Joshua Hansford They're Just Talking William walked into the door of Brazil, pushing it open with his

shoulder. He was too busy packing cigarettes to bother with the handle. It was early for the shop and practically empty. He nodded at Brandon, already in a booth sipping a glass of the local cola, and ordered a cup of Earl Grey. “Dude, I thought you were quitting!” Brandon exclaimed as William approached. “Quitting smoking is a gradual process. You quit for a few days, decide you don’t give a fuck because you’re stressed out and the process starts again.” William said, setting his cup of tea and cigarettes on the table. “This from the athlete.” “Just cause I work out like I’ve lost my mind doesn’t make me an athlete. Those guys compete with each other, I compete with my insecurities.” William sat down and stretched his arms, grasping the sides of the booth. His ribs pressed out against a tattered Guster Tshirt. He let go with a sigh, and wrapped his hands around the cigarettes. “What’s got you stressed man?” William paused to light a cigarette. “Sarahia.” “That’s a new name. What happened with Susan?” “Susan?” He asked inhaling. “Yeah, the girl you were dating the last time I checked.”

“Oh, well, we’re still dating, technically,” William blew the words out the side of his mouth with the smoke. “I see.” “Lemme tell ya about this girl, gawd she's fine,” William's hands animated his speech and left smoke trails, “I'm running late to World Lit. The Prof has all the chairs in a circle, against the wall, and the only open seats are near the front. I head to the left to stay as low profile as possible and end up sitting next to her. Turns out, I’m rebounding off Rachel with Susan and she's just getting dumped by her fiancé of four years.” “Oh, bad luck,” Brandon said. “No kidding, so we end becoming friends. We compare our X’s and reassure each other that it was their fault, not ours.” “Of course.” “Well before you know it, I’m really liking this girl, and still busy with Susan. Of all the luck.” “Why did you fall for her?” William shrugged his shoulders, and finished the cigarette. “Dude, you’re too neurotic to not.” “Last week, Wednesday actually, I’m in a grumpy mood, just not caring. Class is over, toss the books in the bag, toss the bag onto the chip, and high tail it. ‘William! Wait up’ I hear. She didn’t shout, but it was loud enough for me to hear, along with a third of the class. I turn around and she’s cantering along-”


“Cantering?” “Well, she was wearing heels so she couldn't sprint, but she still got an A for effort, but that's when I fell for her man.” “And what are you going to do about her?” “I haven't decided yet.” “Something on the side?” “She’s too cool for that. I’d still want to hang out with her.” “Well give things a shot, you never know what will happen.” “That might work. I dunno, me and normal relationships never get along.” Brandon squinted his eyes and held a serious countenance for the briefest of moments before he burst out laughing. He took the University's baseball cap off, ran his fingers over the blonde highlights of his dark hair, and straightened the cap on his head; it was his mirthful ritual. William watched Brandon and started laughing with him, his body contorting with humor, while Brandon's mass vibrated. Brandon had always been large, but the stress of twenty four hour college semesters had put almost a hundred pounds on him. “Yuck it up white boy. I need a drink,” William said, blowing on his tea so he could finish it quicker. As they finished their drinks, the caffeine regressed their combined mental age to adolescence. Laughing at bad oral sex jokes they walked down Exchange street to Piper's.


“One of these days I'm going to talk Piper into a better sign on top of this place. Just picture a giant florescent set of bagpipes!” William said, framing the picture with his hands. “That would be the ugliest thing I'd ever see,” Brandon said. “You've never seen Piper in a kilt have you?” They fell on each other laughing and walked into the bar. It was a classic setup. The bar ran along the right side of the wall, booths along the left, with tables in between. Bathrooms, dartboards and jukebox were all near the back. John, the owner, had made one innovation. Two brass bars partitioned enough space from the bar stools for patrons to queue and order their drinks, without crowding the ends of the bar. They scanned the room. Brandon spotted an empty booth underneath Saint Rita. He pointed it out to William, who nodded. Brandon went to the table, and William went to the bar, they had done this too many times. William leaned against one of the brass bars, with money in hand, glanced down the bar, and spotted Susan. She noticed him immediately, and walked over, beer in hand. “William, how are you doing?” She asked. “Good. How about yourself?” William wrapped his arm around her shoulder and leaned closer to hear her over the loud punk music. “Well, I’m here with some friends from work.” “Where are you working?” “I got a job at Burger King, didn’t I tell you?” “Don’t think so, besides it’s been a week since we talked.”


