Counting in my head one, two, three… four; the higher my count got, the faster my heart beat, nine, ten… eleven. The loud shots made my ears bleed, the sounds of my lover's cries as he was being tortured in the other room was as heart shattering as 9/11 was, when I lost my father thirty-six years ago. Not only was he my lover, but he was all I had left anymore.
I've got to run, to save either one of us, if I can make it to town in three days Manny would let us go back to Croning. At least this is what was our deal. However, I don't trust this man and he's given me no reason to respect him. Manny doesn't want or expect me to make it to town, he wants me to fail. If I fail, I fail for my freedom, I fail for Joe's freedom, and I fail for our freedom. Second chances aren't going to be given this time, this isn't trial and error, this is my life, and Joes. If I don't succeed in my mission, both of our lives would be coming to a close, rather quickly.
From Coloma to Sony is a sixteen hour drive. It's a nine day walk. My mission however, is to get there in three days. Manny told me that if I have any outside he wouldn't let either of us free. So this also means no vehicle transportation. Running and jogging, for three days all the way to Sony.
The day before my big journey and mission: Manny allowed me to pack as much as I wanted and to get as ready as I could, I decided to grab money and two extra pairs of socks; money for new shoes and extra socks to wear over the socks I already had on and money for new shoes. This way I didn't have to pack as much on my back. Tonight, I'll fall asleep listening to his cries of torture as they pick a new punishment for him. They really know how to get to me… through him. Tonight I'll probably fall into a deep sleep after crying. Except this time it's different. This time, I cry no tears. This time, I fall asleep knowing that when I wake up, I'll make a difference. And that I can change what we're going through. This time I have a choice. This time is all I need. This is my chance; and my chance is now. In the morning im going to run, and im not going to stop until I get to Sony. Then, when I get to Sony, Im going to check in and then, I'm going to run back, I'll come right back, I'll come get Joe. Then we can live.
We'll be able to live, to live the way we want to. Hannah and Joe Milliard; the free couple. The ones that ran to hell and back for each other. They love each other. These are the types of things that I want people to say when they hear our story and think of us. I want this to be worth every step, every day, and every pulled muscle… it will be.
My thoughts became more distant with every blink my tired and drowsy eyes blinked, the day I had ahead of me, was sneaking up on me, hour by every intense hour. Little of which I was prepared for.
I woke up the next morning scared but tactically inclined. My running skills form high school hasn't been used since my freshman year. My hair pulled back neatly in a ponytail and my sports bra was laid out at the foot of my bed ready when I was. When it came to Joe, I was always ready, he was my fiancé, my lover, my best friend and I was going to do whatever it took to save his life and our future together.
I put my layers upon layers of socks on, clean panties and my sports bra. A pair of running pants over my shorts and my under armor under my shirt. I come to the realization that I am in fact ready. As I walked down the lit path towards Manny, at three thirty in the morning that I was so nervous that I could have passed out right then and there.
Meeting with Manny this morning made me want to do nothing but kill this man. He's been nothing but a cruel, impatient, unfair, ignorant, pompous prick. He has the mentality of a fifth grader and he talks before he thinks and lies when he's been caught.
When I got to Manny he said, "You're going to do this; without breaking the rules and without outside help. If you fail to follow the rules, you fail at keeping your boyfriend alive, are we clear?"
"Good," he says with a sly facial expression with his head cocked back, his lips curled, and his neck long, making him resemble a reptile. "You can begin in twenty minutes."
The next twenty minutes I spend stretching, praying and drinking plenty of water, being careful with how much water I drink but making sure I stretch and pray enough to do a backflip and land it, because God was listening.
"…On your mark, get set…go!" I was off running like a cat with its tail on fire going through a hay field that'd been in drought season a month too long. Hurrying. Pacing. Thinking less and less, just focusing on my feet and the terrain they're on. Believing in myself is all I could do. Thinking back to freshman year, when my team made second at nationals. With the four hundred meter dash and the four mile, that was the best moment in my life. Then, all I could think about was what my coach had said, "Just believe in yourself. And God." Thirty six years ago, my heart almost stopped when he gave me this advice, it was the best id ever gotten. After all, thirty six years ago, I went to nationals. Thirty six years ago, my dad died. Thirty six years ago, I received the last advice my father ever gave me. Not paying much attention to my steps, and more to my thoughts, I was already through two towns and a third of the way to Sony. I run even faster once I realize how far I've gone. The sun was in the sky, beating down on my skin making me crisp, feeling the burning of my skin, my nose became dry and my throat began to itch. Half way through my first day and it's a chore enough as it is, trying to stay hydrated, but staying hydrated and running and the sun beating down and baking your skin is about as difficult as running cross country against a cheetah. Running with everything I got, and not trying to pay attention to my buckling knees, I almost give in. I stay strong and run, run even faster, I could only imagine my father saying, "It'll be worth it in the end and you don't stop unless you're dying. Keep going, Hannah!" with that deep raspy voice of the masculinity that he gained many years before he passed on. So that's what I did, I swallowed my pride, and kept going. I was not dying, so I had no reason to stop now, it was now or never. I could do it.
