Getting Sideways

Getting shipped off to live with his uncle Race was the best thing that ever happened to fifteen-year-old Cody. Then a wreck at the speedway nearly ruined everything. Cody’s making every effort to get his life back on track, but there’s no escaping the nightmares that haunt him.

A chance to build his own car seems like the perfect distraction until Cody realizes he’ll have to live up to Race’s legendary reputation as a driver. But that’s the least of his worries, considering he doesn’t have his dad’s permission. All he has to do is the impossible: keep his uncle in the dark until he can convince his dad racing’s safe.

Yeah, sure. That’ll be easy.

Praise for Getting Sideways:

“I loved Getting Sideways. I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately, and Lisa’s books are up there with the best of them.”

– Beth Miles, Amazon Reviewer

Getting Sideways has been more than entertainment for me, but has actually opened my eyes to things that I may not have even ever given a second chance before. Hmmmm. Maybe I should catch a race this summer! If it’s as fun as this book makes it out to be, I just might get hooked!”

– Carla, Amazon Reviewer

“The author weaves the angst of growing up with her trademark humor that leaves you laughing out loud.”

– Alice Lynn, Amazon Reviewer

********************

Free Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Engines howl. The scent of racing fuel, sharp and sweet, fills my nose. I squint across the infield, trying to make out what’s happening. Tom Carey’s Camaro—stark white under the sickly glow of speedway lights—clips the corner of my uncle’s back bumper. And then Race’s car is in the air. The engine revs. The underside of the Dart is exposed for one timeless second before all four tires slam down on asphalt. Out of nowhere, Jim Davis’s car appears and smashes into the yellow 8 on the driver’s door.

Bang! Something hit the desk in front of me and I jumped. Heart pounding, I blinked at the latest issue of our school paper, The Axe.

“Wake up,” Megan—the editor and my awesomely hot girlfriend—said, teasing me with a smile. “Your story’s on page four.”

Under any other circumstances, that smile would put me totally at her mercy, but I was too shook up to do anything but flip open the paper with a trembling hand. Damn. It was bad enough the dream had to invade my nights, stealing my sleep. Couldn’t I at least get a little peace at school?

But the tired feeling that had burned a hole through my brain all day disappeared when I saw my first published story, complete with byline. Foreign Exchange Students Bring Culture to South Eugene, by Cody Everett. Pride shivered through me. Race was gonna love this.

We spent the class distributing papers, and that rush stayed with me the whole time. When the bell rang to end seventh period, I took one last peek at my story before tucking it into my folder, grabbing my backpack, and heading outside.

After a cool, foggy morning, the October sunshine was like discovering half a bag of M&Ms in an old jacket pocket. It convinced me to walk to the auto restoration shop where I worked three afternoons a week.

With my school just north of Amazon Park, I could take the winding path that led along the slough for most of the sixteen blocks. The cottonwoods were starting to turn yellow, and the sun, which had warmed the air to near seventy, was baking a sweet scent out of the first of their fallen leaves. I could’ve really gotten into the walk if exhaustion hadn’t hit halfway through, making me sorry I hadn’t taken the bus.

I trudged on until I reached 33rd then let my eyes fall shut as I waited for the walk signal. Memories of the nightmare flickered across the back of my closed lids, the same sequence as always. The only time the dream was different was when it was about a funeral.

I opened my eyes to chase away the images, but I’d seen them so many times in the past three months, two weeks, and three days, they were permanently etched into my brain.

The light changed. I sprinted across Hilyard, jogging the last block to Eugene Custom Classics. The best way to forget the whole mess would be to replace it with something else—like showing Race my story. After all the nagging he’d done to get me to sign up for journalism, he’d be jazzed to see my name in print.

My mood took a nosedive when I saw that my uncle’s van wasn’t parked out in front of the shop. If Race was running errands, he could be gone until closing.

I detoured through the office, tossed my backpack and leather jacket onto the scruffy couch, and went to hunt down Kasey. She owned the place and should’ve been my uncle’s girlfriend, but . . .

“Hey, Kasey,” I said when I found her lying under the midsection of a ’63 Thunderbird. “When’s Race gonna be back? He run to get parts or something?”

“No, he went home. He had a headache.”

My stomach pinched in on itself. “He left with the quarterly payroll taxes still due?” Race had been working on straightening out Kasey’s business records for months. One of his biggest gripes was how she always filed her taxes late and had to pay penalties. If he was letting that slide, he must be feeling pretty lousy.

“He finished up this morning and dropped the paperwork off with the accountant on his way to the house.”

I stood staring down at the half of Kasey that wasn’t under the T-bird.

“He’s fine, Cody.”

