In the spirit of classic running novels, Ty Strange has imagined a story about five thirty-something men bound by running talent and living in Sonoma county who juggle relationships, careers, heartaches, and technology’s pervasive reach, all the while training and racing together, pursuing cross-country club championship bragging rights. The following excerpt picks up where the guys christen the start to their season long pursuit.
Annual XC BBQ
“Robyn, sweetie, this is Dillon and his dog, Miles,” Jake says to his eight-year-old daughter when a man and his siberian husky enter the homestead’s backyard, his arms full of banana bread, a serving dish filled with roasted potatoes, and a case of Allagash White.
“Very nice to meet you,” she says. “I’m Robyn, spelled with a y because y is the best letter in the whole alphabet.” She takes out her Agent Carter notebook and jots in it. “I shall call you Dilly and Miley.”
“WooooowooowoooWooooowoooo,” Miles says.
“Oh, that’s a funny noise,” Robyn says, scribing another entry.
Miles tilts her head up toward Dillon.
“If I can live with Dilly, you can live with Miley,” Dillon whispers.
“And this is my lovely wife, Linda,” Jake says as she walks up to them. “This is Dillon.”
“Hello, Dillon. Let me take some of that off your hands.” She offloads the food items. “I’m sure the guys can help you with the beer.”
“Mom, it’s Dilly.”
“Yes, sweetie, I forgot the y.”
Linda laughs. “You’re right, Jakey.”
“Mom, Dilly’s dog barks funny,” Robyn says, wrapping her arms around Linda’s legs.
“You know it’s not nice to make fun of others,” Linda replies.
“I mean it’s different,” she says, now playing around Jake’s legs as if they were a jungle gym.
“That’s not a bad thing,” Jake says.
“She’s talking, not barking,” Dillon says.
“Oh, then we have things to discuss, Miley. We must go!”
Miles eyes Dillon, who nods, and trots alongside Robyn, moving away from the trio, talking a mile a minute.
“Here, let’s find a home for that beer, and I’ll introduce you around,” Jake says, giving Linda a kiss afterward.
“Nice meeting you, Dillon,” Linda says.
Jake walks Dillon around the spacious backyard hidden from view out off Willowside Road, a patchwork of green and brown grass owing to the drought engulfing the region, that plays host to a dozen wooden picnic tables loosely clustered around a large BBQ pit. Around the perimeter of the property tall eucalyptus trees sway to a gentle breeze. Through the trees Dillon watches two horses saunter around a dusty corral, grinning when he spots a pair of donkeys in the same corral, one nudging and chasing a large plastic ball while the other chases the first, nipping at its hindquarters.
“It’s amazing,” Dillon says.
“What’s that?” Jake says.
“How much your place, and mine, makes you feel so out in the country and away from everything, yet we’re only ten minutes outside town.”
“That’s what makes this area special: a little heaven on Earth . . . and a trail always within reach,” Jake says, approaching a lively group sitting around a pair of picnic tables pushed together. “And this motley crew collectively represents the founding mothers and fathers of the club.” He gestures to the consortium of senior-division-and-up female and male runners sitting in various modes of running shirts from years gone by. “Founding mothers and fathers, Dillon; Dillon, founding mothers and fathers.”
A chorus of hey greets Dillon. “Founding mothers and fathers,” Dillon says. “Hey, Dale.”
“The shower working in the Tokyo Room?” Dale says, the club’s most senior of senior members and Dillon’s handyman at his Bed, Run & Breakfast Inn.
“Like a waterfall.” He hands Dale a beer.
“Ooookay, we’d better keep moving,” Jake says, turning and moving on, “or you’ll be employing the entire table for beer.”
Various forms of “But Jakey” fade behind them as Jake walks Dillon over to where the Sunday crew has staked out a table and several lawn chairs. “This is more our demographic.”
“Dillon,” Chase says from his seated position, shirtless.
“Chase. Guys,” Dillon says, setting the case of beer down. It is instantly emptied and placed into the oversized cooler.
“Maggie couldn’t make it?” Jake asks Spencer, referencing his longtime girlfriend.
“She’s on a writing tear.”
“What’s she working on now?” Chase says.
“She doesn’t let me read anything until the second draft.”
“She says I’m too literal.”
“Nooooo,” Jim says.
Spencer gives off a distinctive clearing of the throat, aka “Spence-speak.”
“Who’s the hottie,” Chase says, gesturing across the way.
Dillon turns toward the hottie, a woman with short black hair and shorter running tights conversing with Robyn and Doris (Jim’s fiancé) on the other side of the fire pit.
