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Her, Him, and the Receptionist This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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Our daily jog together. At least I like to think of it as our jog. It’s not like we actually run together, but in close proximity in separate universes.

It is hard to remember the days when we did not run together. My elliptical jogs right behind his treadmill and always keeps up. It would have been so easy to say hi the first time. But with each passing day, it has gotten harder and harder, and now impossible. We have had occasional looks back and forth, but those were probably coincidences. Of course I ­always look at him. As for the times his glance met mine, perhaps something else called his gaze. And I’m way too shy to budge from my routine to approach confirmed rejection. Why can’t he just make the move? I know, that’s a funny one. Look at him and then look at me – especially without makeup!

I don’t turn red from exercising, but I do blush when I’m nervous or embarrassed. So my cover story would be that my redness is from my heavy-duty workouts. After all, I am at the gym. I’m struggling to keep up with myself. My mind is going faster than the elliptical. My fervent fears, my neurotic nerves, my taxing trepidations, my angry anxieties whirling through my brain. Now I’m really dizzy.

Even he has flaws. It’s not like I think he’s perfect or anything. How could he be perfect with shoes that smell like that? He comes close to perfection. And his feet come close to me as he lifts them on the treadmill upwind of my elliptical. Just as my iPod advances to the next song, a wave of toxic air per­meates my nostrils. “Tell me how I’m supposed to breathe with no air? Can’t live, can’t breathe with no air … If you ain’t here I just can’t breathe. There’s no air, no air,” sings Jordin Sparks. Whew, how can I breathe in this air? Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Ahh. How can toxic air be refreshing? But amid these toxins, there is some sweetness. I can just sense it; I have that tingling feeling in my nostrils.

It’s hard for me to hold back a little smile. I can’t get away from it this time. It draws me closer. The occasional silent connection I have with him is worth the foul air I endure. I must be high on either the stench or endorphins, because I don’t believe in drugs. I am exercising longer than usual. I am pumped. I am not getting tired. Exercise is a healthy form of procrastination for what I might do next.

The elliptical bars are sandwiched ­between my palms and my fingers. I am pushing on them with all my strength. Just as I alternately push and pull on the levers – left, right, left, right – my strength to contact him alternates with my fear of rejection. Our closeness has been on a meta­phorical treadmill – no matter how hard I try, no ­matter how fast I run, we don’t get any closer. The counteracting forces of acceptance and rejection are pulling on me equally. I am in equilibrium. I am moving at a constant velocity on the elliptical, but I can’t get myself to move toward him. Physics. Echhh!

I try to look cute in my gym clothes, but it’s hard. The mirror tells me I look fat and ugly. Those are the only things the mirror ever tells me, besides red hair, freckles, Raggedy Anne.

My pink good-luck sweatband hasn’t brought me any luck. I’m going to go buy some new colored ones. I’m getting kind of sick of pink. People must think I wear the same sweaty headband every day, but I have dozens of them from that sale at Costco. I know that’s what he’s thinking when he turns around: freak, loser.

Droplets of sweat drip down my face, ravaging my pores and burning the roots of my confidence. But he gives me a feeling all over my body just by looking at him. So I know it’s worth it.

The odor burns my nostrils, but I can’t resist. I tiptoe into the hallway outside the men’s locker room; one hand holding the heart-shaped Post-It, the other plugging my nose. I see them resting on the wooden bench, right where he left them after “our” jog, laces untied and tongues forming obtuse angles. Why are they here? My hands are shaking and my legs are trembling, but I bite the corner of my lip and stick the note face up in the heel of his right shoe.

I am leaving the gym and I can’t stop thinking about him. Still. I hope he feels the same. But he won’t. I hope he will call. But he won’t. It’s been seven minutes since I put my note in his shoe and put my heart on the waiting list for rejection.

