched forward to grab her and haul her to safety. One of Tia’s feet tangled with hers and she tripped, the momentum swinging her around into the road.

It was a truck. Or a bus. It couldn’t have been just a car. It hurt too much. Janelle flew through the air, gaze still on Janelle who wasn’t smiling now. Then she landed, heard the crack. Felt no more pain. Couldn’t breathe. Tia leaned over her. Her lips moved: ‘Mind now’, or was it ‘Mine now’, as she reached for her head, grabbed her hair. Darkness edged out her vision. Not enough air.

At least Tia wasn’t smiling.

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