December 13, 2009


It was her Rest Day, so Josephine didn't get up to run. Instead, she stayed in bed until she heard her mother go next door to Beaumonde at 8 am. She took a shower, one much longer and hotter than her usual morning shower--out of dread, however, not self-indulgence--then dried her hair thoroughly and put on the gray pencil skirt and plain white blouse she'd laid out the night before. It was time to look for a summer job.

She'd spent an agonizing ninety minutes putting together an appropriately simple job-hunting outfit. As a member of The Gang, Josephine had a closet full of thoroughly elegant and Proper outfits, and exactly none of them were suitable for dropping off job applications. Thanks to the efforts of the Budds, Josephine's wardrobe was perfect for a femme fatale in a '60s Italian spy movie, but not so great for a teenager trying to get hired at a smoothie place.

After getting dressed, Josephine went through the stack of papers she'd printed out the night before. She had resumes and cover letters, each carefully printed on heavy cotton paper, as well as the detailed itinerary she'd made for her day. Josephine had mapped the day out so she could hit the stores in the most efficient order: she'd start with the boutiques on Magazine Street, then move to the tourist places in the Quarter, and finally head out to the malls in the suburbs. This was probably the scariest thing Josephine had ever done, but having a plan seemed to make it a little bit better.

Her mother had left the keys to the car on the kitchen counter, along with a note--Abundans cautela non nocet--and Josephine checked everything one last time before she left: her clothes, her resume and cover letters, her hair, her hesitant traces of makeup. Unfortunately, she couldn't find any reason to put it off any longer, so she breathed deeply a few times and spoke to the mirror.

"You're going to do this," she said softly, then again louder: "You are going to do this. Don't be such a little bitch." This was a favorite phrase of her sister Catherine, deployed against her friends, family, and boyfriends whenever she felt that their courage didn't match up to her own superhuman taste for adventure. Josephine in particular was a frequent recipient of this taunt, and it had inevitably become part of her internal monologue.

She squared her shoulders and prepared herself to meet the terrifying tasks that waited for her. She hated meeting new people and couldn't stand talking about herself, and she'd be required to do both for just HOURS. However, Josephine was resolved to cure her summer boredom. She had to do this...she had to prove to herself she was capable of doing it.

So she got in her mother's Jaguar--this was Josephine's thirteenth time driving a car by herself, but she tried not to think of that as an omen--then she drove five blocks down to Mahogany, the Magazine Street home decor boutique that was first on her list.

A few hours later, Andre was on the patio of his house, finishing up his pre-run stretches. Andre wasn't a big fan of stretching: he He found it humiliating and, besides, he had a hazy memory of reading somewhere that research had proved that it wasn't actually very effective anyway and was probably one step above a folk remedy. (But mostly: stretches were hard and Andre was bad at them.) Now that his aunt was out of town, he'd whittled his before-run stretch routine to a handful of dispirited reaches and twists.

He'd made it four days as a a non-runner. During those four days, he sat around the house, wondering what he'd done all day before his aunt made him start running. But this morning as he was getting dressed (more out of habit more than necessity) he discovered that his black jeans, which had gotten microscopically less snug over the last two weeks, were now infinitesimally tighter again. He knew this was just a psychosomatic effect based on guilt, and he spent twenty minutes convincing himself that it was all in his head before finally giving up and just going running.

It was the heat of the day. Birds shifted uncomfortably on their branches, but had no energy to sing. A young black guy walked by, head down, an entire white t-shirt thrown limply over his head. Andre had a choice: he could run farther Uptown, passing out of the Garden District and behind Touro Hospital before turning around at Napoleon Avenue; or he could head towards Downtown, through the Lower Garden District, and into the Central Business District as far as Canal Street and the beginning of the Quarter. His aunt preferred the Downtown route because the scenery changed more often. Andre, though, preferred to go Uptown because there wasn't as much traffic or as many people to see him struggling along.

Today Andre felt like changing things up a little, so he headed towards Downtown. However, one block later, he remembered that he'd have to pass by a wretched outdoor summer concert series in the CBD. The "Hump Day Lunch Break," they called it, where cubicle ghosts could listen to weary nth-generation New Orleans music for an hour while slowly pushing Lunchables into their faces. So instead of going Downtown, Andre turned around and began jogging towards Napoleon Avenue, changing the course of both his jog and his summer.

