RATED NC17: For mild profanity and love between two members of the same sex.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: A big nod to Wolfie, who continues to be an inspiration for this story and to Jan, for her valuable beta reading. Thanks you guys.
Elish woke from her slumber feeling well rested and immediately worried at the time. It was light outside; she must have set the alarm on her mobile phone incorrectly. Grabbing the device she checked the time. 7.30am. Frowning, it took a few moments for her brain to register the reason for sleeping in. It was a rest day, no running. Slumping back onto her mattress El blew out a relieved breath. She had deliberately set the alarm for later to avoid giving into the temptation of running despite it being a designated day of rest in her training programme. The urge to over train at this stage was very strong with race day quickly approaching. Elish had been feeling the first tell tale tingles as she considered what lay ahead in three weeks time. Right now it was anticipation, as race day approached she hoped to avoid too much anxiety, it tended to drain her reserves. Any hiccups now could make a big difference to her plans come race day.
Not bothering to shed her sleep wear El pulled a pair of heavy cotton jogging bottoms over her shorts and added a warm sweatshirt on top of her T-shirt. Pulling on a pair of sports socks, she made her way downstairs where she selected a pair of running shoes from her extensive collection, taking her usual perch on the bottom of the stairs she tied the laces. Finally grabbing two sets of keys she opened her front door and walked the long way around to her neighbours cottage. She didn’t want to tempt falling flat on her face as she vaulted the fence between their properties since her body hadn’t fully woken up yet.
El used one set of keys to open her neighbour’s front door. It had been ten days since Mrs Fitzgibbon had been officially discharged from hospital and things were going reasonably well. They had gotten into an efficient morning routine, where El fed Tac and Mrs F, then went back to her own cottage to shower and have breakfast while they ate. She would return before she left for work to make sure Mrs Fitzgibbon had everything she needed until at least lunchtime, when the person on the rota for that day would come by to help with lunch. It was certainly a difficult time for her neighbour, not only having to cope with the pain and lack of mobility after surgery, the woman was finding it tough having to rely on others for the first time in her life. Not that Mrs F was ungrateful at all, Elish had found the woman to be quite the opposite, and had nothing but gratitude and praise for the people who came by to assist her. It was more to do with her continued fear of not getting back to where she was before the accident.
Entering into a hallway similar, but not identical to her own, Elish called out to let her neighbour know it was her. “Morning Mrs F, it’s Elish.”
Walking towards her neighbour’s temporary bedroom, Elish gently knocked on the door and awaited a reply from the older woman.
“Come in Elish. I’m awake.”
“Good morning to you Mrs Fitzgibbon.”
“And you Elish. How’s the weather?”
“A wee bit overcast, but dry. Getting colder though.” El watched as her neighbour gingerly manoeuvred herself to a sitting position on the side of the bed. El was always tempted to assist, but knew that this was part of Mrs F regaining full independence. She watched patiently as the robe, which was within easy reach was put on before Mrs F stood up, all part of her new dressing routine designed to reduce the possibility of damaging the precious new hip and healing tissue. Next Mrs F reached for her elbow crutches, keeping them in one hand she gingerly stood up fully, and then pushed her arms into the crutches. She was now ready to make her first trip of the day to the bathroom. Elish still remembered the day Mrs F had been brought home by Emma, the OT. The battle the woman had endured to make sure Mrs F agreed to the temporary removal of all her little rugs. Now El watched as Mrs F walked over clear carpet to the downstairs toilet and was grateful to the OT for insisting the rugs were removed.
Making her way to the kitchen, El first checked the litter tray, this activity had taken a bit of getting used to. Elish now had it down to a fine art. She had purchased some bags that lined the litter tray making changing it easier. She still hated doing it though. She bent down to give Tac a proper greeting; the cat was becoming more familiar with her and meowed and rubbed against her leg. She wasn’t sure if he was a naturally suspicious creature, or if it was a cat trait, but he had been very cautious when she first started feeding him. Perhaps he had just been concerned about his mistress. El was no expert when it came to cats, though she knew a lot of women who were.
Washing her hands, Elish heard the resultant flush from the toilet in the hall, so she set about making up Mrs F’s breakfast tray. The woman wasn’t a big eater in the morning, tea, toast and jam was all she ever asked for. She made herself a little snack later in the day. El was certain that Mrs F would soon be doing her own breakfast and lunch, maybe even by the start of next week. She couldn’t be sure, but she suspected the woman was getting up to no good when left to her own devices, El would be surprised if her neighbour was able to resist the temptation when no-one else was around. Probably a little dusting nothing too obvious. It just wasn’t in the woman’s nature to be idle.
“Morning Boss,” Bren greeted El, a defiant look on her face, daring Elish to say something. She took a long drag on her cigarette and casually flicked the ash from the tip. As El continued to look at Bren, the younger woman cockily raised her chin and blew her smoke out into the air, her eyes never leaving those of her boss.
Elish quirked a grin at this show of defiance. In truth she liked Bren’s individuality. Bren had conformed albeit reluctantly, to the changes in her appearance that El had insisted upon. Skirting the rules and pushing the boundaries on and off for three years and here she stood today in all her gothic glory. Bren's favourite shade of lipstick adorning her full pouty lips, and leaving its mark on the cigarette tip every time she took a puff. Her attire was carefully chosen, all black to match her nail polish and heavily made up eyes. Siouxsie Sioux had turned up today in place of her secretary.
“Has Halloween come early this year?” Elish quirked a wry smile at her soon to be ex employee, “If you weren’t leaving today I would sack you.” She played along, knowing that this was Bren’s way of saying, I only changed because I had to, but in truth, Elish knew that Bren having the willingness to adapt her appearance for a job would serve her well in the long term and that was good enough for El. “Try not to scare off too many folks today.”
That comment earned her yet another casually defiant exhalation of smoke. El had always thought Bren’s non verbal communication skills were artful. She was still chuckling when she entered her office.
At 3.30pm that afternoon all the available staff congregated in the conference room to bid Bren farewell and good luck for the future. Molly, as was often the case had organised the event. Each person having brought along something for the buffet, El’s contribution was hastily purchased at lunchtime. A few bags of Tortilla chips with a range of dips to go with them. The boxes of wine were opened and soon everyone was helping themselves.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if I can have your attention please?” El’s strong voice broke through the din of chatter, with the help of a loud “Quiet!” from Rosie.
