The Ghost Runner
The Lithia Trilogy, Book 2
Author: Blair Richmond
Publisher: Ashland Creek Press
Out of Breath The Lithia Trilogy, Book 1
In The Ghost Runner, Kat is still in Lithia, trying not to see Roman’s face everywhere she looks. It’s not easy, but she tries to move on: She starts taking classes at the local college, keeps up with her job at the running store, and is beginning a relationship with Alex.
Yet Kat’s past is never far behind, and as old ghosts begin to catch up with her, she finds herself fighting to defend the things she believes in, from the hope of a new family to the deeply wooded forests that she has begun to call home. As her relationship with Alex begins to crumble, a new secret from her past emerges, and she is once again torn between those she loves as she struggles to reconcile her dark past with her hopes for a brighter future.
The Ghost Runner, continuing Kat's adventures in Out of Breath, brings us further into the mysterious town of Lithia, where the old traditions of logging and gold mining—and the new traditions of development—collide with conservation. Meanwhile, the spirits of the town keep watch over everything—and occasionally find it necessary to intervene…
The Lithia Trilogy, which blends adventure and the paranormal with environmental awareness and Shakespeare, offers an exciting new series in young adult fiction.
I see him everywhere.
I see him browsing in the bookstore, sitting at outdoor cafés, walking through the town square with his fellow actors. I see him driving through town in his black BMW, its windows tinted so I can never tell whether he’s looking at me or at the road.
And though I can’t prove it, sometimes I sense that he’s watching me, studying me from a distance. I never actually catchhim in the act, which makes me feel as though it’s all in my head. I worry that what I had first wished for months ago—his absence from my life—has instead fueled an obsession. That, by trying not to see him all over town, I end up seeing him even where he is not. Every day, I find myself glancing over my shoulder at people I think might be Roman, only to make eye contact with strangers.
The other day, as I worked the register at Lithia Runners, I saw Roman standing out on the sidewalk, staring in through the windows. For once, it was actually him, and I thought he was looking at me. I waited for him to enter the store—to say something, anything, even though I’d told him never to speak to me again. I turned away for a moment, to hand a receipt to a customer, and when I looked back, he was gone.
In a small town, just because a guy never speaks to you again doesn’t mean you won’t ever see him again. And again. And again. Even on the days I don’t see Roman—not in the flesh, that is—I still see his face. He appears on dozens of posters advertising the Lithia Theater Company’s new season of plays: his perfectly sculpted face, eyes of deep sapphire, an expression that doesn’t need to smile to attract attention, including mine. As the theater’s star performer, Roman gazes out at us—at me—from storefront windows and from banners on light posts. I am surrounded byimages of him. And, in a sense, I am tortured by him. It didn’t used to be that way.
Eight months ago, before I won Cloudline—that brutal trailrace to the top of Mount Lithia—I thought I was in love with Roman. I was a runaway who had been fortunate enough to land in this town, to find a job at Lithia Runners and a cottage to rentbehind my boss’s house, all thanks to my boss’s fiancée, Stacey. She took pity on me, talked David into hiring me, gave me an opportunity to build a life here. And before I knew it, I’d not only started a new life but fallen in love. Or so I thought.
Nothing in Lithia is what it seems. The two men I thought I loved have one similarity—they are both vampires—but otherwise they couldn’t be more different. Roman is dark and stoic, an actor who carries more than a century of pain on his broad shoulders and who hides himself within his latest role, whatever it may be. And Alex is bright and optimistic; he has given up on violence, on drinking blood, instead thriving on the sap of trees and nuts and berries—a vegan, like me, a vampire who is, ironically, more like me than most humans I meet.
But even as I turned my back on Roman for Alex—I wanted to surround myself with good, and Alex was all things good— my heart was still pulled toward Roman. I can’t explain it, even to myself: Maybe it was my desire to convert him, to lead him on the path toward a nonviolent life. Or maybe it was his darkly handsome presence, his mansion up on the hill. I wasn’t the first to be drawn in by his good looks and mysterious past.
The day I ran Cloudline changed everything. I was determined to win that day, running in memory of Stacey, who couldn’t run the race herself. She’d introduced me to the running trails, taken me to my first Shakespeare play, given me a new pair of running shoes. She was supposed to have been running with me, to have been planning her wedding to David. But one day, when she and I were high above Lithia, running on the Lost Mine Trail in training for Cloudline, a bear took her life.
At least, that’s what everyone believed.
Well, almost everyone.