Months later, he'd think about how such a simple decision--jogging Uptown instead of Downtown--had created such a profound effect on his life. He would wonder what other opportunities he'd missed out on, and what tragedies he'd unwittingly avoided, by making similar arbitrary choices. Andre knew such conjecture was banal in the extreme, but still, he couldn't help but think about it, when so much had changed in his life because one July afternoon he jogged one block, turned around, and jogged the other way.

But such philosophical thoughts weren't on Andre's mind that day, however....all he could focus on was not passing out. After a four-day break from running, he was having a rough time with his pace. Over the last few weeks, he'd worked up to jogging three blocks straight and walking one, but that Wednesday, after twenty minutes on the road, he was struggling to make it even two blocks before slowing down to a stumble. His breath was ragged, and he knew his running posture was embarrassing.

He tried to get into the stance his aunt had taught him: back straight, head up, forearms parallel with his waistband, thumbs all but touching his hipbone as his arms moved. Once he got his posture more or less correct, he began to focus on his breathing. Aunt Marissa had taught him to breath in a little on his first and second strides, then exhale on the third and fourth: in in, out out. He would count each step in his head, which not only helped him breath but helped him clear his mind, which seemed to be crucial to a good run. in, out in out in out in out in out out...shit!

Up ahead of him, three blocks away, Josephine Brooks sliced around a street corner, sprinting at full speed directly towards him. Her long legs seemed to cover yards with each stride. It looked like she was leaving divots in the asphalt as she pushed off the ground.

She hurtled straight towards him, and would be standing where he was in seconds. Her hair was loose, galloping behind her as she ran. There was wildness in her eyes.

The first store on Josephine's list was Mahogany, a home decor boutique a few blocks from her home. Josephine parked across the street from the store and watched customers enter and leave. She wanted to wait until the store had no customers, so she didn't have to stand around, feeling awkward, until finally someone was free and she could ask to speak to the manager.

It took about five minutes before it seemed like the store was empty, and during that time, she proofread her resume for the hundredth time. With horror and disgust, she realized that, under Skills, she'd left out an Oxford comma. She considered going home and reprinting all of them, but she knew in her heart that this was just an excuse to put job-hunting off for another day. And that was no good, she knew it. So instead of fixing the typo, she minutely adjusted the paper clip holding the cover letter to the resume, took a deep breath, and walked across Magazine Street to Mahogany's front door.

...I'm Emily charming a stranger...I'm Litta'Bit flirting with a boy...I'm Lillian cocking an eyebrow and destroying the world ...

There was nobody in the store. Not just no customers, but no salespeople either. Josephine didn't know exactly what to do. She considered leaving and coming back later, but she forced herself to walk into the store and pretend to look at a collection of geometric bud vases arranged on a table.

There was laughter from the back, and Josephine looked up, as though caught. She could hear two women talking in the room behind the counter. Josephine shuffled to another table, this one displaying candles and tealight holders. She breathed deeply and tried to concentrate on the merchandise. There were too many mirrors in this store.

One of the ladies from the back walked by the door and saw Josephine. She was older, maybe thirty, and could have been the manager that Josephine needed to talk to. "Oh, hi...I didn't know you were out here. Can I help you with something?"

Josephine looked up at her, a $65 candle in her hand. She had heard what the lady had really said. Not "Do you need a hand finding something?" but "Can I help you?" As in: "What are you doing here? You don't belong in here."

Josephine glanced down at the floor and put the candle back on the table. "No. No thank you. Just looking around."

The saleswoman stayed behind the counter, so Josephine pretended to look at a beaded pillow. It felt like the lady was suspicious, watching her closely, but Josephine didn't dare look up to see if this was true. She wondered if she should buy something; she was afraid that the woman thought she was stealing. Oh my god, I come in to apply for a job and I end up arrested on suspicion of shoplifting...

But Josephine couldn't summon the courage to go up to the counter--and also there didn't seem to be anything for sale under thirty dollars--so she just mumbled a goodbye and escaped out onto the street.

