Chapter 24 - "You don't have to talk to her."

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The locker room rang with the laughter of girls and the clanging of metal doors. Carter laced up her shoes, ignoring the clamor.

Outside, summer felt on the horizon, the sky dotted with puffy clouds and the breeze lacking any chill. She noticed none of it. A scattering of students were positioned on the track, talking. Off to the side, Mr. Danes stood looking over a clip board.

"You need something, Owens?" he asked, as Carter walked over.

"What are we doing today?"

Mr. Danes gave her his full attention as if the simple question was surprising.

"The usual mile run and then a game of soccer."

Carter nodded.

"Okay," she said. "Well, you know I'm here."

Mr. Danes gave her a baffled look. She didn't notice as she turned and started running, just as Donovan and Link stepped out of the locker room. They watched her silently, Link frowning.

"I can't keep up with her," Link said.

Donovan looked at Link before taking off after Carter, who gave no sign that she noticed him as he came alongside and easily kept pace with her. Neither spoke. They moved in rhythm, their breaths and strides matching.

They were on the opposite side of the track when Carter glanced over at Donovan, finally aware that he was there and the way they moved in sync with each other. He met her gaze for a brief second.

"You're meeting her today."

It was a statement without a hint of doubt. Carter gave a single nod.

"After school?" he asked.

Another nod.

"What made you decide to see her?" he asked.

Carter didn't answer right away, her thoughts still racing.

"I wanted her to have to look at me and own up to abandoning us."

Donovan nodded and they continued in silence. By the time the rest of the class was beginning their miles, Carter had forced aside her distracted state. They slowed their pace as they came alongside Link.

"You two are freaking synchronized when you run, you know that?" he said.

"What can I say," Carter said. "I've had to run with my dad, so I'm used to slowing my pace for someone else."

Donovan gave her a flat look and she smiled.

"I believe we've already established that I am the faster runner," he said.

"I think those results were wrong because I had already been running at top speed before you decided to race me."

"An excuse worthy of someone who has lost."

Link groaned.

"Either race or don't," he said. "Just don't make me listen to this anymore."

Donovan and Carter exchanged smiles, but said nothing else.

***************

Back in the locker room after class, Carter's preoccupied disposition returned. As she dressed, her mind fretted over the approaching reunion with her mother. As she exited the locker room, she saw Donovan and Link waiting.

They took up positions beside her and they all made their way to the entrance of the school. Outside a line of chauffeured town cars filled the gravel drive. Students cut around the three of them, hurrying to their cars, waving to friends as they went.

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