“Yeah, why haven’t you called me?” “I did, three times. Each time your Grandmother sounded more and more annoyed. She probably didn’t give you the messages.” “What? My grandmother’s never done that.” “Or you never noticed. I can yank my cell phone logs and show you the calls.” “No that’s ok. You don’t have to do that.” “Are we still dating?” “I dunno. There are kinda other boys.” “Fair enough, there have been others girls.” “Really? Who?” She asked with a genuine smile on her face. “Doesn't matter. Who the hell were we trying to kid?” “Beats me.” William ordered two shots “Friends?” He slid one in front of her. “Hell yeah, always.” “We still had some great sex though. When you’re single again, I’m coming back for more,” Susan said. “No problem.”

“Well I’m single again,” William announced sitting down at the table with Brandon. “Already?”


“Yeah, we just broke up.” “Back there?” William nodded, lighting another cigarette. “Wow, no drama.” “Maybe it’s a sign of our maturity.” They both found that laughable. “Oh no, my pants are vibrating!” William shouted. “What?” “It’s my cell phone.” “Who’s calling?” “The girl of the moment,” William said, getting out of his seat. He opened the phone shouted “Hold on!” and walked out the back door to hear her better, “How’s your weekend going?” “Pretty well. Work only gave me two shifts though. I had to spend a day in a factory with my friend so I could pay the rent” Sarahia said. “Sound like an interesting change of pace. I’ve been at work all week.” “Wow, did you do anything fun?” “Got to overhaul a recumbent for the first time on Tuesday.” “A what?” “A recumbent bicycle, imagine sitting in a normal chair, you straighten your legs to reach the peddles and the handle bars come up like a motorcycle. It's a bicycle for folks with really bad backs.”


“Wow, I've never seen one of those.” “They're not on the street much, but I've seen a few out on the trail.” “Which trail?” “Towpath mostly.” “The one in the Valley? Do you ride that a lot?” “I practically live on the thing.” “Really? We should go biking sometime next week. I want to do that diabetes run this summer.” “Most definitely. We’ll plan something out in class, ok?” “Great! See you then.” William's jaw dropped after he said goodbye. He walked back to the table, and crossed himself in front of Saint Rita. “What’s going on?” Brandon asked. “For the first time in my life, God has directly answered one of my prayers.” “What?” “The chick wants to go biking with me.” “And?” “I work at a bike shop for God's sakes. There is not a large population of beautiful woman that are interested in riding a bicycle.” “That's true. Congratulations.” “This calls for more whiskey.” William said, raising his glass.



The First Date

William was thrown back into his apartment by sunshine, and reemerged the proper lenses in his cycling glasses. He was up earlier than usual, and fumbled with the straps of his bike rack. The departure was somewhat on schedule, arm hanging out the window thumping along to the beat of Sublime. The trail had awakened much earlier. Birds sang insults at the squires who proved their courage by sitting in the path of an oncoming bicycle until the last second. Geese hissed at the sudden invasion of human beings. The trail bridged generation gaps by drawing baby boomers, new families, young runners, and elderly fitness gurus onto the same track of earth. William had “borrowed” a rental from his bike shop for Sarahia to ride. He had spent the entire night gearing, and still wasn't satisfied with the shifting quality. His bike was in an entirely different league, and cost more than his car. He was too busy making an adjustment that he didn't notice a car parking next to him. The car horn got his attention. Sarahia got out wearing a black tank top, running tights and sunglasses. She spun her head around a few times to gather her long hair into a ponytail. “Ready for a ride?” William asked, pulling a Camelback out of his car. “Yeah, it’s a beautiful morning out. Do you think it will stay nice?”


“Hopefully, we haven't gotten too many sudden storms this year.” “Wow, your bike looks great.” “Thanks. She's my baby.” Sarahia laughed. “You care more about your bike than you would your girlfriend.” “Are you kidding? This is my girlfriend.”