Okay, so that was a disaster. But, as she got in the car, Josephine told herself that the first store was just a warm-up. She was still getting a feel for her task, and the next store would be better, and the next store would be better than that, and soon she would be an expert. It was like running: one foot in front of the other.

But when Josephine arrived at the next place on her list, a high-design clothing store that looked like an art gallery, she just parked in front, watched the customers come and go, and never got out of her car. She told herself she didn't like the sort of people she saw shopping there--frightening college girls who cut their own hair--but she knew this was just an excuse: she was still upset about what happened at Mahogany and too scared to go in.

So she drove down Magazine Street, stopping in front of the next three stores on her list but not once making it out of the car. Soon she found herself circling Whole Foods again and again, trying to force herself to go in and ask for an application. She was crying a little now, the thin tears probably ruining the whisp of eye makeup she'd put on, and she knew it was no good, no good, no good. She had failed herself again.

She slunk off into the deserted residential side streets and found a place to pull over where no one would pass by and see a young girl wiping her eyes in the front of her mother's Jaguar. She sat sniffling in the almost-silence of the air conditioner's hum. Josephine hit the steering wheel once, then again, then two more times, crying out with a frustrated yelp with each blow. She was useless, she was worthless, she needed to dry her eyes and prove that she could do this. But even as she yelled at herself to get it together and try again, she knew she wouldn't be able to. Job-hunting was over.

She didn't even need to a job, anyway, and if she wanted one she didn't have to hunt around. She could just ask her grandfather or David's mom or even Andre--through his father--to give her part-time work, and any of them would. The idea of picking up the phone and making that phone call had been appalling last night, but now that she was parked on a side street, crying, with a resume half-crumpled on her lap...well, it was still appalling, but she couldn't quite remember why.

But that wasn't the point. It wasn't about the job, it was about being bored, bored beyond boredom. And it wasn't even about that, either: mostly she had wanted to prove to herself that she could do this, that she could meet people and hold her own in a conversation, the way the rest of The Gang could. The way normal people could.

Alexander often joked that Josephine needing therapy, but in fact Josephine had been to see therapists before. The first time was a couple of sessions when she was a kid, after her father died. Then, three years ago, Josephine dedicated herself to mastering her diabetes through diet and exercise, and her mother--fueled by Catherine not minding her own business as usual--began to worry that Josephine actually had an eating disorder, and asked her to talk to someone "just to be sure."

Josephine carefully planned for the meeting, and went in nervously clutching her workout schedule, food diary, and fitness plan. It wasn't necessary: the therapist, himself a runner, knew that it was possible for a teenage girl to be focused on being fit without it being a symptom of a troubled body image. He chatted with her a bit and confirmed that Josephine just wanted to stay healthy, for healthy reasons, and was going about it in a healthy way. All he asked was that she meet with her pediatrician, because most nutrition books are written with adult, not teenage, metabolisms in mind.

Josephine was relieved, so relieved in fact that she didn't even notice that the therapist had gently steered the conversation towards the non-fitness aspects of her life. Later, she realized how sneaky he'd been: he could tell that Josephine was uncomfortable talking about herself, so he faced away from her a little, never making eye contact, and only asked oblique impersonal questions, as though they were just chatting about a theoretical teenage girl they both knew. Without even realizing she was doing it, Josephine began cautiously opening up to the doctor in a way she did to no one else, except sometimes David. She talked about how she felt about her friends, and her feelings about her mother and her relationship with her sister. But what Josephine really wanted to ask him about was why she was so shy, why every interaction with another person left her ashamed and flushed and hatefully disappointed in herself, why she always stammered and hyperventilated no matter how much she wanted be a normal girl in a normal conversation. But she hadn't been able to ask him any of this...she was too shy.

Josephine looked at herself in the rearview mirror of the Jaguar, at her red eyes and wet cheeks. She didn't cry very often--this was the first time since her mother and Catherine had gotten into a huge fight on the day before Christmas Eve--but when she did, she could never stop herself from looking in the mirror, to see what she looked like when she wept. It was upsetting to see, but there was also something deeply satisfying about it that she never understood.

There was nothing in her mother's glove compartment to dry her eyes with. Buried under some papers in the console was an individually-wrapped maxi-pad that Josephine briefly considered using--it was certainly absorbent--but she quickly decided that this was too hinky. Besides, what if somebody walked by and saw her wiping a sanitary napkin across her face?

