It was a five mile run on the bike path from Mick’s house to the gym. Sundays were always his long runs, and once a month he used it to race with Fran. The ten mile round trip plus the 45 minutes on the treadmill next to Fran got him to maybe 15-20 miles, depending on the hills he set and how hard he pushed. He kind of hated the treadmill, but this monthly ritual of watching Fran work inspired him like nothing else in his life. He wouldn’t miss it, had never missed it. When Fran had traveled for her book tour, or early in her training when she was periodically injured, sometimes he had come here to run anyway, just to imagine her at his side.
Today though, he felt himself dragging his feet. Maybe his knee was twinging. Maybe he should be catching up on work. He didn’t really like the treadmills. But he ran anyway, because it was Sunday.
He met Fran at the edge of the glass wall where the treadmills stood. The sun radiated into the gym and glittered in her hair. Usually Fran’s face was the shiningest thing about her – usually it was the shiningest thing in the room – but today she looked beaten down. Fucking goddamn Charles.
“Hey,” he said.
“Uh-oh,” she said, like she saw a spider on his face.
“That look. Don’t use that look on me. I know that look.”
“That look. I’ve seen you use on women for years, that look that says, ‘Its been fun but I have to go now.’ Listen,” she tapped him on the chest, “just because you made me come once doesn’t mean to get to treat me like I’m one of them, bucko, I don’t follow those rules. Get on your treadmill, we’ve got a race to run.”
He obeyed, bemused.
“Ready?” They set their timers for 45 minutes.
“Set?” They selected the same course of demanding hills, one level more challenging than each had selected in the previous month.
“Go!” And the race started.
They weren’t running to finish first – Fran was slower than Mick and she always would be, with her legs six inches shorter and, moreover, endless novel-reading in place of physical activity during her first two decades of life, against his lifelong, easy athleticism. They were running to peer pressure the other into beating their own best efforts. She was slower, always would be – but she was driven like nothing else Mick had ever known.
After a few minutes, Fran broke the silence.
“So what’s the look?”
“Seriously, I don’t know what you mean.” He believed he had a look – Fran was never wrong about these things – but he didn’t know what it was.
“Okay.” She didn’t push him. She said, “Okay, so then I’m going to admit something now. Ready?”
“I came here planning to ask if you would be interested in getting laid. By me, I mean.”
A pause, and Mick realized she was waiting for him to react. “Oh,” he said, not sure what words could convey the twin jolts of erotic visions and undifferentiated terror that raced through him at the thought. She seemed to understand though. Fran always did.
“Look, I’m a mess. Every second since Charles has been filled with this…” she gestured around her head, “noise. You know, all the body crap. It got loose in my head again. Every single second, except for when you were… you know. And I thought, maybe… it would help to put the noise back in its box. If I could just stop all these noisy explosions going off in my head, maybe I could get to the basic job of getting over Charles.” She stopped and glanced at him, checking on his reaction, he thought. He must have seemed okay because she continued, “And I trust you. I respect you. Apparently my body enjoys the way you touch it, and I’m pretty sure that if you can bring yourself to tolerate my squishy body, you’ll have a good time too. Just one time, you know? Just one night of free-range fucking. I really think it’ll help me, and I’d do everything I could to make it good for you, too, if possible.”
Mick listened to this passively. It sounded logical, the way she said it. Like she was asking him to pick up her dry cleaning – something she’d only ask under rare circumstances, and of course she’d respond in kind whenever he asked. A favor. Small and easy and not unpleasant.
He had no clue why part of his brain was resisting the idea. He had wanted her, after all, had fantasized about fucking her that very night, masturbating to a huge orgasm at the idea. He had spent a major part of Saturday reliving that moment of her orgasm, seeing her mouth all red and open. There was something wrong, though.
“But your look has me worried,” she was saying. “Your look tells me it might be complicated for you.”
A lot of treadmill turned under his feet while he searched for words.
“It’s just… I mean, Friday was, like, what I do. Women are in bad relationships and I come along and make them feel better. I’m the good time.”
Fran considered this. “Is that how it is with Squeaky? You’re the good time?”
“Her name’s Christine and yeah. She’s married.”
“They’re all married.”
“Conjunction Junction wasn’t married.”
“No, but she was a lesbian.”
“That’s what she told me.”
“What about The Dildo?”
“Living with her boyfriend.”
“ How did I never realize this before? I mean, we’ve talked about how you alway leave first, but I had no idea. Hell, Mick, you gotta get some therapy.”
He looked at her, puzzled. “Why? They have a good time, I have a good time, I’m honest with them, they’re honest with me.”
Fran sputtered. “And whether or not they’re honest with their significant others isn’t your problem!”
“Not so far as I can see.”
They ran side by side in silence.