bad decisions, it's alright Who: Nish and Percy What: Nish goes out for a run for the first time since getting home from the hospital, and bumps into Percy. Where: The beach path near Pax When: March 17, 2017, 6:30 a.m.
Nish hadn’t gone back to work since getting home from the hospital, but she was in contact with Jess and giving her instructions from home. She planned to get back into a normal routine after her two weeks of ‘rest’ were done, but she was still weak, still depressed. She had daily meetings with the psychotherapy group at the hospital, and weekly meetings with the psychiatrist and her doctor, but they both agreed that she still wasn't ready to go back to work yet.
In an effort to stave off boredom, she got up early and pulled on her track pants and tank top, runners and ipod, and headed out to the beach path. She hadn’t gone running since she’d started using and it felt good, like a step in the right direction. Only after about five minutes she had to stop, to sit on the closest bench and catch her breath. Breathing hard, one hand pressed to her heart, she felt it pounding hard and discordant against her ribs, though not in the excited way it did when she was high, but in the ‘struggling to do its job’ way that was somewhat alarming. Sweat beaded on her forehead after such little exertion, fear rising in her throat.
’You’re out of shape, my dear,’ said Loki, sounding slightly worried, but supportive. ’You need to take it slow, the doctor said there’s damage.’ She grimaced, doing her best to catch her breath.
Percy left his apartment slightly earlier than usual this morning, ready to greet the day near the rolling waves of the beachfront. He had not been jogging along the beaten path for too long before he came across a woman seated on one of the available benches.
Normally, he might have kept on going, continuing with his routine. Possibly, he would have greeted her with a cheerful ‘good morning’ as he jogged further down the path. But as he drew closer to the woman, he realized that she was not simply sitting for a quick rest. She seemed to visibly be in pain, and--as he came to a halt near the bench--she was struggling to fill her lungs with air.
“Are you okay? Do you need me to get help?” Although Percy certainly didn’t consider himself a Good Samaritan by any means, it would have felt inherently wrong to not have at least tried to offer assistance.
Nish looked up, forcing a smile even though she was still struggling to breathe. And not in a good way. “No, I'm...I'm okay, just...a little out of practise,” she lied. She turned off her ipod and pulled the earbuds out, one hand still trying to keep her heart from jumping out of her chest as stars danced across her vision.
Percy tilted his head slightly, staring at the woman curiously--and, truth be told, with disbelief. He was used to lying as a habit, and if anything said in their incredibly brief exchange was a lie, it was her admission. “If you ask me, a ‘little’ seems like a gross understatement. Why don’t you let me walk with you until oxygen’s your friend again?” He had time to kill before the joys of readying himself for work, and the woman certainly looked like she might pass out at any moment. Percy prided himself in writing about negligent crimes, not being an accomplice to them. Not anymore, at least. Today, negligence wasn’t going to be his undoing. Besides, she was on the path he’d chosen to jog along this morning. If anything, he felt oddly responsible for her welfare.
She looked back up at him and forced another smile, this time with a slightly out of breath laugh. “Sure,” she said to his offer, taking another deep breath and then standing, making sure she wouldn't suddenly get a head rush and fall over before stepping away from the bench.
She walked next to him for a moment in silence, and then looked up at him. “Sorry, I'm usually not like this,” she said mind racing for a plausible explanation, as if she owed him one. “I haven't been feeling well lately, and I guess I pushed myself too soon.” It wasn't exactly a lie, but it wasn't the whole truth either.
The woman had enough energy left in her to walk with him, which Percy took to be a positive sign. Still, he decided privately that he wouldn’t hesitate to call an assistance number were she to show signs of further exhaustion. “It happens to us all,” he offered as a means of reassurance--although he didn’t quite believe his own statement. Somehow, he doubted she would believe it, too; but for the sake of propriety, some falsehoods were often necessary.
