I cannot imagine where I can possibly submit this story for publication. You'll see why in a minute.
Sometimes the name they give you is all wrong. That's certainly true for Alberta Helstein. That's one unglamorous name for a very glamorous girl. She gets around it by calling herself Ali, which is almost pretty enough for a girl like her.
She's glamorous, like I said, but down to earth. Like now. She's been on the track for the past forty-five minutes, doing the workout she missed because she was scheduled to work at the restaurant over practice. She's resting after one of her sprints, leaning forward with her hands on her knees, and her gray Nike t-shirt has dark spots at the top of her sports bra, at the small of her back. Her sleek brown ponytail has fallen forward into her damp, red-cheeked face. But she is still heartbreakingly pretty, with her delicate bonestructure and full lips and impossibly bright smile. She has a good face, I mean a really open and honest one; and of course you can't be sure a person is really as good as they look, but I've been watching her for a while and I think I know. She lives with her mom because her mom is sick, even though the dorm is more fun, and she works part-time to pay for her car to get to and from the college. She holds hands and kisses her boyfriend but doesn't go father than that, which is pretty rare and special for a nineteen-year-old these days. Most girls you just can't respect.
Her boyfriend is down there now, as well as two of the female friends. Such is Ali's magnetic personality that even though the other two girls are not fond of running - she goes to the gym with them on occasion, and they are Stairmaster types, not runners - she has persuaded them to come out with her.
They line up, laughing, for another lap. The two girls make a show of coming out hard but then immediately slow as soon as Ali and that guy have passed. Ali, on the other hand, is all running grace, an elegant efficiency in her long-limbed loose movements. Her pink-and-white running shoes deign to touch the ground for a fraction of a second each time she lands, and in between each propulsion forward, she flies above the track. That guy lumbers alongside her, good-naturedly trying to beat her; he doesn't seem to care if he proves himself worthy. Probably wise for him, because when they take the final bend at the 300 meter mark she leans forward into the run, pumps her arms, throws her angular body forward at the finish. She trains like she races and she races like she takes on the world. I want some of her energy and life.
When she makes it across the finish she turns back, panting, and throws her arms around him. He picks her up and walks with her to where their gym bags and Nalgene bottles are waiting on the turf. The four of them gather up their things and walk from the track up the hill to the parking lot. This is where her guy makes a mistake, one of the big ones that proves he doesn't deserve her anyway. He doesn't walk with her to the car to make sure she will make it home safely. Instead, he kisses her goodbye and he and the two girlfriends turn and amble away towards the dorms on the other side of campus. Ali walks between the cars, her blue duffel bag banging against her leg, jingling her car keys in one hand, humming Maroon 5 to herself. That's her favorite group; when I snagged her IPod while she was studying in the library, she had every single song of theirs.
I follow her between the cars. I'm parked in the next row, which took some waiting. I can't wait to be close to her again. Once, in Borders, I brushed gently past her when she was leaning over to survey the lower shelves in the chic-lit section; she smelled like vanilla, spice, warmth and home. I touched the back of her gray wool coat. She turned her head over her shoulder, surprised, and said, "Excuse me", but with a smile. She has the most vibrant blue eyes, and the smile she gave me - it was a smile of sharing. I think she knew then that we were soulmates, like I do.
But in case she doesn't, and it takes some time, I have a taser, and duct tape in the back of the car.
She stops at her car door, keys in the lock - it's almost time to reveal myself now, but I freeze when she stops. She looks around her, slowly looking right and left in a studiedly casual way. My heart pounds in my chest. She's looking for someone - looking for me. She must feel the nearness of her soul mate, the soon-to-be reveal.
Then she looks down, as if she has decided there is no one around after all, and puts her finger in her nose.
She looks disgusting, standing there, with one finger shoved into a nostril, crinkling up her cute little nose. Picking her nose, like a dirty-handed little kid. I almost gag.
She must not get it with her finger, because she tries with her thumb instead.
I turn around and walk away.