By: Kivrin Wilson

For a few seconds, I actually forgot about all of the garbage that’s weighing on me, trying to crush me—this ugly, unresolved issue with Mia being just a part of it. It’d be great if I could turn back time and freeze that moment, bookmark it, and return to it whenever I needed to.

The timer on Mia’s phone chimes. Walk’s over. She reaches across herself to tap the screen strapped to her arm, and then we start jogging.

I have to take it easy when I’m running with her. She’s in great shape, and she’s not slow, but when I’m by myself I usually do about one mile per hour faster than she does. So I hang back and let her set the pace.

Three Oaks is one of our favorites. Its woodland trail is low-impact and great for running, winding through what feels more like natural wilderness than a manicured and manufactured park. The farther into it we go, away from the traffic and bustle of the surrounding suburban sprawl, the denser and more lush the vegetation and the louder the quiet grows. The peace and silence covers the landscape like a canopy, amplifying the birdsong in the trees and the rustling of small animals in the bushes.

All these trees even makes the air smell almost clean. Just almost, though. It’s still Southern California, after all.

“Anything else interesting happen last night?” Mia asks casually.

I’m kind of wishing she wouldn’t talk—being chatty is a chore today—but at least answering her questions about work doesn’t require much effort.

“A pediatric appendicitis case. Teenage suicide attempt. Only one trauma case, a stabbing. Not serious. No GSWs.” My shifts are always better when there are no gunshot wounds. I hate gunshot wounds. I have nightmares about gunshot wounds.

“Slow night then?”

“Relatively speaking.” I’ve never figured out how to explain to her what working in the ER is really like without sounding like a gargantuan crybaby. If I do mention the pressure, the workload, or the almost constant, nagging fear of screwing up, then I never tell her exactly how bad it is. I chose this career, and I don’t need or want anyone’s sympathy—not even Mia’s. Especially not Mia’s.

Dirt and gravel crackle beneath our slapping shoes. My heart is pumping faster, my breathing still calm and even. Ahead of us, a red squirrel scurries up a tree. We’ve reached the part of the trail where it slopes gently up toward a pond that marks the first mile of our route.

Before we get that far, another runner comes barreling down toward us. He’s your run-of-the-mill gym monkey: veiny biceps, wife-beater shirt, bulging thighs straining the seams of his short tights, sun-bleached hair, and a grilled-hot-dog tan.

Mia moves over in front of me to give him room, and he zeroes in on her as he approaches, slowing down and leering at her the way only a dude who thinks he’s hot shit can do. When he looks behind her and meets my eyes, though, his expression shutters, and he seems to shoot past us in a hurry.

I’m not really sure what he saw in my face, but I guess it wasn’t pretty. I can’t help it. Mia’s not my girlfriend, but he didn’t know that. It’s so goddamn aggravating when I’m out in public with her and other guys blatantly check her out or, even worse, actually hit on her.

“What did you do yesterday?” I ask as she falls back in beside me, because it redirects the topic away from myself. And because it makes me feel more normal and less like I’m running next to a stranger.

“Nothing, really.” Her voice sounds calm, not even a little winded. “Paige called. They found out the sex of the new baby.”

I wait for her to elaborate. Mia has two siblings. Her brother, Cameron, is four years younger and about to graduate from Stanford with a bachelor’s in computer science. Paige, who lives in San Diego, is the oldest at twenty-nine, an attorney who’s married with two kids and pregnant with the third one. Their mom, Gwen, is also a lawyer, and then there’s Mia’s dad. Frank Waters is an anesthesiologist with over thirty years of experience, Vice-President of Medical Staff at a university hospital, emeritus professor—and the most intimidating guy I’ve ever met.

To me, Mia’s family is…incomprehensible. Before I met her, I didn’t even know families like hers existed outside of TV sitcoms. They’re tight-knit, loving, and supportive. Sure, they’ll fight and have issues with each other, but that stuff never shakes the foundation. In every way that matters, they’re perfect. And yeah, I’m envious. If our childhoods were mythical characters, hers would be Santa Claus while mine was the monster under the bed.