By Lauren Lytle
Stepping over the barricade on the mountain trail, I start my nightly run. I already start sliding on the melted snow left over on the dirt trail. Once I finally get my footing and fall into the rhythm of my run. I take in the cold Colorado air that burns my lungs and the trees above, shadows flickering like old film. I play back in my head the scenes that have unfolded these past three months.
I was always good at keeping secrets. When I was younger and Haley Jensen from fifth grade snuck in her makeup kit to school, I stole it and blamed it on Mary Harrison. Or when I overheard my father whispering to a woman on the phone to someone who wasn’t my mother, I didn’t spill a thing. I was always good at lying and hiding things, but that stopped when my marriage became distant, with nothing eventful ever happening.
I wake up again to the same routine. My husband still gone, traveling on his work trip. The house is cold, quiet, and dark. I get ready, not eating, not doing any makeup, and wearing an old pair of jeans and wrinkled top. I’ve stopped trying with my appearance since I gained the weight in college. I used to run track in high school, and I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship to run track at our state school. I lost the scholarship when I began drinking, missing practices and meets, given too many chances until my coaches had enough. I then started failing school. I declared my major as physical therapy since I loved athletics so much, but I failed out of that too then just dropped out of college all together. Since then I’ve continued my small job I had during high school — working as a barista at Chocolates. I’m not even manager, a seventeen-year-old boy named Alex tells me when to clean, patronizing me when I don’t smile while making a coffee, or shakes his head every time I pronounce a customer’s name wrong. The only reason I do this job is because I don’t want to rely on my husband’s money all the time, and I need something to do when he’s not home.
“You’re late.” Alex says while tapping his nail on the glass of the watch on his wrist.
I check my phone, “By three minutes.”
“You’re still late,” he says. His glare follows me while I go around the counter to grab my apron. This kid takes his job too seriously. I’m getting ready to take an order once I see a customer walk in, the bells jingling when the front doors open.
Alex walks past me, heading to the coffee machine. He says as he walks by “Next time try to iron your shirt.”
I take it in silence as I take the customer’s order.
It’s Wednesday, which means it’s the only day of the week at our café that we do poetry readings. Which also means moody, dark college kids come in for their three minutes of fame at the front of the room, on a dusty carpet to read something they crafted when they were high. I’ve been working over eleven hours so I’m tired by the time I’m wiping off counters and picking up leftover mugs scattered across the room. The poetry readings have been going on for almost two hours now, but the café is closing soon so that means I’ll be going back to my empty home again.
The bells above the front door jingle, a straggler arriving to the last poem of the night. I have my back turned, begging in my head please don’t try and order something. That’s when I hear, “Hey, do you work here?”
It’s a deep male voice, and I know what question is coming next after I answer. “Yes, I work here.”
“Can I get a coffee.”
I turn around finally. Alex would be fuming right now if he saw the frown on my face directed at this customer.
“I know you’re closing soon. So, if the machines aren’t already off I was hoping I could get a quick cup.”
Once I’ve finally looked into his eyes, then down at his muddy construction boots and brown flannel, I recognize who I’m talking to. “Beau? Beau Hill.”
He looks at me confused. “Yeah, that’s me. Do I know you?”
With one handing balancing the tray full of coffee mugs I point my other hand to my chest. “It’s me, Bailey Thatcher.”
Watching his face I see the range of emotions. From confusion to realization to shock. He hugs me, “Oh, Bailey, its been so long.”
From the surprise of his hug the tray filled with coffee mugs in my one hand comes clashing to the floor. I pull away from the hug, crouching to the ground to pick up the shards of mugs everywhere. Now Alex has to be scolding me this time. I don’t look up for fear of seeing that face. I pick up each shard quickly to get out of here as quickly as possible and hide until my shift is over. I’m pretty sure over the pounding of blood in my ears there’s the silence of poetry night. The poet on the stage stopped his reading.
Beau holds out a mug that landed at his feet. “This one survived,” he says with a goofy smile.
I grab it quickly in shame. I hold the tray firmly with two hands this time, coffee mug shards and one spare red cup covering it. I shuffle into the back room of the café, hiding.