By the time I crossed the finish line at the top of Mount Lithia, the pleasure of winning the race for Stacey came with the terrifying realization that it had not been a bear who killed her after all. It had been Roman.
I confronted him, and he confessed. He said he was sorry, and I believed him. I did. He asked me to forgive him—but I couldn’t. That I could not do.
I also realized something else during that time: My mother, who died when I was a girl—also believed to have been attacked by a bear—had been killed by Roman, too. He denied it, but how could I believe him? Whatever trust we’d had between us, if we ever did, was gone.
There was nothing I could do to punish Roman—he was beyond the law, even if I could find someone who believed me. I wanted him to suffer as I’d suffered all those years, growing up without a mother, with a father who didn’t want me. But Roman was untouchable—except for one thing.
Me. He still loved me.
And the only way I knew how to hurt him was never to see him again.
And so that was my plan. Unfortunately, in this town, that’s easier said than done. During the cold and rainy winter months after Cloudline,the theater was closed, the streets empty—and it was easy to avoid Roman. It helped that I turned my attention to Alex. We jogged together in the evenings. We shared lunches at the Lithia Food Co-Op during our work breaks. I felt safe with him as we wandered through the foggy forests in the dying light of evening,and I felt connected to him as we shopped for groceries together. Alex and I have too much in common not to be together.
It wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I noticed how much time had passed without any bear attacks in the hills, without any tourists or passersby going missing. I knew Roman’s friend Victor was gone, and for a while I thought perhaps Roman was, too. Entire days would pass when I could forget that there were vampires in Lithia, that my boyfriend was one of them, that there were dangers in the hills far worse than any bear or cougar could deliver. In other words, my life started to feel normal again.
The envelope arrives on a midsummer day at the store. It’s July, and the town is bustling with tourists, most of them visiting for the theater. In addition to the two indoor stages, a large outdoor stage is now open nightly, seating more than a thousand eager fans. Others come to Lithia for the hiking, the river rafting, the smells and sounds of the forests that surround us.
The warm weather seems to cheer everyone, particularly the locals, who have endured a long, gloomy winter and spring. But I’ve had trouble smiling ever since the posters started going up around town, reminding me of Roman. Every time I see his face, I find myself reliving the painful mistakes I’ve made, not only here in Lithia but long before that.
It’s David who gives me the envelope. I think he can tell something’s been bothering me lately, but he doesn’t ask, which is fine with me. I’m used to dealing with things on my own, and quietly, and this is one of the reasons I enjoy working for David. He gives me my space, and I give him his. We work closely together but in our own separate worlds; he stoically grieves the loss ofStacey while I quietly carry the guilt over the knowledge of why she’s gone.
I can never tell David that Roman killed Stacey—it would only ease my pain while doubling his, and he has suffered too much already. Me, I can handle pain. I’ve developed a high threshold, perhaps the only benefit of losing a mother as a child and surviving an angry, alcoholic father. That’s why I won Cloudline, I tell myself. Because I can handle pain. And that’s why I know I can avoid Roman forever, despite having a heart that feels differently.
I’m in the back, cleaning up the mess David has made of the shoes in the storage room, when he calls me to the front. He hands me an envelope with my name on it.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“I just found it here on the counter,” he says. “Someone must’ve left it for you. I didn’t even hear the doorbell go off.”
I study the envelope. My name is handwritten in calligraphy, with a fountain pen. There’s nothing else on it, no clue as to where it came from. I shove the envelope into my pocket as if it’s nothing and return to the storage room.
Once there, I open the envelope. Inside is a ticket to that evening’s performance of Othello. Nothing else. Just one ticket.
Later, when I return to the front of the store, David asks me what was in the envelope.
Not only is David unaware of what Roman did, he is unaware of Lithia’s vampires altogether. So it’s best to say nothing at all.
I assume the ticket is from Roman, as he’s playing the role of Othello this season—but I can’t be certain. I remember last fall, the first night I saw him, back when he was playing Hamlet. Helooked out into the audience and held my gaze—or at least I’d thought so at the time.
Now, I imagine he remembers that, too. That he’s thinking of doing the same thing. Using his leading role to win himself a second chance with me.
That night, as we close the store, I give the ticket to David.
“What’s this?” he asks.
“A friend had an extra ticket to Othello tonight, and I can’t go.”
“That’s quite a friend you have,” he says when he sees that it’sa front-row center seat. “Thank you.”
I lock up after David leaves, and I walk home feeling unusuallycalm and relaxed. I know that when the curtain goes up, there is only one place Roman can be—onstage—and that for the next few hours I am free.