"Are you sure you want to do that ?”, asked Ondine for the umpteenth time, looking down at Kim's squatting figure next to her.
Indeed, he was curled up on himself and was firmly tie his laces. The challenge he was about to do had begun earlier this week.
While they had walked the streets of the city and had seen a runner with expensive sneakers on the poster of a pub stuck on a bus stop, Kim had again boasted of his capabilities for the race with Ondine because "pfff, I don’t need these big shoes to be the fastest in Paris". Of course, the redhead had only half believed, as evidenced by her little head movement accompanied by her amused smile. Vexed, the sportsman had decided to prove to her that he was telling the truth. And what's better than turning that into a bet ?
The rules were simple : Ondine would go by subway. And Kim on the run. From the Louvre to the Place d'Italie. Whoever arrives first in front of the fountain wins.
Ondine's only difficulty with her subway trip was that she had to take a connection and not take Line 7 – which was a direct route. Otherwise it would be too easy and she would win in advance.
She should take Line 1 towards Château de Vincennes, then change to Bastille to take line 5 and stop at Place d'Italie. So, it would take about 25 to 30 minutes by subway if all went well. While Kim had calculated the distance time : If he walked quietly, his route would take him 50 minutes. But Kim wouldn’t walk. He was going to run. And the boy would run fast, so you could compare his speed to that of a bike. As a result, his time would be halved and he would travel the distance in just 25 minutes.
Their times were about equal, so it was playable.
And now, they were here on a misty Saturday afternoon, posted next to a metro entrance, waiting to begin their foolish challenge.
“I’ve never been so sure of my life.”, he replies, switching to his other shoe.
While she was in her thoughts and she crossed her arms behind her as a sign of timidity, Ondine smiled with a mischievous air – despite her cheeks that took on an adorably pink hue, and sank a glance towards him.
“So… do you want a good-luck kiss ?”, she teased as her heart beat faster.
But Kim stood up at once, resting his fists on his hips, while a confident smile stretched his lips and his gray eyes twinkled with determination as he crossed her eyes.
"No need for luck. You will see that my abilities are real. I already won the inter-college tournament last year, remember ? So this course will be a breeze.”
Ondine blinked, disconcerted by the assurance of her boyfriend who was so focused on the race to not consider that she offered him a implied kiss. She smiled awkwardly as the hope in her heart was slightly deflated. It was Kim, after all : there were times when he did not really grasp the subtlety of things. Or he had only listened to half of what she had said and only retaining the word "luck ". Yes, it was very likely that this is the second possibility.
"My train arrives in two minutes ; I should go there.”, she says after consulting her phone. She put her phone in her bag and said, "Well, I'm waiting for you in front of the fountain, then !”, as she greeted him with a wave of her hand.
"Yeah yeah, get smart with me, Ondine.”, Kim laughs. "I'd prove you that I'm right."
"That's what we are going to see.”, she concluded in a wink.
Then the redhead disappeared on the stairs of the subway. Kim looked down at the watch on his wrist, whose two-minute counter was decreasing second by second. He closed his eyelids, jumped on the spot to warm up, then set in position : the fingers placed on both sides on the ground, one leg stretched behind him while the second was folded, buttocks slightly raised in height. He ignored the intrigued and confused glances of passers-by around him. Eyelids closed, he took a breath, released his overflowing air, re-opened his eyes as gray as sharp in front of him, then waited.
His watch emitted two distinct beeps and the athlete burst into the air, sliding his soles on the asphalt. When the wind gently stroked her face, Kim had a good feeling and allowed herself a confident smile.
On her side, Ondine let the last people go down on the platform and went up in the wagon. Despite the few seats that were available, the redhead strategically chooses to stand beside the doors. In this way, she would be able to get out as quickly as possible and access the other tunnel.
The stations run at the same rate as the doors open and close. Although she has her headphones in the ears and the sound at a decent level to hear the lyrics of her music, the squeak of the wagon on the rails twists her eardrums and makes her cringe. She has lived in Paris for years and uses public transport, but she can never fully get used to this kind of noise.
