Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: A. J. Carey 

Heart thumping, feet pounding, and muscles burning. Atalanta breathes in the cold, fresh air, and all other thoughts leave her mind as she focuses only on one thing; the finish line. To outsiders, she is a bolt of lightning streaking down the track, leaving her competition in the dust. Atalanta bounds and leaps gracefully, footfalls beating in time with her heart. She keeps her eyes on the finish line just ahead. Triumphantly, she crosses the line as cheers and hollers erupt from the bleachers. This marks her twelfth win in a row, and she sure feels good about it. Her school track team has the highest winning streak yet, all thanks to her, and all the college recruiters know her name. 

“Nice one!” Ariadne exclaims, elbowing her in the rib. 

“Ow, hey that hurt!” 

“Oh, don’t be a baby. But anyway, did you hear that Jason broke up with Calliope?” 

Atalanta rolls her eyes. Ariadne, her childhood best friend, has always been boy-crazy. Recently, she’s been obsessed with Jason, the most popular kid on the track team. However, Atalanta can’t stand the sight of Jason. He is her biggest rival on the track team and he constantly claims how he will beat her record any day now. She hates his cocky attitude. He might be fast, but he’ll never be as fast as her. 

“Do you think maybe he’ll notice me now?” Ariadne murmurs, lost in thought. 

“Pull yourself together, Arie. He’s just a boy.” 

“A hot boy!” 

Jason saunters by with a group of his friends, laughing loudly and shoving his buddies around. Ariadne sighs and rests her hand on her chin. 

“How can such a beautiful person exist? Just look at his calves, his thighs, his back, and-” 

“Arie, there’s other people here!” 


“Well, I’ll leave you to your boy gazing. AP Chem is calling,” Atalanta grumbles. 

As she enters the long hallways leading to her chemistry class, none other than Jason slides in beside her. 

“Hey, how-” 

“Not. Interested.” 

“Aww, come on, you didn’t even let me say anything! Your parents clearly didn’t teach you manners, but it’s kinda rude to interrupt som-” 

“Leave me alone,” Atalanta says, rolling her eyes. 

“Why are you so dead set against me? Don’t you like what you see?” he asks, waggling his eyebrows and running a hand through his hair. Atalanta huffs in annoyance and turns to walk away. 

“Wait!” he says, grabbing her arm.  

“Let go, jerk!” she exclaims, yanking her arm away and stomping off to class.  

After school, Atalanta withdraws to her sanctuary; the gym. To stay strong for the track, she loves to cross-train in her free time. She pulls her custom golden airpods out of her bag, puts them in, grabs weights off of the rack and starts squatting. Gold is her lucky color, and almost everything she owns is gold. Her airpods are her most prized possession, since they have the power to make the outside world disappear. If Atalanta doesn’t have them with her, she can’t focus and her mind wanders.  

Jason makes his way to the track after school, thoughts running rampant. Atalanta is beautiful, and she has a fiery attitude that he just can’t resist. That means he will have to take on the challenge of getting her to like him. The question is, how can he do that when she seems to hate him? After stretching, he enters his refuge and sprints down the track. Running always clears his mind, and today he needs that more than ever. 

Atalanta enters school the next day with Ariadne by her side, as always. She glances around in apprehension, searching for Jason. 

“What?” Ariadne asks. 

“Nothing,” Atalanta answers, trying to make her face appear normal. 

Ariadne looks her up and down but doesn’t say anything as they go their separate ways. Atalanta lets out a sigh of relief when she enters her first class with no sign of Jason. When lunch comes around, she meets Ariadne and they sit down at their usual table. Atalanta glances around the cafeteria and grins when she can’t find Jason. 

“You look happy. Thinking about me?” an unwelcome voice says as Jason plops himself down next to her.  

“You need to find another place to sit.” 

Ariadne elbows her from underneath the table and gives her a look. 

“She’s right. You should come over here with me!” she exclaims, ignoring Atalanta’s kicks. 

“Umm, thanks?” 

“So, how are you?” Ariadne simpers. 

“I want to ask you something,” he says to Atalanta, ignoring Ariadne. 

“Ugh. Why won’t you just leave me alone?” 

“Oh, come on, can you at least hear him out?” Ariadne argues, glaring. 

Atalanta rolls her eyes but turns her attention to Jason. 

“Go out with me, just once. If you don’t like me, then you don’t have to go on anymore, but can’t you at least give me one shot?” 

“No, I’m focusing on me right now. I don’t want to go on a date with anybody, but especially not you.” 

“Aww, why not? Can’t you give a little, itty-bitty, measly chance? I’m sure you’ll have no issue with just one date.” 

“I have an issue with you not having the word no in your vocabulary.” 

“Fine, but at least think about it.” Atalanta and Ariadne share a look as he walks away. 

Jason pushes his hair out of his face as he sits down at his usual table. As he takes heaping mouthfuls of his mashed potatoes, he forms a plan. Maybe if he offers her something for a date, she will go out with him.  

