NARRATOR: "My alarm's beeping shatters the early morning quiet, and I find myself wondering where to find the motivation to rise. Class is still quite far off, but I agreed to run with Emi in the mornings. Really, I'm not that interested in running as a hobby, or even as a possible life-lengthening exercise. However, I feel obligated to follow through on my promise to Emi yesterday, which is why I find myself throwing on some running shorts and a light tee-shirt."

NARRATOR: "The cool morning air caresses my face as the morning sunshine causes the dew on the grass to sparkle, nearly blinding me at first. As I make my way down to the track, an ugly thought strikes me. What if this is some sort of joke that Emi's playing on me? Would that surprise me, really? Hell, I'd probably do it to the new guy, too. At the very least, I'm sure Emi and Rin made a bet on whether or not I'd actually show up. I feel a sense of trepidation as the track comes into view."

EMI: "You're late!"

NARRATOR: "It would seem that Emi is already there. What a relief."

HISAO: "Not according to my watch. We both are early, in fact."

EMI: "Damn. You've got me there."

NARRATOR: "Emi is sitting on the bleachers, decked out in her running gear, waiting somewhat patiently for me."

HISAO: "I'm glad you're actually here. I was afraid that this was a joke or something."

EMI: "Nah, I'd never make someone get up early for nothing. Plus, Rin owes me 500 yen now. She didn't think you'd actually show up."

NARRATOR: "I knew it! Nice to know Emi was on my side, at least. Emi hops off of the bleachers and begins stretching out. She's remarkably lithe, almost like a dancer. I set out to stretch as well, but then realize that I don't exactly remember how to stretch properly. It's been ages since I stretched for anything, if you don't count my one stint at running last week. And even then, I don't think I actually stretched beforehand. The specter of my long hospital stay rises up again. I can't say I was all that active before the hospital stay, though, so maybe I'm just being morose. Emi giggles as she watches me stretch out."

EMI: "No no no Hisao, you've got to hold it for longer than that!"

HISAO: "I'm trying! It kinda hurts a little."

EMI: "Ha! That's because you're out of shape. You've got to get some flexibility in you, like this."

NARRATOR: "To demonstrate, Emi reaches down and puts her head through her legs. God bless you, Emi."

HISAO: "I see. Is that the sort of thing I should strive for?"

EMI: "Of course! Flexibility is important for any runner. You'll be able to go faster the more you stretch out."

NARRATOR: "That makes no sense to me, but Emi seems to believe it's true. With Emi's help, I manage to stretch myself out properly. I can't help but notice that when she thinks about how to explain things to me, her mouth scrunches up in concentration. It's adorable."

EMI: "Not bad, Hisao. Come on, we'd better start running. We'll start off with just a mile, okay? That's four laps around the track, got it?"

HISAO: "That sounds fine to me."

NARRATOR: "This shouldn't be too hard, right? A hazy memory of running a mile for gym class surfaces in my mind. Yeah, it wasn't that bad. Emi sets a pretty good pace, and I fall in behind her."

EMI: "Try to keep up, okay Hisao?"

HISAO: "Roger."

NARRATOR: "We round the first curve without incident, though I can already feel my heart rate increasing slightly. By the second curve, I've started to breathe through my mouth. Emi doesn't even seem to be breaking a sweat. As if to punctuate her superiority, she turns around and starts running backwards."

EMI: "Are you doing okay, Hisao?"

HISAO: "Never... better."

EMI: "Oh really? Maybe I should speed up then, hmm?"

HISAO: "Oh... no, ...wouldn't want you... overex...ert yourself."

NARRATOR: "My heavy panting and wheezing makes the statement less convincing than I had hoped. Emi simply smiles and turns around again."

EMI: "You're the boss, Hisao. We'll stay at this pace."

NARRATOR: "I get the feeling that I'm being mocked. If I weren't in such terrible shape, I'd probably feel offended. By the third lap, my breath is coming in ragged gasps. I'm also awash in my own sweat. Gross. We round the curve to start our fourth lap, and Emi looks back at me with a grin."

EMI: "Here we go!"

NARRATOR: "She takes off at blinding speed while I stubbornly stick to my slower pace. By the time I get to the first turn, she's already rounding the second. As I struggle across the back stretch, Emi continues running and catches up to me."

EMI: "Come on, Hisao! You can do it!"

NARRATOR: "I'd answer her, but I'm too focused on getting air into my lungs and ignoring the burning in my leg muscles. Part of me wants to say something like “Maybe {b}you{/b} can, but I'm about to die here.” But again, I doubt I can actually form words right now. Emi keeps pace with me as I round the second turn and cross the finish line. Her sprint seems to have gotten her sweating. It's actually caused her shirt to turn slightly translucent. It seems she wears a black sports bra. I feel a vague stab of guilt for being the sort of guy who stares at a girl's chest, but my legs and chest are burning so badly I can't bring myself to care that much."

EMI: "Not bad for a first effort, Hisao."

HISAO: "Ki— ...kind of you... to say... so."

NARRATOR: "Emi seems to be, if not out of breath, at least breathing a little more heavily than she was before we started running. It must have been the sprint that did it."

EMI: "Hey, I've got to get a few sprints in. You should walk around the track to cool down. Then we can stretch out, and we'll be all done, okay?"

