Annie hates running. No matter how far she jogs, she can’t escape the guilt that if she hadn’t broken up with Kyle, he might still be alive. So to honor his memory, she starts preparing for the marathon he intended to race.
But the training is even more grueling than Annie could have imagined. Despite her coaching, she’s at war with her body, her mind—and her heart. With every mile that athletic Jeremiah cheers her on, she grows more conflicted. She wants to run into his arms…and sprint in the opposite direction. For Annie, opening up to love again may be even more of a challenge than crossing the finish line.
“Breathe, Annie, Breathe is an emotional, heartfelt, and beautiful story about finding yourself after loss and learning to love. It gave me so many feels. Her best book yet.” — Jennifer Armentrout, New York Times bestselling author of Wait for You
Six Months Until the Music City Marathon
As a kid, I had the worst mile time ever.
Our gym teacher made us run the mile a few times a year for something called the Presidential Fitness Test. I’d huff and puff and wonder why the hell President Bush cared how fast I could run laps around the playground. I always came in dead last.
Most of the boys could run a mile in eight or nine minutes. The girls usually came in around ten. And there I was, scooting in at over thirteen minutes. Truth be told, running bored the hell out of me. I’d rather have been doing word problems.
Today I’m running five miles along the Little Duck River. If I finish, this will be the farthest I’ve ever run. I know I’ll finish—there’s no way I can give up.
Because I’m doing this for him.
At mile 3.5, my running coach rides up next to me on his bike. Matt Brown is twenty-four and owns a program that trains people to run marathons. Some people on my team are running because it’s a life-long dream, some want to lose weight, and the others, like me, haven’t told anyone why they’re doing this.
“How’s it goin’, Annie?” Matt asks.
“Oo-kkay.” Great. The lack of air is making me stutter. I can’t breathe.
“You’re Jordan’s friend, right?”
If you consider the school’s new football coach my friend. “She s-signed me up for your program, y-yeah.”
He hops off his bike and pushes it along beside me. I can’t believe he walks as fast as I run. “You need anything? Water? Tylenol? Vaseline?”
He shrugs. “Yeah, for chafing. Are you having any issues?”
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a man would ask if I’m chafing. “No, thanks.”
I shuffle, one foot after the other, trying to run like Matt taught me at the beginning of today’s session. Keep my toes facing forward. Move my arms back and forth. Breathe in through my nose, out through my mouth. Pain pierces my side.
“What’s your pace so far today?”
I glance at my new watch, tempted to lie and say I’m doing nine-minute miles. “About twelve-minutes a m-mile.”
“Not bad. When you’re doing these long runs on the weekend, make sure you run your miles a minute slower than you usually do on your short runs.”
I can’t imagine going any more slowly than this, but I nod as Matt climbs back aboard his bike. “See you at the finish line.”
I must’ve accidentally inhaled glue or something when I signed up for the Music City Marathon.
I’m at 4.5 miles.
In through my nose, out through my mouth.
In through my nose, out through my mouth.
Point my toes.
Check my watch. I’ve slowed to a 14-minute mile. I’m going about as fast as that cloud, lazily inching across the blue sky. Half a mile to go.
A gorgeous woman with olive-toned skin and bouncy brown curls jogs up next to me, wearing a pink ID bracelet. Matt makes everybody on our team wear them so he can identify us and get in touch with our emergency contacts, just in case.
“Damn. Our coach is fine.”
“Maybe that’s the point,” I reply, sucking in a breath. “He trains us by making us chase after him.”
The lady chuckles. “You’re probably right.” She speeds up and within the minute, I can’t see her anymore. Not a surprise. Every time I start running, I get a great lead, but then it’s like a parachute opens behind me.
Swaying willow trees and trickling water lead me along the dirt path back toward my car, which is parked at the mouth of the Little Duck. Today’s run is peaceful, but not boring. Considering how much stuff I have to think about, like drinking the right amount of water, looking for mile markers and studying my watch, there’s not much time left to obsess about graduation, or college, or him.
Instead I can focus on this new CamelBak water-hydration device I’m wearing like a backpack. It kind of looks like a bong. I slip the plastic tube in my mouth and sip some water, pretending I’m taking a hit. Kyle would laugh at how ridiculous I’m being.
Stop thinking about him. Stop already.
Breathe in, breathe out.
I bet that when I start the longer distances this summer, running upwards of fifteen to twenty miles on a Saturday morning, I’ll have even more stuff to obsess over to distract me. Like chafing and Vaseline and continent-sized blisters.
One foot after the other. In through the nose, out through the mouth. I inhale the springy smell of dandelions. They dot the grass like gold coins.
“On your left!”
A boy streaks by me, running backwards. He settles directly in front of me and goes even faster. Wow, he has such vivid light blue eyes—I nearly lose my footing at the sight of them.
“Are you freaking kidding me?” I gasp.
He grins and slows to a jog. “What?”
I look for his pink bracelet, and finding none, I blurt, “You’re running faster than me and I’m going forwards!”
“So speed up then!”
What an ass.
“C’mon.” He tosses his head from side to side, acting like one of those macho guys on a cheesy exercise show. “Let’s go. Faster now. Work it out, girl! Let’s go.”
I flip him the bird. He throws his head back and laughs.
“Stop that!” I say.
“Stop what? Laughing at you?”
“Running backwards. It’s unsafe.”
“No it’s not. Besides, I have to. I’m training for the RC Cola Moon Pie ten-miler. I’m running it backwards this year.”
My mouth falls open. It shocks me that 1) he’s running a race backwards, 2) it’s named after RC Cola and Moon Pies, and 3) he’s running a ten-mile race more than one time.
The guy has messy light brown hair, seriously muscular arms and legs, and an outline of his abs peeks through his thin white Delta Tau Kappa tee. Is he in a frat?
Even though I usually can’t hear Southern accents, I notice his. One time when I was little, my mom, brother and I took a road trip to Chicago. Everywhere we stopped to eat, waitresses kept telling me I had the most darling accent. That’s how I know people in Tennessee have an accent even if I can’t hear it; it’s weird I can pick up on the twangy countryness in his voice.
He keeps shuffling backwards. Our eyes meet, then he checks me out. It’s been a while since a boy has straight up stared at me. His gaze trails over my long strawberry blond hair tied up in a ponytail, to my legs, and then settles on my pink bracelet. He smiles at it.
“See ya.” He increases his cadence, continuing in reverse. I glance down at my watch. I bet he’s running eight-minute miles. And he’s doing it fucking backwards.
Being pissed at Running Backwards Boy carries me for another couple minutes.
But soon I’m alone again. Just me and the sky. Kyle’s grin flashes in my mind.
A quarter mile more.
One foot after the other.
Breathe, Annie, breathe.