After school, Atalanta enters the track and notices a group gathered around something by the bleachers. She pushes through the crowd to look. An elaborate poster with the words “Will you go out with me, Atalanta?” is taped to the railing. Next to the poster sits a vase with a dozen red roses. 

“Ugh! That stupid, freaking idiot!” Atalanta exclaims, clenching her fists with frustration. 

“Who put that there?” Pandora wonders aloud. 

“Me,” Jason answers, stepping through the group, holding another dozen roses. “Please go out with me. C’mon.”  

“Oh. You want to date her? No offense, but why?” Pandora asks with confusion and a hint of jealousy playing across her face. 

“Why?” inquires a bewildered Echo. 

“Fine! You know what? Let’s make a deal. If you can beat me in a 400-meter race, I’ll go on one date with you. I’ll even give you a head start!” 

“Great, it’s a de-” 

“I’m not finished. If you lose, then you have to wear the school mascot costume for a whole day. That includes a track meet! But since you say you’re going to beat my record any day now, this shouldn’t be an issue for you,” Atalanta says smugly, watching the realization set in his eyes. His friends have all heard him bragging about how he is faster than Atalanta. If Jason loses, a day of humiliation could cost him his popularity. 

Jason’s heart races as Atalanta walks away, not even giving him a second glance. Everyone surrounds him, clamoring about whether he can beat her. He pushes everyone away as Coach Artemis walks onto the field to start their cross-training. Although he is supposed to focus on the exercises, he can’t help but think about his predicament. He is determined to win this race, and will do anything to win. The only problem is that he can’t figure out how. 

The sweat drips into Atalanta’s eyes as she trains, but she doesn’t care. The victory bells in her head drown out the burning in her legs, and she is beaming from ear to ear. There is absolutely no way that Jason will even consider her offer, so she will finally have peace again.  

At 9:56 pm, she gets a text from an unknown number. 

its on  

Atalanta stares at her phone. She rubs her eyes and reads it again, but the words don’t change. Fine, if Jason wants a challenge, then she’ll just have to beat him. Easy peasy. 

Jason runs his hand through his hair as he sets down his phone. Atalanta hasn’t responded yet, and the stress is killing him. If she agrees, he’s going to have to come up with a plan. How can he slow her down or distract her? He can’t just put rocks in her shoes. His phone chimes and he anxiously flips it over to read the message. 

tomorrow at 4 dont tell anyone 

Jason has less than twenty-four hours to figure out what he’ll do, otherwise he’ll never hear the end of it. He stands up from his bed and pulls on his sneakers. Quietly opening the front door, he slips outside and glances at the time. The gym closes at midnight, so he hurries down the block, finding it almost empty. The only other person in there is Aphrodite, a girl from his English class. 

“Hey Jason!” she calls, waving him over. 

“I heard about the whole thing with Atalanta. Did you accept her offer?” she asks, wiping the sweat off of her forehead. 

Atalanta said not to tell anyone, but whatever. “Yeah, I did.” 

“Well, that was stupid.” 

“Thank you for that.” Jason rolls his eyes and turns to leave. He needs to be alone with his thoughts right now. 

“Wait, I didn’t mean it like that. What I mean is, Atalanta is the fastest runner in the whole school. There’s no way you can beat her.” 

“Yeah, I know, but it’s my only chance,” Jason answers, pivoting to face her. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do.” 

Aphrodite pauses for a minute, then sets her weights down. 

“Why do you want to go out with her? What are you hoping for?” 

“She’s the only girl who isn’t all over me all the time. I can’t take any of those other girls seriously. She’s different though. I just want a chance to see if it could work.” Jason slumps down on the bench and hangs his head. 

“Well, I have an idea…” 

Jason perks up and nods for her to continue.  

“Atalanta loves her golden airpods more than anything. If you can sneak those from her, then you can distract her with them.” 

Jason runs the idea through his head. It’s not like there are rules to a one-on-one race. That might work. “Ok, that has potential. Why are you helping me, though?” Jason looks suspiciously at her. 

“Hey, I don’t want anything. I just think all people should have a chance at true love! Know what? Meet me tomorrow after lunch. I’ll get them for you.” 

“Thank you so much. You’re the best!” Jason runs home, hope beginning to blossom in his chest.  

The next day, Atalanta enters school with a strange sense of calm. She knows she is faster than Jason and has an almost guaranteed win. Ariadne hurries over and starts talking about whether or not Jason will agree to a race, but Atalanta keeps her mouth shut. She doesn’t want anyone to know about the race, just in case. 


Jason waits impatiently for the clock to strike 1:15, and when it does, he raises his hand and asks to go to the restroom. He meets Aphrodite outside of the empty choir room as she hands him the shiny, gold case. 

“Did anyone see you?” 

“Not a soul,” Aphrodite grins. “I promise!” 

After gym, Atalanta changes quickly into her clothes and steps out of the shower room. She grabs her backpack and reaches in the front pocket for her airpods, but they aren’t there. Concerned, she checks her other pockets. The hard-to-miss case was nowhere to be found. She rechecks her locker, only to find an extra pair of gym clothes and sneakers staring back at her.  

