Jerry silenced the alarm clock and sat up on the edge of the bed. His head and stomach ached, urging him to lie down again. In truth, he would prefer nothing more than to lie down and let the world continue without him.
He ambled to the bathroom and splashed some water on this face. He ignored the mirror; there was nothing there that he liked. He leaned forward for a bit, his hands resting on the counter. Do I really want to do this?
Returning to the bedroom, he slipped on a pair of shorts and walked over to the photo. He stared at it for a moment before picking it up. The edges were crumpled in spite of the plastic sleeve protecting it. It’s race day, honey. His eyes began to water so he pocketed the photo quickly and finished dressing.
Sitting at the kitchen table he stared at the bowl of cereal in front of him. In his mind he could hear Holly’s voice.
“It’s a fund raiser. I’m signing us both up.”
“Oh, honey, you know I hate to run.”
“Come on, it’s only a 5k. It’s not like we’re running the Boston marathon. Besides, you don’t get enough exercise.”
Jerry smiled. There had never really been any debate. He had never been able to say no to her when she found something she was excited about. And the animal adoption center was one of those things that she was always excited about. They had both known she was sick, but didn’t realize how severe her situation was at the time.
He poured the remaining contents of his bowl in the trash and put the bowl in the sink before grabbing his keys and heading out the door.
Jerry glanced at his watch while fidgeting with his race bib. Most other runners were stretching or hopping in place trying to loosen up. He pulled the picture out of his pocket for a moment.
“Jerry? Is that you? I didn’t expect to see you here.”
He recognized the lady from the adoption center, but did not know her name. Slipping the picture back in this pocket, he resumed fidgeting with the race bib. “Oh. Hi. Yeah, Holly signed us up last November.”
“We sure miss her around the center. She was a very special lady.”
“Yes. She was.” Jerry felt like he should say more, but couldn’t find any more words.
“So, have you been training? What kind of time are you aiming for?”
“Well, no. I was planning to, but I haven’t been feeling well. I guess I’m just aiming to finish.” He said with a nervous laugh.
“That would be my goal if I were running. Fortunately for me, I have to write down times at the finish line.” She pointed at the front of the crowd. “Well, good luck and thanks for being here. I think they’re about to send you runners on your way.”
A horn sounded and the group moved forward. Jerry held back to let the serious runners get ahead before he started jogging with a pack of medium-speed runners. The wind was cooler than he had expected, but at least the sun was shining.
After a few minutes he felt his side hurting so he walked for a bit. He was fairly certain that he was not in last place, but he also knew there couldn’t be more than a handful of people behind him. He alternated between jogging and walking, pushing his body to go faster. A few times he pulled the photo out as inspiration to resume jogging. We’re making it, honey.
Judging by the map he had seen, he guessed he was about two thirds of the way to the finish line. The course formed a loop going through wooded areas of the park and starting and ending in the big field. By now he figured he might be the last runner as several had passed in the last few minutes. His knees ached in addition to his side. Looking ahead he hoped the next bend was the final turn. If so, he would be able to see the field and get a second wind.
He pushed himself to a jog as he neared the bend. Making the turn, he saw only more trees. He stopped to catch his breath, bending over with his hands on his knees. His head pulsed and he felt tears coming to his eyes.
He pulled the picture out of his pocket and dropped to his knees in exhaustion. “I’m sorry, Holly.” His shoulders shook as he sobbed. “I can’t do this without you. I tried.”
The spoken words seemed to release months worth of tears as he lowered his head to his chest. After a few minutes he wiped his eyes and looked around. Thankfully, no one was there. As he started to stand up something caught his eye. He took a step to examine it and found a large, glass heart lying on the ground. It had a multicolor sheen to it and the edges were blurred by the remaining tears in his eyes.
He felt a warmth wash over him. He began walking again, squeezing the heart in the palm of his hand. As he rounded the next bend he could see the open field in the distance. Thanks, Baby. Maybe we can make this after all.