Still running on the closed-off trail, it’s covered in more, bright snow the higher up I go. The climb is getting steep. I never run; this is the first time I’ve done this in years. My body knows it too, cramping, muscles trying to lock up with the incline. I just decided to do this, not because I missed running but because I needed something to overpower what I’ve been feeling. Sadness, anger, fear, relief. Now I’m in physical pain in the dark, still feeling the emotions I had before. This run isn’t working.
I’m laying in bed this morning, on my back and staring at nothing, my arm across my forehead. I’m thinking back to last night. I hid in the back room until I heard the bells on the front door open and closes as everyone left. By the time I came out and the shards were thrown away, I was holding the lone surviving cup. Beau had left after the mess I made. Of course he did, probably embarrassed by me and how different I look since the last time I saw him. The second Alex saw me his face turned red, I received one hell of a screaming last night.
He said, “The only reason you have this job is because the owner likes you.” And then he stomped away, leaving me to clean up the rest of the room and wash whatever dishes that weren’t broken.
I went through the same morning routine — shower, brush teeth, no makeup, find whatever clothes I had left. God I need to do laundry. I was running to work again, this time trying not to be late since I was opening the store today. I was afraid Alex would drive by in his Nissan Ultima just to see if the café lights were on at six on the dot.
Walking up I see the silhouette of a man leaning against the door. It’s still dark out, but without looking away I dig through my bag to find my expired pepper spray. I doubt it works if I needed to spray it but it might scare off whoever this is. Walking up closer with my hand hidden in my bag, clutching the pepper spray, I have a better sight of who this man is. It’s Beau. I sigh in relief but immediately feel embarrassment after what unfolded the last time he saw me.
“Hi, I thought I’d come on time today so I can get my coffee.”
“Oh, right,” I shake my head, “you never got that yesterday.” As I unlock the door and push it open, I say under my breath that’s what happens when you walk in late. Beau laughs behind me, clearly having heard what I just said.
I turn on the lights and head behind the counter. Putting on my apron I say to Beau behind me, “It might take a while, the coffee machine has to start up.”
Beau leans his elbows against the counter. “It’s alright. I’ve got all the time in the world.”
After tying my apron, I look up to him. He has a big grin across his face. I’m quiet as I start up the machines and take his order. I get the creamer from the fridge and pour coffee grind into the machine. I’m staring at the machine in concentration, not wanting to look back at him.
“So, how have you been since high school?”
I take out the now poured full cup of steaming coffee. I look up at him as I add the creamer. “I’ve been fine.” I’m now focusing on pouring, I don’t want to mess up in front of him again.
“So, is this where you work now?”
I don’t really want to have a conversation with him, not only because of last night but also since it’s so early in the morning and I’m still tired. “Yeah, this is the only place I work at.”
“I bet you don’t make a lot. Do you live with your parents still?”
I shake my head, handing him his cup carefully. “No, I live with my husband.”
Finally looking up I see surprise hit his face. “Oh, I didn’t know you were married.”
“Yeah, surprising how someone gave me a chance after I was arrested and charged with having a relationship with a minor.”
He looks away now in embarrassment. “About that, I’m sorry what happened. I didn’t say anything to my parents, they went through my phone and found our texts.”
“I know, you tried to tell me, but because of that I got in trouble with trying to mess with the case.”
He looks at me sincerely now, grabbing my hand. “I am really sorry. I didn’t want any of that to happen to you.”
I pull away my hand, avoiding eye contact as I look to his full coffee cup. “Are you done with that?” I grab the full thing and pour it down the sink. He takes the hint that I don’t want him here and throws a twenty-dollar bill on the counter. I throw it back at him, “I don’t need your money. I have a husband who can provide enough of that for me.”
Beau nods and picks up the bill off the floor. Before he opens the front door he says, “Well, I’m glad to see you’re doing well.”
Once he walks out and closes the door behind him, I think to myself I’m doing the opposite of well.
It’s my day off. I’m laying in bed late in the morning when I hear the front door to the house open and close. I hear footsteps downstairs but no voices. Chris isn’t supposed to be back for two more days. I get out of bed and creep around the corner of the upstairs. Whoever just came in switches on the kitchen light.
A man yells, “God, this place is a mess.”