Once the stop "Bastille" reached, the train slowed and Ondine takes a step forward to be in front of the doors. She glances at her mobile phone and finds that she is on time.
The door of the wagon opens automatically to vomit his passengers, and the redhead starts running again. She hurries to run in the corridors, avoiding and doubling other users, to catch her next subway. When she hears the sound of her train ringing earlier in the corridors, her heart misses a beat and she starts down the stairs, hoping to get it on time. But once on the pier, she is forced to watch, helplessly, the departure of the train that sinks inside the tunnel at the other end of the wharf.
A woman's voice then announces that the next train is in three minutes, and Ondine slams her tongue to the palace.
"Shit... !”, she pleads to herself.
Frustrated at having to wait and waste precious time, she ran her hands over her face and short strands, trying to calm her nerves. Damn, at this rate, Kim was going to win. She imagined him almost doubling her own subway, and this thought snatches her a brief smile. The scariest thing was that this idiot is quite capable to do it...
Her green eyes fixed on the train, which stopped in a scream as horrible as it was deafening, she was selfishly begging for Kim to be slowed down by piles of red light, and a monster crowd to slow down his extraordinary speed.
Once supported against the window of the wagon that would lead to victory, the redhead can’t help but tremble anxiously her leg watching the stone wall scroll at a crazy speed. Let’s hope that she arrives before Kim despite the slight delay she took. She knew from experience through swimming that every second counted. That's why she couldn’t afford to hang out once out at her station. And although it was not as excessive as him, she also had the spirit of competition.
Especially that, apart from the simple pride of being right, the loser will have to pay for each other's new accessories for their respective sports :
So if Ondine wins, she could have a swimsuit that would unleash her full potential, more powerful glasses, and maybe even the green-turquoise bath towel with flamingo motifs on which she had flashed a few weeks ago.
And if Kim won, he would have the right to the full panoply of the perfect runner ; an undershirt that perfectly sculpted his muscles, a pair of light shorts that exposed his thighs, a cotton cuff for his wrist, and if she was generous, maybe she would take sneakers that were even more comfortable than the ones he owned already.
Soon, the stations "Quai de la Rapée", "Gare d'Austerlitz", "Saint-Marcel", and "Campo Formio" gave way to the long-awaited station : "Place d'Italie".
As soon as she was released from the train, the redhead hurried off the platform, climbed the steps two by two, passed the turnstile with a sudden movement that earned her the outraged look of a little old woman, and ran quickly in the corridors to take the stairs two by two. Once outside, in the open air, she didn’t have time to catch her breath and rushed on the first pedestrian crossing she saw.
"Come on, faster... faster...", she mumbles in her breath.
As she skirted a lot of people in a quick step and mechanically apologized when her broad shoulders jostled the others' handbags, Ondine glanced up at the trees and the fountain that spat out her jet water in the center of the square, hoping not to see a red hoodie.
But her prayers were unfortunately not heard, since at the arrival of the iron enclosure that bordered the park, her green eyes caught the red garment and the blonde lock of his competitor a few meters from the central fountain. Her infernal rhythm stops dead, just as her steps creak on the gravel. She does her best to catch her breath. Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth, swallow, and so-and-so.
When she sees him shaking his arm with a huge smile in her direction, she still doesn’t believe it. Kim had won. Her shoulders sag and a bittersweet fragrance floats in the air. Despite the result, she closes her eyelids and greets the victory of her boyfriend with a proud smile.
Joining him, the smile on her face froze when she noticed that he was limping slightly and had the side of his head stained with blood. She gasps, instinctively putting her hands to her mouth to avoid screaming in horror.
"Kim ! Oh my god, what happened ?!”, she asks as she raises her fingers and hesitates to touch the wound in his head.
"Oh, I got hit by a car. Nothing serious.", he replies as if he were telling her that he had been buying a wand at the baker's.
