Downhill All The Way

Vector image of a woman in pink and grey sports gear cycling as fast as she can

Would their shared hobby bring them together – or leave Jude behind?

“Come on Jude, keep up!”

Jude grumbled to herself as she pedalled and leaned over the handlebars, putting all her effort into catching up with Ethan.

He’d finally persuaded her to get on a bike and “enjoy the great outdoors” as he’d put it. Although she didn’t see what was great about it. There was a cold wind conspiring to stop her moving forward and she barely noticed the passing countryside.

When Caroline had first introduced them, she’d warned Jude that Ethan was a bit of an exercise freak.

“I need to get in shape,” she’d said optimistically.

But now she wasn’t so sure as she laboured up the hill trying to change gear. When she got to the top, he was waiting for her.

“The last time I rode a bike it only had five gears,” she said, puffing.

“You’ll soon get used to it,” he grinned. “Anyway, it’s downhill for the next mile or so. You can freewheel.”

She couldn’t help feeling that she was holding him back. Which was why she climbed into the saddle now and shouted, “Come on, race you!”

They were less than fifty yards down the hill before he sailed past her. She’d never catch him now.

Despite this she smiled, noticing the sharpness of the clean air, the sunwashed light on the trees and the fields, and clouds scudding across the sky.

She caught up with him at the bottom of the hill.

“Time for refreshments,” he said, pointing to a pub in a bend of the road.

“So this is what you cyclists get up to,” she said.

“You don’t think it’s just about the road, do you?” he chuckled. “We’re renowned for stopping for coffee and cake. Come on, let’s warm up and get our breath back.”

It was kind of him to say “our breath” when he obviously meant hers.

“Have you enjoyed today?” Ethan said as they sat at a table overlooking a field of sheep.

“Yes. I’ve surprised myself.”

“I like to go on cycling tours a couple of times a year. The next one’s in May, in Somerset. How do you fancy coming with me?”

“I’d never keep up.”

“I think you’d be fine,” he said, taking her hand in his.

Jude tried to cycle a couple of times a week when they weren’t seeing each other. It was only a few miles at a time and she always came home exhausted but at least she was beginning to get the hang of the gears.

“You’re getting better,” Ethan said, impressed the next time they went out on their bikes.

“I’ve been practising.”

“So, you like me that much?” he said tentatively.

“Yeah.” Jude blushed.

“I like you too.”

“Good.” They looked at each other, embarrassed.

The following Saturday she went with him to the cycling club. Most of them were out of sight within minutes but some set a slower pace to accommodate her.

“I’ll never be good enough,” Jude sighed at Ethan. “Why don’t you go ahead?”

“I’m not here to race, I’m here to enjoy a ride with you,” Ethan said.

She’d already decided she wouldn’t be going to Somerset – she didn’t want to spoil his enjoyment by slowing him down.

“But I really want you to come,” he said when Jude told him later.

“I could train every day for the next three weeks and still not keep up with you.”

“Leave that problem to me, Jude,” he grinned.

He said he’d come and collect her for their next bike ride. It was the first time he’d ever done that.

“Voila!” he proclaimed as she opened the front door.

In place of his usual bike was a shiny, new tandem.

“Made for two,” he said. “Now you’ll have no trouble keeping up with me.”

“That’s brilliant!” She could feel her heart lightening as she realised it was going to be possible after all.

“Somerset here we come,” she added as she grabbed her helmet.

We’re sharing another lovely short story from our archives on the theme of hope for the future, every Monday and Thursday throughout January. Look out for the next one!