The final bell rang and I quickly gathered my things.
"Goodnight Ryan. See ya tomorrow".
Walking out of the business classroom, I realized I was friendly with many of my peers but cared truly for only a small handful of people.
My pace quickened as I headed down the stairs and towards the gym hallway of my high school. The shoes I wore made small clicking sounds with each step on the hallways recently cleaned floors. The shoes were a pleasing blue colour with grey laces and the slightest, unnoticeable heel on the bottom. I had bought them for myself in grade 10 but for some reason hadn't worn them until now, grade 12. Thankfully they still fit.
My gym bag dangles in my right hand. I had grabbed it at lunch and carried it to my final two classes of the day in anticipation. Anticipation for after school running practice and the moment I got to see Jim for the first time after the two-month Summer break. It was in grade 9 I met Jim Halpert through the schools running club and every year since I waited for this time I got to spend with him.
Thoughts surrounding the idea that he might not show up for some reason grew stronger as I approached the changerooms. Just one more turn and I would be in the gym hallway without a single sighting of my best friend.
My pace slows slightly and I look down mournfully, catching glimpses of my shoes.
I look up. There he is. I see him and he sees me. He is standing with Michael at an open locker that could belong to either of them.
I like to think the reason he saw me right away was because he was looking for me. Hoping I was going to make it to practice. I flash a quick smile. The smile does not fade but I avert my eyes back to the ground. Jim is currently finding himself in between girlfriends and I don't want to look overly eager to see him.
His recognizable small laughter exits through his bright smile.
"How was your Summer?"
Of course, I have no recall of Summer. Just that it wasn't particularly bad.
He nods playfully and I nod back. I was prepared to laugh and nod as much as necessary.
"Hey, are you going to practice".
He gestures to Michael and my heart drops a bit.
"I have to work tonight."
I wasn't entirely surprised by his answer. I had gathered this much by how he was standing around Michaels locker instead of rushing off to get changed.
"Yeah. Sorry about that."
Michael was one of Jims many friends and just another person I was friendly towards without having a real connection with. They worked together at a local sporting goods store that happened to be taking a lot of Jims free time away from him.
I smiled trying not to make this moment any more awkward than it already was after Jim clearly announced he wouldn't be going to practice. I couldn't think of anything to say but I didn't want to leave yet. I wanted to soak up every minute with him and so I continued standing at the locker not saying a word.
Standing next to him in silence was more than enough for me. The knowledge that this was our last year together was too overwhelming.
Michael closed his locker and spoke to Jim.
"I'll meet you outside."
Jim turned to me again.
"I guess I should be going. Sorry again."
"Oh yeah, you should go."
A small hesitation lead into me blurting something out.
"Do you want me to walk you out?"
Last year I had grown into the habit of walking with Jim to the doors closest to his house before proceeding to my locker and then heading home myself. It was a way to make the most of my time with him. After school was all we had. In four years we never had a single class together which always amazed me because it felt like our friendship was stronger than most.
'No, it's ok Beesly."
I wave him goodbye and wait until he's not looking before walking towards the change rooms. It was an awkward reuniting but seeing him today made me feel good inside.
The good feeling continues as I keep walking, watching my blue shoes moving across the shiny floor with each step.
Chapter 2: The next day
The bathroom contained two larger than normal stalls and I was occupying one of them.
As I heard more people enter the bathroom, waiting for one of the stalls to free up, I began to panic. It was situations like this that showed me how fragile I really was. The changerooms were always incredibly crowded after school, so for the past 4 years, I had been changing in a bathroom a little further down the hall. When I took too long I felt like a big inconvenience to everybody waiting and it gave me an uneasy feeling.
When I exited the stall I tried not to make eye contact with anyone. I had changed quickly into shorts and a t-shirt that I felt comfortable running in. I carried my shoes out of the stall with me. I decided I could tie my sneakers out in the hall and free up the stall faster.
Before leaving the bathroom I removed my water bottle from my bag and left it under a small table that was decorated with a plastic, pathetic looking, flower sitting on it.
Every day I left my bag unattended in the washroom and so far had lost nothing. This, at least, was good.
I'm in the hallway now and I see some people I recognize from the team, heading outside already. Jim is not one of them.
The disappointment of his absence doesn't last long. He is the first person I see as I exit the school's doors heading outside. I look at the ground like I hadn't noticed him. I do my best pretending the grass is fascinating as I stare at the ground while walking towards him.
"Hey look who brought a water bottle."
His smile is brighter than the sun.
I held up the bright container like a trophy.
"I'm guessing you didn't?"
"You guessed correctly."
Jims smirk was followed by a brief pause. He was usually the one to break the silence.
"Do you want to stand in the shade?"
I followed his eyes to the small amount of shade over by where some trees stood.
Standing in the shade made us look antisocial and distanced us from the other runners waiting for practice to start.
We were just friends, but I liked the idea that some of our teammates might be currently mistaking us for a couple as they stole quick glances our way.
The others didn't have to wait long as a coach joined us on the field.
Warm up was two laps around the track. Every day. A routine that could not easily be broken. For someone on a running team I disliked running very much but I enjoyed warm up. Like the practice, Jim and I had grown into habits of our own and running beside each other during warmup was one of those unbreakable habits. I couldn't wait to hear what he had to say today. I loved hearing about his day.
The conversation continued from where we stood in the shade to where we ran on the track. I smiled as he talked through breaths. The relief was overwhelming and I was so glad we were able to transition from yesterday's awkward reunion to today's flowing conversation.
I can't talk as I run. I'm not as strong as a runner as Ild like to be. Instead, I listened to him talk about his first two days back at school and him complimenting my shorts. I wished every day ended with this. Listening to Jim talk.
The warm up was always too short.
As the workouts progressed throughout the night, the amount of sweat grew. Jim's arms and face were now glowing. I had learned to not look at him in certain ways but there was no denying the fact that he was an attractive person. I didn't feel embarrassed admitting to myself that I found him to be handsome despite him having a girlfriend.
Besides, we were friends. We'd always be friends.
When practice came to an end I couldn't wait until the next day.