Jasen was not a runner.
He had grown his broad shoulders early, spent a month gathering bruises as he ran through doorways, and decided quickly to start measuring his new edge in his father’s training yard. He trained, and in a few short months, he had strapped himself together in thick muscle. A few short months, and he’d been heavy, and settling into a fighter’s stand served him better than hauling his body through a long run.
But Jenny. Jenny was built like an arrow: lean, light, strong, and sharp. He’d known from the moment he saw her – from the moment he saw her best friend, Bess watching her like she might lose the other girl just walking around a corner – that she was a runner.
He just wasn’t prepared for the sudden flinch in his gut and lungs when he saw her running straight at him down a narrow street. Her head was up and she was looking at him like he was a bright red target, and Bess was behind her, running flat-out just to keep up, eyes glued on Jenny and her mouth open, shouting something, and Jasen was realizing how good a target he made, all broad and grounded and–
And then Jenny was gripping his hand, pulling him through the first stumbling step to follow her.
“What?” Jasen said.
“Run,” Jenny said.
“Fast,” Bess said.
Jenny whipped around the next corner, disappeared down a side street while Jasen blinked. Bess turned just after her, slid out of sight behind the wooden wall, and Jasen skidded around it.
Jenny caught him by the arm on the other side. She had tucked herself against the wall somehow, and it was like being gripped by a freshly spawned ghost. She pulled him back onto the right track. “Faster than that,” she said.
Jasen blinked at her. She was already running again and he picked up his feet to keep after her. “I thought you were done with this,” he said.
She turned back enough for him to see her slanting smile. “As a rule?” She nodded, paused, blinked, shrugged and had the decency to face forward again before she laughed.
“But Jenny doesn’t follow rules,” Bess said crisply. In her accent, the way she pronounced every word as properly as if they were eating cakes in a sitting room, it was hard to tell if she was actually angry, or just fitting the words in between breaths.
“I follow rules,” Jenny said.
Bess stopped then, planted both feet, and Jasen twisted to keep from colliding with her as he ran past, while Jenny spun to a stop.
“All right,” Jenny said. If her tone hadn’t been so low, it would have sounded more like a joke than an apology. “I follow my rules.”
Bess gave her a long, dry look. “Then you really need to make one about cheating at cards.”
Immediately, Jasen turned toward Jenny. “Cheating?”
“I did,” Jenny said, ignoring him. She tugged on Bess’ arm, pushing her down the street again. “‘Don’t get caught.'”
“I thought that was the rule for burglary, theft, and surprise parties,” Bess said.
Jasen looked at Bess, then Jenny, then Bess, then quickly looked back at the street as Jenny jagged into another turn.
“It’s a wide rule,” Jenny said. She took three more turns, left, left, left, and Jasen felt as if he had started to run sideways.
“You have to have one about aggravating card players that come to the table with a knife longer than your torso,” Bess said.
Jenny shook her head. “It wasn’t that long. Just about…” She measured a length along her forearm, fingertip to elbow.
Jasen almost tripped. “Is that who’s behind us?” he demanded.
Bess gave him a passing nod. Jenny flashed him a smile. Neither of them faltered.
“There still has to be a rule,” Bess said.
“Rule number eight,” Jenny said easily.
“What’s rule number eight?” Jasen asked.
“‘Don’t die,'” Jenny told him.
“Oh,” Jasen said. He ran three more steps, before he couldn’t pretend calm silence anymore. “What’s rule one through seven?”
“Don’t die. Don’t die. Don’t die. Don’t die. Don’t die. Don’t die. Don’t die.” Jenny raised her eyebrows as if that were obvious.
Jasen looked to Bess to make sure she wasn’t kidding, was met blank-faced seriousness, and took a deep breath. “What’s number nine?”
Jenny nodded back and forth for a second, as if she wasn’t sure whether or not to tell him. “Don’t chew with your mouth open,” she said finally.
Speeding up to follow Jenny through her next turn, Bess tapped Jasen lightly on the arm. “Welcome to our world.”
My friend, Bek is a thief! She stole the first line of this piece for a work of fiction on her blog. Be sure to stop by to see what she chose to run from.