El, nodded, “Thank you Rosie, that was very effective.” A few chuckles rang out. “As you all know, we’re gathered here this afternoon, because Bren is leaving us.” There were a few cheers, mixed in with the odd good riddance for fun. “It seems that our Bren has seen fit to move onto pastures new and ordinarily I personally wouldn’t be happy to see such a valuable member of our team leave, but on this occasion I couldn’t be happier. I’m sure you all know by now that Bren is off to University to do Social Work, and I’m sure you’ll agree that she is going to make one hell of a Social Worker!” There was thunderous applause, it went on for a few minutes much to Bren’s great embarrassment, but inwardly she was enormously pleased.
When the applause and cheering died down Elish continued, “We’re all going to miss you Bren, your charming wit and warm sunny outlook on life…” El got the laughter she was looking for. “On a serious note, and I’ll be quick because I know you’re not too comfortable in the spotlight Bren. You came to us at a crossroads in your life and boy, did you turn the corner. You have been a fantastic acquisition to the centre in the last three years. You have shown initiative and despite all appearances, particularly today’s,” El and Bren both smiled, “you are fantastic with the general public. We are all so proud of you Bren.”
“Here, here.” Rang out amidst more cheering.
Molly came up next to finish the formal part of the afternoon. The entire staff had chipped in to purchase all the books that Bren would require for her first year of study. There were also some additional gifts, a Red Cross make-up parcel for when the money got tight, it was full of Bren’s favourite brands, along with some music tokens and would last her a good while.
“I…Jesus, I don’t know what to say. I’m overwhelmed, I want to thank you all, not just for today, but also for the last three years. Elish, for taking a chance on me, Naomi for having faith in me and all of you for accepting me…I’m going to miss you.” That was it for Bren, she was too choked with emotion and for the first time Elish really saw what all this meant to her secretary. Molly gave the young woman a hug as the rest of the crowd smiled fondly at their co-worker, offering support and words of encouragement.
“Thanks, for everything.”
After that the evening was only just getting started. The building was locked up by 4.45pm and the staff piled into cars to head into town. Bren had chosen a nightclub that started at 5.00pm, it was like doing your night out in reverse and the evening was aimed specifically at office workers to kick off their weekend right at the end of the Friday workday. TFI Friday the club was called, the title didn’t take much working out for El, she was just thankful that come 9.30pm, the place had to be emptied for the re-opening of the club at 10.30pm.
It was just as El imagined, free entry and lots of drink promotions. The place was filling up quickly and the first round of bottled drinks seemed to cover every colour in the rainbow, El had never cared much for Alcopops preferring wine or lager. Tonight like Naomi she was sticking to soft drinks, she would pass the time watching everyone else get drunk around her.
“So how are you feeling?” It was around 8pm, though to El it felt more like a club at 1am, everything felt a little off kilter. Most of the staff from the centres were dancing or spread out around the club chatting to friends and still drinking their brightly coloured drinks. They seemed to be on a round of green coloured ones at the moment. El and Naomi had sequestered a spot overlooking the dance floor, each of them occupying a much sought after stool.
“I’m feeling good, El.” Naomi smiled a big full smile that was contagious.
“You look great Naomi, you really do.”
“Thanks. How about you, Elish, how have you been doing?”
El smiled a little sadly. “Ah, not too bad, been keeping myself busy. Between work, training and looking after Mrs F, I hardly have much time for anything else.”
That concerned Naomi, it was one thing for El to be busy, but Naomi wondered if that meant Elish hadn’t given herself much time to think about other events in her life. Naomi didn’t want the mood to turn too sombre, this was Bren’s night after all.
“Oh, my God, Look at Adam!”
Elish looked onto the dance floor in the direction Naomi had indicated. There was Adam, the boss of Employment Services dancing with his top off. El had to admit, the guy was in good shape, he clearly worked out. She shook her head as she took in the sight before her. Adam had to be the most vain man she knew and totally straight. He went for manicures, facials and spray tans. Judging by the smoothness of his bare chest it was evident he also went for waxing. The guy was always sporting the latest hairstyle of the trendy professional football players. He currently had a slightly longer look to his highlighted blonde locks, using wax to style it a certain way, that involved sweeping his fringe across his forehead. El wondered what women really found attractive about that look, it seemed so effeminate to her.
“So, if you were single would you go for someone like that?”
“God no! I can see why he is successful with women. He looks like most of the men in the magazines, but seriously not my type.”
“What about if it were just a one night kind of thing?”
Naomi wrinkled her nose, “Nope. If I were single and into one night stands he wouldn’t do it for me.”
El was enjoying the game. They always seemed to end up having these kind of chats. “So look around…you’re here, you’re single and looking for some hot sex. Who would catch your eye?”
“Hmm,” Naomi started looking around for potential candidates. “There’s a guy over by the bar, tall, short dark hair.”
“The one with the black shirt?”
“He looks like one of my brothers.”
“Or three or four of them,” Naomi joked.
“So you would go for him?”
“I like the way he looks, he would be a possibility, but he wouldn’t be my first choice.” The smile Naomi bestowed upon her friend told Elish all she needed to know.
“You are such a tease!”
“Am I?” Naomi pinned El with an intense hungry look.
El swallowed hard, was it getting hotter in here?
“Trust me El, if I were a single woman you would definitely be top of my list in those circumstances.” Naomi shrugged, “I love my husband and you are my best friend, so it’s purely hypothetical, but it’s an honest answer.”
El wondered if Naomi was being completed serious, God knows if ever her mood needed a pick me up it was now. With Aisling being gone and not answering her phone calls, she had all but given up hope on reconciling with the beautiful blonde.
“I think those pregnancy hormones are already kicking in.” El joked.
Elish made her way to the toilets. The place was busy but not packed to the rafters, so there was room to manoeuvre through the throngs of early clubbers. The brunette entered a short corridor painted black, it was dimly lit and the heavy bass of the music was greatly muted here. Making her way to the toilets El leaned casually against the wall until a loo became available. As El washed her hands and moved towards the hand dryer she contemplated how soon she could make her escape. Checking her watch, it was 8.33pm; she thought it would be best to wait till the club closed now, that way she could take some of the drunks’ home.
Leaving the bathroom El made her way along the dark corridor only to be met by Bren who was heading towards the bathroom.
“Not anymore.” El happily corrected, the inebriated woman.
