“Johanna, skip class with me, we’ll go for a walk.” I knew she’d blow me off, but I asked anyway.
“I’m not gonna ditch math.” It was only the second week of school. A little over two weeks since we made out at the Labor Day carnival and watched the fireworks together.
“Have you ever ditched a class?” She closed her locker.
“Yes, a bunch of times.” I smiled. We walked down the crowded hall toward math class.
“Really, which ones?” She thought about it.
“I skipped orchestra a few times last year. Anyway, what’s so dangerous or cool about skipping class to hang out in the cafeteria or the lobby?” She eyed me, we were maybe twenty paces from our destination.
“There’s nothing dangerous about sitting in a study hall. But we’re talking about you and me taking a nice walk in the woods out on the trails — all we have to do is turn left instead of right.” She tried not to smile. We were ten paces from math boredom. I drifted left.
“Johanna, it’s brilliant outside, perfect for a seventh period nature walk.” I thought I’d failed, but a few steps from the door she turned and followed me down to the first floor.
“Stephen, if we get detention and I miss practice I won’t talk to you for weeks.” I was smiling, she was serious. I guided her down to the locker room hallway which lead to the football practice fields and then onto the cross country trails. She ran cross country, a sport I never really figured out. Why not run a marathon or normal track? What’s the point of having to run over sticks and leaves? I kept that to myself though.
“The gym classes will be down on the softball field, if anyone sees us we’ll say we couldn’t participate so we had to walk for the period.” I thought it was an airtight alibi. She stopped at the doors that lead outside.
“Well, since the gym teachers will be outside, they’re probably going to be the ones that will see us and ask us why we’re out here.” I hadn’t thought of that.
“They won’t be out for ten more minutes and they always come back in early — trust me.” She eyed me suspiciously but followed. It felt satisfying to be breathing outside air during the school day, a mild prison break euphoria. We walked quickly to the edge of the woods. She was wearing these tiny khaki shorts and I was admiring her from behind a few steps back.
“I like your blouse, Jojo.” She was wearing this loose fitting white blouse, her tits poking out at me from beneath the flimsy material. Her dark brown hair framed her face well, ran down her shoulders and back. She smiled, thanked me. We stepped into the shadow of the trees. The path was pretty beat up.
“You guys run back here?”
“Once in a while.” Whenever I saw them they were running down the streets outside my house in these little shorts. She was the only one I recognized, the rest were younger kids, lanky weirdos.
“I look for your name in the box scores. I don’t know what any of it means though.” She smiled, looked surprised.
“It’s just run times… You like reading my name?”
“Yeah, sometimes I even say it out loud while I read — Jo-ann-ah.” She giggled.
“Sometimes I look for your name too, and try to figure out the numbers. Once in a while I even get to see a picture of you while I read your mysterious scores.” She wasn’t really flirty, usually just mildly sarcastic and incredibly witty. We came upon a creek that ran next to the trail, it had overflowed the path. She stopped when she saw.
“Stephen, it’s all muddy.” She wanted to go back.
“It’s only muddy right here, let’s just go around it.” She stopped at the least muddy spot while I began crossing.
“No, these shoes are brand new, let’s go back.” She was wearing these baby blue sneakers that weren’t meant to be used as sneakers — that is, worn outside. I came back and picked her up, she screeched and wrapped her arms around my neck. I carried her past the mud and set her down. She straightened her blouse and pulled her shorts down, her cheeks were flush.
“You should of asked first.”
“You wouldn’t have let me. Which would’ve been a shame since there’s so much more walk to be had.” She pouted and kept walking. I took her hand. She looked at me funny but didn’t pull away.
“Yes, walking is all that will be had out on these trails today.” I laughed. I was hoping for a kiss, not a forest-themed hand job.
“Maybe I should get a picnic blanket and shoot off some fireworks…” She pulled her hand away, slapped my shoulder and giggled. I wanted to recreate a scene — a hot, wantonly tongue in mouth, hands over the shirt exploration.
“I’ve got to do something. I can’t even get you talk to me on the phone for more than ten minutes.” She always had an excuse why she couldn’t go out.
“Labor Day was fun, but now we’re back at school and I’m busy and you should be busy if you want to go to a good college. We can catch the last half of class…” She turned back, I grabbed her hand and she let me take her further in.
