Chapter One: Running Is the Best Thing
Chapter One Running Is the Best Thing
I jumped out of my seat and grabbed my backpack, which was hanging from my chair. School was finally out!
Hoisting my backpack across my shoulders, I ran out the door and hurried to my locker. Even though I like my classes and can sit still and pay attention during them, my legs are always itching to leave by the end of the day.
I know that I left recess behind in elementary school, but there’s part of me that really wishes that I could have brought it with me into middle school.
I love the idea of being able to go out into the sunshine after a few hours of classes and stretch and run. I would ignore the tetherballs and basketball hoops and make a beeline for the group of kids playing tag.
In the short time we had outside, I’d run and duck and swerve, sometimes getting close to the tagger, then spinning around and flying toward the “safe” wall of the school building. I loved the feeling of excitement of outrunning somebody, or dodging their outstretched hand as I bolted across the playground.
But now, in sixth grade, recess is gone. Sure, I’ve got gym class scheduled, but even though I have gym two to three times a week, it still never feels like enough exercise.
I am lucky, though—there is one sport that I’ve been playing for six years that helps me feel happy in my body. Mom and Dad signed me up for soccer when I was in kindergarten, and I’ve been playing ever since.
I love the way it feels when I’m totally concentrated on the ball, dribbling and passing and moving it forward to the opposing team’s goal. Even though my body is working hard, it’s a special moment when my head gets really quiet as it focuses on the next play.
Run, dribble, pass, repeat, score!
I had soccer practice the next day, but today I was walking home with my sister Kelsey. I found her by the front of the school, and together we started on our way.
Kelsey and I are really close in age, but we don’t share a lot of things in common.
For one thing, Mom and Dad are Kelsey’s birth mother and father, while I was adopted by them from South Korea when I was just a baby.
Kelsey looks like a combination of my parents, with her light brown hair and green eyes, while I’ve got straight black hair and dark brown eyes.
My sister is super disorganized, while I like to keep track of all my things. (Don’t look in my closet, though—it is the one part of my life that I allow to go a little haywire.) Kelsey also isn’t always on time, while I hate it when I’m even a minute late for things.
But despite our differences, I love having Kelsey as a sister. And I feel protective of her too.
A while back, when her personal blog accidentally got posted to the web, even though there wasn’t anything really sensitive that she shared, I made a plan to get her out of school that day and home with Mom and Dad so she didn’t have to be around the kids who had just read her innermost thoughts. I think that helping her drew the two of us closer together.
“Want to go for a run when we get home?” I asked Kelsey as we walked along.
I held my finger in the air as if I was testing it. The air was sharp and crisp, cool, but not the kind of cool that makes you want to stay inside.
“It’s the perfect weather for it.”
Kelsey shook her head. “Nah. I’m reading a really good book, and I’m almost done with it. I want to see what happens in the end.”
She shrugged, adjusting her backpack. “Plus, I feel like I haven’t been paying enough attention to Rusty lately. I kind of feel like snuggle time is on the horizon.”
I nodded. Rusty is the dog we adopted recently. One of our neighbors, Mrs. Rose, helps out at a local rescue shelter, fostering dogs until they’re adopted so they don’t have to be kept in the shelter’s kennels all the time.
One day Mrs. Rose was walking by my soccer practice with a couple of dogs that she was fostering, and that’s when I saw Rusty.
He was really shy, and I was immediately drawn to how he seemed to be so scared of the world but became happy and playful when showered with attention.
Mrs. Rose had named him Rusty for his reddish-brown fur, and she told me that a hiker had found him abandoned in the woods, hiding under some rocks.
It took some convincing, but eventually Mom and Dad decided that having a dog in the house would be a great addition to the family, and we adopted Rusty.
I quickly found out that adopting a cute dog is a lot more work than actually taking care of one—Rusty needs to be walked twice a day, and picking up his poop is never fun.
But I love that little guy to pieces, and whenever he hops up onto my bed and curls up into a bagel to take a nap, I smile. And even though I’m cleaning up after him constantly, I wouldn’t trade him for anything.
Rusty is the family dog, though, and if Kelsey wanted to spend some time with him, that was awesome.
“All right,” I told Kelsey. “Maybe Jenna will want to go for a run with me.”
Jenna is my older sister. She mostly keeps to her own group of friends, but every once in a while she’ll hang out with Kelsey and me.
When we got home, Rusty was waiting for us at the door. After wrapping him in a giant hug and rubbing his furry brown head while he wagged his tail happily, I took off my school shoes and padded in socks to the kitchen, where Dad was waiting for us with after-school snacks.
“I present to you… apple nachos!” he said proudly, displaying a plate covered in thinly cut apples slices arranged carefully in a spiral. He had drizzled peanut butter, honey, and granola over them.
“Cool!” I washed my hands with soap and water, then picked up a slice and gobbled it up.
“This is great, Dad!” I mumbled as I picked up three more slices and fit them all in my mouth.
“Agreed,” Kelsey said, her mouth equally full.
“Did you get this recipe from Grandpa and Nans?” I asked, licking peanut butter off my finger.
My grandparents are both really talented cooks and have owned a restaurant called the Park View Table in our little town of Bellgrove since basically forever.
It’s a family operation, with pretty much all my relatives helping out in one way or another—including Kelsey, Jenna, and me.
I’ve got four cousins who also work there, and together we make sure that the floors are swept, the tables are bused, the orders are right, and that things run as smoothly as possible.
