He was there the next day, all suited out in the gray tee shirt with Carmody High Cross Country emblazoned on the front in bright purple. We had gray running shorts with purple piping to complete the uniform, but Coach Dryer had told us those were only worn at meets. He'd given each of us two tee shirts and told us to keep one fresh for meets as well.
"You ready?" I asked Scott when I'd changed. I'd been a little embarrassed as he'd been sitting, watching me as I'd stripped down, put on my jock, then shorts. As we always showered as a team after the meets and some of us after training runs, it wasn't too embarrassing. We'd be naked then; I was used to it by now. Being naked with someone watching had been awful at first when I was a freshman; it wasn't any longer.
Some just went home after training and showered there. Well, I assumed they showered there. After this run with Scott tagging along with me for as much of it as he could, I'd shower at the school. I wondered if he'd join in with those of us who did.
The coach got us together, told us the six-mile route we'd be running. He told us we'd see green arrows wherever there was a choice of going off in the wrong direction. Then we were off.
I jumped to an early lead as usual. I'd trained myself to sprint the first 100 yards. This usually opened some space so I wasn't crowded. At meets, sometimes this put me in the lead, sometimes not. But the few who kept up generally weren't a problem. They were running as fast as I was at first, but most of the time they ran out of steam and I didn't. In any case, they didn't get in my way.
I was a little surprised Scott stayed with me, but I'd told him this was how I trained and ran in meets, so he expected it. I was used to it. What he'd find was that that sprint could be, often was, an effort that took more of his energy right at the beginning than he could afford to lose.
Six miles was easy for me. But I didn't want easy. I wanted to expend effort. That was the only way to improve. I'd run six miles enough times to know how fast I could go and still have enough left to sprint the last 100 yards to the finish line. Now in training, though, I wanted to try to run a little faster than the pace I knew so well. I wanted to be too tired for that sprint. If I ran that way now, by the time meets began I'd be able to run that early pace and have earned the energy to still sprint at the end.
What this meant, of course, was that I wasn't the guy a freshman should be running with. He'd be exhausted and discouraged and might even quit the team. So I had that quandary: run slower for him and the good of the team or run faster to improve myself.
I'd decided before we took off. I was going to run my normal pacing, not what I wanted to do. I was pretty sure Scott would not be able to keep up, but he wouldn't be blown away, either. It was a compromise and not one I'd have made last year. I was captain now, though, and that meant looking out for the team, and keeping Scott with it was important.
Well, important for the team and me, too. I loved looking at him, loved that he wanted to run with me. I thought he was sexy as hell. So far, I'd only seen him naked once, but maybe he'd shower with the ones of us who were going to do that. It was something to look forward to. Maybe he'd be shy. You never knew with freshmen or with kids who were suddenly naked with older kids.
I didn't think he'd be shy. How could anyone who would jog away from his clothing, perhaps being caught in an embarrassing moment, be too shy to shower with his teammates?
I felt really good running the route that day. It was mostly in the woods and fields near the school. It was a cool day with clouds letting the sun through now and then, perfect for running. I might have opened it up a little more than I had meant to just because it felt so good. I'd stretched with the rest of the team before setting out, and I was sweating and breathing easily and was loose as I hit the halfway mark.
I was surprised, happily surprised, that Scott was still with me. No one else was. We'd left all the rest of them behind after two miles. It was apparent they hadn't done much training over the summer like I had. Scott hadn't fallen behind when they had, though. He was a pace or two behind me, matching me step for step.
Mainly because of how good I felt, but a little to show him this wasn't as easy as he was making it seem, I sped up a little. Not much, just to get him off my tail a bit.
He stayed with me. We passed the 4-mile marker, then the 5, and there he was, two steps behind me, right there.
Still a mile to go. I was feeling it now, but my summer running had really kept me in shape. I sped up again, not really thinking about Scott, more thinking how I could use the work on my finishing kick. My usual tactic was to speed up with a mile to go. That was when most of the competition was flagging a bit, when the pace had gotten to them and they were wishing that finishing line was closer. Lots of them slowed down with a mile to go. I sped up. Not enough to be worn out close to the line, but enough to discourage those behind me. Psychological warfare.
Scott stayed with me. I could hear him back there. I didn't turn to look. That would have shown him I was aware of him there, paying attention to him instead of how I was feeling. Best to ignore him.