She chuckled shakily at this, swiping her cheeks with the back of her hands, then pulled the car out onto the street. She knew what she'd do: she'd go running, get in an extra sprint workout, even though it was her Rest Day. Yes. Running always made her feel better. When she sprinted through the neighborhoods of her city, the world became sculpture, and the people just statues, and she alone was alive and moving. She wasn't Josephine when she, wait: she was Josephine. She was the real Josephine, the one she was scared to be the rest of the day, the one who could speak up, the one who looked at the world and what she faced and responded not with a blush or a stammer but with a shrug and a "Fuck it."

This plan to find a job had just been another attempt to prove that she could be that girl, that better Josephine, all the time. She had tried so many times before in her life and had always disappointed herself: two summers ago, in LA with her sister; last summer with Leonard. Now this summer with job-hunting and her other idea, the one about Lucas Budd and Emily and Michael. She's already failed at the first, and she was too frightened to do much more about the second than obsessively jog, every day, past their houses.

Still driving, she began sobbing once more, this time much harder. Her tears, which had been just a mist before, gathered and rolled down her cheeks. There was a sound coming from her throat, but she didn't know she was making it. Josephine didn't stop driving, she didn't pull over, she just drove on through the back streets towards her home. She was weeping so hard her chest hurt...she had failed again. There was another, more perfect Josephine buried inside of her, and she had failed again to help her find a way out. How much longer could she stay in there, how many more times could Josephine fail her, before she turned her back and retreated into nothing?

Luckily for Andre, he was just in front of Pedo Priest Park, so--after a half-second of panic, he ran out of the street and hunkered down quickly behind the statue in the center of the park. He was pretty sure Josephine hadn't seen him, but he wasn't certain. She been about three blocks away when she cut around the corner, and it's not like she'd be expecting to bump into Andre out jogging in the street. He just had to wait here until she passed, and then a few minutes more just to be certain, then he could sneak home and never go running again. He tried to listen for the sound of her feet as she flew past, but St. Charles was a couple blocks away, and there was too much traffic to hear her.

The weeks he'd been running, it had never occurred to him that he'd run into her on the street like this. She ran early in the morning, he ran in the afternoon, and he was pretty sure she took a different route than he did. Of course, now that he was hiding, shivering, behind a statue and waiting for her to pass, he realized how empty and useless all of those arguments were, and how foolish it had been to put his faith in any of them.

(As he ran, he would sometimes mull over a cherished scenario in his mind about what it would be like to run into her: it would be at the end of the summer, after he could jog for miles and miles without walking, and she'd see him and stop in front of him and then they'd jog together at last, and every morning from then on, it would be their little secret that no one else in The Gang needed to know about. It was ridiculous, he saw, and it pained him to think about the time he'd spent while jogging, thinking about it.)

She couldn't see him...not now, not yet. He was crouched painfully behind the statue, trying to steady his breathing and his heart from the interrupted run and also from his nerves. The statue he hid behind depicted a kindly African-American priest counseling a young boy and girl who were on their knees praying. It had been built in a simpler time, when all it represented was a lovely monument to a beloved clergyman. However, it was now a favorite of New Orleans teenagers because seen through cruder modern eyes, the statue from a certain angle seemed to depict a lewd act made all the worse for the beatific expression on the priest's face. Andre, though panicked, looked up and read, for the first time in his life, the dedication at the bottom of the statue:

In loving memory of
Father Fitzwilliam Johnson
"Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven."

Fitzwilliam Johnson. "Holy shit," Andre whispered. All these years smirking at The Statue Of Pedo Priest Park and he'd never known that it was one of Robert's ancestors. He wondered if even Robert knew.

Andre relaxed a little. Clearly Josephine would have passed by the park by now, but he'd wait, his back to the statue's granite base, just to be sure. Andre sighed, shaking his head. How demeaning...hiding behind this statue like a child. He turned around and dropped slowly to the ground.

Josephine was standing at his feet. Of course. She must have circled around and came up the back of the park. Meaning that she'd been standing there for just minutes, not saying a word, as he hugged the granite and waited for her to pass by.

