She glances back at me, and our eyes collide for one charged moment. The message is clear: she’ll tell me her secrets when I tell her mine.
Which will be never.
“Your breathing’s all wrong,” I say, tearing my eyes away from hers.
“My breathing’s fine.”
“Not if you want to run more than three miles. Your breaths are too shallow. You need to inhale deeper. Engage your diaphragm. And get used to matching the breaths to your steps. For your slow pace, inhale for maybe three or four steps, then exhale for the same.”
“That seems like a lot of thinking for something that’s supposed to be natural.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
“Okay, what else?” she says, spreading her arms wide. “Am I bowlegged? My ponytail not high enough?”
“Just start with the breathing for now,” I say, irritation starting to set in as I realize how much I want to be the one running, not the one telling someone else how to run.
“Sure thing, Coach,” she mutters.
“So, by any chance, does your sudden affinity for running mean you want to be alone?”
She frowns. “Not really. Why?”
“Jesus, take a hint.”
“Ah. You want me to leave you to your brooding.”
She stops walking immediately and pivots so she’s facing back toward the house. “Fine. I’ll try to master your little breathing activity on the way back. Same time tomorrow?”
“No. Find another time to run.”
“I’m getting paid to keep you company, you know.”
“Well, do so quietly. And from afar.”
She sighs as though I’m a petulant child. “It’s shocking that none of your other companions stuck around for more than a couple of weeks. Absolutely shocking, I say.”
“Goodbye, Middleton,” I say, gesturing with my cane back toward the house.
“See ya, Langdon,” she says as she begins walking backward so that she’s still facing me. “Also, fun little trivia for this morning? In exchange for your unsolicited breathing advice?”
She ignores me and points to the cane. “That cane? All for show. You haven’t used it once to support your weight this entire time.”
I open my mouth to argue, but instead my jaw goes a little slack as it hits me.
And I haven’t once thought about my leg. Or my scars.
She’s already jogging away from me, and I stand still for several minutes, watching her until she disappears around a bend in the path. Then I continue with my walk, telling myself I’m relieved to have my solitude back.
And if there’s the slightest undercurrent of loneliness, I ignore it.