She didn't think she'd reclaim her running spirit. He wondered if he'd ever see her again.
| "Goddamn yellow things," Maura grumbled as she stepped out of the car.
Once out of her silver sedan, she nudged the door shut and scoped out the rest area. The red barn building stuck out in the flatness of the Minnesota-Iowa border. It provided a reasonable halfway point en route to Des Moines, where a mile race beckoned. Maura smirked to herself as she locked the doors, contemplating the merits (and ridiculousness) of driving several hours to run a race that would take less than nine minutes for her to complete.
I’d like to go sub-8 again, but I think that result was a bit of a fluke, she pondered to herself as she shook out her legs.
She stretched for a few moments before bunny hopping across the pavement. While she’d mostly stopped to use the bathroom, a bit of extra movement kept her leg muscles supple enough to mitigate any possible cramping on the drive. As she stretched and bounced the keep everything warm, she noted a lack of wind in the area. The weather conditions lingered in her mind as she wrapped up her impromptu calisthenics and headed into the restored barn.
Maura stepped into the barn and found only one other person on the lower level. A faint conversation prompted her to peer up at the loft, which held an information booth and coffee shop. She spotted a man with a blond crew cut in the loft and tilted her head to try to get a better look. He faced away from her side of the building, but his haircut and build looked familiar enough to Maura for her to pause. She waited a couple moments to see if he would turn around, but after a while her bladder’s demands overruled her brain’s plans. With confusion furled eyebrows, she made her way to the restrooms.
After stopping in the restroom, Maura stepped back into the center of the barn. Glancing at the traffic map screen to check the time, she noticed someone in her periphery. She turned her head and flicked an errant strand of deep brown hair out of her face.
With the strand out of her face, she looked closer at the source of the voice. This glance confirmed her earlier suspicion about the man she spotted in the loft.
“Hello, Rob,” she greeted him while also backing up a tad. “What brings you out to this remote rest stop just north of nowhere?”
“The need for rest,” he replied.
Maura snorted at the phrase, which was on a sign at this rest area. The sign’s absurd need to point out that people could park at the area for more than a day if there was a need to rest amused her far more than it should have. She’d shared this with Rob and a few other people in her office last spring after her previous foray in Iowa running.
Former office, she reminded herself.
“Seriously,” Maura pressed. “I’m drawing a blank as to why you’re even in this part. Last I checked you didn’t go to college here, have no family in the state, and aren’t that interested in the Diamond Jo casino just behind us.”
“I’m heading to Des Moines for some time off,” Rob told her. “How about you? I haven’t seen or heard from you since February.”
Maura winced. "Yeah, I know. We haven’t been on the most stable terms the last few months, so I didn’t bother to reach out and call you. I didn't choose to leave, and that's all I'm going to say about it."
“I suspected as much. You did quality work, so I’m guessing the bosses wanted you out for political reasons.”
“Probably. Don’t think we’ll ever know. I’d rather not think about it now.”
“Okay, okay. So what have you been doing since?”
“Job hunting, training for this race (which I’d paid for a while ago), that sort of thing.”
Maura cocked her head. “And you. I still haven’t heard what’s made you decide to wander to Iowa for some time off. I mean, the weather is decent and not like last year’s really late blast of wintry weather, but that’s still a stretch.”
“I figured I’d check the race out this year.”
Rob rubbed his face. “Seriously, Maura, I’m going to the race.”
“Really? When did you take up running?”
“Well, maybe not running, but I can certainly walk a mile without getting winded. I have been trying to work on dropping a couple pounds, you know. Not everyone gets to be skinny like you, Maura.”
“And people need to stop considering that a reason to be envious. Right now, I think having a couple extra jobs thanks to a steady desk job is a better deal.”
With that Maura turned on her heel and headed for the door.
Maura was mere steps from her cars when she heard running behind her. She turned around and spotted Rob heading for her, a dandelion with half of its stem in hand. He brought it over to Maura and waved it under her nose.
"Here you go," he chimed. "Call it a gift."
"Get that thing away from me," Maura mumbled before facing away from him. “I’ve mentioned how those things keep me from breathing.”
“Why can’t you accept a little cheer up gift?”
Maura’s shoulders sagged, and her right eye twitched. “I just answered that question. Allergies. They suck, and I don’t have an inhaler. If I’m around that thing much longer I’ll be trying to drive in nasty crosswinds while having an asthma attack, and hell if I know where I can find an over the counter inhaler around here.”
Rob tossed the dandelion aside, and Maura watched it tumble along the sidewalk near the curb. She looked at Rob, who in turn faced her with open, pleading eyes.
“Maybe I’ve just missed you this whole time and wanted to reconnect,” he admitted. “Things haven’t been the same since to left. Maybe we can talk about this.”
