Zoe's Run

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“Breathe. Breathe.”

My heart was pounding, my quick, desperate breaths gasping for air.

“You can do this, Zo. Come on.” My track coach grabbed my arms and dragged me over to the bleachers. “Lean against this. Drink some water. Now, you take a break and rest. I’ll be right back.”

I knew Coach Hernandez was pissed that I’d practically passed out again, but what was I supposed to do? Magically make my heart get better? My heart condition stopped me from running the 14 years I’d been alive. I knew Coach was only training me to do the thing I loved best, running, out of pure pity.

I lifted the water bottle up to my mouth with shaky hands and drank, water trickling down my chin. I collapsed against the bleachers, waiting for track to end. Coach jogged over. “Feeling better, Zoe?”

I nodded and breathed out. “Yep. Recovered a lot faster than last time.”

Coach Hernandez nodded and puffed out some air, jogging in place. “OK, you just rest a little bit. Don’t wander off. Tell me if you need anything.” She went back to coach the rest of the team. I could hear her demanding a mile.

I rolled my eyes. How could she expect me to sit there and watch everyone else run? “Screw this. I’m going home,” I murmured to myself as a grabbed my backpack and left the track. I don’t know if Coach saw me. I don’t care.

When I finally got home, I arrived to just in time to catch my dad drinking again. “Dad. What did I say about drinking?!” I hollered.

His eyes rolled around. “Aw, Zo…” he slurred, “Live a little. You got one life.” He swiped at the beer but missed and crashed onto the floor from the couch, where he stayed.

“Dad, this is out of control. You need help,” I said.

“You know what you are?” he said, smacking his lips, “You’re…you’re a fun-sucker, that’s what you are. Fun-sucker Zoe. What are you doing home anyways?”

I helped him back onto the couch. “Track ended early,” I lied through my teeth.

Even when he’s drunk, he can see through my lies. “No it didn’t, it didn’t, you almost passed out and since you couldn’t run you just came back early again, didn’t you?” Knowing he was right, he continued, “Zoe, when are you going to notice that you can’t run?”

“Go to sleep, Dad,” I said, tossing the beer in the trash.

The next day at school, this girl who I guess I’d call a friend, Morgan, came up to me in the hallway. “Hi, Zoe.” I mumbled a quick hello back. Morgan, peppy as usual, fell into step with me. “Where’re you headed?”

“English.”

“Cool. Who’s your teacher?”

“Mr. Ringstrom.”

“That’s nice. I heard he’s cool.”

“I guess.”

“I’m going to French.”

“That’s nice.”

She waited for something. I wasn’t sure what. “Miss Laya?”

“Yep, she’s cool. Once she quizzed us for candy.”

“Oh.”

Morgan walked a few more yards with me in an awkward science. Giving up on me, she said, “Well, I see Jamie. I’ll see you later, Zoe.”

“Bye.” Glumly, I headed towards English.

In English, Mr. Ringstrom was talking about...something, when the principal and a policeman came in. “Zoe Marshall? Can we speak to you?”

I almost choked. Everyone in the class was staring at me. Thoughts raced through my head. “Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble. Zoe?” the principal gestured towards the hallway.

“Zoe, your father is Evan Marshall, is that correct?”

My stomach tightened into a know. “Yes,” I squeaked. Oh, my god, what did Dad do?

Principal Carson and the policeman looked at each other and had some sort of telepathic conversation. “Is he OK?” I asked cautiously.

The policeman smoothed back his hair, or at least what he had left of it. “It appears he was going somewhere, but he had a little drink first.”

My heart stopped. “Oh my gosh…my dad was drunk driving?” I knew his problem was bad, but he was still usually more sensible about stuff like driving while drunk. “I…I didn’t know that…oh my gosh, was he hurt? Did he hurt anyone else?”

“It’s fine. He crashed into another car at a corner, but the person he hit isn’t badly hurt. However, your father is in the hospital. It isn’t anything major. He hit his head really badly on the steering wheel when he crashed.”

The world stopped. I couldn’t hear anything anymore. My vision blurred. My breathing became short gasps. I held on to the wall to steady myself. “I…I don’t know…how could this have…”

Principal Carson took my arm. “Do you want to see him?” I nodded.

My dad, in a hospital gown with a big white bandage wrapped around his forehead, smiled as soon as he saw me. “Zoe!” He spread out his arms and began mumbling incoherently. “That’s my Zoe girl, she’s my daughter, my Zoe daughter girl who runs and runs…”

“Dad…I told you to stop drinking…I said you needed help…”

He looked confused. “I’m fine, Zoe girl, see? I’m perfectly fine.”

I glanced at the doctor. “Is he?”

“Yes, he’s fine. He just needs to recover a little longer. You can stay if you’d like,” the doctor offered.

I hesitated. I had track today. Do you even have to think about this, Zoe? I thought to myself. It’s TRACK. You have it twice every week. This is your dad! You know you have to stay. In the back of my head, though, all I kept hearing was Run, Zoe, run! Run, Zoe, run! You know you want to! Run!

I was shocked that I even had to think about it. Shut up, I told the voice. “I’ll stay,” I said, grasping my dad’s hand. He gave me a grateful smile.

“Don’t you have to run today? You told me you were getting a lot better,” he whined.

“Dad…I think I’m going to quit the track team. I have to look after you until you get better.”

“But, honey, you love running.”

“I love you more.”

“No, sweetie, I don’t want my problem to keep you from what you love.”

“Then don’t let it, Dad. Join Alcoholics Anonymous or something. Face it. Drunk driving? That’s the worse you’ve ever gone, and you know it’ll get worse if you don’t stop.”

“I will, Zo, I will, but only if you keep running.”

“Only if you stop drinking.” I giggled. “OK Dad.”

Dad grinned and patted my hand. “What are you doing? You’re going to be late for track. You can do it, Zoe. I’ll see you at home.”

“I love you, Dad.”

“You too, Zoe.”

I spun around on my heel.

Walked out the room.

Walked straight on out of the hospital.

Walked past the parking lot.

Walked the few blocks to my school.

Then broke out into a run and ran.

Ran towards my school.

Ran towards my renewed life.





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