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by Cole Parker

Chapter 3

I turned in a full circle, looking at all I could see. I stood long enough for my breathing to come back to normal. It was time to return, to finish the second half of my training run.

I took a step back in the direction of the trail then stopped. I'd heard something. I knew what the sound was; I heard it every day when I was running. It was the sound of feet slapping down rhythmically on the trail, the sound of someone running.

Whoever it was, he was still some distance away, but coming in the same direction I'd taken.

I moved silently closer till I could just make out the trail through the trees. Why not go closer and meet the person who was coming? I didn't know. I just liked the idea of remaining hidden, of seeing without being seen.

I waited only a few more seconds till I saw the runner. It took me a moment to recognize him, and then I did. He'd be a freshman at my high school this year. I knew that because, as incoming captain, Coach Dryer had given me the idea that it might be a good idea to go watch the middle school cross-country team, get an idea of the runners that would be part of my school next year. I'd done that, which was why I recognized this boy. He was the one who always won their meets. Beat the other schools' best runners as well.

I hunted my memory and it came to me. Scott. Scott Mays.

I didn't know him at all, other than what you know when you're merely observing someone. I knew his looks were rather plain—until he smiled; then his face lit up. Actually, since a grin or a smile seemed to be a permanent fixture on his face, I'm not sure I ever saw him looking plain. Animated, that's what I saw. He seemed to have a lively personality from what I'd been able to see from where I was sitting in the stands. I got the idea, watching him interact with his buddies, of an irrepressible personality.

He was just a tad taller than his classmates. Very slender. Both those were probably part of why he could be such a good runner.

He had reddish-brown hair, worn long, and a round face with prominent ears and a straight nose. But you didn't notice individual features as much as you did the whole package. And somehow, you found yourself liking it. Liking him, in fact, without quite knowing why. He looked like someone it would be fun to know, someone who'd make a solid friend. Perhaps others had the same reaction, because I'd never seen him alone. Friends were always crowding around him.

Now, he was alone. He ran up the trail just past where I was standing concealed a good twenty or thirty yards back in the woods, then slowed to a stop. He stood there panting a little, glistening with sweat very much like I'd been when I'd stopped. I was mostly dry now. Like me, he was shirtless. He had a thin chest. Mine had begun developing when I was about his age and was broader now. I wasn't heavily muscled; I had the body of a long-distance runner with stringy, sinewy muscles rather than heavy ones. He, more like I'd been a couple of years ago, didn't show much musculature at all. From neck down to knees, he appeared to be more or less a straight column. No wide chest tapering to a tiny waist, no broadening into flared hips below and then thick calves. He was a boy on the edge, waiting for his body to catch up with his spirit.

I didn't want to step forward and make my presence known. I didn't quite understand why, but I stayed perfectly still. My running shorts were a light brown and blended well with the surrounding trees. There were enough trees and bushes and ground cover between us, and I was above him; the ground gently rose as it moved away from the trail so that I doubted I could be seen even if he stared in my direction. But he wasn't doing that. Right then he was standing still, looking back in the direction from which he'd come. Then he looked around him and took a step or two off the trail into the woods, coming in my direction, but he didn't raise his eyes up far enough to be able to see where I was standing. He had no idea that someone was there watching. Why would there be?

He looked around him some more, looking somewhat furtive; then, to my surprise, he pushed down his shorts and jock. He didn't just push them down; he stepped out of them. Except for his shoes, he was completely naked.

He twirled around once or twice, then jumped up and down, a delighted and somewhat wicked smile on his face. He was already getting hard, and as I watched, he took hold of it. He started slowly stroking, and while doing that, began slowly turning in a circle, looking at his surroundings. When he'd made a complete circle, he stopped moving, then suddenly crouched while looking in the direction of the trail and cocking his head. He appeared to have heard something. Still, he made no move to put his shorts back on. He listened, then stood back up again, seemed to relax, and began stroking again. I could see him in profile now.

I'd never seen anyone jerking off before. I know that guys my age watch porn, maybe a lot of porn, but I didn't. My mother was computer savvy and a little overprotective as I didn't have a father, and she had put a lock on that sort of site. I wasn't the type of friend who'd sit with a buddy and watch porn and jack off together. So, seeing this was something new for me. I was as hard as he was, but I wasn't doing what he was; I was only watching.

