Rounding the corner of the path, I pushed myself harder, red and gold fall trees blurring in my peripherals as my legs demolished the last mile of my run. I was totally going to break my record. My best time so far was five miles in thirty minutes. I was so beating that today.
I breathed deeply, finishing the last few yards at a slow jog, and as I glanced down at my watch, I had to stop for a second before looking closer.
Twenty-five minutes … Okay, that’s ridiculous.
I’d only started running a year ago … after that night, the night when everything in my world changed. Since then – running, self-defense, gun training – I wouldn’t be a victim again, that was for damn sure. But to be smashing out five miles in twenty-five minutes – I wasn’t even breathing hard. Not exactly normal.
As I jogged up the steps into my dorm building, a breeze ruffled my long black hair, refreshing against the light sweat I’d worked up. It was late September; the fall days were beautiful and it was just starting to get cool at night.
Pushing open the door, I crossed the common room quickly and hopped up the three sets of stairs to reach my room. My university, Portland State (PSU), was in northwest Portland, which happened to be my home town. I would have loved to have gone to college in New York or LA, but we couldn’t afford it and I couldn’t leave my mom. I was almost finished now though; this was my last year – four years of majoring in marketing. God knows why I chose that. I was twenty-one and still had no clue what I really wanted to be when I grew up. Everyone else I knew had the next ten to twenty years of their lives mapped out. Me? I had nothing. So for now, marketing seemed like a good ticket to an interesting job.
“…totally an ash. They were fucking gorgeous.”
Two girls pushed past me going in the opposite direction, their voices loud and excited as they chatted about the newest batch of ashes at our university. Personally, the vampire/human hybrids didn’t do it for me, but I was in the minority there. The blond girl giggled, and I kind of wanted to bitch-slap her. “Yeah, they must have been on their way back to the Hive,” she twittered away.
It made my blood boil the way humans got all crazy over the Hive compound, like they’d do anything to make their way inside. I’d been inside those gates one time, and there was absolutely nothing good there for any human. We were nothing to those creatures, lower than animals, just food, plain and simple. I was lucky I got out with my life and my blood intact.
I shook off those thoughts as I removed the key from my sports bra and opened the door to the apartment I shared with my best friend Tessa. We’d grown up together, both of us from single parents, and we were as close as sisters. I stepped into the semi-dark room, slamming the door behind me.
“There is something seriously wrong with you, Charlie.” Tessa was leaning across our small, round, piece-of-shit dining table, her blond curls mussed everywhere. She wasn’t exactly a morning person. “No sane person gets up and jogs, it’s just not done. Plus, you’re not even sweating. Why the crap don’t you get all red and blotchy like the rest of us?”
She rubbed at her eyes, before downing the rest of the tar she called coffee. “I’m still betting you just run around the corner and sit in Starbucks checking out hotties for thirty minutes.”
I laughed, crossing to the fridge to grab a bottle of water. I took my first swallow, but strangely the water didn’t seem to quench the non-stop thirst I’d had the last few days.
“I don’t know what’s up with me,” I said, taking the seat next to her. “You remember what I was like when I first started jogging. I almost had a heart attack and nearly had to be resuscitated.”
Tessa snorted. “Oh, I remember. You limped along for about half a mile before collapsing in a heap and declared that the next person who suggested jogging as a way to relieve bad memories was going to get cut.”
I hadn’t been kidding about that either. Running was like torture to me back then, but it did help chase the mental demons away. “Yeah, and not even twelve months later I’m running five miles in twenty-five minutes and I barely even break a sweat.”
Actually, it was really only in the last month I found this whole exercise and defense thing easier. Maybe I was just starting to get it. My muscles knew what to do.
“Come on,” I said, jumping to my feet and hauling her up after me. “Comm skills is in thirty minutes, and it’s gonna take you half of that just to fix that rat’s nest.”
She flipped me off but didn’t argue. I waited to make sure she actually made it into her bedroom before I dashed across and entered my domain. I had time for a super-quick shower, then I’d have to haul ass to get dressed and out the door in time to jog across campus.
We made it to class just in time. I’d only managed to drag on some jeans and a tank-top, but lately my hair and skin had been doing some awesome stuff on its own, which was very useful during those late rushes to class. Tessa was next to me, propped up on her elbow. Her desk was empty of anything but her takeaway cup of sludge. Unlike me, she’d managed to style an outfit, fix her hair, and smooth out any flaws with her perfectly applied makeup. I had on lip gloss and mascara and that was an achievement.
“Do you think they’ll be in class today?” Tessa said as she turned her head toward the doorway.
I shrugged, trying to pretend I wasn’t also watching the door, but for a completely different reason. Two ash were normally in this class. They sat near the front, kept to themselves, and probably tried to ignore the fact that ninety percent of the females spent the hour staring at them. The ash were pretty much physical perfection. That’s of course if you ignored that fact that they were part bloodsucker. I watched the door hoping like hell they had been hit by a car today and would never make it to class again.