“I’m Percy, by the way. I haven’t been here long, but you’re the first neighbor I’ve run into on this path. Seems a little strange, because I was under the impression that California is big on fitness.” His joke was admittedly in poor taste, a realization made only after the words had been spoken.
She was about to give him her name on reflex, but then hesitated. By now the whole building would know about what happened, and that it was her. The diary entries and the ambulance were enough for the rumour mill to spread far and fast. Still, she couldn’t hide forever.
“Nishka,” she said, not looking at him, but clenching her jaw in anticipation of his recognition, one hand still pressed to her fluttering heart.
Of course he’d seen the pages strewn across the lobby. Who hadn’t, at this point? But Percy, for all his tendency to quickly jump on the next big story, had avoided reading the revealed diary entries.
Okay, so he’d read a couple of them. But that was before a latent sense of guilt and the need to respect privacy set in...he’d pulled himself away from the ravaged lobby. By the time Percy had arrived home that night, the pages were gone.
“That’s a nice name,” he said mildly, making the executive decision to not bring up the diary entries during the duration of their walk. “You’re probably the first Nishka I’ve ever met.” With a sidelong glance at her, Percy changed the subject as means to potentially improving Nishka’s mood. It worked - Nish was slightly taken aback at his non-reaction, and then she accepted it and released the breath she'd been holding. She smiled instead. “Thanks,” she said, though it was for more than just the compliment on her name
“Other than trying to figure out if I should call a medic for you this morning, I’ve never seen you around here before. This seems to be a common occurrence at Pax for me--is it the same for you?”
Nish smiled and nodded. “Yeah, though there's always new people moving in,” she said, slowly relaxing into the walk as the subject stayed innocuous and her heart began to slowly find its rhythm again. “I've been here since January; there's a lot more people now.”
“Strange isn’t it, that a nice building like this would still be so empty,” he mused. “I didn’t get here until February, but it’s a great location. They say a lot of native Californians are hitting the road, though. There’s money elsewhere that isn’t near Silicon Valley.” Their small talk was unassuming and friendly, and Percy preferred for it to remain as such. As they stepped further along the beach path, the sand crunching beneath their tennis shoes, for the slightest moment he attempted to feel if Nishka seemed more familiar to him than he realized.
Or if she was simply just another regular neighbor--one who had pushed herself too much, too fast in the early hours of the day.
The notion of sending out some kind of pseudo-psychic feeler for a coincidental acquaintance was far-fetched, true. But he’d felt an odd inkling several times over now with multiple neighbors. What if Nishka was yet another not-stranger? Unfortunately for Percy, his attempt at being the next Miss Cleo didn’t quite turn up any strange notion of familiarity.
“I came here from Oregon, by the way. What about you?” Moving forward slightly faster, he kicked a twig off the path.
“Illinois,” she answered. Her heart was finally starting to approach a normal rhythm, or what the new normal for her was. She lightly fingered the monitor stuck to her chest under her clothes, then let her hand drop. “I've heard Oregon is very pretty, why did you move?” she looked up at him, grateful for the benign small talk, the easy pace, the comfort of talking to someone who either didn't know or didn't care about what everyone now knew about her. She felt some of the tension leave her shoulders.
Oh, so she was from the Midwest. Well, now it all made sense--her politeness, friendliness, and attempt to downplay her struggle. Classic textbook Midwestern attitude, at least as far as he knew. But perhaps it wouldn’t be wise for him to lump entire populations of the country under the same banner.
“Change,” Percy answered easily, a pleased smile etching its way across his face. “Life needed excitement again, and I wasn’t getting it back home. Enter Newport Beach and this complex. I won’t say it’s the best, but nothing’s been uninteresting since I moved.” A light breeze scattered the sand on the path before them, lifting some of the small grains together into the air briefly before sentencing them to the ends of the earth.
Or the edge of the sidewalk, as it were.
“Illinois is a long way from here; you must have had a more important reason to move than I did,” he continued, attempting to be gentle with the suggestion. He didn’t know the extent of what she’d been through, but given she’d already had her private thoughts displayed for the entire complex to see, he doubted she’d want to spill a few more beans to a near stranger.
