After sleeping the sleep of the dead when I returned to my flat from the mission in Bogota, I finally emerge in the twilight hours of the day, itching to get moving again.
After only a moment’s debate, I tie on my running shoes and head downstairs to hit the pavement for a good, long run, something I haven’t done for days, thanks to my schedule and that pesky blow to the head.
Jogging slowly, I make my way down the hill from my flat towards the front, and then momentarily debate – should I run the flat sidewalks of the seafront, or turn right and tackle the hills of the Downs that run along the coast?
Deciding I really want to stretch my legs, rather than climb hills today, I turn towards the sea, crossing the street and then descending the stairs at Duke’s Walkway.
I breathe in the salty air as I begin to move faster, ramping up my pace from a gentle jog to a more pushy run, reveling in the feel of my muscles warming and stretching, my lungs filling with fresh air, my mind slowly letting go of the mission from the day before when we traveled halfway around the world to kill men and destroy a plant that no one else could touch.
I’m breathing heavier now, as I keep up a steady pace, planning to run as far as the Eastbourne pier before turning back. There are a few other walkers and runners, but as it is approaching dinnertime, few other tourists or sun seekers are on the front.
I nearly burst out laughing when I see a familiar figure running towards me.
I’d almost believe it wasn’t coincidence but some stalkerish plan, but from the look of surprise on Connor’s face, I have to believe that it is just a coincidence.
I slow to a walk, and he does the same, twin smiles on our faces as we meet. “Are you stalking me?” I tease lightly, and he laughs.
“I was going to ask the same of you,” he shoots back, and then he turns, falling into step beside me. “How are you?”
I shrug and give him a breezy smile. “I’m good. Just needed to get out and stretch the legs a bit.”
He raises an eyebrow. “I thought I told you to take it easy for a few days.”
I laugh. “I’m taking it easy. I’m not running nearly as fast as I normally do, and my head feels fine. Better, actually. The brain damage seems to be wearing off.”
Funny how a jungle ambush in the dead of night can take your mind right off of a brain injury.
He raises an eyebrow again, but says nothing. “Did you take some time off work and rest like I advised?”
I hesitate. “Um… sort of?”
He laughs at my dubious tone. “As long as you’re feeling better. But if you start having dizziness or anything, you see a doctor straight away.”
I nod. “Yes sir.”
“So are you starting your run, or ending it?” He asks, still walking besides me.
“Starting, actually. I was hoping to reach the pier today – I’m not used to being in my flat for so many hours at a time. I think I’m going a little stir crazy.”
“Well, if you’d like the company… I’d be happy to jog with you. I just got here myself…”
I smile up at his warm brown eyes. “I’d like that.”
And with that, we both pick up the pace a bit, legs stretching into further strides, and our small talk conversation drops off as we begin to breathe harder, to focus on reaching the pier and nothing else.
Connor keeps pace with me well, our strides matching, and as we reach the pier, we stop for a quick breather and exchange smiles. “You up for a jog back, old man?” I tease, and he gives me a look of mock horror.
“Old man? You wound me!” He says, and I grin. “Yeah, I think I can handle the stretch back, even without my walking frame or arthritis medicine.”
I laugh, and we begin jogging again. “How old are you, anyway?”
“I’m thirty two. And how old are you, missy?”
“I’m twenty six,” I say, and then pause. “Remember when twenty six sounded really old and grown up?”
He nods, and I continue. “So why is it sometimes I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders, and sometimes I feel like I’m just a kid, barely able to make my way in the world, much less have kids or dogs or buy houses like some other people my age. That’s so… grown up.”
“Well, you don’t strike me as a terribly immature twenty six year old,” he says, and I nod.
“I’m not, but sometimes, I look around and wonder… where the hell am I going? And how did I get from point A to point B, you know?”
“I do. After college, I took time off school to decide if med school was what I really wanted. College was such a good time for finding yourself, and abdicating responsibility of everything, and medical school seemed so… responsible and adult and FINAL. I admit it, I lost my nerve for a while, and decided to just work and travel, but the thought of practicing medicine kept pulling me back, and after that year, I knew I was ready, and then I never looked back. Maybe you just haven’t had that epiphany yet, because believe me, you’ll know when you do.”
I keep my eyes focused on the horizon, absorbing his words. “I hope you’re right. Because I’m not sure how much longer I can do this without losing myself.”
He looks at me with a funny look on my face, and I realize I’ve said too much, revealed too much in just my words and tone. But Connor, god love him, doesn’t say anything, just matches me, stride for stride.
Fifteen minutes later, we’re climbing the stairs back at Duke’s Walkway, both of us soaked with sweat but with matching smiles of accomplishment. I turn to face Connor, who meets my eyes with a questioning glance, though he says nothing. “Would you like to come to the flat for a cuppa tea?”
He smiles then, happily and nods. “I’d like that. Thanks.”
And as we walk back up the hill to my flat, he gently, so gently, takes my hand in his.