Almost Spring by Kel Daniels
Jeanie slowed her pace so as not to pass the man before her. Something to look at to distract from the approaching hill. Plus, she’d rather watch him from behind than be watched by him. One, two, three, four. She counted her steps, sucking air as the path rose into a pocket of cool. The hard little buds covering the bare limbs overhead were moments from bursting into color, but they held back. They’d been fooled before. Winter had one last exertion.
Not today though. Blue sky. Wispy clouds. Last fall’s leaves made a mottled, powdery carpet along the path and out under the trees. The runner before her panted in his effort, one of those guys who wouldn’t let it beat him, gravity. A dark stain grew from between his legs, and sweat tracked down his bare, narrow back. The bottoms of his shoes, dirty red, blinked with stupid monotony. Jeanie’s lungs burned. Why was she even doing this? Hadn’t she read somewhere that walking offered the same health benefits as running? But if he wasn’t going to give in, either was she.
What did he look like? Somehow it had become tremendously important she find out. She could pass him—if she had the strength—and glance over for a quick view of his profile. What is she flew by and then stopped to tie her shoes? Was there any reason to face back while she did this? No, no, no. They were nearing the crest of the hill, leaving the river valley for the flat land above. Soon the trail would dump them onto 30th Street, just across from Steve’s Olde Barbershop and the Hilltop Tavern, a mucky part of town.
“Hey,” she shouted, surprising herself. “You up there.”
The runner looked back over his shoulder, still jogging slowly. He was a college kid, pimply faced, probably not even old enough to drink. Nothing at all as she’d expected.
“Never mind,” she said, and gasped for breath. “I thought you were somebody else.”
Kel Daniels’ fiction and nonfiction has appeared in the Cimarron Review, Puerto del Sol, Sonora Review, South Dakota Review, Third Coast, Eyeshot, GSU Review, Orange Coast Review, Mayday Magazine and other literary publications. He lives with his wife and son in Rock Island, Illinois, where he teaches creative writing at Augustana College.