The sun was setting and the pinkish blue ribbons of light in the sky sent me to a happy time, it sent me to mine and Joes first date. The night he held my hand. The night I was on top of the world. That feeling is what I feel now. Joe yet again, is going to get me through this; even the thought of him could change everything. You know when people say to find your happy place? Joe is my happy place. Everything is better when he's around.
Getting tired so I slow my run to a quick jog and begin to become more aware of my surroundings, turning the block there's the clock on the bank wall, it wasn't near the time I thought it had been, it's four o'clock in the morning and I am pushing through and succeeding. Nevertheless I am winning this. I'm on to day two and I am half way to Sony.
Three hours go by and my good friend the sun is popping up over the horizon to say good morning and hangout with me for the day. I mentally decided that I would run for four hours, then I would cave and buy my new running shoes, but I don't think I'll be able to put up with ripped and torn shoes for that much longer. I caved and decided that I'd buy new ones as soon as I found an open store that looked promising of shoes.
As I'm running down the street I see a piece of paper that looks delicate enough that if I were to touch it, it'd just crumble, I pick it up and read something I wasn't expecting to see.. It read:
"Keep going for those who can't. Keep going because
Somewhere someone wishes they could do as much as
you are now. Keep going because in the morning you'll
regret it if you don't."
This anonymous note someone lost means so much to me at this morning, it gave me so much more drive to just keep going, because Joe can't go anywhere, right now. He's depending on me! I CAN do this. I will do this, I'm going to keep going and I'll get new shoes in the morning, these will do for another day of running. This, this is worth it. Joe is worth it.
Stay Strong. That's all I need to do, I'll just stay strong and win this. I'll win my freedom and I'll win Joes freedom. As I'm running through the streets of Ohio a little old lady was being harassed by her grandson, so I stopped and helped her, I took the purse back from him and handed it to her.
"Thank you, so much darling!" she says shakily as she almost tumbles off the sidewalk as she loses balance from her walker.
"You are ever so welcome." I say as I grab the old ladies arms propping her up back onto the sidewalk and begin to run in the direction I was head as she calls me back.
"Miss! Come back here, I must repay you!"
"The only thing you could do for me, is to just Stay Strong."
"Well, if that's what you want, I'll be sure to stay that way." She says as she remains trembling and losing her balance and completely oblivious to the meaning behind my request.
We say our thank you's and goodbyes and it takes very little time before I'm running again and on my way to Sony. Thinking back to how Manny treats Joe and I, that when I see him the next time, he will be so regretful he gave me the opportunity to save us both. That man is dead to me; he has a special place he's going when he leaves this earth.
Running through the town as I come across the sports store, I decide to cave in and buy my new running shoes, I slow down to a fast walk and enter the shoe store carefully not to knock anything over as I hustle through the aisles.
"Ma'am can I help you?"
"No thank you, but can you direct me to the women's running shoes?"
I try on the first pair of women's running shoes that I came a crossed. Finding that the first pair I tried on was too snug on my feet that I quickly take them off and search for a new pair to try. Refusing to give up after the first four pairs, I finally find a pair just like my high school track practice shoes. Made for heavy terrain and they are lightweight.
"Will this be all?"
"Yes, thank you."
"Your total today will be sixty seven dollars and seventy five cents."
I gave him a one hundred dollar bill, waited for him to give me my change and I was out of the door too quick to hear if he had said to have a good day or not. I'm off to running again, I run even faster now, to make up for the time I lost in the store. My knees suddenly buckled out from underneath me, and caused me to fall straight forward, I throw my hands out in front of me to catch my fall, but I don't move my hands fast enough, I fall straight forward and scrape my forehead on the rough and scratchy sidewalk, I lay there in pain for about thirty seconds, then I stand up, shake it off, wipe my forehead on my sleeve and pick out the pebbles that were caught in my skin. Then I run. I run with tears this time, this is the first time I've felt like I might not make it to Sony that feeling is just un-bearable it makes my heart strings feel like they've been cut. My heart shatters in that moment.
