Melissa trailed her running group as their finish point, a poplar tree, came into view. Her Saturday run with the girls was her decompression time. Not today. She’d struggled to find her rhythm and to keep up. For this, she blamed her new boss.
Throughout the run, the clash between her colleagues and their toxic supervisor had pulled her focus. If Melissa didn’t find a solution, soon, her team would walk. She couldn’t walk with them. Her mother’s nursing home bills made Melissa’s resigning an impossibility.
“Still lost at work?” Tobie, forever youthful at 68, took a spot beside her and began cool down stretches. “You’ll sort it. New managers need time to settle down.”
“No, they don’t,” said Latisha as she joined them. “H.R. needs to give your boss the boot before everyone quits and you’re left with the workload of seven people.” She rubbed Melissa’s arm. “Let’s throw some cappuccino at the problem.”
“Another time,” said Melissa. “I’m going to do the route again, see if it clears my head.”
“You want some company?” Latisha’s comfort-ing hand moved to her shoulder.
“No, you get on with your day.” Melissa gave them a confident smile to hide the churning in her stomach.
“Be strong,” said Tobie, “we’ll be with you in spirit.”
Melissa jogged away, head down, lost in thought. When she looked up, a man was heading in her direction. Tall, headphones, brand new running gear that screamed “be impressed with me.”
She ignored his smile.
He muttered something, but she was past him. A few strides and instinct made her glance back. He stood in the path, glaring at her.
They made eye contact.
He jogged toward her.
Stay calm, she told herself, turning away.
Melissa groped for her phone, realizing too late that she’d left it at home. Stay calm. There was a parking lot a mile ahead. People would be there. She ran on, kept her gaze angled to watch for his shadow, her ears alert for the sound of his breathing.
Too soon, the dark smear of his looming presence came into view. Melissa sped up.
Which is your go-to Christmas movie?
11%Miracle on 34th Street
20%A Nightmare Before Christmas
3%Jingle All the Way
So did he.
She looked behind, registered the smirk, his delight in her fear.
Melissa ran harder.
He did, too.
Another snatched glance. His shadow nipped at her heels. She looked past him, hoping to see someone else. There was no one on the path. Melissa frowned. Shadows. Two runners. They were gaining on the man.
Focused on her, he didn’t notice. He grinned, then swooped to her.
Melissa broke into a run, but he drew closer, closer still. His fingers brushed her collar, his harsh panting sounded in her ears.
Then — the whisper of brittle leaves on the pavement — and his breaths stopped. She slowed, then turned around. The trail was empty, save the shadows of two runners. They stood immobile for a moment, then slowly sank beneath the asphalt.
Melissa returned to her jog. She wondered if her boss liked to run.
About the Author
Natasha Deen is a Guyanese-Canadian author who has over 40 published works, including the 2020 Amy Mathers Teen Book Award winner In the Key of Nira Ghani. Her recent YA title, The Signs and Wonders of Tuna Rashad, is a JLG Gold Standard Selection and her early reader’s book, The Ghost Tree, is an SLJ Starred Selection. When she’s not writing, she teaches with the University of Toronto SCS and spends an inordinate amount of time trying to convince her pets that she’s the boss of the house.