Three times a week, Tamsin took ninety minutes for lunch so that she could go for a run with Matilda. The other days she ate at her desk, to show she wasn’t slacking, and she also made up extra time by staying late after work.
Three times a week, though, she went downstairs just after two, once the rush of other people having their lunchbreak had ended, and the pavements were a little emptier. She changed into shorts and a running top, and pulled on a hoodie, and walked two blocks to the building Matilda worked in carrying a bottle of water. Matilda’s building had showers in the bathrooms, and lockers on the ground floor for cyclists, so it was easier to meet and run from there.
Usually Matilda was waiting, and usually they stretched in a courtyard underneath Matilda’s office, and then Tamsin left her hoodie and water in a locker, and they ran.
And usually, just before they started, Matilda said, “Same as always?”
And Tamsin nodded, and smiled, and said, “Of course.”
“If I catch you…” Matilda said, making sure.
“You can have me, yep,” Tamsin said, and grinned, and began to run.
Matilda could have Tamsin if she caught her. It was a joke, except that it wasn’t. It was actually completely serious.
Tamsin had always been secretly excited by the thought of saying that to someone, because it was such a reckless, sensual thing to say. And she had always wanted to, as well, because she knew that not a lot of people could catch up with her, running through the central city during the day.
Around the city, Tamsin was fast. She liked running in the city. She wasn’t a steady-paced runner. She couldn’t do marathons, or ever hope to win middle-distance races, and she didn’t do fun-runs for charity unless someone made her. Parks exhausted her, and big open suburbs did too, because she had nothing much to think about as she ran, and it always seemed to take too long to get to the next tree or corner or road crossing, whatever her next marker of distance was, and that seemed to upset her focus and make her tire more quickly. Around the city, though, she was quick. She was fast and deft and agile. She felt heroic, felt like sprinter, dashing past people, weaving through pedestrians and cars, avoiding obstacles, and guessing where traffic was going to be when she got there. She felt fitter and faster, running through the city, jumping over curbs and low fences, going up and down steps and through courtyards and then, once she was a bit tired, down around the harbour and along the touristy waterfront all open and free and fast. She felt faster, in the city, and that made her run better, and she felt safer, too, around other people. So she ran in the city, and felt smugly confident of her ability, and had become quietly proud of herself.
Then she’d started running with Matilda at lunchtimes, and during one run, as they rested down on the point behind the botanic gardens as far from the city as they could go, Matilda had tried to kiss her. Matilda had leaned over, and closed her eyes, and it was obvious what she had planned to do, and so Tamsin had kissed back, all hot and sweaty and puffing. She’d kissed back, and slid her hand down Matilda’s arm, down slippery warm skin, and touched Matilda’s neck, and tasted her mouth. And then, feeling brave and daring and reckless, feeling hyped up from the sheer joy of running fast, she’d said, “If you can catch me you can have me.”
And then she’d run off.
Because she had always wanted to do that. And because she liked Matilda. And because it was probably good for both their running to make it a challenge of some kind, and set goals, too, although she hadn’t really thought of that when she did it.
She had run off, and run seriously, as fast as she could, trying not to be caught, and Matilda had chased her, as fast as she could, but hadn’t managed to catch up. Not that day, and not the next time, either, or the time after, when Tamsin had said it again. Matilda hadn’t caught Tamsin in three weeks of trying, although they had kissed again, now and then. Matilda didn’t manage to until one lunchtime when Tamsin got a cramp in her calf as they came up the steep paths through the botanic gardens in the cool shade of the trees. Tamsin had stopped, wincing, and Matilda had tagged her, put her hand on Tamsin’s arm, and then held on.
“Doesn’t count,” Tasmin had said, gasping.
“Does so. You stopped.”
“Nope,” Tasmin said, still panting.
But Matilda had just grinned, quietly confident, and kept insisting it counted. And so Tamsin had decided it did, because of that quiet confidence. And because she had been teasing Matilda for long enough. So when the cramp had faded, when she’d rubbed it out, she kissed Matilda gently. And Matilda had kissed her back, there in the botanic gardens, under the shady trees, on a concrete path still damp from an earlier watering, quiet and still and private in the middle of the busy city.
They had kissed for a long time there, and then later, after work, they had gone to Matilda’s and had sex, and that had been where that little game ended, and where it had started, too, because now that seemed to be how they worked.
Now Matilda ran with Tamsin three times a week, and every so often, once a week or so, Tamsin let Matilda catch her, and then they had sex in the showers at Matilda’s work, and Tamsin went back to her office tingly and happy, and everyone asked if she’d had a good run, and she just said yes she had, because what else could she say.
Now they ran, and that was them. They ran in long loops through the city, running how Tamsin liked, because she tended to be slightly pushier at corners, or quicker to decide what traffic lights were doing, and so always seemed to pick their route. They ran among the new glass towers and old sandstone buildings of the central city, old and new all mixed together, side by side. They ran down laneways, and steep flag-stoned streets leading towards the water, and through pedestrian-only malls. They ran down towards the ferry terminals, and then back up again, circling, changing direction as traffic and red lights and clumps of pedestrians forced them too. Tamsin knew the city fairly well and could keep track of where they were, and was able to catch glimpses of the harbour and bridge down below them, and the tower above them, which helped her find her way. She kept track of where they were, and turned aside, before they ran all the way down to George Street, because it was a bit too crowded to run on easily, and began to climb back towards Hyde Park instead.
That day they happened to turn aside before the park, and reach the top of the climb at Macquarie Street instead. They stopped for traffic across the road from parliament and the hospital, and Tamsin gasped, “More?”