“That’s right, not anymore. So now I can do this.”
El frowned as Bren moved forward, her eyes growing wider. “Oh, no! She’s not going to? Oh shit! Oh shit!” Then Bren was kissing her ex Boss. El felt Bren’s lips moving against her, she was still stunned, her eyes still open. “Oh, what the hell. She’s leaving, it’s a one time thing.” Closing her eyes El gave into the kiss that Bren was insisting on having regardless of her compliance. Then just like that it was over.
Bren looked up at her ex boss, a smile on her lips. “Thanks, Elish. I always wanted to do that.”
El cleared her throat, “Ah, you’re welcome, Bren.” She began to search for a way to extricate herself from the situation without having to turn Bren down.
“It’s okay, Elish. I know it’s a one off thing. I’m not going to try and drag you home with me or anything. I’m not even sure I want to sleep with a woman, I’ve just always had a little thing for you.”
El’s relief was palpable. She hugged Bren. “I’m going to miss you, but thank God you never kissed me before!” She pecked Bren on the lips once more adding with a wink, “Cheeky mare!”
Bren laughed and made her way to the toilets.
Returning to sit next to Naomi, Elish wondered what her friend was staring at. “What’s up with you?”
Naomi took the opportunity to peer closely at her friend. “How come your lips are all dark? Did you drink one of those Alcopops?”
“Shit,” El exclaimed as she began rubbing away what must have been some of Bren’s dark lipstick.
“What is that?” Naomi’s eyes widened, “Don’t tell me you got lucky while at the toilet!”
“Eh, not exactly.”
“What do you mean?”
“Bren kissed me.”
“You mean like a passionate, full on lip lock?”
El nodded, “Yes, that would be an apt description.”
Naomi almost fell of her chair laughing. “The cheeky minx, I always knew she had a crush on you.”
“Well I wish you had shared that with me! I never saw it coming. I’m just relieved that it’s a one off thing. I was panicking back there.”
“I wish I could have seen that.”
“I had no idea. I just assumed she was straight, the woman had sex with her boyfriend in my bathroom!”
“It’s your own fault for being so nice anyway, El. That’s what started it.”
“How do you mean?”
“The posters you had her make up not long after she had started working at the centre.”
“Oh God. I’d forgotten about them. Those swine at the Butcher’s ribbed me for weeks over them.”
“That’s because you never said it wasn’t you that made them up.”
“Well I couldn’t do that to her. She hadn’t long started in the job, it was hard enough without everyone knowing that Bren had been the one to do those posters. I wondered what the hell those two clowns behind the counter were on about. All those question about sex education. When they pointed to the poster on the wall inviting everyone in the community to a Pubic Meeting, I almost fainted on the spot!”
“Bren knows what you did. She found out you went around collecting all the posters and putting up new ones with the correct spelling. I think that’s when she fell in love with you.”
El rolled her eyes at Naomi’s blatant exaggeration. “Oh, give over. A little thing for me apparently.”
“Oh yeah. How little?” Naomi asked saucily.
“I think it’s getting time to head home.”
Naomi’s laughed, revelling in her friend’s discomfort. “Not before you dance with me Stud, come on.”
El sat at her kitchen table eating her breakfast. It was 6.30am on a Monday bank holiday, but more important than that, it was Marathon day. All the months of training were over. This was it. Today El would find out just how effective her efforts over the previous months would be.
Being nervous was a good thing; El had studied some charts that showed how performance could be affected by nerves on the day of competition. Problems arose when anxiety set in, that could destroy all the weeks of training and effort in a few short hours. Elish didn’t feel particularly nervous, it was more of an anticipatory flutter. She was keen to get going. She felt good and there were definitely a few extra tingles of anticipation as the time to the race start neared. El had planned this morning with military precision. The time between now and the race start was crucial. Elish had showered, had her breakfast and now she was about to head upstairs to don her race kit.
It was with a certain reverence that Elish laid the shorts, vest, socks and underwear that would take her through the twenty-six miles, on top of her bed. Retrieving her runner’s version of a first aid kit from the bathroom, El sat on the bed and began preparing her body for the race. A tube of Vaseline and a roll of Micropore tape, El set about covering the parts on her feet that were prone to blistering, her red spots. Then she used the Vaseline to cover all the parts of her body that would chafe during the many miles. El found that her upper arms were particularly prone to chaffing, as they moved repetitively in her natural running style. She also put the Vaseline on her nipples, though a problem more readily encountered by men, Elish never took any chances with her own.
Nothing Elish was using today was new. It was all tried and tested, from her underwear, to her running shoes. There would be no uncomfortable surprises with her equipment. Sitting in her underwear, a sports bra and pants, El pinned her race number to her vest. She had picked up her race pack from the Royal Dublin Society hall the day before. This included her race bib and number, and the yellow championChip, which she would attach securely to one of her running shoes.
Elish saw Naomi pull up in front of the cottage. She was ready and eager to get going. Sticking to the same routine as last year was another facet that helped El keep her nerves in check. She knew she could rely on Naomi arriving on time.
Opening the Volvo passenger door, El got in and reached for the seatbelt, catching her friend’s mirth filled gaze as she struggled with the lock for the belt.
“Good morning to you too, Elish.”
“Oh, sorry. Morning.”
Naomi chuckled, “It’s alright, I know your focus is elsewhere. You all set?”
El gave one firm nod. “Absolutely, lets go.”
“So, what time are you going to run today?”
“Looks like it’s going be a wet race.”
El nodded, “Yes, the forecast was for rain.”
“You don’t like running in the rain.” Naomi observed.
“I have no choice.”
Naomi gave up, knowing she wasn’t going to get much conversation out of her intensely focussed friend. A few minutes later the car pulled up at the spot where Elish wanted to be dropped off. From here it would only be a short walk down a side street to the main event. This was just the start of many things today that growing up in Dublin, El could use to her advantage.
“Well, good luck, El.”
El flashed her friend a small smile, “Thanks.” She put her hand on the door handle intent on making her exit.
“Ah, not so fast there Stud.”
Turning she gave Naomi a curious look. Naomi took El’s face in her hands and planted an affectionate kiss on her lips. “Everyone wishes you all the best. We know you will do yourself proud.” Naomi hugged El, then slapped her on the butt as she exited the car to make her way to the warm up area.