Andre didn't react, or at least he tried not to. When he turned around and saw her Sauconys on the grass before him, he didn't look up at her, just shrugged, as though he had been expecting her to be there. "Hey, Josephine," he said.

"What are you doing?" There was a edge to her voice that he'd certainly never heard before. He wanted to look up, but he made himself just shrug and continue looking down at the grass.

"Oh, you's a nice day, thought I'd get out of the house, go sit on the ground for a while." He plucked up some grass and sprinkled it back through his fingers. "Hey, you'll never guess who this is a statue of."

"Why are you dressed like that? Are you making fun of me?" Now her voice sounded shocked, hurt, and Andre had to look up at her.

He knew it was beyond corny to say "all he could see was her eyes," but for now at least it was true. Later he'd notice her thin workout clothes, and the way her whole body--up from the legs, through the shoulders, and down to the arms--still swayed in the soft subtle rhythm of a run, as though she were weightlessly navigating undetectable currents of air. But right now her eyes held his attention. Andre had often seen Josephine appalled, had occasionally saw her mortified, but he'd never seen her devastated, he'd never seen her fierce. It was too much, he wanted to look away again, but he didn't dare.

"What? Why would you say that? Josephine..."

"Why are you dressed like that?" Her mouth was thin, colorless, and set in place with anger or dismay or both. "I just jogged by your house a few minutes ago. You saw me. You saw me and you put on those clothes. You want to make fun of the way I run."

"So I see you three blocks away and hide behind Pedo Priest? That's, like, the worst prank ever." He swallowed and looked up, over his sweaty glasses, and into the blurry cloudless sky beyond. Andre shook his head at her, softened his face. Sarcasm was his native language, but he knew this was no place for it. "Josephine, listen: I've been running in the afternoon. I'm a...I'm a runner now, I guess. Remember my Aunt Marissa? She visited me a few weeks ago and made me start running and I somehow failed to give it up unlike, you know, everything else in my life. I wasn't, I swear I wasn't, making fun of you in some bizarro way."

Josephine's mouth relaxed just a little and she blinked down at him. "Why do you want to run?" Her voice was no longer hurt, but it wasn't her own voice, either.

"Because...Jesus, you want me to say it? Because I'm, I'm chubby, okay? And I don't want to be anymore."

"Why else?"

"Why else...? Isn't that enough? Because it's the one athletic thing I've ever done in my life that I actually sorta enjoy." Andre said, and Josephine just waited. "Because it makes me feel good. Not when I'm doing it, but afterwards. Like I've accomplished something, like the day hasn't been a waste."

Josephine looked down at him for a long time. Even silent, she wasn't herself. He'd never seen her like this...even her body language was different, more forceful. Finally, she asked him again, only a little softer: "Why else?"

Because I wanted you to find me and be proud of me. "Because, I don't know, because I was bored. The twins are gone, probably forever, let's admit it, and The Gang's broken up and...and Emily and Michael are hanging out together, and Robert and Litta'Bit of course, and you and David. It's like everyone has somebody to be with except me, and I'm stuck down in my basement all day. So I run."

"You were bored," she whispered with a dry chuckle. She looked away, watching a bread truck pass by, slowly swaying on its axles from the uneven pavement of the New Orleans street. Josephine worked her jaw back and forth a little as she watched it pass; it was a small action, but one so foreign to her. Who was this girl standing above Andre?

He snuck a look up at the rest of her. Her shorts were loose, tiny, high-cut on the sides, exposing most of her lean thighs. The white cotton sports bra was basically just a headband with straps, and it was tight across her thin chest. Andre didn't understand: this was a girl who got wide-eyed and flustered if the twins made her wear a top with a neckline, yet when she ran she was pretty much nude. He could tell this wasn't a one-day outfit, either, because her skin was a deep tan everywhere he looked. Josephine had long hair, and it was loose on her shoulders and back. This was the first time he'd ever seen her hair was longer and thicker than he'd imagined. Other girls pulled their hair back when they ran, but Josephine, who always wore a ponytail no matter how much the girls in The Gang begged her to take it down, let it loose when she ran.

