I want to thank my sweet inspiration blackrandl1958 for the kick in the butt I needed to write this story, and for her usual expert editing.
My legs were like lead weights as I tried to have something resembling a kick; I kept my head down and powered to the finish line of the Ocean State Marathon in Newport, Rhode Island.
It was only as I crossed the line that I dared look at the clock: 3:25:20; a personal best, but still short of the 3:20 qualifying time for the Boston Marathon.
It was hard to believe that a short five years ago I did my first awkward jog, barely a mile, and now I had completed my third marathon. I was proud of my progress, but I had set my sights on running in the world-famous Boston Marathon, and I had yet to qualify. I would be just a spectator again.
April 15, 2013; I almost didn’t come. The previous year I had volunteered at the Mile 15 water stop for the tenth straight year, but didn’t this year because I was hoping/planning to be running. I decided to go and cheer on the runners anyway.
My girlfriend was a runner: her club, the Colonial Road Runners, manned the water stop every year, and I got “volunteered” to help, finding that I actually enjoyed it. The relationship didn’t last; it seemed that it wasn’t just the long runs that caused her to come home hot and sweaty, but my interest in running did. A few years previously, I decided to give it a try. It took just a few days jogging in my everyday sneakers to get me to invest in good running shoes. I still struggled at first, but by the end of the summer I was running in weekly Fun Runs. After a couple of years, I decided to try my hand (or should I say foot?) at marathoning, which brings me back to being a spectator at Boston.
I managed to snag a pretty good spot near the finish line on the south side of Boylston St., and was having a pretty decent time. Around three hours after the lead runners had gone by, I was getting ready to call it a day when suddenly there was an explosion right across the street, then another just a little ways to the west on the same side as the first.
Just as I was regaining my wits I saw a woman runner lying on the street, holding her leg and crying. I ducked under the ropes keeping the spectators off the course and ran over to her.
“Please, help me, I need to get to the finish line,” she cried.
“We need to get you some medical attention,” I said, taking off my jacket to wrap around her leg.
“No, no, I have to, have to finish, for my husband,” she finally gasped out.
I didn’t know why at the time, but the mention of her husband left me vaguely disappointed.
I helped her to her feet, put her right arm around my neck, my left arm around her waist, and helped her hobble to the finish line. When I tried to hand her off to the medical staff she wouldn’t let go of my hand.
“Thank you for helping me finish,” she said, “Please let me know how I can reach you.”
I wrote my name and number on her racing bib, left her to the professionals and got out of the way of the chaos that would soon be all over the news.
By the time I got home I was drained. I almost felt as if I had run the marathon myself. I took a shower, popped open a Sam Adams and sat down for some hopefully mindless television. That turned out to be a forlorn hope as the talking heads were endlessly analyzing what was soon determined to be a terrorist attack. It soon became repetitive, and my mind drifted back to runner 13750; I never even got her name and why it was so important for her to get to the finish line “for her husband,” or why that affected me so much. I guess she was pretty enough, but nobody looks that hot after running twenty-six plus miles, so what the fuck was going on inside my head?
Another couple of Sammies put those thoughts to rest and I went to bed for a good night’s sleep, resolved to get back to my training to hopefully qualify for next year’s Boston Marathon.
For the rest of the week I had pretty much put my experience with runner 13750 to the back of my mind, though it did sometimes poke its head up during my longer training runs. I was getting out of the shower Saturday morning after a 15-miler when my phone rang, displaying an unfamiliar number. Typically, I screen those calls, but for some reason I picked this one up.
“Hello,” I said, hoping I wasn’t going to get a telemarketer or a bill collector.
“Hello, Steve,” the pleasant female voice on the other end said, “This is Marge, Marge Cohen.”
My lack of a response must have spoken volumes.
“Well, duh!” she said laughing, “I never told you my name. I’m the runner you helped at the Marathon after the bombs went off.”
“Oh, yeah, hi,” I said, “I’ve been thinking about you. How are you doing? Were your injuries serious?”
“Thank God, no. I got a pretty nice gash and a torn muscle, but nothing broken. It’ll be a while, but I’ll be back running in time to train for next year’s race.”
“That’s good to hear. So, to what do I owe the pleasure of this call?”
“Well, to thank you of course, and to ask you if I could buy you dinner to thank you properly.”
“Will your husband be joining us?” I asked.
There was a long, strained silence.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “Did I say something wrong? You said that you needed to finish for your husband.”