I recognize that voice. It is Chris, my husband. I jog down the stairs to see him standing in the middle of the kitchen. He’s wearing his pressed suit and is still holding his briefcase.
He turns to me and says loudly, “Where am I supposed to put this,” waving his briefcase in front of him, “you left my house in a mess. What have you been doing this whole time I’ve been gone.”
I walk up to him and grab his briefcase. “Don’t you remember I have a job.”
I turn away from him to put his briefcase on the empty table right next to the door. “Working at a café is hardly a job. It’s what teenagers do in their free time to save up for shoes.”
I don’t respond. I never bring up my job because he always has some new insult for it. I do actually like it, regardless of the circumstances that forced me to work there.
Chris starts taking off his tie. “Clean up this mess while I shower.” He walks to the staircase and turns back. “And when you’re done start a wash for the clothes in my suitcase.”
He doesn’t ask anymore; he just expects these things from me. Sometimes I think the only reason he married me was so I can do whatever he asks me to, more than any maid would deal with.
The shower stops, right when I’ve finished cleaning the kitchen and have put his laundry in the washer.
He comes down the stairs, passing me, not even acknowledging the cleaning I’ve done since his shower. “So, did you come back in time for my birthday?”
He turns on the tv, responding over the noise. “No, your birthday is near the holidays and that’s when my company makes our best sales. I have to leave in two days to meet with some clients.”
I stand up, finally breaking. “I’m so tired of this. You’re always leaving me alone. The least you can do is stay for my birthday.”
He mutes the tv and turns to me, anger in his eyes. “I work so you can spend my money and do whatever the hell you want. You’re lucky I married you when no one else would.”
He unmutes the tv as a football game starts. My mouth is hanging open. I close it as I head upstairs, bursting out crying.
I stop my run. I’m gasping for air, but what cold air does come in gives me sharp pains in my chest. My lower legs are covered in cold mud and melted snow. My hands are resting on my knees and my breaths are so heavy. I look up at the rising trail in front of me. I’m only halfway there.
I’m running late to the coffee shop. It’s my birthday and Chris left last night with a rushed goodbye. He didn’t leave any gifts or even text me this morning to tell me “Happy birthday.” My nose and eyes are red from crying the past two days. I avoided him the whole time he was home. The only interaction we had was when I told him dinner was ready.
I’m see Chocolates ahead and speed up even more to make it there. I’m running late, probably the latest I’ve ever been. I cried off and on last night, I barely got any sleep. So when my alarm went off I snoozed it for twenty minutes. Now I’m running late to work by almost half an hour. As I’m about to cross the street a man turning the corner walks into me. His hands grab my arms to steady ourselves. I step away and look up to the man with his arms still raised. It’s Beau. He has a slight smile on his face. I ask him, annoyed, “What are you doing here?”
His eyebrows drop down. “Anyone can walk on the street. This isn’t like the café you work at and made me leave a few days ago.”
I roll my eyes and demand, “What? Are you stalking me? Are you trying to get me arrested again and actually put in jail this time?”
He shakes his head. “No. I live in the apartment above the café. I just left to go to another coffee shop down the street since I didn’t want to bother you at your work.”
He’s pointing to the floor above Chocolates. There are windows, and in them I can see a couch and kitchen. Right before I start walking away, I say, “I just don’t want to see you, okay.”
I take the first two steps to the street when Beau grabs my arm and pulls me back to where I stood before. “Are you ever going to forgive me? I didn’t tell anyone what happened between us, they just found out. I didn’t want to get you in anymore trouble once you were arrested, I texted you because I was worried about you.” He stops, then finishes with, “I loved you. I still love you.”
I take it all in. What he said, what happened all those years ago. He was seventeen and would have been eighteen in less than a year. I was almost a sophomore in college and we’d lived in the same town. We met accidentally when I was crying on the bleachers of my high school track field. He was the only one who cared to listen to me when I lost my scholarship and was kicked off the team. My parents blamed me and my teammates stopped talking to me. After that we started a relationship. We texted and didn’t go on dates in public. We both kept it a secret. I knew it was wrong since he was a minor, but I excused it because he’d be eighteen in a few months and it’d then be legal. Right before he turned eighteen and I texted him when I was drunk one night, his parents looked at his phone notifications going off and recognized my name. They knew about me from town and they knew I was an adult. Beau told me all that happened but I still texted him back and told him to stop contacting me. That’s when I went to court and received probation for five years. I was kicked out of school and met my husband once I finished probation.