Elish made her way through the maze of runners just as the heavens opened. The rain however did nothing to dampen the buzz of excitement in the air that always permeated the mass of runners prior to the race start. Elish pulled the hood of her waterproof jacket tighter around her face in an attempt to keep as much of herself as warm and dry as possible before the start. Pulling a high-energy drink from her pocket she sipped on it as she looked around. Runners had begun to take shelter anywhere they could, under shop awnings, in doorways. Some had umbrellas, while others covered themselves with plastic bin bags. Up ahead, El could see some of the elite runners huddled inside a telephone box, while the more astute amongst them were inside the shops of the more understanding shopkeepers. The queues for the porta-loos remained long, knowing that she would soon need to use the facilities, the brunette made her way to one of the shops, a bakery owned by the mother of girl she went to school with. Mrs Carrigan was expecting her, El having done the exact same thing the previous two years and availed herself of the use of the bakery shop’s private staff toilet.
“Ah, it’s yourself, Elish. Come on in out of the rain.”
“Thanks Mrs Carrigan.”
“You’ll be needing to use the staff toilet, just go through. You know where it is.” El looked around at the other runners already huddled inside the bakery. Usually when she made her stop here it was empty, but the rain had driven the runners inside. Mrs Carrigan, waved off her silent enquiry. “Ah, sure, I’ll let the rest of them use the loo if they need to, but after yourself, Elish.”
“Thanks Mrs C, you’re a gem.”
Elish positioned herself as close as she could get to the elite runners in the sub 3 hours 30 minutes zone. She knew she wouldn’t be keeping pace with the elite, but at the same time she wanted to avoid the bottle neck that always happened as the rest of the field sorted itself out into a more realistic pattern of the fun runners and more serious amongst them.
The rain was still pouring down and Elish had yet to shed any of her layers. She would wait until the last few minutes then discard her outer layers never to see them again in all probability. Elish checked her wrist watch, when she pressed the appropriate button it would monitor her time, distance and heart rate, but right now it told her there were ten minutes till the start of the race, the butterfly’s in her stomach were fluttering in accordance. Taking a few deep breaths to settle her pre race nerves, Elish began to take off her outer layers. Everything was easy to remove; her waterproof bottoms zipped fully up each outer leg, ensuring she wouldn’t have to fumble with pulling the bottoms off over her training shoes. Her tracksuit bottoms had poppers for the same reason. Waterproofs removed, El waited just a couple of moments before shedding the final layer which would leave her in just the regulation shorts and vest for the long distance run. Elish looked around her at the runners who had taken off their outer layers some time ago, they already looked like drowned rats. The poor folks had probably removed their outer layers at the baggage area and walked the half-mile to the race start in shorts and T-shirts. She had been too focussed to take in the envious glances thrown her way, but she wasn’t the only runner who had opted to shed their clothing late and be happy in the knowledge they would never see it again, preferring to stay warm and dry for as long as possible.
As the race start approached, El could feel the anticipatory buzz all around her. The miles that the runners had put in over the preceding months were coming to a head and the next few hours would let each individual know how well they had done. Some would be surprised, some disappointed, most just happy to reach the finish, but for the more serious amongst them, their enemy today would be the clock. It didn’t matter what any other runner did, it was all about the time they would run, all hoping it would be an improvement on anything they had clocked before. To that end, El had her own personal goal for the race, she hadn’t told anyone, despite the amount of pestering she had endured in the week leading up to the race. She knew the staff had bets on what time she would clock, with the closest guess winning the money. Naomi had been the worst offender when it came to trying to get Elish to state a time, she had even gone as far as offering to split the winnings with Elish. Not long know, the race starter was in position, a local celebrity who’s name escaped her at that particular moment until he was introduced, then Elish briefly recalled that he was the guy who everyone’s Granny loved and as far as El was concerned, was camp as Christmas, though apparently he had a girlfriend for the last twenty years. And with that thought, the wheelchair contestants were off. The first racers of the day starting five minutes ahead of the rest of the field, El watched them go, anticipating her own start.
After five miles Elish had settled into an easy rhythm and was feeling good despite the constant rain. She had overcome the initial instinct to follow the runners who started quickly. Despite her training, the instinct always kicked in making her own steady pace more difficult to ease into, she never encountered this problem running solo. Entering the scenic Phoenix Park, the crowds became sparser on this part of the route, allowing Elish to indulge in one of her favourite mental activities to help pass the time. El began singing pop songs in her head, if anyone knew she indulged in this cheesy activity she would never hear the end of it. This was the kind of music more to the liking of her little nieces, the latest boy bands and girl groups lyrics ran with abandon through her head. Yeah…everybody wants to know her na-a-a-a-ame!
Leaving the park El’s internal vocals were drowned out by a rousing beat from a drum band. Elish was close to approaching the 9-mile mark now, the first of her major markers and her time was looking good. She now found herself in with a group of runners all intent on the same goal as herself. She expected this and in truth welcomed the company and the added bonus of them helping pace each other, her plan for the next 9 miles was to stick with the main cluster of this group and assess how her body felt at 18 miles.
With the rain still pouring from the sky, El clung to the shouts of encouragement coming from the spectators who lined the Dublin streets. She occasionally heard her name being called and had spotted some friends along the route. All this served to lift her spirits and although she couldn’t be completely sure, she could swear she heard a shout of “Get a move on Boss!”
Finally almost 90 minutes into the race the rain let up and the sun broke through the clouds, Elish welcomed the change in weather. Naomi was right, she had never been a fan of running in the rain, she was beginning to allow herself to believe for the first time that perhaps the omens were good and she would achieve her goal. Approaching the drinks station at the 15-mile point, Elish sensibly ran past the first few stations, to select her drink from one that would be less crowded. Unfortunately as she reached for her drink a guy who decided to throw running etiquette out the window bumped her into the table as he blindly reached for a drink of his own. El clattered into the station and the drinks went everywhere. She was still stunned when the volunteers who manned the station helped her to her feet as they enquired after her well-being. Gingerly stretching out her limbs, she took note of the grazes to her right knee and elbow, the blood starting to weep from the many tiny scrapes. Though stinging painfully, Elish was certain she could continue, knowing that stiffness to the injured areas would set in at the end of the race. She was certain that the best thing to do was get going as soon as possible. Waving off the St. John’s ambulance people she got back onto the road amid applause from both the volunteers and spectators who had witnessed the incident.
