The ride from the station to the school had been uneventful, save for Rustyâ€™s humorous attempts to dry off his soaked clothes. The rest of his final day before summer break passed in a similar fashion. He shuffled from room to room, lost in the imagination and memory of what had happened barely hours ago. Had it been real, his near death experience and his rescue? Could someone like Owen â€“ someone as inhumanly strong and agile as Owen â€“ truly exist? And was the idea of training, real honest-to-god PKFR training, true? The possibilities cascaded like waterfalls inside his mind, and his normally bright emerald eyes shone even brighter in his daze of excitement. In fact, Rusty was so far gone he didnâ€™t even realize he was in his last class of the afternoon until the guy behind him snapped his fingers right next to Rustyâ€™s ears. Rustyâ€™s entire body jolted awake with the sudden crack of sound and he flailed his arms across his desk, knocking his textbooks to the ground and nearly falling right out of his chair in the process.
The two girls in the row next to him giggled and snickered at the routine. It wasnâ€™t all that uncommon; Rusty was always drifting off and coming back again in a burst of awkward commotion. That was Rusty, always making silly mistakes, never quite there. He was considered cute by most of the girls in the class, at least in a puppy dog way, but he was so uncoordinated. It was almost painful to watch as he bumped into lockers and got nudged awake from his wandering mind at the end of every class. Especially when he was compared to all the other guys in the school who were Runners, a few of them near pro-level. Yeah, it was hard to believe all right. Rusty Klein, the son of James â€œJKâ€ Klein, the most talented Runner of the past decade. Guess the PKFR genes really could skip a generation.
Lee, the finger snapper, joined in the fun and shook his head side-to-side, saying to Rusty in a loud whisper, â€œJeez man, youâ€™re always doing that, day dreaming and stuff. Itâ€™s like youâ€™re not even there half the time.â€
Rusty adjusted himself back into his seat and tried to get the red blush of his cheeks to stop matching his hair. He leaned over to pick up his books and turned his head half-way around to whisper back â€œGimmie a break Lee, okay? I had a rough morning, got a lot on my mind.â€
Lee was a small guy, barely five-foot-eight, and had about as much meat on his frame as a pencil. Half-Chinese, half-European, and a natural born comedian, he liked to joke he was Bruce Leeâ€™s long lost great-grandson. He just hadnâ€™t filled in with muscle yet. He was also the best academic student in school, as well as Rustyâ€™s best friend. And he, like Rusty, was also forbidden to practice PKFR. Not a problem for him though: he liked to watch the moves but had only a minor interest in training. He was more of a PKFR historian than anything else. But at Rustyâ€™s response, however, his primary jokester talents kicked in. â€œOh, a lot on your mind huh? Does â€˜itâ€™ have a name? Does â€˜itâ€™ sit in the front of class? Does â€˜itâ€™ have long blond hair and go by the nameâ€¦â€
â€œShut up man! I know who youâ€™re talking about and no, for once, â€˜itâ€™ isnâ€™t the reason. I got saved from being run over by a train today, by some guy named Owen. He said he wasnâ€™t a Runner but you should have seen him Lee, it was insane. He picked me up and did a one arm climb up like he was skipping stairs. Even Andre Levy has trouble with those!â€
â€œThat good huh? How come I never heard of him then, this Owen guy?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know, he seemed kinda old, had to be like mid-40â€™s. But see thatâ€™s the funny thing, he was really adamant about me not calling it PKFR, or him a Runner. Like, to the point of being scary. He said he was a â€˜Tracer,â€™ and that it was called â€˜Parkour.â€™â€
â€œHmmmâ€¦well. I heard those are the old terms, from back in the early days. But no one uses them anymore, they just caused problems.â€
â€œYeah. Itâ€™s weird, you know? The way he moved and the way he looked and talked. It was like meeting a monk or something, like a Shaolin monk.â€
â€œSounds like the start of a bad kung-fu flick if you ask me. Better watch your back Jackie Chan.â€
Rusty laughed quietly and nodded his head in agreement. He slipped a hand into his pocket and rubbed his fingers over the slip of paper Owen had given him. â€œYeah, I will.â€
The ear splitting bell finally rang a few minutes later and it was instant pandemonium in the halls. Papers flying, trash bins overflowing, locker doors slamming as freshman and seniors alike rejoiced. Rusty and Lee followed the pack and collected their bags, grinning from ear-to-ear, Cheshire cat style. The bags were light as feathers, which meant no homework and freedom for three whole months. Having already emptied their lockers ahead of time, the pair weaved their way down the tiled corridor, ducking around a dreadlocked junior as he attempted a side flip over three green recycling bins stacked end over end. It was always fun to watch the end of the year stunts. If they hurried theyâ€™d be just in time to see the schoolâ€™s PKFR club captains doing backflips off the gymnasium. They were mere steps away from tricking and sunshine when a light, vanilla smooth voice called out.
