“Hurry up, Riley. I’ve only got ’til dinner to finish this thing,” Ace hollers.
“Give me a sec. I gotta find my jacket!” Riley rushes straight for her room to search under the pile of clothes that litter the floor. She could ask her mom if she’s seen it anywhere but that will only cause an even bigger delay.
She really doesn’t need the five-minute lecture about hanging her jacket up to find it easier. Right now, she just needs her lucky jacket.
She tosses a shirt one way and a pair of jeans another before lying flat to spy a hint of green under the bed. Relief floods through her as she snatches the sleeve and rushes out of the room, nearly colliding with her mother when Ace shouts, “I’m leaving you!”
“Sorry, Mom, gotta go. Be back before dinner,” she says over her shoulder as she makes her way out the door and jumps on her bike. Ace is already up the road, pedaling as fast as he can, and she pushes harder. The wind brushes past with a hint of cold in the air but it doesn’t faze her.
Riley catches up with Ace just as they turn onto main street where they pass several car repair shops before they hit the wall to wall offices and antique stores. All of it with the backdrop of endless browns and oranges of the forest trees that surround their small town, slowly changing colors for the fall. They could easily disappear into the woods from just their backyards, they have many times, but there’s a nice spot not far from the edges of town that they’ve just discovered and are hoping to make it their own.
“About time,” Ace says as they pass a cafe with seats for people to enjoy their afternoon meals outside.
“I had to have my jacket,” Riley says, picking up the pace.
Riley waves at Mr. Miller standing outside his ice cream shop as they make a hard right before shooting pass the library, and Ace follows suit with a loud “hmph” from behind. He doesn’t believe in lucky objects, not even the rabbit’s foot that she gave him a year ago. He always insists that his father was right when he said people made their own luck.
She is lucky to have him as a friend because he goes along with her crazy ideas. Otherwise, she would be out in the woods alone. She’s pretty much the outcast in school, but it’s fine because Ace has always stuck by her side.
The woods appear over them as they get to the top of the hill. The trees are just losing their leaves with the winter months looming ahead of them. Riley brakes, wondering if they’re going to even get to finish this treehouse before winter. Cold months means lots of rain that will turn to snow, and that means long days inside watching movies and drinking cocoa. All good things until spring comes, and they find their tree house destroyed by the weather.
“Come on,” Ace says, riding past her.
When they get to the biggest dip in the road, they throw their hands up, letting the bikes guide themselves while they pick up speed. The wind is like knives against her skin, but Riley throws her head back and closes her eyes, enjoying the rush of going a thousand miles an hour.
This is what flying feels like, she thinks, laughing when Ace screams at the top of his lungs as they reach the bottom. The wheels shake back and forth, and she grabs the handlebars so she can steer the bike around the bend at the last minute.
Tires screech behind her, and she turns to find Ace making a sharp turn to avoid the guard rails. His bike wobbles a bit as he gets his balance, and together they race toward the old dirt path that leads to the clearing.
Another sharp turn, and she bounces down the road, avoiding potholes the best she can, when the field comes into sight. Her shoulders drop to find at least four other kids – including Sammy Telsan – tearing apart their tree house bit by bit.
The Sammy Telsan who won the Halloween costume contest three years in a row, despite the fact he should have been disqualified each time. The Sammy Telsan who stalks their middle school like he owns the place because his father is the vice principal.
“Shit,” she mutters, glancing at Ace. “How’d he even find this place?”
“Well, if you didn’t need that stupid jacket, we might have been here to defend it.”
“It’s not stupid; my grandfather gave it to me.”
“Whatever,” Ace says, turning his bike around. “Come on, we can come back and fix it tomorrow.”
Sammy and his crew rip another board off the roof, hollering, “Bombs away!” as they toss it over the railing. She doubts anything will be left tomorrow. She grips her handlebars until her nails bite into the soft gel part, ready to storm over there when Ace kicks her back tire.
“We’ll just get our asses kicked,” he says, trying to blow it off, but she can see the disappointment in his eyes.
With a sigh, she lets it go.
As they turn their bikes around, Sammy hollers, “There they are! Get them!”
Ace’s eyes go wide as he looks to Riley before they take off. She uses her whole body as momentum to get the bike to move faster, hoping they have enough of a head start to make it back up that hill that they flew down only moments ago.
“What the hell did you do this time?” Ace asks when she pedals past him.
“Nothing,” Riley says, looking to find Sammy behind the others. That would be fine except his buddy Cal was at the front of the group and quickly gaining.
“You sure about that?” Ace pedals harder to put some distance between them.
“Okay, I might have put the wrong answers on all his homework,” she admits as she catches up with Ace. It’s getting a bit difficult to avoid the potholes and keep up the constant speed. Her front tire hits the bottom of one hole so hard she fears she is going to flip as she comes to a complete stop. She dares another look back only to find Sammy grinning at her as he speeds up, and she is off again, opting for the grass instead of the hole ridden dirt drive.
Ace glares at her when she catches up. “I thought you were tutoring him?”
Riley barks out a laugh. “His idea of tutoring is making me do the work for him.”
Ace groans but focuses on the road just as they hit the turn, and then it’s all up hill. Pushing as hard as they can to make it to the top. It’s bad enough to make her question why they come down here in the first place, especially when they find Sammy and the others are so close, they could throw a stone and hit them.
Riley’s foot slips, and she pushes off the cement to keep moving when Ace stops, out of breath, and uncertainty creeps into his eyes.
They stare at each for a heartbeat, both breathing hard and silently agreeing they won’t come out of this encounter looking too good. They drop their bikes and head towards the nearest trail because the woods are thick, and someone like Sammy will only run so far through the trees before giving up. They could easily hide in the woods for the remainder of the day.
The further into the woods they travel, the thicker it gets, making it hard for Riley to keep up with Ace as he jumps over fallen branches and vines that cross the path. They trip her up at every turn until her foot catches on one, and she falls.
“Shit,” she mutters, as she scrapes her knee on a rock.
Ace doesn’t hear her and disappears through the brush at the same time footsteps come pounding behind her. She rolls into the bushes, curling up as much as she can to remain small as Cal rushes right past her. He stops several feet away, and she holds her breath, sure that she is about to be found when Sammy appears.
“Forget it, Cal. Those losers are long gone.”
Riley bites at her lip as Cal does another turn to find them before he stomps off, muttering something about finishing the job. When they are far enough away that Riley can’t hear them stomping through the forest, she crawls from her hiding place to examine her knee through the hole in the jeans when a hand on her shoulder makes her jump.
Ace holds his hands up. “Sorry, I ducked behind a tree when I realized you weren’t behind me.”
Riley gives him a half-hearted smile and shrugs. “It’s fine. They’re so slow, they didn’t even see me fall and roll into the bush.”
“Probably a good thing,” he says, glancing at her knee.
It stings and feels even worse when she presses on it with her jeans to stop the bleeding. “Mama’s gonna kill me when she sees these pants, but I’m fine.”
“Wanna head back?” He glances at her knee. The blood is already slowing down and won’t bother her in a few minutes.
“Nah, they won’t be gone from our spot.”
Ace shrugs, tugging on her arm in the direction he appeared from. “I found something over here, anyways.”
If you enjoyed this first chapter of Beneath the Tracks please be sure to head over to Amazon to preorder the ebook, otherwise both ebook and paperback will be available August 14th at books2read.com/beneaththetracks