17 July

Flash Flying

The lovely folks at BLINK asked me to write a blog post, but I am SO not a blogger. So I decided to do something a little different. I’m going to introduce one of the characters from Running Lean, sixteen-year-old Stacey Varnell, and let her speak for herself.


Thursday, March 28

            Things happen in a flash and there isn’t time to think, to figure out my blundering reactions. It’s later, when I’m in my room alone, that the reasons sift through my brain and I can put things in order. Flipping out seeing Calvin talking to Flannery today … that was crazy. I was like a wild thing and there was no rational reason for it. He’s right. I should have handled it differently. But Calvin doesn’t understand the reasons why I reacted at all, and I don’t think he ever will.


            Last October sometime. I’d have to look up the date. My sister drove me to this place about two hours from home, where they ride motorcycles on a dirt track. Daddy would’ve had a coronary if he knew we went there, but I just had to go and see Calvin fly. First thing I saw, though, was … that … girl. I’d met her before, of course. And I knew she rode a motorcycle too. But I totally didn’t expect her to be at the MX track with the boys. She ran up to me like suddenly we were good friends, all dressed in this racing suit thing that was half sports mesh and half lumpy joint pads. Her knee-high boots looked like Goth stompers made of rubber instead of leather. Even with all that, she still managed to look skinny, and I wanted to hate her. She grabbed my wrist and told me Calvin was on the track. She dragged me up the dark stairs of a wooden tower to a kind of observation deck next to the track.


            A lime green-clad person on a lime green motorcycle passed right in front of my face as I looked out. We had to be thirty feet off the ground, at least! Flannery leaned over the railing, whistled like a redneck at a NASCAR race. My heart stuck in my throat as that motorcycle sailed to the ground. Sailed. That’s a good word. Because I totally expected a crash. Flannery practically planked her body over that rickety railing, watching the rider land and zoom around a corner. I don’t think he slowed down a bit. His tires kicked up a plume of red dirt. No wonder everything there was covered in dust. The whole big field was nothing but red clay pushed into mounds and ruts. And my boyfriend was out there somewhere.


            I couldn’t see him at first. I hung back in the doorway, thinking that deck would collapse if I stood out there with Flannery. The wind blew my hair in my face, and dust pinged my face, clogging my pores. But that girl acted like she was in a scene from Titanic, leaning against the rail with her arms waving and her copper hair flying in a silky wave. If Calvin came riding to the top of that big mound, he’d see Flannery cheering him on, not me. Not happening. So I took a step out, daring to put my brand new pink Toms on the boards where I could see prints from Flannery’s boots. I could hardly breathe the air because it smelled and even tasted like exhaust. There were at least five motorcycles dashing around the track, including a little one that looked like it was being ridden by a first-grader. Was that even legal?


            And then I saw Calvin’s old orange bike emerge from a low section of the track. He didn’t have a riding uniform like the others, but wore his denim jacket and the same red helmet he used all the time. I joined Flannery at the rail, my palms on the wood somehow avoiding splinters. I wanted to see everything. Calvin loved riding and said he felt alive when he was flying through the air on his Yamaha. I had to experience this with him. He disappeared for an instant at the bottom of the hill and then he was just … THERE! In the air. Six feet away from my face. His happy whoop barely cut through the scream of his engine. My heart jumped so hard I nearly died.


            Flannery said it was a decent jump, but could be better. She tried to tell me all the technical aspects of how Calvin did it, what went wrong or right, and how it would have been different if he’d been riding a newer bike rather than that vintage Yamaha. She knew everything, all the stuff I would never know about motocross and why the dust and the smell and the noise was all worth it. And as she spoke, her long, slender fingers brushed back her shining hair, and her perfect white teeth and her emerald eyes gleamed through the dusty air.

It was at that moment I realized she terrified me.

So today I saw them together in the hallway, and Flannery touched him and leaned in close like they were whispering secrets. I know they’re just friends, but they share something I can never be a part of, something I can’t compete with. It means I have to try harder to hold onto Calvin. I’m not naturally skinny and beautiful like Flannery, and I’ll never be able to ride a motorcycle in a straight line, much less fly through the air on one. So I have to find my own ways to be perfect for Calvin, so he’ll never have an excuse to look anywhere else.

I’m not jealous of Flannery. I’m just … tired.