“Oh, that’s right, I’m sorry, you couldn’t know, but my husband is dead, he died just after last year’s Marathon.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but I still don’t understand.”
There was another silence, accompanied by some soft sobs.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “Did I say something wrong again?”
“No, no, it’s just that even after a year it still seems so fresh to me. David died from cancer, and I was running in his memory to raise money for cancer research.”
God, did I ever feel like dog shit!
“Marge, I’d like to take you up on your offer of dinner, but I insist on buying after my insensitivity.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Steve; you couldn’t know. How about this, Dutch treat!”
I couldn’t argue with that, so we agreed to meet at Legal Sea Foods, and I made our reservations.
Legal is a nice restaurant, but not overly fancy, so I dressed in nice slacks and a button-down shirt. I arrived a few minutes early, checked in with the hostess and stood out of the way to wait for Marge.
It occurred to me that I had only seen her wiped out after running a marathon; how would I recognize her? I could only hope that she might recognize me!
The door opened, and a vision of loveliness walked in. I both hoped and feared that it was Marge, because she was so far out of my league. The second thing I noticed was her slight limp, and the third was the big smile as she recognized me. She came right over and threw her arms around me, giving me a big hug.
“It’s so good to see you again,” she said, “after meeting under such horrible circumstances.”
“I’m glad you’re doing so well. Your leg looked so torn up.”
“It looked much worse than it really was. It was nothing compared to the poor people who lost limbs or even their lives.”
We were both somber, at a loss for words, when the hostess let us know that our table was ready.
After we ordered our drinks, Marge got the conversation going again.
“So, what stroke of luck brought you to me in my hour of need?”
“Actually, it was my bad luck...”
Marge was taken aback by my attack of foot in mouth disease.
“No, no, I’m sorry,” I said, “That came out wrong.”
I explained my ill-fated attempt to qualify that led me to be a spectator in a position to help her.
“Oh, that’s better,” she said, “I’m obviously sorry that you weren’t able to run, but your bad luck turned out to be my good fortune. You know what you need?”
“What?” I asked after the waitress brought our drinks and took our food orders.
“You need a training partner!”
“I suppose you have a candidate in mind?”
“You’re looking at her,” she said with a grin.
“You would do that for me, just because I helped you finish the race? How do you know I’m not some crazy rapist, just trying to get you out on a lonely stretch of road so that I can have my way with you?”
“I don’t think too many crazy rapists hang out at marathon finish lines, hoping to find an injured runner to help so that he can rape her!”
“Hey, I DID say ‘crazy’ rapist,” I said laughing.
Just then the waitress brought our food.
“Besides,” she said, looking down at her plate, “what makes you think that you’d need to get me on a lonely stretch of road to have your way with me?”
“Whoa,” I said, “Just where did that come from? We barely know each other!”
“I know, but I like to think that I’m a pretty good judge of character. Your hesitancy shows that you’re one of the good guys. Besides, I haven’t been laid in over a year and I’m horny as a goat.”
“I know I’ll probably be kicking myself later, but let’s put the brakes on this bus for a bit until we get to know each other a little better.”
“What if when you get to know me you don’t want me?” she asked sadly.
“I don’t think there’s much of a chance of that,” I said with a smile. She returned the smile, but a little sadly.
“When the time comes, I may hold you to that, but for now let’s enjoy our dinner before it gets cold.
We skipped dessert in favor of just coffee, and she sneakily paid the entire check while I went to the men’s room.
“Just for that, I’m going to insist on taking you out now for drinks and dancing.”
“I don’t know how much dancing there will be with this leg, but I’ll take you up on the drinks and we’ll see how it goes.”
We walked to a nearby club, and as long as we avoided the fast dances her leg held up just fine, though her hanging onto me for dear life might have helped.
Marge had taken an Uber, so I drove her home and walked her to her door. I knew that if I had given her the slightest hint that she would have dragged me into her bed and ravaged me, but I made her settle for a torrid good night kiss and an exchange of contact information.
We started seeing each other, and were soon exclusive. She had many opportunities to ravage me, and I returned the favor, though there seemed to be a bit of a barrier between us that I just couldn’t breach.
As soon as her leg was healed enough Marge was true to her word, and was a dedicated and helpful training partner.
“Part of your problem, Steve, is that you train too hard.”
“B ... But, how will I get faster if I don’t train hard?”