The first five mile are always easy. William critiqued her form a bit, and set a good pace. They coasted through the crowd of wildlife watchers, and pulled over at a shady spot shortly after. “I think you need to raise your bike seat,” William said. “Really?” “Yeah, on smooth trails or streets your leg should be completely extended at the bottom of the crank. You get more power and it works your legs and butt more.” William made a quick adjustment “It’s nice to know you’re keeping the best interests of my ass in mind.” She tested the length to make sure her legs felt comfortable. “Well, I think it’s important to do what I can to preserve the wonders of nature.” Sarahia grinned, smacked William in the shoulder, and started pedaling. “I’m having a great time,” She laughed, “Keep up!” “Keep up?” William asked, watching her ride down the trail. He shook his head, jumped on his bike, and passed her seconds later.


“You’ll eat those words after you’re done with my dust!” William glanced back to see Sarahia was standing on her pedals, trying to catch up. They were both smiling, and smiled even more after they noticed the other's expression. Sarahia caught up after a half mile. William coasted to stretch his legs, and fell just far enough behind to make a study of her. She was skinny, even bony at places, but was still feminine. She reminded William of a pixy from a childhood dream.

They rode past Shlazes Farm, a built in ten mile marker. Sarahia was beginning to look worn, and pulled off the trail. She put her bike in a stand and slouched on a nearby bench. “Not gonna happen,” William said grabbing her hand, “Keep moving so your legs stay loose.” “I can’t move, you’ll have to carry me.” She sprawled her body limp. William wrapped his hand around her wrist and yanked her to her feet. She pressed against him. He spun, wrapping her arm around his shoulder, and walked into the farm's market. A large wagon of corn stood before the entrance next to a cartoonish figure asking customers to not poke or prod it. The rustic decor was a product of actual rust instead of design, but it was quaint either way. A variety of fruit and vegetable stands lined the walls. The cashiers were set up in an island surrounded by organic baked good from Amish farmers. “You hold the fruit,” He said. “What are we getting?” Sarahia asked, yanking a plastic bag free.


“Nectarines for me. What’s your favorite fruit?” “I like pears.” “I'll get a few of those.” William added two energy drinks and rang the order out. Sarahia took the bag, and he picked her up in a fireman’s carry. “My hero,” She said, impersonating a southern bell. They settled under a buckeye tree. “Simple sugars, its quick energy, but make sure to wash it down or else you’ll cotton mouth.” William said, biting into a nectarine. “I emptied my water bottle a few miles ago.” Sarahia said. “Here,” William handed her the end nozzle of my camel back, “wrap your lips around it and suck.” “I think I can figure that out on my own.” She leaned over and drank from the nozzle while it was still in his hand. William used it to flick water on her afterwards. She smacked him on the chest and bit into her pear. They were leaning against each other as they finished the fruit. “How far does the trail go?” She asked. “Up to Cleveland.” “Are we going to ride that far?” “Nah, but the scenery gets pretty amazing in a bit, and we can get homemade ice cream in a few more miles.” “Ice cream sounds good.”


“It’s also the best you’ll ever have.” “That’s a pretty big boast to make to a girl.” “It’s the best you have to ride twenty miles to get it. There’s no guilt whatsoever.” “That does sound like good ice cream.” “Then let’s roll!” William hopped up with his hand extended. Sarahia took it. William smacked her butt when they got to the bikes. She was shocked. “It’s like football.” He said, “Haven’t you ever seen guys grab each other’s asses in the locker room?” “Fucker!” She punched him in the arm, hard enough to leave a bruise. The trail ran through Slaze’s cornfields and ran into the banks of the Cuyahoga River. Even with the breeze from the river, and shade from trees stretching over the trail for sunlight, they were sweating profusely. Adrenaline shot pheromones out at twice their normal rate. The scents lassoed dragonflies and zipped ahead of the riders to set traps. William and Sarahia fell into them several times and rode in an increasingly tighter formation. A hill jumped in front of them. William attacked it; Sarahia coasted it and lost momentum. “Stand up! It’s worth it!” William shouted back. Sarahia used her pride to stand up, and rock the bike up the hill. It led into an old lock system. The trail had replaced the wooden doors with a narrow bridge.