I start crying again. So much has changed since the last time I saw him in court. We used to say we loved each other but I never took it seriously, he was younger and I didn’t think he really knew what love was. But I did at the time and I felt it for him. “I love you too.”
He pulls me into his arms as I cry into his chest. He kisses the top of my head and lets me cry for what feels like along time. I eventually pull away and wipe my eyes. I check my phone to see the time — I’m almost an hour late. I also see ten texts from Alex. The first texts were him asking me where I was, and him telling me I was late. The texts then turned angry, threatening to call the owner who hired me. The final texts were him saying how he needed to talk to me about my future at Chocolates once I come in. I turn off my phone and put it back in my pocket. Chocolates has always been short staffed, the only real staff are me and Alex, but sometimes the owner comes in to check on things. We probably have a small staff because of Alex and how horrible he is.
Beau saw me pull out my phone and he saw all the messages from Alex. “Do you have work right now?”
I look back up. “Yeah, I’m so late, but I think I’m going to quit.”
He raises his eyebrows in surprise. “But you love that job! You told me how much you loved it in high school and you always got me coffee from there.”
I shake my head. “Everything was different then. I didn’t work for an asshole boss and I didn’t have to settle for a small job because nobody would hire me with a criminal record.”
He looks down at the mention of that. “I’m-”
I interrupt him, “Don’t say it again. You’ve said it too many times.”
He nods. He then looks back to his apartment and asks, “Hey, why don’t you come up for a bit, since you aren’t going to work anymore.”
I look to the apartment and back at him. It’s not like I can get arrested this time, right?
I nod, “Yeah, that sounds good.”
We cross the street and go to the side of the building, heading up the stairs that crosses over the bricks. He unlocks the door and moves aside, holding it open for me. It’s so warm. I walk farther in as Beau closes the door behind me. I look around at the pictures on the wall, some including me, and the worn in leather couch, organized kitchen, and fluffy bed. This is all him.
I walk to the leather couch and sink into it. He says, “I got that off the side of a curb, me and my roommates drove by it and squeezed it into a trunk. It didn’t fit in our dorm and they got tired of it, so I kept it.”
I never knew about the college he went to, what he majored in, if he joined a fraternity. I wasn’t allowed too know for so long. I stand up off the used couch and move to the kitchen. I move my hands over the marble counter, “My husband yelled at me the other day about our kitchen. I didn’t clean it by the time he got home, so I had to clean it quickly before he came back downstairs and noticed.”
I remove lift my hands up off the counter and turn back to Beau. He looks at me shocked. “Why would you marry someone who’d yell at you and make you afraid.”
I sigh. “Because I needed the money. My parents didn’t want anything to do with me after what happened. No guy wanted to come near me. So when Chris was the only man to show me love I married him. He became different after that. I was always home doing nothing and waited to talk to him when he got home, since I didn’t have any friends. He said I was suffocating and that’s when he started going away on work trips. Who knows what he does on them.”
Beau stepped closer. “Is he here now? Like, here in town?”
I shake my head, “No. I asked him to stay for my birthday but he left last night.”
Beau stepped closer. “It’s your birthday? I forgot. We never got to celebrate when we were together.”
Because we never got to reach that point before we were discovered. “Well, I almost forgot too.”
He takes the last step in front of me. I can feel his warm breath on me. “I’m so sorry.”
I push him away. “I told you to never say that again.”
He catches my hands with a smile. Then he pulls me in to kiss me. At first I’m shocked. It feels so wrong after everything that happened. But then I relax into it, realizing it’s not wrong anymore and how much I’ve missed this.
I push myself to run again. I’m now on the steepest part of the trail. My legs are burning and tightening more than before. I don’t think I can do it. Up above I see a white sign with red letters, it has two arrows. One arrow points to the left, a separate trail that looks flatter and would be better for me to run on. The second arrow points to the right, the trail I’m currently on for more experienced runners. I hesitate for a moment. I continue on to the right trail.