“I want to see you and talk to you, Jo.” She held my hand at least.
“You see me at school and talk to me on the phone.” She knew we’d end up kissing on our little nature walk, I could see the fear in her eyes. The same fear she had before she let me kiss her everywhere during the fireworks — face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, knees…anywhere skin was exposed.
“That’s not enough, Johanna.”
“Then join the cross country team, you can see me every day after school and even on the weekends.” I played football when they were running around the woods. She knew I wouldn’t, but that’s why she said it.
“Plus, you’ll probably end up being the star of the team, everybody’s hero. We could use you. People might actually come to our matches if the fabulous Stephen Paul was running.” She smiled, stuck her tongue between her teeth.
“I’m glad you think it’s funny — mocking me while I declare my affection for you — in what I think is a more than romantic setting.” I smiled and waved my hand at the picturesque scene.
“What do you want from me? You want me to take my clothes off and lay in the middle of the trail and say, ‘Here I am, Stephen, blaze a new trail?'” This time I didn’t laugh. She let go of my hand and turned to go back to the school. I followed.
“We have this whole year to get to know each other. If you’re into someone else then that’s fine, I’ll leave you alone.” She seemed conflicted, didn’t say anything for a while, then her resolve returned.
“I already told you, I want to get into a good school — don’t need melodrama, drama, or tragedy this year. My activities outside of school are cross country and studying. On the weekends I have meets, on Sundays I spend time with my family and volunteer at my church. Saturday nights are the only time outside of school I get to see my friends and I’m not gonna blow them off for weeks or months or the rest of the year just to get groped in the back of some football player’s SUV.”
“That’s me, Johanna, I’m some high school archetype that you know nothing about, feel nothing for — just give me a football and a cheerleader and that’s my senior year.” It looked like she felt bad about what she said, but that didn’t last long.
“You had your chance with me at my cousin’s graduation party. I asked you if you wanted to go swimming, but you weren’t interested, you left with Tina. Labor Day was a mistake on my part. I should of told you that you already made your choice in June.” She had her arms crossed, totally defensive. I was surprised. At that party I was with someone, so what she was saying was completely irrational.
“Was I supposed to tell my girlfriend to find another ride home — that I was gonna go swimming with this other girl — someone I really only had a handful of real conversations with the last few weeks of school?”
“Well, then that’s that. I guess your chance with me was the three years before, when you only spoke to me to borrow a pencil or to ask about an assignment.” She stopped at the mud but didn’t look at me. I picked her up and carried her but this time stopped in the middle.
“Why are you stopping?” She thought I was gonna drop her and held my neck tighter. Which I actually thought about for two seconds — a sort of kiss me/tell me you love me or you get muddy type bargain.
“Say we did go swimming that night, what would it have involved?” She pinched my cheek.
“Well, since I can make up any scenario now and not have to deliver… Let’s assume you come over, it’s dark, my parents are asleep — our bathing suits come off, you chase me around the pool for a bit. I let you catch me, you get a feel of anything you want to feel, we kiss until our lips turn blue. You go home, think about me, call me and we go out the next day and every night after.” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little jolt at her skinny dipping scenario. She looked as sure of herself as ever. I thought about dropping her in the mud again.
“You’ve got such a nice white top on. It’d be a shame if it got all muddy and you had to walk into school and go to last period with even a teensy bit of brown on it.” She had something more than daggers in her eyes at my empty threat. She didn’t respond. I stood there for a beat longer then continued to dry soil and put her down. She stared at me for a few seconds.
“Johanna, you know I wouldn’t drop you in the mud…” My shoes were covered in gunk, especially after sinking down to my laces during our mid-crossing conversation. I lifted a leg to pick off a muddy leaf from one of my soles. She pushed me backward into the mud.
The strength of the push was impressive for such a small female. I landed on my elbow, was covered from right calf to right shoulder blade. I was so surprised I didn’t really react. She laughed and ran out of the forest and down the hill. I got up and made my way to the locker room, changed into gym clothes. I went to last period looking like an idiot in gym clothes — except I had traces of mud on my arms and legs that I couldn’t wipe off in time.