I enter my apartment and begin pacing. It’s been an hour and three minutes. I shouldn’t have done it. He doesn’t like me. It’s ­going to be awkward. No way. I’m not giving in. I’m not going to change my workout routine. But it will be hard to look at him tomorrow. I hope he saw the note before he put his shoes on. If not, I hope the ink doesn’t smear.

***

There she is. I could set my watch by her if I had one. Same gym. Same time. Same workout. Same as me. She never misses a day. I don’t think I ever will either. My mom and dad are both kind of, I don’t want to say chubby, but yeah, they are. I can’t let that happen to me. But I have another reason too.

Crack. Crack. My neck always cracks when I turn my head swiftly to check the clock behind me. At first this was a pain, but then I saw her. When I realized I got to look at her every time I turned to check the time, my neck strain didn’t bother me. I must be discreet. I love looking at her, but I don’t want her to know that her beauty keeps me staring. At least not quite yet. I’m not a stalker, just shy. I want to talk to her. I want to go up to her. But what if she thinks I’m just hitting on her? I’m really interested in knowing her. How is she supposed to tell the difference?

What a cutie. She’s just my type: tall, slender, and I can tell her skin is smooth. The cutest freckles. Milk chocolate eyes. Her gorgeous, wavy red hair is tied is back in a ponytail and she wears a pink headband. She must love pink. She should, it’s her color. Her hair sways with every step. Thank you, pink headband – not a hair is blocking my view of her face.

What I like most is that she doesn’t act like she is beautiful. She doesn’t know how nervous she makes me. She doesn’t know the grace she exudes. She has a story to tell. I want to hear it. But I’m afraid to ask her. Wimpy, maybe. Intimidated, definitely. I feel like I’ve watched the same Candid Camera episode 5,500 times. My failed attempt keeps replaying in my head. With every day that I say nothing, she’s more and more likely to think I’m either gay or I need a watch.

I want to know her name. Seeing her every day for weeks, I refer to her as Pink Headband. How pathetic. I have to know her name. At least for now, it would be easier to ask the receptionist for Pink Headband’s name than to ask her. At least if she refuses, it won’t be as humiliating as a no from Pink Headband.

So I make my way to the desk. I say excuse me to the nerdy girl behind the counter. I have caught her staring at me in the past, but the one time I actually want her attention, she’s preoccupied. I’m the only person here. The phone is resting comfortably on its hook. But she is talking to someone or something nonetheless. I sigh. I’m getting impatient. I feel like I’m hailing a taxi. Waving and waving, and they just drive by. Same with her. I’m waving and that freak seems to be talking to her stapler. Finally I get her ­attention. I ask. She answers. I write “Molly” on the envelope containing my note to the woman I used to know as Pink Headband. I ask the ­receptionist to please give it to her.

As I sit on the bench outside the men’s locker room, I fight my urge to chicken out and retrieve the envelope. I bolt into the locker room to take a shower. The hot water is soothing. Shoot! I left my shoes on the bench. Not to worry. Who would want to steal those smelly old things?

Realizing I must have left my cell phone in my car, I get dressed quickly, jump into my shoes, and leave. I don’t want to miss her call.

***

I hate working at this place. Why do I work here? I need out. I need a work out. I’m so funny. I always laugh at my own jokes. Ha ha ha, snort, snort.

All day I inhale air tainted with the smell of sweat. And no, it’s not me doing the sweating. Oh, here comes Mr. “I’m so much better than you that I won’t respond when you greet me.” I scrunch my nose to push up my glasses, the way I always do when my hands are busy. He’s headed right toward me. It seems like he needs to ask me something. This will be a first. How will he do this and still keep his perfect record of never saying a word to me? Of course, it must be so hard to say “good evening” to someone who has just said it to you.

I can feel my nervous twitch starting up again. My top lip is moving diagonally; my invisible enemy has strung a thread through my lip with his needle. I try to yank it in the other direction, back into place, but it won’t budge.

