Lucy meets Jan
The trail around the lake is 8 miles, and Lucy's on her third loop. She's been running behind the same woman for about 45 minutes. She can't pass her without looking like an asshole, because she knows she can't sustain a faster pace. They're going the same speed. She doesn't want to turn this run into a pissing contest, too much work for the third lap. So she keeps her distance and zones out to this woman's pace.
She's seen her around town, this runner in front of her, mostly in the coffee shop and the public library. She's older than Lucy, much older, but she's sharp in a specific, sporty kind of way. Her hair is long and going grey and she wears running clothes everywhere. But she layers them or something, Jan can't quite put her finger on the look. It's like she just stepped out of a Title 9 catalogue. Comfortable, but well put together.
It was dark when Lucy started this run. She loves to watch the sun come up over the lake. She has spent most of the run working out a 5-page paper for her Existentialism seminar. It's not due for another week, but she likes to stay ahead of the game. She also has a biology lab to write up and two tests this week. She's ready for the tests, and the lab just needs to be typed up. So the paper is the only thing hanging over her head at the moment.
This is how she talks to the other students at school. It's all in terms of what's done and what needs to be done. Her conversations don't go much deeper than that. They don't have to. She wonders what people find to talk about in the real world these days.
Lucy didn't start college straight out of high school. She had straight A's and got into lots of good colleges, but she suspected, perhaps rightly, that she wasn't ready. By the time she started her freshman year, two years later, she had missed the boat socially. These people do not interest her. She knows she's too efficient for a college student. She's missing out on fraternity parties and pulling all-nighters. She is not making friends for life the way you're supposed to in college. She's biding her time, alone in the crowd.
This gives a certain emotional wallpaper to her existentialism seminar. She jives perfectly with the professor, a kindly older man who loves her work. It's rare in Lucy's experience to strike such a perfect chord with a teacher, especially with her personality, her inwardness. This is the only class she speaks up in. She actually asks and answers questions. She practically tiptoes to the man's office hours, as if seeking holy wisdom.
Why existential philosophy? Why now? Why did this have to turn out to be her "thing?" And so late in the game. She graduates in a year. Is it just the teacher? Existential philosophy, Jesus. There are no jobs in that field. She's doomed.
Lucy looks up just in time to see the woman in front of her go down. She hits something with her foot, a rock or a root, almost catches herself, then falls. It looks like her knee hit first.
"Oh, my god," says Lucy, pulling up to the woman heaped on the trail, "are you okay?"
The woman rolls and sits up. Her knee is bleeding and she's covered in pine needles and trail dust. "I'm okay."