“You have to remember that the marathon is more of an endurance event than a race for all but the elite runners. You push too hard on the long training runs, then don’t have the energy to run hard on the shorter races that develop your speed. Just turn it down a notch, as we get closer to the race date we’ll start working on your kick so that you can finish strong.”
“I guess that makes sense,” I said. “What race should we run to try to qualify for Boston?”
“I was thinking of the LOCO Marathon in New Hampshire. It’s a fast, easy two half-marathon loops, the last weekend in October.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said, and we sat down to work backwards on our training schedule.
We trained all summer, and our romance blossomed, but I still had the feeling that she was holding something back. She was so loving and kind that I couldn’t believe that whatever there was could be so terrible that she wouldn’t, or couldn’t, talk about it.
“Marge, I think you know how I feel about you, and I think I know how you feel about me, but I keep feeling that you’re holding something back from me. Please, just tell me, you’re a good person; it can’t be that bad.”
“Don’t be so sure of that,” she cried and ran off. She wouldn’t take my calls or answer my texts, and didn’t show up for our training runs all week. She finally showed up Saturday morning for our long run, but refused to talk about anything but the run. Finally, she snapped.
“Look, Steve, do you want to qualify for Boston or not?”
“Well, yes, but...”
“No ‘buts,’” she said. “After LOCO I’ll tell you all there is to tell, then I won’t blame you if you walk away from me, but I want to see you in Boston next year, and if this keeps up that’s not likely to happen. Do you understand?”
“I ... I guess so...”
“Good! Let’s finish our stretches and do our warm-ups.”
We did just that, and had one of our better training runs. I pushed my darker thoughts to the back of my mind, determined to qualify for Boston and get the truth out of Marge.
Our training went well, and I was growing in confidence that I would do well enough to qualify for Boston. I wish I could say the same for our love life. Oh, we still dated, and we still had sex, though not quite as often as we had been.
Some of the passion seemed to be missing, and to be honest, it was my fault. I was holding back, fearful of committing myself fully, not knowing what deep dark secret Marge was holding onto so tightly. As much as I couldn’t believe that it could be all that bad, SHE obviously did, and it sent shivers through me.
Finally, the big day arrived, and it was perfect. Just enough clouds to keep the sun from beating down on us, cool but not chilly. Marge and I got our numbers, did our stretches and a few short jogs to loosen up.
We took our places in the mass of runners, and jogged in place nervously, waiting for the race to start. The big clock at the starting line counted down, the gun fired, and we were off! It took a couple of minutes for the starting throng to sort itself out and we could settle into our pace. I immediately tried to make up for the time lost at the start, but Marge pulled me back.
“Relax, Steve,” she said, “We’ve got almost 26 miles; there’s plenty of time. Just remember your training, settle into a comfortable pace, the race will take care of itself.”
It was hard, I can be a stubborn ass sometimes, but we finished the first half-marathon loop right on pace, and this time it was I who had to keep Marge on our target pace. We ran steadily, rarely talking, trying to save our breath, only hitting every other water stop so that we wouldn’t lose too much time.
As we passed the 24-mile mark we were only 30 seconds off the pace.
“Okay, Steve, this is where we draw on your training and the gas you’ve saved in the tank. SLOWLY increase your pace, don’t start sprinting. There’s still two miles to go.”
I nodded my assent, and started picking up my pace. It was hard, but I restrained myself from kicking harder as I passed the occasional runner.
At mile 25 Marge gave me the okay to run as hard as I felt comfortable, and as I did I noticed that Marge kept right up with me with seemingly little effort. My fragile male ego took a little hit, but I just kept going.
“Go, Steve, go!” Marge cried out as we passed Mile 26 and she started running away from me. I was momentarily distracted by the jiggling of her shapely buns, but I quickly regained my stride and ran as fast as I could after her. I was gaining on her stride by stride and caught her just as we crossed the finish line together. A glance at the clock showed my time: 3:19:45; I had qualified for Boston!
As we made our way through the chutes to have our numbers recorded I turned and gave Marge a big, sweaty hug. She reached up and pulled my head down for a passionate kiss, to the “Woo-Hoos” from those around us. We nervously disconnected and hurried to catch up with the finishers in front of us.
We went to my car, toweled off and kicked off our shoes and socks. I stood and changed from my singlet into a T-shirt while Marge did the same inside the car. We decided to forego the post-race activities in favor of some fluids and watermelon from our cooler, then headed home.
