I wasn’t going to make it.
I had a stitch in my side as widespread as the distance between the Pizza Pie Pagoda and the apartment roof we ran across, so the chances I’d screw up and smack my head against the concrete waiting below were pretty good. The waist of my yoga pants began to unroll, the fabric sliding down with every pump of my aching legs and I had to waste precious energy to pull them up. But if I didn’t, and I stepped on a hem, I’d stumble.
Stumbling would be bad—like lose-a-tooth-on-the-balance-beam-the-day-before-prom bad. Already I could feel the quiver of fatigue in my knees signaling my eventual burnout. “He’s going to catch me, he’s going to catch me,” I chanted between panted breaths.
I spoke more to myself than my companion, but he answered anyway. “Nah, baby-girl, you got this. Forearm, shoulder, booty, then knee up and walk away. Daily cake.”
I grunted. Easy for him to say. This fiasco made it five consecutive hours of balls-out athletics for me while he was on hour two, and only slightly less out of breath than I.
“Get back here!”The voice behind bellowed, growing closer.
I threw off my rhythm a fraction to look behind me.“Damn, he’s on us. How’d he get up here so fast?”
“You realize I had you this time, right?”
Appalled at my friend Surge’s attempt to claim a victory when the game had clearly been called due to weather con- ditions—it was raining cops—I ran faster, pushing myself beyond my limits toward the roof ’s edge. I didn’t care if my pants fell around my ankles mid-flight; I was going to win our little game today—and moon the state of Michigan doing it.
But first, I had to stay out of jail.
“Whoa! Come back.” The cop yelled. He sounded more concerned now than angry.
Too late. There was no coming back once we’d made the decision to run.
“Boosh!”Surge yelled as we both hopped the lip of the roof and leapt across the expanse between the buildings, sprawled out and reaching through the air like action heroes.
Unlike the movies, nothing happened slow enough for me to process the danger of a jump. I committed to the plunge and depended on ingrained knowledge to take over.
The Pizza Pie Pagoda building came up fast. I bent my legs to absorb the shock and let my exhausted body fall forward and to the side. The remaining energy of the landing pushed me over in a Side-Roll, taking the impact from thigh to shoulder until the momentum brought me up to my feet again. Hurray, incoming bruise.
Surge’s Roll was swankier than mine, but for once he didn’t gloat. Probably because we didn’t have time.
“You kids all right?”The cop called from the building over. We didn’t take the time to answer him verbally. We just waved off his concern and continued to ignore his command to give ourselves up. Surge grabbed my elbow and helped me to the side of the pizza place where we were able to hang off the side of the roof and drop down into the alley.
“How you doing?” Surge asked me, once we were making distance between us and the cop.
“Well, I worked my butt off in gymnastics practice, ran around the mall only to get kicked out because of your food court tabletop trick—”
“You’ve got to admit that was swank,” he interrupted. “How was I supposed to know they were going to call in the real blue?”
“And now I’ve spent the last ten minutes upgrading from a trespassing ticket to an arrest.”
“Only if we got caught, which we didn’t. So you owe me five bucks.” He grinned at me and I couldn’t help but return it. “We aren’t off main, yet.”I slapped his extended palm away.
“When I’m home and couching, you’ll get your five.”
I tugged off my black hoodie as we walked, stuffing it behind a dumpster to come back for later. We knew the drill. You didn’t walk around wearing the same colored clothes after a cop was running you down.The next corner you turned would probably have you stuffed in a squad car before the first lie left your mouth. Changing shirts wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. Besides, with my hoodie on, most cops mistakenly took me for a guy. I guess they thought girls had better things to do than monkey around the cityscape.
“Damn, there’s the cop,” Surge said.
I looked down the block and frowned. He didn’t seem to notice us any more than the other pedestrians, but to be safe, I tugged Surge into the Slow Drip.
The few tables inside the coffee shop were up front with a window view, while racks and racks of tee-shirts and other gift items created an aisle to the registers in the back. Outside, a few more two-seater tables were full of the loitering public, making blending in a little easier.
“I guess we take a time-out for refreshments,” I said. Surge paced, looking out the storefront with his lips pursed.
“He’s going to keep circling and look in here eventually. Not sure stopping was a good idea this time.”
“Hey Surge,” a girl called out from behind us.
I turned and nodded a greeting at Ramona as she chatted up Surge. Dressed in her coffee-pot-shaped apron and tear- drop visor-hat, she was clearly working the counter.
Wenda, her best friend and my gymnastics nemesis, walked up and stood next to her. We were all on the same team but no one would know it the way they acted—except Wenda and I were both wearing our Kennedy Gymnastics Team tee-shirts. “Hey guys,” I said, trying to be a beacon of polite through the thick fog of seething hatred. Ramona tried to smile but settled on a grimace. Wenda didn’t even try to hide her nostril-flare face.
“Ramona-girl, you think you could get us out the back of this place?” Surge asked.
Standing on her tiptoes, Wenda leaned up to whisper something in Ramona’s ear while staring at me.
“I can take one of you through,” Ramona started to say. Surge snorted. “Forget it.”
“No, no.” I knew this was a good opportunity to draw less attention to ourselves. “Surge, you go out the back and I’ll go out the front.” I smiled my second-best smile at Wenda, while talking to him. “We’ll meet up at the library and finish what we started earlier.”
His glare at the two girls melted when he turned to me, and I suspected he did that on purpose to show anti-bitchery support. “Ooo. I accept your challenge! I’ll even beat you there.” He winked and then turned to Ramona. “Lead the way, mama.”
With Ramona taking Surge out the back door, Wenda and I were left standing there. “Guess I’ll see you next practice.” I said.
“Oh, didn’t you hear? We’re going to do individual practices until coach returns from her vacation.”
Odd. I hadn’t heard, but I wasn’t exactly surprised. Since Regionals, I’d suspected that some of the girls were mad at me. Now my suspicions had been confirmed.
“Well, then. See ya at school.”
“Whatever.” She did the hand brush-off and turned her back on me, cutting me down without saying another word.
Shaking my head, I turned and left the coffee shop.
No one had ever looked at me with such hatred before, and I couldn’t figure out where it came from. I knew gymnastics competition pitted us against each other a lot—and I’d defi- nitely ridden the group hard at Regionals at the end of last season—but it seemed like there was more to her attitude than just rivalry, but whatever. I couldn’t puzzle through her bullshit when I still needed to get a few blocks away to avoid a tour of the city jail.
Losing my concern for Wenda was easy once I was freerunning again on my way to the library. No troubles or stressful thoughts stood a chance against the heart-pumping adrenaline rush of parkour.
I raced down streets using the objects in my way to increase my pace instead of slow me down. I swung under a metal railing and leaped over its parallel twin. I jumped over a fire hydrant and the three bikes locked on the rack right next to it, all without choking up.
My seamless movements cancelled out Surge’s head start, and as I rounded the corner on the last block to the library, I caught sight of my friend a block to my right.
At the same time, he noticed me.
I heard his laugh across the distance and the challenge within it spurred me on. “Oh, you are so getting shown,” I promised quietly, forcing my legs into motion.
So close, so close! If I could get to the lion statue first, I’d get the prize, but Surge wasn’t going to make it easy on me. We both ran full speed, coming closer to each other and to our destination.
I vaulted over one wide stone railing, Kong-style, with my feet straight out in front, ready to catch me for my landing.
I didn’t expect anyone to be standing there.