"What ?”, she lets go of her lips.
"Yeah, that was crazy. I was running on the sidewalk but the traffic light in front of me went red, so I went – because I did not want to waste time, do you understand ?, but a car arrived and hit me. I roll on a meter or two. But I felt good, so I continued to chart my way.", he says, proudly bulging his chest, his fists on his hips.
“Usually, it’s the cars that make hit-and-runs offence when they overthrow a person, not the other way around...", Ondine managed to answer in an Olympian calm that surprised her herself.
"I know !”, Kim continued, extending his arms, "But I didn’t have time to stop or wait for help to examine me ! I shouted "I'm in a hurry, sorry !” And then I left. I think it was the adrenaline that kept me going all the way. I even think I was in the Zone. Ah, but now that I'm at rest, my leg starts to hurts and - oh my god, you hid me that you could using the multiclonage.” he says before tilting his body to one side and squinting his eyes. "You're not akumatized one more time, are you ?"
Ondine sighs and gently takes his hand in hers to squeeze it in comfort. For him or for her, she didn’t know too much. She crosses his gray eyes which examines her with a dubious look and shakes her head, tired.
"No, I'm not re-akumatized, Kim.”, she answers before making a move towards the fountain. "Come on, come over there : we'll chill out a moment."
They landed on the stone outline of the fountain, which spewed its water in a throbbing sound. Once seated, she immediately took her bottle of water from her backpack and a handkerchief to soak the tissue and dried blood on Kim's temple. Except for the small start in contact with the cold water on his wound, the latter didn’t flinch and let himself go. After checking the result, the redhead asked him to hold a new handkerchief soaked in water against his wound - in case the wound would re-open, then get up.
"Don’t move.”, she ordered away, hand raised while the other pulled out her mobile phone. "I will call the helpers to take care of you."
While on the phone, part of her mind is aware that Kim – with his arm still raised to hold her handkerchief to the side of her forehead, watches her pacing. When she hangs up and approaches her boyfriend to sit next to him, he lowers his arm and puts the tissu next to his thigh.
"They arrive.”, replied Ondine at the sight of his questioning gaze. "You drank your bottle of water, by the way ?"
"Fifteen minutes after my departure.”, he informs, nodding his head.
Ondine acquiesces in a "good”, then dig into her backpack to get out a cereal bar.
"Here. For you to regain strength."
Eyebrows arched in astonishment, Kim blinked at the snack she was giving her.
"What about you ? You don’t want it ? It's yours, nah ?”, he asks.
"I already ate it on my way.”, she lied, shaking her head. "But I thought of taking several just in case."
"Oh.”, he answers simply, before gently smiling at the candy. "Thanks, Ondine. You're awesome."
She then watches him open the package and chew in the cereal bar to store the piece in his cheeks as if he were a hamster. His gaze softened at the sight of the young man who seemed happy to have something sweet to put in his mouth, no more shocked than that to have had an accident.
"You're really an idiot... do you know that ?”, she blows.
Kim throws a glance at her, and she notices at that moment that his features stretch with an amused air.
"There must be one who has everything in the muscles and nothing in the brain !”, he jokes.
But that did not make Ondine laugh, who looked at him with pursed lips and a frown. Seeing that she had just disappointed, Kim swallows what he has in the mouth and shamefully drops the eyes at the same time that his shoulders collapse. Using his thumb, he triturates the paper from his cereal bar with a slight noise.
"Sorry...", he mumbles. "I know very well that I do not have much in my head but that's the only way I can draw attention to myself. I prefer to be stupid and take everything lightly rather than being serious."
"Hey.”, she called, banging her elbow gently against her boyfriend's blank.
She crosses his gray eyes, the edges of which were slightly slanted - a detail she loved so much, then smiled reassuringly.