We used to grow abundantly,
set seed, then die
and trampled underfoot,
my leaves and yours
meshed stem to stem
’til our resurrection
After class I went to my football coach to tell him of my lifelong desire to run cross country. At first he was pretty pissed, actually he was pissed for the whole conversation — talked about commitment, letting my teammates down etc. Finally, after his face had gone from bright red to slightly purple he said he’d try and work it out. I didn’t know what that meant. He just said to go to cross country practice.
So, I got my sneakers and found the cross country coach. A man that didn’t look athletic in any way, had the paunch of a bowling coach. He was more than welcoming, gave me my practice uniform and told me to meet my teammates in the lobby. Some of them were stretching, most I didn’t recognize outside of the context of their tiny shorts. One guy I remembered from freshman baseball.
“Hey, Stephen, you running cross country?” He had a goofy smile, I nodded.
“Yeah, Kevin, I just joined.” The other kids just sort of stared, some looked irritated, the others I thought might of been special needs — turns out they were just awkward/socially inept. Johanna arrived a few minutes later. One of the other girls greeted her way too excited that we were about to run up hills. Then she spotted me, looked me up and down, came up to me obviously baffled.
“Stephen, who’d you steal that uniform from? Where’s Richie? Did you take Richie’s uniform?” She looked around.
“I got this from Coach Ford when I joined, you know, after I took my mud bath and went to Spanish class.” She smirked.
“Yeah, right.” Kevin chimed in:
“No joke, Jo, Stephen’s running with us.” She looked puzzled, studied me.
“What about football?” I just shrugged. Coach came out and talked to us for a few minutes, told us the route for the day’s run. We began, Kevin lead, he and Johanna were the captains. I kept pace with Johanna, she ignored me for the first few miles. The school was surrounded by neighborhoods on hills. We ran them all. I’d never run so much at one time. Kevin, Johanna and I lost sight of the rest of the team somewhere on the third hill. We made it back to school in the time allotted. I was dead tired but didn’t want to show it.
“Where’s the rest of the team, Kevin?”
“They’ll show up in the next fifteen to twenty minutes. If not, Coach will search for them. Some have a tendency to get lost.” Johanna drank her water. Some of the others arrived, Coach told us about the next meet, we were gonna run on an actual trail the next practice to train for it. The team dispersed, Kevin went with the coach to find the other kids. I was alone with Johanna in the lobby.
“I’m surprised you kept up with us. You tired?” I shook my head. Honestly, I was ready to collapse.
“So, why are you here, Stephen?”
“You told me I had to join the cross country team to see you — so I did.” For whatever reason, she didn’t expect that answer, started to say something then stopped, changed the subject.
“Stephen, I’m sorry for pushing you in the mud earlier. Our walk was fun for the most part. I’m glad we ditched math today.”
“You want a ride home?”
“No thanks, my mom is coming. I should go get changed.” She started walking toward the locker room but turned back.
“Running on the trails is more fun than in the streets. See you tomorrow?” I nodded, she smiled then disappeared around the corner.
The next day in school just about everyone asked me if I quit the football team. I just told them I wasn’t and was hoping Coach would let me come late to practice or something. Needless to say, a lot of my friends were pissed and wouldn’t talk to me when I admitted I’d joined the cross country team. At least the girls didn’t care, I could just talk and sit with them at lunch for a few days. Since I knew I was gonna see Johanna after school, I didn’t try to find her during the day.
I had to keep some shred of dignity, she knew I joined the cross country team just to see her. So I ignored her during math class, passed notes with other girls right in front of her. I asked this girl Jessica about her 18th birthday party, she went on about it for most of the class. Johanna was giving us all sorts of looks but Jessica was oblivious. Johanna had told me a couple times that she thought the girl was an idiot. I told her about cross country, tried to explain the point of it to her. Johanna was laughing at my explanations.
When I went down to the locker room after school, Coach found me and told me to dress for football the next day, said everything was taken care of so I could do both. I didn’t understand what that meant, he disappeared and I went out to the lobby to join Kevin and the awkward.
“Hey, Stephen, Coach Ford will pull up in a van eventually. We’re going to the state park.” Johanna came out a few minutes later, went right over to Kevin and ignored me. They talked about whatever, she wouldn’t reply to any of my comments. The van pulled up outside.
“Sit with me, Johanna.” I was the first in, went right to the back and waited for her. She sat in the front row next to Kevin.