Not that he wouldn’t listen if she did.
Nish smiled at his question, choosing not to take it as an attempted invasion of privacy and instead polite small talk. “Change,” she echoed purposely. “Life was too exciting up there.” It was definitely true, but not the whole truth. “I came here to...start over. To escape a few mistakes I left behind.” The irony of her current situation being just as bad as the one she'd left behind wasn't lost on her. “Everyone makes mistakes,” Percy offered with a noncommittal shrug. He certainly couldn’t serve as judge and jury.
She took a deep breath, sighing it out slowly as she felt her heart skip a few beats, but at least it was slower than before. “Thanks,” she said, somewhat uncomfortably. She looked over at him with a half smile. “For stopping. My doctor would freak if he knew I was out here. Can you keep a secret?” In light of recent events, those words made her want to laugh out loud.
Percy was taken slightly aback by the sudden motion of desired confidentiality, but he recovered quickly, glancing downwards to nod firmly at Nish. “Of course. Besides, I had the ‘Good Samaritan’ story grilled into me as a child. My mom used to be Catholic--or so she says.” He let the sound of their shoes scuffing on the pavement be the only sound for a moment before he inquired further into the matter. “What’s on your mind? Other than this charming beach escapade.”
She smiled, looking down at her feet as they walked. “Well this,” she said, gesturing to the track, and them walking on it. “I'm off work for two weeks. To rest,” she said with a wry grin. Going out for a run and nearly collapsing from exhaustion and cardiac arrhythmia didn't really count as resting. “I'd...appreciate it if this didn't get back to anyone. I'm supposed to be in bed.”
“Sneaky,” he commented lightly, nothing but good humor and a tinge of approval in his tone--albeit not for her overtaxed medical condition. Percy placed one hand flat across the front of his chest, where he was pretty sure a heart beat somewhere within his rib cage. “I promise not to tell anyone you’re disobeying the doctor’s orders, but only if you let me walk you back to the front doors.” He smiled winningly at Nish, silently letting her know that he meant her no harm. “Just to make sure you don’t fall down on the way there.”
Nish smiled despite herself, catching his eyes with a little of her old mischievous spark in them. “Deal,” she answered, offering him her hand as if it was an actual binding agreement. “And I promise not to try this again, at least until the doctor says it’s okay. It was...kind of a bad idea,” she admitted with a little chuckle. “I’m just so bored.”
He shook her hand, the binding of their secret and yet not entirely serious pact now complete. As far as deals went, this wasn’t too badly of a brokered agreement. Percy certainly couldn’t complain.
“Watching Netflix can only entertain me for so long; I’d rather perish the thought of spending every day in bed.” He grimaced comically before breaking the act with laughter. “Besides, it’s not as if the doctor will ever discover that you escaped your temporary prison. What he or she doesn’t know isn’t going to hurt them.” If anything, not following through on her doctor’s orders would certainly hurt Nish more than her doctor. But, Percy reminded himself, he was not going to preach at his new companion--he hardly had that privilege.
“Well he is a genuinely nice guy, so I kind of feel bad cheating on him like this,” she said, but then frowned, realizing what it sounded like. “My doctor. About medical things,” she clarified, chuckling to herself.
“Of course just medical things. That’s how it starts, you know. First, you skip eating an apple a day. Then, you’re not flossing every evening. Before you know it, it’s nothing but chaos. Sodium intake isn’t regulated, and all fats become good fats.” Cheekily, he entertained Nish with one-liners and random quips, intent on keeping their conversation light and easy, which she seemed to need. When they parted at the front doors of Pax, Percy couldn’t help but feel reassured that he’d made the right choice in stopping to help Nish.
After all, she had been on his jogging path. It was merely a bonus that she’d proved to be a lovely conversationalist. Perhaps their paths would cross again--but for now, he had to get ready for work.