Novel Excerpts

Running Lean

Running Lean [run-ning leen]

1. A term referring to a deficiency of fuel in the fuel-to-air

ratio of an internal combustion engine.

2. A physical condition where not enough caloric fuel is

present for optimal performance of the body.

3. A spiritual condition in which a believer relies on his own

human abilities alone.


Chapter 1

     That flag--folded in a triangle, framed in a box, and displayed on the mantle--drew Calvin's eyes like an intruder in the room. He stalled halfway down the steps to the living room.

     Michael's flag.

     Calvin stared. Not out of reverence for a fallen American hero. It just freakin' hurt. Six months after they'd brought his brother's body home in a casket, that star-spangled fabric could still smack Calvin in the chest like a fall off his motorcycle.

     "Hey, move it. Some of us have to catch the bus, you know." His younger sister, Lizzie, wedged herself between him and the wall. She bumped the helmet in his hand and broke the flag's spell. Calvin thundered the rest of the way downstairs behind her.

     "Get it together," he muttered to himself. He could find a way to walk past that stupid flag without choking on a gob of grief.

     While Lizzie escaped out the front door, Calvin followed the worn path in the shag carpet toward the kitchen. In the corner of the dining room, a computer sat on a desk barely big enough to hold it. Family photos faded in and out on the monitor. Calvin's feet scuffed, shifted that way. No time to check his Facebook page again. He'd have to deal with a day without one of his girlfriend's quirky poetic message or funny good-morning images. He could do this thing.

     Calvin grabbed his fleece-lined jacket off a hook by the door and headed out. The three-bay workshop in the back housed some farm equipment, a half-restored 1978 Ford Mustang covered in a dusty blue tarp, and Calvin's Yamaha Enduro motorcycle, which was even older.

     At least the tarp meant he didn't have to look at Michael's car.

     The Yamaha started on the second kick. Not bad for a cold start! Calvin revved through the open workshop door and into the thin sunlight of a North Carolina morning. A little too cool to ride, perhaps, but he tasted spring and couldn't wait. He charged down the gravel driveway and whipped past the departing school bus, showing off for the  freshman girly girls who'd be clustered around his sister. He could imagine Lizzie's scorn without seeing her face through the bus window.

     Calvin pressed right, leaned deep, and hugged a curve, breezing over the tall, prickly grasses crowding the shoulder of Victory Church Road. The Yamaha's ring-ding song echoed off the asphalt, and the wind battered the heat from Calvin's face. Motion without a cage. And for the two miles between home and school, Calvin could feel free. At the stop sign at Old Bentley Road, he tickled the throttle in anticipation of the turn. A sleek red Camaro sped past, horn beeping a challenge.

     Calvin hissed between his teeth. "Uh-uh. No way, dude."

     He angled around the corner and tailgated his friend Tyler's car along the two-lane road. Stiles County's version of rush hour meant there was just enough traffic to keep him from passing. At the entrance of South Stiles High School, car and bike waited to turn left. In his rearview mirror, Tyler flashed a big-toothed grin beneath a swoop of pampered blond hair.

     Calvin revved his engine in answer.

     A warning crackled in the back of his mind: detention, loss of parking privileges, Dad taking the bike away for reckless driving. But every other impulse pushed against all that was sensible, safe, and dull. His conscience didn't stand a chance.

     He followed the Camaro into the parking lot. A wide speed bump spanned the width of both lanes ahead.

     "Prepare to fail," Calvin said inside his helmet.

     As expected, Tyler slowed down. No way he'd bottom out his precious car on the bump. Calvin swerved left and cranked the throttle. He lifted from his seat and bounced down to load the rear shocks as his front tire hit the rise in the pavement. The bike's engine raced as both wheels went airborne, sending a thrill through Calvin's veins.

     He nailed the jump, landed clean, and cut ahead of Tyler.

     Calvin glided to an area of the parking lot claimed by the school's few bikers. He pulled into a space beside a metallic black Kawasaki Ninja and stared at the 650 cc's of pure adrenaline-packed ride. Ooh, man. Someday, dude. Someday. 

     He set his kickstand and swung his leg over the cracked Enduro seat then removed his helmet. No more time to fly.

     "Cal!" Tyler called from two lanes away.

     Calvin shrugged off one strap of his backpack as Tyler jogged between the parked cars to join him. Standing on the other side of the Yamaha, Tyler huffed. "Are you trying to get yourself killed? I almost hit you."

     "I knew what I was doing." Calvin scrubbed a hand through his curly hair to get rid of any helmet head.

   Tyler looked away and laughed. "Yeah, well, save the stunts for the motocross track. Besides, this old thing'll be dropping bolts all over the asphalt if you keep beating it that way."

     "Hey, it's not old, it's vintage. And it's the best dirt bike you'll ever see."

     "I can hardly see it at all under the duct tape." He flashed his perfect teeth. "You goin' in? Or hanging out here with Stacey?"

     "Uh..." Calvin scanned the parking lot for his girlfriend's car. No Facebook message. No little blue Honda Civic yet. Not right. "I dunno. She's usually here before me."

     "Want to use my phone to call her?" Tyler reached for his back pocket.

     Calvin pulled his lips into a crooked smirk. With seven--six--kids in the family, living on eighty acres that couldn't produce enough to cover the bills, and Dad's automotive business barely making it in the bad economy, a cell phone was another "someday" dream. 

     "Nah," he answered. "She won't answer if she's driving. Detective Daddy's orders. She drives safe."

     "What would she say about that stunt you just pulled?" Grinning, Tyler tipped his head toward the speed bump.

     Calvin straightened his shoulders. "She'd applaud its perfect execution and my superior skill on two wheels."

     "Ha! Yeah, right. I'll see ya later, bro." Tyler backhanded Calvin's arm and headed for the sidewalk, so cool, so happy with his smartphone and his new car, waving to a girl who called his name. A year ago he'd been a skinny geek with braces. This year, thanks to hours spent in a dentist's chair and sweating in a weightlifting class, he was a budding rock star who barely knew what to do with his groupies' attentions.

     Calvin drummed his fingers on his helmet and scanned the parking lot again. Stacey's bright blue Civic would be easy to spot, but it wasn't in the line of sports cars, beaters, and pickup trucks streaming up the driveway. Maybe she was sick and her mother made her stay in bed. Again. It happened way too often.