CHAPTER FIFTEEN (draft)

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Logan Sangre and I walk from the food court to the edge of the gym area where the track begins. The floor of the track is made of some kind of soft and rubbery material. I’m assuming this type of surface is easier on your feet than ordinary flooring. It’s brick red in color, with eight painted lanes and other markings in white.

A few Candidates are using the track already, running laps. I see one girl from my Dorm jogging by.

We stand before the track.

“This is so embarrassing,” I say, quickly looking up into his eyes, before anything else happens, because my mind is reeling with a combination of terror and excitement. “I suck so badly at this. . . . You’re probably going to laugh when you see me run—either that or you’ll just want to cry.”

Logan exhales. Suddenly I feel his hands come around and squeeze my shoulders, as he moves in and looks at me gently. Whoa!

“No problem, Gwen. Nothing to be embarrassed about.” His face is so serious in that moment, and oh, so beautiful. “This Qualification—this whole situation is abnormal. No one can expect you to know how to run, to be particularly good at it, or to know how to do any of these other impossible things they expect of us, out of the blue. . . . Do what you can, the best you can. And I will help you. All right?”

I nod. The feel of his strong hands around my shoulders, fingers pressing lightly, has turned me into a puddle, and at the same time I am giddy as if I’m twelve, like Gracie. If only he knew!

“And no,” he adds, leaning in over me, so that our foreheads are almost touching. “I would never laugh. Not at you. Not at the way you or any other beginner might run. If I did, it would make me the worst kind of jerk. I hope you don’t think that’s what I am.”

“Oh, no! Of course not!”

Logan smiles, and his face just lights up. “Okay! In that case, let’s see how ‘awful’ you really are. Go on and start running. I’ll catch up with you in a few, but first I want to watch your form.”

“My form? Uhm, how? What should I do?” I say, like a total dummy.

“Just pick a lane—let’s say the middle one—and try to stay in it. Now, go!”

I step onto the track, take a deep breath and start running.

When I say running, I mean, I am barely moving at a jog, my arms flailing uselessly every which way, and my wobbly feet striking the surface of the track. Only about thirty paces in, and my breath is already coming in ragged. The compounded exhaustion of the second day of uncustomary physical effort has taken its toll. I am panting like a dog, my knees start to wobble, and the raw blisters on my feet are killing me—you know, all the same horrible stuff that’s been happening every time I try to run.

I’ve barely gone around one fifth of the track, when I hear Logan come up running from behind me. He’s moving without any discernable effort, legs pumping evenly, and now he runs at my side. The only sound he’s making is the light metal jangle of a key chain in his pocket, attached to a small knife. Not sure why, as I’m fighting to catch my breath, but I think of this knife of his that he’d taken out the other night when we were at Gracie’s Red Dorm Five. . . .

Three seconds later I stop and bend over clutching my knees. Feels like the inside of my head’s going around in crazy circles, and I am about to die.

“Don’t stop moving,” he says, slowing down beside me. “Now, just walk. The key to building endurance is regular intervals of running and rest. You run, then you walk to recover. Then you run some more. And repeat. With time you’ll be able to run longer, and need fewer intervals of walking. That’s all there is to it.”

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