“I know that!” Instantly, I was ticked at myself for letting my worries get away from me. Again. Kasey had enough to deal with. She didn’t need me giving her crap.

As usual, she ignored the outburst. “Why don’t you get started on those parts over by the solvent tank? There’s at least a couple of hours worth of work there—and wear the gloves this time.” Kasey was always big on safety, even before the wreck.

“All right, all right.” Much as I hated how those big floppy things slid around on my hands, I didn’t like the way the solvent made my skin go tingly, either. I considered showing her my story—Kasey had been reading my stuff as long as Race had, and she shared my passion for books—but I didn’t want to interrupt her in the middle of a job.

I snagged a shop coat from the rack by the office and pulled it on over my I’m marching to a different accordion T-shirt. When I flipped the switch to start the flow of solvent, the acrid, chemical scent drifted up to wrinkle my nose. In spite of it, the act of washing parts always soothed me. Scrubbing the nooks and crannies to clean away grease was a mindless sort of work, and it gave me time to think. There was something comforting about doing a job that produced dramatic results with so little skill or effort.

As I scoured black gunk from a small block Chevy intake manifold, I tried to figure out the details for a short story I was working on. But I was too tired to concentrate, and each time I focused my thoughts on the plot, they zipped off on their own, taking me back to the end of June. Why the hell couldn’t I put that night behind me like everyone else had?

“Are you almost finished?”

Kasey’s voice startled me. I jumped, sloshing solvent down the front of my shop coat and nearly dousing my new Converse high tops. As I turned away from the tank, her blue eyes met mine, full of sympathy. That look always made me feel like I should’ve done a better job of keeping my problems to myself.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” Kasey said, squeezing my arm above the top of a long rubber glove. “Headaches are perfectly normal after a traumatic brain injury—you know that. Race is exactly where he should be in his recovery.”

I stared down at the dusty concrete. “I wanted to show him my newspaper article, that’s all.”

Kasey seemed to think the headaches bothered me because I was worried Race might still keel over. It wasn’t that. At least not too much. I just couldn’t stand the way they took me back to that night.

Kasey’s fingers tightened around my arm. “He’ll still appreciate your story in the morning. Why don’t you leave it on the kitchen table and I’ll read it when I get home?”

I nodded, not looking up. “Sure.”

“It’s six o’clock,” she added. “Jake’s heading out. He says he’ll drop you off. Unless you want to wait for me?”

I slid my foot back and forth against the smooth concrete. On Wednesdays she worked late because Race and I were normally at his shop, messing around with my Galaxie.

“How long are you gonna be?” I asked.

“Another hour or two.”

“I guess I’ll go now.”

Kasey dropped her hand to dig some money out of her pocket. She unfolded the bills—all faced the same direction, grouped by denomination—and pulled out a ten. “Stop and grab yourself something for dinner,” she said, handing it to me. “There’s no sense cooking just for yourself.”

I jammed the money into my pocket.

“And no pizza,” Kasey added. “Contrary to what you and Race might believe, it’s really not the sixth food group.”

*          *          *

I finished the oil pan I’d been working on, got my backpack from the office, and followed Jake out to his rust-and-primer ’58 Chevy pickup. It sucked, having to rely on other people for transportation, but I wouldn’t get my license until I turned sixteen in December.

Sinking back against the seat, I closed my eyes. Jake cranked the engine, firing up his country music—a taste he shared with Kasey. I’d developed an unwelcome familiarity with it in the last few months.

“How’s the Galaxie coming?” he asked as we pulled out onto East Amazon. Jake was Kasey’s painter—a quiet man in his forties with a crew cut and enough muscles to give Rambo an inferiority complex. He’d been with Kasey since she’d opened shop, fresh out of college, three years before.

“All we’ve got left is plug wires and stuff. We were supposed to fire her up tonight.” The thought of my pale yellow ’65 Galaxie brought an ache right along with the pride. All those hours spent rebuilding the engine, going through the brakes, replacing the hoses . . . I still couldn’t believe Race had bought it for me because he “just felt like it” when he couldn’t afford the new helmet that would’ve kept him from damn near killing himself.

“It’ll happen,” Jake said, apparently interpreting my comment to mean I was bummed about not finishing the car. Maybe I should’ve been, but the closer I got to driving the Galaxie, the more I realized I wasn’t ready for the project to be over. Hanging out with Race was one thing. Having him teach me was a whole ’nother deal—a one-on-one kind of sharing I’d never had with anyone else. I mean, sure, Kasey showed me how to do things at work, but her head was so full of projects I always worried I was distracting her from something more important.

“How’s the karate going?” Jake asked, tapping the steering wheel to the beat of Reba McEntire’s latest hit, Walk On.