I didn't feel embarrassed watching. Maybe someone with a better sense of ethics or morality or something like that would have looked away, affording him some privacy. I didn't. I couldn't take my eyes off him. It was an amazing feeling watching him, watching the ecstasy on his face. He went through all sorts of facial expressions. His hand moved at varying speeds, and sometimes he'd stand up as straight as he could, other times he'd sort of wriggle his shoulders. He was into what he was doing, feeling every feeling it was providing him, and I had the sense I could move around or even start singing and he'd be totally oblivious.

It was only a matter of minutes before he finished. He breathed deeply a few times afterward, and I figured he'd quickly dress. He didn't. He took the few paces needed to get to the trail again, stood on it looking both directions, then trotted far enough along it that I lost sight of him. I knew he'd be back soon, however. He simply couldn't leave his shorts behind for long.

What happened then was scary. I heard something, and then two runners appeared, coming down the trail he'd just come down, running in the same direction in which he'd been running. I heard them coming early because they were speaking to each other as they ran. I recognized them. They were team members of mine.

I didn't let them know I was there. But I thought about it. I wanted to get them to stop so they wouldn't run into Scott. But I couldn't. If I called out to them, they'd ask what I was doing back where I was. I could make up some excuse easily enough—having stepped off the trail to take a piss occurred to me unbidden—but if Scott was in hearing range, he'd learn I was there, and it wouldn't take much for him to realize I'd been there when he'd been there.

So I let them run past, still talking, and hoped Scott would hear them soon enough and somehow manage to hide himself.

I waited where I was. My eyes seemed to have a will of their own; they kept moving back to that pair of running shorts that was lying partly concealed where Scott had dropped them. Time passed. At least I had something to think about. How could I not? What I'd seen Scott do kept running through my head, over and over. I'd spent a lot of that time aroused but hadn't touched myself. I'd had visions of doing what he'd done and Scott coming back and catching me at it. So I hadn't. But I'd sure felt like it.

I thought if the two boys, Brian and Devin, had caught Scott, I'd certainly have heard something. It would have to be close by, because Scott couldn't have decided to run very far while naked. A short way, sure, for the excitement of it, but far? That would up his chances of being caught astronomically, and while running naked would be exciting and sexy and fun, being caught wouldn't.

So I figured Scott hadn't gone far, had heard the boys coming and had managed to conceal himself till they'd run past. But, if so, why hadn't he showed up again?

I was still trying to figure that out when I saw movement from down the trail, and then there he was. And I saw why he might have been delayed. I noticed his hands and mouth were red. Was he bleeding? I was about to show myself, to see if he needed help, when I remembered something. Not far from where I was standing, there were bunches of pricker bushes. Wild raspberries, I knew, and at this time of year, they'd be ripe and some even overripe and loaded with juice. Thinking about it, I began grinning. I could see the scene in my head: Scott kneeling down behind those bushes and my two teammates stopping to gorge themselves on the ripe berries. When they'd finally gone, I could see Scott eating some himself before coming back. Maybe, as he'd have had to be behind the bushes, which were quite thick, he could have been eating some at the same time they were. That would explain both the delay and the red hands and mouth.

Scott found his shorts, slipped into them, and headed at a fast jog back down the trail back in the direction we'd all come from.

I waited a couple of minutes, then headed back, following him but going slowly enough so I wouldn't catch him. I couldn't let him know I'd been on the trail. That was my secret to keep.

I'd think of him often, think of what I saw. I knew he was untouchable for me. He was a teammate on a team which I captained. He was younger, two years younger. And he probably wasn't gay. So he was off limits for me. But I had him in my head, and no matter what, I couldn't seem to get him out of there. Not that I wanted to.

School began as it always did, to the consternation of kids who'd spent the summer mostly goofing off. I was one of those. I did run to keep in shape. Six days a week, as I said before. I'd been a good runner that sophomore year with Coach Dryer's support. I'd gotten along well with the team, and, me being me, hadn't beaten anyone, especially not any of that year's seniors. I'd seen Coach had been right: I could have if I'd wanted to, but it was more important to me to show I knew my place, to let them have the limelight and to work on my weaknesses as a runner. Heaven knew, I had some of those. No runner is perfect.

Now I was a junior and a captain. That felt like something much different from being a freshman or sophomore. As a sophomore you feel more comfortable as the year begins than it had been the year before. You knew your way around, and you saw how the incoming freshmen looked: a little scared, younger and perhaps more vulnerable than you. You could smile about that, but you were still aware there were lots of bigger kids at school that you needed to be careful around. Most were okay, but not all. As a junior, you had much less of that to worry about. The seniors were older, bigger, and more mature, but they were not focusing on much of anything except themselves, preparing for college or the working world, already starting to think of high school in the past tense. In that light, juniors now were pretty close to being the ruling class. And that was what I was: a junior.

