By: Gabriel Arnold
â€œHard to believe itâ€™s been three months already.â€
Owen remained characteristically silent for a long moment, rewinding the summerâ€™s events like a movie reel. After careful consideration of his words, the large man said plainly, â€œThree monthsâ€¦heâ€™s improved a lot.â€
Kirra sipped from her water bottle and said in a proud tone she couldnâ€™t hide, â€œHeâ€™s incredible. In June he could barely run a mile. Now he nearly has kong-to-cat leaps down.â€
Owen and Kirra stopped speaking and watched quietly from a top the wall as Rusty eyed their perch, like a tiger measuring steps to his prey. The two seasoned Runners knew that look all to well. And they knew it meant he wouldnâ€™t make it.
â€œShould we tell him?â€ Kirra asked.
â€œNo,â€ Owen said, â€œLet him fall. Bruises teach faster than words.â€
Finally pushing aside his fears, Rusty exploded into a sprint, arms pumping and cheeks puffing. Planting his right foot and heaving his body forward, he leaped off the small stone block and sailed through the air, over the gap, fingers and toes ready for the landing. But the landing never came. He fell short and crashed into the brick wall, unable to get his feet under him in time to block the impact. Bouncing rag-doll style off the wall, he tumbled down five feet and landed with a hard thud on the sidewalk below. Rusty was slow to get up, rubbing his tailbone roughly, the sting of many failed attempts still fresh on the skin.
Looking up at the pair above him, Rusty said, â€œI donâ€™t get it. Iâ€™ve hit leaps bigger than this before. Why am I freaking out now? Whatâ€™s different?â€
â€œYouâ€™re thinking now,â€ Kirra said. â€œLook.â€ The thin dark skinned woman stood up and took a stance similar to Rustyâ€™s before he took the run up. â€œYou spend so much time going over the details and psyching yourself up that you miss the big picture.â€
Rusty pulled sweaty strings of chin length hair from his eyes, saying, â€œAnd whatâ€™s the big picture?â€
Owen cut in and stood up, saying in his deep voice, â€œThat some movements, like this one, you canâ€™t prepare for. They just have to happen.â€ The middle-aged man with the shaved head lowered himself down the wall and dropped off, landing next to Rusty without a single sound. Three months of training and still Rusty was awestruck; Owen was always, permanently, silent. Owen continued by saying, â€œThose movements, those moments in time, canâ€™t be drilled into submission. They simply happen, and youâ€™re either readyâ€¦or youâ€™re not.â€
More cryptic mumblings. Rusty may have been impressed by Owenâ€™s power and grace, but his constantly vague answers annoyed the young man to no end. Parkour is real, your desires fuel your abilities, your mind is the key. Why couldnâ€™t he speak as plainly as Kirra did? Rusty looked at the ground and shook his head slowly, the sign he had developed over the months that signaled when his brain simply couldnâ€™t comprehend the Parkour logic. Owen knew it and also knew when enough was enough.
â€œOkay,â€ he said, â€œThatâ€™s good for today.â€
Kirra, who had worked her way down off the wall by a different route, joined the two men and exclaimed, â€œHey Rusty, today was your last day of summer vacation right? You ready for school tomorrow?â€
Rusty forced a weak smile and said, â€œYeah, got my supplies in order and classes set. Canâ€™t say I want to go back though. I feel like Iâ€™ve learned more in three months here than in three years there.â€
Kirra smiled back warmly and said, â€œMaybe. But lazy vaults and precisions donâ€™t earn you a diploma.â€
â€œYeah, I know. Gotta stay in school and all that.â€
â€œSince youâ€™ll be busy with classes, weâ€™ll have to scale back your training dates. How does once a week on Saturdays sound? Weâ€™d expect you to train on your own in between.â€
â€œSaturdays sound good. And Iâ€™ll train whenever I can, count on it.â€
The electronic television-billboard on the building above them chimed five times while a female announcer stated the time and temperature. Five oâ€™clock, time for Rusty to leave. Packing up his worn backpack, Rusty waved goodbye to his teachers and jogged off down the street, heading for his train station. Owen and Kirra remained at the training spot, watching the leanly muscled redhead bounce down the road.