“Good. I moved up a rank on Saturday.”

“Race mentioned that.” Jake shot a grin across the cab. “Twice, in fact. So what does that make you, a yellow belt?”

“White with one green stripe. We don’t have yellow at my dojo, just white, green, brown, and black. For the kyus in between, they add stripes of the next color to our belts.”

Jake nodded. “Makes sense.”

I didn’t want him to have to stop and let me get something to eat, so I didn’t mention it. I could whip up a tuna sandwich and give Kasey back her ten bucks. Race wouldn’t like me taking it, anyway.

After a five-minute drive, Jake dropped me off at Kasey’s place on the butte above the University. It was a big improvement over our crappy trailer, which we would’ve gone back to once Race got out of the hospital if Grandma hadn’t sided with Kasey on us moving in here.

I grabbed the mail out of the box. Bills for Kasey and a Circle Track magazine for Race. The cars on the cover, scrambling for the lead at some dirt track, put a little flutter in my gut. The season had ended in September, just a few weeks after my uncle started racing again. I missed the hot, dusty nights at the speedway, the growl of engines, and that sweet, pungent scent of racing fuel. When Dad kicked me out last May after I got busted for graffiti, the last thing I’d wanted was to hang out with a bunch of redneck gearheads, but now I could hardly wait for April, when the new season would start. Maybe Race would even let me take the Dart out for a few laps at one of the practice sessions. I’d been itching to get behind the wheel.

I continued flipping through the mail. Nothing for me. Not that it was any surprise. I hadn’t heard from Mom since August when she’d tried to guilt-trip me into moving to Phoenix, and I’d refused, telling her to drop the head games or leave me alone. At the time I’d figured I was better off without her. Now I half-wished I hadn’t shown her the door. It wasn’t that I expected her to be a real mom—and I sure as hell wasn’t going back to getting smacked around and called names—but was it asking too much for her to send a card once in a while? To step up and act like an adult, instead of being so spiteful?

A sudden rage ripped through me, making my hand clench around the magazine. I wanted to level the mailbox with a roundhouse kick, but I squelched the impulse. I wasn’t that kid anymore. I didn’t have to give in to my temper. Forcing my hand to relax, I took a deep, centering breath and headed up the driveway.

 *          *          *

 Inside, the house was silent. Race’s door was closed. I knew he’d be in there until morning, his curtains drawn to create a dark, quiet cave. I slipped down the hall, resisting the urge to knock and ask if he was okay.

In my room, I dropped my backpack and jacket on the bed and sank down beside them. I wanted to take a nap, but with where my head was, I knew sleep wouldn’t come.

The thing that bothered me the most, the thing I couldn’t understand, was why everyone else seemed to have a handle on the situation while I couldn’t get over it. The nightmares, the prickling anxiety—all that had made sense right after the wreck, but why now? And why me? Race was the one whose life had been trashed. The one whose career as an artist had been sidelined when the head injury screwed up his fine motor skills. Compared to that, what did I have to bitch about? I hadn’t lost anything.

But it sure felt like I had. And it wasn’t just the wreck. It was all the changes—moving in with Kasey, getting used to the subtle things that made Race different, knowing if I ever let my guard down, my world could get knocked out of orbit again. All I wanted was for life to go back to the way it had been last June when it was just me and Race, and I felt like I was in control.

Well, feeling sorry for myself wasn’t going to fix anything. What I needed now was a little karate to shake me out of this funk. I slipped into some sweats and went outside.

From low in the west, the sun cast bronze rays over the trees on the hillside behind the house. The birches were beginning to turn gold, and the maple at the north end of the patio flamed scarlet.

Listening to the sounds of nature around me, I concentrated on my breathing. I drew a fresh breath deep into my chest, then exhaled from the belly, forcing out the old, stale air. A few minutes of that left me lightheaded from the surge of oxygen. My fingers and toes tingled, and I felt a rush of anticipation knowing this would be one of those times I entered that magic zone where my workout gave me a high.

I started slowly with a series of kicks, warming up my body, getting it used to the motion. Front kick, roundhouse, side kick, back kick—the moves flowed together, and after a few repetitions I put more force behind them, adding some snap. The world fell away as I focused on the physical. There was no room for my feelings—my anxiety—as perfecting the execution of the moves became the only thing that mattered. For a few brief moments everything came together.

But after I went back inside, as I sat in front of the TV alone with my tuna sandwich, the worries came creeping back. The Galaxie was almost finished. Race wasn’t going to wake up tomorrow magically restored to his old self. And as much as I wanted him and Kasey to be together—as hard as I’d worked to make that happen—I wasn’t sure I could handle not having my uncle to myself.

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