The name of the girl in the pink headband? Uhhh. The girl in the pink headband! If she’s wearing her pink one today, it must be either Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. Gross. But apparently he either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. How sweet. For once he is nice and it is hard to hate him. He writes “Molly” on the envelope and hands it to me. Sure I’ll give it to Molly, all right.

He heads for the locker room; he is out of sight, but he sure isn’t out of my mind. Neither is the favor he asked of me. He wants me to give the envelope to Molly. Sure I will. I’ll be as good at giving this to Molly as he is at responding when I say hello. Actually, better because now my paper shredder’s name is Molly. Molly loves envelopes. She’ll fall bin over wheels!

***

Is there something in my shoe?

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the April 2009 Teen Ink Fiction Contest.




Join the Discussion


This article has 1734 comments. Post your own!

SallySunshine said...
Jan. 22, 2011 at 3:09 pm:
If you love this story as I do, please support it with your comments and votes. This story belongs in 1st place but the Twilight dialogue, which is the ONLY top story that the editors WISELY chose NOT to publish in their print magazine, is rapidly gaining.  If you love Teen Ink and great writing, let others know that you want #1 to represent quality writing by voting and commenting for this story and for ALL other QUALITY writing  - like Opulence for example which was #1 for the l... (more »)
 
Katie replied...
Jan. 23, 2011 at 1:00 am :
I'm with you Sally.  There is a lot of great writing on Teen Ink and that other one is not. 
 
gymrat replied...
Jan. 23, 2011 at 1:40 pm :
I agree too.
 
maribel replied...
Jan. 23, 2011 at 6:33 pm :
Its a big deal for stories like this one to be published in the print magazine so it must also mean something when the editors decide not to print a story that is in the top 3 in votes and comments
 
Laura replied...
Jan. 24, 2011 at 1:46 pm :
The editors of Teen Ink are professional editors and I think they recognize quality when they read it.
 
Tabi replied...
Jan. 25, 2011 at 1:46 am :
I read that other story and could not believe that it is #2.  This story is the best and I have read a lot of great stories on Teen Ink but that twilight thing is not one of them.  This is freedom of the press in real life.
 
Meredith replied...
Jan. 26, 2011 at 4:54 pm :
#1, #3, #4, #5, #6, etc. are all so much better than #2.  How does this happen?
 
Vicky replied...
Feb. 1, 2011 at 9:07 pm :
I don't get it either.  But look at all the junk on TV and radio.  at least it is mostly quality here - all would be too much to ask for in this millenium
 
Topaz97 replied...
Feb. 6, 2011 at 8:09 pm :
Could everyone here commenting on Twilight please make comments that are not so cruel?
 
Katie replied...
Feb. 28, 2011 at 9:07 pm :
OK.  Here goes.  I think that Twilight Saga could be the #1 story in a literary satire magazine.
 
Vicky replied...
Mar. 5, 2011 at 2:18 am :
It's so nice to see everyone playing nice
 
Katie replied...
Jun. 5, 2011 at 1:48 am :
So nice to play nice
 
Katie replied...
Jun. 5, 2011 at 1:50 am :
this is still my favorite story
 
Vicky replied...
Sept. 21, 2011 at 12:13 am :
Still my #1 also
 
Vicky replied...
Sept. 21, 2011 at 12:14 am :
glad to see that is still #1 rated fiction story by all treaders
 
Vicky replied...
Sept. 21, 2011 at 12:15 am :
oops  treaders=readers
 
Steffi R. replied...
Oct. 5, 2011 at 12:39 pm :
still top voted and tops in comments
 
Steffi R. replied...
Oct. 5, 2011 at 12:40 pm :
as well it should be
 
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Pandora118 said...
Jan. 21, 2011 at 4:35 pm:
omg! this is totally my favorite! i would love 2 c how this progresses and then eventually turns out.
 
Katie replied...
Feb. 28, 2011 at 9:09 pm :
we all would.  :)
 
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carolinelovestoread said...
Jan. 20, 2011 at 3:04 pm:
still my favorite
 
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