Sneak Peak | Leisure | Sports

The February air knifed through my lungs, every breath burning.

But with each thump of my sneakers against the track, I started to feel a little more…okay, so normal probably wasn’t the greatest word, but less crappy at least. Mom always said that exercise was the best cure for everything. Finn and I always knew a mission hadn’t gone well when Mom came back to the compound and spent a few hours on the training field. Man, what I wouldn’t have given for that field now. A couple of laps around a lame high school track was one thing, but kicking the heck out of a dummy or flinging some throwing stars would’ve felt a lot more satisfying. Picking up my speed, I rounded the corner, and suddenly, felt like someone was watching me. I glanced up, and sure enough, there was a guy in the bleachers. I only caught a few details as I jogged past- wavy black hair, sunglasses, something weird about his jacket-,and when he lifted one hand to wave at me, I ignored him. He was still there when I went around the second time, but now he was standing up, hands shoved in his pockets, shoulders up against the cold. “Weirdo,” I muttered under my breath. Okay, so maybe the girl who had just laid out a guy with a dodge ball had no room to talk, but still. Even I knew it wasn’t socially acceptable to stare at people. I pulled my hoodie up and kept running, faster now, and when I made the lap the third time, the bleachers were empty. Awesome. Maybe Watcher Dude had found some other girl to creep on. Lowering my eyes back to the track, I wondered just how many laps I was supposed to do. The coach had just said, “some.” Was that set number that everyone else who went to high school already knew? Did that mean I had to run until the end of P.E.? And would I even be able to hear the bell outSuddenly, a pair of shiny black shoes came into view directly in front of me. Watcher Dude was standing in the middle of the track. He didn’t move as I darted to the side, my sneakers skidding on the dirt as I slowed down. Breathing hard, I whirled around to face him. “The heck?” I panted. He took off his sunglasses, and as he hooked them in the collar of his shirt, I noticed that the arms were bright aqua. His eyes were nearly the same shade of blue as he squinted at me. “Is someone trying to murder you?” “What?” Shrugging, he put his hands in the pockets of his jacket. The other boys I’d seen at Mary Evans High had been wearing pullover fleeces or North Face jackets, like Adam. This guy was wearing a navy pea coat, and there was a gray scarf twisted into a complicated knot at his throat.

“I’ve just never seen anyone run that…determinedly,” he said. “So I assumed someone must be chasing you.” With an exaggerated lean, he peered down the track. “But that doesn’t seem to be the case. So why were you running?” “Coach Lewis told me to.” His eyebrows went up. “Ah. In that case, you’re being punished for something. Coach Lewis is not the most creative man when it comes to discipline. So let’s see…” Looking me up and down, the boy began to circle me. Okay, staring was one thing, but circling? Yeah, that was totally not cool. I moved around with him. “What are you doing?” “You’ve definitely got that whole tough chick thing going on. Talking back, maybe? Shouting a four letter word when you lost a relay race?” “It’s none of your business,” I snapped, even as I glanced down and realized he was wearing pin striped pants. I didn’t even know those still existed. “Why aren’t you in P.E.?” He finally stopped circling and reached into the pocket of his coat. Pulling out an inhaler, he waggled it at me. “Asthma. But rather than just give me another elective, the fascists who run this school make me come to P.E. every day and sit out.” “So why don’t you sit out in the gym?” Grinning, the boy slid the inhaler back into his pocket. “I figured if all I was going to do was sit there, I could at least offer commentary on the athletic prowess of my classmates. Coach Lewis, sadly, did not agree. So now I’m banished to the wilds of the football field. Much like you.” He slid his sunglasses back on. “And now you know my deep dark secret, so it seems only fair that you share yours with me. Oh, I’m Dex, by the way,” he added. “Just in case you feel weird sharing deep dark secrets with strangers.” Maybe it was his grin, which was a nice change from the glares/looks of horror I’d gotten in the gym, but I found myself giving a little smile back in return. “Izzy. And there, uh, was a dodge ball incident.” “Perhaps the most intriguing phrase I’ve heard uttered in some time,” Dex said, rocking back on his heels. “I’m obviously going to need you to elaborate.” “This jackass hit a girl too hard with one of the balls. So I…hit him back.” Dex ducked his head, regarding me over the top of his sunglasses. “Aaaand?”

“And maybe I threw it a little too hard and…dislocated his shoulder.” “Whoa, for real?” Dex asked, and for just a second, the act or whatever it was, slipped and he just seemed like a normal teenage boy. A normal teenage boy wearing a cravat, but whatever. “It was an accident,” I said hurriedly, but Dex shook his head. “Which girl and which jackass?” “Romy Hayden, and Ben…something, I don’t remember.” “You knocked out Ben McCrary?” he asked, eyes wide. “It was an accident,” I said again. “I threw the ball harder than I meant to.” Dex burst into laughter. “Oh my God, that is the greatest thing I’ve heard all week. You are my new hero.” Squinting at me, he leaned in and said, “Seriously, I might actually be in love with you now. Would it be awkward if we made out?” Head spinning, I stepped back. I thought of my cousin Sophie and her boyfriend, Archer. The way they were always zinging one liners back and forth. I should have a one liner. Instead, I said, “Yes, it would be.” I waited for his smile to falter, for a little bit of that light to fade from his eyes. But if anything, he looked more delighted. “Well, then we’ll just have to hold off until we know each other better.”

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