I’m no longer crying. The next few days I can’t stop smiling. Beau has started giving me notes every time he sees me; he also has started buying me flowers. He encouraged me to start looking for a new job. I applied to the coffee shop he goes to down the street from Chocolates, I have a meeting with the manager tomorrow.
When I walk in late at night through the front door I smell burning. The lights are on in the house and Chris’ suitcase is next to the door. Shit. Once the door closes he turns around from the food he’s burning on the stove. He’s angry.
“Where have you been? I had to cook dinner for myself.”
“I didn’t know you were back.”
“I came back this afternoon. I’ve texted you asking where you were.”
I turn on my phone that I now leave off when I’m with Beau. There’s texts from the last few hours from Chris. “I’m sorry, my phone is off.”
He slams his hand on the counter and walks quickly to me. “Were you with someone?”
I start shaking my head in fear. “No. No. I was working.”
“No, you weren’t. I went to Chocolates and they said you no haven’t shown up in the past few days.”
I don’t know what to say, that was my only excuse.
He points back to the kitchen, to the flowers in the middle of the counter. “Where did you get those roses? Did someone buy them for you?”
I’m shaking my head again. “No. I bought those for myself.”
He huffs. Then he reaches into his pocket and pulls out paper. The notes Beau gave me. I reach for them and he pulls them away. “And what about these? Who gave these to you?”
I look to the notes and back to his raging face. “Fine. I’ve been seeing someone else. You’re a horrible husband who doesn’t love me, maybe even has never loved me. You leave me alone all the time and when you are here you tell me what to do and make me do everything for you.”
He’s now looking at me in shock. “Really? I give you money and a house that you never would have had because nobody wanted you, not your parents, not that minor you slept with. You’d probably be living on the street right now if it wasn’t for me.”
I’m stunned. He’s never said those things or even talked about my arrest and what happened. I shake my head at him and turn around, opening the door.
“Don’t walk away from me! I’m not done!”
“I’m done! We’re getting a divorce!”
I slam the door and get in the car. He’s now run out of the house, the look in his eyes scaring me. I pull away as quickly as I can, afraid he’ll jump on top of the car to stop me from leaving.
I drive as fast as I can to Beau’s apartment. I park in street parking and run up the stairs to his apartment. I bang on the door. Beau isn’t the one to open the door, his mother is.
When she recognizes who I am there’s a mix of shock and anger in her eyes. “What the hell are you doing here? Are you stalking my son?”
I’m shaking my head quickly. “No. No. He found me and we’ve just been talking.”
She turns to her son and husband standing in the middle of the room. “Beau?”
He looks between me and his mother. “I accidentally ran into her twice. We’ve only said a few things to each other. That’s it.”
I look at him in shock. “You said you don’t speak to your parents after what happened.”
Beau doesn’t answer me. Instead his mother chuckles. “You mean after you were arrested for assaulting a minor?”
I don’t respond, instead I slowly back away and run down the stairs. This was a mistake; this was all a mistake.
I pull out my parked car and speed off. Not knowing where I’m going. Afraid my husband will find me; afraid Beau’s mother will call the cops. My phone in the cup holder is blowing up with texts. I look over and with one hand I turn it off. When I look back up to road, I pass something — an entrance to a state park with running trails. I make a U-turn and pull in.
I’m running faster now, warning signs flashing past me. I’m ignoring the pains in my body, the scenes playing out in my head — Chris running out to the car, Beau’s mother opening the door, Beau smiling at me and kissing me for the first time in ten years. I stop abruptly. I’ve reached the end of the trail, I’m now on the edge of a cliff. Rocks stumble below me, breaking off from the force of my quick stop. I’m gasping even more than before. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Every breath is so painful, likes shards to my chest. I need to breathe. I start seeing black dots in my vision. I know this is the end. To the end of my cold marriage to Chris. The end to everything Beau and I have been through in the past ten years. My breaths slow down. The black dots in my vision disappear. I balance myself. I back away from the ledge in caution, afraid of what could happen next.
Bio: Lauren Lytle is a senior at Flagler College in Saint Augustine, Florida, where she is a creative writing major. Runner’s High was the first story she’s ever written and shown to people. Her dream would be to publish a collection of short stories.