Kirra finally broke the silence by saying proudly, â€œHeâ€™s not a natural, thatâ€™s for sure. But heâ€™s worked hard. Heâ€™s really grown hasnâ€™t he?â€
Owen was not nearly as impressed though. â€œOnly on the outside. Heâ€™s still got a lot to learn inside.â€
â€œBut he has that personality mix you always talk about, determination and curiosity.â€
â€œI know.â€ Owen stared off into the distance, cautiously running a callused finger across the scar on the edge of his eye. â€œThatâ€™s what Iâ€™m afraid of.â€
The hot August sun was low on the horizon when Rusty finally returned home. His thoughts were in the clouds, like usual, and he slipped through the door absentmindedly. And nearly ran headfirst into his mother, who was standing on the other side. Jolted back into the moment by the near collision, Rusty stumbled sideways and fell ass first onto the wooden steps. Hitting his bruised bone dead on, he groaned through gritted teeth and jumped up, hand swift to hold the tender spot. His mother never budged from her spot the entire time. When Rusty had regained his composure, his mother held out a mailing order slip.
â€œWhat is this Rusty?â€
Rusty was dumbfounded for a moment as he tried to understand what was happening. He dropped his pack to the floor and bunched his eyebrows together, confused. â€œWhatâ€™s what mom?â€
His motherâ€™s face was colder than he had seen in months, colder than the time he racked up three hundred dollars worth of PKFR pay-per-view events. She held the invoice out like an attorney offering proof of murder charges. â€œThis mailing slip Russell. What is this slip about?â€
Rusty finally took a solid glance at the slip and realized what it was: an order for a pair of PKFR-specific sneakers, the brand new Libertas. The realization hit him harder than a baseball bat. He had ordered the shoes last week, a gift to himself for completing a summerâ€™s worth of hellish training under Owen and Kirra. He had sent the shoes to an anonymous mailing box at the postal station, but had forgotten to have the bill sent there as well. And now his mother had found itâ€¦a woman who had lost her husband to a PKFR accident and had forbidden all forms of training for her only son. For Rusty, his mother finding that shoe order was the equivalent of declaring himself a professional Runner while simultaneously burning the house down.
â€œWell Russell? Care to explain this?â€
â€œUh, wellâ€¦mom, let me explainâ€¦â€
â€œI am Russell. And it better be good.â€
â€œTheyâ€™reâ€¦theyâ€™re for Lee.â€
Rustyâ€™s mother stared blankly at her son. â€œLee? Your friend Lee?â€
Rusty hadnâ€™t told his mom about the problems with Lee, about him and Jenna. Why was Lee the best excuse Rusty could come up with? Whyâ€¦?
â€œYeah mom, Lee. See, they, um, the shoes, well, theyâ€™re a new style. And Lee, he, uhâ€¦wanted to test them.â€
â€œâ€¦Lee doesnâ€™t train PKFR Russell.â€
â€œNo, no he doesnâ€™t. But, uh, you know he still loves it. And he loves science and stuff, but uh, heâ€™s been getting into this kick about applying science to PKFR stuff. You know, clothes, shoes, stuff like that.â€
â€œThen WHY did he want THESE shoes?â€ Rusty was going to lose the lie any second.