I let Marge have the shower first; neither of us was up for any shower sex! Then we ordered in some pizza and plopped down on the couch with some beer. Neither of us was ready to address the elephant in the room, so we relaxed with some Netflix until it was time for bed.
The next morning Marge was up first, and I woke up to the smell of fresh-brewed coffee. I went into the kitchen to find Marge sitting in her usual chair, hands around her mug of coffee, staring into it as if it held the secrets of the universe. I grabbed my coffee, sat down opposite her and the silence was deafening.
I waited semi-patiently as Marge screwed up her courage to tell me her deep, dark secret.
“Steven,” she began. Uh-oh, she was using my formal name, this WAS serious.
“Steve, I’m afraid I haven’t been completely honest about how my marriage ended.”
“What? I thought it ended when your husband Dave died?”
“I suppose it did, technically, but there’s more to it, as Paul Harvey used to say, ‘The REST of the story,’” she said with a rueful smile.
“About two years before he died, Dave changed. It was subtle at first; he didn’t joke as much; he wasn’t as quick to laugh at things. I would ask him what was wrong, but he always gave me the answer that guys hate when women say it to them, ‘Nothing.’ It was very frustrating, as I’m sure you can imagine.”
I nodded and indicated that she should continue.
“The next thing that I noticed was that our sex life was suffering. We went from three or four energetic sessions a week, to one or two half-hearted attempts by David. He tried hard to make up for it with his mouth and hands, but I missed the closeness of intercourse.
“‘David,’ I said, ‘Is there anything wrong? We don’t seem to make love the way we used to, and I miss it.’
“‘No, Marge,’ he said, ‘I’m just feeling a little run down lately.’
“‘Maybe you should go to the doctor,’ I suggested, and he just froze up. You would think that I had asked him for something kinky, or weird.
“‘N ... No,’ he stammered, ‘I’m sure I’ll be better soon,’ and sure enough he did do better, though still not up to our usual standards. Unfortunately, things soon returned to our new normal, and even got worse, eventually dropping off to nothing.
“At the same time, I was noticing more and more unexplained absences. David wasn’t in the office when I expected him to be, he started coming home later, looking haggard. I eventually fell to the conclusion that you might expect: he was cheating on me.”
“I’m glad he got cancer,” I said, “That’s what he deserved for cheating on you!”
“Wait, Steven,” Marge cried, her eyes filling with tears, “I’m not finished.”
I sat back, still seething that that bastard could cheat on someone as wonderful as Marge.
“I tried once more to get through to him. I told him that I could understand if he had a problem, that we could work through it together.”
“‘Marge, will you please just drop it,’ he said angrily, ‘You’ll find out soon enough, then you’ll understand.’ Then he got up and walked away from me.
“Well, that just about tore it for me. If he thought that I was just going to sit around and wait for him to divorce me while he was out fucking some bimbo, well, he had another thing coming!”
“I don’t blame you, Marge,” I said, “I’d feel the same way.”
She just looked at me sadly.
“The first thing I did was to book myself a spa day for the works. If I was going to be back on the market, then I was going to put my best self out there. The next thing I did was to start flirting with some of the pussy hounds around the office. I was pretty prime if I must say so myself...”
“You don’t have to,” I said, “I’ll say it for you.”
Marge just smiled sadly at me.
“I had no trouble zeroing in on a couple of likely candidates, and after a couple of lunches to narrow the field, I decided on Arthur Hatch. He wasn’t as sleazy as the others, and showed potential as both a ‘no-strings fling,’ but also as a possible longer-term affair. We planned for a night when David had been getting home later, and I put on some special lingerie and packed an overnight bag with a change of clothes. Not that I expected to be staying overnight, but a girl has to be prepared.
“Arthur and I walked out arm-in-arm, and I gave him a passionate kiss at his car before walking to my car to follow him to the motel. Who should I see standing beside my car but David, with the saddest expression you could ever imagine, a dozen yellow roses (my favorite) falling to the ground out of his hand.
“‘I ... I know that I’ve been neglecting you,’ he said, tears falling from his eyes, ‘and thought that I would try to make it up to you, but I see that my concern has been misplaced,’ as he turned and trudged back to his car.
“‘That’s right, walk away. Now you know how I’ve felt while you’ve been banging your sluts!’
“David turned around and looked at me with a truly puzzled look on his face. ‘No, wait,’ he said, ‘It’s not what you... ‘