They went along Macquarie Street and cut between the two halves of the state library, and then out into the domain, running out of the noise and sharp-edged clamour of city and into the grass and trees and playing fields, full of office workers taking late lunches like them. It was almost a relief to be out of the echoing buildings, Tamsin thought, and went a little faster. They crossed the domain quickly, and cut past the front of the art gallery to cross the freeway, and then made their way down through the botanic gardens, weaving along narrow shaded pathways. As soon as they were through the garden’s gates, the air suddenly seemed to smell of wet earth rather than car exhaust, as if somehow the cool still air was trapped in a hollow by the trees and slope and held there, waiting for them.
They ran down the steep hill to the waterfront, and along it, towards Lady Macquarie’s Chair, weaving through walkers and tourists and other runners. It was quieter this late in the afternoon, and there were fewer people around. Tamsin didn’t need to have all her attention on where she was going, now. She could look around a little more. There was only a waist-high stone wall between them and the harbour, and ferries and yachts floated out on the sea. It was nice. It was good to look around at things, and see scenery, now that she was a little tired.
Halfway along the headland, where a flight of stairs went up a low cliff, Tamsin glanced at Matilda. A lot of people ran up and down those steps for an extra workout, and they sometimes did too.
“Nope,” Matilda gasped. “Not today.”
So Tamsin grinned, and kept going along the flat.
The reached the point, and passed groups of tourists taking photos, and went around a slight corner, and up a flight of steps, to Lady Macquarie’s Chair. The Chair was an old seat, in a hidden angle of rock beneath a large fig tree, all shaded and cool and secret.
Tamsin stopped in the shade, and bent over, breathing hard, and there Matilda finally caught up, and grabbed Tamsin’s arm.
“Caught you,” Matilda said, like she always did.
Tamsin smiled, and shook her head, panting.
“I did,” Matilda said.
“Doesn’t count,” Tamsin gasped, like the first time. “I stopped.”
“Nope,” Matilda said. “You’re still caught.”
She left her hand on Tamsin’s arm, holding on as they both panted, caressing, her fingers sliding in Tamsin’s sweat, sliding in a way that reminded them both of fingers sliding other places, at other times, all wet and warm and slippery. Matilda stroked, and Tamsin shivered, and they both watched Matilda’s hand.
“I’m not caught,” Tamsin whispered.
“Yeah you are.”
“I’m so not.”
“And I really don’t care,” Matilda said.
She pushed Tamsin up against the rock wall. Pushed, and held her there. She kissed Tamsin’s neck, and then licked it, like she often did. Licked the dampness, where Tamsin had been sweating.
“Yuk,” Tamsin said.
“I like you that way,” Matilda said, and slid her hand into the front of Tamsin’s shorts.
“You can’t,” Tamsin whispered, and grabbed Matilda’s wrist, looking around. This was new. Usually they just kissed while they ran, and then had sex in the showers.
“No-one can see us,” Matilda said.
Tamsin looked out across the harbour. “Except like a million people in houses right over there.”
“They aren’t looking.”
“They probably are.”
“Our clothes are on, and we’re a long way away.”
“So do you care? When they can’t really see anything. Mostly just us kissing.”
“I suppose,” Tamsin said. “But right here? Isn’t it sacrilege or something…?”
“Against fireworks displays?”
Tamsin grinned, and glanced around again. They were hidden, she supposed, right up against the rock face, and out of sight of the path they’d just been running on. It was quiet, right now. There was no-one else nearby. She could hear tourists talking down by the water, and more voices up above them, at the pie cart. She could hear people all around, but she couldn’t actually see anyone, not right now, so she supposed they were safe enough. If someone came up the steps, or around the corner of the fig, they’d just be standing there, close together, but hopefully not being especially obvious.
“You can’t,” Tamsin said, trying one last time. “And I need a shower.”
“You don’t need a shower.”
“I really do. I always do.”
“And like I told you. I like you sweaty.”
Tamsin sighed, and gave up. She looked at Matilda fondly, tenderly, and then started to kiss her. She kissed, and opened her mouth, and felt Matilda’s warm body press against hers. She felt Matilda’s fingers pressing against her, inside her, and she moved her own hand and slid it into Matilda’s shorts.
They kissed, and rubbed each other, and after a moment Tamsin was lost. She closed her eyes and pressed her face against Matilda’s shoulder and hoped desperately that no-one came along right then.
She felt Matilda’s touch and skin and slippery warm shoulder. She felt Matilda’s body, wanting hers, and was sharply, wetly excited like she always was. She shifted her feet, pulling Matilda’s hand against herself more, and breathing in the hot familiar smell of Matilda’s skin. She licked, despite making a fuss earlier, tasting the saltiness of Matilda’s sweat. She held Matilda, and felt Matilda, and then, quite suddenly, she came. She came, just like that, biting her lip to make herself not cry out, as tourists bought pies and took photos ten steps away from her. She came, and her knees almost gave out, and she felt Matilda’s fingers stop moving against her, and just press gently, the way she liked as she finished.
She came, and then opened her eyes, and kissed Matilda again, and then began rubbing Matilda fast, getting her off as quickly as she could, before they were caught, and before they cooled down too much to run as well. She rubbed Matilda, all the while looking around, and soon Matilda came too. And somehow they didn’t get caught, either, which was very good as well.
Matilda finished, and let go of Tamsin, and then they both stepped back. They stood there for a moment, and smiled at each other, and then Tamsin kissed Matilda quickly and started to run again, slowly. Jogging, on shaky legs, and with tired breath, happy and exhausted and quite surprised by her own bravery as they climbed their way back up to the city.