My grandmother’s specialty is donuts, and years ago she created a counter inside the restaurant called Donut Dreams that my uncle Mike runs now.
Nans has always had a way of making something ordinary extraordinary—like taking a chocolate donut and making it extra chocolatey by adding a chocolate glaze and chocolate cream inside.
Anyway, I figured that if my dad was sprucing up our snacks, he must have gotten it from a secret family recipe.
“Nope,” Dad said, surprising me. “I got it off the old Internet. Grandpa and Nans are too busy planning for Jazz Fest to share recipes right now.”
The Bellgrove Jazz Fest is seriously one of the busiest times of the entire year for our family.
Every fall, our whole town gets together the third Saturday after Labor Day to celebrate jazz music with a huge festival that’s set up along Main Street.
In addition to an awesome parade and good music, local restaurants set up a ton of food booths so we can eat their tasty food outdoors. We have a parade and food booths at Jazz Fest and other town celebrations too. And Bellgrove loves to end any festival with a bonfire at the lake. Our festival days may be kind of similar, but they’re all still really fun.
We’ve got a Donut Dreams booth, and we usually sell out of donuts every year. Last year, we even had a giveaway—if you’re able to answer a trivia question about jazz, you got a free donut!
“Well, these apple nachos are still delicious, even if it wasn’t something that was handed down over generations. Thanks, Dad!”
I downed the rest of my snack and went to my room to change.
On my way, I stopped by the living room, where I found Jenna in front of the TV, watching a movie and eating popcorn.
She doesn’t have much free time to just chill because she’s usually playing tennis, taking piano lessons, or working at the Park. So when she does have time to relax, she really savors it.
“Hey, Jenna. Want to go on a run with me?” I asked hopefully.
“Nope.” Jenna’s eyes were glued to the screen, where a pretty exciting car chase was happening. “I would never keep up.”
I laughed. “Of course you would. You’re, like, at least three inches taller than I am.”
“Doesn’t matter,” said Kelsey, coming into the room with Rusty at her heels. “You’re way too fast for the both of us, Molly.”
“Yeah, plus running is no fun at all,” Jenna said. “It’s just flopping one foot in front of the other over and over again. It’s monotonous and boring.”
I’ve heard this argument before. I can’t say that running is the most glamorous of things to be doing on a Monday afternoon.
“I know it can look boring,” I told my sisters. “But it’s really important for me to stay in shape for soccer, and running is the best thing I can do to make sure that I’m competitive on the field.”
Jenna shot me a look that definitely had a big-sister-does-not-want-to-be-bothered air to it.
“Molly, I appreciate that you love soccer. I really do. But I’m not going on a run, and right now I want to watch my movie.”
“All right,” I sighed, and headed upstairs with Kelsey.
“Hey, Molly,” Kelsey said as she paused in front of her bedroom door. “You know, I really admire how dedicated you are to soccer.”
I had been feeling pretty glum at Jenna being annoyed at me, but Kelsey’s words cheered me up.
“Yeah.” Kelsey grinned. “You’ve got a lot of perseverance. And even though I am also not ever going to go running with you, it’s really awesome that you’re doing something that you love.”
“Thanks, Kelsey.” I impulsively gave her a hug. “Soccer does mean a lot to me. One day I’m hoping that it’ll get me a sports scholarship into college. Stanford or University of North Carolina would be great, but I would settle for UCLA if I had to.”
“Well, while you figure out your life plans five years from now, I’m going to go read my book.”
Kelsey hugged me back, then went into her room, while I went into mine.
I changed into my running shorts—pale pink with black stripes—and a dark green sleeveless shirt.
Even though it was fall, I loved the feeling of the wind on my shoulders when I was outside and pumping my legs as hard as I could.
I used a scrunchie to tie my hair back into a long ponytail, then went downstairs to grab a big glass of water.
After gulping it down, I yelled out to my dad, who was in the living room with Jenna. “I’m going for a run!”
“Have fun, sweetie,” he called back.
I went to the front door and pulled my running sneakers from the shoe cubby. I sat down and laced up them up.
I loved this part right before I headed out the door. I liked to get the tension of the laces just right against my feet, tight but not too tight, until each sneaker felt like it was an extension of my own foot.
I stood up, checked the time, then headed out.
On the front steps I breathed in the cool air while I did a couple of stretches. Then I took off at an easy jog. After a couple of minutes, I gradually increased my pace, feeling my heart rate ramp up.
By the time I reached the track, I could feel my heart pounding. There was sweat rolling down the sides of my temples, and despite the chill air, I was warm.
My foot hit the rubber of the track, and like a switch that had suddenly been flipped on, I burst into my highest gear. I glided across the ground, feeling only my body and my heart and my determination as I pushed myself to the limit.
What I love about running is that there comes a moment, after all the groans and protests that your muscles make, when everything seems to melt away. Your mind quiets, and while you’re still working like crazy to run, it all feels effortless and beautiful.
I finished my run and checked my time on my watch.
I’d run a mile on the track in eight minutes!
It was one of the best times I had ever gotten. I felt excited and happy and strong.
In a lot of ways, running for me was a means to an end. It steadied me, and I liked how it was part of my daily life.
But I mostly ran because it helped me with my stamina while playing soccer, which was absolutely the most important thing in my life besides family.
And I was going to need a lot of stamina soon.
My soccer team, the Falcons, was having a really big match in two weeks, and I had to be in tip-top shape if I wanted our team to have a chance at winning.