“This is beautiful!” William barely heard Sarahia over the river slamming into the bank, rolling over to a sharp turn under the bridge. They turned off the trail and onto a country road. It was the middle of Peninsula, Ohio's back country. They stuck to the edge of the road for the rest of the way. Country Maid Ice Cream was only half mile from the trail. They ordered and sat down against a shady tree. “How long does the trail go?” Sarahia asked. “So far the trail runs about thirty miles up to Cleveland, and they’re working on extending it to mid Ohio. They’ll probably run it down to Columbus eventually.” “How long would that take?” “Year, it would be more than a day to ride.” “Will you do it?” “It's a few years in the making, if I'm still in town I will.” “Planning on moving?” “Not sure what I'll do after I graduate.” “You'd better decide. It's your last semester.” “I'll figure it out. What about you?” “I’ve still got two years before I graduate, and my mom and I are a lot closer after my Dad passed away. Well, we’ve always been close but we’re spending more time together. I know it’s very important to her to have me around.” “Family's family. Not sure if I'd be able to stay for mine.” “Really?”


“Well, I’ve done everything here. I’ve been to the museums, all the historical stuff, hiked all the Metro Park trails, ridden Quail Hollow and West Branch to death, and bounced through though every bar and restaurant. Life here just doesn't interest me.” “I’ve had fun in this city so far.” “You moved here from Kent less than a year ago. Look around and keep checking stuff out. Akron can be a cool place but after awhile there’s nothing left to do but drink.” “We drink too much now.” “No kidding.” They finished their ice cream in silence. Not for lack of subject, but the depletion of their bodies made it the best tasting ice cream on the planet. Afterwards they perused a gift shop and hung around their bikes lazily. A breeze drifted by carrying the sent of rain. “We should head back, it may rain soon,” William said, noticing the order. “How can it rain? It’s a gorgeous day.” “It’s Northern Ohio. It can and will rain any time it feels like it.”

William kept their return to an easy pace. Sarahia kept up with him, pedaling without complaint. Raindrops caught up and bit into their arms like spurs. They tried to outrun the weather, but black clouds floated over the horizon, drenching everything in their path. They turned onto a single track side trail. Sarahia stuck with William over roots, baby heads, and a rather bumpy hill. Ever an opportunist, William caught air off a gully and managed not to kill himself.


“Where are we going?” Sarahia shouted. “Do you trust me?” “Yeah.” “Then follow me.” The trail led to a set of desolate train tracks that the woods had overgrown. They followed the train tracks to a small pavilion. “Where are we?” Sarahia asked. “This was the railroad that killed the canal. Eventually the highway killed the railroad. The park service planned to turn this into a historical route in the seventies but never got all the funding. So all that remains are the tracks, and what would have been a few visitors’ pavilions.” “What if the rain doesn't let up soon?” “You’re stuck with me.” William pulled energy bars out of his backpack and tossed one to her. They munched in silence.

“This is what it’s all about, ya know?” William said. “Hm? ”Sarahia took off her helmet and pulled her hair out of the ponytail. She pulled a small hairbrush out of her fanny pack and began brushing it. “The trail, all of the life around us, getting the blood pumping, endorphins flowing, the energy, I love it.” “That's good; a lot of people don't get out that much.”


“This is a first for me though.” “What?” “I normally come out here and wonder what on earth could be more beautiful. This time you're here and it's no comparison.” She smiled and thanked him. He ran his hand through her hair and along the back of his neck. She put the brush down beside her and closed her eyes. William watched a bolt of lightning shot through the sky, and leaned in to kiss her as the thunder rolled past.


The Second Date

“Did ya have fun?” William asked, pulling the straps of his bike rack taunt. “Yeah, I had a lot of fun,” Sarahia called back. She was rummaging through her car for a bottle of water, “We'll do this again sometime.” William chuckled, “I'll be back here tomorrow, probably Friday, and most defiantly Saturday afternoon.” “Nuh-hu. Next time we go roller blading,” Sarahia leaned against William's car, guzzling from the bottle. “I've never been roller blading.” William didn't think roller blading would be as easy. “I tried your thing, now you try mine.” “I don't have a pair of rollerblades.” Sarahia set her hand on her hip. “Well I assume you'll have to buy a pair.” “Only if you buy the coffee when we go out to pick them up.” Sarahia considered the proposal briefly, “I think that could work.”

“You're going roller blading!? :-0” Brandon asked over instant messenger later that night. “Yeah go figure. The things we do to get laid.” “Are you going to die your hair blond afterwards.”