HISAO: "Sounds great."

NARRATOR: "My legs are on fire, and my breathing is still heavy, but surprisingly my heart seems to be taking the strain well. Another triumph of medical science, I suppose."

EMI: "You should put your hands behind your head. It makes it easier to catch your breath."

NARRATOR: "Surprisingly, she's right. I begin to stroll around the track, happy to feel my breath coming back to me."

Emi blur

NARRATOR: "There's a blur as Emi sprints by me. Watching her run is absolutely fascinating. It's not just because she's on prosthetics, though that is interesting. The really interesting thing is the way her face changes."

Emi run face

NARRATOR: "I can only catch glimpses of it as she runs by, but her eyes seem to come alive with a sort of fierce joy. It's as if there's nothing else in the world but her and the track. By the time I've gotten to the final stretch, Emi seems to have finished her sprinting. She's breathing heavily now, but she's wearing a satisfied grin on her face. She waves to me cheerily as I near her."

EMI: "Feeling better, right?"

HISAO: "Actually, yeah."

EMI: "D'you want to take another lap around with me? I've got to cool down too, you know."

NARRATOR: "Part of me would rather sit down, and not move, but something tells me that would be a bad idea. Besides, if I sit down, there may be no getting back up again."

HISAO: "Sure, why not?"

NARRATOR: "Emi's got her hands behind her head now as well, which makes her seem very relaxed. The positioning of her arms also pulls her shirt upwards ever-so-slightly so that I can see a small strip of her belly. I do my best to act the gentleman and not look, but the contrast of her skin against her red running shorts is rather arresting."

EMI: "So how do you feel, Hisao?"

HISAO: "Surprisingly good, actually. I'm sore and tired, but... surprisingly good."

NARRATOR: "As soon as I say it, I realize that it's true. Sure, part of me wants to lay down and die, but I feel like I've accomplished something. It's almost like a glow throughout my body that persists despite the soreness."

EMI: "Yeah, that's the runner's high."

HISAO: "Runner's high?"

EMI: "Yeah, it has something to do with... adrenaline?"

NARRATOR: "Emi thinks for a moment as we walk, trying to remember. Then she shrugs and grins at me."

EMI: "I don't actually remember. It's a good feeling though, isn't it? Better than sex, right?"

NARRATOR: "I open my mouth to respond shortly before processing what she's just said."

HISAO: "..."

NARRATOR: "Emi watches my face for a few moments before bursting into laughter."

EMI: "Sorry, sorry! I couldn't resist! You're just too easy!"

HISAO: "Why did I agree to run with you again?"

NARRATOR: "Emi just laughs harder. She takes a hold of my forearm and tilts it, allowing her to get a better view of my watch. Her face changes the moment she sees the time."

EMI: "Oh no! We'd better get a move on, Hisao! Class is in an hour, and I need to shower!"

HISAO: "I should probably do that as well..."

EMI: "I need to see the nurse, too... maybe he'll write me a note for being late!"

HISAO: "Why do you need to see the nurse?"

NARRATOR: "Emi points to her prosthetics, as if that would explain everything."

EMI: "It's important to check for irritation. You know, from sweat or friction, or anything. Normally I only go after practice, but if we're going to be doing these morning runs then I guess I'll see him twice a day."

NARRATOR: "Wait, so Emi has only started doing these runs since I showed up?"

HISAO: "If it's more convenient for you to run with me at a later time..."

EMI: "Don't be silly! I've been meaning to start running in the morning for a while now. But if I didn't have a partner to run with, I'd be less likely to keep up a routine. It's always harder to blow off a commitment if you're going to let someone else down, you know? So you'll be my running partner for the mornings! We both need the exercise, so it all works out, don't you think?"

HISAO: "Yeah, perfect."

NARRATOR: "Did it have to be me, though? Well, I guess I can't complain too much. Emi's pretty fun to hang out with. And she's right. I do need the exercise. Doctor's orders, even. Emi waves a quick goodbye to me."

EMI: "Right, I'm off! Come have lunch with us, okay?"

HISAO: "What?"

EMI: "Lunch! You know, the meal? In the middle of the day? Come have it with us!"

HISAO: "Where?"

EMI: "The rooftop. Rin likes it up there."

HISAO: "When?"

EMI: "Lunchtime, when else? That was a silly question."

HISAO: "Yeah, but I sort of felt the need to ask all three for completeness' sake."

NARRATOR: "Emi laughs and grins. I don't think I've ever seen a girl smile so much before."

EMI: "Not bad, Hisao. See ya!"

NARRATOR: "With that, she takes off like a shot for the school building. I guess she's going to see the nurse first. I hurry back to my room and hop in the shower, only to find that the water takes a while to heat up. The shock of the cold water nearly kills me. I manage to warm the water a bit and spend some quality time feeling my muscles loosen. My heart, surprisingly, feels the least bothered by the run. I suppose that's a good thing, even if it does make me feel like a bit of a wuss. I mean at least I'd have an excuse beyond “I am out of shape” if my heart were bothering me. Guess I'll have to keep this running thing up, otherwise I'm sure Emi won't let me hear the end of it. It's only after I get out and dry myself off that I realize that I've only ten minutes left to put my clothes on and get to class. Crap."

Next Scene: Clouds, Time Travel, and Thou