Excerpt and New Cover Reveal for the forthcoming novel THE WAY OF A MAN WITH A NEIGHBOR
After a week Sam had his new place laid out the way he wanted it. Now it was time to get into his new life routine, to include keeping his body in shape. His plan was to do something every day: hit the weights every other weekday and run on the in-between days and on the weekend if he was in the mood. He counted that Tuesday afternoon as an in-between day—a day for jogging.
According to his Jeep’s odometer Barton Road was just over three quarters of a mile long. If he started from his house and ran up the road to the interstate, then back the other to the state road at the other end, then back to his house he’d run about a mile and a half. In the Air Force that distance would have been his warm-up before he started running for real.
Sam stretched in his foyer and started his run from his front porch. In the few strides it took to reach the end of his driveway his quads and hamstrings politely informed him that he’d been fucking off for too long and this run wasn’t going to be the piece of cake it was before he left the military. Wary of how far he might have slipped he kept his pace moderate. He headed left out of his driveway onto the shoulder of Barton Road, facing nonexistent traffic. Best to not push it to start off and let his body dictate the pace.
His lady neighbor’s Mini Cooper sat like a squat, sleeping bug in her carport. In the week since he moved in he’d seen her car at home on more days than not. She looked too young to be retired. Maybe she worked from home. Okay, or maybe it wasn’t his business.
Up ahead, maybe fifty yards beyond his next door neighbor’s house stood the brick rancher. During the evenings a late model Ford F-150 was usually parked in the driveway there. On this early afternoon the driveway was empty. Sam figured the people there were at work. By the time he reached the rancher the burning in his leg muscles had begun to cool and their tightness loosen. His lungs felt good so far; he wasn’t laboring for breath. Muscle memory was starting to set in. Sam kicked his pace up a notch and fell into his old military habit of mentally counting off cadence as he ran: Left…left…left-right-left. He felt good. Energized. Like he could run all day.
He passed the little rancher. Bright color in his peripheral vision pulled his gaze back the house. A new yellow Mustang Shelby GT500 sat draped in the shadows on the far side of the house. Must be the weekend ride, Sam thought. Must be nice.
He reached the state highway at the end of Barton Road, crossed to its far side to face traffic and started running back. A mild burning in his lungs reminded him that he hadn’t run in six months. Okay, this is what happens when you’re pushing forty and you slack off for too long. You can’t just bounce back anymore. He kept his mouth closed, resisting the urge to gulp in air and possibly hyperventilate. He decided if the going got too tough by the time he was across the road from his house he’d call it quits. No point in pushing it on the first day.
By the time Sam reached the brick rancher again the stitch in his side suggested that half the run he’d planned would be good enough for his first time in running shoes in half a year. He blinked the sweat from his eyes and looked to the shadows on the side of the house again, admiring the Mustang. Above the car twin satellite dishes sat on the edge of the roof like Mickey Mouse ears. Sam wondered what kind of service required two satellite dishes and thought again, Must be nice.
As he passed the rancher the stitch in his side had started to ease off. His wind definitely wasn’t as good as it had been six months ago, but he thought he could push on past his house if he really wanted to. If he ran out of gas he could walk it out.
His next door neighbor’s house was coming up. Sam considered a third option: Going into a homestretch kick to burn up his reserves and call it quits. The icy bottle of water in his freezer was calling his name.
Sam was just about to go into his kick when he realized that his lady neighbor was sitting on her stoop porch, just like she had when he was moving in last week. He hadn’t seen her since then. Even without his glasses and through sweat-stung eyes he could see that this time rather than sweatpants she wore an off-the-shoulder knit dress. She was barefoot, and sat with her bottom and one foot on her porch and her other foot on the top step. Her position made the hem of her dress ride high up her thighs and show off the fetching length of her legs. Like last week she was reading; this time she had a hardcover book rather than a tablet. Sam forgot about going into his kick. Instead he slowed his pace. Those legs were too long to dash by without proper appreciation.
As he neared the corner of her yard she shifted her attention from her reading material. He could tell she was looking at him, but from the distance he couldn’t read her expression. Maybe she was smiling. Maybe not. Maybe she was scowling and giving him an I hate you black man for moving next door to me glare.
When he was almost directly across from her front door Sam nodded at her and gave her a quick wave. Nobody could accuse him of being antisocial.
The woman waved back. Maybe she waved because she was being social too. Maybe she waved because she didn’t want to piss off the black man and have him break into her house and rob her.
Okay man, quit that shit. Everybody in the south isn’t in the Klan.
He passed the woman’s house and reached the spot on the road across from his driveway, where moments ago he’d planned to stop. In spite of his fiery lungs and tightening legs male ego made him keep going. Once he was out of her sight he’d walk if he needed to.
He left his house and that cold bottle of water in his freezer behind, and somehow when he was across the road from the field of his other neighbor he found his second wind. He kept his pace slow as his body switched to autopilot. Left…left…left-right-left…
His other neighbor’s house was a two-story colonial with columns supporting its wraparound porch and a red barn in need of new paint out back. This house sat well back from Barton Road. A narrow dirt lane stretched from the road to curve around the front of the house at its far end. Were it not for telephone lines stretching overhead and the Chevy Suburban sitting in the lane in front of the residence it could have been a plantation house from two centuries ago.
By the time Sam made it back to his house his lungs seemed filled with lava and his legs were starting to cramp. His back had decided to join the party by sending an aggravating, biting pain up and down from the base of his spine to the back of his neck.
His neighbor was still on her porch, but as Sam staggered into his yard she closed her book and stood up. By the time he reached his porch she was opening her front door. Sam gripped his porch step rail and hauled himself up to his door on shaky legs.
From the corner of his eye he thought his neighbor paused to look over at him before she went inside her house. He was too wiped out to look to be sure, or to care if she actually had, and if she had looked at him, to wonder why.
COMING THIS SUMMER