“Phuck you.” “Lol.” “She said it was 'only fair'. She did my thing, I do hers.” “Good sign.” “Yeah, besides I might end up liking it.” “Be careful dude.” “What's the worst that can happen? I fall down and scratch my elbow?” “She'd have to kiss it and make it better!”

They convened at the stop level of the University's West parking deck. It was empty; all of the weekend students were parked in smaller lots closer to Central Campus. Sarahia was already wearing her rollerblades. “I thought we were meeting here to go somewhere else?” William asked. “Nope, I always skate around the University.” Sarahia said, spinning in a circle. “There are a lot of hills.” William bit the side of his lip. “What's the matter? Scared?” “No, just thought we were doing something else.” William sat down in his car, feet hanging out the door, and changed into a new pair of Rollerblades. He got up, staggered, and closed his car door. Sarahia laughed at him. “Here, let me teach you,” Sarahia said, taking his hands.


Sarahia led him through the basics motions of the sport. William caught on well enough, but had difficulty figuring out how to stop without almost flipping over. They skated around the parking deck, cutting through the heat that radiated off of the concrete on sunny days. “Come on, let's head down a level!” Sarahia said, turning onto a ramp. “Oh God,” William muttered. The guardrail approached fast enough to kick William's adrenal glands into panic mode. He did what he'd been taught, leaned into the turn, kept his balance on the correct foot. “See, that wasn't so bad, was it?” Sarahia asked. “Not at all,” William replied, wiping the sweat off his brow. “So you've got the hang of it?” “Yeah, no worries,” William bent over, resting his hands on his thighs. “Cool lets head through campus,” Sarahia turned and zipped down the next ramp. “Great.” To his credit, William did a decent job for a beginner. He switched back more heading downhill to keep his speed low, and caught up on inclines. They began racing each other. Sarahia was thoroughly enjoying the lead, just as William had done on the bike trail. On their third loop, Sarahia began skating through the smaller networked walkways, leading them off of the main mall. William, doing his best to keep up, kept


most of his attention on where Sarahia was. He didn't see the Catipiller turn onto the path.

William woke up staring at the ceiling of a hospital waiting room. A throbbing headache made him wish he hadn't. “How are you feeling?” Sarahia asked. William glanced over. She was sitting in a chair next to his bed, still wearing her rollerblades. She rolled to the side of his bed. “What happened?” William responded. “You ran into one of the ground crews go carts. How does your head feel?” Sarahia brushed his hair back with her hand, “You hit it pretty hard.” “I'm trying not to notice it.” “What?” Sarahia giggled. “The pain, it's not... um, did they give me any drugs?” “I don't think so.” “Oh.” “The road crew radioed for an ambulance. We ended up in an argument over who really had the right of way during the whole thing. I tried to ride in the ambulance with you, but they wouldn't let me, so I skated down here. I made pretty good time.” “Hehe, good sign for me.” “Sign of what?” “Huh?”


The doctor walked into the room before William could answer. “How are you feeling?” The doctor asked. “Peachy keen,” William responded. “Really?” The doctor asked, looking up from his chart. “Slap some ibuprofen in me and I'll be on top of the world.” “That's a very optimistic attitude.” The doctor observed, “It's paying off too. Your X ray's came out fine. We’ll still have to get a few stitches on this cut, but you can be discharged today if you have someone to watch you up through the night.” “Huh?” “With a concussion like this someone will have to wake you up a few times through the night to make sure you can still regain consciousness and that you're not suffering from further head trauma.” “I can do that,” Sarahia said, “I owe him that much for this.” “Oh, you owe me a lot more for this.” William responded. “Really?” Sarahia asked, putting her hand on her hip. “Yeah, like dinner. Dinner sounds good.” “Ok, I can buy dinner.” “Oh no, after a date that results in hospitalization, you need to cook me dinner.” “And who said this was a date?” “Don't start that shit, the last one was.” “What?” “A date!”


“Who say?” “We made out at the end of it that makes it a date!” William turned to the doctor, “Back me up. You end up making out with someone and you hang out with them again, you're dating, right?” “I'm not touching that one,” The Doctor said. William looked at Sarahia. “Call it what you want, maybe not dating but we're doing something, and if not it should be dating.” “In his defense, he does have a concussion and probably couldn't think about whether or not he should say something before he actually says it,” The Doctor said. Sarahia laughed. “Don’t' worry William,” Sarahia said, leaning over the bed to kiss him, “We'll figure out what we're doing when you feeling better.”