“Terri,” Dillon says. “She works for me, helps with breakfast and housekeeping.”
“Hmmm,” Chase says, sipping his beer. “I think I saw her out at the JC track last week.”
“She teaches a class there a couple days a week,” Dillon says.
“You two . . .” Chase gives Dillon the inquisitive eyebrow treatment, shifting his eyes back and forth between employer and employee.
“Nope. I don’t mix business with pleasure.”
“Or trouble,” Jake says, popping the cap off an Allagash White. Doris’s cackle catches his attention and he watches his daughter take notes like a journalist as she and Doris converse with Terri.
Dillon scratches his chin.
“What’s her story?” Chase says.
“She’s working on her master’s in human sexuality—”
The beer that reaches Jake’s lips sprays outward in all directions. The guys standing directly in front of him take quick cover.
“Smooth, Jakey,” Chase says, chuckling along with the others afterward.
The commotion catches the attention of Terri, Doris, and Robyn, as well as others in the vicinity, and all are staring in the guys’ direction, scrambling to cover up their shared embarrassment. Robyn marches over to her dad.
“Dad, I have questions for you and Mom.”
“Lord love a duck,” Jim says.
“That’s my dad’s words, Jimmy.”
“I’m sure you do, sweetie,” Jake says. He composes himself and successfully takes a sip of his beverage. “But not now, okay?”
“Chasey, why are you ’fraid of commitment?” Robyn asks.
More beer spews out from its intended palate, this time from Chase, spawning raucous laughter. “Whaaaaaat?”
“My new best friend, Terri—spelled with an i, though I wanted to change it to a y, but she said she preferred i and I agreed because she’s pretty smart—said you were checking her short shorts out, but if she went out with you—and she said she thought you were cute with your little dimple and blue eyes so it could be a possibility—you’d only sleep with her, then find something wrong with her and tell her goodbye.”
Chase sits stunned. Dillon hangs his head. Jim is about ready to say Jake’s patented catchphrase again, but stops short. Spencer tries to suppress laughter but fails.
“It’s not funny, Spencey.” Robyn glares up at him. “You’re not married, and you’re living in sin.”
Spencer clams up, smirk wiped clean.
“And you thought Doris was going to be your worst problem today,” Jimmy whispers to Chase.
Chase gives Jim the stink eye and turns toward Robyn. “It’s complicated, Robyn with a y.”
Robyn fixes her tiny hands on her hips and juts her head forward. Chase flinches, bracing for the unbridled scorn of a young girl. “No, it’s not, Chasey,” she says. “Grown-ups always say things are complicated. That way they don’t deal with them. ‘It’s complicated. . . . ’ If it’s complicated, then you talk about it more!”
Jake adjusts the 2008 Pikes Peak Ascent cap on his head. “Sweetie, let’s discuss this another time, okay? Why don’t you go ask Mom what she wants for her birthday?”
“You already know what she wants, and this is wayyy more important.”
“I’m sure it is but—”
“Okay, moving on to my next topic,” Robyn announces, setting down her notebook.
Everybody within earshot holds their breath, drinks far from their mouths.
“These are my new shoes.” Robyn bends over as if stretching her short hamstrings, pointing to her new red Crocs that have sunflower stickers across the tops.
Relief, smiles, and nervous chuckles spread over the group.
“Yes, sweetie, the guys think your new shoes are very nice,” Jake says. “Now, go find Daddy a napkin to clean up with.”
“Yes, you are very messy . . . and scruffy!” she says as she turns away, jotting again in her notebook. “We must work on that!”
Jake lets out a sheepish chuckle. “Trouble. Lord love a duck, trouble.”
“Hmmm,” Chase mutters. “I don’t find things wrong with women.”
Dillon grins as groans, guffaws, and a Spence-speak besiege Chase.
“How about the one who insisted on wearing socks during sex?” Spencer says.
“Who wears socks during—”
“Or the one that ate like a wood chipper?” Jim says.
“Chomp, chomp, chomp . . . sharks eat slow—”
“Or the one with the intense eyebrows?” Jake chimes in.
“Hey! She looked serious all the time, especially when she smiled. In fact, when she smiled, she looked fanatical, and when she laughed . . . holy cow!”
Belly laughter brings more attention their way.
“Pfft . . . Spencey’s the one living in sin,” Chase says, sucking down beer.
“Lord love a duck,” Jake concludes, raising his bottle and toasting the group. “To another fun cross-country season ahead.”
“Hear, hear,” cheers the chorus.
Five bottles clink.
Excerpted from On Sundays We Go Long by Ty Strange Copyright © 2017.
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