Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chapter 4: Christmas Eve

Beads of Sweat is the working title of a novel about running.  This novel chronicles one high school cross country team's quest for a state championship.  But it's also about hard work and discipline and brotherhood.  I welcome any feedback (good or bad) anyone has to give.  If anyone, has an in to the world of literary agents and/or publishing, drop me a line.  Thanks for reading.

      They rambled down Springvale fighting the temptation to run fast.  Smitty on the left, Jenkins in the middle, Hammond flanking the right side.  Running just fast enough for Smitty not to crack jokes, they let themselves listen to the sound of their feet patting the packed dirt road.  They knew Hartman would be taking them here at some point this season, and they knew when he did, it would not be as easy as it was right now.  As seniors, this would be their last independent run before they started the season, before they graduated high school, and they decided to run it together.  It was a bit of a Springfield tradition.  On the eve of the last run before camp week, the seniors would get together and go for a cruise.  Hartman somehow got credit for starting this tradition even though he never once talked about this day or showed up for it.  The boys, some years it was six others three sometimes just two, always ended the run at Cinders and ordered a meal that they would order once in the next thirty years.  It was part of the tradition.  Liver and onions with a side of okra.  The oldies considered this Cinders’ house specialty.  Most if not all high school kids won’t touch it with a ten foot poll.  Rumor had it that Hartman decided the senior send-in dinner, too.  It’ll put hair on your chest, he reportedly said of the meal.

            -What d’ya think it’ll taste like, Smitty said as they brought the pace down to a jog.
            -Don’t know, Hammond said.
            -Mebkay said it’s not that bad if you eat it with milk.
            -Have you talked to him?
            -He said he ran ninety-six miles in ten runs last week.
            -That’s no joke.
            -That’s what a Colorado scholarship will for ya.

            Hammond picked up Jenkins and Smith eighty minutes ago, so now the trio stretched against his old GT.  Moths danced under the neon signage and mosquitoes buzzed and bit down below.  Smitty tried to hurry them along, but Hammond was resolute in completing his stretching routine. 

            -I’m goin in.
            -Me too.
            -Give me two minutes. 
            -F that.  I’m dying out here.
            -Fine.  You know what to order.

The beginning of the meal started with excitement and borderline giggling.  They didn’t know what to expect of the liver and onions or what camp week much less the season would hold.  Smitty, of course, made a few cracks about the meal, claiming his liver came from an alcoholic steer.  I can just taste it, as he spat it back onto the plate.

-You have to finish it, Jenkins said.
-All of it?
-Every morsel?
-If I don’t?
-Season is jinxed, Hammond said.
-For me or the whole team?
-Oh come on…shit…this tastes like shit.  He shoveled a forkful into his mouth.
-Just keep baling that hay, Jenkins told him.
-Shit, you probably enjoyed it Jenks. 
He pulled down his shirt. 
-Three new hairs just came in.

Hammond reached over and tried to pluck out one of the figment hairs.  Jenks batted his hand away and spilt his water over Smitty’s onions and okra.  Smitty cursed and Jenks and Hamz laughed.
-Should’ve eaten it quicker.

Like when he gets serious in a race, Smitty put his head down and plowed through.  There was a silence for a minute or two, then some small talk, then some more silence.  An air of gravity came down upon the booth and it lasted all the way to the Pontiac.

-So what time do we have to be there tomorrow?
-In the am.
-You want me to pick you guys up?
-You’re gonna keep your car in the lot all week?
-Why not?
-Sure then.
-Okay, then I’ll pick you up at 6:20 and you 6:25, he said it just to get under Smitty’s skin. 

            Then that was it.  They just listened to Smitty’s fingers dancing along the presets all the way home.  Terse good-byes and see you tomorrows and then each one was home.

            He dropped Jenkins off first.  He still had pushups to do, so he did them.  Four sets of thirty with thirty seconds rest.  Hartman teased him endlessly his freshman year about his weak upper body, and the upperclassmen followed his lead.  During the cross country fitness test, he could only manage twenty-seven in two minutes.  A team low.  That’s when he went into secret training.  At first, he didn’t see the correlation between running fast and having a strong core, but over a season or two Hartman’s philosophy engrained itself into him.  Pushups, abs, planks, pullups: they were all part of his routine. 

            In bed he picked up his loaned copy of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  It was one of the choices on the summer reading list.  Torres told him it was a good read.  But as with every night, the last thing Jenkins read before shutting out the lamp was his goals for the season; they were written in bold capital letters on a heavy piece of oaktag that doubled as his bookmark.

            Smitty marched straight into the kitchen when he got home.  He told his mother he needed something to get the awful taste out of his mouth.  Forever, the youngest of two sisters and a brother, his mom satiated him with a heaping bowl of ice cream.  Smitty devoured it then told himself that was the last gluttonous indulgence he’d allow himself for the rest of the season.

            In bed he tossed a tennis ball up toward the ceiling again and again.  Feeling guilty about the rocky road, he admonished himself, “I can be really good at this.  I could be really good if I get my shit together.”

            Hammond had to finish up the stretching that Jenks and Smitty rushed him through in Cinders’ parking lot.  As he stretched, his dad came in and asked twenty questions about camp week.  The son answered with terse obedience. 

            In bed Hammond tried to block out all that stuff.  To do so, he mentally checked off all the luggage in his dufflebag: trainers, flats, socks, t-shirts, toothbrush, toothpaste, running shorts, mesh shorts, boxers, jeans, a hoodie just in case…until his listing transmuted into prayer.  He prayed for the Lord to give him power and strength and speed and most of all...

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