“And maybe it’s too late,” Maura shot back before finishing the trek to her sedan.
To her relief, Maura made it to Des Moines with both lungs functioning as expected and no crosswinds to shake up a dull drive through the abundant acres of corn nearby the freeway. Once checked into her hotel, she sat in the room’s plush easy chair to think.
Rob’s admission and announcement of his intention to be at the race weighed on her mind. Even with some time on the drive to think it over, she had not been able to parse what bothered her about it all. Yes, things had taken a sharp turn around Halloween. At that time, she had not accepted his withdrawal. Things thawed a little around the holidays, and they were working their way back to small talk. It was a far cry from a year ago when they exchanged multiple non-work emails throughout each day and met with some other colleagues for breakfast to talk about things that were office inappropriate. After her firing, Maura felt like much of her social life had been erased. She had become used to this. Did she really want to try to revive it?
Maura looked at her watch. She had a couple hours to go before race time, but there was plenty of work to be done beforehand. She pushed herself out of the chair and began to get her duffle bag ready for the race.
Her arrival in downtown Des Moines allowed her to set aside her previous ponderings. From the giant display screen a few yards from the finish line to the demonstration treadmill set up on a trailer bed down a nearby street, she spotted signs of a familiar race environment. Dozens of people milled about the courtyard by the finish line and spilled over into a sculpture garden next to the staging area. Maura joined the fray and located the packet pick up tent in no time flat.
Once Maura checked in and had her packet in hand, she claimed a bench in the courtyard so she could get all her things organized. From there, she fastened her race bib to her shirt and pulled a couple essentials from her duffle. She spent the rest of her time stowing her gear and stretching. The crowd swelled as the start time for the recreational wave approached. Maura glanced around a couple times to see if Rob was anywhere in the area. After not seeing him the second time she looked, she shrugged and got a head start on making her way to the start line. It would give her some space to shake out her legs and find a not terrible place in the queue to hang out before the start.
Before Maura knew it, she was on the course. She dodged a couple kids who ran out of steam less than a tenth of the way through, and she almost tripped twice. What had started as a massive pack of humans in various types of running gear soon spread out in the first quarter mile. Maura found a nice pocket with few people nearby and established an aggressive pace. Her breathing huffed every time she had to pass people, a task she had to do a bit more after the halfway point. Still, her sides lodged complaints when her eyes fell on the banner indicating she had a quarter mile left. Arm half pumping and half flailing, Maura fought her way to the blue turf leading up to the finish line. She spared a painful glance at the race clock atop the finish line and blinked at the time. As she stepped on the pads indicating the end of the course, her thoughts focused on grabbing a sports drink immediately before embarking on a cool down stroll.
Twenty minutes later, Maura found herself standing around in the grass. Her duffle bag rested by her feet as she glanced at a slip of paper she received after her cooldown. It had taken a few minutes for the new PR to register in her head. Once she saw that the times matched between her results slip and the online tracking, she decided to take a photo of her time and share it online. As soon as she finished taking the picture, she looked up and found a familiar face across from her.
“The walkers here make me feel a little less bad about my fitness,” Rob announced. “On the other hand, there are so many people here, and many of them have probably been done for a while.”
“Myself included, probably,” Maura remarked.
“What was your time?
"Seven fifty," she said with a slight shake of her head. Saying it out loud made her realize what she had managed to accomplish.
"Nice!” Rob congratulated her. “Definitely way ahead of my stroll. Looks like the dandelions didn't hold you back at all."
"No. They didn't."
“Seriously, though, Maura, that’s really good. I don’t know if I could do that.”
“Depends on how much work you want to put into it. I’m hoping to lower my PR some more, but I’m almost 30. I don’t know how much time I have for this.”
“I hear ya. Speaking of putting work into things, I had a thought while walking out there.”
Maura arched her eyebrows at Rob. “Yeah. And?”
“I was thinking that we didn’t really have a chance to really patch things up before you got let go. I know things hadn’t been all that great between us for some time, and I was hoping to talk things over with you.”
“Well, maybe not right now since this area’s a bit noisy, and there’s not too many places to sit that won’t end up hurting my butt in some capacity.”
“True. So do you want to go somewhere else? I was hoping to watch the rest of the waves, and that’s going to be at least half an hour.”
“I can watch along with you, and then maybe we can find a place to grab a late dinner. After that, we can split for the rest of the night.”
Maura contemplated Rob’s terms. Despite her fatigue and desire to curl up in her hotel bed with a burrito bowl, she was curious about Rob’s intentions. She also figured that their being in a different state from where they live and work might foster a more honest and direct conversation that should have taken place many months ago.
“As long as we split the bill,” she said. “Now let’s find a decent spot to watch the rest of the race.”