“Hey, Lew, right?” The tall goof ball nodded. “Wanna switch seats with me?” He got up before Johanna could tell him to stay. I slid in next to her, smiled.
“Jojo, why didn’t you come back? We could of sang songs and made faces at passing motorists.”
“No thanks.” Kevin looked uncomfortable, he’d figured out what was going on.
“You mad at me, Johanna?”
“No.” She definitely was. I guess she felt slighted when I didn’t show up at her locker or talk to her before, during, and after class.
“I just wanted to have a nice chat, talk about cross country.” I half-smiled.
“You don’t need me for that, you can talk to Jessica or Mandy or any of the other morons.” Exactly what I wanted to hear. She was jealous, and probably as into me as I was into her.
“They’re in the same college level math as us.” She didn’t reply. I talked to Kevin about baseball for the next fifteen minutes. We arrived at the park. Coach went over the plan of attack. Split us into two teams of four. Me, Kevin, Jo and way-too-excited-about-running girl went to one trail, while the other misfits had some misfit trail to run on.
“Hey, Stephen, my name’s Lola. I’m a sophomore and I was a cheerleader last year for basketball.” I didn’t recognize her, but cheerleaders at high school basketball games were superfluous.
“Hi, Lola. You gonna cheer again this year? We should be better, make it farther at State’s.”
“Yeah, I would cheer for football but my mom says colleges don’t care about cheer leading as an activity. She works at the University in the admissions office, says cross country looks good on a girl’s application.” She went on as we warmed up with a jog, stumbled a few times because she wasn’t paying attention to the trail. She was cute enough, too young, but that wasn’t the point. Her talking to me was getting to Johanna.
“Lola, we should concentrate on the trail.” Lola immediately shut up, so I began talking to Kevin. He wasn’t as nice to look at though, told me what the meet would be like. Johanna was more than irritated and ran on ahead of us. When she was out of earshot I told Kevin to stay with Lola, that I’d go up and run with Johanna. I caught up to her, she looked back, didn’t say anything, I didn’t either for a while.
“You’re very good at this, Jo.” She looked over.
“I take it seriously. If you’re not going to, please quit.”
“I know you take it seriously, and I take you seriously. Why won’t you talk to me?” She stopped, I ran by because it was so sudden. She walked up to me.
“Coach told me that we’re going to start running in the mornings from now on. Why do you think that is, Stephen? So now instead of running right after school we have to get up at five something. It gets pretty cold and dark in the mornings here in October. All because you think it’s pretty sweet joining a joke sport just to hit on a girl every day.” We were both breathing heavy, she was genuinely upset.
“I don’t think it’s a joke sport, Johanna. I’m dead tired already. I want to be here because you’re here, but I’ll quit if you want me to.” She softened a little.
“I don’t want you to quit, you’re better than Kevin, you could probably beat most of the guys we run against…just fix this — no mornings. It’s not fair to me or the rest of the team.” I said I would. We ran the rest of the trail and this time she sat with me on the ride back to school.
In this wheel you are the premise,
the immovable mover and pivot,
the hub, remiss umbilicus, and center
the hilum at separation,
the mark and merestone of the damned,
borne by an idolator in his adulation.
We ran our morning run the next day, the other kids hated me for it. I told them I’d get it changed back, which didn’t change the fact that they had to shower at school that day. I told the cross country coach that we should run right after school, that I’d just go to football practice late. He looked worried, like my plan wouldn’t go over well with the football coach.
I’d missed two days of full dress practice and we had a game in two days. He wasn’t happy, told me that I was jeopardizing the season for my teammates and the school. Really, I wasn’t that important. I was a receiver on a team that ran the ball, a corner back against teams that ran the ball. Finally, he gave in, but only after he threatened to kick me off the team a dozen times. I explained to him why I could skip warm-ups because I was essentially doing the best possible warm-up someone at my position could do.
He told me I wasn’t going to play Friday night, but I knew that wouldn’t last a quarter. Our first cross country thing was Saturday morning, so I thought I had everything figured out. I told Johanna how everything was going to work, she seemed excited, told me about the trail and the other schools we’d be running against.
Love of Johanna Ch. 01
“Johanna, skip class with me, we’ll go for a walk.” I knew she’d blow me off, but I asked anyway.