El seemed to find a whole new dimension to her determination after that. Knowing she had lost out on almost 2 minutes totally pissed her off. Her focus to finish did not diminish and in a strange quirk of fate, the incident actually helped El’s mental approach. Physically she hurt, but the pain in her knee superseded the usual race fatigue that crept into the latter stages of a long run. Normally El would have as big a battle with her body psychologically at these times, as she would with the physical demands. However, with the focus having shifted to her injuries, she had less time to dwell upon the other problems her body was complaining about.
For the last 3 miles Elish pounded the tarmac rhythmically, one foot in front of the other. She had continued to use the drink stations to avoid dehydration, but ran right past the final one. Approaching the last mile she caught and passed the now significantly smaller group she had been running with, this spurred her on again. She knew she was going to do it, and as Trinity College came back into view she knew the finish line was near, just a final loop around it and it was all over.
Elish crossed the finish line, her arms aloft and a wide smile on her face. The unofficial time said 2 hours 59.02 seconds. Elish knew that when the official times were listed she would be even quicker than that. She had reached her goal and run under the magical three hour mark. She was now being ushered a certain way and she was more than happy to comply with whoever was leading her. A foil blanket had been placed over her shoulders and a bottle of water put into her hand. Her ChampionChip was removed from her shoe and a medal placed around her neck. It was all a blur, as next a T-shirt and race goody bag was put into her hands. She was then led over to an ambulance station to have her cuts attended to. What Elish was unaware of at that time was the replay of the incident at the water station had been shown several times on television and she was now a household name. Though Elish would admit only to herself later, after viewing the recording of the marathon that it did look pretty spectacular, and secretly she was pleased that her progress was followed on camera to update the viewers on how the Dublin lass who was recklessly bumped by an overzealous runner was faring.
After having her injuries treated and patched up, Elish made her way to Fitzwilliam Street to meet up with her friend’s and family, and some warm clothing. She had placed eleventh in the women’s race and was the fourth Irish woman home. This information had been fed to her as she received treatment from an older gentleman. That really was all she had managed to absorb, there was a lot of information being fed to her, but it all seemed so hazy. She was aware of some squeals and screams up ahead and then saw three of her nieces running towards her.
The older twins Gerry and Gheordan were waiting with their families, along with Naomi and Declan and Molly and Bren. Elish managed a smile at that; she thought she had heard Bren shouting during the race, now she knew she had. Mustering up the last of her energy she gave everyone a sweaty hug, before she was swept off to her Mam’s for Feeding up and a special celebration that Mrs Maloney had planned.
“Are you alright?” was the frantic greeting Elish received from her Mam when she opened the door to her daughter.
“Of course I am, Mam. I finished the race.”
“I know that, Elish,” was the exasperated reply. “I saw what happened when that stupid oaf knocked you over the table full of drinks!”
“How do you know about that?”
Mrs Maloney rolled her eyes at her daughters naivety, “I watched the incident happen at least ten times on the television. Then I had to endure watching all the progress reports on my daughter as she ran around the streets of Dublin with her blood flowing down her leg and arm.” Mrs Maloney grabbed her daughter in a tight embrace, “I swear you do these things on purpose.”
El looked over her Mothers shoulder, a perplexed look upon her face. Her older brother Gheordan laughed, shook his head then went into the sitting room.
“I’m proud of you.” Was the emotional heartfelt statement that followed the reprimand.
“Thanks Mam. That means a lot.”
“Now go and get yourself showered, then I can start putting some meat back on your bones, you’re too thin Elish!”
Later that evening, as El soaked in her bathtub at home, she reminisced over the fantastic day she had experienced. She achieved her goal, despite the hiccup along the way. All in all she was very satisfied, if a little sore in a few places.
Two days later, El gingerly exited her Mondeo, hoping no one was watching her stilted progress. Despite her best efforts she was really paying the price for the big push she had made in the final miles of the Marathon. She didn’t regret it for one moment though, the stiffness and pain would pass and her injuries would heal. The time she ran however, would remain.
Reaching back into the car for the battered leather briefcase she yanked the worn leather handle too hard and it snapped. El stood up and looked at the broken handle in her hand. She glanced down to the tarmac forlornly, knowing that her fatigued muscles were going to protest loudly when she bent to retrieve the body of her briefcase. Letting out a groan as she bent down she swore she heard a snicker. Looking across at the centre she saw several staff members grinning at her from the windows.
“Oh great. I just know those sadistic bastards are going to use every trick in the book to make me climb the stairs today!” El muttered a few curses under her breath and nearly jumped when Molly sidled up beside her.
“Morning Elish.” The older woman’s eyes betrayed the mirth that she was attempting to contain.
“Morning.” El muttered.
Molly patted her back, “Congratulations again, Elish. You were amazing.”
El grimaced as a muscle spasm chose that moment to appear, causing her hand to shoot to her lower back. “Thanks, Molly,” She ground out through gritted teeth.
Molly looked concerned, “Perhaps you should have taken today off?”
“No, no. I’ll be fine,” Elish attempted a comforting smile, which ended up looking more like a grimace.
Molly was less than convinced, but decided Elish knew what she was doing.
“Good morning, Elish.” Came the enthusiastic greeting from the new secretary, when she entered the building.
El bit back the tart reply trying to escape due to her discomfort. She was still trying to get used to Paul’s sunny demeanour. He was the exact opposite of Bren in that respect. Paul was proving to be a good choice to replace Bren, despite the red hair. That had been the one bone of contention between them at the interview. Deep down El hoped that he would choose to change the colour to black.
El entered her office and gingerly sat down. She glanced at the brown envelope on her desk, recognising the flowing scrawl on the front as belonging to Naomi. Opening the envelope El removed a clear plastic package that contained two large pills. Reading the post-it stuck to the plastic, everything became clearer.
Declan says if the pain becomes unbearable use one!
El looked suspiciously at the pills – Jesus! What are they, for elephants! Picking up the phone, she called Naomi.
“Naomi Connelly speaking.”
“Is Doctor Declan sure? I mean – I don’t think I could swallow a whole one.” El pulled the phone away from her ear as Naomi’s laughter burst through the receiver.
“El, they are suppositories.”
El cut her friend off, “I know what you do Naomi – I just…well, I mean…ewww!”
“Oh, come on, I didn’t realise you were such a prude.”
“Yeah, like you would be happy to be sticking something up there.” El was greeted with silence on the other end of the line.
