A part of the scene that was about to get knocked on its ass. Since the first runners had approached, I'd trusted that my professional attire and large, expensive camera would warn the competitors not to run me down. But Noah galloped past me a little too close for comfort. Brody and Will were barreling straight for me, their shoes slapping the asphalt.
Brody turned away from Will. His eyes drilled straight through my viewfinder, into my eyes. He kept coming. He was about to hit me.
With a squeal, I spun to protect the camera if he elbowed me.
He passed so close, I felt the wind move against my back.
And then I was watching him raise both hands in victory as he crossed the finish line just ahead of Will.
Brody had forgotten me, if he'd even intended to pay me any attention at all.
Grumbling to myself, I turned back to the pack of runners and shot as many of them as I could, thankful I'd taken some of their pictures before I focused on Brody. I wondered if he knew or cared how close he'd come to making me drop my camera. But that was Brody. He was a daredevil who took crazy chances. Nothing bad ever happened to him, though. He always landed on his feet.
Except for that time on Fifth-Grade Play Day when he dove off the water slide and had to go to the hospital.
And another time, in second grade, when he wandered away from the group during our class field trip to the children's museum in Tampa, and the teachers found him inside a priceless dinosaur skeleton.
In fact, now that I thought about it, I recalled that he'd wrecked his mom's car when he was fourteen . . . and I held on a little more tightly to my camera as the crowd passed me on both sides.
After another thirty runners, I spotted Kaye with two of her fellow cheerleaders, race numbers pinned neatly to their shirts, which matched their shorts. Kaye saw me first and yelled to the other girls. They waved wildly and mugged for the camera as they passed. At least one of them had her mouth open or eyes closed in each frame. The key to getting a great shot of all three of them, so flattering that they would swear forever I was the world's best photographer, was simply to set the camera on continuous feed to shoot frame after frame. If I took enough photos, one of them was bound to be good. Photographing crowds for pay involved more know-how and logic than art.
A few more small groups ran by me, and then Sawyer jogged into view. He might have made it through Friday night's game, but he should not have been running a 5K on a hot September morning a week past being hospitalized.
Sure enough, after three miles of running, his wet T-shirt stuck to him, and his normally bright hair was dark, soaked with sweat. His exertion hadn't dampened his spirit, though. As I tried to center him for a good shot, he ran straight toward me with his hand out like a movie star trying to block the paparazzi
. I got three brilliant shots of his palm.
"Sawyer, dammit!" I cried as he passed, realizing as the words escaped my lips that this was a common exclamation at our school. Sawyer's middle name might as well have been Dammit.
The groups of runners grew thicker now, and I struggled to keep up, taking at least one clear shot of every face. They still stuck together in packs, though. During a break in the crowd, I looked over my shoulder at the runners who'd finished-but not to locate Brody. Only to find Kaye.
The runner I saw instead was Sawyer, standing stock still and staring into space, his face so white he looked green.
Picking up the camera bag at my feet, I strode over and handed it to him. "Get my phone out of the front pocket, would you?" I couldn't watch him because I had to keep clicking away at the runners, but in a minute he was holding the phone in front of me. At least he could still follow instructions. I swept my thumb across the screen, punched in my security code, and handed the phone back to him. "Dial Tia."
When my phone appeared in front of me again, and there was another break in the runners, I spared Sawyer a glance. He was blinking awfully fast. I sandwiched the phone between my chin and my shoulder as I awkwardly peered through the camera and kept clicking.
"Hey there, Annie Leibovitz!" Tia chirped.
"Sawyer might pass out."
"I'll be right there." The line went dead.
I slipped the phone into my pocket. I didn't want to have to explain to the race sponsor, my boss for my first-ever gig as a professional photographer, that I'd missed capturing the last half of the race because my friend was going to faint. But I would have abandoned my job if Sawyer looked like he was about to hit the ground.
Before that could happen, Tia rushed over to him. I turned back to the runners. Tia and Sawyer were close enough to me that I could hear their voices above the noise of the crowd and the rock band starting up somewhere behind the finish line.
Tia: "Sawyer, dammit! Are you okay?"
Sawyer: "I will be. In a couple of years."
Tia: "What the fuck did you run this race for? You just got out of the hospital. Are you trying to kill yourself?"
Sawyer: "Not . . . actively."
Tia: "Jesus. Sit down. Sit down right here on the curb. Will!"
She sounded alarmed enough that I glanced over at them again. Will elbowed his way through, holding two bottles of water high above the crowd. Brody followed right behind him.
Tia: "Did you know he was running this?"
Will: "I tried to stop him. Sawyer, dammit, put your head between your knees."
Tia: "Help me take him to the medical tent."
Will: "There's no medical tent. It's a 5K."