“Aw, come on,” whined the Hare. “It wasn’t fair, and you know it.”
The Tortoise shook his head slowly. “The terms of the race were well established, and we each followed them to the letter.”
“Well, I’ve been doing some research,” huffed the Hare, “and I found out that nobody takes a break in the Olympics! The race should have been scrapped based on the fact that one participant automatically disqualified himself!”
The Tortoise raised an eyebrow, or would have, if he possessed such mammalian features. “Is that, in fact, a current rule set in place by the Olympic Committee? And anyway,” the Tortoise continued, weighing each word so carefully that the Hare found himself twitching his little bunny nose in agitation, “one runner’s disqualification does not invalidate the race. The victory simply goes to the fastest of the remaining participants, which, in the case being discussed, would have been me.”
“What if we make a bet on the winner of the rematch?” tried the Hare, his pupils dancing excitedly.
“Why would I bet money I know I would lose? Surely even you aren’t foolish enough to repeat your previous mistake.”
The Hare generously elected to overlook the insult, instead leaning forward so that he was practically whispering in the Tortoise’s ear, or what he believed to be his old friend’s ear. “I know how we can even the playing field. We’ll make it a triathlon, with the run as the final event.”
The Tortoise, who already appeared to be frowning, now appeared to be frowning even harder. “Neither one of us has a bicycle or knows how to ride one. As for the swimming–”
“The second event doesn’t have to be cycling,” insisted the Hare. “I’ve done research. It can be anything! Jumping, dancing, hang-gliding, skiing–”
“Carrying heavy objects a certain distance?” interjected the Tortoise, his eyes appearing to glitter.
“Um. Yeah. Sure,” faltered the Hare, eyeing the Tortoise’s broad, sturdy back, his tail now twitching at the base of his own delicate muscles.
The Tortoise’s grin was more like a leer. “Then I accept your challenge, my friend.”
* * *
The day of the race came. When their friend the Frog croaked, “Gentlemen, on your marks…get set…go!” the Hare dove into the river elegantly, his powerful front and hind legs propelling him across the current and out to the trail on the other side effortlessly.
Carrying the sack of stones that waited on the bank over the hill was a struggle, but despite his desire to set down his burden and rest a while, the memory of his previous shame spurred the Hare along each time he stopped to gulp down air.
He shook off the stones with relief as he reached the beginning of the track that served as the setting for the triathlon’s final event. So eager was he to bound past its start line that he didn’t even give himself the few seconds it would have taken him to pause and reflect on how odd it was that the Tortoise, his clear superior in terms of weightlifting abilities, hadn’t so much as brushed the edges of his peripheral vision as he’d staggered up the hill during the second part of the race.
The memory of his last race stayed fixed in his mind as he sprinted down the track. The end was in sight, the ribbon stretching across it unbroken, at least until he barreled through, his leaping after crossing the finish line just as much an expression of his joy in victory as a cool-down exercise.
It wasn’t until he’d bounded back to where his friends were gathered that he noticed their funereal expressions in the brief moments when they were able to meet his eyes.
“Oh, come on,” he sighed. “I know our hard-shelled friend was the underdog this time, too, but I did what I could to make it a more even competition. I won fair and square.”
The Owl blinked morosely. “Did you not do your research on the types of events to which you both agreed?”
The Hare frowned. “Of course. A typical triathlon has cycling as the second event, which was not an option for us–”
“Neither was the first event,” the Owl intoned.
The Hare’s eyes widened, his heart racing nervously. “Swimming? But I thought that would start us out on equal footing! He’s a tortoise, for goodness’ sake.”
“He is,” hooted the Owl softly. “But a tortoise is not a turtle, and turtles are the ones who can swim.”