“Naomi?” El could hear her friend clear her throat.
“Oh my God! You don’t!”
“I’m not discussing my sex life with you, Elish.”
“We have to talk.”
“No, Elish.” was Naomi’s firm reply.
“Oh yes, we do.” El replied in a singsong voice.
Hanging up the phone, El instantly felt a melancholy settle over her. Despite the playful banter with Naomi, she was having a miserable start to her day. That morning when she had went into Mrs F’s cottage her older neighbour was up and dressed, feeding Tac and getting her own breakfast. In truth, El was extremely happy for her neighbour, seeing Mrs Fitzgibbon well on the road to recovery was wonderful, unfortunately, on a personal note for Elish, it gave her one less thing to focus on. With Mrs F no longer needing her, and her serious training over for now she was finding it difficult to keep her mind away from her own problems. Added to that, the briefcase her Father had given her upon graduating had just snapped. She was feeling utterly miserable now. Perhaps it was just post race blues, Elish briefly entertained that possibility, but deep down she knew it had more to do with a certain blonde who was no longer a part of her life.
Later that day El logged onto the Official Dublin Marathon website. She entered her race number to get her official race time. A few seconds later her time appeared as 2 hours fifty-eight minutes and 21 seconds. She was the Eleventh woman home and as she had been told, the fourth Irish woman to cross the finish line. Allowing herself to dwell for a moment on what might have been, she logged in to look at the top ten women, noting their times. Had she not had the collision, she might have placed Eighth in the women’s standings and been the second Irish woman home. A top ten place would have been very nice indeed. Elish allowed herself to wallow in that for just a few moments, before putting it out of her head. “There’s always next year.” She whispered.
Over the following two weeks since the marathon, Elish found her mood had dipped considerably. There had been no progress made with regards to securing new premises locally for both the community and rehab centre. The School headmistress was still willing to enter into negotiations, but as with the original proposal, this would be for the community centre only. Added to that, El found herself with too much time to herself. With her focus no longer on the marathon, her mind had been given free rein to wander all too frequently towards thoughts of a little blonde accountant who was no longer a part of her life. It wasn’t like the brunette to wallow in self-pity and moon over someone no longer in her life, but on this occasion she felt absolutely helpless to prevent the recurring malaise she was experiencing. To this end, Elish found herself withdrawing steadily from any social activity, instead filling her time with the solo pursuit of running and work. Nothing else was filling up her diary at the moment. Despite many offers to have an evening out Elish repeatedly turned down each and every one of them, much to Naomi’s consternation, this included their usual get together. She had thrown up her hands in defeat just two days earlier after storming into El’s office to confront her about the new hermit lifestyle she had adopted, pointing out that the brunette no longer popped over to her office for coffee, something which was a frequent occurrence just weeks before.
Elish found herself spending yet another evening moping in front of the television. It was a Saturday; a night where she usually had something arranged somewhere. She was half watching some game show when the phone rang.
“Elish, get yourself ready, the boys are on their way.”
“What? Mam. No. I don’t want to go out.”
“You know you have no choice in the matter, Elish. I’m only calling you so you can pick your own clothes. You need to go out and have some fun. You’ve been sulking around too long.”
El sighed, “Okay, Mam. Thanks for calling.”
“And Elish? Behave yourself.”
“I’ll try Mam.”
Elish sighed heavily as she set the phone back on its cradle. Her brothers hadn’t wasted any time. They had probably been looking forward to this night for years. El had seen her share of break ups, but had never before exhibited the feelings of loss and heartbreak, that signalled the need for family intervention. She now had to endure the family tradition of a night on the town to get over your heartache. It was like a form of family therapy that involved a lot of drinking and other shenanigans. Elish was determined not to endure or get involved in the competitions that seemed to be a part of this evening. As she packed an overnight bag, another tradition since you never knew where you might end up, she vowed not to get too drunk, that way she could avoid future embarrassment.
El stood on her doorstep dressed in faded jeans and a black v-neck T-shirt. A pair of converse Hi-tops on her feet. Her overnight bag sat on the step next to her. She watched a white mini bus pull up in front of her gate, her oldest brother Gerry jumped out of the sliding door along with Gheordan, his twin. They made their way up the path and gave Elish a quick once over.
“Oh, no, El. You can’t wear that.” Gerry said.
“The jeans and trainers have to go otherwise you will be refused entry into some of the bars in town.” Gheordan added.
Oh great, El lamented, they plan to hit the trendy nightspots. She knew that complaining wouldn’t work. Her brothers would just frog march her up to her bedroom and pick out what they thought was appropriate attire for the evening. “Fine, give me a minute to change,” she huffed. They smiled, knowing she would see sense. El reappeared a few minutes later dressed in black hipster trousers, a black sleeveless mandarin collar top and a pair of black dress boots. To anyone else, El was a beautiful woman, with curves in all the right places, dressed to kill. To her brothers, she was simply El, with some pretty clothes on. They nodded to each other; she had passed inspection and was ready for her night out.
Getting into the minibus she received enthusiastic greetings from her brothers, while her nasal passages were assaulted by the pungent whiff of the many brands of aftershave being worn. As soon as everyone was seated, the younger twins pulled a box of designer lager from under their seats, opened the bottles and started passing them around. As far as El was concerned, this was a bad sign. The boys obviously meant business. All the bottles were clanked together in a group salute, before being consumed by a bunch of men with a thirst to quench. El’s attempt at sipping her drink was met by a barrage of good-natured ribbing and outright abuse from others. They all knew her weaknesses, she wouldn’t stand for being called a girly and the taunts of, “Did we bring along some Babycham for Elish?” She downed her lager, with a renewed purpose, she would match them all evening, all thoughts of tomorrow fled her mind as she focussed on giving as good as she got, no way would she be seen as a wimp amongst this lot. She would never live it down!
Sure enough, the first bar they hit was one of the trendiest in town, with a queue already formed outside waiting for entrance. The Maloney posse led by Jimmy, the designated driver for the evening, and a friend of Gerry’s, walked right up to the two doormen and were immediately granted entrance, much to the disgruntlement of some of the folks in the queue. Elish had a feeling there would be no queuing anywhere this evening. Her brothers knew folks all over town, probably more than half the bouncers working in Dublin tonight. Some of them had worked the doors on occasion; she wondered what the extent of their involvement was. She had never enquired as to why they sometimes worked as bouncers for the evening.
