Topic: Novel excerpts
An excerpt from my novel in progress, 500 Miles.
We bypassed the next event on the circuit, the Pikes Peak Hill climb, a twelve-mile, one car at a time timed dash up a hill. The next event, the Hoosier Grand Prix at Indianapolis Raceway Park, was three weeks later. Unfortunately for me, that left me far too much time to lose myself in thoughts of how Mindy had dumped me, my rivalry with Barkins, and missing Gail.
One day, while driving home from the post office, I drove past Brown’s and caught a glimpse of Mindy waiting on a car. Brown’s was the classic drive-in restaurant of the 1950s. She looked very desirable in hot pants and a tight blouse, and I recalled the evenings we’d spent together. I nearly gave in to the urge to pull in to talk to her, but then I remembered our last night and I felt anger well up.
I just think you’re more serious about us than I am.
“Shit,” I muttered to myself. If she only knew how unserious I’d been about “us.” But I missed my chance to tell her, which, I knew, was for the best. She could never provide what I wanted even if she’d become all too adept at providing for my needs. I never should’ve slept with her; but I’d hoped she would help me to forget Gail. Instead she’d only made me miss her all the more even as I despised myself for having sex outside of marriage; that I enjoyed it only made it that much worse.
Instead of stopping at Brown’s I drove to my folks’ house for lunch. On the way my thoughts turned to Barkins and our meeting with USAC. I wondered if their warning would make a difference.
Probably not, I concluded, deducing he’d just become more adept at making it look like a racing accident.
I wouldn’t always be able to avoid him on the track. I was always careful, but careful around Barkins meant nothing. He was intent on beating me in any way he could, which included wrecking me, and himself in the process, and I refused to not race him.
As I parked my car in front of my dad’s barn an image of Gail popped into my mind and I wondered if she ever thought about me anymore. That she hadn’t contacted me since she told me I would one day leave her a widow seemed to indicate she hadn’t.
“Shit, shit, shit.”
After lunch, Dad went out to the barn while I helped Mom clear the dishes.
“You okay?” Mom asked. “You seem sad.”
“I’m okay, Mom.”
“Alex, I’m your mother. Mothers sense when something is troubling their son. Talk to me.”
I said nothing.
“You miss Mindy?”
“Not really.” Although my hormones felt otherwise.
“Why don’t you give Gail a call?”
Her question startled me. Although my thoughts often wandered to Gail, especially when I was on the road, she was a topic that hadn’t come up with my parents since she turned down my marriage proposal. I’d said little to Mom and Dad in the aftermath. I hadn’t even told them I’d popped the question, and their efforts to draw me into discussion were met with silence. Eventually they stopped asking about her.
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Mom.”
“Why not? She was good for you. You were good together, don’t you think?”
“I’m sure she’s gotten on with her life.”
“You don’t know that for certain. She loved you very much. I don’t think you’ve gotten over her. Maybe she’s just waiting for you to call.”
“The phone fits her hand, too, you know.”
“It’s not a woman’s place to take the initiative.”
“Except where breaking a man’s heart is concerned.” I startled myself with that confession. It was the most I’d told either of parents concerning my feelings over the matter.
“Yes, well, it’s a gentleman’s place to pursue.”
I sighed and said, “And what of a woman’s place? I’m not a mind reader. If she still cared, she should tell me. After all, she’s the one who broke it off.”
“She was a shy girl, Alex.”
Mom put her arm around my shoulder and added, “All I’m saying is don’t let pride stand in your way. The worst that could happen is that she tells you ‘no.’”
I laughed. “The worst? As worsts go, that’s pretty damn worst. Why would I want to put myself through that?”
“Because,” she said, squeezing my shoulder, “the best that could happen is that you get back together. It would be a shame to waste even a day more because your pride stopped you from finding happiness.”
“I’ll think about it,” I said, but already I knew I wouldn’t.
Mom was right, I wasn’t yet over Gail; but I couldn’t be certain Gail wasn’t over me. If she was, then it was pointless to open the past; reconciliation would be out of the question. And reminiscing about the past would be too painful for me. I was convinced that time healed all wounds. Eventually enough time would pass to heal the hole Gail had left in my chest.
I went out to the barn to help Dad finish up rebuilding a transmission on a 1957 Chevy. We worked in silence, a father and son bonding not with words, but instead with grease and gears, wrenches and winches.
