Here’s the continuation of Holiday Spirits. Enjoy the free read!
Even though I lost my view, the first seven miles were entertainment in themselves. Crowds, braving the early morning cold, lined the street and cheered the runners. The sun rose casting a golden hue on the casinos and created the illusion that the neon signs had dimmed in their colorful intensity, reducing the awe of the eye candy. The runners were enjoyable, too. A handful dressed as Santa, sans the extra padding. Others dressed in wedding garb for the run-through ceremony to be performed later, and several Elvis runners, all dressed in the famous white suit, ran scattered throughout the crowd.
Before it seemed any time had passed, I had discarded the sweatshirt and sweatpants. The throw away clothes, discarded by runners when they became hot from running, would be picked up by the race volunteers and donated to local goodwill agencies. My racing shirt and shorts were the only items of clothing left on my body to protect me from the elements. I had passed all the sights of The Strip and downtown and was just over an hour in to the race when, at the mile seven aid station, I grabbed a cup of sports drink from a volunteer. I downed the liquid and tossed the cup as I kept moving. A little farther ahead, I spied
Artim and Ned, waiting for me. I caught up to them, and they fell into pace beside me.
“It is said the next few miles are in a bad section of town.”
I nodded as Artim’s tenor voice slipped over me in a tender blanket of sound, making me want to cuddle up next to him.
“I will protect you.”
I will protect you. His words resounded in my mind in a pleasing ripple of déjà vu, awakening a strange memory of a stroll down a gray cobblestone street in a different time.
The memory was of a market day. Young versions of me and Artim, respectively clad in the off-white Roman apparels of a peplos and toga, strolled along with the rest of the crowd, stopping occasionally to examine the goods and produce of the vendors. I paused at one cart displaying various shades and textures of white cloth. My fingers grazed a soft length of delicately woven material. I turned to my companion, presenting the cloth over my outstretched hand. “I shall have mother buy me this, craft a robe and dress me in it for our wedding.”
“Whatever your heart desires, Vespasia, my love, will be yours.”
He brought my other hand, which he had been holding during our walk, up to his lips and kissed the backs of my fingers. The thick silver band on my ring finger glinted in the afternoon sun. A delighted smile twitched my lips. The public consent to our marriage to make our union official had been shown quite adequately, since not only had my love held my hand as he walked me along the street, he had kissed it as well.
“My heart desires you and only you my dear, Quintus. June will not come fast enough.”
“Sic, my love, I agree, but once it does and you are mine, I will protect you always and keep you forever close to my heart.”
“Promise?” I continued to gaze at the eyes of my love. My core filled with a fierce longing for him.
“Promise.” He stroked the backs of my fingers with his thumb.
Hand in hand we continued our promenade through the center of town, our leather sandals quietly padding the dirt and stones beneath our feet. We passed by several small sand-colored buildings where plebes and freedmen lived and worked, then stopped outside a grand building with a white marble façade, steps and tall columns. It was the place where the Senate regularly met. I squeezed his hand. We were a good match he, a Senator’s son, and I, another Senator’s daughter. If only he weren’t involved with that religious cult.
The snap of fingers cracked beside my ear.
I abruptly turned toward the noise, then stumbled. Artim grabbed my arm in gentle strength to keep me from crashing to the ground. His graceful fingers lightly grasped my arm as I righted myself and continued moving. The touch of his hand, though delicate, seared me, heating my desire to a low boil. Every nerve in my body sizzled. I wanted this classically handsome man with an intensity I had never known before. The instantaneous attraction to him alarmed me. One part of me as a scholar, who looked at the world with an analytical mind, realized the sudden appeal to him was merely physical, a chemical transference of sight and smell. My other side, as a woman and a romantic, finally understood what the Greeks meant by theia mania—madness from the gods. Falling in love at first sight, being hit with Cupid’s arrow, was nuts. And I was mad, crazy to be out here running for several hours and crushing on a man who I knew nothing about.
“I’m all right.” I sidestepped to put some distance between us and to move away from his alluring touch. “I got into my…um…zone and…um…lost in thought.” I sensed he didn’t believe me and wanted to question me further so I held up my hand. “I’m fine, really.”
“If you say so. Would you mind if I went ahead to catch up with Ned? I believe he’s feeling a little out of sorts.”
The concern in his voice for me and his friend twanged at my heart strings. Artim was such a nice man, a good soul. “No, I don’t mind.” The words came out clipped, breathless. “I need to adjust my speed anyway. I’ve been running a little fast for my taste.”
Artim nodded and sprinted away as if he hadn’t been running for over an hour and a half.
A mile later I realized I missed having the company while I pounded the pavement. Being with someone, whether you talked or not, made the miles and time roll by faster. I couldn’t dwell on being alone though. I had to keep the end in mind, the goal of finishing set firmly in front of me. I had to prove to myself that, just because a guy I’d dated on and off for over ten years didn’t want me anymore, didn’t mean I was a washed up old hag. I had a great body, finely-toned and tuned from training for the marathon. My sun-touched, lightly tanned skin was firmer, more radiant due to my better eating habits. My long chocolate and caramel colored hair was fuller, shinier and silkier. Granted, the color and the shiny silky part could be contributed to my favorite hairstylist and her talent with dyes, highlights and conditioners, but still, my locks received great compliments. What did those twits, those grad students, who he kept hooking up with and who lived on sodas and processed foods, have over me?
My sneakers slapped the road as I envisioned stepping on Don’s head with each movement of my legs. The scenery whizzed by me. The houses and subdivisions looked different with each block. One moment I ran past beautiful homes behind concrete walls and in the next I passed what appeared to be homes built before Las Vegas became a hot spot. Then the next turn revealed not-so-well kept apartments. Talk about a melting pot. If I wasn’t so heavily involved in the ancient Greece and Rome projects for my classes, I’d check out the history of this interesting town. But I had enough on my plate as it was with my committees, the classes I taught and the book I had to finish to make tenure.
The book. Damn it to all hell.
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