The sun was close to setting and I had one day left, when I realized that my forehead wasn't just scraped, but my skull was cracked. I walked by a window and seen my reflection of not only the gory bloody mess that my scrape left, but seen that it wasn't just blood and rocks, it was blood, rocks and bone. And it hurt.
"Are you okay?" a polite stranger asked.
"I think so, I really don't have the time to look at it or care about it." I replied in an even tone.
"You should really get that checked by a doctor."
"I'll be sure to do that when I get to Sony."
"Why all the way in Sony? That's so far away; you might lose too much blood through the wound causing many complications. You could die from it! Get it checked here!"
"No." I replied again in an uneven tone this time.
"Have it your way then." As they began to walk off.
"Wait, does it really look that bad? I have too many things on my shoulders right now; I can't deal with a problem like my health right now. I'm too worried about his."
"Just promise me you'll get it checked out though."
"I promise." I meant it.
I start again on my journey to save our future. One day left. And that's perfect timing for what I have left, I have seventy eight miles left. If I run all the way and don't walk, I'll be there with enough time to sleep tonight before I decide to run back to start my life.
The sun is going down quicker tonight than it did yesterday. I'm getting tired, not really knowing what's going to come my way in the morning, tonight I will not sleep, I will not stop, I'll be moving, I'll get there, all I have to do is just stay strong. Tomorrow, when the sun comes up, I'll have six hours left of running until I get to Sony. Tomorrow is a new day.
Running through the night, cautiously and gentle, as I stride through the night, the sun rises all too quickly and I'm unprepared for what might happen. I begin to think what if Manny already killed Joe, would he be plotting for my turn to be taken out of this world? The bad thoughts brought tears to my eyes making it tremendously hard for me to run, I hold down the tears with a big sigh. I make myself tremble a little over my own feet, but I re-gain my balance in enough time to catch my almost-fall. I steady myself and begin to run again. The cool breeze of the morning air blowing across my face wakes me up, and puts me into a whirlwind of emotions. Thinking about Joe and Manny, thinking about my father, and thinking about what I'll do the next time I see Manny. How will he act once he sees that I made it all the way to Sony? All of my thinking sets me to a phase at which I don't listen to anybody, not because I don't want to, but because I can't, until I pull myself out of that phase I don't hear the little boy yelling at me as he's running with me. He's wearing dainty clothes that look like they haven't been washed in over a decade and he had on very used sneakers. I slow my run to a fast jog and begin to have a conversation with him. "What's your name, kid?"
"I ain't got one." He says gloomily.
"What do you mean you ain't got one? Everyone has one!"
"Not me, I ain't got one. I ain't got no mommy and I ain't got no daddy either!" He says as he begins to speed up, getting ahead of me.
"Well how about Charles? you look like you could be a Charles."
"Sure, why are you running so hard? Can I run with you?"
"I'm trying to save someone, I wouldn't want to bore you with my sad story, but if you run with me all the way to Sony, I'll tell you the rest of the story."
"Sounds alright to me. You've got a deal."
Twenty minutes more of running and I'll be in Sony. Twenty minutes and I save Joe and I's lives. Twenty minutes and everything would have been worth it. Twenty minutes and I can stop.
Fifteen minutes go by and I can see Charles getting tired and he's beginning to lose his breath, he gasps for air and begins to walk he tells me to go on without him to the finish and to come back after its all finished, so that's what I did, when I crossed the line a big black limousine pulls up and out comes Manny as ticked off as can be and about as mad as a raging bull. He didn't want me to finish, and he didn't want me to win, but I did. After Manny walks over to me, Joe pops out of the limousine and comes over picks me up off the ground and twirls me in circles. He seemed as though he knew I'd make it, he had faith, and he knew I'd stay strong.
Few minutes after all the sarcastic congratulates are given, Charles shows up and out of nowhere he pulls off his shoes and in his sock, was the reason he'd been running weird, he was carrying a pistol, he pulls it out and aims it at the black windows of the limousine and shoots Manny, I heard one scream from the driver, then I heard faint little laughs coming from Charles. He aims the gun at Joe and shoots him one time in the heart, he was dead in an instant. I ran to Joes side and tried nursing his wound but it just wasn't enough, he was gone. I stand up and walk towards Charles and said, "Charles, you need to stay strong when everything else isn't. I can't be strong anymore, I'm weak, Joe is gone. Please, send me with him. I can't live like this. Send me with him."
So as I had requested, Charles lifts his pistol and aims it at my forehead and before I know it, I'm back into Joes arms, where I needed to be, and never to be separated again.