â€œHey, hey Rusty! Lee!â€
Rusty froze solid, eyes wide. It was as if he had caught sight of another Mag-Lev train barreling towards him. He might as well have, a Mag-Lev would at least have been quick and painless. This on the other hand, was much, much worse. And it went by the name ofâ€¦
â€œJenna Harrison!â€ Lee called out in reply.
Jenna Marie Harrison. Born in another state but raised in The City, she was the same age and grade as Rusty and Lee. At five-foot-five, and a lithe hundred and twenty pounds of stretched muscle, she was the average American boyâ€™s dream of a girl next door. She wasnâ€™t drop dead gorgeous, not by modelsâ€™ standards, but with long, straight blond hair, dark, ocean blue eyes, and a contagious smile, she was as addicting as cotton candy and just as sweet. Oh, by the way: she was the squad captain of the schoolâ€™s womenâ€™s gymnastics team. A nationally ranked gymnastics team.
She was also Rustyâ€™s crush for the last two years of high school. Lee knew it all too well too. Jenna didnâ€™t. At least, Rusty hoped she didnâ€™t know.
She came jogging up to where the two stood, backpack bouncing from side to side. â€œWhatâ€™s going on guys? Going out to watch the annual flip session?â€
Lee smiled back at Jenna and said in his usual joke-like tone, â€œAs a matter of fact we are. Just let me dig out my cameraâ€¦wait. Aw, damn it! I forgot it in my locker! Iâ€™ll be right back guys, wait outside for me okay?â€
Rusty stared at Lee in horror as he took off running down the hallway. That rat! He hadnâ€™t even brought his camera today. That was his excuse, his idea of a joke! To leave Jenna alone with him, just to see him sweat no doubt! Some friend! That lying, dirtyâ€¦
Jennaâ€™s voice cut through the fog and Rustyâ€™s focus was now firmly attached back in the present. A cold sweat broke out on the back of his neck as Rusty somehow managed to say, calmly in reply, â€œYeah Jenna?â€
â€œIâ€™m going to be competing in The Cityâ€™s Gymnastics Open in a month. I was wondering if Iâ€™d see you and Lee there. I know how much you two like PKFR but regular gymnastics is pretty close, and Iâ€™d really like a cheering section. Can I count on you guys to be there?â€
Rusty stared, the red strands of his hair covering the top edges of his eyes. Thoughts careened like thousands of pinballs in his head. Jenna was inviting them? To the Open? He only knew her through a handful of classes they had together, maybe half a dozen conversations through the entire year. What was going on?
â€œUhâ€¦Rusty? Hello? Rusty?â€
Damn it, heâ€™d done it again and zoned out! Crash landing back to Earth for the hundredth time today, Rusty replied instantly, without hesitation. â€œYES! Yeah, uh-huh! Of course weâ€™ll be there! Count on it!â€
â€œAwesome! Thanks Rusty, and thank Lee for me too, I really appreciate it. Sorry to talk and run but I gotta get going to catch my train. Iâ€™ll see you in a month okay?â€
â€œYeah, you got it Jenna! A month!â€
Rusty collapsed to the ground, dust and dirt clinging to his bare, sweat drenched chest, arms and chest stiff as boards, weak as wet noodles. Panting hard, he rolled onto his back and draped a grimy arm over his eyes to shield them from the blazing June 1st sun. Heâ€™d been there barely fifteen minutes and the temperature felt like it had only managed to rise since then. It had to be nearly a hundred degrees at this point. How he was still functioning he didnâ€™t know. Maybe that flashback he just went through was on account of the heat and the exertion, like a hallucination. Only it wasnâ€™t a hallucination, it was yesterdayâ€™s events. The events of his last school day. Today, on the other hand, was the day he had agreed to meet the mysterious Owen.
He was now regretting ever having made that train on time.
Rusty flicked his cotton dry tongue against his chapped lips and heard the girl standing above him say, â€œNot bad new guy. You managed to make it to twenty without a break.â€
â€œFantastic. Does that mean I get a break now?â€
â€œAre you kidding me?! Youâ€™re only half-way through the six sets of pushups! Jeez, you new guys these days, not a stiff bone in your body. Fine, take two minutes then flip back over to the start position. Todayâ€™s your first day of training and weâ€™ve gotta toughen you up, fast! Now move it!â€
It was going to be a long, long afternoonâ€¦