Elish watched as her older brother John stood at the door talking to the doormen for a few moments, shaking their hands before making his way into the bar. Something about the exchange peaked her interest.
El intercepted John on his way to join the rest of his brothers. “What line of work are you in?”
John grinned at her, “This and that.”
“Would this and that include running a business that hired out doormen all over Dublin?”
“That’s what I like about you, Elish. You always were smart. You figured it out the first opportunity you got.”
El pouted, “You’ve never asked me to be a bouncer.”
“You want to play at being a bouncer for an evening, El, you just give me a call.” He motioned his head towards the group of men all broad shouldered and in excess of 6 ft tall. “I call them up when I’m short, the Bastards hold me to ransom though. They know I’m desperate and negotiate an outrageous fee for the evening.”
El laughed, “I can imagine.”
John put his arm around his sister’s waist and led her towards the group, “You can see why I’m a bit vague with the details in front of Mam, she wouldn’t approve of certain aspects of the job.”
El knew John was right. You didn’t get to run a company that supplied muscle to the pubs and clubs of Dublin without treading on a few toes, and you always had to watch your back. It was a dangerous business to be in.
“Don’t worry, Johnny, your secret’s safe with me.”
Another round and another bar, Elish was really feeling the buzz of the alcohol. The evening was proving to be fun, filled with laughter and jokes. Then came the challenge, Elish had forgotten about that games they played until that moment. She had been enjoying the evening and allowed herself to fall into a comfortable haze.
“How many woman are you going to kiss tonight, Elish?” This from Danny, the baby of the family.
El, had passed the point where she could have made the decision logically. There always seemed to be a point in any evening when she was drinking alcohol, where she knew she had reached her limit and either went home, or switched to soft drinks. This particular night, she had no idea when that point had come and gone, all she was certain of was that it had passed. Shrugging her shoulders, she accepted the challenge. “What’s the record?”
Tim answered her, “It’s twelve and I hold the record.”
She could hear the hint of challenge in his voice, almost defying her to beat him.
El smiled sweetly, “Must be the blue eyes.” There was a definite twinkle in her own.
“Right.” Was the forced reply.
El decided that there was no time like the present to start attempting the record. She may have been drunk, but she was aware of the looks she had been receiving from a tall blonde woman. El sauntered over to her. “You have lovely long eye lashes. Could you close your eyes a moment so that I can get a good look at them?” The woman raised a shaped eyebrow, before smiling playfully. The stranger was more than happy to oblige. She knew what was coming.
“Sure,” was the purred reply.
When the stranger closed her eyes, El placed a soft lingering kiss on her full lips. She pulled back a little, awaiting the stranger’s response. “Hmm, is that all you’ve got?”
That was all the encouragement El needed, this time she kissed the woman properly.
Her brothers watched on with mixed feelings.
Gheordan turned to Gerry, “You know normally I would find that really hot, but when it’s your own sister…”
“I hear you brother.” They both gave a mock shudder then laughed at the strange moment.
Tim looked on with thinly veiled disgust. “Does that not just turn your stomach?”
John turned to his brother, not believing what he had just heard. “For God’s sake, Tim, there’s no harm.”
“So you think that’s okay?”
“Of course I do.”
“Not to me, it’s unnatural.”
John moved in close to his brother, intending his next words for Tim only. “You know what I think? You need to get over yourself. You’re letting an incident that happened when you were both teenagers cloud your judgement and affect you as a grown man. You need to move out of her shadow and live for yourself. Letting that fester away and competing with Elish is a bad idea. Face it, Tim; our sister is a very talented woman. You need to stop brooding and let it go. You can’t keep using Elish as an excuse for all the times you act like a prick.”
Tim glared at John, then turned away when he was met with a steady unflinching gaze. He had always assumed he had an ally in John, obviously he had misjudged him.
The evening was becoming a blur to Elish, another bar, another drink and another attempt to kiss a woman. She hadn’t done too badly so far, with a score of five kisses and a proposition from a husband and wife to spend the night with them. Elish had politely declined that one.
Tim couldn’t resist having a dig at his sister, “You know, Elish, I thought you would have done much better with the ladies.”
“Yeah? I think I’m doing pretty well considering the odds are stacked against me.”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean, Timmy, this for me is the equivalent of you going to lesbian bars and attempting to find a woman who will kiss you.” Tim had been pissing her off throughout the evening with his comments, she decided to go for broke and break his record and she knew just the place where she could do that.
“So what? You want us all to go to a lesbian bar?” He asked, disbelief colouring his voice.
El shrugged, “If the competition is to be fair, that’s what we’ll have to do.”
“I’m game.” This comment came from John, and the rest of the brothers agreed.”
“Will we get in?” Tim asked.
“Sure we will, I do the door at The Front Lounge, we won’t have any problem getting in there.” John gave his sister a wink; she had asked him earlier if he worked for any of the gay bars in town.
The night was getting on and Elish could feel herself wilting. She had lost count of the women she had kissed in the Lounge, her brothers had been pretty cool about the change of venue, especially the twins, Tommy and Danny, who had managed to hook up with women in a gay bar and were feeling pretty proud of themselves. Standing in line for the toilet, Elish spotted a friendly face.
“Hi, Emma?” El hoped her voice didn’t sound slurred, she had only met the woman a couple of times.
“Elish, fancy seeing you here.”
“Don’t tell me it’s a surprise?”
“Naw, not really.” They shared a laugh. Emma continued, “I was just about to head home, but it was nice seeing you.”
“Hang on Emma.” A plan was forming in her alcohol-fogged brain. “How are you getting home?”
“Wait at the taxi rank, I suppose. I won’t walk when I’m on my own.”
“How would you like a lift home?”
“Elish, don’t take this the wrong way, but you don’t look like you’re in a fit state to drive.”
Elish used exaggerated hand gestures, “Oh, no, I’m not driving. Jimmy is, he’s a pal of my brothers, though to how many of them I don’t know.” El giggled and Emma gave her a strange look.
“Honest, look, my brothers took me out tonight, long story, but I split up with my girlfriend, so this is to cheer me up.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, Elish.”
El nodded, “Me too.” She paused for a moment, seemingly lost in thought, Emma could see that Elish was genuinely hurt over the break up. When those sad blue eyes looked at her, she felt the urge to help take the pain away.
“Will you help me, Emma?”
“Tell me what you need.”
