Evan Baughfman
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Why is the Mile So Long?

This story was inspired by a few of my students, their dramatics, and their hatred for running the mile in P.E.

I gotta say, writing in the voice of this narrator was...interesting.

 

Why is the Mile So Long?

Alex was mad at me for being selfish, when I wasn’t even that selfish. I ate some of her chips at lunch. Big deal. Get over it.

I could’ve totally died from hunger. I had to make a life-or-death decision, and right there on the lunch table were those orange puffs. I went for them, and I’m still alive. I obviously made the right decision.

Except my stomach hurt a lot. It made noises like our apartment complex’s hot tub. I always thought Nana was just being mean, but there might’ve been a reason why she never let us eat fake cheese.

So Mr. Baltz couldn’t make me run the entire mile. No way.

I walked around the hot field, rubbing my belly, pulling on the huge sleeves of my shirt. They hung past my elbows.

I didn’t even look cute. The T-shirt was ginormous and made me look like I was in kindergarten, and the shorts went past my knees, making me look like a boy.

“Alivia,” Mr. Baltz said through his megaphone. “Move quickly. Show some effort.”

Mr. Baltz tried to be intimidating with that megaphone, but he sounded like a loud old lady with tissue stuck up her nose. That whistle he tweeted reminded me of the bird I couldn’t get to shut up outside my window every morning.

“Alivia, you have to get faster than twelve minutes or you’ll fail. Again.”

Fine. I got it. But if I exploded cheese, it was his fault.    

Mr. Baltz blew his whistle once more. His face was all red, and he looked like a tomato. I walked a little faster.

I was at the back of the group, behind everyone by like a hundred feet. The others looked kinda tiny. I wasn’t the only one walking, but I was the slowest. We looked like a parade of blue ants marching around the grass field.

My feet moved like snails. I looked down at the shoes I wore. I sighed. I couldn’t even see my pedicure.

My toes were so pretty that day too. If my sis hadn’t helped me paint them, my whole foot probably would’ve been pink. But Mr. Baltz said he was gonna call Nana again if I didn’t take off my sandals.

Good thing Sabrina always kept an extra pair of sneakers in her locker. But, man, they hurt! Why were her feet so tiny? I guess that’s why we called her a leprechaun.

“Alivia!”

Okay! I began to jog. Mr. Baltz was gonna make my muscles burn. Not the good burn that I sometimes got from cinnamon lip-gloss, either.

I was almost done with the first lap anyway. And I was moving faster than usual. The dude needed to give me a break and keep that whistle quiet. I didn’t like trying so hard. I wasn’t a track star.

A fly buzzed next to my right ear. I waved it away, and I accidentally hit it with the back of my hand. It buzzed louder, and I saw that the bug was actually bigger and more yellow than a fly.

Oh. My. Gosh. A bee. Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh.

I moved even faster. I began to wheeze. Was I allergic to bees? Maybe. Nana never told me. I could’ve totally gotten puffy and died right there on the field.

Die? In those clothes? In front of those people? I’d only ever kissed two boys! I never even told Robert I liked him.  

Alex would love it if I croaked and Robert never learned about my feelings for him. She was so jealous that he and I were a perfect fit. He was my missing puzzle piece.

“Get away from me!” I said to the bee. “Stay away from my hair!”

My hair was pretty, but it wasn’t a flower. If anything, my hair was sweaty.

My hairy was sweaty. Ugh.

No! The bee zoomed past my ear. It wanted to buzz right into my brain!

Forget that! I ran. A couple of my classmates were only fifty feet away now.

“Movemovemove!” Get outta my way. That bee was chasing me!

The closest classmate was Vincent. He was big and slow and slept during math sometimes. Man, he was sweatier than my head.

“I know you’re almost as lazy as I am, but come on!” I said as I approached. “Make way!”

He started drifting to the left. I was on the left! I was gonna knock him over like one of those football guys my uncles watch on Thanksgiving.

“Move to the right, Vincent,” I said. “A bee wants to kill me!”

He looked back at me, his cheeks bright and rosy. His tongue kinda hung out the side of his mouth like a panting dog. He moved back to the right.

Josh was only a few feet in front of Vincent. But Josh played baseball. What was he doing all the way back here? Faking another injury, I bet.

“Hey, Alivia,” he said as I passed.

I glanced back at him. Hey, the bee was gone. Finally!

Josh was smiling. I could see the gap between his two front teeth. Yep, he was definitely a faker. And the teacher had screamed at me. How unfair.

“Two more laps, Alivia. Keep up that pace.”

Huh. Mr. Baltz almost sounded pleased. Just send a swarm of angry bees after me, and I could run forever. I’d run all the way to China.

My stomach gurgled. Oh, no. The chips were doing a belly dance. Ugh. I needed to slow down. Maybe I’d only make it to Arizona, after all. That was close to California, right?

Mr. Baltz said, “One more lap, Alex. You’ve almost lapped your friend.”

What? I glanced back. Alex’s brown ponytail bounced behind her as she gained on me with each step.

I focused straight ahead. My legs pushed me forward.

There was no way Alex could run that fast. She couldn’t lap me. Only boys ran that fast.

Wait. She did have a boy’s name.

Her heavy footsteps slapped against the grass. I looked back again for like a millisecond. She was somehow only ten feet away. She played soccer after school, but this was just ridiculous.

I couldn’t let her distract me anymore. I looked ahead at Lani only twenty feet away.