“What’s wrong?” Ariadne asks, drying her hair. 

“I can’t find my airpods! I don’t know where I put them and I can’t focus without them!” Atalanta’s voice quivers as she runs around the locker room, checking every corner and crevice.  

Ariadne puts her towel down and helps her search. “Did you leave them anywhere? Can’t you find them on your phone?” 

Atalanta pulls out her phone and checks, but the airpods don’t show up. She begins to panic as she thinks about all of the places they could be. 

“Hey, take a deep breath. The school wi-fi sucks, so they probably haven’t updated yet. Let’s go look around. I’m sure we’ll find them!” Ariadne soothes the shaken Atalanta. 

Jason checks one last time to make sure he has the airpods in his pocket. Aphrodite’s attempt to turn off the find my airpods feature clearly worked, since they haven’t let out a sound.  A frazzled Atalanta enters the classroom, and Jason notices guiltily that she is fiddling with the hair tie on her wrist, clearly distracted. She drifts off several times in class, and she has a glazed over look on her face. When the last bell of the day rings, he gathers his things and hurries to the track. Atalanta meets him there and places her backpack down. 

“OK, here’s the deal. You get a twenty-meter head start because I’m nice. If you can make it around the whole track faster than me, I will go on a date with you. If I beat you, you wear the mascot for a day. Understood?” 

Jason nods. He walks up the track twenty meters and they both get into starting position.  

“Ready? 3, 2, 1… Go!” 

Jason sprints as fast as he can, trying his best to stay ahead of her. His feet move faster than ever before, and he takes deep breaths to calm his shaking nerves. As Atalanta begins to catch up, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out one of the airpods. 

“Catch,” he shouts, tossing one of the golden aipods into the air. He hears an audible gasp from Atalanta as she notices the glint of gold streaking through the air. Jason sees her slow down to catch it, anger playing on her face as she realizes what it is. Jason readies the second airpod as she begins to catch up with him for a second time. When she reaches an uncomfortable distance to him, Jason tosses the second one over his shoulder.  

“Need this?” he taunts, while continuing to sprint. 

Although she yells for him to stop, he doesn’t listen. He barrels down the track, creating more space between the two of them. As he reaches the final straightaway, Atalanta catches up to him one last time.  

“Thought you might want the case!” he calls, tossing it high into the air. He crosses the finish line, hollering, with a furious Atalanta on his heels. 

Atalanta clutches her precious airpods in her hand as she stalks over to him, her vision blurring in the corners from waves of anger. 

“So, are you free Friday night?”  

Atalanta slaps him as hard as she can, and he crumples, his cheek flushing red. 

“Cheater!” she yells accusingly. 

“You didn’t have to slow down to catch them, so it doesn’t count as cheating.” 

 “I’m not going on a date with a dirty cheater!” Atalanta kicks him in the side for good measure and walks away. 

Jason glares at the retreating Atalanta, holding his sore cheek and aching ribs. He won that date fair and square, so she has to go out with him. After all, she gave her word! All he has to do is tell other students that he won and she is going back on her word, and everyone will despise her.  

He grabs his phone and pulls up the group chat with all of his friends. But before he types up a message, he pauses. Even though he won, it just doesn’t feel right. He doesn’t want to be that guy, and punishing her because she doesn’t want to date him is even worse. Jason sighs and puts away his phone. He needs to make it right, and he knows exactly how to do it. 

Ariadne runs up to Atalanta, shaking her head. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me!” 

“Tell you about what?” 

“That you raced Jason! Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about.” 

“Wait, what did Jason say? What’s going on?” 

Ariadne points to a small crowd gathered around a big, brown, furry horse suit. Atalanta runs over and pushes through the group, Ariadne close behind. 

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asks, staring in bewilderment at the hideous school mascot costume.  

Jason pulls off the tacky Trojan horse head. “I cheated,” he says. “You’re way faster than me. You would’ve won if I hadn’t cheated, and I’m really sorry.” 

People began pulling out their phones and taking pictures, but Jason kept standing there, holding the horse’s head under his arm. 

“Apology accepted, but I’m still not going out with you.” 

Later at the track meet, Atalanta lines up for the last race of the day. The coach had refused to let Jason race in the mascot costume, but he was going to and it made for some good laughs. His friends had poked fun at him all day, but it all seemed to be in good spirits. Atalanta invited him to join her at lunch, and all of his friends ended up migrating to her table. Ariadne seemed to be in heaven with the number of attractive boys surrounding her, and Atalanta enjoyed the laughter and noise that accompanied them. Jason had insisted on sitting next to her, cracking jokes and joining in on gossip. Atalanta secretly enjoyed it, even though she would never tell Jason. Maybe he isn’t so bad after all…  

The starter’s gun fires, jolting her out of her thoughts, and Atalanta flies down the track. Heart thumping, feet pounding, and muscles burning. 

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