El smiled, “I need you to get me home, I trust you, cause I know you’re good at getting people home.”
“I can do that.” The OT smiled.
El put a long finger to her lips, “Shhh, that bits a secret. You don’t mind if my brothers think we are leaving together, do you? See, they expect me to leave with a beautiful woman, but I don’t really want to, so we could just give them the impression that I’m leaving with a beautiful woman. You are, you know…beautiful”
Emma laughed, “Come on, Elish, let’s give your brothers a show.”
The pair left the bathroom arm in arm, in search of their driver.
“Jimmy, can you give us a lift?”
The burly mans eyes widened as he looked at the two women. “Sure, Elish, now?”
“Yes, we’re ready to go.” She grinned at Emma, who gave her a playful peck on the lips.
Elish said her goodbyes to her brother’s then led Emma out of the bar to the mini bus.”
“Where to, Elish?”
“My Mam’s, Jimmy.”
“Yeah, can you drop me at my Mam’s, then drop Emma at her house?”
Jimmy smiled at the pair, realising what was happening, “Sure thing, and your secrets safe with me.”
Emma walked Elish to her Mam’s front door, while Jimmy waited in the bus to take Emma home. The tall brunette was struggling to get her key in the lock when suddenly a frowning Marie Maloney opened the door. She took one look at her grinning daughter and rolled her eyes.
“Mam!” El hugged her mother enthusiastically. She let go and gestured towards Emma, “Meet Emma, she came home with me.”
Mrs Maloney gave her daughter a stern look, they all knew she wouldn’t stand for that kind of thing under her roof.
“It’s her job, Mam.”
“What!” Marie Maloney looked ready to explode.
Emma felt it was time to step in and help explain the situation. “Ah, Mrs Maloney. I’m Emma Hughes, an Occupational Therapist. I met Elish when she came to visit a patient.”
“She’s great, Mam, she got Mrs F all sorted out and brought her home.” El gave Emma a goofy smile.
“Oh, well that’s good. You did a wonderful job dear, Mrs Fitzgibbon has high praise for all the staff at the hospital.”
“That’s nice to hear.” Emma lingered just a moment longer, “I, ah, should get going. Jimmy is giving me a lift home.”
“Oh, okay, it was great to see you again, Emma.” El replied, temporarily forgetting that Emma was leaving.
The OT smiled, “You too, Elish, take care of yourself.”
“Thank you, Emma, for making sure my drunken daughter made it home safely.”
“It was my pleasure.”
El, winked conspiratorially at the blonde, well she attempted to anyway, Emma thought the tall woman had something in her eye. “I don’t normally get drunk.”
“Well, thank goodness that much is true.” Mrs Maloney added dryly.
“Goodnight.” Emma waved as she walked back down the garden path to the mini bus.
“She’s a lovely girl.” Mrs Maloney remarked, ”You on the other hand are a very drunk girl. Let’s get you to bed, Elish.”
“I’m the champion, Mam. I kissed the most girls.”
“I don’t want to know this.” Her Mam warned.
They reached the top of the stairs, Elish hovering precariously on the top step, until Mrs Maloney guided her towards the guest bedroom, El’s overnight bag in her hand.
Elish sat on the bed while her Mam put the lamp on, she began to unzip her ankle boots, struggling to pull them of.
“Here, let me. You’ll be at that all night.”
“Thanks, Mam.” El pulled her top over her head, leaving her upper body clad in a black bra. She began to undo her trousers, as her Mam rummaged through the overnight bag, looking for the items her inebriated daughter would need. Finding a T-shirt and shorts among the clothing, she removed them and set them on the bed next to Elish. Next she found a soap bag. Turning to her daughter who was now in her underwear, Mrs Maloney handed El her soap bag.
“Your night clothes are there on the bed, put them on, then go to the bathroom, and take your soap bag with you. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Mrs Maloney returned to find Elish ready for bed, her breath smelling of mint toothpaste. Pulling back the duvet, she motioned for her daughter to get into bed.
“I brought you up a glass of water, it might help you feel less hung-over tomorrow if you drink it.”
Marie Maloney took a seat on the edge of the bed. She watched as her daughter drank some of the water before putting her head on the pillow. The urge to smooth back the long silky dark strands was too strong to resist. Marie Maloney knew her daughter was going through a rough patch in her life and was glad to be able to offer some comfort.
El sighed as her mother ran her hands through her hair. It felt good. She let out a long slow breath. “I miss her, Mam.”
“I know, Elish.”
“She hasn’t been in touch, she didn’t return any of my phone calls. I can’t contact her now, because she changed her number. It wasn’t meant to be I suppose, we were just too different.”
“How do you mean, Elish?”
El’s brow furrowed as she concentrated hard on forming her answer. “See Aisling, she is strawberries and cream and I’m tinned fruit and ice-cream.” El paused for a moment, “I’m cheese and wine and she’s champagne and canapés. You see?”
“I think so, Elish.”
El smiled, “I knew you would – see, you and Aisling have that in common.”
Mrs Maloney was having trouble following her daughter’s train of thought. “What’s that?"
“Food.” El declared. “You love to cook it and she loves to eat it. I knew you would understand, Mam.” El closed her eyes and Mrs Maloney thought she had drifted off to sleep. She looked fondly at her daughter, thinking what a wonderful woman she had turned out to be and knowing El’s father would have been very proud of his daughter. Suddenly El spoke, startling her.
“I’m sorry, Mam. I’m sorry I didn’t turn out the way you wanted.”
Marie Maloney looked on as a tear leaked from the side of her daughters eye.
“Oh, Elish.” She gasped, “I don’t regret a thing about you, Elish Maloney. Had you turned out the way I had wanted you to, I’m sure you would be miserable and possibly even stifled. I got over that a long time ago. I love you exactly the way you are.”
“Really?” El’s voice sounded so small and uncertain.
“Truly, Elish. Please believe me.”
El nodded, “I do.”
“And believe me when I say that I would give anything to see you happy right now. You deserve happiness, Elish, and if Aisling can give you that, I hope that the two of you can reconcile your differences and get back together.”
“I hope so too. I fell in love with her, Mam and I never got to tell her.”
“I hope you get the chance, Elish. I really do.”
“I love you, Mam.”
Within moments, Elish was sound asleep. Marie Maloney placed a kiss on her daughter’s head before making her way to her own bedroom.TBC
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