Lisa had no idea why anyone would want to jog in the city, let alone in a tutu. The thought, bitter as it was, didn’t cause her to falter, or prevent her from breaking stride at the next mob of spectators to curtsey in their direction.
Wanting to run, that was the mystery. Lisa ran because her lifestyle made deliberate exercise a necessity, and running suited her physique and her psychology. She would have kept it a decently private affair, like any other bodily necessity, but a co-worker, seeing Lisa’s gym bag and ferreting out the secret, had taken it for granted that Lisa would be keen to become involved in the forthcoming charity fun run. Lisa’s only interest in the charity fun run, in all honesty, was that it would look good on LinkedIn, much as she hated the thought. Look good on your UCAS form, look good on your CV, she’d hoped she was through with all that. But it would look good on LinkedIn, and if that was the aim she would do it to the hilt. Hence the tutu.
Wanting to run, though … on a beach perhaps, or across a garden; she could almost conceive of joy in that. This pounding of city streets was about as far from a joyous experience as she could imagine, and yet all around her joggers were chatting and laughing and generally giving every impression of having fun. She considered that they were faking it, just as she was, but it went against her experience to believe that so many people could act so well.
Her own acting ability was strained to breaking point as she rounded the next bend, and come up once more behind the military band. They were alternating short runs with brief performances, and had sprinted past her four times now. Each time their musical interlude was long enough for her to overtake them but too short for her to retain her lead. Their playing was becoming ragged, but not as ragged as her smile, and it was at this point, of all the inconvenient moments, that she realised that she had absently increased her pace, and was pulling level with Sebastian Shanks – Sebastian Shanks who she had needed, above all others, to impress. Sebastian Shanks who had been, above all others, impervious to her charm and her talent and her amply displayed enthusiasm and drive. Sebastian Shanks who had paused and turned at just the moment to see her amiable mask slip, and was now waving her past with a sardonic salute.
That had been Sunday, and on Monday she had hurled herself into a round of meetings, deciding, for once, that her email could go hang, that anyone with urgent business would phone for her and, finding from a colleague that she was unavailable, would forgive her delayed response. By Tuesday her general stance had softened, and she sifted through the full screen as her first mug of coffee seeped into her senses. Her general stance, yes, but in the case of one message forwarded by a certain Shanks, Sebastian, that could still very definitely and very specifically go hang. She flagged it in magenta (magenta: unassigned), and got on busily with being what she needed to be for the benefit of anyone who she was still in a position to fool, if not for the benefit of Sebastian Shanks.
He caught up with her on Thursday. She became aware of him approximately ten seconds after putting the phone down on a particularly difficult call, and approximately five seconds after emitting the single soft robust Anglo Saxon syllable that she allowed herself under such circumstances. It took her at least another thirty seconds to register that he was smiling, and smiling with a warmth she had never seen cross his features before. His smile only broadened as he watched her attempt to frame a greeting, and before she could manage it he had reached around and taken her mouse, opening the single unread message in her unassigned magenta file.
“It had a response date of Friday,” she managed, uncharacteristically defensive.
“I couldn’t take the suspense.”
She blinked once, utterly bewildered, then turned to read the message on her screen as he explained
“I know the committee isn’t strictly in your line, but I hoped you’d see it as a ‘development opportunity’.”
She could hear the sarcastic inverted commas around those last two words, and she turned once more to give him a long, appraising stare. He continued, encouraged rather than abashed.
“And I need one person in there I know sees through the whole charade.”
“Yes,” she said simply.
“And the other thing?”
“Yes,” she said again, and this time her smile matched his.
The next Sunday she was running again. No tutu. No city streets. The firm sand of an endless beach, Sebastian at her side, and, trailing behind them, could that be the music of unforced laughter?
A random offering that I have owed for some time to Michael Wombat, who supplied the first line.