I usually started my sprint 100 yards out, or if there was someone ahead or behind me that I could catch or that could catch me, maybe at 120 yards. Longer than that, I might have to slow down at the end, and I never wanted to do that. I wanted to be running at my max as I crossed that line.
Today, I knew I was going to start even earlier if Scott was still there. And so far, he was. What was starting to bother me a little was that usually at this point, I'd know if anyone was close behind me because I'd hear their heavy breathing. That gasping for breath right behind me sent me a message about how likely they were to catch me. The harder they were gulping down air, the more confidence I had.
I couldn't hear Scott's breathing at all. Well, to be truthful, he couldn't hear mine, either. I was making it a point not to be breathing noisily.
I picked up the pace even more, not my full-out sprint but faster than I'd been running. I rarely ran this hard at the end of a race, and never in training. I'd never had to in order to beat anyone on my team; those were who I trained with, and there was no winning or losing in training.
I thought I heard Scott fall back a little at this point. I didn't slow down, however. I'd keep this pace till about 80, 100 yards out, then kick it into my full sprint.
And then, there was Scott again, maybe only one step behind me now. Still no breathing sounds, though.
He had to be tired! He had to be just about done in. I wondered just how much he was killing himself staying with me. Was he trying to prove something to me? I hoped he wasn't overdoing it, that he wouldn't be hurting himself.
Should I slow down? Well, yeah, probably. But I was running! I was racing! This was exactly what I loved to do. I didn't want to slow down. I wanted to kick to the finish, just because I could and for how it would make me feel. I wanted to be used up at the end, not have more in the tank.
I could see the finish now. Probably 140, 150 yards out. Could I sprint from here? Almost certainly. But Scott would try to keep up, and I didn't want to do that to him. I'd sprint but wait till the 100 yards point. I knew where that was. I'd run this route countless times.
And then it changed, because suddenly Scott was at my side, matching me, step by step. And then the SOB turned his head and smiled at me.
"Isn't this great!" he shouted. Shouted! He wasn't conserving air at all.
But what else was obvious was he was ecstatic! He felt the same rush of joy lifting his soul that I felt, both of us running with everything we had, giving it everything we had to give. And as I realized that, my mood changed from having to beat him to retain my pride into something else altogether.
"Yeah!" I answered. "You ready? Let's fly!"
And I turned on the jets, not even bothering to check how far I still had to go. I opened up, kicking into a full sprint, arms pumping, legs flying, mouth open and sucking in all the air in the world. Scott was right with me, doing as I was, sprinting as though the end of the world was chasing after us but had no chance of catching us at all.
We finished together. I sank to the ground. Scott stood over me for a moment, then collapsed beside me. I couldn't help but notice I was breathing much harder than he was. I was about wiped out. He didn't seem to be. Maybe he was better at hiding it than I was. Or maybe he wasn't as exhausted. Something to think about later. Right then, I was only thinking about not dying.
That was not how the rest of training before our first meet went. Well, not exactly. Scott did train with me. That is, he stayed with me on all the runs. I didn't try to beat him again. What we'd done—I'd done, really—was silly and not the way to train. Immature, really. So I didn't do that again: go all out on a training run. I still sprinted to open a gap at first, I still sprinted home, I still kept up a faster pace than the other team members who weren't Scott, and he still matched me step for step, but what was different was that I never tried to beat him at the end. The thing was, he seemed entirely unaware that that was what I'd been doing most of that initial run. He was almost giddy as we were walking back to the locker room after I'd recovered enough, reminiscing about how great that run had been, about how much fun it was, how it had felt, and how he was looking forward to more of the same. I felt like apologizing, but how could I when he was nothing but happy? I did tell him we'd calm it down some on training runs from now on, that going that hard that early hadn't been wise. I'm not sure he even heard me, being as elated as he was, going on and on about it.
After that, with him staying with me, as I said, I didn't try to beat him. But he never tried to beat me, either. He just stayed with me, and we finished together. Every time.
But that first day, after doing my best, the best I'd ever done, really, and he'd run with me, I was pissed and angry and feeling beaten on the way back into the school, but I still had the showers to look forward to. I'd been thinking of him as sort of a protégé, perhaps. I'd felt that as he was a younger guy, I might be able to mold him into a good team runner. As a beautiful kid I'd get to admire in the shower, he was someone I'd enjoy seeing at the end of training each day if he showered with us. A lot of freshmen avoided the showers with upperclassmen.