â€œHe, he wanted to experiment with them, test â€˜em you know. Like I said.â€
â€œSo why did YOU order them? Why didnâ€™t he do it?â€
â€œWell, he lost his wallet. Didnâ€™t have his credit card. So I told him Iâ€™d get them for him and he could pay me back.â€
â€œâ€¦Then these arenâ€™t for you?â€
â€œNo mom, of course not.â€
â€œDonâ€™t lie to me Russell Klein. Donâ€™t you dare lie to me.â€
â€œIâ€™m not mom, I swear.â€
Rustyâ€™s mother looked him up and down with her shining emerald eyes. Finally satisfied with her sonâ€™s answer, she pushed the invoice into his hand and said, â€œFine. But they donâ€™t come in my house, understand? They stay at Leeâ€™s. Is that clear?!â€ She practically screamed the final two words.
â€œCrystal.â€ Rusty squeaked. As quickly as he could he gathered his belongings and bolted up the stairs. He dove into his room and locked the door behind him, breathing heavy and hard, a cold sweat on his forehead. That was close, way too close.
Back on the first floor, Rustyâ€™s mother looked up the stairs where her son had disappeared a moment before. Quizzically, as if asking herself the question out loud, she said, â€œWhy did he groan as he jumped off the stairs? Where have I seen that beforeâ€¦?â€
The night passed and a swift dawn arose, and with it, the first day of senior year. Standing outside The Cityâ€™s largest high school, Rusty gazed up and out at the huge complex. Steel and wood and open space melded together to create a seamless line of gymnasiums, science labs, training fields, and study halls. An impressive display of academics and athletics, working in harmony. Though a public school and thus open to anyone and everyone, City High was widely regarded as the home of the best youth PKFR team in the state, possibly the entire country. With the painted iron bar jungle gym in the front courtyard spelling out PKFR, it wasnâ€™t hard to see why. The place was simply packed to the teeth with movement possibility.
Piecing his way through the first day crowds, Rusty happened to spy Jenna, Lee, and several other students standing beneath a floor-to-ceiling poster. The poster was announcing The Cityâ€™s tenth annual Professional/Amateur PKFR competition, this year to be hosted on City Highâ€™s own grounds.
A young girl with tightly wound pigtails exclaimed in a high-pitched ring, â€œCan you believe it, itâ€™s gonna be here! Here! All the best Runners in the country!â€
Another girl chimed in saying, â€œI even hear Andre Levyâ€™s gonna come! Heâ€™s the World Champ right now! This is going to be so cool!â€
Jenna spoke next, saying, â€œAndre huh? Iâ€™ve always wanted to meet him. Heâ€™s always so smooth and strong when heâ€™s moving, andâ€¦â€
Lee cut her off and said jokingly, â€œJen, you better not say good looking.â€
Jenna teased Lee and said, â€œWhy? Afraid I might fall for him over you?â€ Jennaâ€™s two friends chuckled under their breaths. Lee became agitated.
â€œCome on Jen, thatâ€™s not funny.â€
â€œOh why not Lee-Lee? Youâ€™re always so paranoid, lighten up. Donâ€™t be intimidated, even if Andre is kinda sexyâ€¦with that long hair, the hazel eyes, and that, thatâ€¦â€
Jennaâ€™s pigtailed friend finished the sentence for her. â€œThat ripped body?â€
Rusty grinned inwardly. What a treat. Lee was well known for his biting jokes. But Rusty knew two things about Lee that few others did: one, he hated it when people returned the favor and made fun of him. Two, he was the jealous type. The extremely jealous type. So when he brushed off Jennaâ€™s remarks and walked away in a huff, Rusty was happily smug to know it was because Jenna had gotten to him on multiple levels, even if by accident.
Leaving the blond girl alone with her friends under the poster, Rusty stuck around just long enough to catch Jenna saying to them, â€œUgh, why does he always do that? Oh well, he wasnâ€™t that far off. I do have a weak spot for Runnersâ€¦â€
Bingo. Like a flash of Einstein-level genius, Rusty had his ticket back into Jennaâ€™s heart. Shouldering his heavy pack, the inward grin reached out and spread across Rustyâ€™s lips. The plan was forming. He knew what he had to do.
He had to win the Pro/Am contestâ€¦