This is important: when Andre looked up at her, he didn't see a modest introvert suddenly revealed as a secret beauty. Josephine wasn't a flower waiting to bloom...she was plain. Andre knew this was a brutal thing to admit, but it was true (and besides, it hadn't mattered to him in years.)

Josephine wasn't ugly, she wasn't even unattractive, especially after the girls did her makeup and forced her to wear the clothes that they'd picked out for her. But she would never have the profound effect on boys the way that Lillian did (breathless yearning and desperate poetry), or the way that Emily did (mad crushes and hopeless daydreams), or the way that Litta'Bit did (boners).

This was about something deeper. Above him, even though her lean and muscled body was on display, Josephine was no longer shy or awkward. She was casually aggressive in the way she held herself and in the way she talked to him. He didn't understand.

Josephine turned back and looked down at him, still on the ground at her feet. A sort of furious peace had come over her face. She chuckled again and shook her head slowly. "Okay, fuck it. Let's go."

"What does that mean?" he whispered. He'd never heard her curse before; in fact, he'd never heard her laugh before...

"Let's go...come on. You want to run, and I'm a runner, and it makes no sense, the two of us not running together. Get up."

Andre struggled up to his feet, embarrassed that after a month his gut still got in his way. "Are you sure?"

She ignored him, cocked her head towards the street, and began walking out of the park. The slightly curled ends of her hair swung gently between her shoulder blades."Okay. Today, we're gonna walk one block, jog one block."

"That's how my aunt started me, too, but I'm up to jogging three blocks, walking one."

Josephine shielded the sun from her eyes with her hand. "How long?"

"Not long...forty minutes on Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Twenty-five on Tuesdays and Thursdays."

Josephine nodded. "Okay, well, if you're running three blocks at a time for forty minutes, you're ready to let loose. So we're going to change things up a little. Today's your long day?"


"Good. That watch has a stopwatch on it, right? Okay, the idea is simple-" Her shoulders dropped. "What?"

"I'm not laughing at you! I promise. It's just, I don't know, something about the way you said 'the idea is simple' sounded like Alexander just then."

She actually rolled her eyes at him--another new facial expression!--but he saw something else playing at the corner of her lips: a proud, shy grin. "Pay attention: we're gonna start running, and when we do, you start your stopwatch. We're gonna run for forty minutes today. Whenever you want to stop, just stop. We'll walk as long as you want. But when you're walking, your stopwatch is stopped. Okay? I don't care how long it takes you, you owe me forty minutes of running today."

"That's a lot of running."

"It's okay. You have all afternoon, all evening, all night if you need it. We'll get there."

"Fantastic." Andre laughed. "I quit."

Josephine turned back to him and raised her hand to touch his arm, but lowered it again before reaching him. Her posture changed just slightly, and there, peeking through, was the Josephine he knew. Andre didn't know what had brought about today's change in her, but he saw now that it was slipping away. Already her eyes began cutting away when she spoke, and her voice was losing the definition it had a few minutes before.

"Andre, listen," she said softly. "You want to do this, right? And...and you've tried to do it on your own, but you've never been able to. have to fight, okay, you have to fight to make it real this time, no matter how easy it would be to go back, because this might be your last chance. Failure isn't an option, Andre, it's's a lifestyle, you know? You're seventeen already, and I'll be seventeen in a couple of weeks. We're about to become the people we're gonna be for the rest of our lives, and we have to fight to make sure that person is someone we want to be. So, if you fight, I promise I'll fight, too. And we can, you know, we can fight together. Okay?"

"Okay." He swallowed, and looked away from her. The world around him shivered from the heat rising off the pavement. "Um, I was just joking about quitting."

"Good." She smiled a little--bashful now--and turned her back on him again. She began walking slowly, waiting for him to pass her. "Then let's run. You set the pace."

He passed her. "Okay. I usually walk a block or two first."

"I said run." She was forcing her voice to be light now, even carefree. In the corner of his eye, he saw her raise her hand, hesitantly at first, but then with more confidence. She pinched the fat at the back of his arm and twisted hard, the way only someone with a sister could. "Run."

"Ow!" Andre began trotting a little, rubbing the back of his arm. He looked around to see if anyone else had heard him yelp, but no one had: they were the only two people in the world. "For Christ's sake, Josephine."

Josephine raised her hand again. Andre ran.