The Recovery

Sarahia took William to her apartment with a sheet of instructions from the hospital. She ordered pizza and asked for directions to his apartment. His mumbled response led to Northern Canada instead of South High St. She chuckled and Mapquested his address. William sank into the couch after dinner, asleep before he could find the most comfortable position. Sarahia flipped her cell phone opened and enlisted two girlfriends to her aid. Anne watched over William; Kendra drove Sarahia to his car. The parking ninjas would be out shortly before dawn. Kendra wished her friend luck with her new project, and waited until William's car started. William's apartment was cleaner than Sarahia expected. She bit her lip, facing the opportunity to snoop around his apartment. She retrieved clothes, hair clippers, his cell phone charger, and made sure to lock the door behind her. Anne was watching Sex in the City when Sarahia returned. She thanked her, and roused William with a kiss. “I'm up, uh, what the?” William said, blinking his eyes. “Shhh, I've got some clothes for you to sleep in.” Sarahia said. “I don't sleep in those,” William said, looking at a tattered T shirt and sweatpants he'd had since High School. “Well it's my bed, and if you want in, it's on my terms,” Sarahia smiled, and put her hand on his chest.


“Where are those terms posted?” “They're not,” Sarahia laughed. Sarahia tucked William into her bed. She unrolled a sleeping bag and took catnaps through the night, walking up to check on William. The sun was an hour above the trees when she made the first pot of coffee. She faxed the doctors orders to William's bike shop and called his boss to explain what happened. She diplomatically called in favors from coworkers, and sweet talked her boss to secure the next few days off work. After the details were taken care of she made breakfast. “How are you feeling?” She asked, sitting next to him. “My head is killing me.” William said slowly. “It's a good sign, the concussion's wearing off. Derek says to take as much time off as you need and wear your helmet next time.” “Shit, did he call?” “I took care of it.” Sarahia said inspecting his head. What the doctors hadn't shaved off was covered in dry blood. She frowned, “This isn't going to come out easily. I may have to shave it.” “That's fine. I'll probably rip the stitches out if I keep it.” William crossed his arms and bent over her kitchen sink. His nose crinkled. Sarahia wet his hair, washed out the dried blood and buzzed his hair, leaving a little mowhawk near the stitches. “Can I borrow you shower?” William asked. “I don't know, can you?” Sarahia had a devilish grin.


William sighed, “May I borrow your shower?” “I'll draw you a bath, it will help you relax.” William immersed himself in the bath before he noticed the floral scent in the water. He chuckled, realizing that he'd smell girly for the rest of the day. He stretched out to the length of the tub, and began to feel like a human being again. Sarahia walked into the bathroom without knocking. “Having fun?” She asked. “Yeah,” William stammered. “I forgot to leave your clean clothes in here for you,” She said, smiling. She set the folded pile of clothes on a stand near the sink, looked him over and left. William stared at the door and started laughing.


Courtship Summarized

William recovered from his injuries quickly and returned to his nitch in the world. His friends welcomed him with the traditional barrage of razing. Derek’s wife baked him a cake shaped like a truck, decorated with green frosting. William could give as good as he received, but responded to most of the comments with a sly grin. That became a subject of speculation. Sarahia began bringing William lunch on the weekends, free food from the restaurant she waited for. Her arrival escalated the speculation to gossip. On nice days William would grab two rental bikes, and they'd head down to the trail for a picnic. The gossip became a commotion. Derek had to restrain his staff from heading down the trail to spy on them. William and Sarahia grew closer as the semester rolled to an end. Sarahia would arrive at William's apartment after she got off work and stay up late studying with him. The lurking drama of William's graduation inspired him to do little more than study on most of those nights. They went to the Piper’s on May Day to unwind before exam week. There was a box above the bar that held five bottles of Irish whisky. To celebrate the end of another school year John would take down the oldest bottle and put a new bottle in to age. William and Sarahia both did took a shot to celebrate his graduation, and found themselves quite tipsy afterwards. They walked home, wrapped in each others arms, and tripped into bed together.


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