Coach Dryer had hung a signup sheet for cross country next to the boys' locker room door as usual. It had a notice on the bottom that said everyone who signed up would be on the team, and also, that there was a mandatory team meeting after school the next day. I caught up with him at lunch, and we talked a little. He said he'd be introducing me as team captain tomorrow and I should figure out something to say to them.

This would be difficult for me. I wasn't a public speaker! But it went with the job, and last year's team had selected me for the job, so I was going to suffer through the best I could.

We'd had 11 kids on the team last year. When I showed up for the meeting, we only had nine, including me. Two of those were freshmen. I hoped a few more kids would join, but for now, this was it.

The coach introduced me, then had each of the rest of the team state their name and what experience they had. Of course, I knew the six other kids who were returning. Our new teammates, the two freshmen, had both run cross country in middle school. They didn't say whether they won any meets or not. Then the coach turned the floor over to me.

"Hi," I said, trying hard to keep my voice from quivering. "Glad you're all here. Let me tell you how things are on this team. First, as you saw on the notice, we welcome everyone, and no one gets cut. We're not a team like the three biggies: football, basketball and baseball. On those teams, winning is the focus, and some kids only play if someone gets hurt and they're forced into it. Here, everyone will run every meet."

I paused to take a breath. The more I spoke, the easier it was getting. "However, the conference we compete in makes the meet rules, and they mandate that only five runners from each school—the coach will select those—count for the competition. Those five will have their times added, and the team with the lowest cumulative time for the selected team members wins the meet. So, whether your performance ends up counting or not is still important as it will determine who the coach will pick as his top five for the next meet."

I looked around and no one looked confused. There were two seniors among the nine of us, three juniors including myself, two sophs and two freshmen. Scott was one of those two. I smiled and soldiered on.

"Most teams will be larger than nine kids, and so we'll be up against it, but we have some good runners here from last year, and the teams we'll be competing with have lost some very good runners to graduation. I think we have a better chance to be competitive in the conference this year than we have been for a while now. But remember, we don't want you killing yourself out there. I'm here because I enjoy running, and I like to compare myself with other high school runners. Winning would be great, but there's a lot more to being on this team than that. We'll have a successful year if we all do our best and become a close-knit team even if we fail to win a meet. I do think we'll do better than that, though. I think we'll win our share of meets this year.

"Now, I'll answer any questions you have."

I got some questions about practices and uniforms and distances and the sorts of things Coach needed to answer, and he did. We'd be practicing every day after school, running different distances and routes that the coach would announce each afternoon when we were dressed out. He released us when the questions stopped with just one last word. "Your captain, Xander, was way too modest to mention it, but his times were among those of the top runners in the district last year, and the three boys who posted better times have all graduated. If you want to get better, watch what he does and talk to him. He's a humble guy, but he knows what he's doing and will be happy to help you any way he can."

I was blushing as I walked out. Then I felt a hand on my arm. I turned to see Scott looking at me. He was shorter than I was, but only by an inch or so. He was one of those kids who had long hair that was hard to describe. It was somewhat blond, but streaky blond with red and tawny brown highlights. You didn't end up focusing on that, though. It was his hazel eyes that were arresting. They suggested intelligence and . . . and what? I'd like to say daring, adventure, excitement, and most of all, fun. I think I looked away from them for a reason that might have been self-protection and thought myself silly for feeling that way. But it seemed dangerous to me to look at them too long.

"Hi. It's Scott, isn't it? I'm Xander."

"Yeah. Scott. Hey, I was wondering. Since you're the best and that's what I want to be, too, can I run with you on these practice runs? You'll be out front, I'm sure, and you know the routes and I don't, so it makes sense for me to be with you. I mean, I could run ahead of you, but running with you means I won't get lost!" He laughed, knowing he'd been cheeky and that he'd meant it humorously, and I had to fight not joining in. "So, can I?"

"Sure. Only thing is, I set a pretty fast pace. But you can start out with me, and I'll tell you where we'll be going before we begin. Most of the routes are marked; the others are obvious. And the other juniors and sophs on the team know them, so if you fall back a little, they'll be there to make sure you don't get lost. I'm glad you joined us."

"You are?" Man, if I'd thought that way, I'd have believed there was a bit of a challenge in the way that sounded. But what kind of a challenge? It was probably just me overreacting, so I ignored it.

"Sure," I said. "The more kids who're running, the better chances we have. See you tomorrow then."

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