There was one perfect moment when I could hear the music across the lake as I passed the half-mile mark. As I rounded the corner to see Mom standing at the bench that marked our usual starting point on the Forest Preserve path near our house. It would be our last run here before we moved for the new school year, but I had to squeeze out one last day with my favorite cross-country coach before I left her team. When my dad’s company went bankrupt in 2018, I didn’t expect him to struggle to find a job for so long. And then I really didn’t expect him to get a job two hours away from where we lived. My parents compromised to move in between my mom’s school and dad’s new company, but neither of them consulted my brother or me on this decision.
“I don’t understand why we can’t just stay at the school,” I bemoaned for the millionth time as we loaded up the Subaru with Mom’s stereo loaded into the trunk.
Mom pressed her lips together as she always did when I asked my repetitive questions, but she took a moment to respond this time. It was my last-ditch effort to get her to let me stay. I had been with her since sixth-grade Track, and I wanted to start ninth grade on her Cross Country team at the high school. At least I had it better than my brother starting his sophomore year.
“Kaitlynn, this is our deal. Otherwise, you would never see your dad.”
I sighed but admitted defeat. Losing two hours a day with Dad was more than I would lose with Mom, especially with how fast I run. My parents had found an old farmhouse on the most direct route between their two jobs, and we wouldn’t be far from our new school although it was much smaller than where my mom taught. The future team I had envisioned of 100 girls quickly shrank to five. The coach practically screamed when I called to talk about joining. It didn’t hurt that my last name carried a lot of weight from my mom and all. Don’t get me wrong, she was a great math teacher but people cared a whole heck of a lot more about a State title than Pre-Algebra.
The drive back from the forest preserve was never long, but I wanted to savor this one. Illinois was famous for its large parks, but I couldn’t find one with a good path near our new house. My cousin from Maine was so confused when he visited last summer because even though he was an avid hiker and birder, the concept of setting aside public land for nature seemed like something that should happen, well, naturally. Even this far from Chicago, we still had some problems embracing the Prairie state of our state. I hoped that my new backyard would be more like what my cousin described living out East.
When we returned home, my brother Remy was pored over the kitchen counter with a glossy packet of cream paper. “Whatcha lookin’ at?”
“Oh, hey, how was your last run?” He looked at me with his dark brown, almost black eyes, and I glared back at him. I didn’t want to be reminded it was the last one. But then I saw the cover of his stapled booklet as he closed it and walked away: Spring Supplement Freedom High School 2017-2018. On the last few pages, I found his team Track photo for the Boys and a snapshot of his girlfriend who had been a breakaway star for the hurdles. She would stay in Freedom, and we would be an hour away in Greenville.
Mom trucked the stereo in from the car since it needed to be packed up with her school supplies, separate from our clothes and housewares. “Remy got the spring supplement for the yearbook.”
“Oh! Well, that was nice of them to send it to the house. I could’ve picked that up for him…” And just like that she was gone, shouting up the basement steps that I needed to shower and then pack, but I was stuck to the floor with the pages in my hands. Pictures of a school I would never go to. Pictures of people I only knew from their awkward middle school days. Pictures of my brother and his friends. And he had left it here. I slid it into my duffel bag after one last look at the track spread.
When the movers arrived the next day, Remy was still asleep, but I had been up for an hour to do my cross-training workout. I doubted that my new coach in Greenville would require it like Mom did, but if I was going to be on a five-person team, then I was going to be the best, even as a Freshman. All of that anxiety that people talked about as a Freshman starting high school transformed into anxiety about the move for me. I had set aside a tee shirt and shorts in my duffel bag for tomorrow just in case I couldn’t unpack my clothes before I wanted to run when we got there. My parents milled around to stuff small knick-knacks in bigger boxes while the movers raised the door on their truck and laid down blankets in the front hallway.
The hustle and bustle was enough to wake up Remy, and he stumbled into the kitchen in his boxers to eat a bowl of stale cereal. Mom had packed away all that was left of the good stuff. Despite having the same parents, the only similarity between us was that our hair color fluctuated between various shades of brown. Mine practically sported blonde highlights right now from my summer of running, but Remy’s usual light streaks failed to emerge in the past few months as he squirreled away in his room. His girlfriend had gone on the school trip to Italy, so we would move before she came back. Without her and without the usual rigor of our sports programs, Remy spent most of his summer inside.
We rarely spoke in the mornings since all we could do at the break of dawn was run, but now it was way past sunrise. Dad emerged from the garage with a chipper smile and “Good morning!” for both of us before returning to the car with a box of pots and pans. He was always the one to get things going in the morning, not even Mom speaking much beyond what the workout of the day was. I wondered how their new hour-long commutes would affect our routine.
Dad threw a mesh bag filled with Remy’s football pads in the trunk, and my brother just grunted in response. “You’re welcome,” Dad chirped as he loaded bags of Christmas lights on top of the sweaty equipment.
“I didn’t say thank you.”
“I’m not playing football next year.”
That stopped even me in my tracks as the sun cleared the top of the leafy trees in the front yard. “What, like, you’re not gonna bring them?” I huffed at him and turned to go back inside and grab some of my clothes.
“No, just put them in the trash.”
Dad sighed and put down the garden gnome he was attempting to shove into an open crevice of the car. “Just bring them. Just try it. Kaitlynn’s getting ready for the cross-country season, and she hasn’t even met the coach yet!”
I huffed again at the mention of my name but nodded my assent. There was nothing that was gonna keep me from running. Even if I lapped the other girls, I would still go to every practice and every meet.
“They only have one football team!”
“Well, your goal has always been to make Varsity…” Not even Dad could muster a chipper ending to that phrase. And that was my cue to leave. Mom and I crossed paths in the kitchen as she barreled through with a spare set of sheets, so I barely had time to warn her of the argument brewing behind the kitchen door.
By the time I returned downstairs with a box of my old stuffed animals and cross-country medals, my dad was charging through the garage door. He barely looked at me as he ransacked a box for caffeine pills and shouted, “Your brother and I are driving separately!” With the pills in hand, he started back for the door, but I stopped him.
“Hand ‘em over.”
He finally looked at me but with a look of surprise as if he didn’t realize I was there even though he had spoken to me just moments ago. “But I need them.”
“Just one.” I blocked the doorway with my broad frame and stalwarted my mom as she came through the door from the car. She pocketed the pills after Dad choked down one of the giant capsules and guided me back into the kitchen so the boys could leave. All I heard was the engine turning over as Mom piled silverware into a smaller box for our car.
“Should they really be alone in a motorized vehicle for an hour?”
“Just let your brother cool down. He’s not nearly as optimistic as you are.”
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