“Sounds to me as if you embraced your grief, wore it like a badge,” Alicia said.
Alex finished blowing a series of smoke rings and said, “So what if I did? It was the sixties. It was what was expected of men. Hell, it’s little different today, even if women claim they want a warm and caring man, someone not afraid to show his feelings. Inevitably the sensitive and compassionate man is passed by or cast away in preference for the bad boy.”
“Your mother was right, though. The worst that could happen would be learning that she’d moved on.”
Alex nodded. “And why would I want to know for certain that she had?”
“You’d rather not have known?”
“Why would I want to know that she’d married another man—someone I might’ve known—that she’d started a family, had convinced herself that what we had was simply puppy love?”
“That sounds like your ego speaking.”
Alex bristled at Alicia’s accusation.
“Maybe it is and so what?” he said, a little too forcefully. Alex took a deep breath before he added, “Your ego wouldn’t be bruised if your husband told you he was leaving you for another woman?”
Alicia looked away and Alex saw her complexion flush and he knew he’d struck a nerve.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to—”
“That’s okay,” Alicia said. “I sometimes forget that men, too, can be hurt.”
“Hell, Alicia, men don’t have a corner on the bad behavior market.”
“I know that.”
“Not that Gail behaved poorly. She just did what she felt was right, even if it was only for herself.” Alex shrugged. “She was protecting herself. As for the rest of it, well, not knowing if she’d chosen to spend her life with someone else left open the possibility that she might yet contact me. It drove me to excel on the track, to prove her wrong—that I wouldn’t get hurt—and to make her proud of me, even if she never picked up the Monday sports section. The phone might ring and I, expecting a call from Mom or Dad, might be surprised to instead hear her voice on the other end, asking me how I was doing, that she was following my career, was proud of me. It may have prolonged the healing process, but I preferred it to taking the cold turkey approach.”
Alicia appeared to doodle on her steno pad; Alex considered that perhaps she was still coping with the memory of her own unpleasant “profile.”
“Not all men’s fantasies have to do with sex, you know.”
Alicia smiled and looked up at Alex.
“That’s better,” he said. “You have a beautiful smile.”
Alicia rolled her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sure you’ve heard that before, many times.”
“I have,” she said, “but thanks just the same.” Then she added, “I have my parents to thank. Two years of braces in my teens. You know their generation. They hoped to increase my attractiveness to men so they could see me married off. They lived at a time before women’s foray into careers.”
“But you followed your calling.”
“I wanted both.”
Alex ran a finger around the lip of his empty glass.
“I’m sorry,” he said again.
“I had both, for a time. And I still hope to have both.”
“I suspect you will, Alicia, and not just because of your braces.”
“Thank you again,” she said. “But what about you?”
Alex laughed. “Look at me. I smoke cigars.”
“So what? So do I,” Alicia said with a laugh.
Alex joined with her laughter and said, “If for no other reason than to get the story.”
“I’m more adventurous than you think.”
“Somehow I can’t imagine you returning to Michigan to invest in a humidor and keeping it stocked with Cohibas.”
“Probably not. But I wouldn’t not consider a relationship with a man who indulged.”
Alex wondered if Alicia were perhaps knocking on his door but chose instead not to crack the door.
“I’m approaching the double-nickel age. Love is for the young, those willing to make fools of themselves, like Romeo did.”
“Romeo killed himself.”
“I know,” Alex said. “What a fool.”
“Love is for anyone and everyone, age notwithstanding,” Alicia said. “Love is all there is. It’s why we’re put here.”
“Really? And here I thought my parents were responsible.”
Alicia smiled and said, “We learn from the mistakes of our youth to hopefully make wiser choices.”
“Are you a product of a poor choice, Alicia?”
“Let’s just say, in hindsight, I should’ve seen it coming.”
“Hindsight is only foresight but after the fact. If you should’ve seen it coming, chances are you did, but you just chose to ignore the warnings.”
Alicia nodded. “That’s beside the point. To find love you need to leave yourself open to the probability.”
“One doesn’t find love, Alicia. It’s not some object to be unearthed at an archeological dig. Love is a choice, something we choose to give another.”
“Besides, I have a business to run—an auto parts store and shop not far from here. It takes up most of my time.”
“That sounds like an excuse.”
“Maybe so, but as excuses go, it’s a good one.”