"You don’t have to show off or do the interesting thing to get noticed. I mean, it doesn’t bother me ; I think you're awesome enough and funny to appreciate that side of you. And for having seen you at work, I know how fast and enduring you are. It's just that... ", she said, shrugging her shoulders,"... when you brag too often, you have a hard time showing modesty or restraining yourself when you want to do the clown for example. And it tends to annoy others."
Then Ondine was silent, giving him time to digest what she had just said. She turns her attention back to her backpack to catch her bottle of water again, and open it to take several sips that instantly made her feel good.
Hands resting on his thighs, Kim looks down at his shoes, staring at his outstretched legs without actually seeing them. He stays silent for two solid minutes, occasionally raising his protein bar to bite in and chew it.
"I'm sorry, Ondine.”, he finally said as he tossed the empty paper of his treat into his fist. "I promise you that I will make an effort for my oversized ego."
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ondine's hand making his way to hers and gently taking it to intertwine his fingers. Looking up at her, he saw that she gave him a proud and confident look at once, slightly pink cheeks.
"I know you'll get there."
And then, just as gently, she leans towards him and kisses him in the corner of his mouth. While he is vaguely aware that his ears are heating against his will, Kim feels stupidly smiling at the small gesture of affection.
His mind naturally thought of words of love that bubbled in his chest, words of love that immediately went up in his throat, and pricking his tongue, ready to go out. Despite his discomfort that remained on his colorful cheekbones, Ondine looked at him in expectation, as if to encourage him to speak. However, Kim's brain blocked the routing with other facts and made him say something else :
"It's me who won."
The redhead fluttered her eyes as she descended to Earth and gave him a disillusioned disbelieving look.
Seeing the tender look Kim had given her just before, she was sure he was going to say something sweet, but that's clearly not what she expected. Was his brain derailed at the last moment ? The boy continued his explanations, not in the least disturbed by the confusion of his girlfriend.
"The bet.", he says. "In the end, I was faster than you. Even if you took the transports..."
"I ...", hesitates Ondine, still partially lost, before approving the facts by shrugging her shoulders. "Yes. I missed my connection."
At this answer Kim hummed thoughtfully while leaning his head slightly to one side, his eyes absently raised to the sky.
"We could have arrived at the same time.”, he thinks aloud.
"It's very likely, yes.”, she agrees calmly.
Kim continued on his way.
"I'll have to update my picture of victories..."
The redhead watched a dog waddling proudly as he walked on the gravel while his master quietly followed him. She gently tightened her hold on Kim's moist hand before making a comment.
"It was still really stupid bet."
"No more stupid than the time I had to go around the pool gym in the middle of the winter just wearing my swimsuit to prove to you that idiots could catch cold !”, retorted the sportsman while coughing a laugh.
Her lips curled in an amused smile as she nodded slightly, remembering this precious – and oh so absurd – memory.
She then heard Kim take a long breath.
"Ahh !”, he sighs openly. "To be honest, I would have liked to go to the sports shop to buy my new racing equipment directly after our challenge..."
He had a slight, disappointed pout, and while she was going to wonder at the fact that he had been confident at this point, his attention was attracted to something else: between the trees, she could see the blue beacons as well as the Ambulance van park on the edge of the roundabout, at the park entrance. She closed her eyelids and smiled.
"Well, we'll go next time.”, she says, standing up. "Your carriage has arrived."
"Where ?”, he wanted to know, leaning over to the side, as if she could have hidden the help behind her.
"Over there.”, replied the redhead pointing the officers down the stairs and heading towards them.
While turning his head mechanically to the left, Ondine glanced at his forehead and found that the dried blood had already been removed thanks to the handkerchief and the water she had given him a little earlier. The wound did not look very deep ; he was probably going to have to do a medical scan to make sure he didn’t have a brain injury, as well as having a forced rest because of his limping leg, but otherwise, Kim should be able to get away with it.
He is a strong boy. Obnubilate by bets as dangerous as idiots, certainly, but she will not trade for anything in the world.
All she was hoping for was that he should be more careful in future challenges.