One foot in front of the other. I pumped my arms. Back and forth. Back and forth. I took a deep, shuddering breath.

Ugh. The chips stabbed at my insides. Why had I eaten them? They weren’t even that good. They were stale. Whose mom puts chips in a sandwich bag anyway?

Suddenly, Alex was right next to me. She wouldn’t look at me. Fine. My eyes were scalding lasers.

She was just mad that I liked Robert. He dumped her three weeks ago. Get over it already.

“You’re nice,” he’d said to her, “but I need someone a little more dangerous.”

Sabrina, Natalie, and I had all been standing by the bathrooms when it happened. Alex cried when Robert walked away. He winked at me, but no one else saw it.

It was so magical. My heart felt like melted margarine. Nana doesn’t let us use butter.

I could be dangerous. I didn’t like knives or guns or firecrackers, but I talked a lot in class. Once, I took an unpaid pack of gum from the market on accident. Another time, at the train tracks, I poked a dead raccoon with a stick.

Alex said she hated Robert. So why couldn’t I have him? Weren’t friends supposed to share?

He was gorgeous and funny and knew what he wanted in girls. We weren’t in elementary school anymore. Our feelings were for real now.

Alex and I passed Lani. We were almost to Gustavo.

Dang, my legs hurt. They were gonna break off, and I was gonna fall in the grass and have to crawl the rest of the way.

A little patch of white flowers rested between Gustavo and us. Maybe I’d just lie down there and look up at the clouds to see if I could find a bunny hopping in the sky. I saw one once. Usually I saw turtles.

Nevermind! As we got close to the patch, I noticed that bees flew around the flowers. The buzzing bugs were everywhere!

Call the exterminator! Uncle Mike was an exterminator. I could tell him next time I saw him. When would that be? Christmas?

I sped up just a bit so I could get away from the bees. Alex fell a step or two behind me.

I kinda wished the bees would sting her. She was pretty much stepping on my feet. The front of her shoe brushed against my left heel.

Was she trying to trip me? How dare she! I could’ve tripped her when I had the chance, but I so totally resisted.

Alex was next to me again. I wheezed, and she didn’t.

Mr. Baltz said, “That’s it, Alex. Alivia, stick by her side.”

Um, I couldn’t. She was a cheetah. Maybe I could’ve been a cheetah too if chips weren’t tearing my guts apart.

Did Alex poison them? Oh, my gosh, she totally did. She actually wanted me to eat the chips.

She knew Nana got me outta the house so fast in the morning that I didn’t even have enough time to make a bowl of cereal. I lost my ID card, so I couldn’t get breakfast in the cafeteria before school, either.

Congratulations, Alex. Killer chips. The perfect plan.

But there I was. Right with her. One push…

“You’re mine,” I tried to say to her, but I could barely breathe. I sounded like Nana’s friend. The one whose living room was a smelly ashtray.

But Alex was quicker than a charging elephant. I knew from science that charging elephants were crazy fast.

My stomach wiggled. Whoa. The chips wanted out. I was gonna paint Alex with orange barf. And the front of me, too.

Time to give up. No need to get all gross out there. Not ‘cause of Alex. I had to let her go.

I pressed my feet hard into the ground to slow myself down. Alex zoomed past me, and soon her legs became a blur.

She was gone.

I suddenly felt like the sun was on top of my head. Waterfalls of sweat poured down my face. I reeked and was melting.

Why is the mile so long? Nobody ever actually has to run that far in life. That’s why God created limos. I imagined a pink limo with heart-shaped wheels when Alex stumbled.

Her arms spread out in front of her like a confused superhero, and she crashed to the grass right behind Gustavo.

I smirked a little. That’s what she got for being so full of drama. For hating Robert and me. For trying to poison and trip me.

Alex didn’t get up.

Was she having a heart attack? She rolled around in pain, shrieking. I stopped.

I remembered our sleepover last month where we ate pizza and watched scary movies and crank-called high school boys

with my sis at two in the morning. We had a lot of fun. We laughed so much.

We were friends.

I darted toward her. I was the cheetah now. Alexalexalexalexalexalexalex.

I reached her and knelt down right beside her. The dry grass poked my knees through the shorts. “What happened?” I asked. “What’s wrong?”

Alex propped on her elbows. Tears streamed down her face and mixed with the sweat on her cheeks. There was no blood.

“I tripped,” she said. “My ankle hurts.”

“I’m sorry,” I said as I hugged her, and then I did what I do best. I screamed.

“Mr. Baltz, Alex twisted her ankle!”

I held her trembling hand. “Thanks,” she said.

“You’ll be okay. You just need some ice. You’ll look cute with a limp.”

She laughed, which led to a snort. We both giggled. She couldn’t help but to snort again. Finally, she hugged me back.

I knew she couldn’t hate me for long. We smiled at each other, and my heart was like margarine once again.

“Where’s Mr. Baltz?” I said. “Do I need to be louder or—Oh. Here he is.”

The teacher jogged up to us, his whistle bouncing on a lanyard against his chest. He held the megaphone at his side.

“Thank you, Alivia,” he said. “You only have about a lap left. Great time so far. Finish strong. She’ll be okay.”

Yeah. He was right. Alex wiped away tears and gave me a wave.

“Bye, Alex,” I said.

I gulped in some air and skipped into a jog. I didn’t have to be a cheetah. I just had to finish.

As I went around the field, I looked down at my shiny arms. The sweat kinda made my skin sparkle like glitter.

I grinned and picked up the pace.