I was tired, walking to the locker room with him by my side. He was gushing about what had just occurred, and I was a bit annoyed that he didn't seem to be tired at all. That annoyance could have turned into being annoyed at him. It would have been good if that had been the case as it wasn't good for me to be focusing to the extent I was on his body, his beauty, the attraction I felt when looking at him. But I couldn't pull that off. There was no way I could be annoyed at him. He was just being himself, young and naive, and if there was any annoyance to be felt, it was at myself for being such a poor sport. It's the same in athletics as everything else: someone, somewhere, will always be better than you.
We got to the locker room, and I said, "Some of us shower now, some don't. If you don't want to, that's perfectly okay and no one will think anything about it. I think it's actually more common for freshmen not to shower than to come in with the rest of us." Then, just because, I said with a wink, "They're sometimes shy about not being quite like their older teammates."
He looked me in the eyes, and his seemed to sparkle. "Are you taking one?"
"Then me, too. Where's your locker?"
I showed him, and he grabbed his clothes and brought them over and set them on the bench. By then, I was down to my jock; I sort of turned away to get my towel and pulled the jock down, then wrapped the towel around myself, but immediately felt stupid doing so. Last year, I'd always just carried it to the shower room and hung it on a hook in the area where we dried off after showering. So, why the modesty now? I got pissed at myself and took it off, then turned to look at him.
He was naked. Well, it doesn't take long to undress when you're only wearing a tee, shorts and a jock. He'd already removed those and was sitting on the bench, untying his shoes. I gulped. The reason for that was, I'd turned, he was sitting right there next to me, and I was hanging out in all my glory about five inches in front of his face with my junk at his eye level.
"Oops!" I said and quickly backed away. "Sorry about that!"
He was looking at it, and as I moved back, he looked up at me and grinned. "No prob," he said, then finally had his shoes and socks off, and he stood up. I was trying really hard not to lower my eyes to see his glory; it was a struggle, but I somehow managed it.
We walked to the showers together, and he took the one right next to me. Little by little, the rest of the team filtered in. I was surprised; everyone came in to shower. Even the other freshman, a kid named Cary, although he kept his underwear on. When he saw he was the only one wearing anything, he sort of blushed and quickly stripped.
I was still the captain and thought I should say something. "Hey, everyone, great first day, and I'm really happy we're all here showering together. This is the best way I know to build team spirit and become a group. I hope we keep this up all year."
After that, everyone got to talking. Talking in the showers when you're all naked gets a bit rowdy if you're boys—maybe girls, too. We all felt loose and good from the run. There was some horsing around, too, and more than one erection or half-erection. Hey, we were boys and that's what happens when you're wet and happy and other boys are pushing and shoving, making ribald remarks and rubbing against you. A boy gets shoved into another who has his back turned, you're both wet and slippery, and suddenly that shoved boy's equipment is rubbing against the back-turned boy's ass and everyone is making lewd, suggestive noises and cheering and, well, boys get erections; all of them do. It has to do with being young and healthy and male. It doesn't have anything to do with being gay.
Okay, let me restate that: it happens to straight boys as well as gay ones. There. That's more accurate.
There was teasing, but good-fun teasing rather than hurtful, bullying teasing. Boys know the difference, and these were good kids. This too would build team spirit. Getting an erection around other boys who don't care and might get one of their own just looking at yours, well, there's a camaraderie that builds from that like nothing else I can think of. You're all alike, and you know it right then. It's different if someone starts calling out an erect boy for being gay, but that didn't happen in that shower. Some boys are mean and enjoy teasing and belittling. Most aren't that way, and none of us were.
I got to see Scott. He joined in the revelry, and I was able to look at him more directly than if he'd not been so distracted. He looked the same now as he had in the woods. It was all I could do not to be one of the ones sporting wood.
Our first meet was coming up. From our training runs, timed by the coach, we were good but not top-notch. Our times compared well with those of the winning teams in the conference last year. We'd win a lot of meets this year, but maybe not be the best in the area. For that, we'd need another good runner. Our four best runners were Scott, Devin, Brian and myself. Devin and Brian were decent high school cross-country runners, the middle-of-the-pack sort whose times often made the difference whether we won or not. They tried hard and did their best, which is all anyone could ask of them. They had more grit than talent.
The others weren't nearly at the level of us four. To win, we'd need a better fifth man than we had now.
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