by Nicola de Vera
I’m already sweating as I tie my shoelaces
“Be cool, be cool,” I whisper to myself, a lame attempt to calm myself down.
I run daily in the afternoons—when the sun has tamed itself, no longer too harsh on the skin. I try to hit at least five miles a day, which takes me about an hour, often passing medical workers from at least two hospitals nearby, a small group of brisk-walking grandmas, and parents walking with their children—human children and canine children. The final point in my designated route is an elementary school along 26th Street and Chelsea. I run past a metal fence that separates the sidewalk from the school’s expansive outdoor playground, with a football field and at least three outdoor basketball courts. When I reach the intersection, that’s usually my signal to turn in the opposite direction and head back home.
But things have become a bit more complicated recently. You see, I often catch school dismissal time in my afternoon runs, so naturally, I see parents and guardians waiting to pick up their kids and a crossing guard manning the intersection to aid these young pedestrians in safely crossing the road. Two weeks ago, the crossing guard was this lanky, bespectacled white man who couldn’t be bothered to show even a glimpse of warmth and happiness. I mean, I get it—it’s not the most glamorous job. But for whatever reason, he was replaced.
Now, there’s a woman who has taken his place. She is impossible to miss—not only because of her bright yellow neon safety vest but also because of a smile so captivating that it’s become hard to ignore. Like me, she’s a half-Asian woman who looks to be in her late 20s, but seemingly the more extroverted kind, as she chatted up the adults and high-fived the kids waiting to cross the road.
The first time I saw her, it felt like someone knocked the wind out of me. When I reached my usual turning point and found myself standing next to her, the beads of sweat on my face only intensified. I couldn’t bring myself to turn back as if in a trance. So, I crossed the intersection when she signaled it was safe to do so and kept running, trusting that I would find my way back eventually.
I didn’t care much for these daily runs before. To me, they were just business-as-usual exercises. But all of a sudden, I found myself setting my alarm for 3 PM every day and hurrying to change clothes, if only to catch a glimpse of the woman in the yellow vest. I always spotted her from at least a block away, her radiance palpable and intoxicating. Sometimes, we locked eyes, and I smiled at her. She smiled back, but my lips stayed sealed, too nervous to say anything.
Today, I thought, I should finally introduce myself. But when I once again ran towards the school and stood next to her, it’s as if all words had escaped me. A huge betrayal. It didn’t help that I felt the beating of my heart had been too loud, as if it were competing with all the chatter and noise from dozens of children, happy to be free from school. To my surprise, she broke the ice instead.
“This is your daily route, huh?”
“I’m sorry?” I mumbled, unsure if she addressed that message to me.
“Oh, I was just asking if this was your daily route. I see you every day.”
“Ah, sorry, I can be deaf sometimes. It is. I like it. It’s a safe neighborhood and a nice manageable distance from where I live.” You’re doing great, keep it up. “Wasn’t there a guy that used to man this intersection before?”
“Oh yeah, that was Bill. He moved out of state, so this spot opened up and I just grabbed it—”
“Jenna!” A small child called out, interrupting us. “I got another star today.”
Jenna, I repeated in my head. Finally, a name to put to the face. But goddammit, kid. Zero stars for not reading the room.
“Another star?! Teddy, that’s what, ten stars now? You know what that means—you’ve got to give me a double high-five,” Jenna insisted.
Jenna crouched down, laid her STOP sign on the ground, and put her two hands up for Teddy to reach and high-five easily.
“You are such an overachiever. You gotta let the other kids catch up sometime,” Jenna encouraged Teddy, as she picked up her sign and stood back up.
This charming motherfucker, I thought, as Jenna turned her attention back to me.
“These kids are the best. I love being around them. It’s like an hour of surefire serotonin,” Jenna said without a hint of sarcasm.
“I noticed. You look really comfortable with them,” I replied.
Jenna smiled. “All right, time to cross. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Like clockwork,” I responded.
“Run faster, so we get more quality time,” Jenna winked. If she only knew the amount of work my heart had been putting in.
Jenna held up her sign that signaled vehicles to stop, but curiously, my world also did. I crossed to the other side, walking over the straight white lines, when my phone began to ring.
Nate is calling, my phone flashed.
“Hi babe, what’s up?” I answered as I looked back at Jenna, glowing at the intersection.
Nicola de Vera (she/her) is a queer writer born and raised in Manila, Philippines. She now lives in Los Angeles, trading one city of tropics & traffic jams for another. She holds a BA in Communication from Ateneo de Manila University and an MBA from Cornell University. When off from her full-time job in product management, she reads, writes, and cheers for Angel City FC.